Blog Posts

It's All About Balance

'It's all about balance' is something that I find I have been saying over the years when working with teachers around reflecting on their teaching practices and trying something new. It is a very important phrase and one that should always be in the back of our minds as we work to improve teaching and learning for our students. Sometimes when new ideas are presented, even when it is not the intention, the recipient feels overwhelmed and the actual impact is negative. So, here are a few guiding principles that I think we should always keep in mind both as learners and educators;

  • think about the potential the new idea has to transform your teaching
  • think about how the new idea can improve student engagement and learning
  • think about what you are currently doing that you can abandon so that you are not feeling that the new approach is an add-on
  • think about what you are going to let go of and then celebrate how well that has worked for you in the past and then say 'good-bye' to it

Creative Learning, Coding and a Student in the Autism Spectrum

My experiences as a Technology Innovation Consultant are always filled with interesting conversations and experiences. Recently the room I had in which I offered professional development was moved from a high school to an elementary school. This has given me exciting opportunities to interact with young students everyday.

When I am working in my room I try to keep my door open so that both teachers and students know that they are welcome to come in and ask me questions or chat. My open door gave me the opportunity to meet a grade five student named Ted. What a pleasure!

Ted is a student who has autism. Ted’s oral language skills are not well developed but it takes only two seconds with Ted to learn what he is passionate about. Ted loves to know what cars people drive and what colour they are; but more importantly Ted loves computers! I decided that it was time to explore Ted’s passion so that I could help his teachers and his teaching assistant understand how to harness his love of computers to engage him in his learning. I also wanted to help reveal the skills and knowledge that Ted has that he is not always able to share because of his challenges with oral language.

I asked Ted if he wanted to come into the Innovation Center with me to use Dash and Dot. We agreed on a time of day that would work for him and his teaching assistant. Our journey with Dash and Dot began and what an incredible journey it has become! Ted knew how to program Dash and so I gave him a number of challenges.

After a few short visits together in the Innovation Center I told Ted that I did not really understand what Dot could do and I asked him if he would please figure it out. OMG! Did he fly! He programmed Dash and Dot. His teaching assistant and I responded with appropriate encouragement and awe when Dash (which Ted programmed) was able to achieve all the challenges that I gave him.

What was most incredible though was that Ted was using Dash and Dot to communicate in a socially appropriate and encouraging way. When Dash completed the two 360 degree turns that I asked Ted to program Dot responded ‘way to go’! His teaching assistant was flabbergasted! She was amazed at how he was having Dash and Dot communicate! Remember social pragmatic language is a challenge for Ted.

So what did we learn? We learned that tapping into Ted’s passion for coding using Dash and Dot opened a door for Ted to communicate and show us that he has knowledge of social pragmatic language.

Ted came to visit me the other day and asked me to use my computer and went to the Wonder Works website. He wanted to show me the launcher. I asked him if he wanted me to buy it. He repeated, Kim buy launcher. I then asked him to write a reminder for me on the whiteboard. He did - this is what he wrote - Kim by launcher.

So from this rich evidence of his learning, we know that he can write for a purpose and he has the ability and desire to communicate socially. Who knows, perhaps Ted may become a computer programmer.

In conclusion what has been reinforced by Ted, and what I hope others learn from this, is that every child has strengths and interests no matter what their learning/social challenges may be, so we must try our best to discover them and build new learning from them!

Teachers Creating Their Professional Website

I recently had the pleasure of working with a group of teachers on Part 2 of Digital Portfolios-Rich Assessment Information. In our first 2.5 hour session we worked together to continue to develop their understanding of students creating using the tools of technology and the role of curating and publishing those creations.

Essential Learning:

When students demonstrate their learning in different ways you learn a lot about them (assessment for learning).

When their creations are shared with parents then parents learn a lot about their child's learning and it makes parent teacher interviews so much more positive and productive.

When students share their creations outside of the four walls of the school they receive praise and feedback that is genuine. (Makes their work authentic.)

Today the teacher's created their own Google Site so that:

They can introduce themselves to their parent community and their students.

