Author Archives: Michelle Furlotte

How is Knowledge about Science Generated in Networked Communities- In consideration of Virtual Reality

When considering networked communities we must first look at how to establish this sort of community and what principles are important in a successful one. In constructivist models, problem solving is at the heart of learning, thinking, and development.  Learners solve problems and discover consequences by reflecting their experience and thus construct their own understanding.  That being said, research shows that knowledge construction is rarely done in isolation but rather by creating and forming a knowledge building community (Lamon, Laferriere & Breuleux, in press). In fact, the goal for learning communities is for a group of people with focused common issues or problems to discourse and work to find solutions to problems, complete tasks, or refine processes beyond the capabilities of any single person. (Lamon et al., in press). The building of a classroom community of learners must be paramount for this type of community to foster.

When considering science knowledge generation in this sphere, several things need to be considered. Research shows that students may misinterpret or overlook important information in a simulation and teachers may be tempted to believe that simulations are automatically effective in communicating complex models to students (Stephens & Clement, 2015). Following this, in order to support knowledge generation teachers need to support students to promote reasoning and comprehension during use of simulations. As part of this, research has suggested that many teachers may need more guidance provided along with simulations to help them identify which features and relationships may be overlooked by students (Stephens & Clement, 2015). Virtual reality alone will not suffice and educators require information and guidance on how to support learners through the science knowledge generation process in networked communities.

To expand on this, research has shown that new knowledge is created in a social process and in concrete situations, and this will occur if a community has reached the boundaries of its existing knowledge and are exposed to conflicting concepts (Johannes, 2011). Using virtual reality to meet the goals of knowledge generation in science is prescient in several ways. Learner object interaction in virtual reality provides the model of a cognitive operation that learners have to carry out mentally in order to create their own mental model of certain facts or of a topic of instruction. It may support knowledge building especially in such domains in which spatial information is essential for understanding. In addition, in networked communities personal and social presence is fostered within the community and is amplified if students are affected personally and see some connection between their own person and what happens in a virtual reality. This also increases collective cognitive responsibility of a group for succeeding together (Johannes, 2011). Educators can provide for rich knowledge generation in networked communities through providing virtual reality experiences that tap into connections or experiences that students feel are relevant to them.

The educator is an integral part of creating the sustainability of knowledge generation through virtual reality as the educator sets up the environment for knowledge generation to occur. The educator must consider the needs of the students, gently guide them back on the right path if they have strayed too far, and always keep in mind the dynamics of the networked community and how to facilitate discussion and reflection. In addition, the educator must critically examine the virtual reality to ensure it is not creating more misconceptions, and this is done through assessing on an ongoing basis throughout the process and making corrections as necessary. So, in my mind, knowledge generation in a networked community depends more on frontloading the experience, carefully monitoring the process of social interaction and knowledge generation and providing time for all of this plus time to reflect on the learning.  I look forward to your views about this.

Johannes, M. (2011). Knowledge building in user-generated online virtual realities. Journal of Emerging Technologies in Web Intelligence 3, 1. DOI: 10.4304/jetwi.3.1.38-46.

Lamon, M., & Laferrière, T., & Breuleux, A. (in press). Networked communities. In P. Resta, Ed., Teacher development in an e-learning age: A policy and planning guide, UNESCO.

Stephens, A., & Clement, J. (2015). Use of physics simulations in whole class and small group settings: Comparative case studies. Journal of Computers & Education. 86, C, pp. 137-156.

Virtual Reality and Concept Development

Students may develop misunderstandings of science due to a variety of factors including representations, teachings or models that do not fully explain a phenomenon or incorrectly explain a phenomenon. Virtual reality can help to create sound scientific conceptions if it is designed correctly. Research has found that current conceptions can be challenged by new ones especially if they arouse curiosity and that conceptual change is greater when engagement is high. Virtual reality immerses the students in the learning and increases engagement and immersion and presence help conceptual change. Students are able to have deeper learning through active discovering through immersion in the environment (Winn, 2003).

Presence in virtual reality is defined as a measure of the soundness of sensory cues that give a sense of physical presence or direct experience (Whitelock, Brna & Holland, 1996). This is further broken down into the degree to which the technology delivers realistic renderings, colours, textures, motion etc, the extent to which the environment that is simulated is familiar to the user and as “real” to life control over this environment (Whitelock, Brna & Holland, 1996). When virtual reality meets these criteria students show improved understanding of concepts. That being said, virtual reality can also exacerbate previous misconceptions or even build new misconceptions.  An example is seen in the example of Virtual Puget Sound. In this virtual reality the concept that water speeds up when moving through narrow channels was misunderstood by a student who thought that longer arrows in narrow channels showed that they were more clogged (Winn, 2003). The concepts laid out in virtual reality environments may not be intuitive to new learners or learners with previous little experience or understanding of the phenomenon.

