Saturday, 21 October 2017

Get Outside and Play!

Get Outside and Play!
                           Picture from:

It's autumn and it's a sensual wonderland out there.  The leaves have put on their brightest and best ball gowns for their last dance of the year, before free falling to crunch beneath our feet.  The colors of the landscape have morphed from the fresh greens of Spring and Summer to the deeper and golden tones of fall: red, brown, yellow, orange.  The songbirds have started their migration to warmer places, but our hardier, year round winged friends like the BlueJays, Crows and Cardinals are still loud and proud, filling the airwaves with their caws and squawking.  Inhale deeply.  It's earthy aromas like a pile of crisp leaves, bright colored mums, and damp soil.  The days are getting shorter, and the sunset comes earlier, but rewards us with a spectacular display in the sky, followed by a Harvest Moon.

I count myself lucky to have grown up on a dirt road and to still live in a rural area. I spent a great deal of time outside as a kid.  My sisters and I built forts, climbed trees, chased rabbits out of the garden, picked wildflowers, explored and raked the leaves into gigantic piles so we could launch ourselves into them, only to have to rake them again.  Of course, there were times when I would be fully absorbed in a new book, and my mother would have to shoo me out the door with her warning: "The weather won't stay nice forever!  Get outside and play!" Now that I'm an adult, I can still hear her saying that in my head, and I put aside the laundry, or the lesson planning or the latest book I don't want to stop reading, and I take my tea in a travel mug, put on my jacket and go for a stroll through leaf covered paths, letting the sounds and sights of fall quiet my inner turmoil and heal my soul.

On one such walk last week, I was thinking about how my students need this connection with nature as much as I do.  I was reflecting on our recent field trip to the Jaffa Outdoor Education Center (@JaffaEEC) near Aylmer, Ontario, and how my mostly urbanite class of students gets such joy from these outings.  Most of them live in the city, many of them in apartments or housing complexes.  Few of them have access to nature other than city parks, sports fields and the small patches of grass around parking lots.  In Elementary School, they have some time outside at recess, but my Secondary School kids spend the day inside and often their only time outside is getting on and off the school bus.

On this trip,  they were scooping up mud from the bottom of the pond and then sifting through it for creatures.  We found snails, tadpoles, bugs and one enormous beetle! 

 We walked the trails through the Carolinian forrest, looking for wildlife.  We saw several types of birds and lots of chipmunks and squirrels.  Alas, our troop was a bit too exuberant to see deer, but we marveled at the canopy of colors above us as we walked, and at the sounds you can hear, when you are far from roads and civilization. Our connection to the curriculum was investigating invertebrates, but my students got so much more from their day outside than just a learning objective.  In the spring we go back to see Mother Nature wake up from her long winter, and to go fishing (catch and release).  When they look back on the school year, these are the days that my students talk about and remember.  

The Thames Valley District School Board has three outdoor Education Centers, staffs them with fantastic Environmental Education Teachers (like Dan Arrpe and Shannon Queen at Jaffa), and even has a fund we can apply to that will help pay for transportation to these sites, as well as Conservation Areas and other places where students can experience Outdoor and Environmental Education.  But even without this support, it is so important to get our students outside.  Call it a math walk, a science exploration, a Historical tour, plant some trees or just getting some exercise. 
 But, Get Outdoors and Play.

That's enough from me for this post.  Winter is coming, but today there's a big pile of leaves in my yard that I want to jump in a few times.

Sunday, 15 October 2017

The Beginning of Some Beautiful PLN Relationships

The Start of Some Beautiful PLN Relationships
#IMMOOC Season 3, Week 4

Only a very short time ago, when it came to my PLN, I was reliant on the Teachers in my building, ones that I met at Board Professional Development Sessions, the Teachers in my gigantic Dutch Family (we make My Big Fat Greek Wedding look like a small, quiet, family gathering) and a few that I was lucky to meet in my travels or at the odd conference.

All that changed when I decided to take the Integration of Information and Computer Technology in Instruction Online Course through Western University (or IICTI - because that name is a mouthful!).  Our Instructor was a guy named Rodd Lucier aka the clever sheep, and right away he got us using Social Media to develop relationships beyond our classmates.  The class was a little reluctant: much safer to stay within the confines of our close, closed, online course discussions.  Some were fearful.  There were many discussions of the dangers of Social Media via Trolls, inappropriate posts, unprofessional behavior, misinterpretation, Union and College of Teacher Directives, but also the benefits that could be reaped from the power and potential of using things like Twitter for our own networks and for student learning.

