Author Archives: mary sikkes

Inquiry and the Modern Classroom: WISE and SKI

Piaget said, “Our real problem is – what is the goal of education? Are we forming children who are only capable of learning what is already known? Or should we try to develop creative and innovative minds, capable of discovery from the preschool age on, throughout life?” (Davidson Films, time stamp: 0:41).

WISE was specifically developed “to create sustainable classroom inquiry instruction across the varied contexts where learning takes place” (Linn, et al., 2003, p. 518). While “inquiry is at the heart of the National Science Education Standards” and “the Standards seek to promote curriculum, instruction, and assessment models that enable teachers to build on children’s natural, human inquisitiveness” (National Research Council, 2000, p. 6), studies have found that few science classes actually incorporate inquiry practices (Linn, et al., 2003). Instead it has been found that “…students may often regurgitate isolated “facts” memorized from science instruction, or learn to solve specific kinds of problems, but fail to understand the concepts behind these facts and strategies” (Slotta & Linn, in press, p. 52).

Slotta and Linn (in press) acknowledge that “knowledge integration starts with the view that students bring a repertoire of rich, confusing, and intriguing ideas to science class” (p. 51). The four tenets of Scaffolded Knowledge Integration (SKI), “(1) making thinking visible, (2) making science accessible, (3) helping students learn from each other, and (4) promoting lifelong learning,” (Linn, et al., 2003, p. 524) ensure that students who learn in a variety of ways are able to access information and learn collaboratively with peers. Visual representations are created by asking students to make predictions, write reflections, or draw representations of their investigations and learning (Slotta & Linn, in press). Inquisitiveness and lifelong learning are promoted through the integration of school-based science and ‘real life’ environments across the curriculum (Gobert, Snyder, & Houghton, 2002). Slotta and Linn (in press) build on this idea with their findings that in making connections between science taught in schools and children’s everyday experiences, science will become more relevant and accessible for students outside science classrooms.

While I tend to have some concerns about limitations placed on students when they engage in a digital technology-based assignment, in the case of WISE, an effort has been made to ensure communication and collaboration, as well as the development of new and shared ideas. Slotta and Linn (in press) point out that through students’ investigations and discussions, “they can expand their repertoire of ideas by considering those ideas held by their peers,” and discussions and disagreements about their own hypotheses “…can be valuable, because students are considering alternative explanations, adding evidence from their experience, and negotiating to reach consensus” (p. 64). As students discuss, peer modeling is incorporated and ideas are expressed in a variety of ways, as new ideas are added to the conversation that may not have been identified or included otherwise (Slotta & Linn, in press). In doing this, students access information far beyond what they would have accessed individually, or even with the support of only the teacher. Engeström, (1994) points out that “when thinking is defined as a private, individual phenomenon only indirect data is accessible” (as cited by John-Steiner & Mahn, 1996, p. 201). By promoting collaborative inquiry and challenging others’ hypotheses, students are given the opportunity to access the collective memory storage system of the group (so transactive memory) rather than being limited to their own knowledge and experiences, allowing access to significantly more knowledge and information than each student would have had access to as an individual learner (Sparrow, Liu, & Wegner, 2011).

While I was impressed with the concepts behind the “The Adventures of Jasper Woodbury” series, I must admit that I found myself drawn more to the WISE projects than I was to the videos or activities within the Jasper series. Both provide students with a more student-centered, constructivist approach to learning, in that they provide an opportunity for students to explore concepts through their own observations and experiences. However, I feel that the more varied interactivities of the WISE projects would support differentiated learning and inclusion to a greater degree as they targeted a wider scope of learning styles through the wide range of activities provided. I also felt that the WISE projects made individual students more accountable, as students were expected to answer questions or submit a response at regular intervals between steps. Peer collaboration is promoted through both the Jasper series and WISE projects, but as each student or partnership is also expected to create regular responses in WISE, ownership of ideas and responsibility for learning increases making individual assessment and understanding of learning clearer for educators.
I feel that the WISE projects were applicable to various areas within the curriculum. While they were based in a science-related concept, they provided opportunities for the integration of experiments, written responses, and artistic representation, allowing these projects to incorporate cross-curricular content in a project-based learning style. I believe that a WISE project could be used to create an inquiry project into any science or social studies-based curricular content, which could then extend to incorporate mathematics, language arts and fine arts. Even P.E. could be incorporated by embedding nature-based field trips, or physical-based challenges.

I found the WISE projects engaging, and interactive, and I was thankful to see that they contained manageable amounts of text to read according to grade level posting. The main aspect of WISE that I would customize would be introducing more compelling “hooks” to increase students’ interest going into a project, and to add prompts/images to access prior knowledge and to identify misconceptions prior to beginning a project. Generally, I found these two areas were lacking in the projects I viewed. By accessing interest and prior knowledge, I believe students have a greater chance of becoming active participants in their own learning. I also believe that identifying misconceptions that students often have about scientific concepts is incredibly important prior to beginning a new project.
I enjoyed reviewing the WISE/SKI theories and projects, and I was impressed by the fact that students were guided through the learning process with a clear outline of learning expectations, and applicable, appropriate learning resources throughout a well-defined framework. Due to the numerous structures already in place, educators are given more time to circulate amongst groups, and students are able to work more independently as there is more scaffolding built in. Students are still provided with all of the information they are required to learn, but from a variety of sources and with the opportunity for more independent performance regardless of ability, increasing critical-thinking and inquiry within the classroom.


Davidson Films, Inc. (uploaded 2010). Piaget’s developmental theory: an overview [online video]. Retrieved from:

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. Retrieved from:

John-Steiner, V. & Mahn, H. (1996). Sociocultural approaches to learning and development: A Vygotskian framework. Educational Psychologist, 31(3/4), 191-206.

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

National Research Council. (2000). Chapter 1: Inquiry in Science and in Classrooms. Inquiry and the National Science Education Standards: A Guide for Teaching and Learning. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9596.

