Developing a Profound Understanding of Mathematics

“If a teacher’s own knowledge of the mathematics taught in elementary school is limited to procedures, how could we expect his or her classroom to have a tradition of inquiry mathematics?”

– Liping Ma (1999)

After reading Knowing and Teaching Elementary Mathematics, a study conducted by Liping Ma, I began to consider three things. First, how does the notion of stereotype play into our understanding of Chinese mathematics and American mathematics? Second, how do Canadian elementary teachers fair in regards to their understanding of elementary mathematics? Third, if Canada is down there with the States, how do we change? And fourth, is it possible to be both “limited by procedures” and limited by inquiry mathematics? This blog post will address the first three questions, and a future blog post will address the latter. Before getting into any of these questions, however, a brief summary of the study is necessary.

In her study, Ma details the apparent deficiencies of American teachers in elementary mathematics, compared to their Chinese counterparts. She does so through a series of well thought-out interviews with a number of participants, both who teach in the United States and China. Overall, she determined that many more Chinese teachers have a “profound understanding of fundamental mathematics” [PUFM] (p.120). PUFM is the combination of four principles: connectedness (the ability to make connections among and between mathematical concepts), multiple perspectives (the ability to be flexible towards mathematical approaches), basic ideas (the ability to be aware of principles of mathematics), and longitudinal coherence (the ability to recognize the interconnectedness of the entire mathematics curriculum and its applications). Although both groups had similar procedural knowledge in understanding many elementary topics, the Chinese group had a deeper PUFM, enabling them to encourage thought-provoking discussion amongst students to facilitate mathematical growth. Interestingly enough, when comparing the PUFM of the Chinese teachers and pre-service teachers, it became evident that the pre-service teachers had little PUFM. Rather, it was the current Chinese teachers who seemingly developed it while teaching, through colleagues, students, and self. Chinese teachers were “stimulated by a concern for what to teach and how to teach it, inspired and supported by their colleagues and teaching materials” (p. 143).

When I first began reading this study, I was initially struck by the obviousness of the entire study. Of course Chinese teachers are better at teaching mathematics than American teachers. It was the moment that I thought this that I began to look at both the study and my prejudice more critically. Why do I believe this to be true, before reading the entire paper? We (western society) have a general tendency to think of Asians as being good at math and their schools to be extremely rigid and rote in practice. Did this study support those notions? Partly. The Chinese mathematics teachers had a more in-depth understanding of mathematics and could, therefore, pass that understanding off to their students through facilitation. It seems, however, that the stereotype that the classrooms were more rigid that American classrooms is false. In fact, in the chapter about subtraction with regrouping, it seemed that the Chinese teachers were utilizing inquiry with manipulatives to teach it effectively, which included a large group discussion following the activity- a pivotal part to the discovery learning model. This instructional method was evident in all areas studied by Ma. So, although Chinese students are continually outperforming American students on international examinations, the reasonings do not lie in the rigidity of the mathematics curriculum in China. Rather, it seems they are a result of the PUFM of the teachers, which enables teachers to effectively utilize an inquiry model.

Another though that came up during this study, almost as immediate as my initial prejudice, is how well Canadian teachers would do in a study like this. Do Canadian teachers have PUFM? If not, why? Are we able to place American and Canadian teachers in the same deficit category? In the United States, in order to be a secondary mathematics teacher, you must obtain a mathematics degree and do a teacher-preparation course, which varies in length. To be a elementary teacher, you need a four-year degree in elementary education. The process to become a teacher is similar in Canada. However, during school, students are subjected to many more standardized tests in the US than in Canada, including SATs and NCLB. Unfortunately, rote memorization is often synonymous with studying for standardized tests, while critical thinking gets left on the curb. Since Canada is using fewer standardized tests (and none at a national level in high schools), where do Canadian preservice and in-service teachers fall? Unfortunately, I do not have answers to these questions, as the literature is quite limited on the topic. More limited is the information on how pre-service teachers, who have gone through the latest remodelling of the provincial mathematics curriculum in Saskatchewan understand mathematics and whether or not this is different than those who experienced the former version of the curriculum. These are important questions that need to be discussed because of the cyclic tendencies of teaching and learning. As Ma puts it,

It seems that low-quality school mathematics education and low-quality teacher knowledge of school mathematics reinforce each other. Teachers who do not acquire mathematical competence during schooling are unlikely to have another opportunity to acquire it (p. 145).

