Last Few Words

After the quickest six weeks of my graduate studies, I have now come to the end of my degree. I have to admit – I think this class has been one of the best ways to finish of my degree.

I have truly enjoyed exploring technology is the Social Studies context this semester – the freedom to look into what can be applied to my teaching situation has really given me the opportunity to reflect upon my own teaching values, lessons, and ideals – as well as my cynicism in regards to the constant access to content that phones offer my students during class hours

working on computer

Photo Credit: fouseyboy Flickr via Compfight cc

One of the best parts of this class was definitely the Tuesday evenings when we could talk about our significant takeaways from the week together. Discussing technology in all of our different contexts – be it BYOD with Kyle, elementary phys ed with Jayme-Lee, elementary French Immersion Language courses with Andres, team-teaching with Jen, and preparing for an administrative position with Jorie – brought in different perspectives to our conversations. Not only that, but it made all of this very real and authentic; we are talking about our daily lives, our jobs, and we were able to put into reflective action the readings we have found for ourselves every week. It’s been great working with everyone and learning from all of you – thanks again for a great few weeks!

During the first couple weeks of the class, I was very cynical about the true value of technology in my Social Studies classes; the distractions were becoming overwhelming and I almost felt like throwing in the towel and not allowing technology in my room at all. I really think it is thanks to this class that I didn’t completely slide off the deep-end and go a no-tech route (like some of the schools I read about the first week of class). There are other ways to solve the distractions in class (like I discovered my second week of this class), including using apps to reduce the availability of the distractions and the use of automation.


Photo Credit: JirkaCaletka Flickr via Compfight cc

It was the third week that I was felt I was able to get back on the pro-tech train, when we started looking into interesting finds in regards to technology. This is where I was able to explore a couple different blogs, specifically Alice Keeler‘s blog and Jennifer Gonzalez’, which gave me a sense of how I can change my teaching to be better suited for the 21st century. I don’t want students to be able to get their historical knowledge simply from videos like Crash Course history – although those can be add-ons for a class, and I definitely use them often, I don’t want those videos to replace my lessons, but they could if I don’t consistently reflect upon my teaching to make them authentic and valuable for my students. Even the idea of changing my assessments so they are not incredibly repetitive from previous assignments; I find this difficult for students once they hit grade 12 because they always say “Oh, we have already done this kind of thing before…”. I need to be more creative with my assessments to be more engaging – and technology can help me do this.


Photo Credit: Lupuca Flickr via Compfight cc

The following week was when I was able to delve into how tech can help me achieve these goals. Through the articles and blog posts I read, I became more inspired to see the pros of technology specifically in the Social Studies classroom. There are so many possibilities out there for apps and websites, and yet still students will consistently go to Google Slides because of the familiarity of it. Although I love GAFE and Google Slides, I think the exploration of new tools with help students become more engaged in their learning as they become challenged not only with the content, but with the means with which they can explore and share this learned material.

Throughout the pros of technology blog post, I was able to speak to some of the apps and websites that came highly recommended from my readings that week. Two of the ones I particularly wanted to try were infog.ram and Explee. Although I had heard of infog.ram, I had never actually used it before (I was always more of a Piktochart kind of person), and I had never heard of or used Explee before. Therefore, to compile my learnings, I made an infographic (click me please – I tried to embed it into the website but it was not working!) on infog.ram, and on this infographic at the end I include a link to the Explee video I made as well to summarize briefly the major takeaways from my peers.

In working with both of these for the first time, I thought I would also share some of my pros and cons for each of them.


The pros of infog.ram include:

  • Easy to use
  • Simple and quick to make
  • There is a free version (the one I made was free)
  • You can insert videos from YouTube onto the infographic

The cons of infog.ram include:

  • Very limited choice in graphics if you do not upgrade
  • Very difficult to embed on a blog (even though it give you an embedding code). I STILL haven’t figured out how to do this even though I spent all weekend trying to embed the infographic into this website. Please check it out via this link or the one shared above.
  • You can’t download the infographic or print it without upgrading
  • Some of the colour choices are questionable (i.e. Lucidchart on my infographic is very difficult to see, but I could not change it).

Overall, I liked infog.ram for a short infographic. For one as long as mine, the choices became very limited. Furthermore, I became very frustrated in trying to download it or embed it into my blog – if you were just trying to share with a teacher or students, it would be much easier.


The pros of Explee include:

  • Very easy to use
  • Quick to make a video
  • A lot of options for the free version (including pictures and music)
  • Easy to upload into a video and share (doesn’t go on YouTube, but it does on the Explee website)
  • You can add your own pictures and it will draw them. The process is easy and seamless
  • You can download the video and save it to your computer.

The cons of Explee include:

  • You only have a 14-day free trial.
  • I couldn’t figure out how to zoom out and see the whole picture at the end.
  • To embed in the blog post, you need to save the mp4 file to your desktop and then upload this to YouTube, which makes a video possible to embed in the blog post. It is a bit of a round-about way to get the video in the post.

Overall, I really enjoyed using Explee. I have used Videoscribe in the past, and I found Explee much easier to use and to share afterwards. It was quick, easy, and included everything you needed for the free version. I would definitely suggest using Explee for any project you have coming up, and I will be suggesting it to my students as well.

Last few words

I really appreciated this class and learning from everyone within it. Even though it was short, I went through a rollercoaster of ideas and feelings about technology. It isn’t a black and white scenario, and in fact technology changes in every context, in every subject, and in every classroom. The use of it in a classroom to create a more engaging and authentic atmosphere is possible by relating the different apps and websites to the outcomes and knowledge acquisition targeted. Completely eliminating technology isn’t the option – even though some schools have gone that route – but rather we should be incorporating them in the best way possible for our students and subject matter.

I also learned how to deal with my occasional negativity in regards to technology – there will be times when I get frustrated with the use in my classroom and I will want to simply walk away from the tech. When that happens, I know that I can explore more inspiring blogs and ideas shared by those truly all-in for technology, and this can inspire me to bring it back in my own classroom in an engaging way.

thank you

Photo Credit: Flickr via Compfight cc

I’m ending this class more optimistically than I began it, and I think that summarizes the biggest take-away I have from this class: I don’t need to always be in love with technology, but it can always find a place in my classroom in ways that make Social Studies more engaging and authentic for my students.