Slotta, J. D. & Linn, M. C. (in press). WISE science: Inquiry and the internet in the science classroom. Teachers College Press.

Sparrow, B., Liu, J., Wegner, D.M. (2011). Google effects on memory: Cognitive consequences of having information at our fingertips. Science, 333(6043), 776-778.

Is Global Warming for Real?

“Learning environments that concentrate on conveying to students what scientists already know do not promote inquiry. Rather, an emphasis on inquiry asks that we think about what we know, why we know, and how we have come to know” (National Research Council, 2000, p. 5-6)

The projects available through WISE, and the theory behind the concepts of WISE and SKI, provide an opportunity for students to engage in a variety of interactive activities to support the development of critical thinking and inquiry, as well as increasing engagement and motivation. Based on the four tenets of Scaffolded Knowledge Integration (SKI), “(1) making thinking visible, (2) making science accessible, (3) helping students learn from each other, and (4) promoting lifelong learning,” (Linn, et al., 2003, p. 524) information is delivered through a variety of techniques. This allows for students to engage in the learning process through multiple senses, and for information to be received and interpreted through a range of learning experiences (i.e., visual, auditory, and tactile) as students view images and videos, and then respond by answering multiple choice questions, predicting, hypothesizing, and writing or drawing. This mixture of mediums takes into account various learning styles and supports learning as well as retention of information for students.

In terms of the structuring of student learning, the WISE projects provide various supports to scaffold learning for students in a more independent environment, which is beneficial for educators as well. The WISE projects guide students through the learning process, with step-by-step instructions and information delivery to appeal to a variety of learning styles. This connects well with Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development which can look different depending on the setting, but “can include people, adults and children, with various degrees of expertise, but it can also include artifacts, such as books, videos, wall displays, scientific equipment and a computer environment intended to support intentional learning” (Brown and collaborators, 1992, 1993, as cited by John-Steiner & Mahn, 1996, p. 198-199), as students are given the opportunity to move from assisted learning, to more independent learning and output, through the guidance provided by the projects. Linn, Clark, and Slotta (2003) discuss the fact that the WISE platform “incorporates an inquiry map to communicate the patterns that students follow to investigate a topic. The map enables students to work individually and independently on their projects, rather than constantly asking the teacher for guidance on what to do next (Feldmann, Konold, & Coulter, 2000; Edelson, Gordin, & Pea, 1999; Linn & Hsi, 2000)” (pp. 521-522).

There were many aspects of the WISE projects that I really enjoyed, and I generally found that projects offered a very good mixture of information, key terms, visuals, videos, and inquiry, allowing students to access and build upon their prior knowledge, as well as encouraging deeper-thinking through scaffolded instruction and activities. Gobert, Snyder, and Houghton (2002) discuss being “scientifically literate” as “understanding science content, having scientific process and inquiry skills, and understanding the nature of science, i.e., what is taken as evidence (Perkins, 1986)” (p. 1) and these points are supported through the WISE project framework.
I chose to explore and customize the existing WISE project titled, “What Impacts Global Climate Change?” (ID 9028), created in November, 2015, and owned by Crystal Mosteiro. The project is listed under “Earth Science” and is aimed at grades 6-8. The summary details the project as follows: “Students investigate how energy from the Sun affects global temperature and their role in global climate change.” While there were many aspects of the existing project that I thought were well done, there were some changes that I felt needed to be made to adapt the project to fit my personal teaching style.

The first change I made was in the “Introduction” section of the project. The existing project started students off with a title that said “How do my actions contribute to global climate change?” along with three bullets explaining what students will learn in section 1 of the project. While I feel this is a great question, and the learning intentions for the particular section were clear, I did not feel that the entire project was properly introduced, and I felt that prior knowledge and misconceptions were not adequately addressed. As a result, the first change I made was to create a new “activity” (I put it at the very beginning of the existing project) to “hook” students’ interest and then to attempt to access prior knowledge and misconceptions. I started by adding three “steps” to my new activity section. The first two steps were the “hook” and consisted of two different photos taken from NASA’s “Global Climate Change” site. The first photo showed an image of the Alaska Range, Bear Glacier in 1909. The second photo showed a picture of the same glacier in 2005. Pictures were shown in separate steps (1909 image first, 2005 image second) and students were asked to respond to each picture: “1) List at least 5 things you notice in this picture 2) Why are each of these things important? (OR you may ask a question related to each of the 5 things you noticed).” While I did enter these into the actual project, I am tempted to do these as a “paper-based” activity (as a t-chart) as a class prior to beginning the project. Following students’ submissions, I would like to do a “whip around” together as a class and have each student tell me one of their responses to the questions online (or on paper, depending on how I would end up doing it). Following this, I added a step to access prior knowledge and potentially identify misconceptions that asks two questions that relate to major concepts behind the project: “What is global climate change?” and “Is global warming real?” Again, I would want to discuss students’ responses together as a class to enable students to collectively share prior knowledge, and also to attempt to dispel misconceptions students have prior to beginning the lessons.

The next major change I made was to add a video, also from NASA, titled “Following Carbon Dioxide Through the Atmosphere.” This is a short video that I feel students will find interesting, showing the movement of Carbon Dioxide through Earth’s atmosphere over the course of a year (September 2014-September 2015). I believe the video could also prompt some wonderful class discussions about carbon dioxide emissions in our world.

My final major change was to add a hands-on project where students are asked to create a model to demonstrate one thing they have learned/found particularly interesting which answers one of the initial (introduction) project questions, “Is global warming real?” While I have obviously never used this WISE project in my classroom, so I do not yet know how students will respond, I am envisioning models that could incorporate recycled materials, plasticine, and natural materials (found outside), and so on. Models will be 3-D and students will write paragraphs to explain how their models effectively demonstrate the reality of global warming.
One thing that I did not like about this project and I would hope to change in the future is that the majority of the “questionnaire” questions did not provide students with immediate feedback (although a few did). One thing I loved about the “What makes a good cancer medicine?: Observing mitosis and cell processes (ID: 9924)” project was that the match and sequence questions provided information once my answers were submitted. Adding this feature to the climate change project, would allow students immediate feedback (correct/incorrect) to their responses, as well as providing information to explain why their answer was correct/incorrect which I think is valuable.


