Author Archives: lawrence liang

Efficiency In Technology

Keywords: Connecting, Fluency, Time



For this interview, I spoke with Teacher R, a secondary math and science (Biology) teacher.  She went through the teacher education program in the mid 1990’s and, after taking some time off to start her family, she returned to the profession 7 years ago and has been at her current school for the past 3 years.  Her current teaching load includes math 8, science 8, science 10, and biology 11.  As well, she is nearing completion on her own Masters program in resource.  As she is a colleague and classroom neighbour of mine, the interview was conducted after school and in-person.  Through our 20 minute conversation regarding technology and technology in the classroom, a few main points arose.

Connecting through technology?

One of the topics that came up in our discussion was that of using technology to reduce the amount of work and time required to mark assessments and provide feedback to students.  Teacher R appreciated that technology can simplify her workload but was concerned that “… it wouldn’t be able to let you connect with the students.  […] And you wouldn’t want to let the computer keep you from personalizing [the teaching].”  The image of students learning, reviewing, and then being assessed all through the medium of technology could allow for teachers to take a reduced role in the classroom.  Teacher R’s comments serve to highlight that educators need to make an effort to not sit back and allow education to progress without them, but instead to adapt to their changing classroom to continue to provide students the optimal learning experience.

Technological fluency

This topic is one Teacher R felt strongly about was that despite all her intentions to plan and prepare a lesson that utilized technology, she still run into difficulties with connectivity issues.  She recounted a lesson in which she had intended on using Bluetooth to mirror her iPad onto her laptop connected to a digital projector.  When she was unable to connect her iPad to her laptop, she had to resort to delivering the instructions orally while the rest of the students work on their iPads.  She also noted that “it’s nice to have access to technology and all these apps, but you time to go through the app and to be able to explain it to the kids.  And then you need to be able to make sure it is working.”  This served to highlight the importance of not only technology use, but technology fluency.  In Teacher R’s case, having the right motivation and even having been given a short training session on the app she was to use in the classroom did not prepare her to troubleshoot problems with her devices.  Thus educators and administrators must be wary of not only the software being used in the classroom, but also the hardware and how all the devices interact.


The third point that came up multiple times in our conversation was that of time.  Early in the interview, when asked what she would like technology to do for her, she quickly laughed, “My marking?” While she did have ambitions for technology to do more for her (including making her lessons interactive and integrate all her presentation methods to be more seamless), the convenience factor that technology provides was one that she wanted.

Teacher R also noted, when discussing her connectivity issues mentioned above, that time was needed to allow her to become an expert in the technology.  It was not enough to be comfortable with the software, but she wanted to understand all the supporting technologies so that small problems would not disrupt the class.

Lastly, she also cited time as a constraint that prevented her from discovering new technologies.  She noted that “… in the future, we do need to spend more time on technology because that may be the only way to engage them.”  The difficulty she found with adding technology to the classroom was that there were simply too many options and not enough time to identify which would meet her needs.  The two pieces of software cited as examples during the interview (Doceri and ShowMe), “were recommended to me and I just set it up.”  So rather than actively sifting through the myriad of options, she took what was offered to her and made the most of it.


Overall, this was an insightful interview in that Teacher R helped to identify many of the factors that limited her ability to integrate technology into her teaching.  Certainly she has ambitions to include technology use, but it is clear that educators need support both in training and time in order to implement changes.  On the other side of the coin, it may serve as a reminder to software and hardware developers to continue to refine their offerings so that they become more seamless and easier to use.

The full transcript can be seen here.



Video Analysis – Case 3 & 6

In going through the various examples of technology in the classroom, I found Cases 3 & 6 to be good examples of some ways students can use technology.  Case 3 demonstrated how technology can be used to facilitate problem-based learning activities, helping to minimize, as Teacher A notes, the amount of traditional, transmissive teaching needing to be done.  In doing so, it allows students to construct their own knowledge particularly as the activity shown in the example was a problem-based one that challenged students to not only identify and verify scientific concepts, but to also devise their own testing method using the equipment available.  In addition, it allowed students to develop skills in many areas from scientific (usage of computers and lab equipment), social (collaborative learning environment), and analytic (troubleshooting equipment set ups and reviewing of data).