Thanks for a great semester, and a great finale to this Master’s Degree.

Posted in Direct Reading | 4 Comments

Pulling out the VCR

Photo Credit: Tom Simpson Flickr via Compfight cc

Do you remember the teacher rolling the television set and VCR into the classroom and thinking ‘Oh, this is going to be a great class!’? Didn’t matter if it was a documentary, a movie, a television show, or a 10-minute infomercial – either way, we were always super excited when we got to watch something during class time because it was more fun than simply listening to the teacher talk about the subject matter.

Not much has changed.

Well, except for the type of technology and the level to which we incorporate it into class. Nowadays, I find it rare to have a class or lesson when I don’t incorporate some kind of video, even if it is a 12-minute crash course history lesson or a quick Canadian Heritage Minute. However, it seems like the incorporation of technology continues to engage and motivate students more than not using it – which I find to be the biggest pro of utilizing any tech tool in the classroom. There are a multitude of sites and blogs that speak to the pros of technology – a quick google search will yield a little over 2.1 million results in a mere 0.7 seconds. From making learning more fun, to improved knowledge retention, to personalized and differentiated learning, to connecting with students, to increased student collaboration, to preparing the students for the future – the opportunities and advantages of technology are seemingly endless (except for the cost, of course, which Dre already addressed in his previous blog posts). In previous blog posts, I had noted the value of assistive technology; from tools like Dragon Naturally Speaking to Zoom Text, technology can help students demonstrate what they know and achieve the levels of success they truly deserve.

But, I don’t think any of this is new knowledge. After taking several EC&I classes, I think we all know there are countless benefits to technology in the classroom – if there weren’t we wouldn’t be trying to incorporate it as much as we currently are. So, for this week’s blog, I really wanted to focus on the specifics in a Social Studies Classroom; why is it important in this specific setting, and what advantages are there for this particular subject matter?

Too often, teachers sacrifice student interest for content coverage. In a high stakes testing environment, social studies teachers are entrenched in methods that rely heavily on lecture and discussion. This teacher-centered classroom structure does not offer much opportunity for motivating students to take an interest in social studies content. – Tina Heafner

Photo Credit: Duke University Archives Flickr via Compfight cc

Okay, bad teacher moment : I feel like this describes a large part of what I do. It being my first year teaching Social 10 and Social 30, I have been overwhelmed with covering the entire curriculum, and I have sacrificed interesting lesson plans, activities, and simulations, to cover all the content. Even now, with two weeks left before finals, I am feeling the pressure to get through all the information I need to and have enough summative evaluations in each unit to truly represent the final grade students will receive. However, like was mentioned in the article stated above, this is not motivating in the least bit, which is where technology can come into play. Heafner promoted moving away from teacher-centred approach to a student-centred one in Social Studies and using technology to motivate and engage students. This, in turn, will help them further develop their historical analysis and metacognitive skills, as is mentioned in this article.

Students have no motivation to learn social studies beyond the common justification of “it will be on the test”. – Tina Heafner

This is where we need to change the view some students may have of Social Studies. So many times students have asked me the importance of Social Studies in their daily lives. I, of course, start speaking to the age-old “you can’t understand the present without the past”, “our history defines our present, which will mould the future”, “your educated decisions and actions today need to be based on past successes, failures, and overall endeavours”. I truly believe it, but they have already heard these explanations over and over. If, however, we combine technology with history and work towards a 21st century approach to Social Studies, using digital skills to study historical thinking and analysis, students could be more engaged and motivated to learn the content.

This was, in fact, the main proposition of another blog post I read this week by Thomas Stanley. He noted that now, because of our increased technology, history and social studies classes should no longer be focused solely on reading textbooks and lecturing, but also on exploring and collaborating.

Photo Credit: wecometolearn Flickr via Compfight cc

Done well, technology and students and inquiry and history begin to come together to form a powerful – and authentic – whole. – Thomas Stanley.

That is the biggest benefit of technology in a social studies classroom – it can make the learning authentic. It can bring the past to the present and combine what students find at times dull and lacking value with skills that will be necessary for the future. Stanley suggests creating a global project that lasts all semester, where students may study historical issues in the context of the present. They can use the past to find potential solutions for the current problems. He suggests topics like the child soldier or refugees; topics that are important historically, yet show how the past is ever-intertwined with the future. Technology can help us achieve this by delving into inquiry-based research topics and using other apps and websites to help gain knowledge.

Photo Credit: psd Flickr via Compfight cc

I read several blogs this week that suggested a variety of apps and websites that could be used in a Social Studies classroom. Just like Jayme-Lee’s weekly blogs, I wanted to list some new ones that I found particularly interesting to start using in my classroom. Most came from this site, which has ample suggestions for a variety of social studies classroom from k-12. Creation tools like Explee*(the first one I want to try!), Flipsnack,, Make Beliefs Comix, Pixton, QR stuff, and Bitstrips are just a few that I would offer my students as suggestions for their next projects. Organizational tools like Draggo, Lucidchart, and Livebinders can help both teachers and students with all the technology at our fingertips. Finally, other websites like Euronews and Newsela can all help students find current events that can interest them and help them develop both their historical thinking abilities and digital literacy skills (which can be targeted using lesson plans from websites like NewseumED, even though there is a significant American focus).

To end, I think one of the biggest draws to technology in a Social Studies classroom (and, in fact, in any classroom) is how motivating it can be for the teacher. Google, Teachers Pay Teachers, and Pinterest have helped me enormously when trying to find creative approaches to teaching historical concepts. I have found the majority of my ideas for simulations in the classroom – which are my students’ preferred lessons – online. So even if we aren’t directly using technology for a specific lesson, the advantage of technology in education is still prevalent as it helps teachers create, share, and engage students in learning history.

Photo Credit: Flооd Flickr via Compfight cc

To end, I wanted to share one of my absolute favourite examples of technology combined with history: the Great Canadian Mysteries website. This site – in both French and English!! – offers webquests to help students solve some of the greatest Canadian mysteries. Not only that, but each of these mysteries comes with an incredibly detailed teacher guide with links to all Canadian curricula, and precise step-by-step lesson plans for the entire mystery-module. If this isn’t an advantage to technology in Social Studies – and one that can make the class engaging and motivating for the varied learners – I don’t know what is!

