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Posts tagged ‘mindfulness’


I Was a Bad Teacher Today

I Was a Bad Teacher Today

A younger educator—well-known and enthusiastic—wrote a post with some points in it that just really rubbed me the wrong way. This educator was absolutely well-intentioned but there were errors in the definitions and in the representation of educational pedagogies of previous recent decades.

What did I do?

I reacted. I wrote a relatively polite, yet pointed, reply. I corrected the errors in his thinking and gave some references and history. I expressed that I was offended.

He wrote me personally and expressed his sadness at offending me and told me how much he respected my opinions and told me he was very sorry and that he meant no offence.

He took his post down.


It gave me pause to reflect on my behaviour.

I was angry. I was upset. I was annoyed by his incorrect claims regarding all the efforts and passion many of us poured into the education sphere in those previous decades that he was inadvertently criticizing. But, he did it out of a lack of information—it was not ill-intentioned.

He made the post from his reference point. My reference point is different. I am older. I have a different lived experience. He is speaking from his lived experience.

As an educator, I should have handled things differently. As just my old regular self, I reacted and hurt this young, enthusiastic educator. My ego and my ‘self’ got in the way of a more measured and appropriate response.

A good teacher wouldn’t make another learner feel foolish. I did that today.

I was a bad teacher.

And I apologize for that. And, I will learn from that.

I think of my dear, recently departed mentor—Jim Milligan—as I write this.

He would understand me and forgive me my error.

I hope this young educator will as well.


Students ‘Making Up’ Their Own Minds

“The principal activities of brains are making changes in themselves.”

–Marvin L. Minsky (from The Society of Mind, 1986)

Human Brain Drawing itself

I want students to be busy building their own minds.

As an educator, this is my main goal. I want students to be in charge of their own learning—to be effectively constructing their brains. We must focus our work so that they have both the opportunity, and the skills, to do so. This is the professional mission in my life.

Ethereal? No.

Although it may sound rather ethereal if we talk about students building their own minds, it is not. The reality is exactly that! Whether we take an historical view based on Jean Piaget’s work or adopt a current neuroscience perspective, the reality is the same—brain structures are being altered as we learn and we can control that both quantitatively and qualitatively—to a greater or lesser degree.

Don’t worry! I’m not going to get super technical about all that. I’ll leave that to those more expert than I.

Jean Piaget and ConstructivismPiaget

Jean Piaget was a Swiss developmental psychologist who studied learning in children. He articulated various stages of development and developed a theory of constructivism. He spoke of schemas or mental structures. If we encounter something new, we either assimilate it into a previous pattern of ideas and knowledge—our schemas—or we must accommodate it by changing what we believe, therefore adding a new schema. Or maybe we just discard the new information as irrelevant.

…we either assimilate or accommodate new information…or toss it out…

Consider, for example, a schema that a young child might hold for a fish. Fish live in water and have tails and fins with which to swim. She then sees many different kinds of fish—large, small, single coloured, multi-coloured and assimilates them all into her schemas for fish thus increasing the richness and texture of the fish schema. The first time that this child encounters a whale, she might call it a fish. Once her caregivers explain that it is a different animal called a whale and that it breathes air by coming to the surface of the water and that it is a mammal, the child will accommodate it by creating a new schema for whale. All of this is driven by the human need for sense making—for reaching a state of equilibrium or balance with no dissonance.

…the human need is for sense making—for reaching a state of equilibrium


Let’s consider new learning from a perspective of neuroscience—that of brain plasticity. Neurons sprout dendrites and send and receive thousands of signals with other parts of the brain thus creating neural pathways. Any new experiences and new learnings reorder neural pathways in the brain. In the same way that a piece of film must change in reaction to an image coming through the lens, our neural structures change whenever we bring in new information or experiences. Any neural pathways that are not frequently used simply disappear and new ones are continually being created as we develop new skills and knowledge.

…our neural structures change whenever we bring in new information or experiences…

Dr. Norman Doidge defines neuroplasticity as: the property of the brain that allows it to change its structure and its function in response to thinking and acting in response to mental experience—in other words, in sensing and perceiving and what we do.

We are literally building our brains

Regardless of whether we think about this in Piagetian or in neuroscientific terms, when we are learning, we are literally building our brains.

