Category Archives: General thoughts

Subject matter as a “vehicle”: What are you driving?

In Shulman’s “Knowledge and Teaching: Foundations of New Reform” (1987), he provides readers with an analogy that implies that our subject matter is a vehicle that will “service other goals” (p. 7). He continues to assert that at the secondary level, “subject matter is a nearly universal vehicle for instruction” (p.7).  Near the end of his paper, he provides us with the example of the talented English teacher with two degrees, who lacked grammatical confidence.  When teaching topics that were not in her wheelhouse, she transformed into a “didactic” pedagogue, lacking confidence and displaying anxiety.

I would be lying if I never felt like a didactic pedagogue, early on in my career!  When I started out, I taught a lot of Junior Science, which meant  teaching Biology and Chemistry, two subjects that I did not have beyond a first year level of instruction. The lack of knowledge base, shook me to my core; I am certain that my lack of confidence was obvious to my students, as well. In time, I grew more comfortable with the material, but never above the level that I was teaching. Thankfully, in the last twelve years, I have solely been teaching Mathematics and Physics, but being thrown a junior science is a possibility, every year. <insert wheezing sounds>

Courtesy Joost J. Bakker from IJmuiden, Flickr

What I have learned in my time at the wheel, is that it is OK to not know everything, but it is important to know enough.  And without question, it sure helps to have a solid grasp of at least one year above what you are teaching. Preparing students for their next course is very difficult, when you personally do not understand the material in the next level up!  So to answer my question, these days, I feel like I am driving a pretty solid BMW, although stick me with Junior Science and hello 1977 Ford Pinto.



One strategy that I have only recently used, is to teach/review algebra with my FPC Math 10 (academic math) class, having the students sit in pairs of their choosing. Each pair has a table top whiteboard (London Drugs sometimes clears them out…), marker and eraser.  I review the basic “moves” and reinforce opposite operations and remind them that the order of the “moves” is important (“Reverse BEDMAS”, usually helps them remember).  Then, we do a series of increasingly difficult algebraic problems, WITHOUT variables. For example, rearrange “2 + 3= 5” for 3.  My approach is to reinforce that “if it works on the numbers, it will work on the letters.”  The students work in pairs and flash me their answers.  When students are struggling, I send other students to help, that have already shown me their work. The goal is to increase student interactions— Vygotskian social learning!  During which time, I am discussing proper notation (where to put the = sign, working vertically, using fraction bars for division, etc.). What I am finding is that is is a huge confidence boost for my low folks, because they can find their own mistakes (clearly, 3 doesn’t equal 5/2, for example). When we leap into the variables, I can then attach the more abstract algebra to the concrete algebra.  Practically right away, we can then start throwing our symbols across the equal sign, completing multiple steps simultaneously.

I chose this as my example because it exemplifies how important it is to have a knowledge base beyond your subject material. Being a physics teacher, I know how important it is to be comfortable with symbolic manipulation.  My colleagues without the physics, tend to not prioritize symbolic manipulation prior to substitution. What they don’t seem to understand, is that it is far more efficient to rearrange before substituting and it is critical to do so from Physics 12 onward.


Shulman, L.S. (1987). Knowledge and teaching. The foundations of a new reform. Harvard Educational Review, 57(1)1-23.

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Filed under ETEC 533, General thoughts, Vygotsky

New Year, New Course, New ?

So what is the “New ?” all about?

I added that in because although I am not entirely sure where my path this semester is heading, what I do know is that it will take me to new realizations and approaches to both my own learning and how I teach.

It is quite remarkable to reflect on one’s viewpoints and opinions 1.5+ decades into teaching, then to begin a Masters, then to reflect on those same perspectives, halfway through that Masters. This is my introduction video for my second course. It is actually a bit shocking for me to watch this, as it glaringly emphasizes my lack of experience and knowledge in the world of EdTech.  The word “constructivist” wasn’t even part of my vocabulary at this point!

Whereas here is my introduction Prezi for ETEC 533.  It is not nearly as detailed as the video, but my goals at the back end are very true.

