Monthly Archives: May 2017

Technology balance and collaboration

I chose to focus on case 3 and case 6 this week as they were the two most relatable to my current situation.

Case 3

What stood out for me in this video is teacher B identifying the fact that assumptions were made before the teaching began that likely affected the learning. As a teacher, I have experienced and have also witnessed it as an administrator. You look through lesson plans that appear to be perfect but you quickly realize there is no link to prior knowledge acquired and even the greatest of plans can bomb badly when this is the case. In her case, it was the assumption that students had some basic computer skills but this was never tested beforehand and it slowed things down.

The teacher also identified a key question when using technology, which is what if? If your lesson is based completely on a specific technology, what do you do when it fails.

Teacher A’s experience and comfort were more evident in discussing his method’s. He had a plan that facilitated helping the weaker students in technology, without his direct teaching. The concept of activity based learning is certainly an excellent one when it is approached correctly. Having proper knowledge and perspective are important, however, and it’s important that teachers are still constantly assessing their students and providing help where it is needed.

I also found the argument about hands on vs. simulations interesting. I would be interested to hear for about studies done on the benefits and drawbacks of each but I can certainly see the benefit of having a more blended approach. Cost is an issue for schools and the fact is you cannot experience the amount of things you would be able to on a simulator. While I don’t agree that simulators can’t simulate problems (when I did flight simulations I had plenty of preprogrammed failures built in that forced me to think on my feet) I do agree that there is value is live experiments and this should never be done with completely.

Case 6

This case also caught my attention because the teacher had a certain passion for using technology that was focussed on benefitting the students. Parent and teacher communication can be difficult through old channels but this has changed greatly and for teachers that take the initiative they can stay very connected. Doing so encourages interaction at home, which only strengthens learning.

I was also struck by the inquiry-based approach of trying to find what the students are interested in and building off of that.

What was most impressive to me was the teacher understood the reality that you “go to war with the army you have, not the one you want.” This is to say he understood he was not going to get all of the technology elements, at least not through standard means. He added components by being crafty in pitching ideas and showing results to back up his requests for more funding.

Both cases were interesting in their own right. Certainly, the context and approach differ slightly but the basic principle of using technology in the most efficient way possible was a common thread. I believe sincerely that collaboration among teachers is the key to expanding learning opportunities to all and it appears these teachers are very willing to share their experiences and learn.

Enhancement, Affordances, and Access

I looked at the evolved role of technology in the 2017 classroom.  We probed the experience of two teachers’ view of “technology in the classroom” as a journey from student to experienced teaching professional.  We finished with their vision of the “future of e-learning”.  Teacher J has been teaching high school chemistry and junior science for 13 years.  She was interviewed in her room during her last period prep block.  Teacher C has been teaching high school ICT for 22 years.  He was interviewed in a nearby preparation room while his class worked on something.  Both teachers grew up and teach within the BC education system.

Theme 1:  Technology as Enhancement.  Both teachers remember their 1980-1990’s student and pre-service teaching experience of technology as not present in the classroom or things that enhanced existing practice.

As students…
Teacher C: “[Computers] were used to replacing handwriting or manual typing.”
Teacher J:  “Technology was wasn’t a big part of the high school classroom…the overhead projector was the technology of the classroom.”
Teacher C:  “When I was in grade 11…I learned programming, but that was outside of the classroom.”

As pre-service teachers…
Teacher J:  “In [2003] my B.Ed…the integration of technology was not a big part.  There was no push for technology, implicit or explicit.”
Teacher C: “There was nothing [in 1995].  The web didn’t exist.  There was just the internet.  The expectation was that we would use the computers for research…to make things look nice.  It was ‘let’s replace manual technology with digital technology.’”