We, as human beings of free will, have the option to build, and to mold, the structures of our brain.

I have spent a career questioning, exploring, discovering, and predicting how technologies can assist students in ‘taking charge of their own learning’. What ideas do you have?



Belief Can Outrank Reality!

Watch on Vimeo for larger image and a greater impact – so to speak! 

“I’m an idiot!”

That was my thought about my crash landing shown in the video clip. I didn’t flare to slow down for the landing. Why not!?

I came to the most fascinating conclusion as I watched this video countless times on a large screen in an attempt to determine where it all went wrong,

My belief outranked reality.

My expectation outweighed all the other information that I was perceiving.

The Story

I was taking paragliding instruction. (Some people think this is why I was an idjit. LOL) I had completed ground school and some canopy handling on the ground. Now it was time for my first training flight.

You get attached to a tow rope connected to a winch placed some hundreds of metres away. This winch has a tension indicator on it so that the tow operator knows how much tension is on the rope. For the first flight, you get towed fairly strongly at first and fly several metres off the ground. At the right moment, the tow operator reduces the tension enough to stop the forward pull but still have the rope advancing ahead of the pilot so it doesn’t get in the way.

In the video, you will see that the take-off went quite well as I, at first, resisted the tension, as I was supposed to, and then took many small steps ‘til take off! Good one Peter! J

A couple of seconds later, the canopy started to turn, so I acted properly and pulled the correct line to straighten it out.

Then, I was expecting to continue my flight. I was moving forward still. I believed I was to continue flying. It was a strong belief. But, alas, it was the wrong belief! The operator had reduced the tension so I could land.

But I didn’t flare. I didn’t pull on the brakes.

My expectation–my belief–was more powerful than the ground approaching quickly!

Information that should have been extremely vivid and impactful eluded me.

The Lesson

How often, do we as educators, not see the obvious because our beliefs are so strongly interfering with reality?



Using Visible Thinking Strategies to Develop Expert Learners

Supporting Inquiry with Scaffolded, Collaborative Journal Writing

Communicating peopleVisible thinking is all the rage. I’m glad!

Back in the day–we usually referred to visible thinking as explicit thinking. But, as with many solid, worthwhile constructs, they are not readily adopted and so often reappear decades (or centuries!) later under a new name with new advocates and with a new dream that maybe this time things might stick and better the lives of students.

So it is with visible thinking.  The basic idea is to uncover the implicit and inert thinking and to make that thinking discussable and perhaps available to others. For it is by objectifying knowledge that we can come to understand it.

John Seely Brown once suggested,

“The hope is that we might be able to find ways to help students discover knowledge about knowledge, thereby setting the stage for acquiring truly domain-independent skills, such as how to reflect on the knowledge they already have, and to identify the causes underlying the mistakes they make.” (Brown, 1985, p184)

So, how do we support students in making their thinking visible?

There are many perspectives, frameworks and strategies. A favourite of mine is that of David Perkins, one of the pioneers on making thinking explicit. His recent work with a team at Harvard’s Project Zero has resulted in a book Making Thinking Visible. A worthwhile read! Also, visit the Making Thinking Visible website for wonderful resources.

What are Novice and Expert Learners?

I personally love the literature on expertise and how it may serve us. We can think about novice learners and expert learners and ask “how do we move novices towards greater expertise in learning”? Scardamalia and Bereiter have done a great deal of work in this area and the following has arisen from their research over the years.

This graphic shares some of the differences between novice and expert learners.

(Click it, then click it again to see full size.)
Novice/Expert Infographic

Novice/Expert Infographic

What is Scaffolded, Collaborative Journal Writing?

So, how can we help students become more expert?

