Author Archives: Joshua Elsdon

Teacher and admirer of digital ninjas.

Minority Report Card

What a mind bender!  My preconceptions about where these readings would go were blown out of the water.  I expected a lesson on VR/AR/haptics would be a tech facing exercise.  Far from this, embodied learning is more like a philosophical treatise on identity and environment.  What a revelation it is to think of environment and individual as a single body, evolving constantly, rather than separate, interacting entities (Winn, 2003)!

Because of the heavily theoretical content of the Winn (2003) article, I wanted to choose an article from the list that incorporated both the theory and practice of embodied learning.  Alibali & Nathan fit the bill by taking some of the theory of embodied learning and pointing it specifically to gestures.  Finally, my article of choice is more specifically practical, looking at the effects of AR on math learning in higher education, and giving a good balance to my readings for the lesson.

I was interested with how Winn (2003) laid out a framework for embodied learning.  The part that resonated most with me was the concept of ‘Umwelt’ – the environment as it is uniquely perceived by each individual.  In particular, the point about the challenges of teaching students with idiosyncratic Umwelten that change in unpredictable ways connected deeply with my experiences as a middle school classroom teacher.  In addition, the idea of finding ways to ‘couple’ students to their environment (artificial or otherwise) was intriguing to me, and meshed with the Coimbra et al (2015) article about using augmented reality in math education.  Seymour Papert once described an ‘artificial environment’ where math learning happens as organically and seamlessly and language learning – he called it ‘Mathland’.  From reading these articles on embodied learning, AR/VR seem like a glimpse into this mythic realm, if not a full gateway.  Coimbra et al (2015) found that higher education students reported AR math problems to be more perceptible than other ways of teaching.

Combine this with the pointing, representational, and metaphoric gestures studied by Alibali & Nathan (2012;2011), and we have the makings of our classrooms turning into remakes of the Steven Spielberg film Minority Report.  With the confluence of these ideas, I imagine AR/VR could both couple student with a ‘Mathland’-like artificial environment, and allow the meaning-making gestures that the student and teacher make could manifest themselves into visual representations in real time.


What is the baseline of common ground that must be found between individual Umwelten to make communication and mutual understanding possible?

Much was made of the efforts needed and strategies possible to couple students to artificial environments.  With student life increasingly being spent online or in other artificial environments, what strategies are needed to ensure children (and adults) are coupled with the physical world?



Alibali, M. W., & Nathan, M. J. (2012;2011;). Embodiment in mathematics teaching and learning: Evidence from learners’ and teachers’ gestures. Journal of the Learning Sciences, 21(2), 247-40. doi:10.1080/10508406.2011.611446

Coimbra, M. T., Cardoso, T., & Mateus, A. (2015). Augmented reality: An enhancer for higher education students in math’s learning? Procedia Computer Science, 67, 332-339. doi:10.1016/j.procs.2015.09.277

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:

TELE’s Abound

After exploring these 4 TELE’s, it is clear that they all are built on the premise that learning is constructed through experience – by moving through cycles of dissonance, integration, and resonance.  These shared roots in Constructivism serve to guide each tool/framework toward student-centred, reflective, and collaborative learning. In addition, inquiry has some implicit or explicit role in each approach.  Another theme that emerged was that content is not as meaningful without a context.  Each one of these TELE’s, to varying degrees, aims to make learning relevant and meaningful, contextualizing it and attempting to create (or have students create) problems they are motivated to solve.

Personally, experiencing these TELE’s has been very inspiring to the science teacher in me, and created longing in the math teacher inside me.  The science based TELE’s provide not only theoretical and philosophical frameworks for enriching learning, but also specific ways to reimagine the lab experiment experiences of our students.  The math teacher in me still pines for authentic, inquiry/project-based experiences for my students.  The benefits of some of the frameworks, especially T-GEM, are clear: using models to identify and modify misconceptions (I think of examples like modelling how subtracting a negative is the same as adding a positive or how area models can help explain visually the concept of multiplying fractions) is a powerful strategy.  However, when I try to create a web-based inquiry environment for math, I continually stall.  This is likely a lack of imagination on my part, and I can’t help but feel that my students are the poorer for it.  I am determined to continue searching, creating, tinkering, and collaborating until I can provide the same rich TELE experience for my math students as I now can in science.



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.

