Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Data & Education

pet peeve... when people analyze ordinal data as if it were interval data...

I wasn't even aware of what this meant until a couple of years ago -- see the difference among types of data

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

What I'm watching

I've been getting up at weird hourse lately and have ended up watching a bunch of movies lately...

1. Apocalypse Now... I hadn't seen this one in 15 years and I'd forgotten how much I enjoyed the storyline, the descent into madness and the mythical elements of Willard's journey. It reminded me of some work I did in the McGregor Mtns and again in Northern Alberta, walking into a sort of jungle or sorts and feeling crazy from the dense brush and mosquitoes and my own thoughts. If I've ever wanted to copy a narrative technique, this has to be it -- the descent into chaos/intimacy/self represented by a physical journey.

2. The Corporation... very insightful and depressing look at corporate culture and globalization. I found it gave me new purpose as a Social Studies teacher but I also lost some hope that the future will learn from the past. We live in a world of greedy people with ugly Walmart tattoos on their souls, people who would sell their own children. The ugliest part of humanity is that we reward these greedy maggots by electing them to power and allowing them to convince us to buy their crap.

3. Hotel Rwanda... this ended up being the motivation behind some research into Rwanda's problems in the 1990s. A very powerful story although one is left with desperate thoughts. I am curious to know what Jared Diamond's Collapse has to say about Rwanda (I take it he fits the racial strife into a resource/environmental context).

4. Amelie... this to counter the depression from #2 & 3. Really really really good.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

What I'm reading

Short History of Progress... finished this one in summer. The book laid out a timeline of human evolution as it relates to environmental impact. I was thoroughly depressed by the end, wondering why I would bring a child into a world so filled with greed and destructive potential. On the other hand, the book gave me some perspective and greater sense of calling with which to start the school year anew as a Social Studies teacher.

Miracle Beach .. just started this one but it looks like a winner. Follows the strands of a narrator's memories growing up in Haisla village on the West Coast (near Kitimat).

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Back to Jack's room

This year I find myself teaching all Socials again (finally) after the bumping and reassignments of the last few years in our school district. I've even inherited a classroom from Don Jack (retired Socials teacher) complete with a Geographic library and the ghosts of earlier Socials teachers. This is my 3rd year at DPTodd and I still feel lucky to work here... very supportive staff and admin, great students, positive experiences, etc. My last school was a study in disfunction from the office down to the foundation... low morale, bizarre policies, ineffective leadership structures, brutal communication, staff animosity, even low-level corruption! Anyways, I make the comparison becaue I don't want to forget how a school/teaching/learning environment can go from good to bad in a hurry, but takes a lot of work to go from bad to good. My present school has worked hard to cultivate a great learning school culture!

Friday, September 16, 2005

reflections on a meeting

I met yesterday with a group of educators to review concepts of leadership, teaching, learning, and collaboaration (among other things). Here are some preliminary thoughts to provoke some thought and encourage discussion:

What I liked:
-emphasis on reflective practice and improvement
-modelling a review of relevant literature
-welcoming space for the practive of educational theory

What I'm not so sure about:
-that money in the system (as in reduced class size) is not important
-that everyone needs to be "on the same page" for progress to be made
-that students, parents, government, media, etc. don't share a large responsibility for educating kids

1. Money... I would agree that there are many other factors which can improve student learning besides reasonable class sizes, but over-stuffing a class is not working. I have a Socials 11 class with 34 kids in a small classroom. I would like to design activities which generate movement (stations, flexible groups, etc.) but there is not enough room; as it is the kids have to slide sideways to get across the room. When I have a screen projector rolled out on a cart, the one functional isle is blocked. Our school has limited facilities -- I can't always book the library when I want the students to do something other than sit in their desks and not move. I also have reduced the scope and number of assignments I will give because I'm not willing to commit extra hours to marking. I suppose I could design more peer marking activities, or get rid of the desks or the table with 2 computers for student-use, or a hundred other adaptations, but what I'd really like is to move ahead with ideas I'd love to try out but which require class sizes which fit my classroom.

2. "Same page"...I always get worried when I hear that everyone should be working in concert... groupthink comes to mind. Diverse goals (sometimes incongruent), multiple perspectives, a spirit of debate, a sense that rich uniqueness trumps tacit consensus -- these are values I honour in the classroom and work for in my professional relationships. If everyone in a room agrees on something, I tend to be frightened.

