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


Art Miles Japan — Our successful completion!

BIG congratulations to the Grade 6s and Mme Caudarella from  École Edward Johnson who participated in a Global Project called Art Miles Japan this year.  It is coordinated through the International Education and Resource Network ( and is a fabulous way for students to have a global learning experience.  A teacher is matched with a class from Japan and the classes begin by introducing themselves in the iEARN online forum and through videos that they create.   The two classes then decide on a theme for a mural; in this case it was around the local culture and nature evident in our two countries.

The class from Japan begins the first half of the mural painting, and, once complete, sends it to the class in Canada to finish, which we shared earlier here. What a great opportunity for students to research, collaborate, design, and be creative with a classroom from across the world! Mme Caudarella’s class received the half-finished mural from Japan in January and sent it back just before March Break. Thanks so much to our partner class from Japan for this wonderful collaboration! 🙂

Here are some pictures of the class working on and celebrating the finished mural:

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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?

Heartfelt Thanks to the ECOO 2011 Community!

This post will also appear on the ECOO Website for a little while, but I couldn’t resist starting with my blog – it just seems like the right place! 🙂

To ECOO Volunteers, Participants, Presenters and Exhibitors – THANK YOU!

Wow! What a great few days of learning we’ve just had in Ontario at the ECOO Conference!

On behalf of the ECOO Conference Committee I’d like to thank you for your support of our recent conference, ECOO 2011: Inspire, Connect, Learn to Play – Play to Learn! In planning and organizing a conference such as this, it really is a team effort from a learning community that makes it happen!

photo courtesy of aforgrave on flickr

To the conference attendees, your participation, both in person and virtually, made this conference a great success! We really appreciated your patience when needed and your jumping in to have fun when we had hoped you would. Ontario teachers know how to have a good time!

To our keynote speakers, Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach and Will Richardson, we thank you for modeling such great 21st Century practice, providing an interactive

photo courtesy of digitalnative on flickr

keynote, and getting us connected to share our learning. We love the fun you provided to get us connected and learning about and through social media, all the while having fun playing an alternative reality game to save Periwinkle the PLP Penguin.

To the presenters who spent countless hours preparing for the one-hour sessions or the full-day Minds on Media facilitation, we are so grateful to you for sharing your knowledge and experience with us. Many of you provided links to resources and contact information that can be found here on the online planner or here on the Minds On Media Wiki so that your impact is on-going – we appreciate your generosity as we learn from you.

To our exhibitors, it’s because of your sponsorship that we are able to remain at such a nice venue. Thank you for designing interesting exhibits and prize draws that kept us engaged and chatting about new hardware and software.

Finally, to the wonderful members of the ECOO conference committee, thank you for 3 amazing years of learning and laughter! You provided me such awesome support as a newbie conference chair as we all tried to realize our vision of celebrating Ontario teachers, focusing on learning first and technology later, and growing a connected and networked group of Ontario educators! I know I speak for the ECOO Board of Directors when I express my gratitude to all of you for the time and energy you’ve put into these events!

photo courtesy of aforgrave on flickr

Alison Slack, the upcoming conference chair, is in for a treat as she meets many of the Ontario teachers that will help to make ECOO 2012 even better! Please stay connected to the ECOO community to continue learning and I’ll look forward to meeting again next year!

Brenda Sherry

There’s No ‘I’ In Coach

I’m a few months into the realm of connected coaching with the PLP Network!  We are officially doing a little bit of real-life coaching in starting to get to know our groups,  but we are also enjoying the continued discussion and practice of our new skills in the online Ning space. It’s been a real treat getting to know this team of coaches and following the amazing modeling of our mentors Lani Ritter-Hall and Dean Shareski.

When we first began, I thought that my biggest challenge would be in developing my questioning skills in order to deepen the thinking of the coachees.  That is still huge, but since that time, I’ve come to realize the need to first understand the complexity of other elements of coaching such as:

  • trusting one another
  • attentive listening
  • affirmation
  • paraphrasing
  • working from a strengths based approach

In unpacking these things,  it’s given me time to go deeper in my communication skills for the first time in my 24 years of teaching! I find it pretty shocking that it’s taken all that time in a profession that relies so much on effective communication…something is definitely wrong with that picture! Every teacher should have this opportunity.

It’s so easy to fall into the pattern of sharing OUR experiences and OUR stories in kind of a show and tell, back and forth kind of format.  I wrote about this in an earlier blog post when our curriculum leaders were exploring networked learning communities.   Granted, connection is important, and we must connect with our colleagues on a personal level to build a relationship,  but I’m trying to remember that coaching is not about us so much…it’s about those whom we coach.  I’ve been thinking about how many times I go into classrooms to help a teacher learn something new about technology and my visit turns into me doing the modeling, showing, doing, talking.  This is fine, but I think of the times when people have challenged me to think of something differently, to ask questions that get me thinking, or shake me up (in a good way!) with a little dissonance.  I’m not sure I’ve been leaving that kind of residue behind, and I’d like to work on that.

Another a-ha moment for me is the fact that networks and communities might not be synonymous as I once thought they were – I used to use these two words interchangeably.   Through the PLP Network,  I’m learning that perhaps places like my Twitter network are just that – a network for sharing information among a diverse group of people.

Community, on the other hand,  is a place of collaborative action that requires a different kind of relationship – one that makes us feel safe and our ideas valued,  while encouraging the risk-taking and sharing of diverse opinions that will, in the end, make our collaborative ventures deeper and more meaningful.

I’m loving this chance to get to know people and to connect with what they all bring to the team:  their strengths, their experiences and their plans for themselves as they continue to learn.

Professional Learning, Teacher Librarians, and the 21st Century!