Khan, S. (2007). Model-based inquiries in chemistry. Science Education, 91(6), 877-905.
Linn, M., Clark, D., & Slotta, J. (2003). Wise design for knowledge integration. Science Education, 87(4), 517-538.


One of the areas that I noticed my students struggling with when I taught science in the past was diffusion and osmosis.  There were a few ways I could tell this was a topic rife with misconceptions:

  1. They were concepts that most students struggled to define/explain adequately on tests.
  2. Even high performing students had trouble differentiating the two.
  3. Their hypotheses and reflections on labs showed a lack of understanding

I think one of the reasons is that they have difficulty with the scale that is involved and the concept of concentration gradients.  From a scale point of view, I think students have misconceptions about liquids because of their sensory observations.  They see liquids as homogenous substances, and struggle to understand that there are tiny atoms/molecules moving around and colliding.  With concentration gradients, I think they have a difficult time understanding why particles move from areas of high concentration to areas of low concentration.  Two prominent misconceptions I have noticed arise from some of the most popular ways of describing diffusion.  The first is the personification of particles – teachers often imbue consciousness on particles by describing diffusion in terms of particles ‘seeing’ the high concentration and ‘knowing’ that they must move to another place.  Another way of describing concentration gradients is the idea of a ‘downhill’ force that takes particles from high concentration to low concentration.  My students would often take this explanation and turn it into a misconception that diffusion was driven by gravity.

For the purposes of my T-GEM, I have ‘created’ a new tech tool –  an interactive demo/game in which particles move around the screen in a way consistent with kinetic molecular theory (please forgive my improvised attempt at showing this visually in my video!), and students can control the variables.  I think interacting with a demo/game like this would help dispel misconceptions and help students make meaning of the process.


Collecting Plates


For my WISE exploration, I chose to tinker with a unit on Plate Tectonics (ID: 19749).  I really liked the way the original author set up her/his unit.  I made a few changes to reflect some elements that are important to me.  First, I replaced a number of static diagrams with GIFs.  It seemed silly to me to show dynamic processes with a static image – if the technology can demonstrate the concept more accurately, then do it!  Second, I did away with the “Extra Credit” section.  These always feel like the domain of mark counters, and I don’t want my students motivated by that.  The irony was that many of the most interesting activities that the original author created were dubbed “Extra Credit”.  I kept the activities, but dropped the moniker.

For my lesson (directed at grade 8 students), I am going to begin by having students generating driving questions with the ultimate goal of using the questions to motivate student inquiry.  Each student will generate questions and do some initial information gathering to see if their inquiry is generating interesting, satisfying information.  The WISE will be a source of information for them and act as a jumping off point for their big questions.  Students will investigate their questions with the goal of creating a record of their inquiry in the form of an experiment, a presentation, a video, a podcast, etc..  Each student will participate win a roundtable where they will ask questions about the work, methods, and research of their peers with an aim to improve their inquiry skills through collaborative discussion.  Finally, my students will reflect on their process – assessing their learning, highlighting areas they are proud of, and identifying difficulties they had and how they can address then in their next inquiry.

One of the key goals of WISE’s and Scaffolded Knowledge Integration is to make science accessible (Linn, Clark, & Slotta, 2003).  One of the ways that access is improved with the WISE, is that it is available to the student whenever it is needed.  Unlike a teacher, who is accessible during class time, or a text that, for many students, requires interpretation or guidance for understanding, the WISE can meet the student wherever/whenever they want to learn.  Giving students this resource is another way to manage the proliferation and entrenchment of misconceptions.  In the movie A Private Universe, access to visual models seemed to help students break down their incorrect impressions of scientific concepts/processes.

Finally, the WISE format lends itself nicely to providing timely feedback to my students on their understanding. Hattie & Tamperly (2007) describe feedback as a tool to reduce disparities between understanding and performance.  The marked ‘quizzes’ and predictive writing in the WISE would allow me to keep an eye on student understanding and respond promptly with questions, corrections, or prompts to help shrink the gap between student understanding and performance.



Hattie, H. & Timperly, H. (2007). The power of feedback. Review of Educational Research, 77(1), 81-112.