Questions I wonder about…and hope you may shed some light on….

How can we mitigate scientific misunderstandings that may be fostered through virtual reality that has not been effectively designed?

How are we assessing understandings and concepts learned in virtual environments? Are we checking in to ensure students are correct in there scientific understandings throughout the virtual reality process or are we expecting the technology to lead them down the “right path” without effective facilitation?

Should virtual reality be field tested to ensure that the design is optimal or is this dependent on too many outside factors out of the designers’ control? (Age of students, previously held scientific beliefs, educators’ understandings and useage of the technology, etc.)

Whitelock, D, Brna, P., Holland, S (1996). What is the value of virtual reality for conceptual learning? Towards a theoretical framework. CITE REPORT. Retrieved from

Winn, W. (2003). Learning in artificial environments: Embodiment, embeddedness, and dynamic adaptation. Technology, Instruction, Cognition and Learning, 1(1), 87-114. Full-text document retrieved on January 17, 2013, from:


Synthesizing the 4 Learning Environments-My Thoughts

Synthesis of the Four Learning Environments Explored- table

The link provided (table) is the synthesis that I’ve created to compare and contrast the four learning environments. I look forward to any discussions that arise from this table, as I was feeling a bit unsure about a few of my presumptions after having explored each one. I did find MANY overlapping ideas/tenets and I also feel that as these learning environments change based on upgrades, new understandings and student/educator needs that more overlap is inevitable. I do think that each technology supported environment provides its own “positives” depending on the style of the educator, the needs of the students, the age of the students and access to technology. In addition, timelines must be considered and I believe each of these requires more time to allow students to find relationships, deepen their understandings, communicate with each other and reflect on their learnings, and even more time if they are to apply these understandings in real-world contexts. That being said it cannot be understated that these environments provide deep, rich understandings.  In addition, I would like to add that supporting and educating teachers to use these valuable resources should be a goal so that science/math education can continue to support deep, engaging and meaningful learning for students.

Since I am an elementary educator I would also liike to put forth that these should be used in the early grades so that students can begin to consolodate their scientific understandings before “the damage is done”, so to speak. What I mean is that it seems that many misconceptions re: science concepts are formed in early learning and providing for engaging science problem solving and investigations that address these misconceptions would go a long way in hopefully curbing this trend. That being said, just using “technology” to teach scienc e is not a panacea, as there is much misinformation represented in a variety of science vidoes, interactive games, etc. online that is purposely “dumbed down” to be accessible to younger students. In addition, the ideas about technology integration held by the educator cannot be overlooked, as these understandings can colour how the technology is implemented. We need to be cognizant of this as educators and work towards adapting sound technologically enhanced learning environments into our early elementary classrooms.

Refraction of Light and T-Gem Principles

One challenge for students is to understand the refraction of light.  For example, when a student observes a straw in a glass of water, the straw looks like it is bending. This is due to the properties of light, but this understanding can be fraught with misconceptions regarding how light behaves. Some interesting misconceptions about light may be that water does not reflect or absorb light but light can go through it, light always passes straight through transparent objects (without changing direction) or that light needs air to travel (Sampson & Schleigh, 2016).

Research notes that although light is an everyday phenomenon that we constantly observe, students often display learning difficulties and hold unscientific understanding on physics concepts of light wave (Srisawadi & Kroothkeaw, 2014). In addition, concepts of light such as its speed and wave length are removed from the range of perceptions of the human senses, and so optics instruction can be subject to interpretation, so there is a need for careful consideration in physics teaching process (Srisawadi & Kroothkeaw, 2014). Computer simulations can broach this divide. As noted, computer simulations can enhance generating relationships and allow students and teachers the opportunity to view trends, variables and visual representation  in more concrete ways which may lead to more accurate conceptual understandings (Khan, 2011).

In order to generate information about this phenomenon the educator can begin an open-ended discussion to find out current concepts about light. Questions such as:

What is light?

Where do you think light comes from?

How does light travel?

This will allow the educator to begin to understand what conceptions and misconceptions the students may hold about light and will also allow the students to begin thinking about the concept. As this discussion is occurring the educator can note responses on chart paper or interactive whiteboard so that ideas can be reviewed as the process of understanding continues. As an educator I would incorporate “accountable talk” which will allow students to defend their ideas and question others about their understandings. Examples of accountable talk would be statements like;

“I wonder why….?

“I see what you are saying (rephrase)”

“What you said made me think….”

