Category Archives: biology

(re)Creating a virtual educator.

What will an online class look like with Mr. Petlak?  What will an online Biology class look like with Mr. Petlak? Are labs done in person? Do students gather their own supplies? What balance of instructional strategies maximizes distance learning? Is content more important than relationships?

petlak to screen.jpg

How do we replicate the left to be delivered like the right? – Computer Screen via FreeGreatPicture

If you don’t know me, relationships make my classroom work (I think). It’s my foundation for learning, but how do I make that happen online, through a screen? Historically, I would argue I entertain to engage, but I think there is the potential to get caught up in engagement and miss out on more content, is content the priority online?

Researching Online Learning

In my digging, I found an article detailing best practices which provides great reminders when planning for distance learning:

  1. Visibility – students may get caught up in text and forget the teacher is a presence in the digital classroom. Be sure to maintain visibility.
  2. Organization and Analysis – plan out course well in advance of offering it, provide timely feedback and be open to constructive criticism of your course.
  3. Compassionate – understanding the requirements of a teacher may actual be more personal than in a traditional classroom because some voiceless students may now have one.
  4. Leader-by-example – model proper behaviour and foster connections with students.

The same article then provides a list of strategies that are critical to online teaching:

“ Student Led Discussions  Students Find and Discuss Web Resources  Students Help Each Other Learn (Peer Assistance)  Students Grade Their Own Homework Assignments  Case Study Analysis”
Bill Pelz, (My) Three Principles of Online Pedagogy , 2008

“ Group problem-solving and collaborative tasks;  Problem-based learning;  Discussion;  Case-based strategies;  Simulations or role play;  Student-generated content;  Coaching or mentoring;  Guided learning;  Exploratory or discovery;  Lecturing or teacher-directed activities;  Modeling of the solution process; and  Socratic questioning.”

– “Best Practices in Online Teaching Strategies“, Hanover Research Council, 2009

How similar do the above sound to an Alec Couros and Katia Hildebrandt course?

My course

Upon reading plans of Adam and co., perhaps my plan here is a bit too detailed at this point, I normally share Aimee’s approach of crushing it all at once later on (I definitely overdid this post, so if you’ve stuck it out this long, congratulations). With this information in mind, what are my initial thoughts and rationale for an online course?

  • I am going to use Zoom to record videos and screen-share in the recorded videos for any sort of drawing I will draw on the touchscreen (I have a Samsung Galaxy Tab) and deliver the content asynchronously. Additional modules would place an emphasis on discussion.
  • I intend to use my website for students to follow along with content, post notes and presentations as well as class plan.
    My rationale behind this is to open up learning opportunities for any students interested. I have background in Office 365 and Google classroom but intend to make the work as available as possible for students, educators, and parents – Office 365 and Google classroom would require a student login. 
  • The audience will be grade twelve (ages sixteen to eighteen), and the students should have access to all content assuming they have a WiFi connection and a device to utilize it with.
  • Assessment will be completed using Socrativeformatively and summatively. Due to the asynchronous session, the Socrative will be made available for the week and close at the week’s conclusion so that outside learners may still observe content, but weekly work, attendance and accountability for in-class learners will therefore be mandatory.
  • Communication will be completed via email. Or via synchronous sessions when available.
  • Course content/learning objectives will be from the AP Biology© curriculum so that I can use it in my class!
  • Activities will include: brief video lecture for content (~3-5mins), hands-on activity to enhance understanding (~2-4 mins), and subsequent sharing of videos using an open Flipgrid discussion thread or typed discussion through commenting on the YouTube post, teacher access with mobile device should allow for consistent and quick response times.
    Potential concern: sharing video responses online and making this public, students may be susceptible to online risks/harassment. As such, they will be informed beforehand, however, use of Flipgrid seeks to eliminate ease of harassment through simply YouTube commenting. 
  • Students will require device-access (that has a camera) and a strong enough bandwidth for videos to be watched and shared (YouTube).
  • Subtitles will be provided in informative videos, allowing EAL students to observe spelling of terms. The asynchronous nature of the course will also allow students of different ability (technological or learning-wise), will be able to pause on important points. (Important points in the video will also be provided in the information location of the post so that students can go to specific learning points in the video.
  • The content will attempt to include different cultural perspectives in the context of the work. Ie. different explanations for natural phenomena beyond western science.

Closing Thoughts

Plans and reality may deviate slightly, but hopefully this delivering of course content will not only allow for a larger audience to become informed on the content, but also interact with the instructor and others through commenting and sharing. Links can be made available on the YouTube video shared, but also link to my webpage. Ideally, once background content is established, students can take this personalized learning and make it more personal, allowing it to grow form there in a direction of their choosing through inquiry and questions evolving from content discussion.

The ongoing question I intend to ask in the delivery/creation of this content is “am I happy with the decisions I’ve made”, and “are there times I can avoid making a video of myself or simply use open resources”? A great example of the type of video I would hope to create for the content delivery is included.


