Turtle Power! From fd 100 to logic

As I dove into the world of Logo, I asked myself where this was when I was a young person learning about computers.  I had many flashbacks of the days when I spent hours upon hours demystifying the world of BASIC on my old Pentium 100 PC.  The instant gratification of modifying code and seeing the result or my work kept me engaged and wanting to try the next challenge, exercise after exercise.  This cycle of learning simple concepts and instantly applying them to real world situations is akin to the same cycle I try to use in my science classes.  Upon the mastery of one concept, another is explored, and the loop continues.  This continuous pattern of stacking bits of knowledge one by one into a larger bank of knowledge though first-hand experience and practice is exactly how the learning philosophy of constructionism is intended to work.

Proposed by Seymour Papert, constructionism is:

“The word constructionism is a mnemonic for two aspects of the theory os science education underlying this project. From constructivist theories of psychology we take a view of learning as a reconstruction rather than as a transmission of knowledge. Then we extend the idea of manipulative materials to the idea that learning is most effective when part of an activity the learner experiences as constructing a meaningful product.”

To me, the use of the Logo programming language is an excellent framework for learning “how to think” in the world of problem solving. Although the applications to the world of science and mathematics is quite evident, I would affirm that there acquired skills could translate quite well to other aspects of childhood d development.  With the world of media constantly bombarding the minds of the youth of today, their minds are carefully molded in very linear ways though various media like movies, youtube videos and videogames.  A large portion of videogames released today guide kids though a journey that is set by a storyline provided by the game developer. The chance for developing creativity and letting kids explore their potential is quite limited in the context of these types of media.

However, there seems to be a renewed interest over the past few years in developing new media opportunities for kids to explore a more creative side while also stimulating their minds.  Here are a few examples that I find provide the same type of experience that we see in the Logo programming language:

  • Minecraft: A virtual world released in 2011 by Mojang, this game provides kids a virtual world where almost anything is possible.  Being that there are no specific goals, it allows the players to decide how to play the game.  With millions of players around the world in almost unlimited game modes, amazing things have been accomplished with this game.
  • Lego Mindstorms: Given the direct link with Seymour Papert, it’s not surprising Lego Mindstorms resemble Logo.  The use of these programable building brick with the traditional Lego building platform, kids and adults can build and test new ideas in the concrete world.

As of the past few years in Saskatchewan, there has been a big push for including some aspect of coding in our classrooms.  I welcome these initiatives as I find it fills a big hole in childhood development.  As a species, we have always been striving to develop tools to improve our live with what we have around us.  By allowing kids to play in a world where they can develop their own tools and their own knowledge using creativity and play, we are ensuring the flourishment of a generation that is adept at problem solving.

In addition to the aspect of coding, I would argue we must allow our students to also more openly explore the world of arts and making though the maker movement.  Interfacing with the real world is as important as interfacing with the virtual world.  I cannot thank my parents enough for allowing me to take apart and experiment with toys, electronics and everyday items.  It opened up in me a whole new world and a whole new way of thinking that has proven quite fruitful in my profession and my passions that are my hobbies.  Thanks Seymour!

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Learning Theories and Me

Evaluating my own teaching philosophy is one of the exercises I undertake every few years.  Prompted by this past EC&I 833 class and the required readings from Ertmer, Siemens and ACRLog, I embarked, once again, in a state of deep reflection on my craft as a teacher and the approaches I use to help my students progress in their academic work.

I feel very much in line with Adam’s descriptionof how his teaching incorporates elements from each of the main theories explored in the previous readings:

“As an educator, I see value in a number of different aspects of each of these theories. My teaching philosophy has some qualities of each of these four theories, which would make my theory of learning a bit of a mutt, I suppose. Each theory has a quality that speaks to the diverse population of learners that are in our education system. To say that one is better than the other for me would be hypocritical as I utilize pieces of each theory in my practice at some point throughout the year.”