At the time, I had a Twitter account.  But, I really wasn't using it.  And, I didn't really understand how to use it either.  Rodd gave us some ideas of how it could be used, made a few recommendations of folks to follow and encouraged us to give it a try.  I had never met Rodd, but I was loving the course, and I figured Western U wouldn't have given him the Instructor job if he didn't know a little about what he was teaching.  Myself and a few other intrepid classmates jumped into the Twittosphere, and we were off.

Honestly, it was like I had been let loose in the world's biggest and best bakery, and everything was free! (Perhaps I should pause here to reveal that I have a love for all baked goods, and that bakeries are second only to bookstores and golf courses on my list of happy places).  Sometimes I gorge myself on Twitter content, and other times, I scroll and enjoy a cup of tea.  The best part is, it's always there, always open and always free to explore.
New to Twitter, I followed Rodd's recommendations and was introduced to the ideas of George Couros, his brother Alec CourosDoug PetersonDean ShareskiChris Kennedy and of course, my fellow intrepid classmates, T Scott and Agi Orban.  From there, it's like that old shampoo commercial  spoofed by Mike Meyers...

I have become...Twitterpated!

The connections I've made on Twitter have grown exponentially.  My PLN has exploded.  My own learning has expanded dramatically.  I'm blogging and reading some really awesome EduBlogs that I never knew existed before.  My classroom has really changed for the better.  Things like the Global Read Aloud, Passion Projects, Innovator's Mindset, Digital Citizenship, Growth Mindset and our classroom blogs and Twitter account have all come to my students because of Twitter.  I'm in this IMMOOC, thanks to Twitter.  I've made awesome connections with teachers I have never met face to face (and some I have met) and there is a lot of online sharing and discussion going on.  I'm modeling what I've learned and encouraging colleagues to get on Twitter even if at first they are just lurkers and not creators.

And, I have The Clever Sheep to thank for it all. 

Now that I've completed all three IICTI Courses, I don't chat with Rodd quite as often.
  But, "We'll always have {Twitter}..."

P.S. Other Great Twitter Accounts to follow:
I've mentioned a few folks to follow in my post above.  Here's a few more great ones to follow (in no particular order) if you are not already following them:

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Just say "No," to the Status Quo!

Just say "No," to the Status Quo!

#IMMOOC Season 3, Episode 3 

This week as part of the IMMOOC for The Innovator's Mindset, we've been asked to blog about..."What is one thing that you used to do in education that you no longer do or believe in? Why the change?"

There are probably many technological changes over my 20 plus years in the classroom that I no longer use, like ditto machines, filmstrip projectors and VCRs.   I sometimes miss the acetone smell of freshly duplicated dittos.  But I don't miss the agony of having the page mangled by the machine, or the look of boredom on the bright little faces of my learners when faced with, {aghast} 'another worksheet'.

And in reading chapters four and five of The Innovator's Mindset this week, the words that jumped off the page for me were in the section on the Power of "No" versus a culture of "Yes."  As George Couros writes..."The problem is that when you say "no" to innovation - for any reason - people feel reluctant to attempt trying new things in the future....Sooner or later, the innovators will get tired of asking for forgiveness.  They'll move on to places where they're trusted to use their creativity and passion - or, perhaps worse, they'll settle into the status quo.  In either case, learners will be deprived of their ingenuity." (p.72-73)

I used to be that "status quo" teacher.  I was young.  I had worked hard to get that first job and I sure didn't want to do anything that would rock the boat, or even worse, cause me to look bad to the folks in the office, or jeopardize my job when still in probationary status.  But, as I looked around my classroom, I saw so many ways I could improve the learning environment for my students.  And most of them involved new technology or teaching methods, or classroom environment (like seating) that required me to look for funding outside of my meager classroom budget, or invest in my own learning through courses and workshops.  

So, I started to take some risks.  I tried some new things.  I wrote grant applications, I entered contests, I asked for additional funds from non traditional sources.  I ran fundraisers and got colleagues and parents on board to help me.  We wanted a SmartBoard and computers in the room.  So, I sold a lot of cookie dough, pizzas and bargained with my Principal to match any funds we raised.  We got that SmartBoard and each year added more desktop computers in the room.  I saw the value of 1:1 iPads, so I wrote applications for them and we got them.  I've worked a lot of Bingos.  My family cringes when they see me coming with yet another fundraiser.  I spent weekends and nights on the computer taking courses and going to workshops so I could learn how to use this technology effectively in my classroom.  I pushed my own envelope and sometimes I failed, but more often I succeeded and my students benefited from our trials and tribulations.  