I have used journal writing extensively–both offline and online. But not simply private, individual journal writing. I prefer collaborative, scaffolded, journal writing environments.  This provides all the benefits of journal writing, collaboration, and the use of scaffolds or procedural facilitations. (You can set this up in a blog, wiki, or other social space–although it is a bit of a ‘hack’!)

journal medSome Benefits of Journal Writing:

  • Cappo & Osterman suggest that “as students communicate their ideas, they learn to clarify, refine, and consolidate their thinking”.
  • Countryman says, “I believe that to learn mathematics, students must construct it for themselves. They can only do that by exploring, justifying, representing, discussing, using, describing, investigating, predicting–in short by being active in the world. Writing is an ideal activity for such processes”.
  • Journal writing allows for the externalization of knowledge through language. Language plays an important role in making knowledge explicit by objectifying experience. So as students engage in writing about their knowledge they are indeed exploring, stating and questioning what they know. Journal writing allows students to state their understanding of a topic or problem replete with all the associate bugs. These buggy statements are then explicit and can act as a medium for mediating new understanding in collaboration with others.

Some Benefits of Collaboration

Cloud Computing Small textA collaborative form of journal writing leads to unique experiences that have qualitatively different results than individual journal writing. Students not only reflect on their own thoughts and processes, but also exchange information about both the subject content and the processes and strategies used by others.

Stated somewhat differently, Perkins and Salomon maintain that “learning takes place in a social context (e.g., reciprocal teaching), whereby justifications, principles, and explanations are socially fostered, generated, and contrasted”.

In the Zone Scaffolding

Scaffolding in the zone (as in Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development) can encourage students to consider their own higher level strategies and promote the active decontextualization of knowledge. It may allow the user to decenter from personal thoughts and think about other considerations. Confused roadsignIt facilitates an internal dialogue when no other partner exists to bounce ideas off. In the zone scaffolding can take many forms, but I have used prompts, questions or sentence starters and make these available to students in a blog template as they write their entries.

You will see that the scaffolding prompts (below) tie directly to the characteristics of the novice-expert continuum in the infographic–although they are categorized as planning and reflection starters.

Comment Starters

Usually students quite naturally respond with social commentary, but often not with substantive assistance that might help their classmates to reconsider, or to think more deeply, about how they are doing in their project. So I recommend to also include comment or discussion starters.

Connective Words or Elaboration Triggers

In addition to the prompts for the journaling and the conversation, a list of connective words can be available to students to help them to elaborate their thoughts. So if a student initially writes, “I want to learn animation”, selecting a connective word such as because, might result in further consideration of the goal perhaps resulting in sub-goals. “I want to learn animation because then I will be able to demonstrate how red blood cells are produced. In fact, I will be able to use it in lots of projects.”

Classroom Support

A teacher can also enhance the use of these public journal entries by structuring certain activities for their use. For example, to have students focus on using knowledge as a tool, the teacher could request:

“For the next group meeting, I would like you to read the blog (journal) entries of your group members for the current project and print out the ones that show that a piece of old knowledge has been used in a new way.”


“…print out the ones where the comments provide direct help with the task.”


Several challenges exist.

One, this can become simply another classroom exercise–worksheet-like. NOT the intent. Try to engage your students in developing their own sentence starters. Engage in the discussion by adding comments that are substantive.  Model what you want the kids to do. Encourage the philosophy in the classroom that thinking is a highly valued activity.

Two, the tools (wikis, blogs, Diigo) are not designed to ease the use of these starters.  I have had students copy and paste the ones they want to use into their post or into their reply. But, availability is the issue.

Three, ideally you want the kids generalizing this behaviour and appropriating the use of deep discourse. In order for that to be the case, it must serve the kids well. This may require your effort in making the connection.

Request of you…

It would be beneficial if you would share your ideas on how you have used journal writing, scaffolding or collaboration to help your students to become more expert learners!

Scaffolding Prompts

Planning Starters

I want to know…
I want to learn…
I think…
My goals for this project are…
I don’t understand…
I wonder…
I am having difficulty with…
I am breaking my project into…
A similar task I have had before is…
The steps I plan to follow are…
Different ways to solve this task…

Reflection Starters

I learned…
Things I want to learn are…
I think…
I have managed to…
I have changed my plan…
I didn’t get as far as I planned because…
I got further than I had planned because…
The steps I did first were…
My next step will be…

Comment or Discussion Starters

I agree with you because …
I disagree with you because…
I think…
I believe…
Have you thought about…
I am confused…
Another explanation…
I don’t understand…
You need to…
Your journal entry would be better if…

Elaboration Triggers

thanks to
that’s how
that’s why
in that case
in view of
look forward to
give up
as a result of

Previous version originally published on The Construction Zone


Hey teacher. Think you don’t have impact? Think again.

