Saturday, December 24, 2011

A Story about Darkness, Light and Faith

This past week, the grade ten students heard some stories about light and darkness that they will not soon forget.  Mr. Fellner, a holocaust survivor and grandfather to one of our students, spoke to a group of 40 students and had their spellbound attention.  He was accompanied by his wife who spoke for him when his emotions, even after 66 years, choked his voice.  The students freely questioned Mr. Fellner and he candidly answered.  I took notes and recorded the presentation with my smartpen, (in order to remember the details for this post), but it was completely unnecessary as I will not soon forget his stories.

One student asked about making friends in the concentration camp at Birkenau (Auschwitz).  It was an innocent question from a teenage mind incapable of grasping the enormity of the suffering and cruelty that Mr. Fellner had lived.  He answer stunned me  because I had never considered its obvious truth; no one lived long enough to make friends.    
Mr. Fellner and his family
He spoke of the dark horrors he had witnessed and of suffering we can not begin to fathom.  He recalled the inhumanity, animal-like conditions and the imaginative brutality of their captors.   But he also spoke of light and faith.  The day the camp was liberated by the Americans, his emaciated 54 pound body (he entered the camps at 14 years of age weighing 173 pounds one year earlier) had been 'discarded' atop the heaps of the dead.  American physicians, under orders to 'take anyone with a pulse' miraculously found Mr. Fellner and immediately transported him to a hospital, where a doctor sat vigil by his bed until he regained some semblance of health.

I asked Mr. Fellner what he thought about the sentiment sometimes expressed that G-d should be put on trial for what happened to the Jews in the Holocaust.  His answer was one I will not soon forget.  "I can't answer you that.  How can I answer?"  And then, he touched his chest and said, "I suffered for my faith.  I will never lose it."

Suffering confers a priceless value to our lessons learned.  Mr. Fellner learned about the dark face of humanity and 66 years later, he taught the young teens the generation of his granddaughter about the light that is also a part of our human face.

Christmas lights in front
 Christ Church
downtown Montréal
On this fifth night of Hanukkah and Christmas Eve,  people all over the world celebrate the light that we believe is also a part of the human experience.  Mr. Fellner's story of incredible survival against the odds ended with his affirmation of the light.  His unshakeable faith is a light for our students, and to me.  Thank you Mr. Fellner for sharing your stories.  Thank you for reminding me, us, about the light that comes from faith.  Happy Hanukkah and Merry Christmas to all.   May your story be a light to someone as his were to us.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Do You Leave Your Mark or Model Your Passion?

The highest praise a teacher can receive generally comes years after the students have graduated and left the building.  Sometimes it finds you in an email when the ex-student, now an accomplished adult, reaches out to say thank you.  Another more serendipitous context finds teacher and ex-student together on a street corner, with the now young adult 'confessing' that the teacher was the reason for their life's career and intellectual direction.

Either one of these, (and many more contexts) have happened to you, dear reader, to be sure.  It happened to me yesterday.  A very cherished, very bright and wonderful young woman (who was my student two years ago) told me of her plans to study philosophy and the unspoken compliment was that the Philosophy for Teens course that she took with me was the reason for her decision.  As I studied her face and demeanour, it occurred to me that she wanted me to feel not only proud of her but of myself for having been the mentor on her path.  But I didn't feel that at all.

christinacosta's Flickr stream
Instead, I had one of those 'ah ha' moments that arrive in a flash in our consciousness.  (Sometimes I see them as inner pictures, other times I hear them in sentences and other times they simply come as a 'feeling'.)  As much as I want to 'leave my mark' and make a difference in the life of my students, that is really not what happens.  In the case of yesterday's student, I think she found her question and it is the question that is 'leaving its mark' and guiding her down a path that she attributes to me.  It might have also be that she connected with her own passion and enthusiasm for wisdom because she saw mine; but the bottom line is that she connected to herself.

When I think of the teachers who 'left their mark' on me, I see the same process and patterning.  Their passion was contagious because it was authentic.  Their questioning (that's the heart of philosophy) modelled good thinking and that's what did it for me because I found that in myself.

So my friends, do we really leave a mark or are we instrumental in helping our students connect to themselves?  What do you think?  I'd love to engage with you so leave a comment!

Friday, November 25, 2011

From 'Whatever' to 'Wow Miss!'

Some while ago, my students and I had a discussion about public versus private wikis.  A few of them still felt the need for the security of a closed space but most of them were fine with the idea of 'going public'.  Actually, the response I had was more like, 'Yea, whatever Miss.  No one is actually going to be looking at our work.'  I told them about David Truss and his science class wiki but they remained skeptical.

Then I pulled a fast one on them.  I embedded a cluster map onto the side bar of our Anthropology wiki and today, showed them that people from all over the world have visited!  Their faces said it all; buggy-eyed, mouths agape and then, 'Wow Miss that's actually cool!'  In a flash, the work they do and post on the wiki, has leaped into warp drive (Star Trek fan here - can you tell?) and through the worm hole of banal to brilliant.  They are accustomed to have friends from class see their work and leave comments but to have somebody from New Zealand, or Denmark looking at the wiki is mind-blowing.

Now how cool would it be if someone (other than teacher or classmate) read one of their blogs and left a comment!  The links to their blogs are on the side bar of the class wiki in case you are curious.  One can only hope...

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Enough Time

This post is an homage to my cousin Luc who lost his life this Thursday, October 27th.   His courage and skill helped save the lives of others.

In the surreal moments, in the aftermath of a sudden and tragic loss, I found myself staring at the clock and thinking about time, about him and the time he no longer has, about his new wife and their baby, about his parents and their broken hearts and simply frozen but the immensity of what this all means for those he left behind.  Let me never say that I have no time.   Let us remember that we have time enough for the really important things because that's all we ever really have.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Google Docs, Diigo and Debating

Everyone knows about Google docs.  I can hardly remember the last time I created a word document with Microsoft Word.  Google docs are my default now.
And maybe many people know about Diigo, the social bookmarking platform similar (but better) to Delicious.  Both of these tools (plus a wiki) are essential to my work and my learning.  I initiate as many students and teachers as possible to these platforms.  Google docs has simplified my work and Diigo has become my second search engine.

 Last year my philosophy students used these tools to plan and execute their debates.  Essentially, the research was bookmarked into our Diigo group and the arguments were built on a Google document.  Here were the steps:

1.  We decided on three topics; animal rights, euthanasia and taxation.

2.  We worked on the wording of the resolutions so that the issues were framed in moral categories.  For example, 'Be it resolved that taxation is theft'.  (I helped in the formulation of that one!)

3.  They formed teams of three.  I did not force my hand here and allowed them to self-organize.

4.  They chose which resolution they were interested in and then we flipped a coin to see which side they would debate.  I insisted on this because a critical thinker will be able to argue either side of the resolution, regardless of a personal perspective.