Alaska Range, Bear Glacier [images]. (1909; 2005). NASA: Global Climate Change. Retrieved from

Following carbon dioxide through the atmosphere . (2016). NASA. Retrieved from

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. Retrieved from:

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

Mosteiro, C. (2015). What impacts global climate change? WISE. Retrieved from

National Research Council. (2000). Chapter 1: Inquiry in Science and in Classrooms. Inquiry and the National Science Education Standards: A Guide for Teaching and Learning. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9596.

John-Steiner, V. & Mahn, H. (1996). Sociocultural approaches to learning and development: A Vygotskian framework. Educational Psychologist, 31(3/4), 191-206.

Highlights and Impressions of “Jasper Woodbury”

When I first began watching the videos from the Jasper series, I worried that the series would be too difficult and would cause more anxiety and feelings of being overwhelmed by math, than positive outcomes. However, as I read the associated articles and re-watched the videos, I realized that the series provided many opportunities students needed to allow them to learn perseverance, resiliency and deep-thinking in relation to “real-life” problems. Through a series like Jasper Woodbury, students are given a fairly unique opportunity to use student-based learning, to develop inquiry skills, and to develop problem-solving skills to tackle multi-leveled questions. Rather than simply focusing on one aspect of a math curriculum, or on only computational skills, students are presented with scenarios that require them to ask questions and use conceptual and procedural, as well as computational, knowledge to solve “real life” problems. As an educator, I would be interested in implementing a video series like “The Adventures of Jasper Woodbury” to see how students respond in terms of engagement, motivation, and understanding of abstract concepts. It would be interesting to see how the use of technology would support students, or whether there would be difficulties that hinder students who are less familiar or comfortable with technology. I have a student who is on the Autism Spectrum and who struggles significantly with academics. This student would likely benefit from the oral delivery of information, but could potentially become very frustrated with the technology delivering the information to him; for example, if he were attempting to re-watch a scene, but was struggling to find the correct “part” he was looking for. I do also question how effective the Jasper series would be for students who struggle with auditory processing and sequencing. One thing I really liked about the Jasper series was the fact that students would be encouraged to watch and work together, developing collaboration skills that are essential in today’s world.

As far as becoming a potential TELE designer, “The Adventures of Jasper Woodbury” series brings up many important questions around student-centred learning, engagement, and problem-solving experiences. As I consider what a program I might develop would look like, I am drawn to the idea of a series that is more student-centred. There are many memes today that poke fun at math problems of the past which asked students to figure out questions to the effect of: how many watermelons would Sally have if she bought 23 watermelons on Monday and five additional watermelons each day for one week. Questions like this are not only foreign to students because they cannot link their own life experiences to the question, they also do not promote the deeper-level thinking required by the problems presented in the Jasper series. If I were to design a series in a similar format to “The Adventures of Jasper Woodbury,” the first thing I would need to determine would be what scenarios would be more engaging for my students. I would also want to be aware of including cultural content in my video as I have many First Nations students in my class. In addition to this, I would want to develop scenarios that would appeal to both boys and girls in my class, and that students from households of all income-levels could connect to. As was discussed in my initial response to the Jasper series (titled “Adventures with Jasper and Math”), I believe the best approach to creating videos might be to have students design their own videos. This would not only have them involved in the development process of video creation, it would also allow them the opportunity to approach the math problems from the “other side” giving them a new way (perhaps) of viewing math problem-solving. If students know that they have created videos for each other, they may feel less overwhelmed, as well as excited about the idea of solving a problem created by a friend or classmate.

Ultimately, I felt that “The Adventures of Jasper Woodbury” provided an innovative (although not new as it was created many years ago) approach to involving students in their own learning, and connecting math to real-life experiences though video and multistep problem-solving, allowing students to prepare for the future in a variety of ways. Math was no longer simply about math. Math became about life.

Adventures with Jasper and Math

I had never heard of “The Adventures of Jasper Woodbury” series before this week’s section on Anchored Instruction, and while the videos are out-dated and would not necessarily appeal to students in classrooms today, I can certainly appreciate the inquiry, abstract thinking, and collaboration that the series promotes for students. While we have programs today to support these skills, many math lessons/classes continue to look more like the traditional math lessons/classes of the past with some new approaches mixed in. As was brought up in numerous posts this term, two major difficulties are the lack of teacher knowledge about programs like Jasper that could be integrated into the classroom, and the lack of training to enable teachers to integrate new programs and digital technologies. As the Cognition and Technology Group at Vanderbilt (1992) point out, “…mathematics classrooms need to shift from an emphasis on the teacher imparting knowledge to one in which students attempt to use their current skills and knowledge to approach problems to be solved (e.g., Charles & Silver, 1988; NCTM, 1989; Schoenfeld, 1985, 1989; Yackel, Cobb, Wood, Wheatley, & Merkel, 1990)” (p. 67). Rather than having teachers transfer knowledge, students must be given the opportunity to explore more abstract concepts through their own observations and experiences, allowing for a more student-centred, constructivist approach to learning. As Hasselbring et al. point out, all students “need to acquire the knowledge and skills that will enable them to figure out math-related problems that they encounter daily at home and in future work situations.”

