Author Archives: STEPHANIE IVES

Balance and Burnout

In Shulman’s article “Knowledge and Teaching: Foundations of the New Reform,” he describes how both management of students and management of ideas are necessary components of guides of good practice.  He also says that teachers themselves have difficulty in articulating and explaining what they know and how they know it.  These two points stuck out to me in particular as they emphasize the interconnectedness of the different components of PCK and TPACK.  Individually, each of the components provides a fragment of the image of teaching and learning, but it is only through a collective approach that true teaching occurs.  An individual with strong content knowledge but poor pedagogical knowledge likely would not be truly effective at achieving learning goals in the classroom, nor would an individual with weak content knowledge and strong management skills.  The balance is what I feel develops over time as university students become professionals and new professionals become more experienced in the profession.  Unfortunately, it would seem that for teachers who struggle to find this balance, burnout caused by needing to compensate for gaps in pedagogical or content knowledge can be more likely.

When I teach students about fractions, I spend time developing understandings with physical manipulatives (e.g. coloured cubes, fraction magnets, egg cartons and marbles, fraction pizzas) and digital simulations in Smart Notebook or on the iPad, and then move into the more abstract concepts of the written algebra.  This comes to mind as an example of PCK (or TPACK depending on the strategies on a particular day) as it includes knowledge of the actual mathematics of fractions, what they represent, common errors when working with them, and real-world applications, while also accounting for pedagogical strategies of how best to help specific students learn the concept.  I have found that while students initially struggle with the abstract concept of fractions, when they are able to see and manipulate conditions, they are better able to develop an understanding of fractions and their mechanics, and then subsequently be able to apply this knowledge in further learning.  Someone with a strictly mathematical knowledge base would not likely be able to select the most effective activities for the learning needs of particular students, and someone with a weak understanding of fractions would not likely be able to provide a wide range of learning opportunities and manage student questions and strategies.

In situations where a teacher needs to teach unfamiliar or uncomfortable topics, what strategies can be used to help them continue to provide effective learning experiences?  How can more experienced colleagues support new teachers in developing the skills and knowledge necessary to find the balance without burning out in the process?

Choice and Context

My definition of technology would be a blend of Feenburg’s attribution of social values and Roblyer’s description of technology as our tools, methods, and creative problem solving.  From this, an ideal pedagogical design of a technology-enhanced learning experience for math includes recognition of the context of scenarios, effective manipulatives and devices, and strategies, and the interconnections between these elements. For example, a word problem describing a photovoltaic cell may be unnecessarily confusing for a student with minimal electrical physics knowledge, who may then be unable to achieve the intended mathematical outcomes due simply to the disconnect between his experience and the question context.  At this point, devices and strategies would likely be ineffective as he would not have enough understanding to adequately apply them.

When designing a technology-enhanced learning experience, I would account for the different backgrounds of the students by attempting to provide a variety of pathways including a variety of technology tools to hopefully engage every student in some way.  Increasing student choice enables them to make the best decisions for their own learning needs, and to find their own connections between their strategies and digital devices.  In my mind, choice is central to growth and learning.

Teacher Training Disconnect, Catch-22, Communication

The interviewee (otherwise identified as Teacher K) is a 24-year-old teacher who graduated from an out-of-province university in June 2016 and is currently in her first official teaching position.  Her current teaching load includes grade 6 – 9 math and grade 6 – 12 science.  All of the courses are split-level arrangements.  I am Teacher K’s coworker and mentor. The interview took place on the evening of Sunday January 22, 2017 by online chat.

Highlight #1:The Disconnect Between Teaching Training and Actual Practice

As Teacher K is a recent university graduate, I was interested to see her perspective on the connection or disconnection between the education she received and her own classroom practice.  While in her experience the importance of and theory behind technology use was emphasized, even basic examples of programs and apps were not readily offered by instructors.  As a result, unguided exploration was the primary option for finding ways to integrate technology into teaching practice.  Conversely, her current school division and colleagues offer many resources for tools and implementation options, including time with mentors.  As I am Teacher K’s mentor, it has been rewarding to see her growth over time in the area of technology.  Despite the theoretical–practical disconnect between her university training and practice, Teacher K has been able to find ways to meaningfully use technology tools in her classroom.  In science, technology allows students to see videos of situations we are unable to see in real life. For example, when studying ecosystems, we are unable to visit a desert. By using technology, students are able to see pictures and videos of the interactions that happen in different biomes all over the world.”   