In order to effectively dismantle the cycle, Ma makes several suggestions, one of which is teacher preparation. Ma writes: “[Teacher preparation] may serve to break the circle”(p. 149). Currently, there is an understanding of elementary mathematics as low-level and basic. It is when we start to unpack what these words actually mean, and recognize that they are incredibly limiting with our preservice teachers and the students they will teach, can we begin to chip away at the succession of misunderstanding on mathematics. Like Ma, I believe that there are a number of different steps that need to be taken in order to ensure the success of a new tradition and cycle in mathematics education. However, possibly unlike Ma, I believe that this solution begins with teacher education. A teacher education program that focuses not only on mathematics content, but also attitudes of and abilities in mathematics is important. Because elementary education in Canada is not subject-specific (like the secondary programs), one cannot assume that pre-service students will appreciate or enjoy mathematics. Some may even have math anxiety, as many people do. This needs to be combatted during the four years of university, or it can be passed on to the students of future teachers.

Many questions arose as I read through Ma’s study. The questions raised are important to furthering the success of our elementary education programs in Canada. Currently, public opinion is quite dichotomous in regards to discovery-based mathematics. There are many academics, parents, and teachers who support inquiry-based learning. On the other end though, there are academics, parents, and teachers who are looking to “go back to the basics” in an effort to reintroduce fundamental mathematics through algorithms and formulae. I argue for a less binary examination of the problem and and more spectral look. It is not a matter of teaching one way or the other; it is a matter of teaching in ways the effectively reach the maximum number of students in a classroom. As Ma puts it:

…the change of a classroom mathematics tradition may not be a ‘revolution’ that simply throws out the old and adopts the new… the two traditions may not be absolutely agnostic to each other. Rather, the new tradition embraces the old” (p. 153).

Mathematics is Un-Knowing

What are the expectations we have on mathematics teachers across Canada? Is there a difference in expectation for secondary mathematics teachers and elementary mathematics teachers? If so, why?

Me at the Canadian Undergraduate Mathematics Conference (2013)
Me at the Canadian Undergraduate Mathematics Conference (2013)

What are the expectations we have on our children throughout their academic careers, particularly related to mathematics? What types of skills do we expect our students to develop as they go through mathematics in Canada? Are these skills categorized based on age, grade-level, and/or comprehension, or should they be valued on a continuum, where students develop naturally and without a five-hundred page document telling them what they should know?

Many of these questions may seem obvious. We expect greatness from teachers. In particular, we expect our mathematics teachers to instil mathematical prowess in students, often in the form of mathematical reasoning and problem solving. Our secondary mathematics teachers should  understand the mathematics that they are teaching, similar to our elementary mathematics teachers. Yet, their knowledge banks should look different. A secondary mathematics teacher should have a deep understanding of algebra, fractions, and graphs. Our elementary mathematics teachers should know addition, multiplication, and basic shapes. The reasoning is simple, almost redundant. Teaching demands understanding- history teachers know history, biology teachers know biology, etc.

What this frame of thinking leaves out is the inherent properties of mathematics. What is mathematics but a gigantic structure, one that contains a foundation- pivotal ideas that must be understood before the full value of mathematics can be realized. If mathematics demands a foundation, then perhaps the teaching of mathematics demands more than the understanding of the curriculum. If a math teacher is teaching fractional division of rational numbers, is it not important to comprehend fractions, division, and the ever-elusive idea of ‘the whole’? How does this relate to the division of rational expressions? Does it relate at all?

In terms of the inherent properties of mathematics, who decides them? Regardless of whether or not mathematics is invented or discovered (although this is a fascinating topic to discuss), determining how mathematicians determine what a mathematical foundation looks like is important and charged with cultural bias. For the West, the structure that represents mathematical knowledge is a pyramid, with basic arithmetic skills and algebra at the bottom, and pure math resting on top. For other cultures, however, the power of mathematics lies in its applicability. Who is right? Is someone right? Are we both wrong?

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Photo credit:

If we can all agree that there exists a foundation for mathematics that is itself mathematics, when is it appropriate that children should understand a particular concept. Is it appropriate at all? At some point, a line must be drawn. Why? Because if mathematics has a foundation, then it is important to teach it to children before they can fully understand the complexity and beauty of mathematics. What if, however, through learning concepts beyond the foundation, that understanding the foundation is made more obvious? If this is true, then what is a mathematics curriculum but a prescribed way of learning disguised by the theory of multiple intelligences.