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

Those Who Can, Do…

TPACK is one of the first frameworks that really caught my attention when I began the MET program.  Before starting my grad studies, I had already incorporated a lot of technology into my classroom, and Mishra & Koehler’s 2006 framework became a touchstone for me as I evaluated what I had done before and has helped guide how I choose to integrate technology into my practice now.  One of the interesting things about this module’s readings was going back to Schulman’s 1986 work on PCK.  It was, of course, referenced in the TPACK material I had read, but I had never gone to the primary source myself.  Looking back, I think I viewed Schulman’s work as irrelevant…or at least that Mishra & Koehler had appropriated the useful information and brought Schulman’s framework into the 21st century.  While not wholly inaccurate, I found that Schulman’s Those who understand: Knowledge growth in teaching (1986) had a lot to offer both in the historical context of the model on which European universities were founded and operated (still operate?) and in the information that Mishra & Koehler chose not to expand upon in their work.  For example, Schulman’s (1986) ideas about Curriculum Knowledge as a third sphere of teacher competence was a revelation to me.  I find it both a frustration and a delight that I can be so surprised by new insights on a topic that I have spent much of my academic and all of my professional life considering!  Frustrating, because I would like to think that I consider each important factor in my decision making as a teacher, and I am reminded again and again that there is an ever-growing body of knowledge and research on how people learn.  Delightful, because not only is my job ever-changing with every child I teach, but also there are brilliant minds digging deeper all the time to uncover ways of improving teacher practice and student learning.

An example of PCK that came to mind actually brought me back to my coaching days.  There’s a saying, “Those who can, do.  Those who can’t, teach”.  I remember the first time I heard this as a child, I took it as a slight to teachers.  Later, when I was coaching high level basketball, I realized there was something deeper in the statement, and now I see how it relates to PCK.  I was a good basketball player…I was able to play for a university varsity team.  But I was no star at that level…I was relegated to the bench most games and practice was my time to contribute.  After I finished playing, I began coaching and quickly found I was much better at it than I was as a player.  In fact, as I met and observed other coaches, I noticed that the coaches who were star players at the university level were often not particularly strong at coaching.  Why would this be?  They obviously had the content knowledge…in fact, they had demonstrated that they were the masters of the content as players.  However, their mastery of the content actually hindered them from being great coaches…it came so easy to them when they were learning it themselves, that they never needed to dissect, reflect, and break down their content in order to understand it.  Players like me – ones who had climbed relatively high up the ‘content ladder’, but who had needed to take a more pedagogical approach to acquiring content – have an advantage as coaches.  We understand the feeling learners have when they are not ‘getting it’.  We have been there before and thought critically about how all the moving parts fit together, how it can be explained, and different approaches one could take.  In short, good coaches not only know about the skills of their sport, but also they have some sense of the pedagogical skills needed to help a player gain those skills.  To take it further, Schulman’s (1986) idea of Curriculum Knowledge (the knowledge of all programs and materials designed for instructing a subject at some specific level)  is analogous to a coach’s ability to strategize and prepare for:

1) Team planning – choosing what to spend the most practice time on, what systems to put in place, how to leverage the skills and abilities of the players.

2) Other teams – choosing matchups, planning ways to exploit team strengths against opponents weaknesses.

3) In-game strategy – using personnel effectively, adapting and changing game plans on the fly, calling plays.

When I hear people using the “those who can, do…those who can’t, teach” saying now, I often wonder how others are interpreting it.  Do they understand the power and importance of how content is presented?  That understanding how to teach content goes way beyond personal mastery of the content?  Usually,  though, they just add the obligatory joke, “…and those who can’t teach, teach PE”.  Should I mention to them I also teach PE?



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

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

Fish Can’t See Water

I found it inspiring to consider the definitions of technology presented in the overview of this module.  The two that resonated most with me were Roblyer (2012) and Muffoletto (1994) because of the common thread they share about technology being less a collection of ‘things’ and more about the integrated practices and behaviours of our culture.  I was reminded of a saying, “fish can’t see water” that comments on human blindness to culture.  I think technology has always been an integral part of our culture.  Some of our technologies are ‘things’: from sticks used by our primate ancestors to take insects from their mounds – to pencils – to networked computing devices.  Other technologies, however, are not ‘things’ in the classical sense.  Language, for example, cannot be defined as a physical object, yet is undeniably a tool we use to enable us in a multitude of ways.  Roblyer and Muffoletto both echo the interwoven nature of technology and human existence in their definitions.

In designing my own TELE, I would want the environment to be suited to my learner’s context – the content would need to be culturally relevant and framed in a way that motivated investigation and inquiry.  The teaching methods would support independent thought, collaboration, and problem solving.