Despite having difficulty associating with a specific teaching philosophy such as Behaviourism, Cognitivisim, Constructivisim or Connectivisim, I must say I associate more closely with Constructivism. The following idea by Ertmer and Newby resonates with me as it parallels in my mind the world of building knowledge using the scientific method:

“Constructivists do not deny the existence of the real world but contend that what we know of the world stems from our own interpretations of our experiences. Humans create meaning as opposed to acquiring it. Since there are many possible meanings to glean from any experience, we cannot achieve a predetermined, “correct” meaning.”

Our minds are in constant evolution and as we gain experience with life, we gather more data that we use to interpret the world around us.  Even with many people having similar datasets established by similar life experiences, I find it is often the case that conflict can arise as different people build their meaning in different ways.

At the beginning of my teaching career, I was extremely preoccupied with making sure subject matter was retained by my students. I would try to transfer knowledge any which way I could without giving much thought on how I was accomplishing the task or even evaluating the possible effectiveness of my pedagogy. Recently, I worry much less on content and subject matter and more on helping my students develop skills that will allow them to “build” better interpretations of the world.  Logic, curiousness, critical thinking, work ethic and openness to new ideas are all characteristics that I try to convey to my students.  I believe that by having these tools, it doesn’t matter what my students retain as information in their mind, they will be able to build whatever knowledge they need given the variety of situations in life they will meet in the world beyond their school years.  This way of thinking is perhaps more appropriate for mature high school students.  I cannot say if it would translate well to early childhood learning as all of my teaching experience is with high school students.  This is a subject I would love to discuss further with my classmates.

One aspect I find lacking in the many theories of learning I explored this week is teacher-student compatibility.  Teachers are individuals and students are also individuals all of which have their own personalities and character traits.  As much as I would love to believe that as a teacher, I can impact every student in profound and productive ways, I must acknowledge that some students are just not as compatible with my teaching style and my character traits as others.  Even if I try my very best with every student I have the privilege to teach, I must acknowledge that some students perform better in my classroom than others.  I have observed, over many years, students with which I don’t have a strong constructive relationship do very well with other teachers that simply have more compatible character traits.  As in life, not everyone that we encounter become our best friends. Certain pairs of people share special compatibilities that are very difficult to explain while others seem to be at constant odds.  This is not to say that work cannot be done to improve the functioning of incompatible student-teacher relationships, however, this could require the investment of a great deal of time and energy from all parties.  As my time and energy is becoming increasingly restrained in the current context if public education, I find myself unable properly and completely adapt to all my student’s needs.  It breaks my heart that I cannot give them all 100%, alas, we must teach in the world of reality and not in the world of theories.

The idea of Connectivism sparked much interest due to its context with educational technology.  As I’m progressing as a teacher in the years to come, I speculate that the idea of Connectivism will garner progressively a larger part of my practice.  With the quantity of knowledge always expanding and access to knowledge almost becoming ubiquitous due to technologies like the internet, our world is becoming smaller and cultivating the links within this world will become extremely important.

This week’s reflections were extremely difficult for me and I still don’t really know where I stand with regards to learning theories. This one really sent me in numerous directions and I still feel lost.  I hope my classmates will help me find the way this week.  I look forward to reading all your blogposts.

Stuck at S and A of the SAMR model

Technology has always been a big part of my life. Unlike many people, I’m not afraid of technology and I don’t have the classic love-hate relationship that is often mentioned when things don’t go as well as planned using tech.  Mostly having positive experiences with technology has shaped my personal opinion of it into an optimistic one.  Being raised on a dairy farm where manual labour and repetitive tasks were part of my daily life, technology often came to the rescue to liberate my time, my energy and on some occasions, my sanity.

It’s only natural that once I became a teacher, this same vision and approach towards technology became a focal point in my pedagogical practice.  As my career in education advances, things are consistently changing on many fronts. From societal changes to technological changes and changes to the demands of my profession, it has been increasingly difficult to keep up.  I feel like I’m consistently being asked to do more with less.  My time is becoming split between so many avenues that I feel like I’m part of a world record juggling act.



