Author Archives: Michael Hengeveld

Students as designers of learning

Jonassen’s (1995) “cognitive affordances” resonated with me.  I like how it frames the technology as a tool that provides opportunities and keeps the learner at the centre of the process.

I think design of learning experiences should be a shared experience between teacher and learner.  Kafia (2006) laments that “In the case of instructional games, a great deal of thought is spent by educational designers on content matters, graphical representations, and instructional venues.  The greatest learning benefit remains reserved for those engage in the design process” (p. 38).  I like this idea that the act of design itself is a great way to organize concepts and “make meaning”.  Shouldn’t we involve our students in this process?

I have found projects to be a great compromise between student/teacher design of a learning experience.  In this ideal model, the teacher is providing the overall structure and scope of the project, while the student(s) are designing the content and purpose.  Our school is currently exploring how to optimize this process, with much help from the Buck Institute for Education (BIE).

Jonassen, D. H. (1995). Computers as cognitive tools: Learning with technology, not from technology. Journal of Computing in Higher Education, 6(2), 40-73.

Kafai, Y. (2006). Playing and making games for learning: Instructionist and constructionist perspectives. Games and Culture. 1(1). 36-40.

Enhancement, Affordances, and Access

I looked at the evolved role of technology in the 2017 classroom.  We probed the experience of two teachers’ view of “technology in the classroom” as a journey from student to experienced teaching professional.  We finished with their vision of the “future of e-learning”.  Teacher J has been teaching high school chemistry and junior science for 13 years.  She was interviewed in her room during her last period prep block.  Teacher C has been teaching high school ICT for 22 years.  He was interviewed in a nearby preparation room while his class worked on something.  Both teachers grew up and teach within the BC education system.

Theme 1:  Technology as Enhancement.  Both teachers remember their 1980-1990’s student and pre-service teaching experience of technology as not present in the classroom or things that enhanced existing practice.

As students…
Teacher C: “[Computers] were used to replacing handwriting or manual typing.”
Teacher J:  “Technology was wasn’t a big part of the high school classroom…the overhead projector was the technology of the classroom.”
Teacher C:  “When I was in grade 11…I learned programming, but that was outside of the classroom.”

As pre-service teachers…
Teacher J:  “In [2003] my B.Ed…the integration of technology was not a big part.  There was no push for technology, implicit or explicit.”
Teacher C: “There was nothing [in 1995].  The web didn’t exist.  There was just the internet.  The expectation was that we would use the computers for research…to make things look nice.  It was ‘let’s replace manual technology with digital technology.’”

Theme 2:  Exploiting the Affordances of Technology.  In their current practice, both teachers have obviously undertaken significant professional development and both understand and extensively exploit the affordances of digital technology and Web 2.0 including LMS (i.e. Google Classroom, WordPress), collaborative documents (i.e. Google Docs, Github, Wikispaces), online formative assessment tools (i.e. Kahoot, Poll Everywhere), data collection systems (i.e. Vernier Probes), visualization tools (i.e. PheT, Canva), cloud-based tutorials (i.e. Khan Academy), and digital storytelling (Youtube).

Teacher C:  “[Technology] is any device that allows you to do work either easier, or makes the job easier or more effective.”
Teacher J:  “I let my students use their cellphones to text in their answers using online polling software.  Students really enjoy that…it is engaging for them.”
Teacher C:  “[the students] collaborate, they co-create, they co-edit, they develop what they need to develop socially, together.”
Teacher J:  “When we were doing labs, students were recording the chemical reactions, making a time lapse video, and adding a link to their lab report.  I was able to go and see their reaction.”

Theme 3:  Bleeding Edge Issues For Learning 2.0  When asked about leveraging technology in our digital classrooms of the future, both teachers identified reliable access inside the classroom as the biggest issue.

