Thursday, December 2, 2010

Follow-Up to Minds On Media

I had the most amazing experience this morning. I went into the school where we did the Minds on Media PD Day (see previous post) a few weeks ago. I went in to do some follow-up work. The Extended French teacher wanted to digitize her students children books. We set up a wiki where students could share voicethreads of their scanned in illustrated story books with narration en francais and then comment on each others work en francais.

While I was there, another teacher stopped me to explain their student-created interactive element websites for chemistry. One teacher asked me to brainstorm some ways to support some of our students who get between 50%-59% in grade 9 applied mathematics, so they are prepared for grade 10 applied mathematics. A teacher decided to work with the law teacher to do a lesson on Creative Commons and legal aspects. The Student Success Teacher talked about moving to an electronic communication method for supporting at-risk students. When I went to search for equipment (headphone/microphone headsets) that had previously sat around gathering dust, they were out BEING USED! :) Lastly, one teacher who has been integrating tons of wonderful tasks into her class has now looked at her assessment practices and decided to improve the way she tracks and marks to be more holistic and appropriate. This type of love of learning spreads beyond simply doing a "tech" project, but infects us with a great desire to be better teachers.

Creativity, innovation and risk-taking is spreading like wild fire through the school. I mean, they were a radical bunch to begin with :) , but I think the Minds on Media PD Day combined with Teacher Notebooks in hand have certainly helped empower this passionate group. The positive energy is palpable - a great staff.

It has made my day! Now to go battle the snow covered roads for a drive to the next school on my list today. :)

Monday, November 22, 2010

Minds On Media at PSS

After today, Minds on Media, the brainchild of Peter Skillen (@peterskillen ) and Brenda Sherry (@brendasherry is officially my favorite way of starting with teachers to integrate technology. Brenda and Peter created it for ECOO and it is always a big hit. Minds on Media involves having centres around in one room with facilitators covering a wide variety of topics. Participants bring their own laptop and visit the stations they wish and move around as they wish.

A principal asked me to come in and support their school on a PD Day to work on
integrating technology. My mind started reeling - how could we run something that would allow each teacher, all starting in very different places to access and learn while moving the school along with their school improvement plan? The only thing they all had in common was that they had all just received the same HP Mini Teacher Notebook computer.

I started to think about having separate break out groups in different rooms and then I remembered the Minds On Media sessio
n Peter and Brenda ran for iEARN Canada's conference this summer in Barrie, ON. A quick tweet to Peter and Brenda asking if I could copy their idea resulted in permission to use their logo and ideas and most importantly, overwhelming support. The only debate was with Peter as he went back and forth trying to decide which of his websites I should use when giving credit. :) Oh, and trying to figure out Peter and Brenda speak as they started referencing the Roger Waters phenomenom as in a post by Peter a few years ago. I thought they might have actually created their own language...

To start our versions of Minds On Media, we created a wiki to post links for teachers as they floated around from station to station. We found a handful of EXCELLENT leaders from within the school to run the stations.

Today was the day for Minds on Media in Penetanguishene and it went GREAT! Below are some of the reasons why.

Reasons Minds on Media is good for teachers:
  • accessible by all. Each teacher was met where they were. For beginners, there was a station about "personalizing your notebook" where we spent time showing teachers how to connect their notebook to a projector and how to make a video play full screen. We didn't call this the "for dummies" station and respected EVERY question. Everyone felt comfortable. We threw in some tricks of the trade to make the tiny netbook easier to work with (getting rid of tool bars on Internet Explorer, changing how the mouse track pad works, moving the windows start menu to the side instead of the bottom). These tricks of the trade intrigued seasoned computer users who came over and ended up coaching others as well.
  • work at own pace
  • choice, choice, choice - valuing their professional judgement
  • choice of going into depth at a station or skimming through them all
  • watching others to see the possibilities that technology can bring (especially for those who are not "techies" as they say)
  • great discussion about best practices
  • learn from the station leaders AND other teachers at the same table
  • personalized learning
Reasons administration liked Minds On Media:
  • every teacher eventually engaged. Some started by hovering around stations afraid to jump in because they were intimidated, but they eventually found a station they were comfortable getting started at
  • some teachers who wanted support while creating lessons or activities, sat down and created right then and there with facilitators to help
  • some teachers who are comfortable integrating lots of different technology floated around and gathered ideas then took those ideas and adapted them to work for their own classes
  • developed leadership in the station leaders in a non-threatening way. It took those teachers who were using the technology and put them in a low-risk situation where they could lead others without running the whole show
  • built capacity among schools own staff. In the future when teachers want support with a technology, chances are they will go to one of the teachers who led the stations instead of automatically calling the board support staff
  • teachers were asking for MORE! Some staff connected with others and made plans to work on projects together. Some planned action research projects
  • developed a culture of collaboration. Teachers asked other teachers how to do things, teachers shared stories, teachers shared links and resources, everyone worked together to make sure everyone at the table could keep up
Things to keep in mind when planning something like this:
  • lots of chairs and tables including a few in the centre at a "non-station" to allow those who get into a project a space to work quietly if they need for a few minutes
  • we had 8 stations for 35-40 people and that worked out well
  • lots of extension cords for projectors, SMART boards and for teachers to plug in and power up
  • screens or walls to project onto - remember lights will be on so test projectors
  • send out info about stations ahead of time so teachers can mentally prepare themselves
  • it is important to have someone helping organize who knows the staff of the school so leaders can be drawn out and encouraged
  • choose station topics of varying degrees of complexity - some very basic stations as entry points and some more complicated ones to engage your "techie" teachers :)
  • all stations must be in the same room so teachers can see what is going on across the room and get up and move whenever they wish. This ability to float and move is important
  • Open the invitation to lead a station to all teacher so you get topics they are interested in
  • lead and follow-up with discussions about how different technology uses are supporting the school improvement plan. What is the ultimate goal (what are the learning goals)? Technology is just the tool...
THANK YOU BRENDA AND PETER!!! Thank you for your ongoing encouragement, sharing and mentoring me to set this up.