Highlight #2: Catch-22 of Risk vs. Reward

Teacher K expressed an associated value with technology when it is used purposely and at the right time in instruction, but also a series of concerns regarding less effective use or challenges encountered by students.  These challenges can make it more difficult to incorporate technology tools she identifies as potentially useful as some of the students lack the self-regulation skills to engage with the tools properly.

“[Technology] can interfere with their learning if used inappropriately.”

If a student doesn’t already have knowledge on the topic, the use of technology can be confusing or distracting for them.”

“If I begin the class with students working with technological devices, they will not be able to do anything else afterwards. Therefore, if I use technology, I must incorporate it at the end of the class.”

“Another challenge occurs when there are not enough devices for each student. This causes arguments between students who are unable to share or wait their turn.”

Technology has many potential benefits to offer to the classroom; however, the challenges also need to be considered when determining on the best way to use tech tools with students.

Highlight #3: Technology for Organization

In addition to technology for the actual exploration and learning of concepts, Teacher K finds value in using technology for organizational and communicative purposes. With reference to her class website, she explained that it allows students to study from home without having to carry a textbook. This is especially useful for middle school students who often forget their notes or assignments at school.”  In this way, the technology enables students to learn more ubiquitously and continue to practice their math and science skills regardless of time or when absent from school. Using technology tools for communication and organization facilitates more effective use of instructional time, and helps students prepare for work and life in the 21st century world of electronic communication beyond that latest trends on their Instagram feeds.


As a whole, Teacher K has a positive view of technology use in her math and science classroom, despite the challenges. Her own determination to learn will continue to serve her well as she dives deeper into her teaching career.


Transcript of Responses:

  1. In what ways did your teacher education training prepare you (or not prepare you) for the use of technology in your teaching?

In my teacher education training, we were taught the theory behind using technology in our classrooms. We were taught that it is important and it is something we should strive to do, however we were never shown how to incorporate it into our lessons or specific examples of programs we could use in our classrooms.

  1. Do you feel that technology enhances your students’ learning experiences in science and math? Why or why not?

Technology can enhance the students’ learning, but it can also interfere with their learning if used inappropriately For example, using interactive games on the computer, Ipad or Smartboard allows students to manipulate and interact with the problems. This can allow them to better visualize and understand the problem in front of them.

In science, technology allows students to see videos of situations we are unable to see in real life. For example, when studying ecosystems, we are unable to visit a desert. By using technology, students are able to see pictures and videos of the interactions that happen in different biomes all over the world.

  1. From your perspective, what are the most significant challenges students face when using technology in math and science learning?

If a student doesn’t already have knowledge on the topic, the use of technology can be confusing or distracting for them. For example, when using an online fraction game, a student without an understanding of fractions will just drag objects around the screen and guess to get the answer correct. By doing this, they are not learning the concept.

4. From your experience, what are the shortfalls or challenges of using technology to teach science and math?

Technology must be used at the most appropriate time in a science or math class. If I begin the class with students working with technological devices, they will not be able to do anything else afterwards. Therefore if I use technology, I must incorporate it at the end of the class. If students like using technology, it can be used as a reward if they show positive behavior during the first part of the class.

Another challenge occurs when there are not enough devices for each student. This causes arguments between students who are unable to share or wait their turn.

5.Do you have any advice for colleagues wanting to bring more technological approaches into their practices but are not sure where to start?

My advice would be to start small. Introduce technology in very small ways for a short period of time. By doing this, the students get a small introduction to it and the teacher gets to see how the students handle it without it taking up all the instructional time.

  1. Can you think of any examples of when using a technology-based approach yield a positive outcome that would not have happened otherwise?

In my classroom, we have a class website. This allows me to post messages, information, notes and assignments for students and their parents. I post upcoming test dates,assignment due dates, pages from their textbook, and all notes required for students to prepare themselves for tests. This allows students to study from home without having to carry a textbook. This is especially useful for middle school students who often forget their notes or assignments at school. With use of the class website, students are still able to complete their work and study for tests despite not having their school books with them. This also allows students and parents to keep up to date with classes and study when needed. This is also great for when students miss class, they are able to stay caught up with their classmates.

