Category Archives: advice

Traditional versus Non-Traditional: The LfU Approach

Learning for understanding.

A desired goal for most learners, although I did have a student relay to me last week that he really did not want to learn why he was completing his mathematical steps.   He said that understanding “The Why” was too confusing and that all he really wanted to know was what the steps were, so that he would get the correct answer.

Hmmm…. I paused for a moment to process his words.

My lessons are typically longer than my colleagues because for my own learning, “The Why” is a such a critical piece. To teach “The Why” it takes longer than simply teaching steps. It often requires activities that involve students constructing their own knowledge.  “The Why” is often understood better by having peers relay the information in a simpler manner during collaboration time. “The Why” is a time suck, no question!

But this individual did not want to know “The Why”. In further conversation, it was revealed that this Grade 10 student did not realize that 5x meant 5 * x and although he was familiar with the approximation 3.14, he did not connect the number to its symbolic representation. It became very clear to me that this fifteen year old had navigated through math class for a number of years, without wanting to know “The Why”.

So I now ask myself, why and when had the system failed this individual?  And if he had experienced an LfU approach to his mathematical understanding, would he now be in this precarious academic situation? Is he “a victim” of chalk and talk approaches?

The issues that non-traditional educators have with their traditional counterparts is that in these purely “chalk and talk” environments, learners do not fully construct their knowledge through direct experience (Edelson, 2000).  Research also points to the merits of having students communicate with each other to not only transmit ideas but to teach students the art of social negotiation amongst each other (Radinsky, Oliva, & Alamar, 2009).

I can’t help but wonder if this student had had more opportunities to communicate his reasoning and to receive the reasoning from his peers, that he would not be harboring such negative feelings towards “The Why”.

And to diverge but a tad…

For the record, I am still an advocate of teacher-led instruction in the math and senior physics classroom.  In academic math 10, it DOES matter how a solution is presented.  When left to their own devices, students may very well get the answer correct, but with multiple errors in their reasoning.  Notation is also important to be mindful of, as well as learning how to efficiently use a calculator.  On occasion, I will have students “discover their own learning” via inquiry methodologies, but these occasions are the exception to the norm. Instead, I choose to reinforce concepts in more non-traditional ways, both with high and low technology. (I loooooove whiteboards!!)



This is going to be some of the most effective technology I introduce this semester. #esqstory #esqmath #esqphysics

A post shared by Dana Bjornson (@physicsfuntime) on

As well, perhaps it is time that we define what “Traditional” actually means. I feel like some of us have a very strict definition of what traditional classrooms look like. Extremists will advocate that if you are not the guide on the side at all times, then you are a didactic dinosaur who should be made extinct as soon as possible.  Ok… perhaps that it is an extreme impression, but honestly, telling folks in a Masters class that heavily favours  Inquiry Based Learning, that you “admittedly, do direct instruction” feels like I’m in a confessional room with a priest.  If “Traditional” means that the  teacher is talking to a board or screen for 30 to 60 minutes, then I would not consider myself a traditionalist.  However, all “direct instruction” is not considered equal, in my world. I think if I would categorize my approach to instruction, it would be direct instruction/guided inquiry methodology.  My students construct bits of the instruction throughout most lessons, but I am definitely at the helm most of the time. Group work comes into play many times and I have even began to “collaboratively quiz“.

Whether or not someone chooses to demonize my teaching style, is not very consequential for me at this point anyway. I believe in what I do, and have enough positive feedback to make me want to stay on my current path of blending new approaches with tried-and-true approaches. My advice to those who wish to cast stones at others who do not fully embrace new pedagogical ways, is to lay off a bit.  Focus on your own practice.  Mentor those who wish to learn new techniques and embrace your inner honey pot.

Courtesy of Flickr QuotesEverlasting

Edelson, D.C. (2001). Learning-for-use: A framework for the design of technology-supported inquiry activities. Journal of Research in Science Teaching,38(3), 355-385.
Radinsky, J., Oliva, S., & Alamar, K. (2009). Camila, the earth, and the sun: Constructing an idea as shared intellectual property. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 47(6), 619-642.


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Grounding Issues and Finding Patterns in Experience

For this assignment, I was asked to interview, transcribe and analyze a conversation with a math or science teacher with regards to their technology use in the classroom.

Link to my transcript is here.


