My IICTIP1 Experiences

These posts are from a Kidblog created for an Additional Qualifications course (Integration of Information and Computer Technology in Instruction, Part 1) during the Intersession (March-June 2013). Thanks to my Instructor, Brenda Sherry, for a fantastic class.  I had such a great learning experience that I wanted to maintain a record of my learning.

An excellent resource on a vast array of technology tools, created by educators for educators. Includes videos, instructions, lesson plans, journal articles, research...

The following post was originally posted on May 26, 2013:

PLCs and PLNs: Addressing "What is School For?"

The big question posed by Seth Godin  -- and explicated in my previous post, "What is School For?" -- makes me wonder: How do I get people to consider this question? It's a big question and it's clearly worth discussing. Our edcamp experience was loosely focused on this question. My role as a curriculum leader and Student Success leader is clearly about trying to help others answer this question.  I actually think it's important that I don't answer the question for people, but rather help them shift their thinking on their own; that is, allow people to construct their own understanding about the paradigm shift occurring in education. I think one of the most effective ways of doing this is in small group, Professional Learning Communities (PLCs), and to a lesser extent (at least at this point in time), in Professional Learning Networks (PLNs). 

At one of our secondary schools this year, I have had the opportunity to work with a great group of teachers in a PLC.  The group was a cross-curricular and focused on effective questioning. They met approximately 7 or 8 times this year to discuss questioning, try new practices, and reflect upon their learning. In this, our last meeting, I set the agenda.

About halfway through, I was asking them if we could expect students in Applied level classes to respond to high order questioning. The response was pretty typical: many teachers believe that we have to ensure that a certain level of knowledge must be present before students could puzzle through harder questions. Or, that the teacher needed to spend time at the beginning of class to ensure that the students were equipped with binders, pens/pencils, papers, etc. in order for learning to occur.  I was disappointed in their responses, as this was a group who had been exploring effective questioning techniques (with a focus on high-order thinking) throughout the year.  I worried about offending them by directly challenging their assumptions, so I just kept trying to ask questions to prod their thinking.  Additionally, I kept returning to the anticipation guide with which I had opened the meeting:

Anticipation Guide

We were somewhat divided on points 3 and 4 and I found that teachers were repeating the old refrain about having drastically different expectations around thinking for "those kids" in Applied classes than the "bright" students in Academic classes.

Then, something interesting happened. One of the colleagues at the table made a comment that he has high expectations of the students in Applied classes, and he doesn't get hung up on the little things (like materials -- he has them readily available in class and students know where they are). He pushed it further by saying that he doesn't "coddle" his students. This one word became the pivotal word for the others in the room.  Other teachers politely objected to the categorization of the teacher action (which we identified as classroom management questioning) as "coddling", but it happened in a way which was highly reflective. It was great to watch as one teacher frowned, started to speak, paused, reflected, laughed, and then articulated her thinking ("I don't think I coddle my students..."). It was a great example of the power of an effective professional learning community, one where people (finally) felt comfortable to challenge each others' thinking.

Earlier meetings were less productive in challenging thinking and assumptions about the role of education. Teachers spent time explaining what new practice they had tried and how it had gone. There were some good examples (and some poor examples) shared over the course of the year.  I am currently involved in a project whereby we are trying to hit the "reset" button on PLCs and have them focus on collaborative inquiry. I really believe in the power of professional learning communities.  I think, if they have a good focus (eg collaborative inquiry through the use of the professional learning cycle or the teacher critical learning pathway), and they are really focused on teacher learning, then great things can happen.  I also love how online networks (PLNs) are meeting teachers' needs when they aren't met through traditional PLCs.

Of course, implicit in good teacher learning is that it is based on student need. While I think it's important to allow for personal choice in teacher learning, teacher learning must be centred on student need.  This is another reason why I like PLNs, which don't necessarily need to be based on student need (although, it seems pretty pointless, in my mind, to be learning professionally and NOT apply this to your practice).  The focus on student need is driving our initiative and is supported by an excellent new document, the Adolescent Literacy Guide, from EduGAINS and Literacy GAINS

A Vision of the Adolescent Learner

To conclude, when addressing the big question, "What is School For?", I think we need to consider student need. Our job, as educators, is to meet our students needs: not to just teach the curriculum, but to help them become skilled learners.  One of the easiest routes is to model our own professional learning through our PLCs and PLNs.  Many teachers are increasingly exposing their own learning to their students and acknowledging that they don't know everything. Many teachers are opening up the curriculum of the classroom, flipping their classroom, following student interests through passion-based learning, or using inquiry to drive student curiosity and ultimately, love of learning.