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Photo credit:

For what multiple intelligences does not account for is the sequence at which a learner learns, discovers, and understands. If it is true that different students better learn when taught through (a) particular method(s), such as visually or kinesthetically, then the sequence of learning may also matter. Furthermore, the foundation of mathematics could be more complex than initially thought.

What are the consequences of this on teaching? Is it enough that elementary mathematics teachers understand ‘elementary mathematics’ and high school teachers understand a ‘little bit more than elementary mathematics’? Currently, professional teaching programs across Canada reflect the idea that elementary mathematics teachers need to know less math than their secondary counterparts. In addition, as reflected

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by many programs, it is imperative that secondary mathematics teachers understand calculus. Why? Because through knowing calculus, teachers will better understand high school mathematics. In fact, elementary mathematics teachers are even encouraged to understand a little beyond the mathematics they are teaching. Why?

The questions asked in this post are not rhetorical; rather, they are important questions that have been and need to be researched in order to encourage change in mathematics teaching in school. Whether they have solutions remains to be seen, but as my math philosophy goes: “The solution is the least important step to understanding mathematics. Rather, it is the process that holds significance. Above all, however, is the idea that there are always multiple processes to the same solution.”

Social vs. Anti Social Media

This week was bitter sweet. I particularly enjoy logging on every week for the #greatedtechdebate. It always makes me think. This week the debate was We have become too dependent on technology and what we really need is to unplug.

Up until this debate, I was always about the idea of unplugging. I have always felt this was best for me. For me the idea of unplugging gives me the ability to step away from the hectic life I have chosen to lead and live in the moment.  I particularly liked Prince Ea in this video.

This made me want to unplug almost instantly. Can we not even have conversations anymore? Are we really making ourselves more lonely by relying on social media for self gratification?

But then I listened intently to the disagree side. There main point was in today’s world there is not point to unplugging. They challenged the idea about relationships online not being “real”. How often do we use technology to communicate with loved ones?  and what does unplugging really mean? Does that mean no social media or no electronics at all?

It really got me thinking about how much so many people rely on technology to connect with the people they care about most. If you are long distances away from friends or family we rely on social media to help us connect with the people closest too us. I know when I can have a conversation with a good friend or family it helps me de-stress and decompress. It really got me thinking is it even possible to unplug? How much of technology is ingrained in our lives? So much of technology is used in schools, homes, and work places can we really unplug?

Let me know what you think.



Connect or Disconnect? Why Not Both?

With the final debate for ECI 830, I find myself yet again unable to commit to the agree or disagree side. Have we become too dependent on technology? Do we need to unplug? Yes and no. I think in some ways we have become dependent on technology and we are missing out on certain things. But at the same time our society revolves around technology and to unplug from that would mean essentially unplugging from our lives, which is unrealistic.

Photo Credit: hine via Compfight cc

When out socializing with friends or family, put down your phone. There is no need to check Facebook or text. Live in the moment and participate in the human interaction. But you’re worried about your kids who are home with the babysitter? Leave your phone on, or check in half way through the evening. There is no reason you need to completely unplug. You can be connected, while still interacting and being fully present with the people you are with. This is the balance we need to find and achieve. Be disconnected enough to appreciate the moments you are living, while being connected enough to feel at ease with your responsibilities. Being connected gives us way too many opportunities that we could have only imagined before this age of technology, why give that up? Take advantage of it. But don’t forget to live your life. Tyler admits to the fact that he doesn’t see the need to unplug, nor does he want to. Logan also has similar thoughts and recognizes the benefits of being plugged in. So if you want to unplug- go for it! If you don’t-then don’t! It’s that simple.

This is my 3rd class with Alec and Katia and I find myself having this debate each semester. Even though I don’t agree with her completely, Sherry Turkle has some interesting insights on the debate. Where is the balance between being connected and living in the moment? I don’t think there is a correct answer, I think each and every one of us is responsible to find the balance that works in our lives. Some people’s jobs or families may require them to be connected 24/7 while other people may feel the need to disconnect for periods of time.

Thanks for a great semester ECI 830, have a great summer!


Photo Credit 

Dialled in, plugged in, and loving life.

Look up“.

Great advice for some, but not all. I think in some cases, we need try to reflect on the value of looking down… and what looking down allows us to do – connect, answer, and learn. Yes, we can go to a concert and hear musicians tell us to unplug and live in the moment, and we need to, but what about getting a video of Chris Martin singing “Fix You” for your friend who couldn’t be there because they were sick?