Theme 2:  Exploiting the Affordances of Technology.  In their current practice, both teachers have obviously undertaken significant professional development and both understand and extensively exploit the affordances of digital technology and Web 2.0 including LMS (i.e. Google Classroom, WordPress), collaborative documents (i.e. Google Docs, Github, Wikispaces), online formative assessment tools (i.e. Kahoot, Poll Everywhere), data collection systems (i.e. Vernier Probes), visualization tools (i.e. PheT, Canva), cloud-based tutorials (i.e. Khan Academy), and digital storytelling (Youtube).

Teacher C:  “[Technology] is any device that allows you to do work either easier, or makes the job easier or more effective.”
Teacher J:  “I let my students use their cellphones to text in their answers using online polling software.  Students really enjoy that…it is engaging for them.”
Teacher C:  “[the students] collaborate, they co-create, they co-edit, they develop what they need to develop socially, together.”
Teacher J:  “When we were doing labs, students were recording the chemical reactions, making a time lapse video, and adding a link to their lab report.  I was able to go and see their reaction.”

Theme 3:  Bleeding Edge Issues For Learning 2.0  When asked about leveraging technology in our digital classrooms of the future, both teachers identified reliable access inside the classroom as the biggest issue.

Teacher C:  “The road blocks I run into are when I want kids to work together and something won’t let them.  Invariably that turns out to be institutional restrictions.”
Teacher J:  “I think technology is an integral part of the classroom now.  I’ve done many things with bring your own technology…I think that’s the future.  Teachers are requiring technology in their classroom, and they don’t have it.  Access is important for us, I think.
Teacher C:  “I want technology that works as well in school as it does out of school.  Everyone else uses technology for a million things in their life outside of the building.  I want a technology that lets us do the same thing inside [the building]…not a completely parallel set of tools, but that the needs are met for both groups and you only need to use one of [the tools].”

Risk, Resources and Collaboration

The interviewee is a colleague at another elementary school in our district, he is in his 8th year of teaching in general grade 5.  The interview was in his classroom after school, below are the 3 summative points from the conversation.


He felt that one of the main underlying themes to actively integrating technology with teaching practice was taking risks.  Technology combined with content and pedagogy, “unless actively practiced and tested in a classroom environment cannot become an integral part of a teacher’s toolkit.”  He takes risks daily when using new technology but finds that the rewards that present themselves when technology “clicks” far outweigh the times when his experiments with tech failed.  When a piece of software or hardware can be used for a specific application he often found that that device or app had much broader applications when applied between subjects or combined with previous successful technology platforms. He had to break out of his previous “binder based” lesson planning to start to develop his lessons online and this in itself required an investment of time and risk into a new platform to better store his work.  He stated, “part of the risk was letting go of your control over all aspects of the classroom and realizing that with these new tools there are many times the knowledge is reciprocal especially, for example with coding.”


He talked about the lack of cohesive resources that tied technology to content and competencies within our newly developed ADST curriculum.  He is moving towards a station approach to his classroom with Math and Science in which each station has an interdisciplinary approach using tech.   He is trying to develop automated websites which the students can log into to follow online instructions to learn the new digital fabrication and physical computing component that our district elementary schools are investing in.  “A direct teaching method is unproductive using stations and the individualized, authentic approach we are trying to use. The challenge lies in developing web based platforms to guide the students, moving them to self regulated learning tasks creating projects that combine reflection, adaption and collaboration.”  He does not have time to create these resources and finds it frustrating that our district and government seem to lack any centralized repositories to help teachers develop and integrate tech into their subjects.


He felt Multi User VIrtual Environments were possibly the most interactive, cooperative, dynamic teaching tool he had used thus far. He uses Minecraft with his teaching I asked him how the M.U.V.E.’s could benefit students.  He stated that “these large scale sandbox platforms are a place for teachers to build lessons that most closely mimic our physical environment in terms of unpredictable events, visual relation and open creativity.”  He felt as if M.U.V.E’s were in their infancy and not often used, however as an interdisciplinary tool for all subjects it covered a broad swath and had limitless possibilities.  He stated, “Most teachers will dismiss it as just a game, but the level of creativity and problem solving I have seen from our disengaged learners is astounding.”  Professional development on how to use this tool was probably the best way to bring it into skeptical teachers focus. He said “the limiting tool could possibly be the level of technology that schools require to run the platform in their labs.”  