Any other suggestions or comments on my pros listed above for tech in the classroom, please let me know in the comment section below!

Posted in Direct Reading | 3 Comments

Towards Greener Pastures

Photo Credit: The Daring Librarian Flickr via Compfight cc

So, I will admit, I have been a little bit of a Negative Nelly recently in regards to technology in my own Social Studies classroom – speaking both to the cons of technology last week and to examples of schools with no technology the week prior. These posts, coupled with my frustration with cell phones that I continually repeat in our Zoom sessions, have painted a picture of a very cynical teacher, hating technology and the distractions it brings about in the classroom.

This picture isn’t entirely false.

I really admire my fellow colleagues who are particularly optimistic and excited about incorporating technology into their classrooms, like Kyle with his BYOD initiative. This is one of the reasons I really enjoy these master’s classes, and one of the reasons I am particularly happy we decided to do this directed reading course together – I am more inspired to try new things and look at the positives after I meet with everyone Tuesday evening. My natural, at times cynical, self is better after we meet and address the possibilities with technology and how it can be functional in our classrooms.

Photo Credit: Pricenfees Flickr via Compfight cc

So onward and forward into an area of positivity! For our interesting finds topic this week, I really wanted to delve into one blog in particular – Alice Keeler‘s Teacher Tech Blog. She is a Google Certified Innovator and blogs often about Google Classroom, the Google Apps for Education, and an abundance of other pro-tech ideas. From blog posts about how to use Google Sites (which I honestly didn’t know existed!), to reasons to put things online, to suggestions to avoid the regular old worksheet, there are a lot of interesting ideas on this blog, even though it is very google-centred.

I overheard a student the other day say “My teacher could be replaced by a YouTube video.” – Alice Keeler

I think this is an area of interest for teaching in the 21st century, considering there are multiple educational YouTube channels and Khan Academy videos teaching a variety of Math concepts. I actually had a similar conversation with students last semester – ones who struggled with Foundations 30 in class, so they would go home and teach themselves using YouTube videos, which is how they ended up passing the class (in their opinion). So, does that mean we can be replaced by YouTube videos?

Photo Credit: Flickr via Compfight cc

As Keeler notes in her blog post, the ‘traditional’ way of teaching has become obsolete because of the advancements of technology – just like a variety of other areas impacted by the increase of technology. This doesn’t mean teachers are obsolete, but it does means our past teaching styles are. We need to evolve with our society and not ignore what is happening around us. We can no longer simply share information – as Keeler states in her blog, ‘Information is free. I do not need a teacher to give me information. I can look that up’. However, a teacher’s impact is still valuable in the feedback they give, the learning environment they create, and the relationships they make with their students. These are the areas in which we should focus our attention, and not the direct transmission of information from teacher to student. We have learned of this before in our previous #eci classes – the idea of connectivism as a learning theory to follow in our 21st century – and it evidently still holds true.

What lesson do you teach that is NOT on YouTube? – Alice Keeler

So I started thinking back at my own Social Studies lessons. I have spoken previously of the heavy content in the un-renewed curricula of Social Studies 10 and Social Studies 30, and sometimes I find myself simply teaching the information in these 300+ page curricula. However, this is all information that can easily be found on YouTube. In fact, with videos from Crash Course history, CBC Canada: A People’s History, and Heritage Minutes, most of the information in the curricula can be found online. So, what am I doing in my classroom? Why are my lessons so content based?

To renew interest in my lessons – and to become less obsolete – I need to focus more on the ‘how’ of acquiring information, rather than the ‘what’. I look back and think that my French Revolution, my Industrial Revolution, my Imperialism, and my Berlin Conference simulations are all things that can’t be shared in a YouTube video – experiences cannot be simulated as efficiently through YouTube videos as they can in an actual classroom.

But where does technology come into play?

Designing for student engagement, planning for collaboration, creating COMPLEX questions for students to answer, planning on how students will receive timely and meaningful feedback (it does not have to be from you by the way!), incorporating current events, trends and things kids care about, finding new ways for students to creatively demonstrate the learning objective, planning on how we will interact with the students, meaningfully incorporate technology so that it improves learning not just make it paperless, addressing the unique learning needs of each student in the room. – Alice Keeler

Photo Credit: wuestenigel Flickr via Compfight cc

Technology can also help with finding those meaningful ways of providing feedback and ways for the students to creatively demonstrate the learning objectives. One of my favourite blog posts on Alice Keeler’s blog is And Here is Your 5000th Poster AssignmentIn this blog post, Keeler notes the fact that throughout their entire student career, students will continually be asked to do similar projects, i.e. posters. Completing the same project over and over can be incredibly tedious and it doesn’t challenge the students to think outside of the box and develop new skills. In her blog post, Keeler offers a variety of new suggestions instead of a poster, many of which I am excited to try in my Social Studies classroom. For example, she suggests getting kids to use Google Tours to highlight 7 wonders of the world as they pertain to the classroom. Students could highlight 7 important Canadian battles in World War I and World War II for Social 30, or their own version of the 7 wonders of the ancient world in Social Studies 9 (which I am picking up for the first time next semester – if you have any ideas or suggestions for this course it would be greatly appreciated!). There are a variety of ways one could use this activity for a different types of lessons, and it is much more engaging than yet another poster assignment. This is but one of the many suggestions Keeler has in her blog post to use technology in the classroom to make it more engaging and valuable for students.

These are a but a few of her blog posts – there are a variety of others that offer suggestions for technology incorporation as well as tutorials for a plethora of Google apps and websites. There is a heavy Math focus in her blog, so I would highly suggest it for Math teachers. However, as you can see, her suggestions can be applied to a variety of settings, and they really make you reflect upon your own teaching style and techniques, and what you can improve to no longer be considered ‘obsolete’. She also frequently uses the twitter hastag #stealedu to share other ideas that she finds particularly inspiring – I now frequently check out this hashtag and encourage you to do the same!

What do you think of the state of education? Are teachers obsolete? Have we challenged our students enough with differing assessments? What more can we do with technology to improve our learning outcomes? All ideas and suggestions are always welcome!