The following post was originally posted on May 26, 2013:

"What is School For?"

From Seth Godin at TEDxYouth@BFS, comes a video that poses a great question (even though it's grammatically incorrect...):  What is school for?

What is school for?

Seth Godin argues that schools today are still perpetuating 19th and 20th century goals of education: obedience, productivity, and consumerism. He calls it the "indoctrination of compliance" and provides several compelling examples to support his assertions. Further, he challenges some basic tenets of our education system, pronouncing them "myths"; Godin questions the idea that "great performances in school leads to happiness and success".
Godin's questions made me think of Jeff Bliss (@Real_Jeff_Bliss on Twitter), whose rant against his history teacher's use of "packets" was video-taped on a cell phone and went viral recently.

Jeff Bliss video:

The video raises many, many issues for students and staff alike (and is the epitome of the fear that teachers have about cell phones in classrooms and BYOD); the teacher has been place on administrative leave and Bliss has garnered nation-wide infamy.  While I am appreciative of the fact that we do not have the context of the situation, it still highlights a student's deep dissatisfaction with his education. From what I understand, Bliss had previously dropped out of high school, realized he really needed his diploma and returned. Clearly though, he still presents as what we would call an "at-risk student" in our system.  I find his rant to be not entirely disrespectful to the teacher; I think he doesn't make it a personal attack on the teacher -- it's more about her teaching practice.  I still sympathize with the teacher as she seems disengaged herself (note the barricade of furniture around her separating her from the class). But I think Bliss raises important questions about how we connect with students and what is expected of them. Bliss' experience in school echoes that of the old model Godin is challenging.  

Student dissatisfaction with education isn't new.  In an article from ASCD in 1949, "Is the American High School Serving Today's Youth?", many of these questions about the systems of education were being raised by staff and students alike.  Today, technology has allowed students to be more empowered to share their dissatisfaction through videos, blogs, websites, podcasts...  And today, administrators, educators, and parents/guardians are starting to listen to student voice more. We know the importance of adding creativity, critical thinking, effective communication, and collaboration to our curriculum.  And today, the shift has begun. Twitter, blogs, edcamps, Google+ groups, NINGs, YouTube videos, and other social media platforms are transforming school experiences. 

Finally, all of this is summed up in Ken Robinson's excellent TED speech in 2010, "Changing Education Paradigms" :

Changing Education Paradigms:

The following post was originally posted on my Kidblog created for an Additional Qualifications class. Original post date: May 21, 2013.

Knowledge Building (The World is a Construct)

Just finished reading (and it was a long, long read) an article, "A Brief History of Knowledge Building" in Diigo. Frustrated by the fact that the highlighting feature wouldn't work with the journal's platform, but at least I could create sticky notes.

A key idea for me was about "knowledge building" as the authors were clarifying the definition: "constructivism that recognizes all kinds of intellectual products as human constructions: theories, algorithms, proofs, designs, plans, analogies, and on and on." (pg 4). This really jives with my thinking: I have concluded (over time and much reading, learning, observation, discussion) that EVERYTHING is a construct. I firmly believe in nurture over nature as a determinant in so many aspects of human development, including human intelligence. I find it hard to believe in a sense of intelligence as "fixed" or "limited" (which is why I bristle as identifications like MID or "mildly intellectually developed") or notions of gender that define girls and boys in certain ways.

A few years ago, we (a PLC book study group) went "down the rabbit hole" to study gender differences in learning. We read a couple of different resources, both of which argued that there were biological differences in boys and girls that necessitated differences in learning environments, strategies, etc. I read the research in these resources and found that much of the research was of animals (human brain research is still such a young field of study) or along the lines of people's observations of their own children's learning experiences (which I find slightly frustrating; difficult to rationalize with someone who is arguing a point because they saw their kid do something).
I found the research arguing for biological differences in children as key to their learning differences problematic right from the start, as I couldn't divorce my understanding of the world (society, communities, schools, families, and individuals) as a construct. I don't deny differences in learning styles and preferences of males and females: I simply believe that they are based on societal constructs.

