Friday, December 23, 2011

The Digital Story of the Nativity

It makes me smile to realize people keep forwarding the link to the Digital Story of the Nativity... via email. Even if you've already seen it, I hope you'll appreciate this video as a 'social media' Christmas card. Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Lessons in Karate

Since the late summer, our 8 year old, Michael, has been taking Karate lessons. Taking him to classes a few days each week, I've come to appreciate a number of lessons modeled by Family Karate that are worth sharing with teachers everywhere.

Lesson 1 Transparency Matters
Classes at Family Karate take place in an open space that allows outside observers to take in the lessons. Teaching isn't secretive. Up close and personal, parents can observe the work of students and teachers alike.
What would happen if the doors of our classrooms were open to any parent, any day?

Lesson 2 We Learn Best with Peers
In academic classrooms, the grouping of learners as Robins or Rockets may be seen as 'old school', but ability grouping in karate is the norm. Classes are divided by belt colour allowing instructors to address the KYU Belt Curriculum with similarly skilled students.
How do you ensure apt challenges for each student?

Lesson 3 Intrinsic and Extrinsic Movitation are Connected
Within any given colour, students earn experience 'stripes' as they master skills within the curriculum. Vertical strips of coloured tape on a learners belt indicate when a student has mastered specific karate skills. These readiness markers are used by instructors to ensure students are appropriately challenged during drills. Did karate masters begin as 'sticker' kids?
What if scholastic learning was highlighted through public signs/symbols?

Lesson 4 Students Lead
Beyond karate, our club emphasizes the development of social skills and leadership skills. Respect for self, parents and peers is reinforced daily, and students with advanced belts are expected to assist the Renshi, Sensei or Sempai in working with less-experienced students. This leadership expectation is one that reinforces skills in addition to providing a service to the club.
What can happen when advanced students spend some of their time teaching others?

Lesson 5 Make a Choice
Individuals attend karate classes at a schedule that suits the family and the individual. Students can pursue traditional karate skills, or they can choose to focus on self-defense. Students can advance to sparring and recreation or they may pursue competitive karate. Regardless, the pace of one's learning is dictated by skill development and interest rather than by age.
How authentic are the choices you and your fellow learners are allowed to make?

Lesson 6 Learning is a Family Affair
Healthy eating, respectful behaviour, and diligence in schoolwork are a few of the social skills reinforced and rewarded at Family Karate. Through the use of home tracking cards, parents can reinforce positive behaviours that are later recognized at graduation ceremonies. In addition, monthly 'special events' including sleepovers, movie nights, and pot luck events reinforce the community nature of the sport.
How does your school engage members of the community?

Lesson 7 Reserve a place for Ceremony, Symbolism & Tradition
The skills of karate have been practiced for a few hundred years and the respect for the art is central to the teaching and learning of skills. Beyond the cap and gown, I'm hard-pressed to find ceremonies or symbols that represent the rich history of school-based learning.
What traditions make your school a special place?

Lesson 8 Words Dictate Actions
At Family Karate, the Student Creed is a hallmark. The words appear on the walls and are emblazoned on the back of every student's shirt.

I will keep my thoughts positive
because my thoughts become my words;

I will keep my words positive
because my words become my actions;

I will keep my actions positive
because my actions become my values;

I will keep my values positive
because my values become my destiny.

Does your classroom/school/board have an axiom that frames all learning?

Thursday, December 1, 2011

K 12 Online: Are You For Real?

Have you noticed that the #k12online hashtag has once again come to life? This free online event allows educators from around the world to participate asynchronously in presentations on a wide variety of topics. This year's theme, "Purposeful Play", has been divided into strands that include "Storytime", "Sandbox Play", and "Leveling Up".

Today, my presentation, "Are You For Real" goes 'live'. I'd love to know your thoughts. Do you have a story to share?

Are you in search of opportunities to make authentic connections with students and teachers? Why not surround yourself with prompts to remind you of compelling stories? Learn how aptly chosen artifacts, deliberately placed, can promote story-telling and relationship-building. Play along and consider how you willing you are, to be ‘real’ with your fellow learners.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Are You a Virus?

Recently, I had a chance to hear Ron Canuel from CEA speak about the need for change, and the barriers faced by change agents. In viewing the change agent as a virus, he observed that it is common for innovators to be attacked while followers prosper. Finding it easy to relate to Ron's words, I'd like to extend the metaphor.