P.S. In my readings this week, I also really enjoyed reading the Cult of Pedagogy blog by Jennifer Gonzalez – I have been following her on Twitter for quite awhile and she has some really great blog posts. My favourite so far is The Fish-Eye Syndrome – if you have any time to spare, I highly suggest you check it out!

Posted in Direct Reading | 9 Comments

Let the distractions begin…

In some of our past EC&I classes, we addressed society’s dependancy on technology and cell phones, and this was personally put to the test this week when I forgot my phone at work.

Now, most of us have faced the opposite problem – of forgetting our phone at home and then returning to get it, even if we were maybe going to be late getting to where we were headed. I always take my phone out of my purse at work and put into my desk drawer – I’m not exactly sure why I do this, but it may be because of the easier access in case I needed to get a hold of someone or someone was trying to get a hold of me. Sometimes, because Campbell is so big, teachers will just text each other if they need something – or maybe that is just my excuse to have my phone closely available at all times.

Photo Credit: Pittou2 Flickr via Compfight cc

Either way, it was my niece’s birthday and I was in a rush after school, so I left without grabbing my phone from my drawer. Realizing this at my niece’s birthday party, I was left with quite the dilemma – do I go back to Campbell and get my phone, or survive the night without it? It was a real struggle, and in the end, my laziness won-out over my technology dependancy. So I spent the night without my phone, and it wasn’t easy. Not that I use my phone often, but just the idea of missing things, information, not getting back to someone right away, bothered me for most of the night. Even the fact that I had to actually set my alarm clock and not rely on my phone was a big enough change for me to not want to forget my phone ever again. After reading about solutions to tech problems for our class this week, I realized that perhaps I was feeling what we call nomophobia – the fear of being without a mobile device – which is a growing trend for our students.

I felt this was very telling about the dependancy in our society – and compared to the majority of my students, I am nowhere near as attached to my phone or the social media apps that can be found within it. I think the first step in solving problems we have with technology in the classroom is understanding where these problems originate. I know that my biggest problems in the classroom with technology have to do with the management of its misuse – the constant snapchatting, netflix-usage, and, your good ol’ fashioned texting. Coming from a place of understanding – why are they so attached to their phones – will help me find solutions for how to change this trend into something positive. I know completely getting rid of their phones or taking them away isn’t the answer – even though some schools are doing that as I explored last week – but what else could be?

Photo Credit: David Lee King Flickr via Compfight cc

There are a multitude of blog posts and articles that deal with solutions to possible problems that technology brings – from the students knowing more about an app than you do, to them using internet as a crutch, to teachers misusing it in their classrooms, to the “administrative” tech problems and other types of tech glitches, and even to the problems of technology being used as the lesson, and not as the tool. There are a multitude of problems that require solutions when it comes to technology, and I could have focused on a variety of these problems and their respective solutions. However, as we are focusing on our specific educational contexts for this directed reading course, I wanted to focus on the biggest problem I am seeing in my French Immersion Social Studies course:

Technology as a distraction

Ah, the obvious problem we all have heard, felt or seen personally in the classroom. Technology can be great – but it can also be a serious distraction for students in the classroom as they become more interested in the games on their phones or their access to social media than they are in the lesson. As I have admitted, this is a struggle in my classroom and I see this every day – so it is a definite technology problem that I need to fix.

Researchers have demonstrated that the mere presence of a phone makes people less productive and less trusting, and that students who are interrupted while studying take longer to learn the material and feel more stressed – Larry Rosen and Alexandra Samuel

Photo Credit: Five Furlongs Flickr via Compfight cc

So what can fix this problem? Well, there is no easy solution, but Larry Rosen and Alexandra Samuel each share different possibilities in their article Conquering Digital Distraction. Rosen suggests slowly weaning yourself off of your device. It can start small, like setting an alarm every 15 minutes, and then when it rings, you can allow yourself one minute of a tech check-in. Slowly, you can increase the length of time between alarms. I think this is a definite possibility with my high school students. Yes, although they may be very much attached to their phones at times, they do understand the importance of the class and of doing well in the class – and generally they all want to do well and learn the material. An honest conversation, suggesting a gradual release of dependancy, could definitely work if done without judgement and if done collaboratively.

Samuel, on the other hand, admits that weaning yourself off the tech may not be possible in all circumstances. Therefore, she suggests automation to help fight the battle. Using filters, post schedules and other tools can streamline your focus – something that I think all students need to be taught. Even though this may not be as applicable in the classroom, I do think this is an important suggestion for teachers and students as they grow to learn where they need to focus their attention when it comes to technology, and where they may need to reduce time “wasted”.

Photo Credit: eltpics Flickr via Compfight cc

There are also a multitude of apps and websites that are specifically designed to help students and teachers become less distracted – things like StayFocused, RescueTime or OmmWriter all exist to help reduce distractions and focus on the task at hand. All of these are suggested and reviewed in this blog post, along with 22 other ideas about reducing distractions brought about by technology. Ideas like changing your home page, turning off the clock, and signing out of chats during class can all help to relieve some of the additional distractions students face. It definitely won’t eliminate the initial distraction of them having their phone, but it can reduce the amount of time students will continually check and use their devices.

These suggestions may seem fruitless and minute, but I believe we need to start with baby steps and we need to learn how to manage, and not how to eliminate, these distractions. Using tools to learn self-regulation will not only help students focus more in the classroom, but it can help them understand their own problems with their devices and reduce these in the future when they are in university or at work.

If we start incorporating some of these ideas in our classrooms now, maybe technology won’t be as much of a distraction, and perhaps students will learn to cope with their own difficulties – and 10 years down the road when they forget their phone at work, perhaps it won’t be so much of a struggle to leave it there overnight. One can hope, right?

What are your thoughts and ideas on this problem and these solutions?

Posted in Direct Reading | 8 Comments

No-tech in a tech-world

Photo Credit: Jan Persiel Flickr via Compfight cc

When we initially decided in our first week that, after our introductory blog post, the first thing we would do is look into the cons of the use of educational technology, I knew that I would be able to speak amply about personal experiences. I will often try to use phones and technology in my classroom with tools like Google Docs, Google Classroom, Kahoot, Mentimeter, and PollEverywhere, among other things. However, I am finding that cell phones are becoming a real distraction in my classroom. Students are very much attached to their phones – to apps like Snapchat and Netflix – and are always tempted to use these things at inappropriate times. Although I do not believe in taking the phones away as it does not teach self-regulation, I often find myself leaning in that direction as it seems easier than truly dealing with the problem on top of everything else that happens during the day. These are struggles that I face consistently, and although I feel at times alone in the struggle, research notes otherwise.

