Author Archives: Natalie Roberts

TPCK and Spheros

This is the first time I have encountered these acronyms, but have found them very useful when assessing my own teaching philosophy and practice. I see Pedagogical Content Knowledge (PCK) as “the how”, “the why” and “the what” of teaching. How and why we go about teaching our students. The best practices to foster engagement and the strategies we use to work alongside our students. The “what” is the content (C) – the curriculum that students are to learn. The addition of T for technological knowledge (TPCK) are the additional tools that we use in conjunction with our pedagogy to facilitate the delivery of content. Mishra and Koehler (2006) point out that how this technological knowledge is used is important. Technology should not be there just for the sake of having technology, but should serve a meaningful purpose.

An example of TPCK in my teaching was the design and construction of the Sphero Olympics. This combined the basics of block coding in Lightning Lab for the Spheros in order to compete, and the engineering challenge of creating events (and equipment) for the Olympics. Students were given the opportunity to just explore Sphero, driving it around like a remote control car. It was interesting to see how quickly they became interested in the “coding” aspect. When they noticed the shared forums on the App they became interested in what they could “do” with Sphero. From there students brainstormed the type of events that Sphero might participate in. Swimming. Track (including relays). Wrestling. Long jump (complete with sand pit). Dance (they got creative). Archery. Students were grouped into events and created the competition space and any equipment needed. For example, the construction of the ramp for the long jump with scraps from the woodwork exploration. When this was complete, students were given the opportunity to move from one venue to another participating in dry runs of each of the activities. Some were timed, others a goal needed to be met. The students programed their Spheros for each event (except wrestling – they got to knock their wrestlers off the mat) and the competition was on!

It was a bit messier (!) and took longer than I anticipated  and some events ended earlier than others, but students were thrilled to have the opportunity to explore different features of the program and create other challenges while they waited. At the closing ceremonies students reflected on their learning – the successes and challenges – and suggested new events that the next rotation of students could participate in. I had many reasons “why” I chose to incorporate technology into this design challenge. One of the most important was that it brought together a very diverse group of students (many with written output challenges) and leveled the playing field for them. Students could shine in their own areas and took leadership roles with their peers who were struggling and didn’t understand how to do something (figure out some of the programming for example). It wasn’t perfect, but a great start.


Mishra, P., & Koehler, M. (2006). Technological pedagogical content knowledge: A framework for teacher knowledge. The Teachers College Record, 108(6), 1017-1054

High-Tech and Low-Tech

Design of TELEs

My definition of technology is similar to that of Roblyer & Doering (2012) in that technology is anything that we use (our tools) to solve problems in our environment, in conjunction with the skills needed in the application of these tools. We often refer to items as high-tech (a 3D printer) or low-tech (cardboard). These technological tools can all be utilized to solve some identified problem, but the tools themselves render useless, unless we have some meaningful knowledge base behind how to use them.

My ideological design of a TELE for science would be one where student needs are put at the center, and that takes a constructivist approach to knowledge acquisition. The TELE would engage students, tie into their background knowledge, and pique their interest in new areas. This would be accomplished by utilizing a variety of “tools” or pieces of technology at differing complexities that would facilitate the acquisition of knowledge. The goal of the Science course/assignment should be clarified, as this would likely drive the type of technology that would be needed. I do not believe that TELEs should be centered on the “technology” aspect so much as what the technology can do to enhance the learning experience of the student. In addition, we must also keep in mind educator comfort and availability of technology.


Roblyer, M. D., & Doering, A. (2012). Integrating educational technology into teaching. (6th ed.). Pearson Education.

Change in Thinking, Availability (and Plan B), Openness


Teacher A: Male, teaching Grade 8 (Math, Science, French) in a Middle School, has been teaching for 12 years. The interview took place after school in the Learning Commons of the Middle School.

3 summary key points:

Change in Thinking 

Teacher A believes that technology enhances the classroom and his teaching experience. However, “My students have access to the Internet which is full of information, not knowledge. They need to change their thinking to take the information and make it into something or apply it in some way”. Students are not longer looking for a right or wrong answer. His students are encouraged to take this information and change it into knowledge of some form. They would be able to communicate their understanding in a new dimension, or using different platforms to represent what they have learned.