Viruses often innovate in the relative safety of a closed door classroom. If you use attempt to use technology in unexpected ways, or if you use tools before they become the norm, you may be a virus. There are many innovators out there, but most, like viruses, are difficult to see. It is only through the sharing of stories, that they become visible.

Virus can replicate but only within living host. If you are a virus, do you dare share your strategies and learning experiments with colleagues? In my experience, viral replication begins through such conversation and conversion. Open sharing may be just the thing that ensures that your district; your school; your department remains vibrant.

Once your peers or members of the ICT department identify you as a change agent, it may trigger the natural defenses of your school or system. The immune system is made up of those who want to maintain the status quo. It might be the technicians who place limits and filters on the tools you use, or it may be the colleagues who aren't ready to adapt their practices to the realities of a changing world. Regardless of the antibodies you face, know that it is natural for any body to defend the status quo. The most intrepid change agents are used to barriers, and though they may be slowed, their viral nature will be resistant to the system's natural defenses.

While viruses are immune to antibiotics, they do need to be aware of vaccination programs. Innocuous policies are commonly adopted in order to protect the system from disruptive change. "Personal devices are not allowed on the network." "Facebook and other social media sites are filtered." "Cell phones will be confiscated if they are seen." While effective in protecting the system in the short term, such inoculations tend to expire as neighbouring school systems evolve.

The metaphor leads me to believe that our education system is in need of an epidemic. Innovative practices will have to go viral in order to infect the practices of educators at all levels. If we are to re-imagine education, schools will need the services of an ever-evolving range of viruses. Care to join me for an educational pandemic?

Image credits: Viral Flu via Novartis AG; Ambulance by chriswong3238

Monday, November 7, 2011

We Can All Do Better

Do you have a blog? a wiki? a social media site? In posting to your online space, how good are you at modelling the appropriate use of content? Do you take advantage of Creative Commons resources? Do you attribute your sources?

Just as it's important to hold students accountable in the appropriate use of previously published materials, educators have a have a moral obligation to the model the ethical use of online content. While 'fair use' policies may give educators permission to use a wide range of materials, this doesn't negate our responsibility to recognize the creators of such works. In failing to acknowledge our sources, we miss out on opportunity to lead by example.

We All Fall Down
I acknowledge that I have at times used the work of others in inappropriate ways. I've used original pieces of music without permission; I've downloaded YouTube clips in violation of the terms of service; I've grabbed screen captures of images otherwise protected by copyright. But over the past few years I've been really conscious about acting justly with regard to rights of content creators, and have worked to inform others about their obligations with respect to copyright. For the past four years, I've also chosen to freely share my creative work with through the Creative Commons. Others are free to use and remix my photos, writing, presentations, publications so long as they attribute my contribution.

What Got Me onto this Topic?
If you've visited this blog in recent years, you'll know that a few of the highlights in my career as a learner have taken place at Educon, a conference of conversations, held annually at the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia. As a model learning event for teachers, administrators and librarians, Educon hits the mark in a great number of ways.

Upon visiting the Educon 2.4 website two weeks ago. I couldn't help but grin to see highlighted on the banner, a photo I took at last year's event. It's a group photo from a conversation I hosted with Zoe Branigan-Pipe called "Classrooms of Tomorrow". I clicked on the Creative Commons licensed image expecting it to port to the original shot, but instead, it led to the registration page. Without the intent to do so, the Educon 2.4 website was claiming ownership of my work.
Screen shot 2011-10-31 at 11.30.05 AM
Uploaded with Skitch!

While I await an update to the Educon banner, it leads me to reflect:
How good a job do I do in providing attribution to the work of others?
Do my public websites (blogs, wikis, social media pages) use content without consent?
Can I be more effective in acknowledging the contributions of others in my work?
Am I doing everything I can to model the appropriate and fair use of media?

Whether hosting a large conference website, or an obscure resource wiki, our public faces to the world must demonstrate appropriate attribution when we choose to use Creative Commons licensed content. At the very least, an incidental lesson will be taught to anyone who takes notice. In the best of circumstances, visitors will be inspired to follow a hyperlink to the creator's work. Uncountable ripples will follow as acknowledged creators will be more and more likely to share future works.

Can You Do Better?
The idea behind attribution is simple: If you use the work of another creator, give the person credit. In doing so, you'll be modelling for learners the appropriate way to recognize the contributions of others. In a world where creating and remixing is open to anyone, it's time to hold ourselves accountable and to model the ethical use of online content.

