Using Technology to Support students who are Hard of Hearing

Hearing loss and deafness have many causes including among others trauma, genetics, and ear infections(American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, n.d.).  Hearing loss can also  occur at any time in ones life. Some hearing loss is congenital, meaning it is present at birth, some hearing loss occurs slowly over time, and some occurs suddenly.  Whatever the cause, hearing loss causes difficulties for students in an academic setting.

When I was a young child of about three, my brother adopted the neighbour lady as his and thus my grandmother.   Shortly after her adoption by my brother she became a family friend.  Her and her husband moved into a housing complex for people who were deaf or hard of hearing as the facility operators.  I used to love to go visit because I had learned to finger spell and introduce myself in ASL so the residents used to show me off and teach me new things.  To me, at that age, sign language was a wonderful new adventure but I did not understand the implications of having a hearing deficit in a mostly hearing world.

My first exposure to teaching a student with a hearing loss came during the time I was studying to become an educator and was tutoring on the side to pay for school.  The daughter of my Mum’s friend had had fraternal twins who were born prematurely.  The boy had to be put on a ventilator and as a result of the air pressure had hearing loss.  After I had been working with him for about a year he got hearing aids and was being encouraged to learn sign language.  I had never seen such anger from a third grader before.  He didn’t want to be different, even though it would help him.  He wanted to be the same as everyone else and he felt that having to sign or having someone sign to him during class would mark him as other.  Which is a common concern noted among children who use the FM system at school (Franks, 2008).

My second exposure to teaching a student with a hearing loss came two years ago.  I had a girl transfer into my grade 7 math class who had just recently been diagnosed with a hearing deficit, which after the testing was complete appeared to have been with her since birth.  She is a remarkable person in her own right but I admire her greatly for what she was able to achieve with no  technology or accommodations being made for her.  She was an honours students through the sheer will to succeed, she lip read what the teachers were saying, copied everything down that was written, looked off the notes of her seat mates, asked for help when she needed to.  During the year , we got use of an FM system called a sound field.  FM is the abbreviation for frequency modulation and is a common form of radio transmission.  The FM system amplifies whatever is said into the microphone and outputs through a speaker that is either external or internal to the hearing aids.   With that small addition to the classroom she became more animated in class discussions.  She told me that she felt more confident to participate if she knew what was going on. The only drawback was the speaker was large and heavy so it was only used in two of her four academic classes which were across the hall from each other.  She was without support in all of her other classes. At the end of the school year, she finally recieved her hearing aids and now had a FM system that went directly from a teacher microphone to her hearing aids.  While I know it is better for her, I do miss the class speaker because I felt it focused everyone more and I know my voice liked the lack of strain necessary to be heard.  Research has shown that using sound field amplification can also help students who experience short term hearing loss due to ear infections, English Language Learners and students with Attention Deficit Disorder(Millett, 2008).  It is unfortunate that it is not possible to have both systems in the classroom following the concept of Universal design, where what is good for students with disabilities of any kind is good for everyone Millett, 2009)This year I was fortunate to have her in my grade 8 math class.  This year she is even more active in class discussions and more outgoing with school events.  It is interesting to see what one small technology can go to help change a students ability to be more successful.

Here in Alberta, students with any learning needs require an Individual Program Plan (IPP) to talk about the modification and adaptations that need to be in place for a student to be successful.  Because of her need for the FM system and Hearing Aids, this student needs an IPP.  Part of the process of an IPP is creating goals to help the student be successful at school.  She is already been successful and needs little support to use her new technology to continue to be successful.  So her IPP becomes  one of self-advocacy instead of teacher driven.  Even though this student requires no more support than talking two seconds to put the FM microphone around your neck, the teachers, who will teach her in the fall, were noticeably unhappy when notified of her audiology meeting.  I can honestly say hers is the easiest accommodation I have ever had to make.  I have also been notified that I will also have new student in the fall that is also hard of hearing.  I am interested to see what is similar and what is the same for this new student.  Each child is different, so the label hard of hearing is not a label that defines what challenges or triumphs you will experience while working with the student.  I think of the educational categories as adjectives like short or tall.  While these adjectives give you some vague notion of what to expect they really tell you little.  I guess that is why I Love teaching, every day and every student you teach is a new adventure.  As teachers, we must look to how we can help all students to be successful because “fair does not mean equal” (Wormeli, 2006) and it is our job to find what can make the playing field for our students as fair as possible, and in today’s society means finding the technology that best supports our students.

As I do not have access to the FM system during the summer I found a video that shows the difference between what school is like for a student with a hearing impairment with and without an FM system.

Another new technology I found is TediSubtitle which has the TED talks with subtitles.  It is a $0.99 app that will allow students with hearing deficits and even my English language Learners to match what is being said with the words in the subtitles.  I am looking forward to using it in my classroom this year.

American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (n.d.) Causes of Hearing Loss in Children Retrieved from

Franks, Jennifer Lynn, “Why Do Students with Hearing Impairment Resist Wearing FM Amplification?” (2008). Master’s Theses and Doctoral Dissertations. Paper 205.

