Midterm Reflections: #BIT17, PD Day, Midterms, Student Feedback, and Tracking Observations


I’ve got an hour to spare and need to get caught up on this blog (not a little bit, a ‘lotta’ bit, as my daughter would say)…it is hard to express how busy October and November have been, personally and professionally, but I am determined to remain committed to writing about (and reflecting on) my teaching and learning this year. (In other words, WAY too early in the year to fall off the blogging bandwagon!)

This post contains:
#BIT17, PD Day, Midterms, Student Feedback, and Tracking Observations/Conversations
Scroll down to the part you want to read…it’s a very long post! 🙂

November 9-10 at #BIT17 Conference

It was wonderful to return to BIT this year, but so different than the last three years because I was leaving my classroom. Preparing for the conference while planning for my absence had my mind spinning a bit. I was presenting on work that I had done in the last two years as STEAM coordinator on the Program and Innovation team. This work was very dear to me, yet it now seems so far removed from my current role that it was difficult to get into the right headspace. 

For me, there were two major highlights from the conference. The first was getting to carpool with three fabulous teachers from my school, @Misener75, Joe Bilton, and Kirsten Bach. The chance to spend some meaningful time with people on my staff outside of a PD day was wonderful. The drive to and from the conference was filled with as much rich conversation as our time at the conference, and we have committed to working together to continue to improve our assessment practices this year. We were also joined by @sashwoodedu, SCDSB’s new Technology Enabled Learning and Teaching contact, and she will play a role in our collaboration this year.

The second highlight from the conference was the opportunity to meet some feedback-focused allies from PDSB, @SusanCampo, @MsHLye, and @ChrisHillinPeel. Our conversation was a flurry of reflection and idea sharing. I’m thinking it would be great if there was a conference that we could attend that just involved making ‘thought dates’ with people we’d like to connect with. I learned much more from this hallway conversation than I did from any of the sessions. The sessions were great – just not focused directly on what my personal learning needs were. This is the wonderful power of social media – we had already connected via Twitter and our blogs, and the face-to-face conversation allowed us to quickly dig deep and ask each other some important questions.

PD Day Nov 17

On November 17th secondary SCDSB teachers had a PD day co-organized by the school board and OSSTF. All secondary teachers in our school board spent the day at two locations (divided based on subject area). For half of the day, teachers were able to choose from a menu of sessions presented by classroom teachers and central staff on a number of topics related to assessment. I was invited by @ssimpsonEDU to present a session about my feedback-focused classroom and jumped at the chance. With BIT the previous week and midterms due on Nov 14th, this made for a very busy week. I knew what I wanted to share, had only 45 minutes to work with groups of teachers, and wanted to make things as meaningful as possible. I shared most of what I have blogged about in the last couple of months in these posts: 1,2,3,4.

I underestimated how vulnerable I would feel speaking in front of so many long-time colleagues; in my central role I worked with teachers all the time, but seldom was I leading a session that included my close colleagues. In the morning I presented to two groups of teachers at one school, and in the afternoon I did the same thing at a different location. The afternoon location included all of the current Math and Science teachers. These are my people! They are my closest allies and harshest critics. They know the courses I’m teaching and how unusual my current assessment approach is in these disciplines. Some of them share my workspace and my students with me. I was certainly the most nervous I’ve been in a long time. Forty-five minutes with 30 people is not the way I would choose to share about assessment, but I am happy I took the opportunity!

Slides from my presentation are here: bit.ly/Nov17SZ

Midterm Reports

The Monday after the BIT conference I had a marathon of 1-on-1 conferences with students about their midterm marks for 12U Chemistry. The first two units of study were included in the grade, along with parts of the third unit. I had already met with students regarding their grade ranges for the first two units, so there were few surprises here, and a longer conference was not needed.

The biggest challenge was looking at the ranges we determined were appropriate and translating them into a single integer. For example, if a student’s grade range for unit 1 is 80-85 and for unit 2 it is 85-90, does a grade of 85 make sense? How much of that difference is a result of the students’ growth and how much has to do with their mastery of the topics in those units? Even more difficult for me were students who had the same range for both units…if they’re in the 85-90 range for both, what do I do then?? Some decisions were more difficult than others, and students’ current work (from the third unit) was used to help inform the number we put on their reports.

Nearly every student was content at the end of our little meeting on that Monday. There were a couple of students who were not as happy as I had hoped, and I wondered why. The process had been very transparent, and almost all of the students were working within the ‘happy range’ they shared with me in September. It turns out that at least one of the students who was unhappy was also unhappy with the goal they had set for themselves in September. The student had determined that a range of 85-95 would be acceptable to them, but it turns out 90+ was more what they had in mind. This outlines for me the importance of revisiting student goals. Had we revisited that goal together at the end of each unit, I’m certain this student would have revised their goal, and I would have worked harder with them to help them meet that goal before midterm.

My mini-conferences worked for me with the once-per-unit mark-giving that I am doing. If you would like to read more about student conferencing, I’d love to direct you to check out these blog posts by Susan Campo (When giving feedback, relationships matter, but so does what you say and how you say it) and Heather Lye (Reflections on Midterm Conferences in “Gradeless” 9-10 Math) about their midterm experiences this semester. If anyone knows any more, let me know and I’ll add them here. I love their honest look at the challenges involved with this process – it is SO hard. I’d like to move towards more meaningful conferencing, but don’t know how to make time for it…YET. I applaud you ladies for having the courage to do this the way you intended from the start – I know it hasn’t been easy!