Photo credit: London Bridge is Falling Down by Forty two. Creative Commons icon by jorgeandresam

Sunday, November 6, 2011

A Lesson in Murmuration

We live in a world where any extraordinary event captured on video must be viewed with mind of a skeptic. This once-in-a-lifetime video, I choose to watch with my heart.

Murmuration from Sophie Windsor Clive on Vimeo.

The creative collaboration of the starlings is awe inspiring. On top of that, the willingness of the videographers Liberty Smith and Sophie Windsor Clive to release the video with Creative Commons license; and the open sharing of the original music by Emmett Glynn and Band, make my sharing soul smile.

Flocking behaviour has evolved in fish and birds to a level we as human beings can only hope to emulate. Still, I can't help but wonder what might be possible if teachers and students could mimic the murmuration of starlings. This video provides a powerful metaphor for how willing collaboration, distributed leadership, and shared responsibility can bring our classrooms to life.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Caging the Mockingbird

Whether physical, virtual or systemic, when you attempt to move forward, or to move in new directions, you are bound to bump up against obstacles. As an advocate for making school more relevant for learners of all ages, I'm feeling a like a bird stuck in a shrinking cage.

Case in Point
This semester, a colleague of mine took a leap of faith to introduce a collaborative project to his English students. Students were grouped and assigned rotating roles that involve writing, drawing, recording, designing, and leading. The multi-week project is focused on the novel 'To Kill a Mockingbird' and has resulted in the development of group websites at While you can see some of the work students completed in the early days, network access to the site has now been blocked.

After reading Chris Kennedy's How to Stop Good Ideas Getting Shot Down, I have come to realize that many of John Kotter's 'blocks to good ideas' are serving as barriers the use of technology in my school:

Fear Mongering: "The website puts the security of the network is at risk."

Death by Delay: "If you review your unfiltering request with your principal, and your principal makes a recommendation to program council, and program council approves the use of the site, then a communication to ICT will allow us to consider whether or not we can provide access."

Confusion: "Facebook is the problem. If they do this, then that, while visiting that URL, then students would be able to access their Facebook accounts through the site."

Do those making the decision to modify filtering policies even consider the ramifications? Working to engage in his students in this rich project-based learning experience, my colleague ensured that student roles addressed expectations in reading, writing and media. He had to ensure his classroom could accommodate a range of production team roles; had to book computer lab time, and had to find a way to assess the differentiated contributions of participants. More than that, he had to take a huge risk attempting a project he'd never done before.

It's been three school days since access to Wix has been blocked. If things change, I'll add an update in the comments below. In the meantime, I have no idea what to suggest for the lessons lost, or yet to come. Should we encourage the students to work at home on these tasks? Do we complete the tasks offline? Dare we re-invent the project?

Maybe it's just not worth trying to be a mockingbird?
"Please take out your pencils and notebooks and copy this note from the board... There will be a test on this material next week."

Monday, October 24, 2011

Put Your Mark on the Map

One of the things in education that makes little sense to me, is that in general, students have to prove their knowledge by writing things down. If it's not proven on a test or written assignment, it doesn't count. When this 'proof' of learning is only seen by the teacher, I'm doubly dismayed.

What if students could highlight their knowledge digitally, and then communicate their learning with a global audience. If you'd like to test the motivating factor of the 'real world', you now have access to an on-going ready-made project:Google Map Maker has just launched in Canada.

What if students:

1] plotted bus routes;
2] mapped local playgrounds;
3] charted neighbourhood hangouts;
4] added historic event markers;
5] posted photos of the area;
6] showed the best places to park your car;
7] plotted fire hydrants;
8] highlighted the best places to experience nature;
9] identified the stores, churches, public spaces;
10] thought about what others would appreciate having on a map...

Contributions will be reviewed by map experts at Google, and maybe, just maybe, the work of students will become a permanent fixture on the world map. Now that's something that might engage a learner a bit more fully than sharing knowledge by way of exam or essay.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Dear Teacher...

I saw this note to Nazhir, and though I don't know him, I couldn't help but pen a response on his behalf.

Dear Teacher:

I know that you like to share your wisdom by speaking;
but do you realize that I like to talk too.

I know that you like it when we write neatly in our notebooks;
but can you tell that I don't like scraping a pencil on paper to make words?

I know that you have many answers;
but when will we have time to pursue some of my questions?

I know that rows of desks and chairs can be orderly;
but do you really think you could handle sitting for one full day in my chair?

