The Nature of Learning – OECD

It’s always great to go back to the science of learning to underpin everything we do as educators. A fascination for how people learn led me to an undergraduate degree in Psychology, and this has served me so well as a prerequisite to teaching, but I realize that many other educators may not have had that background. This publication reminds us of the complexity of building effective learning environments and is a good overview of lots of relevant background about learning. A great resource for #iicti inquiry projects!

The Nature of Learning


#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!

Our Learning Commons gets a maker space addition!

In a few days, I’m taking on a new role with a secondment to the Ministry of Ontario in the 21st Century Learning Unit.  I’m feeling bittersweet about the new role; sad to be leaving my school and all of the wonderful students, teachers and parents I’ve come to know in my short time aIMG_0787s a VP, but excited about a new challenge and ready to embrace a new adventure!

Luckily for me, I get to continue to support my school’s newly acquired grant from Future Shop, where we’ve received almost $20000 to enhance student learning with innovative technologies.

Our shopping is almost complete, and I’m planning on chronicling  our journey as we move forward, starting with a little piece of the grant proposal as follows, and sharing our plan of action over the next 8 weeks.

Our students want to become producers, not just consumers of media, and participate as 21st century learners in a world that is creative, collaborative and global. We want students to access tools that allow participation as global citizens, demonstrations of learning through the creation of shareable multimedia projects, and engaging in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) programming through projects that are possible with robust technology tools.  Innovative practice with a STEM focus in elementary schools means that students see themselves as idea-makers, planners, designers and builders. We’ve found that our Chromebooks allow us easy ways to collaborate and share files, but this is not enough.  We need tools like laptops, programming software, peripherals for multimedia creation, and Ministry licensed digital resources in order to leverage more of the powerful applications that computers afford us.

Currently, our library is a traditional space holding books and 20 desktop computers in a lab setting.  Our teacher librarian has begun to turn our space into a creative Learning Commons that promotes flexible purposes for learning, and we need mobile devices available to all students, at all times, to be truly transformative for student learning.  Our Learning Commons has the infrastructure to manage this with our efficient wifi throughout the school and a small room attached to the larger space that is the perfect solution to a technology enhanced maker space and multimedia production studio.

STEM initiatives such as the one we are proposing provide an engaging way for students to connect to the curriculum in the areas of math, science, and technology, as well as support the Ontario Ministry’s focus on inquiry based learning and leveraging the power of intentional play to advance learning.  With this grant we can transform this space to include learning, invention, play, creation and innovation and we see it growing from the basic elements we’ve requested to a creative play and invention space that is responsive to the needs, interests and abilities of our students at different age levels.

We are so grateful that Future Shop saw our vision and chose us to be grant recipients so that we can make this happen!

The technology requested in this grant will allow students to develop:

  • skills and experience in creation with multi-media tools (e.g., podcasting, websites, videos, presentations, music)
  • skills and experience in using Logo programming languages (i.e., Scratch, Turtle Art (both free) and MicroWorlds which is included in the proposal, as well as ProBots and BeeBots)
  • hands-on experience using programmable materials (i.e., Little Bits construction tools along with Arduino and Sphero Balls)
  • an understanding of manufacturing and design elements using software that will transpose student designs into 3D artefacts using the 3D printer

Knowledge WITH technology: A case for intelligent learning

I came across this post today where Donna Fry mentions thinking about twitter as a library. This reminded me of some related thinking I had been doing back in library2005 when I was considering the role of technology with the analogy of the ‘library’. I thought it might be fun to dig it up and post it here, imagining that during the 10 years that have passed it would seem really outdated, but you be the judge on that one. Kind of funny when ideas from colleagues converge like this, so thanks to Donna!  I think I remember have a similar conversation with colleague @peterskillen about the library analogy as well. 🙂

Knowledge WITH Technology: A Case for Intelligent Learning

First submitted to Dr. E. Woodruff – 2005 – OISE

Defining technology

 A student stands in the doorway of a large library on campus, volumes filled with information and knowledge, some written recently and many far more antiquated. It is with awe that she realizes that the openness of the world of education is reflected in the way that a wide variety of thoughts, opinions and research are recorded. Looking forward to the opportunity to delve into the midst of many of those books and materials, the student is also aware that this is a formidable task; it will be critical to find some guidance, direction and wisdom to interpret all that she needs or wants to learn.