5.  Each student had to contribute two sources to the Diigo group I created for the class.  (I had previously taught the some basics about effective web searching and evaluating the credibility of web sites.  Here is the latest version of that lesson, improved upon by Alana King and others.)   Each contribution needed tags, highlighted text (the main idea of the article) and a sticky note that provided a several sentences describing the web site or text.  The purpose of this was twofold: a) I could check their sources and guide their research and b) the opposing team could guess about the nature of the argument their adversaries were building.  Using the comments feature, the students and I could 'talk' about the research and sources we were bookmarking.

6.  Then the students began building their arguments on a Google doc.  This enabled me to follow their thinking, watch them struggle with issues, comment on their work and guide them through the process.  I gave hints and help to both sides equally without revealing to either team where the opposing side was headed.

7.  I used the file history feature of Google docs to make sure that all students were participating in the work.  Sometimes when I entered the document to check up on them, I would surprise a student who was already on.  We used the chat function on Google docs to discuss issues and problems.  I really loved this part because it allowed a connection and opportunity for feedback that I can't get on the class wiki.

8.  When the debate day arrived, the students faced off with their Google docs open in front of them.  They used the chat window to communicate and plan refutations as they debate progressed.

It was a fabulous experience and I finally put it together in this video I hope you enjoy. (Some footage is jumpy and the quality is not the best but the point is to archive their work and this experience.)

The students were challenged to learn new tools and step out of familiar ways of operating to do something different.  I was not disappointed and once again, they reaffirmed by conviction that teachers honour their students when they expect them (and help them) to excel.

If you have ideas about how to improve upon this or just want to share how you use social media to animate learning in your class, please share here!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Relationships Trump Curriculums

September is the month when our recent grads come back to visit and tell us how they are doing in their new junior college.  Their stories resemble one another: "I was the only one who knew what the teacher was talking about!" or "I got the best mark in the class on my essay".  That's great and it reassures me that our curriculum is really preparing them for higher education, but that is only a small part of this story.  Why do they feel the need to return?  Are they boasting? (Maybe just a tad.)  Are they lonely for their old haunt?  (Only a few.)  My sense is that their need to return is a testimony to the importance of relationships in learning.

Think back to your own high school and junior college days and recollect the teachers who had the greatest impact on your life.  My hunch is that the relationship with these significant teachers was nourishing and probably provided sustained encouragement well into your adult years.

It's the relationship we remember more than the curriculum.  A few days ago, I received an email from a recent grad grappling with universal questions of meaning.  She must have enrolled in a philosophy course.  Maybe they were studying Nietzsche?  Whatever was happening in her life, she was, in her words, "thinking about death and feeling bad about it".  So she reached out to me in an email.

Philosophy for Teens 2011

Can you remember when you asked these same questions about life, meaning, and death?  We all do.  These are among the most important questions we ever ask and teachers have an important role in presenting these timeless issues.  Did you turn to a friend, an adult you trusted or did you keep it to yourself?

I have many answers and no answers for my student who looked to me for guidance.  I answered her questions, shared my own experiences and suggested several books for her.     But her instinct to reach out to her teacher and share her intimate questions about the world and her life to me, is better than gold.  This is the great beauty of teaching and learning; the relationship is the power that fuels both.  Relationships, not the curriculum, are what we remember about our schooling.  As teachers, we need to remember that when we rush to finish the unit, the book and the course.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

On Loss, Losers and Zealots

It has been almost two months since Alan November's  BLC11 conference in Boston.      Since then, I have consistently returned to Rob Evan's advice to the audience of tech-zealots for how to understand the resistant teacher.  (You know the one. No descriptions are necessary.)

 Here is a brief and embarrassingly insufficient summary.

   Human beings are deeply ambivalent towards change.  We love what is new but cling to our safe routines.  Many teachers have swallowed their hopes of finding satisfaction and meaning in their career.  They hate what is there but they also reject change.  Loss and bereavement is what the resistant teacher feels when confronted with the necessity of change.  Technology, in their perspective, devalues their work (personal notes, lectures, years of experience) and makes them feel unimportant.  So, their sense of loss and bereavement is completely normal.  Add to this, the confusion and general unsettled work atmosphere when technology is added to the mix.  (The darn stuff never works the first time around and often fails at critical moments!  Even the tech geeks can become infuriated.)  As if that were not enough, (always from the perspective of the resistant teacher) the introduction of technology creates winners and losers; those who 'get the tech' are winners and those who don't are the losers.

I have thought about this a great deal and I admit, Rob Evans is spot on in his observations.  It's true that loss and grief are normal reactions that might be experienced by many.  It's also true that technology can increase confusion and possibly even create divisions where none existed before.  I hope that I have become, as a result of considering his advice, a more understanding 'coach' with an inner disposition of calm despite emotional outbursts (not mine) and difficult situations.

I understand that we learn in different ways and for different reasons.  I appreciate the fear that technology can provoke in some people.  And then I think of my mother, Luci, who at 78 years of age began to learn how to surf the web and manage her files on the laptop her children bought her for Christmas.  She is the model learner in my books; independent, insatiably curious, and excited about her learning.  Luci takes great pride in learning how to do something by herself and then showing me her accomplishment.  She learns for the sheer joy (there's that Shareski word again - read his essay here) of it.

And then there are the students; you know, the ones who sit in our classrooms  and politely (or not) accept our mediocrity, who put up with our stale stencils and ideas from years past, and who don't complain when we ask them to 'power down' because we don't get the tech.  That's when the wise advice from Rob Evans begins to fade into the background and my ire creeps into the foreground.  Why should our students, who have the tools to fly, be forced to walk with cement boots?   Who are the real losers here?  How difficult is it to learn some small web 2.0 tool and integrate it in a meaningful way to help the students collaborate and connect so their learning can become authentic?  How long, oh, how long, must our students wait?  We are past the first decade into the 21st century.  Technology in our classrooms and pedagogy should be invisible by now, like the air we breath and the enthusiasm we exude.  Yes, I'm a zealot and I hope you will become one too.   So, almost two months after Rob Evans, and much consideration, I have returned to my previous position.  It's about the students and not our comfort zone.  If you don't know the tech, then learn it.  Get them to show you.  Become learners with them and see how much fun you'll have.  

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Going Beyond Key Words

Wordle: Effective Web SearchingLast week I asked my senior students how many of them entered a question into Google's query box.  Almost all the hands shot up.  Then I asked them how many used other search engines.  A few of them mentioned 'Ask Jeeves'.  It was clear that after four years of high school, most of my students only used Google and had not mastered search techniques beyond basic key words (which would have been an improvement over framing the query as a question).

Learning how to find relevant information and developing the ability to evaluate the credibility of the sources are perhaps the two important skills that our students need. This is basic information literacy and it needs to be taught and reinforced by all educators; not just in one class and by one teacher.  That said, it would still be an improvement if it were taught at all.  My worry is that teachers assume their students know how to search for relevant information.  It seems that many have not yet learned this important literacy.

