Author Archives: Jocelynn Mortlock

Equivalent Fractions with Info-Vis

The concept of information-visualization allows for students to visualize and make sense of conceptual understandings that are not easy to grasp, either due to the minuscule size (of atoms, for example), or the lack of tangible familiarity, such as fractions being parts of a whole. Where children experience their three-dimensional world on a regular basis as a concrete experience, rather than a conceptualized environment, spatial reasoning, relationship-building with the physical world and information-visualization are key components to develop at a young age. Jones and Mooney point out that “physical experience, especially the physical manipulation of shapes, is important at all ages”, particularly through geometrical experiences to build “a firm understanding of geometrical relationships” (Jones, K., Mooney, C., 2003). Although computer simulations are not the be-all, end-all for learning about geometry and visualizing difficult concepts in the physical world, Finkelstein et al. highlight the many benefits of using computer software and applications to simulate geometric environments, “providing simulations are properly designed and applied to the appropriate contexts” (Finkelstein, N.D. et al., 2005).

In my own context, I have found that in the lower intermediate grades, students have difficulty grasping fractions. Physical models of fraction circles help them to understand that a quarter of a pizza is not comparable to half an apple, but when it comes to finding and comparing equivalent fractions, they need more opportunities to play around with the numbers that they see on the page and apply it to something tangible, more concrete in their minds. Therefore, the example below is of a lesson using the Learning for Use model, where students are introduced to equivalent fractions using a card game I’ve been teaching with for many years. However, I have enhanced the game to include Knowledge construction activities using Illuminations’ app for Equivalent Fractions. Students have plenty of opportunities to ‘play around’ with different fractions to improve their visualizations of what equivalent fractions mean.


Understanding Equivalent Fractions

Goal: Students will be able to visually represent equivalent fractions.


Lesson based on LfU model:


  • Students are introduced to the game ‘Fraction Wars’, a card game where students flip over two cards (A=1, to 10), placing them one above the other to create a fraction. Whoever has the higher fraction collects all the cards. Students may also experience a draw, known as ‘war’. This applies to equivalent fractions. When ‘war’ is declared, students flip another two cards, until there is a winner who collects all the cards. The student with the most cards at the end wins.
  • To properly identify a ‘war’ situation, students need to be able to understand, identify and compare equivalent fractions. Students will play a class-vs-teacher round until war is declared.


Knowledge construction:

  • In the event of a war, students must illustrate, using drawings or objects, how the fractions are equivalent, bigger or smaller.
  • Students will share their explanations in table groups. When the group has a consensus, they will place their hands on their heads. Allow 5-10 minutes if a group has not yet reached consensus.
  • Hand out laptops and have students go to the Illuminations site – Equivalent Fractions app.
  • Students work to identify equivalent fractions of the computer-given fraction, using Illuminations.
  • Students build their own equivalent fractions to build understanding, using Illuminations.
  • Students compare different fractions and discuss with each other which fractions are deemed larger or smaller. What is their proof?
  • Students may recreate physical or drawn models to further illustrate their proof of equivalent, larger or smaller fractions.


Knowledge Refinement:

  • Students return to teacher example and share consensus, using their model as proof.
  • Students play Fraction Wars against each other, regulating the game based on their refined understandings of fractions, with models or Illuminations to help in their visualizations.



Finkelstein, N.D., Perkins, K.K., Adams, W., Kohl, P., & Podolefsky, N. (2005). When learning about the real world is better done virtually: A study of substituting computer simulations for laboratory equipment. Physics Education Research,1(1), 1-8.

Jones, K. and Mooney, C. (2003). Making Space for Geometry in Primary Mathematics. In: I. Thompson (Ed), Enhancing Primary Mathematics Teaching. London: Open University Press. pp 3-15.



A communal effort for knowledge construction

How is knowledge relevant to math or science constructed? How is it possibly generated in these networked communities?


According to Rosalind Driver, “The objects of science are not the phenomena of nature but constructs that are advanced by the scientific community to interpret nature.”

