A beginning…Soon

So I am finally caught up in all the other areas of my life enough that I can start to dedicate time to my learning project. I plan on learning how to code an arduino robot. I had already picked up the kit for a student a few years back and so here is a picture of all the stuff I am about to lug home. More to come in the days ahead.

With Gentlenes and Respect

This week’s assignment for my ECI 831 class was to write about either dealing with fake news, digital identity or how social media could be a force for good or evil in the world. I found it a tough choice, but I decided to look at the fake news because as a science teacher it is the one that I have to deal with the most.

Science is not like most subjects, while most subjects (other than math) have things that are subjective, science is supposed to be about objective fact, so what possible fake news could there be? You would be surprised, well not likely. There are the fairly harmless moon landing deniers, all the way to the much more serious climate change deniers and then straight into the endangering us all territory, the anti-vaxers. All of these are my everyday students. They come to class with their already established world views and they have their social media bubbles protecting them. So how do I go about teaching them about how to be critical consumers of the information around them? How do I get them to change their minds? And how do I know I am right anyway? It is these questions that I will explore in this post.

I will actually start with the last question I posed. How do I know I am right? Well the truth is I don’t. But as a science teacher and someone who tries to use the scientific method, I am very confident that I am correct (at least on these three issues). To start with I have to explain that most people think science means technology and that is not true at all. Science is a method of trying to get at the truth of something by trying to identify all the stuff that is false and then whatever is left is held as truth. If you have never heard the scientific method described like this check out this video below.

So when I say that I am confident that I am right it is because I have invested my energy into trying to prove that I am wrong. The longer that I cannot do that the more confident I become in my beliefs. This is one of the ways that I use for myself when trying to determine if something can be trusted. I look up the best evidence against it and analyse the evidence to see if there is anything to it. The tricky part is deciding which information to give more weight to and which to discard as invalid, or less important. That is were I really liked the concept of “Four Moves and a Habit” for formalizing into steps a lot of what I was doing already.

  1. Check for previous work.
  2. Go upstream for the source.
  3. Read laterally.
  4. Circle back.

That now brings me to the title of this post, “With Gentleness and Respect.” I teach in a k-12 Christian School with about 40 kids per grade. This means that I know each of the high school students by name, I have taught their older siblings, and will teach their younger ones. Many of their parents I am friends with and know outside of the school. So for me relationship plays a part in this. I could bombard the student with overwhelming evidence that their point of view is wrong, but I have to look at what it is that I am trying to accomplish and ask is that the best way to go about it? Dr. Alec Couros mentioned in class last week that research shows people actually become more entrenched in their own views when confronted with opposing information.

“You’re still wrong, Dad.” (Watterson 6/17/1990)

As Shelby reminded us in her post we need to take the emotion out of the situation. At the start of the year in each of my science courses I talk with the students about how science works, how it is a truth discovery technique and also about how we need to feel safe to ask questions. I take time to setup guidelines with the students about how to disagree with each other without getting angry. I have a quote up on the wall that says, “Always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,” This is a quote from a book in the Bible, 1 Peter 3:15. I tell the students that this does not just relate to their faith, but to everything. Any time they think something is incorrect they are to treat it with gentleness and respect, and this means being humble enough to admit when we are wrong. After all if you get into a huge arguement with someone you are still going to have to sit in the same room as them for almost every class for possibly another 4 years. It is better instead to humbly and respectfully say I disagree with that because of x, and if you do not have a reason to say that you disagree, and it is just emotion then remember that it is okay to change your opinion based on new information.

Via: Giphy

So in summary, my approach to teaching the students about how to evaluate whether something is true is to:

  1. Use the scientific method, try to prove that it is wrong.
  2. Use the 4 moves and a habit to evaluate sources of information.
  3. Treat things with gentleness and respect. Be humble enough to admit when we are wrong.

Does it always work? No, I will sometimes have students tell me that they know the “correct” answers for the test and that they disagree with it. With that said though I know that they have heard the correct information, that they have engaged with it and for many of them it is simply a matter of time. In the meantime I have not destroyed relationship and they are still willing to talk with me about their beliefs and what things they are thinking through.

Thanks for taking the time to stop by and read this.

Regaining Balance -LAFOIP

If you have not read my previous post about LAFOIP, start with that.

Okay welcome back. So I have continued to look into this and have also received some emailed links about this from family members who were interested in this topic. What I have found is that school divisions are allowed within the law to continue to use an online product if they feel that it complies with LAFOIP. The process that they go through is called a Privacy Impact Assessment (PIA). I have found two resources from other school divisions in other provinces, one in BC by Qualicum School district, and the other a whole using google document guide for Alberta schools. So what this means is that if my school (and school division) feels that information is safeguarded enough we can use it. There is not a law that states we specifically cannot use these tools but we must do so in a mature and well thought out manner. This seems much less scary than before. Of course we want organizations in authority to be protecting the information of the students, and to be holding themselves to the highest reasonable standards in regards to privacy.