I am offering this easy reference sheet for teachers who don't have the time to learn all the cool tips and tricks for efficient web searching.  This is a Google document that anyone can edit.  I am certain that many people will have lots of great ideas to add to this open document.  Click here to read what I have begun, add your contribution or simply share it with a colleague.  Send it around and let's see what we can build.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Thinking About Plato

Plato taught that 'evil' was the lack of knowledge of the 'good'. I love to ask my students this question:
"If we KNOW that smoking kills (fumer tue), why do we persist, even until death?"
Sent from my iPhone

Luci learning web surfing skills


Here is one of my favourite pictures of my mother, Luci.  I use her as an example when I talk to my students about being a life-long, autonomous learner.  Luci has the tenacity of a pitt bull and will spend HOURS trying to find the answer to a question before asking me for help.  She gets excited about what she learns and is always ready for more.  The laptop was her Christmas gift for 2010.  Yesterday she learned how to text on her (very outdated) LG cell phone.  She is always willing to be my guinea pig when I need to test run something.  Last year she skyped into one of my classes and my students asked her about her new laptop adventures.  Luci rocks!

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Philosophy for Teens Goes Public

For the past three years, I have had the immense good fortune to indulge in my heart's desire - and be paid for it!  The Philosophy for Teens course was launched in 2008 as a trial options course at my school.  The initial registration of only eight students quickly rose to eighteen enabling me to run the course.  (As a private high school, our students benefit from our very small class sizes - 21 students!) The first year was intense and oh so very satisfying.  We created memories and bonds that many alumni still talk about.  After this initial experience, I wondered if a repeat performance would be possible with the next group in 2009.  I felt like a woman about to birth her second child.  How can any love match what we feel for the first child?  (Actually, I have only one child so I'm really imagining on this score!)
Read the footnote to learn about the story of the red rucksack

That following year's cohort was simply amazing!  They were eager, funny, insecure at first, bold and daring afterwards and they loved to challenge me!  They took immense pride in presenting their work and their projects provoked misty eyes and standing ovations by the class.  Many of the conversations in class continued beyond the bricks of mortar of the school as they blogged, used the class wiki and followed one another (and me) on Twitter.  Some of them even skyped into the class from a vacation spot in Florida!

Last year's class was also very special in their own way.  They were willing guinea pigs and tried out new ways to communicate, collaborate and produce work together.  My most special moment is the debate they prepared using Diigo and Google docs.

Towards the end of the course, I asked them how they felt about going public.  I told them about David Truss' surprise when he realized the global traffic that their grade 8 science wiki was getting.  I expressed my desire to share our wiki with the world as well as some of my concerns.  They looked back at me with that 'look' that only a teenager can master; "What's the big deal? Whatever."  To them, it was a non issue and so I decided that I would offer this wiki to the world.

To say that I am proud of my students is an understatement.  I showcase their work from other social science courses here but this is my special offering today: Philosophy for Teens.  This is the wiki that houses our work.  This is our living book.  I think of it as a cake with layers, each one revealing the flavour of our conversations and work from that particular year.  Unfortunately, some of their wonderful words are hidden because only the last year's students gave permission.  The students from 2008 and 2009 are alumni and it would be time consuming to track them down.

I hope that this wiki is useful for teachers and encourage them to ask the big questions with their students.  I especially hope that some teenagers will find this wiki interesting and might want to join it.  One thing is certain; the students who take this course beginning in January of 2012 will give another flavour to this living book that we are writing together.

* One day I sauntered into class sporting my red rucksack.  I ignored their stares and began to speak about beliefs, how they are formed, why they are so hard to change, how some limiting and others liberating.  For maximum drama, I slowly removed the rucksack, untied the strings and began to examine its "contents"; objects that symbolized our most cherished beliefs about ourself and the world.  I had no idea how powerful that lesson was for them.  (They still talk about the red rucksack!)  That is why we adopted the red rucksack as the symbol for homepage of this wiki.)

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Asking Big Questions

Earlier this month I blogged about being touched by the words of Rob Fisher and Dean Shareski at  the UnPlug'd Canadian Education Summit.  Since then, the wonderful people responsible for translating the powerful stories and collective learning from this weekend experience have been working hard at producing, one chapter at a time, our UnPlug'd ebook.

 Chapter one, "The Change We Need" begins with Shelly Wrights' amazing story of a fundraising experience that changed her, her students from Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan and the students in Uganda who benefited from their efforts.  For me, Shelly sets a new standard for taking courageous directions into uncharted territory in education.

Chapter two, "Voices and Choices" begins with Bryan Jackson's story of integrating the tumult of the recent political upheavals in Egypt into teaching the history of Louis Riel. Listening to him tell the story of how his students struggled with questions of 'truth' and 'pespective' in life and in history was inspiring. His voice and writings are powerful and eloquent.  Take some time to read his blog and share it with other teachers.

Chapter three, "Shift Disturbing" begins with me sharing a personal story about why asking big questions matters in education.  I am deeply honoured that my story was chosen to feature chapter three as I am a small fish in a very big pond of truly amazing educators.  (I was not going to publish this blog post but my mother and a friend urged on.  Who wouldn't listen to their mother?)

Please stay tuned the UnPlug'd Vimeo channel and the website to enjoy the upcoming essays and videos.  Share this with your friends, especially other teachers so that we can talk about what really matters in education.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Thinking of Jack Layton

Jack Layton Portrait by DevinAJohnston
Jack Layton Portrait, a photo by DevinAJohnston on Flickr.
My friend Mitch Wapen who loves to write limericks sent this to me today with this picture of Jack Layton:

"When I learned of Jack's demise, it hit me like a brick.
I KNEW that he had cancer, but not how very sick.
"Le bon Jack" in Quebec,
was given a blank cheque...
to make the country more like him,
without his walking stick."

It's not a sonnet, not even a homage; only a glimpse into how two ordinary Canadians (Mitch is an honorary Canadian!) are thinking and speaking about Jack Layton on this sad day.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Einstein in Your Classroom

One of the best things I did this summer (apart from participating in the unique Canadian educational summit, Unplug'd) was to listen to almost all of Dr. Virgina Campbell's episodes of the Brainsciencepodcast.  I recommend this podcast to anyone who is interested in understanding the brain and I urge teachers to listen because it will give them rich insight into their students.  (For example, this episode explain the neuroscience of why we 'choke' and 'freeze' before a big exam or performance.)

Dr. Campbell, is an emergency room physician with an abiding interest in neuroscience, philosophy of mind and the area where those two connect.  She reads books about the brain and interviews their author, making the material 'layperson friendly'.  Most of her title choices are accessible and interesting, even for a non-neuroscienctist.  A friend told me about this podcast in mid June and since then, I have listened to at least one a day; most often on morning walks with my mini Schnauzer.  I am up to episode #63 - of 75!