I came into MET armed with physical technology and nothing more.  Halfway through, I have now spent countless hours thinking about how to actually use technology beyond digitizing more traditional teaching approaches.  Perhaps the most significant shift in my teaching has come through the adoption of Google Classroom and its affordances. The collaborative nature of Google Docs, Google Slides, Google Drawings, etc. has allowed me to change or turf many of my assignments and some of my lessons. Had I not chosen to research the merits of student blogging, I would not have made such a dramatic shift so quickly.  Pedagogy backed by research that has been examined holistically is my preferred stimulus for change.

When a pendulum’s swing is extreme in educational circles, I believe it is because the research has been dissected and only portions of it are being adhered to.  To that end, although I am eager to learn about and to put into practice new (or not so new) theory, I am also not prepared to dismiss entirely what may be considered to be “old school” practice. As educators, I think it is critical that we find models and theories that work for us, to continually tweak that process, and to consequently rock that process to the nth degree!

That is my goal, anyway, and I am looking forward to discovering my ” new ?”, this semester!

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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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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:

Creative commons License



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Week 5: Cell phones: The bane of my existence-slash-best things ever


A typical, cell phone scene in my classroom, during testing.

This September, I changed my Course Outlines to officially state that my classes were a BYOD-learning friendly environment.  I did this for a few reasons.

First of all, I figured that if, as a student in a Masters of Educational Technology couldn’t find a way to successfully integrate this technology– this pretty amazing technology– into the classroom, then perhaps my admission should be revoked.

Secondly, every time I allow students to actually use their phones during class time, engagement seems to increase.  Admittedly, this is observational, on my part.

Thirdly, it makes my “cool” factor incrementally increase every time we use technology effectively.  (I do care about this, for some reason.  It is the same reason why I still have my tongue pierced.  #streetcred )

Lastly, incorporating a technology that for many high school students is more like a body part, than a piece of equipment, allows me to temporarily “sneak” into their world.  As a digital shepherd, I feel that this is an imperative component of my job— to make my students believe that I am not a complete Luddite, and that I can actually help them with their on-line development.  (I suppose this is somewhat the same point as the former— #morestreetcred)

I am fortunate to teach at a school that allows staff to have their own “mobile use policy”.  Many teachers out-right ban the phones from their classes.  Not that students don’t sneak use anyway. (There is a hilarious image I put on my desk top at the beginning of every semester– see below)

nobody looks at their crotch and smiles.

With that said, I am a firm believer in standing up for what you believe in.  If someone doesn’t want phones in their room, then that is fine with me.  Most educators and parents learn pretty early on that you have to pick your fights and if phones is a fight you like, then fight away!  Our school quickly abandoned the cell phone fight, however.

The policy was a four-step process.

One: Warning given

Two: Take phone for the duration of the class.

Three: Bring phone to administrator for the duration of the day.

Four: Suspension.

Thankfully, the “school-wide” policy has gone extinct. Handcuffing teachers to one, blanket mobile policy only serves to clip the wings of those wanting to soar to new places in education. This week, I have “Gone Google” in my classes for the very first time.  Being only two days into Google Classroom, class blogs and personal blogs, I’m am unsure how my students will feel about this new way.  I am not using Google for everything, but as I become more comfortable, I am certain that both my teaching and student learning will become more dynamic, engaging and overall, more awesome.

On the other hand, when students self-report to text message over 500 times per day, I think that non-ed-tech teachers have every reason to be wary.  In my last week of semester one, I caught a student cheating on his test with his phone up his sleeve.  Recent articles have also come out detailing  a new epidemic– students are not allowing themselves to be bored any more.  This brings an entire host of issues surrounding creativity and lack thereof. For me, phones are like my students themselves!  Sometimes I want to high five them, sometimes I want to hug them, and other times I want to toss them over a cliff!  Figuratively speaking, OF COURSE.

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Week 4: Benoit’s Case Study: To Blackboard or to Moodle, that is the question!

In this week’s readings, we were asked to read a brief case study that detailed the situation of Professor Benoit.  It seems that Benoit is a very popular professor and his department head wishes that he spread his “awesomeness” to the onl-ine format, so that more students can take advantage of his expertise.

Benoit’s dilemma: which LMS system should he choose to adopt?  His options are

1. Blackboard Connect  and 2. Moodle.

Only knowing a few details about Benoit, it makes this a somewhat difficult choice for me to make.  As he has a only a limited amount of experience with utilizing technology for the running of his course, my recommendation would be to go with Blackboard.