From the first few moments of our arrival, we begin processing and responding to sensory detail in order to make sense of our world (or construct an understanding). Additionally, I still believe that the interactions we have with various stimuli (ranging from human to technological) are more of a determinant in our personalities and "intelligence" than any biological determinants. We continuously respond to stimuli in an ongoing process (accepting, rejecting, reacting, remaining unresponsive, assessing, evaluating, applying, creating...). This process is learning. Individuals construct their understanding of the world around them. Our job, as educators, is to guide them through opportunities to construct their understanding in a safe and welcoming environment.

Scardamalia, Marlene and Carl Bereiter (2010). "A Brief History of Knowledge Building." Canadian Journal of Learning and Technology. Vol 36(1).
Gurian, Michael, Kathy Stevens, and Kelley King (2008). Strategies for Teaching Boys and Girls (Secondary Level). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

The following post was originally posted on May 15, 2013:


I quite enjoyed #edcampham (I somehow think it's more appropriate to refer to it by its Twitter handle as it was largely promoted through social media). As did others, I enjoyed the conversations about topics that I was interested in. The element of choice drove the entire experience: from educators choosing to give up one of our first beautiful Saturdays to drive to "Hamilton" (anybody else realize we weren't in Hamilton, after all? #edcampancaster might have produced a few huh? moments, though) to choosing the topics of discussion to choosing the session you would attend, it was all about personal choice. As we have previously discussed, choice is crucial in engaging a learner; no surprise, then, that adult learners responded so well to choice. To me, the enthusiasm of the learners (educators) was the most significant part of the day.

The topics, by and large, were about the use of technology in education, giving some focus to the conversations. I attended sessions on a variety of topics and felt they had varying degrees of "success"; if I define success as providing conversation that was on topic and was somehow useful/ applicable to educators (i.e. there was a good "takeaway"), then they were mostly successful.

My sessions and general impressions:
  • helping teachers make the shift into using tech effectively -- probably my best discussion of the day as it was on topic and yet wide-ranging (focused on several participants in education); provided solutions, ideas for action;
  • assessment and evaluation: this topic was a bit of a dud -- people kept talking about anything but A&E; conversation focused instead on apps and programs people use to organize themselves; a few of us tried to redirect and it wouldn't happen;
  • "shift disturbers" -- this group felt like it was the "cool kids" from Twitter hanging out and pontificating about how they are "rocking the boat" in their schools and systems; didn't feel it produced much other than "preachin' to the choir" kind of responses from people who are already advocates for using tech in their systems (but hey, it's good to be validated in your thinking);
  • and, I can no longer recall my last session.
This brings me to my final point. While I did enjoy hearing much discussion about the use of tech and social media in schools, I'm not sure what the lasting impact is on me.  Even after reading my notes, I cannot recapture what the last session was about. And, I worry that is true for many participants (I will read others' blogs to confirm/ deny my thinking). I worry that a session like this will produce lots of great conversation but no real action.  It's worth noting that there was a shared document, but given the number of participants, there isn't much there. If I contrast this with the Google Summit, I feel I walked away from the Google Summit with knowledge and skills that could be immediately applied to my practice. On the other hand, #edcampham stayed too philosophical and hasn't resonated in the same way. And, I find this puzzling as I generally deal more with pedagogical / philosophical tasks in my new role.

However, the enthusiasm of participants was clearly significant; several colleagues have mentioned that they believe this model would be useful to use in board wide PD.  And, I don't disagree; but, I wonder why others were so pleased with the day. I wonder about their takeaways; what made it successful professional development for them? Luckily, the answers will be in their blogs! (Which clearly, I now need to read!)

The following post was originally posted on April 28, 2013:

ISTE.NETS-T (for teachers)

NETS T Indicator
3) Model Digital Age Work and Learning:  Teachers exhibit knowledge, skills, and work processes representative of an innovative professional in a global and digital society.
5) Engage in Professional Growth and Leadership: Teachers continuously improve their professional practice, model lifelong learning, and exhibit leadership in their school and professional community by promoting and demonstrating the effective use of digital tools and resources.

