Saturday, 30 December 2017

Crowd Sourcing Math Problems through the 12 Days of Tweetmas

The 12 Days of Tweetmas: 

Connecting through Math on Twitter

This year our class joined the #TVDSBmath initiative to complete 12 math tasks in the12 Days before Christmas Holidays by Tweeting our results and questions daily with other classrooms in our Board who were participating.  I wish I knew who created the initiative so I could give credit where it is due, but I can only tell you that it came from our Math Co-ordinators and I became aware of it through my Twitter/TVDSB PLN.

Here are the Daily tasks with some of the solutions the class came up with that I put into a video so you can see what we were working on (sorry - I tried a slide show, but I could not get Blogger to embed it.  If you prefer, here is a link to a copy of the document that was originally shared with us: 12 Days of Tweetmas )

As you can see from the video, the tasks were varied in their type, level of difficulty and math thinking required to solve them.

A few things I should tell you.  I have a Secondary Special Education Classroom.  The ten students in our classroom are all of High School age, but all have a Developmental Disability, so their math, language and reading levels range from non verbal with no number awareness to about the Junior level.  I have many gifts, but being a skilled mathematician or math teacher, are not among them...(Growth Mindset here...) at least not yet.  But I am working on improving my limited skills through courses, PD opportunities, my PLN and activities like these.

I was a little worried about some of these problems - they were going to require a lot of Grit and would push most of my students beyond the type of math thinking they do regularly.  Some of them were going to be challenging for me to find a solution as well.  However, as Churchill said, "the only thing to fear, is fear itself."  As I debated with myself and fought my own doubts about my abilities to teach math, I remembered that quote and decided to forget my fears and join in the activity.  After all, I want them to push themselves and to work beyond their comfort level.   That goes for me too... I want to work beyond my comfort level - and push myself and my math instructional skills.

Some of the problems were easier and called on them to do some code-breaking or geometric design.  Probably their favorite activity was Day 11 where they had to measure and estimate objects using candy canes as their tool.  It may have had something to do with giving them a full sized candy cane to measure with and that they got to eat when the activity was completed.

Some hilarity ensued as well.  On Day 3, we were required to decide which object didn't belong and they came up with some great answers to do with colors, shapes, patterns, themes etc.  Then when we checked in with other classes using the hashtag, one class stated that the top right square didn't belong because it was of someone throwing an object in the toilet.  When we looked back at the graphic...yes...we could see that it looked like something was being thrown in the toilet.  Hilarious!  There is no laughter like the laughs that come from bathroom humor.  Except maybe farts.  Those seem to result in the loudest, most infectious and delightful laughter.

Some of the problems were tough.  Day 6 really pushed them. They were tasked to find 12 keys with 5 colored squares.  They worked independently, with a partner and then as a class and the best we could come up with was 10.  That's the day the crowd sourcing element really came alive for us.  We had been following what other classes were doing through the hashtag...but now we NEEDED them to help us come up with a solution.  The kids were pleased to see that other classes were struggling as much as we were to find 12 possible keys - and that the keys they had found were shared by others.  When we found a class that had found the solution - they still got their Aha! Moment.  We'd been thinking about the keys as a line...and they didn't have to be.  One of them, when they saw the pictures the other class had posted to help with the solution, actually said, "Oh, of course.  Why didn't I think of it that way."  They then worked feverishly to come up with more than 12 ways to arrange the tiles into different keys.

After a week to reflect on the 12 Days of Tweetmas I would have to say it was really successful in our classroom.  We were all pushed to think outside the box to come up with solutions.  We also had a lot of fun doing math in a less traditional way.  Would I do this again next year?  Absolutely!  It would be neat to maybe try connecting with other classes through Google Hangouts to talk about how to solve the problems, or work in real time together on the answers.  I'd like to take it beyond just a pre-holiday activity too.  If you are reading this blog and you have a source for problems like these that I could do on a weekly or daily basis...please share them in the comments section below!  As always, I welcome your comments!

Friday, 29 December 2017

#OneWord 2018

Just #OneWord?

