ETEC 533: A Course in Review

Pragmatism & Real World Applicability of Concepts

Perhaps unsurprisingly, anytime that I am introduced to new concepts, themes, or ideas in the edu-sphere, my first thought is, a la Simon Sinek, “Start with Why”. As I continue my journey through the MET program, and in the education sphere in general, I often begin searching for the pragmatic reality of situations and research. While there may be best practice from a research base, I’m more concerned with the practicality of this research.

As with much academic research, (due to the nature of the pursuit, and I am not arguing that this is a flawed viewpoint) there can be excessive attention paid to best practices without thinking how this research can be applied in the real world. I am aware that this is the purpose of basic research. My issue with an intensive focus on best practices is when this regimented approach spills into the real world and is placed upon teachers without understanding of individual circumstances. Teachers are stretched thin enough with content as it is, and being able to pragmatically apply these best practices, (while still being honest enough to know when one is not implementing best practices simply due to laziness or being misinformed) is in my mind, the best approach for functional teaching. 

Throughout my journey in the ETEC 533, technology in the mathematics and science classrooms course, there have been two main themes that developed over the course of my reflections:

  1. How to pragmatically apply best practices to the classroom

  2. Implementing Constructionist design in learning

Interview with a Veteran Mathematics Teacher

In my interview with M., we found agreeance in the importance of the real world applicability of concepts, and grounding ideas. 

“For math and using tech, the simplest tech is the best and im trying to get my students to be ready for the real world; because my background is in engineering. To your question specifically... most applicable technology is excel. Just getting them to use the program...getting the students to be comfortable to be using excel in a practical application... because that's the one that they’ll use the most often as engineers.”

- M.

My interview with M. gave me a re-discovered knowledge for the importance of having real world experience in the designing and influencing of curriculum. Not coming from an engineering background, I have little knowledge of what skills are needed in an everyday position in the life of an engineer.  Having that experience, or being able to interview those with that real world experience is critical for helping our students to develop the 21st Century skills that they will need in order to succeed in the job market, and become productive citizens of societies. 


The Design of Technology Enhanced Learning Experiences (TELE)

Similarly again, when engaged in a debate of semantics about the definition of a “technology”, again, I sided with the most pragmatic definition from Roblyer, 

“technology is us -our tools, our methods, and our own creative attempts to solve problems in our environment."

- Robyler, 2012

Which extended to my reasoning for choosing this definition, and my thoughts have not changed in this regard.

 “[this broad viewpoint] allows students to apply different tools to new situations, and to have a large "toolbox" of strategies that can be applied to new situations for high levels of flexibility within their learning.”

- Brogan Pratt

With a working definition of technology under my belt, I extended this pragmatic practice into Resnik’s four P’s to enhance the design of TELEs, 

“[student] Projects are made about their passion, in collaboration with peers while discovering ideas through play” 



Even under the broad concepts of PCK and TPACK, I related them as ideals to strive towards, not necessarily being concepts that could ever be achieved, or reached.

“I see the concepts of PCK and TPACK as ideals to strive towards, not necessarily as ideals that will ever be reached, but rather as a "heaven" for teachers to strive towards in their practice, and for organizations to strive towards in their hiring practices. “

- Brogan Pratt


Jasper & Anchored Instruction

While the Jasper content itself is getting on in years, the idea behind anchored instruction gripped me with mathematics and applying their concepts to the real world. For obvious reasons,

“Anchored instruction methods are highly collaborative, problem-solving based, and have more than one “right” answer.”

-Brogan Pratt

The ideas behind Anchored instructions hit a chord with myself, and as my post entails, It is one of my most well thought out and defined responses to any reflection in the course; almost definitely due to the fact that the content was so engaging for myself. 


Learning for Use, and Embodied Learning

Two more ideas I found influential for my own practice were Learning for Use (LfU) and Embodied Learning. In learning for use, I was drawn to the universality of the framework, as well as the ability to prepare students for deep understanding of content versus memorization.

