Author Archives: daniel bosse

Virtuosity versus Variety

In reading Schulman (and reviewing Mishra) I was caught by the complete untenability of our current system for assigning teachers. To simply meet the goals of PCK, we require teachers to have significant subject matter competence, pedagogical skills, combine these into specific tools and approaches for each concept within curriculum, and then adapt it all to a body of students that changes by the year or even by the term.

Consider from here that a teacher may be placed in a science 4 classroom one year and a science 8 classroom the next. Not only have the students changed, but the subject matter may be vastly different. Even this is nowhere near the common situation in primary grades where a teacher with Math training may be responsible for 4 or more subjects.

Successful education at the PCK level seems to require a certain degree of thoughtful assignment and consistency of teacher placement that does not seem to exist in reality. While flexibility in placement may be of benefit to a teacher’s career, it is not in the best interest of students. I like to consider myself a pretty well versed generalist but I am a music teacher by training. I could probably teach most of my hardest concepts with little more than a stick (conducting baton) while the easiest concepts in my course might leave non-music teachers jibbering with terror. Conversely, I am assigned 1 grade 6 science class. I like science. I get science. I am not a trained science specialist. I’ve lost track of the number of hours spent consulting my google oracle for things that a true science teacher could explain after 3 days of sleep deprivation. Things that I thought I understood I clearly did not to the extent necessary to teach with the fluency I have in my area of specialty.

When we add the desire to teach with the most appropriate technologies to a discipline or topic, the whole thing becomes ridiculous given the current system. It seems that educational institutions will have some hard decisions to make regarding how to balance administrative conveniences and necessities against the educational benefits of specialist teachers able to instruct using all facet of the TPACK and PCK models


One example of PCK teaching in my own practice is a technique borrowed from an former English teacher of mine. The goal is to get students to write specific and clear instructions, something very useful in the procedure section of lab reports. We use the analogy to a recipe and have the students write out the steps to make an ice cream sunday. The English teacher actually made them but I just acted out the instructions. The job of the teacher is to take the instructions absolutely literally and look for any possible way to misunderstand them. “Put the sprinkles on”, guess I’m wearing sprinkles in my hair. “Peel the banana and add the ice cream”, little Johnny gets a banana peel ice cream sandwich. The whole thing is acted out in the most dramatic way possible. The humour of the lesson really helps to embed just how specific you have to need to be to make sure your directions are perfectly clear.

Backwards Design

For me, ideal pedagogical design of a technology enhanced learning experience must begin with the end, i.e: backwards design. Primary goals and outcomes must be established.

Following this, we set out how we will know these goals have been met. This may include formal assessments, conversations with students, self reflections etc.

Finally we must select the appropriate tools to develop the students’ understanding. These tools include all different forms of technology including computer software, digital instruments, manual tools (such as microscopes, prisms, models), instructional approaches, and ways of thinking. It is important to consider all types of technology (especially the cognitive/pedagogical ones) so that we do not fixate on the most exciting tool but instead the most effective tool. To select the best tools we will need to consider a number of factors. These include:

  • The composition of the class: There interests, beliefs, conceptions/misconceptions, interests, familiarity with the proposed technology, etc.
  • Our own abilities with a given technology
  • availability of a given technology
  • Relationship of the technology to the field/topic (is the technology authentic to this discipline?)

Once the goals, assessment, and tools/methods have been established, we have a sound basis for a technology enhanced learning environment.


Informal learning, Teacher training, Deliberate use of technology



The Interviewee, “Mr. A.”, is a male teacher of caucasian descent in his mid 30’s. He has 9 years teaching experience solely within the Alberta public school system. His current teaching context is a mid-sized k-8 school where he teaches grade 6 homeroom and physical education. The school is well funded by an active parent booster group that views technology in the classroom very positively and has aided the school in numerous large technology purchases. The school district as a whole is very diverse and covers both rural and urban settings. School sites are spread across a significant geographic area and Mr. A’s school is located roughly an hour away from the division’s central office.


The interview took place in the teacher’s classroom during the lunch break. There are a few students in the room having lunch or doing work. A laptop cart is open against the wall and a number of ipads are visible on the students’ tables. There is a smartboard mounted to the front wall of the classroom.



