When I was in high school, I used to love “proving theorems” (explaining why something is true) in geometry through logic and reasoning using established axioms or properties like reflexivity (a=a), symmetry (if a=b, then b=a) and transitivity (If a=b and b=c, then a=c). That was the only context in which I was familiar with “reflexivity.” Well, that and mirrors! However, the concept of reflexivity is very important in #LearningSciences and qualitative research. To be reflexive means that you not only reflect on your own biases and perspectives and how those shape how you interact with the world, you also reflect how the system or structure of society influences and is influenced by these biases. Then this double reflection is used to help you modify your actions or perceptions–“examination or action ‘bends back on’, refers to, and affects the entity instigating the action or examination” (Wikipedia). It is rare to read a research study journal article or book where the word reflexive is not used at least once. Since qualitative researchers are “passionate participants,” it is essential that they embrace a state of reflexivity because the researcher’s biases and worldviews “may influence their interpretation of participants’ perceptions” (Bloomberg and Volpe, 2016, p. 54). It needs to be ongoing, iterative and through dialogue with participants. Our worldview and biases affect what we value and what we choose to measure; they can even make us blind to what the data is showing. It is like looking in the mirror, but instead of just seeing our reflection, we see all the experiences, language, privilege, cultural objects, etc. that create our epistemological (what is knowledge?), ontological (what is the nature of reality?) and axiological (what is good/valuable?) beliefs. It is both as simple and profound as that reflexive property of a = a. #100LSreflections #100dayproject 18/100

Qualitative Research

I teach my grade 9 science students the difference between quantitative and qualitative data. It’s one of the first concepts of the semester. Quantitative = numbers, measurements. Qualitative = words, descriptions. Now I know that that are also quantitative and qualitative research methodologies and they are very different–and both use measurements and descriptions. As opposed to typical empirical research (quantitative methodology) where a hypothesis is tested by controlling the variables, then changing the independent variable to see the consequences on dependent variable, qualitative methodology involves studying social situations in naturalistic settings to understand or “make sense” of them. Depending on the research purpose and questions, the researchers may examine the undisturbed system in place or they may make an “intervention” or purposeful change to the system and then study the effects of that intervention. Qualitative researchers strive to “make the world visible.” Brene Brown has a beautiful way of describing this. She calls qualitative researchers, herself included, “collectors of stories,” and the stories are “data with a soul.” The data are collected directly from the participants. Brene uses a type of qualitative methodology called grounded theory. This means that she interviews many people about their lived experiences and inductively develops theories based on the common themes that arise from the data–therefore the theories are “grounded” in real life. Other types of qualitative methodology include case study, ethnography, phenomenology, narrative inquiry, action research, postmodernism/poststructuralism and critical theory research and more. In all of these methodologies, the qualitative researcher is typically not separate from the study. He or she is a “passionate participant” whose role is to reflexively examine and give voice to all other participants’ perspectives so that a comprehensive description of the research situation can be made. This passionate participate is looking forward to the privilege of collecting stories of student agency for activism (just like I collected these rocks). #100LSreflections #100dayproject 17/100


Here’s a fun new word. Dehiscent. “I divide, split open, gape.” It is used in botany to mean the “spontaneous opening at maturity of a plant structure, such as a fruit, anther or sporangium, to release its contents.” Roth uses the word in the context of an event*-in-the-making. We talked a lot in our Advanced Learning Sciences course last summer about utterances. The meaning of what someone says is not clear until the utterance has been heard and interpreted by the other person. “A locution is one-sided, whereas an utterance is two-sided, involving an articulation and its social evaluation on the part of the listener” (Volõsinov, 1930 in Roth, 2013, p.414). Roth utilizes this concept while analysing a video of an exchange between a teacher and student to say that we don’t know what will happen when the teacher asks the question. We don’t know who will volunteer to answer, we don’t know who the teacher will call on and, when she does call on the student, we don’t know what he will say or do. Roth analyzes this exchange in tiny video segments to learn about and then describe the event*-in-the-making. The meaning of the original question is not known until the student responds. This response is dehiscent–naturally opening and revealing the meaning of the curriculum that is now the event. You might ask why–what is the point of this distinction? It has something to do with the idea that when the your change your perspective on the event, then both participants are teacher-learner and learner-teacher. “They make the event and are made by it…Mrs. Winter is teaching geometry as much as learning to teach geometry; and Connor is learning geometry as much as allowing Mrs. Winter to learn to teach geometry” (p412). Think about your own practice. Did you know how to ask questions well at the beginning? I didn’t. I am still learning how to ask good questions to elicit the learning or conversation or thinking I want. The students teach me how to ask questions by their responses. This happens whether you intend to learn or not. This is why it takes me so long to write. These ideas do not come easily to me, but I am fascinated by them. #100LSreflections #100dayproject 13/100

