Author Archives: Kirsten Ocoin

Student-Directed, Funding, Curriculum-Driven

My interviewee was a senior teacher who has taught with the same school board for the past 19 years in Ontario. She currently teaches middle school Math, Language, Physical Education and Social Studies. She has a very busy schedule and so our best option for an interview was to send her my questions on Google Docs and she filled out a question here and there when she had time (over the past week). There were three main focuses of the conversation and those were student-directed learning, funding and a discussion around how curriculum drives the technology and not vice-versa.

Student-Directed Learning

Much of the interview focused on this teacher’s pedagogy that she specified is strongly based around “inquiry based learning with the inclusion of technology on a daily basis for sharing of ideas to further collaboration between all learners.” She mentioned that one of the advantages to incorporating technology into her teaching practices is greater student collaboration. Having actually been in her class many times before, I can attest to the fact that her class is very student-directed. The students are essentially working at their own pace of items of their own interest, with connections to the curriculum. As the teacher interviewed in Case 5 (from last week’s activity) also demonstrated, the class is very noisy yet accomplishes many tasks with this open philosophy of learning.


When asked about any concerns or disadvantages she has recognized with respect to the inclusion of technology, the chief theme that prevailed was the lack of funding. “Money and funding sometimes does not take care of ‘Equality vs. Equity’”. One of the downfalls to having this interview conducted via Google Docs was the inability to ask follow-up questions. There are multiple ways to interpret this quote but as I have been in her class multiple times, I can only assume that she is referring to the diversification of her students in terms of what they personally have access to. Much of the work that is assigned is given to students as homework if not completed during class time. Many of the students do not have access to tablets at home nor does the school permit the classroom tablets/iPads to go home with the student unless that student has an IEP. That being said, many of the students cannot complete the homework at home and are left with only class time. Another factor that plays into this is the chaotic and loud work environment of the classroom, what comes along naturally with an Inquiry-Based Learning model, and how this is not ideal for all students to complete work.

“Curriculum Drives the Technology”

The majority of the interview was spent revealing the teacher’s pedagogy- “to involve technology when it is a tool to move the students forward not hinder the learning. Therefore it is my philosophy that curriculum drives the technology not the technology that drives the curriculum.” This teacher is the head of the technology department at this school and obviously has a large interest in the inclusion of technology into classrooms. She stated that, “we were beginning to see that technology is not a resource on its own but the means to enrich and deepen learning when embedded into a learning framework.” It was clear after hearing her responses that technology had to be implemented in a meaningful way and not just for the sake of it being there. She continued to stress that any technology she used in the classroom was “to deepen learning tasks in all subjects”. She cited her own professional development when she researched several authors such as Michael Fullen and “his vision of new pedagogy with digital tools and resources”. She illuminated how Fullen believes “it is not the use of technology that improves student achievement, but it is how well it is used to support learning. In fact, he suggests that LRT support and effective descriptive feedback made a greater impact.”


All in all, the interview highlights both important advantages and concerns regarding the inclusion of technology into the classroom. It is clear that the main goal of including technology into one’s classroom is for the students benefit. The take home from this interview was for technology to solely be used as a support to the curriculum and not tailored the other way around.

IBL & Keeping Students ‘On Track’

The first set of videos I watched was Case 5. It showed a teacher who has her students working on a project while also incorporating many different technologies into the classroom. She refers to herself as ‘the coach’ and ‘a learner’. This mentality certainly follows the more laidback teaching style of facilitator as opposed to authoritarian. Judging by the commentary in the background by her students, they seem to be engaged in the task and are committed to the project and to furthering their learning. This style of teaching, and using project-based learning, allows her to roam around the room and check for understanding. It also “equalizes the playing field for all the students” so that they, despite their cultural differences, can work at their own pace and use technology to their advantage.

The teacher does not go into the particular project much and so it raises some questions about what the expectations surrounding the project are. How are students held accountable for their learning? Does she conference with them on a daily basis? Weekly? What does she do to ensure that no student is left behind? The teacher says “It [the IBL approach] challenges them, not all of them” so what does she do to make sure that all students are, in fact, learning something and are challenged in certain way?