Peter dunlace 1970Hey teacher. Think you don’t have impact? Think again.

I had lunch yesterday with a former student of mine. It was my first year teaching. I was 21. She was 10. It was the early seventies. It was some forty years ago.

She proceeded to tell me how I changed her life through an art lesson on perspective and, specifically, on ‘how to see’ and to draw a tree. Her description was detailed and formidable. The actions I suggested and the emotions created in her changed the way she has looked at things since.

This former charge of mine then continued with countless other intricate stories of her learning and my teaching. I listened in amazement—and, admittedly, with much pleasure.

One of the things she said she loved most was that I was present. I listened and genuinely seemed to care.

I was flattered at having such a profound impact on this person.

Not All Good

But, I know, it wasn’t like that for all students in my classes throughout the years. I am sure not all had the benefit of my good side. What about those times when my weaknesses were in play?

My moodiness.

My skilful switchblade of sarcasm.

My impatience and dreadful dismissiveness.

What about those times?

What impact did that have on some children?

Hey teacher. Choose your impact.



Visible Thinking – A View from the Past :-)

Transfers on the Train of Thoughts

As colleague, Brenda Sherry, and I prepare for the OTF CONNECTS webinar session titled Making Student Thinking Visible: How Can Technology Help?, I came across this article from the distant past <g>.  We didn’t call it ‘visible thinking’ back then – we usually referred to it as ‘making your thinking explicit’.  But, as with many solid, worthwhile constructs, they are not readily adopted and so often reappear decades (or centuries!) later under a new name with new advocates and with a new dream that maybe this time things might stick and better the lives of students.

So it is with ‘visible thinking’.  Of course, there are LOTS of new ideas and strategies that Brenda and I are bringing to the presentation – based on Project Zero’s “Making Thinking Visible“!

I have replicated “Transfers on the Train of Thoughts” here as is — except I have parsed it and added a couple of titles for clarity. This was written for, and delivered at, a SIG-Logo conference called “Look to the Learner” that some of us ran for the Educational Computing Organization of Ontario (ECOO) in March, 1986.

Look to the Learner Poster SmallerTRANSFERS ON THE TRAIN OF THOUGHTS

©1986 Peter A. Skillen
Program Leader – Computing in Education Centre
North York Board of Education

People caught in unfamiliar contexts…are liable to be judged as stupid…”

For decades, if not centuries, a persistent problem for educators has been that of getting the student to apply knowledge learned in one domain to another distinctly different domain. It is not that the knowledge does not exist within the learner. It appears to be a problem of triggering the retrieval of that knowledge when immersed in a different problem-solving context. Carl Bereiter, Marlene Scardamalia and others (Whitehead, 1929) refer to this contextually restricted knowledge as “inert knowledge”.

“Human beings learn through participation in various contexts and spheres of action. Home, street, workplace, supermarket, bank, airliner, the faceless but nonetheless real world of bill-paying – these are a few of the many contexts with which one must become intimate in order to function as a modern adult. People caught in unfamiliar contexts, such as a person taking an airline trip for the first time, will blunder, hesitate, and act not quite right in a dozen ways that people familiar with the context never even think about. Newcomers to a behavioural context are therefore liable to be judged as stupid. By the same token, people behaving in a context that is much more familiar to them than it is to the observer are likely to be admired for their mental efforts.” (Bereiter & Scardamalia, 1983, p11)

…So, we’d better teach students to think about their thinking!

We need to explicitly teach students to think about their thinking.

“The hope is that we might be able to find ways to help students discover knowledge about knowledge, thereby setting the stage for acquiring truly domain-independent skills, such as how to reflect on the knowledge they already have, and to identify the causes underlying the mistakes they make.” (Brown, 1985, p184)


“Cognitive skills of information management; strategies for problem solving that cut across domains of knowledge; such metacognitive skills as planning, monitoring, and learning how to learn; communication and critical inquiry skills will come to be valued more highly.” (Pea, 1985, p93)

Schools have traditionally taught subjects and therefore emphasize knowledge specific to that domain. This method, of course, is replicated in other domains. But this methodology perhaps leads to a collection of “knowledge packets” that can only be accessed when one invokes the context or culture in which the knowledge is embedded.