Peter Skillen - @peterskillen
Brenda Sherry
- @brendasherry

Friday, November 19, 2010

Livescribe and privacy

I've had a new fancy Livescribe pen for a few weeks now. I love it. I moved into a consultant role this year which equates to even more meetings. Some formal, some impromptu crazy brainstorming sessions where you finish with your head spinning in a million directions. I began the year taking my laptop to each meeting. When I got bored or disengaged or felt pressured for time I worked on other projects (planning, communication, video editing). My boss took notice and started giving me "alternative" tasks to complete during meetings. To "use my powers for good not evil". I started to wonder how many things I was missing? I was spending most of my day absent from what was happening right in front of me. That bothered me.

In comes my new magic pen. Now I can take notes with or without audio recording and they can go directly into my Evernote with all other things I do. Tagged and organized. I'm more present and personal again in meetings. I'm not using my screen as a shield. One problem I ran into is that I still need to be connected to look something up, check a calendar or find a file. So, the iPad or iPhone has to come along. But for me it's no where near as distracting. For me this works. I can review the parts of a meeting where my mind wandered. Sometimes the laptop is still needed, but less often. Sometimes i still choose the laptop if i know its going to be really boring :) I just wish the notes imported into Evernote with the audio right in them. I'm having trouble getting the audio in at all. Any solutions?

Two things I've learned:

1. Be VERY aware of the conversation, let others know that you are recording and turn it off if the conversation slips out of the professional zone.
2. I need to write neater and stop doodling to make the writing to text feature more effective.

I can imagine many good uses for this in a secondary math class in group work and creating electronic BANSHOs. For me in my current role I'm loving how it allows me to remain a little more present. I just need to remain aware of privacy and work on my handwriting. I'm having flashbacks to elementary school where I was given remedial work for my handwriting and enrichment in math. My brain worked differently even back then. I wonder how a livescribe pen could have helped?

So... How do you feel about being recorded at meetings?

Thursday, November 4, 2010

George Couros' "Security on our Wordpress Site"

What a great video by @gcouros to explain how their school blog is secure and safe.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Stalking the OTF Google Learning Institute

I was very disappointed to miss OTFs "The Google Learning Institute". I had planned on stalking the learning experience on Saturday via twitter. I hoped that enough people would be tweeting about it that I could pick up bits and pieces throughout the day. Saturday ended up being a beautiful day around Southern Georgian Bay and in order to maintain some balance in my life I have a personal rule that if it's sunny out, I need to be outside playing. Otherwise I slowly turn into some evil person I no longer recognize. So I thought that I had missed the learning all together.

Sunday morning proved to be rainy, overcast and cold out. Aside from walking the dog and hunting the red squirrels that have found their way into my attic, it was going to be a day to catch up on chores indoors. First and foremost I opened up tweetdeck to see what I had missed over the past few days. My #OTFCUE column was full. Yeah! I worked from the beginning and started my own learning based on the tweets of those attending. THANK YOU all for sharing. Below is what I've learned in a few hours of catch-up.
  1. Using Google Alerts for parents to keep track of their children's digital footprint. I use it myself, but never thought to encourage parents. Great idea Zoe!
  2. Google Insight - creating graphs and tables on the interest of specific search terms. What a great opportunity for a business or marketing course.
  3. Creating Google Custom Searches and embedding into your website. Great for students when they only need to search a few websites.
  4. Google is great, but there are other options. This presentation makes some great points about research skills. It's all about choosing the right tool for the job.
  5. Google Scribe could be very useful for struggling writers.
  6. Google Forms allow you to embed maps.
  7. Google Lit Trips - connecting maps, images and locations to literature.
  8. Google News - one-stop shopping for the most popular news of the minute.
  9. Google New - a place to read about all the new things happening at Google.
  10. Google Wonder Wheel - searching for topics connected to your original search term - using graphics to organize.
  11. Google Squared - creating a table from search information. Great to help students with organization of information.
  12. Google Search Stories - Telling story (video) through google searches. I've seen these before but can never think of a good use. Some great ideas thrown around by educators on twitter!
  13. Embedding Google Lookup into a spreadsheet (Google Doc)- This one is my FAVORITE!!! What a great way to collect data - you enter the search into the spreadsheet and it pulls in the data from the web. So many possibilities. The one I created (based on an example given by Google) is a table of elements and their characteristics.
  14. Red squirrels are going to drive me insane! I can hear them - but I can't find out where they are or how they are getting in for the life of me. It's time to start an all-out war!
If I've missed any great tips and ideas from the Google session (or if you have tips on getting rid of the monsters in my attic) please share!

