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.

STEAM Acronym Conversations I’ve Had Lately


This year, every school in our board will be participating in an inquiry to explore STEAM education. Two weeks ago we launched this initiative with a kick-off event for secondary teachers at the Education Centre.
STEAM is part of my job title; it is an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math. We anticipated some uncertainty about what this would look like in schools, particularly in secondary schools where we naturally separate the subjects into different rooms, hallways, or wings of our school buildings. I am proud that this acronym is part of my title, though I might add that I’ve had my fill of STEAM puns and jokes for the time being. (These include, but are not limited to ‘STEAM rooms,’ ‘getting STEAMy,’ references to trains and conductor’s hats, and the use of phrases like ‘full STEAM ahead!’…I’m sure you get the idea.) 
I have had many conversations with teachers in the two weeks since the secondary STEAM launch. There are lots of great ideas brewing as school teams decide what direction their projects will take. Interestingly, many of my conversations with teachers have touched on the acronym itself. Months ago, when the idea to focus on STEAM was ‘born’ at the SCDSB, we were aware that the acronym might be met with some raised eyebrows. It turns out we were right!
Acronym Conversations, Type 1: “Where’s my letter?”
  • Can I ‘do STEAM’ if I am a History teacher?
  • I don’t teach Science and I’m not comfortable with Math. I don’t see myself in this.
  • I teach a Foods class and would like to incorporate some Science and Geography. Does this count?


It is obvious from these conversations that the STEAM acronym understates the scope of this work. Focusing on the letters puts us at rick of limiting our thinking. It leaves out the ‘H’ from History, the ‘C’ from Civics, and the ‘G’ from Geography. Social Studies, Health and Physical Education, Business, Modern Languages, are also missing (I’m sure you’ll let me know if I have missed ‘your’ letter). Imagine the possibilities if we bring in other subjects: SHAM, SASS, GAME, CHAT, CHEATS, BEACH, CHASM, GAMES…
I can picture students creating wearable electronics in fashion class, advocating for community needs through kinetic art projects created using found materials, or partnering with schools across the world to learn about the impact of water pollution on health and well-being. I want everyone to hear, loud and clear, that this project can include your letter, even if it’s not one of the letters in the slide deck.
Acronym Conversations, Type 2: “There are too many letters!”
  • I already do STEM really well. Do I need Art?
  • I can imagine bringing some Art into my Math class, but Science too?!?
  • I’m a Tech teacher. I think I do these things already, just not all at once.


It is clear to me that the other problem with the acronym is that it may imply that the removal of a letter diminishes the value of subject integration, suggesting that STEM, MAST, SEAM, TEAS, SEM, MST, TEM, ST, SM, MT, ET, ES, and EM, when done well, are less valuable than STEAM.
Unless subject-specific departments and course codes disappear from secondary school it will be difficult for most teachers to engage in ‘5-letter STEAM’ in a rich way. In our team’s view, every time we purposefully integrate skills and knowledge from more than one discipline into our teaching, we are bringing STEAM education to our students. Teachers who are helping students make these transdisciplinary connections are doing a great job being STEAMy! In this case, the upcoming inquiries may be an opportunity for these teachers to share their good practice within or among schools, or may allow them to meet with like-minded teachers to explore a particular area of interest such as assessment.
So what?
In giving this initiative a name we certainly did not intend to strictly define – or limit – its boundaries. I hope that teachers will be able to look beyond the acronym and see two things: that STEAM already lives in their schools, and that the possibilities for this project are endless.


The word STEAM has become a word that encompasses everything we love about student-driven, inquiry-based learning that integrates a variety of skills and concepts from across our curriculum. As one colleague correctly stated, we could just call it ‘SCHOOL!’ 

The Hologram Story

(This post also appears in our SCDSB 194 Days of Learning Blog!)

I work with a phenomenal team of people. We don’t always see a great deal of each other throughout the week as we pop in and out of the office on our way to and from schools across the county. One way we keep in touch is through Twitter. (You can see what our entire team has been tweeting by checking out Pat Miller‘s list here:

Tuesday evening, I saw this tweet:

Turn your Smartphone into a 3D hologram? Let’s just say this: if you want to do an ‘upcycling’ project to create a device that turns iPads and smartphones into hologram viewers, you don’t need to twist any arms in our department. Those of us who were going to be in the office Wednesday morning offered to bring supplies, and we were off and running.

In the morning we got down to business, creating templates for our CD case pieces on millimetre graph paper, carefully cutting out plastic pieces with utility knives, and trying out different types of glue to see what would best hold our device together. In true PIT fashion, we streamed the whole process on Periscope and viewers from all over the world checked in to see what we were making.