Millette, P (2008) Sound Field Amplification Research Summary.  York University

Millette, P. (2009, November) What Works? Research into Practice:  Using Classroom Amplification in a Universal Design Model to Enhance Hearing and Listening. Research Monograph 23 Retrieved from

Pediatric Audiology Project (2010, September 27) Hearing Loss in the Classroom [Video file]

Wormeli (2006) Fair Isn’t Always Equal: Assessing & Grading in the Differentiated Classroom. Portland, Maine: Stenhouse Publishers


Anyone Care to Salsa? Mini MOOC design

This week in CEP811 we were tasked with using the goal directed instructional design as defined by Yelon to create an outline for a course.  The work of Yelon closely resembles the work I have done at a number of Professional Development sessions on Understanding by Design(Wiggins & McTighe, 2005).    This mini course outline could be on any topic, but it had to be a specific type of course called a MOOC.  A MOOC, pronounced MOO k, stands for Massively Open Online Course.   In order to get more knowledge about what goes into a MOOC we were directed to the Peer to Peer University or P2PU and a course entitled “How do I make a P2PU Course?”  This was not my first exposure to MOOCs as I have been involved in the Game Elements for Learning MOOC (GE4L)through the Canvas Network  and the How to Learn Math with Jo Boaler through Stanford University.  I have really loved the no pressure format, where you get out of the course what you put into it.  I know that I have not learned as much as I could have due to also taking CEP811 and CEP812 at the same time, but I have learned something new to take back to my classroom.  There are only so many hours in a day and, as the MOOCs were free, I chose to prioritize time spent on them lower than time spent on courses I paid for.

When trying to decide what I would make as my MOOC, I spent a long time thinking about what I knew that I felt I could transfer through this medium.  I decided to create an introduction to Salsa, dancing that is.  I started dancing Salsa over five years ago and even though I grew up doing ballet and tap I was intimidated.  The routines are fast, difficult and full of tricks.  I felt for a long time that I could not do that, so I didn’t.  I do not remember why I decided to start but I am glad I did.  I love the social aspect of the dancing and have keenly felt the loss as I have not been able to dance for over 3 months due to a dislocated knee.  I can not wait to be going back soon.

So here is my outline for my mini micro MOOC. Here is some music to inspire you, it will pop up in a separate window and you just need to press listen.
In my “Anyone Care to Salsa?” course, my non-salsa dancing peers will master the basics of Salsa timing and the basic Salsa step by progressing through a series of lessons and sharing updates and problem solving with their peers online.

Course Topic: Introduction to Salsa Dancing on One

Course Title and Photo: 

Anyone Care to Salsa?

Course headline

Photo by Razvan Orendovici

Who is coming to your course? Why would they want to participate in this experience?

Learning to dance seems to be a stigma for many people.  This course would attract people who would like to dance salsa but feel like they are not capable of learning. Salsa dancers, the kind seen in performances, are very intimidating due to their high level of expertise.  They seem to be very fluid and their dance routines at this level are very technical and difficult.  When looking at those dancers entry into this dance form seems very daunting for many non-dancers and non-salsa dancers alike. This course provides an entry point into the world of Salsa dancing. In this course students will learn the basics of salsa dancing thus increasing confidence to reach a point where they will feel comfortable seeking other dance lesson opportunities.

What do you want learners to be able to do when they are done?

By the end of the course, participants will be able to count the beats in a Salsa song and use those beats to perform the initial Salsa Basic on one.  The Lessons are scaffolded (Vygotsky, 1978) to help participants reach mastery learning as discussed by Bloom (1974).  Dancing is a great example of mastery learning because you learn individual moves which are added together to create a pattern which in turn are put together to make a routine .  The great thing about Salsa is that no matter what your level, once you have mastered the basic step it is possible to dance through an entire song.  This idea that one concept allows many participants different but equally valid entries into an experience is a concept that is seen in the work of Marian Small (2012) in mathematics education.

How do those activities hang together as a course? How long is your course experience?

This course is a self-paced course that runs for approximately 4 to six weeks.  There is practice that needs to occur between each lesson to ensure that the previous concept is solid enough to be a foundation for the subsequent skill.  The course will consist of diagrams , videos, and audio files to support student learning.  As well, a discussion board that will be available for peers taking the course at the same time to ask questions, seek feedback , and offer suggestions will be available.

Course outline


Brief introduction to where Salsa Dancing comes from, the different variations that now exist, and the identification that this tutorial will be on one.  This lesson will also talk about appropriate footwear in order to Salsa dance safely.

Lesson 1: Introduction to salsa counting

This lesson will include Salsa counting  (1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7) and why the 4 and 8 are not usually said.  This lesson will include salsa music with the counting overlaid over the music as well as clips of song to practice counting .  If feedback is desired, recording of counting to these clips could be uploaded to the discussion board for feedback from instructor and peers.

Lesson 2:  The basic step. 

