Welcome to my Blog!

Hello and welcome to my blog. It is here that I will be working through various discussion topics related to technology, learning, and most importantly the creation of meaningful and relevant student instruction. I openly welcome your comments, and hope that my insights and presented information works to inspire and assist fellow educators in the effective integration of technology.

In Barcelona with my Girls!

In Barcelona with my Girls!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Project-based Learning and Hypotheses: An Effective Thinking Adventure!

As society’s ever-expanding love affair with technology continues to blossom the growing influence of technological innovation and its role within student instruction in today’s classrooms continues to be a hot topic of discussion. Clearly the changing nature of business necessitates the purposeful use of technology-based activities in the classroom consequently teachers need to adjust the manner in which they approach the effective development and delivery of classroom instruction.  Through their actions to actively recognize the full instructional potential of educational technology teachers are now making the pedagogical shift necessary to positively affect student achievement.  Now in making these instructional changes teachers must remain cognizant of the need to use of a variety of instructional strategies with students up to and including constructionist theory based strategies involving project-based, problem-based, or inquiry-based approaches. In examining the features of classroom instruction involving project-based learning it is important to note that the foundation of this instructional strategy is, as Han & Bhattacharya (2001) note, built on Jean Piaget’s theory of constructivist learning which asserts that “knowledge is not simply transmitted from teacher to student, but actively constructed in the mind of the learner” within a meaningful context.  In working to link this theoretical definition with the effective creation of learning tasks involving the generating and testing of hypotheses opportunities do undoubtedly exist for teachers to actively engage students in prediction or ‘what if’ type tasks entailing the construction of personal knowledge. 

In examining the attributes of effective constructionist instruction some teachers may lack experience with project-based learning and are consequently left wondering why they should adopt this method of teaching.  The simple answer, according to online project-based website Edutopia (2011) is that “project-based learning is a dynamic approach to teaching in which students explore real-world problems and challenges. With this type of active and engaged learning, students are inspired to obtain a deeper knowledge of the subjects they're studying.  In building upon this description the use of project-based learning experiences encourages students and affords them the opportunity to be effectively guided through the investigation and learning process.  Within project-based instruction students are encouraged to ask high-quality questions, generate hypotheses and predictions, observe and evaluate information, and finally, as Orey notes, generate some form of external artefact which demonstrates understanding and is able to be effectively shared with others as a means of demonstrating growth in learning (Laureate Education, Inc., 2011).  Now given the ever increasing focus on effective technology integration and the use of real-world learning experiences, upon reviewing a selection of online project-based learning websites including Edutopia: Project Learning, Project-Based Learning: The Online Resource for PBL, and NASA Solar System Simulator it is apparent that technology can assist teachers in linking instruction with students’ innate curiosity about their surroundings and how things operate. 
Obviously the use of technology such as these web-based resources further enhances the refinement of 21st century skills and works to encourage students to learn with technology as opposed to from technology.  Now this desired learning shift, as Pitler, Hubbell, Kuhn, and Malenoski (2007) note, facilitates students incorporating personal knowledge into the technology-based decision-making process whereby they are able to see the possible outcomes of their personal hypotheses within virtual situations capable of providing “incredibly engaging learning environments, resulting in increased [student] motivation and retention in learning” (p.212).  Glazer (2001) echoes this research when noting how project-based resources offer students opportunities to purposefully generate and test hypotheses by allowing them to “examine evidence about a particular topic and then respond to an issue or make a decision from a particular point of view”.  Now generally when people hear the word hypothesis their minds may or may not automatically zoom off to the realm of scientific discovery, however Pitler et al. (2007) notes that this is not necessarily the case and that in fact the strategic development of hypotheses “is applicable to all content areas” (p.202).  In using hypotheses as an instructional strategy the generating process builds upon the foundation of constructionism within project-based learning by effectively enhancing students’ interactions with information and promoting, as Orey observes, the first-hand application of knowledge in the creation of learning artifacts (Laureate Education,, Inc., 2011).  In developing project-based scenarios involving hypotheses students are actively engaged in higher order thinking requiring them to make predictions, explain their learning, and then draw and express conclusions based upon their findings.  This meaningful interaction with information throughout the completion of the task assists students in linking pre-existing and newly introduced information.

