Podcasts in the classroom

Today in EDCI 336, we had a great presentation from two members of our cohort about their inquiry project on using podcasts in the classroom. This is something I myself have thought about a little bit when I’ve been thinking of my future classroom. It might initially seem like a bit of a stretch to incorporate podcasts into the science classroom, but I can easily see the benefits. As the wonderful women who presented their ideas today mentioned, students can, as an assignment or project, both listen to and create their own podcasts. There are some excellent podcasts that explore science topics, most notably for me: Radiolab. Radiolab is a podcast from WNYC studios that has been “investigating a strange world” since 2002. I’ve listened to all the episodes I can get my hands on, through Spotify. Their podcasts can be listened to for free through their website, making it easy to use in the classroom or assign to students as required listening for an assignment or project. Their episodes feature elements of storytelling, interviews with experts, music, and explorations of social issues. Often, their podcasts have themes of science, philosophy, and social justice, making them easy to incorporate into a science, technology, society, and environment (STSE) lesson.

Besides completing an assignment or a short paragraph response from listening to a podcast, students could also engage with podcasts by creating one of their own. Students could, in groups or on their own, choose a science topic to research for their podcast. Their chosen topic could be a scientist’s life and discoveries (e.g. Marie Curie’s discovery of radon and polonium), a scientific concept (e.g. radioactive elements), a science topic with related social issues (e.g. nuclear waste disposal), or any science-related topic of their choosing. Podcasts can easily be recorded on student’s phones using an app like Audacity.

I think podcasts can be an excellent educational tool to foster interest in science among students. I hope to use them myself in my own classroom!

An article with some great suggestions for science podcasts can be found here.

SAMR and TPACK models for technology integration

In EDCI 336 as well as EDCI 352, we have learned about the SAMR framework for integrating technology in the classroom. We also looked at the TPACK model in EDCI 352.

These videos below summarize the models pretty well!

I especially see the value in the TPACK model because of its emphasis on the pedagogical reasons for adapting certain activities in class. I think I often get caught by the “technology for technology’s sake” because of the heavy emphasis in this program that is placed on incorporating technology in the classroom. Many of my classes, this one included, preach multimodality and technology integration to enhance student learning. While I definitely se the use in certain situations to incorporate technology, I appreciated the technological pedagogical knowledge (TPK) aspect because it requires the technology to serve a purpose when it is used alongside pedagogy in a way that is appropriate to the activity and the discipline. I also like the technological knowledge portion to be a useful aspect to this model. Some technologies will require a decent amount of both student learning and teacher learning, as was the case with using Comic Life in a previous class where one whole lecture period had to be dedicated to learning how to use the app and becoming comfortable with it. I found the TPACK model to be quite useful for making technology integration work successfully in a classroom setting.

The SAMR method seems less useful to me just because of the scaffolding of each step. I was unsure whether the goal to using this framework to integrate technology into the classroom was to go through each step of the model and redesign an activity so that it is “redefined” or whether it is also ok to simply stop at the “substitution” or “augmentation” stage. I do feel that this model also addresses the “why” when it comes to technology integration. At each step of the model, you redesign the activity and are forced to ask yourself the reasons for which you are doing so. We discovered this when we worked as a group in the workshop on the activity. Replacing a pen and paper essay assignment with writing the essay on a computer could not provide any augmentation for a particular student while also providing many extra enhancements to another student. Different students will invariably have different needs in the classroom, and using a particular technology may enhance student learning for some while providing no benefit or even a detriment to others.


A few weeks ago, our EDCI 336 class had the opportunity to visit the Pacific School of Innovation and Inquiry (PSII). PSII is a very small inquiry-based independent school that is located on Douglas street in downtown Victoria. It was explained to us that the students have a lot of autonomy when it comes to their own learning. They choose topics that they are interested in to explore through inquiry projects, and their teachers help them by gently guiding the direction of their inquiry. Technology is integrated in every inquiry project and in many aspects of the school. Students create blogs, use computers instead of textbooks, use tech during their inquiry process, and can present their inquiry projects using any sort of technology.