This lesson will show foot position for both masculine and feminine partner.  There will be demonstration videos the show how the foot positions change as the count changes.  This lesson will include very slow, slow, and medium speed songs for practice.

Challenge Lesson 1: Nuances of the basic step

This lesson extends the technique of the basic step by talking about weight transfer.  It will also include songs with medium and faster speeds to practice to.  This lesson will be optional for those that are finding ease with lesson 2.  This lesson is not necessary to progress in the rest of the course.

Lesson 3 Dancing with a partner

This lesson will demonstrate the difference between closed and open hold when dancing with a partner.  The concepts of lead and follow will be introduced as well as the responsibilities each of these positions holds in the partnership.

Challenge Lesson 2 Basic outside turn

This lesson will talk about the hand signal that indicates a turn.  This lesson will explore Placement of hand signal to identify turn for masculine or feminine partner.  This lesson will also explore the timing of the hand signal to allow the partner to be ready to execute the turn on time.  This lesson is not necessary to progress in the rest of the course.

Final Project

Create a video that allows the viewers to hear you count to the beat of the music as well as see your feet perform the basic step 3 times in a row without losing the timing.  This video could be sent just to the instructor or posted on the discussion board for feedback on peers depending on the comfort level of the students.
Creative Commons License
Anyone Care to Salsa by Amy Tetz is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
Bloom, B. S. (1974). An introduction to mastery learning theory. In J. H. Block (Ed.), Schools, society, and mastery learning. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.

Orendovici, Razvan (2010, June 5) [Photo file] Retrieved from

Saraya (2011, July 18) [Audio file] Retrieved from Jamendo at

Small, Marian (2012), Good Questions: Great Ways to Differentiate Mathematics Instruction, Second Edition. New York, NY: Teachers College Press

Vygotsky, L. (1978). Interactions between Learning and Development. In Mind In Society (M. Cole, Trans., pp. 79-91). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press..

Wiggins, G. and McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding by Design, Expanded 2nd Edition.  Prentice Hall.  pg 13-33.

Yelon, S. L. (2001). Goal-Directed Instructional Design: A Practical Guide to Instructional Planning for Teachers and Trainers. Michigan State University: Self-published, Not in electronic format.

Cartesian Plane/Coordinate Grid and Squishy Circuits Activity Centre

In last week’s blog I repurposed the game Stratego and my Squishy Circuit makers’ kit to create an activity centre that relates to the outcomes in the Grade 7 Mathematics Program of studies for the Province of Alberta.  Specifically I am going to link this activity centre to Specific Outcome 4-Achievment Indicators 2 and 3; and Specific Outcome 5-Achievment Indicators 2, 3, and 4.

grade 7 program of studies

This week I am going to walk you through the learning theories that support the use of this activity centre for student development, what some possible uses for this game board are, including the affordances and constraints (Watson, 2004) this activity center offers.

Squishy Circuits, Stratego, and Embodied Mathematics

Everything we learn, including what we learn about mathematics, is learned through our experiences in the world, or related back to previous experiences.  The English language is full of metaphors that map one domain of experience onto another.  For example, I received a warm hello, maps the domain of temperature onto the domain of social interaction, the hello isn’t warm in temperature but positive feelings are warm because of their relationship to being warm when held.  Feeling being perceived as warm could also be due to activation of neural circuits associated with warmth.  Mathematics, like the English language, also uses conceptual metaphors to link understanding of concepts to already known understandings (Lakoff & Núñez, 2000).  Take the number line, for example, numbers do not actually exist in a line, however, thinking of them in this manners makes some of the more advanced mathematics easier to understand.  The arithmetic grounding metaphor of motion along a line allows understanding of positive and negative integers even though numbers do not occur in lines.

This embodiment of mathematics does not just extend to the actually doing of something but also to using the body to highlight what your mind is thinking about while doing mathematics.  A study out of University of Rochester conducted by Susan Wagner Cook (University of Rochester EurekaAlert, 2007) looked at the use of gestures in teaching.  Her study looked at teaching the same lesson using speech cues, using speech and gesture cues, and just using gesture cues.  The retention of students with gestures alone was ninety percent as opposed to only thirty-three percent from the group with speech cues alone.  Interesting to note was that the group who were taught with gestures alone had retention of ninety percent as well.  This seems to reinforce the idea of Confucius; “I hear and I forget.  I see and I remember.  I do and I understand. (n.d.)”

While this activity centre will not be the first exposure students will have to these concepts, it will be  a new example of the concept to help to occasion a “firm foundation of factual knowledge” (Bransford, Brown, & Cocking, 2000, p. 20). .  Students learn best when there is enough redundancy that a pattern emerges so that they can construct and generalize their own pattern.  It encourages capability not specific ability (Ernest, 2004). It is also important that students are the doers in their quest for understanding and the activities need to take into consideration what makes each learner unique (Bransford, Brown, & Cocking, 2000).  By having students use the wand them are actively locating the points and during activity three they are physically embodying the tranformations in the movement.

