Category Archives: ETEC 512

Elevating Your Vygotskian Framework

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The Behaviourist vs. The IP-Strategist vs. The Gamer

Prior to this week’s reading, I was under the impression that the gamification of learning was more about capturing student engagement and making learning “fun”, similar to that of playing video games. Now, I realize it is much more than making learning fun—in fact, “fun” may not be a component to the learning process, at all!

Being a visual learner myself, I created this in cycle in my notebook to describe the Video Game Model.

Video Game Model of Learning

The Behaviourists out there would be definitely ramping up the all parts of this cyclic model. Both positive and negative reinforcements could be peppered throughout the model.  Feedback and cueing is continual throughout gaming processes, and rewards and punishments are distributed to keep gamers interested in coming back for more.

Information Processing fans may also chime into this discussion. Eventually, with repeated play, processes will be stored in the LTM, and automaticity will allow gamers to achieve higher, more challenging levels due to a more refined ability to multi-task.

What particularly grabbed me this week was the notion of “Incremental Progress Recognition”.  Having watched David Suzuki’s Surviving 😉 the Teenage Brain, I already knew that teenagers’ pre-frontal cortex (PFC) made them more inclined to act impulsively. What I did not know until now, was that the immature PFC makes it very difficult for students to establish long term goals, as they much prefer immediate gratification.  Thinking of ways to employ strategies that allow students to individually track their progress more often, hence in smaller increments, is officially on my radar.

The Effort Goal Graphs, are an interesting technique–  I think that I will adapt that idea into a BINGO card format (and digitally formatted, but of course!)

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Filed under behaviourism, ETEC 512, Information Processing, Learning models, Video Games

To Drill or Not to Drill…

I’m not gonna lie…  I loved this week’s reading! It took me so long to navigate through, because of taking notes, reflecting on my own practice, looking up big words that I didn’t know and rereading many parts.   I have to respond to the first Discussion question:

After reading the review of work in this area, would you encourage a ‘drill & practice’ approach to learning math, or more of a conceptual strategic-based approach? Why or why not?

I would have to argue that BOTH approaches are necessary to learning math effectively, and hence, with the least amount of personal anguish.

On the Drill side, we have the bonuses of accessing the information with very little effort via the left AG.  Maximizing the LTM that has already been established, it is akin to using a calculator as opposed to finding a strategy and processing the information using pen and paper.  Our brains can just spit the solutions out as opposed to having our brains “crank the answer out.”  It also seems as though folks who are particularly good at math are accessing their left AG, in combinations with other areas of the brain that us normal folk don’t even go near. Practice also seems to make these skills more automated and more quickly accessed.

On the strategy side, even though we are not accessing the coveted left AG, we are able to apply those strategies to “untrained” problems with much better success than those who rely solely on drilling. Applying knowledge in unfamiliar territory is a very valuable skill indeed!

Where curricula and educational fads run into trouble, in my opinion, is that when the pendulum swings towards “the new and shiniest learning strategy” (ex. Assessment for Learning, Inquiry Based Learning…), the baby is also thrown out with the educational bath water.  I refuse to believe that “old school” methodologies are complete crap and  I see real danger in going “all in” on these new strategies. Admittedly, AFL is not that new anymore.  Ontario had been using it for years before BC got its claws into it. We had Pro-D upon Pro-D, learning about AFL.  If you didn’t adopt it, you weren’t a team player— at least in my school.  So I tried it for two years, saw my GPAs plummet and saw stress sky rocket. I consequently decided to create a hybrid AFL approach to eliminate its negative effects. Did I throw it all away? No. I kept the bits I liked and turfed the bits I saw as harmful to my students’ well being.


Speaking of babies thrown out with bath water… Ontario is apparently in a bit of a math pickle these days since it has fully embraced the Strategy approach over the Drill.  Math scores are at an all time low.  People are freaking out—well maybe not freaking out, but you can’t ignore that Strategy based math learning, on its own, is not good for the majority of students.  An Ontario math teacher presented a GAFE conference I went to last year and I spent the entire hour wondering how it is possible for this approach to work? Her students had to answer about 8 questions per unit— when they correctly answered them, they then moved on to the next unit.  The questions were challenging, without question, but there was no repetition, no drill, no rehearsing of simple questions prior to increasingly more difficult ones.