Availability (and Plan B) – The Ugly Reality

 The physical availability of technology in our Middle School. With close to 1000 students, there is not enough technology to go around. Teacher A exhibits frustration with having planned an engaging lesson utilizing technology, only to find that the booking system glitched, another teacher taking the tech, or having to spend time running around our school to find the carts when they were not returned. Teacher A is also located in a portable that does not have a ramp, so students have to carry the tech in (often in the rain). Problems with Wi-Fi and teachers’ inability to problem-solve technical issues as much of it is controlled at the District level, and not the school level, also add to his frustration. If he had access to the technology, he could plan which Apps to use and ask students for their input as to which ones to use. Teacher A also expressed how tired he was of often having to organize a “Plan B” and preparing for worst-case scenarios – no tech.


Even with his current frustration with technology at school, Teacher A is still willing and open to try something new and incorporate technology in his classes. He enjoys the flexibility that technology allows, the opportunities for students to show their learning in different ways, and to learn and apply skills that “they will use more in the next 20 years”.



Elementary and Middle School – Video Cases 5 & 6

The video cases I watched (case 5 and 6) gave an interesting perspective of the use of technology in elementary and middle school classrooms.

Case 5

Some initial thoughts around this video. The class is LOUD! How fortunate that their neighbours are so understanding! The teacher in case 5 said that they use technology almost everyday though I wonder how the technology is shared throughout other classrooms?

I appreciate the teacher’s (Teacher “S”) thoughts regarding technology leveling the field, especially with students from a variety of backgrounds and English language abilities. She recognizes technology as a tool that allows students to overcome some challenges, as well as allowing them to reach out to their families – often on other sides of the world.

Students appeared actively engaged (and noisy) and were all smiles that they got to use technology everyday. The young girls are able to articulate some of the scientific concepts of hurricanes, and were able to describe challenges they faced using technology in their classroom (the amount of information available is overwhelming, though they are learning from their teacher how to search). These are important life skills that technology allows; information is rapidly changing and access to the Web allows for more current information than, say, researching from a book.

I was a bit confused about the Sound Scape project they were working on and subsequent illustrations of the girl in the hurricane. Was this an artistic representation of a hurricane? How is the addition of technology adding to the experiences? I am always concerned that educators are purposeful of the “why behind the technology.

If technology is being used everyday, are students written output needs in English being addressed? Are students being challenged to think critically about space science?

Finally, the retiring teacher feels the way many teachers (even new teachers) feel; there has not been enough professional development opportunities to learn HOW to use technology, let alone the time to devise ways to incorporate it into our classrooms effectively. Using a model, such as SAMR, SECTIONS or the Seven Principles, has definitely given me more direction as to the how/why, but the T (time) still poses significant challenges for many.


Case 6

This teacher uses a variety of technology in his classroom and for a variety of purposes. I think his use of technology to communicate with parents/guardians is very important as it facilitates the home/school connection. I appreciate that he not only sends “marks” and “homework” (that’s another big topics….) but also interesting links, and reminders.

His stations-based approach to this lesson is also interesting. This is a great way to utilize technology when large of amounts of technology is not available. Listening to podcasts, text-books (or other physical books), PowerPoint, scanners, and hands-on dissections address a variety of student learning styles and gives them different experiences. His acknowledgement of the creativity needed to acquire funding for these supplies, ”know who to ask” is important. PAC, admin, district, grants, etc. are available – you just have to know where to look. I do wonder how often he brings in all of these technologies. What does a typical lesson look like without the video cameras there?

Tapping into the technology interests of students does allow for an opening into the content. Many students are going to be paying attention when the material is presented in an engaging way other than a text or video. Students have the material at their fingertips that address their conceptual challenges.

The effort that these teachers are putting into utilizing technology is their classroom is apparent. We can also see that they feel that the amount of time (whether as a beginner or to stay on “the cutting edge”) is a challenge. Pro-D Days offer some solutions. The teacher in Video 6 mentioned talking with colleagues who are also using tech in their classrooms. I think that this is an excellent way to facilitate the use of technology as well as growth. Using the time teachers are given, such as collaboration afternoons, to discuss and learn about the technology available may be a realistic way to address these needs.





Tech in the Classroom

Good use of digital technology in math & science classrooms is when its inclusion brings another element. This could be facilitating the sharing of ideas and experiences with students/speakers on the other side of the world, watching in real-time the repair of the ISS, or allowing students to manipulate objects that would normally be out of reach or impossible to access. It allows for more inclusive education (eg. students with needs not met with traditional paper/pen) and can help meet the needs of all learners, & foster creative & out-of-the-box thinking. Digital technology allows students to address some of the conceptual challenges they may have.

Good use of technology is not the substitution of technology for worksheets. Technology is also not a substitute for poor teaching. It is how we can make learning more effective.