More Student Feedback

At the PD session, I shared some of my students’ suggestions for better supporting them in our low-grades classroom. I was a bit intrigued by their suggestion to assign smaller ranges for unit marks. If the ranges were smaller they would be more equivalent to levels (2, 2+, 3-, etc.) and I am open to that idea.

Another suggestion that I can’t believe I didn’t think of myself (or, admittedly, foresee as being required!) was to give more guidance on assessments (tests, quizzes, etc.) about ‘how much’ to write. Rather embarrassingly, I had not considered how heavily students rely on the ‘out of’ value for a question to determine how much to write. I don’t know why I missed this, and it is an easy thing to fix.

A third suggestion was to help support students more with self-assessments. So, for the 4th unit I have numbered our learning goals and I will use that numbering to help students identify tasks that are relevant to each of those goals. In the past, some students had difficulty ‘choosing’ or locating a learning goal that fit best with a particular question. This tells me two things – first, that they are still very much ‘my’ learning goals and NOT theirs. Second, that I could do a better job with ensuring that the language is clear and specific. I’m looking forward to how this will work out during the next unit.

The last suggestion? More frequent mark updates. Um…no. The frequency of mark updates is the same as it has always been for me. I never updated marks until after a major learning cycle was complete, and I see no reason to change things now.

Observations and Conversations

So, I finally took the plunge and tried a new way of recording observations and conversations. My 12U students were working on designing and carrying out an experiment for the entire week last week. I knew it would be a good chance to test out a new tracking method; in the past that week-long activity has provided much opportunity for rich conversation as students stumble through their first truly significant lab design experience.

After many months of sharing different strategies for tracking observation and conversation, I decided to try out docAppender with Google Forms. The form I created was simple. First, a list of student names (both classes in the same list to streamline my life), and then the following options:

  • Safe (for observing safe lab procedures)
  • Selects (for selecting appropriate materials and/or conducting experiments accurately)
  • Adapts (for the ability of students to modify their procedures as necessary)
  • Talks (for any conversations about theory, interpretation of results, etc. that I want to record)
For each of the above options, I can select ‘Yes,’ ‘With support,’ or ‘Not yet.’ The next question is for my specific comments and I added a question for file upload of evidence.


So, one of the reasons I was a little reluctant to use docAppender/Forms at first was that I had had feedback from other teachers that they couldn’t easily see who they hadn’t observed. On the computer end, there is a solution for this…the survey result view gives a lovely summary of the number of comments for each student:

This is all I need to check and see who I have not observed yet. My goal was to intentionally observe each student at least once – I almost made it! The form results look like this – can be filtered in an way I like and will help me assess student work in a more well-rounded way than I had previously. I found having my phone out a little awkward at times (not usual during labs) but as the week went on it felt better and better. I am committed to continuing to use this tracking tool until the end of the semester, then I will re-evaluate.

Did you read to the end? Congrats. I could have saved these topics and posted on different days, but I think it might never have happened. This way, it’s all out there. 🙂

CMK16 Wrap-up: Finding our People

The Constructing Modern Knowledge summer institute wrapped up two days ago. I’m back home in Barrie with my family, happy to have had a day to rest and reflect before writing this post.

Thursday afternoon (day 3) we were treated to a panel discussion with Gary Stager, Carla Rinaldi, and Edith Ackermann. It wasn’t easy to draw everyone away form their projects, but it was worth stopping for an hour to spend more time thinking deeply about students and their learning experiences. We were treated to some more beautiful examples of documentation, in particular a series of photos illustrating the iteration that took place when students tried to draw people playing ‘Ring Around the Rosie;’ not a trivial task and rich with evidence of student learning. Documentation, learning as a group, iteration, playfulness, and caring were at the forefront of the discussion. You can read tweets from attendees here.

After a break for dinner, we were all invited to return to our project work. Facilitators made themselves available throughout the evening to help us with our projects. During this late-night work session there were lots of celebrations in the room as different groups achieved success with different parts of their projects. We had to make the difficult decision at this point to give up on our goal of having our Weasley Clock refresh positions of family members based on GPS or Twitter data. With the tools available and the technological limitations (particularly with the Wifi) we had to accept that our clock would need to work manually rather than ‘magically.’ Jim rewired our project using a new breadboard so that everything was neat and tidy and we had potentiometer inputs for each of the Weasley family members. The groups worked together on the final touches for the clock itself with incredible attention to detail. Although we did not achieve our pie-in-the-sky goal we learned about several technologies we could use to achieve a working Weasley clock. The SparkFun ‘Blynk’ board is one I would like to investigate further.

We finished up our project on Friday morning. This slideshow contains a number of images we took to help document our journey. The final version of our Arduino code is available here; we ran it on Arduino IDE and are simply using Codebender to share it with you. (I’m not sure that the NeoPixel library was working on Codebender). I will update this post if we upload a video to Vimeo.

On Friday afternoon we had about 2 hours to share our project and explore the other groups’ projects. The one word I would choose to describe the sharing time is ‘delightful.’ I can’t believe how much the other projects caused me to smile. Here is a small sample of projects:

These readouts are from moisture sensors placed at three different heights in a tower garden:

The lights in this blanket change colour based on time of day to let a child know when it’s time to get out of bed:

This is an interactive ‘etch-a-sketch.’ One person draws while the other person controls the size, shape, opacity, angle of rotation, and colour:

This is a garbage/recycling can that celebrates when people put something inside it:

This tree is an interactive history of The Blues:

You can explore more projects on the CMK Vimeo account. The variety of ideas and technologies was astounding.

