The Reflective Educator

Education ∪ Math ∪ Technology

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Month: July 2012

Images to make one think about technology

Here are some images I’m collecting for future presentations on technology. Each of the images is intended to ask a question, and to have people reflect on their own use of technology, and our society’s use of technology.


Technology transforms us
(Image credit: Andy Hooper)



(Image credit: Wikipedia)



Laptops in schools
(Image credit: T Coffey)


TV Sunset
(Image credit: Michael Leung)


People texting instead of talking
(Image credit: Susan Sermoneta)


Cars on a highway
(Image credit: Dom Nozzi)


Kids playing games outside
(Image credit: Geek of the day)


Volvo and IKEA
(Image credit: Erik Johansson)


MRI machine
(Image credit: Daniel Martin Reina)


If you have any other images of various technologies that you think require their viewer to ask questions (or which easily lead to questions), please share them with me.

Education is not the Olympics

Students First (I won’t link to their website, you can find it yourself) has published a new video comparing the ranking of the US education system to a potential performance in the Olympics.


There are a huge number of issues with this analogy, but I’ll just bring up two.

  1. Countries which perform well at the Olympics outspend the other countries, have a larger population base, and more free political environments. So from this analogy, we can predict that the US will perform better in education if they spend more money, increase their population, and work on implementing a more democratic decision making system within their education system. Not what I think Students First is hoping for with their privatization agenda…
  2. The Olympics accept only the most elite athletes in their competitions. The US education system is intended to educate everyone.

What do I know?

What do I know about the most of the people with whom I connect online?


I know very little about their families, their history, their relationships, their beliefs about God, their dislikes, their intolerances, their emotions, and who they are. What I do know, I know only through their statements about themselves, so I know really nothing about them except what they have confessed themselves. What I know is their manicured self, their selves with the make-up on, and I do not really know them at all.

And of course I know that people tend not to share the uglier parts of themselves, and this is especially true in print mediums. I know that people tend to find it very difficult to view themselves objectively, and they (myself included, of course) have a tendency to exaggerate some parts of their personality, and ignore other parts. So what do I really know about the people with whom I connect online? Nothing.

And who knows about me? Who knows that I hated school until it became an escape from the bullies? Who knows that I once believed myself to be bisexual (and no longer do), mistaking a desire to connect and form relationships with the people around me with sexual desire? Who knows that I love to play games, often because the game is enjoyable, but mostly because I like to win? And who knows that right now, my favourite thing to do (and something for which I do not have sufficient time) is to wrestle with my oldest son, and gaze into the curious eyes of my youngest son as he observes the world? Who knows that I love my wife fiercely, and would do anything for her?

No one.

If you are reading this, even you cannot be sure these things are true, since you have not observed these in me yourself, you have only my (written) word for it. We cannot really know things about other people, except what we can predict is true about them from our observations of them. I know from my observations, for example, that John has a deep relationship with his God and his family, and that Mary Beth is passionate about coops, and that Shelley thinks her dog is the cutest dog in the whole world, but I know these things are true because I have talked with each of these people in person and I can see these things are true from the actions and words I’ve experienced while with them.

These are still shallow characteristics of who these people really are. John is not defined completely by his love of his family and God, Mary Beth is more than her passion for coops, and Shelley is deeper than just being a dog-lover. If I want to really know who these people are, I need to spend time with them, experience the highs and lows of their life, and this kind of relationship takes years to build.

We must be careful not to mistake interactions with the words of people online as friendships, and we must further be careful not to take away  from the already precious time we have to build real friendships with the people around us. We must balance our desire to know more about the world that is away from ourselves, with building deep connections with the people surrounding us.

A thought experiment

Here’s a thought experiment for you (h/t to Dan Meyer for the sports analogy).

Imagine you start learning the game of basketball by learning how to shoot free throws. At no point are you told what the point of shooting free throws is, or how being a good free throw shooter will help you play the game of basketball, or even that there is a game of basketball. Worse, you are occasionally asked to shoot as many free throws you can in a minute, and then judged against your classmates based on your performance.

You are at some point asked to start practicing all of your free throws blindfolded, possibly after unsuccessfully learning how to shoot free throws earlier. If you are lucky, your coach tells you how many free throws you sank, and how many you missed. You finally have some understanding that free throws are important in basketball after years of not having a clue why you were practicing them but no matter how many times you practice, you never seem to get better at free throws.

By way of analogy, this is almost exactly how addition and multiplication facts are taught to students. They spend the earliest years learning addition and multiplication facts with only a superficial explanation of how these facts might be useful later, and most do not learn how addition and multiplication fit into mathematics as a whole and they certainly never get to experience "the game."

In their later grades, their teacher  (although lacking the time to give students feedback on their "basic skills") expects students to work on their higher level mathematics without a calculator or any aid of any kind for their foundational numeracy skills. The premise behind these calculator-less classrooms is that students will likely forget their addition and multiplication facts if they get to use a calculator, and so the use of a calculator is banned. Unfortunately, in most of these classes, very little time is spent reteaching addition and/or multiplication facts, and almost no feedback is given to students as to whether they have even done their addition and/or multiplication correctly, so if you are a student who never understood addition or multiplication in the first place, this further practice without support is unlikely to be useful.

If you are going to ban students from using calculators in your class for basic arithmetic operations, then you must at least take the blindfolds off of your students and help them improve their arithmetic skills. On the other hand, I prefer not to ban tools, but instead find ways that these tools are used productively (and unproductively) and change my teaching to compensate.

Things good schools do

This is a bit of an experiment in collaborative writing. How it works is that you copy this entire post verbatim, and add one thing to the list below. If you put this on a blog, please tag this post with "goodschoolproject" if possible to make these posts easier to find later.


  1. Good schools focus on the learners, not the system.


You are free to share and modify this post, but whomever you share it with must enjoy the same freedom.

Connected educator

I see a lot of people discussing the need to be an online connected educator. The only problem I’ve noticed is the why is sometimes missing or weakly argued in these discussions. Why connect? Why bother? What can I learn from educators a thousand miles away in a completely different context which is useful for my teaching now?

"We are in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas; but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate." Henry Thoreau, Walden, chapter 1, p. 67 (1966)

We often forget how important context and local dialect is when communicating with each other. It is not obvious in our daily face to face communications because we have come to a common agreement on the meanings of words we use.

When I say the words "mathematics education", I have discovered that the words "mathematics" and "education" themselves not only have region-specific meanings, but meanings quite specific to the speaker. If I do not take the time to unpack the meanings of these words, I can end up having a terrific argument with someone because of the lack of understanding on what we have both assumed are common definitions of terms.

I support becoming a connected educator because I know how many opportunities to learn more about education, teaching, and learning I would have missed without the opportunities to learn from those people with whom I am connected. However, I strongly urge those encouraging others to join our ranks as connected educators to warn their colleagues of this pitfall, this potential trap of online communication.