Now as to whether or not I can continue to use google classroom for marking papers still I do not know. The PIA isn’t even started, and while I suspect that we like other divisions would find google to be a justifiable and manageable risk, there is not that guarantee.  For now I will comply with what I have been told and want for more guidance from higher up the food chain.

Thanks for reading.

Thrown Off Balance by LAFOIP

On Tuesday evening in my ECI 831 class we looked at how to incorporate more social media and open media into our classes. On Wednesday I spent some time looking through some of the readings and thinking about the given discussion topic, thinking about concerns in the digital (social media) age.  I was thinking along similar lines to Marley in making sure that I followed the SAMR model and that it was more than just digital substitution. I found myself also thinking along the lines of Roxanne about all of the unique opportunities that it would bring to the students. Also I finally found something in one of the articles that made me say out loud, “yes I want to do that!”. In John Seely Brown and Richard Adler’s article Minds On Fire, they talked about using blogs as a way to bring in genuine peer review and how it elevated their students work. I have been looking for something exactly like that in my senior science classes. Then on Thursday I was told by my vice-principal that we may have to re-evaluate our google classroom use in light of LAFOIP. She had just come back from a vice-principal meeting and one of the focuses in the meeting was about the ethical storage of student records and identifying data. She talked with me because I am the head of the technology committee in our school and also am the learning leader in charge of student data.  Then after school I went to a learning leader meeting at the board office and while we discussed many trends within the division and goal setting, etc, we also discussed LAFOIP and we were especially cautioned about social media use. So that has caused me to start to ask some different questions than I was before this, and it has derailed many of my thoughts prior to Thursday as I have been trying to sort out what does this all mean?

To start with many of you likely do not know what LAFOIP is. It stands for, “The Local Authority Freedom Of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.” The opening statement within the act states:

An act respecting a right of access to documents of local authorities and a right of privacy with respect to personal information held by local authorities.

From my understanding, and this is based on only about 10 minutes of a meeting and and hour of research so it is not extensive, this act is to protect individual rights and to ensure that the authorities that they deal with are taking their digital security seriously. There is a decent overview of it done by SaskSchoolsPrivacy, an organization that helps school’s understand their legal requirements. They also have a nice summary video.

Basically you should only collect what you need, store it securely, make sure only people who actually need it can even access it, and destroy it once you no longer need it.

So how does all of this apply to social media and to google docs? Doesn’t this just affect how we store student information, and things like report cards? Well not exactly. Anything that is produced by a student or a teacher is a record. That means that we are responsible for how those “records” are stored and accessed and what they contain. While I do not yet understand all of the implications, I was told that we need to make sure that only those who need the record have access to it. Here is where something like google docs comes in. Since I cannot guarantee that google employees, advertisers, etc might somehow have access to the information in the document, and I cannot guarantee where the file is stored, or how to access it in case of a request for information I should be very careful about what I use cloud storage for.  Now my entire high school staff is distributing and collecting assignments via google classroom through google docs and google drive, so this seems like a concerning piece of information. The positive is that I have been advised that for now I can continue to do assignments in this way as long as there is nothing too identifying within the shared documents, their name and grade is okay. A family tree assignment or personal reflection is not okay.  So for now it seems like I can continue to use google classroom. I have been told that I should not be making any comments on the assignments that they hand in which is really annoying. Apparently the comments are specific feedback, like a report card, that would have to be stored securely and I cannot control the google doc record 100% and therefore should not put confidential information there. All of this was verbal layman advise and not legal council so I also do not know if it is 100% correct. It is certainly something that I am going to be looking into as I am one of the people at my school who is responsible for how the school manages and uses social media in the classroom, and I am typically the one who trains others on how to use the technology. I do not want to make a legal mistake.

So to sum it up this week, my main concern regarding social media, and teaching in the digital age is what are the laws? What is my specific responsibility and what is the best practice? Also does anyone actually know if google classroom is legally allowed or not for providing feedback to students in the k-12 system?

Hope to figure out some answer to these before the end of the course. Thanks for reading.

I Tried a Thing

One of my purposes for this blog is to not just use it for my current class but to also share what things I have explored and found to be useful. This brief post kind of fits in both camps. In the first week of class we used a tool called Padlet. I was doing a lesson in biology 30 and wanted the students to have a way to share all of the images that they saw through the microscope. They took pictures using their cell phones through the lense and then posted to a padlet I created for the class. The students loved it and it allowed me to see what they were seeing. I will likely use this lesson and tool again. Wascana Padlet

The Problem with “Somebody Else’s Problem”.