One obvious question that comes up with this model of learning is a question I struggle with every time student-directed, inquiry-based learning is mentioned: are students able to cover all the required content for their academic courses through these inquiry projects? Teachers at PSII guide the students towards certain paths through which they can explore their topic, allowing, supposedly, for all the content to be covered over the course of the year. Coming from a science discipline, this seems hard to believe. Even if a student attempting to cover chemistry 12 content (for example) though inquiry projects is able to touch on each of the five “big ideas” of the chemistry 12 curriculum, it seems unlikely to me that the student would come away with a thorough enough understanding of all the content needed to succeed in a chemistry course at a post-secondary institution. As a teacher, I would hope to completely prepare my students with all of the knowledge they will need to succeed in post-secondary courses. The transition from high school to university can be very difficult, and it can be compounded if you don’t have a firm grasp on the base knowledge upon which post-secondary science courses build. Of course, my concern about this idea wouldn’t matter as much if the student did not intend to pursue chemistry (or whichever science) at post-secondary, or even intend to go on to post-secondary education at all.

Another interesting thought is that a student at PSII pays $7,200 in tuition fees per year. If indeed attending this school advantages their students as much as PSII educators say it does, these advantages are therefore limited to those students of a certain socioeconomic status whose families can afford to send them there. This potential lack of student diversity could potentially lead to a less enriching learning environment and experience for PSII students who may not be as diverse a population as in a public school. These concern about student diversity and opportunity that I have would apply to any private school, not just PSII.

Overall, though I am doubtful and have a few reservations, I think that the folks over at PSII are trying an interesting experiment. I would be interested in knowing how PSII graduates fare academically in introductory level science courses at post-secondary institutions.

An interesting article in The Tyee about how British Columbians feel about private/independent schools can be found here.

Free inquiry project: grinding pigments

I’ve been staring at my drying rocks and shells for a long time now, but I’ve been too busy with schoolwork lately to do any more work with my pigments. Now that I’m less busy and all of my pigments are clean and dry, they are ready to be ground up!

I bought a cheap mortar and pestle on amazon to grind up my stones and shells because my local art store was selling one for 45$, which is crazy. Here’s my experience with grinding up my pigments.

The pigments that ground up into the nicest and finest pigment were both of the sets of red rocks. They crumbled well when smashed gently with the pestle, and after some grinding, they tuned into a lovely fine powder. I removed the rocks that did not initially crush easily because they must not have been made of the same mineral or pigment. Keep in mind, I don’t know what type of rocks these were. The orange, more porous rocks from Cattle Point broke into small sharp pieces when crushed with the pestle before they turned into a fine power. The darker red, more brick-like rocks from Cattle Point crumbled when crushed until they turned into a powder. Obviously, these two types of rocks are different, but I’m unsure what they are. I’m still thinking the darker ones may be brick of some sort, but the more orange ones most certainly are not. After grinding, the pigments were sifted to ensure that the particles were quite small. Overall, the particle size of both types of red rocks were very small once ground up, and both produced lovely colours of powder (though they are quite similar colours).

As for the shells, they did not quite turn out as well. Both the yellow and the purple shells were very difficult to crush (a hammer had to be used at one point for extra oompf!) and once ground, they did not become a fine powder. Rather, they ended up as very small shards of shell instead of a powder. Both the yellow shells and the purple shells were a bit sparkly so they might be interesting as paints, but I doubt whether they will mix with watercolour medium to create the desired paste-like consistency for watercolour paints. As a side note, I think I should have used a sieve with smaller holes so that only very fine powder was able to come through the holes and any shards would not have made it through the sieve. It’s a bit disappointing, but if I look at this as one big experiment (which I guess it is), then I am less sad and more just interested in the results! The white shells ground up a little better, with only some shards in the final product. Overall, the white shells also produced a powder which was sifted. The results of the shell pigments: mixed.