I would want my computer technology doing the jobs that it is best suited to: crunching data, modelling, etc., and the students doing jobs in which they are better than computers: making inferences, extrapolating, problem solving, etc..   The non-computer technology ‘things’ in my TELE would support student manipulation/making in order to cement understanding of their learning.

Finally, I would look for ways to connect computer and non-computer tech.  For example, designing in a 3D modelling space, then using a printer to bring it into real space or writing a program to control a mechanical simulation.


Muffoletto, R. (1994). Technology and restructuring education: Constructing a context. Educational Technology, 34(2), 24-28.

Roblyer, M.D. & Doering, A. (2012). Integrating educational technology into teaching, (5th Ed.). Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall.

a problem worth solving

The Jasper series attempted to situate problem solving within authentic situations.  If I were to create my own math or science adventures, I would follow some of the same principles.  However, my main goal would be to create a problem captivating and relevant enough to my students that they would be motivated to learn something new and difficult in order to solve it.

From a Constructivist perspective, I would attempt to include confounding information that would spur students to either assimilate or accommodate the new information into their existing schemas (Piaget, 1973).

I would also aim to create videos where the problem was complex enough to allow for multiple methods and perspectives to add value to the process.  Kim & Hannafin’s (2011) suggest a model of problem solving through Identification, Exploration, Reconstruction, Presentation, and Reflection that fits well with this goal.

The structures above are important considerations, but the context/culture are also key to creating something effective.  The main challenge of creating a math or science media experience is creating a problem worth solving to the students.  Factors like relevance/meaning in the student’s life and safety/trust in the learning environment play an important role in making a question worth answering or not.

When Jasper was created, video production was not as accessible as it is today, and the creators did an admirable job trying to create adventures that were relevant and fit with a wide audience of learners.  Now that making a video is so much easier, I would move away from making trying to reach a large audience.  The technology available now can be leveraged to create problems tailored to the learners – to their personal context, experiences, and interests.



The Jasper Series as an Example of Anchored Instruction: Theory, Program Description, and Assessment Data. (1992). Educational Psychologist, 27(3), 291-315.

Kim, M.C. & Hannafin, M.J. (2011).  Scaffolding problem solving in technology-enhanced learning environments (TELEs): Bridging research and theory with practice Computers & Education Volume: 56   Issue: 2

Piaget, J. (1973). To Understand is to Invent: The Future of Education. New York: Grossman Publishers.

Purpose, Process, Access

Keywords: Purpose, Process, Access.

Teacher A is a grade 6 teacher at a middle school in Victoria, BC.  The teacher has a Ed.D. in educational technology, and has worked as a primary school teacher, an elementary technology specialist in the United States, and as a middle school teacher.  Teacher A’s current teaching assignment is in an upper middle class neighbourhood at an English-track school.  The interview took place in Teacher A’s classroom after school on a Monday.

The three points I took from my interviewee were:


Teacher A uses technology in math primarily as way to either enrich or remediate: “in math class, I use technology primarily with my children who are at grade level as reinforcement/enrichment”.  She is particularly interested in finding software with automated leveling, so the students are working on appropriate activities based on current achievement levels.


“[My students] are guinea pigs and I tell them they are guinea pigs all the time.”  Although her background as an Ed.D. in educational technology afforded her a deep grounding in research and philosophical frameworks for evaluating technology, Teacher A remains a pragmatist.  She relies on her students as the main vetting system for new technology.  Guiding her decision making is her belief in Complexity Theory as it relates to schools: “I am a proponent of complexity theory in that schools need to move and evolve with the greater community – we’re not we’re not in isolation.  The fact that some people use no tech in their learning and no tech in their classroom –  that’s not the way of the world.”  Teacher A believes that there is a danger in school learning environments being separate and different from the context that the students live in: “schools need to be more like the real world and less isolated so we don’t become irrelevant.”