Thoughts, comments, critiques? Let me know!

– Logan Petlak

Learning as a chaotic, evolving mosaic.

Which learning theory is right?


“learning” via BlueDiamondGallery

Ashley Murray nailed it: “As teachers I think that it’s important that we avoid getting caught up in which theory is the BEST theory to use.”

Taking a page out of John Dewey‘s playbook, I feel the need to ‘link sciences’. What is my take on learning theory?  Learning as a chaotic, evolving mosaic. I use mosaic in the biological sense, when separate genetics are present together. Substitute genetics for learning theories, and away we go.

Much like evolution as a “theory”, they don’t become theory without reputable and verifiable strategies, experiments, and support. Since so many streams of learning theory hold weight, combining them and treating learning as an evolving and changing process. Let’s allow learning to proceed as a complex science including constructivism, behaviourism, cognitivism, and every other learning theory.

Ultimately, as educators, when we consider our philosophies it comes down to the first two questions Schunk (Learning theories: an educational perspective, 1991) asked:

  1. How does learning occur?
  2. What factors influence learning?

Learning occurs through connecting with others who may have different ideas and perspectives than us, through the chaos of diversity. We associate and establish similarities and differences between what we know and seek to learn. We conceptualize and translate texts, tones, and visuals. Everything we learn, builds to the next lesson. Every experience we’ve had, problems we solve, memories we retain, every innate ability and predisposition we have influences how we learn. Reinforcement and punishment influence our perception of how we view it, but even that knowledge and learning is organic and evolves as we reflect. We independently yet dependently learn holistically (physically, socio-emotionally, mentally) and it manifests itself in our society as a mosaic. This particular quote resonated with me and diversity and complexity of learning: “Which theory [or theories] is the most effective in fostering mastery of specific tasks by specific learners?” Adjust and adapt. To lock yourself into one belief of learning theory and deny others seems counter-intuitive, or think it is something clean and linear (like a pyramid). Humanity learns.

Ideally, that’s what my classroom would look like. Does it look like that every day? Maybe not upon initial viewing, but it’s rooted in what I do. And it’s constantly changing.


via Giphy

Do you agree that learning is hard to classify? It’s worth looking at all the different beliefs on learning. Some may have more evidence than others, but as a connectivist would tell you, even the opinions we don’t agree with have relevance and meaning to learning.

– Logan Petlak, lifelong learner.

Philosophy of the scientific method

A lot of students ask me (not actually): “Hey Mr. Petlak, why do you think the scientific method is so great?” and I say to them: “Because.” and they say: “Because, why?” and then I say: “Exactly.”



I, Robot by grogbor via imgur

The question is at the root of science and learning. Keep asking questions, and keep asking the right questions. Serendipitous discoveries don’t happen without the right question about an observation.

Why is the sky blue?

How does the moon affect tides?

The scientific method answered these questions. Through data and experimentation, individuals explained what it wasn’t, and accumulated data that explained what it was.


My first three and a half years of teaching are in the books and I’ve been startled at how the scientific method is easily forgotten or left unappreciated. And some things may not be simplified/explained using this method – like teaching… yet. The scientific method may seem like another thing to memorize in class, but for myself it is a way of approaching life: Every problem or observation has an explanation or solution… or if the solution doesn’t solve it yet, we learn something that it doesn’t solve it. Is this a new philosophical idea? When did this way of thinking originate?

The Scientific Method as an Ongoing Process.svg
By ArchonMagnusOwn work, CC BY-SA 4.0,


First introduced by a man named Alhazen in the 10th-11th century, he stressed the importance of meaningful data collection. While individuals may have thought this way prior to this, he is credited with it. I personally don’t always place a strong emphasis on historical figures as I find that we tend to glorify and paint individuals with a perfect history. In this case, the fact that this way of thinking has been around so long is important to take note of. Why? This means of thinking transcends time and provides us with a common language and means to approaching problems/questions about our world. And it is without a need for faith or belief, because you can observe it work. It isn’t opinion, its free from bias.And it existed in times where faith and belief may have been mandatory.

People abuse what it tells us and asks for their own gain, unfortunately. So education is required on the nature of science – it is simply the pursuit of truth. Hard truths are inherent within the process. We learn the most from answering the hard questions and challenging the unanswerable questions… yet the opportunity for good and evil “for the sake of science” presents the duality of its nature.


“People like…” via

Science, at its roots, is laced with a natural idealism and altruistic intentions, yet the beauty of it is that it is devoid of both. You can love and hate what you learn, but science is free from love and hate. And that simple complexity is what makes it such an important part of pursuing life – humanity and organisms constantly address problems and come up with a means to fix and explain them… what we do with the solutions are up to us.

Why is there is problem?
Possible explanation to fix the problem.
Try explanation.
New explanation to fix the problem.


Always keep questioning and solving problems… so if you have any questions, comment below!

Logan Petlak