Author Archives: Laurie Campbell

What is good use of technology in a math or science class?

I think good use of digital technology involves students creating something that they’re proud of.  They might be creating something to demonstrate their understanding of a concept, or they might be using their time to master the digital technology itself.  For example, in the last lesson’s video, we watched Heather grab a physical model of our solar system as she struggled to understand the phases of the moon.  Students can create their own models using technology and see what happens as the moon orbits around the earth.

Sometimes, the concepts being mastered aren’t ones that were even a part of the math and science classrooms of 20 years ago.  Scratch ( has been a valuable tool in introducing my Grade 4 students to the ideas in computer science.  They can experiment first-hand with the ideas of if/then statements, loops, and other coding concepts that would be too difficult if they had to worry about where they missed a semi-colon.  (Argh!  The semi-colon!  How many hours have I wasted as a coder myself, looking for that elusive semi-colon!)  The building-block style of construction is age-appropriate, while at the same time allowing students to create incredibly elaborate and complex games.  The logic they learn while coding has applications in other academic areas as well.  One of the main challenges I have had is that, in an unstructured lunch time coding “club”, my students are mostly boys.  I haven’t had a lot of success, just yet, in getting girls to code unless they “have to” in a structured class environment.  I would love to hear how other teachers out there have gotten girls hooked!


Conceptual Challenges in Astronomy

As seen in this week’s video, “A Private Universe,” scientific concepts in astronomy can be difficult for students to grasp, as seen in the case of Heather, a very bright student in Boston.  Students have their own explanations for phenomena they have observed, and it is often the job of the science teacher to correct misconceptions.  To do this, teachers must first have a knowledge of a student’s current understanding.  This fits well with the idea of constructivism, as discussed by Catherine Fosnot.

Fosnot discusses two ‘giants’ in the field of constructivism.  There is Piaget with his concept of cognitive equilibration – the balancing of assimilation (the organization of experience with one’s own logical structures or understandings) and accommodation (comprised of reflective, integrative behavior that serves to change one’s own self and explicate the object in order for us to function with cognitive equilibrium in relation to it) (Fosnot, 1996. p. 13).  There is Vygotsky, who proposed a “Zone of Proximal Development.”  He argued that scientific concepts do not come to the learner in a ready-made form. They undergo substantial development, depending on the existing level of the child’s ability to comprehend the adult’s model (Fosnot, 1996. p. 18).  Fosnot describes constructivism as using misconceptions to create disequilibrium, which facilitates learning (Fosnot, 1996. P. 29).

The workings of our universe are a mystery for many learners, as shown again by Vosniadou and Brewer in 1992.  “[M]any children said that the earth is round but also stated that it has an end or edge from which people could fall. A great deal of this apparent inconsistency could be explained by assuming that the children used, in a consistent fashion, a mental model of the earth other than the spherical earth model” (Vosniadou & Brewer, 1992).

Heather’s struggle (and her teacher’s!) was familiar to me.  In Grade 4 Science, as part of the “Light and Shadow” unit, I try to show students every year how the position of the moon in relation to the sun and the earth gives us the phases of the moon.  I usually have students up holding the globe, a styrofoam ball and a big lamp.  I think I have been somewhat successful in getting this concept across, but there are often interesting misconceptions that come up during class discussion.

So… Can technology help?  In 2010, Sun, Lin and Wang made a VR model of the sun and moon for elementary children, and found that students with access to the 3-D model achieved significantly better grades that students receiving traditional instruction.  I would love to try this with my own students!



Fosnot, Catherine. Constructivism: Theory, perspectives, and practice. Teachers College Press, 2013 Chapter 2: Constructivism: A Psychological theory of learning

Sun, KT., Lin, CL. & Wang, SM. Int J of Sci and Math Educ (2010) 8: 689. doi:10.1007/s10763-009-9181-z

VOD “A Private Universe”.

Vosniadou, S., & Brewer, W. F. (1992). Mental models of the earth: A study of conceptual change in childhood. Cognitive psychology, 24(4), 535-585.

Graphic calculators and quadratic equations

In 1999, I was teaching a Grade 10 math class, only a few years older than the students I was teaching.  A challenge!  Graphic calculators had just been introduced.  To be able to actually SEE where a line crossed the x-axis instantaneously and to be able to understand the significance of that point on the line was an incredible tool in teaching quadratic equations.  I know that I understood it in a way that I hadn’t when I been learning it originally.  The teacher was learning right along with the students!  This was probably my first exposure to the idea that it is Ok for teachers not to have all the answers when it comes to technology.

Image result for first graphing calculator ti83

Hello from Calgary

I’m Laurie Campbell, a Grade 4 teacher in Calgary, Alberta.  I am also a PHP developer, which has lead to an interesting smash-up of projects in the last little while.  I am currently working on a student registration site for an “Einstein Day” at our school, where students will have their choice of STEM activities.  We tried something similar last year and it was a lot of fun, for both staff and students.

I am officially half-way through the MET program (yay!).  I particularly enjoyed the last course I took – ETEC 510, Design of Technology-Supported Learning Environments.  We made an online book review site with an Instagram component.  That was a neat project to work on.

I started off my career with a BSc. in Ecology and taught high school math before settling into elementary.  I love this age group, but I’m usually looking for ways to “spruce up” the science curriculum, especially.  Alberta is due for a fairly major curriculum redesign, and we’ve been watching closely to see how things are going in BC.  This course looks like it could be a fantastic mix of inspiration/perspiration and I’m looking forward to the learning.