Monthly Archives: May 2017

Supporting Teams are essential

What are the underlying issues and why are they issues?
– I watched a number of the videos but my discussion is primarily based on Case 5 and Case 1. To me the underlying issue was highlighted in listening to the teachers discuss their programs and the success or challenges that they were having. I noticed that in the discussion by the teachers in Case 1 that they were interviewed all together, they talked about what they all bring to the team and their different strengths and it was obvious that if they were struggling with one aspect that they could see and access another team member to help them. Comparing that to the teachers debrief from Case 5 where they all felt very individual and that support of a team was absent. As the teachers in Case 1 acknowledged that one of the biggest challenges is that technology doesn’t always work like you think it will and having to problem solve on the go. If you are in a team that fear of technology failing is much less intimidating and the staff from Case 1 seemed much more relaxed about it. I believe that the absence of support is often a limiting factor to exploring technology in a classroom.

What further questions does the video raise for you?
– I think I have two major questions from this. The first, is how do we support those teachers that are waiting on the sidelines that with the right encouragement would take the risk and bring technology into the classroom? The second, is how do we build teams, especially at the elementary level to support novice technology teachers?

How would you explore a response to this issue?
– This is something I have been working on all year and the comment that resonated with me the most was when I asked our teaching staff what they needed to support them with technology use in their classroom and one teacher said “I don’t know what there is to know what I need!” It was here that I realized I needed a much smaller step to support the staff.
– I believe asking those that have had success and how they got started gives lots of insight, allowing for many access points for staff to explore and try technology to boost their success and comfort is essential. Then seeking and exploring other districts and seeing what models they have set up and the success they are having are key to building a supporting model in my district.

How might the issue that is raised exacerbate or ameliorate a conceptual challenge held by students?
– If a teacher uses technology like it isn’t technology, what I mean is, reading an article online is the same as reading a textbook, then no additional growth in a student’s conceptual understanding is likely. Heather is a perfect example, she has an interpretation of what direct and indirect light were and looking at images online or in a book are unlikely to expand her understanding. However, if you look at the students who were producing the soundscapes in Case 5 they showed great understanding of the concept, in this case tornados. They had taken the time to research and the use of technology was allowing them a unique way to display their learning. The student talked about finding other information, with help from the teacher, to expand their understanding to enable them to have the knowledge to build their assignment. This shows how technology clearly improved a project that could have been a one dimensional poster board on the topic.

“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”

While watching the following video cases, I couldn’t help but think about the quote by Albert Einstein, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” I explored video cases 5 and 8, and the common theme that good use of technology in the science and math classroom is when students effectively use technology to explain their thinking and understanding, clearly, creatively, and collaboratively.

Video Case 5
The first video began with the teacher who was very positive and optimistic about her use of technology in the classroom. She often spoke about how busy yet engaged the students in her class are with their project-based activities. From the background noise heard in the video, it is clear that the students enjoy her science class; the kids are talking, thinking, and learning. The teacher goes on to talk about how she is more of a coach in the classroom, often referring to the class as her team. She encourages risk-taking, while modelling this herself, by integrating technology into her lessons, often mentioning how she self-taught herself. This teacher clearly enjoys organized chaos and is not rigid in her classroom managment, by this I mean she is comfortable allowing the students to guide their own inquiry. Her growth mindset is obvious when compared and contrasted with the retired teacher video.

The retired teacher reiterates on more than one occasion that technology is frustrating for her, and time consuming. This made me question why is it okay for teachers to display this negative narrative in schools when teachers are often seen as role models, or at least in roles of influence. This can often be said for regarding math, when parents or teacher say in front of students, this subject is not their strong suit. One of the things I have noticed from my own students is that they will always be the collective experts because they are willing to take risks in their learning, displaying trial and error in its finest. I was equally surprised by the new teachers video confession that she worried about the lack of time available for her to implement technology into her lessons. However, I think she raised an important point in that her B.Ed did not tackle technology integration as an important subject area while preparing her to teach. Overall, the issue that stood out for me from this video is how do schools foster collaborative teams of teachers and students who are willing to take-risks in their learning to showcase their understandings?

Video Case 8
This video explore the perspective of the pre-service teacher students who are creating content based videos using slomation, or digital animation. This video made we compare how excited these adults were in creating these videos, relying on collaboration, communication, and creativity in their own groups, and how this would easily be adapted by their own students when given the chance. This use of technology in the science classroom can easily be adapted by students in elementary and middle school. Not only are student learning about the content of the subject matter but they are also learning the skills behind video editing, researching, time management, negotiating order of importance, etc. This integrated learning engagement far exceeds the retention of what would be remembered if students were only to read and observe information in a print based textbook, for example. Here, students are engaging the senses and learning is happening organically.