Three central themes emerged from the interview. Firstly, Mr. A viewed technology as an integral part of not only a student’s school education, but that technological skills would be necessary in their adult lives. It was clear from his comment ”… technology is not going away and we need integrate it more into the lives of the students that are going to be using it” that Mr. A sees technology as not only a pedagogical tool but as a necessary end in its self. This was directly reflected in his statement that  “… they [Alberta Education] should build computer science in to the curriculum. I think programming is going to be the way of the future and I that programming is going to be a need for every single kid going forward.”.  He felt so strongly about this matter that he proposed that curriculum designers should ” Take out one of the health classes and put in computer science, programming, where you have a programming expert in every classroom, in every school, starting at about grade 5 or grade 6”.


While Mr. A clearly embracing technology as a welcome necessity, he made it clear that it was only one tool among many in his classroom. He identified specifically the grade 4 science unit on things that move as an area where he did not want them to be using computers. He “… wanted them to build things hands on. And even wheels and levers, [He] wanted the kids to build trebuchets to see how the lever works instead of watching it on a computer they actually build it with their hands and manipulate it.”. Mr. A noted that there is an intrinsic attraction between his students and technology. So much so that “…students would rather work on the computer almost all the time but they need to have a little more hands on experience with these things like how to use a calculator or in science how to build a bridge or something with their hands.” Mr. A found that he had to take measures to ensure students were exposed to a variety of learning tools and not just computer technologies.


Mr. A also acknowledged frequently the difficulty of getting teachers the training they need to successfully integrate technology into their math and science classrooms. He noted that “You can ask for an expert to come out and help you with these things but it’s really hard because of all schools across the school division and only a couple of experts to come and help you. You’ve got to book the pretty far in advance.”. He identified that most of the effective technology learning happening in his context was a result of informal learning from colleagues. This seemed to be both a convenience for teachers and a necessity born of limited training staff as supported by his comment “If a teacher knows how to do something, we would go to that teacher because lots of times with the district it’s hard for them to come out and teach you…”.


Interview Transcript:


Interviewer: Already Mr. Anonymous, what do you see as the benefits of using technology in the maths and sciences classrooms



Interviewee: Well, technology is not going away and we need integrate it more into the lives of the students that are going to be using it. The sciences, for sure, where I think we’re going to a little bit more of a coding and coding will be part of science going forward. The more interactions students have with that the better. It also allows them to experience more things that are happening around the world through videos and multimedia with that. For Math, I see it as a tool to help enhance student learning. If you get the right app, instead of worksheets, works with their hands and pencils. They can do it as more of an extension of learning.


Interviewer: Excellent. Can you explain some of the challenges of using technology in teaching and learning as it applies to your context, in your classroom.


Interviewee: Some of the challenges is that students would rather work on the computer almost all the time but they need to have a little more hands on experience with these things like how to use a calculator or in science how to build a bridge or something with their hands.


Interviewer: So, you are saying it is one of a diversity of tools?


Interviewee:  Yeah, you need to have a combination of both. You need to have… need to know how to use a computer for both math and science but they also need to be able to use their hands.


Interviewer: Alright, so what are some of the things influence how and what kinds of technologies you chose to use?


Interviewee: Availability is a big thing. What is available to us.


Interviewer: Ok, so what are some examples of things that are available to you?


Interviewee: So, for us, we’re doing flight. We would really like a wind tunnel. It would help out a lot with certain things but budget constraints and the fact that wind tunnels can be very expensive and hard to build. That’s a big constraint for us. I don’t won’t the kids to become technology dependent. So, that’s one of the big things I do in my classroom is to not have them use technology all the time.


Interviewer: So it’s a conscious choice to use or not use technology?


Interviewee: Yes, exactly


Interviewer: So, are there any specific situations where you definitely would not want to use technology? Can you think of a topic maybe?


Interviewee: Yes, Grade 4 building things that move. I did not want them to be using computers. I wanted them to build things hands on. And even wheels and levers, I wanted the kids to build trebuchets to see how the lever works instead of watching it on a computer they actually build it with their hands and manipulate it.


Interviewer: So, you had the option of possibly some simulations but you felt that that was a better way to go is to do it hands on?


Interviewee: Exactly, and then the trial and error basis was the way to do it from there.


Interviewer: Mhm, more possible things that can go wrong than what’s been programmed into the computer.


Interviewee: Exactly, yup


Interviewer: So, do you see any differences between how newer math and science teachers are using technology versus more established teachers?


Interviewee: Yes! More established teachers seemed a little bit more… apprehensive and sometimes even afraid of technology because they don’t understand it or use it as often.


Interviewer: okay.