Some moments don’t need a camera and there is value in appreciating things without a digital record… but, like every other debate we’ve had, we need balance, moderation, and an open mind. Is taking a video of a child’s first steps also not living in the moment? Or is it an opportunity to reflect and relive the moment years later? Humanity is evolving, constantly rewiring the hardware of our brains, and with this includes modern connectedness and socialization which occurs by looking down and utilizing our technology and devices. We are comfortable with looking down when it helps us learn with PLNs or to help facilitate learning and friendships, but are quick to antagonize it when people don’t appreciate moments the way we might want them to. There is a challenge to begin to recognize that who we are today involves a link between offline to online life. This is echoed by the concept of augmented reality, and as we learn about what our digital footprints are, and adjust our digital identity to improve this, we improve our IRL identity as a result… we project a better us to live up to. (But this can create pressure to please, so we need to continue to reflect and be fair to ourselves).
Optimism versus the facts against being plugged in.

“Plugging in” has been called a way to avoid dealing with loneliness,


Loneliness via Wikimedia Commons

but perhaps it is rather an opportunity for less boredom, two states of mind that are, at times, difficult to differentiate from one another. I would seek to argue that perhaps we are more engaged and stimulated than ever before, but is there a backlash to this? We are all capable of multi-tasking and some evidence points to the idea that I am, in fact, wrong. Having too much going on at once is imposed by tech and causes higher levels of stress… including how connected we are and the inherent expectations for shorter response times. I would argue that I feel efficient when I get a lot done in a day, and am capable of getting a lot of things done thanks to technology, and have a lot of positive means of coping with the potential stress that occurs as a result. I want to be involved and I feel fulfilled when I am… or am I just afraid of missing out?

Fear of missing out is a reality for some, and some may tell you that technology is making this worse, but there is also learning to be had when struggling with this this fear. Speaking from personal experience through toddler to teenager, I have been completely wrapped up in what others are doing, and over time learned to accept the things I may be missing out on for what is more important, isn’t that what growing up is and has been for some time? Some argue that technology can be an addiction, observing others make trips home to retrieve devices that, without, individuals would feel naked. I have a hard time agreeing that technology is an addiction, we have it to connect and it is something that we feel improves or is needed in our lives. How is this different than applying the argument to being addicted to our cars or other modes of transportation? It is a part of our lives that improves our lives, and the fact that I feel that I “need” it to get to work wouldn’t be considered addiction or “bordering on obsession”, so many things would therefore border on obsession. My love of hockey, teaching, cats, and my family, borders on obsession. However, the points listed above make my life better, no question about it. Does being plugged in actually make my life better?

Does being plugged in legitimately make your life better?

Does being plugged in make your students’ lives better?

If you think it doesn’t, then stay unplugged.

For me?

I am dialled in.

I am plugged in.

I am educate-in.

And I am loving life.


EC&I 830, have a great summer.

Logan Petlak



Logan Petlak 2016-06-22 20:34:46

What has stood out for me this year? (include a referenced picture to do this).


CCI School Pic via Twitter

Some things that stood out for me this year were:

  • Communications Tech 90 – this class was so awesome. I wish Mr. Petlak taught me every single period of the day.

What am I looking forward to next year?        

What have I learned about in this class? Have I progressed with Z Type? Where did I start at in WPM and where am I now?


CLASSIC #uno #cards #hostel #gamenight

A photo posted by Justin Cannon (@2jcannon20) on Jun 22, 2016 at 2:13am PDT


If you liked this blog, wait till you see my other one about education.

We are way too dependent on technology

As soon as we are with a group of friends at a restaurant or sitting with family visiting, someone pulls out a smart phone and somehow the domino effect takes place.  Less people are socializing with the bodies that are present.  Some of the people with gadgets begin to engage with online activities.  I am sooo guilty of it, I have even coined the phrase “what are you FaceBooking around?”, because of the amount of times people get distracted by their gadgets.  I understand how awkward it makes it when your friends are attempting to talk to you and you are choosing to engage with online likes, comments, texts and tweets.  It is terrible when you miss out on someones accomplishment because you choose to engage with tech.