Overall, these two video cases reinforced my belief that when technology is integrated meaningfully into the design of a learning engagement, many learning objectives are being met collectively. Students are excited to explain what they know in a simple, yet intricate way with the support of technology as a tool.

Video Cases 5 & 8

I chose to observe video cases 5 and 8 because of their elementary context. In video case 5, I appreciated how the teacher used project based learning with technology to enhance their understanding. She mentions how technology supports the language barrier in her community of learners who are majority English language learners. She mentions that her students go onto msn, which makes me wonder how old this interview is, considering msn was popular in the early 2000’s. I also know this teacher because I took a coding workshop of hers in the Surrey school district recently, which makes me wonder what her classroom would look like today. I was amazed to see the coding quest projects she presented at the ADST robotics and coding showcase last week. Listening to her explain how technology enhances their classroom, I especially appreciated how she promotes it as a way for her students to express their understanding, rather than simply in written form. This is something I have become passionate about in my own practice. Students respond positively when have they choice, and when they have an option to share their learning outside of the typical test and written assessments. What I noticed and found distracting was how noisy the classroom was and I wonder if all of her students can focus in an environment like this. I had a hard time hearing the interviewer’s questions. She explains that her classroom is always noisy, and yet they still do awesome work, but does this benefit everyone? Or just the extroverted students? One thing she mentioned, which I also do in my classroom is use rap songs to explain understanding. My students recently learned about matter, and the rap song they learned helped them understand the concept so clearly. I would hear them quietly singing to themselves throughout the day. We use a website called Flocabulary in our class and the students love listening to different big ideas or learning intentions during our inquiry. Many students memorize the lyrics and then create their own rap video in iMovie during our Makerspace time. What I loved about this classroom was how technology was used in all subjects, and the focus wasn’t on what technology they were using, but how they could use it to support their inquiry.

In video case 8, I thought the teachers approach to brining the water cycle to life through stop motion was creative. It reminds me of the new ADST curriculum and the approach to design thinking in the classroom. In my classroom, my students use a stop motion app with a  similar process. We 3D print characters, use Lego people, and cut out different scenes. Students love the idea of creating their own animation videos, and attaching a learning intention to it creates an engaging environment of learners. She explains that using this approach goes far beyond what a textbook can offer in terms of arrows and diagrams. Stop motion animation breaks down the concept into layers and it supports her visual learners. In my classroom, we use a similar approach through Scratch Jr. We recently coded the water cycle and the students enjoyed designing and coding precipitation and evaporation. Each student approached it differently, and enjoyed sharing and teaching the other students. Some included a weather man who was coded to speak text. Others went through a number of different scenes to share their learning with the viewer. In the video attached to this case, one of the student pairs discusses how great this project is, and the other remarks on how time consuming it is. Looking at this video through a design lens, we can see that it’s set up similarly to a Makerspace, which gives students an opportunity to make, design, and create an artifact. It appears that this is happening over a large block. I wonder if it was broken up in days if the two students would have a different opinion or outlook on the time aspect.

Solving problems as a team

Before I began my analysis, I wanted to pick out 3 videos that I felt would give me a solid overview of technology from different contexts.

I examined Case 1 – a secondary STEM “shop” class, Case 5 – an elementary science classroom, and Case 6 – a middle school life science class.

As I examined each of the cases, I noticed that a recurring issue that teachers would often face was their personal lack of knowledge in how to use the technology. From statements made by the preservice teachers, retiring teacher and current teachers, they found they were most successful when approaching technology as a team. Students were often the solution to teachers who struggled to get started.  They all learned by doing, by becoming self-taught and self-directed. I wonder how much time needs to go into finding which technologies are worth exploring with the students if the technology is not already familiar with the teacher?

Another issue that was raised was time. Teachers in these cases felt they sometimes struggled juggling the curriculum with the technology integration. Interestingly enough, however, none of the students mentioned feeling pressured from time when applying aspects of technology to science or math. Often it felt “seamless” and was “infused” within what they were working on (Case 5). Teacher M in case 1 did a miraculous job of explaining how he overcame this issue by using complex layering of the projects and making sure it related to real life problems. Through a problem-based approach, he would knock off multiple areas of the curriculum and beyond. Meanwhile, the students were applying and analyzing a variety of aspects in their learning that a traditional class could not accommodate.