I know that you care about how I do in school;
but do you care enough about me to know what I most like to do?

I know that you found school interesting enough to start a career here;
but do you love it enough to keep on learning?

I know that you are giving us skills to help us be successful in school;
but can you also give us the keys to being successful at life?

I know that you're working in a system that is less than perfect;
but what are you going to do today, to help me realize you care?

Dear Reader:

I know you read blogs, at least on occasion;
but do you have any ideas to add in using the pattern: "I know... but..."?

I know that you know that Twitter exists;
but did you know you can tweet with the tag: #dearteacher

Image credits: subewl, Nationaal Archief

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The PBL Cohort at Learning 2.011

If we're serious about leading educators in order to leverage technology in ways that are innovative and engaging, then it falls to us to model appropriate lessons in our work with teachers. The adoption of a cohort model is one of the innovations at Learning 2.011 that confirmed for me that we would be in for a memorable learning experience. Cohorts emerged as participants highlighted their preferences upon registration. My cohort consisted of 22 teachers eager to explore project-based learning.

As an advocate of both project-based learning and experiential learning, it was with great anticipation that I prepared to lead the PBL Cohort. While I was prepared to lead the group to develop a collaborative publication, I didn't anticipate that it would be such a challenge to decide upon a culminating project. Although I've worked on a number of large group projects in my own professional learning, I could never have guessed how wonderfully engaging our PBL product and workflow would be.

Thursday evening, cohort meeting #1:
After the official opening of the conference, our cohort had an opportunity to gather in what would later become our classroom and media centre. We used this time to meet one another, and to discover the learning styles, hobbies, and tech literacies of fellow group members. Our cohort had a high number of athletes, and a wide range of skills that included drawing, writing, video-editing, audio-recording, directing and more.

Friday morning, cohort meeting #2:
Participants knew ahead of time that this session would be used to share personal profiles on our cohort blog, Since this site was intended to be an artifact of our learning, participants had to be briefed on the many ways they might contribute to our public learning space. Individuals were invited to post by 1] sending an email to the blog address; 2] bookmarking a site with the cohort hashtag; 3] sending a tweet along with the cohort hashtag; 4] posting a photo or video to Flickr using the cohort hashtag.

We used the latter half of the session to brainstorm a potential project towards which we might apply our varied skills. Five potential topics and themes were suggested, but when each of four sub-groups was asked to highlight one preferred topic, we ended up with four very different ideas. I left the session assuming we would be creating and publishing an e-book on project-based learning, but I had no idea of what the book would be about! This made me more than a bit nervous, knowing we had to hit the ground running on Saturday.

Friday afternoon, cohort meeting #3:
In this second working session, we attempted to nail down a focus for our pending e-book. To me, the most interesting of the five options, was "World with PBL; World without PBL". Although none of the groups gravitated to this topic at the previous session, I suggested that in my head I heard a movie trailer voiceover guy when I read the topic "In a world where project-based learning...".

Suddenly the mood of the room shifted, and more than a few participants agreed that making a movie based on this theme, would be a good way to leverage the talent in the room. After brainstorming roles that included writers, prop managers, equipment technicians, location scouts, video-editors, sound mixers, directors, and actors, cohort participants self-selected roles and dove into preparations for the next day's shoot.

Saturday morning, cohort meeting #4:
After a short briefing, I found myself on the sidelines as teams set to work. In no time, groups dove into their roles simultaneously taking care of set decoration, camera set-up, soundtrack development, rehearsal and filming. Completed media was imported by our video-editing team during scene changeovers. Members of the writing team used this time to brief the director and actors in preparation for the next scene.

Saturday afternoon, cohort meeting #5:
Our final session together, began with the screening of the first draft of our film. When some of the footage appeared out of order, we realized the value in having one of the writers work directly with the video-editing team. After a quick shuffle of clips, the group brainstormed titles that would help clarify the intended message of the piece. The synchronization of the soundtrack and export of the final film was completed while remaining members of the group participated debriefed the experience.