I worked for eight years as a learner support teacher in a secondary school setting. For the majority of the students I supported, the most difficult subject was math. I believe this was true for a variety of reasons. To begin with, many of the students had never been able to master basic facts fluency, which of course meant they were struggling with basic computational skills before they even started the abstract concepts covered in secondary math courses. Hasselbring et al. (2006) discuss the fact that “the research on computational fluency suggests that the ability to fluently recall the answers to basic math facts is a necessary condition for attaining higher-order math skills” based on the fact that “all human beings have a limited information-processing capacity.” Secondly, math was the subject that we found the most difficult to support with strategies and technologies to help students find success. For example, in English courses, if a student struggled with reading, we could use a reading program, like Kurzweil, to read texts to the student and we could access thousands of texts through online databases like ARC-BC, allowing students to have access to the same texts as their peers through digital devices. Similarly, if a student struggled with written output, we could set them up with a program like Dragon Naturally Speaking, or another voice-to-text program, to allow them to record their thoughts on paper, providing them with the ability to work independently alongside their peers. However, when students struggled with math, we often felt at a loss about how to support them, past sitting beside them and working through problems step-by-step. Gersten et al. (2009) identify many areas of concern for students with learning disabilities including “word problems, concepts and procedures involving rational numbers, and understanding of the properties of whole numbers such as commutativity” (p. 1233). When I worked in learner support, every student in Math 10 (in B.C.) was required to take a provincial exam – this was required to pass the course. The only accommodations we could offer students with learning disabilities were additional time and a calculator for all sections. Additional time is only helpful if it can be used effectively; a calculator is great for computation, but is no help at all if procedural or conceptual knowledge is what the student struggles with.

As I learned about the Jasper Woodbury series, I kept thinking back to my time spent in learner support and about what I could do differently now, as an elementary school teacher, to help prepare my current students for secondary math when they reach that level. One thing that really struck me was the fact that I think I tend to “coddle” my students due to the difficulties they have (I have many students with learning difficulties, learning disabilities, and from very low-income homes where basic needs are often not met before they arrive at school). As I read the articles and studies, I found myself thinking about how I could incorporate more structured learning if I were to use the Jasper series (much like the structured exercises presented by the Cognition and Technology Group at Vanderbilt (1992) in Figure 1, p. 75); however, it is pointed out that “it is suspected that ‘structured problem-solving’ (Model 2) will lead to excellent mastery of the solution to the specific Boone’s Meadow problem. Nevertheless, observations of classes of students using these worksheets makes it clear that, even when students sit in groups (with one worksheet per group), the interactions among them are minimal and are confined to fact finding and computation” (Cognition and Technology Group at Vanderbilt, 1992, p. 76). In thinking more about this, I began to consider the fact that mathematics is going to be overwhelming for many students at some point in their lives. So why not give students the opportunity to adjust to this feeling of being overwhelmed in a safe, elementary environment, and to understand that they have the ability to use their individual and collective knowledge to problem-solve their way through a series of difficult, multi-step math problems, rather than over-scaffolding at an early age only to have that scaffolding suddenly removed as they get older.

While I found the videos engaging, I would be interested in finding out how students with auditory processing difficulties did with understanding information and instructions given through the videos. For myself, I found the videos that discussed topics I was familiar with (i.e., swing sets, sandbox, graphing height) were videos I could follow relatively easily. However, some of the videos that discussed details of “Rescue at Boone’s Meadow” I found myself re-watching to try to figure out the procedure. I am a very hands-on learner myself and I have difficulty with following instructions given orally. When I watched the whole “Rescue at Boone’s Meadow” video, I found there was an incredible amount of information that students would have to identify although they could replay the video as often as needed which would certainly help. However, the Cognition and Technology Group at Vanderbilt (1992) pointed out that the story was linked to “realistic problems” which would make the information “easier to remember,” “more engaging,” and would “prim(e) students to notice the relevance of mathematics and reasoning to everyday events” (p. 69). In addition to this, they highlight the fact that the video format of the series is “especially helpful for poor readers, yet can also support reading” (p. 69). Perhaps I need to stop worrying about how hard the students would find the assignments, and concentrate more on how to support them in their journey towards successful problem solving!

Today, I can certainly see my students becoming more engaged in math class if videos of a similar style were created. If I were to develop a portion of my math curriculum to align with the Jasper series, I think I would actually have students create their own videos in groups to deliver to their peers. I would create two (perhaps more) videos first to demonstrate and we could work together as a class on the first and then in smaller groups on the second. Students would then begin to plan and develop their own videos which we could rotate through groups so that each group had the opportunity to work through each peer group’s video. I think the fact that peers created videos would add to the motivation and engagement of students as they completed the problem solving each video entailed. By allowing students to experience abstract math concepts through “real-life” problem-solving situations that they had created, engagement and motivation would likely increase and students would be given an opportunity to work collaboratively with peers to address difficulties as a team, rather than as individuals.


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

Gersten, R., Chard, D. J., Jayanthi, M., Baker, S. K., Morphy, P., & Flojo, J. (2009). Mathematics instruction for students with learning disabilities: A meta-analysis of instructional components. Review of Educational Research, 79(3), 1202-1242.

Hasselbring, T. S., Lott, A. C., & Zydney, J. M. (2006). Technology-supported math instruction for students with disabilities: Two decades of research and development. Washington, DC: CITEd, Center for Implementing Technology in Education ( Retrieved from:

The blending of our knowledges and our students as creators of their own content knowledge

While pedagogical knowledge and content knowledge continue to be different concepts by definition (with pedagogical knowledge addressing the “how” of our teaching, and content knowledge addressing “what” we are teaching), it is interesting to me that these concepts would have been treated as separate entities, not that long ago (Shulman, 1986; Mishra & Koehler, 2006), rather than interconnected as I believe they are seen today. In the past, the “how” was through an imparting of knowledge from teacher to learner. Children’s minds were to be filled and knowledge was transferred through lectures and independent work assignments. Today, through research and technology, we realize that students do not learn well in these environments. In addition to this, the content that we once deemed important has changed as well, and will continue to evolve as the world changes with the development of new technologies and as we learn from our current world structures and experiences.

