Oh the places I’ll now go…

ETEC 533 – Synthesis Forum – Compare and contrast T-GEM and Chemland with Anchored Instruction and Jasper, SKI and WISE, LfU and MyWorld


As I just learned about the Cmap program from our T-GEM readings (Khan, 2012) I attempted to use that platform for my synthesis chart. While it worked on some levels, I feel that the overall effect is less cohesive and more scattered looking than I would have liked, which is a good learning experience for me. In the future, I think I would try to use a different platform for a compare/contrast piece (or perhaps I just need to develop my experience and knowledge of the Cmap program further).

Cmap references:

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.

Kim, M.C., & Hannafin, M.J. (2011). Scaffolding problem solving in technology-enhanced learning environments (TELES): Bridging research and theory with practice. Computers & Education, 56(2), 403-417.

Linn, M., Clark, D., & Slotta, J. (2003). Wise design for knowledge integration. Science Education, 87(4), 517-538.

Synthesis Forum Response:

In his book, World Class Learners: Educating Creative and Entrepreneurial Students, Yong Zhao (2012) addresses the fact that “the new survival skills – effective communication, curiosity, and critical-thinking skills – ‘are no longer skills that only the elites in a society must muster; they are essential survival skills for all of us’ (Wagner, 2008, p. xxiii)” (p. 8). Zhao explains that Wagner (2008) “observed that the longer our children are in school, the less curious they become” (p. 10) and references separate data demonstrating a decline in students’ creativity once they enter the school system, and a continued decline in creativity as students get older (Gardner, 1982; Land & Jarman, 1992 as cited by Zhao, p. 10-11).

These are points that I feel are addressed well within the four technology-enhanced learning environments that we have explored in Module B. While I recognize that each learning environment is unique, I feel that many of the overarching intentions and goals were very similar in the way they addressed student learning through inquiry. As Edelson (2001) points out, “traditional educational practice emphasizes achievement-based motivation and assumes that such motivation carries over to all content” (p. 373); however, the four environments presented in Module B instead establish inquiry-based learning environments for students, rather than a more traditional system based on imparting knowledge through repetition and memorization of facts and concepts delivered.
In all cases, the learning environments had the potential to be adapted to support various academic subjects, as well as being accessible for students of varying grade levels, from elementary to college/university level. While T-GEM appeared better suited to a single concept or theory, SKI/WISE, LfU, and Anchored Instruction all seemed to apply well to projects involving multiple concepts or theories, and had the potential to allow educators to incorporate cross-curricular content more easily. Throughout the development of each learning environment, students were encouraged to examine and question data and information, and learning was student-centred, with the teacher there to guide, rather than to impart knowledge. All four learning environments promoted exploration of data and collaboration between peers, as well as inclusion of all students present in the diverse classrooms of today.

There are some key concepts that have stood out to me above the rest, and that will continue to impact my teaching beyond the parameters of this course. In terms of Anchored Instruction, I realized that I have tended to “coddle” my students too much, rather than allowing them to immerse themselves in multi-step problems and work through those problems collaboratively with their peers. I realize now that students must be given the opportunity to explore multi-step and abstract concepts and problems, regardless of the fact that they might find them “too difficult”. As Hasselbring, Lott, & Zydney (2006) point out, students “need to acquire the knowledge and skills that will enable them to figure out math-related problems that they encounter daily at home and in future work situations” (no page number available). Moving forward, I am going to try to allow students to struggle more often in an attempt to help them feel comfortable with the uncomfortable feeling that struggling may create for them. If we consider life, we all struggle at one point or another, so it makes sense that students should be given that ‘real life’ opportunity early on when we are able to guide them as needed within a safe and controlled environment, while at the same time building inquiry skills, along with perseverance and resiliency.

In relation to Learning-for-Use, the emphasis by Edelson (2001) and Bodzin, Anastasio, and Kulo (2014) on making learning environments not just accessible for students but also more applicable to ‘real life’ situations stood out for me. Concepts cannot be taught in a way that students then only associate their learning with the classroom; we must teach to connect students with their lives and experiences outside the classroom so that they will be able to access and recall information they have learned as it applies to various situations within their lives, rather than storing facts through memorization that they may not remember in the future when needed (Edelson, 2001).

While I had never used WISE before, I was very impressed by the potential of the projects posted and of projects that could be created using the WISE learning environment. It reminded me that every subject I teach, especially as I now teach at an elementary level, has the potential to become a cross-curricular project that involves most areas of the curriculum. Science can so easily be combined with aspects of social studies, language arts, physical education, and art. I am still working to build more cross-curricular units to avoid the traditional single-subject teaching approach, and I feel that the incorporation of WISE projects could help me both with this transition, as well as increasing engagement and motivation in my classroom through the introduction of a technology-based learning environment.

Finally, in the T-GEM learning environment, the concept of promoting a cyclical pattern of inquiry and learning discussed by Khan (2007; 2010) was what impacted my thinking the most. Instead of simply providing students with the information they will need to know, the T-GEM model allows students to collaboratively generate ideas (perhaps correct, perhaps incorrect), and then to interactively create hypotheses as they examine and evaluate data, then re-examine and modify relationships between data and ideas/hypotheses generated on a given concept. While the T-GEM examples examined by Khan were based in a post-secondary setting, my own exploration was for a grade 4 science concept, showing the adaptability of the T-GEM model.

I find that I still stop short of creating a truly inquiry-based learning environment in my classroom because I continually worry about time constraints. However, by integrating or even combining the learning environments explored in Module B, I believe I will ultimately be able to cover more concepts (by integrating content from across the curriculum into various tasks) while at the same time creating a student-centred, inquiry-based learning environment in my classroom. Ultimately, what appealed most to me about these four learning environments was the way they all created inquiry-based, technology-enhanced learning environments that made learning memorable by connecting student learning inside the classroom to ‘real life’ experiences and issues outside the classroom. In the words of George Veletsianos, “what is the value of a learning activity if it’s not memorable?” (Veletsianos, 2011, p. 43).