Knowledge relevant to science and math is constructed as part of socially accepted ideas that have permeated and prevailed into scientific communities through symbolic representation of empirical research. The role of the teachers, therefore, is to initiate students into the scientific ways of knowing (Driver et al., 1994), by introducing them to scientific concepts, as well as intervening and negotiating their conceptual understanding. Educators are mediators that guide students in differentiating between the everyday world of perceived science and the accepted world of science developed by the scientific community, as emphasized by Driver.

With the advances in science informational technologies (IT) provide, scientific and mathematical knowledge construction is heavily influenced by social processes and context. Carraher’s study of ‘Mathematics in the Streets and in Schools’ compared computational strategy effectiveness, given a context (such as completing transactions in the streets of Brazil) to routine learned computations strategies in school, without context. The study found that the knowledge construction was more powerful and effective if it was learned within a context, making fewer computational mistakes since the learning was being meaningfully applied for that student (Carraher et al., 1985). This implies that learning using an IT context needs to include opportunities for students to make meaning for themselves of the scientific knowledge they are delving into. As educators wanting to use networked communities such as Exploratorium and Virtual Field Trips like Discovery Ed, we need to negotiate differences between common sense science and the scientific symbolic representations of actual science.

Digital Libraries and Museums can offer excellent scientific reasoning opportunities for students to engage in. Interactive installations and activities allow for physical observations of scientific phenomena for students, while enhancing the scientific community of young learners by enabling choice and interest through a variety of topics (Hsi, S., 2008). These virtual museums can allow for students to access true scientific material from remote areas, rather than relying on student collected empirical data to make informed scientific research. In my own practice, I have found citizen science projects, such as, to be effective ways to engage young learners in scientific discovery and dataset research and interpretation. The distributed data collection using IT allows for a broadening of the scientific community that can enhance interest and learning far greater than what was available to the average student in the past.

However, as Spicer points out, there is still no truly effective replacement for real field trips and scientific knowledge building through hands-on and socially constructed learning opportunities. Staff and student interaction during real field trips facilitates deeper “emergent” issues through discussions that allows for more profound learning to occur (Spicer et al., 2001). Therefore, with any IT enhanced science or math engagement opportunity, the learning should be enhanced not replaced with virtual learning environments. Virtual field trips, for examples, should be used as a ‘before and after’ routine that can further a student’s thinking towards a particular scientific principle, rather than relying solely on the guided or open tours available through a virtual museum’s website.

Carraher, T. N., Carraher, D. W., & Schliemann, A. D. (1985). Mathematics in the streets and in schools. British journal of developmental psychology, 3(1), 21-29.

Driver, R., Asoko, H., Leach, J., Scott, P., & Mortimer, E. (1994). Constructing scientific knowledge in the classroom. Educational researcher, 23(7), 5-12.

Hsi, S. (2008). Information technologies for informal learning in museums and out-of-school settings. International handbook of information technology in primary and secondary education, 20(9), 891-899.

Spicer, J., & Stratford, J. (2001). Student perceptions of a virtual field trip to replace a real field trip. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 17, 345-354.

Zooniverse – a citizen science website

This site provides an opportunity for students to engage in Citizen Science. Like a virtual museum and research center combined, Zooniverse utilizes the power of Information Technologies with portable devices, such as ipads, smartphones or laptops, to create a science environment where students can take part in real scientific documentation and aid in the scientific research process. Students choose a project, anywhere from life sciences to space, and assist in the collection and interpretation of data sets. They can also take part in the important aspects of social negotiation and collaborative discussions through the ‘Let’s Talk’ forum. Its very easy to set up in a classroom and the site provides resources for teachers beginning a project for the first time.

Embodiment and gestures

There were so many interesting articles this week that peeked my interest in Embodied learning. As the context for my teaching practice is in younger elementary students, I wanted to focus my efforts more into what embodied learning is like in how it shapes younger children’s learning, with regards to gestures and easy-to-access participatory technology.