Dipping a Toe In – The Process

The techniques and tools used in the videos I watched seemed to follow the thread of turning responsibility and agency over to the students.  In Case 4, the pre-service students who were interviewed seemed apprehensive about this prospect.  The cases were of teachers who are well entrenched in their technology-rich learning environments.  One issue that I feel is important is the steps in between just beginning to use technology in the classroom and being at a point of comfort as demonstrated by the interviewed teachers.  Often, case studies and professional development showcase articles focus on teachers who are already advanced in their technological journey rather than teachers who are in the ‘muddy’ phases of figuring it all out.  As my division has worked through the implementation of personalized electronic blended learning, a phrase my school has adopted is “dipping a toe in and getting our feet wet.”  I believe this could also apply here.  A transition to a new method of teaching and learning can be difficult for teachers, students, and parents, and so it is important for teachers to recognize that meaningful technology integration is a process, not an overnight change.  For example, students need to learn independence and self-regulation in order to be able to engage independently in learning activities like the bridge challenge in the STEM classroom from Case 1.  It is okay to try things progressively rather than overwhelming oneself with piles of new tools to learn.

In Case 4, the profiled teacher explained that teachers need to have a support net of people who know more than you do in technology.  From experience, I have learned that having a network of support is essential to successful exploration and experimentation for technology integration.  Teachers themselves may even have misconceptions about specific technology tools or ways of teaching.  If teachers are not comfortable with their techniques or cannot be critically reflective of the digital tools available, students can miss the intention and opportunity of digitally enhanced learning.  Rich exploration projects are extremely valuable for learning, but it is important that the teacher be able to guide students through challenges and toward their end goal. It would be stressful to reach the end of a long project and realize that students have entirely missed the learning outcome or have learned incorrect information through their self-directed work.  With support networks, teachers can learn from the collective experience of others and be able to take risks knowing that they are not alone in the journey.  Through these risks, they can discover new ways for their students to learn.

Assistive Technology and Expanded Opportunities

A good use of digital technology in the math and science classroom is one that allows students to engage in ideas and learning in ways that would not be possible without the technology.  Technology should open possibilities by removing or reducing limitations.  One form this can take is in the way of addressing learning challenges.  Technology can be used to help students engage in math and science learning despite challenges such as dyscalculia or dyslexia.  I had a student in grade 6 math last year who had been diagnosed with dyslexia and struggled immensely with both writing and reading, but his numeracy was adequate.  His printing was illegible.  Through technology tools such as Kurzweil to turn text into audio, an iPad to allow him to explain his understanding digitally, and simulation apps that helped him see the math visually, he was extremely successful in math.  Without those tools, his success would have been much more limited by his challenges.  The concepts weren’t the real issue at the beginning of the year, the communication was.

A second good use of technology is to provide experiences for students that otherwise would not be accessible due to money or resources– designing physics experiments in a simulator to test new ideas, creating computer models to explore scientific theories, having access to academic databases around the world, etc.  Technology should not be used simply to occupy students, but rather to provide them with an option for exploration beyond the brick and mortar classroom.  A student who has never seen a pulley, for example, may have misconceptions about how weight would affect movement in such a setup, forming ideas based on other experiences.  A digital simulator where they can experiment with different sizes, lengths, and weights, could help them develop a better understanding of the dynamics.  The more experiences a student has, virtual or real-world, the broader and deeper his/her worldview will become.

The greatest obstacle I see to implementation of the best digital technology for the best situations to meet individual student engagement and learning needs is funding.  While many school divisions seem to be either technology-driven or at least technology-aware, technology costs money, both initially and for maintenance.  With budget cuts and shifting enrollment, divisions need to prioritize their spending and sometimes this means that while tools may be available in the marketplace, they may not fit in the business planning for a particular year or school.  As a result, appropriate tools either aren’t purchased at all or get exchanged for cheaper alternatives.  The result is insufficient availability of digital technology either in terms of quantity or in terms of quality.  While I do not have an immediate solution for this barrier without the ability to give the school divisions more money, something that we can do as educators is to employ our own creativity to maximize the potential of the technologies we do have available, including ongoing professional development in the area.  Our students will depend on us to create the opportunities for them to learn and explore in the classroom, regardless of if we have the technology we want or not.