Thanks to the following for helping me grab some excellent ideas even if I couldn't participate in the learning in real time: @susayoun, @mathattck, @dougpete, @tgianno, @rickbudd, @msjweir, @pmcash, @zbpipe and @cyndiejacobs!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Testing Livescribe

Ok, pretty cool - i'm sold. Testing Livescribe.

brought to you by Livescribe

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Live Learning with Livescribe

If you haven't seen this blog and TLLP project by Zoe Branigan-Pipe, Aviva Dunsinger and others, you must! It's a great way to share ways of increasing student achievement and demonstrations of student work. It really is all about student work. I've finally folded and ordered my own Livescribe Pen. I can't wait for it to arrive.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Sir Ken Robinson RSA

I love this. It makes me really think. Unfortunately, it also makes me question every project that I'm working on.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Cellphones in the classroom

This morning, like all others, I awoke to the local radio station. At 5:45 am I simply cannot stomach the beep, beep, beep of an alarm clock. And the great part is that my local radio station ROCKS. They have an excellent morning show with good debates. I figure that any radio show that can make me frantically reach for my iPhone to send off passionate emails before 6:00 am are pretty impressive. This morning like many other media outlets (The Star article) the quick conversation was about cellphones in the classroom. Dalton McGuinty made some comments over the past few days about boards being able to allow cellphones in the classroom when appropriate. The quick 6:00 am banter on The Dock FM included the radio hosts commenting on how distracted their teens (and others) are texting and emailing in the classroom. This is what got me hopping.

I've harassed the poor morning show host Meg before (she is wonderful and comes into the local high school for literacy conferences on a regular basis) and so sent her off an email. This is what it said:

"If we DON'T use mobile devices in the classroom, who exactly is modeling appropriate use? How do they learn how to use them properly?

Why do we all have this vision of kids sitting in rows in order to learn? What kind of job is like that? By NOT having mobile devices in class we are saying that we don't want kids collaborating, communicating and searching for information. COME ON!!! This is the 21st century!!! These are skills that are needed for success. Mobile devices are Powerful learning devices. So, never thought I'd say this - props to @Dalton_McGuinty ( his twitter handle). He gets that we need to change our view of education in order to prepare these poor kids for THEIR future, not our past."

I received this response "Good points Jacyln. Hope you heard our discussion on this.....this email featured heavily:)"

I unfortunately missed this later discussion and am highly curious as to whether I was debated or agreed with. Either way I'm happy. If I was agreed with, than maybe more people (listeners) were swayed towards my opinion. If I was debated, then it would have been a great learning experience (if only I had heard it and responded).

This little early morning interaction reminds me how education has to change to reflect changes in society. Twenty years ago a "nobody" like myself would never have their opinion heard, considered and debated on a radio station like The Dock FM. Technology has facilitated communication and collaboration to a degree that it permeates almost every career. How on earth do we expect our students to learn how to use this technology to help them be heard and to share ideas if we use blanket policies to ban them from schools? Will they be distracting? YES! Absolutely! When students hand wrote and passed notes did we ban the pen and paper? No, because they were seen as integral to the learning process. Technology is integral to the learning process when used properly. Technology in itself is useless. You could have a classroom with laptops on every desk and an interactive whiteboard at the front, that functions exactly like a classroom from the 1950's. Students are seated in rows typing out notes. The teaching needs to change along with technology use.

We need to ask our selves "is this helping students succeed in today's world?". What skills do they need to succeed? My guess is collaboration, communication and innovation. Recalling facts is not important if you can "google it". Using that information to form ideas, arguments and communicate those thoughts are much more important. Technology can facilitate that. We can't be sure what today's students will be faced with in 50 years. How can I know what to teach them that will be relevant? Things change so fast. Maybe if we teach them how to learn for themselves, communicate and problem solve, they'll be able to figure it out for themselves?

So, thanks to The Dock FM for the thought-provoking morning. I've also learned an important lesson - if I decide to harass you, I'd darn well better listen to the rest of the morning show! :)

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Amazing Race, Take 9!

I've had a few people ask me about our Amazing Race Grade 9 activity and I need to pass the task of organizer off to another staff member while I'm away this year - so I've described our day here to kill two birds with one stone.

I LOVE starting the year off right. Instead of talking at our grade 9's and organizing guided tours we do something a little different. Every time we do it, staff, students and parents talk about how enjoyable it is. Staff get to meet the incoming grade 9's in a fun, relaxed environment and the kids get to be, well, kids! It's the only time grade 9s feel like they are the only ones in the school and they love it.

This idea began when I was teaching in Moosonee, Ontario at Northern Lights Secondary School. Like all good ideas, it's difficult to pinpoint exactly who came up with it, but I believe Angela Tozer and Sandy Lederer are to be given credit for this idea.

When I moved to PSS, I brought the idea with me and this is how our day goes:

9:30 - 10:00 am - Welcome by Principal, Vice-Principal and Student Council leaders, introduction of staff (Guidance, Special Education, Student Success)

10:00 - 11: 15 am - The Amazing Race Activity

11:15 - 11:30 - wrap up, questions and refreshments in the cafeteria

During the Amazing Race students visit the rooms listed on their passport, complete a challenge there and get sticker or stamp for their passport. Here is a link to the Google Doc copy of our Amazing Race "passport" students use. At the end they trade in their completed passport for their timetable (and a lesson on how to read it).

