GO Station Library – Book Sharing

When I first started commuting, I ended up at the Barrie Go Station to find this great innovative idea for book sharing that was setup close to the train tracks. The definition of innovation is to improve on something, and if you’re a lover of public libraries, like me, you’ll love this idea.

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YMCA/YWCA Women of Distinction Awards 2014

It was such an honour this month to attend a celebration of many of the wonderful, courageous or accomplished women in Guelph who contribute to the development of youth and the community!
It was an exciting night, so well organized by they YMCA/YWCA, and contributing to a fantastic program that I’d never heard about called TAPPS in support of young parents and their children.  I was thrilled to contribute to this wonderful cause and it turned out that I was the lucky recipient of the award in the category of Information Technology!  Although Steve and the kids were not able to be there that night, it was great to have my parents there with me! IMG_2099

I’m not one for liking being the centre of attention,  and I didn’t know what was to come when I agreed to let my nominators Kim Kowch and Andrew Cloutier put forward my name. They went ahead in the background and gathered letters of support from colleagues and friends and sent all this in to the nominating committee. I haven’t seen those letters, but I know that it was a lot of work and I’m grateful to both of them and the people that I’m aware contributed: Mary-Kay Goindi, Peter Skillen and Cathy Novosad. It was delightful to be recognized, and I want to thank Andrew and Kim, as well as my supporters who attended the gala evening, for their part in this!

This kind of event certainly reminded me of the importance of contributing to the community and the impact that each of us can have. The night was filled with stories of amazing women inspiring and helping others through the arts, education, research, business, science and volunteerism. I’ve always been more involved in school community and in the global community of educators but this program has piqued my interest about some of the other ways I might contribute to our amazing Guelph community!


Connecting with kids in new ways

I’m always looking for ways we can use technology to amplify current practices to make them more powerful or to become more innovative – to do things we couldn’t do before.   While working on a PD session for some teachers last week, I came across this video of a first year teacher who used Google Forms to connect with her students on a personal level – and from where they were most comfortable – using their digital tools.

Many people are critical of the role technology plays in keeping us disconnected from others, but this is a powerful example of how technology can support those f2f relationships.

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

Seriously Folks, Can We Just Get On With It?

Most days, I’m really upbeat. I go into schools, I give workshops, I help kids and teachers, and at the end of the day I feel that I’ve been successful in helping someone shift their practice and perhaps try some new things that will ultimately give students a wider variety of learning experiences.

Most of the time, it’s not actually about tools, but it’s about celebrating good practice. So when I was at a school today and seeing all kinds of purposeful play in kindergarten and primary grades, would I have suggested putting students behind a screen?  No way!  Would I have wanted teachers to capture these learning moments digitally to be archived, shared with parents or developed into stories that students could revisit?  You bet!

And then I saw this. I’m trying to help a teacher get a Smartboard going.  He believes it may not be working, but actually he just needs a really long VGA cord because the outlet is in a very awkward spot along the side of the room, crowded with some other attachments.  I look up, and see that a LCD projector has been mounted in the ceiling about 2 feet out from (and in the way of)  a big television screen that is also wall mounted.  My mouth literally dropped open.  Who on earth would have thought that was a good idea?

Honestly, it’s even hard for upbeat me to see electricians deciding how teachers will teach, non-users of technology buying technology, deciding (with apparent lack of logic) where it will go and therefore impacting teachers and students forever after (or so it seems).

Once again I quote my friend Peter Skillen, who says, “It’s like the illiterate, telling the literate what to read.”   Seriously folks, just how long is it going to take for us to get this right?

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 iearn-Canada.org.  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 iearn.org 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!

Critical Thinking and Elementary Media Literacy

In October I was taking part in OTF’s Critical Thinking Conference with teachers of all subject areas and grades who are new to the Critical Thinking Framework as defined by the Critical Thinking Consortium (TC2).  Garfield Gini-Newman was the lead presenter, along with some other TC2 folk, and my colleague Peter Skillen and I are involved in providing additional on-going professional learning support to OTF members through the facilitation of Elluminate sessions online.  We’ll be facilitating sessions throughout the year in the hopes of allowing teachers to continue the Critical Thinking conversation.

Our first webinar was this week and we had a really engaged group of people attend who were gracious enough to participate and share what they are doing in their classrooms…this made it a great session!

We are trying to nurture a supportive online community of teachers who are interested in improving their practice around strategies for critical thinking.  In our first session,  Peter and I brought a couple of ideas for elementary school lessons related to exploring the conventions and techniques of television advertising, and using open-ended questions to help deconstruct media from the Centre for Media Literacy.

We are defining Critical Thinking as:

  • a complex activity, not a set of generic skills (frontal lobe activity)
  • concerned with judging or assessing what is reasonable or sensible in a situation
  • focuses on quality of reasoning rather than the recall of information
  • depends on the possession of relevant knowledge
  • can be done in endless contexts and is required whenever the situation is problematic
  • it’s effortful but not necessarily negative

We are also assuming that a person is thinking critically only if he/she is attempting to assess and judge the merits of possible options in light of relevant factors or criteria.  When learning the critical thinking framework from TC2, we focus on designing critical challenges like the following:

  • Critique the piece
  • Judge the better or best
  • Rework the piece
  • Decode the puzzle
  • Design to specs
  • Perform to specs

In the past I’ve explored tv advertising by having students watch this great movie about conventions and techniques and then having them analyze some commercials using a recording sheet that includes the possible conventions and techniques you’ll see here:


In order to bring this into the realm of critical thinking, we did what Gini-Newman would call ‘tweaking’ the lesson.  They still watched the short film and analyzed a few commercials to become familiar with the concepts and vocabulary, and to gather some background knowledge about television advertising, but then we moved on to have students set their own criteria for what makes a good tv advertisement and they came up with the following:

1.  persuasive pictures and words
2.  some knowledge and information about the product/service
3.  believable
4.  commercial needs to fit the audience
5.  catches your eye (hooks you in)
6.  using techniques well (conventions of tv advertising)

We then watched a few commercials to see if our criteria fit well.  Were we able to assess the commercials using the criteria we had created?  Did we need to change anything?