Winn’s article introduced me to a new framework that takes constructivism and cognitive psychology to a new level, incorporating embodiment as the “physical dimension of cognition”, embeddedness, as the “interdependence of cognition and the environment”, and adaptation (Winn, W., 2002). When discussing embodiment, Winn refers to the physical realm, using our bodies as our tools in solving problems with our minds. In the elementary classroom, sensory experience largely drives the type of learning that occurs most often in science and math units. However, as Winn points out, our sensory experience of the world is quite limited, in terms of how we perceive sound, light and time, therefore, we can use artificial environments to create metaphorical representations that allow students to better grasp concepts “outside the reach of direct experience” (Winn, W, 2002). Metaphors can be tricky as they have the potential to mislead if the abstraction of the metaphor is not intuitive or pre-taught. When working with younger children who have not yet learned scientific abstractions or mathematical equations, greater scaffolding would be needed. Furthermore, Winn discussed the importance of 3D spatial sense through virtual environments. With affective strategies of engagement, immersion and enjoyment, students’ learning can be “coupled” with the environment, providing opportunities for deeper learning. Along with regularly challenging a student’s misconception through unexpected events, artificial environments can enhance a student’s learning, redefining what learning looks like.

Barab and Dede elaborated on the impact of games as an artificial learning environment for students. They stated that in order for any science curriculum to be meaningful, the learning context should be a “participatory act”, where the context shapes the understanding (Barab, S. & Dede, C., 2007). They emphasize the importance of a social nature for games and the ability to “do science” rather than simply observe and memorize, as they are incorporated into the learning process. In considering my own context, in introducing any games or artificial environments, such as Minecraft to examine landforms with my students, I need to be aware that it is the process of inquiry and collaboration with others, through their environment, that will help deepen their learning and solidify their conceptual understanding.

Finally, Novak et al.’s article opened my eyes to a new way of looking at embodied learning, through gestures. In a study of a grade 3 class, the authors found gestures, both concrete and abstract, to have a more powerful impact on the generalization of children’s learning in math compared to physical actions that directly manipulated the physical world. The results of the study found gestures to lead to “deeper and more flexible learning” (Novak, M.A. et al., 2014). Yet, how does this change if an artificial environment is considered? Interestingly enough, physical manipulatives, such as base ten blocks, actually detract from the learning process and generalization of a concept due to the physical irrelevance of moving the blocks in a physical space. I am curious to know if this would be rectified in an artificial environment. Finally, gestures allow for students to develop ideas about the relationships between problems, that actions alone do not allow. I found this particularly relevant, as I often find students struggling to make connections between concepts when they are lacking in abstract understanding.


Some questions I still have:

  • What might gestures look like in an artificial environment? Are they replaced by symbols? Does this give the same effect as a physical gesture?
  • In a participatory immersive environment, how might the teacher help target misconceptions when the environments can have so many elements? If the elements are limited, is it still immersive and just as effective?



Barab, S., & Dede, C. (2007). Games and immersive participatory simulations for science education: an emerging type of curricula. Journal of Science Education and Technology, 16(1), 1-3.

Novack, M. A., Congdon, E. L., Hemani-Lopez, N., & Goldin-Meadow, S. (2014). From action to abstraction: Using the hands to learn math. Psychological Science, 25(4), 903-910.

Winn, W. (2003). Learning in artificial environments: Embodiment, embeddedness, and dynamic adaptation. Technology, Instruction, Cognition and Learning, 1(1), 87-114.

TELE: Meaningful, relevant and applicable

As I reflect on the four foundational technology-enhanced learning environments (TELE) that we’ve looked at over the past few weeks, I notice a number of similarities in the foundational focus of each of them, while also noting subtle differences in their application, teaching methods and technology integration.

For a pdf version of the tele comparison table


Inquiry has been a contributing factor throughout my career as a teacher, and continues to be emphasized in all of these TELE’s, as they highlight the importance of inquiry in the construction of student knowledge. As we saw with the video “A Private Universe” early on, just like Heather, many students struggle with misconceptions towards scientific concepts that are not relevant to their daily lives or are inaccessible due to the unobservability of the phenomenon. Using a process of inquiry, student-driven learning supported by teacher scaffolding, and technology integration, students can overcome misconceptions and develop stronger scientific engagement and understanding.