Game Board Information

The game board has two sides, one red, and one blue.  I punched holes into it to create a 4 quadrant Cartesian plane as in grade 7 students need to work with in all four quadrants.  I marked the x and y axes in the center of the board respectively so that each quadrant consists of four lights horizontally and three lights vertically, not including the lights along the axes.  I have not numbered the axes for two reasons.  The first reason is by not numbering the axes it is possible to use the game board from both directions affording me the opportunity to create two versions of the same activity.  The second reason that I have not numbered the board as this creates the opportunity for students to figure out how the axes would need to be numbered based on their present frame of reference, either from the red or blue side.

photo (4)

Activity One

Activity One is based on Specific Outcome 4- Achievement Indicator 3.  This achievement indicator says that students need to be able to identify a point given its coordinates in any of the four quadrants.  Activity One and Activity Two are not sequential and may be done in the reverse order.  In Activity One, I will create two sets of cards (one for the blue orientation and one for the red orientation, that give students a coordinate pair that corresponds to a single LED on the board.  Students will need to locate that specific LED and touch it with the wand so that the Squishy Circuit is completed and the LED lights up.  Students will then record the colour of the LED at that location.

The LEDs are arranged in such a fashion to help me provide feedback as to what challenges students are having.  That is to say, none of the other possible errors have the same colour LEDs so that I can determine if they are having trouble with the direction of movement along the x axis, the direction of movement along the y axis, or direction of movement along both axes.

The cards will start with points in the first quadrant to tie the new learning back to their understanding of graphing in quadrant I from grade 6.  It is important that we tie learning back to prior knowledge in order to help students connect new learning to old conceptual understandings. (Pirie & Kieren, 1994).  Moreover, the difficulty of the cards will increase from points in the first quadrant, to points in the other three quadrants, to points along the axes.  By increasing difficulty as the student progresses, the student’s learning is scaffolded (Vygotsky, 1978) by allowing students to build their confidence before tackling more difficult questions.

Activity Two

Activity Two is based on Specific Outcome 4 –Achievement indicator 2.  This achievement indicator involves students identifying the location of a given point.  In this activity students will locate a LED of a specific colour and record the location of the LED using an integral ordered pair.  By allowing the students to choose which of the many lights of a specific colour to identify, it allows students to have agency (Gee, 2005)  in this activity.  Agency is feeling like you have the power to accomplish your goals.  The proceeding principles help students to foster this feeling of agency.  Agency brings motivation to achieve more as the belief that success is possible is there (Walshaw, 2001).  Gee (2013) also talks about providing ways for people to feel that sense of agency in what they are doing to allow them to use digital tools smartly.

Activity Three

Activity Three is linear as it build on the knowledge of Activity One and Two.  This activity focuses on the Specific Outcome 5- Achievement Indicators two, three, and four.  It pushes students to inventise (Pirie & Kieren, 1994) their understanding of coordinate geometry in new ways that occasion the possibility of pushing the zone of proximal development (Vygotsky, 1978)for each student, thus deepening the understanding of the mathematical concept.  While this activity meets all the criteria for achievement indicators two and four, it only meets the initial criteria for achievement outcome three as it focuses on a single point instead of a 2D shape.  In this activity student begin to investigate the transformational concepts of translation and reflection.  The concept of rotation is not included as while it is possible, rotation of the objects is more difficult than could be attempted by students alone.

Part A

Students will be asked to choose pairs of LEDs and then determine the horizontal and vertical distance between them.  This allows students agency to be able to choose a pair of LEDs that they feel they will be successful at obtaining the distance between them.

Part B

Students choose an LED to start at and then select a card that states a translation to perform.  Students use the want to navigate the grid and then record the location of the location of the LED after translating the wand tip according to the card selected.  As the starting point of the LED translation is random some of the translations given will move the students off the grid.  Students need to be reassured that that could happen and encouraged to write why the translation is impossible on the current grid instead of the final location.  If students can extrapolate the location of the point that is off the grid, that should also be encouraged as it shows greater facility with the understanding of a Cartesian plane and moves their understanding from Enactive to more Symbolic in nature (Bruner, 1966).

Part C

Students again choose an LED to start, and then using a MIRA students reflect the point across the y axis, x axis, the line y=x and the line y=-x.  These choices are arranged in difficulty from least to greatest and the progression will be student dependent.  Once students understand how the reflection works using the MIRA they will be encourage to replicate that understanding without using the MIRA.

NEW approach to Cartesian Geometry

For the last five years, I have been teaching this unit using dot-to-dot puzzles that the students have told me they enjoy.  In the past, my idea of integrating technology into this unit took the form of computer versions of the same activity or computer games built on the same premise.  After watching the TED talk by Richard Culatta (2013), I feel that there needs to be new versions of activities created by leveraging the power of technology not just digital version of the old ones.  This ties into the video by Mishra and Koehler (2008)in which they talk about how creativity makes things NEW all in capitals which stands for ideas that are Novel, Effective, and Whole.  I feel that this activity is certainly novel, which I hope will spark motivation in my students.  Play testing on my family showed that it has the potential to be effective.  This activity also meets the definition of whole in that the technology is an integral part of the activity and not just an add-on.  The activity would not be complete without the Squishy Circuits, nor the Squishy Circuit lights without the activity to give it a reason to be useful.