They can share videos of their students' work.

They can share videos for parents and students to watch that they have selected to support the learning that is happening in their classroom.

They can share a Google Calendar with their parents and students so that everyone knows what is to come and can do their best to be organized.

They can provide resources and information to parents about how a skill or subject area content is being addressed in the class.

Share their students' creations with their parents and others.

Teachers, parents and students ultimately have access to shared information that helps make thinking and learning visible. It also helps parents become more informed and involved in the daily school life of their children.

LBPSB Seesaw is a digital portfolio that is very user friends for elementary teachers to implement. It is a great way for students to be able to document their learning and have that learning easily shared with parents.

Remember when children are creating with the tools of technology they are:

demonstrating their learning in different ways

developing their digital legacy

providing teachers with rich assessment information

creating rich evidence of learning to share with their parents

Draw and Tell

Draw and Tell is a great app on the iPad for students to use to make their thinking visible. In this video Ella who is in grade one shows my colleague how it works!

Powerful Example of Innovative Teaching and Learning

Last week I visited Mme Gromko’s class at Lindsay Place High School and am so excited about what I saw her students doing that I have to share it. I met Mme Gromko for the first time in a workshop I was giving on assessment and student creation. It was clear from the onset that she is a strong pedagogue and a person with an amazing growth mindset. As she left my workshop she enthusiastically shared how she was going to change her approach to teaching and learning in the new year.

Wow, has she ever done that! She has opened the door to her students imaginations, skills and passions. Her students are now working on their independent projects during class time. It is not a separate learning activity, or homework but more importantly all that they are doing to demonstrate the skills and knowledge required in Grade 9 Francais langue seconde. Mme Gromko shared with the students the learning goals that they needed to demonstrate through their creations. She and I will be meeting with them next week to work with them to generate even more specific examples of how she will be assessing their projects. The students are involved from the outset, with their planning, with formative assessment and then finally with the summative assessment.

I asked one of her students to record her thoughts on why she had selected her project. Here are her thoughts in both French and English. One of the students has created and is curating their class website with all of their projects. I encourage you to regularly check out this site as it will reflect the ongoing work of these amazing students.

Imagine what every student could accomplish if we opened the door to their interests, curiousity and creativity!

Guiding Questions for Transforming Learning

I have been thinking a lot lately about how important it is as educators that we think about the questions that we ask each other. I am constantly hearing "Where does technology fit in the curriculum? Where does coding fit in the curriculum?" I would like to suggest that these are not the questions that we as educators should be posing because they are still framed in the old paradigm of teaching and learning.

Rather I propose that what we should be asking is how can we help educators develop their skills in assessing the curriculum expectations that students are demonstrating through out their creative process. For example: When a child is designing a California mission using Minecraft they are demonstrating strong knowledge of the content and vocabulary from that period of time. They are using incredible skills of design - understanding angles, perspective and so much more!

So the question that needs to be asked of educators is "How can we help you develop your skills in assessment for learning and assessment as learning?"

Imagine how rewarding it is for a teacher to support a student in the development of their creativity and at the same time be able to assess their curriculum expectations and then transform that rich information in to a mark for their report card. I dream of the not so distant future when teachers are not assessing learning through paper and pencil tests which they mournfully take home and spend hours marking.

The future is now!

Formative Assessment Using Suggested Edits on Google Doc

Ever wonder how much time you spend correcting/marking student work?

Ever wonder how much time your students spend reviewing their corrected/marked work?

Ever wonder if when you put a mark on a student's work if the message they are receiving is that 'all is done, time to move on?

Suggested edits on Google Docs to the Rescue!

I think that all too often when we put a mark on student work the message they receive is that it is time to move onto the next task. I think that unfortunately our students do not spend the time that we would like them to reflecting on and reviewing the comments and corrections that we put on their assignments. This is why I think that suggested edits on Google Docs is a great tool to remediate this situation.

