Living in a World of “Not-Yetness”

Last week, Amy Collier and Jen Ross talked about the idea of “not-yetness” at the #OpenEd15 Conference in Vancouver, BC. They connected the idea of not-yetness in terms of the messy, risky and frustratingly hard experiences that educators and learners go through with emerging digital learning.

When I asked my son, “What does ‘not-yet’ mean to you?” he responded, “Don’t do whatever you are doing”. Alternatively, when I asked my daughter the same thing, she said, “You can’t do whatever you’re doing right now, but you can do it later.”

Different reactions to the same words.  Like my son, when I hear “not yet,” I hear, “Stop doing that!” In fact as an innovator and teacher who thinks outside of the box, I was often told, “not yet” when I told others about an idea. Although curious by nature, I feel hesitant and lose confidence when I hear the words, “not yet”.

However, my daughter’s response intrigued me. Why did she hear something else when she heard the words, “not-yet”?

I thought about my favourite t-shirt with the following image on it:

CC BY-SA 2.0 – CC BY-SA 2.0


My daughter laughs when I wear the t-shirt. She loves the idea of no boundaries and always thinking outside the box. My son has asked me to take the t-shirt off because it breaks all the rules and it isn’t right.

The best thing about the topic of “not-yetness” for a blogpost, is that the chapter Complexity, mess, and not-yetness: Teaching online with emerging technologies (Collier & Ross, in press), is “not-yet” published in the forthcoming second edition of Emerging Technologies in Distance Education. So I can write about the possibilities of “not-yetness” ahead of time, I can break all the rules and I don’t have to be right.

Based on the context of messiness and not-yetness in digital learning, in her ET4Online Plenary talk Ross said that, “We can use (not-yetness) to tell new stories about what teachers, students, developers, designers and researchers are doing in our digital practices, and why it is hard, and why it matters. We can take better account of issues of power, responsibility, sustainability, reach and contact in digital education. We can be more open about the work of education.” (2015)

The idea of, “not-yetness” appears to encourage learners to learn without barriers, take leaps of faith and trust the process. Learners are encouraged to be independent and driven by self-directed inquiry while using collaborative learning strategies when they need some extra support or want to discuss an idea.

“Not-yetness” reminds me of the idea of the Growth Mindset. “In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment. Virtually all great people have had these qualities.” (Dweck, 2006)

When my daughter defined “not-yetness” she added, “My teachers tell me, “Instead of saying ‘I can’t do it’, say ‘I can’t do it yet’.”  

I didn’t learn to teach using digital tools by following the same set of rules and guidelines I used when I learned how to teach in a regular f2f classroom. I learned by trial and error, hours of practice, development of skills I never knew I had, knew I needed, or even knew existed. I learned to code, embed, ask questions, collaborate, connect, and trust the process. I learned that it’s ok to fail one day and succeed the next and that failure can feel good and success can feel bad. I learned to give up control and focus on listening to others. I learned to push boundaries and look for alternatives. I learned that there are worlds out there in which I can learn – that I don’t know anything about, and that’s ok.

Whether you are a believer in “not-yetness”, growth mindset, or otherwise, the power of the unknown can motivate and challenge learners. It is wrong to take away the magic of the “not yet” when it is full of potential learning energy. Next time you hear or say, “not-yet” take a moment to think about the context and consider if you are encouraging or preventing new learning from happening.

Dweck, C. S. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. New York: Random House.

Science Misconceptions – How Should Teachers Deal With Them?

arrowsWe’ve all heard or expressed the common teacher refrain or some variation of “I taught it to them so many times and in so many different ways and yet they still got it wrong on the exam!” It’s frustrating and hard to comprehend how something which may have been thoroughly and skillfully taught, and by all indications well understood by the students, just doesn’t take hold. Perhaps what is happening is that we are trying to teach something that contradicts the students’ existing erroneous conceptions on the subject. Unfortunately such existing misconceptions have more “sticking” power and often remain as the student’s dominant explanation.