Teacher C:  “The road blocks I run into are when I want kids to work together and something won’t let them.  Invariably that turns out to be institutional restrictions.”
Teacher J:  “I think technology is an integral part of the classroom now.  I’ve done many things with bring your own technology…I think that’s the future.  Teachers are requiring technology in their classroom, and they don’t have it.  Access is important for us, I think.
Teacher C:  “I want technology that works as well in school as it does out of school.  Everyone else uses technology for a million things in their life outside of the building.  I want a technology that lets us do the same thing inside [the building]…not a completely parallel set of tools, but that the needs are met for both groups and you only need to use one of [the tools].”

Moving Toward E-Learning 2.0

In reviewing the videos and use of digital technology, I chose the lens of how we can truly change teaching from didactic presentation to facilitating student-centred learning.

The video case 7, Tek Grassroots Project at BCIT, deals with the issue of misconceptions.  The use of iClickers is a great way to address misconceptions of a large group in real-time.  The quick-and-often formative assessment during the introduction of concepts is a big gain over traditional lecturing because it affords “risk free” participation and removes the time restriction barriers of “one-at-a-time” communication.  On the other hand, it is ultimately a didactic activity in which the teacher rolls out what is important and students follow along in a Socratic lesson delivery mode.  In other words, development of the lesson requires that the instructor ideally has a priori knowledge of the misconceptions of students.  Do clickers address misconceptions that are not anticipated?  Do they connect the new concept in any meaningful way to the lifeworld in which the student lives?

In Video case 4, pre-service teachers (circa late 1990-early 2000?) share their views on the potential use of digital technologies in their own practice.  My overall impression is that they are cautious but see the potential for value.  They almost all identify the need for teacher-specific technology training as a major issue for effective use of the tools.   In Thwarted Innovation, What Happened to E-Learning and Why, Zemsky and Massy (2004) claim that early failures in adopting technology rests in part with the assumption that teachers would know how to direct their own required professional development to integrate technologies into their classroom.   Are these students receiving pedagogical training in the effective use of technology, or merely being introduced to what is available?

Both of these video cases involve effective digital technology teaching tools, but not necessarily in a way that is often called “E-Learning 2.0” in which the affordances of technology allow students to pursue topics with a much higher degree of differentiation and teachers act as designers and facilitators of curriculum rather than as presenters of knowledge.  What are the barriers to differentiation and what can be done to help realize the true potential of learning technology by changing the role of teachers?


Edelson, D.C., Gordin, D. N., Pea, R.D., (1999). Addressing the Challenges of Inquiry-Based Learning Through Technology and Curriculum Design, Journal of the Learning Sciences, 8:3-4, 391-450.

Massy, W.F., Zemsky, R. (2004). Thwarted Innovation:  What Happened to E-Learning and Why

Kalantzis, M. & Cope, B. (2010). The teacher as designer: Pedagogy in the new media age. E-learning and Digital media 7(3).200-222.

The Flex Glove Exoskeleton

For my money, the best use of technology in the S/M classroom brings students closer to actively building solutions to real world problems.

Here’s an example of the role tech plays in my combined Science/Math 9 class:  for a year end project, a group of students elected to make a robotic hand that can be controlled with a second “flex glove”.  The use-case would be to do toxic chemical handling or other dangerous work remotely.

They researched their topic online with school laptops, and collaboratively made planning documents with Google Sheets and Docs.  A bit of math for budgeting and sourcing their parts, and then it was time to break out the Arduino boards for a hardware development.  Borrowing heavily from the online coding community of knowledge, they constructed the circuit and flex glove.  They ran into some problems making the servo motors match the motion of the fingers—algebra to the rescue!  Adding multipliers to their code they calibrated the fingers to make it work.

Then comes the 3D printing, and on and on.  They are having a blast, learning a ton, and in true constructivist fashion, they have an artifact that they can share with their peers and the community at large.  I feel that the connection they make between their abstract coding and the very concrete movement of a hand are a perfect fit for that age and stage.  If there is a misconception about coding, degrees of rotation, or the like, it will be obvious in short order.  This tackling of the gap between formal and informal learning was the subject of my last post and is my latest favourite thing.