At the end of sharing time, we were asked to disassemble our projects. After four days working hard on them, it was amazing to see how quickly they came apart. Although we all had invested a great deal of time and energy in our projects, I think the ease with which we took them apart speaks about the true value of the experience. Our collaboration, conversation, and learning is what we were taking home with us.

The final reflection at CMK was some how wistful and celebratory. Many participants shared that they felt they had found ‘their people.’ This certainly was a case of bringing together like-minded individuals, but although we all share similar educational values we each brought different perspectives and experience to the conference. One difference that was evident throughout the week was the type of schools each of us came from. I met teachers from public schools, exclusive prep schools, private schools focused on learning disabilities, and other unique schools like The Blue School. We cannot ignore the fact that the type of quality of resources available to us and our students’ families are extremely varied. I think CMK helped show that there are a wide range of materials and resources available for teachers who believe in learning through making; not all of them are expensive. Public schools have a role to play in ensuring that we are not increasing the disparity between rich and poor.

At the end of the reflection, when it was time to say goodbye, Gary Stager reminded all of us that we are the only ones standing between our students and ‘the madness.’ I think Gary is referring to a number of things when he says this – standardized testing, prescribed curriculum, defining worth based on grades instead of learning – in the end it does not matter what exactly he means by this. I think that the important thing is that teachers and students trust one another. Students need to trust that we are doing right by them. Teachers need to trust that students will learn and thrive when we create the right conditions.

Thanks to everyone at CMK for your help, patience, rich conversation, smiles, and celebrations. I don’t know if I’ll ever be back, but the experience certainly grounded my thinking and validated my work with students and teachers. It was certainly a conference unlike any other.

Click here for reflections on days 2 and 3 of CMK.

CMK16 Days 2 and 3: Finding our part in the Big Picture

It’s the afternoon of day 3 at the Constructing Modern Knowledge summer institute. Yesterday was a whirlwind of learning and inspiration. I’ll do my best to capture some highlights.

After a short work session in the morning, during which our groups were able to meet up and decide on some next steps, we were treated to an inspirational talk given by Carla Rinaldi, president of Reggio Children and of the Reggio Children – Loris Malaguzzi Centre Foundation. It is difficult to use words to capture the depth of insight and emotion that she shared with us, but here is a short collection of tweets from attendees. (I would highly recommend that you read and/or listen to her thinking; here is a video summarizing her thoughts on ‘reclaiming childhood.’)

My background in teaching is as a secondary Science teacher, but every word of Dr. Rinaldi’s talk resonated with both the teacher and the mother in me. Science is all about wonder and discovery, and I have seen in my practice that by secondary school many children have lost their natural curiosity, sense of wonder, and willingness to take reasonable risks. Who can blame them? So often, school is about grades, the ‘right’ answer, and pleasing the teacher. I won’t speak more about that here, but feel free to pause for a mental rant if you wish.

We enjoyed a lovely lunch filled with rich discussion about outdoor learning, and the marriage of technology with real-life, hands-on experiences. We compared reporting requirements from our districts and talked about the value of building relationships based on continual feedback that have students, parents, and teachers working in partnership. Rather than being a mental break, our lunch discussion continued to stretch my brain and my thinking.

Back at the conference, we only had a short 30 minutes to meet and work on our project before it was time to get ready for our trip to Boston. This was SO frustrating! In our reflection, someone pointed out that this is exactly what we often do to our students – we introduce a new topic, get them engaged, then the bell rings and it’s time to switch classes/subjects. Another great a-ha moment. This is the value of placing ourselves in a learning stance this week – we are experiencing all of the joy, frustration, and growth that students do. Teachers should probably put themselves in this position more often.

We boarded buses at 3:30 to head to Boston. We arrived at the MIT Media Lab around 5PM, and had a few minutes to explore before a talk by Mitchel Resnick. He spoke clearly and eloquently about the goals of the Media Lab, and of his Lifelong Kindergarten Group. One thing that struck me during his talk was that he, as Dr. Rinaldi had in the morning, made it abundantly clear that the work he does would not be possible without the work of those who came before. The new technologies and research coming out of the Media Lab are not unique in nature, but rather extensions, reimaginations, or new innovations based on the work of those who championed maker education year – or decades – ago. I was especially touched by the clips of Seymour Papert, whose delight in the work of children is always so evident. We should all be so delighted in our daily work with students.

After a break for cupcakes, we were treated to a presentation by Stephen Wolfram, a well-known mathematician and computer scientist and creator of the Wolfram language. His demonstration of the Wolfram language and tools was fast-paced. One such tool is Wolfram Alpha, a tool designed to answer questions asked in everyday English. You can try it yourself: go to the Wolfram Alpha website and type something like ‘what is the largest mammal’ or ‘what is the population of Toronto’ to get a small idea of the power of this tool. Dr. Wolfram’s demonstration of the Wolfram programming language was spectacular, and I immediately wanted to give it a try myself. I can see the potential here for programming to become more accessible and intuitive. Here is a video demonstration of the language. Buckle up.

By the way, Stephen Wolfram has a custom laptop. Check it out:

Released into the city of Boston, we had dinner at a restaurant in the north end (which will remain nameless, because – inexplicably – they were not open to allowing our party of 6 to split our bill despite the fact that we were all from different states and provinces.) A short walk to meet our bus at Boston Commons and we were soon back in Manchester with visions of code dancing in our heads.

