Weekly Reflection #5

Episode 5: Inquiry for Inquiry’s Sake

This week in class we had the opportunity to hear from Jeff Hopkins of the Pacific School of Innovation and Inquiry (PSII). His school focuses on giving students the ability to expand their learning through less structured education.  Students have overarching inquiry projects that require them to expand their knowledge in some capacity. The students can achieve this through access to various resources with the aim of having the learners take charge of their learning and develop their knowledge in the areas that support their inquiry projects.

This style of institution, and teaching practice as a whole, has direct relevance to the inquiry project I am doing at Belmont School. The inquiry question I initially developed was: “How can didactic and inquiry based modes be balanced effectively in a science classroom?” While I initially though PSII  neatly sidestepped this question altogether by responding with “let the learners decide when they want to go attend specific classes,” I have since revised that belief. While PSII uses inquiry as its guiding teaching principle this doesn’t necessarily extend to the form that their classes may take. Without experiencing their classes firsthand I cannot make any assumptions about their classes, but I can imagine that even in the most innovative institutions some undesirable teaching practices may be seen (most notably boring lectures).

Looking at how Inquiry was implemented on an institutional level led me to reassess my views of what it means to use inquiry in schools. Previously I had only imagined using it on a classroom scale, within my class (because I felt that that is the area I would be most likely to influence). I also thought that inquiry was diametric opposite to didactic. However, over the course of the semester is have found this thinking to be incorrect. This led me to shift my question to “what methods can we use to engage students in science within the classroom.” This change was due in part to my observation that while PSII uses inquiry on a large scale, that does not mean that it must be seen within the classes to a large degree, and that isnt necessarily a bad thing.

Here is a meme I made for this occasion:


Weekly Reflection #3

Episode 3: Pacifying our Charges with Technology

With the integration of technology in most facets of our daily lives we obviously see a rise in reliance on it to manage energy consuming tasks. As educators, many of the strategies that we use to manage our classrooms mirror those that most parents would use to interact with their children. Just like in a caring home, teachers strive to create a place to learn where students feel safe and empowered. But it is becoming far more common for parents to resort to using technology as a distracting tool so that they can have a “break” from parenting. It is hard to argue the result of putting Paw Patrol on for a kindergartener.  And it’s only ONE episode, right? Ok, maybe two… but if I just leave it on I can get a few things done around the house…

Read: Technology as a Distraction: Raising Kids in the Digital Age

Due to the introduction of technology as a distracting tool at an early age, children (and myself) are far more susceptible to it as a constant distraction at older ages. Being able to balance recreational use of technology with completion of daily tasks is a skill that many are deficient in. It would behoove us to start empowering our students to make choices where they can consciously divest themselves of technology for brief periods, or at least introduce them to tools that help mitigate the distractions inherent in those technologies.

One tool that I am in favor of is a chrome plugin called “Leech Block” which is able to block access to predefined website at predetermined time blocks. This follows the methodology of intermittent fasting; you can use Facebook from 5pm to 6pm, if you miss the window you are out of luck for today.

These may not be tools that are used every day, but rather when distractions are causing the workload to pile up. They may also be used to develop time management patterns so that there isn’t the desire to access those distractions throughout the day.

The same tools that parents use get reflected in teaching. Suddenly we have students plugged in to computers and all of their knowledge is implanted on little chips. Ok, I hyperbolize, but there is evidence that the increase in computer based learning does not have the same weight as true interaction with a teacher (Why Online Education Is Less Effective Than In-Person Learning). There is simply no replacing the connection to the material that is gained by having an engaged and aware instructor. This doesn’t mean the technology should be shunned in a classroom, it just means that passive technological learning should be used sparingly. Don’t leave the toddler parked in front of the TV and think twice before showing Finding Nemo to your class for the third time this year.

Weekly Reflection #2

Episode 2: Trello and the Pitfalls of Productivity Porn

This week I introduce you to my nemesis, Productivity Porn. The idea of “getting your ducks in a row” is appealing, especially when you are starting a new project. But a trap that I often fall into when setting up organizational systems is that of the endless diversion.  I tell myself “wow, you are so organized and this will make all of your tasks so easy” and “now you will never forget another due date”. These statements are boldface lies. At a certain point you realize that the amount of time creating your new organizational system would have been better used actually completing your required tasks. There is also something of an organizational high that you get while you are filing your life into little boxes. For me this leads to jumping on every possible organization bandwagon rather than sticking to a single system.