I have had an amazing (but exhausting) week of learning.  It started with the Google Apps for Education Summit last weekend (which was overwhelming; I am still processing), included a PD Day at which I delivered PD to 3 secondary schools' staff, a Ministry of Education PD session, and a small focus group discussion at the Ministry about the new Adolescent Literacy Guide (my new favourite document).  Oh, and there were meetings in between (of course -- my week isn't complete without meetings!) Sorry, whining; it was a busy week, but with much personal learning. 

Back to my learning. I've already written about my new-found love of Google. So, I am reflecting on adult learners (and more specifically, educators) this week. I'm quite proud of the PD session on Numeracy we ran.  It wasn't without problems, but we were ambitious: we used a poll at the beginning of the day to assess our learners' readiness, we ran the entire morning using the Google presentation app, we had participants in the crowd with iPads collecting ideas in a Google form which we then uploaded to a wordle, we had subject-specific groups at 3 different sites share ideas in a Google doc. AND, I think we had them (by them, I mean a group of people who didn't want to attend PD in the first place) engaged in discussing numeracy.  I think we hit on some of what the ISTE.NETS standards reference. The feedback has been generally positive and I could see that people were on topic during the discussions. We didn't ask them to do anything too challenging: our goal was to get people to collectively define numeracy, all of its attendant skills, and its role in our classrooms on a daily basis.  The ultimate goal was to create an awareness of the difference between numeracy and mathematics as well as to have educators reflect on how we can embed numeracy in our daily instruction, no matter what the subject.

What I find most challenging in my new role at the UGDSB is the large group sessions. Most research (and I should cite something here) shows that large scale sessions aren't the best for professional development. So, we broke up the sessions. They worked in partnered discussions, small mixed-group discussions, they had choice in break-out sessions run by their colleagues (so thankful we had these volunteer facilitators), and eventually, subject-specific groupings. Things got off to a slow start at my session (there was the obligatory eye-rolling and general looks of disdain from a few colleagues), but pretty quickly, they were up, moving around, and engaged in discussion about numeracy. Again, not everything was perfect; most complaints were around the afternoon portion which was a little less structured. My hope was that we could provide some direction, some resources, some focus questions, and they would generate some creative solutions to embedding numeracy in our secondary school classes. Many didn't delve into the resources and instead focused on discussion, but they generated a lot of ideas, all of which were shared in the Google docs. Frankly, I was a bit disappointed as I thought more department heads would step up to lead discussions (and some did) in the subject-specific breakouts. But hey, some took the opportunity to work with their colleagues, others didn't.

Now, we need to share the collected resources to the educators, and determine next steps.  I am hoping that we will follow up with a Google form survey to elicit more specific feedback, especially about the use of technology in the PD session. Right now, I have general impressions, and some feedback from a few colleagues, but more data would be helpful, especially before we plan another day of PD for people who don't want to attend PD.  I'm not entirely sure of the lasting impact of our session; we need follow-up to ensure some level of effectiveness.

By contrast, I attended a full day session on “Building Capacity for Culturally Relevant and Responsive Practices” (CRRP; that's an unfortunate acronym!). Ministry and TDSB board-level staff provided a more sit-n-get kind of experience, aside from a "minds-on" activity meant to push us out of our comfort zone and explore ideas of power and privilege.  It was interesting, insightful and made me introspective, if only for the day.  I was signed up for this session by a colleague and am not sure of where/with whom I am to share my learning. Again, follow-up will be key. Unless someone directly asks me to share or continue this work in our board (and I probably would sit on a committee for this; I value social justice work), I'm not sure that my learning from the day will transfer into practice. I certainly see the promotion of culturally relevant and responsive practices as a necessity in the UGDSB, but if I am honest, it will not be at the forefront of my mind in the next few days and weeks; I simply have too much other work to do. Plus, I'd like to think that I have already embedded some of these practices into my work. I hope this doesn't sound like I am shirking my responsibility. I think I am simply trying to prioritize my time and energy. 

