Manitoba ASCD Blog

Peter Liljedahl on...Flow: A Framework for Discussing Teaching

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Peter Liljedahl is a professor of Mathematics in the Faculty of Education and an associate member in the Department of Mathematics at Simon Fraser University.  The following is an excerpt from his 2016 article on using flow to talk about engagement in the mathematics classroom.  This article was originally published here:

Liljedahl, P. (2016). Flow: A Framework for Discussing Teaching. Proceedings of the 40th Conference of the International Group for the Psychology of Mathematics Education, Szeged, Hungary.

In this paper I explore Mihály Csíkszentmihályi's notion of flow as a lens to analyse the teaching practices of two very different teachers. Results indicate that flow is not only a good theoretical framework for drawing attention to the differences in teaching style, but also for describing these differences in ways that is grounded in what we know about good learning. The possibility of shifting flow from a descriptive framework to a prescriptive one is also explored.


In the early 1970's Mihály Csíkszentmihályi became interested in studying, what he referred to as, the optimal experience (1998, 1996, 1990),

 “a state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience is so enjoyable that people will continue to do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.” (Csíkszentmihályi, 1990, p.4)

The optimal experience is something we are all familiar with. It is that moment where we are so focused and so absorbed in an activity that we lose all track of time, we are un-distractible, and we are consumed by the enjoyment of the activity. As educators we have glimpses of this in our teaching and value it when we see it. 

Csíkszentmihályi, in his pursuit to understand the optimal experience, studied this phenomenon across a wide and diverse set of contexts (1998, 1996, 1990).  In particular, he looked at the phenomenon among musicians, artists, mathematicians, scientists, and athletes.  Out of this research emerged a set of elements common to every such experience (Csíkszentmihályi, 1990):

  1. There are clear goals every step of the way.

  2. There is immediate feedback to one’s actions.

  3. There is a balance between challenges and skills.

  4. Action and awareness are merged.

  5. Distractions are excluded from consciousness.

  6. There is no worry of failure.Self-consciousness disappears.

  7. The sense of time becomes distorted.

  8. The activity becomes an end in itself.

The last six elements on this list are characteristics of the internal experience of the doer. That is, in describing an optimal experience a doer would claim that their sense of time had become distorted, that they were not easily distracted, and that they were not worried about failure.  They would also describe a state in which their awareness of their actions faded from their attention and, as such, they were not self-conscious about what they were doing. Finally, they would say that the value in the process was in the doing – that the activity becomes an end.

In contrast, the first three elements on this list can be seen as characteristics external to the doer, existing in the environment of the activity, and crucial to occasioning of the optimal experience. The doer must be in an environment wherein there are clear goals, immediate feedback, and there is a balance between the challenge of the activity and the abilities of the doer. 

This balance between challenge and ability is central to Csíkszentmihályi’s (1998, 1996, 1990) analysis of the optimal experience and comes into sharp focus when we consider the consequences of having an imbalance in this system. For example, if the challenge of the activity far exceeds a person's ability they are likely to experience a feeling of anxiety or frustration. Conversely, if their ability far exceeds the challenge offered by the activity they are apt to become bored. When there is a balance in this system a state of, what Csíkszentmihályi refers to as, flow is created (see fig. 1). Flow is, in brief, the term Csíkszentmihályi used to encapsulate the essence of optimal experience and the nine aforementioned elements into a single emotional-cognitive construct.

Figure 1: Graphical representation of the balance between challenge and skill

Interested to read more? Find the rest of the article HERE

Posted by Meghan Burns at 10:14 AM – 0 Comments

Garfield Gini-Newman on...Creating Thinking Classrooms

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Garfield Gini-Newman and Roland Case have created an strategy packed book, loaded with stories, and examples to reinvigorate today’s schools. The following is an excerpt from the preface of Creating Thinking Classrooms: Leading Educational Change for This Century.


This book is for classroom, district, and university educators who are working to make schools effective institutions for developing all students’ capacity for rigours and imaginative thinking so that they can become healthy individuals, contributing global citizens, thoughtful consumers of media, and adaptable learners who can thrive in a rapidly changing world.

Our goal is to help educators at all levels to understand and respond thoughtfully to the diverse and sometimes overwhelming calls for school reform that currently dominate public and professional attention. These calls are noisy, confusing, and not entirely coherent. We hope to separate the rhetoric from the reality surrounding many of the popular buzzwords and vague claims associated with learning in the contemporary world. In addition, we seek to unpack the widely recommended goals, initiatives, and pedagogical practices that advocates of reform are championing. Finally we propose an approach supported with practical advice to educators in their efforts to navigate the substantial, often upsetting, challenges of educational change.

The most significant contribution of this book lies in its attempt to clarify and bring coherence to the current reform efforts. When distilled to its essentials, this movement represents a desire to shift the educational system in three important ways involving nine core ideas:

  • Shift 1: Reorient the foundational beliefs about teaching and learning from the mindset characteristic of a discovery or didactic classroom to that of a thinking classroom.

  • Shift 2: Refocus attention on more enriched versions of the three traditional educational goals, moving from fostering knowledge to deep understanding, from skills to real-life competencies, and from attitudes to genuine commitments.

  • Shift 3: Align teaching practices with five key principles of powerful learning. These guiding principles are to engage students, sustain inquiry, nurture self-regulated learners, create assessment-rich learning, and enhance learning through digital technology.


Interested to learn more? Click here for a sample first chapter of Creating Thinking Classrooms. Click here to purchase a copy of Creating Thinking Classrooms, or copies will be available on October 4th at the Manitoba ASCD workshop.