As we have already learned, more technology does not necessarily mean better academic success. It is said that although minor amounts of technology have been noted to improve marks and knowledge acquisition, more does not always mean better. In fact,

Lots of computer time meant worse school performance — by a lot. – Anya Kamenetz 

Photo Credit: Gwenaël Piaser Flickr via Compfight cc

There are skeptics about the value of technology in the school. As is described in the article Tablets out, imagination in: the schools that shun technologythere are a variety of schools that have decided to completely reject technology in their environments, and they aren’t necessarily the schools you would expect. The article above notes a school in Silicon Valley, one where parents are often on the leading edge of technology in their own profession, that does not allow technology in the classroom. Rather, they would prefer to focus on the relationships you build at school, and the interaction between teacher and student. We teachers often refute this idea, saying that if we ignore the technology in the classroom and don’t teach our students how to use it, they will actually be at a disadvantage when they graduate, as they won’t have the digital skills required of them in our current 21st century technology-driven age. The schools noted in the article above tend to disagree.

Amico claims one of the reasons parents working in the digital industry are choosing a lo-tech, no-tech education for their children is that it teaches students the innovative thinking skills many employers desire. She adds that students weaned on technology often lack that ability to think outside the box and problem solve. – Matthew Jenkin

Silicon Valley isn’t the only place embracing these no-tech schools. In Morden, London, students under 12 are banned from technology including smartphones, television, internet, and movies. Afterwards, the school slowly integrates technology into the classroom, beginning with documentaries that have been approved by parents at 12, movies and computers at 14, and internet use at 16 years old. Why?

[T]aking a more considered approach to the use of technology in class allows teachers to help students develop core skills such as executive decision making, creativity and concentration – all of which are far more important than the ability to swipe an iPad or fill in an Excel spreadsheet –  Matthew Jenkin

These articles often cite how technology and constant access to Internet have lead to students needing an urgent sense of immediate gratification – something that doesn’t exist in the real world. Consequently, they say, the use of technology in the classroom in fact inhibits real learning and growth, and stifles the development of creativity, patience, innovation, and critical thinking skills.

Photo Credit: Christoph Scholz Flickr via Compfight cc

They aren’t the only ones who see technology as a con in our classroom environment. Nicholas Kardaras’ article Screens in Schools are a $60 Billion Dollar Hoax focuses on the business aspect of educational technology, and how this has taken over for the required learning and development of our students. Businesses have invested billions of dollars into educational technology (even though this articles notes this may be decreasing), and we are often distracted by the utopian ideals this technology promises that we don’t see the problems inherent within them. The time is takes to learn how to use and how to incorporate the technology is one thing, but then we get the hang of it, and something new, something better, comes out that yet again shifts the way we see things, and sometimes, this isn’t always for the better. According to Kardaras’ article, schools on already tight budgets – where they have to let go of teaching, assistant, or administrative positions within schools – are spending money on technology when it isn’t always the answer. He in fact speaks to the “Law of Amplification”, which explains that:

technology could help education where it’s already doing well, but it does little for mediocre educational systems. Worse, in dysfunctional schools, it “can cause outright harm.” […] “Unfortunately, there is no technological fix…more technology only magnifies socioeconomic disparities, and the only way to avoid that is non-technological.” – Nicholas Kardaras

That’s not all. Apparently, according to research cited in this article, students actually prefer lessons that aren’t always focused on technology, but rather on what the author calls “ordinary, real-life lessons”. So, why are we using so much educational technology, and how is it solving all of our problems? Is it actually solving our problems, or creating more?

Now, this is not necessarily how I feel about educational technology. Our goal this week was to look for articles that establish some of the negatives within this field – which is what I have cited previously. I still believe educational technology has a place in the classroom, and should have a place in my Social Studies classroom, but what this place is, I’m not quite sure. I want my lessons to be more engaging, and I do believe educational technology can help with this goal, but perhaps it is not the sole thing I need to change in my classroom.

What are your thoughts? Are the negatives too great? It is difficult when the week has focused on the cons – come next week, when we look at the pros of technology, perhaps then it will be time to re-evaluate and see where educational technology should fit within my Social Studies classroom.

Posted in Direct Reading | 8 Comments

And this makes 10

Photo Credit: Pricenfees Flickr via Compfight cc

One last time – right? I will admit, when I didn’t see any tech classes for this Spring/Summer session, I was pretty disappointed – I really wanted to end my Master’s degree with one of these #edtech classes. That is why I was really happy when Jen suggested I join her and a few others – Andres, Jayme-Lee, and Kyle – in a directed reading course this spring. That way, I can explore more pieces in regards to educational technology, but this time around more specifically in my field of teaching. A few others who have previously taken directed reading courses, like Krista Gates, have told me how it can be, at times, lonely because you are working through material independently. Generally, I think teachers are social individuals and enjoy working with others and collaborating – which is why I am happy that this directed reading is more of a mini-group class instead of a completely individual endeavour.

There evidently will be independent research being done throughout the course as we are all focusing on our areas of expertise. I personally wanted to focus on the use of technology in a high school French Immersion Social Studies course. I previously taught for four years in middle years and ever since I started working at Campbell in the fall of 2016, I have been comparing the use of technology in the classroom. Back at Wilfrid Walker, when I was teaching middle years, I could essentially get access to computers whenever I wanted them. This made the incorporation of technology easy enough – I had gotten my students on blogs and using Google Classroom successfully throughout the entire year. I am finding it more difficult in high school. It is much more difficult to get access to computers, and I find it more challenging when I only have the students for one semester.

Photo Credit: eltpics Flickr via Compfight cc

That is not to say there aren’t parts that are easier. When I would use tools like Kahoot in the classroom in middle years, I needed to book computers so all students could have access to the online quiz. In high school, especially at Campbell, all students (or at least the ones I teach) have cell phones, and therefore have consistent access to technology. They can access Google Docs and Google Classroom on their phones and, consequently, could also access any other mobile-friendly educational apps that can help increase engagement and motivation in my classroom.