To learn content or learn how to learn

The cases from this week peaked my interest to the point where I ended up watching four and with this, I began to notice similar themes to the successful integration of technology in the Science and Mathematics classrooms. All of the classrooms I observed had teachers who were willing to commit a large amount of time, effort, and troubleshooting to allow their students to learn in a very different way than a classical lecture-style classroom.

As BC renovates its K-12 curriculum, the main complaint I hear from other teachers is the lack of staple skills and information being taught. Comparisons are continually being made about how Chinese schools teach core skills in Math and Science with less focus on problem solving, communication, critical thinking, and personal and social skills. In BC, the Core Competencies have become a main focus for educator professional development training while the curricular competencies receive little attention. I feel that these two schools of thought continue to be a battle ground as how to best prepare our students for their future lives, careers, and unforeseen challenges.

It is apparent in these case videos that these teachers who rely on technology are not, and for that matter do not pretend to be, the omnipotent knowledge-keepers ready to fill kids heads with new information. In the new information age that we are living in, knowledge has become easily accessible and therefore less valuable for students in their mindset. The teachers in the videos have begun to stop teaching content but rather to teach students how to learn, grow, adapt, and prosper in such a rapidly changing world. With this, comes the humility of these teachers to admit that they do not know how to solve every problem they encounter but instead can demonstrate how students can seek their own solutions.

I understand that these case videos taken out of the context of the entire course may not show some traditional skills which have been taught to these students. That is, before a student can use an Arduino to carefully control the temperature of growing crystals, they must have some basic skills. It is after these basic skills are gained that students can explore and develop the skills present in these core competencies using technology. I would be interested to see how these teachers progress through the semester with their students who may be used to traditional instructional techniques.

Negativity Gets You Nowhere

When implementing technology in our schools, it becomes essential that lessons continue to be based on achieving a maximum level of student activity, rather than focusing on the skill of using the technology itself. One thing that stood out for me in the videos was how different teachers approached technology integration in their classrooms in terms of how they perceived and utilized the support of their colleagues. I continue to wonder how current perspectives impact the ways in which students, teachers and administrators form their attitudes and approaches toward learning and educational technologies. Teachers can no longer realistically expect to “know more about technology” than their students, and if teachers are unwilling to provide opportunities to their students to lead with their own technological expertise, they will always be limited by a sense of frustration much like that expressed by the retiring teacher in Video Case 5.

One of the challenges in effectively implementing technology to enhance student learning and experiences in our schools is to help support and educate our teachers about practical applications in terms of planning, authentic practice, and assessment. The terminology and endless usage of acronyms often intimidates and alienates students and teachers who are already feeling “behind” in terms of their perceived technological skills and knowledge. As a result, the reality is that many educators approach technology with apprehension and mistrust, and they feel a lack of support in planning/designing tasks for their students that integrate technology in meaningful ways into their classroom practice. In addition, there is a sense of being ostrasized if they ask questions or seek out support. As MET graduate students, I feel that we have a tremendous opportunity to bring a level of knowledge and experience into our schools to promote professional development and collaborative support in moving our pedagogy forward with regards to learning technologies.

In order for technology to be integrated and utilized for greater impact on student learning, schools also must be committed to supporting teachers through professional development, collegial support, and technical assistance. Without any one of these supports in place, the technology can not be used to its potential. This requires a significant commitment in terms of cost (monetary and time) on the part of school administration to ensure that a positive environment can be established and maintained to benefit students and staff.