Clearly when implemented efficiently project-based learning involving hypothesizing draws on the inherent motivation of student curiosity, offers an element of challenge, and provides the higher level ‘thinking’ experiences needed to empower students to become active consumers of information capable of tackling real-world problems through critical problem-solving and group collaboration.  In getting students actively thinking about the information they are examining, whether with or without the use of technology, teachers are able to encourage the development of meaningful learning connections and the proficient recall of information by their students.  In closing the use of hypotheses in conjunction with constructivist instruction challenges students with meaningful activities designed to, as Glazer (2001) concludes, “address broader learning goals that focus on preparing students for active and responsible citizenship” - which is ultimately what effective teaching, is all about.


Edutopia. (2012). What Works in Education.  The George Lucas Educational Foundation. Retrieved from http://www.edutopia.org/project-based-learning.

Glazer, E. (2001). Problem Based Instruction. In M. Orey (Ed.), Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology. Retrieved from http://projects.coe.uga.edu/epltt/.

Han, S., and Bhattacharya, K. (2001). Constructionism, Learning by Design, and Project Based Learning. In M. Orey (Ed.), Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology. Retrieved from http://projects.coe.uga.edu/epltt/.

Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (2011). Program seven: Constructionist and constructivist learning theories [Video webcast]. Bridging learning theory, instruction and technology. Retrieved from http://laureate.ecollege.com/ec/crs/default.learn?CourseID=5700267&CPURL=laureate.ecollege.com&Survey=1&47=2594577&ClientNodeID=984650&coursenav=0&bhcp=1.

Pitler, H., Hubbell, E., Kuhn, M., & Malenoski, K. (2007). Using technology with classroom instruction that works. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Cues, and Questions, and Advance Organizers...Oh my!

In taking a cue from the Wizard of Oz the use of instructional strategies such as cues, questions, and advance organizers (as opposed to lions, and tigers, and bears) as well as effective summarizing and note taking helps students more clearly recognize information connections and works to assist students in becoming information ‘wizards’.  In looking closely at the essential purpose of these instructional strategies in relation to classroom usage they are to provide mechanisms which assist students in organizing and storing information in long-term memory so that it can be accessed later to effectively solve problems.  As Pitler, Hubbell, Kuhn & Malenoski (2007) highlight in their research on strategies which help students acquire and integrate learning, instruction which “focuses on enhancing students’ abilities to synthesize information” (p.119) allows students to analyse and organize information in a manner that is personally meaningful.  Now in identifying a correlation between these identified instructional strategies and cognitive learning theory this element of meaningfulness is important because it speaks to a critical factor in promoting long-term memory and the retrieval of information.  Cognitive learning theory centers on the premise that meaningful information is stored in a structured fashion within short-term and long-term memory, and that information is accessible through the development of learning connections established through active interaction.  Meaning, in simplified terms, the more connections that are developed the more likely it is that the information will be stored and then retrieved when needed.  It is in identifying this need for purposeful interaction with information and the development of learning connections that the incorporated use of effectual instructional strategies, such as cues, questions, and advance organizers as well as efficient summarizing and note taking, correlates directly with the tenets of cognitive learning theory.

Now simply possessing subject knowledge will not help students learn and retain new information unless they are able to connect to this information and effectively apply it when needed.  By using instructional strategies such as those noted teachers can effectively activate background knowledge and help their students focus on what they will be learning, and in doing so influence what students will learn by assisting them in generating connections between the information they already know and the information they will need to know.   An example of this is in the use of advance organizers which makes learning more meaningful to students by effectively helping them learn new material by relating it to personal experiences and prior content knowledge in a visual format.  This visual format appeals to students in that they are able to get creative and express their thoughts in a manner which makes sense to them.  In terms of effectiveness the use of advance organizers within instruction efficiently addresses multiple learning modalities which as Orey highlights allows information to be internalized within multiple learning networks thereby increasing the probability of long term memory and the likelihood of information being recalled when needed (Laureate Education, Inc., 2010).  Through their actions students are able to pinpoint their efforts and develop further information links which may assist them in remembering information. In using advance organizers such as concept mapping programs like Kidspiration students are motivated and given an enjoyable method to collaboratively brainstorm and recognize new ideas whilst developing their maps. Concept mapping affords students the opportunity to evaluate information and communicate their thoughts more efficiently thereby allowing them to enhance their knowledge of the initial topic.  Likewise having the ability to take meaningful notes and summarize information in an effective manner allows students to structure and understand content information easier, this again speaks to the need for purposeful interaction.  As Pitler et al. (2007) observe, an effective method for note taking is one which incorporates “outlining, webbing, and pictographs in addition to words” (p.124).  In generating these useful notes students are able to take information and synthesize it into a form that is easier to process using their own words.  Being able to effectively synthesize and elaborate on information helps students build those much sought after cognitive learning connections and allows them to integrate new knowledge that much easier.

