Don’t Wait! Innovate!

We hear a lot these days about the idea of INNOVATION. Not to be confused with invention, innovation means to improve upon, to make things better.

How do you connect to innovation in your practice?screen-shot-2017-02-13-at-7-35-33-pm

Jennifer Kranenburg is a teacher from Ontario whose story is an inspirational example of how creative educators, focused on responding to student interest and curiosity, can innovate the curriculum to be relevant and engaging and to solve real world problems.  If you take 20 or so minutes to watch her TedX talk, you’ll see how she does an amazing job embracing Ontario’s global competencies.

Jennifer thinks about how students can contribute as global citizens, and from that thinking emerges other valuable elements – the rich learning the students need just in time to solve the problems they want to solve. I’ve probably missed a few things, but here are some of the elements that I’m seeing as I watch – what would you add to the list that stood out for you?

  • critical  thinking
  • innovation
  • caring
  • co-learning; student-student, teacher-student, and teachers and students together with community partners
  • collaboration within school and with experts
  • communication within class and with the world
  • creativity and problem-solving
  • technologies that enable deeper learning, but aren’t the primary focus
  • authentic assessment
  • global citizenship and sustainability

Students are learning how to learn, how to serve others, and how to empower themselves to make positive changes to their world!

What do you notice as you watch?  In what ways do you resonate with Jennifer as an educational innovator? What are the powerful ideas that she strives to amplify in her classroom?  What about you?

If we want our students to be innovative, as usual, maybe we should start with ourselves first.  Before we ask for a more prescriptive curriculum (adding coding, for instance, as a contemporary example), maybe we should just find out where it connects and GO FOR IT!

To find our more about Jennifer’s classroom, check out her online spaces:

Ms Kranenburg’s Classroom Blog

Peter Skillen and I were absolutely thrilled to have Jennifer at Minds On Media at BIT16 Conference this year – Check out Jennifer’s Story


#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

Back to the classroom…Here we go! Part 1

I’m headed back to the classroom .5 this fall as I also move into my new role as Vice Principal.  So, after about 7 years of being in a central board position, I’m back at it with lots to be reminded about; different deadlines, report cards (writing and reading), assessment and tracking and the weekly timetable.  Creating a collaborative learning culture, planning lessons, units and projects were the things I absolutely loved best about being the classroom so I’m pretty pumped!

After asking the Junior teachers what might work best for them, my assignment is to see 5 classes each week for an hour each (Grades 3-5) and look after Media Literacy, Dance, Music and some resource time for the school as well.  I immediately thought about how the Media Literacy piece would support the Dance and Music elements.  I also thought that since I’m not a fluent French speaker (yet!),  Music, Dance and Media could be combined to support learning about French culture – I could help contribute in that way to the French Immersion experience.

So…where to start?

Step 1: Curriculum Connections

I’m a lover of PBL, so I’m immediately drawn to how these 3 subject areas might overlap and how rich projects could emerge.  I’m also considering that since I only see these classes once a week I’ll need to work through cross-curricular rich tasks or be left tearing my hair out!  My sense of the curriculum was that the creative processes in the Arts would align nicely with the overall expectations in Media Literacy.  I took to a and here’s what emerged!   Fabulous alignment in 3 areas! 🙂

Screen Shot 2014-08-23 at 9.01.45 PMStep 2:  Rich and Relevant Tasks

I was inspired this summer by a visit to the Titanic Quarter in Belfast, Ireland, where they have created a fantastic mulitmedia experience for learners.  I got thinking that if the Media piece were to involve sharing out what we learned about Music and Dance (forms, creations, reflections),  this would be a meaningful way to bring in many important elements of media study (digital citizenship, audience, purpose, voice, forms, multimedia tools and devices).   My next step is to use a Graphic Organizer to pull out the specific expectations in each grade level and sort them based on how they align with each other.  This will prompt project ideas and give me a framework for how to shape students’ wonderings and questions around some big ideas as we move forward.  Stay tuned for Part 2 as that emerges over the next week or two.