The concepts of pedagogical and content knowledge are not new, but the way they are addressed in our society and our classrooms today has changed (or at least is in the process of changing) to support the increased importance and value of digital technology and related multiliteracies/new media literacies. This brings into question “how” we are using technology in our classrooms today, as well as what programs or skills we are teaching through it. Are we enhancing learning? As Mishra and Koehler (2006) point out, “Merely introducing technology to the educational process is not enough” (p. 1018) and both the “how” of teachers’ application of technology and the “what” that technology will look like play important roles in our classrooms today. As Mishra and Koehler (2006) discuss, it is now the “how” of educational technology’s integration into our curriculum and teaching practice that must be addressed.

Today, I feel that much of our teaching is moving away from imparting “teacher” content knowledge and towards instead teaching students skills so that they can investigate and research to find their own knowledge. While this might sound like we are beginning to shift our focus back to “pedagogical knowledge,” I would argue that today pedagogical knowledge incorporates concept knowledge (and in some classrooms, technology knowledge – we’re getting there…) in so well, that they blend together quite naturally. Students construct knowledge best by doing, not by listening, so by allowing students to be creators of their own content knowledge (to a certain extent – teachers, of course, continue to play an important role), we are allowing them the choice and flexibility to learn more freely, with fewer restraints. For example, for a science unit on the human body, my students and I explored, together as a class, the digestive system, which included some textbook reading (read and discussed together as a class, not individually), a look at x-rays of human intestines (belonging to a colleague of mine who recently retired and passed on a set of old x-rays to me – the kids love them!), student diagrams/models, and so on. Once we have done one body system together, students are sent out to research and become “experts” on one other body system that they will be able to share with their peers. The teaching that is done to support this is around the “how” to research effectively, which resources would be appropriate, how to reference works, and so on. There is some “what” (content) mixed in as students are taught to ask inquiry-style questions to get their research going; however, it is not a delivering of knowledge of the actual scientific content I want students to come away with – that part they have to do themselves. Ultimately, students create projects that fulfill criteria that we designed together before beginning the project. Students are required to create initial questions they have about their system, then attempt to answer those questions through their research. They are required to use at least one book source and one online source, to include pictures, keyterms and definitions, and eventually to share their knowledge in small groups with others in their class. Each student ultimately learns about each system, but in the process, they have interacted with the content themselves, collaborated with peers, problem solved and actively participated in their own learning and then in the teaching of others. In this way, the students become creators of their own knowledge and the information being learned becomes more accessible to learners in the classroom.


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.

Does it encourage innovative thinking, collaboration, risk taking and problem solving?

The definition of technology I found myself connecting with was Jonassen’s (2000) idea that “[S]tudents learn from thinking in meaningful ways. Thinking is engaged by activities, which can be fostered by computers or teachers.” This definition addresses the fact that it is learning that is the outcome, not simply the use of technology in the classroom. Digital technology can and should be used, but its incorporation must enhance student learning. This is an essential part of designing a technology-enhanced learning experience; digital technology cannot be used simply because students enjoy using it, or because we feel pressured to include it within our classrooms.

Jonassen’s definition made me think of maker spaces, coding, STEM activities and other constructivist learning strategies within the classroom. Ideally, I see a technology-enhanced learning experience being one that encourages innovative thinking and collaboration between peers, motivates students to take risks and engages students in unexpected problem solving. It must also involve students in a learning process that leads to a deeper understanding of concepts presented. Kafai and Peppler (2011) state that “To be a full member in today’s participatory culture should mean much more than knowing how to play video games, for example; it should also mean knowing how to design video games” (p. 113). Students should not walk away with surface knowledge of what we teach, but of an understanding of the concept and how to connect it and apply it to their own lives.


Jonassen, D. H. (2000). Computers as mindtools for schools, 2nd Ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill/ Prentice Hall. Retrieved from Google Scholar:

Kafai, Y. and Peppler, K. (2011). Youth, technology, and DIY: Developing participatory competencies in creative media production. Review of Research in Education, 35, 89-119.

Peer Interview Synthesis

(with reference to the interviews done by: Dana Bjornson, Catherine Sverko, Daniel Bosse, Gloria Ma)

In reviewing the interviews of my peers, there were definitely commonalities that stuck out for me, as well as some important “take away” lessons for me as an educator.

I felt that the themes around collaboration and communication were important in many of the interviews, but that collaboration/communication could look very different. Whether it is between colleagues, student/teacher, student/peer, or student/teacher/parent, the ability to collaborate and communicate is essential. Dana discussed interviewee “Brianna’s” use of a collaborative document between teachers (re: biology 12) so that all teachers were able to contribute to the formation and evolution of the course document, as well as make comments and suggestions. As collaboration between colleagues is incredibly important, but can often be difficult to arrange, I thought this was an innovative way to use digital technology to collaborate and design curriculum between colleagues. In another example, Dana’s interviewee discussed the fact that when a TOC (Teacher-On-Call) is in, the absent classroom teacher can still post information or a lesson using digital technology and students “know exactly what they are supposed to do” thereby allowing the teacher to communicate with students even when absent. This point was mirrored by one of my own interviewees, “Teacher T” (interview 1), who felt digital technology helped students stay connected even when the teacher or student was absent. While Gloria’s interviewee’s use of technology was more limited, she found technology especially useful for subjects like math and science, where she was able to communicate concepts to her students through videos, and was able to show students science experiments “easily on the document camera instead of having kids crowd my table,” again showing how technology can increase our ability to communicate concepts effectively with students. Catherine’s interviewee, Teacher T, has become a technology consultant through her experiences with technology, and now communicates her knowledge and skills with colleagues through collaboration and workshops.

A second major theme that emerged is around the fact that new media literacy skills are becoming essential for success in our current and future societies. Daniel found through his interview that “Mr. A viewed technology as an integral part of not only a student’s school education, but that technological skills would be necessary in their adult lives.” This connected directly to one of my own interviews, when “Teacher A” shared a quote they had heard “about teaching kids nowadays for a future that doesn’t technically exist yet, right, so you’ve got to teach them the skills to be able to work in a future that doesn’t exist.” Similarly, Catherine’s interviewee, Teacher T, found that by integrating digital technology into her program, her students “went from being terrified, terrified of death by Papercut to computer builders.” By integrating technology into our classrooms, we are not simply increasing the quality of engagement in our classes, but preparing students for their futures.