In terms of organization, here is what we do:

- put up sign-up sheet for staff during last week of school. Take 9! Day is on a holiday, so staff volunteer. Any staff member is welcome (custodial, office, educational assistants, teachers, administration)

- the day before I set up all the challenges as needed (most staff organize their own now) and put envelopes in each volunteers mailbox with materials they need and stickers/stamps for the passports. I also revamp the passport with the appropriate room numbers for this years challenges and print them.

- on the day of we tell teachers that students will start coming to the classrooms around 10:00 am. We then make an announcement at the end, asking all Grade 9s to return to the cafeteria. This is really a signal for teachers that it is over.

Common Challenges:

- how to log onto the computer system (our passwords start as YYYYMMDD and then need to be changed) in the resource room

- how to use a lock - students must open a combo lock to complete challenge

- something in the gym (shoot a basket, soccer goal, floor hockey, sit ups, push ups, etc.)

- something in the shops (hammer a nail into a board, etc.)

- something dramatic in the drama room

- find/label a few rooms on the school map

- something in the hospitality room (measuring, mixing, a step in baking something, etc.)

- purchasing of their package deals (student fees, yearbook, etc.) or getting info about it

- getting their timetables and learning how to read them (rooms, course codes, locker number, etc.)

- extra-curricular, something about clubs and teams

After the first year, most teachers will set up their own challenges without any help from the organizer. It is a time for teachers to "sell" clubs and subjects as well. For example, breakfast club or green team leaders have challenges around those clubs. The first year it helps to provide teachers with "challenges in an envelope" so they get the idea.

Starting the year off with bubbling grade 9's wandering through the school trying to find classrooms (until they get to the challenge where they get a map of the school) is amazing. Staff love this way of meeting grade 9s. We've used name tags before and then provided awards that the teachers decided on (one for each challenge, just silly things - like most innovative way of doing something, most helpful, etc.). Our students' council leaders often run or help out with the challenges in the classrooms to relieve congestion. Starting the year off right while building community!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Embedding Google Earth files into a website

This thursday I had the privilege of attending the iEARN2010 conference. The organizer and co-lead of iEARN Canada is a colleague of mine Jim Carleton. He encouraged me to come and see what it was all about. I was of course, thoroughly impressed. The energy in the building was amazing. It reminded me of Educon, where educators and students were all together learning from each other. Those are pretty much the only two conferences i've attended to date with that energy.

Anyways, Peter Skillen (@peterskillen) and Brenda Sherry (@brendasherry) were running stations in the Minds On Media area. I've played on Google Earth before, but never really explored its full capabilities in education. I decided to lurk around Peters Google Earth lessons and pick up some tips. By the end I was presented with the challenge of finding a way to embed folders into a website, allowing an easy way to share with many.

It's taken me 3 days (not straight) to figure it out. I might be slower than most, but I get there eventually! :) Here we go.

1. In Google Earth create your folder of places or tour.
2. Export your folder as a .kmz file.
3. Upload your .kmz file onto your website. In my case I simply created a google site (free, took 3 minutes), added a "file cabinet" page and uploaded the file. Make sure you know the url link for your resource. In my case it was:
4. Go to this page to set up the gadget and grab the code (you insert your url and fine tune settings)
5. Go to your webpage or blog and enter in the embed html code from the gadget.

This Google tutorial has great information and step by step directions.

See my previous post for an example. I simply created a Google Earth folder with the locations of all the Simcoe County District School Board schools and adult learning centres. I can see the potential for this if I had taken the time to include photos, videos, etc.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Using Facebook powers for good not evil...

Our Student's Council has had a Facebook group for a couple years. It is used mainly for and by the students to share information about events. The SC advisor became an administrator on the group so he could remove anything inappropriate. Only one comment has had to be removed and it was because it contained an inappropriate word (while commenting on how F&$*'N awesome an event was).

This year a teacher created a "PSS Class of 2014" to post photos from our Grade 8 fun days. As Student Success teacher I was made an administrator for the group. At first I was highly uncomfortable with this. I was a little paranoid and kept checking my profile as someone who wasn't "friended" to ensure nothing could be seen. It wasn't what I said that worried me, but what my adult friends say! What a turn around! :)

I used the group to promote transition activities and events. We got good turnout. Over 2/3 of our incoming Grade 9 group has joined. We have had nothing but supportive, positive comments on the page. Kids asking students from other elementary schools to "friend them". Or, asking for "Julie, who I met during the tug-of-war game" to friend them.

On the last day of school I got my first FB message from an incoming grade 9. I've had FB messages from a few Student Council students usually about getting help on a project they are doing, but this was the first from a student I didn't know personally yet. The student had questions about their timetable and how to understand part of it. Then came the message about our summer transition program. Then the one about volunteer hours. And lockers. All of a sudden when Grade 8 officially finished these students started thinking about high school as a reality and had questions they didn't ask in front of their 30 peers when I was in class with them. As an administrator on the Facebook page, I was accessible. My principal and I are incredibly impressed with this great use as a transition strategy for our incoming Grade 9's. We are being very careful and keeping a close eye on the page, but are very happy to date.