From this though, two questions did arise, one of which was address in the interview with Teacher C in case 6. In Case 6, technology is used as a way to facilitate more avenues of creativity by leveraging all the ways that computers and tablets can take various inputs (voice or picture/video) and synthesize various outputs (podcasts, slideshows/powerpoints, edited video).  The issue that Teacher C discusses is that of time and professional development as when he was asked how he learned how to use all the various programs, he lamented that much of it was done on his own with some provided by the district.  While teachers are granted regular prep blocks, it seems that there is more needed (and unbroken sessions of time) for the planning and implementation of these programs.  It is and always will be an issue but discussions about the realistic and pragmatic time needed and provided to teachers to work with these technologies will always be necessary.

The other question that Case 3 touched on was that of whether technology’s ability to remove more menial components of tasks is a detriment to skill development.  Teacher A mentions that measuring lengths and angles and using other tools are certainly skills in their own right, but also rightly points out that technology proves more time efficient by removing the more mundane tasks so that students can quickly get to the concepts at hand.  Developing fundamental skills may or may not necessary to accomplish a certain task (ie- one does not need to know how to develop film in a dark room to take a photo), but it does help to provide a depth of understanding.  Perhaps one of the approaches to this issue is to have a department discussion on how to develop these skills in earlier grades and transition towards more complex technology use in the higher grades.

I feel that these considerations are useful when thinking about how to integrate technology with any past activities or methods that teachers felt comfortable with.

Unpacking Assumptions

To me, good use of digital technology in a math and science classroom should involve technology use that does not merely provide a convenience, but to actually enhance the learning experience and provide opportunities that were not possible without the technology.  Technology can be used on a more superficial level as a presentation tool, as animations and video and sound are much easier to integrate into lessons through a projector and speakers, but can also be used as a deeper level to become a part of the lesson itself.

As an example, there are many apps out there that can now help a teacher assess their students formatively.  Traditional question/answer, think/pair/share, or exit slips have given way to methods such as Plickrs, Kahoot, or Socrative quizzes.  However, for my classes my students make a set of multiple choice answer cards that they keep in their binder.  For formative assessments, I can provide questions that students hold up their cards and by quickly scanning the class, I can check for understanding.  This very nearly replicates what Plickrs can do without the added cost of technology, and my preference leans towards Kahoot as it does something similar but is more student centric by removing the “scanning” component.  Finally, Socrative provides automated score logging which is not possible with traditional pen and paper formative assessment.

By contrast, a learning experience and environment enhanced by technology should provides students the autonomy to work at their own pace, correct small misconceptions by providing a robust fundamental digital simulation of the topic, and reduce the amount set up or logistical difficulties so that the students can focus on the concepts.

For example, I now use the Geogebra app for my circle geometry unit on my math course (an example can be seen here).  By providing students a set of challenges that involve drawing circles, tangents, chords, and inscribed angles, the students both define each of the terms as well as discover the relationships between them.  These challenges are laid out so that students can progress through them at their own pace.  The program itself, being rooted in accurate geometry, allows students the freedom to explore and create any shape or angle, and the fundamental geometric rules will still apply.  There is no concern of an inaccurate circle or angle creating confusion and students are free to test their theories to see if there are exceptions.  Lastly, the app greatly reduces the time required to accomplish these tasks as shapes, lengths, and angles are accurately drawn and measured.

The difficulty with technology integration however is that the majority of the advantages come from the software, rather than the hardware.  Providing schools and classrooms with laptops merely facilitates learning with technology, but is not learning in itself.  The learning comes from the simulations or tasks that the students accomplish with the technology.  Thus a class that fully integrates technology would see things like an active class calendar with notifications, an online depository of all class files the teacher wants to make available, the ability to view student marks online, and lessons and activities that not only integrate technology inside the classroom but also outside in the form of flipped classrooms or (in the future) augmented reality.  Achieving this would require software developed based on teachers’ needs and feedback as well as training and time for teachers to transition into the technology.

Is it worth constructing incorrect knowledge?