Interviewee: So, the newer ones have grown up with using the computer or grown up with using a cell phone, so they know how to manipulate it, they know how to find it, they teach with it, whereas older teachers might not have grown up with it and its harder for them to catch on.


Interviewer: Ok. So, I can certainly understand how they would have grown up with it. How do you think they came to understand how to teach with these tools versus the older teachers?


Interviewee: Well….I don’t know. When I was going through university, you used the computer for everything. And once you get used to using that computer you want to use it and introduce it into your everyday life because you’re using it anyways. So, you find things on their that would motivate the kids that you think are cool and the kids think its cool too. So, you would use it more often.


Interviewer: So, there’s maybe a little less of a gender gap


Interviewee: Yup


Interviewer: Sorry, gender gap…generation gap


Interviewee: yeah


Interviewer: alright, so, can you describe some of the supports you get from your organization in using technology in the classroom. Be that your school or your district….


Interviewee: Uhh [long pause]….. the district [long pause] …. Is not as great at helping us out. Its more teacher helping teacher. If a teacher knows how to do something, we would go to that teacher because lots of times with the district it’s hard for them to come out and teach you when you can go to the teacher next door that knows how to do it just as well as the expert. There are some experts that will come and help you set up a web page or a moodle site or something like that but the stuff the you would use actually in the classrooms…more other teachers are the support.


Interviewer: So, you’re finding maybe a lot of the practical stuff is coming from peer mentors?


Interviewee: Yes.


Interviewer: So, is there any space that the district if maybe helping build in. Is there any time within your schedule to seek out these teacher mentors or anything like that?


Interviewee: Mostly on community of practice days. Those are self-directed professional days. You can ask for an expert to come out and help you with these things but it’s really hard because of all schools across the school division and only a couple of experts to come and help you. You’ve got to book the pretty far in advance.


Interviewer: So, there’s some space and time but there might be a lack of experts and training available?


Interviewee: yes


Interviewer: Alright. So, if there was something right now that was most needed to help get support for science and technology …or science and math technology in classrooms, umm, what do you think we need right now in terms of that?


Interviewee: I think they should build computer science in to the curriculum. I think programming is going to be the way of the future and I that programming is going to be a need for every single kid going forward.


Interviewer: So, when you say into the curriculum, do you mean a specific subject or just in general that it should be infused in everything…?


Interviewee: I think it should be almost like a new subject. Take out one of the health classes and put in computer science, programming, where you have a programming expert in every classroom, in every school, starting at about grade 5 or grade 6 when kids are getting pretty…pretty inept [sic. {adept?}]with computers….or not inept, but pretty good at computers and have them learning how to program from then on. And start it for about 3 years and then in grade 8 or grade 9 have it as an option if they want to keep going forward with it.


Interviewer:  So, have you ever had experience teaching in a school that had a computer class? I’ve heard that they used to happen some times?


Interviewee: When I was in high school, they had a computer class but now it seems to be…there’s not really a computer expert. Every teacher needs to be a computer expert but there’s just like a mechanics teacher, I think we should have a computer science teacher. Somebody to be able to teach these kids to program.


Interviewer: Alright, well thank you very much for your time.


Interviewee: Thank you.



Middle School Science Technology

What are the underlying issues and why are they issues?

There seem to be several different categories of issues related to the use of technology in middle school science classrooms in Cases 5 and 6. These could be broadly categorized as equipment, training, and implementation.

With regards to equipment, both of the teachers in these cases noted at least some use of their own personal equipment in the classroom. This would seem to present a barrier to less tech-savvy teachers as they may not already have access to devices with which to learn. In case 5 we could see that students were working in groups. It appears to be fairly common that most technology implementations are not 1-1. This causes me some concerns as it undermines some of the most powerful affordances of technology such as individualizing instruction/assessment and giving students an individual voice.


Teachers in both cases noted that, while professional development was available, currently training offerings were insufficient. They identified technology learning as an ongoing practice requiring time, experimentation, knowledgeable mentor colleagues, and ongoing support. Without these supports, teachers expressed frustration in integrating technology. As with any type of student, youth or adult, early success can be crucial to developing a feeling of efficacy. Without out this feeling of self efficacy, it seems unlikely that novice technology users will persist and develop competence.