Today I listened with interest to an interview with Dr. Bainbridge, the author of Teenagers: A Natural History.  He explained the neurological basis for much teenager behaviour that can be challenging for some parents and teachers: the inability to wake up in the morning, the intense need for friends, the seeming lack of inhibitions and risk taking behaviour.  Some of what I heard was not new to me: the teenage brain actually 'shrinks' (relative to the prepubescent one) because it is engaged in a necessary 'pruning' of unnecessary synapses.  The brain works by the 'use it or lose it' principle and will eliminate synapses that have been abundantly overproduced in early childhood.  I was surprised to hear Dr. Brainbridge talk about how little impact hormones actually has on the teenage brain!  (You'll have to listen to that one and see what you think.)

But this is what really caught my attention, my heart and is the reason for this blog post. Dr. Bainbridge maintains that the teenage brain is intensely creative.  This is his description from the episode transcript:
Many of the great human flights of creativity that have really made the difference to us, I think have often been based on ideas which people have had when they were teenagers. I don’t think they could necessarily exploit them fully when they were teenagers, because they didn’t have enough experience or skill yet.
People like Einstein, many writers, many artists, although they didn’t necessarily produce the work when they were teenagers, would often hark back to ideas or thoughts that they’d had when they were teenagers. So, the teenage creativity, I think, is very important, even though they often don’t seem to do anything tangible with it.
His words resonated deeply for me.  I have long been convinced of this part of the teenage psyche and their creative insights and work is in no short supply from my vantage point.  (Part of my reason for becoming a teacher was rooted in my own transformational and creative experiences as a teenager which I shared with my Unplug'd participants and will be released soon in chapter 3.)

Teachers reading this blog post will not need to be convinced of the creative teen sitting in their classroom.  They have tons of experience in that arena.  So why do I write this?  What's the point of 'preaching to the choir'?  Simply because this book gives us good science to support why the teaching of 21st skills is absolutely critical.  I do not suggest that science is the sole legitimizer of pedagogical practice and policy.    But I am using this author and his findings to impress upon teachers the importance of using technology to truly leverage the naturally creative thinker in their classroom.

To honour our students' creativity is essential and even, imperative, given the teacher's privileged access to the teenage mind.  This might mean more than giving students several options in the essay topics we assign.  This might actually mean giving up some control, moving over a tad, and letting them design their own learning, using the tools of their choice, after you have co-constructed a rubric of what evidence of learning might look like.  (A topic best suited for another post.)

 I encourage every teacher who reads this blog to pass on Dr. Bainbridge's name and his book title (as well as Dr. Campbell's Brainsciencepodcast to those teachers who consistently pass up on opportunities to infuse their teaching with web 2.0 tools, who hand out the same stencils year after year, and who have a golden opportunity to be the catalyst in some teenager's creative moment of insight that might only express itself years later.

If you don't have the time to listen to the podcast, you might want to quickly look over the show transcript.  I know that I am not alone in my conviction that under the surface of that teenage face, lies great possibilities.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Unplugging Joy

This past weekend (Aug 5-7), an amazing event happened; thirty-seven Canadian educators came together in an idyllic, off-the-grid location to share thoughts about what really matters in education.

from Cleversheep's flickr stream
Unplug’d Canadian Education Summit was a ‘conference’ like no other:  no hotel conference halls, plastic nametags or workshop schedules here; just nature in all her summer splendor and intelligent, caring educators with important things to say about education in Canada.  Each participant came with a short essay (that will be available as an e-book shortly so stay tuned) and a personal story that explained the “________” in our prompt, “Why __________ matters in education”. For many, these essays were torturous to write.  How can I express what matters most to me in 250 words?  How can the ‘guts’ of an entire teaching career fit on one page?  The secret was in the story and the conversations that ensued from our shared stories. 

It makes complete sense when you think about it.  Our stories communicate the essence of who we are, what we have lived and our most cherished values.  They are tiny vessels of highly concentrated meaning packaged in metaphor, drama and emotions.  A good story is like a strong farm horse; it goes a long way and gets the job done.  So as I reflect on this past weekend, their stories will resonate for me well into this upcoming school year.   I learned so much but I will remember one story especially.

Rob Fisher shared this as we wrapped up the weekend Sunday morning.  He reflected on his wife’s parting words to him as she dropped him at the airport; “Have fun with your geeky friends!”   How was he going to describe to her exactly who we really were?   These people were much more than techno geeks!  I listened to his words and answered his wife with my own thoughts; “I met incredible educators with huge hearts!”  Rob paused a second, put his hand to his head and said, “I met people who care so much about education that it hurts.”  How did he do that?  How did he reach inside my head and pull those words right out of my thoughts? I felt exposed; I hid my face in my hands and (uncharacteristically) released the tears that had been hiding all weekend long; tears of frustration and hurt from years of feeling disconnected; tears of joy at having found my small place in an amazing community of real people who care, just like me.   In one second, in a flash, Rob’s story encapsulated not only the entire weekend but also the ‘guts’ of Unplug’d.  Thirty-seven educators came together, investing considerable resources to talk about what matters in education.  We spoke about curriculum, parents, power, politics, successes, failures and especially students learning.  We spoke about our hopes for the future and how we might ‘carry this forward’ (Darren Kuropatwa's words)so others could benefit from the tremendous community we began building.

Dean Shareski spoke about joy.  Learning is, after all, an experience of joy.  (I wonder about the neuroscience of this and the neurotransmitters responsible for this feeling of joy when we connect ideas and experience.)  When we learn, we instantly feel ‘bigger’ than whom we were one second ago.   Educators have a privileged position of vicariously participating in that joy; and that brings us our own special joy.  So Monday morning, feeling a bit sad at the sudden disconnect from the intensity of these new connections, I found myself re-reading students’ letters of gratitude and love from years gone by.  I reached for that green folder because I remembered Dean’s message about honouring joy.  Their letters reminded me of how one caring educator can make all the difference in a child’s life.  All I did was listen.  All they wanted was for someone to care.  Years later, their gratitude still morphs into my joy and reminds me that I am exactly where I want to be in my life, doing exactly what I’m supposed to be doing but now, my community of caring educators has grown considerably. 

If these words have resonated with you, please leave me a comment and please visit Unplug’d so that you may see for yourself the faces of educators who care and listen to our stories when the book is published.  You can participate in this community of educators and help us to bring JOY forward this year. In a short time we will be back at school.  If this fills you with dread or sadness, go find your 'green folder' and remember how important you are to somebody who needs to see you light up with joy because learning is better than drugs, because growing is cool and especially because it forges a lifetime of irreplaceable and priceless meaning.  