Bransford, J., Brown, A., & Cocking, R. (Eds.). (2000). How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School: Expanded Edition. Washington D.C.: NAtional Adademy Press. Retrieved from

Bruner, J. (1966). Towards a Theory of Instruction. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Confucius. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Culatta, R. (2013, January 10). Reimagining Learning: Richard Culatta at TEDxBeaconStreet. [Video File]TEDxTalks. Retrieved from

Ernest, P. (2004). Postmodernism and the subject of mathematics. In M. Walshaw (Ed.), Mathematics education within the postmodern (pp. 15-34). Charlotte, N.C.: Information Age.

Gee, J. P. (2005). Good Video Games and Good Learning. Phi Kappa Phi Forum, 85(2), 33-37.

Gee, J. P. (2013). The Anti-Education Era: Creating Smarter Students Through Digital Learning (IBooks ed.). New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.

Koehler, M., & Mishra, P. (2008). Teaching Creatively: Teachers as Designers of Technology, Content and Pedagogy. [Video File] SITE 2008 conference. Las Vegas. Retrieved from

Lakoff, G., & Núñez, R. (2000). Where Mathematics Comes From How the Embodied Mind Brings Mathematics into Being. New York: Basic Books.

Pirie, S., & Kieren, T. (1994). Growth in Mathematical Understanding: How can we Characterise it and How Can We Represent It? Educational Studies in Mathematics, 26, 165-190.

University of Rochester EurekaAlert. (2007, July 28). Hand Gestures Dramatically Improve Learning. Retrieved from ScienceDaily:

Vygotsky, L. (1978). Interactions between Learning and Development. In Mind In Society (M. Cole, Trans., pp. 79-91). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Walshaw, M. (2001). A Foucauldian Gaze on Gender Research: What Do You Do When Confronted with the Tunnel. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, 32(5), 471-492. Retrieved from

Watson, A. (2004). Affordances, Constraints, and Attunements in Mathematical Activity. Research in Mathematics Education, 6(1), 23-34. doi:10.1080/14794800008520128

Why People are Stupid

anti education eraThis week in my CEP812 course we were asked to read the preface, Chapters 1, 2, 3, 7, 10, 15, 16 of the book by James Paul Gee (2013) entitled The Anti-Education Era: Creating Smarter Students through Digital Learning.  I will preface my summary and discussion about this reading by saying that I had already read this book for a previous master’s course so while I will try to keep my thoughts to the first part of this book, I may stray over into the second part at times as it is difficult to separate something after you have read it together.

While in CEP810, I was fortunate to be able to listen to James Paul Gee talk live about his book.  It was a wonderful talk as he highlighted what he felt was most important about the key concepts of the book.  I have embedded the video here as it will give those of you who have not read the book some context for the title of this blog, Why People are Stupid, as well as for what is to follow.

What limitations prevent us from solving big complex ideas smartly?

I will start with a quote from the preface of this book that will set the stage for this discussion.  Gee (2013a) states that he is intrigued “by how a species named for its intelligence (Homo sapiens: wise or knowing man) can sometimes be so stupid.  Depending on how you look at it, humans are either marvelously intelligent or amazingly stupid” (preface, par 1). While being stupid as a species is nothing new, Gee challenges that the consequences of our species being stupid in the present are more catastrophic due to the more complex nature of today’s global world.  Gee is a proponent of harnessing the power of digital technology to improve our ability to solve big problems, but caveats technology use with the idea that technology alone will only make use dumber, how we use it needs to change in order to become smarter through the use of digital technology.

The first limitation that prevents us from solving big complex ideas smartly is the difference between what the education system is presently and what it needs to be to support learners at the start of the 21st century.  He questions what education needs to look like to produce a person who is “a producer and not just a consumer, a participant and not just a spectator, an agent and not a victim in a world full of ideology, risk, fear, and uncertainty”(preface, par 28).  Gee believes that focusing on school policy and school reform will not change the system.  To change the system the focus must move from skill and drill based school to schools that focus on what students need to know to be active participants in making their life, their community, and the world better.  By having agency (Gee, 2005) in their life; students will participate more fully, make what they do count, and thus in Gee’s opinion become smarter.

The second limitation that prevents us from solving big complex ideas smartly is the perception that technology by itself will fix society with no effort on our part being necessary.  Gee argues that in order for technology to help make us smarter it needs to be a tool used by people to connect themselves in spaces for cooperative learning, which during his book talk he called “affinity spaces”(2013b).  He also discusses that the gap between richer and poorer kids is widening due to the education debt (Ladson-Billings, 2006).  Students who are in lower socio-economic standings have less exposure to the skills necessary to use technology to make us smarter, those of “innovation, system thinking, design, technical learning, and using technology for production” ( Gee, 2013a, preface, par 32).  He highlights this gap as one of the ways that education has lost sight of its mandate to provide means for all people to equally participate and count in our society.