Misconceptions are rife in student minds because misconceptions are common in educator minds. Misconceptions are, as Confrey wrote, ideas and meanings about their world that they formulate to explain how or why things occur (Confrey, 1990). Humans constantly and regularly construct new meanings and understandings as a response to the world around them. This process of constructing understanding, as described by Fosnot (2013), works by refining prior knowledge and adapting it to new observations. The difficulty with this is in discerning when students are using misconceived ideas to fill in the gaps of their understanding. What results may be a blend of the ideas, both accurate and inaccurate, as students attempt to come to terms with a topic.

This is evident in Heather’s inability to remove her misconceptions, which is furthered by the interviewer’s probing questions. When she reaches the limit of her knowledge, she must synthesize new knowledge and for that, she draws on as much knowledge as she can, both correct and incorrect. Educators, however, are in the same position. Much of the scientific community’s understanding of particle physics, for example, may be proven inaccurate in the future. But until that point, misunderstandings are used as a placeholder in the knowledge base in order to progress. Fosnot (2013) describes this as having just enough knowledge, no more and no less, to make sense of what is being observed. Thus, educators promote misconceptions because at the time of their own learning, those misconceptions were perhaps more commonly held and thus taught to them. Coupled with this is the oft relied upon teaching method of lecturing. The presumption that teaching involves the “transfer” of knowledge means that students take in what the teacher provides, misconceptions or otherwise.

To address these concerns, I see the use of digital simulations or augmented reality as a means to help students identify their misconceptions. Using technology to provide students a view into the workings of the science or math will greatly assist their constructivist process. For example, the concepts of cold or “suction” can be presented to students in an AR format that highlights heat transfer or pressure within a given object. Being able to watch the fundamental concepts change in relation to their environment will provide insight into the various science concepts.

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, C.T. (2013). Constructivism: Theory, perspectives, and practice (2nd ed.). New York: Teachers College Press

Sahiner, A. (Producer), & Schneps, M. (Director). (1987). A private universe [Documentary]. United States: Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

Automated math practice

Like many, my elementary school was fortunate enough to have a computer lab and it was always a mad scramble to get the best programs (on 5.5″ floppy discs, no less) to play at the time.  But my father was also quite interested in computers and we have always had at least one computer in the household from when I was 6 years old and onward.

One of my most memorable educational computing experiences was, ironically, one of my most hated as well.  My dad had picked up some programming skills and had brewed up, among other things, a math practice program that would generate random, single operation, arithmetic questions using numbers between 0 and 100.  It would also time your progress and track your score.  Much to my dismay, I had to complete 100 questions each day and print out my time and score to show my dad.  My initial distaste for it began to fade as the constant practice helped my math speed and accuracy and it soon became a challenge to see how quickly and accurately I could complete the 100 questions.  The practice and math foundation that it built continues to serve me well to this day.

Thinking back to this experience brings up a few questions though:

  1. Current pedagogical trends seem to focus less on rote memorization and drill, and more on creativity and analysis.  However, all knowledge proficiency involves some amount of skill proficiency as well.  But is it possible that the continued reduction in skills practice will become a detriment to student learning?  Do educational trends like these cycle?
  2. Much of the success of my dad’s math program was built upon the speed and efficiency of the computer to reduce his workload (ie- thinking up questions, checking the answers, timing the session), and many current educational technologies do provide such conveniences (ie- online quizzes, tracking of grades, assignment submission).  But when deciding on which technologies to implement into the classroom, how do we differentiate between ones that provide truly innovative learning experiences and ones that only provide convenience?

Hello from Richmond!

Hi everyone,

My name is Lawrence and I live in Vancouver, BC.  I currently work in Richmond teaching secondary Science and Math.  This is now my 8th MET course, having finished the required ones (500, 510, 511, 512, 520), and some electives (530, 540).

As a math and science teacher, I have a lot that I’m hoping to gain from this course.  I feel that I’m rather fluent in technology and I’d like to see it become better integrated into my teaching.  I’m hoping that more insight into how technology is developed and used will be very helpful in identifying useful, innovative technology.

In my past, I spent two years living in Japan which was an amazing experience.  And as hobbies, I’m interesting in technology (computers and the like), photography, and running.

I’m looking forward to working with everyone and (most likely) seeing some familiar names again!