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Summer Learning

Summer vacations are prime learning time.  I can leisurely explore ideas, test new tools and read books I never have time to truly sink my teeth into during the school year.  Of course I do all that good "summer stuff" like biking, roller blading, Spring cleaning (I hate cleaning) and just hanging out, but I always set aside a special project (or two) for my prime time learning.

Daryl and Adora Svitak at LCEEQ Montreal
This summer I have my sights set on two cool events; one is known and the other is a mystery.  The former is Alan November's  BLC (Building Learning Communities) 2011 conference in Boston.  Last year's was great!  It is such a thrill to meet, in the flesh, people whose tweets and blog posts are a regular part of your week.  I met Adora Svitak there (and again this February when she came to LCEEQ in Montreal).  I was completely awed by Michael Wesch.  He was engaging, authentic and completely honest.  (You can listen to his keynote, thanks to Alan November's efforts on Vimeo.)  Of course there were other great presenters, like Dean Shareski, Darren Kuropatwa (click for his presentation slides) and Brad Ovenell Carter.

The other conference, though it's not really a conference but more like a gathering, will assembly Canadian educators who work for change at the grass roots level.  This unusual education summit is not happening in one of our fabulous cities but in Algonquin Park in Northern Ontario.  The site looks fabulous and the people attending will surely be committed educators, such as yourself!  It's called  UnPlug'd and just the idea of being able to hang out with other teachers/thinkers/change agents, under the pines and in a canoe is really exciting.  When I shared this with a friend recently, he said, "You, unplugged? Impossible!"  We might be off-the-grid and so unplugged (temporarily) from the web but we will be plugged into something else equally exciting - the desire to improve education for the sake of the kids.  It's always about learning and that always brings us (me) back to them.  

So I'm really hyped.  This summer will be good.  Maybe I'll see you in Boston?

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Teaching is Sharing

This is the busiest time of the year for me, and for many of you as well.  We finish marking, report the results, attend grad ceremonies, say good bye to our nearly-adult grads, and for me, prepare for intensive days of professional development!  I began this year with two objectives: 1st- to enlist as many teachers onto the Campus wiki (PB works) as possible, and 2nd, to get teachers to SHARE!    As for the first objective, I will give myself a passing grade, but only barely.  We have achieved 52% user penetration on our campus wiki.  I know my boss would be thrilled but I can`t help but feel that with a wee bit more of enthusiasm, we could have easily enlisted a 75% or 80% usage.  As for the second, well, that is a 'work in progress', let's say.  So far, I am the only one who uses social bookmarking but after this week, I hope to change that.

If you have not yet seen Dean Shareski's keynote for the 2010 K-12 Online, then you must take the time to listen and think about what he says.  He pulls the audience into his message slowly with the expertise of a sexy Latin dancer and then, before you know it, your heart is palpitating as you rack your conscience with questions like, "Am I sharing enough?"  Shareski builds a solid argument that might convince those with the greatest "But they`ll steal my stuff!" phobias.

So I built a Prezi and armed it with Shareski magic and lots of images.  Here it is for you to enjoy and comment on, hopefully!  Time will tell if it helps me turn the tide.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Go for the Flow, Not with the Flow

This post is an open letter to all graduates of the class of 2011.
I have been training for a while, mostly in the gym but lately outdoors.  I love to run and have set my sights on a half marathon in September.  Anyone who runs can appreciates the enormous difference between training on a treadmill and actually beating the pavement outside.  Sometimes I get discouraged and recently began to doubt my ability to meet the challenge I set for myself.  “If you can’t cut it, you can always downgrade to a 10K run.  That’s pretty good too; especially for someone my age!”  This is an example of the inner chatter that fills my thoughts.
Runners Den Classic Road Race 2010 - Middle of the Packphoto © 2010 Dru Bloomfield | more info (via: Wylio)

Today I decided to silence the chatter and set my sights high.  OK – 10K, here I come.  I grabbed my iPhone, opened up my Runmeter app, selected my favorite playlist and set off.  As I looped and lapped around the park in the heart of Montreal, passing runners much younger and more efficient than me, my thoughts turned to the hopeful faces of the students who delivered their valedictorian addresses to the committee of teachers charged with the difficult task of picking the winner.  In just a few minutes, they tried to wrap up five years of physical, mental, emotional and spiritual growth that will forge their futures.  I loved their earnest energies and their words gave me goose bumps. 
I brought my thoughts back to the present and focused on my lungs and legs as the voice on my Runmeter app informed me of my pace, time and distance.  Lungs…good.  Legs….hmmm…getting tight.  “Go for the flow”, I tell myself.  Reduce speed (not that it was fast!) and focus on distance; reach for that flow zone where running is your happy place.  I reviewed, in my mind, the psychology class this week where I introduced Mihalyi Cskiszentmihalyi’s idea of flow and the psychology of optimal experiences.  My students call this ‘the zone’; my dad used to call it his ‘laughing place’.

We all have experienced these moments when time slips away and we lose ourselves to the present moment.  Skill level and challenge are perfectly matched in a sublime dance of joy and grace that marks the moment in our minds.  “I can do this”, I tell myself.  And I do.  Mission accomplished!  My first 10K run this year (OK, actually in a few years).   But better than that, is the memory of ‘flow running’.  The challenge I set was a perfect match for the skill level.  Cskiszentmihalyi tells his readers that if the challenge is inferior to the skill, we risk boredom or apathy.  Set the challenge beyond the abilities and you will only create anxiety and worry.  The trick is to realistically appraise your skill and then push the envelope just a bit as you set your challenge.  Cskiszentmihalyi recommends that we operate at the very edge of our comfort zone; this way we are always challenging ourselves to grow in skill and ability.
So, dear ‘soon-to-be graduates’ of 2011, may your future be filled with challenges and may your hearts have the courage to meet them.  Some moments will be grace-filled with flow; others will run the gamete of ordinary, disappointing, scary, and exciting and the list goes on.  Remember that the task is not to go with the flow but go for the flow; that way you will never disappoint yourself and have wonderful memories of your own to cherish as you try to run your own races in the different stages of your lives.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

YouTube on Power Point Presentations

Last week a teacher asked me how to get a YouTube video on her power point.  She did not want a link but the embedded video.  Here are two easy ways to accomplish this.

1- For 2007 ppt, make sure you have the 'developer tab' enabled.  If it isn't, click on the office button, scroll down and at the bottom, click on 'power point options' which will open up another window where you have to put a check mark in the 'show developer tab in ribbon' box.  Once that is done, navigate to the slide where you want the video to be and from the developer tab, click on the icon of a hammer and wrench in the controls tab.  This will open up another window where you will scroll down to 'shockwave flash object' to select that and click OK.  Navigate back to the slide and left click on it anywhere.  This will insert the frame in which the YouTube video will play, but first you have to right click, go to 'properties' and from there, copy paste the url of the video you want into the field 'movie'.  Easy enough.  Now, remove the watch?v= and replace it with v/.  You are almost done.  On that same properties page, click on 'loop' and look over to the far right where you should see a tiny drop down menu.  Change the 'true' value to 'false' by clicking on the small arrow and selecting 'false'.  Do the same for 'playing'.  Now close that window, go back to your slide and check to make sure the video will play by clicking on the full screen icon on the bottom right.