Blackboard would be a safer choice since, in this scenario, this is what the IT department is currently supporting.  Should issues arise– and they will, he willhave IT’s support and he will not have a problem soliciting the support from othercolleagues that are currently using it.   Although Moodle offers more freedom to develop his LMS without restraints, it is likely that he doesn’t even know what the restraints are at this point.

I liken it to learning how to drive a car, where Blackboard is an automatic andMoodle is the standard.   Why not get your “feet wet” with a LMS that is well supported, thereby reducing the number of issues to worry about whilst one is a “rookie”.   Then, as one progresses in their experience, and becomes moreknowledgeable with LMSs in general, take on a more versatile LMS that allows for more freedoms.

To respond to the question posed regarding how Benoit should organize his traditional, face-to-face course to an on-line model, I would suspect that he would be covering the same ideas in the same amount of time, therefore, he should simply follow the same organizational time line. What he would need to consider are the best discussion questions that have come out of his successful, traditional, classwork. Obviously, he wouldn’t be delivering content himself, so careful selection of relevant readings would need to compensate for his lack of “face time teaching.”

Without question, the learning curve is steep when adopting a new teaching methodology. Because of this, he should be prepared to have a considerable amount of time learning efficiencies and tricks of the trade. If his IT takes a long time to assist with issues, I would suggest that he make an appointment with someone for an afternoon, to get his “ball rolling”, then utilize his peers for the small things that will arise after that. Perhaps, the department head could request that IT make a series of short instructional videos that step people through typical trouble shooting scenarios, as well.

What I know form my own experience in this scenario, is that the first run-through is never perfect.  With determination and student feedback, however, the second time through is heaps better!

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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

Week 3: The Alleged Demise of LMS and the BCED Plan

As I read this week’s offerings, I couldn’t help but make parallelisms to BC’s new educational philosophy, entitled “The BCEd Plan“– for those of you not from my neck of the woods.

If you spend time with “The Plan”, you will notice that it is a virtual carbon copy of of Kasper Spiro’s 2014 article, “5 eLearning Trends Leading to the End of the Learning Management System.” Catch phrases such as “Personalized Learning” and “BYOD Environments” are huge components to BC’s new educational conquest. The two documents are so similar in their points that it makes me wonder if Spiro was a contributor to the BCED Plan! (on a side note, Spiro’s website is somewhat of an advertisement for his cloud-based LMS software. It is in his best interest to convince folks to abandon ship on the old LMS guard!)

My only experience with a LMS has been as a student with my Masters. It seems to me that each professor has it set up slightly differently and therefore, they can tailor it to their own preference. Assessment is more or less the same in that we submit our work for personalised grading and feedback. I am fully engaged as a student, as for the most part, the readings are thought provoking, as are my fellow classmates’ postings. Through group work, I often participate in on-line, synchronous chats. It has been a very pleasant learning environment, overall!

I question, however, the effectiveness of a similar system with a younger, less motivated crowd. Motivated students will learn in practically any learning environment– they are the cacti of learners! They may prefer heaps of sun, but they can still survive with minimal water in a shady bathroom as well.

Motivated Learner cactus

It’s the classic “reluctant learner” that I suspect would not fare as well, in certain LMS scenarios. The ones who come to class without having read the readings or watched the watchings. Or the learners who can’t actually stay focused on their studies when the course is on a screen. The lure of social media is way too tempting for most young brains to stay away from. I had multiple students beg me to let them sign out a text book this semester because using the on-line text was too distracting.

But here is the thing… Screens aren’t going away. Learning is evolving. Do we not attempt to evolve our teaching practices in order to avoid inappropriate use of social media? (It reminds me of when my school “banned” Facebook so many years ago. Guess what? It didn’t work.) Abstinence rarely is the answer. Producing engaging on-line learning opportunities has got to be the goal.

I also don’t believe in allowing corporations to dictate how and what I teach, therefore, whatever the LMS is going to be, allowing educators to tailor it to their needs, is critical. If the educators can’t personalize the system, then how can the students personalize their learning?

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