I hope to learn more about how I can incorporate technology seamlessly in my Social Studies courses, all the while continuing to meet all of the objectives in our 300+ page curricula in a span of four and a half months. My Social Studies courses are in the afternoon, and I want to learn how to incorporate tools to increase the engagement, even when it comes to a mere six weeks left of school.

I’m not going to lie – I am having a very difficult time at the moment with phone usage in my classrooms. Through our previous courses, I understand how the phones aren’t necessarily the problem – I need to learn how to better manage technology so it does not manage me. I also need to get back into the zone of appreciating technology in the classroom, rather than being simply being frustrated by it and the difficulties I am currently feeling in my classroom.

Photo Credit: The Daring Librarian Flickr via Compfight cc

So, in the end, I hope to read and learn more about how I can use educational technology specifically in a High School Social Studies course to engage my learners all the while meeting the objectives set out by the extensive and content-heavy curricula I teach. I hope to regain optimism in regards to technology, all the while discovering solutions to current problems I am facing. My plan is to discover new education tech blogs, the 2016 Honor Roll of EdTech Blogs, and even some educational technology journals throughout the six weeks of this course to achieve my previously described goal of this directed reading course.

Well, I have to say, I am looking forward to one final Master’s class, and one final educational technology course with you guys!

Posted in Direct Reading | 4 Comments

Cheap-seat Tuesday is Back

Who else here loves movies? One our favourite date nights is going to check out the new movies at the theatre, eating some popcorn, and seeing some trailers. All in all, a pretty good night.

It also happens that I am incredibly “frugal”, and going to a movie every weekend starts to add up and becomes quite expensive. So what’s the solution? Obviously, cheap-seat Tuesday! Now, for most weeks, this hasn’t been possible because of our awesome EC&I 834 class, in which I learned so much about online and blended learning environments. So then, I figured, why not try to combine both of these things – going to the movie theatre, and my summary of learning?

So, what I tried to attempt this time around was an Edtech Pre-show. You know how, at the movie theatre, there is always a pre-show? This pre-show has questions the audience can answer and interviews about a movie that they can watch while waiting for the real  show to begin? Well, this is what I tried to emulate, and then follow-it up with what I feel is sometimes the best part about going to a movie, some trailers.

Because of transitions and everything I combined together, it is a little over the 7-minute mark, which I hope is okay because the combination of things did take me awhile to edit. Hope you like it!

I still do have so many questions about online learning and its place in my classroom – as well as my place in online learning. There is still a lot to be learned, but I am glad I got a glimpse into all the tools, LMSs, problems, concerns, and possible interactions that can be developed online. It has really made me reflect on my own teaching, and what I can do now to incorporate more blended learning aspects to my teaching. I thought at the start of the semester that I was doing such a great blended classroom because I posted all my assignments on Google Classroom – was I ever wrong! I learned the value of interactions, risk-taking, and most importantly, giving up control and allowing kids to create their own content to show me a few things. It is still “in progress” – I wouldn’t say I could start teaching online tomorrow without kinks – but I am more ready now than I was before.

Well, it has been a blast, everyone! Huge congrats to all the EC&I-ers that are now done their masters, like Ashley, Amy, Kirsten, Andrew and anyone else who is now finished their graduate degree. You all deserve it!

Posted in EC&I 834, Summary of Learning | 8 Comments

Course Prototype 2.0…

…is almost ready. A couple changes here, a few modifications there and bam! Course prototype for Social Studies 30 2.0 is ready to be tested.

Before I delve deeper into the feedback Katherine and I received for our course prototype, I first want to give a shout-out to everyone in EC&I 834 for the development of their prototypes. Just like Ashley, I too am grateful that I was able to see what others have created and I can only imagine all the work that has gone into the courses that were developed.

Photo Credit: One Way Stock Flickr via Compfight cc

Now for our course prototype. What a whirlwind! Although I am happy with the final product, I think Katherine, Katia, Alec, and I can all agree that perhaps Katherine and I had more difficulty understanding the project than we initially thought. It essentially became routine for us to ask questions at the end of every single Tuesday night class about this project, which Alec and Katia graciously always answered (thanks again guys!). In the end, I think we worked out something that could be used for online purposes, although there are still a few kinks to be smoothed out over time.

As we have mentioned in many previous blog posts, we decided to make a blended course environment for Social Studies 30. For our course profile, course descriptions (click here for unit 4), and assignments, we used Google Docs, and for our course shell, we used Google Classroom. Because we knew we had multiple assignments, we created two google classrooms to avoid confusion and an overwhelming set of assignments on all at one time. To access any of the documents, as well as the process to go through our course prototype, check out this link. It will give the login instructions to get into our Google Classrooms, as well as the step-by-step links if want to take a look at our course.

Warning: it is a bit heavy.

Photo Credit: szb78 Flickr via Compfight cc

Which was, in fact, our biggest piece of feedback coming from our colleagues. We would both like to thank everyone who spent the time to go through our artefacts and our course. We understand how difficult the task was – knowing we chose a very content-heavy curriculum that hasn’t been renewed in twenty years. No new outcome-based reporting and no up-to-date resources. Also, Katherine and I did misunderstand the assignment at first; we thought we each had to develop a module course profile – as you can see by my planning for unit 4 – and then afterwards develop a 15-minute activity/lesson within that course profile. Consequently, we have a very large course prototype for a very heavy 30-level, 300+ page, 200+ objective curriculum – daunting to say to least. So, in the end, thank you to everyone who went through our course and gave us some feedback; greatly appreciated!

There were a LOT of great suggestions and ideas that came from the feedback; when we initially started addressing all of these concerns, our response became just as long as our course prototype – so, to avoid another heavy assignment, we decided to go with seven major themes that were repeated throughout all of our reviews.

