Experiencing Technical Difficulties


Having my computer in and out of the repair shop for the last 12 days has been frustrating on many levels. First there is the obvious, I am taking an online course. Second, there is the unedited photo work that my clients have been waiting for. Last, but not least, is the total lack of online contact with the world. It has been a learning experience.

It has also given me time to research, read and think about what I have been learning and the concepts that have stuck with me.

This course asked us to think about strategies to engage and motivate our students. What has stayed with me most are the bigger picture concepts of Metacognition, Essential Questions and the biases that stop our students from being fully involved in the learning process.

“If the content you are expected to teach represents “answers,” then what questions were being asked by the people who came up with those answers? This conceptual move offers a useful strategy both for seeing a link between content standards and important questions and for coming up with ways of engaging students in the very kind of thinking that is required to truly understand the content.”


The act of teaching requires you to impart the information your students need to know the answers… but the expectations of institutions, students and our culture, require much more.

One British study finds…

“A major finding from study was that dominant across all student year groups, institutional types and subjects, students have a consumerist ethos towards higher education, wanting ‘value‐for‐ money’…. The question of what is ‘quality’ or ‘good’ about a particular institution should thus be framed within the contingent question of what a student is looking for in an institution, which may or may not be academic reputation.”

then concludes…

” Students wanted options for a ‘tailored’ education… the diversity across the sector indicates there is no one “student experience” rather each individual student has his or her own experience.”


This is a clear indicator that to engage and motivate our students, we must try to find a way to ‘tailor’ the experience to their expectations.

To do this, I believe, it is necessary to tap into their motivators by having them ask the big, or Essential Questions of themselves. When you get them to ask themselves why they are learning what they are learning and what it means to them, you engage them in the very thinking that motivates them to find meaning in the content.

FullSizeRender-2  Our students bring with them many obstacles to the engagement process for us to overcome. From cultural to socio-economic,  time to technological access, all in their own way barriers to a perfect class experience. It is not easy to help them to get past these obstacles to engagement.

Then there are the myriad of cognitive and perceptual biases, from psychological to experiential. We are now learning, through neuroscience research, that some of these biases are hardwired into us. What kind of questions we ask matters when it comes to even beginning to model a metacognitive practice of ‘thinking about thinking.’


Here is one of my favourite thinkers and neuroscientists site:


His clear, deeply informed opinions are an example of one of our culture’s best minds.


Thinking Bigger Than One’s Self

“We do not see things as they are, we see them as we are.” Anais Nin

Clouds 1

Creative subjects like photography are the perfect place for Essential Questions. I believe people are drawn to art to creatively express answers to Essential Questions like: “Who am I? ” or “How can I relate my experiences to the world?” and ” What is this existence all about?” Most of my students come with Essential Questions they feel they can understand and express through art but are not sure how.

 If Essential questions as described in my research are 1) open-ended, 2) intellectually engaging, 3) having no single final answer and 4) recurs over time.1 then by their very definition they are not answerable…not definitively. But to attempt to answer you must look at Essential questions with a perspective you can only achieve by thinking beyond yourself.

One of my favourite authors is Anais Nin,  anaiswho kept a diary every day of her life from the age of 11 to the day she died at 74. She lived life to the fullest during ‘The Moveable Feast’ years of the 1920’s and 30′ in Paris. She met every important artist, helped Henry Miller by editing his famed work ‘Tropic of Cancer’, studied and practiced psychology as well as being a poet and an author herself. She was a woman who taught herself, through her writing, how to think about the world as a separate entity apart from herself whilst staying firmly rooted in reality. She believed in the power of the outer world of art, psychology, history and literature could transform your inner world and vice versa.

Her writing was all about essential questions and how they must try to be addressed within one’s own life before we can help other’s address them. How it is done is through a process of continual knowledge and change.

“Life is a process of becoming, a combination of states we have to go through. Where people fail is that they wish to select a state and remain in it. This is a kind of death.” Anais Nin

” A man who views the world the same at 50 as he did at 20 has wasted 30 years of his life.” Mohammed Ali

  1. http://www.ascd.org/publications/books/109004/chapters/What-Makes-a-Question-Essential%A2.aspx

Big Thinking needs Big Solitude

Our last journal was inspired by Susan Cain’s TED talk in 2012: “The Power of Introverts.” The power of her words reverberated with me because I have always been a staunch protector of my alone time, my time to think, read and clear my head.

It’s especially necessary in my photography work. Berkeley St Sign

There is nothing better than having the time to think and work at getting the shot you wanted.

Privacy brings freedom and autonomy and time to think. Some of us need it more than others do.



The concept of group work has permeated our culture and our schools to such a level that it has left a strange perception of the Introvert behind. I found this statement written by The University of Pittsburgh’s Dean of the Pitt Business School  John T. Delaney. It is on a webpage called “Notes from the Dean”- “The Ideal Student”:

“An ideal student is able to interact effectively with others. Students who are loners, unable to work in teams – through shyness, laziness, arrogance, etc. – and/or dismissive of others often generate less value than they consume. Ideal students enjoy interacting with others and leverage the interactions into partnerships. Whether they recognize it explicitly or not, they are celebrating the fact that combinations of people are able to accomplish things that individuals cannot achieve alone.”