The most successful schools that I’ve been at have enjoyed positive support from administration and the ability to promote and build teacher capacity with integrating technology amongst staff. As a technology lead at one of my previous schools, I was fortunate to have had a tremendous opportunity to help plan the purchasing and implementation of technology for elementary students and staff, and provide support and professional development around developing best practice and building teacher capacity. The amount of time and money that went into this work was phenomenal, and was not always greeted with cheers and enthusiasm, but ultimately provided staff at the school with the opportunity to start at their technology comfort level and then, with continued support, to move forward and push beyond their boundaries to learn more. Truly, without the organizational support and commitment from school administrations, many teachers wouldn’t have the opportunity or the desire to integrate technology into their daily practice.


Technology in the Classroom

The first video that I watched was Learning Environment 4 (Space Learning). The teacher being interviewed identifies herself as “part of a team” to help support student learning. Many of the students, who were English Language Learners, used technology in different ways in order to express their understanding. The teacher identified that she used project-based learning as a form of instructional practice and technology was an integral part of the process. This was evident from the math book that the student shared which contained students pictures and real world math scenarios. In addition, I also gleaned from the interview that the learning and success that students have in one subject areas can carry over to other areas.

I wondered as I watched the video about the strategies the teacher uses to manage the classroom. What measures are in place to help students stay focused and on task. I noticed how loud it was and how some of the students were distracted. I also wondered about the strategies that are used to ensure that students working collaboratively share equal responsibility for the product of their work.

The second video that I watched was Learning Environment 5 (Middle School Science). The teacher in this segment listed a range of technology related tools that he uses with students. He also mentioned how he uses technology for assessment and communication purposes. What I found most interesting was his comments related to student accountability. He alluded the fact that worked published online creates a pressure that helps to hold students accountable for their efforts. The students who were interviewed in this segment were able to clearly articulate that using technology was engaging, provided a break from textbook reading, is useful because people learn differently.

It was interesting to note that in both videos teachers mentioned that time was an issue for them. It was noted that they cited needing time to become familiar with the technology and how to use it in the classroom. Other professional challenges mentioned were; comfort level with technology, and not enough information and professional development.

Engagement, Assessment & Barrier

Ms. G is currently a grade 6 elementary teacher at a school in downtown Vancouver. This is only her second year of teaching where before she worked in marketing. The interview was conducted face to face in her classroom at 8:30 a.m. on Monday May 29, 2017.

Three summary keywords that echoed throughout my interview were: engagement, assessment and barrier. Ms. G uses technology in her math class everyday. She uses her Smartboard to, “… watch videos, complete interactive activities that promote student engagement, and for teacher demonstration.” If she wants to capture student’s attention in math, she’ll either use Khan Academy to demonstrate a concept or find a mini video clip on Youtube. She appreciates how convenient it is to have a Smartboard in class and feels that she’s pretty fortunate since not all teachers have one. She uses an online copy of her student’s workbook so that the entire class can do math examples from the book on the Smartboard. Ms. G stated that by doing so it will help, “…students assess their own understanding.” One area of incorporating technology into the classroom that she would like to learn more on is assessment.

Ms. G mentioned in the interview that she would like, “…to use other programs that would help with formative and summative assessment like quick little quizzes or tests where students can log-in and track their progress throughout the unit. I would like to set-up the quizzes so that they correlate with what we just learned in class rather than random questions from the textbook.” I mentioned if she has considered creating her own online quizzes and her response was that, “I don’t have the time in my busy schedule.” Again, this sentiment is the same view as other teachers such as in Video Cases 5 & 6 in our previous lesson.

The third keyword that stuck out in my interview with Ms. G is barrier. As she states, “Resources are a huge barrier to teachers and students in the public school system since you cannot guarantee that technology is available when you need it.” At her school, they have 2 iPad carts which is shared amongst 18+ divisions. You have to book far in advance if you want to use them in your class. Also, her union advocates against the BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) model which is another barrier in the way of incorporating technology into the class.  Since her schoolboard won’t provide more funding for other technological devices in class, she still allows her students to BYOD but with certain restrictions.