The third limitation that prevents us from solving big complex ideas smartly is the concept of having an opinion and then having evidence to back up that opinion.  Gee states that most people only look for evidence that supports their point of view.  He urges that in order to able to solve big complex problems smartly people need to look for information that not only supports their claim, but evidence that disagrees with that point of view in order to find evidence to strengthen or change their previous opinion.  Gee believes that to be smart, we need to extend beyond what is comfortable and familiar to find new or more complete knowledge through the wisdom of others.  Then and only then, through the respectful interchange of well supported ideas is it possible for old ideas collide to let new ideas emerge that are a combination of what is best or smartest from the old ideas.  Gee cautions, however, that when looking for support for our opinions we must look for the quality of the information we are using.  In order to create smarter solutions the quality of all the thoughts needs to be the best we have to offer as a global community.  Gee also challenges the idea that educational institutes, especially at universities and colleges, are frozen in their thinking and do not welcome and at times actively seek to suppress the idea of questioning the status quo.  Those that initial start with new innovative solutions to problems are slowly forced to give them up to become part of the very institutions they seek to change.  This concept reminds me of the first part of Newton’s first law of motion.  When I googled it I found this version of the law that I feel best highlights my point “An object at rest will remain at rest unless acted on by an unbalanced force” (Louviere, 2006).  The reason I like this version of the law is that educational institutions are bodies at rest, very little has changes since their inception, and it will take more than just a little force but an unbalanced force for them to change.  It will take a large group of people who desire the change at the same time in order to enact any change in the system.

The fourth and last limitation that I want to highlight, though there are more to consider, is the idea that while people seek simple solutions to problems to complex situations, it is embracing the complex solutions to complex ideas that is necessary to solve them.  In order to do this all of the disparate parts need to work together on a common goal.  Gee urges us to refocus ourselves to view what is different about us as strengths to use together instead of things to keep us apart.  To be willing to pool all our knowledge from different disciplines, cultures, and ways of life.  To be willing to use all tools at our disposal, both new and old, to see a solution.  Moreover, he urges us to move past critiques of what is to posit realistic solutions of what could be.  Gee has stated that in order to solve big complex problems smartly the world must move from individual categories based on religion, race, sexuality, political leanings, culture, academic discipline, and opinion to a singular group.  A move that Gee posits will return us to the meaning of the name Homo sapiens.

My thoughts on the Anti-Education Era

Since I started my journey in the graduate level education courses two years ago I have been reading the work of James Paul Gee.  I gravitated towards his work as my Master’s Capstone project was looking at the theories behind creating a math multi player online roleplaying game.  The work of Gee figured highly in the development of that work.  This book was a departure from hs previous work at first glance.  At first glance, this book seemed more abrupt and I was a little put off by the concept of people being stupid.  After thinking about why as a linguist he would choose the languaging he did, I started to get to his underlying message.  We as a group are stupid, I do not know how many committee meeting I have gone to where nothing was different at the end of the meeting than it was at the start.  Committees seem to be more about saying you are doing something than actually doing something.  I think this is in part to most committees being created of like-minded people.  Thus with no diversity, as identified by Gee as imperative, no new ideas can emerge.

After re-reading part 1 of this book, I marvel at how stupid we as a group of people have become.  I also marvel at how much difference people will have to let go of in order for us to start to solve big complex problems smartly.  In a world that seems to thrive on labeling everything that makes us different, in order to become smarter we must let go of the labels that separate us from each other in order to use that diversity as food for change.  The biggest limitation, I believe, is convincing people that letting go of labels will not make them less, but would make our world more.

(not sure what is going on with the spacing of my references, as I can not get them to separate)

Gee, James Paul (2005). Good Video Games and Good Learning.Phi Kappa Phi Forum, 85 (2), 33-37.

Gee, James Paul (2013a) The Anti-Education Era: Creating Smarter Students through Digital Learning [Ibook edition] New York, NY: Palgrave MacMillan

Gee, James Paul (2013b, June 5) TTT#352 James Paul Gee on The Anti-Education Era [Video file] Retrieved from YouTube

Ladson-Billings, G. (2006). From the Achievement Gap to the Educational Debt: Understanding Achievement in U.S. Schools. American Educational Research Association Annual
Meeting, (p. Presidential Address). San Francisco, CA
Louviere, G. (2006). Newton’s Laws of Motion. Retrieved from Georgia Louviere’s Website:

Squishy Circuits+Thrifting+Stratego+Math=Fun

During our introduction to CEP811 we were asked to look at four different kits and pick one. I decided to pick the Squishy Circuits because its price point was one that I am sure my school could afford. Moreover, electrical circuits are part of the grade 9 science curriculum here in Alberta, so I felt if nothing else I could transfer my knowledge of Squishy Circuits over to my science colleagues.  The second part of the challenge came in the form of needed to find a second-hand item to repurpose using the Squishy Circuit kit.  We explored the idea that much of what is used in education is repurposed from other uses, using a video of a presentation done by Mishra and Koehler(2008) about the interrelation of Pedagogy, Content, Technology and Context that they refer to as the TPACK or the Total PACKage.  In this blog I have tried to highlight how I combined the technology of Squishy Circuits with the content of mathematics and the pedagogy of immediate feedback and diagnostic learning to create an activity to use in the context of my class.