So if we don’t wish to be thought of as shy, lazy or arrogant


we must make self-negating choices to act like:

Kiss Girls on Bench 2

Can you imagine Gandhi, Goya or Einstein being forced into groups constantly to do their work. I believe it would be different world.


When we ask people to think big, or think ‘outside the box’, do we really give them enough space to do it in?

In her article ” Rise of the New Groupthink.” for the New York Times Sunday Review, Susan Cain tells us that: “Solitude can even help us learn. According to research on expert performance by the psychologist Anders Ericsson, the best way to master a field is to work on the task that’s most demanding for you personally. And often the best way to do this is alone. Only then, Mr. Ericsson told me, can you “go directly to the part that’s challenging to you. If you want to improve, you have to be the one who generates the move. Imagine a group class — you’re the one generating the move only a small percentage of the time.”


This course is making us think about how to get our students to think Critically, Creatively and Metacognitively about their learning. These are big subjects that would be fun to discuss in a classroom group, but I’m grateful that I have the time alone to first think before I ‘generate the move’ to write about what I’m learning.

Big Picture Questions


When looking at exploring big picture questions the Socratic method seems a good place to start, but does it always produce answers that we are comfortable with? How do we face an event like 911 and not completely give into our biases? How do we use just Critical Thinking Methods to give us the answers to the Essential Questions of “Why did it happen?” or  “How do we move forward?”

911 Memorial copy

During our Forum discussions we have been talking about how to engage our students to think critically. How do we help them think about their thinking ( metacognition ) and what defines creative thinking and how it can help them look at problems in a different way.

I can think of no more public an experiment in Big Picture Questions than the 911 attacks. The American people have been struggling (and still do) to come to terms with this event. The why and how has been answered but the question of how to move forward seems to only have one answer… create a public art space and museum so people can remember.

911 pool copy

This is one of the most moving and accessible art spaces I have ever been in. It was designed to memorialize the dead by bringing people together to contemplate what had happened and yes, to make them stop and think. I took these photos on a Thursday afternoon last May the 14, 2015. There were hundreds of people around this memorial when I took this shot. All quietly standing and contemplating what had happened on that day. Some questions have no easy answers… but this space allows us to come together to share in the questioning.

Connecting Critical and Creative Thinking

Though there seems to be no lack of models for the Critical Thinking process, I think there are some disconnects when it comes to understanding the similarities between  Critical Thinking and Creative Thinking.

One of the models for promoting Critical Thinking is the Socratic Method. The Socratic method was named after the classical Greek philosopher Socrates and is a form of inquiry and discussion based on asking and answering questions to stimulate thinking and to illuminate ideas. I believe the overall purpose of Socratic questioning, is to challenge accuracy and completeness of thinking in a way that moves students towards their ultimate goal.

Can you see how creative endeavours use this process? Art is a complex and misunderstood discipline loaded with cognitive biases of all kinds. It is one of the few disciplines that encourage and rewards divergent not convergent thinking and the questions artists ask themselves must be critical in nature. Ideas and process must be challenged to get from this:


to this:Male Nude known as Patroclus

to this:


or this: images (1)


In Naomi’s discussion of Creative Thinking she referenced Grant Wiggins blog “On assessing for creativity.” In this blog the highest assessment marks are given to the student’s work that shows: “Important ideas/feelings are illuminated or highlighted in sophisticated ways. The creation shows great imagination, insight, style, and daring.”

If creative thinking is ever to be given it’s due, the overarching similarities must be acknowledged. Criticalthinking.org defines critical thinking as: “the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action.”











Instructional Strategies Digital Project


As I submit my Digital Project, I must admit that it has been my most feared assignment in this class. It was in the doing and the overcoming that I found out that, to paraphrase FDR, ‘the only thing I had to fear, was fear itself.’

What was I so afraid of? I’m a digital girl who teaches a visual subject I thought, why would I be afraid to do this? What I realized in the doing was that I am a perfectionist when it comes to visual presentations. I have had to curate my own photo other’s art exhibits. How you use and connect visuals matter… whether you are curating an art exhibit, a website or a digital project. I always want to do a visual display that tells a story. That has always been easy for me to do with my photography.

This was a little more challenging because I had to find just the right visuals to support my Instructional Strategy project, subject by subject. I also had to find a visual way to tell about my use of this strategy ( Field Trips ) in my class.

I love the clean look of this presentation software and the way it helped me showcase my learning. Tell me what you think 🙂



Flipping a Classroom



The concept of Flipping a Classroom has been around for a while and some institutions and instructors are embracing it with a passion. Depending on the discipline you teach, there are a lot of questions regarding the use of this model.