Finally, a major theme throughout interviews was simply how much or how often technology was used in classrooms. Gloria’s interviewee discussed a use of digital technology that was limited to a document camera, videos, and a projector, and Gloria noted that “most uses of technology were used mainly for her teaching. Students had no interaction with the technologies.” I found this comment interesting because in one of the interviews I conducted myself, “Teacher A” (interview 2), who discussed using a wide variety of technologies within the classroom, identified the document camera and projector as the “two top technologies.” As Gloria’s interviewee points out, in many cases it can be difficult to access technology. Gloria’s interviewee felt the teacher education program had not prepared her for integrating technology effectively and shared that teachers who felt they had been better trained on digital technology had been given experience in their practicums. One of Catherine’s interviewees, Teacher T, also discussed the fact that “while the board has been investing in hardware there is no training to go along with this. The staff have all been given Chromebooks but no in-servicing. One teacher used hers, of the other two one was locked in a drawer, the other had been leant to an Educational Assistant to use. All agreed they knew the Chromebook could be a powerful tool but they had no idea how to use it effectively.” However, along with this, is a certain amount of apathy as is pointed out by Catherine in her interview abstract, “What I found interesting first off with two of the three teachers was just the general apathy about technology. They used it mostly to show a video or have kids play a game. They seemed to think they were using technology well and had no real interest in investing their own time to learn more.” I have noticed this too is a common theme in the comments and responses of many others within the courses I have taken (not limited to this course, but within the MET program). Having said that, I found the responses of the two teachers I interviewed interesting as they both dealt with the issues of enough technology in their own ways as well. “Teacher T” (my first interview, secondary senior sciences) applied for and received a $10,000 grant which allowed her to have her own class set of iPads a well as the Camtasia program needed to provide her students with recorded lessons (complete with tablet drawings, practice questions, etc.). “Teacher A” works at a school that has 30 iPads that are shared throughout the school and one computer lab (another 30 computers in the lab). To compensate for this, “Teacher A” has come to an agreement that she keeps six iPads in her classroom at all times and then shares those iPads between students, allowing for the development of collaboration skills in her classroom. “Teacher A” has turned a lack of resources into a learning experience for her students. Daniel’s interviewee, Mr. A., also discussed difficulties with training around technology and “identified that most of the effective technology learning happening in his context was a result of informal learning from colleagues.”

My biggest “take away” from this interview assignment was found in Catherine’s interview with Teacher T, showing the evolution of the technology consultant from a teacher who began as one of the “stereotypical teachers that was terrified of technology. I really didn’t use it other than when I was forced to check my email and I would like Google stuff to find out the answer. What I mean is I could use the internet that was about it.” I loved “Teacher T’s” response to what prompted her to begin integrating technology into her classroom and how her use of digital technology has developed since she began. A real “go get it” attitude that I am beginning to realize is key for integrating technology into the classroom. I think I have tended to have a similar mindset to others who have struggled to integrate technology into their classrooms. I have felt that I wasn’t “good” with technology and that there wasn’t the proper training available to help me. I realize now that I have been sitting back and waiting for the right training to come along, or to have enough time to complete the adequate training before I really get started integrating digital technology fully into my classroom. I am now, especially through this interview project, beginning to understanding that teachers who have integrated technology into their classrooms have done so despite their insecurities and lack of technology and training. Yes, resources are limited; yes, training is hard to get; but ultimately, where there’s a will there’s a way, and rather than make excuses, they “just do it” (insert Nike swish here)!

Interviews – Elementary (Grade 5/6) and Secondary (Senior Sciences)

I conducted two interviews, as I was interested to see the differences between the uses of digital technology in elementary and secondary classrooms.

Key words: accommodation, accountability, communication, collaboration, engagement.

Abstract for Interview #1 (Teacher T, Secondary, Senior Sciences):

Interview #1 (Interview length: 21 minutes 12 seconds): Teacher T is a teacher in a small town in northwestern British Columbia (population between 5500-6000). The interview with Teacher T took place in the afternoon, after students had been dismissed, in Teacher T’s classroom. Teacher T is a secondary science teacher who is teaching Biology 11&12, Chemistry 11&12, and Science 10 this school year. Teacher T has been teaching for twenty-five years and considers herself seven years away from retirement. Teacher T did not review the interview questions ahead of time.

In the interview with Teacher T, three significant themes emerged: The ability to accommodate learners who lead lives that include travel (i.e., extracurricular sports, vacations) or who are ill and are unable to attend class, and at the same time increase accountability in her learners; the importance of decreasing anxiety and providing review for students outside the classroom; and the opportunity digital technology provides for the teacher to move more freely around the classroom in order to assess learning, as well as misconceptions, during class time, rather than waiting for a submitted work assignment or test.

Teacher T began using technology when some of her students, who were on the school wrestling team, were going to be absent in the week leading up to a provincial exam, and would be “missing some crucial lessons.” In order to provide the students with the lessons, the teacher recorded and uploaded the lessons, sending them via a link to enable the students to prepare for their exam during their absence. From there, Teacher T’s use of technology to provide recorded lessons for students to access away from the classroom has grown to include the Camtasia program, Moodle and YouTube platforms, a class set of iPads (through a $10,000 grant), and lessons delivered in a Flipped Classroom style. With the posting of lessons online, Teacher T is able to accommodate learners during absences. In addition to this, Teacher T points out, “it keeps them accountable because often they’ll say, “Well, I wasn’t here” but the lesson was loaded…So that’s not really an excuse anymore and for those kids, you know, that are doing those extracurriculars…they don’t get quite as stressed because they know the lesson’s there.” Today, Teacher T records most lessons and uploads them to YouTube, then posts the link on her class Moodle site for students to access. The addition of a YouTube link allows students to access lessons using their phones from anywhere with internet service. Students without internet access can download lessons to a stick (using KeepVid) prior to leaving school, so accommodations are made for students without internet access.