Throughout the cases, many similarities arose in how the technology was being used successfully. Self-direction was a key component for the teacher and students to be risk-takers. Having some students become experts, many more were able to learn from each other as well. This tied into the collaboration aspect that was prevalent in each. Although some classes became loud, such as the class in case 5, there were many opportunities for students to get up and discuss their ideas with others. I really liked Teacher C’s method of creating a collaborative class atmosphere by taking the role of ‘coach’ for a ‘team’ rather than an instructor for her pupils.

Finally, it seemed that project-based or problem-based learning was an important component to successfully apply technology within the classroom. Students were no longer exploring a single concept, but were exploring a complex layering of real-life issues within a project. Case 1 presented a bridge building project that had the students question what the components for the construction might be. It was not explicitly stated, and neither were the techniques that they ended up discovering. I loved how open each project question was that Teacher M presented. Once the students had completed the project, the challenge wasn’t over. The teacher added another layer of making the structure as light as possible, exploring tension from an entirely new lens. This method of teaching using real-life problems seems to overcome issues of time, by combining multiple curricula, and knowledge, by making it a collaborative process.

In a science or STEM specific classroom in secondary such as this, the approach appears to be relatively simple to implement, given the expertise of the teacher in that field. In the elementary classroom, however, where teachers have more general knowledge, how might these problem-based projects be created, I wonder? How do we make good use of technology and make it applicable to the problems they are exploring if the science and math content at that level is so vast?

Across Contexts

It was very interesting witnessing technology being integrated across so many contexts. Watching how situational factors influenced opinions and decision-making demonstrated how complex technology integration really is. The range of student experiences in all the contexts demonstrates the importance of pedagogy but also of the willingness of larger educational systems to support meaningful technology integration. Access to technology, professional development opportunities, professional/school culture, instructional level, etc. all impacted the way teachers integrated technology in their contexts.

Case 1

Case one demonstrated the benefits of an integrated, interdisciplinary approach. The concepts are connected to real world problem solving and technology is used as facilitator to explore the concepts. The student’s knowledge is connected and constructed through authentic experience. I love how the teacher is excited that the kids figure concepts out on their own and independently problem solve, instead of just remembering what they were told to do. Technology is integrated but is not the focus of instruction. The students were applying the concept with the help of technology, within a theoretical framework. For example, he mentions an Arduino, but only within the context of the project. The students had a functional understanding of the technology and how they were using it to learn. The teachers discussed independence, communication, critical thinking, creative thinking, problem solving as a main focus. I also thought the point about getting student teachers to engage in projects similar to the students was a great idea. I just went to a Makey Makey PD attended by a lot technologically novice teachers. The facilitator had us just do the same projects we were going to do with our students. In one day, he had everyone happily coding away in Scratch. If it the PD would have been done with a ‘stand and deliver’ approach, it would not have been nearly as successful.

Case 5

The teacher in the case 5 classroom has a very positive view of the potential of technology. She views it as an effective scaffold for English language learners. She integrates technology across the curriculum to facilitate her form of project-based learning and incorporates a lot of collaboration. I was wondering how much focus was on just incorporating a lot of technology and how much was on the topics they were learning. It was interesting to listen to the retiring teacher and the new teacher focusing on the reasons why technology is difficult to incorporate. It is a common viewpoint that using technology is a separate ability, or pet interest, that only some teachers possess. Many teachers have a growth-mindset for most subjects, but for math and technology ability is viewed as more fixed.

Case 6

The teacher talked a lot about content and being “right” in his interview. I got the impression he viewed learning as retaining content and regurgitating the answers provided to them. I think his integration provided an upgrade from traditional direct instruction, but I did wonder about the value of students just repackaging provided information through PowerPoint or podcasts. I wondered if the style of integration would allow students to address conceptual challenges. The student teacher made some good points about the benefits of hands-on, collaborative and creative learning.

Case 7

I was struck at the difference between case 1 and case 7. The participation in learning went from immersion with concepts and technology to pressing a button on a remote. Having said that, I would have loved to have access to that during my undergrad educational experience. Actively involving so many students is a very difficult task and at least they are provided with some means of participation.

Case 8

I thought the teachers in case 8 did a good job connecting the use of technology to the concepts they were teaching. They had a convincing rational explaining how the specific technology would help students understand the concepts. They also explained why the technology was more effective than using other methods. They were trying to incorporate the students work into the learning as much as possible. Some of the teachers did identify a significant issue regarding how time intensive integrating technology can be in the early years. The relative lack of independence results in a heavy burden on the teachers. I wonder if the reduced participation of kids impacts its overall educational value for students.