Day 3 began with some success and some challenges for the Weasley group. Our early morning troubleshooting session was successfully resolved after 45 minutes when we restarted our computers. (Yup. Try this first, folks.) The clock construction has gone beautifully today. Many thanks to Michelle, Jon, Jess, Kate, and Jennifer for having the perfect combination of nerdiness, creativity, and persistence to make this clock beautiful. Jim and Kate successfully soldered our 60-LED NeoPixel ring to create a programmable clock face. The programming has required a great deal of troubleshooting due to the fact that each quarter of the circle was actually a slightly different product. Jim has done a great job decoding the LED arguments required to properly address them. Reegan and I are determined that we will be able to control the LEDs using Twitter, rather than using the potentiometers. Time is ticking. We’re hoping for the best.

I can’t say enough about our team. Donuts appeared at some point today (thanks, Jess!) and Michelle and Kate are working away on beautiful take-home souvenirs for all of us. Walking around the facility today, I am continually blown away by the variety and the ingenious nature of the projects people are working on. I hope to document as many as possible tomorrow.

My take-home message for the last 36 hours is that we are all building on the knowledge of others. It is so important to share and discuss the ideas of thought leaders so that we are able to acknowledge their role in making our work possible and build upon their wisdom with our own experience. We can’t stand on the shoulders of giants without consciously remembering that we are doing so.

Click here for Day 1 CMK reflections.
Click here for final reflections.

CMK16 Day One: Putting On Our Learner Hats

Today is the first day of the 2016 Constructing Modern Knowledge summer institute. This is a four-day conference where educators work collaboratively on creative projects with the mentorship of thought leaders and experts who champion and embody the maker movement. Our first day began with an introduction by Dr. Gary Stager, who encouraged all of us to take off our teacher hats and put on our learner hats. I liked the reference he made to ‘mouth down’ frustration vs. ‘mouth up’ frustration. He did a wonderful job explaining the philosophy of the institute and helped us to understand the huge amount of expertise and experience present with us in the room.

The next part of our morning was an EdCamp-style process of idea generation for potential projects. The variety of ideas was stunning, and I put my name next to quite a few before deciding to join the ‘Weasley Clock Project.’

If you are unfamiliar with the Weasley Family clock, it is a whimsical clock that hangs on the wall at the home of one of the families featured in the Harry Potter series, and has different hands that indicate the current physical location of each of the family members (notice that ‘Mortal Peril’ is one of the potential ‘locations’…):

Shortly after making this decision, I found myself sitting at a round table with fellow educators looking for a place to start. After some introductions we began to talk through our ideas: how could we make the Weasley Clock come to life? We identified two main areas to focus on: collecting GPS information from family members and translating that information into a visual display on our clock. We talked for a while about the pros and cons of different displays: hands vs. lights, modern vs. antique looks, number of ‘regions’ on the clock, number of family members, etc. Google searches told us that this had been done before, and this helped give us hope that our vision was possible. (Check out this lovely example: http://mashable.com/2016/02/15/weasley-clock-diy-harry-potter/#LsqTfDHbJEqI)

We moved on to select our materials and received some useful guidance from faculty member Dr. Ben Leduc-Mills about taking things one step at a time. I think this advice was important because everyone in our group was coming to the project from different starting points. Focusing on something simple to start (like getting a device working properly to control ONE light) was reasonable, and actually proved difficult when the first tool we selected was not able to work on the hotel network. Some frustration and head-scratching ensued, but we were never truly discouraged.


Next? Lunch break!
(Delicious lunch at Dancing Lion Chocolate. How did so many incredible restaurants end up in this town? Our dinner last night at Republic was outstanding. Definitely stop in Manchester if you’re ever traveling through New Hampshire.)

After lunch, we regrouped and spent some time selecting new tools and clearly defining a starting point for our project. At this point, it was time to divide and conquer. We focused on figuring out how to get fewer LEDs to light up – just finding connecting wires long enough to work in our clock project was a challenge. We also looked at ways to provide input to our clock using a potentiometer after a failed attempt at using a button. We worked on materials selection and planning for the design of the final clock. After much frustration with the task of coding the lights and potentiometers, we had a brilliant flash of success with only moments remaining before our end-of-day reflection time. Three and a half hours had flown by. At this point it is hard to envision how things will turn out, but a small taste of coding success is a great motivator.

Aside from the project work, meeting other educators from around the world has been a great learning experience. The huge variety in school philosophies, hometown demographics, and job descriptions has been a fascinating part of our discussions during work and mealtime. Everyone here shares a common interest in the value of making in education, and everyone is committed to taking the best of what they learn back to their schools to improve their students’ experience.

I look forward to tomorrow, and promise to blog more as soon as I get a chance. 🙂


Click here for Day 2/3 Reflections

AEIC 2015 – We Love Learning!


Yesterday I had the pleasure of helping host an Arts, Equity, and Innovation Conference for teachers. This was the third Saturday of ‘free PD’ that has been organized and hosted by members of my team during this school year. (You can read my posts about EdCamp and the PUSH Conference from earlier in the year.) These events are playing a key role in transforming mindsets about professional development and innovation in education. They have certainly opened my eyes to the importance of providing venues for teachers to learn and share, an area I have identified as important as we try to find ways to #makeschooldifferent.