By using suggested edits a teacher is able to make suggestions directly on the student's work. What is important to remember is that you can make suggested edits and comments and not simply make the correction for the student. The student then needs to decide whether or not they accept the suggestion and/or make changes to their work. A teacher suggested to me that a student can just click on resolve and not read the edits/comments. My response to that is yes of course but that will be evident in the final product as well as through the revision history. It is also feasible for the teacher to add some suggested edits and comments that would not improve the writing, thus making it obvious whether or not the student was reading, reflecting and editing. From this process you can learn a lot about your student's writing and editing processes.

Below is a challenge that I have used with teachers during professional development. It is a great way to learn the ins and outs of suggested edits; but even more importantly it really helps teachers understand the skills and knowledge that they are expecting from students when they ask them to edit each others' work.

Improved Storytelling Challenge-Botswana

Botswana Storytelling Challenge

Developing Literacy Skills Using Features of Read and Write by TextHelp

It is an exciting time to have the privilege to help students develop their literacy skills! I am sure that as educators at some point we have all agreed that one of the most important roles that we have is helping our students develop their literacy skills. Whether they are in preschool or high school strong literacy skills are often a defining factor in how we determine and communicate their success.

I believe that literacy skills are extremely important but I would like to suggest to you that in today’s world literacy skills need to be defined beyond our conventional interpretation of reading and writing. Today students need to learn how to navigate the online world. They need to learn to demonstrate their skills and knowledge in creative ways that can be shared with the world beyond their classrooms and schools. They need to develop their digital legacy!

What an amazing time to be learning and to be teaching! The tools of technology that we have available to us and to our students are breathtaking! No longer should students be stymied by their challenges with reading and writing. No longer should they receive marks in subjects such as Math, Science, History and Geography that are not true indicators of their skills and knowledge. Too often students are marked based on their ability to communicate their knowledge in written form; using paper and pencil. Now our students can demonstrate their knowledge using tools of technology. In this blog post I am going to focus on one tool that can be transformative for our students.

Read and Write by TextHelp which is software that runs with Google Chrome.

There are many aspects to Read and Write, but two of the features that I find most exciting are the ability to have text read to students and now with the addition of Read Text Aloud students can record themselves reading. The second feature is the ability to have text read to them.

Read and Write - Read Text Aloud

Over the past few years I have worked with teachers and students who are reluctant writers. The use of the ‘read back’ feature in Read and Write has given students greater confidence in expressing their thoughts and creativity through text. This is because they are able to listen to their writing and edit from hearing it rather than trying to read it back to themselves. Imagine combining this with Read Text Aloud so that students can hears themselves reading and then compare it to that of the Read and Write reader.

By providing students with tools that allow them to work independently on improving their reading fluency is incredibly powerful. Students are able to work publicly without the stress of having their classmates hear them! What a great way to develop self confidence, reading skills and independence!

Plus, think about all the assessment for learning information that you can gain from their recordings!!!

Remember - reading and writing is developed from strong oral language skills!

Walking the Road-How it Still Resonates With Me

While I was visiting Cape Town in 2010 my friend and I decided to go for a walk along the coast. It was a beautiful day to walk alongside the ocean with a dear friend who I do not see nearly enough; but what made it even more memorable were the series of sculptures that were placed along the walkway. It is 2016 and these works of art plus the incredible story the artist told through them still resonates with me.

I have had the privilege of working with teachers in an isolated village in the north of South Africa in the early 90's, before the end of Apartheid. Since then I have also been privileged to provide some support to a school in Mpumalanga. I would never presume to be an expert on what growing up in South Africa was like and still is like today. I have though through my many visits, seen a tiny bit of the beautiful, the good and the traumatic that is South Africa and so I think that "Walking the Road" has continued to hold a place in my heart. This is because of my experiences combined with my life long passion for education.

I strongly believe that it is through education that embraces student creativity, that encourages the development of understanding and empathy, that opens the world to our students using the tools of technology and allows them to share their thoughts, challenges, questions and creativity with others around the world that we will see an amazing future! As educators we need to not get bogged down with the minutia of curriculum content. We cannot be fixated on summative assessments-marks, but we need to focus on creating caring, engaged, creative students who will become life long learners!​​

Voice to Text - A Gift to our Students

As teachers we meet lots of students and we try our best to meet their individual learning needs but sometimes we have a student like John.