I don’t believe this level of tech is viable for all schools.  We happen to have external sponsorship for this project and without it, the state levels of funding would be inadequate.  Scaling up would require a major investment in infrastructure, tech support, and pro-D.  Given that state funding is 3/5 of what it was 15 years ago.  How do we collectively make this a priority?  What low-cost tech options exist in the meantime?

The formal/informal gap

Once I got over the hair and trying to identify the decade in which the video was shot, I was pretty captivated by the developmental path of Heather’s concept of an orbit.

Because of the montage style of filming, it is quickly apparent that Heather comes to the class with preconceived, informal notions about the movement of planets.  Having taught astronomy, I can attest to there being a ton of information, much of it highly graphical and spread over thousands of years of history and many cultures.  In this case,  she has superimposed orbital motion with formal learning about the analemma—the relative position of the Sun at noon every day over the course of a year.

I was further struck by the importance of clear graphical representation as illustrated by the “perspective view” of a circular orbit appearing to be an ellipse.  At the time of this writing, a Google image search for “orbital motion” delivered this gem:

Hosted proudly on PowerSchool Learning the curriculum clearly shows the Earth in a highly (incorrect) eccentric orbit.  For extra irony, there is a link to a PhET animation, arguably the most reliable and accurate simulation space for physics on the web today.

In my exploration of the readings around conceptual challenges I find the “formal versus informal knowledge gap” the most compelling.  If formal describes the white-washed, devoid of context topics like “block on an incline” from a standard introduction to physics, then informal is all of the real sensory concepts and language that people develop to explain what they experience in “real life”.  Why can’t we spend more time meeting the kids where they are and give them more time to explore?  Learn about things that are directly relevant to the structures that they live within?  Watching Heather come to an astronomy class and “book learn” about things she cannot touch or clearly observe directly to me is just another example in a career litany of curriculum that is divorced from practical application for the sake of, say, academic purity, or following an “accretion of knowledge” paradigm that is demonstrably not very effective for many learners.

British Columbia is going through an interesting change in curriculum that offers an opportunity to address this formal/informal gap.  In broad strokes, the focus has changed from curriculum heavy with “things to be taught” to a reduced list of core competencies and the chances to explore concepts in a way that is deeper and more personally relevant.  Although the details and execution are in early days, I believe this is the best chance we’ve had to move the focus of school from teacher-centred to valuing student-centred study.  It is my hope that allowing for differentiated instruction and more time to learn, students will have a chance to reduce the formal/informal gap.

Confrey, J. (1990).  A Review of the Research on Student Conceptions in Mathematics, Science, and Programming.  Review of Research in Education, Vol. 16 pp. 3-56.

Where’s the DOS prompt?

I grew up with Vic-20, C-64, and the DOS prompt.  My only real motivation, of course, was to play games.  I recall practicing rhythmic breathing at dinner soas to finish ahead of my bros and race downstairs to be the first to get back on “Jumpman”.  I grew up a bit, learned a smidge of programming and later left for England on an undergraduate exchange.  Somehow, in the 10 months I was gone, the entire continent switched to Windows and Mac.  Upon return, I found that my understanding of computer systems was radically compromised.

“Where’s the DOS prompt?”

I never truly recovered.

Hello from East Vancouver

Hello All,

I’m Mike Hengeveld and I’ve been teaching math and physics at Templeton Secondary in East Vancouver since 2000.  I also live in this neighbourhood, so I see a lot of my own students around!  This is my third MET course–just finished 510 and 500.

I was motivated to enroll in the MET program and this course in particular because of my interest in project based learning and all things STEM  (  I’m pretty piqued by the curriculum and pedagogical changes going on since I took my B.Ed in ’99 and it was time to get back to the literature and engaging discussions with peers.

I have four kids, the oldest of whom will be in my high school next Sept–my youngest is five and very alive.  They keep me both honest and busy, but there is still time for a bit of guitar playing and the odd climbing trip.

Really looking forward to this course and working with you all!