A Simple Prompt with Big Impact 

I’ve written before about the power of protocols, particularly the ones from Project Zero’s Making Thinking Visible.

One that I find I’m going back to over and over again is used to articulate shifts.  Shifts in learning, shifts in thinking, shifts in understanding.  We talk about the power of reflection, but how often do we run out of time, or squeeze it in at the end of our sessions with learners?  We talk about sharing our learning, and documenting our thinking, but how often do we ever go deeper than swapping stories and sharing information?  How do we make sure that we are focused on growth?

What can we learn by observing the shifts that others have undergone?

Here is the protocol:

I used to think….now I think…

Although it’s quick to implement, and you might think that it’s ‘simple’,  it’s my experience that it takes some practice and time in order to really articulate shifts in thinking effectively.

Try it for yourself,  but don’t just try it once.! Try it with the students and teachers you work with, but give it some time.   The reason that Harvard’s Project Zero refers to their protocols as ‘thinking routines’ is because of their understanding that the power of their use is in understanding that ‘routines are really just patterns of action that can be integrated and used in a variety of contexts’.

I love the way that Richard Elmore used this wonderful protocol to collect a series of essays to describe the shifts in understanding of a variety of educators!  I feel like I should use this protocol more often myself, especially on the blog!



Google Forms and Siri Unite For Recording Anecdotals

I’m a big fan of using Siri on my iphone and have been ever since I began using speech to text software with students in about 2006.  Boy, has the technology improved since then!  I now use it to create reminders, schedule calendar events and dictate emails and documents when I have a quiet place to do so.

So this summer, while exploring assessment with AQ students, we were considering the ways that technology affords us powerful ways to capture or document learning.  We know that the easy access to cameras and video has been helpful, so how are you transforming the ways that you keep your anecdotal records?

Google Forms is a great way to capture information that automatically populates a spreadsheet to keep records for you.  So why not put it to use, with Siri, to record the great things you see going on in your school if you are an administrator, or in your classroom if you are a teacher!  Using your phone, you will always be able to quickly update and you can sort your spreadsheet later by category or by name.

  1.  Create a google form that lists the people you are keeping records about, in a dropdown type of format in question #1. Screen Shot 2016-08-09 at 8.54.52 PM
  2. Use categories with a checkboxes list – since you will perhaps want to select more than one category at a time in questions #2.
  3. Screen Shot 2016-08-09 at 8.57.23 PMFor question #3, add a long answer paragraph so that you can dictate your message using Siri with lots of space to talk. Screen Shot 2016-08-09 at 8.59.54 PM
  4. Add the link to the Google Form to the home screen on your smart phone or tablet and you are ready to go!


I’m a primary teacher at heart so recording observations and conversations are stilpizza-boxes-358029__180l some of my favourite ways to document.  In the early 90’s I used pizza boxes (empty, clean and donated) to save the best pieces of student work (determined by my grade 1’s and 2’s ) and based on success criteria (not sure what we called it then but that’s what it was…).  Students then led the parent-teacher conferences with those portfolios – the evidence of their best learning with an explanation of why.

We also used to develop many ‘rolls’ of camera film to post around the room to document the learning.  Now, that’s such a snap with our digital devices!

Making in Grade 2 – Circa 1989



#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

YPALS – Youth Helping Youth at the YMCA

Peter Skillen and I had the pleasure of attending a working group session at the YMCA of Greater Toronto led by Candy Chow (YPALS Coordinator – ‎YMCA of Greater Toronto) and Nina Arcon (YPALS Specialist at YMCA of Greater Toronto). This group of about 12 young people are about to launch a blog that will help newcomers to Canada in areas that would help make the transition easier: health care information, customs, laws, education information, etc.

In this digital age, our tools allow us to reach out over time and space in a more non-linear fashion, and that’s exactly what this group is hoping to do.  Their blog will allow people who are preparing their arrival in Canada to begin to investigate their new life before arriving, as well as help those folks who are already here find and explore this source for information.

I was asked to contribute my knowledge about blogging, and especially aspects of Creative Commons that would ensure that this public space wouldn’t be violating any copyright laws.  Similar to my experience with working with teachers, these students had never heard of the Creative Commons.  They weren’t aware of the laws around responsible use of the works of others, or how to license their own content.  Peter and I hear all of the time about how the presence of ‘digital natives’ will mean we no longer have to focus on building capacity for technology use…”they were born with it, they just know it!”  Not our experience. It was so refreshing to work with these smart, amazing, self-directed and community minded young people who were so eager to learn.  They were delighted that we were sharing sites that would give them great content for their school assignments too!

Congratulations to this team of YPALS at the YMCA of Greater Toronto! I can’t wait to see what they come up with and hope that I get invited back again…thanks for the opportunity!