In examining each of the TELE’s, I have gained a greater awareness of the diverse ways in which educators can support students’ conceptual understandings and begin to construct accurate representations in their minds. Technology plays a huge factor in making science accessible, whether it is through the Jasper series problem sets, simulations, or data sets using My World GIS or Google Earth. However, using technology and applying a framework to support learning around a technology are quite different. I have learned that proper integration comes with an intention. Students can’t properly learn to manipulate data in Chemland without a solid understanding of mass or temperature in the Heat Transfer Between Substances example. There must be a balance of scaffolding and open exploration, where teachers help guide students in what they are meant to observe or skills they are focusing on developing, while allowing them to explore the extremes of problems and phenomena.

Beginning this unit, we were asked to think about what we pictured as our Ideal TELE. Having explored the four foundational TELE’s, there are many attributes of each that I would apply to my own teaching practices, with the goal of students becoming lifelong learners. The anchored instruction approach presents realistic problem scenarios to create independent thinkers (Cognition & Technology Group at Vanderbilt, 1992; Shyu, H., 2000) that I would like to make accessible to my students through video-based problems such as the Jasper Series or Encore’s Vacation (Shyu, H., 2000). I also liked the integrated communication aspects of WISE that allow students to engage in critique of other students’ work to better build their own understandings. Using visual “dynamic, runnable models” to examine causal and temporal processes of WISE (Gobert, J et al., 2002) would further allow me to help students make their thinking visible, not only to myself, but to themselves. This would contribute to the process of self-reflection of whether students are constructing and refining their mental models accurately. Finally, my ideal TELE would combine the aspects the T-GEM model and LfU framework, as I see many similarities between the two already. To best support relationship generation, evaluation and modification, I would include a motivation by having students experience curiosity and demand through their knowledge gap; construct knowledge through direct observation and evaluate their knowledge with peers; finally applying and reflecting on their understanding, all the while I would be supporting their efforts through guided questioning.

Although it seems like a bit of a daunting task, combining all that we have learned through the TELE’s, the take-away for me is that educators should help guide students’ construction of knowledge through meaningful, relevant and applicable scenarios, where technology helps to enhance the learning of STEM with an intention and a reinforcement of connections that students refine through sustained scientific engagement.



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

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.

Gobert, J., Snyder, J., & Houghton, C. (2002, April). The influence of students’ understanding of models on model-based reasoning. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association (AERA), New Orleans, Louisiana.

Khan, S. (2007). Model-based inquiries in chemistryScience Education, 91(6), 877-905.

Khan, S. (2010). New pedagogies for teaching with computer simulationsJournal of Science Education and Technology, 20(3), 215-232.

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

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.


T-GEM: Building a mental model of Tides

The BC Science Curriculum for grade 4 includes the Big Idea of “The motions of Earth and the moon cause observable patterns that affect living and non-living things”. To investigate the challenging concept of changing tides as it affects living and non-living things on Earth (due to Earth’s axis, rotation, orbit around the sun, gravitational pull of the Moon and lunar phases), the T-GEM model will be used to support student inquiry using tidal simulations and teacher guided strategies. In the T-GEM model, Khan emphasizes the importance of teacher actions that promote student inquiry (Khan, S., 2010), therefore, teacher guidance, as to when to use the technology throughout the process, is key to students generating relationships and evaluating patterns effectively in the creation and modification of their mental models.

Often, tides due to gravitational pull is a difficult concept for students, as it requires them to create an accurate scientific mental model of the role of the Sun, the Earth’s axis and the Earth’s orbit, which are not directly observable phenomena for students. The enhancement of a digital simulation, in conjunction with the cyclical Generate (G), Evaluate (E) and Modify (M) model should help enrich students’ involvement and engagement with scientific inquiry and provide opportunities to build accurate mental models of unobservable phenomena (Khan, S., 2007).


Tides – the influences of the Earth, Sun and Moon


Teacher Strategies Student Processes
Compile information Teacher background info on tides: BrainPOP video:



Students record what they know/ understand of tides from BrainPOP video. They fill in what they know of tidal changes on a diagram, including the Earth, moon and Sun in their drawing. Students share out their drawings.
1.     Generate Teacher limits variables in simulation for students (One earth day, Earth’s rotation, Earth’s orbit, Moon’s position).

Ask students to find patterns.

Ask students to proceed at each Earth day (24 hours).

Ask students to incrementally proceed and observe changes.

Ask students to compare tidal heights.

Ask students to explain in a group share-out of their findings.