In the meantime….Screen Shot 2014-08-23 at 9.28.02 PM

As the year starts and I get my plans in place in conjunction with the other teachers, I’m going to start with Bitstrips with all of the classes.  This will allow me to get to know each student, build community in an online space, teach some preliminary skills around digital citizenship, and work on how to give effective feedback to each other.  The feedback and reflection element will be very critical as we move into exploring the arts together!   It’s also a Ministry Licensed OSAPAC tool and I know that it should work well on multiple devices…not to mention how exciting it is for students!

Thank You Annie Fetter: How strangers can get us started and friends can cement the change

This post was first published on August 11, 2014 for

As teachers, we don’t always know our impact unless our students come back and share with us.  Similarly, as global teacher learners, we don’t always know the people that we reach and the positive impact we might have on the growth of other educators.  This year, I’d like to start by thanking Annie Fetter, someone whom I’ve never met face-to-face, for the positive impact she’s had on my growth this year, and for the rich discussions that she’s prompted me to have with educators within my PLN and with the teachers I work with back in Guelph.

This is the video that got things started for me in May of 2013.  It’s an Ignite Session from a Math conference where Annie shows how she uses a Noticing and Wondering strategy when teaching Math.  It was shared on Twitter by one of my mentors, Mary-Kay Goindi.

Mary-Kay and I spent some time talking about this video and then the ideas began to percolate as we went about our year.  As I watched it several times, I began to love the elegance of Annie’s message.  This strategy makes thinking visible, both to students and to teachers; what another learner notices can be really helpful to us as thinkers, and we don’t always ask students to articulate this internal noticing.  It’s really inclusive, in that no value judgements are made, only observations.  When teachers ask,  “What makes you say/think that?” instead of, “Why?” students are encouraged to provide evidence, rationale and further information to describe their own thinking, something so powerful as a formative tool in order to know what next steps for a learner might be.  So simple, and yet, so powerful!

At a subsequent event, the Waterloo Region Edcamp in February,  I was in a session with another one of my mentors, Peter Skillen, and as part of the discussion I was sharing one of my problems of practice, that of finding strategies that help with the synthesizing of ideas that students are gathering during the inquiry process, something that Peter and I have discussed at length as we try to share our knowledge of PBL and knowledge building, often with teachers who are new to the process.  It’s the part of the process that we often see is missing in inquiry projects today, and the part that I find most challenging.   I have my toolkit of strategies, but I wanted to learn more from this group of teachers gathered at EdCamp.  Luckily for us, a teacher from a nearby private school spoke up, (I’m sorry that I can’t remember her name) and shared that she had been using some of the Project Zero strategies for this purpose.  Excellent!  Peter and I had heard about Project Zero from Howard Gardner himself several years earlier at a conference, but I hadn’t followed up by really delving into the routines they had developed.  I’d also enjoyed reading Making Learning Whole, by David Perkins, but had not yet made the connection!

This led the 3 of us (MK, Peter and me) to spend some time sharing, digesting, and discussing the book Making Thinking Visible and trying 10999036the Thinking Routines presented therein in order to help students and teachers with rich and focused thinking in the classroom.  They fit very well with our thinking about inquiry-based approaches like Knowledge Building, and, in fact, they were not necessarily brand new to us, but provided a new lens, another look, in order to go deeper in our own professional learning.  Indeed, they include a version of Annie Fetter’s Noticing and Wondering, called ‘See Think Wonder’, although I think I’ll still stick with the simplicity of her version at certain times!  A couple of new learning experiences, supported by wonderful dialogue, led to a positive change in my practice over the course of about a year or so.