Then as an educator I would facilitate a review of the ideas generated in the group discussion through referring and restating the list created by students. I would break this down further into “Our First Ideas about Light” and then create another section for questions we now have about light. This would be labelled “Our Questions about Light”. We would brainstorm some questions that we have. Then I would provide students with appropriate books and internet resources about light. I would also show them a model or a picture of a straw in a glass of water. The straw appears to bend and so I would ask them how they would explain the phenomenon. After they have a chance to read/view this information, I would ask them to work with a partner, independently or in a small group (provide choice) and to draw or create a clay model of their understanding of light.

We would then reconvene and compare our models. I would give students time to explain their models to their peers so that I could continue to assess possible misconceptions. At this point the students may begin to reformulate their understandings based on new learning from their peers. Then we would watch several simulations about light refraction. I would ask the students to consider their previous understandings by asking “Do you need to change your original drawing/model? Or “Do you think you need to modify your original drawing/model?”  Our new understanding would be discussed and a new category would be added to our discussion titled “New Understandings”.

Bending Light Simulations

Refraction in Water Simulation

Bending Light Simulation


Bending Light. (n.d) Retrieved March 1, 2017, from

Khan, Samia (2011).  New pedagogies on teaching science with computer simulations. Journal of Science Education and Technology 20, 3 pp. 215-232.

Refraction in water. (n.d.) Retrieved February 29, 2017, from

Sampson, V., & Schleigh, S. (2016). Scientific Argumentation in Biology [PDF file]. Arlington,Virginia. NSTA Press Book. Retrieved from
Srisawasdi, N. & Kroothkeaw, Supporting students’ conceptual development of light refraction by simulation-based open inquiry with dual-situated learning model. S. J. Comput. Educ. (2014) 1: 49. doi:10.1007/s40692-014-0005-y


Technology, Learning for Use (LfU) and Supporting Students in Science

After reading and reflecting on the aims of LfU (Learning for Use) I believe there are a number of ways that LfU has the capability of supporting students who are experiencing conceptual challenges understanding Earth Science. The main goal of LfU experiences are to seamlessly integrate content and process activities so that students achieve robust and useful understandings that are deep and accessible (Edelson, 2001). In particular, technology supported inquiry learning provides an opportunity for these students to be supported throughout their learning. The Create-a-World Project which includes the use of the programs WorldWatcher and Progress Portfolio demonstrate a robust example of how technology can be used to support these learners. WorldWatcher provides a geographic visualization and data analysis engine whereas Progress Portfolio provides a place to record and monitor investigations and capture the ongoing work done in Worldwatcher.

The objective of the  Create-a-World Project is to have students investigate relationships between temperature and geography from a climatic perspective. Since this project is designed with the LfU model it follows certain protocols. Most importantly LFU focusses on the application of knowledge and through a knowledge application task LfU creates demand for learning and offers space for refinement as students apply knowledge they have learned (Edelson, 2001).  Reflection is also built into this process and a necessary part of the learning cycle. LfU is similar to the traditional learning cycle in which students are involved in an exploration or activities that help them understand a concept. This includes hands-on observations, measurement and gathering of evidence. Through this process, students begin to explore relationships and concepts and/or discuss findings and finally additional observations are discussed, noted and shared then applied and refined.

Examining a knowledge application task will illustrate the process and how technology can support the aims of LfU. In the introduction of the Create-a-World project students are inspired to begin to think about global temperature through guessing and colouring in the average temperatures in the world in July. This is to start the discussion about the concept and to promote communication. The LfU reasoning for this is to elicit curiosity and to have students confront limitations in their understandings (Edelson, 2001). It is noted in other literature that students are not likely to change their understandings in science until they notice contradictions to existing ones and that constructing relationships is a way to breach this divide (DeLaughter, Stein, Stein & Bain, 1998).

In step 2 students compare conjectures using WorldWatcher using real data. They use visualization and analysis tools to compare their own maps with actual July temperatures around the world. The LFU reasoning for this is that this allows students begin to observe patterns of temperature variation and to elicit curiosity in their causes (Edelson, 2001).

In fact, deeper more robust learning occurs when we encourage students to pursue a concept in a variety of contexts and examples until these new models are integrated. The students need to understand why they are pursuing the problem and this is best achieved  when students encounter information in the context of pursuing larger problems and  issues that they find intriguing (DeLaughter, et al., 1998)

In step 3 the students invent their own worlds using a paint interface and data sets. The LfU reasoning is to create a demand for student learning. Students must have an understanding of temperature to create this world.

In activity 4 students begin to explore the relationship between geography and temperature using WorldWatcher tools. The maps created are inputted into the Progress Portfolio program and they are able to annotate the relationships they see. Then they engage in group discussions in which they further refine their understandings. In this way they acquire additional knowledge construction.