Yesterday’s conference had a special vibe that is only felt in the presence of artists. Attendees learned about drumming, silk screening, printmaking, strumming, dancing, and drama. Sessions focused on things like assessment, student voice, equity, and social justice. A variety of vendors and guests energized our innovation space with gorgeous examples of art making and some fabulous teaching (and crafting!) resources.

Attendance at the conference was excellent considering the conditions: yesterday was a beautiful, sunny Saturday, it is Mother’s Day weekend, and our elementary teachers are about to begin a work-to-rule campaign as part of their ongoing efforts to negotiate a new contract. Much like with EdCamp (which also happened on a sunny Saturday) our teachers did not disappoint. They had not paid for the event, and there was no consequence for not attending, but they came just the same.
The rewards for attending?
  • connecting with friends and colleagues from across the school board
  • learning how Art can help us connect with some of our least engaged students (because even boys love yarn-bombing)
  • listening to student presenters share their views on ways to improve their learning by giving them more control and focusing on providing meaningful feedback
  • communicating the importance of Art to our overall well-being
  • learning how deeply we can integrate Art into math and other parts of our curriculum
  • sharing ways to use Art to help make our world more equitable and just
  • teaching ideas for creating Art using tools and techniques that are appropriate to our school budgets
  • coming together to create beautiful things with the help of expert makers

      Have you held this type of PD event in your school board or district? You should seriously consider it…check out the #aeic2015 tweets from yesterday to see the impact it had on some of our teachers:



Makerspace Musings

This past weekend I helped some of my colleagues host a GAFE (Google Apps for Education) conference in Barrie. When jobs were being assigned I leapt at the chance to help run a makerspace for kids, in part because I am intrigued by the multitude of maker stories appearing in blogs and on twitter, in part because I identify as a maker, and in part because I knew that my own kids would love it. We ended up hosting about 15 kids in our space who ranged in age from 6 to 11 years. Button-making, knitting, weaving, robots, Makey-Makey, squishy circuits, LEGO, art-bots and more were on our ‘maker menu.’
We set up our makerspace in the front foyer of the host school (for optimum visibility) and although it was sunny and spacious it was also cavernous and noisy. The best part? On four different occasions a child told me that they were bored. Each time this happened, that same child soon found something to occupy their attention for at least another hour. At the end of the day I practically pried the button maker out of one girl’s hands as she raced to complete her ‘forty-somethingth’ button.

Standing back and taking in the view on Saturday, things in the makerspace appeared to be very organic. Kids were camped out in bean bag chairs or sprawled on the floor; standing at desks or chasing robots up and down the hall; grazing at the snack table or engaged in constructing a marble run. They explored new media with curiosity and the benefit of minimum adult intervention. Here are some images from the day:

There are a number of schools in our board that have expressed a desire to incorporate makerspaces into their learning environments. After my experience on Saturday I have a better idea of what ‘mass making’ entails, but many questions remain:
  • Would it be possible to free up students in a school to explore, unfettered, for an hour (or hours) at a time?
  • How could we arrange these spaces to help kids get the most out of them?
  • What amount of teacher guidance is appropriate in these spaces?
  • How do we manage the continuous generation of mess that comes with creation (and encourage kids to take ownership of this space)?
  • What is the role of curriculum in a makerspace?
  • How would we manage to maintain a continuous supply of consumables without putting a significant dent in school budgets?


I know that established makerspaces have answers to some of these questions and a good deal of advice to offer, but I feel very lucky to have had the opportunity to dabble in a makerspace environment and experience the urgency of these questions for myself.

If you have never visited a makerspace, I would highly recommend the experience. As an alternative, take the plunge host a ‘maker day’ at your school to get a feel for the wonder and excitement that it can generate. One of our secondary schools (Stayner Collegaite Institute) recently hosted such a day, and although I was not able to attend it is clear that it has generated ripples of curiosity.




Finally, tech (in the form of ipads and computers) played only a supporting role in our makerspace. We had several iPads that remained untouched for the entire day. This was not what we had anticipated, but it was wonderful to see how much the students thrived from making with their hands and learning from one another. There was a vivid sense of community in the space that all of us embraced.