I’m about to start in a Vice-Principal role next September and in looking back at how Annie’s video led to positive change for my learning, I’m reminded that sometimes our virtual teachers plant a seed that gets slowly nourished by those colleagues we trust in our professional learning community.  This is exactly what Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach and Lani Ritter Hall propose in their wonderful book, The Connected Educator when they suggest that the combination of Professional Learning Communities (f2f), Communities of Practice, and Personal Learning Networks lead us to powerful new kinds of 21st century professional learning.

For me, Annie planted a seed that took about a year to grow into positive change, thanks to the support of wonderful colleagues!


Trusting in Student Awesomeness

For quite some time now I’ve been questioning our desire to have students who are critical thinkers.  Do we really want that?

What happens when these students that we’ve empowered to have wonderfully evaluative thinking skills decide that they need to make improvements to their learning environment?  Will you stand beside them and support them?  Will you empower them to seek and facilitate change?

Or, will you explain the rules of the ‘game’,  bogging them down with all the ‘ya but’ explanations that let them know you really weren’t serious about the development of their critical thinking skills.  Maybe you were okay with it during the the contrived classroom scenario but when it comes to something they really care about in ‘real life’ can you embrace this as part of your curriculum?

I worry that we need to get real with students and empower their dreams about taking action, while supporting them to think critically about how they might do that in order to have a real impact on their world, their future, and of course, ours as well.   I love the following video, where Scott McLeod challenges us to make the extra-curricular the curricular…to make taking action and personal passion a part of becoming a concerned citizen and a life long learner, and be more trusting of our awesome students!

PBL Experts Are Among Us

Originally Posted by on Feb 8, 2013 in Voices From the Learning RevolutionVoices

For a long time I’ve watched my husband Steve, a drama teacher, work his magic in his classes and dramatic productions. Lately, I’ve been reading posts from core subject teachers (e.g., science, math, history) who are beginning to move from the transmissive pedagogy more likely to be found in traditional subjects and wanting to explore a more student-centered, inquiry, or project-based approach.

This growing urge among teachers to put students center-stage has made me revisit some thoughts about the wealth of knowledge the arts teachers in our buildings have about this topic. The trouble is that they don’t often speak up. They quietly go about their work, often marginalized to the ‘extras’ or the ‘fluff’ of the school program — and yet, I would argue that they are the PBL experts that we seek!

Check out this quote from David Booth’s book called Story Drama. Doesn’t this sound a lot like the project-based classroom many of us yearn to create?

This is the drama teacher’s struggle: listening, watching, setting up situations that will foreshadow the direction of the journey, knowing when to intervene, when to use a particular strategy to open up discussion, to move the students into action, to cause them to pause, to reflect, to rethink, and all this without predetermining the learning, the content, the meat of the lesson.

What hit me is that this quote really typifies the kind of work we all ought to be doing in our classrooms. The delicate dance of teaching involves watching, inspiring, coaching, providing choices, respecting, motivating and providing rich content experiences…such a complex task indeed!

So what are the fundamentals that we might we borrow from the arts teachers to support student-directed learning in other domains?

Arts teachers know that knowledge is a private reflection until we give it social value

This is really the key to much of our discussion about 21st century learning these days. New tools afford us the opportunity to articulate our understanding in new ways and make it far more accessible — no longer just text-based, and no longer created for just one teacher, or just one class. Audiences have moved from the single classroom to the global community.

In much the same way that students are motivated by the performances in arts education, student engagement goes up when students are creating artifacts to share with their community, either virtually or face to face — or they correspond with people who have experiences to share that relate to their own studies — or they bring their questions and new understandings to experts (e.g., scientists, authors, or other classes) via online conversations.

Arts teachers know how to build communities where all voices are valued and taking risks is safe

This might be one of the most difficult parts of transforming the classroom from a teacher-directed space to a student-focused space. Arts teachers have expertise in this area.

New skills such as accountable talk, self-regulation, and the ability to build and maintain a comfortable, equitable and safe space for communicating need to be acquired by both teachers and students. How does that happen in an arts classroom? Team-building, trust-building, conflict resolution and teacher modeling of effective feedback helps that emerge over time. Routines are established that teach students how to cooperate; how to lead sometimes, and how to be led by peers other times.