In activity 5 the students begin to explain findings through discussions and have the opportunity for hands-on laboratory explorations of concepts thus explored. At this time the teacher can offer explanations or address misconceptions.

Finally, in activity 6 the students create temperature maps for their created worlds based on all the factors they have studied. They also document the rules they are using while creating these maps and record these in their progress portfolio. Then they present to their classmates and explain their work and have an opportunity to discuss the reasoning behind their choices.

So after outlining this example, here are the ways that I believe that LfU has the capability of supporting students who are experiencing conceptual challenges understanding Earth Science. Firstly, LfU design creates demand for learning and eliciting curiosity. In the Create-a-World project the students are required to create a fictitious world, and this would be the impetus for learning about temperature and climate. The technology used in WorldWatcher allows them to paint data and manipulate data for this purpose. So technology is supporting this type of learning.

In addition, eliciting curiosity through identifying potential misconceptions and for activating existing knowledge is achieved with technology. Technology provides simulations which may be unavailable to direct observation (Edelson, 2001). Technology may also provide ways to articulate and demonstrate concepts using, for example, drawing programs.   Eliciting curiosity may not happen with traditional style lecture or through textbooks which often tend to be outdated or misrepresent scientific concepts.

As students continue to discover more about scientific concepts and delve deeper with their understandings, technology can assist with data collection and analysis, modeling, and prediction which may be hampered without these technology tools due to time constraints, lack of resources or complex data management capabilities.

The computer is also used as a communication tool which provides the ability to present information in a wide variety of formats, which may not be possible in traditional presentations. This not only allows for differentiation but also allows for students choice, both aims of educational reform.

Finally, technology provides a place for reflection. It supports record-keeping during inquiry and also provides for the possibility of ongoing discussion threads for communication as well as presentation tools. In addition, investigation tools are provided through visualization and analysis capabilities, artifact construction, expressive and record keeping data collection and tools such as annotation as well as drawing capabilities.

I look forward to your reflections.


DeLaughter, J. E., Stein, S., Stein, C. A., & Bain, K. R. (1998). Preconceptions abound among students in an introductory earth science course. EOS Transactions, 79 (36), 429-436.

Edelson, (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 Initial Reflections on the Jasper Series

Although this post does not directly answer one of the questions posed, it provides a space for discussion about the series and I look forward to your ideas and reflections. I have provided another post which more directly reflects the questions posed.

Before reading the article about Jasper anchored instruction, I explored the videos just to get a feel for what this series entailed.  I also wanted to get my initial impressions without having much background. The first thing that struck me was that they were posed as challenges, which I believe would be engaging to students. Then I noticed that they were real-life explorations and I reflected that they would foster rich discussion amongst students. These problems or “situations” would allow students to test out, hypothesize, work and rework as they problem solved. It would be messy but rewarding. They may require some facilitation along the way or a sounding board, but the problem solving would be student centered.

Some questions I had after watching the videos were:

  1. Would it be possible to have the students conduct some of these situations in real-life? (as an adjunct to the videos)
  2. What background in mathematical terminology would the students require?
  3. Could the students competently solve these problems without some prior math knowledge in the area of exploration (rate, capacity, range, temperature, etc.)
  4. What software or platform was used to create and share the videos?

After reflecting on the videos I read the essential article, ” The Jasper Experiment: An Exploration of Issues in Learning and Instructional Design Cognition and Technology”. I was happy to see that many of my reflections correlated with the article.

Within the situational videos basic skills are important, but students develop them in the context of meaningful problem posing and problem-solving activities rather than as isolated “targets” of instruction (Cognition and Technology Group at Vanderbilt (1992). Students must learn to identify and define issues and problems on their own rather than simply respond to problems that others have posed. I also found it interesting that the videos naturally encourage cooperative learning in which students have opportunities to discuss and explain which can assist in solidifying understanding. It is also interestingly noted that working in these cooperative groups allows the students to monitor one another and thus keep one another on track. This would definitely allow the teacher to take on a facilitation role more naturally.

The videos align with the goals of the NCTM as well. These include an emphasis on complex, open-ended problem solving, communication, and reasoning. In addition, connecting mathematics to other subjects and to the world outside the classroom is encouraged. The Jasper videos seem to fit the bill.

Within the article it explains that educators allow the students as much time and room to work on these problems without teacher interaction. Some may see this as foolhardy and may contest that certain skill sets need to be taught before complex problem solving can occur. The Jasper Experiment believes that engaging students in real-world problems that are inherently interesting and important helps students understand why it is important to learn various sub skills and when they are useful. The Jasper adventures are purposely created to reflect the complexity of real world problems.