For example, if you ask your Secondary 2 students to explain why summers are warmer than winters, you may often get the explanation that in summer the Sun is closer to the Earth than in winter. Many teachers have found that even if you take them through a teaching unit which explains the seasons as the result of the tilt of the earth’s axis, students will often remain faithful to their original misconception that seasons are a result of the earth’s relative proximity to (or of a possible variation of the intensity of) the sun.

Dr. Patrice Potvin, a science education professor at the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM), has done considerable research into student misconceptions in science (more correctly referred to as alternate conceptions!). He has studied the nature of these conceptions with an eye to helping teachers help their students deal with them and direct them to more acceptable scientific understandings. But he has discovered, as so many science teachers have too, that student misconceptions can be very tenacious. Dr Potvin notes that “a growing number of studies have argued that many frequent non-scientific conceptions (sometimes designated as “misconceptions”) will not vanish or be recycled during learning, but will on the contrary survive or persist in learners’ minds even though these learners eventually become able to produce scientifically correct answers.” Potvin et al. (2015).

What then can teachers do in the classroom to mitigate the learning obstacles presented by these misconceptions?   Dr. Potvin has recently done research in which he has exposed students in different science disciplines and of different ages to “treatments”. In all cases students were given a pre-test, then exposed to a “treatment” i.e. a teaching situation designed to teach the correct concept, and then a post-test to see if the initial misconception had changed for the better. In one study of Grade 5 and 6 students, for example, he tackled the factors which influence an object’s buoyancy in water – trying to steer them away from the erroneous idea that size or weight alone determine buoyancy. In another study of physics students he worked to correct incorrect notions of electric currents – that a single wire can light a bulb or that a bulb consumes current, for example. Both of these studies involved large numbers of students, rigorous experimental methodology and sophisticated statistical analysis to determine whether or not the results were significant. The results showed the tenacity of student misconceptions. They were written up in peer-reviewed journals.

Dr. Potvin’s research makes a couple of suggestions to teachers:

  • Be aware that initial misconceptions may persist and so teach with durability in mind.
  • Provoke “conceptual conflicts” by giving illustrations which dramatically illustrate the differences between the correct and the erroneous conceptions. For example when trying to dispel the idea that the weight of an object is the main factor in its buoyancy, he suggests “comparing the buoyancy of a giant tanker boat (that floats even though it weights thousands of tons) to that of a sewing needle would provoke a stronger conceptual conflict than, say, comparing a wooden ball with a slightly bigger lead ball” Potvin (2015)

This is just a brief glimpse of the research being carried out in this complex area of science education, both locally at UQAM as well as internationally and being reported in many academic journals of science education.

With this in mind, an interesting project is being undertaken at McGill University to help teachers tackle science misconceptions that their students bring to the class. As a joint bilingual undertaking of McGill and UQAM, its aim is to help teachers of Cycle 1 secondary Science and Technology (S&T) diagnose and hopefully correct their students’ alternate conceptions in as many of the 85 concepts of the MELS S&T program as possible. Teachers from 3 school boards (two English and one French) have been working hard to develop diagnostic questions for the concepts – questions whose incorrect answers help identify misconceptions their students have. Corrective measures are also being developed to help teachers guide their students. LEARN Quebec is a partner in the project and will be the online distributor to teachers across the province once the question bank has been completed. Hopefully, along with the current research being done, this will help advance our students’ understanding of the science concepts needed to make them scientifically literate members of society.


Some references

Potvin, P., Mercier, J., Charland, P., & Riopel, M. (2012). Does classroom explicitation of initial conceptions favour conceptual change or is it counter-productive. Research in Science Education, 42(3), 401–414.

Potvin, P., Sauriol, É. and Riopel, M. (2015), Experimental evidence of the superiority of the prevalence model of conceptual change over the classical models and repetition. J Res Sci Teach, 52: 1082–1108. doi:10.1002/tea.21235

The Great Canadian Experiment that Worked: L’immersion française dans nos écoles

Collaboration spéciale de Marla Williams, Coordonnatrice CPF – Québec


Murielle Parkes, Olga Melikoff, Valerie Neale.

Although these names are unfamiliar to most Canadian households, these three anglophone mothers from Montreal’s South Shore profoundly influenced Canada’s educational system through their perseverance and dedication to bringing about a now familiar program in which English-speaking children are fully instructed in the French language in the classroom: French Immersion.