When asked about access, Teacher A interpreted the question through the lens of the relatively privileged context in which she teaches.  Rather than thinking in terms of access to devices or reliable internet access (which can still be a major barrier, even in her upper middle class school), she spoke more about more about anytime/anywhere learning: “when I when I look at programs [I ask]: Is it ubiquitous?  We have ubiquitous access, for sure, when I’m looking at new software it has to work on every device.  If it doesn’t work on every single device then that’s not really one that I want to use.  It has to be available – all apps, you know, that are super popular – they have it for every single device.”  The reason she feels that this is so important ties in with her views on Complexity Theory and the need for schools to stay relevant: “We don’t have offices so much anymore – so many more people can work from home.  I think it’s the same education that some of these guys will do their math first thing in the morning in bed.  Other times they’ll do it at the rink when their brother is playing hockey, and that back and we can get on that access everywhere and anywhere because of the tools that we use now I think is huge.  Because some of them between nine and three is not when they want to focus.”
Teacher A talked about her role as a university instructor, and access pre-service teachers have to instruction in edtech.  At the moment, there is one required course in the elementary education program at her university, and the subject matter taught in that class varies widely by instructor. She also stressed the need to stay connected, “I couldn’t imagine trying to teach this course and not be a classroom teacher because [technology] changes so fast.  Even when I taught [the same course] four years ago – I’m not teaching word, I’m not teaching PowerPoint anymore.  I’m doing Google Apps for Education and robotics and coding and virtual reality and all the things that are new in our world hear as teachers. I try and get them some hands-on time.”



  1. Reflecting on your math/science classes, in what ways do you predominantly use technology? For example: to transmit information, for student assessment, as a student tool to show learning, for teacher workflow, etc.

In math class I use technology primarily with my children who are at grade level as reinforcement/enrichment.  I use a drill and kill program called Xtramath to go through their math skills.  It starts with addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division because so many kids coming to grade 6 without those skills.  So I try and get them through that program before the end of the year so I know that know their multiplication facts.  Some kids are through it now and some kids won’t finish it by the end of the year.  I use math software for my kids who are low incidence and that’s their entire program.  I’m just starting to use a program right now called DreamBox that self-levels.  It is out of a university and does Canadian western content.  Because there’s so much drill incorporated in the program, I think it’s really good for my kids are working at, like, a grade 2 math level right now because there is that repetition element to it. I tried Prodigy (I have a license that goes until the end of June), but I find it too gamey.  It doesn’t do a great job of math and it doesn’t do a great job of being a game…parents look at it and they say , ‘what are you doing? It’s a game!’, so I won’t renew that subscription.  For science, I use technology as a collaborative tool, primarily.  They do a lot of group projects in science.  They use Google classroom to work on something together.  Right now, they’re doing Canadian exploration technologies and working together on a slideshow to share with the class.  Then, together they’ll come up with a way of assessing the class on their knowledge of the topic they present on.  Some of them are doing a Kahoot – some of them are doing a paper-based one.  I don’t do a lot of transmitting information.  I will scan the textbook and [upload it].  For the kids who can’t read, I use Google Read&Write for science. I’ll use Google classroom second to put up an answer key so they can mark their work that way. This year, because I have such a low class and so diverse, they mark their own when they’re ready and then a lot of parents to the marking as well because the kids are really, really low this year.

  1. What is your process for integrating new technology into your practice? (ie. Do you have a philosophical framework? How much vetting do you do vs. allowing the students to help you choose?)

They are guinea pigs and I tell them they are guinea pigs all the time. I’ll tell them, ‘this is new’, ‘this is one I’ve used before and I really like it and you will use it’, ‘this is one that we’re trying out’.  The students absolutely help me choose.  I asked them all the time, ‘what do you think about this?’. I’ll tell them if it’s new or not new, ask,  ‘do you like it? Do you not like it?’. For reading comprehension we tried to different programs and they told me what they liked and didn’t like about the program.  Some kids automatically found their way to the more appropriate program and other kids needed help to go to a lower level to because they can’t read yet, so they need to be a little bit forced into being a level that was right for them.

My philosophy about it is more big picture because I am a proponent of complexity theory in that schools need to move and evolve with the greater community – we’re not we’re not in isolation.  The fact that some people use no tech in their learning and no tech in their classroom –  that’s not the way of the world.  In the world, people can communicate with with each other kind of whenever they want, so I don’t tell my students, ‘no you can’t text your parents’.  If the parent texts the child to say I’m there for pick up then then I allow that.  So, I think it’s more my rules surrounding technology and technological use in the classroom – trying to be more in line with what they do outside of the classroom because schools need to be more like the real world and less isolated so we don’t become irrelevant.  We can’t teach in the old ways anymore.  We have to look at the new ways.  So, I guess when I when I look at programs [I ask]: Is it ubiquitous?  We have ubiquitous access, for sure, when I’m looking at new software it has to work on every device.  If it doesn’t work on every single device then that’s not really one that I want to use.  It has to be available – all apps, you know, that are super popular – they have it for every single device.  So when I’m looking at educational software, if it requires flash then that’s not OK because we can’t do flash on iPhones (unless we go through, you know, a roundabout route to use a different browser.  If it doesn’t look right on their phones because they don’t have that set up, then that doesn’t really work for me.  So that’s really, I guess, the only tie-in in terms of choosing software.