So what is it that I no longer do in education because I don't believe in it?  I no longer accept the limits of my classroom budget, or the twenty year old lessons of Teacher's college.  I no longer worry about a plan that might not work, or a new method that might be a bit scary for me.  If I want to try some new technology, but I don't have the budget for it, I don't accept that as a reason to stop trying to get it.  When it comes to innovation and change, I'm an early adopter.  I'd rather beg forgiveness for a failure, than not try at all.  I just say "NO" to the status quo.

Thursday, 5 October 2017

We have the technology...We can build Schools of the Future

We have the technology...We can build Schools of the Future
#IMMOOC #IMMOOCTVDSB Innovator's Mindset Season 3, Week 2

I may be dating myself here, but when I read George Couros' prompt this week,  asking us to blog about what a school we built from scratch would look like, the opening to a classic Seventies t.v. show: The Six Million Dollar Man, starting playing in a loop in my head.  In my defense, I was very young when this show aired.  Have a listen, but it goes like this...

"Gentlemen, we can rebuild him.  We have the technology.  We have the capacity to make the world's first bionic man.  Steve Austin will be that man.  Better than he was before.  Better, stronger, faster."

So, I asked myself why this particular ear worm was taking up space in my brain and why my dendrites and synapses were connecting it to my school of the future.  This is a topic I've thought about and explored a great deal in the last year or so.  I teach in a 90 year old building with declining enrollment, one that may well be replaced with a new school very soon.  As someone who may be working in a school built from scratch in the near future, I've given a lot of thought to how I hope that new building will look.  I also recently took a course on Technology in the Classroom through Western University in Ontario, where we were asked to think deeply and plan not only our classroom of the future, but a school of the future as well.  If you want to dive a little more deeply into my thoughts on this, check out my post from January 2017 on Designing a classroom of the future and my March 2017 Post on Schools of the Future and the Internet of Things.

To give you the short version of my vision, it would include:
- flexible, sustainable, learning environments where Inquiry Learning is the norm, not the exception
- Internet of Things Technology that meets the needs of all learners and runs seamlessly (with WiFi that never goes down, 1:1 devices that either don't break down or are instantly repaired by IT Robots)
- Innovative Educators that are facilitators in an engaging and passion filled classroom, helping students find their own questions to explore and reflect on
- Makerspaces, Learning Commons, and Community Partnerships
- a culture where taking risks is expected and failures are just steps on the journey to empowerment
- World wide connections through activities like the Global Read Along, IMMOOC's, online learning and charities that show our students that they can make a difference in this world

If I was writing the opening theme to my Six Million Dollar School, it would go something like this:

"Everyone, we can rebuild our schools.  We have the technology.  We have the capacity to make Schools of the Future.   Our schools will be ready for the next century.  Better than they were before.  Better, Connected, Innovative."

Students would be banging down our doors, begging to come in and learn.  I wanna teach at THAT school.

Thursday, 28 September 2017

Innovation Battles Adversity

#IMMOOC Season 3, Week 1 Blog

As part of the Innovator's Mindset IMMOOC this week, we were asked by @gcouros write a blog responding to two prompts: 1.  Why is innovation in education so crucial today? &
2. Talk about a time you dealt with adversity in education, and how you overcame it.  

I've spent most of my 20 plus years in the classroom as a Special Education Teacher.  In that time, I've seen students struggling with adversity that I cannot even imagine.  Physical disabilities, Developmental Delays, Learning Disabilities, Poverty, Brain Illness, Families in crisis, Low Self Esteem, Severe Anxiety and problems and issues that certainly never came up as part of my Teacher Training.  I've faced adversity in my own life, but the problems I've faced from time to time often seem so trivial compared to what my Students deal with daily.

I know that for some students, school is a safe haven, a place away from the chaos of their lives, and for others, school is a hell that they just try to survive.  I've always tried to make sure that my classroom was the first and not the second.  I work hard to build relationships with them, to help them see their potential, develop a Growth Mindset and find their passions. In my own way, I try to be like Dave Burgess writes in Teach Like a Pirate, to have them "knocking down the classroom doors to get in."  Like a chameleon, I've constantly modified my methods and my practice to meet the needs of the kids in my room.  To paraphrase George Couros in the Introduction... "What I care about is that kids are inspired to be better people because of their experiences in my [classroom]."  