Today, students of all ages might experience this same exhilaration in front of a computer, but certainly the academic, administrative and political bodies of schools have been engaged in a lengthy discussion of the value of technology in education.   Curiously, that discussion seems to be focused primarily on the computer as technology and does not always involve the wide range of technological tools used in classrooms today. In the scenario depicted above, most academics would not dispute the value of their campus library, visiting frequently during their careers (either online or in person), and even aspiring to be published authors themselves.   It is a widely accepted fact that books are an important tool for learning, but one could argue that the fact that they are merely present in schools does not ensure their effectiveness. This paper will attempt to clarify that some computer technologies in schools can move students beyond the shallow transfer of information and skills and toward a development of a more intelligent kind of learning that promotes deeper understanding.

The move toward constructivism and intelligent learning

Learning is an internal, unobservable process that results in changes of belief, attitude or skill (Scardamalia 2003), and this elusive quality promotes a variety of approaches that attempt to create, explain and document student ‘learning’. During the 1960’s, the work of Jean Piaget began to move theories of education away from a Skinnerian approach that focused on observable behaviours. In this behaviourist approach reinforcement was provided as necessary to create learning, without much concern with the processes of the mind.     Piaget’s theory acknowledges the influence of maturation and he believed that learning was developmental, with the mind influencing what is learned. The learner constructs knowledge based upon his/her view of the world and therefore individual experiences will affect how new information is assimilated into the individual’s schematic organization. The teacher shapes the learning experiences for the student through a process of guided discovery by creating those effective individual experiences in the environment. This was a move away from the direct instructional approach of behaviourism and toward a more active, exploratory model. More recently, another approach to education and instruction, called the socio-historical approach or social constructivism, acknowledges cultural influences on individual learning; learning is a social process that involves others, primarily through language. Internalized language and knowledge creates learning, and teachers can promote the development of knowledge through apprenticeship and discourse.

Constructivism and social constructivism have been the foundation for a related approach, called constructionism, that while less widely implemented, often involves the use of computer technology. Seymour Papert, as a student of Piaget’s and a mathematician himself, began to study how children could use computers to enhance their knowledge of mathematics and developed constructionism as both a theory of learning and a strategy for education with constructivist roots in the belief that knowledge is actively constructed in the mind of the learner, not simply transmitted from the teacher to the student (Papert 1993). Students are not merely ‘banking’ information to be recalled when necessary (Friere 1970), nor are teachers required to ‘fill up’ their students with isolated facts (Bereiter 2002).   Learners actively construct and reconstruct knowledge out of their personal experiences in the world and constructionism takes this a step further; while working through authentic projects students are involved in building personally meaningful artifacts that demonstrate their knowledge.   Affect has a prevalent role in the quality of student learning according to constructionists. Learners are more likely to be intellectually engaged if activities are personally meaningful and this usually involves building or creating something that can be shared with others. Central to the theory is also the emphasis on the diversity of learners; learners make connections with knowledge in many different ways and therefore are given a variety of choices in how to demonstrate their learning (Kafai and Resnick 1996). Constructionism encourages multiple learning styles and varied representations of knowledge.

With such a variety of approaches to educational practice and considerable controversy about the effectiveness of these approaches, perhaps it is also beneficial to focus on the kinds of learning that we would like to see happening with students.   While the debate is on-going about how learning can be measured, I believe that many educators would agree with the following definition of the kind of graduate we hope that schools will be promoting: independent, mindful thinkers, skilled in life long learning, capable of intelligently handling complex problems alone and in teams and guided by some social values hat transcend egotistic benefits (Salomon 2000). After reading about many types of learning theories and theories of instructional design, I would argue that the kind of intelligent learning that we are seeking for our students involves active, engaged participation that is socially situated in the authentic context of real problems that involve personally constructed knowledge.