I agree with Sherry Turkle and her Ted Talk Connected, but alone that receiving an affirming text is just like getting a hug, as I write vjmkqthis I think that I should text my step-daughter and let her know that I am so proud of her today.  I have know her since she was 7 and today she wrote her last grade 12 exam.  I was going to send the message as imagined in the fake text message on the right that I made using the fake text generator.  Then I thought that giving her a hug in person and congratulating her is better than any text message that I would send.  I guess I have some control as to when I should be talking in person and when I should send a quick message.  Later that evening I congratulated her in person and had tears in my eyes thinking about watching her grow from a 7 year old little goofy girl to a beautiful graduate.  I am so glad that I realized that I needed to send a message to her but face to face was the best as I could look into her eyes, with the little stream of tears running down my cheeks.  This connection is what we both needed!

urlBut, it is sad to have to admit, but the first thing I do in the morning is roll over and grab my phone, as it is only an arms reach away.  I like to peak at my emails on Hotmail, my Facebook, and perchance I went to bed earlier than my friends I might have a text to read. Sadly, I continue with this routine before I drift off at night.  Let me tell you it is so so easy to lose track of an hour on Facebook.  Just this morning one of my students pointed out that we should unplug ourselves from technology and games for at least two hours before bed.  However, I do find many posts on Facebook that I save using the new save feature.  In the morning I fire up my computer in the classroom and share my findings. Just today I was able to share the New Heritage Minute that explores the dark history of residential schools, this was an amazing tie into National Aboriginal Day and Truth and Reconciliation that I have been focusing on in Literacy and Social this term.

Between this course and 831 last semester, I have made a conscious effort to include more technology in the classroom. I started finding current events that I could share with my students in my Facebook feed.  In class we would read the article off the whiteboard then allow students to use persuasive writing to chose a side of the issue. My students were not writers but now I can present an article on Harambe or the Japanese boy who was left in the forest as punishment, and watch them go.  I creatimgresed an outline and expectations for their writing and shared it with them on GoogleDoc’s.  Now I can help them edit online and teach them the ins and outs of typing and formatting.  My class despised using pencil and paper to write.  Now they are ecstatic to grab a Chromebook.

However, I am guilty of attempting to multitask by using my phone during meetings to send out emails.  The days of the to do list are gone, because now we just do it at the comfort of our fingertips. Sherry Turkle further talks about just paying attention to what we feel is important, how do we even know what we are zoning out?? Zoning out information while we are doing what we want on our computers and phones isn’t a skill we should be bragging about.

Last night as I was sitting for supper, I had my computer connected to zoom and my Husband and I watched the intro video by Janelle, Kyle O., and Dean.  My husband quickly pointed out that I should mention it was only 2 weeks ago when we were travelling to mapYellowstone national park.  Having to turn our cellular data off made for a long car trip.  We drove 2800 km and enjoy conversation and scenic views. Luckily we had a GPS that guided our travels, a gift I had received for Christmas.  When we would get chatting, something would come up, Arron at the wheel and me as passenger, I would say “just pass me your phone, I’ll look it up, let me google that”.  I must have said it 50 times on our trip, and we both had a good laugh.  What a fond memory, Aaron made a great connection to the into video.  All because of the atrocious data charges that happen once you leave Canada.

Text or Talk: Is Technology Making You Lonely? made some very great points that I have to agree with.  The article pointed out that a recent study found that 48% of respondents only had one friend orimages companion . It is true I have a huge social network online, but the depth of my networks offline has decreased. I have a few confidants at work and basically only one friend that I can confide in outside of work. In fact I sent my friend a text just this morning that I missed her, as I haven’t had a face to face conversation with her in like 10 days. Yes, technology has made it easier to stay in touch while keeping distance, I find myself feeling distant when I haven’t made connections with people in person.  

I truly believe that myself and larger society is was to connected and addicted to social media.  I think that social media acts as a safety net that protects us.  Once we say or do something in real time, there is no taking it back. Online activity  allows us to control what we share with our friend, family, or even strangers. We can make all sorts of edits and add filters to made us appear happier, better or just different.  I think the bottom line is to make sure that we keep the connections that we have with our real life friends.


Is technology your crutch?

Our final Great Debate has come and gone and now I left to reflect on the final topic…

We have become too dependent on technology and what we really need is to unplug. Agree or disagree?

Several persuading points were made by both teams, which again led to a close finish.

Photo Credit: schiiiinken via Compfight cc

Our agree team argued that technology is actually making us more lonely than ever before.  They also explained how society is too reliant on devices and we are much too dependent on technology.  Finally, they argued that technology is ruining relationships.