Within the article it is also noted that Jasper developers are continuing to work with teachers in order to collect “scaffolding” or “guidance” information to include  with the videos. So although the goal of anchored instruction is situated in engaging, problem-rich environments that allow sustained exploration by students and teachers, some purposeful scaffolding and guidance can assist the problem solving process in some situations.

Cognition and Technology Group at Vanderbilt (1992). The jasper experiment: An exploration of issues in learning instructional design. Educational Technology Research and Development, 40(1). pp. 65–80.

Mathematics Instruction for Students with Learning Disabilities-Jasper and Reflections on my Teaching Practice

The article, “Mathematics Instruction for Students with Learning Disabilities: A Meta-Analysis of Instructional Components”, helped me to further analyze the Jasper series and its goals. Within this study the researchers sorted the studies by major types of instructional variables. Their interest was in the detailed curriculum design and teaching practices that resulted in enhanced mathematics and they focussed on the essential attributes of effective practice. They went further and defined “explicit instruction”, which in previous research has shown positive effects in terms of increased understanding of mathematical skills for students with learning disabilities. The researchers broke it down into three components: (a) The teacher demonstrated a step-by-step plan (strategy) for solving the problem, (b) this step-by-step plan needed to be specific for a set of problems (as opposed to a general problem-solving heuristic strategy), and (c) students were asked to use the same procedure/steps demonstrated by the teacher to solve the problem (Gersten, Chard, Jayanthi, Baker, Morphy & Flojo, 2009). They also looked at the methods that exemplify a generic approach for solving a problem, student verbalizations of their mathematical reasoning, using visual representations while solving problems and range and sequence of examples. They further investigated providing ongoing formative assessment data and feedback to teachers on students’ mathematics performance, providing formative assessment data and feedback to students with LD on their mathematics performance and peer-assisted math instruction.

The results of the meta-analysis rendered some interesting data. Firstly, peer assisted learning did not provide much benefit, whereas being tutored by a well-trained older student or adult appears to help significantly (Gersten, et al., 2009). When assisting students with LD in my classroom, this finding is important, as I often pair my students with LD with their peers in order to provide more scaffolding or scaffolding when I am busy helping other students. I will need to rethink this approach.

In addition the two instructional components that provided significant benefits were teaching students to use heuristics (a process or method) to solve problems and explicit instruction (Gersten et al., 2009). When reflecting on these findings I still have some questions. I do teach my LD students a certain process or method to solving mathematical problems but I also don’t want to limit their strategies as we are being told to allow them to explore mathematical problems with a variety of strategies. Now that I think about this, perhaps students with LD do not benefit from a variety of strategies but are best served with a limited number of strategies to use, at least initially. In terms of explicit instruction, I do provide this to my students with LD, although they are also part of any open-ended problem solving that we do in class. I feel it is important to expose them to this type of mathematics as well, but perhaps they would be better served working on other math during this time. That being said, the researchers found that explicit instruction should not be the only form of instruction, so perhaps I should continue to expose the LD students to our open-ended problem solving discussions.

Further findings showed that the use of graphic presentations for illustrative purposes encourages students to think aloud and tends to be effective across disciplines (Gersten et al., 2009).  One caveat seems to be that students should be shown how to use visuals. Also, the visual diagrams resulted in bigger positive effects when visuals were part of a multicomponent approach to instruction.  I do use visuals as a big part of mathematics instruction in my grade 2 class. Students are encouraged to “show what they know” in a variety of ways and visuals is a big part of this. When they explain their thinking visuals provide a map for them to follow and also help them in recognizing errors in their thinking. Providing specific visuals for LD students and showing them explicitly how to use the visuals one the mathematics lesson is completed will be a further goal. They may require further scaffolding, and not just from a peer.

They also found that the sequence of examples is of importance when new skills are being taught, so scaffolding is critical for student success. Examples and problems should move from simple to increasing complexity (Gersten et al., 2009). When reflecting on my own teaching, I find that I do this naturally with all students, as it makes sense to me to move from simple to more complex problems. That being said, and reflecting on the Jasper series, perhaps introducing complex problems that students have to work through and problem solve through may be of more benefit.  The Jasper experiment believes that engaging students in real-world problems that are inherently interesting and important helps students understand why it is important to learn various sub skills and when they are useful. The Jasper adventures are purposely created to reflect the complexity of real world problems (Cognition and Technology Group at Vanderbilt, 1992).  As part of inquiry teaching (a method I use to teach some of the time in my classroom), I often introduce mathematical problems based on math explored in read-alouds. For example, when reading the book “Iron Man” we explored measurement as we explored how big we thought the Iron Man, the science fiction character in the story, would be compared to us as students. So in this way I attempt to introduce concepts that lead the students down possibly unexplored mathematical pathways and see what they can produce. I am left with the wondering: Do LD students benefit from this?