3. One the hardest and most important things I try to do as an educator is teach responsibility. Students who learn responsibility will unlock talents, build confidence, become effective citizens, and pursue healthy relationships. I realize there are many things I can do to improve my practice (and the learning that takes place on my watch), but I am only a piece in the learner's puzzle, a puzzle which is ultimately the property of students, a function of their identity. To claim that I am the problem if a student in my class does not learn is to take something away from the identity of my students; it usurps control and assumes that learning = higher marks. I will do my best, but sometimes my best is to allow students to make up their own minds about what/how/when to learn. I don't know whether teacher, school, or district, or public education can be individually responsible for student learning -- none of them are on their own -- teachers have departments and schools to influence practice, schools can't create solutions without conforming to district rules, districts can't work in isolation of the government, etc. I think the "whole vilage" it takes to raise/educate a child can claim responsibility (including parents, media, corporations and the learners themselves), but this does not seem to be the message I am getting. Yes, I want to get better at the things under my control, at facilitating learning, but I want to do so without robbing students of responsibility.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Quality Learning Globally

Over the last year or so, I've been involved with a "Quality Learning Globally" consortium organized by our school district's technology resource teacher Rob Lewis. The group assembled teachers and admin/district staff, most of which were tech leaders, to inquire into some key problems emerging with tech-based learning. We met about 8 times, studied, and experimented with distance/blended/synchronous/asynchronous environments. The QLG research concluded with a number of observations aimed directly at three connected questions faced by (and encouraged by) the district:
  1. What should distributed learning look like... should it occur at many schools and be integrated into the options faced by students (course selection) and teachers (course design, career specialization), or should distributed learning be the purview of our distance ed school?
  2. What technology should we use, and why... virtual classrooms, CMS, platforms, peripherals, access issues, budget & greening issues, what works in various contexts?
  3. What pedagogy emerges from, or shapes, the technology and the choice of delivery models... synchronous vs asynchronous, what degree of "blending," how is the vision, coordination, and support sustained in schools and in the district? 
The research looked at teacher and student experiences in contexts that explored as many of the possibilities brought up by these questions as possible. The QLG group asked these questions from the perspective of teachers and students, and in the end we recommended:
  1. Distributed Learning should happen at every school, at any time in which teachers in these schools were willing to experiment in such a way that could be supported by administration. Teachers excited to try teaching an online course or increase the amount of interactive technology they use with regular classes are the best bet for success. Dumping online course work and new tech on unwilling teachers will not work and will halt any momentum built elsewhere. While the integration of distributed learning has a logical place at the secondary level, it should be placed within the continuum of integrating all forms of teaching and learning strategies that make use of rich media and interactive technology, not just the ones that lead to more independent (distant) student learning. This has implications for the continued promotion of technology skills and digital literacy among staff and students, and commitments to support, training, and leadership.
  2. Online and distance learning works best when the students are also connected to a learning community and teachers -- real people (with bodies and nuanced expression) and real social environments that are essential for human development, so some face-to-face is a must except for special cases and for most should be the the primary experience, even at higher grades. The group spent a lot of time on the creative/collaborative/critical process involved in building and analyzing content (distributed "learning objects," resources , courses). Some felt there should be an attempt to build original, professional resources specific to BC curriculum contexts, while others were confident that existing online (free/external) resources would increasingly meet learning needs. This has implications for inter-school communication/collaboration and the coordination of some aspects of course programming across the district.
  3. Technology and distributed learning should not remove and try to replicate the best of the classroom experience, but should seek to revolutionize the worst and most problematic aspects of the classroom experience. Thus virtual classrooms that imitate real discussions are often a step backward unless no alternatives exist. Just as the powerpoint can take a meaningful presentation and turn it into something segmented, trite, or didactic, interactive technology can create addictive, self-absorbed recluses where once were curious, social kids. The group was confident that the interactive web could extend and enrich but not replace the social fabric of schools. This has implications for school and district tech direction, planning and licensing.

Friday, June 17, 2005

some thoughts on PLCs

Having recently attended a two-day workshop on instructional leadership (featuring/promoting the Professional Learning Community concept), I have a few thoughts and questions...