It's an inspiring challenging.  I've been following the #OneWord Challenge on Twitter the last couple weeks... especially the #OneWordOnt posts - reading blogs, listening to the OnEdMentors show on voicEdRadio, following @jacbalen's posts, listening and reading Doug Peterson's This Week in Ontario Edublogs and trying to decide what my one word for 2018 will be.  (Check out the links to some of the blogs already posted if you can - they are truly thoughtful, reflective works that will get you looking for your own inspirational One Word for 2018).

I will admit to some shameful lurking here.  It's a tough challenge.  How's a girl to pick?  It reminds me of one of my guilty pleasures...watching the TLC Network Program "Say Yes to the Dress."  If you've never seen the show, it's about prospective Brides who go to the absolute Mecca of Bridal Wear - Kleinfeld Bridal in New York, NY, to pick out their wedding dress.  They try on these absolutely fabulous dresses and have to decide which one they will wear on their wedding day.  The tulle, chiffon and satin are flowing and the sparkly sequins are everywhere and they have to pick one.  Just one.
Image by: Nathan O'Nions, 2013

As hard as that is for the Brides on the show...this is even harder.  Picking that One Word to guide me for 2018 has been nagging at me.  I have tried out so many since this challenge began.  Tried them on, worn them around a bit...and then discarded them as just not quite right.  But 2018 is only a few days away.  I need to make a choice.  A Word I can live with and growth with for the entire year.

One word keeps coming back to me, though.  On the show, it's that dress that you try on and just can't forget.  That the other dresses are never quite able to top.  The one that makes you feel beautiful inside and out and that you can actually visualize yourself wearing down the isle.  If that word keeps coming back to me, it must be The One.  To paraphrase from Lord of the Rings, "One Word to Rule them All."

Decision Made.  My #OneWord for 2018 is: Relationships.

Relationships guide everything I do.  Relationships make the seemingly impossible in the classroom...possible.  

Relationships with my students
When we have built strong relationships in the classroom, students trust that even if something we are trying may sound a little bit crazy, there is a good reason for doing it.  They will try new things and take risks in a supportive environment.  They feel safe to share their ideas and feelings with each other and with me.  They will ask questions and look for answers even when the going gets tough.  The time I spend each day building relationships with my students pays off in huge dividends and is always worth the effort and the time.

Relationships with parents
Keeping parents informed of what is going on in the classroom and in the learning of their child is crucial to their success.  I only have those Students for 194 days (less PD days), their parents have them the rest of the time.  How can parents support what we are doing at school, if I haven't built a relationship with them as well?   That means sharing way more of the good than the bad.  If they know how much I believe in their child and all the great things they have and will accomplish, then when things get a bit off track, that relationship will help us all get the train going again.

Relationships with colleagues
In my building, my board, my online PLN - wherever I can find them...I build relationships with folks who will help me grow personally and professionally.  Sometimes I need a like minded colleague to help me work out a lesson or an issue, and sometimes I need a colleague to challenge me to look deeper at why I am doing something, or to challenge my assumptions.  Sometimes I need a colleague to just loan me a book, or who will listen after a tough day...sometimes I am that person for them.  Joy Kirr writes in her book, Shift This: "Teaching is the toughest thing I've ever done."  It's true and I'm sure glad I don't have to do it alone.

Relationships at home
We all need a safe place to fall, a shelter in the storm, a refuge from the daily battles and stresses.  Wether it's a spouse, a partner, a parent, children, extended family or a good friend, I need these people to keep me sane.  They remind me that there is a life outside of school and help me keep myself in balance.  

"Relationships" is my #OneWordOnt for 2018.  Take up the challenge.  What's yours?

Image courtesy of Flickr 2012

Saturday, 11 November 2017

How a tough read became a powerful 75 minutes in my classroom

Friday.  Period 3.  I was dreading it.  It was going to be a tough read.  But, it became a powerful 75 minutes in my classroom.  It was an experience unlike any in my 23 years of teaching and I can't stop thinking about it, which means I should write about it...

This is my first time participating in the Global Read Aloud (GRA).  And it has been awesome in so many ways for my students and for myself.  I promise in a future post to talk about all the ways it is awesome and how to get involved and why you want to be a part of it.  But this post is about that 75 minutes we shared in my classroom on Friday.