Learning with technology, not from it

Our student in the campus library must decide how and why to approach all the information with which she is presented.   She finds that despite the information that is available, it will not automatically bring her success in her education. Her professors prefer she create ideas, collaborate with her classmates, and make her thoughts explicit in presentations and papers. She begins to realize that reading, digesting and reiterating the theories of others is not knowledge, and that she can actively participate with others in the creation of new knowledge right now, while at the same time accumulating a foundational body of knowledge.

In comparing the computer to other educational technologies, it’s uniqueness is best observed when it is put to use in powerful ways. The computer is not merely an information machine, although users may count web-surfing, calendaring and email among their primary uses. Seymour Papert explains that all new technologies follow the same path of development in that the first uses are “to do in a new way what was already being done” (Resnick 1994). Using computers merely as information storing and retrieving machines maintains the behaviourist viewpoint that someone else should decide what knowledge is important and needs to be poured into the heads of students (Bereiter 2002).   The computer is thought by some to be simply a fancy new way to do this with more pizzaz, colour, graphics, sound, and fancy fonts. Being lulled by powerpoint presentations may be one example wherein traditional lecture methods are updated in appearance but may essentially remain the same pedagogically. Critics often move to the conclusion that if we can’t measure what the students have learned from technology, then why do we have it? It becomes a question of corporate cost/benefit rather than an understanding that learning is an unobservable cognitive process that is not easily measured. Gavriel Salomon eloquently outlines this point as a disappointment in technology; “the consistent and historical tendency of the education system to preserve itself and its practices by the assimilation of new technologies into existing instructional practices” (Salomon 2000). Scardamalia also supports this disappointing view of technology in that “many uses of the web are simply old methods repackaged to look new” ( 2002 ) . Papert calls it the “just a tool fallacy”; that education has failed “to distinguish between tools that improve their user’s ability to do pre-existing jobs, and another kind of ‘tool’ that are more than just tools because of their role in the creation of a job nobody thought to do, or nobody could have done before”. He refers here to innovation through Resnick’s creation of Star Logo, a robust computing language that addresses the educational need of exploring complex systems while providing the tool to do it (Resnick 1994). Educators who use technology effectively realize that the critical discussion is how students learn with technology, rather than what they learn from technology.

Information machines or knowledge machines?

Our student is becoming weary and losing motivation. Using her course syllabus she has begun to read ahead before classes get started, only to find that is difficult to remember what she is reading. She tries to make notes, but in the absence of a larger question to explore, nothing seems to connect. There is so much information there in the library which she can locate effectively; she knows her way around the cataloguing system, knows how to check books out, understands the use of indexes, tables of contents and reference materials. She knows how to use the information …..but to what end?

Salomon’s second disappointment is the technocentric focus that is widespread in schools. He states that we must “be careful not to just focus on the acquisition of skills pertaining to merely the use of technology rather than the pedagogical focus” (2000). While new technologies may make a learning revolution possible they certainly don’t guarantee it, just as having a school library doesn’t ensure that all students using it will develop the same quality of understanding. Resnick reminds us that if we want people to become better thinkers and learners we need to move beyond thinking about computers as limited only to their information storing and accessing capabilities. People create ideas, and the computer is a medium through which people can express and create through a variety of design activities. Resnick states that to become ‘digitally fluent’ it is not enough to know how to use technological tools, but we must be able to create something of importance with them. (Resnick 2002).