This is a bit of a long post, so... you can read it here as a pdf file on a white background or you can go bug-eyed reading below... Also, this is my first crack at a response; I will take any feedback I get to offer a revised look at PLCs -- my opinion, so far, is easily influenced by what others may know that I do not. If you are new to blogging, just click on "comments" below the post in order to leave a comment.

First, briefly, my interpretation of the PLC concept:
-School system organized into hierarchies of learning communities, each roughly accountable to themselves and the next higher order
-Communities are distinguished by structures which focus on student achievement (asking questions like "what do we want our students to learn"); some of these structures follow...
-Time is sought for staff to meet regularly to collaborate on practices and results, study issues & questions, conduct & respond to casual research
-Problems with student achievement are met with timely, consistent, and structured interventions
-Student learning and classroom practice are valued over isolated teaching & professional development
-Supporting the development of a well-rounded, healthy student is balanced (or off-set) with the need to improve academic results
-Leadership is shared; administrators devote more time to instructional support and less on discipline and monitoring

Background on the PLC concept:
-The concept, with its attendant philosophies and terminology, is a product of Richard DuFour and others at the American National Education Service, a for-profit foundation which offers books, tapes, study guides, etc.
-Their system has much in common with other current educational theory (Dufour's is maybe less theoretical or inquiry-based and more "let's get to it") with varying levels of acknowledgement. Lave & Wenger's work on communities of practice is a good starting point for comparing similar theory.
-The PLC lingo and ideas have parallels in current business philosophies and government (USA to BC) emphasis on accountability and decentralization

PLCs in our district -- positive
-Following the conversion of a number of individuals in our district to the PLC concept over recent years, senior administration is encouraging the application of the concept at district schools. The PLC concept provides one way of meeting accountability requirements and School Plan for Student Success goals, and may also remind educators of what they are called to and help them ask if they are doing it well.
-The underlying concepts of focused collaboration, aiming at greater overall student success & educating the whole person, community-based approach, and shared leadership are well rooted in respected theory and are a natural evolution for conscientious schools and school systems.

PLCs in our district -- problems
-The collaborative model is being "tasked" out to schools. When dealing with a shift in guiding ideas which is ultimately meant to impact classroom practice, a top-down approach is probably not the way to go. With any change, the "buy-in" window is narrow and, if those heralding the change haven't covered all the angles, can turn what could be a groundswell movement into a perceived mandate or imposition. If the ideas have merit in the classroom, they need to be field tested in the classroom by volunteers with support.
-The DuFour model is a "total package" system. As such, it has the potential to exclude those who don't understand it, accept it, or have differing views. This is not the same as resisting change, this is simply that change of "governing" ideas often involves dispensing with the old order and marginalizing alternate voices. If the old order was yesterday's "good news," there can be justifiable scepticism about rapid cycles of change.
-Shared leadership, in the business world, often involves pushing decision-making to the lowest acceptable level... While this is not necessarily a feature of the PLC concept, our district is reluctant to let go of centralized decision-making (not saying this is good or bad, simply that it creates a philosophic tension with shared leadership ideas)
-An important emphasis on diversity, site-specific transformation of PLC lingo & practices, and student responsibility for learning appears to be missing or of secondary concern. The PLC concept, as it has been passed on, has the danger of being a "one size fits all" solution to problems which have not been very well articulated.
-The depth to which new ideas enter the educational scene will be a good test of the PLC concept's merit. Will it just involve use of new lingo (out with department meetings, in with collaborative team meetings), or will a new attitude about teaching & learning sink in on the front line (classrooms)? What makes the difference? Where does hoop-jumping turn to meaningful change? Much of it has to do with meaningful questions and data. If the questions asked by staff are arbitrary or determined in 3-minute think & paste activities, the results will be limited engagement and cynicism. Similarly, if the data (on which to build goals or examine practice) is not relevant to the daily classroom experience and broad questions pursued by teachers and students, it will be ignored.
-Formalizing the mentor relationships that occur spontaneously throughout schools, and formalizing the collaboration
-Time, energy, and will... what is it that individual classroom teachers need to improve their practice and affect student success? What barriers exist in supplying these needs? Starting by asking these questions could create problems for PLCs because the results will reflect tremendous diversity and will reflect a variety of philosophies. One teacher may need more collaboration time with others, one might need access to technology, one might need specific training, etc. This could all fit within the PLC concept, but it might not, therefore it is problematic to ask these questions unless we are ready to see the PLC concept as a set of ideas to evaluate, deconstruct, and allow to re-emerge where it makes sense to do so.
-These problems, I think, are worth the trouble of examination and response because the PLC concept has enough merit that it should be taken seriously. If it didn't, it wouldn't be worth evaluating (i.e. extract value).