This strong vision of digital technology is possible in Canadian classrooms. Most schools are fortunate to have access to Internet & devices such as iPads & desktop computers. Many students have their own devices. 1:1 may be challenging, at least having technology, even shared, allows for possibility. What makes it a challenge is lack of/unequal distribution of resources, and infrastructure (speed) that districts provide. Encouraging teachers to take risks, Pro-D, & mentoring help to educate teachers. Being creative with budgets (do we need more photocopying/textbooks?), applying for grants & discussing with administration the benefits to students’ may lead to acquiring tech for students.

Keeping the why & what is best for our students at the forefront when implementing technology in our classrooms will help keep us on the right path.

Conceptual Challenges

In A Private Universe, Heather struggles with exploring her understanding of the world. Her own personal theories are engrained and she has trouble abandoning them, even when she can be seen visually struggling with them. Heather is trying to put things together; trying to make sense of the concepts, but appears to confuse herself further. As a strategy, Heather draws out the concepts, attempting to explain her understanding of the seasons, but realizes that her new knowledge does not match with her preconceived theories. Posner, Strike, Hewson, & Gertzog (1982) would posit that Heather’s dissatisfaction with her “private universe” has met a condition for conceptual change to occur. Further instruction from her teacher with correct information has put Heather on a path toward correcting her conceptual challenges.


From my experience with middle school students, many misconceptions around science (and in math) concepts stem from previous simplification, such as drawings that are not done in scale or songs developed to assist in memorization. “Students’ minds are not blank slates able to receive instruction in a neutral way,” (Driver, Guesne, Tiberghie, 1985). Much like the visual presented with the Earth’s orbit, students’ past experiences reading books with limited perspectives displayed (blue veins, 2D drawings), show a simplified (and sometimes incorrect) version of events. Other times misconceptions may stem from the very limited time that was spent on a concept – never to be revisited until many years later, or from teachers’ own misunderstanding of concepts (Burgoon, Heddle, Duran, 2011). I believe that initial experiences with science are valuable and peek children’s curiosity of the world around them, however, as we are learning, some students resort back to these incorrect schemes even after presented with additional information.

What is encouraging is the role that technology can play in alleviating or correcting some of these initial misconceptions, for children, parents, and teachers. Children are able to explore and engage in simulations and 3D experiences with a variety of scientific concepts – and from an early age. Technology allows students to test a concept at school and often continue the learning or discussion at home if the technology is available. Correcting misconceptions in other ways, other than a worksheet or textbook, or talking to the teacher, allows the student to take ownership of their learning and can afford them choice.

If we don’t challenge and facilitate correction of students’ preconceived incorrect beliefs, they will continue to build on these inaccurate or incomplete foundations.




Burgoon, J.N., Heddle, M.L., Duran, E. (2011). Re-examining the similarities between teacher and student conceptions about physical science. Journal of Science Teacher Education, 22(2), 101-114. DOI 10.1007/s10972-010-9196-x


Driver, R., Guesne, E., & Tiberghien,A. (1985). Children’s ideas and the learning of science. Children’s ideas in science, 1-9.


Posner, G.J., Strike, K.A., Hewson, P.W., and Gertzog, W.A. (1982). Accommodation of a scientific conception: Toward a theory of conceptual change. Science Education, 66, 211-227.

Many shades of gray…

Thinking back, way back, I recall making the trek down the elementary school hall to the “computer lab”. Initially I was excited to get the opportunity to go to the computer lab and “play” a variety of educational games. However, the grayness of the “machines” and keyboards, the bland countertops, the stark fluorescent lighting, and uncomfortable wood stacking chairs (that gave us slivers) is still engrained in my mind. This original “lab” design stands in contrast to how we present technology to our students today (thankfully). I believe that part of the reason I was never interested in technology back then was that it was just so….bland. While my brother enjoyed the first Nintendo Gameboy and console, the shades of gray plastic (and the technology encased within) never appealed to me. Perhaps I’m just a sucker for marketing.

Greetings from Langley



My name is Natalie and I am a Makerspace Educator in Langley, B.C. I teach at a Grade 6-8 Middle School and have had almost 1000 students come through our Makerspace this year! I have been teaching since 2002 (usually Math/Science) but was offered this exciting opportunity this year. I am thankful I said “yes”. To see students so engaged in their learning has been so encouraging.

This is my third MET course (having completed ETEC 500 and 510 previously). I am also taking 565A and 512 in addition to this course – so I’m going to be busy! I hope to continue finding engaging ways to get students interested in math/science and keep them curious!