As Teacher T teaches primarily senior science classes, many students deal with stress and anxiety around learning concepts, or being absent and getting behind quickly. However, with the lessons posted online, students are able to access the information needed from the day’s class. “Kids will come back after being sick and they’ve already watched the lesson, so I don’t have to reteach; I just get to help them with it.” Teacher T has also developed Moodle lessons which provide practice questions online that students can watch and pause, as they work through the questions and answers, step-by-step, outside the classroom “…they’re hearing me, and they’re hearing what I want, they’re hearing what I want to see.” Students receive the review they need, and class expectations are reinforced as well. As Teacher T pointed out, “the kids enjoy it. They don’t panic as much when they’re missing classes. They rewatch them too. Especially those who are really anxious students.” Teacher T has also integrated a Flipped Classroom approach into some of her more difficult lessons, allowing students more time to prepare for classes dealing with challenging concepts. For example, students might be given three to four days to prepare at home by watching lessons and taking notes before a lesson on a particularly difficult concept, “Because it’s a difficult concept, so they’ve had time to look at the words and be familiar with them and then have a major discussion.”

Finally, the use of digital technology has allowed Teacher T the opportunity to move around the classroom to check students’ comprehension and misconceptions. Because most lessons are recorded and Teacher T now has some backup lessons, there are days that she can have students listen to a pre-recorded lesson (each student or partnership has access to an iPad and headphones) while she goes around to each student individually to discuss their understanding and answer any questions, providing her with valuable one-on-one time with her students. This has also provided her with the opportunity to work with small groups on practice questions, diagrams on whiteboards, and so on, to check and assess learning and comprehension, “So they’re still getting that lesson, but they’re getting more group time…”

Full interview transcript for Interview #1: Interview 1 – Teacher T – interview transcript


Abstract for Interview #2 (Teacher A, Elementary, Grade 5/6 split class, French Immersion):

Interview #2 (Interview length: 19 minutes 27 seconds): Teacher A is also a teacher in a small town in northwestern British Columbia (population between 5500-6000). The interview with Teacher A took place during Teacher A’s lunch hour in a learning support room in the school where Teacher A works. Teacher A is in her 30’s and has been teaching for eight years (with some time away in between due to maternity leaves). She originally trained as a secondary science teacher, but has taught in classrooms as young as kindergarten. She is currently employed as a full-time French Immersion teacher in a K-7, dual-track school (French/English), teaching in a grade 5/6 split class. Teacher A requested, and was given, questions ahead of time in order to prepare some notes for the interview.

There were three significant themes that I felt came out in my interview with Teacher A: Enhanced learning experiences for students (which included increased engagement); the opportunity to engage with peers to collaborate in group project environments; and an increased ability to communicate with parents, and to include parents in their child’s learning.

Teacher A began our interview by referencing a quote (uncited) that she had heard, “…about teaching kids nowadays for a future that doesn’t technically exist yet…so you’ve got to teach them the skills to be able to work in a future that doesn’t exist.” In order to do this, Teacher A ensures that her students have access to a variety of technologies and programs, such as iPads, iMovie, Scratch, Plickers, Mr. Naussbaum (math games), math manipulatives games, YouTube, and [Class]Dojo. She also emphasized that she uses her digital projector and document camera daily and considers those two pieces of equipment the “two top technologies” for her classroom. Teacher A pointed out that today, “…education isn’t just about memorizing facts and vocabulary words. It’s about solving complex problems and being able to collaborate with others. So working using that technology as that piece to collaborate with others and how am I going to teach them to use those tools that don’t exist yet.”

To collaborate with others, students are given many options to complete group assignments as assessments of learning. For example, students are currently completing culminating projects for their French verbs, with groups completing iMovies (“How do you teach French verbs to make it fun? You make an iMovie, right?” ~ Teacher A), posters, songs, and so on. Teacher A keeps only six student iPads in her room, which ensures that students learn to share and work collaboratively to complete assignments and projects.

To communicate with parents and increase parents’ ability to connect with her classroom and stay informed about what students are learning, Teacher A uses both Facebook and FreshGrade on an ongoing basis. At the beginning of each week, Teacher A lets parents know what key concepts will be covered, as well as posting spelling words, major school events, and so on. In addition to this, videos of activities or projects taken during the week may be posted as well. Teacher A attempted to create a class blog (first two months of this school year), but found Facebook “…way more accessible for parents because not a lot of people check a blog… Everybody checks Facebook and so it’s just, it’s an easy way to communicate with parents…and students.” While Teacher A admits that FreshGrade is time consuming, she says it has been “a good way to communicate” with parents and has allowed her to see which parents are accessing their children’s work through the system. In addition to this, these platforms have allowed parents to provide comments and feedback regarding class activities and student work.

Full interview transcript for Interview #2: Interview 2 – Teacher A – interview transcript

Video Analysis – Case 5, Case 6 and Case 8

Analysis of: Case 5 – Learning Environment 4 with Teacher S (Elementary Space Science); Case 6 – Learning Environment 5 with Teacher C (Middle School Life Science); Case 8 – Learning Environment 7 with Teacher E (Science, Elementary Preservice Teacher Education).

I was most interested in the elementary and middle school cases, as they most closely related to my current teaching position (grade 4/5 split class). I found watching the videos interesting, especially from the perspectives of educators at various stages of their careers. I found that I could connect to many of the points discussed, both for and against technology, as I believe (increasingly) in the important role digital technology plays in our classrooms, but I also have tended to shy away from using technology much in the past because I felt that students were receiving enough “screen time” (yes, I generalized and assumed screen time was screen time), and for many of the reasons that were given in the videos (i.e., time constraints, feeling ill-equipped, and so on).