What I plan to take away from the PLC concept:
- some powerful questions... I really like the one "what do we want our students to learn?" -- follow this one through and it has the potential to transform practice -- it is at once practical and highly philosophic. For me, it pushes me back to another question "what characteristics do I want members of society to exhibit?" and "how does what I teach show of my view of human nature?"
- some tools for collaboration... I have higher expectations for department and staff meetings now; I want to move past business and information and get to issues and beliefs.
- some renewed focus on theory & practice & identity... where is my classroom centered? teacher/student/subject? how does this affect student success? who is the self that imagines this reality and what do I want to learn by being a teacher?

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

What I'm reading

Just finished Golden Spruce by John Vaillant... more than just the story of the guy who cut down the special tree on the Charlottes, this book tells the story of forest "harvesting" on the West Coast. It brought to mind writing by Peter Trower and Martin A. Grainger, so I'm re-reading books by them now! I find, as with most acts of eco-terrorism, that there are many things to learn from (spruce-killer) Hadwin's actions, even if he did cut down a sacred tree. What did I learn? It is easy to focus on the poster-species (like big special trees) while whole ecosystems are threatened with destruction.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Website help needed

Students!!! Please!!! I haven't updated my website in a looooong time. I'd like to redesign the whole thing... but what should it look like? Do you have any favourite websites that have a good design I can "imitate" (I can't do flash!)? Also, what should I call the thing? Thielmann's website sounds like its all about me, but it should be more about learning, etc... more of an online community than a personal website. Comment here with your thoughts.

Friday, March 04, 2005

March 4th Blog This! links

Digital Slideshow Presentation as a pdf file
Internet bookmarks the from presentation - blogs, wikis, etc.
A movie link to the Flintstones/Winstons commercial
Please feel free to leave workshop feedback here -- what did you think of the presentation? (click on comments to leave one). Also, I'm trying to write something decent to address what I refered to as the "Mongol Phenomenon" and on the theme of digital identity -- let me know (here or by email) if you have any supportive or critical ideas on this subject.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Interesting find

This is kind of cool... I came across an unofficial DP Todd newsblog

Monday, February 14, 2005

Semester 2 blogs

Parents/Students: class blogs have been created/renewed for the second semester. Find your class at the Planning 10 blog, the English 9 blog, or the English 8 blog.

Monday, January 31, 2005

Models of Online Learning


  • can be a student-paced “distributed” model (e.g. online modules)
  • can also be a teacher-directed model (e.g. using web or software) 
  • can be individual or class/cohort-based 
  • interaction is not necessarily real time (email, blogs, webcollabs, and discussion boards) 
  • examples include Cool Schools (student-paced) or web-based delivery (student or teacher-paced)
  • advantages: allows flexibility to match courses with teacher strengths and individual needs of users (e.g. desire to work independently and to choose when to work and contribute to discussion), a web-based delivery can be very inexpensive
  • disadvantages: requires teacher to keep track of multiple media, learners, and timing or curriculum, requires students to have some independent work skills, extra tech support time, software/consortium registration (if used) can be very expensive 