My one question is - is it better to use my personal FB profile and not "friend" any students (which I don't, I always explain that I can't until they are done school for a bit), or to create a teacher Facebook profile, put a few pictures of my dog and family members on there, update it periodically and friend parents and students. Is this the way to connect with students? Or, do I really want the responsibility of knowing what they put on their profiles? Because, it's not just for my own protection that I ask this question. Even if my Facebook profile was my "teacher" and appropriate personality, I could in theory access the profiles of any student who "friended" me. Seeing the pictures they post from parties would be the downside. On the plus side, I'd certainly know who to support as a Student Success teacher. For example, a few years back we had the unfortunately tragedy of a suicide within our school community. I joined the supporting Facebook group and began to notice who was really struggling. We ensured they were personally invited to counselling services.

Any input? As educators we have three options.
#1 - avoid Facebook
#2 - keep one, personal profile and avoid friending students and parents
#3 - keep two profiles, one personal and one professional

I'm torn between the benefits of connecting with students through this media and how beneficial it has been for me in my Student Success teacher role, and the hazards. With this group of incoming grade 9's we are making a concerted effort to focus on digital literacy and citizenship. I believe that by seeing me on Facebook, modelling appropriate behaviour and communication it helps teach this. In this theory, I should be able to friend them with my personal profile, if I really had nothing to hide. I'm not ready for this, not sure I ever would be. I personally need to maintain my level of professionalism at all times and youngsters at 13 years old often misinterpret adult humor. So, i'm back to my three options above. Your thoughts?

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Relationships in the Classroom

A few years back I heard Dr. Russell Bishop speak in Simcoe County. Coming across this video of him has got me wired for sound again. :)

He has done research in New Zealand around Maori education. In New Zealand, educators face a similar situation as we do here. We are failing our First Nations population when it comes to our responsibility to educate all. There is a major achievement gap between First Nations and non-First Nations students. Dr. Bishop has come to the conclusion that a big part of success for Maori students is the relationships in the classrooms. I would assume (without any research of the sort - yet) that the same thing is true for our First Nations, Metis and Inuit students in Ontario. How wonderfully empowering is that for a teacher? All those times we've thrown our hands in the air saying "if only I could do something", expressing that feeling of hopelessness which often turns into frustration. Well, it looks as if there just might be...

The reason I am so fascinated with Dr. Bishops work is that he's actually found a way to work with educators to improve these relationships. That is amazing to me. I've helped colleagues and other educators work on specific skills (using technology, using math manipulatives, assessment techniques, rich tasks), but to work with teachers on something so personal is intimidating. My weak understanding of what he does (which may be wrong) is to create PLC within the schools and send in trained facilitators. What I wouldn't give to be able to attend the training for one of these facilitators! I am unaware of any place in Ontario that is working with teachers to improve the relationships with students in the classroom. Please, please correct me if I'm wrong, I'd love to know of places that are focusing on this.

I would like to extend my thought one step further - that this building of relationships between teacher and students would also improve the success of students at-risk (whether they are of an Aboriginal background or not). They do not relate to the school culture. The one where reading and writing well are what get recognized. The one where you learn while sitting in a desk. So, if we cannot change everything about the educational system quickly enough, maybe we could at least focus on these teacher-student relationships to help improve access to education for many struggling students.

Now, if only I knew HOW to develop the ability to build these relationships... :)

Monday, June 14, 2010

One method of differentiating PD - Twiducate to facilitate a back channel conversation

This year I was asked to walk a group of 60 educators and administrators through the steps to using our new "student success database". The goal of the day was to have school-based teams collaborate on how to best use this tool to improve student success, including some actual planning. Some participants had already attended sessions on the mechanics of the database, others had never heard of it before. It was an extremely varied group. We wanted to encourage the discussion that resulted in having some experts in each team at the table and so were hesitant to split the group up based on experience. We also wanted to respect the "experts" time and allow them to move their own learning forward. However, we needed the large room to be quiet enough for those who had never seen the program before to follow along.

To differentiate for the group I decided to provide an "official" back channel conversation for the group. This is something anyone reading this post likely does naturally during most sessions you attend.

The dilemma was that many participants were not over technologically savvy, nor did they use twitter. To ensure everyone felt comfortable and confident, I searched for the easiest way to set up a conversation. I stumbled upon We decided that it worked because I could set up accounts for participants ahead of time and it was as simple as login and post comments.

After running into the common problem of blocking (anyone in the group who was on the guest network, not on the admin network was blocked), we got it going. I walked the group through using the database, while I heard the clicking of keyboards followed by giggles and snickers around the room.

The risks I took in having this conversation that I couldn't follow easily were far less than the benefits. Everyone in the room was engaged. For the first time (I've ever witnessed) a certain Vice-Principal (friend) put down her blackberry and wasn't texting jokes to someone at another table. :) They were making comments about how they would use the database in their school, what improvements they would like to see and concerns they had. Of course, there was the required post about when drinks would be served and picking on one good-natured VP. Ultimately, it got us where we wanted to go with smiles.

And the added bonus? "What was that website?", "Could you show me how to use that with a class?", "Would you come and show my teachers how to do that?", "That would be really cool in a XXXX class", "What a neat site!". :)

We demonstrated something new to some educators.

Twiducate served its purpose well in creating a place to chat for relative "newbies". I think it is a good alternative when your entire group doesn't use twitter, and they have laptops with them.