  1. What role does access play in integrating technology into schools in SD61? For this question, consider ‘access’ as inclusive of student and teacher access to hardware/software, teacher access to pro-d to learn how to use tech, and access for pre-service teachers in the educational research around technology integration.

Access is huge and we kind of heard this was coming forever and ever – that that education has to be ubiquitous because [students] have to be able to get to the same programs, the same software, the same data at home and at school.  I talk to the kids about that a lot and parents, for sure, in the first week of school – that the way with Google apps for education the way we use it in our teaching and learning that [students] can do [their work] when they’re at home sick.  If I give an assignment on Google docs someone who is at home sick can still do the work.  [They] can still watch the movie, they can still write the assignment and I think that ties in really well with complexity theory – that that is the way the world works.  We don’t have offices so much anymore – so many more people can work from home.  I think it’s the same education that some of these guys will do their math first thing in the morning in bed.  Other times they’ll do it at the rink when their brother is playing hockey, and that back and we can get on that access everywhere and anywhere because of the tools that we use now I think is huge.  Because some of them between nine and three is not when they want to focus.   I’m teaching EDCI 336  (Technology and Innovation in Education) and I believe it’s the only tech course that they take.  Every professor teaches it differently and I know that e-portfolios are a big thing, and I’d like to see that happen with our kids.  Dr. Tim Hopper is doing a big folio (as he calls and it) an e-portfolio, so what the the idea is that it is web based and they put all the information about themselves to help them get their first job.  So he does badges – if they can make a hotlink or insert a video – if they can make a video…there is a reward system.  At the same time, the students are building this portfolio that they can show to prospective employer, ‘I can do this and I can do videos’ and all the things that they can do.  He really stresses connections between [pre-service teachers] and following people on Twitter, and in turn, following what’s going on the world education.  There are other professors that teach differently.   they do more…what I feel to be not relevant.  I know they’re fighting really hard right now to try and get Google Apps for Education at UVic, and it hasn’t happened yet because of privacy [concerns].  They are much more concerned with privacy laws than we are, and that’s been the major stickler with not getting it in place there. They are worried about where student information will be.  I guess for us, as teachers [in SD61], it’s done for us.  I don’t worry about privacy or what my kids can and cannot put Google Classroom because I figure the district takes care that for me.  Certainly [UVic] is far more aware of that.  When I teach [at UVic]…I go through every tool…it’s very, very, very hands on.  We do coding, we do Google Apps we do Slides, we do Docs, photo editing.  Everything that I know is new.  We do virtual reality stuff.  Every class we talk about the different types of reporting that are available.  I couldn’t imagine trying to teach this course and not be a classroom teacher because [technology] changes so fast.  Even when I taught [the same course] four years ago – I’m not teaching word, I’m not teaching PowerPoint anymore.  I’m doing Google Apps for Education and robotics and coding and virtual reality and all the things that are new in our world hear as teachers. I try and get them some hands-on time.  They’re making their own teacher webpages so they have that when they go to school, so if they want to use Google Apps, they can they can.  If they want to use Wix or whatever – they can.  As well, to try and get them ready to integrate as soon as they hit the classroom.

Access Denied

After watching the cases, I want to comment on cases 3 and 6.  I was reflecting on my “Unpacking Assumptions” post, and the question of how technology is used in the classroom, and my idea of categorizing tech into either teacher-facing and student-facing.  I realized after watching the cases that there was a key element I was not considering, namely, is the technology being used to transmit information (teaching tool) or is it being used as a medium for students to demonstrate their learning (presentation tool).  The teachers is cases 3 and 6 are taking very different approaches.  Teacher A has used technology to engage students in virtual lab experiments as a source of information to students, whereas teacher F asked his students to use podcasting, GIFs, and powerpoint presentations as media for them to show their learning.  I think this is more important distinction to consider than teacher-facing/student facing.  Technology that is used as a teaching tool would likely be purpose-built for educational use.  This has advantages and disadvantages – it fits the need it is built for well, but its application is narrow in scope.  Technology that is used as a presentation tool is usually built for some other purpose, and has been appropriated for educational purposes.  The limitations here are similar, though opposite – students must make their work fit into its parameters, though its application often offers much broader possibilities.

