Saturday, 15 June 2019


I think I've talked a lot about how online connections and my online PLN have made me a better teacher, pushed me to think deeper and brought so many new ideas and opportunities to my classroom.  Between Twitter and VoicEd Radio...well the learning has been expanding at an exponential rate.  But it's been more than just learning, it's been the birth of some pretty amazing professional and personal relationships.  I haven't met a lot of these folks in real life...I haven't met hardly any of these people in real life.  But, the bond we've formed is real.  The friendships are real.  These people are my tribe: my biggest supporters, my trusted and honest critics, and in some cases, my kindred spirits.

Leanne Hanson and I met through VoicEd Radio and Twitter.  To say that I had found a soul sister doesn't do our relationship justice.  If my life was a Soap Opera, it would be akin to finding my evil twin.  Except we were both evil twins.  We instantly clicked.  We tweeted, we DM'd, we Google Hangout'd, we guested on each other's podcasts, we #MADPD'd, we shared resources, we told stories from our lives, we sent each other the craziest gifs, we engaged in bizarre, yet loving - social media terrorism attacks on our friends and we made up ridiculous hashtags (She was much better at this than I was).  We talked teaching, music and poetry.  We got silly.  We LOL'd...a lot.

We talked about meeting irl one day.  It would have been great to do that.  I would have loved to see her home and meet her family in Queensland.  I can imagine there would have been a big welcoming hug.  There would have been jokes and laughter and likely a fair bit of whiskey.  But an irl meeting wasn't really necessary to us.  We were able to connect digitally as if we were in the same room.  I didn't think of her as "this teacher on the other side of the planet."  She was simply, my friend, Leanne.

Leanne lost her battle with cancer this week at the age of 45.  My heart goes out to her husband, Grant, and her children Michael and Elizabeth.   

I am flattened by this loss. 

Educator, poet, podcaster, dreamer, friend. 

Links to Leanne Hanson's podcasts, poetry and more:

Leanne as a Guest on the podcasts of her VoicEd family:

Her published poetry volumes:
Odd Verse Effects
Ghost Dreaming

Leanne's Bitmoji - one of my favs from the many she sent me.

Saturday, 25 May 2019

Be a part of #BIT19

It hasn't been the most Educator friendly spring in Ontario.  The political climate has changed and that has left a lot of us unsure of where we will be in the fall.  How our schools will look and run this September will absolutely be different.  Professional Development will be...likely a lot different and in some cases, like the OTF webinars and Summer Workshops, gone.  There may be disruptions to how we work and learn in response to these changes in our Province.

But that doesn't have to change our belief in life long learning.  It doesn't have to curtail our learning and sharing.  Maybe now is the time when we lean into the wind a bit more and rely on each other for opportunities to enrich ourselves through our online PLN and through those irl meetings at conferences that make a big difference in our classrooms and in our own need for growth.  In a time when outside forces try to divide and conquer us and beat down our morale, maybe we need these spaces of collegial learning to help build us up and make our bonds even tighter.

The call for proposals for the Bring it Together 2019 Conference is now open.  I know that I have encouraged many to submit their ideas to present.  Some have taken me up on this, many have not.  Some have told me they are worried about a work stoppage or other disruptions this fall.  If that happens, the Conference is prepared to move to a date outside that window of time.  I've had others tell me they are unsure they will be able to get release time to be a part of the Conference.  Perhaps, but it might be easier to get that release time as a Presenter, someone who is eager and willing to share their learning with others.  Some are still unsure of where they will be and what they will be doing in the fall.  There are no easy answers.  But, don't let that stop you from submitting that proposal.  No matter where you are, you will be doing great things, things that you can share and that we all can learn from.

The Bring It Together Conference (#BIT19) is November 6-8 in Niagara Falls. I'm hoping it is a time for us to lean in to the storm that surrounds us, to lean on each other a little, to get together and grow in a season that isn't giving us the best growing conditions.  Maybe it is a bit of a leap of faith, but I hope you will make that leap with us.  Submit your proposal for #BIT19 here.