The other option is to navigate to and follow his excellent instructions for how to have a permanent add on button on your power point ribbon.

You can look at this video to see how.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Model Good Digital Citizenship

After a discussion in the staff room with a teacher about the importance of teaching students (and teachers) about using copy free images and music, I decided to put together a quick and dirty list of my favorites sites. So here they are in no special order:

1. Wylio (gives an embed code and this is good for web pages like wikis.)
2. Flickr
Super Schnauzers3. Flickr storm (it is similar to Flickr but returns more results and with an embed code)
4. FlickrCC
5. Google images (with the advanced search for the Creative Commons license
6. Wiki Media Commons
7. FindIcons
8. Photos8
9. Compfight
10. Smithsonian Images

As teachers, we must model the behaviour we want our students to learn and so by showing them your repertoire of sites you visit to find "just the perfect image", as well as citing its source, you are teaching a powerful lesson about integrity and creative commons. The days of searching on Google or Bing for images with little or no care for their license are gone. There are many more wonderful sites for public domain photos that you and your students should have no trouble finding what you need. I like to introduce this idea of citing your image source when talking about plagiarism. In the same way they would cite the source for their text, they should cite the source for their images and music. (My favorite site for royalty free music is FreePlayMusic because it indexes music by both instrument and mood!)

You can turn this into a class activity and see how many sites the students can find by using a variety of key words such as "public domain" or "creative commons" and then the + sign to add other terms such as "museum" or "nature", according to your search parameters. Remember that museums, libraries and public archives are great places to start hunting for public domain images. In this activity, it would be a good idea to go to the Creative Commons site and learn about the different licenses. Students should know about the difference between a simple attribution license (allows others to use the work, remix, remake, distribute, and tweak but as long as they credit the source) to the more complicated attribution+non-commercial+non-derivative (the most restrictive). This will also encourage them to use a license of their choice on their own work that they post on the web.

Teachers modeling good digital citizenship encourages students to do the same. Of course, you can always grab your camera and take your own pictures!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

My Dad, Roger Ebert and Finding Your Voice

If you haven't listened to Roger Ebert's talk on TED, "Remaking My Voice", then take a few minutes and listen to video posted below - I guarantee nineteen minutes well spent. Even if you don't have time for the entire video, just a few minutes will help you think about this critical idea: you have a responsibility to yourself, your community and to this exact moment in history to make your voice heard.

Roger Ebert's story, told by his friends and a computer voice named Alex is, for me, hauntingly gripping. I have been able to think of little else since I first saw this a few days ago. My father lived through the cancer that Ebert is recovering from now. In 1994, he was diagnosed with mouth cancer. A horrendous twelve and one half hour operation where surgeons performed almost the same operation as on Ebert, left him unable to make the smallest of sounds, swallow or even smell food. To say it was devastating is a gross understatement. My father was a tall, good looking man who used his voice and 'larger than life' personality, to whip life and people into shape to do his bidding. After the cancer and the operation, he was left weakened, withered and silenced.

During his long convalescence, we shared many very important 'conversations'. I spoke and he wrote. (This was 1994, before the laptops and computer generated voices that helped Ebert.) Sometimes, just to tease, he would write without vowels and expect me to understand his sentences. "What's the problem?", he teased. "It's just like ancient Hebrew!" One day he told me that he felt "resurrected", a new man with an opportunity to live in a new way. (He lived for seven more years after that.) The loss of his voice brought a new ability; listening. He became more receptive and empathetic to others.

I share this story with my readers not because of the similar operations both men had but because of the similar life lessons they learned. Our voice, the physical one that emanates from our larynx with the help of our tongue, and the abstract one created by stringing together words and ideas, is core to our identity. Both men lost their physical ability to speak and both realized the power of their voice in the world.

As Ebert shared his experiences, he referred to other TED speakers who had gone before him that week; Sal Khan whose ambition is to teach the world with Khan Academy and David Christian who tells the very BIG story of the history of life on Earth and the Goldilocks conditions that create complexity on the planet. What a contrast Ebert gives us; one man's voice against the backdrop of global education and universal complexity! But what a perfect opportunity to learn about the meaning of one voice; your own.

The memory of my father's tragedy (because the cancer claimed his life in 2002) and Ebert's reflections on the meaning of voice and identity have created a 'perfect storm' in me this week culminating in this blog post that is a poor attempt to express my deepest conviction: to teach is to help students find their voice, and in accomplishing that, I express my own. My success is tied to theirs; my voice must support theirs. We live in a time where expression and communication, so bewitchingly simple, is seemingly taken for granted. SMS, cell phones, instant voice and visual communications is the life blood of this time. Against the backdrop of the amazing array of communication mediums, I remind myself that one voice, even the small soft ones, counts and that as educators, our job is to help these voices find expression.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Creative Commons Pictures and the Wiki

It is important to teach students (and teachers) about how to find pictures with a creative commons license.  In the same way that students need to learn how not to plagiarize, they need to learn about how to find creative commons pictures.  To that end, I put together a quick video featuring Flickr storm (but could have also used Wylio as well) and giving simple instructions for how to embed those images on our class wiki.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Books in the Ditch of the New Media Landscape

I believe in maximizing my learning time so I listen to podcasts whenever I can.  Today I took the dog out for a long stroll and listened to Michael Wesch's keynote (New Media Environments) at the recent Educause conference in Chicago.  Michael Wesch is a professor of Anthropology at Kansas State University who has some very famous videos on YouTube here and here.  I had the good fortune to hear him speak last year in Boston at Allan November's Building Learning Communities conference.  I admire his innovative work with the students.  He might say that he  is only harnessing the collective intelligence in front of him (large lecture hall) and responding to John Dewey's question, "If students learn doing, then what are learning sitting there?".

In his keynote, he addresses several converging issues facing teachers who know that the old ways are simply not working.  He has such a gift for translating complex issues into simple and compelling bite-size morsels.  For example, "we need to prepare students to be knowledge-able instead of knowledgeable".  This is not just semantics but an existential shift.  In this media  landscape with the sum total of the world's knowledge available to us, why are schools focused on creating knowledgeable students when what will serve the student is a lived experience of being knowledge-able?  Education is not about the transfer of content (with new fancy technologies so we feel cool about the sparkle of the transfer process) but about how these young students will examine, question, create and re-create the world that they inherit from us.  Most teachers know that - I think.