Grinding up the charcoal was really fun. The dust particles went absolutely everywhere when I ground up the pieces of charcoal, and I had to do a thorough sweep of the area (my kitchen floor) after I ground up all my pigments to collect all the errant dust. At the risk of sharing too much, I also ended up with plenty of black dust up my nose which I realized a day later when I blew my nose. I thought for a second that I was gravely ill until I remembered my charcoal fiasco from the previous day. Anyways, the charcoal also ground up into a nice and satisfyingly fine powder that shimmers if you look at it under light. I am quite interested to see how this pigment will look when I add it to watercolour medium.

I didn’t grind up the clay that I found at Mt.Douglas beach for the simple reason that I forgot to do it. I’ll grind it up and share a picture of the results in a post later on. For now, you can check out the video I made documenting the whole process of grinding the pigments! It’s a bit long, but there’s a special guest around 5:50 that you can skip ahead to see if you’re bored.

(Shoutout to Kelly W. and Michael P. for helping me edit this video, you really helped a tech-illiterate girl out!)

When I next have some free time, I’ll create my watercolour medium and begin to mix my paints. This project will turn a lot more experimental at that point, just because there are lots of variables involved. It promises also be the most visually satisfying part of this whole process, so I’ll try to film a nice video that can show it off! Stay tuned folks.

“Most likely to succeed” reflection

As homework for EDCI 336, we watched a film called “Most Likely to Succeed”. The film was a documentary about a high school in the U.S. where conventional teaching methods are flipped upside down and students have much more autonomy in their own learning. Rather than the usual format of students learning course material and their learning being assessed through an exam, the students at this high school work for the semester on large, sometimes cross-curricular, projects. These large works are then presented at the end of the semester at a school-wide gallery for the community to see.

While the arguments presented in the film about student learning are very persuasive, I am not fully behind the idea of this revolutionary approach to secondary education. The teachers in the film argue that the more self-directed learning style, where students follow their own passions through these projects, better prepares young adults for the workforce they will one day enter. I agree with the idea of preparing students for life outside of high school by teaching fundamental skills like problem solving, collaboration, leadership, as well as creative and critical thinking. I do not, however, agree that learning all of the key concepts in a particular high school course should be compromised in order for students to gain these skills. In my particular area, chemistry, students would absolutely not be well-served to only learn a portion of the Chemistry 11 or 12 material. These two courses provide a very basic level of knowledge needed to succeed and even survive further any post-secondary Chemistry course. Without knowing all of the key concepts and lab skills that they will need in university or college, I would be very surprised if students did not experience tremendous difficulty in their first year of post-secondary.

The makers of the film did provide information showing that students who graduated from this high school did not have academic difficulties in getting accepted to their post-secondary institutions of choice. While this is good to hear, I find this very difficult to wrap my head around. Perhaps there is something that I am missing? Maybe educators at the high school were actually able to teach a sufficient amount of course material within the self-directed projects, or maybe I am overestimating the amount of content knowledge you need to have to succeed in post-secondary? Either way, I am a little bit confused.

The film certainly is inspirational to me and to many of my classmates that I have talked to, although I’m not sure I embrace the pedagogy of the high school in the film. In my future career, I will try to educate students about the core concepts of chemistry as well as foster the necessary foundational skills that students will need in their lives after secondary school.


Free inquiry project: finding pigments

For the last week, I have been all around my neighbourhood looking for pigments. I have been to beaches, cliffs, forests, and my own backyard. It was quite difficult adjusting to looking for natural pigment sources, especially at the beach. Normally, I collect all sorts of rocks, so it was hard to only look for a certain kind of rock. Once I got used to what I was looking for, it was easy to find things that I could use as pigments. The best way to tell if rocks can be used as pigments seems to be to scrape the rock in question against another rock. If it leaves a streak of colour on the rock, it can be used as a pigment (I think?).