Sunday, 5 May 2019

#ECOOCamp Owen Sound

Yesterday (Saturday May 5th, 2019) I travelled to Owen Sound to participate in this year's ECOOCamp.  Great Educators from all over travelled to share and learn from each other at Owen Sound District Secondary School.

There were two amazing Keynotes from Peter Skillen and Jen Giffen.  Peter talked to us about the tools being important and remembering to go outside the box to get Students excited about learning and giving them a way in to the curriculum that suites their own learning strengths.  Jen reminded us that every student and staff member is carrying around responsibilities and experiences that we know nothing about, but if we take the time to build relationships with them, we can help them unpack their backpacks.

I was presenting in all 4 sessions, but loved how we were able to share every presentation through the Twitter feed (#ecoocamp) and on Teach Ontario.  I got some great new Chrome add-ons/extensions from Leslie Boerkamp's presentation to add to my arsenal, and I wasn't even in the session.  The smaller number of participants made each session more intimate and more tailored to the needs of the Educators in the room.  Thanks to Fair Chance Learning and InkSmith, I even won a new K8 robot for my classroom.  So excited to share this with my class! 

Making new connections and meeting Educators is always part of what I love about EdCamps and Conferences. I met some awesome folks yesterday!  The opportunity to meet up with folks you only get to see periodically at conferences or even meet for the first time in real life is amazing.  So great to meet Cal Armstrong and Leslie Boerkamp for the first time irl.  Aways great to chat with folks like Jen Giffen, Christy Hopcroft, Lisa Noble, Brenda Sherry, Peter Skillen, and so many more.  While Owen Sound is a bit of a trek for me, it really is a lovely town that I hadn't visited in many years and well worth the drive.

The working relationship between the Educational Computing Organization of Ontario,  the Bluewater Public and Bruce-Grey Catholic School Board was really inspiring to see.  A really great model to show how we learn from each other.  The organizations really worked well together to make a great day for everyone. 

The Educational Computing Organization of Ontario does great work for Educators using EdTech and great pedogogy in their classrooms.  I've linked to their website - but consider becoming a member (membership is free!), attending their Bring It Together Conference in Niagara Falls in November or following them on Twitter @ecooorg

I'll link my presentations here, but they and many others from the day are also shared on Teach Ontario.  Check them out to let the learning go beyond the day!

Getting Snappy with #BookSnaps, #Gratitude Snaps & #REALyouSNaps using Bitmoji and Google Slides.

Connecting Classrooms Through Online #ReadAlouds

Flipping for Flipgrid

Glide into Google Slides

Disclaimer: Ramona Meharg is a Member of the Educational Computing Organization of Ontario and serves on the Board of Directors.  But don't let that stop you from checking them out or becoming a member!

As always, feel free to subscribe by email, or share a comment below.

Sunday, 28 April 2019

Learning from my first Ignite Experience

As I type away, I wonder if I shouldn't have titled this post: "My first Ignite Experience and How I blew it."  But more about that later.

A month or so ago, I got a message from David Carruthers asking me to do an Ignite Talk for #EdCampLdn on April 27, 2019.  That message opened up a can of fear that jumped around in my brain like a mass of angry snakes.  That terror told me one thing.  I needed to do it.  We aren't growing if we aren't stretching ourselves and taking a risk.  I thought to myself: Don't over-think this. Answer before you talk yourself out of it.  So I said I would do it.

My next step was to research Ignite talks: how to write them, how to do them and how to make them meaningful.  A blog post from Scott Berkun was really helpful, as was watching some great Ignite talks on YouTube (there are lots out there).  I also contacted a member of my PLN Noa Daniel, who had just given an Ignite talk of her own for YRDSB's #EdTechCampOnAir.  She suggested I just sit down and write it all out in a stream of consciousness mode and go from there.  She also volunteered to help me develop it by reading my drafts and watching a practise or two via Google Hangout.  (Gotta love your PLN - they are always there for you and willing to help!).