Success! Integrating Technology and Building Capacity

Just as I hit "send" on an email containing my report for our schools' ICT Integration Capacity Building Project I came across George Couros' post. He writes passionately about using differentiated instruction when running PD in the area of technology integration. In the magic of pefect timing, my report had just become a rambling to the same effect. I realized as I sent off my report that the "Please add any comments or suggestions" section was longer than the report itself.

Our school board has a few strong visionaries in the area of ICT Integration. They created a project this year that brought together one lead from each secondary school (16 secondary schools). We each then were able to apply for a project in the area of $2000 for release time to integrate technology and build capacity within each school.

This project started well right from the beginning. The organizers recognized the individuality of each school right off the top. Many schools did projects similar to what George described in his post, but with smaller groups. Many used ABEL accounts and had a group of teachers working on using Moodle to support their classes. In almost all cases a group of teachers got together and supported each other in implementing the same technology.

At PSS we decided that there wasn't one technology that worked for every teacher. Our goal was to build a culture where different teachers are all using different technologies. Whatever works for them. The building capacity part comes in the sharing and making sure we know what each other are doing. This creates multiple "masters" of different technologies within our building.

Below is a modified version of my report (boring budget taken out). Being able to use this budget to differentiate our experiences has created such a positive feeling around integrating technology in our school. Definitely a step in the right direction. Next year we will connect it more solidly to specific learning goals or achievement goals.

** In some browsers, the following SCRIBD document does not show properly. If not, you can access the word file here:

ICT Integration Capacity Building Project Report Modified

Sunday, June 13, 2010

What the Research Says about Small Schools

I'm very interested in the effect of community on education. My intuition tells me that small schools allow for a community to be created that cannot be replicated in large schools. This led me to do some research into the effect of school size on achievement and the cost savings.

What the Research Says About Small Schools

Friday, May 14, 2010

How far we've come - building capacity

I'm feeling very reflective today. Sorry. 

I was working with our teacher librarian who also teaches an extended french history course. We spent some time together last week discussing how we can help students improve their research skills. We talked about helping students become better at judging the quality of websites. About 10 years ago, in another life, I worked on a variety of medical research projects mostly in the area of gastroenterology. A doctor picked up on my "geekiness" and had me do a few small projects relating to technology. One was working with Paediatricians to determine how ready they were for switching to online resources, databases and patient medical files. Another was judging the quality of websites providing patients with information about digestive disorders. Since then I have made some assumptions on when and where the skill of judging information on the web was taught. This history teacher/french teacher/librarian explained how amazed she is when she gets students in grade 11 and they work on their first research project and are asked to use criteria to judge information on the web before completing the project. They often make comments such as "I've never thought of that before". This gap is something that likely needs to be filled in somewhat earlier, perhaps even before high school? In the past we focused on literacy, numeracy and then content subjects. Digital literacy is not always taught explicitly.

We make a lot of assumptions as teachers, or at least I have. Like the time as a new science teacher I asked my students to "research" a topic and found that they did not really know what that meant or how to start. Or, the other time when I asked for an essay about a topic in biology - I again assumed that they had this skill. I'm not sure who I expected to have shown this to my grade 9 and 11s? Perhaps I expected them to magically "know it"? Naive on my part to say the least.

This teacher and I brainstormed some ways to ensure every student coming into our school learns how to judge information on the web. One solution included using a common template for grade 9s to evaluate websites. She based it on this website:

Over the past week she has created some excellent slide shows/presentations of photos from historical sites using Creative Commons material and sourcing properly. Part of her lesson was to show the students previous presentations that she had made where material was NOT sourced properly and compared it to her new presentation. A class discussion formed around the fact that if a teacher has been plagiarizing, surely students have been too. Examples of things they've created that were not sourced properly were brainstormed.

Today we uploaded the presentation file to google docs and got it all set up for her class to collaboratively add their own pictures of historical sites and add to it. All the while they will be learning about Creative Commons, how to find material, how to source material and how to licence their own work. The enthusiasm from this teacher was contagious today and I got so excited about the progress we've seen this year. We are really reaching the "building capacity" part of integrating technology here at PSS. Teachers have spent this year integrating a wide variety of free technologies into their classroom across a wide variety of subject areas. It is now at the stage where staff members are saying "I'd like to try that", or, "oh, i'd like to do what so-and-so did this year with my class next year".

I'm excited, pumped and optimistic. These technologies aren't being used for the sake of using the technology. They are being used to reach the learning goals in creative, engaging and collaborative ways focused on problem solving and communication. I'm all in!

Kudos to the risk-taking staff at PSS who have taken risks trying the following:

   * using Edmodo to create a social aspect to class
   * blogging using Weebly - starting with the simple assignment of embedding a youtube video (gasp!) and writing a paragraph about why they like the video
   * using voice thread to display and reflect on work
   * using skype to communicate with other classes
   * using a Moodle to allow flexibility in timetabling for Peer Tutoring class
   * using wikis for short story unit and peer collaboration
   * incorporating Creative Commons into their creations
   * using Google Docs
   * creating animations and videos online
   * using Facebook to create belonging amongst incoming Grade 9s
   * using Twitter for tweeting our morning announcements
   * using CPS clickers/response systems and the awkward software for diagnostic and review

There are some big changes coming in our board within the next few years. Starting in the fall there is a plan to provide every teacher with a mini-laptop and projector in every room. We are one of the first schools and should be getting ours in the fall. We will be moving towards the ultimate goal of being paperless. This will start with online attendance (we piloted this year) and schedules and memos coming electronically instead of flooding our mailboxes. With projectors in every room we will have access to resources we had to plan and book ahead in the past.