  1. The link to Tubaland (artefact) didn’t work. We tested each other’s links to ensure they were working before sending them to people for feedback and they initally did! However, we did not realize that without an @education.uregina email, our reviewers would not be able to view the Google Form (or at least we think that is what happened). We have changed the link so that anyone can now view it!
  2. Photo Credit: wuestenigel Flickr via Compfight cc

    Lack of teacher-student and student-student interaction in Google Classroom. This is very true, and a downfall to Google Classroom. Which is why we did not intend for Google Classroom to be the hub of discussion, knowing there was little interaction built into this LMS. Each student would have a blog where they would respond to various prompts throughout the semester. On Katherine’s Unit 2 module, she includes a blogging post about Canada’s staples, which requires students to interact, learn from each other, and provide each other with feedback. We wanted to use the various strengths of different platforms: Google Classroom is wonderful for providing immediate feedback and organizing assignments and WordPress blogs create opportunities for students to collaborate and discuss things in an online setting. We would also use Zoom for Unit 4, which allows for interaction between different Social Studies 30 classrooms. We find that discussion on Google Classroom is not fluid and students can have very limited engaging conversations, so this is why we used more than one platform for our course. However, we will be more clear about these intentions next time around. 

  3. Photo Credit: kodomut Flickr via Compfight cc

    Long paragraphs. Our course profile did have very long paragraphs which, we understand, must have been daunting to read. We were worried about this when we were elaborating our profile. We actually received different feedback about our long paragraphs; some reviewers appreciated the information provided, while others found it intimidating. We believe, in the end, this does come down to different learning styles and different teaching styles. Some appreciate longer paragraphs, while others prefer short bullet points – even we felt this throughout the elaboration of the course. I actually prefer paragraphs, while Katherine prefers concise bullet points. This is something we look forward to exploring further in the future and trying to manage to attain a balance that would fit most learning and teaching styles.  

  4. Confusing order of assignments – We acknowledge that there are confusing elements of this course. We believe this is partly because people providing us feedback could only view the online aspect of the course and missed out on the information we would provide face-to-face (or over Zoom). We struggled throughout the elaboration of the course prototype ourselves with the idea of a blended environment – we questioned how much information would be shared in person/over zoom and how much needed to be shared online. This is evidently a great learning process and something that we will review in the development of our next prototypes. We purposely chose to order our assignments as the Google Classroom LMS organizes them, having the oldest at the bottom and the newest at the top, because this is how it would look throughout the course (although we understand this may be confusing, and yet again, another difficulty with Google Classroom that we had not realized prior to the feedback). 
  5. Sorting assignments in topics – This is a fantastic suggestion; I had no idea this was even possible on Google Classroom! Definitely something that we would add next time to our course to help organize our assignments.
  6. Heavy prototype – We acknowledge we both had very heavy prototypes (as I previously mentioned in this post). This was due, in part, to the fact that the Social Studies 30 curriculum is very heavy (330 pages of heavy).  There are over 200 objectives that teachers are supposed to cover in this curriculum. However, we could have reduced some of the work and reading (especially in my unit… I tend to write and write and write, and this is not always beneficial. Something I need to work on in every aspect!). Because our program was so heavy, we really tried to create engaging and interactive artefacts. It’s a difficult feat to make economics and confederation exciting, so we really focused on making the content suitable to our grade 12 audience (puns, technology-use). This curriculum is very content-driven (other than creating a dialectic essay) and, as a result, can seem daunting.
  7. Additional step-by-step assignment guide for students – We had written up a step-by-step guide for our reviewers to follow along our prototype because we knew it was heavy and at times confusing. It was suggested that we do this for the students as well. This is a great suggestion and one that we will add to our next course prototype. At first, we didn’t feel it was necessary because of the blended aspect of the course, but it never hurts to add a written dimension to the verbal instructions given in class (particularly because of the different learners that exist!). This will also help those who may be absent for a face-to-face class or a zoom session catch-up on their own time.

Because I am already over the 1000 word mark, I will end this final course prototype summary simply by offering the links to all my previous posts about the creation process, from my initial planning stage, to the analysis of Canvas versus Google Classroom, to the decision on interactions within the course, to the final touch-ups.

Thanks again for all the feedback – and thanks to Katherine for being an awesome partner! 


Posted in EC&I 834 | 2 Comments

It’s the Final Countdown

Do you now all have that song stuck in your head? You’re welcome:)

Now, is it really the final countdown? Sort of – it’s the beginning of a longer final countdown as compared to usual. We still have a couple weeks until our final learning summaries are due, but our course prototype is just around the corner! Can you believe it?

Photo Credit: Flickr via Compfight cc

I know it’s been coming, and little by little I have been working away at all the finishing details. Ever since the first week of this assignment, when we initially posted of our plans, I knew what I wanted to do. Later, when we learned about the different platforms and the value of authentic discussions, I modified my plans and added pieces of information that enhanced my online course.

However, I will admit, putting every piece together now, in this final stage, is more difficult than I initially thought. I know how I want my lessons to go, and I know how and why I will be using certain tools and resources, and I know how I will be achieving the outcomes of the Social Studies 30 course. Writing all of this down, explaining it for a third party to understand, and organizing all the information properly in Google Classroom so that another person can get a sense of my plans is a much larger undertaking than I thought. Especially seeing as the course will be blended, I am assuming that during the actual course, many elements will be shared during the Zoom Conference Sessions, something that can’t be truly be emulated without that type of interaction.

There are also all the little details that are left – like posting the assignments on Google Classroom in the proper order (there isn’t a function on Google classroom to reorganize the tasks, unless you want to put an assignment at the very top of the list, which is what I needed to do when I missed an important assignment for the middle of my course module). I also kept putting off translating my assignments, as I had created a large majority of them in French for my current students. I therefore had to translate these assignments and rubrics into English for this course. I don’t know if any of you often translate things from one language to another, but I find it tedious and not a personal strength – which is probably why I put it off for so long!

Photo Credit: wuestenigel Flickr via Compfight cc

Nearing the end of this course prototype, one of the key elements I have left is to check all of my links to make sure they, first of all, link up to the right document, and secondly that they are all in English. Finally, I need to make sure they are accessible to everyone who has the link. On Google Docs, the default setting is for people to access the documents if it has been shared with them, so I will need to double-check to ensure that I have changed the settings so everyone has access to the documents if they have access to the link. Then I won’t be getting a lot of e-mails of people asking me for access to my Google Docs!