I had a topic in mind.  It was an idea for a blog post that had been floating around in my head, but hadn't quite gotten to the written stage yet.  So, I sat down and wrote it all out.  I wanted to talk about how Special Education isn't just for kids with high needs, it's for all of our students.  How every student has needs we need to reach and how every teacher can help them.  I sat down and let it all just pour out of me.  The result: 15-20 minutes of unorganised zeal about the topic.  Much too long for the 5 minute Ignite parameters.  Over the next two weeks, I edited, revamped and tightened it up. Then I shared the draft with my friend and coach, Noa.  She gave me some really helpful comments and constructive criticism which I used to make my message clearer and more concise.

Then the slides.  In an Ignite you have 5 minutes and 20 slides that auto advance every 15 seconds.  Timing is very important.   So I blocked out the written document and practised speaking it, looking at what I needed on each slide to reinforce that 15 second segment.  I shared the slides with Noa, and with her help, refined those as well.

Then it was time to practise, practise, practise.  I went over it again and again and again.  Every time a little different, every time a little better.  I was practising in my car, in my house, making my husband and my sister listen, and as the date approached, performing it in a Google Hangout with Noa.  I wanted it to be perfect.

Throughout this time period, the other 5 Ignite speakers scheduled that day, kept up a Twitter DM stream encouraging each other.  There were a lot of silly gifs, some advice, but mostly just supporting each other.  Bless these fine ladies.  We were all in the same boat and all a little scared. So a shout out to them for helping me!  Heidi Solway, Dawn Telfer, Kiersten Wrona, Lesley Robertson, and Dr. ParshatiPatel you are the Spice Girls of the Ignite Experience!  It was also liberating to learn that the Astrophysicist among us, was just as nervous about giving her ignite as we were!

Dr. Patel, myself, Lesleym Kiersten, Heidi and Dawn - Ignite Speakers 2019

So the big day arrives.  The big moment arrives.  I'm up first.  I'm glad, because I really didn't want to have to follow the Astrophysicist, even if she was just as nervous as I was.  To add to our load, we were being live streamed through the Sir Arthur Currie PS Twitter feed, and being broadcasted live on by Stephen Hurley.  No pressure.

I decide to leave my phone (with my speech content prompts) on the podium, step away from the podium and just go with it.  Besides, there was a hand held mic.  I couldn't hold the mic, talk with my hands and hold my phone.  In hindsight, perhaps, I should have held on the the phone and not talked with my hands.  But hindsight is 20/20.

I begin.  And I'm off and everything is going great.  But then, and I honestly cannot tell you what went wrong or got me to lose my focus, but about halfway in, I lost my train of thought.

What I should have done is taken a breath, looked back at my slide and just carried on.

Instead.  Sheer panic.

Walked back to the podium to grab my Phone.  As I got there, I glanced up at my slides.

Then it came back to me.  I turned around, got right back into it and carried on to the end.

It was only about 5-10 seconds in real time, but it felt like 30 minutes to me.  If only I could have those 5-10 seconds back.  If only, if only....

I sat down.  My fellow igniters gave me some brief encouragement, and then they were up to share their passions.  I listened and watched in awe at their brilliance.  Which was difficult, because I felt like a complete and utter failure.

Coach Noa also sent me a text of support.  In low times, what would we do without our friends?

I gave myself a quick pep talk.  "It's not the end of the world.  You will learn from this.  Pull yourself together because this is just the start of the day and you are one of the organisers of this event.  There is work to be done and much to be shared. "  And I did.

The day went on and it was awesome.  Our numbers were up from last year and the sessions, from what I experienced myself, and from the Twitter stream, were great.  Over lunch (and through the Twitter stream), I got some favourable feedback about my message. When I voiced my distress over messing up, I was reminded that I'm the only one who will remember that and that I should focus on the power of the message, and not my little bobble.  Good advice.  At the end of the day, I was  feeling the adrenaline high of a great day. #EdCampLdn was a success and in our debrief session, my fellow organisers and I were already talking about next year.

But I still have a little sadness in me about what I wanted that Ignite to be.  So, I'm blogging about it, so I can reflect on and to learn from it, and maybe exorcise that little demon voice in my head.  I'm thinking about what my students feel when they take a risk and it doesn't go exactly as planned.  Thanks to this experience, maybe I can help them see that even if the leap they made doesn't land smoothly, they still made the leap.   Success isn't always going to be a perfect 10.0 landing.  Sometimes success is just making the leap.