The other even more exciting change coming to us will be the opening up of the wi-fi networks. Hopefully in the fall the networks will be opened up to all staff to use any device and by January students will be allowed on as well. This will bring a whole new host of challenges to the classroom including the need to differentiate, take-risks and be flexible like we've never been required to in the past. I think the staff here are well on their way to embracing the mind-set needed to support 21st century learners. It will be tough and I look forward to facing the challenges with these risk-taking colleagues.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Evernote to track students?

Before Easter break I attended a session with admin and teachers from my board run by Will Richardson. I've been using Evernote for a few months now to keep track of projects. It works really well for me. As Will was demonstrating Evernote to a very engaged room I got an email about a student I work with. The Internet was wonky at the hotel and even my tethering was poor due to limited reception. I could not access the database our school board uses to monitor and track student success. I threw my notes into Evernote without thinking about it. I've never done this before for student notes. I work with students-at-risk for in a variety of ways. I track report cards and see who we need to work with, I receive referrals from teachers, I work one-on-one with some students, I organize independent courses for some and credit salvage or recovery for others. Until last week, all those lists and notes were in separate places. Nothing connected them. 

Last week when finally getting around to doing the action required by me to support this student, I tried something. I linked in the students information from the database into
Evernote. I brought in his credit recovery assignments and forms. I dragged over a presentation he made on Creative Commons. I took a quick picture of his counselors business card and put it in Evernote. Being the geek that I am, I emailed the only other Student Success Teacher I know who might "get this". Rodd Lucier's (aka thecleversheep) response was "I see it as a data rich scrapbook". Exactly!

So, to track my meetings, credit recovery, parent contacts, remedial support and student work with students at risk I am now using
Evernote. I have created a notebook titled "Student Notes" and each student gets their own note. By tagging each note with key words I can sort and search them by grade, withdrawn, independent courses, credit recovery or IEP.

I wonder, has anyone else used
Evernote or any other good tools for tracking students?

Monday, April 12, 2010

When Worlds Collide

I'm not much of a TV person and don't have cable, but I recall being told about a Seinfeld episode years ago where one of the characters describes how having his relationship world and friend world collide is dangerous. I think my two education worlds have collided, and I'm thinking it's not such a bad thing!
I'm a student success teacher. I spend a lot of my time working with "at-risk" students who don't always find our ways of teaching and the structure of school a good fit. I also spend a large chunk of my time working with teachers in professional learning groups implementing new technologies and teaching strategies. Up until TEDxOntarioEd I was only making very vague connections between these two parts of my job. I could see the correlation between good teaching/assessment strategies to less students showing up in my office for "student success" work, but never thought much beyond that. The final TEDxOntarioEd talk was by a student who reminded me of those I've seen many times in my office with various stories. Every student has a story. School doesn't work for all. Nothing works "for all". Student success embodies individuality. As I was listening to Tim speak, I realized that I was using my "student success" brain to listen, not my ICT integration brain.
I felt like I was at one of our student success meetings where we regularly bring students in to speak of their barriers to education and what made a difference. I realized at that moment the similarities between integrating technology into education and student success. Teachers who are immersed in either one often share the following qualities.
     1. Creativity
     2. Put some control into students hands
     3. Focus on the "big ideas" or expectations opposed to the specific
     4. Take risks, not afraid of making mistakes while learning and trying new things
     5. Differentiate learning and assessments to best fit students needs
     6. Foster skill development in students like problem-solving and self-advocacy
It took me a long time to get here, but there we go. Teachers succeeding in both these areas embrace change. They often have "outside of education" experience (in industry, business or other) and often made bad students themselves, therefore wanting more options for their students.
So.... how do we bottle it? 

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Respecting my elders. From slide rules to apps.

Society is changing. FAST. Students are changing. FAST. Education is changing. SLOWLY. Many experienced teachers often get a bad reputation for their inertia. Teaching the same way they did 20 years ago. I was sitting at friday evening social hour with some colleagues yesterday when I overheard something that made me think. Two teachers (great friends) spoke of using a slide rule in math. This thought stunned me for a minute. How could someone say these teachers don't adapt to change? They've adapted from slide rules to calculators to graphic calculators to computers to web applications to portable devices with apps. Hmmmm....  they now do their attendance online, are my Facebook friends, do online reporting and help me create "make up" assignments for credit recovery when a student fails their course. So, yes, some things like teaching strategies, classroom set up and how we assess take a long time to change (especially when there is very little leadership to support, model or encourage this change), BUT look at some of the fundamental changes many, many teachers have adapted to. We should always begin by acknowledging that which has been done well. I often think so far outside of the box that I am annoying to many. My principal even jokes (I think its a joke) and hides under her desk when I have that look in my eye of a new idea. Rarely do I stop and reflect on all the positive changes that have been made. Sure, we stop and celebrate successes along the way, but I'd like to take this moment to give kudos to educators who have taught for 20 years and adapted to many, many changes in education. This doesn't mean i'll stop pushing the boundaries with new ideas, new technologies and new theories (and annoying the heck out of you), but I do sincerely recognize the major adaptability and changes you have seen and excelled at in education. Students greatly benefit from an experienced teachers knowledge, wisdom and well, experience. No technology or teaching theory or blog could replace that experience. I think this message often gets lost in the shuffle. 