Importantly, the study showed that the process of encouraging students to verbalize their thinking or their strategies, or even the explicit strategies modeled by the teacher, was always effective (Gersten et al., 2009). In my teaching practice I often use verbal understandings to gain a better understanding of student understanding/misunderstanding and for ongoing assessment to move forward. I do this for all students, but particularly for students with LD.

It appears that teachers and students also benefit if the teachers are given specific guidance on addressing instructional needs or curricula so that they can immediately provide relevant instructional material to their student.  Teachers require support!!  This is an important point to discuss as educators are often expected to know what to do in all situations with a variety of different styles of learners, with a variety of curriculum and with a variety of learning abilities. As Schulman (1986) noted in his research, teacher training and the type of training provided needs to be revised to reflect both content and pedagogical knowledge.  The fact of the matter is that educators do not have all of these skills and cannot devote the amount of time required to meet the needs of all students. Teachers require the supports of special education teachers, administration, professional development, etc. in order to gain and implement these skills.  The research further disseminates this as the researchers recommend that providing specific instructional guidelines and curricular materials for teachers  and co-teachers or providing support services, peer tutors, cross-age tutors and/or adults providing extra support would be of direct benefit to students with LD (Gersten, et al., 2009).

Interestingly the researchers found at there seems to be no benefit in providing students with LD-specific feedback that is specifically linked to their goal attainment (Gersten et al., 2009). This seems to refute the feedback loop that we are encouraged to use as educators in order to help students to move forward in their learning. I will have to consider this when providing feedback to LD students. Perhaps spending more time on heuristics and explicit instruction and use of visuals would provide better scaffolding for their learning. I look forward to your thoughts on these points.


Cognition and Technology Group at Vanderbilt (1992). The jasper experiment: An exploration of issues in learning instructional design. Educational Technology Research and Development, 40(1). pp. 65–80.

Gersten, R., Chard., D.J., Jayanthi, M., Baker, S.K., Morphy, P., Flojo, J. (2009). Mathematics instruction for students with learning disabilities: A meta-analysis of instructional components. Review of Educational Research, 79(3), 1202-1242.

Shulman, Lee S. (1986). Those who understand: Knowledge growth in teaching.  Educational Researcher, 15(2)., pp. 4-14.

Schulman and PCK Reflections

In Schulman’s reflections we see the recent development of a distinction between knowledge and pedagogy. The idea of teacher competence has shifted towards competence with pedagogy rather than the historical view of teachers as the holders and disseminators of knowledge.  With the emphasis  on classroom management, organizational skills,  assignment creation and questioning formats, planning and assessment strategies Schulman proposes that an important piece is missing. We should be asking  questions about how the content of the lessons is taught. The important questions of where teacher explanations come from, how decisions about teaching are made, how to represent content, how to question students and how to deal with problems of misunderstanding are integral to sound practice. He proposes that by asking these questions we can begin to build information that can address gaps in these areas.  Content deserves as much attention as the elements of teaching process.

He disseminates this further, breaking down knowledge into 3 components: content knowledge, pedagogical content knowledge and curricular knowledge, all of which should be robust for education to be rich and for an optimal teaching and learning environment.

In my own classroom I am currently teaching the concept of time to grade 2 students. When teaching this concept, the background knowledge in skip counting by 5’s and well as previous understanding on time to the hour both on analog and digital clocks is helpful. It can be a difficult concept for some students because the numbers on the clock 1-12 also correspond with skip counting by 5’s all the way from 0-60. The hour is 60 minutes, there are 5 minutes between each number on the clock. So, there are a lot of competing mathematical ideas for young children to simultaneously understand. In addition, there are several different names for time. There is 6:30 and half-past 6:00. There are 6:45 and a quarter to 7:00. In addition, with a heavy reliance on telling time digitally, for example on a mobile device, many parents are not discussing time or telling time using an analog clock at home. Yet, it is still in our  curriculum.

When I teach time I usually have the children construct a model of their own clock with paper and this is a scaffold for them as we begin to explore the concept. In grade 2 the curriculum asks for us to explore 15 minutes on the clock, so 6:15, 6:30, and 6:45.  I begin by reviewing time by the hour and having a discussion with the students about why it is helpful or important to learn to tell the time. We brainstorm ideas and discuss this. Then we begin to map out different important times within the day at school, nutrition break, lunch, recess, etc. On idea I have been reflecting on lately is the fact that time is viewed different within different cultures, and I would like to explore this more fully as I am only teaching from my perspective of linear time. Some cultures believe in circular time.  This brings me back to PCK.  Just because an educator has knowledge of something does not mean it will fit within the structures of our school. Time is limited and decisions need to be made based on many factors.

