Keeping it real: Keeping learning relevant, situated and hands-on

A theme is unquestionably emerging throughout this week’s readings, and linking ideas to previous weeks’ reading, as well. When learning is anchored in real life contexts, students are happier and their construction of knowledge is abundant.

When Third World street vending children are capable of performing complex mathematical processes mentally yet can not perform the same process in a decontextualized problem on paper, how can one not conclude the relevance of situated learning (Carraher & Dias, 1985)?  In another study, visitors to a free local museum were interviewed immediately after their trip and two years later.  Researchers determined that those visitors whose motivation to attend was curiosity driven, learned more and valued the experience more than those visitors who were merely socially motivated to attend (Falk & Storksdieck, 2009). And when researchers surveyed university biology students regarding their experience using a virtual field trip (VFT), as opposed to a traditional lecture, students overwhelmingly reported positively, 80% of the time, although they also reported that the VFT is best to enhance actual field trips, and not replace them (Spicer & Stratford, 2001).

Each of these readings funnel towards the importance of providing anchored instruction throughout educational practices. I think back to why I enjoyed physics more than any other science and it began with taking Dr. Matthews’ first year physics class where he utilized the entire theatre for his demonstrations and he took incredible measures to draw the most incredible, realistic diagrams. He was also incredibly funny, so I spent most lectures in an amused state! Although his teaching style would still be considered “traditional”, he wove realism into his lectures, every class.

Despite being bombarded with Inquiry Learning approaches in my Professional Development, and with Vygotskian Constructivist Theory in MET, I still believe that in my subject areas, senior physics and academic math, lecturing has its place. I do not have time to allow students to discover Every. Single. Concept. Nor can I allow them to choose what learning outcomes they wish to learn about.  My students are future engineers, doctors, and other intensively trained professionals and I am not prepared to sacrifice content for ease and happiness of the learning experience. To students who are not handling the rigour of my courses, I say, it is OK. It is OK to NOT become a doctor.  It is OK to NOT become an engineer. If you can’t take the heat, get out and find a training path that does not require you use math or physics at a high level. That still leaves a HEAP of other, very gratifying professions to follow!

Where I have been “converted” is within the lectures themselves.  I would not even call what I do, “lectures”, to be honest.  Students still write notes, however, the notes are interactively created. With peers, we do numerous reinforcement activities in a non-threatening, collaborative manner. We construct our knowledge at times, but not at others.   My goal is to prepare them for university and college, while providing as many hands on or virtual experiences as possible.

On the other hand, I can see that if I were a junior high or middle school teacher, how I would have a very different perspective.

Well, maybe not for math….

For math, foundational skills are critical and need to be automated at some point. This is not only important for senior high math, but for mathematical confidence and mathematical self-esteem.  When students don’t know their times tables, for example, it is like they are in my class underwater, using an oxygen tank (their calculator) to breathe. They know that if they don’t have access to their “oxygen”, they will die. Being THAT depend on a tool to survive is not conducive for a healthy learning environment.

However, in science, bring on the “fun” learning! Situate, anchor, inquire, Jasper, WISE, and network those communities every day, as far as I am concerned! What ever it takes to promote a lifelong curiosity in science should be the goal of every junior/middle science teacher out there. Moreover, the world is depending on us to make this come to fruition! We are systematically destroying our environment, becoming 40-year-old-still-living-at-home dependent on technology, and perhaps most shockingly, in astonishingly high numbers, receiving our baseline news from Facebook.

<Please prepare yourself to be “should” on. I don’t like to engage in this practice, but every once in awhile, it needs to be done.>

If we do one thing, as a collective of educators, it should be to teach our younger students how to research, and remain scientifically curious throughout their lives.

That’s it!

Easy peasy.

We’ve got this.

Carraher, T. N., Carraher, D. W., & Schliemann, A. D. (1985). Mathematics in the streets and in schools. British journal of developmental psychology, 3(1), 21-29.
Falk, J. & Storksdieck, M. (2010). Science learning in a leisure setting. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 47(2), 194-212.
Spicer, J., & Stratford, J. (2001). Student perceptions of a virtual field trip to replace a real field trip. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 17, 345-354.


  1. Hi Dana,

    Your post underscores the breadth and depth, to me, of how we may design our TELE with both online and offline activities. There is a classic paper on your point about the value of the lecture in the design of the experience, that I cite here for your interest: Schwartz, D. L., & Bransford, J. D. (1998). A time for telling. Cognition and instruction, 16(4), 475-5223. This is a paper that also discusses how knowledge generation can also be informed by telling and is sometimes useful to also discuss when we take up constructivism in teacher and graduate education.


    1. Hi Samia, Thank you for your comment and reading suggestion! I will definitely take a look at this paper— it will be fun to have some leisure reading for a change! ~Dana

    2. Hi again, Samia, I just read the first couple of pages— I’m looking forward to the rest! (post-ETEC533, haha!) ~Dana

  2. “It is OK to NOT become an engineer. If you can’t take the heat, get out and find a training path that does not require you use math or physics at a high level. That still leaves a HEAP of other, very gratifying professions to follow!”

    This was the best quote in your piece. I just wish that parents would understand this. Even in this day and age I find that parents are always pushing their kids to the higher Math class and/or the harder Science class whether they can do it or not. Isn’t it better to have a 90% in the “lower” math class than a 65% in the higher one. I have said this to parents countless times, I would rather see a student successful and thriving, than miserable.

    I am glad to know that I am not the only one.

    Thank you,

    1. You are most welcome, Haneefa! I think that I have adopted this stance after having had students in tears over their marks in my classes. Their self-worth completely chained to their math mark. One Grade 11 boy (now in his mid-20s!), was the school’s superstar student. Accepted into the Page program in Ottawa, then becoming the head Page in the following year. He was so incredibly talented in the social sciences, yet he thought he was so “stupid” because his best mark in Math 11 was a C. The connection between his math grade and his self-worth was incredibly strong. Anyway, yes—- you are definitely not alone! ~Dana

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