Students interact with the EduMedia simulation:

Students repeat simulation for one Earth day (24 hours). In pairs, students generate patterns and relationships between Earth’s rotation and tide level; Moon’s position and tide level; Earth’s orbital position and tide level.

Students share-out their findings and what they predict for tides year-round.

2.     Evaluate Provide students with “spring tide” and “neap tide” scenario: greatest and least difference in tidal heights with video: Lunar and Solar Tides on Science Primer:

Ask why is there a change? Ask students to predict why this occurs.

Ask students to compare to regular tides. (Find new data over one Earth year.) “Are there other exceptions?”


Students observe video and simulation, paying close attention to when tide is at its highest and lowest.

Students interact with Lunar and Solar Tides simulation on Science Primer, focusing only on “Tidal height” throughout Earth days. Students make note of their predictions and compare with initial data.

Students record new data related to Spring and Neap tides.

Students evaluate tides over a year. Students discuss their findings with other groups.

3.     Modify Ask students to modify their relationships on a new drawing chart. Ask students to clarify their reasoning for patterns/relationships.

Prompt student explanations with questions during share-out.

Students re-examine their data, including Spring and Neap tides.

Students re-create their drawing, explaining the relationships of the Sun, Moon, and Earth’s orbit/rotation on tides in a drawing, digital sketch or physical model.

New models are shared out, explained and questioned by peers.

Technology Links:

Technology Links for T-GEM: Tides



Khan, S. (2007). Model-based inquiries in chemistryScience Education, 91(6), 877-905.

Khan, S. (2010). New pedagogies for teaching with computer simulationsJournal of Science Education and Technology, 20(3), 215-232.

Vacation anyone? : Let’s Talk Time Zones

In what ways would you teach an LfU-based activity to explore a concept in math or science? Draw on LfU and My World scholarship to support your pedagogical directions. Given its social and cognitive affordances, extend the discussion by describing how the activity and roles of the teacher and students are aligned with LfU principles.


The Learning-for-Use framework developed by Edelson (2001) is based on knowledge as being a “goal-directed process” in which knowledge is constructed and shaped by the application of the knowledge, either consciously or unconsciously. For Edelson, the procedural knowledge is just as important and connected in the knowledge construction process as declarative knowledge Furthermore, the LfU model consists of three key steps to ensuring students “foster useful conceptual understanding that will be available to the learner when it is relevant”; Motivation, Knowledge Construction, and Knowledge Refinement. (Edelson, D., 2001).


Therefore, in considering an LfU-based activity for upper elementary students in math, I would focus my efforts in following the three key steps of the model. In addition, from the evidence presented in the case study ‘Camila, the earth, and the sun: Constructing an idea as shared intellectual property’ (Radinksy, J., Oliva, S., Alamar, K., 2009), I would aim to incorporate several opportunities for communication as a way of constructing knowledge as a whole group, utilizing shared modeling, shared contributions, and negotiation to reinforce conceptual understandings.

The unit I would be presenting using the LfU model would be related to Time Zones in math, as this can be a challenging concept for students to understand when not made relevant to their lives.

Motivate: In the beginning of the unit, I would introduce students to the idea that one of their classmates would be traveling during part of the school year to Toronto followed by Paris, France. This fellow classmate wants to skype in to the class at least twice to see how things are going. Students would need to figure out when would be an appropriate time to skype their classmate. As I have had a few students in the past travel during the year and want to skype in to see the class, this can be both a relevant and motivating activity for students to engage in. This introductory activity would also elicit curiosity, as students might quickly determine that 7am is too early and 6pm too late, but they would likely come to realize, through discussion with each other, that they may not know the exact time difference to Toronto, from Vancouver, and then again to France. Given a map of the world, students would need to identify the times appropriate for Vancouver, then challenge themselves to fill in the gaps of the time zones for Eastern Canada and France. They would fill in their reasoning in written or oral form. Teacher facilitated discussions would help students see the gaps in their knowledge, before beginning the construction phase of building connections.


Construct: Students would be introduced to Google Earth, using the layer of Time Zone Problems, downloaded from From there, they would observe and take notes in a Google Classroom spreadsheet, recording the time zones and making notes of the relationships they notice. Again, teacher prompts and other students’ prompting can help collectively piece together the conceptual understanding. With the spreadsheet acting as a collective journal, students could collaboratively come up with the ‘rules’ for identifying a given time across the world, including time origin, EST, PST, UST, etc.