Twitter and My PLN

Our recent board-wide launch of our New Pedagogies for Deep Learning (NPDL) project saw students, parents, teachers, and administrators gather in the same space to share their vision for education. We discussed barriers to progress and helped find ways to overcome them. We talked about the value of community connections and the power of student voice. We struggled with the open-ended nature of the project and the feeling of responsibility that comes with creating new learning in our schools.
During the NPDL launch we were encouraged to share our thinking throughout the day through Twitter. Many of us were happily ‘tweeting’ during many of the presentations and discussions. We tweeted to help us share insights, distill out the ‘big ideas,’ and acknowledge the contributions of other individuals around us. At about the midpoint of the day I overheard a comment from a teacher that could have come from me six months ago. To paraphrase, he said: ‘It’s a shame so many people are so busy Tweeting that they’re not listening.’ His words stopped me in my tracks. I understood his feelings completely. It was only about five months ago that I started using Twitter as a tool for professional learning, and it is only in the last month that I have come to appreciate its value.
Your professional learning network (we all have one) includes anyone you are connected to that enriches your work. When my daughters were born and I was on maternity leave, the other new mothers in the neighborhood were part of my professional learning network for parenthood. Friends and family who could offer advice or expertise on the telephone or by email were also part of that network. I would also consider strangers who shared their questions and advice on the web to be part of my network (like when you Google ‘how to get my kid to eat vegetables?’).
My professional learning network as a teacher has always included my colleagues, teacher friends near and far, and occasionally those teachers who shared their experiences and resources on the internet in a way that was searchable (many thanks to those strangers, by the way!). New tools like Twitter have significantly changed my ability to connect with like-minded individuals in a meaningful way. On Twitter I ‘follow’ people who post information that enriches my learning. Many people I follow tweet information about current education research, the incorporation of technology in the classroom, or ideas and philosophies that challenge my thinking. Another subset of people I follow includes teachers in my school board that are sharing the work they do in their classrooms.
I don’t have time to read every tweet that I have welcomed into my account, but I have the power to organize my Twitter account in such a way that I won’t miss the most important bits. Tweeters use hashtags to help sift through the billions of tweets on the internet to find useful information. During our NPDL launch we used two hashtags: ‘#NPDL’ and ‘#SCDSB.’ During the BringIT Together conference we used ‘#bit14.’ During the Science Teachers’ Association of Ontario conference last week we used ‘#STAO2014.’ If you do a search on Twitter for any of these terms you’ll find a rich collection of thoughts, ideas, photos, resources, and links posted by the people tweeting at these events. I can go back to these searches to find a link or idea that I want to explore further. I can look at my own tweets to recapture my state of mind during a keynote speech. I can see who else was tweeting if I want to connect or reconnect with people who were at the event. I think of these searches as collective ‘meeting minutes’ created by a giant human flock of tweeting attendees. This type of communication is called ‘backchaneling’ (participating in an electronic, real-time conversation during a live event) and can be a great way to hear and record opinions of all types of people. I would have been the last kid to put my hand up at school but I might have produced a flurry of on-topic tweets in the background given the opportunity.

So, back to the comment made at the NPDL launch. Confronted with someone who held the same opinions I held six months ago regarding social media I had to think carefully about my response. Aside from a 30-minute lecture on the wonders of Twitter, my options were limited:

“We arelistening,” might sound too defensive.

“Here, let me show you how awesome this is!” might be a little too pushy for some.

My choice? “I know it looks like we’re not listening, but we are. {insert big smile} Think of it like taking notes as a group.”

Hopefully that was enough to raise some curiosity about the process. Hopefully I was able to communicate that I was listening and participating.

If you’ve read this far and you’re Twitter-curious (but reluctant to actually give it a go yourself), check out these ‘Storify’ collections of Tweets from the three events I discussed. Each little story is only a small subset of the tweeting that went on, but will hopefully give you a taste of what it is we’re all doing when we hear a speaker say something wonderful only to turn to our devices and start tapping away at a tweet.
Tweet collections from Storify (there are three here; check them out!):


ECOO conference (#bit14):



STAO conference (#STAO2014):


‘Bring IT, Together’ Conference Debrief – Part 2

Part 1 of my conference debrief can be found in my previous post:

This post is a summary of my take-aways from conference sessions I attended. They’re here for me more than anything, but I would like to invite you to browse – you might find something interesting to you! If you want more information about any of these presentations I’ll do my best to help you find it. I have included Twitter handels for presenters if I have them.

STEM Lesson: How to extract DNA from a banana
Martha (@marthajez) and Drew Jez from Fair Chance Learning. Loved this session; as a science teacher I love the idea of recording observations using video and photo documentation as well as in writing. The USB microscope for class viewing was neat. We Skyped with a scientist to discuss our findings and ask questions (VROC program). Partners in Research, in addition to VROC, offers other exciting opportunities including STEM summer camp.

The Flipped Classroom – Rethinking the Math Classroom
Excellent talk to teacher Adam Agar about the flipped teacher model used by his school’s math department (http://mdhsmath.pbworks.com/w/page/81405554/FrontPage). As a teacher who has done some flipping I appreciated that he focused on the important part: what happens IN the classroom after students have watched video lessons at home. He discussed grouping students on like tasks, seating arrangements for small-group instruction, and the neat ability they have to offer mixed 10D/12U math classes. Think about that…10D and 12U together? Very neat. Key ideas to take away: it’s OK to have videos from multiple teachers (different students learn differently), exit tickets and quizzes are key to ensuring students are progressing, students write tests when they’re ready, and there is a focus on individualized support. Equity issues addressed with DVD or USB. Adam reports greater student ownership of learning and understanding.

Quick to Prototype: Integrating and Iterating Ideas
Unexpected talk about going gradeless in secondary English classrooms. The teachers (Scott Kemp – @kempscott and Anne Doelman – @adoelman) published midterm and final grades only. Use of ‘Body of Evidence Chart’ and ‘Reading Log’ to track progress. The take home messages were simple but powerful: systems resist ideas and we need to accept that; the focus shouldn’t be success or we’ll never get there; don’t use leeches to treat the flu (a.k.a. the old way likely isn’t the only/best way; for ‘going gradeless’ to be a success, relationships with students and parents are key.

Junior Students Virtually Paperless
Paperless in a grade 6 classroom. Josh Ellis (@Joshuaellis34) uses Edmodo as his LMS. Students can BYOD but there is a one-strike rule (misuse = no more device at school) that he has never had to use. One neat idea was that if students used a web-based assessment or learning tool (eg. Gizmos) they can upload a screenshot to the LMS when they’re finished to keep the grading all in one place. Josh has students create how-to tools or sets down challenges (like the one he gave us – to upload a selfie to the LMS ASAP) to help students learn new tech tools.