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Social services and schools as partners

How does your school support students who have unique living conditions? Our school has recently made some excellent partnerships with community agencies that I’d like to discuss.

I doubt the situation is unique to Penetanguishene, and would hazard a guess that it’s province wide. We continuously run into a similar situation with some of our 16 and 17 year-old students. They have nowhere to live. For various reasons their parents cannot care for them, or are non-existent and children’s aid cannot place them or even work with them at that age (they are short beds for their little guys as it is). 

Laurie (Child & Youth Worker) and I recently sat in on a community meeting designed to work towards ending homelessness. We explained our concern with the gap between children’s aid support and becoming an adult. Representatives from all around the community sat at the table (YMCA, Ontario Works, LEAP, Salvation Army, churches, etc.). All agreed the need was widespread. This resulted in the creation of a sub-committee with the first task of determining how widespread the issue is (how many homeless students, non-attending school age students and couch-surfers). While this will take time, I am extremely happy to be working towards some potential solutions. 

This morning Wendy, a Caseworker with Ontario Works programs for the County of Simcoe Social Services Division volunteered came into the school to explain the whole process to Laurie and I. Much to my surprise four other educators pointed out that they would like to have been invited. They all promised to not hold a grudge as long as I share what I’ve learned with them. ☺ The guidance counselors, special education teachers, vice principal and attendance counselors were all interested in how the system works. This on its own demonstrates a need for community agencies like Social Services and the schools to communicate more often. 

Here is a summary of what I’ve learned:

  • There are two main social service programs
    • Temporary care - for those living with other people (example: grandparents)
    • Ontario Works – for those living independently with a mandate to develop employable skills
  • The monthly money provided in all social service programs is for rent and food ONLY. No other costs are covered with the exception of medical and dental coverage.
  • Temporary care provides approximately $200/month to cover food expenses and also includes medical and dental benefits. There are some one-time “community set up” funds that can be applied for (example: to cover the costs of a bed). In this case the caregiver also gets the child tax credit for the child.
  • Ontario Works is more complicated. Youth (under 18) need to find a trustee who is an adult that the cheques are written to, who then disburse the funds and hopefully teach some budgeting skills.
  • Students often show up for Ontario Works appointments with a trustee who will also be the landlord (ex. Friends, boyfriend, girlfriends parent). This is NOT a good idea because if something happens to a relationship in this case the student loses their trustee and place to live. Their entire support system comes crashing down.
  • Caseworkers will call the parents to check up on the living situation and use a “reasonableness” scale to determine if the student qualifies. If the parents say that the student CAN live with them, they are asked questions about what would be required. If they state that the student cannot live with them they are then asked what they can contribute to the students living expenses. Sometimes parents give some money from the child tax (which they should not really be receiving if the kid is not living there, but that is between them and the CRA – the Caseworker will always point this out). Parents submit a financial form to determine how much they can pay (it is sometime zero).
  • A trustee MAY be asked to speak with the parent to ask for money to support the student. Very rarely will the situation go right to court. Because the process takes years and these students are almost 18, it never actually makes it to court.
  • Every month the trustee gets the cheque for the student along with an income reporting card (to be filled out and returned with attendance report from the school) and a drug benefit card.
  • This money is in no way taxable income for the trustee – it is money for the student. The trustee position is voluntary.
  • The max amount of assistance is around $585 ($221 for food and the rest is for rent). Room and board rates are a bit different at a max of $400/month for room and board with a $60 allowance for incidentals (deodorant, hygiene, etc.)
  • If the student is pregnant or a mother, under 18 and without a high school diploma they are signed up for the LEAP program automatically. This program has a SIGNIFICANT amount more support, both financial and personal.
  • To access Ontario Works the student needs to call a local phone number (in our area the head office is in Midhurst). From there they make an appointment at the appropriate office to go in person.
  • From a landlords point of view, rent is taxable but room and board is not.
  • Biggest barriers to getting assistance for youth is having an appropriate trustee and place to live. Student must also be a FULL TIME student, which provides some barriers.
  • Income from a part-time job is deducted from benefits at 100% for the first 3 months on Ontario Works and at 50% from four months onwards.
  • If you do the math Ontario Works “pays” $4.18 per hour (at $585 for 140 hours of full-time work). If minimum wage is just above $9.00 the job would bring in $1280 per month with full time hours. Even 20 hours a month would result in $630. Even if a student is only eligible for $2 of Ontario Works funding per month (because they earn money through part-time work) they still get the drug card and medical benefits.

After this very informative meeting my head spins at the knowledge of how difficult it is for some of these students. I also see many opportunities for teachers and schools to support these students. I see an opportunity to be a trustee for a student as a possibility. I think it needs to be looked at in a case-by-case situation, but is doable in some cases.

Schools can also play a role in making “full-time” education more accessible. We can offer many different versions of creative programming that allow the student to be “full-time’ and still meet all of their needs (and the schools).

I also see an opportunity to continue working with the local subcommittee working on creating solutions. These solutions might include media campaigns to alert the general population to the need for supportive homes, working with local church populations to identify some potential opportunities before the emergencies arise or even acquiring property and funding to run boarding house type situations.

I’d LOVE to know how other communities and schools are dealing with these situations and your thoughts on how social services and schools can work together.