How do we solve this dilemma?

1. Thematic Integration

In order to overcome this dilemma two distinct approaches have occurred in educational environments – one more strongly than the other. I shall propose a third. The first scenario is familiar to most elementary school teachers: thematic integration. One should not teach a period on reading, then one on writing, followed by math, etc. There rather should be a thematic approach to the classroom environment. In this way “Pioneers” maybe the chosen theme and the classroom is alive with multidisciplined activities dealing with pioneers. For example, a centre might be set up for students to write about pioneers; a candle-making centre might be arranged to allow the students to explore early candle-making methods; the dress-up centre may have 18 and 19th century clothing and so on. This approach is certainly more meaningful than a “traditional” one, in that there is a connectedness and relevance to the use of the subject matter skills to learn about pioneers. But it does not meet the needs of learning generalizable skills outside of that domain.

2. Teach Heuristics

Another approach, although less popular, is that of teaching heuristics to students. These are generally problem-solving strategies that are studied in either a domain-free or a single domain environment. The hope here is that the student is able to recall the appropriate heuristic when confronted with a new problem.

3. Teach Thinking Techniques – an Eclectic Approach

What I propose is a more eclectic approach.

But before I describe techniques that have been successfully used in classrooms, I would like to draw one further observation. Some people, when adopting Logo, have understood its attendant philosophy as one of a playground where unfolding of learning and development will occur naturally as a result of interacting with the Logo environment. I encourage free exploration and a playfulness as an integral part of any learning activity – but not to the exclusion of other forms of activity. Ron Ragsdale (OISE) reminded me of a quote from Corinthians.

“Everything is permissible,
But not everything is beneficial.
Everything is permissible,
But not everything is constructive.”

A sense of extreme permissiveness sometimes invades the Logo world. I don’t think this was the intent of the originators of the language. It was designed to allow people to become reflective about their own thought processes – to think about their thinking. The activities which I propose allow the learner to be self-determining and in control yet focus the student on developing reflective skills. (This does not, by any means, negate the need for play and exploration!


Screen Shot 2014-03-04 at 12.17.19 PM

In the thematic approach I outlined earlier in the paper, I suggested that people usually choose a content theme – but at other times I would recommend a process theme be the focus. As an example I use a theme called AFTERBUGS.

“What a refreshing change to see young excited learners reveling in learning from their mistakes – rather than being ashamed of them.”

The intent of this activity is that students monitor their own learning processes by actively looking for mistakes, or bugs, as evidenced in the outcome of their task. The importance of children taking charge of their own minds cannot be over-emphasized from both and the affective and cognitive perspective. (Incidentally, the social, interactive payoffs are quite high too!)

When children are enthusiastic and analytical about going back to their tasks (hence analyzing their previous and present thinking processes) they have taken a large step toward the more profound goals of education. How can this be achieved in the classroom? It started with Logo and the original idea arose from the grade 2-3 students in the class. In working with Logo it became clear that one rarely got it right the first time.

Children soon got used to the notion of having “bugs” in their programs. These are not bad things – rather they were things that had to be fixed.

Bug hunting became an game.

With some nurturing of this attitude the children started bug collections. They had imaginary (to an adult!) jars in which they collected their bugs. Whenever they solved their difficulty (bug) they would remove it from the jar and squish it. Now, because we had constructed a large papier-mâché turtle as part of our classroom Logo culture, one of the children suggested that we feed the bugs to the turtle rather than destroying them indiscriminately. This was very entertaining and motivating.

The next occurrence was astounding and revelatory for me as an educator. The children started looking for bugs elsewhere in their classroom lives – not just with Logo! They would actively seek mistakes in their math, spelling, reading and so on.

An unusual situation for a classroom one must admit! What a refreshing change to see young excited learners reveling in learning from their mistakes – rather than being ashamed of them.


Screen Shot 2014-03-04 at 12.18.56 PMAnother technique that can be used is WATCH ME THINK. This is essentially a situation where a more novice student would watch a more expert student as he/she performs the task. In addition to watching the student, however, the ‘expert’ is asked to think out loud. This allows the ‘novice’ to get at some of the thinking processes that the expert is using.