We have been reading A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, inspired by an idea from Siobhan Dowd.  It's a rich novel (Spoiler Alert!) about a young man named Conor who is dealing with his mother's battle with cancer.  When I signed up for the GRA this summer, I read the the assortment of books we had to choose from and was beyond moved by this story of dealing with illness, self isolation, survivor guilt and dealing with losing someone you love.  All the books were inspiring, but this one really touched me.  I didn't choose this particular novel lightly.  There is a lot of darkness, some violence and some really gut wrenching emotions in it.  I knew it would be tough.  I thought about it for a few days, and decided that this was the book I needed to share with my students.

I knew it would be particularly tough for me because my Mom has been fighting an eight year battle with cancer.  The type of cancer she has is called Multiple Myeloma and while treatable, currently there is no cure.  It is a long journey of unimaginable pain and suffering, with treatments that have given her more time with us, but have often been as horrifying and debilitating as the disease itself.  While we don't know just when or how her battle will end, we do know that it will.   It isn't a secret that my Mom is ill.  But, it isn't something I talk a lot about.  I wear a sticker that says "I'm walking for my Mom" in the Terry Fox Run at school, and the fact that my Mom has cancer has come up in class, but mostly in passing.  It has been a fact of my life, but not something I discuss often or openly with many.  I never imagined I would be blogging about it.  Sharing something so personally painful, is no easy task.  So, when I chose this book, I knew it would be emotionally tough on me.

Fast Forward to Friday.  10 chapters from the end of the Novel.

On Friday, we got to the chapter called "100 Years." I don't want to give too much away if you haven't read the book, but it is a heart breaking moment in the story.  I'm tearing up right now, just thinking about it.  I was dreading reading it with my students because I knew I would not be able to hold it together and that my own emotions would wash over me like a tidal wave.  Thank goodness I had purchased the audio book, and was letting it read to the class, because I was right.  I did lose myself in the moment and would have been unable to continue reading to them.  I let it play on into the next chapter where Conor reveals the feelings that have been eating him alive.  I regained some composure and when that chapter ended, wiped my eyes, stoped the audio and looked up at my beautiful, wonderful, thoughtful class.

Not a dry eye in the house.

Some were trying to hide their tears, some were letting them drop like rain.  My Educational Assistant suddenly remembered he had urgent business in the office and rushed out, Kleenex in hand.  But we all felt Conor's loss deeply and on a personal level.

It was a tough read for all of us.  No matter who we are, where we come from, or what our history is, we all experience loss.  The discussion that followed went deep into not just Conor's story, but into our own stories.  The way they were able to apply Conor's experience to their own lives and emotions  was inspiring to me.  There was no judgement, no put downs...just open, empathetic and honest sharing.  It was a pretty powerful and emotional 75 minutes.

It was 75 minutes of literacy instruction that went well beyond my expectations. It expanded their understanding of the novel, opened up discussion on how we deal with grief in many different ways and strengthened the relationships in our classroom community.  They were realizing through sharing that everyone in the room was fighting their own battle that we knew nothing about.  And I almost missed it all, because it would be tough for me, personally.

You know that quote, "I didn't say it would be easy.  I said it would be worth it."  That was Friday.

Sunday, 5 November 2017

Always put Passion in the Driver's Seat

Always put Passion in the Driver's Seat
Some final thoughts on The Innovator's Mindset and the IMMOOC experience as it comes to a close. 

I've been thinking a lot about this quote: 

"If we reduce what we do to numbers and letters to measure our achievements, then we forget that it is (or should be) passion that drives us."  (p 224 George Couros, The Innovator's Mindset)

Such an important statement, because regardless of whatever else is going on in my classroom, school, district, or the education world around me, it's my passion for learning and teaching that gets me in the car and starting the ignition.

There are plenty of others in the car.

Fear is always trying to be the backseat driver.  Fear tries to push me onto the road more travelled.  It's back there nagging at me, reminding me that this could all go terribly wrong.  What if the wifi goes down during an exciting collaborative but tech dependent lesson?  What if no one else is doing the same thing and I look like an idiot?  What if my Students aren't engaged or even remotely interested?  I have to remind myself, that it's okay to listen to those fears and keep them in mind as I travel, but I can't let them take over or I will never get anywhere.  Fear wants to my excuse for staying home, binging on Netflix...playing it safe, and where is the adventure in that?