Response references:

Bodzin, A. M., Anastasio, D., & Kulo, V. (2014). Designing Google Earth activities for learning earth and environmental science. In MaKinster, Trautmann, & Barnett (Eds.) Teaching science and investigating environmental issues with geospatial technology (pp. 213-232). Dordrecht, Netherlands: Springer. Retrieved from http://www.ei.lehigh.edu/eli/research/Bodzin_GE.pdf

Hasselbring, T. S., Lott, A. C., & Zydney, J. M. (2006). Technology-supported math instruction for students with disabilities: Two decades of research and development. Washington, DC: CITEd, Center for Implementing Technology in Education (www.cited.org). Retrieved from: http://www.ldonline.org/article/6291/

Khan, S. (2012). A Hidden GEM: A pedagogical approach to using technology to teach global warming. The Science Teacher, 79(8), 59-62.

Veletsianos, G. (2011). Designing opportunities for transformation with emerging technologies. Educational Technology, 51(2), 41-46. Retrieved from http://www.veletsianos.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/designing-opportunities-transformation-emerging-technologies.pdf

Zhao, Y. (2012). World class learners: Educating creative and entrepreneurial students. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.


  1. Hi Mary,

    Your catchy title caught my eye (love Dr. Seuss)! I have also struggled to use charting applications in other courses because either I cannot figure out how to get them to do what I want in a timely manner, or as you were saying, it is too scattered for my liking. In another course one of my colleagues used Mind Meister for her concept maps and seemed to find them easy to navigate.

    Your decline in curiosity and decrease in creativity for students caught my attention as well. I find so many people comment when I tell them I teach grade 3 “oh that’s good, they still like school then”. That thought process, acceptance, and sometimes reality is troubling. While there are other factors that come into play, student engagement at school is important. As you present, that thinking alone provides good reason for us as educators to invest in project-based learning, inquiry, and active learning. If technology can assist us with this goal, integration is important.

    Your end quote is perfect! Great post 🙂


    1. Hi Alison,

      Thank you for your response! It’s good to know I’m not the only one to struggle with charting applications. I will definitely look up Mind Meister – thank you for the suggestion!

      As a former secondary teacher, one of the things I love most about elementary is the fact that students “still like school” which is such a sad commentary on our education system. While students at the high school level would at times become interested in the subject matter or text we were reading, apathy was more common. I would try to make lessons and texts interesting, but it was difficult to appeal to all students and by grades 11 and 12, many just were not that interested anymore to begin with, or they were more interested in their mark than the content of the course. I have commented to colleagues before that secondary students almost seemed “jaded” and I suppose, realistically, they were. If I ever go back to secondary, there are certainly things I would do differently now that I am in the MET program! For now though, I will continue to work on integrating digital technology and inquiry at an earlier age group, with the hopes that their creativity and love for learning will continue to grow as they get older.

      1. Hi Mary, You are truly a jack-of-all-trades, having taught high school and elementary! I am not sure how my elementary colleagues even survive a week, let alone a semester, with classes of 20-30 little ones. Being an academic math and physics teacher, I do not typically have “jaded students” in my classes. For the most part, my students choose to take my classes; the last time I had to teach a class to the general population was probably 12 years ago! (time flies…) Weaving technology into my practice has unquestionably increased my student engagement. Truth be told, however, whenever the lesson contains learning that diverges from “chalk and talk” methodologies, digital or otherwise, students’ engagement increases. (For the record, I still “chalk and talk” but with TELEs, alongside.) I wouldn’t be too concerned about inquiry consuming too much time, in the younger years, should you wish to experiment a bit. With the exception of mathematics, reading, and writing, I think that the other subjects can be less content based and therefore, focus on the experience and quality of learning as opposed to the quantity of learning. There are certain literacy and numeracy skills that students should bring with them as they transition from elementary to middle to high, but do kids really need to know everything about history and science? Why not reduce the learning outcomes in areas such as social studies and science, to allow students to really dig into fewer topics but with passion, depth and creativity? I would love it if every grade 10 student could read, write, combine fractions, and know their times tables… Knowing every type of cloud or every part of the cell— not so much. Having a scientific and historical/political curiosity, however; THAT is gold. Cheers, Dana

        1. Thank you for your response, Dana. I agree with you that there are key basics for reading, writing, and math that all students should have a solid grasp of before they enter secondary school, and there are other curricular aspects that are just not as essential in the grand scheme of things. The biggest “take away” I have be given by this course so far is the fact that by integrating cross-curricular inquiry-based projects into my classroom, I can actually incorporate more curricular content in a lesser amount of time. Rather than sectioning into “math class” and “science class,” I need to work harder to incorporate science, math, social studies, and language arts. I could even get art and phys ed in there if I think about it from the right angle. While I tend to do more project-based learning with science and social studies, I do not always incorporate other curricular areas which then means that I feel like I am sacrificing one subject for another. Part of this is likely because I was trained as a secondary English teacher and spent the majority of my first twelve years of teaching at a secondary school (so teaching courses as single units), but part is simply because I find it easier to teach one subject at a time and then cross a topic off my list. I have always been fairly structured and systematic in my life, so I sometimes find the ‘unstructure’ of projects overwhelming to manage. This course has really shown me that I have to break out of this and try to embrace the cross-curricular, inquiry-based learning that will not only help develop essential skills for my students, but will also help students learn more in the same amount of time (I hope!).

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