The outcomes, once again, are not specific only to Logo. This strategy can be used during the solution of other problems; in arithmetic, or writing stories, spelling, reading text. This technique of ‘thinking aloud’ has normally been used in research settings where the researcher is attempting to understand the strategies underlying the actions. Again, the payoffs are not only cognitive ones.

It is assumed by many people that experts solve tasks with ease, with little difficulty. This is clearly not the case. It is therefore of affective benefit to the novice in that he/she can observe that:

“Oh, I’m normal – it’s okay to have ups and downs when I’m trying to solve a problem. It’s natural.”

Think about young writers. The models they have for writing are generally the finished product; a linear, error-free piece of text. One could easily assume that the author sat down at a blank page (or screen!) and wrote fluidly from beginning to end and voilà it’s complete! This, as we are aware, is rarely the situation.

The novice benefits greatly from getting at the procedural knowledge that the expert uses in pursuing this task. Similarly, in Logo, looking at a finished product does not always help the novice in achieving similar goals. To watch someone use his/her techniques for proceeding with a task can be a powerful tool. “What” does not necessarily help with “How”.

(One must not assume from this discussion that I negate individual explorations of problem-solving. This is certainly not the case. Remember, my preference in educating is to be eclectic; providing as wide a variety of techniques as possible to suit and enhance idiosyncratic learning styles.)

It is clear, once again, that the Watch Me Think exercise focuses the students attention on thinking about thinking.


Screen Shot 2014-03-04 at 12.22.59 PMThis is an activity that emphasizes the use of metaphor – specifically what I call procedural analogy. I make the distinction and use the term ‘procedural’ quite purposely. The rationale for this is that I wish to emphasize the “how“, or process knowledge, as opposed to the “what” or propositional, declarative knowledge.

Metaphors are used widely in cultures to clarify the meaning of a construct or idea, but they’re also used to ground the information in an emotional or affective context. Metaphors have been used to illustrate the flow of control of Logo procedures or to teach recursion.

“Metaphors can ground information in an emotional or affective context.”

I believe these to be valuable tools in assisting learners to understand constructs or operations which might otherwise be too difficult for them. What is more important (and more difficult to implement) is to encourage the learner to create his/her own metaphor for that abstract concept under focus. This may only be possible after the construct is understood by means of using a given metaphor. But the ownership over the self-created idea is certainly more powerful, less extinguishable and more generalizable than a teacher-given one.

“Ownership over self-created ideas is more powerful, less extinguishable and more generalizable than teacher-given ones.”

And once again, of course, the student is thinking about thinking. So the child is essentially saying to herself, “Okay, I have this idea and way of doing things – what else is like that?”

An example, published before – but worth mentioning here, from a grade three child (Jeffrey) who was coming to grips with the notion of a larger problem being broken into its smaller parts is repeated here for the sake of continuity.

Our grade 2/3 class had the opportunity to watch the overpass of the space shuttle piggybacked on a jumbo jet. When we returned to class, a discussion about space naturally erupted. One child asked if Earth was in space, and in asking the question, we determined that yes, it must be, because it wasn’t sitting on anything. The discussion continued until Jeffrey piped up.

You know it’s sort of like Logo.”

The class stopped, and looked at him curiously, as I did myself.

“What do you mean?” I asked him curiously.

“Well, Earth is like a procedure. It’s like a sub-procedure inside of the solar system. The solar system is the super-procedure and the solar system is like a sub-procedure inside the universe. The universe is like the super-procedure.”

Jeffrey personalized and consolidated his understanding of procedures and sub-procedures through making this analogy. Again it is to be noted that the learning is moved from the context of Logo to other domains. This helps to remove the “functional fixedness” that is common to many types of learning situations. The child not only may be able to transfer the knowledge about breaking a large problem into smaller parts – but more importantly may use metaphor or analogy in other learning situations.

“The child…more importantly may use metaphor or analogy in other learning situations.”

To summarize, the activities that I have described here serve two purposes. Firstly, the children will learn the content more efficiently and will be able to transfer that knowledge to other learning domains more readily. Secondly, they will acquire some metaskills of learning which they can apply in new learning contexts – analyzing work for errors of thought, watching a more expert person in solving a task, and metaphor usage to better understand the concept.