Posted by Meghan Burns at 8:42 PM – 0 Comments

Garfield Gini-Newman on...Critical Thinking

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

This article was originally published at

Teachers and 21st century curricula recognize critical thinking as one of the most important educational goals. Yet it can be challenging to embed in everyday teaching. Teachers ask, "What are practical and effective ways to invite critical thinking? How can I use technology to help my students develop critical thinking? How are creativity, entrepreneurial thinking and critical thinking related?" Join Garfield Gini-Newman, Senior National Consultant with The Critical Thinking Consortium, as he explores these questions and provides concrete examples of inviting critical thinking across Alberta programs of study.

Learn more with video clips here

Posted by Meghan Burns at 8:10 PM – 0 Comments

Garfield Gini-Newman on...Inspiring Wonder through Learning and Thinking

Sunday, August 12, 2018

How can schools remain relevant in a digital world? This is a question Garfield Gini-Newman has been asking and looks to answer, based on his work and research around developing critical thinking skills with students. He argues that schools must inspire wonder and help students develop the intellectual tools for deep learning with suggestions on how educators can bring this about to prepare our students for an undefined future.
Garfield Gini-Newman is an associate professor at OISE/University of Toronto and the senior national consultant with The Critical Thinking Consortium. He has worked with thousands of teachers across grades and subjects, helping them to frame learning around engaging and provocative activities and authentic assessments.
This talk was given at a TEDx event using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community. Learn more at

Posted by Meghan Burns at 12:59 PM – 0 Comments

The Importance of being a Critical Consumer of Information

Monday, July 23, 2018

This article was originally published at

The importance of being a Critical Consumer of Information

by: Chris Gamble

The internet is a vast resource filled with excellent information produced by experts and presented in various mediums.  Teachers and students are faced with a daily issue of credibility of the content they consume.  Unfortunately among the many credible sources of information on the internet are white lies, lies and big fat whopping lies.  This misinformation is sometimes hard to spot and I have found that Internet sources for students are often seen as credible simply because they are, “on the internet”.

Michael Schriemer’s video titled the balony detection kit is an excellent review of some general rules to follow when you are presented with new ideas or reviewing your current beliefs and assumptions.

Michael Schriemers list comes from the late Carl Sagan‘s baloney detection kit.

The complete checklist:

  1. How reliable is the source of the claim?
  2. Does the source make similar claims?
  3. Have the claims been verified by somebody else?
  4. Does this fit with the way the world works?
  5. Has anyone tried to disprove the claim?
  6. Where does the preponderance of evidence point?
  7. Is the claimant playing by the rules of science?
  8. Is the claimant providing positive evidence?
  9. Does the new theory account for as many phenomena as the old theory?
  10. Are personal beliefs driving the claim?

I have fallen victim to passively accepting things I have read or seen on-line as well.  Recently I was caught recommending Ted talks to my aunt when she asked me “Who Moderates Ted talks?"  I was shocked, I had not considered this.  I had assumed that it was some system of jurying that occurs to maintain the quality of presenters and verification that their content is of the highest quality.  My aunt called me back on Skype some hours later, she had watched the video I had recommended and then had done some research into the moderation of Ted talks.

As it turns out the site simply lists one person as the owner of Ted Chris Anderson, who is the sole decider of what content appears on Ted. The mediation of the content is only one criticism. See Wikipedia for more information about what controversies and criticisms surround Ted. The issue is not that all things on Ted are not accurate or of value but that there is content that is not either.  As a learner I made a mistake and let my guard down, it is important that I maintain enough skepticism so that I don’t believe everything and yet remain open enough to incorporate new ideas into what I know, to paraphrase Carl Sagan.

The video below is a parody which illustrates some of the criticism of Ted talks.  The onion is [in]famous for this.  There are at least six of these on their website so if you like this there are more available.

What is the danger in our current situation?  Well history tells us that we have been gullible before.  In 1938 Orson Wells broadcasted a radio play “The War of the Worlds”.  Many who caught the broadcast confused the play with reality and perceived the play as a newscast simply because they were accustomed to using the radio to receive news.  I believe that the aura of authenticity in the printed word often pollutes our perception of things we read and assume that they are truth.  I believe that students are even more susceptible to this phenomenon as they see controversy less in the prepared materials that they read in textbooks.

One way to teach about being a critical consumer of information is to use a spoof site like dihydrogen monoxide.  I used this with my class and amalgamated many similar sites supporting the idea that dihydrogen monoxide is a dangerous chemical.  I asked students to research the chemical and rather than look outside the few websites I had put together on my prepared geocities site they were satisfied with the one or two sites I had provided them with.  They created posters and pamphlets and began coming up with plans to “raise  awareness”. A few students discovered that the “chemical” was water but they were in the minority.  The lesson showed my students that you need to be skeptical and that fantastic claims need fantastic evidence.

Every year Google plays in the gullibility of the masses and plants a spoof innovation on it’s website.


The danger of not teaching students to be critical consumers is far greater then not recognizing harmless April fools jokes.  Children we teach today will be the decision makers of tomorrow so if they are willing to believe things without evaluation we are in big trouble.

We need to demonstrate an openness to change and innovation and yet a skepticism that prevents us from hopping on the reform-wagon. I think that educators can take a lesson from medical sciences where ideas are tested for their efficacy then implemented at large.  We need to open up the private teaching spaces and start admitting that there may be better ways to do things in our classrooms. Being critical consumers ourselves is the first step in the right direction.

If you like this contact me on Twitter @csgamble I’d love to hear what you think!

About the Author:
Chris Gamble is Principal of Warren Elementary School in Warren, Manitoba.


Posted by Meghan Burns at 12:37 PM – 0 Comments