The first thing I did was go to the Squishy circuit site, link is above, and watched the videos about using the squishy circuits.  I spent time to watch them all to ensure I had a firm grasp on what the makers of Squishy Circuits had originally envisioned for their product.  I then moved on to making the playdough.

play doughMaking the playdough was easy enough.  The recipes were in the box of Squishy Circuits but they are also available on their website.  I had all the ingredients in my kitchen so that was a bonus.  I make the conductive dough first.  It required it to be made on the stove using medium heat.  The instructions say to stir continually but I stopped to snap this pic and it turned out just fine.Then it asks you to knead in the extra flour into the dough.  CAUTION contents are hotter than you would expect.  This is not an activity for children as the dough is very warm to the touch.  I will admit I let it cool for 2 or 3 minutes before proceeding but every once and awhile I would hit a spot that was still warm.Then I moved on to the insulating dough.  This dough does not require heat so it can be made by children.  Note, this dough smells and tastes great so you will probably need extra of this dough if your students as of the type that would eat their project materials.  The dough called for one and a half cups of flour but this was not enough for the humidity here.  At one and a half cups a flour all I had was a sticky mess.  I added almost another cup of flour to the dough to make it useable.  Keep that in mind when you are making your dough so you don’t just have the one and a half cups of flour on hand.

Then I started to play with the dough, LEDs, and the batter pack.  I tried to recreate all the activities I had seen in the videos.  Below are some examples of what I did.

play6 play5 play4 play3 play2 play1

The last thing I did when I was playing was design the following item.  I used this for inspiration for my final project but more on that later.  Watch this video to see what I came up with while playing with the squishy circuits.

After playing, I started looking for more  ways people had used squishy circuits.  I found some good sites with ways to teach all about electricity.There are a few sites I’d like to highlight.  The first is  Learn 2 Teach, Teach 2 Learn for their game to build a squishy circuit in a monopoly kind of way.  The second website I would like to highlight is Sean M Elliott’s Theoretikos.  On this page in his blog he runs through his lesson plan for teaching about electricity with squishy circuits.  The third site I would like to highlight is Bay Area Scientists in Schools Presentation Plan by Chuck Cusumano. The fourth and last site I would like to highlight is How to make a Rube Goldberg Machine with a Squishy Circuit an activity often done by the grade 8 students at my school in science.  I also found many websites where the students created animals or other creations with the dough and pieces.  However, I did not find any math activities, not to say that they are not out there but my search yielded none.

thriftingI have set my focus in my master’s courses to try to always link back what I am doing to my classroom.  So I thought and thought about how I could use my squishy circuits in my math classroom.  I decided that because the squishy circuits are so fun to play with they would lend themselves best to a game, but which one was another challenge.  Enter the next part of this week’s challenge, thrifting.  We had to figure out how to repurpose a second-hand item to create our project.  So off to our local Value Village for a look at what I could find.  I was thinking about Batttleship when I went, but luck was not on my side as no Battleship game was there.  so that left me looking through the rack to find my item.  Way in the back behind other items I found the game Stratego, still in its package.

The rest of this blog will be a how to create your very own version of my Cartesian Plane Squishy Circuits Board.  Here in Alberta, Finding points on all four quadrants of the cartesian plane is a skill for grade 7, however I know the grade level of this skill changes depending on where you live.

Step 1

Find a game board that has straight lines running horizontally and vertically.  I found Stratego but I am sure a checker board would work equally as well.

Step 2

Cover the back of the board in duct tape as the moisture from the playdough will seep into the game board otherwise.  Another great repurposing for duct tape.

Step 3

Find a box the same size as your game board so that the LEDs’ wires can hang straight down.  The box also helps keep the playdough where it belongs, more on that later.

Step 4

Using a hammer and a large nail, punch holes into the board at the intersection of the lines.  You want the holes to also go through the cardboard box to allow for the electrode wire to remain straight to ensure it is in the conductive playdough.

holes in board

Step 5

Flip the game board so that you can see the back.  Lay out the conductive dough along the holes and link it up on one side.  Put the insulating dough into the spaces between the conducting dough to prevent short circuits if the dough is squished together once the board is attached to the box.

lines of power

Step 6

This step is the most difficult, so you may need an extra set of hands.  You need to line up the game board onto the box so that the holes line up again.  I put a toothpick through the holes on opposite corners to help with the lining up.

Step 7

Bend the negative lead from the LED up beside the LED and then put the positive lead through the hole.

photo (4)

Step 8

Take a piece of rubber tubing that reaches across your board in all directions.  Cut the tubing down one side and stuff the tube with conducting dough.  Ensure that the dough make a continues chain, to ensure the electricity has a path to travel.  Then tape up the tube, make sure you can get back into the tube as the playdough will need to be changed when it dries out.  Ensure to leave both ends of the tube open as you will need contact with the dough at both ends.

cut tube full tube

Step 9

Put the positive electrode from the battery pack into the conductive dough on the game board.  Put the negative electrode into one end of the dough filled tube.