In conclusion, Ms. G uses technology wherever she can in her math class but would like to learn how to assess her students while using it. If given the chance, she, “…would be eager to take any training offered by my school board as students are very engaged with technology and learning how it can be embedded across all subjects would be very beneficial.”



IBL & Keeping Students ‘On Track’

The first set of videos I watched was Case 5. It showed a teacher who has her students working on a project while also incorporating many different technologies into the classroom. She refers to herself as ‘the coach’ and ‘a learner’. This mentality certainly follows the more laidback teaching style of facilitator as opposed to authoritarian. Judging by the commentary in the background by her students, they seem to be engaged in the task and are committed to the project and to furthering their learning. This style of teaching, and using project-based learning, allows her to roam around the room and check for understanding. It also “equalizes the playing field for all the students” so that they, despite their cultural differences, can work at their own pace and use technology to their advantage.

The teacher does not go into the particular project much and so it raises some questions about what the expectations surrounding the project are. How are students held accountable for their learning? Does she conference with them on a daily basis? Weekly? What does she do to ensure that no student is left behind? The teacher says “It [the IBL approach] challenges them, not all of them” so what does she do to make sure that all students are, in fact, learning something and are challenged in certain way?

As a new teacher, I have not had the chance to really delve into a full Inquiry Based Learning project and the openness and potential to come out of it really peaks my interest. I would love to undertake a unit but definitely need to do more research on how to structure it. The idea of letting it come naturally frightens me as there is so little time in the school year that I would not want to spend time on a particular topic only to realize a few lessons in that there is nothing that could come out of it. That being said, if there were no curriculum or time restrictions, IBL is a beautiful way of learning. However, as a started, I think I would need to see how it is done, perhaps by witnessing a colleagues experience with it. The students in the second video obviously really enjoy the open aspect of their learning and you can tell that creativity and collaboration are main aspect of this type of learning. The incorporation of different types of technology allows students to be able to express their learning in many diverse ways. During my Graduate Diploma of Teaching, I too, was asked to create a Slowmation and have since seen it done with students as young as in Kindergarten. The learning curve is large but the excitement and engagement that occurs is so worth it!

Case 6 also demonstrates how technology is incorporated into the science and math classroom. The teacher interview was fantastic and I was very impressed by the teacher himself. He had multiple Grade 8 groups working on various tasks including cutting into an eye, listening to a CBC podcast, listening to a song, creating a podcast of the textbook, etc. The tasks really encourage differentiation and demonstrated that there was an activity that would peak every students interest.

The teacher at one point is asked how he has learned about all the various forms of technology he is incorporating into his classroom. He candidly answers that, for the most part, it is up to him. This seems to be a common occurrence across many school boards in Canada and it strikes me as odd. My school board, in particular, really focuses on the implementation of technology into the classroom yet, without teachers exploring the options on their own, little is discussed about how or what to bring into the classroom. Taking the MET was one of the ways that I would learn about different ways to integrate technology into my classroom.

All in all, the video cases detailed the overwhelming support for technology into math and science classrooms yet did ultimately leave me with some questions as mentioned above. The final question I have left is how can we, as educators in the MET, help our teams with implementing technology into the classrooms? How can we encourage technology to be used in a meaningful way and not just because it is there?

Video Cases 5 & 6

The two videos I have decided to examine are video cases 5 and 6. An underlying theme I have noticed between the two case studies is the lack of professional development opportunities and time to incorporate technology in the classroom for teachers. In video case 5, the retiring teacher expresses her frustration due to the fact she isn’t equipped with the knowledge or knowhow with using technology in her class. The student teacher echoes her same concerns. Even though she has been to a few technology workshops within her district, she either can’t seem to find the time or forgets to include technology in her classroom lessons. What I don’t understand with these two teachers is that they aren’t willing to make or find the time. I have come across this same attitude with other teachers I have met in the past, and that they make excuses to not change their current habits or attitude towards using technology in their classrooms. Would more professional development workshops help curb this way of thinking for teachers? If there was more funding and time dedicated in the classroom to teach and incorporate technology, would this help struggling teachers?