John has not been very successful at school. He is in grade ten and is thinking of dropping out. John is very intelligent but he has challenges with written language. Well the great news is that we can help John be successful at school and develop his self confidence by giving him opportunities to use technology as a tool for learning; to let him demonstrate his knowledge in creative ways!

Google Apps for Education has an amazing tool available through Google Docs called voice-to-text! Voice-to-text is a simple strategy capable of changing the academic life and likely the self confidence of many of our students!

Students can demonstrate their learning using voice-to-text to create essays, projects or simply to record their understanding of new concepts. As their teacher you can use these demonstrations to gather information about the knowledge as well as how they attempted a task. This gives you rich information to plan further instruction tailored to their individual needs.

Passionate about Formative Assessment

As the new school year begins imagine how amazing and rewarding if all educators start their day thinking about all the things they could learn from their students' creations! Christmas Park Elementary we built a 3D Lego wall and we are constantly amazed at the discussion, team work, planning and creativity of the students as they design and build. The conversations that the teachers hear while the students create provides them with rich information.

Oral language is so important for students to develop their skills in reading and writing. We need to ensure that there is loads of talk in our classrooms!

To build the wall the school district carpenters secured plywood to the wall, painted it red for us and then used construction glue (smelly :) to adhere the Lego plates.

I am passionate about the role of technology as a tool for learning and the rich assessment information it can provide teachers while at the same time engaging students, developing their imagination, their curiosity, their understanding of concepts, their literacy skills and so much more! Assessment That Matters

Creating Teaching and Learning Opportunities Using Technology as a Tool for Learning

After doing many workshops for teachers on Google Apps for Education I decided it was time to develop a new session wherein I would facilitate the participants understanding of the SAMR model and the challenges and rewards of setting the goal of achieving redefinition! It is a great workshop to lead because for two and a half hours my role was one of facilitator and provocateur! I was far away from being the 'sage on the stage'.

This is a workshop that I had been mulling over in my head for a few months and then when I read the blog entitled, Digital vs Digitized Learning by Dr. Tim Clark I was on the move. His blog is the impetus of the session as it clearly highlights the differences between digitized and digital learning. Before I share with you the amazing learning that came from the session I want to make sure that I give credit to the participants. All but one of the group have been to a number of my workshops. I believe that this contributed to the power of the session because we were all working from a level of comfort that comes from previously working together to share and learn. When I started the session I explained to them that this was going to be a challenge; that their previous practices needed to be celebrated for what they were but now we were going to begin fresh; our ultimate goal was to begin the journey to plan teaching and learning opportunities that have previously been unimaginable! We were navigating together a new journey and we were beginning our journey with the learning goal clearly stated.

As we worked through the session and the challenges both that I gave the teachers and those that arose from their tasks, the conversations, frustrations, successes and questions were amazing. For two hours fourteen teachers and one principal engaged in conversations about the differences between digitizing lessons and developing innovative new teaching and learning opportunities that used technology as a tool for learning.

In the beginning they kept asking me very directed question such as 'please show us some examples of redefinition'. 'What is it you want us to create?' Yes, questions that our students frequently ask us because we have created a culture where they want to 'please' us to get a good mark.

As these questions were being asked of me my responses sometimes were simply 'no' but more often then not I guided them towards a discussion about creativity, about taking risks and about them learning together. We talked about how we need as educators to create open ended questions for our students, not questions that they can readily 'Google'. They came to recognize that always planning with the learning goal first can be a challenge since as educators we often fall back to our tried and true units of study. They recognized how that planning with the learning goal first was essential. By starting with the goal and a provocative guiding question the door to a world of opportunity could be opened.

At the end of the session I asked the participants to share on a what they had learned. I have copied the Padlet below as I think that their learning and reflections are amazing! What they have shared can help us all as we reflect on our teaching and challenge each other to develop teaching and learning opportunities for our students that allow them to be creative - to think, create and share their work in ways previously unavailable to us!