As a new teacher, I have not had the chance to really delve into a full Inquiry Based Learning project and the openness and potential to come out of it really peaks my interest. I would love to undertake a unit but definitely need to do more research on how to structure it. The idea of letting it come naturally frightens me as there is so little time in the school year that I would not want to spend time on a particular topic only to realize a few lessons in that there is nothing that could come out of it. That being said, if there were no curriculum or time restrictions, IBL is a beautiful way of learning. However, as a started, I think I would need to see how it is done, perhaps by witnessing a colleagues experience with it. The students in the second video obviously really enjoy the open aspect of their learning and you can tell that creativity and collaboration are main aspect of this type of learning. The incorporation of different types of technology allows students to be able to express their learning in many diverse ways. During my Graduate Diploma of Teaching, I too, was asked to create a Slowmation and have since seen it done with students as young as in Kindergarten. The learning curve is large but the excitement and engagement that occurs is so worth it!

Case 6 also demonstrates how technology is incorporated into the science and math classroom. The teacher interview was fantastic and I was very impressed by the teacher himself. He had multiple Grade 8 groups working on various tasks including cutting into an eye, listening to a CBC podcast, listening to a song, creating a podcast of the textbook, etc. The tasks really encourage differentiation and demonstrated that there was an activity that would peak every students interest.

The teacher at one point is asked how he has learned about all the various forms of technology he is incorporating into his classroom. He candidly answers that, for the most part, it is up to him. This seems to be a common occurrence across many school boards in Canada and it strikes me as odd. My school board, in particular, really focuses on the implementation of technology into the classroom yet, without teachers exploring the options on their own, little is discussed about how or what to bring into the classroom. Taking the MET was one of the ways that I would learn about different ways to integrate technology into my classroom.

All in all, the video cases detailed the overwhelming support for technology into math and science classrooms yet did ultimately leave me with some questions as mentioned above. The final question I have left is how can we, as educators in the MET, help our teams with implementing technology into the classrooms? How can we encourage technology to be used in a meaningful way and not just because it is there?

Use What You Have!

A few jot notes on what I believe counts as good use of technology in math and science learning environments:

– applications that get students interested in math/science tasks

– technology used for assessments (Seesaw, Fresh Grade)

– technology used for classroom communication (Google Classroom- forms, etc.)

As I have mentioned a few times before, incorporating technology that is meaningful into the classroom is the only way to use it. Technology has to add something to the students learning. For instance, using an iPad or flip camera to document a nature walk for science and then later commenting on what they witnessed using a program such as Evernote is a great way to get students engaged in a task and find meaning with what they are doing.

One of the questions asked was “is this a vision or is it possible in real classrooms?” For schools that do not have access to a plethora of technology, even one classroom iPad can work wonders for such an activity. The teacher can have students rotate who films a particular lesson or item of interest and the students at their own time can add their own touches (voice notes, written or drawn notes) to the project to demonstrate their learning. This could be uploaded to a program like Seesaw so that their projects are filtered into their own accounts.

Other programs like 10 Frame Fill (application) allow children to practice recognizing additive 10 families (1 and 9, 4 and 6). In a kindergarten classroom I taught at the beginning of the year, I had paper 10 Frames that the students would use with tokens. Few children were interested in it but when I downloaded the 10 Frame Fill application, they were fighting over the iPad because they loved it so much.

One of the challenges when trying to incorporate technology is ensuring, as last week’s readings/videos demonstrated, that teachers do not assume a student already knows how to properly use technology. Making sure that students are appropriately using technology (and know how to use it!) is a vital lesson that lies in the hands of the educator.

Importance of KNOWING our students

The first challenge that popped into my mind when asking myself this question was that many activities that can come from STEM challenges need access to a variety of resources (i.e. technology!). That being said, many resources can come from such things like recycled materials, but when particular items need to be bought, it is not necessarily in the classroom or school budget and generally comes out of the teacher’s pocket. Bybee (2013) discusses how not having access to technology is one of the main issues when trying to incorporate STEM into the classroom. Beyond having access to technology, there are many other conceptual challenges with regards to STEM that have more to do with the students than the resources available.