Ironically, this is the opposite of what I preach when I teach martial arts. I tell my students that the best block or strike isn’t the the most efficient or tailor-made one, its the one that you practice and use consistently. This is reiterated well by James Bedell who discussed organizational self help material:

“The most productive people I know don’t read these books, they don’t watch these videos, they don’t try a new app every month. They are far too busy getting things done to read Getting Things Done.”

I thought that I had learned my lesson when I was remodeling my OpenEd page. Obviously the time I spent on that could have been better spent actually completing coursework. But here we go again with my decent into organizational hell: Trello

This is a tool that I have developed a love hate relationship with. As an instructor I can see the appeal of setting up boards for students and giving them ready-made digital checklist for their course work. But having singlehandedly set up 7 boards (one per class) and populating them with assignments, I have found that the amount of time I have sunk into making them will almost certainly never be recouped. The positive spin however is that I can send copies of these boards to other students to save them the time of slaving over a hot computer themselves. I am a digital philanthropist if nothing else…

You can see that I have gone through course outlines to pull all of the expectations for assignments and aggregate them into one place.


The most important thing to remember when using tools like Trello is consistency. I still find myself using the stickynote function on my computer rather than going to Trello. I think for me I like the idea of downloadable organization systems rather than web-based ones. Trello just becomes another lost tab in my never-ending see of browser windows. Even google calendar (my main scheduling app) which I use religiously, lacks a downloadable desktop client without resorting to a 3rd-party program.

Well that’s my rant for today.  I did read some interesting articles about Productivity Pitfalls, but in the interest of not falling into them I think you should only look at ONLY ONE of these links. I mean it!

The Trap of Productivity Porn

Productivity Porn: A distraction in plain sight

Productivity Pornography

Weekly Reflection #1

Episode 1: Digital Dungeons and WordPress Woes

So here we are. Ready to start another blogging assignment. These are not especially new to me as much of the coursework for Learning Design (EDCI 335) was conducted through weekly blogs, and inquiry projects. Thom of 5 weeks ago thought “no big deal, I’ll just stay on top of them, they won’t be that challenging”…

Hi! I’m Thom from 5 weeks in the future. I come in peace. The future is a bleak and stressful place. Surprise!

There is a whole story behind the adventure that is/has been setting up my blog, which I think will be a very relatable and useful cautionary tale for future generations. Gather ’round the fire and listen to my story. It has digital dungeons and WordPress woes, as all good stories do…

While setting up my blog for this class I found that I already had a OpenEd website much to my surprise. This website was originally made for a Biology module that I co-created for my Learning Design Class.  Rather than creating a new website I decided that I would adapt my previous site. “That will be quick”  he said, “that will be easier” he said. He was wrong.

After noodling around on WordPress for a literal eon (don’t fact check me on that), I found that the previous website address was:  the-name-of-my-old-partner.opened.ca. For obvious reasons I decided that starting a new website would be the way to go. But rather than using one of the templates available I decided to just make my own. “You’ve already done all the hard work” the technological goblin in my head said. He’s very convincing. So I proceeded to copy all of the content from the old site to the new site. This was done by copying the HTML text from each page and creating new menus on the new site. I then had to go through and copy over all of the media and set up an H5P plugin on this website and import all of my quizzes.

You may note here that I have sunk many hours into this extra work that has no bearing on any course work (of which there was many) that I should actually have been working on.

After about 70 percent of the work was done I came across a nifty little button call “Import Website” which just ports your old site over with almost no work… and that is when I shelved working on the website for a while. That while became a few weeks and now here we are.

Overall there are some valuable lessons that I have learned from this experience. The first is: if you want to really understand how WordPress works then you need to spend far too long getting acquainted with it. Swearing will be involved. That being said I feel a lot more comfortable navigating around the interface after switching themes (which absolutely wrecked the site). Going back and trying to fix the theme really helped me get a good grounding on how to structure all the pages so that they are easily accessible

The second major lesson I learned is that being stubborn and fighting technology is a losing battle. The computer is always going to win. If you are spending far to long on something on a computer, chances are you aren’t the first and there is likely a tool to use to get around that issue.

Hopefully this sob story filled you with pity for my plight. You will notice that there is no media or anything of real interest in this post. This is a strategic move. I have set extremely low expectations so that future posts will marvel my readers with their sheer excellence. They will be none the wiser, for I am undoubtedly devious.