Refine: Finally, a class schedule come be drawn up with all the possibilities. By leveraging peers’ language to clarify their own reasoning and negotiating language and representation to develop a shared explanation (Radinsky et al., 2009), the class would use the spreadsheet to create a schedule for when to skype the student on holiday, keeping in mind what might be accomplished on the holiday and knowing which times need to be avoided (during the day that student might be visiting a museum or at the beach, without access to their computer). To better assist in their final explanation, paths, pins and image overlays could be drawn on Google Earth and presented.

The entire process incorporates the LfU model by constructing knowledge by making it applicable, but also incorporates the aspect of communication as a way of constructing a shared understanding to avoid individual misconceptions that might go unnoticed without intervention.



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.

Radinsky, J., Oliva, S., & Alamar, K. (2009). Camila, the earth, and the sun: Constructing an idea as shared intellectual property. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 47(6), 619-642.

Cooling Off! – Collaborating towards new ideas

The WISE project I chose to delve into and edit was the ‘Global Climate Change and Ozone’ project. Through the various activities, it has students examine the effects of energy on the Earth’s temperature, considering the Earth’s future in regards to climate change and what humans can do to protect the climate. It is designed for grade 6-8 students with a decent ability in the English language, since it involves quite a bit of vocabulary with little explanation and many opportunities for writing out ideas. The lessons are well designed in that they make thinking visible, using challenge questions and branching tools to connect and test their ideas. They also make science accessible through the scope and grain size of each of the activities, as these are “important to the process of knowledge integration” (Linn et al., 2003). I also found this project to promote lifelong learning, as students are able to continually think about the material presented as it applies to their daily lives.

This project, however, was lacking considerably in having students learn from one another through collaboration and reflection activities. Therefore, in editing this project, I wanted to provide greater opportunities for collaboration between peers and teachers. I also wanted to deepen the connections students were making throughout, by first assessing their prior knowledge (as well as self-assessing). What were the misconceptions students were walking into this unit with? What had been their experience with climate change? In the introduction, I added a brainstorm page, where students could add their personal experiences and knowledge anonymously, without judgement, while also adding comments to other students’ comments. For the teacher, this would help establish where students are at with their understanding, allowing the teacher to guide them in alternative directions if need be. Further on, I added an idea basket that I really liked from the ‘What makes a good cancer medicine’ project. This way, as students built their knowledge, they would be encouraged at various points to jot their ideas down. Later they are asked to debate between two students’ ideas on climate change. This idea basket, along with an explanation builder, would support their learning and prevent misconceptions from resurfacing.

Finally, I wanted students to deepen their connections between what they had learned of the content of climate change and their personal choices and action towards protecting the Earth’s climate. I also wanted to further the accessibility piece by removing the language aspect from the final page. Therefore, I used the draw tool to allow students to illustrate their new understandings based on a prompt by any means they saw fit.



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


Anchored instruction for authenticity and motivation

The Jasper series was designed in response to a large majority of students lacking in independent and critical thinking skills, as well as the motivation to learn and apply concepts to the real world. The goal of the Jasper series was to create a shared learning context where students would be challenged in a “realistic problem-rich setting”, learning the when, why and how of procedures, concepts and skills (Cognition & Technology Group at Vanderbilt, 1992a). The intent behind the design of this TELE was to provide an area for meaningful STEM exploration, building collective understanding between teachers and students, as they developed problem-solving skills in an authentic setting. I agree that this is a problem worth pursuing still today, as students have easy access to information on their phones and tablets, and are rarely challenged to reflect on their learning and engage critically with authentic problems. The Cognition & Technology Group at Vanderbilt (1992a) outlined the issue in more depth, elaborating on the necessity of developing “subskills” while using the Jasper series. To authentically tackle any problem, students need to develop a bank of skills and strategies from which they can apply their critical thinking to solve a complex problem, while being able to apply the tools of technology rather than having the technology answer the problem for them.