In comes educational technology.  Being a science person, my perception of educational technology has always been focused on problems and solutions.  Here is a taste of a few situations from my past:

Problem: When I was a student in rural Saskatchewan, my small school didn’t have the resources available to provide its students with teachers that had the expertise to teach high school science and mathematics.

Solution: Distance education to the rescue!  Hindsight, my high school math and science experience was less than optimal.  My teacher was at the other end of a 128kbps ISDN videoconferencing link and our school internet connection was 56kbps.  There was a constant one second delay when interacting with the system and the rear projection big screen television provided such a low-resolution image that it was difficult to read the screen.  Did I mention that all our assignments had to be faxed as the internet was too slow and scanning technology was just too difficult to use to be practical?  This represents the tip of the iceberg of my distance education experience.  That being said, I had excellent teachers and we maximised the tools we had at our disposal to make the best of the situation.



Problem:  I currently teach all the secondary sciences from grade 9 to grade 12 in French in Regina.  When I have to be absent from school, finding substitute teachers that have the qualifications to teach my subjects is near impossible.  Due to my involvement in teacher associations on the provincial and local level, I have to miss many days of school every semester.

Solution: Time being of the essence, my students have to continue learning when I’m not around. Preparing a chemistry class for a teacher that knows very little about chemistry can be at the best of times, extremely frustrating, tedious and time-consuming.  As a result, I often simply record my lessons with my smartphone, post them on the internet and assign classwork through e-mail or through other technological means.  As a result, I can gain certainty that my students are progressing, and the substitute teacher can concentrate on managing the classroom by assisting the students as needed.  This solution is not perfect but has proven to be extremely valuable to me.

Problem: I don’t think I’m the only teacher that will share the following feeling: I HATE spending so much time marking assessments.  I often have to write the same comments repeatedly and I find it tedious to manipulate copious amounts of paper.

Solution: Not having access to computers for every student, using electronic means of evaluation is often not a solution.  Last school year, I finally discovered Crowdmark. This software has totally changed my assessment practice and has not only proven to be valuable to me as a teacher, the students appreciate the system in that it provides them with the feedback they need to improve.  The idea is that one can take any type of assessment that uses pen and paper and use electronic means to complete the grading and the commenting of the assignments.  I’m not going to go into all the details, but this service has changed my teacher game in that I can spend less time manipulating paper and more time assessing the needs of my students all the while tailoring my pedagogy to more completely meet their needs.

As I familiarized myself with the history of educational technology though our assigned readings, I realized that my problem-solution approach to educational technology might be much to narrow.  This being my second educational technology graduate class, I must admit that my narrow views of the term “educational technology” have drastically expanded, over the past few months.  I expect this trend to continue during EC&I 833 as I participate and discuss with my fellow colleagues over the next few months.

Defining educational technology is a difficult task as it encompasses such a vast collection of concepts.  From hard-tech to soft-tech to high-tech and low-tech and everything in between, the application of technology in the context of education has been with us for centuries.  I can’t imagine being a teacher before the advent of the chalkboard or even the written word.  As a result, it can be easy to take for granted certain aspects of educational technology that we have today.

Neil Postman’s Five Things We Need to Know About Technological Changeresonated with me.  One idea he underlines is the technological inequality that exists within populations.  I have witnessed this first hand being a teacher in a school where we have the privilege of having a wide variety of students coming from numerous socio-economic situations.  As much as I want to believe technology is the “Great Equalizer”, the more I study educational technology, the more I’m able to see weaknesses in every approach to using technology in education.  I feel like I’m moving my perception of technology from the being an optimist to a more analytical realist.

The best I can do at this point in trying to define educational technology is as follows:

Educational technology: The exploitation of technology and technological methods to maximize pedagogical offerings for students, teachers and their communities in the context of education.

I know this definition is incomplete and has many holes. Perhaps at the end of EC&I 833, I’ll be able to fashion something more complete and more relevant to the state of the art.