The disagree team then made their case as to why we do not need to unplug.  They argued that technology connects people, bringing them closer together.  Marginalized groups are able to seek out communities in which to receive support.  They suggested that technology isn’t the source of our busyness provided many examples of apps that can support mindfulness and manage over-indulgence of tech.  Finally, this team also argued that the digital and physical worlds are not separate.  This augmented reality explain the digital and physical, the on and off line spaces as meshed together.

Throughout the debate and while doing the readings, a few key phrases/passages stuck with me…

“We are no longer content with our own minds.”
-Alec Couros

“Until we learn how to be okay with solitude, we are not going to be able to connect deeply with others.”
-Sherry Turkle

I feel that society is becoming more and more uncomfortable with silence and solitude.  We are never really alone, even when we are, as long as we have a device within arm’s reach.  In one sense, this is extremely useful and necessary to our health and well-being.  I mean, who doesn’t want to have constant access to emergency services?  But on the other hand, every feeling of loneliness must not be erased by connecting with someone online.  Margie Warrell explains how “human beings crave intimacy”.  We achieve intimacy through vulnerability and part of vulnerability is taking the risk and experiencing solitude.  Tech appeals to us most where we are vulnerable, but if we let these feelings of vulnerability soak in, we can begin to connect authentically with others.

The other thought that stuck with me within this week’s discussion period was a question posed by Stephanie:

“Is technology my crutch?”

27001686241_0f2b9cb612Photo Credit: MTSOfan via Compfight cc

As a self proclaimed introvert, I do have to admit that I use technology as a crutch.  I know that I’m much too dependent on my Iphone.  I don’t think I can plead otherwise as there have been multiple times this year that I have forgotten my phone at home in the morning and have driven all the way back to get it.  I have a laptop at school and yes there is a land line where I could have been reached in the case of an emergency, yet I felt the need to have my device with me at all times.  A device that I probably only used to send a few texts, check a few unimportant emails, and watch a couple snapchat stories with.

And when I really stop and think about this, it concerns me.  I’m modelling to my students that I need to be constantly connected.  Maybe I am the one who is no longer content with my own mind and avoids solitude?  I want to show them the value in being connected but also the importance of disconnecting from a screen and maintaining face-to-face interactions.  I want them to feel comfortable taking risks but also understand the feeling of vulnerability and that it leads to growth.

With that in mind, and because EC&830 has now nearly come to an end,  I would like to set some tangible goals in terms of personal tech use.  I suppose I agree and disagree with this week’s debate topic.

We have become too dependent on technology.=AGREE (well at least in my case!)

What we really need is to unplug.=DISAGREE

I don’t feel that unplugging is the answer.  I truly feel that we are living in an augmented reality.  Our digital and physical words co-construct each other and there are so many benefits to learning while being connected.  What we DO need to do, is build in unplugged time.  Unlike Steve, who manages to do a month long digital detox with his students, my goals are much smaller.  I do, however, feel they will aid in my overall well-being.

  • buy an actual alarm clock and charge my iPhone in another room over night
  • leave my phone at home/car while spending time outside
  • keep date nights with my husband and time with friends phone free (become a better listener as this article suggests!)
  • silence my phone and keep it in another room for at least 2 hours upon getting home from work

Rather than view it as a plug or unplug debate, maybe we need to revisit the issue and contemplate what we are missing out on by constantly being plugged in.  You won’t see me giving up my iPhone anytime soon but I hope to more mindful of my actions with tech use.


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Unplugging. What does it mean to you?

We ended our semester with a final Great Ed Tech Debate and it was definitely a great debate. The focus was looking at whether or not we have become too dependent on technology and if what we really need is to unplug. I think this is an extremely important topic to discuss for everyone, not just those of us in our class.  Technology has become a part of our modern day lives, but do we rely on it too much? Do we really need to be on our phones as much as we are? 

Photo Credit: functoruser via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: functoruser via Compfight cc

The first group agreed that we do need to unplug because we are becoming too dependent as well as lonely. The connections that we make online may give us a false sense of our ‘real life’ relationships. Even though we are more connected now than ever before, many people are feel more lonely. As humans we crave intimacy and scientists have proven that to be intimate you need to be vulnerable which requires courage. Social media removes vulnerability and courage because we can pick and choose what we want to say, when we want to say it and how we want to say it. I’m sure we’ve all written a status or post to go back and re-write it 2 or 3 times until it’s exactly the way we want it to sound (or hope it to sound). It is interesting to think about that when we think about all of the statuses and updates we read in a day. How many are authentic? Or are they all authentic? Maybe even more authentic because we have the opportunity to think about what we want to say and put our thoughts together in a way that really gets our points out there?