Of course, it is also important to remember that there should be a strong pedagogical focus to activities using technological tools in all learning activities. Scardamalia and Bereiter acknowledge that the constructivist principles of active engagement and participation are essential to learning but that some constructivist approaches can be found lacking in their ability to help students create knowledge. They caution against shallow constructivism in classrooms wherein tasks and activities, that may on first glance appear very active and engaging to students, do very little to support the advancement of knowledge. They define knowledge building as

     “the production and continual improvement of ideas of value to a community, through means that increase the likelihood that what the community accomplishes will be greater than the sum of individual contributions and part of broader cultural efforts – therefore not just limited to education.” (2003)

In our current ‘knowledge age’ it is essential, according to Scardamalia, to encourage people to work creatively with knowledge and move beyond access to information. The goals of a knowledge society as identified by Bereiter (2002): lifelong learning, flexibility, creativity, higher-order thinking skills, collaboration, distributed expertise, learning organizations, innovations, and technological literacy, may sound similar in part to other constructivist approaches but there are important extensions that make it unique.   There is collective responsibility (i.e. that the responsibility for the success of the group effort is distributed across all the members rather than being concentrated in the leader and that the responsibility for creative knowledge building resides with the entire group). This may also sound at first like other collaborative activities that happen in classrooms, such as project-based learning (pal), or cooperative learning. Indeed, while pal could have a knowledge building component, what appears to be different is the purpose: the students being directly involved together in “advancing the frontiers of knowledge as they perceive them”, and consequently creating unique conceptual artifacts.   For classroom teachers this means the frontiers of knowledge for a particular student community, not in the sense of feeding them more information to regurgitate to the group, but in involving them in actually exploring and developing knowledge together in as sophisticated and important a way as a scientist may do.   This important work is done through generating excellent questions, hypothesizing, gathering and analyzing information, testing theories, explaining and debating ideas and selecting relevant possibilities amidst the messy and often ambiguous reality of authentic problems. The teachers’ role here is quite clear; rather than creating hidden tasks and activities that may or may not help the learners connect information to the knowledge building at hand, the activities are chosen to advance the knowledge building of the group and the purpose of the activities is not hidden from the participants. Scardamalia and Bereiter do not argue that knowledge building is the only type of instructional approach that might be used in effective schools (2002 ). There is a place for direct instruction, as well as other pursuits such as putting on a play, or creating a model or multimedia projects. These examples, however, are not the knowledge building activities that are more likely to produce a conceptual rather than physical artifact and that use the computer as an exceptional tool for the collaboration and reflection that enhances intelligent learning.

How can technology enhance knowledge building?

Since merely the fact that you can do something with technology does not necessarily mean that it should be done, educators are left with the challenging task of sorting out those purposes that enhance individual and collective knowledge and those that do not.

Confusing the process are the environmental restrictions put upon students and teachers concerning technical issues with hardware and software (including access, operational ease and technical support), the time constraints of rotary subjects, separating students by age rather than interests, lengthy curriculum expectations to ‘cover’ and provincial assessment initiatives.   Having now participated in my first knowledge building community through a computer software called Knowledge ForumR , I can say that the use of this particular computer technology makes the purpose of building deeper understanding through collaborative knowledge building, clearer and more meaningful. CSILE (Computer Supported Intentional Collaborative Environment) began as a cognitive approach to writing that has evolved into Knowledge ForumR, focusing particularly on the promotion of deep understanding through intentional collaborative discourse. Its roots in constructivist theory are clear; successful participants are engaged, participating, questioning what they don’t know, helping others and exploring their own thinking by connecting with the thoughts, ideas and wonderings of others. The addition of scaffolds help to make the writer’s thinking clearer and deeper. As thoughts become explicit through notes and dialogue the group works together to delve deeper and build knowledge as a community of learners. It involves in-depth study of topics in a setting where the technology becomes transparent and virtually disappears, allowing the primary learning activity rise to the surface.