I am a fan of the late humorist Douglas Adams and especially of his book “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”, in it he uses a science fiction story to poke fun at human nature. One of the things that the character Ford Prefect describes in the book is a SEP field, or a “Somebody Else’s Problem field”. In the book Ford describes the field this way.

An SEP,” he said, is something that we can’t see, or don’t see, or our brain
doesn’t let us see, because we think that it’s somebody else’s problem. That’s
what SEP means. Somebody Else’s Problem. The brain just edits it out, it’s
like a blind spot. If you look at it directly you won’t see it unless you know
precisely what it is. Your only hope is to catch it by surprise out of the corner
of your eye.”

Unfortunately for many teachers this describes pretty much everything that is not written as an outcome in a curriculum that they teach. They see the problem or challenge and then their eyes simply slip off of it and back onto the outcomes that they are supposed to cover. This is not said to fault teachers, I am a teacher and my attention does the same thing. In a staff meeting someone will be talking about the importance of some skill and I will think, “Hmm, that is not in my area, not my problem,” and then tune the problem out. The problem with this line of thinking is that it is a fixed mindset, it limits opportunity and limits growth.

So why do I bring up this idea of “somebody else’s problem”? What opportunity is it that I think everyone is ignoring? Well there are actually quite a few, but the one that I want to talk about today is digital citizenship and how it relates to using open media in the classroom. I will start by defining open media as anything that would be available to anyone on the internet who knew where to look without having to login to a gated online community. This could be something like a blog that the students write on, a website that they regularly post to, or social media such as Twitter. Alright, so where does the “somebody else’s problem” aspect come in you might ask? Well it comes in when we start to ask who should be doing this? Which grade? Which subject area? How open should the kids be? And so on. The answers to these are not immediately obvious to teachers because this kind of thing is not specifically in the outcomes, and the few times it is alluded to allows for all the other teachers of other subjects to then revert back to the “somebody else’s problem,” stance.

Is there a case for using open media in the classroom,  does it bring anything to the table? To answer this I would like to share an info-graphic from a professional development document that circulated within my school last year.


This graphic shows the difference between using technology in the classroom to enhance the learning and using technology in the classroom to transform the learning. Open media in of itself does not redefine the learning, but it has the potential to do this. Consider the science classroom where a student can actually tweet at a famous scientist and engage with them in conversation.

Twitter Neil deGrasse Tyson

Even better, imagine having them take an interest in your life and conducting real research with you in an area that you are passionate about.


Neither of these things are anywhere in the curriculum because there are opportunistic events, but they are the result of opening your classroom to the world. If you do not open your classroom to the world then the world will never have the opportunity to contribute back to your class. The potential for collaboration, for engagement, for exciting the students about learning is the compelling reason why we should be using open media within our classes, so lets talk about why we don’t.

We can see that there are some really interesting potential benefits from using open media with our students so why is it that so many teachers do not do this? I think the first and most obvious one is resources. I never even considered doing this in the past because I had to share a single computer lab with the rest of the school, and taking my students down to the computer lab each day to blog for a segment of class would have been logistically difficult. This is rapidly changing for many schools, especially as more and more students have devices of their own that they could use for tweeting, and other forms of social media. There is then the something new aspect. Most of us are scared to try something before we fully understand it and most of us only have a passing understanding of technology and how to use it. We are functionally literate, but not comfortable enough to show others. There is also the momentum aspect of teaching. Often you do what you have done before because of time constraints, available resources, or the ease of preparing previously taught material. All of these are good pragmatic reason for not using open media but are there any moral reasons?

Is there any ethical reasons that might give a teacher pause before using open media with their students? At my school we have a media release list, it tells us which students are allowed to appear in media and which ones the parents have asked us not to. This means that if we wanted to put a photo on the school twitter account we would first have to make sure that none of the students on the list appear in the photo. This is a real consideration, we have a responsibility to not expose out students to harm when we can avoid it. How about those who have given permission, are we potentially exposing them to harm by putting up their photo?  Or consider a student who places their work online. They are opening themselves up to criticism, and while this can be moderated and comments can be deleted the words that were said to a student will live on in that student’s mind. Is it worth that risk? There is also the question of permanency, does the student want this thing to be available to the rest of the world for the rest of time. While sometimes things can get misfiled on the internet, things rarely get deleted. Is everything that they are putting on the internet going to be something that they still want there later in life? Consider the nature of what they are sharing. Having them work through their feelings and beliefs about world issues in a blog might seem like a great idea until in their naivety they say something inappropriate and now have it following them for all of time.  These are real moral roadblocks but I do not believe that they are enough to  justify abandoning open media usage.