In the studies I read that attempted to integrate the Jasper series into their instruction, motivation and improved attitude towards STEM were byproducts of using the Jasper series (Hickey et al, 2001; Shyu, H., 2000). I found this interesting, but not surprising. Having access to technology at their fingertips, it would seem realistic for students to lose interest in the memorization of materials and concepts that didn’t relate to their lives. However, through the studies, results showed significant increase in motivation and positive attitude towards when anchored instruction and technology were fused together successfully. In Taiwan, several Grade 5 classes successfully implemented a video-based series, Encore’s Vacation, which resulted in improved motivation and academic achievement (Shyu, H., 2000). Encore’s Vacation is similar to the Jasper series, in that it provides visuals and audio accompaniment of a realistic problem, as well as diagrams, a storyline, and the ability to adjust the speed of the video. All these factors enable anchored instruction, with the complexities of authentic problem solving placed within a context students can grasp and opportunities for differentiation through extension or simplification as needed.

Unfortunately, in North America, there does not appear to be programs already set up for teachers as neatly and readily as the Jasper series or Encore’s Vacation. Khan Academy may provide audio and visual for the explanation of diagrams, however it does not teach subskills or place the learning in a context for problem-solving – it simply informs the student of how to solve a problem, and does not include them learning the when or why. Similarly, BBC Learn Classroom Clips only provide videos from which to listen passively, rather than question, reflect and collaborate to solve a genuine problem.



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

Hickey, D.T., Moore, A. L. & Pellegrin, J.W. (2001). The motivational and academic consequences of elementary mathematics environments: Do constructivist innovations and reforms make a difference? American Educational Research Journal, 38(3), 611-652.

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.

Applying Minecraft in STEM

“Teaching necessarily begins with a teacher’s understanding of what is to be learned and how it is to be taught.”   (Shulman, 1987)

Shulman’s view on the role of the teacher encompasses more than simply a vast knowledge of subject matter. At the time of the paper, this concept was perceived as new. Today, however, education has already taken on the corkscrew roller coaster, blending pedagogical knowledge of how to teach well, with content knowledge of the facts of what to teach. Shulman goes on to say “… the learning itself ultimately remains the responsibility of the students” (Shulman, 1987, p. 7), clarifying that both the teacher and student play a vital role in one’s learning journey. Content cannot simply be conveyed, nor can teacher’s knowledge of pedagogy be applied without the involvement of the student.

Mishra & Koehler (2006) expand on the framework of the PCK to include technology.

“Teachers need to know not just the subject matter they teach but also the manner in which the subject matter can be changed by the application of technology.” (Mishra & Koehler, 2006).

Essentially in combination with each other, TPACK would be effectively knowing how to teach a subject with technology. Therefore, one particular example comes to mind in my own practice, in relation to STEM learning.

Recently, I had the opportunity to explore landforms with my students as part of our geology content in science. The content aspects of this unit we were exploring had to do with how landforms change over time (due to erosion, deposition and human activity). In order for my students to gain their best understanding of the difference between erosion and deposition, we conducted several sand, water and ice experiments as a class. I combined what I knew about hands-on learning, questioning and scaffolding to assist the students in understanding the scientific content and vocabulary (PCK). However, for my tech hungry students, this was not enough. Since I teach a relatively young age group very much into video games, I also incorporated my knowledge of Minecraft to deepen their learning.

As an extension to our unit, we used Minecraft to explore various landforms that could exist and why they might exist in some biomes and not others. Very quickly, my students gained a solid grasp of what landforms existed on Earth and how they differed. We then furthered our investigations to examine changes over time. Linking Minecraft with our sand, water and ice experiments, students demonstrated their understanding of the processes of erosion and deposition through a series of Minecraft landforms they built. In order to do so, students had to question the nature of the changes and provide concrete examples on their Minecraft servers. Overall, their understanding of the content had been changed and improved upon with the application of technology, in conjunction with sound teaching practices and solid content understanding.



Shulman, L.S. (1987). Knowledge and teaching. The foundations of a new reform. Harvard Educational Review, 57(1)1-23.

Mishra, P., & Koehler, M. (2006). Technological pedagogical content knowledge: A framework for teacher knowledge. The Teachers College Record, 108(6), 1017-1054.