In the end? It worked. (It’s really neat; you should try it.) But what happened next was what made this more than just an impromptu craft activity. We tried to improve upon our original design. We built a couple of larger templates. We talked about other materials we could use. We shared our project with nearby colleagues inside and outside the department. We discussed all of the curriculum connections (math, science, art, etc.) that this activity could support. We discussed classroom safety concerns and modifications for different age groups.

Do you think we’d allow our learning to stop there? Of course not! Later that day when we went home we shared the hologram devices with our families and continued to create bigger, better, and different devices. I made one out of an acetate sheet. My husband used my model to create a template for making more, and proceeded to use this as an activity with his math class on Thursday.

All of us shared our learning with our families and let our own children check out the holograms. They were a big hit. Lisa Boate used her dog’s e-collar to build a larger hologram device that she took to a school with her the following day to share with a students. Their reaction sums up the way we all felt about our first glimpse of one of these holograms:

Jamila recognized the power of the hologram activity to inspire. I am grateful to her for running with this inspiration and I know that all the thanks she really needs is to see the ripple effect it created.

Sometimes it is OK to drop everything for the sake of making something beautiful. (As long as you have the appropriate safety equipment, of course!)

Library Evolution

(This post also appears in our SCDSB 194 Days of Learning Blog!)

Today I had the privilege of visiting the library at Baxter Central Public School. Last spring I had corresponded with the librarian, Andrew Morrison, about transforming part of his library into a ‘Makerspace.’ 

Makerspace has become a bit of a buzzword in the last couple of years; many people are curious about them and wondering how they can create one in their school. Our teacher librarians have a key role to play in this venture as we see many ‘learning commons’ being transformed into multi-purpose spaces, and Melissa Jensen has been doing a phenomenal job sharing her expertise with all of our librarians as they consider their changing roles in our schools. The arrival of the green screens in schools last autumn was probably one of the first indications that our libraries were becoming key locations for students to engage in hands-on creation.

After our short exchanges in the spring, I was thrilled to hear that Andrew had decided to dive into the murky waters of Makerspaces head-first this fall. The list of opportunities that students are being offered in the library at Baxter Central is extensive:

  • 2 puppetry / stop motion lego stations with green backdrops
  • Electricity Snap Circuitry station
  • Builder Station (variety of building supplies with principles about structures and design)
  • Junior Coding Station with CanaryMod / Minecraft on four tablets, also serves as GAFE station
  • Junior/Intermediate Coding Station with two Raspberry Pi devices
  • Examination Station with microscopes, magnifying glasses, and various items
  • Inventor’s Booth with materials and guidelines on invention process (taken from
  • Deconstruction station where there are a variety of devices that the students can take apart.  Using a camera, they’ll take pictures as they take items apart to document their findings.

Upon my arrival in the building this afternoon, I announced to the office staff that my destination was the library. I was immediately told that the library was ‘the place to be’ and that it was fast becoming students’ favourite place to spend time. 

When I arrived in the library, it was buzzing with activity. The makerspace area was jam-packed with students working on a variety of projects. Students were disassembling coffee makers and computers, experimenting with a sonic motion sensor, analyzing body organs taken from plastic models, working on plans for inventions, creating green screen stop-motion videos with LEGO minifigures, and observing slides under a microscope. Sound like chaos? It was. The room was electric. Students were engaged, and reluctant to leave their projects when lunch time arrived.


After lunch I had the pleasure of sticking around to observe a grade 2 class experiment with a Roominate set. (You’ll notice it’s branded for girls, but any girl knows that branding shouldn’t be a limitation for creativity…right, LEGO?) With no instructions students built buildings and furniture and figures out how to create circuits including lights, switches and motors. Students shared their newfound knowledge with their peers, saying things like ‘You need to switch the wires so that red goes with red.’ and ‘If you add a button then you can switch the light on and off; let me show you!’ Their enthusiasm was fabulous and it was a delightful way to end my first visit.

Andrew is calling his Makerspace the ‘STEAM Room.’ Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math were all happening in the STEAM room, but, more importantly, the essence of a STEAM program was alive in that room. Students were collaborating, making decisions, performing research, communicating with peers and with a wider audience, asking deep questions about their tasks, and engaged in authentic tasks. All of this with minimal guidance. Baxter Central is proof that, with appropriate provocations, students will create their own learning opportunities that are guaranteed to produce deep understanding of the world around them.

If you’re thinking about STEAMing up your library or classroom, keep your eyes open for our STEAM inquiry. Every SCDSB school will have a chance to participate in this learning opportunity, and we can’t wait to see how it will transform your buildings.

So, what are you going to make this year? Keep your eyes on this blog for more about our SCDSB Makerspace trailblazers!

