Coding in 2004 – Looking back to move forward…

Sometimes there are moments that bring you back in time to reflect on your teaching practice, and a visit to YRDSBs Quest Conference this week certainly did that for me.  Brian Aspinall @mraspinall was mentioning his early efforts in coding with kids in a club that he started while he was a University student in 2005.

During the 2004-2005 school year (it actually may have been after the May ECOO 2003, although my memory escapes me), I began using MicroWorlds Jr Logo with my Grade 2 students as a result of being introduced to it by people who had been on board with programming with children since at least the 70’s.  Whoa! I had some background to catch up on and began to learn and read about the giants behind this educational reform.

Beginning my Master’s degree at OISE in 2003 led me to inspiring people like Clare Brett, Jim Hewitt, Earl Woodruff, the work of Seymour Papert and the notion of constructionism.  Being an ECOO member and attending the 2003 annual conference led me to meet inspiring people like @peterskillen who got me started with MicroWorlds Jr, @garystager, Karen Beutler @kbbeutler, @dougpete, @andyforgrave and Mitch Resnick, all of whom had been programming with kids for ages! I was WAY behind and knew it!  My first workshop for teachers in 2005 was my effort to share what I was learning from this amazing community of educators who had sparked my passion and who were teaching me about new ways of teaching that suited my desired classroom culture: inquiry and student-driven project based learning. Coding became another way to engage students in the authentic application of math skills already at play in my classroom: art, music, building things and cooking, to name a few.

There was no problem connecting coding with my curriculum, as you’ll see in the slides below. Computational thinking was not a term I was using back then, but it’s interesting to look back and see connections to cross-curricular authentic applications of Math, as well as references to teacher-student co-learning and what we would now call global competencies or 21st century skills, especially in the areas of problem-solving, creativity, collaboration, inquiry and learning to learn.

My biggest advice to teachers, in this time where many voices are telling us that we must have coding put into the elementary curriculum, would be to take the freedom you are given with our Ontario curriculum and innovate your own examples to go along with overall expectations!  I’m so glad that I didn’t wait and many other teachers like the ones at Quest and ECOO (BIT) are not waiting either.  Don’t wait….Innovate!



#IICTI Learning @MakerEd Toronto

It was great to visit the York School this week to attend #MakerEdTo.  This was a fantastic opportunity to connect the #iicti AQ course members to a network of makerededucators interested in constructivist and constructionist uses of technology.  An added bonus was that they got to hear all about Seymour Papert from the Keynote Speaker and long time follower of Seymour’s work, Peter Skillen, who would later visit our class for some further learning.  Peter shared his wonderful list of resources in this google doc.  Visit his blog, The Construction Zone for more great learning!

It was a bit of a trek from Waterloo, especially during the first week of class, but these keen educators made the trip and shared their learning in many ways through course reflections using Adobe Spark and Storify.  Many of the big themes of the course were revisited with the connections that were made this first week.

We captured many of their tweets in the following Storify and as you can see, enthusiastic learning and many excellent resources were shared on the day and beyond!

Check out some other reflections from Sara Styan, Kelly Walton and Lori Turk.
Screen Shot 2016-08-09 at 7.09.26 PM

Invent To Learn – A Must Read for Schools

by Sylvia Libow Martinez and Gary Stager, Ph.D
20130520-Invent-to-Learn-BookOne of the greatest joys of being a connected learner is the fact that I’m meeting so many friends from all over the world who are also people from whom I learn so much.  Meeting them virtually sometimes leads to meeting them f2f, hanging out at conferences, working along with them, and reading their blogs and articles, but I’m getting a kick out of buying their books!

I bought Gary Stager and Sylvia Martinez’s book, Invent to Learn, sight unseen, because I know their brilliant work and applaud their mission to elevate much of what we see in educational technology implementation (not always a pretty sight)  to higher levels. This book is a must read for all educators and administrators who are interested in muddling through the many choices for technology use in your school with STEM in mind — it will help you see the light!  They provide enough theoretical background to provide you and/or your teachers with knowledge of the giants who came before us, and to more deeply understand effective learning theory (constructivism) and effective teaching theory (constructionism). They also mention pioneers in the field of ed tech that every educator ought to know, but, strangely enough, don’t always (e.g., Seymour Papert, Cynthia Solomon, Brian Silverman, Sherry Turkle to name just a few). They then suggest 3 “game changers”  for your school or classroom  – fabrication, physical computing and programming.  I was thrilled to see that we are on the right track at my school with a recent grant award that focuses on all three of these! 🙂  Gary and Sylvia also provide lots of information and ideas about the practical planning of how to get started with these interesting game changers.  As a teacher I have always loved that blend of theory and practice in resources that I choose.