Ces femmes incroyables, ces « mères fondatrices » de l’immersion française, méritent une attention toute particulière puisque l’année scolaire 2015-2016 marque un jalon important dans l’histoire du Canada : le 50e anniversaire de la création du premier programme d’immersion française au pays.

Retournons aux années 1960s…

Canada in the 1960s. Change was in the air. The Francophone population in Quebec was clamouring for greater protection of its culture and for a stronger voice in the political decision-making of the country. The landscape was also rapidly shifting in the province in favour of the primacy of the French language, where previously one had to learn English to succeed even though the majority spoke French. Issues surrounding languages and minority communities had taken the country by storm and as a result, the 1963 Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism was created to examine “the extent of bilingualism in the federal government, the role of public and private organizations in promoting better cultural relations, and the opportunities for Canadians to become bilingual in English and French” (The Canadian Encyclopedia).

C’est dans ce contexte que Mmes Parkes, Melikoff et Neale, se sont réunies avec une dizaine de parents de la Rive-Sud de Montréal afin de déterminer comment leurs enfants pourraient apprendre à maîtriser la langue française à l’intérieur du système scolaire. Ensemble, ces parents ont donc formé le St. Lambert Bilingual School Study Group. Désirant appuyer leurs idées sur des recherches solides, le groupe a contacté le professeur Wallace Lambert, un éminent psychologue et chercheur à l’Université McGill, ainsi que le docteur Wilder Penfield, un neurologue à l’Institut neurologique de Montréal, pour les aider à élaborer un plan d’action.

As Graham Fraser, Canada’s Commissioner of Official Languages, noted, “for a dozen parents in a South Shore suburb to seek out academic experts like Wallace Lambert and Wilder Penfield to figure out a way to make sure that their children would learn to speak French better than they could was an act of citizenship of the highest order. In its own way, it was a statement of their commitment to living in Quebec as a minority.” (Fraser, 11) They wanted their children to thrive in the province, and they embraced the transformations that were rapidly taking hold there.

Muni d’une détermination inébranlable, ce groupe de parents a essayé, tout au long de deux années éprouvantes, à convaincre le Chambly County Protestant School Board – dont le territoire aujourd’hui est sous le mandat de la commission scolaire Riverside– à accepter leur plan pour l’enseignement de la langue française dans la salle de classe. Enfin, en 1965, suite à une longue bataille ardue, ils ont reçu le feu vert pour mettre en œuvre l’immersion française dans une classe de maternelle à la Margaret Pendlebury Elementary School, école située à Saint-Lambert. Le jour de l’inscription, les portes se sont ouvertes à 13h et en seulement cinq minutes, 26 élèves, soit le maximum d’inscriptions possibles, ont été inscrits par leurs parents. Les autres parents intéressés par le programme ont dû être refusés.

Their efforts bore fruit. The teachers and parents involved in this novel pilot project were satisfied with how things were progressing and the young learners were feeling confident in their ability to speak their second language. Still facing resistance from the School Board, however, the mothers asked McGill researchers to study the effect the program was having on the young learners. In 1969, the results were published and they were promising: the program was working.

Ces résultats positifs, soutenus par la recherche, ont motivé des centaines d’autres parents à travers le pays, qui exigeaient également un changement, à établir des programmes similaires ailleurs au Canada. En tant que tels, des programmes éparpillés d’immersion française ont commencé à surgir à Ottawa, Toronto, Coquitlam et Sackville pendant les années 60s et 70s. Voulant étendre ces programmes encore plus loin, des parents ont rencontré le commissaire aux langues officielles, Keith Spicer, à Ottawa en 1977. De cette rencontre est né le projet Canadian Parents for French (CPF), un groupe qui revendique depuis plus de 38 ans pour plus de programmes de français langue seconde dans le système scolaire à l’échelle nationale. Leurs efforts concertés ont permis de nombreuses réussites et une montée en flèche des statistiques sur l’immersion française au Canada. Effectivement, les inscriptions en immersion française ont augmenté d’environ 650% dans les décennies qui ont suivi la création du CPF et aujourd’hui, plus de 300,000 étudiants sont inscrits dans ces programmes à travers le Canada.