There are other examples of excellent technological tools that can enhance the activity of learning: the use of PDA’s or handheld computers can engage students in collaborative activities that enhance knowledge building, tele-mentoring programs can match students with expert-like novices for lengthy discussions about authentic issues and problems, programming software like Star Logo and Squeak can build a community of learners engaged in complex activities that require more than mastery of information, and web-based interaction such as blogs can unite web learners for a variety of constructive purposes. Having a chance to look specifically for the knowledge enhancing applications of technology rather than informational ones illuminates clearly the two requirements that Salomon indicates as necessary for information to become knowledge: 1) tutelage, (the human touch), either in person or online, and 2) a community of learners (Salomon 2000). These two components were certainly a powerful component of my experience as a student using Knowledge ForumR.   Intelligent Computer Tutoring programs, most computer mediated communication programs such as forums or threaded discussions, and drill and practice software do very little in the way of providing collaborative tools such as those required for knowledge building (Rochelle and Pea 1999).   As information tools they may have value, but clearly to promote deeper understanding it is the constructivist, collaborative nature of knowledge building that should be the focus of much of what we view as deeply meaningful educational pursuits in this knowledge age. While technology is an important tool, we must remember that it doesn’t magically transform information into knowledge for users any more than the library can transfer information to knowledge for readers, without the active construction of knowledge.

Research support

As if the selection, implementation and effective use of technology wasn’t a huge undertaking in its own right, there is also the added demand for accountability. There are many stake-holders in technology education, many of whom have not entered a classroom since their own days in school or the early days of their teaching careers, but who are demanding a quick and simple answer to the question of which hardware and software will magically demonstrate student learning, usually in the form of neat and tidy test scores.

Most teachers could provide a really effective measure of an engaged and productive classroom: walk in and talk to kids. Salomon’s final disappointment about technology is that we are misguided in our research. We continually ask the wrong questions, comparing one type of technology to another, rather than examining the virtues of specific technologies in terms of their effectiveness as learning tools.   The questions shouldn’t be, for example, does the use of desktop computers produce better learning than handhelds? Or, is it better to have a teacher or a library? Rather, we should be asking, under which conditions does a library become a successful tool for learning and under which conditions is a computer a successful tool? Not surprising to many educators, research indicates that traditional classrooms are better at producing mastery of recalled information and constructivist classrooms produce better improved skill of question formulating, hypothesis generating, and ability to tackle a new problem (Salomon 2000). This does not mean that the investment in technology isn’t worth the money because tests designed to measure recall might drop, it means that we have to devise new ways of being accountable for the other kinds of valuable learning that happens with technology.   We cannot be sure where we presently reside along the continuum of education with technology, nor the kinds of roles that teachers will adopt as technology evolves, but we can be sure that a powerful potential exists for technology to enhance and extend our collaborative knowledge building through learning communities if we insist upon effective, critical use of technology tools with a clear pedagogical purpose and vision in mind.



Bereiter, C. (2002). Education and mind in the knowledge age. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.

Fishman, B., (2003). Linking on-line video and curriculum to leverage community knowledge. Chapter 3 in Using video in teacher education. Elsevier Ltd.

Friere, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York: Continuum.

Kafai, Y., & Resnick, M., (1996). Constructionism in practice: Designing, thinking, and learning in a digital world. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.

Ong, J., & Ramachandran, S., (2000). Intelligent tutoring systems: The what and how. Learning Curcuits:ASTD’s online magazine all about e-learning. Virginia, USA.

Papert, S., (1993). The children’s machine: Rethinking school in the age of the computer. New York: Basic Books.

Papert, S. (1980). Mindstorms: Children, computers, and powerful ideas. New York: Basic Books.

Resnick, M. (2002 ). Rethinking learning in the digital age. In The global information technology report: Readiness for the networked world. Edited by G. Kirk-ham. Oxford University Press.

Resnick, M. (1994). Turtles, termites, and traffic jams. Massachusetts: MIT Press.

Rochelle, J. & Pea, R. (1999). Trajectories from today’s WWW to a powerful educational infrastructure. Educational Researcher, 8 (5), 22-25.

Salomon, G., (2000). It’s not just the tool, but the educational rationale that counts. Keynote address at the 2000 ed-media meeting. Montreal, Canada.

Scardamalia, M., & Bereiter, C. (2003). Knowledge building. In Encyclopedia of education, Second Edition. New York: Macmillan Reference, USA.