In our previous discussion in Lesson 2 Activity 1: Unpacking Assumptions, we were asked, “What is a good use of technology in math and science classrooms?” Teacher S in video case 5 and teacher C in video case 6 both had great examples of incorporating technology into the classroom. From using Garage Band, animated GIF’s, learning different concepts through rap songs to creating podcasts; the students were all engaged. One additional benefit to using technology that I didn’t consider before, is that students are more prone to producing exceptional quality of work if they post something on the internet. If their peers and others can and will view their work, they will want to have their best work posted.

If I were to explore a response to the underlying issue I have raised, I would want to conduct a questionnaire for teachers, students, administrators and parents. Similarly, to the interview we have conducted with a colleague for this MET course. I would want to gather input from the groups mentioned to see what their feelings are towards technology in the classroom. Are they comfortable using it? Do they need more training? Time? Funds? This would help teachers and school districts alike see what needs are not being met.

Case 7 – Post-Secondary Applied Science Environment

The case 7 (Post-Secondary Applied Science Environment) presented important classroom issues that exist when delivering content in front of a large audience where students come from a variety of cultural backgrounds. The main student issues were participation, engagement, and real-time comprehension feedback for the instructor. The case presented a single technology solution, the clickers, that addressed these issues but also posed questions. The most important ones are:

  • Why is it difficult to integrate new technologies in the classroom?
  • What should the technology integration process be like?
  • How would the technology reduce or avoid student misconceptions related to the scientific concepts presented in class?

In exploring a response to these questions, I looked at some of the challenges the instructor and the students faced along the way as they adopted the technology. Let’s first take a look at the difficulties related to integrating the new technology in the classroom. The instructor felt some apprehension and nervousness during the first lecture when the technology was introduced. He thought it might not work as expected or might not be well received by the audience.

   The fact that students came from different backgrounds contributed to this nervousness. That meant the new concepts presented in class would elicit different reactions when the students were exposed to them. Some possible reactions that would exacerbate a learning challenge in the classroom could occur if the students became distracted by the technology, or if a majority of the students used the clickers to indicate they understood the concepts but in reality, they acted based on misconceptions or conjectures that remained hidden from the instructor.

   On the opposite side, the technology could, and in fact did, ameliorate the learning process by producing many positive effects. The clickers made the students work harder and removed the cultural reactions to the learning process because the input was collected anonymously. That increased participation, engagement, the speed with which the concepts were covered, and the level of real-time feedback for the instructor. The result was fewer unanswered questions, and thus improved understanding of the material.

Now, let’s examine the process of integrating new technology in the STEM classrooms. Most importantly, the process needs to be simple and easy. That means:

  • No complicated setups in terms of installation or configuration
  • Technology platform independence – the devices should work with what most hardware vendors offer Out-of-the-Box

When the technology meets these two simple requirements, it will make it significantly easier for instructors to overcome their apprehension and nervousness when introducing new technology in the classroom. The clickers meet the first requirement and I hope they would do well in terms of the second one (the case does not offer sufficient information to make that determination). The clickers (new technology) bring an added benefit: they empower students to politely say “Please, stop, repeat, and clarify. I did not understand.”, and to do so anonymously without the fear of judgement or ridicule.

As to student misconceptions, they can be addressed via a different set of technologies that capture students’ understanding of the concepts taught in class. The most common tools are blogs and forums that support discussions threads. Instructors can act as moderators by reviewing the discussions that take place in different threads and guiding students to the correct interpretation of scientific concepts. More advanced tools like Slack offer features like discussion channels, threads within a channel, audio and video conferencing.