We then used a ‘judge the better or best’ critical challenge to go further.   The students imagined that they had been hired by Gatorade to help them with their recent ad campaign.  Gatorade had created two commercials, and the students were asked to assess the commercials using their criteria and decide which one should be selected to air on tv and the reasons for their decision.

Here are the two commercials:

You can see our other Media Literacy resources here at Tech2Learn and our next OTF Webinar is Secondary Media Literacy on Nov. 24 at 8:00 pm EST.  A primary session on Thoughtful Books will follow on Dec. 1st.

A Dose of Reality

I’ve just come up for air after an amazing three days facilitating a Digital Storytelling Camp for the Ontario Teacher’s Federation and as a member of the ECOO Subject Association.   I was really excited to have 3 days to work with teachers, a nice change from my usual after school workshop scenarios and looking forward to working with my colleague, Peter Skillen, who is always a gracious and hard-working co-presenter who I am constantly learning from.

It was a rewarding group of just over 30 enthusiastic teachers, most of whom were beginners to technology, and certainly to Digital Storytelling.  This meant a constant stream of either whole group facilitation or one-to-one assistance from Peter and me…thank goodness we worked together…neither of us would have managed it very well all alone! 🙂  Our two twitter friends @dougpete and @kellmoor, who were using the lab the week before us,  also filled us in about what the lab settings would be like, which was very much appreciated.  We met a friend from Twitter, Christina (@ChrisRzazewski )….that is always so cool when that happens unexpectedly.

What a reminder for me though, about what the classroom teacher experiences every day, all year long.  As a technology coach, I’m in a number of schools each week (usually two per day) and I’m well aware that this is not the “real deal” of teaching that class of students every day, all year long.  I was humbled by the patience of these teachers to wait for us to help and to be so flexible when things didn’t work out quite the way we had wanted.

There were things I would have liked to have done better.  It would have been nicer to have more laptops in attendance, so that we could have used Frames 4 instead of MovieMaker which has its own set of challenges.  If we’d known that McMaster would have put software on the labs for us, it would have been nice to have Audacity on every machine so that multiple audio tracks would have been easier to make.   After a projector bulb blew and we relocated, we found that the sound was poor in the new lab and there was no usb access on the presentation computer…glitches that made culminating with sharing their amazing stories a bit of a challenge to say the least.

All in all though, teachers seemed to be happy with what they had learned, and I left feeling humbled and reminded that these amazing teachers  have incredibly busy days meeting the needs of all of the individuals in their classes and all the other things that I don’t include in my teaching day: milk money, bulletin boards, parents, yard duty, field trip forms…you get the idea…all of the extras that take so much time and energy, never mind planning fantastic learning environments and keeping a handle on assessment!

Next week, Social Media Camp in Toronto! 🙂

Ever Considered an ECOO Presentation?

The E-Call for proposals has been out for a while for the 2010 Educational Computing Organization’s 31st Conference: Inspire, Connect, Learn and I’ve been doing some tapping on shoulders lately…in fact, if I haven’t gotten around to YOU yet…consider yourself tapped upon!

These days I’m feeling very fortunate to have such a rich and varied PLN, especially for the past year during which time I’ve been more involved in Twitter than ever before.  Having had the chance to experience Educon for the first time and take part in the Critical Thinking Consortium‘s workshops sponsored by OTF, I’m realizing that there are so many educators doing great things in classrooms and in communities of practice both on and offline around the province.  One of the best things about being part of the ECOO Conference Committee is trying to see the big picture and play a part in selecting the kinds of presenters and events that might appeal to teachers just like ourselves.

We don’t have to look very far.  Sure, we need to bring in a couple of big names (hang on…we’ll be announcing them soon).   They offer a new perspective, inspiring all of us who are committed to the benefits of technology in our own learning and teaching practice (and especially for our students), but we need to also provide sessions for the smaller breakout rooms.  These sessions do something just as important and perhaps even more lasting.  They connect our conference delegates in a more informal way to new ideas, new approaches, and sometimes just to discussions about some of the celebrations and challenges of technology enhanced teaching that is embedded in classroom practice.

After realizing that the most interesting educators I know are right here under my nose, the next thing that I’ve come to realize is that teachers often don’t feel that what they are doing is worthy of sharing.  How wrong they are!  We want to have a focus on classroom practice that can be transformed by, among other things, technology.  We want to celebrate and share the kinds of things teachers are experimenting with and reflecting upon as we continue this journey towards better learning environments for our students, be they virtual or bricks and mortar!

So please, I urge you to consider sharing your insights about learning with technology at ECOO 2010 and submit a proposal.   Not only is it a great way to inspire, connect and learn with other Ontario educators interested in technology use, but we’ll thank you with a free registration for the day and a wonderful lunch!

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!