This past week was a wonderful celebration of the work of over half (about 31) of our elementary teacher librarians who gathered to share the projects they’ve been working on since the fall.  I was lucky to be able to work with Michelle Campbell and Bill MacKenzie , who led Year One of this great project.  I’m already looking forward to being involved next year!

There is a lot of talk at our board about the benefits of on-going, job-embedded professional learning for teachers and this project seemed to be a successful example of how this approach can work.   In the fall,  TLs were given a laptop to use for the year and they initially came together for about 3 after school workshops in order to learn a variety of new 21st century approaches, the main focus being:

  • wikis
  • blogs
  • social bookmarking
  • google tools
  • voicethread
  • twitter

They were then asked to join teams based on their own particular passions or areas of interest, and they were given 2 days of release time to meet on their own and create artefacts of their work that could be shared with their own group and beyond.   You’ll find their projects here on the UGLiWiki under Tech Coach Projects and I think you’ll join me in appreciating this wonderful group of teachers who, in many cases, were beginners to 21st teaching and have taken some giant leaps forward in developing and using wonderful tools and resources!

Great contributions UGDSB Teacher Librarians!

Top 5 Technology Trends You Should Try

This week I’m visiting a K-6 staff to share my thoughts about the top 5 things teachers might like to try to enhance the technology they use in their classroom.   I didn’t want this to be a walk-through of how-to-use a sampling of ‘tools’ so I’m trying to go with in the ‘big picture’ in mind.

The 5 things that I’ve chosen are enhanced by digital tools but relate more to 21st century pedagogy.  I’d like to recommend that people check out the TPACK model that reminds us that effective technology integration happens when Content, Pedagogy and Technology come together.   It’s not a new phenomenon that student learning improves in rich environments where a teacher is an expert in content, pedagogy and the tools they have available, but teachers need to be careful not to be wowed by new digital tools and neglect pedagogy and content.    You can learn more about TPACK from Punya Mishra or from Sheryl Nussbaum Beach’s PLP group.  (@snbeach)

1.  Connect your classroom somewhere else in the world

This is not something new!  Many of us who have been teaching for a long time have always used the community and the world outside of the classroom as an authentic audience for our students.  Now, with the help of technology, we can provide that experience in a richer, easier, more immediate way.  I urge you to use the communication tools you have available in order to push the limits and break down (or at least chip away at) the walls of your classroom this year!  This kind of focus can happen with very little technology in your classroom – even one computer and a projector can inspire your students to learn from others and to share what they know with the world.  Hopefully, this connection is set within a framework of inquiry-based learning within your classroom to make it even more meaningful.

A good way to start is to find another class interested in exchanging with yours around some topics that fit your curriculum:

International Education and Resource Network –

Teacher’s Connecting

Some of the projects I’ve taken part in are Machinto, The Teddy Bear Project, and My Hero, but there are many, many more!

2.  Use non-linguistic representations

Robert Marzano (and others) are sharing research that supports using non-linguistic representations in developing content and student activities and assignments,  something that continues to lag behind the dominant, linguistic (hearing or reading)  mode in our schools.

Non-linguistic elements are mental images or physical sensations.  Non-linguistic representations can be pictures, models, kinesthetic activities, graphic organizers, graphs, videos, drama performance, etc.

In fact, the more we can allow students to demonstrate their learning using BOTH linguistic and non-linguistic representations, the more engaged they become in constructing their own knowledge.

Technology can be a big help in this area:

  • using digital images and multimedia sources for more powerful and differentiated content in our classrooms
  • concept/mind-mapping software such as Inspiration or Smart Ideas
  • multimedia tools for creating demonstrations of student learning (VoiceThread, MovieMaker, Frames4, PhotoStory3)
  • filming student productions with digital tools
  • integrating art, dance, drama and music in how we teach and learn with the use of digital recording devices
  • using digital cameras to capture artefacts such as models, experiments, simulations
  • data visualization tools

3.  Try some comic-based software so that students can represent their knowledge and understanding in an alternate way

In Ontario, thanks to OSAPAC, every school has the opportunity to differentiate process and product by using Comic Life and Bitstrips For Schools to bring an assignment into the digital world.  You might be surprised at how keen students are to do a little homework once you introduce Bitstrips, an online tool.  It’s also a great place to try your hand at a social network within your classroom, teaching digital citizenship as students post and comment on each other’s comics.  You’ll get a chance to moderate (or monitor) the comments that students are making, helping them to learn about giving and receiving positive feedback in a digital world.  Give it a try!

4.  Get students talking with each other

Technology tools can democratize your classroom and allow you to really engage students in that community of learning that you are trying so hard to create.  They can offer the teacher an option to talk less, encouraging students to take the lead amongst themselves and with a wider audience.  When we do this, we empower students to take charge of their own learning and become truly engaged, and we truly hear their voices and interests.   There are many Web 2.0 tech tools that can make this happen (skype, google docs,, tinychat, today’s meet, voicethread, blogs, wikis, twitter) some that can be simple, instant, easy to implement and maintain, others that can be more complex depending on your expertise and comfort level.     

5.  Learn something new along with your students

Take a lesson from the Google Corporation this year.  Google encourages their employees to spend 80% of their time on core projects, and roughly 20% on “innovation” activities that speak to their personal interests and passions.  These activities may end up benefiting the company, but more importantly they keep employees challenged and engaged in ways that aid retention and keep staff learning and growing.  Try to find something in the classroom that interests you and model that excitement for learning something new with your students.  Not only will learning something new help your teaching practice, but modeling how an expert learner plans, monitors and demonstrates their own learning is a wonderful example for your students. Go for it!