“Brianna” has been teaching a variety of subjects for 14 years, including junior Science, senior Biology, P.E., “Reconnecting Youth” (a program for at-risk students) and Yearbook.  Presently, she is teaching Science 9 and Biology 12 at a large high school. As Brianna and I have young children at home, and she teaches at a different high school than mine, I conducted the interview via Google Hangouts, at 9 p.m., January 18. (This was a less than ideal time to interview—both of us were exhausted!) I asked Brianna to be my subject for two reasons.  1. There is only one other person in Math or Science at my school who uses any technology and she was spread so thin this week, you could see through her. 2. Bri and I have worked together for 13 years, but last year, she was bumped to another school due to seniority. This summer, I gave her a Google Classroom 101 class in my kitchen, so I was eager to see how she was coming along!


When prompted to respond about current technology enhanced processes Brianna uses, the commonality to every response was sharing information between groups of people.

Reading other interviews, this was a common theme amongst technology users. What surprises me somewhat, is that although many of us are participating in collaborative processes via our Masters’ work, not as many of us have incorporated similar approaches in our own classrooms. Reasons for this may include having restricted access to one-to-one technology, school districts may not be buying into the GAFE model and lack of time to learn or make make large pedagogical shifts. Having access to reliable wi-fi, is another major issue that is affecting schools nationally. Talking to our IT guru this week, even within our school district, there is a huge disparity between individual schools. Because high schools in British Columbia are funded on a PER BLOCK basis, the more students taking the more courses, results in more funding for that particular school. As overhead for running a school of 500 students is not much different as the overhead for 750 students, the school with 50% more bodies, can easily pay for their overhead and have money to spend on other things. The bottom line, is that in Victoria, the large schools have enough bandwidth and the small schools do not.
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Risk Taking

Brianna provided me with two “wow moments” in this interview.  The first came from her anecdote about a student who was so anxious about using the Google Classroom platform for assignments, that the student brought herself to tears.  Identifying this student in the first week of class, via a digital Interest Inventory on Google Forms was critical. Brianna’s limited experience with this platform, was balanced by her many years in the classroom, so she knew to address this student’s concerns immediately and with compassion. Allowing the student an alternative to the technology would have validated the student’s fears, thereby strengthening those fears. Instead, Brianna provided her with a safe and scaffolded process, that demystified the technology for the student, and the student went on to a successful and enjoyable semester.

So if some educators are demanding that their students take huge leaps in their digital literacy acquisition, why can it be so unbearable for other educators to even take a baby step? Other interviews reported teachers feeling helpless with their technology due to lack of training. Conferences such as GAFE, cost hundreds of dollars and not everyone is prepared to invest. Moreover, when I have given Professional Development to the entire staff, it has been with mixed reviews! People can feel threatened by overwhelming feelings of confusion, inadequacy, or anger, when new ideas are brought to the table that may not be in their wheelhouse. After having a colleague have a near panic attack in my Twitter 101 talk at a Pro-D five years ago, I learned very quickly that when it comes to technology training, it is best to lure certain folks to you, as opposed to cornering them in a staff meeting. Everyone’s relationship with technology is very different and very personal— it is prudent to individualize learning situations, whenever possible! Personally, I would love to research more about providing Pro-D in a variety of different formats. As with our students, colleagues will be more receptive to new modalities when they are calm and have trust in their instructor.

 Although I need to work on my interview skills (at times, I was so awkward, that I wanted to go into the fetal position!), Brianna’s last quote is absolute gold. How can we, as teachers, as parents, as just plain people, preach to others, to act a certain way, or think a certain way, if we, ourselves, are not prepared to do so?





“Assignments, so I created an assignment, for example we did this thing like the Genius Hour, but not—  we did this project and I had it set up into three parts and so each part we did a check-in so that I could see what they were doing and when they decided to work in groups then they would share that with their group members so that all 3 of us could look at it. And with teachers, we are working on, well there’s 3 of us working on a brand new Biology 12 lab and so we have the Doc at the same time each doing different parts and seeing what the other people are working on, and adding feedback and comments and stuff like that.”“I think that one of the things is about group projects…  one student was sick and the other student was upset because they weren’t there doing their part.  But they were able to talk using the comments on the Docs, right on the document.”

“I don’t have to worry about the TOC because I can post everything on there and the kids know exactly what they are supposed to do and I can come up with something on the fly and stick it up for them to do.  Just attaching it from the Drive, without worrying about photocopying or where it is on my desk— I just stick it on the Classroom.”















“An interesting one with a student who was really anti-technology and her like misconception about technology she was only thinking about it as like using a cell phone all the time— so she was really scared and was in tears…. throughout the semester, she ends up adapting to the technology and once she adapted, she got over the fear of using it.”





