In identifying the benefits associated with using cognitive instructional strategies to enhance student learning they are countless. Through their effectual use student creativity is encouraged, comprehension is increased, and most importantly the degree of engagement is raised as learning becomes more meaningful to students. In utilizing instructional strategies such as cues, questions, and advance organizers as well as efficient summarizing and note taking teachers are able to assist learners who may have a wealth of information related to a topic but may need help in recognizing how everything is connected.  In actively working to draw on background knowledge and allowing students to personally represent information in a manner that is meaningful students are able to evaluate and organize information in the interest of reaffirming learning connections.  Clearly these strategies encourage students to be active in the learning process and build upon the cognitive goal of providing meaningful opportunities to interact with information so as to encourage retention, i.e. learning.


Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (2010). Program five: Cognitive learning theories. [Video webcast]. Retrieved from http://sylvan.live.ecollege.com/ec/crs/default.learn?CourseID=6289937&Survey=1&47=8834938&ClientNodeID=984650&coursenav=1&bhcp=1.

Pitler, H., Hubbell, E., Kuhn, M., & Malenoski, K. (2007). Using technology with classroom instruction that works.Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Behaviourism, Technology, and Classroom Instruction

As the continued rate of societal change and technological innovation works to place a greater emphasis on the development of 21st century skills involving critical thinking, expert communication, and students’ abilities to effectively collaborate and utilize technology, today’s classrooms teachers are actively rethinking the manner in which they interact and instruct their students.  In looking at 21st century skill development The Partnership for 21st Century Skills (2011) cites the Programme for International Student Assessment in defining ICT literacy as “the interest, attitude, and ability of individuals to appropriately use digital technology, and communication tools to access, manage, integrate and evaluate information, construct new knowledge, and communicate with others in order to participate effectively in society” (p. 4).  In citing this information and recognizing the very apparent need for instructional change teachers are left to question whether learning theories utilized successfully with past generations, such as behaviourism, are as relevant and applicable to current instructional practices.  In light of society’s changing views on learning one is left to question whether there is a place for behaviourism within current education given the increased push for the successful integration of educational technology?  In answering this question I believe so, and in carefully reviewing various technological resources and looking at the educational strategies of reinforcing effort and homework and practice, an instructional connection between these strategies, B.F. Skinner's concept of behaviourism, and the utilization of technology resources indeed supports student achievement and promotion of learner success.

Reinforcing Effort

Reflecting on my time in the classroom I, as a teacher, have always been a strong proponent of positive reinforcement and believe an encouraging word can do wonders in the classroom!  As a means of motivating students to achieve their best the use of positive reinforcement works to build on the self-esteem of students and allows them to see the value inherent to their actions.  In looking at the methodology of behaviourism its beginnings can be attributed to behavioural psychologist B.F. Skinner whose theory of operant conditioning, as discussed by Orey (Laureate Education, 2011) centers around the theory that learning only occurs as a result of a stimulus response, be it positive or negative.  Building on this concept Pitler, Hubbell, Kuhn, & Malenoski’s (2007) research on effective instruction and technology use supports this behavioural theory and recognizes that the positive reinforcing of student effort is an important factor in achievement, and can work to “enhance students’ understanding of the relationship between effort and achievement by addressing [students’] attitudes and beliefs about learning” (p.155).  In taking the reinforcement of effort and adding in the element of technology, the use of digital resources can, as Pitler et al. (2007) note, allow students and teachers to more easily identify the connecting link between class effort and achievement levels due to the provision of immediate feedback and the tracking of the effects of effort.  In utilizing technology such as data spreadsheets as a visual tool within the reinforcement process, students are given the opportunity to track and see first-hand the correlation between their grades and the level of effort they put forth.  Again Pitler et al. (2007) note, “a powerful way to convince students that effort is truly tied to achievement is to show them data – not just data on themselves but also combined data on the groups they associate with” (p.161).  From a behavioural standpoint this sharing of data with students works to influence behavioral change by providing students with visual information and a source of stimulus needed to maintain learner performance, or if required garner the sought after learner changes, i.e. the student sees their low performance rating, becomes motivated to change, and subsequently learns they need to apply themselves more efficiently if they want a better grade. 