In the arts classroom, effective teachers also participate as co-learners; sometimes leading, sometimes letting students take the lead, always modeling the kinds of interactions they are hoping to see within the learning community. It’s crucial that they sometimes play the role of ‘student’ in order to do this modeling of what learning looks like.

Not only do arts educators create supportive social environments, they promote risk-taking by stressing the real work of the arts. Students BECOME actors, painters, dancers and musicians and they explore with the teacher who invites them into this ‘tribe’ through modeling the ways of BEING and DOING in their particular domain.

Shouldn’t this happen in other subject areas? As Seymour Papert puts it: “(B)eing a mathematician, again like being a poet or a composer or an engineer, means doing rather then knowing or understanding.”  Authentic projects can bring students into “being and doing” as they personally connect to curriculum. We don’t have to be arts educators to employ this potent learning strategy.

Arts teachers are skilled at differentiation

Differentiation is the name of the game in the arts classroom. Most often the courses are open, bringing together students with a variety of backgrounds and abilities. Individuals are valued for their unique strengths that make team work more effective. Through the use of technology, teachers in other subject areas are beginning to see how students can blend images, sound, music, and text to create powerful messages and artifacts that allow all students to be successful.

Teachers of the arts know this secret: feedback that is immediate, descriptive and supportive of the whole group changes the role of assessment — and students often share in this process through peer and self-assessment.

Arts teachers approach learning as a balance of process & product with a focus on reflection

Arts educators believe that process, structures and techniques are important to their craft, and that since the arts are meant to be shared, a product is equally important. This understanding of balance keeps the focus on acquiring and improving skills while also creating public artifacts that demonstrate this learning.

The work of the arts is never quite finished, and reflection is a constant part of the process. Imagine rich portfolios of students’ work as scientists, historians or mathematicians, expanding and demonstrating increasing mastery throughout their years at school.


So how do you get help from teachers of the arts?

One thing is a given – inquiry-based approaches involve following students along paths that you might not be able to predict – and that involves responsive teaching. I’d recommend that you go and search out your arts teachers. They are usually really passionate about their subject area, just as you are, and may be eager to share their expertise.

For starters you might ask some of these questions to get a conversation going (and glean an invitation to observe):

  • What techniques are used to build an effective community of learners?
  • What strategies and structures are put in place to manage a classroom that focuses on discussion, sharing and reflection?
  • How do teachers handle the fact that the endpoint isn’t always what is planned or expected?

Error recovery vs failure avoidance

I just love this clip from Randy Nelson – formerly from Pixar.  He explains how Pixar finds graduates who have depth, breadth, communication and a collaborative nature.

As educators I think there is a lot we can learn from his view about error recovery.  Nelson mentions that if we need graduates who will be innovators, we need to focus on their ability to recover from error rather than avoid failure – interesting to think about in our current system – are we nurturing students who can think of errors as learning opportunities?   He mentions that the proof of the portfolio is better than the promise of a resume – are we getting closer to seeing that development through the availability of technology?

Inquiry Untethered

Attending Waterloo Goes Wireless was a pleasure for me not only because many of my favourite Waterloo Region DSB folks were there, but because it was the culmination of a PLP Network project for one on the Waterloo teams, the amazing Zodiyaks.  An excellent keynote from Royan Lee kicked off the day, with break out sessions to follow — all around the idea of exploring BYOD in classrooms.

I attended Anita Brooks Kirkland and Elaine MacKenzie’s session called Inquiry Untethered and was really grateful to hear some great tips for organizing inquiry using technology.   Check out this great site that they provided us, along with time to explore and produce during this session.