Studies have also found that using technology can be just as addictive as drugs and that many millennials are becoming attached to their phones.  I think that there is a lot of pressure for students to keep up with everything on social media. Even for myself, I often find myself suffering from “FOMO” (fear of missing out) even though my friends and family don’t even update things that much. I find myself going back and forth between different social media apps throughout the day checking in to make sure I didn’t miss some major announcement like an engagement, pregnancy or birth. The constant ‘need’ to check in seems to be something that just happens naturally throughout the day. It’s almost as if I do it without thinking…it’s an automatic action. I often wonder why I feel the need to check in so often. I’m really not missing out on anything but the moment that’s happening right in front of me in ‘real life’. I try to make a conscious effort to put my phone in a different room while I am with my kids so that it’s not a distraction. But then they start doing something cute and I immediately go to reach for my phone to capture them on camera. Not having my phone with me, I usually run to grab it and by the time I get back the moment has passed. If I had my phone I would have been able to capture the moment.

Photo Credit: Martino's doodles via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Martino’s doodles via Compfight cc

But does capturing the moment on my phone have the same affect as capturing it with my own eyes without my device? A study has shown that we enjoy some moments more when we capture it with our phones. I would totally agree with these findings. However I do think that there is a difference between experiencing something while capturing every moment of it with our phones and experiencing it without capturing every moment with our phones. I think that taking pictures/videos can be a great way to experience an event. It’s nice to have something to look back on. But just like everything else I think there needs to be a balance. At a Garth Brooks concert I was at a few weeks ago, a lady in front of me recorded the WHOLE THING on her phone! She was basically watching the whole concert through her phone screen. Half the time the image being recorded was blurry because she was zoomed in and she wasn’t able to follow him the whole time because he moved all over. We made the comment that she will wake up in the morning and realize that wasn’t the best decision. Now if she had a tripod or something set up to record it so she could watch the whole thing in person and then be able to watch a quality recording of the video the next day, that would be a different story. I took some videos and a few pictures, but I knew I didn’t want to be on my phone the whole time because I would miss out on the experience I wanted in going to see him. I can watch youtube videos of his performances any day, so I wanted to make sure that I took it all in while I was there in person. Did I take some pictures and videos? Of course I did…two pictures before of me and the people I was with, and three short Snapchat videos of a few of my favourite songs. Do I regret not taking more? Not one bit.

Moving to the disagree side I have to admit I completely agree that it almost seems impossible to fully unplug. Even when we are in our cars, going for a walk or run, camping, travelling we are connected in someway. We use our phones to capture images that we will most likely share when we get a chance. Even when we are offline we are thinking about the online world. In reality, our offline and online worlds are not two distinct parts of our lives, they are our whole lives existing as one augmented reality.  It’s pretty clear that our online lives can exist without a lot of our offline lives, but do our offline lives depend on our online lives in the same way? Our offline lives existed long before our online lives, but this isn’t the case for our children who have been born with a digital life right from the day they were born without having any say about it. The idea of unplugging is something that our children will have to learn to manage more than we have had to because technology is still fairly new for most of us (10-15 years). Unplugging may also mean something different to each person. To me, unplugging is stepping away from social media most of all, and putting away our devices. I personally don’t worry about unplugging from TV but maybe that’s because I don’t use it too often, or I feel like when I do use it it’s to watch the news or a movie with my kids which I would consider to be positive uses.

Technology certainly plays a large role in our lives. It allows us to connect with people near and far. We can network, build friendships, meet new people and find communities that we feel welcome in. It allows us to video chat or FaceTime with no added cost. It helps us manage our personal lives including our mental and physical health. I think we can all see value in technology and appreciate social media but we have to be aware of the amount of time we spend on the devices we have. When it starts to take precedence over quality time spent face to face with our family, friends, spouses and kids I think we need to take a step back and think about how we can unplug and reconnect with the people around us.

Photo Credit: rbatina via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: rbatina via Compfight cc

The New Norm: Keep Pluggin’ Away, People!

How often have you had anxiety in the following situations?

  • When you forget you’ve mistakenly left your phone somewhere and won’t have it for the day or evening?
  • When your phone dies on you while you are out or away from a charger?
  • How often do you see people immediately on their phones when a plane lands?

And what about the times when we CANNOT have technology?!? (God forbid!)

Bpb Yake raised this point and shared an example we’ve all experienced: “my internet & home phone were both down this afternoon and I felt soooo lost..”

