Becoming an expert teacher

When somebody asks me what I do, I reply that I am a math and science teacher. I have been a teacher for the last nine years, and a tutor even before then. I taught all sorts of subjects and levels, in many different schools and even in two separate provinces (Alberta and Quebec). I feel like I have a lot of experience, and being exposed to the different types of schools (public, charter, private) I can compare the teaching going on in many different environments and I have opinions of what seems to work better for me. I pick and choose what I like and what works best. I learn and apply from one environment to the next. The overall result is that I am becoming a great teacher. In fact, I might be called an expert teacher by my students, peers and superiors.

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Teaching math and science with magic rather than content

When teaching, the teacher always should have an objective in mind: what is the purpose of this lesson, this activity, this game? So when I am teaching how to factor polynomials, I could use many games (factoring bingo), activities (group work / collaboration), and manipulatives (algebra tiles), but I also have to have a purpose in mind. For instance I can’t tell my students to play Monopoly, as that is irrelevant to factoring polynomials, even though the Monopoly game could be used in a different situation to teach how to count money, give out change, etc. Similarly in a science classroom, we shouldn’t be showing explosions unless there is a relevance in what we want the students to learn.

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Teaching science – how to teach innovation?

I was impressed from the very moment I read about Knowledge Building in the Cambridge Handbook of the Learning Sciences (Sawyer, 2006, pp. 97 – 115). As a science teacher, I see the enormous potential of this learning philosophy, and cannot wait to apply it to my existing teaching repertoire. In order to implement the principles of Knowledge Building, I must understand it fully and understand how to apply it. To this end, I am writing this thought paper with two articles on Knowledge Building as a backdrop. The first is “Learning to Work Creatively With Knowledge” by Carl Bereiter and Marlene Scardamalia (2003) and the second is “Student-Directed Assessment of Knowledge Building Using Electronic Portfolios” by Jan van Aalst and Carol K. K. Chan (2007). The first article serves as the theory portion of my understanding of Knowledge Building. The second article provides an example of Knowledge Building in practice and presents a possible way of implementing the innovative learning environment as well as assessing students in the collaborative Knowledge Building setting.

I see teaching science as having two different sides. The first side is teaching the basics, the processes, the structures of a lab report, the ways of solving a physics problem, the organization. Let’s call this the “alphabet” of the scientist. Without this, the students could not achieve any kind of success in the sciences. It is a way of communication in the scientific world, the building blocks of science. In the same way that a child cannot read a beautiful story without knowing the alphabet first, the scientist cannot see or understand the complex design of car without first understanding the mechanisms of the simple machines or the fuel combustion effects, or even the knowledge of the basic elements or simple kinematics. I would say that traditional teaching focuses on these basic skills. Teaching only these kinds of skills is equivalent to presenting knowledge in what Bereiter and Scardamalia (2003) call belief mode.

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Conceptual change of the concept of FORCE

Growing up, children have a plethora of experiences that have to do with the concept of force. Even before they start talking and knowing the word “force” they have an intuitive understanding of the concept of push and pull. It doesn’t take long for a child to figure out that pushing their brother will result in him moving in the same direction. Babies realize from very early on that things fall down. (A common game among babies and parents is the “baby drops toy – parent picks up toy – repeat many times until parent loses patience”.) This environmental input of the force of gravity acting on an object, thus accelerating it towards the earth gets absorbed by the child’s awareness, and becomes second nature to the child. Most children will ask a parent about these phenomena. The parent then tries to explain these phenomena in terms of sophisticated words such as force, gravity, energy, power, and push / pull. The adult might go in depth or just quickly dismiss the inquiry, depending on the adult’s actual knowledge of the phenomenon, the parent’s interest in scientific principles, or even the time and place of the question. Based on these explanations, and the instances of hearing the words of force or gravity in context, children start to associate what force actually means in terms of their world around them. Their understanding however might not be in alignment with the physicist’s definition.

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Student misconceptions in physics – overview and how they are organized.

Some things are easier to learn than others. Piaget, one of the fathers of the constructivist movement, talked about two types of learning: assimilation and accommodation (Atherton, 2009). Assimilation and accommodation are the two complementary processes through which awareness of the outside world is internalized (Atherton, 2009). Continue reading “Student misconceptions in physics – overview and how they are organized.”

Using Manipulatives in the Classroom

One of the most common mistakes I’ve noticed with my son’s swim instructor, is that the kids don’t listen to her, especially when she gives them a new “manipulative”.  For example, first she gives all the kids swimming boards, then she tries to explain what they are to do with them (for example, kick while breathing to the side).  Unfortunately, once they have their boards, the students stop paying attention, and instead start playing around with them. 

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Under the Radar Games (2021) – Hexa-Trex puzzle chosen

The Hexa-Trex puzzle game was selected as one of “Under the radar games of 2021” by Here is what they write:

“Each year we release under the radar edition, in this year’s edition, we have selected some really cool games, the games are selected by testing the game play, all games have high quality graphics. Most of the games in this list are very addictive and will keep you busy for a very long time.”

Check out the article and complete list here: Under The Radar Games on Android in 2021

Are our students missing out on play? If so, they are also missing out on learning.

Recently I read an article about Natural Math. It is a different way of approaching teaching / learning math for young children. Here is an excerpt of the article:
“The familiar, hierarchical sequence of math instruction starts with counting, followed by addition and subtraction, then multiplication and division. The computational set expands to include bigger and bigger numbers, and at some point, fractions enter the picture, too. Then in early adolescence, students are introduced to patterns of numbers and letters, in the entirely new subject of algebra. A minority of students then wend their way through geometry, trigonometry and, finally, calculus, which is considered the pinnacle of high-school-level math.

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