So, for me, through my Special Education lens, Innovation has been a way to overcome adversity.  It's a way to level the playing field of roadblocks thrown in the way of my students. Wether it's technology like Speech to Text, that allows them to get their thoughts down on paper in a way that a Learning Disability kept them from doing in traditional assignments; or a Passion Project that has them fully engaged in their own learning; or completing a video to avoid the crushing anxiety that live presentation might's breaking the barriers that once held them back. 

That said, I don't want to even pretend that my classroom is full of unicorns and rainbows.  I've had failures.  I've tried things that crashed and burned.  I've had students that I've been unable to reach or help.  These break my heart and challenge my spirit.  But, I keep trying.  I keep learning.  I try to stay focused on the success my students have found, and I keep looking for that next innovation that will battle the dragon they have to face.

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

My Top 5 Defining Moments in teaching.

I read some great blogs this week from @mrsoclassroom and @cashjim that were also discussed by Doug Peterson and Stephen Hurley (@dougpete and @Stephen_Hurley) on the Radio-athon today on This week in Ontario EduBlogs.  They were talking about what they felt were their top 5 defining moments in their teaching career.  They got me thinking about what my Top 5 Defining Moments in my 23 year career have been so far.  Certainly, there would be more than 5 - narrowing it down is the tough part.  Here are my thoughts.

4 Years of Supply Teaching
After becoming certified to teach, I spent 4 years as an Occasional Teacher in the four boards which would eventually be amalgamated into the Thames Valley District School Board.  I would take any assignment offered.  A school would call (sometimes incredibly early in the morning after a late night at my part-time job) and I would go.  At the time, you could supply at any grade range or specialty, so although I had done my teacher training in Intermediate/Senior History and English, I was working at every grade level and just about every subject. Young and eager to start my teaching career, I was yearning for some Principal, somewhere, to give me my own classroom and a chance to show what I could do.  I was so green, I just had no idea about all the things I didn't know that I didn't know!  I look back at those years of traveling as a valuable apprenticeship that taught me so much about what kind of teacher I wanted to be, what I really wanted to teach and the importance of the relationships I would one day build with my colleagues and students.

Moving Full Time into the Realm of Special Education
Those years of Supply teaching resulted in my investing in several AQ courses to learn some of the things I needed to know more about.  More importantly, they exposed me to some of the various teaching jobs that related to Special Education and how taking the Special Education AQs through to my Specialist would improve my practice and be beneficial to my Students.  When I moved into full time Special Education work, I found my home.  It wasn't just that it was a good fit for me, it was as if I had received my calling.  I would have been an OK History and English Teacher, but I have a passion for Special Education that makes me push myself harder and be better every day.

Switching Schools
After my first six years as a full time teacher, I decided to switch schools.  At the time, the move was mainly motivated by a desire to shorten my daily commute from 40 minutes to 15.  What I didn't realize was that I was becoming complacent and a little too comfortable in my first school.   By switching locations and the type of classroom I had been working in, I was forced to change so much about what and how I was teaching.  It was just the shake up I needed to re-invigorate my practice and my passion for education.  Change is always hard, but it is also a huge opportunity for learning and growing.  I'm much more open to change and now when I am facing a tough decision, I remind myself about this first big change I made and how it had such a profoundly positive effect on my career and life.

Deeper Thinking and Learning about Educational Technology
About a Year and a half ago, I decided to take another AQ.  The Ontario Teachers Federation was offering subsidies for taking Math and Educational Technology Courses.  I have always enjoyed taking an AQ every so often, but not the cost.   At first, my motivation was mainly financial - I though, "Hey, great!  I can take another AQ at a third of the normal cost."  I was always open to computers and technology in the classroom.  Heck, I was an early adopter of the SmartBoard in our school, so I signed up to take an AQ course through Western University: Integration of Information and Computer Technology in Instruction with Instructor Rodd Lucier (@thecleversheep).  Talk about a mind blowing experience!  By the end of the course my brain was so full of new ideas and new understandings about how to integrate technology more effectively in my pedagogy. I felt electrified and as eager as I was the day I graduated from the Bachelor of Education program.  I loved it so much I went on to take Part II and the Specialist Course.  I have improved my practice by 500% or more by doing this - just understanding the SAMR model alone made a huge difference in my classroom.