As always, I welcome your comments below.  Have you done an Ignite?  How did it go?  What is the definition of success? Is it different in every situation?

If you want to see the mess I made of my Ignite here is the link to the Twitter live stream.
And I screen-casted one of my final run-through sessions.  So if you want to see how I hoped it would go, I've embedded it here:

Saturday, 13 April 2019

Canada Beats: Learning about Canada through music

For the last little while, my class has been learning about Canada, but we haven't been doing all of our learning about our Country in traditional ways.  I wanted my Students to be thinking beyond those facts that they can Google about Capital Cities, population and geographic landmarks.  And I wanted them to look a bit at history, but not by using a textbook or a timeline. They are also music lovers and will ask to turn the radio on, or be allowed to use their headsets to listen to music on their iPads every day.  I wanted to leverage some of that interest.  So, we've been using Canadian song writers and performers to look at our Country.

I had been talking to Noa Daniel about her BOB (Building Outside the Blocks) activity called Harmony Through History Beats, where she has students taking a song and deconstructing it to find the history within it.  I wondered if it was something I could use as part of our unit on Canada and give it a Canadian theme.  Noa was very supportive of my amending her idea, and even helped me find some songs and songwriters to add to a shared Google Doc to give my students a place to start.  And so, Canada Beats was born.

I work with students with some fairly high needs, so I knew I would need to help scaffold this project for them.  The shared Google Doc was a place they could find a list of songs that had a Canadian theme or historical background.  They didn't have to pick one of these songs - I was very open to a song or performer they might choose, as long as it had some ties to Canadian history, identity or geography.

Next we decided as a class what our Google Slide Shows needed to have in them and created a template to help everyone understand what information we would need to research.  They were welcome to include more than this, but these were sort of the starting points.  I told them I would create one as well and share it with them and be our first presenter.  Mine was a Stompin' Tom classic.  I gave them some class time to work on it, but many of them used time at home to work on it as well.  One of my students liked the activity so much, she finished hers in record time and decided to do a second one as well.

The hardest part for them was deciding on a song.  Many of the songs they had never heard before because they were released before they were born (some of them even before I was born).  Some of them wanted a more modern song, and spent a good deal of time looking for one.  YouTube got a bit of a workout those first few days.  Some had to do additional research to find out more about a specific historical event, or places mentioned in a song.  With a bit of help from each other, the E.A.s and myself, this was accomplished.

While apps like Vokki and Tellagami, or iMovie were options for presenting, they all decided they wanted to present in a more traditional fashion - just them and their slide show.  All good.  With just one presentation left this week, I have to say, it was a successful activity for them.  The slide shows were good (link to them here), but their presentations really blew me away.  Normally very shy, they really came out of their shells and shared why they picked a song, what they learned from it and even gave additional details about the historical event, place or the band that they learned as part of the research process.

Can they instantly tell me what the capital of New Brunswick is?  Probably not.  Luckily, we have Google for that. (By the way, it's Fredericton - a gorgeous city on the St. John river.)

As always, I welcome your questions or comments below.  Do you think I should be drilling and grilling the provincial capitals?  Is a deeper understanding of some historical events better than a general understanding of a longer historical timeline? Is using music this way problematic?

Saturday, 9 February 2019

50th Episode - I Wish I Knew EDU learning

Bitmoji Image
On Monday, my 50th episode of the I Wish I Knew EDU podcast goes live.  I wanted to celebrate this milestone with a special episode. The format of the show is generally learning about the great things my guests are involved with and then I ask them about some of those "I Wish I Knew" moments in their career.  For the 50th Episode I decided to turn the tables and I asked first year teacher and veteran podcaster, Sarah Anne Lalonde, to take the mic and ask me some of those same questions.  It's a fun episode and I hope you will give it a listen at once it drops on Monday Feb. 11/19.  My profound thanks to Sarah for being a part of the episode and for so expertly taking the reins.