Implementation requires both pedagogical and technological foundations. I found it distressing that some of the case teachers considered technology to be an ad hoc item to be used “on the fly”. Technology can eat up incredible amounts of time with limited gains to show for it if its use is not properly planned and scaffolded. Pedagogically, the case 6 teacher echoed my own thoughts. There is a degree of accountability needed with technology. If it is not working we need to reconsider how/why we are using it.

What further questions does the video raise for you?

A major question these cases raised for me was how can we best aide teachers in acquiring technological self efficacy and the ability to learn and grow independently in their technology skills.

How would you explore a response to this issue?

The qualitative interviews we have observed in this lesson seem to be a great starting point. Analysis for key themes already suggests that PD sessions must be coupled with practice/exploration time, planning time, and the assistance of a knowledgeable mentor to be most effective.

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

When a teacher is not comfortable with technology they may misrepresent concepts as a result. For instance, if a teacher is only able to use a limited set of animation functions, this will necessarily reduce the techniques that they can use to express concepts.

Best Practices in Technology Selection

In my experience, technology is a high cost endeavour in most classrooms. It requires significant investments of time and/or money in order to realize promised gains. In seeking to implement technology in the class room it seems to me like it should meet at least one of the following tests:


  • It does something we cannot do any other way
  • It is significantly safer than the alternative
  • It is significantly more efficient than the alternative
  • It yields better understanding of a topic
  • It is a discipline specific technology/technique to which students require exposure.


An example of a good use of technology would be the use of to-scale, zoomable, digital models of the solar system used in Schneps (2014). These models pass the above tests for something we cannot effectively show another way (the immensity of solar scale), greater efficiency than non-scale/traditional models and analogies, and better understandings for students. Schneps (2014) did show significant improvements via the use of such models in correcting misconceptions related to the relative scale and distance of objects within the solar system.


Given the growing prevalence of digital devices within class and the fact that there seems to be nothing proprietary about this technology, it appears that it could be readily implemented in many school environments.


Schneps, M. H. (2014).  Conceptualizing astronomical scale: Virtual simulations on handheld tablet computers reverse misconceptions. Computers and education, 70: 269-280. Doi: 10.1016/j.compedu.2013.09.001

Models and Diagnostics

In investigating misconceptions in science learning this week, I discovered that there seems to be significant tension between our desire to frame childhood development in terms of Piagetian stages while simultaneously trying to teach concepts that draw conceptually from later developments. It seems obvious from experience that we can indeed teach children concepts “beyond their stage” but we need to be aware that they see the world through a different lens, sort of like a cognitive default. For most adults at the formal operations stage, it is easy for us to accept an abstract theorem and manipulate it symbolically. We have developed a certain degree of facility in manipulating symbols and our experience has taught us that the effects of such manipulations are borne out in the real world.


For a child in the concrete operations stage, the world is focused around specific examples that can be seen, touched, and felt. Taking the example of lunar phases, which has been repeatedly show to be challenging not just for early learners but even adults, where students must extract themselves not just from their experience, but right off the planet in order to successfully conceive how the light from the sun reflects off the moon and how it can be illuminated in places we cannot see directly from the ground.


Questioning, analogies, and interactive models appear to form a powerful trio for both teaching and correcting students’ understandings of science concepts (and misconceptions). Questioning students’ conceptions to illuminate inconsistencies can cause a degree of dissatisfaction with a student present conceptions. This might be done directly in the style of a clinical interview, or indirectly through activities and experiments in which common misconceptions lead to situations that are not tenable based on the old conceptions. This is the first condition for assimilation, a shift of a learners’ conceptions to some new way of understanding (Posner et al, 1982). The next step, analogies, can drastically increase the intelligibility of an explanation, the second condition for accommodation (Posner et al.,1982). By framing an explanation in terms of other, less contentious, experiences, we can address the concrete learner in concrete terms where they are more familiar instead of with formal logic and abstraction. As the learner considers an analogy that challenges a conception or belief, presuming they recognize a genuine issue and hold a belief that there understanding should be consistent (Posner et al.,1982), they are brought to a point where they must either dismiss the new questions, assimilate, or accommodate (Posner et al.,1982). The addition of the model allows for students to test an analogy through experience rather than through abstract mental representations, a stage in which they are not yet fluent. The ability to test creates new experiences which frame the understanding of the concrete learner. The ability to rapidly test the new conception with a physical or digital model helps increase its plausibility, the third condition for accommodation. From this point, we can return to questioning to ask what this new conception might allow to be possible and then return to the model to assess it. With the possibility of new avenues for further understanding, the final condition, it seems most likely that the student will accommodate a new conception rather than modifying through assimilation or dismissing the issues raised.