What’s critical in a book like this, and what Gary and Sylvia accomplish really nicely, is that the concept of maker space is outlined within the context of a school culture that puts authentic student learning and passion at the forefront, along with an acceptance that co-learning along with students is a great way to model our learning stance as teachers. Great advice from the authors to the educators reading this book is: “Less Us, More Them”. The tinkering mindset and the cycle of making — which they call TMI (Think, Make, Improve), and the fact that students are empowered agents in their own learning, are just as important as the making itself.  For this reason making can involve technology or found materials or art supplies. It’s more about a bricolage approach…working with the best of what you have on hand.

If you are interested in more about what the current interest in coding and maker spaces can offer, this is a great book for you!

School Improvement Plans Are Everyone’s Business

Making our SIP (School Improvement Plan) come alive!

This year I heard about someone on Twitter who decided to post their Board Improvement Plan in a visible space at school to share with students, parents and the community as you see in the photo below.

SIPAfter hearing this idea via @leblancpeter @tlobaker and @nhamilton647 my Principal, @davidpmarquis, and I have decided to implement this in our school this year with a few additions.

Some big ideas are driving our thinking:

  • a vibrant school is one where everyone is learning
  • digital artefacts allow us to share in new ways
  • administrators should model their efforts to try new things
  • administrators should be helping to ‘tell’ the stories about meaningful learning in which students, staff, parents and community members are engaged
  • making thinking visible helps us to build knowledge as a community
  • constructing artefacts help us to articulate our learning to promote dialogue
  • pedagogical documentation needs to be purposeful

How will we do this?

We plan to post an image of the SIP in our hallway at the front of the school that links to photographs and documentation that will demonstrate our learning goals for the year and plans for school improvement. We’ll need to convert some of our current edu-speak into lingo that makes better sense to parents and students…this will be great!  We’ll take that a step further and create this digitally as well, so that QR codes posted could take visitors to more interactive online spaces like teacher websites, interviews with staff, students and parents, and evidence of our great learning spaces through text and images as well.

In implementing the thinking routines from Making Thinking Visible from Project Zero at Harvard this past year, I’m thinking that many of the routines for synthesis and exploring ideas will fit in perfectly. I will try to post this work in progress as we get going and share our hiccups and successes!

Thanking our Minds on Media Presenters!

Thanks to Facilitators for Excellent Minds On Media at ECOO12

We want to thank, and to celebrate, the facilitators at Educational Computing Organization of Ontario’s Minds On Media event held on Wednesday, October 24th.

This year we had a full house of 120 participants and 9 centres! It was a hive of activity and the energy was phenomenal.

We heard many wonderful comments throughout the day, but one we overheard was a teacher saying to her colleague, “I have learned more in the last three hours than I’ve learned in years!”

Another teacher was seen to be leaving the event after an hour, laptop in hand, and we were discouraged! But, she said to us, “Wow! I’ve learned so much I am going to find a quiet spot to put it into practice. I’ll be back!” And she did return – hungry for more!

What is Minds On Media?

Minds On Media (MOM) is a model of professional learning that respects the learner’s ‘desire to know’. Teachers come to learn and we respect their choices in how they wish to do that. We want them to take a ‘minds on’ approach.

Our Core Beliefs

We believe that:

    • the locus of control for learning should be in the hands of the learner
    • the facilitator must be aware of, and respond to, the learner’s desires, needs and expertise
    • the learner should leave empowered to learn further – beyond the MOM event
    • there are always experts among us

Facilitators at MOM sessions look forward to, not only teaching but, learning with others. They respect the knowledge and expertise that each person brings to the table.

2012 Facilitators and Their Resources:


Pedagogistas are there to ensure that we don’t get lost in the mechanics of the tools – but rather remind and support us to think deeply about the role of technology in learning and teaching.

Most sincerely,
Brenda Sherry
Peter Skillen

Pedagogy, tools and complex work

This post started out as a comment on Doug’s blog post this morning but I got a little carried away.  Thanks to Doug and Royan for getting me thinking and dwelling on some good stuff today!