My first episode was broadcast on February 5th, 2018. So - I've also hit my 1st Podcast-aversary.  A year and 50 episodes into my podcasting journey seems like a good time to reflect on some of my learning. 

Bitmoji Image

The ask is the hardest part.
Deciding to do a podcast, to make that leap and try something new is always challenging.  I'll admit to having some butterflies in my stomach as I got my head around what my format would be and the logistics of getting started.  When the time came to ask a guest to join me it was like a plague of locusts had taken up residence in my gut.  My first episode guest, TVDSB administrator, Heather Jakobi, was so great about just making the leap with me.  When I listen to this episode now, I cringe at my tech errors and I can hear my own nervousness come through, but the sharing and learning is just as great in that recording as in my most recent one.  "The ask" continues to be the toughest aspect of podcasting for me.  Those locusts are still jumping around as I hit send on a request. Why would these intelligent, busy, and amazing Educators want to give up their time to talk to me?  And let me record it.  And then let me broadcast it.  I'm still not sure why they do, but I am so grateful to them for saying yes.  I've had a few turn me down, most often because they are uncomfortable with the medium, but so many more have been quick to respond and jump in.  And I love the guests who have told me "I've never done this before, but it sounds fun - let's do it."  To all of my first 50 guests, my heartfelt thanks for joining me on the journey.

Being organised is helpful
I've tried to release one episode a week.  To do that, work full time and still spend time with my family can get a bit frantic.  Folks who know me will likely agree when I say I'm pretty organised.  This has helped.  When I know things are going to be hectic, like September and June, I record a few episodes in advance and then hold back releasing them in those hectic times.  It's certainly a lot easier to record a few extra episodes in August (and easier to book times to record with guests) when I'm not working every day.  Having a PLN that is always willing to help is a great asset too.  I've had times when a guest has had to cancel or reschedule and my PLN has always been great about responding to a request for a guest with very little notice.  Those have been some of the best and most enjoyable episodes to do.  It's like chatting with a friend.

There are going to be technology issues - Just breathe!
Yep, things are going to go wrong.  And they did.  They continue to do so.  Don't panic.  Just breathe.. and if you can't figure it out yourself, ask for help!  Stephen Hurley (the godfather of voicEdRadio) was and continues to be my best resource for tech issues.  Mind you, he did give me the push to get into this.   I think the first time I experienced audio drift I started to hyperventilate.  Then there was the time I thought I lost the feed from my guest in Australia.  Imagine my horror!  This guest, across the world, has just spent an hour recording with me - across busy schedules and a pile of time zones, and I've lost the audio!  No matter what the problem, Stephen was very patient and helped fix my tech issues while I was learning how to fix them myself.   In times of trouble, I've reached out to other podcasters for help and they have never let me down.  Noa Daniel, your Google Hangout with me to show me a few Garage Band tricks made a profound impact on my editing skills!  So many people I have never even met before, have answered my questions.  Those of you who've helped me over this first year... a thousand times, Thank you!

Can I keep up the pace?
When I started last February, I set myself a goal of one Episode a week.  If you count the live episodes, which I didn't include in my tally, I'm over 50 for the year.  So, goal met.  Can I keep up the pace going forward?  I've had discussions with guests and other podcasters about the work that goes into a 30 minute to an hour podcast.  There's the time spent asking and connecting with guests.  I always like to do a little research.  My episodes last about 30-45 minutes or longer, so there is that recording time.  As I just mentioned, something often goes wrong and the episode needs some editing.  I don't do a lot of post production work and I try only to edit for tech issues.  I want the authentic voice of my guest to be heard, and I don't want to edit that voice out because of a time issue. Once the issue drops, I promote it via Social Media.  My guests have given so generously of their time, I feel I owe it to them to promote the Episode and get their voice heard.  So yes, podcasting has been a fairly large time commitment. It has certainly reduced the amount of blogging I am able to do.  It's also a heck of a lot more interesting and fun than housework! At this point, I'd like to try to keep close to the one a week goal.  But, I may be a bit easier on myself than I was in the first year.