Flipping the traditional model of teaching is a challenging and exciting idea for those who would like to use new technologies to engage their students. Having students watch a lesson on their own time leaves the classroom free for discussion and clarification.

The pros are quite evident…efficiency, student-centered, individualized learning and freeing up teacher time to help the students that need it. But given the cons: requires equal access to technology, more prep time, not test-preparation friendly, we must ask if this model translate to all disciplines.

“Whether you think this is a good or a bad thing is another conversation, but it’s important to realize that generally speaking, flipped classrooms do not “teach to the test.” Flipped classrooms do not follow the model of teaching to improve standardized test scores. However, teachers and students are still required to spend a sizeable portion of time preparing for state mandated testing, which in turn interrupts the flipped classroom process.”


The concept of  Blended Learning allows for students to mix their bricks and mortar learning with a digital/online component. I, and every PID student is mandated to take a digital course online. It was a great introduction to a blended way of learning and dragged some of us kicking and screaming into this new environment. Online learning continues to be a way of learning I have loved and chosen to participate in, thus incorporating my newly learned techniques into my photography class.

Learning Curves


As I work on my digital assignment, I found my old fear of exposure rearing it’s ugly head. I am a private person by nature and putting myself online is not an easy or comfortable thing for me to do.

The last few years, I have been put in the position of having to guard my online presence even more diligently than my already self-protective nature would want.

In our forum there was some discussion of the pitfalls of Digital Storytelling. Some thought there might be too much focus on the superficial aspects of using technology, some thought the overuse of these technologies made students narcissistic and less focused. All are still looking for answers to the new questions of use and overuse of technology in and out of the classroom.

I have been online now for 26 years. I have been a podcast listener and You-Tuber for years. I know and love most technology. I teach digital photography and encourage my students to use all forms of social media in class and out. I use it to connect with my students and family far away. The technology and possibilities excite and encourage me to use them to learn, create my photography, hear stories and connect with the people I love… but when it comes to my personal life my rule has always been less is more.

Personal privacy issues are important factors to address. In a 2013 “Survey of Canadians on Privacy Related Issues” found that: ‘Internet users expressed mixed levels of concern about posting a range of information online. The majority are very concerned about posting information about their location (55%) and contact information (51%). This is followed by concern about posting personal photos or videos (48%) and information about social activities (41%). Canadians appear to be least concerned about posting their personal opinions about people, issues and things (32%).’https://www.priv.gc.ca/information/por-rop/2013/por_2013_01_e.pdf

This is another layer to add to the cake of questions we all have.

Storytelling makes Meaning of Learning

Digital storytelling can be a powerful learning tool. Done well it can encompass many of the best instructional strategies. Collaborative learning projects, group discussions, and reflective practices. Students are more engaged when they can be active learners.

Student engagement is a powerful tool. “student engagement means feeling motivated, being challenged, excited about the new “. p40 1 Using digital technologies in a classroom can feel like a new way to approach a subject, thus engaging students who would not otherwise participate.

It can also be used as a tool of empowerment because, done well, it is a true, supportive partnership between teacher and student. The downside is it must work within a supportive institutional environment.

Being actively engaged in your own learning is a goal we all set for our students. Creative learning activities are one way to help our students to see value in what they are learning because, as I see it, it helps them bring their own perspective, thus meaning, to the subject.

Here is a powerful example of using poetry, photography and music to tell a story about a subject that can be hard to quantify… the self. Thanks to Will Parker for sharing this beautiful example of his Dad’s work.



  1. Barkley, Elizabeth F. (2010). Student Engagement Techniques, A Handbook for College Faculty. San Francisco, CA. John Wiley & Sons Inc.

Making Meaning of Learning

Whilst discussing learning styles the question of the validity of simply lumping students into the three basic learning categories of Visual, Verbal and Kinaesthetic is addressed. I agree with Professor Willingham when he points out the obvious flaws in this theory. One of the flaws speaks to the fact that there is information that we wish to impart to a student that we must impart in ways that may not coincide with there self-described learning style. For example finding a country on a map. There are many ways to describe the location and shape of a country for a verbal learner, but is that the best way for them to learn about something that needs a visual?

Malta country

This is a modern map of Malta. It is a small island in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. This is easily understood by the visual. If that is all you need to know, then this map is sufficient. Especially for a visual learner.

If we needed to know where the island is situated and how it relates to the countries around it, the first map would not do… we would need a better example.

Malta 2

But… as Professor Willingham explains… most of what we want our students to learn is meaning. If we were just needing our students to know of the island.. the first example would do.


This is an 18th century map with all the information that any Knight of the Order of Malta would need. Topography, beautiful renderings of the view as you approach the harbour as well as detailed navigation map of the harbour. This visual is a complex one if you have no historical context to give it meaning.

Context is, to me, the building block of meaning ie:” the circumstances that form the setting for an event, statement, or idea, and in terms of which it can be fully understood and assessed.”

Tapping into students’ own predilection for a particular learning style is a great start. Helping them to make meaning of a subject using one style is much trickier.