My learning and training are the navigation system and road maps.  They show me possible bumps in the road ahead and warn me about accidents and dangers to avoid.  They help me apply the curriculum to new ways of teaching and learning.  They remind me to scaffold and differentiate and help me prepare my students for their own journeys, as they guide me on my own.

Past experience is the seasoned traveller.  It reminds me that taking a certain route didn't work well in the past, and probably won't help me on this trip either.  It tells me to start early and do my research so I don't get bogged down in rush hour traffic and works well with the navigation system to help me find a detour when I hit construction.

My Professional Learning Network peeps are always up for a road trip.  They are in the car talking about all kinds of different routes to take, interesting side trips, places they've been and would like to go.  What I like best about having them along for the ride, is they are always encouraging, no matter what route I choose.  If I make a wrong turn, they help me get back on track.  If the car breaks down, or I get a flat, they help fix the problem so the car gets back on the road quickly.  If I am tired or discouraged, they listen.  They know the best places to stop along the road to refuel or take a break and recharge.  They will be cheering me on to my destination, where ever that is, hanging out the window with their arms in the air screaming "Yee Haw!"

But passion is the driver. 

It's that same passion that was ignited for me on my first day of Kindergarten when I came home and told my Mom that I was going to be a Teacher when I grew up.  It was passion that gave me resilience when I was supply teaching all those years and wondering if I would ever get a permanent teaching job.  It was passion that gave me the grit to get through days when things were not going well, and the strength to deal with the death of a student.  My passion has pushed me to try new things in the classroom, to take courses, to share my learning, learn from others, to push myself to be a creator and not just a consumer.  It is passion that builds relationships with my students and colleagues and propels learning.  It is passion that leads me to new adventures and encourages new experiences.

On this wild and winding road trip of life, wether it is a professional or a personal journey, it's my passion that will never steer me wrong and will get me to my destination safely.  No matter who else is in the car with me, I'm going to let her drive.

Sunday, 29 October 2017

Fanning your Own Flame

Fanning Your Own Flame

#IMMOOC Season 3, Week 5

This week we have been challenged to create 250 word posts in our blog.  Here's my first kick at the can:

"Do our Professional Learning Opportunities mirror the learning we want to create for our students?"

When we are programming for our Students, we are encouraged to give them choice, help them find their passions, differentiate our instruction and expectations and create a personalized and meaningful learning experience.  A lot of time is spent building relationships with them, getting them to realize their own potential and to reflect on their own learning and goals.

Do we take this approach with the Professional Development of staff?  Traditionally, and likely still in a lot of cases, the answer is probably either a "not very well" or a "no".  There's a lot of "have to", "let's just get through this," and "one size fits all" activities on Professional Development Days.  I'm not laying blame or ranting here.  There's just not a lot of time to fit all the things we need to get done collectively and the things each of us is passionate about individually into the few days of the year we have to do it in.

So how can we ignite our own passions for learning and teaching with the constraints we are given? Some "inside the box" solutions seem to be needed here.  I've got a few ideas...
1.  Professional Learning Networks - online (like Twitter), in your building or at conferences.  Find others who will push your thinking and support you on your journey.
2.  Getting out of the building to mentor, be mentored or see what's happening in other buildings and classrooms.
3.  Take a course, read a book, investigate what you are passionate about.  Don't let that spark go that flame in whatever way works for you.

Please add a few of your own ideas in the comments section. 

 I'm running out of words, but want to leave you with one thought.  If we won't accept "one size fits all" learning for our students, why would we accept it for ourselves?

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.

Saturday, 12 August 2017


So, I've been doing a lot of reading this summer and thought I would share my thoughts on some great resources with you.  This will be a two part post.  My reading pile seems to be growing faster than I can read the books on it.  Darn you Twitter for showing me all these great things to read!

First up:


This book is all about ENGAGEMENT.  He gives great tips and tricks for teachers to get Students engaged in learning, and how to build positive relationships with them.  No learning can take place if a student doesn't feel that you care about them and are willing to get to know them.  Dave tells you how you can do this.