Scardamalia, M. (2002). Collective cognitive responsibility for the advancement of knowledge. In B. Smith (Ed.), Liberal education in a knowledge society (pp. 67-98). Chicago: Open Court

NEW! Mindomo Mind Mapping for Ontario Learners

OSAPAC has announced the release of a new Mind Mapping tool, called Mindomo, that affords some exciting new possibilities for demonstrations of learning and collaboration.

Screen Shot 2014-11-28 at 9.09.11 AMThis is a web application that students will access through a code that a teacher sets up in an easy process that is attached to their School Board email address.  I’ve had a chance to explore this tool and I love the way that it’s very easy to edit and add media like pictures and youtube videos to enhance student work.  There is also a great presentation mode, which allows students to create a presentation by zooming in on parts of their mind maps.   Templates are also included that provide editable maps in a variety of educational topics.

One of the best features of Mindomo is the fact that students can collaborate on their maps and share them out in many different formats.  Along with this collaborative feature comes a revision history so that collaborators and teachers can see when and how often people are working on their mapping projects — you can even receive notifications to get emails when changes are made to the maps.

No tool is perfect, and Mindomo is continuing to develop and add new features all the time.   There are a couple of limitations I’ve found, and using the following work-arounds has helped:

1) Mindomo does not have an outline view in the same way that you might expect to see in other Graphic Organizers.  You might be used to creating a mind map graphically and then, with the click of a button, seeing a textual representation of your thinking to organize main ideas and supporting details, which students could then use with other writing tools like Google Docs or Word.  With Mindomo, you’ll want to export your map as a .txt file, and then indent, number and add to your text document in a way that suits you.

2) Adding labels to a connector link turns your mind map into a concept map. With Mindomo, you can ‘add a label’ to a connector link when you use floating topics.  There is a quick create option for creating maps efficiently, you just can’t delete the connectors (or relationships) or add labels to them using this mode. Screen Shot 2014-11-28 at 10.35.42 AMResources

Folks on the OSAPAC Committee have created a Public Folder where you can go for information about how to get access to Mindomo along with video tutorials to help you get started.  You can access those resources on the OSAPAC Website by clicking the Mindomo button currently on the Home Page or by going directly to the public folder here.

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

Teaching and Learning in the 21st Century Conference

Whew!  I’ve returned from a whirlwind of 3 days of learning at OTF’s latest conference: Teaching and Learning in the 21st Century and as usual, my brain is full of new learning, not only from the keynote presenters, Will Richardson and Garfield Gini-Newman,  but from my own network.  I’m a little late getting to this post so I’m going highlight some of the folks who’ve provided multiple perspectives on their experience…special thanks to Peter Skillen who made this such an awesome event!   If you aren’t reading these blogs you should really be adding them to your blogroll – they do a great job of capturing the event.  Others you will find to be a source of professional learning on twitter so check them out!

Photo Courtesy of Andrew Forgrave
  • Barbara McLaughlin shared her conference impressions as well as doing a wonderful job getting educators excited about the open-ended potential of a social network like Bit Strips for Schools.
  • Colin Jagoe always has a smile on his face and a funny story to tell and he’s honest about the challenges and rewards of personalizing learning for folks at Minds on Media.  It’s harder to plan for, but more rewarding for both learners and teachers!  It was wonderful to get to know Jeff Brown, his partner in crime (and photoshop) and I watched time after time as  Jeff’s respectful and patient way with people lifted them up!
  • Rod Lucier and Andy Forgrave ended up at an Apple Store adventure.   These two guys are fabulous with lenses…the photographic kind, but also the critical thinking lens as well.  They constantly (and respectfully) push back and ask good questions and we are all the better for that!
  • Doug Peterson and Kelly Moore ran a fabulous session to provide some more support for the folks who were new to Twitter and to answer questions about Web 2.0 and Personal Learning Networks.   Twitter eggs became real people as Kelly helped people to put their avatars ‘out there’ on the web.  Kelly has inspired me to add some bling to my blog or wiki in the next while! 🙂
  • Lynda Kilpatrick was patiently taking people through tours of Google Earth, smiling all the while, despite the annoyance of bandwidth problems that can sometimes happen with Google Earth.
  • Mali Bickley and Jim Carleton are not twitter users, but are Global Collaborators extraordinaire as co-managers of  They had teachers from Turkey, Russia, Japan and Taiwan video conferencing in to speak with us at Minds on Media.  I’ve been so blessed as a teacher to be a part of several amazing projects…check them out!
  • I think almost everyone got to Creating Media with Kent Manning and Google Tools with Richard Grignon.  These stations were always packed and I heard folks buzzing about their takeaways and I see that people are hunting Richard down on Twitter!  I know he was definitely too busy to be tweeting on Saturday – we swamped him!
  • I always learn more about OSAPAC software from Danuta and she has the understanding of critical thinking that makes teachers question how they use powerful tools.
  • Danika Barker was awesome to get to know and I’ve added her blog to my list of regular reading.  I love how she turns a phrase, and athough she says she’s not exclusively an English teacher anymore, you’ll notice her skill in her exceptional writing.