Think Tank: Transforming the learning experience

cecceThis week I had the honour to be invited to contribute to a panel of amazing people at the recent Think Tank session from CECCE, one of Ontario’s French School Boards, along with well known thinkers about transforming educational environments.  My ECOO colleague Peter Skillen and I have crossed paths recently with many CECCE educators in attendance at Educon, ISTE and various Ontario events, as well as in my work at the Ministry, so it was wonderful to have a chance to hear more about the deep dive they are taking to transform their system. The school board has been working to fundamentally change their system to serve students, not just in the their academic pursuits, but in their well-being as they grow and develop into engaged, compassionate, learning citizens and @heidisiwak does a great job of capturing their journey here in her blog if you’d like to learn more.  I found it a challenge to decide what I might contribute to this amazing panel,  but was willing to give it a try and participate, and hopefully add something of value to the discussion. Michael Fullan did a wonderful job of finding a way to share all of the voices in a relatively short period of time!fullanpanel

If you search #cecce hashtag, you’ll see many of the tweets that describe the day. Over and over I heard people focused on three critical factors that lead to effective change:

  • First, we have to understand how people (both students and adults) learn.
  • Second, we have design learning environments and experiences around interesting, provoking, and real-life authentic issues.
  • Lastly, we must trust all learners to be partners in their own learning

There were many things to note,  but one thing struck me as especially important and it came from the student trustee on the panel.   There had been lots of talk from the adults in the room about ‘deep learning’, but Matthew really named it when asked about what he wanted from his education.  He said that he wanted learning “that would help him in the rest of his life”.  This stuck me as a specific example of the kind of learning transfer that we talk about when we focus on deep learning.

When we broke into table discussions after the panel, I was interested in following that further and asked Catherine (another student trustee), what kinds of things she felt she was learning at school that she felt would benefit her for ‘the rest of her life’. She mentioned discovering her passion for causes and helping people to learn more about them through events that she has organized through her school.  She mentioned the student government that she’s been involved with, and along the way the teachers who have supported her in developing her strengths, both academically, and through her interests in extra-curricular.  This led our table to a discussion of passion-based learning and how extra-curriculars should not be extra at all, but a part of school life.  In reflecting on that conversation, I realize that in that brief conversation, Catherine named many, if not all, of the competencies that are so much a part of the educator conversations happening to describe 21st century learning: communication skills that evolve as a part of authentic collaboration, creativity and critical thinking in the pursuit of learning and in the sharing of meaningful information to persuade others, the entrepreneurial spirit involved in social action,  and the self-awareness that is required to take risks, understand one’s strengths, and to continue to grow and persevere to accomplish goals.

As we continued our discussion at the table,  the school board members, along with student trustee Catherine, mentioned that joy is important, that relationships are key, and that the partnerships were an important part of making education relevant to our children and youth.  This was palpable in the room throughout the day from the remarks of all of the organizers of the event, and evidenced once again in the thoughtful closing comments from Superintendent Eugénie Congi.  What a great team! Screen Shot 2016-03-05 at 5.09.27 PM

I’m excited to hear how this work at CECCE evolves and I thank the organizers for allowing me to be a part of it.  I hope that I am able share this success story across the province so that other boards and students can benefit from their deep thinking and vision for their teachers and students.

On a personal note, I’m excited that I’m able to continue my French language learning and I found the benefit of the simultaneous translation that was provided to me during the event to be amazing!  Merci!


Educon 2.8: Learning about a missed opportunity

I attended Educon 2.8 once again this year, hosted at the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia.  It was great to be in the building once again.  Chris Lehman and Zac Chase provide inspiring leadership and watching this school grow and change has been fantastic.  The school feels more like Ontario schools than other US schools that I hear about, although I must confess that it is the only US school I’ve had the opportunity to visit!

I really enjoyed talking to teachers and parents this year, and spent a fair bit of time asking them questions and loitering in the hallways to get a sense of what was new at the school. You’ll know, if you’ve ever attended Educon, that sessions are about conversations, not presentations, and it’s a place of rich dialogue and networking.

I attended one session that really got me thinking and reflecting on my past practice at school last year as a vice-principal.  It was called The Privileged Voices in Education, facilitated by Audrey Watters @audreywatters and Jose Vilson @TheJLV.  I chose to listen rather than talk. The conversation ran the gamut of sensitive and passionate topics: race, privilege, access, voice, agency, challenges with getting people involved politically, and the fear of corporate interference and what that could mean for students.  There were students, teachers, parents, and administrators in the room.

It’s my nature to begin to shift to action oriented thinking and a few people started to talk about some of the things we CAN do to help give ALL students and parents a voice in education. The issue of our complicity was raised – both from the point of view of those who are silent in their daily lives, and those who don’t even feel privileged enough to join in the conversation — such a complex issue.  We were prompted by Jose toward the end of the session to be reflective about our complicity, and this is when I realized that I had missed an opportunity last year at my school.