“As teachers, we always want things to be organized and planned.  But this is not going to be perfect, and you just have to jump in.  We want our kids to take chances and be brave, so you have to take chances and be brave.”

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Week 2: Got Rapport?

I tip my hat to the English teacher in the video.  Without question, she had that class dialed.  Her tone was authoritative, yet nurturing; she seemed to have everyone on task.  She constructed a safe learning environment where students were not afraid to share. Positive reinforcement was not lacking (verbal reinforcement, along with group based and individual rewards), students modelled positive behaviours throughout, cues were made and there was even a reference to what could be considered to be a contract (“…give yourself a check in your behaviour box.”).


Although different reinforcements may apply to different classroom dynamics, a “must” for my classroom management is developing a rapport with my students in the first couple of weeks. Without creating a trusting, teacher-student relationship, these reinforcements are not as effective and punishments may instead be relied upon. (It is no fun teaching when punishments are being handed out like Tic-Tacs.) Having almost two decades of teaching in my pocket, I can really look back a long way and recall the differences between 24-year-old me and 43-year-old me. I used to not invest much time in the relationship department, choosing to jump into curriculum right away.  I thought that it was a good thing to give a heap of homework on the first day! Now, I choose to enter the curriculum slowly, instead opting to talk about myself, my teaching philosophies, and to establish clear expectations. In return, students are more willing to seek help right away, because I have established that I am not actually the Creature-from-the-Black-Lagoon.


As with the yearning to be the most effective teacher I can possibly be, the reinforcements will vary according to the class, according to the student. It is generally agreed that treating students fairly does not equate to treating them equally, necessarily. We all have our own optimal intrinsic and extrinsic motivators. For example, dropping the worst test for someone who has perfect attendance does little good if he has failed multiple tests.

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First week of school!

Game on!

Not only did I meet my classes this week (Math 10, Math 10 Gifted, and Physics 11), I also started my new course, ETEC 512: Learning Theories.

After having had a long break from my Masters, I now come back pumped and ready to go! Already my teaching practice has evolved incredibly fast due to being in an EdTech program and I am very much looking forward to this next step.  Of particular interest to me is that it seems as though one of my week’s topics in MATH FOCUSED!!!



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Week 12: Sharing is Caring, Sharing is Caring, Sharing is Caring…

When I started teaching, absolutely everything I taught was created by myself and I poured countless hours into crafting beautifully designed skeleton notes for my students to dutifully copy off of countless overhead transparencies.

Being a student teacher (circa 1997), I was so incedibly happy that my sponsors allowed me to teach my own material as I heard that other practicum students were “forced” to use their sponsors lecture notes to a tee. Around Year 7, I had a student teacher, who had asked to simply use my skeleton notes, labs, quizzes and tests without  altering them. He didn’t want to focus on lesson development, he said. Rather, he wanted to just focus on delivering and classroom management.   And to boot, at the end of his practicum, he asked to photocopy my entire binder— I was floored.   Words that came into my head were, “lazy”, “second-rate”, “are you kidding me????”, etc.  Needless to say, I had yet to embrace the “Sharing is Caring” mantra; it was more a Gollum-like, “My Precious” mantra.

GollumCC image of Gollum courtesy of Tara Hunt on Flickr.

Skip ahead another ten years and I think that I am almost where I will eventually be an this matter.  Last year, I created my first public teacher site where I published all of my notes, quizzes, handouts— everything but unit tests. Funnily enough, with Google Classroom taking over my district, my material is now going behind closed doors again, as GC is very not public. Yet my attitude towards sharing has held steady, regardless of the “GC Curtain”.

If a fellow educator wishes to use my notes, alter them, not alter them, I now consider it a compliment.  I no longer care about how they choose to deliver, nor do I care that I may have devoted WAY more time into creating said documents. At the end of the day, educators need to prioritize delivering their courses with passion, integrity and skill— in whichever form that may take. Personally, I need to work with my own material most of the time. What I am now starting to do, is weave material from others and alter lessons from sites such as PhET to “remix” to my needs.

I am not keen on allowing folks to make money off of something that I spent time creating, but otherwise, I will share anything, and should somebody wish to publish my work in some way, I would require that the new version also be open and free!

To that end, the licence that I would be putting on my material, henceforth, would be:

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Collaboration: The good, the bad & the ugly.


© Copyright Peter Ward and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

“When I die I want my group members to lower me into the grave so that they can let me down one last time.” ~Someecards

When I first heard this quotation, I thought it was the funniest thing ever. Funny, because at the time, it was true. I was in a particularly difficult situation with a group and I felt that I was unequipped to handle the challenges.