He also talks about the importance of good pedagogy and that this is not a natural takes work.  This really resonated with me.  Great teachers are great because they work hard at it!  They put in the time, they do the PD and they are not afraid to take risks, fail and learn from their mistakes.  I think my favourite line from the book is, "If you are afraid of looking silly in front of your students...GET OVER IT!"

He writes in a very easy to read style that I found super engaging as well.  I read this in a day - I couldn't put it down.  He is very active on Twitter @burgessdave.  In fact, he responded to my tweet about his book in literally minutes from my posting! 


I've been looking for some resources to do a Genius Hour with my class this year and this one is fantastic.  Very easy to read, full of great ideas and activities.  It has lots of online links to resources, videos and additional reading and help for setting up Passion Projects in your classroom.

Andi is writing from the perspective of a Gifted classroom, but her ideas are easily adaptable to any classroom situation and she gives additional resources that can help with this as well.  If you are thinking of starting Passion Projects in your room, this is a great starting point and a must read!

She is also on Twitter @mcnairan3 and is great about responding to your questions.


If you've watched his TED talk - this is an expansion of his research and work on how to change and improve schools that make kids want to go to them and prepare them for a future that is in no way like the Industrial model most of our schools were designed on in the last century.

He has lots of real world examples and his section on Teacher Professional Development and Training was very enlightened.  You can follow Sir Ken @SirKenRobinson

SocialLEADia By Jennifer Casa-Todd

 AMAZING read!  If you liked George Curous' The Innovators Mindset you will love this one too.  He even writes the forward.

Jennifer delves into all the issues, concerns, pros and cons of having students learn about Social Media and Teachers leading the charge to make them Digital Citizens.  If you haven't started your own or a classroom Twitter Account by the time you've read the first chapter, you are clearly not interested in Educational Technology or preparing your students for the future.   

She give lots of tricks and tips, explains how to use the various platforms and spotlights teachers and students who are true exemplars of the kind of 21st Century learners and teachers we want to support.  There are lots of additional resources and her work is very well researched and supported.  She's an Ontario gal and she is super approachable.  Follow her @JCasaTodd

THE GROWTH MINDSET COACH: A Teacher's Month-By-Month Handbook for Empowering Students to Achieve by Annie Brock 

Annie's book is, as promised, a great handbook for someone wanting a month by month guide to teaching students the power of a Growth Mindset.  She talks about Carol Dweck's research into Fixed and Growth Mindsets and embeds this in lessons and ideas that you can easily adapt to any classroom.

She sets the book up into an Introduction to Growth Mindset and then takes you on a month by month journey with lesson plans, ideas, resources and online help to get your students thinking "I can't do that...yet," instead of quiting or saying "I can't."

If you have read Carol Dweck's work, this is the perfect companion book to help teachers apply the research to the classroom.  Find her on Twitter @MsAnnieBrock

READY-TO-USE RESOURCES FOR MINDSETS IN THE CLASSROOM: Everything Educators Need for Building Growth Mindset Learning Communitiesby Mary Cay Ricci

Need more Growth Mindset resources?  Try this one.  Links, resources, activities, lesson plans, letters to parents - all ready to use, just like the cover promises.
She gives tips to get administrators on board and how to get students engaged in growing their brains.  
She has authored a few books on this, so check her out.  Follow her @MaryCayR

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

I read this because it is the book I have chosen to share with my class as a part of Pernille Ripp's Global Read Along Program this October.

Patrick Ness does a great job of telling the story of a young man who is dealing with his mother's fight with cancer.  He is dealing with monsters that are very real in his daily life and those that visit him at night.  I refuse to be a spoiler, so I can tell you no more, other than it is a very moving story that will open so many avenues of dialogue with your students.  And, if you join the Global Read Along, you can share these ideas and thoughts with classrooms around the world (including mine!).  I've already linked you to the Global Read Along Program, but you can also follow Pernille Ripp @pernilleripp and Patrick Ness @Patrick_Ness

That's all for now, but watch for my next post where I share some Google-y books, books on bridging poverty in the classroom, Inquiry Learning and more.  

Wow - I hope I get all these read before school starts in a few weeks!  Gotta run...I got some reading to do!