This rock leaves pigment when it’s scraped on the grey rock!

After some searching at Cattle Point, I found many dark orange/red rocks that were quite soft. The rocks found on the beach of this colour were slightly less heavy than a normal rock of the same size, and had many little holes in them. They could possibly be pieces of bricks. However, I found very similar rocks embedded into the cliff face next to the beach, so maybe they aren’t made of brick? I took some of both types, and I will see if there are any differences in the rock types throughout the process.

A collection of similarly-coloured rocks from Cattle Point.

I also went to Mt. Douglas beach, this time with the specific goal of finding pigments that were colours other than red/orange (since I already had many of those). I found some white shells, some purple shells, and some slightly yellow and orange shells among the rocks. I would love to try to identify the types of seashells that I found, but unfortunately they are all in fragments (and my biology simply isn’t that strong!). I’m thinking I might try to mix all the shell colours together in one pigment, but I may separate them to create different colours. I’ll decide later.

At the same beach, I also found a lovely red crab shell, some yellow and grey clay, and some pieces of charcoal. Whether or not I use the crab shell is dependent on how well I wash it and whether it smells after I leave it to dry for a few days… I am also unsure whether the clay will be a good pigment for watercolours, or whether is will be too clumpy and solid. Only time will tell! I am fairly certain the charcoal will be easily ground into a powder and will produce a nice black colour.

I have an Oregon Grape bush in my backyard which I immediately thought of when I considered potential pigments. It is an evergreen shrub that is native to western North America, and it produces lovely edible berries in the summer. Because it’s September now, the berries on the bush are a little shrivelled but I squished one between my fingers and it still produced a wonderful dark fuchsia colour.

Having collected all of my pigments, the next step was washing and drying them. It is important to wash them to decrease the amount of contaminants that will end up in the paint (eg. sand, dirt, bugs) and drying the pigments ensures that it can be easily ground up into a paste. I have all of my rocks and shells on a piece of paper towel drying.

Here are all of my lovely little pigments drying. Some red rocks, some shells, and some charcoal. I didn’t know it was possible to be in love with rocks and shells, but here I am!

I now have a small collection of natural sources from which I will attempt to make my pigments! The next step is grinding each pigment down to a powder (or paste, in the case of the berries). Stay tuned for how this goes in my next post!

Free inquiry project: intro

Painting with watercolours has been a hobby of mine since I taught myself the basics of watercolour painting when I first began university. In the five years since then, I have continually experimented with different subjects, styles, colour palettes, and types of watercolour paints. Liquid watercolours (in a tube) tend to produce much more vibrant and rich colours than solid watercolours (in a pan). The possible variations in paint composition and colour is amazing! Below is a series of paintings I did of a few of Simon Butterworth’s aerial photographs of Australian salt flats. His original photographs can be found here.


For my free inquiry project, I will be experimenting with making my own watercolour paints. I live on Vancouver Island, and have always enjoyed being outside and exploring the natural world. I am hoping to go on some interesting nature walks and gather materials I will need to fabricate my paints with. Some things I am looking for include ochre, clay, pigmented minerals, vibrant plants, and berries. Hopefully I’m able to find some of these so  I can begin my paint making journey!

Having never done anything like this before, I have some initial questions that I would like to investigate and answer along the way.

  1. Where can you find pigmented minerals, and how easy are they to find on Vancouver Island?
  2. What is the best / easiest way to grind up the mineral pigments?
  3. What kind of preservative agents should be added to the pigments, and how long will the pigments last with these preservatives?
  4. Will plant materials produce vibrant enough colours to be seen once painted on paper?
  5. What compounds in the pigment produce the observed colour, and why?
  6. What kinds of textures will the natural paints produce on watercolour paper?

I’m excited to get started!