Elizabeth Therrien also shared a recent example about dependency: “I can see the point of dependency. A couple weeks ago when SaskTel Internet went down, some of our classes at school kind of stopped working…. Couldn’t log onto chromebooks, couldn’t photocopy anything, couldn’t even make a mobile hotspot. It just showed how dependent we could be.

So why can’t we handle NOT having technology?

Furthermore, why can’t we handle being alone? And how is this affecting us socially and individually?

In the following video, I think Louis C.K. is so on point when he pokes fun at the sad current reality we live in, and the fact that we cannot STAND being alone, for even one second, nowadays because of technology.

Louis C.K. also puts a comedic spin on this question and pokes fun at the idea of being present by unplugging from technology and “being a person” in the real world.

FOMO (fear of missing out) is another component to this discussion that Ainsley made me think of: “Takes a little while to realize that you aren’t being left behind (when without phone)”. Ainsley’s chat comment reminded me that there is an undeniable reality today is that we now feel a dependency on technology feeling like we are missing out.

Finally, Louis C.K. also really related this to kids and how much more difficult this presumably is for kids because they do not know any different, compared to adults., and Kyle Ottenbreit echoed this when he said it “may be easier for us to unplug rather than our children, who have grown up totally plugged in”. Amy Singh discussed this more in-depth during the debate sharing her experience as a mother: “I am constantly telling my kids they’ve had enough screen time. More and more I am noticing when I say that I have my device in my hand… I’ve started to put it down and do something with my kids now!”

I think Sherry Turkle’s Ted Talk “Connected, but alone?” echoes Dean, Kyle and Janelle’s sentiment stated in their opening video that “Connecting to hundreds of friends but really we are just connecting our fingers to keys”. I think we need to live “better lives in the real world” as Turkle puts it.

What I specifically enjoy about Turkle’s video is that technology is exciting, but that it could possibly be “taking us places we don’t want to go” and that technology, specifically, our devices, are “so psychologically powerful…that they change what we do and who we are”. Turkle also points out that our behaviours nowadays would be unacceptable years ago but have become the new norm. How many of Turkle’s examples do you agree with?

  • Answering emails during meetings
  • Going on social media during class
  • Avoiding eye contact during meetings
  • Using your phone at the table or during family time
  • Texting at funerals

These behaviours not only effect how we “relate to each other, and how we relate to ourselves”.

This semester, with a lot of the debates, I’ve been in support of embracing the evolution of technology. This topic, however, really made me think about the importance of keeping a bit of our “old ways” with this contemporary change in how social interactions online and offline and when those communities collide.

Concluding thoughts…Keep on Pluggin’ in to technology!

While I’m in no way against technology (come on get real!) this debate REALLY made me think about my use of technology and how disconnected I can be while simultaneously appearing to be connected online.

Am I in denial? Do I need to unplug more than I’d like to admit?

To be honest, in everyday contexts (when data is readily available- unlike some travel examples mentioned by Ashley during the debate) I don’t think I could successfully do unplug from technology. When we are forced to unplug, like Ashley’s example, I feel we can “handle it” or “it’s not as bad as we think”. I honestly don’t think, however, that I could unplug from technology in an everyday context. Nor do I WANT to! Believe it or not, relaxing for me is watching t.v, being on my cell phone, and sometimes even being on my lap top!

I think this is just the new normal.

Does that make me a terrible person? I don’t think so. And I agree with Alec’s point that perhaps we’ve over romanticized the notion of unplugging.Is it all it’s cracked up to be? This was the way we’d socialize in the past, but that doesn’t mean it’s “the best” way to socialize.

Overall I think my outlook after the debate is similar to Nathan Jurgenson’s view that unplugging has been idealized:

“too often discussions about technology use are conducted in bad faith, particularly when the detoxers and disconnectionists and digital-etiquette-police seem more interested in discussing the trivial differences of when and how one looks at the screen rather than the larger moral quandaries of what one is doing with the screen. But the disconnectionists’ selfie-help has little to do with technology and more to do with enforcing a traditional vision of the natural, healthy, and normal. Disconnect. Take breaks. Unplug all you want. You’ll have different experiences and enjoy them, but you won’t be any more healthy or real”.

I’ve realized I don’t want to be “that person” that is texting while you are talking to them, texting at a funeral, or feeling the need to be on social media during class. Last night’s debate has definitely made me more mindful of how this effects my social interactions and my individual interactions. Ultimately, I’m going to stay plugged in…for now!