All this brings me to the point of my reflection: PD needs to be differentiated and provide opportunity for real learning. When I think back to earlier postings and discussions about engagement, effectiveness, and learning, I think it's really difficult to provide this during PD days. We know that effective professional development comes from people who have self-selected what they want to learn about (engagement).  Unfortunately, too often our PD sessions cannot accommodate this. Many of them require the enlistment of staff who may or may not be interested.  If I think about the transfer of knowledge into action and deeper understanding of a topic (learning), then again, I hope that our PD sessions launch learning for UGDSB educators; I hope that some action follows an event.  I have been musing that technology is creating great opportunity for discussion of pedagogy; I am hoping that embedding technology learning into all of our sessions means that teachers might be more willing to explore the content of the sessions (effectiveness).  If conversations continue back in schools or even online (in PLNs), then maybe that's a start.  Ultimately, this is what I think the ISTE.NETS document means to "Model Digital Age Work and Learning" and to "Engage in Professional Growth and Leadership".

And finally, I ask my PLN:  I have a major PLC / Collaborative Inquiry / Adolescent Literacy Guide PD session on the horizon (300 people!). Any advice? 

Source: International Society for Technology in Education (2008). iste.nets-t. [ONLINE] Available at: [Last Accessed April 28 2013].

This post was originally posted on April 25, 2013.

I drank the Google Kool-Aid

After attending the Ontario Google Summit this past weekend (April 20-21), I am even more keen on Google Apps for Education. While it clearly was a corporate event, and I clearly am promoting a product (I'm wearing my Google t-shirt as I type this), I can clearly see how cloud computing is coming (quickly) to education. Of course, there will be barriers: poor accessibility, equitable accessibility -- I dislike BYOB as it shifts responsibility from school (boards) to families to provide devices.

But, the power of the cloud for collaboration and creation is promising. Google Chrome provides the "apps" ideas from Apple /iDevices, but on a computer, which has more power at this point than tablets and phones. My mind is spinning with the possibility of these tools and how I can use them to facilitate the learning of the curriculum.  Key to this process will be collaborating with my colleagues in creating the curriculum. I am a big believer of the power of the group; it is often hard work (and there are sometimes roadblocks in the form of stubborn positions or closed mindsets). But, I think it's worth the time and effort so that everyone has a stake in the product.

I learnt so much about different tools, tricks and tips; the pedagogical side of things was a bit lower, but that's ok, too.  There were clear examples of how to use the products in the classroom, many of which were constructivist in nature.  It would have been nice to have more focused discussion about how and why you would use certain apps, but at the same time, I was happy to not only see the different features demonstrated, but also, the audience was fully active on their computers throughout the summit. I managed to install (and play with) several new apps, create a website, and generally brainstorm a few really good uses in the classroom.  Now, I just have to put it all into practice!

Resources from the Summit:
Twitter: #gafesummit

The following post was originally posted on my Kidblog created for an Additional Qualifications class. Original post date: April 16, 2013.

"Teachers must be colearners with kids, expert at asking great, open-ended questions and modeling the learning process required to answer those questions. Teachers should be master learners in the classroom." -- Will Richardson (Mar. 2013).  "Students First, Not Stuff."  ASCD. Vol 70, No. 6. pp. 10-14.

I love the idea of teachers as co-learners in the classroom.  It doesn't matter who is in the room, we are all learners. This idea posits that we can all be so-called "experts" on any given topic.  Of course there are students in the room that know more about a particular topic than I do. And, if they know more about the book we are reading together in my English classroom, that's ok too.  I think it might be difficult for some educators to give up the "expert in the room" status, but I also think that the shift has begun and many educators are increasingly focused not on what they teach , but on how they teach it.  As Richardson points out, education becomes more focused on student learning which necessitates knowing student needs. Differentiation becomes even more important.

In secondary schools, it's difficult for teachers to give up the stance as the teacher and focus on the learner.  We have been encouraging and exploring this shift in our system's secondary schools, but are meeting resistance.  The Program department has been exploring the challenge for I/S teachers and I think it's related to our training: many trained as content experts, and pedagogy came after.  I guess my question is: How do we help with this shift in thinking?

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