Dialectic (Part 3)

Dialectic (Part 3)–I recently sent my critical friends (a graduate study group who have become close friends) a text that said, “This morning I am embracing the dialectic. Apparently it is possible to be both elated and devastated; in my senses and disembodied; conciliatory and vengeful.” (I can become overly dramatic in text-form…much more so than in person!) It was the mixture of emotions that resulted from having to admit that I would not be able to live up to all the things I had committed to (both personally and professionally) and that I needed help. Graduate school and full-time work at the same time is hard. Much harder than I thought it would be. Once I finally asked for help, my friends, family and colleagues worked with me to figure out how cut back on responsibilities and to extend deadlines so that I could manage. I am humbled by and grateful for their love, support and understanding. I still worry that I have bitten off more than I can chew and, at the same time, frustrated by my slow progress. I have been listening to Brene Brown a lot and this quote speaks to me. We are all struggling with the dialectic aspects of being human. “Most of us are brave and afraid at exactly the same time, all day long.” The picture is from Agawa Rock Pictographs in Lake Superior Provincial Park. I visited there during my trip across Canada last summer. I was very afraid because the rock ledge was very slippery and steeply slanted to Lake Superior and no one was there but me. But I pushed myself to be brave because I wanted to see the pictographs in person…not just pictures of them. Imagine the First Nations people who painted the pictographs. I wonder if they felt both brave and afraid at the same time. #100LSreflections #100dayproject 12/100

Dialectic (Part 2)

Dialectic (Part 2)—The post I wrote a couple of days ago about students engaging in activism (student-in-the-making) is also about the dialectic. Through participation in any action (Roth studied workers in a salmon cannery and commercial pilots, for example) you both change the situation/environment and are changed by it simultaneously. “The very nature of practice is its own transformation” (Roth, 2016, p.106) and “being and becoming are dual aspects of nature” (Beatty, 2009). Roth’s “dialectical materialism” is based on the writings of Marx and Engels. It’s all a little beyond my comprehension but my understanding of “materialism” is that there is real world outside of our minds–matter/material–and it is knowable (in principle). It is there, even if we don’t perceive it. If that tree falls in the forest, does it make a sound if no one is around to hear it? Yes. This “realism” is in contrast with the “idealism” philosophy which posits that what we think of as reality is created in the mind and nothing is really real because all people experience the world differently. Dialectical materialism, then, (in my limited understanding) is the idea that the everything is connected in the material of existence. We are all connected to the natural world and our actions act on the world, and the world acts on us. Our thoughts are included. Even our thoughts are created and transferred in our material brains and perhaps also in all parts of our body (and maybe even the metaphysical body as well…but that’s beyond our talk today!). This also includes the ideas of interconnectedness of systems and the need to study all parts of system to understand what is happening. We must view “change as interaction among components of complete systems, and [see] the components themselves not as a priori entities, but as both products and inputs to the system” (Gould, 1990). The whole “system” is the minimal unit of study, because if you take out even one part or change even one part of the system, it affects all other parts. And, now, we have arrived at “activity theory”! #100LSreflections #100dayproject 11/100


I thought I would write these posts chronologically, but this quote (Wolff-Michael Roth, 2016, p.116) is speaking to me today. This is from one of the papers I read for my literature review I wrote this last December and it is about taking the theoretical perspective that activism is learning. When you engage in productive activity that benefits society, you are simultaneously changing and being changed by the practice of activism. Or the practice of anything, really. The quote describes how we experience life–it’s always changing, just like that river with all its eddies and turbulences. Everything changes. So when trying to study societal actions like education, we have a hard time narrowing the measurement or observation to something static. It’s pretty problematic to stop the river to study the individual “states”, but if we try to observe the flow of the river or how the river changes, it’s more authentic. If we are looking at students engaged in activism, that student is both engaging in the action and being changed by engaging in the action; he is a not just the subject of research, but a “subject-in-the-making.” Simultaneously, the researcher is a researcher-in-the-making; the teacher is a teacher-in-the-making and the environment is also in the process of undergoing change. I guess this quote is speaking to me because I am experiencing a lot of change lately–not just professionally, but also personally. I am Susan-in-the-making. #100LSreflections #100dayproject 8/100