He also spoke about the other face of this new media landscape;global connectivity brings both new opportunities for collaboration and surveillance, for deep connection to people (virtually anywhere) and for alienation and isolation, for participation in democracy as well as mindless distraction.  He tells us that technology is more than a neutral tool; it is also a mediator of human relationships.

As I thought about those contrasting possibilities, I came across an unusual sight - several boxes of hard-covered books.  When I looked closer, I saw that they were an encyclopedia set of Canadian History published in 1937.  Hidden in the corners were several smaller greenish books; one with the title of "How to Excel at Public Speaking" and another at using wit and humour.  I was struck at the loneliness I felt for those books.  The public library was directly in front of these discarded books.  Their heartless owner did not even take the time to donate them.  A part of me wanted to scoop them up and save these beautiful ruby history books from the ravages of weather and indifference, but I did not.  I walked away from those beauties of yesteryear leaving a spotted trail of uncertain guilt and melancholy.  I have books of my own that I have loved for years and years.  I would never put them out to the curb; not even in this heady new media landscape.   

The choices in front of teachers are not print versus digital, content versus process (in learning), knowledge acquisition verses skill building but more about a shift of the learning and teaching bodies on this new landscape that includes all these possibilities.  Michael Wesch collaborates with his students and teaches them.
 " I still maintain that I'm the most experienced in the bunch — the expert learner, the expert researcher. But the students also have skills to bring to the table, and it's important to recognize those." - A Sense of Purpose on Educause.
Educators must include the students in the design of these new learning environments or, like the sadly discarded books, risk curb-side irrelevance.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

So What Am I Good For?

Today's anthropology class with my grade 11 students was 'interesting'.  The topic was 'collapsing societies' and before sharing the TED talk with Jared Diamond, (author of Guns, Germ & Steel), I wanted the students to wrestle with the idea first.  In order to block their default response (go to Google/YouTube and look for the answer) I asked them to jot down some ideas on paper first.  The looks on their faces was priceless.   "Paper? Miss, are you OK?  Hey Miss, I don't have paper or even a pen!"  (We've been mostly painlessly paperless this year.)  But they found the necessary implements and after a few minutes, we generated an impressive list of possible reasons for why societies collapse, including examples to support our hypothesis.  Half way through the TED video, I paused to explain the idea Diamond presented and then the conversation began to amble its way into the 'not exactly on topic but great conversation' area.  That's when I heard this.

My student, Corey, said, "Students learn most outside of school".  Say what?  Say that again?  He did.  I asked him to give me examples and explain what he meant, but of course he knew full well that I understood (and agreed with) him. They had just completed their Personal Learning Network assignment where they provide a screen recording (posted on the class wiki) of the tools they use to become independent learners.
From Dean Shareski's photostream on Flickr

So I asked him, "Then what am I good for if you learn so well outside of school and don't need me."  He replied, "Teachers are the tour guides and the students fill in."  (By 'fill in' he meant take responsibility for learning.)  But here comes the best part...Corey continued to say (by now he was really on a roll and had everyone's attention), "Teachers have to get over the fact that they don't know everything and that they can learn from their students."  By now, everyone else is getting involved and coming up with interesting metaphors for the role of teachers and students; coach, game show host, and on it went!  (I guess they think I'm entertaining.)  Corey added, "We want to feel like we are talking to one of our friends" and Leigh said, "We shouldn't be afraid of our teachers".

On days like today, I feel like the luckiest person in the world, even if I do have report cards staring me down.   My spirits were lifted by their candid comments and insightful observations.  I was not threatened by their comments because I feel comfortable in my educational coach role.  I want to engage students in deep understanding of issues.  I want to provoke discussion and show them that they are smart enough to figure things out for themselves; and when they do, I know that I've done my job - for today.

Next time I go to class, I think I'll go prepared to record that conversation.  I've been 'threatening' to turn our classroom discussions into podcasts.  I think the time has come!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Four Goals for Teachers

I just watched an interview with Alan November on, a virtual community for educational leaders and reformers.  Alan has a way of reminding us of the 'big picture' that I find reassuring.  Here's an example: there are times when I feel overwhelmed by the new web 2.0 tools and applications I find daily.  (People who know me will find that one hard to believe, but it's true!)  How can anybody possibly keep up with all the new web 2.0 goodies out there?  Hopefully teachers have support, in the guise of an Ed Tech person, some time available for professional development where they can try out new things and, the most important ingredient, the desire to improve teaching strategies so technology is seamless in their classrooms.  

Alan November reminded me that it's not about the technology.  Really.  I know that.  The technology is the tool that I need to align my 'teaching' with the big picture; their learning.  He reminded me of four goals that I gave myself a while back and I'd like to share with you.  If I can remember these goals, then the worry about keeping up with the technology is mitigated by the bigger picture of achieving these goals.  He's right on when he says that students need to:

1.  deal with massive amounts of information
2.  connect their learning and produce content for an authentic audience
3.  establish global connections and develop global empathy
4.  be self-directed in their learning

I was in that audience!
I have heard him speak before.  He was in Montreal in 2009 and I attended the BLC 2010 conference in Boston.  (It's expensive but if you can get funding, it's worth every cent!)  I remember hearing him speak of these four goals and thinking to myself, "Yea, I know that one!  Yup, that's true.  Yea, that looks like me."

I try hard to improve my teaching and I'm not afraid to wade into unknown waters.  My students, (bless them) are used to being 'guinea pigs' and understand that the classroom is where we try new things.  But every once in a while, I have to step back and remember the big picture.  Everything we do, all the content we teach, assessments we design and conversations that we have with them should support the bigger picture: their future as citizens in a world we can only imagine, darkly, through a glass.  We can't be sure that most of  the content we teach will be relevant in a few years, but we surely know that if we coach them on autonomy, mastery and authenticity, as outlined by Alan's four goals, we've got to be on the right track.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Loving TED

If you are like many teachers I know, is one of your favorite spots on the web for "brain juicing" and creative muscle flexing.  I first started using TED for my own learning but quickly brought the best ones into the classroom and by now, they are an integral part of my social science courses.  Maybe you have already found Jackie Gerstein's wiki, Teaching with TED, or this invaluable directory of every TED talk ever given!

TED talks have a certain magic to them; they're inspirational, educational and can be transformational.  When my students listen to Isabel Allende speak of passion or Adora Svitak remind students that their voices count, they are deeply moved and dare to dream of what might be possible for them.  Adora says it well: you have to first dream of something before you can realize it.

If this resonates with you, then head over to and listen to the mash up of past TED speakers on the subject dear to all our hearts; education.  If you are moved by that, then scroll down and fill out the form indicating your interest in participating in the "TED-ED Brain Trust" (click on the chevrons to get to the form).  Who knows where it can lead?  Jump in and add your voice. I just did.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Transformational Blogging

PS22 is the dynamite choir from New York that sang at the Oscar's last Sunday night.