Trial and Error, Relationship, Advancement

The interviewee is a colleague at my school, presently in his fourth year teaching in areas of Science, Math and PE. The interview took place in my classroom after lunch on a professional development day. Three summary points are elaborated below:

  • Trial and Error

Technology can at least be used for instruction, administration and interaction, where the interviewee described using computer-based technology: Tablets and projectors for teaching, Websites for announcements to keep up to date, and Online simulations like PhET and Youtube where students can explore. The interviewee explained how simulations help visualize concepts to understand phase changes for molecules, in place of stationary pictures in textbooks. Geogebra and Desmos likewise help learners connect with math, accessing through open source platforms. The biggest advice from him was “trial and error”, in that technology might not work after all, but at least you’ll know by trying it out. To confront fear of failure, he suggested not trying with the entire class, but maybe a small group afterschool first.

  • Relationship

The interviewee modelled a genuine and mutual interaction with students, receiving feedback to determine whether technology was successful. Certain students learn better with technology, while others disengage as phones can be distractions. He described how social media is always at their fingertips, possibly eliciting worry about their online presence the whole time. The interviewee emphasized being clear with expectations (ex. when to use technology), discretely trying not to make a scene. Of course that depends on students, though it escalates for him when student not only affects him/herself but those around him. Students want genuine teachers who acknowledge weaknesses, promoting collaborative attitudes like “let’s work on this together”. Otherwise student doesn’t want to participate when they don’t understand, perceiving teacher as the expert. The model is teamwork based, so educators don’t have to know everything, but can problem solve with colleagues and peers. Interviewee described how teachers often forget how good students are with technology, where learners can feel empowered to passionately share with the class.

  • Advancement

Interviewee described how when he went through school, while technology was not limited (ex. All The Right Type, Paint), it was very simple technology with limited programming even in computer classes. While Science and Math used different software, he would only rarely go to computer labs for the purpose of research. Sometimes even tried technologies like Powerpoint doesn’t work too well, presenting information too quickly for students to process. Interviewee recognizes that now technology is everywhere, so why try to hide something so powerful when “they can search up the world”. As such, the interviewee encourages bringing laptops for learning, exploring modern apps that make phones wonderful learning tools. The gender stereotypes that were prominent before are much less pronounced, as girls use modern apps equally shrinking possible gender discrimination issues.

Technology and learning

The one issue that really stood out to me was how vastly the use of technology in the classroom varied from one example to the other. For example, in case 6, the technology itself had nothing to do with the science lesson. This is in contrast with the STEM class from Case 1. So, if the technology has nothing to do with the lesson, does using it actually translate to better engagement and understanding of the topics in question? Specifically, does making a powerpoint presentation, animation or podcast lead to a deeper understanding of the material? I guess the only way to answer this question is to conduct research to look into this or do a literature review to see if anyone has researched this particular question. Making a presentation is a time consuming activity and uses resources, and it would be great to be able to justify this by stating that this leads to deeper understanding of the material, or higher level of understanding/knowledge per Bloom’s taxonomy.

Case 4 – Preservice Biology Teachers

The underlying issue in Case 4 is that a professor who has been teaching for many years is lecturing to preservice teachers the benefits of introducing technology in the biology classroom.  The professor goes on to speak about how it is so important to have a support network of other teachers of similar subject areas; his own experience was two physics teachers who were his seniors.  This support network allows an educator feel comfortable trying new technologies and if something is to fail then the support teachers are there to help.  I’m not sure when this case takes place, but the professor also goes on to say that the district is not going to provide tech support and this is definitely not the case in my current place of employment.

The professor mentions that there are three levels of technology integration in the classroom.  Level 1 – Lecture enhancing

  • Teacher doesn’t have to do much
  • No real change in pedagogy
  • Allows teachers to become used to software and don’t need

Level 2 – Student use of technology

  • Need to have more than one computer in the room
  • Maybe 8 computers in the room
  • Students do all the activities at the same time
    • Simulations etc

Level 3 – Students directed, self paced learning

  • Here’s what you have to know, go know it
  • Progress through a study guide
  • Teacher really needs to know the curriculum and the technology

Finally the professor mentions that with curriculum limitations and the amount of content that needs to be taught, there is a significant time crunch on all teachers.  He mentions that in Science 10 all of his fun labs are gone as there is a provincial exam in that course.  Since the time of this writing a lot has changed in the BC K-12 Education system including the provincial exams and the curriculum.