Going Upriver

For the Computer Supported Learning course, I wrote an essay about how to develop Global Citizenship Education (GSE) through activism and participatory media. GSE “equips learners with the knowledge, skills and values to navigate and live together in an increasingly interdependent world and to work collectively toward solutions to the planet’s pressing problems” (Truong-White & McLean, 2015). I want to share two metaphors that came from the research for this paper. The starfish thrower, based on a story by Loren Eiseley, essentially helps justify helping the ONE starfish by throwing it back in the sea, even though there are thousands on the beach that will die in the sun, because even though it will not make a difference, it makes a difference for that ONE starfish. But what if that starfish, in its infinite natural wisdom, knew that it was time for it to die and did not want to be saved? Another metaphor is the story of children drowning in a river with a strong current. Of course, unlike the starfish, we know for certain that children do not want to drown. We try to save them. But then we look upriver and see boats with people throwing children into the river and there are more and more boats coming. What do we do? Andreotti and Pashby (2013) describe 4 responses: “rescuing the children in the water, stopping the boats from throwing the children in the water, going to the villages of the boat crew to understand why this is happening in the first place, and collecting the bodies of those who have died to grieve and raise awareness of what happened.” They call this “going upriver” to find the root cause of the problem. The added complication to today’s GCE-oriented teacher is that viral media usually means there is no context for issues that are spread around the world and they are almost certainly shared without questioning what the people are doing to help themselves and how they want to be supported? Perhaps they are satisfied with their culture (not dying children, of course) and find fulfillment in a different way of living. Going upriver. It’s complicated. 6/100 #100LSreflections #100dayproject

Lifelong World Changers

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I am in the middle of writing the methodology chapter for my proposed design-based research study that will lead to my EdD dissertation. My current research questions are about how can critical place-based education be used to design a pedagogical framework which engages students in activism and can this framework increase students’ agency for activism.

I have come to understand that my desire to focus on how to increase student agency for activism comes partially from the lack of agency for activism that I have experienced in my own life. There are so many instances of me wanting to “do something” but not following through. I wanted to be a “Big Sister” but didn’t do it. I wanted to volunteer with animals or to clean up the local wetland conservation area in the spring. I wanted to save the world. Instead, I focussed on my family, or that’s what I told myself—as if the two where mutually exclusive. For example, I coached soccer for many years and became “Brown Owl” when my daughter was in Brownies. I made my children’s lives the best I could but I did not follow a personal passion for making the world a better place. I did a good job at being a mom and am proud of the wonderful adults my children have become. But it took joining a sorority for my daughter to learn service. It didn’t come from my example.

If I had participated in activism in school alongside my peers, and gained skills and knowledge on how to create positive change in my community, would things have been different? Would I have continued to volunteer or be civically engaged throughout university and into marriage and motherhood? I believed that personal fulfillment through service or “giving back” was my right and an opportunity would eventually just be presented to me on a silver platter. Of course this is not how the world works. I want students to know how important they are to the world right now and throughout their lives—how important their ideas are, their passions, their solutions. I want to help them develop the attitudes and tools to be able to be lifelong world-changers. #100LSreflections#100dayproject 5/100

Growth Mindset for Academic Writing

Academic writing is not my strong suit. I finished my masters degree in 1994. It had been over 20 years since I had written anything for a course that wasn’t a lesson plan or a reflection when I started to write my first paper in the summer of 2016. That first paper was excruciatingly hard. If I could wish for anything, it would be to be able to write quicker. I’m a pretty good writer but I am SLOW. If I am “on a roll” it will take me about 3 hours to write a page (about 250 words). But it takes about 2-3 full days of focussed work to get on a roll. This luxury of time is available to me in the summer, but not during the school year, so I have really struggled with my courses during the fall and winter terms. I love the research part though. Searching out sources, reading, reading and reading some more, defining words (remember those vocab lists from my first post?), going down “rabbit holes” into interesting topics that are not-exactly-but-maybe-relevant (to justify the time), making connections and then, finally, there’s no more time. It’s time to write or die. All the profs said to write daily. They said to get into a daily habit of writing without fail. If only I had listened to them! But I thought, “How can I write until I’ve finished the research?” Looking back, I see that I also did not allow myself to be a novice. After having supported Grade 12 students for 15 years as they learned how to write argumentative essays and editing those essays, I felt that I should be able to do it easily. I had to get it right the first time, without major edits and it had to be brilliant! These thoughts are paralyzing. Well, I believe in a growth mindset, not just for my students, but for myself as well. I have a lot of writing left in this degree. I can develop the habit of writing daily. I think I just started that habit about 4/100 days ago. #100LSreflections #100dayproject.