I’ve been teaching for 24 years now so I’ve been around the block a few times.  I did not use computers myself in high school, but dabbled in a little programming during my undergraduate years.  I’m sad to say that most of my tech skills are self-taught, and aren’t that notable, but it’s definitely a lot easier now than in those pre-web days!

It might surprise people to know that before personal computers were being routinely placed in classrooms, good teachers were still maximizing technology and teaching 21st century skills.  We were pen-paling, we were publishing books (binding them even), creating voice recordings, building structures and photographing them (we spent a lot of time sending in film and picking up photos!) conducting field research, collecting data, going on field trips outside the classroom and even working in teams to produce original work!

Many of us were already bucking the worksheet and celebrating serious children’s work in the classroom, gathering resources from unusual places and inviting experts in.  It was harder then because you couldn’t just jump on the internet and find stuff, but you still had to have the desire to look for it in the first place and a knowledge of good pedagogy.  And yes, there were lots of teachers doing worksheets and ‘pseudo’ student-centred learning, just as you see happening with some of the electronic worksheet technology of today.  By now we’ve all seen iwb users that claim to be engaging kids with close exercises where the words can actually move around on the board. Wow!

What worries me about the “it’s not about the technology” argument, is that I think kids deserve to be doing more complex things with computers.   A book report done with Glogster is still a book report, and this can be a good thing or a not so good thing.  A “read an article and answer some questions assignment” on a Ning or a google doc is just that…and again can be a good thing or a not so good thing!

My experience using MicroWorlds Jr with Grade 1’s and actually watching them plan, program, problem-solve, collaborate, debug and share in Logo was exhilarating…it was hard fun!  I can’t tell you how much I hope that Ontario’s OSAPAC program takes a look at this software, as well as its versions for older students.   A wise woman I met at ISTE a couple of years ago (I wish I could recall her name), mentioned her disappointment at all the trivial things she was seeing people do with classroom computers, even after all these years.  I’m reminded again about the importance of programming as part of the school curriculum when I read Gary Stager’s passionate post about ‘really computing’…Gary says it so much better than I, but if you’ve read Papert’s stuff and you’ve had the experience of programming with kids there is a good chance you are converted too!  Peter Skillen introduced me to MicroWorlds about 7 years ago and it’s through a different lens that I’ve viewed educational technology ever since.

I stay positive and know that it’s the discussions around all this, as Doug points out, that are the key.  I don’t know how Doug does it, but even with his amazing computer programming knowledge he supports us all in our knowledge acquisition with a smile and no arrogance or annoyance whatsoever, even though he can run super-procedures around even the most accomplished among us!  Doug really does walk the constructivist walk, knowing that developing deep understanding takes time and support.

Peter’s reference to the blue water analogy is changing my thinking too.   We must push each other and examine and discuss what we see, not getting ‘wowed’ by the tools, but knowing that the technology does have important impact and has changed every part of our lives…shouldn’t it also be changing how schools work?

I’m still not seeing that yet…but I don’t think it’s the technology that will change the schools anyway, it’s the people!

What is Deep Understanding?

“It is the peculiarity of knowledge that those who really thirst for it always get it.”  Richard Jefferies

Regardless of whether technology is in the picture or not, I’ve been wondering about deep understanding: what is it, and is it a goal we can actually realize in our schools these days?  Sheryl Naussbaum-Beach did a great keynote at ABEL last week and mentioned how much knowledge will be generated over the coming years and the facts really blow your mind.  There is no way, in a time when knowledge is growing at such an exponential rate, that we’ll be able to keep up with curriculum that is relevant and comprehensive enough to serve our students. Or can we?

I keep coming back to the kind of thinker we’d like to see graduating from our schools after a dozen or so years with us.  That’s a practical vision we CAN have in the face of enormously fast paced change.

Maybe we should asking,  “What kind of thinkers do we want our students to be, rather than what stuff do we want our students to know?”

Especially in the face of ubiquitous access to information, it seems that we’ll need students who can manage large quantities of information, but still be able to reach deep understanding in some areas.

But what is deep understanding?  Can schools really provide the learning environment to nurture and develop it?