Edward Johnson PS received a grant for technology last year, which I’ve written about before. We got the grant because we had a parent on school council who volunteered her time to search out grant opportunities and follow them up.  We also likely got it because I knew what to write, how to phrase that proposal, and could even support the school in the implementation of a great space and make it work.  Our school isn’t a school that is lacking…we have a supportive community of parents, and lucky students who are comfortable and privileged with their opportunities.  I’m suspicious of corporate funding, because I often think it goes where it is NOT needed most, and yet I wanted to support the parents and bring the best to my school and my students.  Was I complicit in adding to the gap between rich and poor schools?

I could have done it differently.  I could have partnered with a school just a few blocks away and done some work to share what I know about writing that proposal with other parents, teachers and administrators. We could have split the money (it wasn’t huge, but $20000 is definitely sizable) and partnered the two schools to be co-learners in this venture.  Was I complicit in promoting gaps between schools that ‘have’ and those that ‘don’t have’? Not intentionally.  Could I have taken action to encourage a partnership that could shed some light on a school in need and help build capacity there?  Yes definitely.

I hope I get another chance to approach this differently another time.

One person in the room provided some interesting insight for people wondering about the intention of corporate support in education realm.  Find out how much they are investing in the grants themselves, and then try to find out how much is spent in marketing the grants.  Interesting….

New Health and Physical Education Curriculum

Many school administrators are aware that some parents are feeScreen Shot 2015-09-20 at 3.35.47 PMling the tension of change in Ontario’s Health and Physical Education (HPE) Revision for 2015. Concern that kids need more current information (the last curriculum was released 17 years ago), and a more comprehensive understanding of all the aspects of healthy living, has led to this revision. Ontario curriculum is written by experts in education, content, and policy, as well as in consultation with parents across the province. Many people are involved in trying to dispel the myths about the new curriculum that began to surface last spring, in many cases anonymously, and it’s my guess is that once folks actually dig in and read the curriculum, as some journalists have begun to do, fears quickly subside.

The Health and Physical Education curriculum has four main sections for each grade:

  • Living Skills: understanding themselves, communicating and interacting positively with others and learning to think critically and solve problems
  • Active Living: active participation, physical fitness and safety
  • Movement Competence: skills for moving properly and with confidence
  • Healthy Living: learning about health, making healthy choices, and understanding the connections to everyday life

A quick google search ‘myths about sex ed curriculum’ will bring up lots of good information to dispel the myths about Ontario’s revised HPE Curriculum, but my hope would be that parents actually read the curriculum, in order to make their own decisions.  Here is a gathering of some helpful resources that school administrators or school council chairs might want to share with concerned parents who are wanting more information:

Overview of the curriculum revisions, including the sexual health component.

HPE_flyer_AODA – Ontario Ministry of Education – The ministry has produced a suite of materials for parents in several languages to build understanding about what students will learn. There are also details about how to order parent materials that Principals and Vice-Principals can make available to parents.

CBC Radio Interview with Meg Hickling – Veteran educator about body science and sexual health

Grade by Grade Guide to the Ontario HPE Curriculum (Sexual health portions) written for Muslim parents and created by Anela Jadunandan – hear her CBC Radio interview  on Metro Morning.

CBC – Parents speaking up in support of the Ontario HPE Curriculum

Sexual health experts from BC in support of Ontario’s new curriculum


Creativity Project Gets Rolling!

Courtesy of Sarah Ross on Flickr

As we are about to really settle down to plan our PLPConnectU PBL Unit about Creativity, I’d have to say our group has already done some big thinking about Creativity!  Both PBL and Creativity are pretty huge topics so I’ve been wondering about what we’ll do next.  I’m wondering if other people in the group are having some of the same thoughts and questions that I have!  Mel has created this great space for us to blog about our thoughts and ideas and has organized an online meeting for us this week.  It will be exciting to get started as we have a group of passionate educators in our group.  Tonight, I’m thinking:

  • What will our driving question be?
  • How will we select curriculum objectives from a wide range of grade levels and subject areas?
  • If we are to begin with an end in mind, as recommended, what might that be? How can we honor the ideas and questions of the students while doing that? What will students do to share their learning?

I enjoyed watching this Prezi that @scmorgan found and posted on ConnectU about one teacher’s experience with using PBL with her students who were studying space.

Some takeaways that I had while I watched were:

  • Rigor is about the pursuit of inquiry, which results from hands-on learning and having to show what you know.
  • PBL is a set of learning experiences and tasks that guide students in inquiry, answering a central question, solving a problem, or meeting a challenge.
  • The teacher did a great job of having collaboration skills woven into the project – this was so evident in the way students talked to each other

The assessment techniques were almost all familiar to me: rubrics, reflection journal, problem-solving guide, reflection essay, peer and self-assessments, small and large group discussions.  I wasn’t sure about what the problem-solving guide might have been and would have probably added checklists and anecdotal records to that list.

It was helpful to see the variety of driving questions that students might come up with.  For example:
* abstract – When is war justified?
* concrete – is our water safe to drink?
* problem-solving – how can we improve traffic flow around our school?
* design challenge – how can we design a community theatre that meets the size limits and seats the most people

I can’t wait to hear what our group comes up with! 🙂