Hidden Misconceptions

After reading this week’s selections and watching the video, I realized to what an immense degree misconceptions can make our jobs even more challenging, especially when they aren’t immediately clear. The possibility of hidden misconceptions in one that has been stuck in my mind. For example, when Heather was initially questioned in “Private Universe”, it appeared that she had a good understanding of the concepts.  When the depth and wording of the questions changed, however, it became clear that her interpretation and understanding was not entirely accurate.  If the further questioning had never occurred, these misconceptions may never have been adequately identified.  In “Constructivism and Student Misconceptions: Why Every Teacher Needs to Know About Them,” Audrey Sewell explains that it is possible that students develop parallel but mutually inconsistent explanations of scientific concepts, using one in a school context to ‘pass the test’ and the other in the ‘real world.’  Such a situation presents challenges to us as educators, because we may not even be aware that misconceptions exist or what they actually are, and as such, they may remain unchallenged and unaddressed throughout the student’s education, thereby weakening the foundation of his/her further learning.

One of the primary responsibilities of us as educators, it would seem, is therefore to use effective formative assessment to help identify misconceptions in order to be able to identify where misconceptions exist.  For example, rather than being satisfied with basic check-in or revision questions, we need to ask higher level questions that require students to explain their thinking and make connections, as well as find additional tasks to help challenge a student’s conceptions.  Audrey Sewell explained that even a visual demonstration may not be enough to convince a student to adapt their conception.  The most effective approach may be to provide students with multiple ways of approaching a concept so as to hopefully be able to engage each student through at least one method.  Connecting students with field experts through a technology tool such as Skype may be one way to help students be metacognitive about their understandings, as it is a novel experience.  Additional tools may include using apps such as Explain Everything to have students be able to visually and orally explain their understandings, similar to the marker and paper method employed in the Private Universe video, or having students conduct research to approach a topic using the dialectical method, which requires them to justify both sides of an argument.  By finding evidence that may be contradictory to their initial understandings, students may be motivated to learn more for clarification.

One of my goals that I am going to take away from this week is to make a conscious effort to ensure that I am consistently requiring my senior math students to explain and justify their strategies and procedures to ensure that they are aligned with accurate understandings.  As they work through their courses at their own pace using various resources, there are many opportunities for misconceptions to be added and perhaps not enough opportunities to challenge their thinking.  This is something I am going to work to change.

External Resources:

Sewell, A. (2002). Constructivism and student misconceptions: Why every teacher needs to know about them.Australian Science Teachers’ Journal,48(4), 24-28. Retrieved January 9, 2017.

Excessive Print Job

When I was in grade 3 or 4, my family had a computer in the basement.  It ran Windows 95 and my parents installed a handful of games on it that I would like.  I loved the exploration games.  I also loved to research.  One evening, I decided I wanted to learn more about our beautiful country, so I decided to print an article from Encyclopedia Britannica on Canada.  What I didn’t know how to do yet was to find out how many pages a document would print.  It turned out that the document was over 100 pages long.  As the pages poured out of the printer, my dad came downstairs.  I was in a minor panic mode at this point, afraid that I was going to be in trouble.  It turned out that I wasn’t in trouble, and he took the opportunity to teach me how to copy and paste sections into another document, how to check printer settings, etc.  I learned from my mistake and never repeated it.  My dad’s patient approach to the situation turned it into a positive experience for me.

Questions that this memory brings to my mind at the moment are:

  • When we have multiple students working on multiple devices simultaneously, how can we as educators best capture teachable moments for technological literacy?
  • Do we inadvertently discourage students from experimenting with technology when we focus on cost of supplies and efficient use of resources in the wake of seemingly ever-decreasing budgets?

Hello from Saskatchewan!

Hi Everyone!  My name is Stephanie Ives.  I currently live in the very small rural town of Kyle, Saskatchewan, but my weekend and holiday time is spent in Saskatoon where my boyfriend lives. I get the best of both the rural and urban worlds. I was born and raised in Ontario, but have been in Saskatchewan since August 2012.  I teach in a K-12 school with a total of 72 students.  My current teaching load is Social Studies 6/7 and 8/9, History 10, Law 11/12, Math 10/11/12, and Art 6-10.  My university education was in history and math.

This term I am taking my fifth and sixth MET courses.  I am also currently enrolled in 510 and have previously taken 500, 511, 532,  and 512.

After teaching grade 5-8 math for four years and transitioning into senior math this year, I am hoping that this course will help me become better able to engage my senior students in meaningful and new learning experiences.  I have 5 different courses happening in one classroom with a total of 11 students, so I am always looking for new approaches and ideas to add to my repertoire.