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:



Ideas and Action (after the Anger)

I have been reflecting about the power I have to drive positive change in my school board – the ‘action’ part of the #makeschooldifferentconversation. I enjoyed reading @Dunlop_Sue’s ‘So Now What?’ post that addresses this issue, and thought that I should write explicitly about what I can do to address some of the issues I raised in my original #makeschooldifferent post. Although I am one person, my central role gives me the potential to reach a large number of teachers and students, and I want to make sure I am carrying out my work with purpose.
The following is a list of four things that have become important to me in my work with teachers this year. These are things that I have grown passionate about. These are things that I love to discuss and debate with my colleagues. These are the things that I read about in my spare time. These are the things that I want to focus on in the months to come.
Professional Learning for the Love of It!
One of the frustrations I have voiced this year is the perceived reluctance of some teachers to push their own learning forward. Ideally, school culture would place a high importance on continual improvement in teaching practice and growth in the ability to use new technology in the classroom. Members of my team have run three free events this year to help create an environment that encourages learning for learning’s sake. EdcampBarrie, PUSH Your Learning Conference (featuring GAFE), and our upcoming Arts, Equityand Innovation Conference. These events have helped create a community of learners, and I look forward to seeing this type of learning continue in our school board. In my work with schools I want to help create communities of learning where the staff embraces the challenge to continually improve their practice without direct (and prescribed!) instruction from someone like me.
In my 11 years of teaching before this year, my assessment practices changed dramatically. Interestingly, I believe that my personal growth in the last 8 months has exceeded that of the previous 11 years. My understanding of triangulation of assessment has improved considerably. I know more about how to make use of digital tools to create a more complete picture of students’ learning. I am intrigued by the notion of ‘standards-based’ grading and the opportunity it allows teachers to shift their practice and provide more meaningful feedback. I have discovered that assessment can be a touchy subject, but I am prepared to have challenging discussions with teachers and encourage them to push their thinking.
Advocate for Student Voice
At the start of the year, @lowenesst was the person who brought the significance of student voice to my attention. Her advocacy for students was evident in many formal and informal meetings and her voice invariably helped us focus on what was most important. Now I find that I have internalized Louise’s message and find myself asking people to consider student voice (and choice). Some of my key growth moments this year have occurred in conversations with students, and I want to encourage teachers to engage in the kinds of conversations that will allow students to help drive change in our schools.
Inquiry-Based Learning
Working with teachers who are navigating the world of inquiry-based learning with their students has been challenging and rewarding. Giving students control over their learning while honouring the curriculum can present enormous challenges for first-timers. Imagining a classroom where exploration and creation (think Makerspace) are an integral part of the learning culture has huge potential to transform the student experience. I know can support teachers in building students’ inquiry learning skills and mindsets and encourage the teachers to take ‘safe’ risks as they get started in inquiry.

What are you doing to help #makeschooldifferent in your classroom, school, or school board? Share your ideas for how to take action!

Make School Different: Five Things to Stop Pretending


Thanks to Louise for laying down this challenge for me, and thanks to my sister Beth; I read her ‘5’ (my first) just last night.

When it comes to education…

1. …we have to stop pretending that it is OK to avoid uncomfortable discussions about improving assessment practices. Yes, these conversations can be tension-filled. They will certainly challenge some firmly-held beliefs. Embrace the awkwardness. Relish the confusion. Accept that there is room for improvement.

2. …we have to stop pretending that preparing students for standardized tests should ever take priority over student learning and well-being. As classroom teachers our job is to mentor, nurture, and inspire our students. Supporting their learning and well-being cannot take a back seat to test prep. Ever.

3. …we have to stop pretending that students don’t have a role to play in driving innovation in education. They are probably more open-minded about solutions than we are. At the very least, they will give us valuable feedback on how we’re doing. At most, they should be at the heart of figuring out how to #makeschooldifferent.

4. …we have to stop pretending that it is OK for teachers to wait for quality PD to be delivered in a tidy package. There are no excuses anymore. Stay after work and learn with your team. (That’s right. I said it.) Get onto Twitter. Order a book from Amazon. Watch some TED talks. Attend a conference. Just do it!

5. …we have to stop pretending that mastery of content knowledge is ‘good enough’ for teachers or students. Teachers who master content knowledge don’t necessarily embrace good pedagogy. Students who master content knowledge don’t necessarily have the skills they need to succeed as productive citizens. Time to level up.

It all started with Scott McLeod… Thanks, Scott!

I welcome your thoughts on my five. 

I would like to challenge @VP_Wilkinson, @HTheismeijer, @pcroteauirt, @LongthorneJess and @A_J_Golding to share theirs. 

Blog them, tweet them out one at a time…whatever works for you. Most importantly, pass it on!


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):