Homework and Practice

Thinking back to my days in grade school homework was a given and generally involved reams and reams of photocopied worksheets and a multitude of textbook pages.  Back then I just thought my teacher was mean; it is only now that I am on the other side of the desk that I can see that the perceived benefit of her actions was not the crushing of my social life.  The intended purpose of homework and the repeated practice of classroom concepts is that students gain proficiency by being given frequent opportunities to review materials and apply what they have learned in the interest of gaining a better level of understanding.  In relating the use of homework to Skinner’s (as cited by Laureate Education, Inc., 2011) operant theory the stimulus for learning, and improving, is garnered through students observing their level of proficiency increasing on continued assignments.  With repeated practice the hope is that students begin to observe that the speed or ease with which they complete questions or tasks has improved; and that they appreciate and are motivated by the fact that learning has taken place.  In looking at the changing nature of homework within current classrooms with the advent of instructional technologies, Pitler et al. (2007) observe how “technology facilitates homework and practice by providing a wealth of resources for learning outside the classroom, making it easy for students to work on collaborative homework assignments and providing ‘drill and practice’ resources that help students refine their skills” (p.189).  Through the use of a variety of instructional tasks teachers are able to assign homework which utilizes a range of learning technology and software.  Be it word processing assignments, spreadsheet development, communication software, or the creation of multimedia projects, homework has been taken to a new level of student interaction - a level which allows teachers to target learning objectives, increase student engagement, and scaffold their instruction to accommodate multiple learning preferences and student diversity, be it cultural, linguistic, or academic.  In reviewing a variety of electronic resources, such as webMATH and online keyboarding, many are constructed on a behavioral foundation in that students are challenged to correctly work through various tasks and if they fail to perform correctly they receive some form of feedback and are given the opportunity to attempt the task again. Technological resources vary in terms of complexity but the constant in design is that students are afforded the opportunity to review and practice skills, and then apply their learning in an interactive fashion.  As Pitler et al. (2007) highlight, the integration of technology, specifically web resources into instruction “allows students to practice concepts and skills repeatedly from their homes, during a study period, or even as an anchor activity within a differentiated classroom” (p.195).  Teachers are quick to recognize that technology has an immediate appeal to today’s digital minded students generally as a result of its ability to engage and provide immediate feedback with relation to the garnering of mastery level understanding, i.e. students enjoy the task, learn the needed skills, and ultimately work to master the online resource.  Clearly the integration of technology as a homework tool affords teachers the opportunity to utilize resources that reaffirms learners’ actions, allows for differentiation, and builds learning exponentially whereby students can progress along a learning continuum of novice to expert activities and tasks whilst receiving immediate constructive feedback throughout the learning process.  In offering possible resources that facilitate the greater integration of technology into instruction, the Black Gold Regional Schools "Engaging Students" home page  (http://engagingstudents.blackgold.ca/) offers a wealth of online resources for students in k-12, special education, and home-based learning.  In helping with the development of the resource I can speak first-hand when I say it is a great resource and there is virtually something about most concept strands including webquests, online tools, and Smart Board resources.
There is no denying that the learning needs and expectations of today’s students have shifted. Current instruction must now be capable of addressing 21st century skills if it is to meet society’s changing requirements of learning.  In recognition of this fact classroom instruction and resources involving aspects of behaviorism, though a dated theory of learning, will continue to assist teachers in the promotion of learning behaviors, and allow students opportunities to further develop and reinforce their understanding of instructed concepts, including the sought after 21st century skills.  Ultimately in analysing current instructional strategies and the increasingly prevalent use of technology resources with students, the meaningful inclusion of behaviorist teaching techniques and resources as a means of promoting desired learning behaviors will, despite societal change, continue to be a part of the learning process by contributing to the delivery of effective classroom instruction and assisting students with concept retention through repeated practice.   

Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (2011). Program four: Behaviorist learning theory [Video webcast]. Bridging learning theory, instruction and technology. Retrieved from http://laureate.ecollege.com/ec/crs/default.learn?CourseID=5700267&CPURL=laureate.ecollege.com&Survey=1&47=2594577&ClientNodeID=984650&coursenav=0&bhcp=1
Partnership for 21st Century Skills. (n.d.). A Report and Mile Guide for 21st Century Skills. Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved from http://www.p21.org/images/stories/otherdocs/p21up_Report.pdf.
Pitler, H., Hubbell, E., Kuhn, M., & Malenoski, K. (2007). Using technology with classroom instruction that works. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.