Capturing Student Learning in the Secondary Classroom
Kendra Spira (@KendraSpira) shared her Science adventures. Students made an instructional video on how to tie your shoes before making one to explain protein synthesis; using an everyday task as a starting point helped students learn the tech and identified need for improvement. She showed a neat ‘recreate the picture’ assignment where students in Grade 10 Optics needed to recreate an image using curved mirrors and explain how they did it/how the optics work. Kendra’s students have blogged about Science in the news and she has seen really meaningful contributions from introvert students. Student inquiry on genetics provoked lots of thought and interesting products such as the ‘Enviro Pig Song’ about GM pigs.

Global Teenager Project
Students connect with a community of learners from all over the world in a learning circle. The themes have wonderful connections to many different subject areas and great way to ‘go global’ with your class. Students shared products and feedback with each other throughout the project. Teacher Laura Thompson described her success with a difficult group of intermediate students; great engagement and investment in this project because it was authentic.

Motivate, Engage and Learn – Using Thinglink, Padlet and Blogs
Great presentation from a principal (Jay Sugunan – @JaySugunan) and two teachers (Gurmeet Sandhu – @gurmeet3601 and Jenny Parr – @MsJParr) about using digital tools to engage students. Thinglink example about First Nations people and their traditions; picture linked to information about many aspects of culture. The use of padlet as a research collaboration tool (collaborate to collect ideas and information on one topic) or to accomplish a goal (eg. create a timeline of the history of flight) was neat. Google forms were being used with Grade 3 to collect feedback and ideas, and teachers are introducing multiple choice to get students familiar with this type of test question.

Providing Dynamic Feedback Online
Great tips from Paul Hatala (@phatala) to spruce up rubrics in D2L by adding videos, photos, exemplars, built-in feedback, personalization, etc. He showed us how to build up competencies and learning objectives so that we can assess most recent, most consistent. The power of ePortfolio was discussed: tied to student, not teacher; can be shared for feedback or flipped into a presentation at the end of a learning cycle. I liked the demo of iDoceo app ($8) for collecting anecdotal observations.

Storytelling with the Moving Image
Why video? Gives voice to ideas and creativity, great for cross-curricular projects, great for community engagement. Certainly most of the work involved in producing a film is in the planning: storyboards; plan shots; practice; shoot; edit. Ernest Agbuya shared his students’ TIFF award-winning short film. Daniella Marchese (email: learning~at~tiff.net) shared some TIFF learning resources. Teachers are encouraged to hold their own film festivals to share students work. Filmic Pro and Videon were suggested as apps as alternatives/upgrades to iMovie.

Genius Bar: Leveraging Student Expertise to Build a Tech Support System
Great presentation describing how a club of about 12 junior students was formed to provide tech help to the teaching staff. Students has to submit resumes and show evidence of tech problem-solving in a group interview. Grade 3 students were brought on as apprentices. Document to help with planning a Genius Bar at your school: http://www.genyes.org/files/staticcontent/genius_bar.pdf . What a great way to give your students important responsibilities while improving availability of tech support in the school.

Breaking down walls: cross-divisional collaboratoin
Grade 10 Applied Civics/Careers/English class (Andrew Bieronski – @AndrewBieronski) paired up with Grade 4 Extended French class (Alison Bullock – @aliringbull). Students in Grade 4 class were challenged to create an ancient site or structure to be part of a museum exhibit. They had to provide QR code audio guides to their product. Grade 10 students created planning packages to guide their Grade 4 team regarding content, timelines, and success criteria. Grade 4’s blogged and Grade 10’s responded. Google Hangouts used to allow the students to ‘check-in’ virtually. In the end, the Grade 10 students visited the museum exhibit. The engagement and ownership was outstanding for students in both classes.

Whew! Now that I have made some room in my brain I can get ready for STAO.

‘Bring IT, Together’ Conference Debrief – Part 1

As a new blogger this is my first attempt to summarize a conference experience in writing. I don’t want to assume that all readers have been to a conference before, so I’ll attempt to describe the overall experience before sharing the good bits.

Picture a place where hundreds (sometimes thousands) of like-minded people converge in a single location to share their passion. There are conferences for dentists, weavers, physicists, philosophers – if you can think it up, it probably exists. Last week I spent three days in Niagara Falls at ‘Bring IT, Together 2014,’ a conference hosted by ECOO (the Educational Computing Organization of Ontario) and OASBO-ICT (Ontario Association of School Business Officials – Information and Communication Technology). This conference is for people interested in the use of digital tools to transform education and there were over 1500 attendees. Over three days I attended three keynote speeches, four in-depth hands-on technology sessions, and 12 talks given by educators (or organizations that partner with educators). My brain is full to the brim and I have a happy afterglow that is not unlike a post-Thanksgiving-dinner glow; maybe too much of a good thing, but totally worth it.

I wanted to summarize my learning and share some links to resources. The first bit is covered in this post; more coming soon!

Keynote Speeches

Wednesday: Technology and the Art of Learning (Artemis Papert and Brian Silverman)
My take-home: Kids learn best when working on projects that are personally meaningful to them. Technology can’t be the teacher; good teachers must understand their students. Programming is a new medium for learning and creating. Great demo of TurtleArt. (remember programming in LOGO in the 80’s? I do.)

Thursday: The Power of Technology to Prepare Students for the Future (Richard Byrne)
My take-home: The ‘thinking economy’ is universal; jobs will come and go but thinking skills remain important. Instead of ‘today we will learn about,’ try ‘today we will explore.’