In the video A Private Universe we were asked to witness numerous conceptual challenges. The video explores a local high school to see if the students have correct assumptions with regards to various scientific topics. Heather, a Grade 9 student, from a local high school was chosen by her teacher as someone who would most likely have a good answer for any scientific question asked. What the teacher did not realize was that Heather had virtually no knowledge with regards to science and more specifically the phases of the moon. Heather sat through a secondary lesson on the phases of the moon and was then re-interviewed 2 weeks later. However, as her private theories were still very much evident, Heather did not accept the correct information on the phases of the moon.

This made me reflect of the importance of diagnostic assessments. Teachers need to be aware of what their students know with regards to starting a new topic/discussion. Without understanding where a student is at, how can one program effectively and make sure that all the students are on the right track with their understanding?

Tabula Rasa, a blank slate, is certainly not the case with students, especially students in high school. Catherine Fosnot (2013) describes education and constructivism by saying that “too often teaching strategies and procedures seem to spring from the naïve assumption that what we ourselves perceive and infer from our perceptions is there, ready-made, for the student to pick up, if only they had the will to do so” (p15). Heather came to the class with pre-existing notions that were not addressed at the very beginning of the lesson or unit and as such, she is holding onto her private theories tightly. In the Confrey (1990) article, he mentions a quote by Osborne and Wittrock (1983) that states, “children develop ideas about the world, develop meanings for words used in science [mathematics and programming], and develop strategies to obtain explanations for how and why things behave as they do” (p. 4). Heather developed pre-existing ideas about the phases of the moon and has believed that for so many years that it is now difficult, half way through the unit, to switch her thinking.



Bybee, R.W. (2013). A Case for STEM Education: Challenges and Opportunities. United States of America: National Science Teachers Association.

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

Fosnot, Catherine. Constructivism: Theory, perspectives, and practice. Teachers College Press, 2013 or 2005 version. Chapter 1: Introduction: Aspects of constructivism by Ernst von Glasersfeld or Chapter 2: Constructivism: A Psychological theory of learning or Cobb, Paul. “Where is the mind? Constructivist and sociocultural perspectives on mathematical development.” Educational researcher 23, no. 7 (1994): 13-20. Available in the course readings library.

Schneps, Matthew. (1989). A Private Universe: Misconceptions That Block Learning. Retrieved from:


Putt Putt…

One of my first experiences with technology was when my family got our very own (massive) desktop. At this point I’m not even sure that there was internet but it allowed my mom to type documents for her class. I really did not have much interest in it until I was given the computer game Putt Putt. Putt Putt was a little purple car that lived in a neighbourhood of cars and he did little jobs like cutting the grass to pay for money. You had to move the computer arrows, up, down, left and right to make sure you cut all of the grass. For each lawn you cut, you earned money which you could then spend on things like getting a new paint job! I was overly fascinated with this game.

Next came The Sims which was a more grown-up version of Putt Putt where you had to take care of the people in the house (first by building and designing a house which was my favourite part). Then you had to do chores, make sure you got to work on time (without missing the bus), make and keep friendships. I remember thinking, this is just too cool. I am completely in charge of whether or not this ‘person’ fails or succeeds at life, all my controlling it through my computer. Perhaps a little melodramatic but it really gave me insight into what a fascinating piece of machinery the computer was. It is so interesting now to talk to students in my class and see there reactions about not having a computer or even, gasp, no internet! They simply cannot understand a world in where internet has never existed. It really makes me excited for the future and to see where technology will bring us. Currently, I am really fascinated with Augmented Reality (AR) and would love to see, first hand, how it can change classrooms!

Hello from Hamilton!

Hi Everyone,

My name is Kirsten and this is my 8th MET course. I am also in ETEC522 as well as 521 (wish me luck!). I took the last semester off so that my husband and I could backpack India, Nepal and Portugal for 2 months. Now we are back and I am ready to (try) and finish my MET!

I am an Elementary teacher with Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board in Hamilton, ON. In my ‘spare time’ I love to travel, read, explore the outdoors and spend time with our families in Orillia, ON. My husband and I also have just finished flipping our first house and are moving on to our second flip for a summer project in our hometown. That being said, it’ll be a very busy summer but I’m hoping to accomplish all of my goals so that come September I can focus solely on teaching again!

STEM is very big in my board and so I am looking forward to learning more about how to incorporate it into my classroom in a non-traditional way (Inquiry perhaps?).

I look forward to learning and working with all of you!