The final step is evidently getting together with Katherine to go over our course together and making sure we are somewhat aligned. I will admit (hopefully you agree with me Katherine…) that we misunderstood the assignment from the start. We ended up dividing up the entire Social Studies curriculum together, making a profile for that course. Afterwards, we divided the modules and each took one, which we subsequently elaborated individually – Katherine took unit 2 and I took unit 4. Finally, within these units, we each took a lesson to develop further. Consequently, we have gone in different directions because of the outcomes for our units, and we developed somewhat different courses, depending on the activities planned. Therefore, we really need to discuss our pathways this week and organize our two units as much as possible together. We are planning on creating one Google Doc that will house every link necessary for our unit, and organizing this Google Doc in order of how students would work through our documents. This Google Doc will be posted in the About page on Google Classroom, making it easily accessible. We hope we can organize it so a third party understands it easily without us having to explain it to them – I am finding this to be the most difficult challenge and hurdle with this course prototype!

Photo Credit: akintsy_photo Flickr via Compfight cc

So, as a summary, the final stages in putting together our course prototype include:

  1. Ensure that the details and organization make sense from a third party.
  2. Finalizing the little details i.e. order of assignments on Google Classroom, translate all necessary documents in English, etc.
  3. Make sure links work
  4. Make sure links are accessible
  5. Get together with Katherine and discuss how our two modules will look together.

What have I missed? Just like nearing the end of any module or unit, I feel as though there are details that I haven’t thought of yet – hoping there aren’t too many before I receive some of your feedback next week!

Looking forward to seeing all of your prototypes. And, don’t forget, it’s the Final Countdown:)

Posted in EC&I 834 | 8 Comments

Yay or nay?

When we were first given the blog prompt this week, I was really excited to explore this topic further, but also a little overwhelmed. There are so many possibilities that can be discussed, and I wasn’t exactly sure where to start.,

What changes when we bring class discussion activities (whether that be blogging, forums, Twitter, etc.) into open online spaces?

As we have previously seen in this course, discussion forums and activities are incredibly important for the development of a community. Jen had a great post just last week on engaging students in online communities. So far in the class, we have been primarily addressing these spaces in closed formats, where only the students in the class have access to the discussion forum. However, when we change these parameters and create open online spaces, a lot of the dynamic elements of these discussion forums also change, for both the good and the bad.

My experiences

Photo Credit: Pricenfees Flickr via Compfight cc

Prior to analyzing how open online spaces can change the classes that I teach, I think it is important to look back at my own experiences within these learning environments. I have taken a lot of online courses, mainly through the Moodle LMS, but very few included open online spaces. Most included closed discussion forums where only the students and teachers involved in the class could participate. I liked these because I felt as though I could express myself more freely. Although it was online, I knew that few people had access, and these few people and I had similar educational backgrounds. This meant that perhaps they would understand what I was saying and there would be less confusion with my messages. However, it did limit the amount and types of interaction, which also limited the possibilities for deeper learning.

It is thanks to these EC&I classes that I was first exposed to open online spaces, including blogging and tweeting. Although these spaces do risk being attacked by trolls and they can open up students to possible negativity and criticism, they do allow for more connections to be made. I have been able to grow my PLN through the use of Twitter, and not only with students in the EC&I class. I have been able to learn much more through these connections made with other individuals in both the teaching profession and beyond.

Photo Credit: The Daring Librarian Flickr via Compfight cc

I have used blogging with students before, and this did initially cause concern with parents. They did worry about online individuals getting into contact with their children, which is a very valid concern, and something that we communicated with parents and students. This lead to discussions regarding digital identity, and what to expect and how to react. However, to limit possible harm, we never used last names and in the end there were no issues.


I do believe that online spaces make digital learning experiences more authentic. It allows for more unfiltered discussions with diverse experts in the field and more unplanned experiences. Although these may not always be perfect, I think that is what makes them authentic.

Photo Credit: torbakhopper Flickr via Compfight cc

Is this possible to re-create in closed forums? I think this entirely depends on the context, the participants, and the community developed in the online forum. I think sometimes in closed discussion forums we limit our answers and feedback to one another, sometimes focusing too much on the material and what the professor is looking for in our answers. This is not always the case, but it depends on the environment and community. I believe authenticity is easier to achieve in open forums, but yet still possible in closed ones. That being said, it isn’t always guaranteed in open forums either. This depends on the connections made, how much is being put out there, and who is seeing it. I think authenticity is easier to create in some open environments as compared to others (i.e. Twitter versus blogging) because of the wider audience.

Future plans

So what does this mean for the classes I will teach in the future? I do think online open learning environments change according to the class you teach, the needs of your classroom, and the grades you teach. My current high school experiences are far different than what I experienced in middle school. However, I wouldn’t generalize what different grades can do online – I think a large part is the actual class of students you have and the context in which you are teaching. Every classroom is different, even if they are technically the same grade.

Photo Credit: professor.jruiz Flickr via Compfight cc

I think, currently, the possibilities are endless for the integration of open course environments. I do think because I teach high school – and grade 12 courses – it may be easier to incorporate some of these environments because the students already (often) have experience with social media and online environments. That being said, I do think there are still safeguards and criteria that need to be put into place, even with grade 12 students. Prior to any online learning environments being developed in my classes, I think it is vital to teach about digital literacy and citizenship, and speak to the digital footprint we are leaving in our environments. If these were put into place, I do believe that administration would support our choices, particularly if we had communicated the value of the online learning environments and connected them with our curricular outcomes. I think this also helps with the parent and student buy-in, as they realize not only the practical applications of participating in online open discussions, but also the value in our curriculum to the learnings that can transpire online. Even though there may be negative consequences, I think if they are contextualized, we can learn from them and understand how to be better digital citizens in our 21st century.

What does need to happen, however, is for me to develop the courage to try this out. I have to be willing to explain my choices to my administration, parents, and students, to defend the value of online learning environments in face-to-face classes, and I have to be ready to meet opposition in this quest. Anything worth doing takes hard work, and society would never evolve if those in our past hadn’t taken risks and pushed our environments. Now it is our turn to do the same for our future societies.

What do you think? Yay or nay to online learning environments in face-to-face classes? Let me know below!

Posted in EC&I 834 | 8 Comments