Getting Twitterpated
I've always enjoyed PD, and getting together with colleagues to discuss best practices, but until I learned how to leverage Twitter for my Professional Learning Network, I had a pretty limited professional circle - mostly teachers in my school and board.  Through the previously mentioned AQ course, I noticed that I was not using Twitter in any meaningful way.  By getting Twitterpated and following so many amazing teachers world wide, I have opened myself and my classroom up to so many opportunities that I would not even have known existed prior to that, from all the various Google apps to the Global Read Along, and so much more.  And the beauty of it is, it never has to stop!  The connections you make just keep taking you further.  While this can, on occasion, become a trip down the rabbit hole, it is always a fascinating trip!

So, take a minute to read the blogs that inspired this post, listen to VoicEd Radio (, think back on your time in the classroom - and share the Top 5 Defining Moments in your Teaching Career.

Sunday, 13 August 2017


As promised... here are some more great reads 
I'd like to share from my Summer Reading pile!

Wherever possible I have provided you a link to the Author's Twitter account...just click on their names to get there!

The Google Infused Classroom By Holly Clark & Tanya Avrith

If you are using G Suite in your classroom - this is the book for you.  No matter if you are new to the apps or a seasoned Ed Tech veteran, this book will have you thinking more deeply about how you integrate technology in a meaningful way so that students can show their learning in an authentic way.  The authors explain the well researched pedagogy behind their book and then go over the many tools you can use and how you can apply them for various learning goals.  I love the way this book is organised and written.  It is easy to access and quickly find the specific learning objective or tool you need.  I especially like the section near the end that takes "old school" activities and gives you options to try that will be more in line with the skills students need in the future.  LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this book!

The Google Apps Guidebook by Kern Kelley with Austin Taylor and the Tech Sherpas

Pretty much as the cover promises, this book is all kinds of activities that use the Apps in G Suite, created by students for Teachers to use.  Kern sets up how this book came to be and how the Tech Sherpas came to be, but after that - it's the kids showing you step by step how to use the Apps in a way kids will want to use them.  I found it hard to describe this just gotta read it.  It's pretty fantastic what these kids are doing in their school and creating to share with us.

Innovate with iPad by Karen Lirenman & Kristen Wideen

While this is very much geared to Primary classrooms, this book does show some great ways to use the iPad with students across the curriculum.  It would also be great to use in Special Education applications.  I loved what they were doing with Numeracy and Literacy with Poplet, Explain Everything and a basketful of iPad apps.  It's well organised and the lessons are easy to access and use.

The HyperDoc Handbook by Lisa Highfill, Kelly Hilton and Sarah Landis

I'm still pretty new to HyperDocs - so this book was a godsend to me!  HyperDocs are digital lessons put together to link students to various online resources, platforms and apps to engage them in inquiry learning.  This book is very good at differentiating between a digital worksheet (not great) to a HyperDoc (very great) in their pedagogical worth.  They go over the tools you can link to and how to use them, how to create an awesome HyperDoc (and why you would want to as well) and give some great ideas of how to use them.  This is also a two thumbs up book and on the Meharg Must Read List!

The Google Cardboard Book By Holly Clark, Sylvia Duckworth, Jeffery Heil, David Hotler, Donnie Piercey, & Lisa Thumann

If you are planning to do some Virtual Reality with your class, Google Cardboard is a great place to start and this book gives you all the ins and outs of how to use it, additional resources and even gives you directions on how to construct your own Google Cardboard viewer out of...of course...cardboard.  There are ideas and lessons you can apply across the curriculum, and I loved the section about taking 360 degree pictures and videos.

Bridges Out of Poverty by Ruby K Payne & Phillip E DeVol, 

A Framework for Understanding Poverty by Ruby K Payne

Getting Ahead in a Just-Gettin' By World by Philip E. DeVol

All three of these books will help you understand the divides that create differences between the wealthy, the middle class and those living in poverty.  The second book is written specifically with Teachers in Mind and is in a workbook format with resources to use with students living in poverty and with Staff who work with students living in poverty.  The goal is to understand where they are coming from and to help them reach their own goals.  The Third book is a workbook, but is designed as a workshop to use with those living in poverty to help them understand the unwritten rules of the different classes and how to navigate them.  All three were great reads to help teachers understand the economic and social backgrounds we see in all classrooms.