Digitally I use an interactive clock on the smart board to practice telling time, and I also have children engaged in time games which helps solidify understandings in a fun way. Telling time is a skill that can be taught in school, but for it to be useful the students need to “need” to use it in real ways in their lives. So I introduce the concept, allow them to try using it in school and hopefully in grade 3 and so on they will continue to grow in their understandings and ‘need” to be able to tell the time.

Shulman, Lee S. (1986). Those who understand: Knowledge growth in teaching.  Educational Researcher,  15,  2., pp. 4-14.

Ideal Pedagogical Design

The ideal pedagogical design of a technology-enhanced learning experience for math and/or science would be based on innovative teacher and student practices. Constructivist activities would allow for student led learning, with teacher as facilitator. As Kozma (2003) notes, teachers are not the disseminators of information but rather act as the “guide on the side”, providing planning, structure and ongoing check-ins and assessment for learning. With this type of learning, the educator must have proficiency using technology tools and platforms in different ways, so ongoing collaboration between educators as well as ongoing training would be an important piece of this puzzle. The pedagogical design would take into account the availability of appropriate technology tools as well as providing stimulating questions or wonderings in which the students would be able to choose their learning path but still be provided with scaffolding throughout. These questions or wonderings could then be linked to the curriculum through purposeful guidance by the educators and through looking for patterns and links between the queries and the curricula. Students would be encouraged to work collaboratively and to reach findings and to use technology to its full capabilities including analysis, problem solving, designing and implementing.  Students would be encouraged to reflect on their learning, share through a variety of presentation tools and continue to incorporate new technology tools in their learning.

Robert B. Kozma (2003) Technology and Classroom Practices, Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 36:1, 1-14, DOI: 10.1080/15391523.2003.10782399

Integration of Technology to Support the Mathematics Program in a Grade 5 Classroom-Pros and Cons

Abstract for Interview- Elementary Teacher Grade 5-Multi-Disciplinary Teacher-Interviewed Specifically about Math Programming 

Interview Length  22 minutes.  The teacher I interviewed is from a city of approximately  100, 000 people  in Northern Ontario, Canada. The interview took place during the lunch hour in the staff room in the elementary school where we both work.  The elementary school houses students from JK-8 and the school population is approximately 550 students. It is a relatively new school and it has several shared laptop carts, several shared I-Pad carts and an Interactive Whiteboard in every classroom. The interviewee is in her 40’s and has been teaching full time for for 5 years and had previously worked as an occassional teacher for 2 years. Prior to this she worked as an educational assistant for 7 years and prior to that worked as an early childhood educator for 12 years. She has taught grade 5, and worked as a primary planning teacher where she was responsible for teaching the music program from grades K-8.  She has a keen interest in technology tools. I asked questions specific to technology and her mathematics teaching.

Three themes came out of the interview:

  1. There is a need for teacher training and support in regards to technology

2. Technology is being used in the math program, but not to full effect

3. A BYOD (Bring your own device) strategic plan may alleviate some of the concerns about BYOD in the elementary school and        may provide students with more access to technology and more flexibility with the tools they are able to access and use in mathematics.

The integration of technology into the math programming in an elementary grade 5 classroom has many benefits but this also seems to go hand in hand with many issues. Most of these issues are around availability of technology, tech support and teacher training, but the risks inherant with students bringing their own devices to school was also apparent in the interview.

My colleague reported that she was incorporating technology in her math program across several of the elementary math strands including geometry, numeration, measurement and algebra. In addition, she reported enjoying incorporating the technology and a willingness to incorporate more as she learned about new applications. Although she mentioned that she often found out about new applications, websites etc through casual conversations in the school, she also noted that the training was lacking and that she felt that the training should be done in shorter sessions that concentrate on one topic or one tool to try instead of a longer session where too much information is given and teachers feel overwhelmed. She expressed that this type of training is often ineffective because either teachers don’t remember what they have learned or they do not have the proper technology or tools in order to practice what they have learned.

Although my colleague discussed the way she was incorporating technology in the math program, after reflecting on her comments I noticed that much of the technology use was for demonstration purposes or practice and review. If more training specifically focussed on ways that technology could be used for problem solving, creating or sharing and communicating amongst students perhaps this could also be explored in the classroom.