Friday: Impressive, but not Convincing (Ron Canuel)
My take-home: Use technology in moderation and use it for things that are transformational. Relationships are key; students remember who we are, not what we say. We need courage to change. Early technology adopters don’t make the difference; ‘mid-adopters’ do.

Wednesday: Minds on Media Hands-on Sessions

Makey Makey
I’ve been waiting to get my hands on one of these for a while. If you don’t know what it is, check it out: Makey Makey on YouTube. I played ‘One Button Bob‘ with a button I drew with a pencil, played a keyboard drawn on a piece of paper, and played Tetris with Play-Doh. Serious fun.

3-D Printing
Excellent demonstration and explanations by grade 7 and 8 teachers. If you’re interested in 3-D printing something you create yourself, you can use a 3-D drawing program like Google SketchUp. A simpler alternative is Tinkercad; it even allows direct upload to manufacturers who can print your designs if you don’t have your own 3-D printer. Golden statue of your family mascot, anyone?

Coding for Kids
I tried out some Scratch and some Tynker. I have a way to go here; it took me a while to figure out how to activate the laws of physics in Tynker. (Things were more interesting when Physics was on.) An interesting side note is that I got to watch a Sphero (app-controlled robot ball) in action.

I mentioned this above; it was demonstrated in the first keynote session. It was fun to get a chance to play with the program and talk to Artemis Papert. I’ve had lots of fun playing with this since and would love to use it as a way to teach coding; I like that it’s a one-trick pony; why not start with art? I made this image this afternoon and it’s just one of many created by me and my daughters.

To be continued…Thursday and Friday conference sessions covered in next post.

EdCamp Reflections

September was filled with many new experiences as I started my central position. You could almost hear the energy crackling in our workspace (which has been nicknamed ‘The PIT’ as we are the Program and Innovation Team). Some of the energy in the PIT was focused on planning EdCamp Barrie, held on September 27th. Several members of my team have been working on this for many months. Their efforts and vision culminated in an energizing day of PD for participants from across Ontario.

Mental Preparation
I first heard about EdCamp last June when I started following my new colleagues on Twitter. I had no idea what it involved and was happy to see a ‘What is an EdCamp?’ link on the event website. My personal preference is that events in my life proceed in a predictable and reliable fashion. I prefer to have a concrete home and work schedule. I do not like making last-minute plans for dinner parties. When I go to conferences I always carefully read the programme and make decisions in advance about which sessions I want to attend. As a result, my mind was baffled by the organic, crowd-sourced, open-ended nature of an ‘unconference.’ I wasn’t sure what to expect, and had no choice but to be at peace with that.

EdCamp Barrie took place on what I consider to be home turf. It wasn’t only that it was happening in my city; it was taking place in the school I have taught in for over 10 years. That, coupled with the familiar faces of the organizers, made me feel at home from the start. (Definitely a good starting point for an introvert.) Our keynote address was given by two local elementary students, and was a great catalyst to focus our attention on our most important ‘Why?’: our students. The keynote speakers and student volunteers were surprised and pleased to see so many teachers participating in an activity like this on such a beautiful fall day. I suppose students are accustomed to seeing teachers put in extra time in gyms or music classrooms but hadn’t often (or ever) considered the extra time many of us commit to professional development. Perhaps more of us should share our professional learning activities openly with our students so that they can understand that we are all lifelong learners.

Watching the schedule for the day come together from attendees’ suggestions was really neat. Reading a description of this process does not do justice to the flurry of activity (reading/comparing/grouping) that actually takes place as organizers do their best to group similar questions from the hundreds that we generated. The resulting schedule was beautiful to behold and elicited a sense of pride in the group before we had attended a single session. Our collaborative session notes allowed the conversation to continue after EdCamp, when we could revisit shared resources and questions and take advantage of new relationships to embark on formal and informal collaborations.

Being relatively new to the Twitterverse, EdCamp was the first time that I found myself looking into the face of someone who I had known previously only as ‘@— that tweets about widgets’ or ‘@— whose class is learning coding this week.’ It was really neat to make a personal connection with some of these people who have unknowingly been teaching me so much these last weeks. The value of face-to-face is evident during EdCamp sessions. Live conversation takes on a depth and urgency that cannot be replicated in a Twitter conversation. At EdCamp you can ask a question and get five completely different answers, each backed up by rich experience and insight. Within sessions the generosity of those sharing their ideas and experiences was only matched by the honesty of the ignorant. I had the opportunity to be one of the generous contributors in a GAFE session and then admit complete ignorance in a coding session. I found myself wondering what was a bigger influence on participants’ amazing attitudes: that EdCamp attracts individuals who are this way, or that EdCamp by design brings out the best in everyone. I’m guessing that nature and nurture play equal roles in this.

Early in September I had begun tweeting back-and-forth with a friend from my days in the Faculty of Education at Brock University. She indicated an interest in attending EdCamp Barrie and was successful in convincing her husband (also our classmate at Brock) that they should come to Barrie and be guests at the home I share with my husband (yet another Brock classmate) and my daughters. Considering the location of their current home – Manitoulin Island – I crossed my fingers that the Barrie event would be a success and that the 10-hour return trip would be worth their while. I hadn’t seen my classmates for 12 years and wanted our reunion to be a success. It was. We attended EdCamp together (scoring this reunion photo in the process) and reminisced long into the evening, waxing poetic about everything from education to home improvement. I look forward to visiting Manitoulin this summer so we can continue these conversations.

Thanks, EdCamp!

*This portmanteau is brought to you by ‘Look Around You.’