class/cohort approach; usually teacher-paced
requires video conferencing or software such as Virtual Classroom (V-class)
real time interaction (e.g. through IM or video-conferencing)
advantages: imitates a real class by bring everyone together at set times and provides avenues for real-time interaction
disadvantages: creates need for supervision and class management without ability to be “present,” ties teacher and student to specific places at specific times, requires technology to be working effectively at exact times, extra tech support time, software/consortium registration or video-conferencing can be very expensive Other “blended” models and uses of online learning
flexible software such as WebCT (used by Cool School) or D2L (which also has chat and whiteboard features like V-Class)
free products such as Moodle (see http://moodle.org/ -- free open source course management system for online learning)
blends of async & sync, also of classroom & online
use of online learning as supplement, enrichment, or support of regular classroom
use of online in combination with paper-based correspondence
use of online to support diversity and learning difficulties in the regular classroom by providing additional tools for communication and understanding material Common issues • cohort approach vs individual learner approach
meeting times and face-to-face contact (scheduling concerns)
teacher delivery and prep time -- cost & logistics
quality of teaching and learning (needs research, data, analysis, evaluation); some models may take the best part out of “T&L” and replace it with disengaged “terminal” time
profile of online learners -- why aren’t they in a classroom? What needs do they have that can or can’t be addressed by various models?
union, professional, qualification, and “power” issues (e.g. school vs. district offerings and staffing, choice vs. mandated models & organization)
praxis: does the model assist, ignore, or hamper various visions connected with PLCs?

http://www.peralta.cc.ca.us/coa/coa.htm -- Physical Geography -- this is an example of asynchronous learning environment using free web tools
http://online.openschool.bc.ca/webct/public/home.pl Login in with user:cool and DPTS password:future -- this is an example of software-based model


No two teachers will “deliver” a course in the same way. This proposal is what I would do with a Geography 12 course, not what I think should be done with online learning in general. This presupposes that the district’s structure for online learning respects the need for teacher autonomy in curriculum design and delivery. I wish to build an asynchronous teacher- directed version of Geography 12, a course, like any other I might design, which includes the use of rich media, use of essentially free web tools, and opportunities for planned interaction submitted online. I would do this to test the online process, not to replace face-to-face learning (given the choice I would prefer to teach Geography in a regular class which is enriched with online tools). Once learning moves away from the dynamic, embodied reality of the classroom, teaching tools need to allow students to develop other skills (such as considering meaningful “discussion board” responses) rather than imitating the classroom with synthetic senses. I have some misgivings about the ability of real-time class simulations to engage learners. My concern stems partly from my experience with “disembodied” learning situations and the frustration of working on tasks “on demand” without opportunity for physical engagement. While not all learners will feel restricted by sitting down at a terminal to work on demand, as a teacher, I feel limited by the approach, suspecting that the best part of teaching and learning in the class is missing when would-be students pretend their bodies are somewhere they are not. I would sooner see students (and myself) working outside the regular timetable, self-directed in tasks and style of engagement (respecting learning styles) yet class-focused in that meaningful, reflective interaction is solicited by the teacher and students in ways that the classroom does not afford. I would not try to replicate the things I am good at which require physical presence; I would focus, rather, on making use of new student skills and webtools which are difficult to find time for in the regular classroom. Without the writing, posting, displaying and responding using webtools such as blogs and email, an asynchronous course may have some of the limitations of a correspondence course. Dreyfus writes that, regardless of model, [i]f the teacher is detached and computer-like, the students will be too. Conversely, if the teacher shows his involvement in the way he pursues the truth, considers daring hypotheses and interpretations, is open to students’ suggestions and objections, and emotionally dwells on the choices that have led him to his conclusions and actions, the students will be more likely to let their own successes and failures matter to them, and rerun the choices that led to these outcomes. (2001, p. 38-39)


  • offer two Geog 12s -- one regular class in the timetable and one online course
  • experiment with online learning by developing an asynchronous teacher-directed course using existing web-based tools (no special software purchase)
  • provide opportunities for both classes to interact online
  • gather evidence for use in analyzing success -- not necessarily to set precedents, but to evaluate the results of the model 