French Immersion, also known as the “great Canadian experiment that worked”. A program that has been emulated worldwide, in countries as far away as Japan and New Zealand. Although French Immersion still has its many critics and flaws, such as enrolment caps and a lack of support for students with learning disabilities, committed parents from around the country are working hard to ameliorate access to French second language programs and to respond to all its students’ needs.

Grâce à leur détermination, Murielle Parkes, Olga Melikoff, and Valerie Neale ont donné le courage et la conviction aux milliers de parents qui se mobilisent encore aujourd’hui pour l’amélioration du programme. Tant qu’ils continueront à se battre, et nous savons qu’ils le feront, nous pouvons être assurés que de plus en plus d’élèves apprendront et prospéreront dans leur deuxième langue officielle.

On a final note, the Riverside School Board – now a firm supporter of French Immersion – gave the women a plaque on the 40th Anniversary of French Immersion, exactly 10 years ago. On it was engraved an inspiring quote from the anthropologist Margaret Meade: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”



CPF National News. “40th Anniversary of first French immersion model in Canada celebrated.” ISSN 1202-7384 NO. 101 Spring/Summer 2006. Online reference:

Fraser, Graham. “Immersion Schools: Wallace Lambert’s Legacy,” In CPF Magazine Fall/Winter 2015: 9-14. Online reference:

“French Immersion Changed Canada.” The Gazette. March 20, 2006. Online Reference:

Government of Alberta. Department of Education. “How did French immersion start?” Online reference:

Laing, G. “Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism.” The Canadian Encyclopedia. Historica Canada, 2015. Online reference:


The Students Have Spoken: Online Classes vs. Face to Face


studen voice logoThe student’s voice tends to be the voice not heard enough in the classrooms of the world. We at LEARN decided it might be time that students were given a platform to let their voices resound. What better place to start than with the students attending our online classes!

A bit of background: we currently have students from six English school boards across the province, taking online math and science classes with LEARN. Approximately half of them are in Secondary 4 and the other half are in Secondary 5. Some of them are taking a single course and some of them are taking two or three courses. Over 60% of our students are taking their first online class with LEARN this year. The question on everyone’s mind when they hear about our online classes: “Yes, but how does it compare to traditional face to face situations?” We thought it would be interesting to let the students tell us about the differences between classes in a virtual setting and classes where they are face-to-face with their peers and teachers.

We asked our Secondary 5 students to answer two questions about online learning:

1. What are the greatest differences between online learning and F2F learning?

2. What is one thing about online learning that has surprised you?

Thanks, LEARN Secondary 5 students, for giving us an insight into how you view the differences between online and F2F learning! Stay tuned for a follow-up blog post early in 2016, where the Secondary 4 students get their opportunity to be heard.

Want to know more?



Flipped History: A new approach for a new curriculum

flip3As you know, I’m piloting the new History of Quebec and Canada curriculum. In my previous post, History of Quebec and Canada – Planning for a new curriculum I discussed unit planning, learning intentions and planning for assessment.  After piloting for a month and a half, in this post I’d like to examine the teaching method that I’ve set up for my classes – the Flipped Classroom.

Flipped learning has become a trend in recent years.  There’s no shortage of material available online for those teachers looking to flip their classroom.  Before making this decision, I looked at both the advantages and disadvantages of flipping and I’ve found a method that works for me.

I found the article “Educators Evaluate ‘Flipped Classrooms’” from Education Week to be informative, and then I read the book Flip Your Classroom: Reach Every Student in Every Class Every Day by Aaron Sams and Jonathan Bergmann. I suggest that anyone who plans on embarking on this journey to read up as much as you can about it. According to a brief published by Educause,

“The flipped classroom is a pedagogical model in which the typical lecture and homework elements of a course are reversed. Short video lectures are viewed by students at home before the class session, while in-class time is devoted to exercises, projects, or discussions.”

In this post, I’ve used a PMI format (Plus – Minus – Interesting) to organize my thoughts.


The biggest positive result that  I have with  flipping the classroom is that I have the time to talk to all of my students, every class, about their work.  As a result, we spend more time reading and more time writing than I had before I flipped.  The feedback that I can give students is immediate, and students have the time to work on their assignments.  