It’s incredible to stand among these folks who are so generous in sharing their expertise and supporting others.  There are so many others in my network that weren’t able to be here for one reason or another, but I am constantly grateful to all of you for the things you teach me and others around the province and beyond.  These are really good times to be a teacher!

There were some folks who couldn’t be with us (registration filled up really quickly) and we even heard from some of you who were attending virtually on Twitter.  Erin, we will get together again one of these days!

Thanks again to OTF for another wonderful conference about Teaching and Learning.  It has been inspiring to watch the PLN grow over the last two years and to see folks nurturing our new members on twitter and other kinds of social media was really rewarding.  There’s a reason we are all educators – we are ridiculously enthusiastic about life-long learning!

Getting Connected with Connectivism

by brenda sherry

This week I began a course with George Siemens and Stephen Downes called Connectivism and Connected Learning CCK11.  I’m in that beginning state of reading and digesting some new material and needing to spend some more time thinking and reflecting, but there have been some points that have resonated with me as a teacher this week.

2 things have really jumped out at me this week from the readings:

The first is Stephen’s theory of teacher practice:

“And I have also expounded, in slogan form, a basic theory of practice: ‘to teach is to model and demonstrate, to learn is to practice and reflect.’  No short-cuts, no secret formulas, so simple it could hardly be called a theory. Not very original either. That, too, is not my fault. That’s how people teach and learn, in my view.  Which means that a lot of the rest of it (yes, including ‘making meaning’) is either (a) flim-flammery, or (more commonly) (b) directed toward something other than teaching and learning. Like, say power and control.”

I just can’t stop thinking about this related to all that I do in the classroom, and it accurately captures my frustration that so much of the job that is unrelated to teaching and learning, but is actually about contrived situations put in place to control teachers and students.  I look forward to seeing how an environment that appears to lack a centre will empower learners as I observe my learning and the learning of others throughout this course.   Sounds like the control resides with the learner…and I love that!

The second thing I’m thinking about are the connected learners:

I’ve noticed for a while now, that some teachers just seem to learn differently than others.  All of my colleagues can be considered ‘good learners’ in that they have reached certain milestones of certification that allow them to be Ontario teachers, however some teachers I meet embrace technology a little more quickly than their colleagues.  I had been thinking that teachers who come from a more ‘constructivism’ philosophy about learning seem to see the benefits of technology use for the autonomy and contact with resources (and people) on the web that it brings to students.  After this week I’m rethinking that idea and I’m wondering if perhaps these teachers are different in another way too.  Are they more connected learners to begin with?

I’m thinking that connected learners might have some common characteristics:

  • initiative
  • autonomy
  • a tendency to search out and exploit resources (people, books, technology) around them
  • a reflective nature
  • self-regulative behaviour

I’m still not sure about the difference between constructivism and connectivism and right now I’m comfortably confused about it.  These are just my initial thoughts as a novice to connectivism and I’m looking forward to more learning in the upcoming weeks.

I’m looking forward to immersion in this connected environment of my first MOOC to see what connected learning is all about!

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!