Author Archives: Dana Bjornson

Conquering Mt. Gravitation

It had been over a month since I created a Prezi so off I went…

Physics teachers are invited to “Make a Copy” of my Google Doc for this endeavor. I have been doing this activity for many years, however, it was not exactly following the GEM format.  Consequently, I added a level of complexity that involved “discrepant information” which created an opportunity for students to test a new hypothesis relating Force to Separation Distance.  I also added a question at the end of this activity that provided a “new case” for students to contemplate.

Overall, I think the new version of my project is significantly more complex.  My concern is that Grade 11 students will fold like cheap tents, as the original version already caused many a headache for many a student. However, this new GEM-ized version, allows students to be uncomfortable and creative.  Finishing this activity will undoubtedly make them feel like they have conquered a mountain!

Should anyone have any additional scaffolding ideas, please shoot them my way. (I appreciate that you may need a physics background in order to do this, however.)

An interesting Tweet promoting Religious Literacy

Hi everyone,
I was just “cruising the cafe” (that sounds worse when taken out of context) and I saw Samia’s inspiring post from awhile back. On Twitter recently, J.K. Rowling posted this “free online course” that seemed like a really great way to help us and/or our students understand the differences and similarities between various world religions. The course is out of Harvard… and since Harvard has some “street cred”, it will likely be very good!

Life on the Descoast: My LfU Application in FPC Math 10

LfU: Learning for Use

The LfU framework seems fairly “user-friendly” in that different educators can adopt the framework, yet still allow their own pedagogical styles be honoured. Using combinations of high tech, low tech, modern and traditional, as long as educators create an environment that creates opportunities for learners to be “mcr-ed” (“motivated”, “constructive” and “refiney”) with their knowledge, they are towing the LfU line! The key take away for myself was that LfU focuses on the application of knowledge as opposed to specific inquiry or learning models. (Edelson, 2000)
For those of us who have drank, er guzzled, the EdTech Kool-aid, technology use in combination with the LfU framework is unquestionably going to be a good time. Although prior to ETEC 533, I was utilizing LfU principles unknowingly, what is distinctly different now, is that I am choosing activities with more purpose, as opposed to simple hunches. It is not the first week during my MET experience that I have read about the affordances of constructivism, situated learning and reflection, however, what the LfU framework does, is it packages these principles up in a clear, understandable way. (Similar to Newton’s Three Laws! At least for me…)
So, the topic that I would like to touch on is one that I have taught for my entire career of 18 years—linear equations. I haven’t taught it the same way in all of these years; as technology has evolved, my approach has definitely evolved! Once we have already reviewed the concept of Cartesian Coordinate System, graphing with a table of values, domain/range and a bit of slope, I then move towards equations of lines beginning with horizontal and vertical.

  1. Motivate — Experience Demand and Curiosity
    • Desmos Faces: Through an inquiry process, students eventually construct a simple face using horizontal and vertical lines. There is a collaborative component to the pre-made, online activity, as well.
  2. Construct — Observe and Receive Communication
    • Not gonna lie— I utilize “Direct Instruction” to introduce slope-Intercept Form. In combination with Desmos simulations, my students practice from textbook questions. I show them how to use Desmos to their advantage, when completing their work.
  3. Refine — Apply and Reflect
    • Desmos Art Project: Students recreate a graphic of their choice using a minimum of 75 equations. Students may choose to use higher order functions (curves), but linear equations can also be used entirely. 10% of their mark is based from their Reflection that is publicly posted on the Class Blog. I will say that the Reflections have been better quality when I have provided students with topics to discuss.
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.

My WISE Exploration: Getting Real with Graphs

The very first search I made in the WISE platform was “Grade 9 – 12, Physics”.
One lesson came up. (Three really, but only one was in English.)


I am a fan of not reinventing wheels, so having read many pages of research about the affordances of WISE, I was eager to dive into a plethora of ready-to-go senior Physics activities. Sadly, I was not off to a very good start.

So back to the instructions I went and began looking at the suggested lessons. Thankfully, the suggested lessons were well chosen and left a really great second impression! The project that I tinkered around in was the Graphing Stories (with motion probes). Although it was categorized for Middle School grades, I found that much of it also could apply to the current (but soon to be turfed) BC Science 10 and even a Physics 11 course.

Without any trouble, I added another activity and played around with some “steps”. Adapting the “story” to an older student would be fairly easy and I think the project is fairly good “as is”. I am very impressed that the WISE interface can integrate Vernier Motion Detectors, although it appears that not all probes have been programmed into WISE.

Where my hesitations exist with WISE in general, is substituting a simulation with real equipment and real data collecting. I appreciate, however, that WISE opens doors to exploring questions that CAN’T be done in the classroom. I particularly like that the Graphing Stories weaves in the work with the motion detectors– getting students to move their bodies to produce the position-time graphs is fabulous.

For Physics 11, I would definitely add in an activity that utilizes, “The Universe and More’s Graphing Challenge”. Also, I would add in Mazur’s Peer Instruction process to get students’ misconceptions identified and resolved. Both of these “add ons” would layer more elements of SKI, via all four of SKI’s main tenets:
1. Making thinking visible;
2. Making science visible;
3. Providing collaborative opportunities; and
4. Promoting lifelong learning. (Linn, Clark, & Slotta, 2002)
Another limitation with WISE is that on assessment pages, it allows for students to keep guessing when incorrect answers are given. I appreciate the effort to reduce the number of points after each choice has been made, however, for students who are disengaged, they will merely keep guessing until they are correct, as opposed to rereading or rewatching the material. Teachers may have a false sense of what their students actually know, because of this.