Technologically, I can conceive of a computer based assessment instrument that seeks out and correct common misconceptions in this manner. The instrument proceeds as a normal diagnostic instrument until the user’s answers reveal a misconception. Further questioning would confirm the misconception. The program could then switch to a tutoring function whereby it would present analogies to explain a phenomenon. A computer based simulation would then be available to test the explanation. Video material demonstrating the possibilities of the correct conception would be presented and then the assessment would begin again. The use of simulation in this manner has already been shown to be effective in correcting misconceptions in astronomy education through the use of zoomable solar models displayed on tablets (Schneps, 2014). The students using the scale models showed marked reductions in misconceptions regarding the relative scale of celestial sizes and distances (Schneps, 2014).


Confrey, J. (1990). A review of the research on student conceptions in mathematics, science, and programming. Review of research in education, 16, 3-56.


Posner, G. J., Strike, K. A., Hewson, P. W. and Gertzog, W. A. (1982). Accommodation of a scientific conception: Toward a theory of conceptual change. Sci. Ed., 66: 211–227. doi: 10.1002/sce.373066020.


Schneps, M. H. (2014).  Conceptualizing astronomical scale: Virtual simulations on handheld tablet computers reverse misconceptions. Computers and education, 70: 269-280. Doi: 10.1016/j.compedu.2013.09.001

Stories in Strings

A particularly interesting technology moment occurred during my second year of teaching. I had petitioned to create a programming class. Being my first technology based course, I selected the Python programming language as it seemed relatively straight forward. Then I saw the class list…. It was perhaps the biggest group of hooligans in the senior classes I had ever seen put together at one time! There was only one quiet/calm/focused student in the group. On the first day, we sat down and went over some basics of how to get the language to produce sections of text and how to ask the user for inputs. The vice-principal walked into the class half-way through and, rather than the pandemonium we both expected,  joined me in slack-jawed amazement at what we were witnessing. The students were, without prompting, writing stories using the new tricks they had learned. Every single student was glued to the task. And the quiet, reserved kid in the back of the class… turns out he is the son of an IT professional. Students who had largely ignored him were lining up for his advice and assistance. This continued through out the course, regardless of the technique of the day. The students wove all of their new techniques back into interactive stories.

For me this situation raises several questions about teaching with technology such as: What is it about technology is so profoundly attractive to middle school students? How can story telling scaffold technology learning? and how can social-constructivist approaches be applied to STEM topics?

Hello from Calgary

Greetings from Calgary, Alberta! Etec 533 will be my 10th and final course in the MET program. In terms of electives I have completed:

  • Ventures in Learning Technology, project focus on tele-presence
  • Text Technologies – The Changing Spaces of Reading and Writing, project focus on African drum languages
  • Special Course in Subject Matter Field: learning technologies – selection, design and application, project focus on using google classroom and google sites for facilitating a Science 6 course
  • Planning and Managing Learning Technologies in Higher Education, project focus on insitutional readiness for e-learning and e-learning challenges in rural/remote areas
  • Technology in the Arts and Humanities Classroom, project focus on virtual field trips

In the core course I have also had an opportunity to complete work involving augmented reality, social cognitive theory, and  computer based assessment of rhythm skills.

Having most recently completed ETEC 565A where I focused on creating an online course for a unit of Science 6, I am hoping to continue to flesh this out with 1 (or more) new units. In the previous term, the focus was on tools, techniques, and design. This term, I am hoping to change my point of view to incorporate technology based pedagogy that is specific to science.

I currently teach just outside of Calgary in a K-8 school of about 600 students. Though I am teaching a Science 6  course this year, my training was in music education (at U Vic) and general music and concert band course make up the majority of my time table. I also have the opportunity to teach outdoor education, programming, and robotics. My technology skills have mostly revolved around creating efficiencies in my teach due to the massive number of different students I see each week (14 course a term, ~375 unique student enrollments). I have also had the opportunity to work with feedback/coaching programs in music that allow me to spend more time helping students find ways to improve and less on assessment and error recognition.

As far as work history goes, I am still at the school I began at and they will probably have to wheel me out on a stretcher some day before I give it up. I’m very fortunate to work with some great kids and family’s in a very well supported program and school.

Outside of my work life, I spend a lot of time outdoors hiking and camping. My wife and I also ballroom dance as often as we can get out.