  • Geog 12 online is offered during the same semester as the regular class of Geog 12, but is not tied to a particular block, there are a number of reasons why it should only be run if there are enough numbers to first fill a regular class session
  • the online “cohort” has a few scheduled meeting times for orientation, field trips, and tests -- these could be outside of the regular school day
  • the teacher directs the pace and curriculum of both courses with online tools. Like the example shown in the links (Alameda’s Physical Geography Online), the instructions and course structure would be centered on a website and will also involve the use of important course textbooks
  • some of the curriculum is fixed in advance (e.g. expectations, assignment lists, course material, resources, rubrics, practice quizzes, exam review)
  • some of the curriculum is flexible (discussion of issues and content on a blog, posting of student work samples and reflections, adaptations for cohort needs, response to current events, paying out of material & deadlines to match timeline & assignments)
  • the online students and teacher interact and post work using asynchronous online tools such as email, weblogs & discussion boards, webcollabs & wikis, and websharing (documents, websites, media swap).
  • the regular class can post work in the same way, use the server’s Classwork (hand in/out) features, or work with paper
  • the regular class receives direct/live instruction, labs, demonstrations, discussion, and is invited to participate/mentor/interact with the online students using the same asynchronous tools. Video and sound may be introduced as a means of recording lessons and providing material for reflection by either group.
  • like any other course, part of the block needed for the online course involves work with the curriculum, (web updates, etc.) and part of the time involves interaction with students (blog posts, etc.)
  • like any other course, the teacher builds material and responds to an evolving cohort identity and understanding of material by adapting and revising content and methods Costs
  • 1 block in the timetable for teacher, classroom , and <30 students
  • 1 block for teacher to “teach” <30 online students (deliver, administer, update, interact, evaluate, respond with feedback, etc.) -- includes the regular demand for curriculum design
  • no new software or e-learning “seats”
  • regular tech support of teacher, student accounts, and local computers
  • potentially, new tech time if the district bans commercial webtools like Blogger (as it did with MSN) and starts to build its own service (which is never “free” in terms of tech time)
  • regular school costs associated with a class (e.g. admin & textbooks) Examples of meeting dates for online students
  • one 2-hour afterschool session for orientation
  • two field trips scheduled for Saturdays (regular Geog 12 students invited) -- could also be on a school day or a NID
  • four 2-hour afterschool sessions for unit tests
  • one 2-hour afterschool session for exam review
  • some flex time for “office hours” during prep block of designated afterschool slots when teacher is available for phone, IM, or visit Other considerations
  • some department program advertising or solicitation will likely need to be done at DPTodd (or elsewhere for online) to fill up one or more Geog 12s (similar to what is done in Science Dep’t) 
  • counsellors, teachers (especially in Socials Dep’t) may wish to become reacquainted with reasons for encouraging students to try Geography 12
  • some process and formula will need to be used to decide whether to run a regular Geog 12, an online version, or both (for example, would 40 students total be enough to run two blocks?) -- I would prefer that a face-to-face course be offered before any online version is offered at the same location, and that online course registration is subject to the same class-size logic applied to regular courses
  • in general, the district plan for online learning needs time for experiment, observation, literature review, discussion, and research/analysis -- moving quickly to support a very particular, expensive, and relatively unexamined model does not help promote online learning or public education 

Further Reading/References
“How Far is Distance Learning from Education” (H. Dreyfus, On the Internet, Ch. 2, Routledge, London: 2001) -- see attached or download at http://dpts.sd57.bc.ca/~gthielmann/docs/dreyfus2.pdf
“Disembodied Telepresence and the Remoteness of the Real” (H. Dreyfus, On the Internet, Ch. 3, Routledge, London: 2001) -- see attached or download at http://dpts.sd57.bc.ca/~gthielmann/docs/dreyfus3.pdf

Friday, January 07, 2005

What I'm reading

Right now, I'm reading Ken McGoogan's book Ancient Mariner (a biography of the Arctic explorer Samuel Hearne). While impressed with the hardship Hearne endured, and the Voltaire-inspired humanism he (presumably) displayed, I am disgusted by the brutal massacres he describes as taking place between his Dene guides and various other Native groups they encounter. I am very engaged by the narrative, although I'm guessing that McGoogan has filled in a lot of blanks with fancy and he often repeats himself. I'm O.K. when an author fictionalizes to make a story richer, but it appears that the author moves between research findings and made-up conversations with the same presumption of factual authority. Nonetheless, a very good read which makes me want to read Hearne's original travel account (Journey to the Northern Ocean.). It also has me wondering about my respect for David Thompson (explorer for HBC/NWC in Canadian West) -- McGoogan digs up some dirt on him which doens't fit with previous idea(l) of Thompson the intrepid and sensitive trail wanderer -- I actually lost some sleep over this. I'm not being pretentious here! I have very few heroes... most of them are historical figures like Thompson so I feel unsettled when part of my personal myth comes under review. BTW, I saw a first edition (1795) of Hearne's journal for sale online for only $7800 U.S.!.