 I stumbled upon this choir and their incredible teacher last year when I was looking for lyrics to Stevie Nicks' Landslide for a lesson on the power of metaphor put to music.  (It was my third post as a new blogger where I reflected on reasons why teachers use technology in the classroom: for the connections it makes possible.)  I will never forget the impact that hearing these voices had on my grade 10 students.  As I reflect on this now,  I understand that these young voices resonated with my students so deeply not only because of the magic of music but also because they were an example of what can be achieved when they world listens to your voice.  Read the testimonies of the artists who are touched by this choir and you will see the power the young voice has to make a difference.  I showed everyone I knew this video and soon, my colleagues and I were following the amazing journey of Mr. B and his incredible kids.

Their successes have been simply breathtaking.  This teacher's seemingly simple decision to blog about his class and publish their voices for the world to  hear is one of the best reasons I know to connect your classroom and students to social media.  Something transformational happens when students (and teachers!) write, create and share for an authentic audience.  In this instance, the young artists of PS22 are not the only benefactors; it seems that adults are profoundly moved by their voices and the hope that this new generation represents.

It is simply amazing what kids can do.  Connect them to a real audience and help them find a 'real' voice.  Thanks to Mr. B for sharing these voices with the world.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Not All Hard Work

Today was the annual carnival and the students went skiing and tubing.  Honestly, I didn't feel festive or even like relaxing.  I've got work piling up and too many things left undone.  The slide presentation from the Feb 14th LCEEQ conference where I presented "Connected Students, Connected Teachers" still doesn't have any audio. I have lots of little video projects unfinished and other loose ends that never seem to get 'tied up' until June 30th.

Long lists and unfinished work aside, I dressed for a day of snow fun and headed to the hills with the kids and my colleagues.  It was the best thing I've done in long while.  The welcome momentary relief from the city brought a measure of peace I didn't know I needed.  Colleagues were able to sit and talk with one another about our lives beyond the classroom and best of all, feel like a kid again, if only for a few seconds. I admit it; I squealed with joy as the inner tube hurled down the mountain.  I loved it and we had a great day.  Sometimes the best thing for learning and the brain is a good laugh, some relaxing time and acting like a kid.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Connected Student and Teacher

Today was the first of two LCEEQ (Leadership Committee on English Education in Quebec) conference days in Montreal. The keynote was delivered by Martha Kaufeldt who focused on what teachers need to know about the latest brain research. "Stressed-Out, Overflowing Student Brains" was the subject of her next smaller session. I would encourage readers of this blog to visit John Medina's Brain Rules or get his book.  His work is very readable and gave me lots of great ideas for how student engagement.  For a more challenging read, I recommend John J. Ratey's Spark.  He explains the impact of exercise and movement on the brain and learning.

Today I presented a session called "Connected Student, Connected Teacher".  The slides for the presentation are available here and in a few days, I will post them to my slideshare account complete with an audio file.  Even though I recorded most of the session, I am not able to post this audio file with the slides because of one audience participant who indicated her that she was not in favour of this recording.  According to the conference organizers, if one person declines, then I am not able to post the audio.  Actually, this is an opportunity to record a smoother delivery than today's.

I encourage teachers to take my material and use it to enrich their networks.  I ask only that they credit me as the author.   Comments, questions and ideas are welcome!

I look forward to Ian Jukes and Adora Svitak tomorrow.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Kicking It Up a Notch: Wikis Work

There are few things that give a teacher greater pleasure than fanning the fires of student creativity and desire to learn.  This year at my college, many teachers waded into unfamiliar territory and learned how to use wikis as their digital hub, migrating from their familiar learning management system to an unknown digital space where students were more than passive consumers of teacher content but creative participants.  This morning, Mr. Neill and I entered the building at the same time and engaged in some "shop talk".  He shared some of his recent successes with both his grade 7 and 11 students; all because of heightened student engagement.  That's teacher speak for "they were chomping at the mouth excited about this project"; which is a close paraphrase to the actual content of our conversation.  Because my colleague is such a good sport, he answered "Yes!" to my question, "Wait, can I get this on camera and blog about it?"

The magic of a wiki is its ability to network its members into a common culture of creativity and knowledge sharing.  That is networked literacy; that is the power of networks.  Our kids know that; teachers are beginning to understand how to leverage that network for learning.

Here's Mr. Neill's contribution.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Six Clicks of Separation from Your Next Great Idea

Teach Paperless, Shelly Blake-Plock's blog, has recently morphed into a group blog.  This morning I read an entry by Michael Kaechele and after a few clicks, ended up at his digital cv, his classroom wiki and blog, his twitter account and everything else that is digital about him!  This is a perfect example of how learning is fast, mobile, informal and connected.  After just a few clicks, I have several ideas to communicate to the science teachers, a few tips for my own digital cv and a very cool app by Gary Hayes.

Saturday, January 29, 2011 for Teaching and Learning is my screen recording tool of choice.  I have used JingPro and regularly use Camtasia when I want a more sophisticated screencast with callouts and  other fancy editing options; but for the 'quick and dirty' work, I turn to Screenr.  I can tweet out my screencast, download it as a mp4 file,  publish it directly to YouTube or just grab the embed code for fast embedding onto my class wikis.  It's fast, easy and free.

Recently, I have been using screenr mostly for pedagogical development.  I maintain a wiki for the teachers where the treasures and ideas are "warehoused".  Using screenr is the quickest way to show a colleague how to do something.  Yesterday someone asked me about embedding pdf files onto wiki pages and I wasn't sure how to do that.  This morning I figured it out (pretty pleased with myself) and made a screencast with screenr.
Here it is - complete with my "umms" and pauses as I search for my words!

Recently, I have been spending time finding other educators (and persons of interest) who also use Screenr as a teaching/learning tool.  Today I found @learningppt (who blogs at and @Antlak (who blogs at technologywithoutborders and who is a fellow teacher and edtech person from Edmonton, Alberta).  After spending a bit of time on their blogs, it decided I needed to add them to my PLN - personal learning network.  If you follow someone on Twitter, you can use their 'handle' (user name they tweet with) to find them on Screenr.  In the address bar, type " name" and you might be surprised to find them there!

I also discovered (today has been a big learning day) a search tool for Screenr created by Dave Mozealous.
Type in a key word or phrase into the search field and this handy tool will return all the searches for you.  Click on the screencast and see who produced it.  You might find a kindred spirit to follow and discover lots more to learn.  You can even bookmark Screenr's blog and get the latest updates.

Of course Screenr is not only for teachers; my students use it too for presentations and other assignments that they embed on the class wiki.  I have even used it to help my mother learn how to send links and attachments in her email.  She has it on hand for easy reminders and doesn't have to get uptight about not remembering how to do something (happens to me all the time!).

Screenr is just one of those fabulous and free web 2.0 tools that help me teach and learn.  Like my wikis, I wouldn't teach without it.