This was unquestionably NOT the case for my Platform Evaluation!

Here is the thing… When a group works well together, is respectful of each others opinions, has members that equally do not want to let the “group down”, incorporates humour, and brings a level of professionalism to the table, EVERYTHING IS LIKE RAINBOWS AND UNICORNS.  It’s the best.  It is like going to Cloud Cuckoo Land. (Lego Movie reference for those of you who may not have seen this most excellent movie.)

But when one or more of these attributes are missing from a group’s dynamic, I find that an incredible amount of thinking time is wasted on wishing that the project would be over and/or wanting to stab myself in the eye with a pencil.

For this group project, I came late to the table.  I erroneously gave our organiser my g-mail address with an “” extension.  Brilliant, I know. Days went by where my group mates hashed out the initial stages of our project without my input.  Thankfully, one mate realized that the e-mails had been “undelivered” and I was brought into the planning.

I was “THAT” person.  I very much loathe being “THAT” person.  I do everything in my power to never ever by “THAT” person.  So when it does happen, I go to “THAT” place.  “THAT” place is the place that some of us people-pleasers go when they think that other people think negatively about them.  I know.  At the age of 43, I should adopt more of a “Honey-Badger attitude” (you HAVE to Google that one, if you do not know what I am talking about.  Your welcome.).  But alas, we are who we are, so I immediately thought that my entire group thought that I was a big loser who was in an educational technology Masters program, yet could not freakin even share her own email address properly.

So what do people-pleasers do in this situation?  They make up for it and then some.  Why?  Because we have not only do our part but we have to make up for the perceived part that we perceived we didn’t do.

I truly hope I accomplished my mission.

But this is where my group really came through.  Not once did they make me feel like I had to “make-up” for anything.  It was all in my head.  I admit to being a bit in Cuckoo Land on this one.

Funny story, though.  My group mates don’t even this one (don’t tell them, OK?)

I had to bring my bit of the project to the Google Doc two days after everyone else due to my semester turnaround week at work.  When I visit our Google Doc (the most excellent way to collaborate, on-line, in my opinion), I read the introduction that had us portrayed as a group of Grade 8 Middle School teachers from Vancouver.  I thought to myself, “Great. I’m not part of the group.”  I let it go.  I thought, OK– I can pretend that I live in Vancouver and teach Middle School.” After all, I needed to be a team player.  But then, after awhile, it started to bug me.  My name was on this and I didn’t want to misrepresent myself!  So I said something on the chat function of the Google Doc.  After some back and forth, my group mate piped up and said, “Neither am I!  I live in Thunder Bay and teach Math 10!”  For some reason, I didn’t realize that the whole idea of this project was to write from one institution’s voice.  We had a good laugh.

If I could change one thing about this particular experience, it would have been to have prioritized having a couple of Google Hangouts. I missed not having actual conversations with people and flushing things like not knowing that our scenario was fictitious.  Completing this degree on-line is great for so many reasons, but I truly yearn for face-to-face experiences, as well.   I think that as we venture into more on-line learning, that as educational technologists, we need to keep at least a smidgen of actual conversation into our practices. A screen just doesn’t cut it, 100% of the time– in my world anyway!


Filed under advice, collaboration, ETEC 565, General thoughts, LMS, obstacles

Advice Overload!

It seems like we are constantly surrounded by advice these days. Gone are the days of simply avoiding social situations that may subject us to advice from those we would rather not listen to.  Now, if you are not hiding under a Social Media Rock, you are reading about best health practices, best recipes, best learning strategies, best teaching approaches, best, best, best… Best blogs?

Welcome to my blog!  While I don’t promise “Best Anything”, I do promise that I will type freely, non-pretentiously, and from my own experience. I don’t pretend to think that my truth is anyone else’s, however, if anyone reading this (forced or otherwise) can walk away with something to think about, something to feel good about, or something to laugh about, I suppose my job is done!

On the topic of advice, the header of my blog is a photo from a day in homeroom last year.  I was running behind and still had to change into my work clothes from my cycling clothes, so I asked the Grade 12s to take over while I got changed.  They decided to give the younger members of our homeroom some parting advice to help them navigate through their high school years.  Although watching Breaking Bad from start to finish may not be everyone’s cup of tea, I very much agree that it’s OK to cry at school and to branch out from Uggs once in awhile!

It would also be a shame to not have my inaugural post include my “signature joke”.  So here goes…

“What did the bra say to the hat?”

…You go on a head, and I’ll give these two a lift!







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