The Community
Being a part of this community of EDU-podcasters has been - I don't even know how to put it into words - Supercalifragilisticexpealidoucius?   The support, the sharing, the live broadcasts, guesting on each others shows, the goofy gifs and the 'all in good fun' teasing on Twitter have been a unexpected but wonderful gift. These are great Educators and great people.  I'm honoured to be amongst them.

I'm listening...
In the 50th Episode, Sarah and I talk about our listening skills.  I think that's one of the intangible benefits of podcasting.  I'm a much better listener than I was a year ago and not just when I'm podcasting.  As the year has progressed, I find myself really listening deeply to what my guests are saying.  I'm not so worried about the next question, or getting to a certain topic before the time is up.  I'm really processing what they are saying and reflecting on it, even after our recording time is up.  I'm finding myself listening better to my Students and Colleagues as well.  And that is a good thing.

From the very impetus of the idea of this podcast, my goal has been to highlight and share the great things Teachers have been doing and learning.  I also wanted to share those things we don't learn in our Teacher Training - but sometimes learn the hard way as we navigate our educational careers.  By sharing these things we all learn and maybe save someone from making some of our own mistakes.  The show is not about me (OK, maybe episode 50 is), it's about all my wonderful guests.  I thank you for joining me as a guest, and I thank everyone who has listened this year.

I think I'll end this post like I end each episode, by saying that I really do hope to be talking to you soon on I Wish I Knew EDU, where we are looking back, and learning forward.

Thursday, 31 January 2019

Snow Day Chaos - the Lament is over!

What a difference two weeks makes.

On January 13th I wrote a blog about how my students were lamenting the lack of Snow Days this year (Check it out at:  Well, the lamenting is over.  Between the snow accumulation and the squalls and the polar vortex, our buses have not run much. This past week has had enough Snow Days to last us for the rest of the year.

I've noticed lots of Social Media posts from upset parents, especially today, the last (at least I hope it's the last) in a long line of cancellations.  The roads here are mostly clear and it is not snowing, but the cold is nasty (Not Winnipeg nasty, but -36 with the windchill nasty).
The decision about bus cancellations does not have anything to do with the school board or teachers.  It's the consortium that runs all the buses that service our schools.  I understand parent's frustration with the disruption, but I also understand that the bus companies do not want to take on the legal risk that an accident, or a child getting frostbite (or worse) waiting for a bus, opens them up to.

It's frustrating for us too.  This is exam week.  Exam schedules have been cancelled, adjusted and  changed repeatedly.  We have been able to get 3/4 written, but will have to finish the last one next week.  Teachers changing schools, or retiring or going on secondments or sabbaticals with exams unwritten are also in a bit of a conundrum - how will they get that exam written, marked and marks submitted, when today is their last day of work?

My students don't write exams, but these snow days are disruptive for them as well.  I work with students with high needs.  These students need a high level of structure and routine every day.  So, when the buses are cancelled, some stay home, but some are driven to school.  I try to run as normal a day as I can, but....

We were supposed to go bowling on Monday.  We've rescheduled it repeatedly and today we finally had to give up on this trip.  Mother Nature just does not want us to go bowling right now.  This was upsetting for a lot of the kids in the program.  Some who were at school wanted us to continue with life as scheduled and demanded to go anyways (impossible with no bus).  A parent called in to let us know her child, who had stayed home, was inconsolable because he thought we would go without him and he could not be persuaded otherwise. Yesterday, one of my students had an emotional meltdown.  She was sobbing and wailing.  "Where are the other kids?"  We had a few stragglers from other classes in our room.  "Who are these kids?"  And the one that broke my heart when I heard it, "When are we going to get back to normal?"

It's frustrating for everyone. (OK, a few of my students are loving the extra days off - but it's going to be tough for them to get back into routine again once we "restart.")  As hardy Canadians and flexible educators,  we will do what we always do, and make the best of it.

In the meantime, I have a message for Mother Nature.  But I can't print it here.  I'm sure she knows.

Frustrated or loving the snow days?  Leave me a message in the comment section below.