  • Deep understanding must involve a well-developed, rich base of knowledge that has relative complexity based upon developmental level.  Can we have deep understanding at a young age?  I think so.  As a teacher of young children I have seen our youngest children develop some relatively complex skills given the limitations of their development.  Although we can’t expect a 6-year old to have the base of knowledge of a 13-year old, we can begin to cultivate and model a quest for a depth of understanding at an early age.  If we have confidence that young students can be doing the ‘real work’ of learning we can help them develop habits of mind that allow for deeper understanding.
  • Deep understanding also involves understanding that is flexible and useful in solving real problems.  We hear this in our objectives at school all the time, but I struggle with how this can happen when we are always planning with the end in mind, if the end involves a static list of information that needs to be memorized or learned in a superficial way for a test.  Can schools provide authentic real problems worth solving if the teacher is not a co-learner and if the projects are always contrived?  Just asking.  Check out my friend @dougpete’s recent blog posting.  I hope Doug doesn’t mind me analyzing his thinking…but it strikes me that this kind of flexible real-world problem solving is evident in someone who has deep understanding that leads to creative work which often transfers to other areas, a synthesis of good thinking if you will.   This is the kind of thinker I hope to be helping to shape in the limited year that I have students in my classroom.
  • Deep understanding is not often treated as an endpoint, but more often encourages continued growth and the desire to know more.  Learning is seldom done, finished or complete, but rather leads us in a new path.  Can we cultivate this kind of thinking in younger students?  I think we can if inquiry-based approaches really do allow students the choice to explore their own well-developed questions.

Can we see evidence of deep understanding or does it occur only in the inner world of the learner?

Our challenge as educators is that we are given the task of showing evidence of this kind of thinking, and the kinds of assessment needed to allow the demonstration of deep understanding are not easy to create (that’s another subject altogether).   Here’s what I look for:

  • Are students make sense of what they are learning by creating meaning and making ideas their own?
  • Are students connecting ideas together and connecting with previous experiences?
  • Are students personally involved and engaged in constructing new knowledge (may include intellectual, emotional, social or spiritual domains)
  • Is there evidence of transformation?  Does the student take action or change their beliefs based upon what they are learning? How do we know if this has occurred?
  • Are students involved in making a plan to acquire the kinds of knowledge they need in order to go deeper in their learning?

I wish I was seeing more student involvement in learning in our schools.  There appear to be very few interesting or unique or student-driven questions being explored, and I wonder about whether new knowledge is being constructed.

In thinking about the ways that I might keep deep understanding at the forefront when I’m planning my teaching I’ve come up with these:

  • promote active learning and creative production of artifacts that demonstrate understanding
  • integrate the aspects of cognition, or ‘ways of knowing’ (word, sound, image, gesture) as suggested by Elliot Eisner in support of integrating arts and education
  • explore complex issues
  • give students opportunity to discuss, debate, and problem-solve collaboratively
  • emphasize the assessment of changes in student understanding (growth based assessment) rather than a focus on acquiring content
  • structure the learning environment to allow for the deeper exploration of ideas (e.g. through personal choice,  scheduled large blocks of time, complex  authentic performance tasks, authentic audience, self-evaluation)
  • provide an opportunity for public scrutiny and feedback of products, ideas, and performance

Technology fits quite naturally as one of the tools a teacher might use to support the quest for deeper learning, but as you can see the technology is not at the forefront.  I don’t think it’s helpful to name specific ‘tools’ as so many come to mind to those who’ve been around the cyber-block a few times.    No wonder we embrace technology…it has the potential to help students towards thinking deeply!

Concept for my final project

I’m jumping for joy today because I’ve finally got a solid concept for my final individual project. It is meant to be a resource for teachers to learn about constructivist uses of technology in education, and I’ve been struggling with how to use stories to tell about different kinds classroom experiences with technology in a way that lets readers construct their own knowledge and perhaps build upon the website and tell their own stories.

I’ve loved the term bricolage (referred to by educators such as Seymour Papert, Gary Stager, Mitchel Resnick) which I think can, in this case, relate to what holistic educators believe about uniting the parts of a learner: body, mind and soul….hands, head, heart. Bricolage is defined as a construction made of whatever materials are at hand; something created from a variety of available things, and aptly describes the idea that technology, in it’s widely varied forms, can be used flexibly and purposefully by learners in order to construct knowledge. The idea of making something, called Constructionism by Seymour Papert, has been an important one to me, and will be reflected in my web project.

And so, I’ve got a title Bricolage: Connecting Playfully. Now, the scary part is to put my text (which I’m really good at collecting) into a story that somehow reflects me…my holistic attempt at constructing a product from a variety of available things! Yikes!