Without question, research has repeatedly shown that the reflection process is a critical piece to one’s learning process. This week’s reading reported on a study that 90% of students participate in asynchronous reflections with two or more pieces of evidence, compared to only 15% of students and little evidence, in a class discussion model (Linn, Clark, & Slotta, 2002). Should student blogging not be established in one’s classroom, WISE provides a great way to take advantage of this research.

To diverge a tad bit, I have an overall concern with the lack of face-to-face experiences that we are having in our society. Most of us are likely old enough to remember how tacky it was to break-up with someone over the phone, but these days, a phone conversation “to do the deed” is more commonly replaced with a e-mail or a text. Although, screens engage our students in ways that worksheets can not, having discussions that are not typed has got to be woven into our practices still. And for that reason, combined with the importance of actually using equipment to collect data, I can not see myself adopting WISE to any great extent. I would, however, consider using it for a lesson, or two.

I am such a Moderate, when it comes to teaching!

If you are unfamiliar with Peer Instruction, there is much out there in YouTubeLand.  Here is a relatively short introduction to the process told by Mazur himself:

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

My Love-Hate Relationship with the Jasper Series

At the onset, what’s not to love?  Two of the readings that I chose, concluded that students self-reported to enjoying math more, and having less anxiety (CTGV, 1992b; Shyu, 2000). Only one reading reported that students’ problem solving skills improved, but I would speculate that the one study that did not report an increase in this area, did so because the students only participated in one Jasper Series problem. Had the students in the Shyu study have a series of weeks immersed in Jasper, I suspect that their problem solving skills would increase in time.

The main issue that the folks at Jasper are attempting to address is that many students are unable to apply microcontext (“end of the chapter”) questions, to macrocontext (“real life”/situated/anchored) problems.  The literature that I read, convinced me of one thing—group work, when orchestrated well, is beneficial to most students.  In “Complex Mathematical Problem Solving by Individuals and Dyads”, the younger, Grade 5 dyads, performed much better than their older (and more mathematically talented) Grade 6 soloists (Vye, 1997). Two lesser-able heads and better than one more-abled, it seems. How great is that???

I am not convinced that diving head first into Jasper methodologies is wise, however.  The entire premise favours a “top to bottom” skills approach, where the focus is on higher level thinking, and to scaffold if and when needed.  In my experience, this is a disastrous methodology to follow to the tee when teaching mathematics.  In order for these higher level problems to be attacked, a base knowledge needs to exist. Otherwise, in the group work, one or two “hot shots” will take the lead, the students who don’t understand a stich, get pulled along, everyone advances to the next level, and sure… Everyone feels good, because the low level students had life jackets on the entire time—of course, they enjoy this approach!

Borrowing a thought from John-Steiner and Mahn’s 1996-piece, “Sociocultural Approaches to Learning and Development: A Vygtoskian Framework”, the authors emphasise the importance of when looking at Vygotskian Theory, to refrain from abstracting portions of the theory, which can consequently lead to “distorted understandings and applications” (p. 204).  To me, the Jasper folks have abstracted portions of constructivist learning strategies, conducted studies using the best math students or studies where groups can make the struggling kids float, and declared, “Hey, we’ve made math fun and relevant!”

Many of us agree that Piaget and Vygotsky had a lot of things right in their constructivist theories.  Both theorists agreed that the material world aids development due to environmental experience (Glassman, 1994). These environmental experiences are often transpiring amongst peer groups, in a social context. Can we not replicate these transformative experiences in our classrooms?

When students possess self-generated motivation to accomplish a task (due to being adequately challenged), constructivist approaches to learning can flourish (vonGlasersfeld, 1983). But here’s the thing… according to Vygotsky, the development of thought requires spontaneous (self-generative) concepts to occur in opposition of non-spontaneous concepts (Glassman, 1994).  Non-spontaneous concepts can occur through peer interactions, however, they can also occur through instruction, from adult MKOs (more knowledgeable others). Vygotsky himself was privately taught by a mathematician who followed the Socratic method. He learned an incredible amount from his parents and his tutor; his own children were brought up in a similar Socratic environment living in a single room house with 11 other people (please refer to the Vygotsky timeline:

Ultimately, I would urge educators to digest methodologies like Jasper in small quantities.  These approaches are not the magic pill that will solve all of our problems. I believe that rote learning still has its place in mathematics. (Yup. I said it.) If it is the only approach that one adopts, I would ask that person to get with the program, however. We don’t want to kill the beauty of mathematics for our students, yet students moving onto academic levels of math, need to have the skill set, the automated skill set, in order to succeed and actually understand what the heck they are doing.

I’m still looking for that magic pill— it’s a quest worth pursuing, indeed! I suspect that if someone ever DOES find it though, that it will not consist of just one approach.


Cognition and Technology Group at Vanderbilt (1992b). The Jasper series as an example of anchored instruction: Theory, program, description, and assessment data. Educational Psychologist, 27(3), 291-315.

Glassman, M. (1994). All things being equal: The two roads of Piaget and Vygotsky. Developmental Review, 14(2), 186-214. doi:10.1006/drev.1994.1008

John-Steiner, V., & Mahn, H. (1996). Sociocultural approaches to learning and development: A Vygotskian framework. Educational Psychologist, 31(3), 191.

Shyu, H. Y. C. (2000). Using video‐based anchored instruction to enhance learning: Taiwan’s experience. British Journal of Educational Technology, 31(1), 57-69.

Von Glasersfeld, E. (2008). Learning as a constructive activity. AntiMatters, 2(3), 33-49.
Available online:

Vye, N. et al. (1997). Complex mathematical problem solving by individuals and dyads. Cognition and Instruction, 15(4), 435-450.