Hybrid approaches.  I think this is my approach to pretty much everything in my practice! Except coffee. The coffee has got to be done one way, and it has to be done right.


PS. If you haven’t seen the movie Pi, it is about a math genius who gets hunted down by people wanting him to predict the stock market. The closing scene is him drilling into his own brain, into the left AG perhaps, so that he would no longer be able to do the bad guys’ bidding. I may have just called the police, but to each their own.

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Week 3: BC Teachers are (almost) free of the shackles of Provincial Exams!

If I remember correctly, BC brought in Grade 10 exams back in 2007 (please correct me if I am wrong).   I had already been teaching for 8 years and I distinctly remember my new found frustration getting the better of me. With the new Provincials, I would have to remove the fun from both my Math and Science 10.  I had spent years creating engaging, corporative projects, only to have abandon them all so that I would have enough time to cover all of the prescribed learning outcomes.  I never taught Science 10 again— I was in a state of mourning over the course I had spent almost 10 years developing.  Why would I teach a class that only had time to superficially touch on an insane number of factoids? (Thankfully, being the only Physics teacher in the school, I had the freedom to not teach Junior Science, should I not want to.)

And here we are, nearly 10 years later. The government, in an effort to roll out their “Big Ideas”, realized that if teachers were to accommodate inquiry based learning, that the Provincials would have to go.  They are probably not sad to save a few bucks, either.  Teachers, should they choose to do so, can now go back to those inquiry based approaches, that they had long before “Big Ideas” ever came out, and hope to capitalize on facilitating more opportunities for students to learn and remember on a deeper level.

But in true government form, by plugging one hole, another hole (holes?) has formed– at least in the subject area of Mathematics. I read this week’s study with great interest.  What educator doesn’t want to learn about optimal learning and remembering conditions?  In particular, the authors, on multiple occasions, stated that educators must build on students’ background knowledge so that the new knowledge would be able to “attach” or “link” itself to the previously learned material. It is then, and only then, that higher level learning can take place.

So what’s my new problem?  It’s the “Big Ideas”.  In my opinion, “Big Ideas” need to be removed from the mathematics curriculum.  The new curriculum minimizes overlap and generates massive jumps between years of learning.  For example, combining fractions appear, disappear, then reappear. Similarly, order of operations is introduced, it vanishes, then reappears.  Skill based content, unless practiced and built upon, does erode the retrieval mechanisms, hence we risk not accessing the LTM information.

I’m not anti-Big Idea for everything.  Bring it on in Science, no question!  Expecting kids to remember information and skills from two years ago is unrealistic.

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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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Filed under advice, behaviourism, ETEC 512, General thoughts

Week 1: Being everything for everybody: Teacher 2.0

I would like to think that most educators, regardless of the age of their students, strive to accommodate the varying needs of their students. Reflecting on my own practice as a high school math and physics teacher, I reckon that although I combine community-centred, knowledge-centred and assessment centred strategies, I heavily favour knowledge-centred.  In senior math and physics, students must have a strong knowledge base prior to engaging in critical thinking processes.  Without that base, numerical confidence is non-existent and misconceptions, typically laced with anxiety, runs rampant through a learner’s work. It actually does matter HOW work is presented. Logically presenting one’s reasoning is a skill that is not “Googled”—it is demonstrated, rehearsed, critiqued and rehearsed some more.

And yes, my students interact with each other via their class blog, via Google Classroom and face-to-face collaboration, whiteboard practice. We complete labs and projects, collaboratively and individually.  Assessment is varied, although I still believe in unit tests and final exams (to the horror of some folks, admittedly). Ultimately, for myself, I am huge fan of hybrid approaches to learning that combines old school with new school techniques.  Everything I do, may not tap into everyone’s most efficient learning style, but hopefully, I will touch on something for everyone.

To my colleagues, I always maintain that it is important to be one’s authentic self, to stay “fresh” with your practice (in whatever way that looks like for you) and to enjoy what you are doing. If we are enjoying it, it is pretty much guaranteed that our students aren’t either. To suggest there is but one way for learning to effectively transpire is equivalent to saying that there’s only one way to prepare shrimp.

This week’s reading was “Towards a Theory of Online Learning” by Terry Anderson

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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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