Bereiter, C. & Scardamalia, M. (1983) Schooling and the growth of intentional cognition: Helping children take charge of their own minds. In Z. Lamm (Ed.), New Trends in Education. (pp. 73-100). Tel-Aviv: Yachdev United Publishing Company.

Brown, J.S. (1985). Process vs. Product: A perspective on tools for communal and informal electronic learning. Journal of Educational Computing Research, 1(2).

Pea, R. D. (1985) Integrating human and computer intelligence. In E. L. Klein (Ed.) Children and Computers. New Directions for Child Development, no. 28, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.


Should We Gamify Meditation? ;-)

I ask this somewhat in cheek. In fact, it is rather an oxymoron.


Screen Shot 2014-02-17 at 5.08.05 PMThere is a lot of evidence about the positive effects of mindfulness these days. It is becoming ‘de rigueur’ in the K-12 education space. For example, Mindfulness Without Borders offers workshops to schools. So does the Mindfulness Institute. The Association for Mindfulness in Education and also attend to this issue. Just to name a few.

On a personal note, I studied transcendental meditation when I was 20.  That is also when I first learned of Jon Kabat-Zinn – although I didn’t take the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course until a few years ago.

Meditation is a practice in which an individual trains the mind or induces a mode of consciousness, either to realize some benefit or as an end in itself. The word meditation carries different meanings in different contexts. Meditation is often used to clear the mind. (Roughly taken from Wikipedia.)


I have also played around with biofeedback.  I have found it quite useful.gsr2image
“Biofeedback is the process of gaining greater awareness of many physiological functions primarily using instruments that provide information on the activity of those same systems, with a goal of being able to manipulate them at will.” Wikipedia

Biofeedback may give you insights into meditative practice and indeed may assist you in reaching goals of ‘calmness’ and ‘stress reduction’.  There are many more biofeedback tools available these days due to advances in technologies and in neuroscience. Some give you feedback on muscle tension, some on skin temperature and others on skin conductance (galvanic skin response -GSR*).  (It is, in fact, a GSR device that I have owned for some 25 years.) These are all indicators of psychological or physiological arousal. So, if you can ‘meditate’ in some fashion and reduce the arousal, you will get good feedback on which techniques work effectively for you.

Major Research

Important to note that this is not some pie-in-the-sky notion — the Affective Computing Group at MIT Media Lab has been investigating many educational issues leveraging biofeedback devices.  Susanne Lajoie at McGill has also been studying education with this lens too. And, you can bet that the big publishers are involved as well!  (But, that’s a topic for another day!)


And guess what!

With all the advances in computer technologies and biofeedback devices – and, with the onslaught of ‘gaming’ and ‘gamification’, there are a slew of biofeedback games available both online and downloadable!
I am actually not familiar with any of those at all but am simply asking myself – and you – the question.

Should we gamify meditation?

*SideNote: Heck. If you are into robotics, get yourself an RCX Lego brick and make a GSR yourself — but, be aware only do this with your RCX on battery power. If it’s plugged in, you could electrocute yourself!

GSR from RCX brick - courtesy of

GSR from RCX brick – courtesy of









You might look – but you may not see.

Well, another of life’s lessons came to me in a strange and humorous way recently!

You can be looking for something – very hard – and not see it at all. Yet, when viewed with a different lens – there it is. Revealed.

On a day off from ISTE12, a few of us went to La Jolla where @brendasherry @rebrouse and I went snorkeling in search of Leopard sharks. They are harmless, so we were bravely lying face down in the water for an hour or so – coming up for the occasional cleaning of the mask and all. I had with me a brand new underwater camera with one of those awful LCD viewfinders popular on point and shoot digital cameras. You can see VERY little when the sun is shining, light glaring off the water and you are wearing a foggy mask!

I only took about six shots I was so disgusted!

Anyway, I gave up on the photography.

We didn’t see any sharks. We saw lots of sand.

And then, when I arrived home, and moved the pictures from camera to computer – yep — there it was! As plain as day!

A shark. (Click image for better view! And, no! I didn’t Photoshop it in. I’m not that smart!)

Sometimes, methinks you need to use a different lens to see the world.