We are then given a chance to hear from the preservice teachers about their upcoming practicum and how likely they are to attempt the use of technology in their own classrooms.  The answer is the same ‘not likely’ across almost all of the educators and the reason is also the same: “I don’t feel comfortable with the technology and what if something goes wrong”.  I think there is a fundamental problem here and one where both the educators and the students lose out.  Many educators have brilliant ideas but are afraid to implement them with the fear of failure.  The last two years of my teaching career have been transformational as I have been encouraged by my district and school administration to take risks with the potential to “fail forward”; the results have been amazing – I have implemented large, inquiry based projects in almost all of my classes.

Technology is not just a digital textbook

In order to have effective digital technology in a Math and Science classroom, we must make sure that the technology is transformative. I have seen many technologies brought into classrooms which are a digitized version of textbooks and workbooks; these do not play to the strengths of technology nor are they transformative. When implementing technology, the question should always be asked: “Is this an improvement in learning from the status quo”. By asking this question, we should be making sure that we are not merely adopting technology for the sake of technology but rather adopting technology because it is improving learning.

Digital Technology in Math and Science classrooms need to have meaningful interaction with students. Meaningful interaction is the ability of the technology to adapt and change to the specific student. An example of this is Khan Academy practices which will increase or decrease in difficulty depending on student achievement, even going as far as recommending next steps or helpful tutorials.

Further, technology should allow students who are at a higher level, be able to play on their curiosity and advance at their own pace. Self-driven assignments tend to allow themselves to expand to meet student capabilities and so help advance students enrich their learning.

Case 2: Graphing calculators in the classroom

I decided to analyze Case 2. To summarize, case 2 described a classroom in which the teacher suggested the use of graphing calculators as a way of engaging students in a grade 11 math class. The videos showed different ways the teacher used the calculators, and also gave some insight into the students’ experiences with the devices.

What are the underlying issues and why are they issues?

The first issue that always arises with the use of graphing calculators are their prohibitive cost. Texas Instrument has held a monopoly over the graphing calculator industry for the better part of 2 decades now and have charged a premium for a device that is outdated, and in today’s smartphone proliferated classroom environment, quite unnecessary. Desmos calculator for example, is an app that is available on smartphones that performs the same graphing functions as a TI 84, but is also free. Cost is an issue because it acts as a barrier of entry for students who cannot afford the devices. Although the summary of the case suggested that a number of calculators were purchased by the district and the school, how would these calculators help students outside of the classroom?

One other issues exist that prevent programmable calculators from being used in post secondary settings: How do you stop students from programming the calculator with information or programs that allow for academically dishonest activities? Short of checking everyone’s calculators before the test, this is pretty much impossible. That is why graphing calculators are typically outlawed in post secondary exams.

Some other issues described by the videos suggested that some students preferred to use traditional pencil and paper to problem solve before diving into the calculator because they thought it helped them better understand the concepts that needed to be learned, which could lead to problems for some students as some would move right onto the calculator before attempting to conceptualize the ideas that needed to be learned. Another issue that I have seen in the videos, and from my own experiences working with graphing calculators are their ease of use. In many cases, the number of buttons and functions that needed to be used for some students could prove to be a challenge.

What further questions does the video raise for you?

The videos were not dated in this case, but I am thinking they are likely from 2000-2010. Would the teacher have a different opinion of graphing calculators today with the abundance of smartphones that most students own? Furthermore, given Desmos calculator (an app available on their smartphone), would they choose this over a TI 84?

How would I explore a response to this issue?

I have explored the alternatives to the graphing calculator in my own classrooms by essentially eliminating all problems that required the use of a graphing calculator on tests. While there is value in using graphing technology in the math classroom, I have instead allowed students to use Desmos to solve problems in various assignments as another way of assessing their ability to use graphs to problem solve.

How might the issue that is raised exacerbate or ameliorate a conceptual challenge held by students?

As with the use of any calculator, giving students free reign to use technology before they have understood the fundamental concepts would allow students to solve problems without understanding the concepts, as a result, the graphing calculator has the potentially to exacerbate ANY numerical, or graphical misconception by giving students a free pass to avoid spending time learning the concepts at a high level.  For example, adding numbers like 1/2 + 3/4 is very easily on a calculator, and giving students these devices at an early age allows them to bypass the need to understand how to add fractions, by giving them a way to solve the addition problem that does not require an understanding of fractions.

On the other hand, by simplifying the process of graphing, students have greater access to visual information that could be useful in unlocking concepts that are best understood with visuals. For example, graphing a straight line on a graphing device may help bridge the concepts of intercepts and why one would need to substitute 0s into an equation to determine their values.