Some of the takeaways for me were:

  • using is a great idea for that first phase of Inquiry (the pre-search or exploring phase) as it curates content to build interest and background knowledge
  • Ontario students have access to Canada in Context, a great database available on UG2GO (Secondary) for Upper Grand DSB teachers and students.
  • Flickr searching becomes even better now that you can search “The Commons” for images from the public domain
  • Waterloo has done an incredible job providing resources for Inquiry on their Learning Commons website.  If you are interested in Inquiry based approaches check out their section on Developing Questions – you’ll want to check out the rest of the site too –  there is lots more of value there!


What I need to relearn

I’m reading The Connected Educator by Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach and Lani Ritter Hall and one of the cool elements is the challenge to connect at the end of each chapter.  Chapter 3 was about what we need to learn, unlearn or relearn as a connected educator and the tool this chapter was Wallwisher.  If you’ve used wallwisher you already know that it’s a short and sweet kind of posting on a notice board, and if you know me you know that sometimes I’m just not that great at ‘short and sweet’ responses…especially when something is muddling around in my head.

Therefore, I’ve had to expand a bit here and I hope you’ll provide some push back or ideas for me.  In terms of being a connected educator, I think that conceptually and practically I’m good at allowing students to take charge and to support them in directing their own learning.  My experience is that this usually takes us to a place that exceeds formal curriculum expectations so I’m happy, parents are happy, and students are happy!  That’s great!

What I need to relearn, is how to effectively document and plan for this….or get over the fact that you really can’t!   I like to deviate from plans (always do!) but I also like having a plan and I’m going to confess that this is where I feel weakest in my classroom practice.   Part of this comes from not using pre-fab lesson plans (I just can’t teach the same thing over and over) not gravitating toward the stand and deliver style (PBL is my preference) and every year and every group of students means different ways to inquire about topics – it changes all the time.

I need to ask for some examples from my network to help in this area.  I should connect with people like Shelley Wright for some concrete examples of how she is making shifted control work in practice.  I loved her ideas about have students select 3/4 of their assignment for her to assess in order to encourage risk-taking and playing around with learning (page 53).   This reminded me of working with student portfolios in the past and it’s really doable.   I need to search out some other examples and put them into practice for my AQ course so that I can model these new approaches for planning and assessment.

What do you do?  How are you shifting and what are the practical implications for planning and assessment?

QR Code Adventures

I always find it exciting when I come across someone who is willing to take a chance and try something new they don’t know much about.  Jen Apgar (@jenapgar) and I did some working together last      year when her class was getting ready for Digifest 2011.  We got chatting about some new things we were hearing about – and QR codes kind of came up.

Did we know much about them?  Nope.
Did we know much about how they worked? Nope.
Did we have some ideas about how we might use them with kids? Yep.

After a bit of chatting we decided that since we were both the kind of teachers who liked to struggle and learn along with the kids we’d jump in with both feet on a project for this year.

And so began the diigo-ing of links and resources, collecting what we could find, photographing QR codes wherever we could find them,  and reading up on what my network was sharing on twitter and on blogs.   I began to collect the resources here on Tech2Learn if you’d like to check it out.

Jen teaches a congregated gifted class of Grade 4’s who recently made a transition to a new school.   New students transition into this program every year, and this involves a school visit and info day during their Grade 3 year.  Jen’s class this year has decided to make some documentaries about what it was like to transition to the gifted program and to a new school and then to lead the visiting students through a QR scavenger hunt in May.

The kids are asking this question, “What will kids who are coming in new to the program, want to know?  How can we get them excited about coming to their new school?”

They’ll be learning lots about documentary film making and the art of creating media to convey a message to a particular audience.  Then they’ll plan a scavenger hunt about the most important elements of school life.  Lots of critical thinking in decision-making about what stays in and what gets cut out.  Lots of teamwork in pre-production planning, production and post-production.   Lots of hard work planning clues and uploading clips, audio, images to the web to be linked as QR codes.  Lastly, they’ll create the QR codes and post them around the school.   They’ll test it out and get things ready for the younger students.   A complex project for an authentic audience!

I can’t wait…this is going to be fun!