Another issue that emerged while watching the cases was the problem of access.  Each of the teachers described a variety of access issues, from hardware, to pre-service teacher education, to professional development.  Teacher A and B (as well as their students) both describe the lack of hardware available to students – there seemed to be a lot of juggling computer time and putting more than one student on each computer.  Hopefully,  this issue has improved at the school since the video was made.  Judging by some visual cues in the videos, the video was made in the early 2000s, so it is likely that more computers are now available and it is possible that some of the programs they used would now be available on student’s mobile devices.  The case 6 teacher and student teacher, however, bring up another access issue altogether: how do teachers learn about technology they can incorporate into their practice?  This seems to be still be an issue today.  The teacher in case 6 seems to be personally interested in exploring technology on his own, and goes so far as to say that if a teacher wants to keep pace with the changing landscape, that they have to go find and learn it themselves.  The student teacher mentioned the lack of technology education in her university classes.  How will new teachers be prepared to take on the emerging edtech boom?  

I think part of the problem is that k-12 teaching is not a traditionally innovative profession.  It has remained relatively stagnant in form for about 250 years, and the environment during those years has not rewarded people seeking to be on the cutting edge.  As a result, many teachers at both the k-12 level and the university teacher preparation level fall into the “laggards” category of the Innovation Adoption Cycle pictured below.  These people would see the ever-changing tech landscape as both unreliable (hardware/software become obsolete very quickly) and threatening to their traditional pedagogical methods.  This is why the TPACK framework is so important to introduce, since it provides a way of looking at technology’s role within learning in broader strokes and allows teachers to design learning that incorporate technology that plays to their strengths and the strengths of their students (Koehler, M. & Mishra, P. 2009).

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One size fits all?

When thinking about what constitutes ‘good’ use of technology in the math/science classroom, I tend to think of it in two categories: teacher facing and student facing.

Good teacher facing tech is anything that helps free the teacher from time consuming tasks that pull them away from the student: organizing paper, photocopying, marking, managing resources.  When burdened with these types of tasks, teachers spend less time one on one with their students.

Good student facing tech provides opportunities for learning to be more accessible, more equitable, easier to share/collaborate, and more meaningful to students.  This could be through adding breadth, depth (or both) or by providing opportunities for multimodal learning or student expression.

If we were to walk into class where tech is effectively integrating into the learning environment, here are some things we would notice:

  1. The tech would be enhancing what the students are doing.  It wouldn’t just be a replacement for a paper activity or a ‘pictures under glass‘ version of an experiment.  Rather, the tech would allow for some new dimension to student inquiry that was previously not possible.
  2. The tech would be contextualized within the culture of the classroom and community, as well as provide opportunities to take the learning beyond a singular content area (math, science, etc.).
  3. The tech would put student learning and participation at the center of the experience.  There would be opportunity for customization, appropriation, and collaboration.

Reflecting on Heather’s misconceptions from the first lesson, I can see good student facing tech being very effective at helping her (and her classmates) understanding concepts like seasonal variance and phases of the moon.  The teacher employed the tech they had access to at the time (the mechanical solar system model), but I imagine that an interactive digital model could be significantly more powerful.  For example, the sun would actually be emitting light, so the models would be illuminated allowing for students to see the phases of the moon clearly.  They would also be able to test their own (mis)conceptions, like the irregular orbits Heather drew, the clouds causing the phases of the moon, etc. – the act of which might help jostle those long-held views from their entrenched positions.

The idea of ‘good’ tech use is so subjective and dependant on many variables.  Is it possible in real classrooms?  Absolutely.  What makes it a challenge to implement?  Teachers and school admin bear such a important responsibility to understand the cultural context of their learners, to select tech that supports their learning and promotes their growth.  Teachers, themselves, must be experts not only in their content areas and pedagogy, but also in the technology and how it relates to the learning of their students.  To achieve truly effective tech integration into science and math classrooms, design thinking must be de rigueur from the top down (government to districts, districts to admin) and bottom up (student/parent to teacher, teacher to admin).