She also spoke about the BYOD (Bring your own device) situation in her classroom. Her concerns were around the students’ lack of responsibility when using technology, including inappropriate use and not thinking critically about their online behaviour. In addition, she was concerned about the students losing their devices and having both of these situations cause her to have to deal with issues that may get her into professional trouble.

The uniqueness of this interview lies in the fact that elementary educators are multidisciplinary educators yet in our school the science component is given to planning teachers to teach, so the homeroom teacher does not teach her own science. In this way, the integration of math/science/technology/engineering may happen less often. So the natural fit between STEM may be stifled. In addition, in the elementary school setting the educators are often the ones responsible for ensuring that the technology students bring to school is not lost, stolen or broken and if this happens the teacher often has to deal with this. This may be different in upper grades, a highschool setting and definitely in higher education settings. In addition, young students may not have an understanding of what it means to be a responsible digital citizen, and this should be explored along with technology so that the students can make informed and reasonable decisions about its use.

Transcript of Interview

Interviewer will be bolded throughout

How do currently utilize technology in your math program?

Well…I use the Smart Board regularly to demonstrate thinking and so that I can record their math strategies and so that we have a visual way to discuss them. I record number talk strategies as they are shared in class. I also use the I-Pads to, for example, practice elapsed time. Actually….I use the Porter website for that! I go on their website and pick a flight and then I tell the kids, “If I leave at 1:00 and land at 8:00 how much time has elapsed? They like that.
I also use the laptops and I-Pads for different games…I use “Math is Fun” and Prodigy.

So, when you are using these applications, are they aligned with the curriculum you are teaching?

Yes. So when we are doing multiplication the students went on “Grand Prix Auto” racing game for some reinforcing. I also use them for teaching concepts.

What are the differences in student engagement between using technology in math and not using technology?

Well….it depends on the student. Some think it is fun and some find it boring. I think overall they are more engaged.

Why do you think this is?

Well….I think they like the independence, and also the sounds, colors and action in the games.

Do you see any roadblocks to using technology in the math programming in your classroom?

Yes! Wifi is a big problem. The laptops themselves…well there’s not enough and when I sign them out a lot of them are broken.  They are hard to book as well. I prefer I-Pads for quick learning and laptops have certain applications that can’t be used properly on the I-Pads so the laptops are helpful then.
Also some students bring in a device and then it won’t work and I don’t have the know-how to troubleshoot and there is no tech support so the student gets upset. Then some devices get stolen and then I have a crying student on my hands and an angry parent.

How do you think technology could be integrated more fully in the math programming in our school?

Well first of all training. Hands-on training in small steps. I have started inviting people to my class after school on Tuesdays for 30 minutes tops. They try some new technology and then get a chance to use it. When you throw everything at someone in one big course it is too overwhelming. Tech needs to be available when they are learning and the applications need to be available to teachers if they are being trained in their use.

Do you think ideas about how to use technology tools are being shared with the staff?

Well, I am open to learning anything new about technology. I love it. I don’t have anyone sharing with me, or if it is shared it is shared one-on-one informally…like in a hallway or over the lunch hour. Then I will try these “tips” out. But for many people it is in one ear and out the other because they don’t even know where to start.

Why did you take the initiative to voluntarily invite staff to technology training in your classroom after school?

Well…my friend (colleague) didn’t know how to use the Smart Board and I knew that I could be helpful. I’m excited about using technology in my classroom!

Do you allow students in your class to bring their own devices to school?  

I haven’t started that yet. I usually wait until after Christmas.

Is there a reason that you wait and what are some of the perceived drawbacks of BYOD?

Well one time a kid in my class went on porn at home, saved it and then shared it at school. Also one student took a picture of another student and posted it on Facebook and then I got in trouble. The students need to learn responsibility and be held accountable which is hard to control.

What strands of math do you currently support with technology?

Geometry-looking at shapes and building 3-D objects and viewing these objects virtually.
Patterning-I use the “Patterns to Algebra” program on the Smart Board. It is found in the Smart Notebook program.
Number Sense-We use Grand Prix Auto
Measurement- I like using the Smart Board tools for this. The ruler that shouts out numbers is great!
I use the Smartboard for teaching and I use the I-Pad more for practice and consolidation.

Are the students using any of this math technology at home?

Well, I use the e-learning website to link to websites at home, but this year there are far more students not even accessing the e-learning.

Why do you think this is?   

I think parents and kids are just too busy.

How do you see technology tools in the math program being of assistance to students who are struggling?

I really like “Prodigy” for that. It can be set up for the whole class or individualized for the grade level of the student. Two students I had last year, “A” and “D” were performing math below grade level so I used the I-Pad or laptop and they could practice math at their level.

Thank you for the interview! There are some really good discussion points here!
Interview Ended