“educators need learning models that encourage deep understanding and learning in our students, as well as being able to teach skills that can be applied to many situations rather than memorization of content”

- Brogan Pratt



Unfortunately, WISE as a program was a bit of a let down for me as it was out of my own scope of practice, as well as scope of educators that I could hope to influence while in my current role (mostly due to age demographics of students). I’m sure that were I more able to influence high school educators in my current role, I would have seen more interest in the content.

Similarly, the InfoVis and PheT programs followed the same realm. While I could see the benefits of using computer simulations in explaining detailed concepts, such as with my variable simulation explanation

“Essentially, [Phet’s Variable Equality Explorer] allows players to place 2 variable “blocks” onto either side of a scale, change the value of said variables at any time, in order to have students match the weight and discover that variables can be in constant flux (and are not constants).

Imagine trying to work this problem out on paper. One has 2 blocks (of unlimited quantity), they need to balance a scale, be able to change the value of a variable at will, and see the effects of the scale change in real time. Even if one had a scale, it would be impossible to change the value (weight) of a variable in real time; and this is where the beauty of a computer simulation can come in to play.

...students can get a better understanding of what variables are, simply containers that can hold different values. They can get a better understanding of this through the ability to make changes in real time, and to see them change on the screen before them.”

- Brogan Pratt

It was difficult to relate much of Phet and InfoVIS’s content to my own practice. While I gained valuable resources for sharing with colleagues, it was difficult to see how, in my process based curriculum, I would involve simulations into my own practice. 

Tying it All Together

Pragmatism & Real World Applicability

Wrapping up this course, it makes sense to both start and end with the “why”. There’s an old saying that runs in Hindu mythologies, that it’s just, “turtles all the way down”. The saying eludes to the idea that the world is supported by a world turtle, which is supported by another turtle, and so, “it’s just turtles all the way down.” Going off of Descartes idea’s of foundationalism, I believe that eventually, a circular argument must rest on a single “turtle”, ie, the root of the problem. For Descartes, that was “I think, therefore I am”. For the education system, I’m privy to Martin, “Jeff”, Sugarmann’s idea of Education’s resting “turtle”:

“The purpose of the education system is to create functioning citizens of society”

- Sugarmann (Paraphrased)

At the end of the loop of turtles, the final resting point is the reason we send citizens to schools in the first place; to become citizens in our society. Because of this, we as a society (or rather appointed members) decide what is important for students to learn in order to best function in our world as it stands today. For the Spartans, being citizens of war and soldiers was their main function and educational roll. For Canadians, having a generalized knowledge of hard and soft sciences, mathematics, and literature is important (at least in the last 100 years). 

Today, we are seeing enormous shifts in our society, and the job sphere is changing rapidly. Educating students to formulate diverse, transformable skills is more important now than the simple memorization of facts and figure, something that the internet has largely done away with. We need to have students learning skills and concepts that can be applied to a diverse range of settings, things like Communication, Creative & Critical Thinking, and Collaboration skills (often toted as the 4 C’s). Using frameworks like LfU allow for deeper understanding of content with the intention of teaching transferable skills. Looking back on my learning, I’m seeing a wave in my own thinking developing about the importance of nurturing transferable, flexible skills in students within mathematics and science classrooms. 

This course has given me an appreciation for strong design that incorporates real world problems for students to solve together with their peers. With regards to my own practice, it has slowed the brakes on my own adoption of new technology. I can sometimes get caught up in the latest and greatest, rather than taking the time to pause, think about why I’m incorporating this technology, as well as how I’m going to incorporate the technology into my own practice. 

Further Points for Exploration

For context in this moving forward section, I’m currently developing a video game to teach high school students about financial literacy (you can play an early-prototype here). Looking forward, questions I have are how can students construct their own experience inside of a video game, and how do active narration styles that video games allow for (players making choices, despite say, a linear style of a book) students to construct knowledge? 

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