Step 10

Create cards that ask students what colour the LED is at a particular set of coordinates

Step 11

Turn the battery pack on and start playing.  Below is a video where I quickly demonstrate my game.  I would encourage you to get your game board before you order you LEDs as I ended up with 3 fewer LEDs than I needed.

I am excited to use this game in my class.  I started to arrange the LEDs in such a way that I could tell if the students was mixing up their x or y coordinates but I soon realized that I did not have enough of the appropriate colours to do so.  I will need to order more LEDs in the appropriate colours in order to make the diagnostics of this activity quicker for me to complete.  For example I would put a blue LED at the point (+1,+1) then I would put a green LED at (-1,-1) indicating the student is having difficulties moving in both x and y.  I would have a purple LED at (+1, -1), this telling me the student is having trouble with moving using the y coordinate.  I would have a yellow LED at (-1,+1) to let me know the student is having difficulty moving with the x coordinate.  Carefully planning this in advance and having a cheat sheet of what the colours will mean diagnostically will mean quicker feedback for the students and more information for me about each student with which to plan further activities.

Koehler & Mishra (2008) Teaching Creatively: Teachers as Designers of Technology, Content and Pedagogy [Video file], Retrieved from Vimeo

And we are off

Finally had time to dig into the Game Elements 4 Learning MOOC.  I wish I had this information about 2 months ago when I was working on my Master’s capstone project on this very topic.  When I started this project over two years ago finding information was more difficult than it is now.  I am encouraged that these game elements will have positive effect on student motivation.  I want to be able to dovetail my love of computer gaming with my love of teaching math and see what could happen.

Adding Mixed Numbers with Unlike Denominators

I will start by saying that three minutes sounded like a long time when I first got this assignment but it turns out it is not…either I am long winded or I just had a lot to say.  After editing the video multiple times I got it down to 3 minutes but  I am sure I glossed over many points so I will go through the points again here after the video for clarity. I chose to explore how technology could support student learning of adding mixed numbers with unlike denominators.  I originally was looking at adding and subtracting mixed numbers with unlike denominators as this is the final end game for grade 7 students here in Alberta with fractions but I found that subtraction didn’t fit into my three minutes so I paired it back to just addition.

While most of my students master the individual skills that combine to solve this problem, putting them all together into one problem seems very complex to most students.  Then to add to the complexity there is more than one way to get to the final answer.  This problem becomes more than just a solution to a math question, it becomes equally about organizing work for others to follow it, being able to show thinking in such a way that it doesn’t cause students to lose where they are in the question, and about the ability to recognize that multiple ways to do something can be all valid choices. Koehler and Mishra (2008) state that in order for students to solve complex problems the require “flexible access to, and application of highly organized systems of knowledge that must continually shift and evolve based on the contexts within which they are applied”(p. 4).  I would like to get my students to a place where they have multiple ways to solve a problem and the ability to decide when each solution is most useful.

I started my quest to find a technology to support student learning by exploring many versions of mind maps.  However, I found that creating math number sentences and formulae were difficult and in some almost impossible.  Then I turned to Microsoft Word because it has the equation editor embedded into the program.  I use the Smart Art feature in Word, quite often for many different uses.  In this version I liked that I could set up the steps running down the page, as this is a skill many of my friends that teach high school math have said they wish their students arrived with.  Additionally, I like the ability to colour code the steps to fit with different skills.  This provides students with a visual cue to remember what skill is required next.  Moreover, I could create a different template for each path with little effort, as all I would need to change is the colour coding.  My school has a digital assignment drive where I could house these templates.  Then students could download the template to their own drive for use.  With different versions available, students could self-select which path of skills worked best for them or even try an new path, with  the visual support there to get started.  Furthermore, using Microsoft Word would allow me to quickly scaffold (Vygotsky, 1978) for student learning needs.  I could make the version with the most scaffolding first, then delete supports until all the scaffolding is removed.  With all the different versions in the digital assignments drive, students would have the availability of selecting a template that supports them to be successful.

Something that I did forget to talk about in the video, is the set of paths would not be given to the students but created as a class from the work students do as we are working through the first versions of these problems.  If a particular path was not identified, I would pose “is it possible to” questions such as is it possible to solve the question if you put the skills in different orders, is it possible to separate these skills and not do them together, to foster the exploration of what skills need to be used together and which can be separated.  I see this activity as one way for me to be 36 places at once, to help support students as they tackle this complex problem.

Koehler, M.J., & Mishra, P. (2008). Introducing TPCK. In AACTE Committee on Innovation and Technology (ed.), Handbook of Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge (TPCK) (pp. 3-29). New York: Routledge.

Vygotsky, L. (1978). Interactions between Learning and Development. In Mind In Society (M. Cole, Trans., pp. 79-91). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.