Instead of running from the problems that open media presents to the class we should use these potential problems as lessons. To use an analogy consider a shop teacher. They know that there is the potential for a student to cut off their finger on the table saw, or to accidentally air nail another student, but instead of avoiding the use of these tools they plan for how to use them safely. They cannot guarantee prefect safety but they can reasonably manage the risk by teaching correct behaviour up front.  The same is true to open media. We know that it is potentially transformative to the learning in the classroom and we need not be afraid of it, but we need to respect it. This means talking with your students ahead of time about which behaviours are acceptable from them and which are not. Also be realistic with them, talk about what the plan is when negative comments appear. How do we respond? What is the procedure for removing comments? Also discuss which kinds of information about ourselves is safe to put on the internet and which is best kept offline. Make sure that all students are aware of how to get permission from all the affected parties before posting information. Do you have everyone’s permission to post the photo, etc? In doing this students will become better digital citizens because they will be thinking about what they are posting, and they will have a plan for what to do if something goes wrong. We teach this kind of safety in every other area of school, gym safety, shop safety, science lab safety, we should be doing the same for open media. If we do then we move from open media being not my problem, to it being my opportunity.



First Steps

Hi everyone, welcome to the inaugural blog post here at Exploring Space(s). While this blog is a requirement for my EC&I 831 class I intend to continue on with it afterwards as a space for me to explore my teaching practice, any interests that I have (like space exploration), and to document personal growth in all the areas of my life. So the title will hopefully fit for all of these different purposes.

As you can tell from the header and the image chosen for this first post I really like space. (For anyone wondering that footprint is not the first on the moon but is a clear photo of Buzz Aldrin’s footprint about an hour after the Eagle landed on the moon during the Apollo 11 mission.) While I was tempted to go with “Hello World” for the title I decided to stay within the theme. So, first steps it is. First steps back into blogging, since hanging up the hat in 2010 at my old blog, and first steps into EC&I 831 and documenting my learning about how to apply technology and social media within the classroom.

For our first post we are supposed to discuss what our major project is going to be. Of the two options given: integrating the learning into class, or undertaking a learning project, I am most keen to do the second. I want to learn how to program an arduino. For those of you who do not know arduino is a microcomputer. It can take inputs from sensors, like light or touch sensors and then send outputs to motors, speakers, twitter, etc. Now saying that one intends to learn how to program is kind of like saying that you intend to learn to write. It is not very specific. In the same way that a writer needs projects to work on, and to practice on, I need something to try to get the arduino to do. I need a larger goal. This is tricky. I want to pick something that will be in the realm of possibility within the time constraints but that will also not be so simple that I have it done by next weekend. So I think that I am going to pick a project that if I do not finish by the end of the course it will still be valuable enough to me to finish so that the time spent on it will not have been wasted.

An Arduino Microcomputer

My specific learning goal for the course is to learn how to use the arduino microcomputer to act as the brains of a simple sumo bot. A sumo bot is a tiny robot that tries to find and push other robots out of a competition ring. The reason I am choosing this particular kind of robot is that I am the staff adviser for the robot club at my school. In the past we have always used a Basic STAMPS microcomputer and the arduino is supposed to be able to handle more parallel processing which in theory would give the robots an edge at the competitions in March. While I am not allowed to build the robots for the students I am allowed to help them troubleshoot, but I can only do that if I understand the language and the coding environment. Being forced to have a working robot by early December is perfect timing for me being able to best help my students, and it means that my time spent on my university class will also help me with my to-do list in other parts of my life. (Yeah!).

My learning plan is still in development but goes something like this:

  1. Acquire an arduino and some motor controllers, the sensors, the motors, and the power supply that I will be using for the robot.
  2. Install the arduino programming environment and have a “Hello World” moment.
  3. Find online forums,  online reference materials, and youtube videos for learning the arduino syntax (Did I mention that programmers refer to this as learning a language?).
  4. Evaluate the usefulness of the resources that I am finding and compile a reference list for my robot club students who are going to also then try to learn how to program in arduino.
  5. Research how to receive inputs from both an ultrasonic range finder, and infrared emitters and detectors and how to store these values in a variable that can be accessed later.
  6. Research how to call up variables for use at specific points in the program.
  7. Research how to control the motors of the robot using the arduino.
  8. Research how to use variables to set parameters for motor movement.
  9. Put it all together into a single program or a set of subroutines that reference each other.
  10. Once programming is done the physical designing of the robot has to happen as well. Design a robot body in AutoDesk 123Design. Print the body using a 3D printer.
  11. Mount all the components to the body and test out the program. See if it can beat the BASIC stamps robots that you already have.

Well that is the plan for now. I think that the category that I will use for the project will be #Arduino. Since I will likely build other arduino projects in the future that tag will be useful even after the class has ended.

Thanks for reading through all of that. Let me know what you think in the comments.