I found there were many significant similarities and important educational threads linking the three videos. To begin, and probably most importantly, teachers and students alike all appeared to agree that the integration of digital technology into the classroom enhanced engagement and meaningful learning experiences. In addition to being interested by the ability to use digital technology, students were cognisant of the fact that they were “publishing” their work for others to see, which meant fact accuracy and effort were both increasingly important. Along with this, was the fact that digital technology, in all examples presented, meant that students were developing collaboration skills as they worked in a “team” environment with peers to complete group projects, rather than simply working independently. When we consider the diverse learners in our classrooms, the videos also demonstrated how digital technologies helped to create an inclusive environment for all students. For example, Case 8 discussed the support digital technology provided for visual learners, and in Case 5 and Case 8, the importance of learning and/or presenting knowledge for English language learners was addressed. More specifically, in Case 5, “Teacher S” addressed the fact that with digital technology, students who could understand concepts but were prevented from sharing their knowledge due to language barriers were able to demonstrate their understanding in ways other than written language, providing all learners with an equal playing field. The integration of technology also allowed for teaching diversity in terms of integration of subjects. While in Case 6 and Case 8, students focused on a science-based task, students in Case 5 incorporated language arts, science, math and fine arts into their projects.

I found there was a significant difference in the comfort and enthusiasm of teachers, even new teachers, in relation to integrating digital technology into the classroom. The new teacher in Case 5, who had been enrolled in a teacher-education program without much focus on technology, felt it would have been helpful to have more training during her education program. As a result of this, she shared that while she would like to incorporate more digital technology into her classroom, she found it difficult to do due to time constraints as well as feeling ill-equipped. While all teachers felt that options were available, some, both retiring and new, felt that there was not time to apply skills learned in workshops, and so they were forgotten (Case 5). In addition to this, the retiring teacher admitted that she found digital technology “extremely frustrating” due to the lack of understanding and time. While there were other teachers within the building who could act as mentors, there were concerns of relying too much on another teacher as they all had busy lives and other teachers were busy teaching their own classes as well. While teachers vary widely in their teaching styles, I feel that there is a relatively great divide today between teachers who are comfortable with their ability to incorporate technology and those who are not, as was evident in the interviews presented.

Two of the teachers (Case 5 and Case 6) both alluded to the fact that much of the digital technology they use was learned on their own or from their students. I found this interesting because I think it highlights that for some people, incorporating digital technologies into the classroom comes more naturally as it is already an interest or area they feel confident enough to explore on their own. As more educators begin to feel comfortable exploring new technologies independently, the amount of digital technology used in the classroom will increase. Waiting for workshops is a way to engage with new technologies in a more comfortable learning environment, but as digital technology develops so rapidly today, attending a workshop every six months will no longer keep educators up-to-date with current educational technologies.

I found the points given by the teacher education professor (Case 8) summed up two important points for me regarding the “good” use of digital technology in the math and science classrooms. “Teacher E” discussed the fact that digital technology should not be treated as a stand-alone subject area, but must instead be integrated into our classrooms. In addition to this, digital technologies should be used only when they are enhancing students’ learning. “Teacher E” pointed out that if a student can learn just as well from a book, then perhaps we should simply allow them to read the book. However, if learning can be enhanced by using digital technology, then we must be prepared to use digital technology. This was an important point for me because it emphasized the fact that we do not have to try to integrate digital technology into all aspects of our classroom. Sometimes, more traditional methods continue to work quite well, but it is up to us as educators to be able to identify and understand the difference. Finally, “Teacher C” (Case 6) highlighted the fact that while his students had prior knowledge in emailing, social media, and games, they had limited knowledge of how to use digital technology to help them learn subjects in science. I believe this is one last important “take away” point because it reminds us as educators that while students may appear to understand technology, they often still need adult guidance to teach them how to use technology effectively to support their educations.

Unpacking Assumptions

To me, good use of technology in the math and science classroom means creating an engaging, interactive, and meaningful learning experience and environment for students. In Confronting the challenges of participatory culture: Media education for the 21st Century, Jenkins et al. (2009) point out that “simply passing out technology is not enough” if we do not support students in their understanding of how to use these digital technologies effectively (p. 17). “Good” use of technology is using technology to support student learning (rather than using it to teach “at” students) through a variety of sources, and to support inclusion within the classroom.

In my math classroom, I use Kurzweil to support students (I have five) who are unable to read independently. By having Kurzweil available to read to them, they are able to work relatively independently and more confidently. In a second example, this year I applied for and received a grant for a program called Reflex Math, a computer-based fluency-building program that focuses on improving addition, subtraction, multiplication and division skills. I had never heard of Reflex Math before, but applied based on a recommendation from my principal. While I continue to struggle with the fact that the program is “game” based and I was brought up believing that computer/video games were rarely educational, my students love the program and many are now practicing at home as well as working three times a week (as is required by the grant) at school. The program is accessible to all students, regardless of their academic strengths and weaknesses, and is helping my students build confidence, as well as fluency in math. In addition to this, I have noticed an improvement in their abilities to complete simple calculations more quickly and accurately on class assignments.

I do believe that there are still times when traditional hands-on experience will trump anything we can show a student using digital technology. When I think of the concept of condensation that I used for my “Conceptual Challenges” response, I cannot think of a good way to support the understanding of why condensation would form on the outside of a container without a hands-on learning experience to accompany it. To be able to see the liquid in the container, touch the liquid that formed on the outside of the container, and make observations about the temperature of the water, container, surrounding environment and so on, just seems to be irreplaceable to me. While I support the integration of new technologies into our classrooms, I believe there continues to be a time and a place for both new technologies and traditional learning models in our classrooms.


Jenkins, H., Purushotma, R., Weigel, M., Clinton, K., & Robinson, A.J. (2009). Confronting the challenges of participatory culture: Media education for the 21st century. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press. Retrieved from