For example we’ve been working on the essential question, “How does geography affect settlement?” I began by asking them how do you write a paragraph?  They brought their prior knowledge from English language arts and from Sec II history and citizenship and we established a common set of criteria for the paragraph.  Then they wrote their topic sentence/thesis statement and switched with a partner to determine if the statement was clear and concise.  They then wrote their draft, switched again and peer edited and wrote a “final” copy or so they thought!  I took the paragraph in, gave them my feedback and handed them back the next class.  However, I took a few examples (from different groups) and projected them on my smart board.  We then took the criteria that we had jointly established and analyzed the different exemplars in small groups.  The student then took their copies back, along with my feedback and completed the real final copies.  The results were that their writing was clearer and more in depth than their original paragraphs.  I’ve basically erased ‘finish this at home tonight’ from my teaching.  


Are there challenges?  Of course there are, however I consider the challenges to be relatively minor.  One of the biggest challenges is equity, not everyone has access to the internet.  We are lucky that our department has sixteen Chromebooks at our disposal.  Students are welcome to come in at lunch in order to watch the video in my classroom; this is also for students who don’t watch the videos, they are required to come in at lunch to catch up.  Also, we have computers in the library and computer lab that are available for students to use outside of class time .  When access is an issue, it’s usually because the home computer was being used a sibling for other school work.

For me, the largest issues have been technological.  When I began last year, I used a number of Ipad apps like Tellagami, Explain Everything and Doceri to produce the videos.  Then I edited them with Camtasia Studio.  The process was bulky and cumbersome, because I was looking for images and recording on my Ipad and then importing them into a Macbook and then using the editing software to add captions and to put it all together.  This year I’m doing all of the recording and editing with Camtasia.  I’ve found that the process works better that way.  There are other options for editing as well, Microsoft Movie Maker is on most PC’s and Mac’s have iMovie.

Time is also another consideration.  When would I have the time to make these videos?  While other subjects can rely on commercially produced videos like Kahn Academy, or those from other teachers in subjects like science, the new history curriculum is virtually a blank slate.  When we flipped our History and Citizenship 404 curriculum last year, my colleague Dan Curley and I split the duties.  There were benefits in doing this, one was that it took less time for each of us to produce the videos.  The drawback was that inevitably our students prefered the videos that each of us made.  They felt reassured hearing their teacher’s voice narrating the video.  As well, the videos represented our teaching style.  For example, in my videos I don’t use a script, but rather jot notes of the most important information that I want my students to learn, based on the learning intentions that I discussed in my previous post.  I find that the tone of the videos is more conversational and organic.  I’m worried less about perfection and more on being clear and explaining the material.


If you do go ahead and flip your classroom, you’ll notice that all of the sudden you have an abundance of time.  Where did this time come from and what was I using classroom time for before?  A lecture and note-taking class that lasted between forty five minutes to an hour can be boiled down to a video that lasts between five and ten minutes. No longer are my students copying notes from the board or Powerpoint, where inevitably the pace was dependant on the student who took their notes the slowest.  The result was a lot of wasted time as the fastest students tuned out and the slower ones rushed and never paid any attention to the explanations.    My students tell me that  now they are spending twenty minutes at the most taking their notes at home, with ten or fifteen minutes being more typical.

Flipping the classroom has worked for me.  I appreciate the time that I have with my students to help them with their work and to help them improve their writing and their thinking about history.  Sometimes, I don’t appreciate the pressure to produce another video on a tight timeline, but I’ve learnt to be flexible and that if time is tight, then I don’t always have to have a video done in time for my lesson.

In my next post, I’ll be discussing formative assessment and the intellectual operations.  Meanwhile, have you flipped your classroom?  What are the advantages and drawbacks that you see in this approach?  If you considered flipping, why didn’t you take the plunge?



Educators Evaluate ‘Flipped Classrooms’ – Education Week

7 Things you should know about the Flipped Classroom – Educause

Bergmann, J and Sams, A. (2012)  Flip Your Classroom: Reach Every Student in Every Class Every Day. An ASCD & ISTE Publication.