The completion of a project like this is highly rewarding to the participants which may be why members of my cohort commonly showed up well in advance of each session. With each participant having a distinct role to play, there is evidence of each person's contribution in the final product. I hope my 'production team' enjoyed the experience as much as I enjoyed facilitating this cohort. It was certainly a memorable way to teach and learn about project-based learning.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

20 Lesson's Learned at UnPlug'd: LIVE

Last evening, I made my first attempt at telling the story of UnPlug'd in front of a live audience. Over four hundred educators from more than 40 different countries are at Learning 2.0 in Shanghai. A recording of my presentation was recorded by my friend Jarrod Robinson, AKA The PE Geek, who is also leading a cohort this week.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

20 Lesson's Learned at UnPlug'd

It's now been one month since 37 educators participated in the UnPlug'd at Northern Edge Algonquin. While many have been challenged to put into words the experience of unplugging, I'll be sharing my perspective for the first time at the Learning 2.0 Conference in Shanghai on September 8, 2011. Although my script is not being made available at this time, I suspect that each participant at this event could augment this slidedeck with a personal narrative that answers the question: What really happened at UnPlug'd?

For my presentation, I'll be sharing:

Thursday, August 18, 2011

UnPlug'd11 Wasn't Perfect, It Was Real

This post was co-authored by Rodd Lucier and Ben Hazzard then published at both: and

We are struggling.

A couple of weeks ago we, Rodd and Ben, were participants and members of the organizing team for UnPlug'd, a Canadian Education Summit. As the website says:
UnPlug’d brings together Canadian educational change agents to share peer-reviewed success stories; to deepen relationships among participants; to publish the collective vision of the group. Grassroots educators will share their first-hand experiences, collectively considering modern approaches to learning. The summit will culminate with the release a publication that communicates a vision for the future of K-12 education in Canada.

We’re struggling to find the words to explain what Unplug'd was, but we do know what it wasn't. It wasn't an accident; it wasn’t a conference; and it wasn't perfect.

But maybe:

Perfect isn't real.
Perfect is fake.
Real isn't perfect.
Real is beautiful.

In trying to understand what happened at unplugd11, we've developed a list of perfection targets that we 'missed'.

Perfection Myth #1: Everyone was represented.

This didn't happen. We didn't have every ethnicity, region, and cultural group represented. For goodness sakes there were only 37 people there!

Conversation and SongBen: One moment that I remember is the campfire on the first night. I looked around the fire. The warm glow was illuminating many faces that I'd only known as avatars. We were singing. Yes singing. Guitars were being played by Stephen and Bryan. In that moment I had the overwhelming sensation of loose ties being tightened. In that moment, I had a sense of connection and belonging with this group. This imperfection may have allowed the intimacy and warmth to develop among those that did attend.

Perfection Myth #2: Perfect Logistics = Perfect Learning

Rodd: Our initial plan called for transportation to deliver my group to Norther Edge Algonquin by 3 p.m. We arrived just after 5 p.m. What did we do during the few hours we waited? We talked. And I stressed. Maybe this was the way things were meant to be, because after reassurances from my fellow stranded campmates, I joined them in ‘slowing down’, doing a slow dissolve into a different space and a different pace. Our late arrival meant that our initial large group and small group meetings would be taking place later in the afternoon.. through the dinner hour. And knowing how comfortable that first meeting came to be, I wouldn’t have had it any other way. This bit of imperfection led us to a more natural setting for the sharing of personal stories.

Dinner Conversations

Perfection Myth #3: Professional conversations are best held in spotless rooms with round tables, white linens and climate controlled conditions.

Prettier than Venice

This also didn't happen. We sat on floors, rocks, Muskoka chairs, and benches while getting mosquito bites. We wrote on our laps, had conversations while doing dishes, and paddled in silence as the sun set. At times we were too warm. At times we were too cold. At times, we were downright smelly.

IMG_6774Ben: On our bike ride to the site from the train station I settled into a comfortable pace with Vince. We had known each other as acquaintances from various other face to face meetings. However, over the bike ride there were unique moments that we shared as we peddled. We shared about our upbringings and why we are in education. We shared at a deeper level than I was used to in traditional conferences. As we peddled Vince shared that, "having distinct experiences, like riding bikes to get to the location, are going to help me remember what I talked about during each part of this weekend". This imperfection led to memorable and unique conversations around mutually shared experiences.

Perfection Myth #4: Getting feedback on our work is easy for professional learners.

Rodd: I remember listening to feedback from my colleagues meant to improve upon my writing, and thinking “What… It’s not perfect just the way it is? I’ve already revised it numerous times. I write online all the time!” Giving feedback in handwritten notes, and providing encouragement and tweaks was fine when I was in ‘teacher’ mode, but as the recipient of similar advice, initially I bristled. But, the advice I received was given constructively, and in a generous spirit, and when I was able to disconnect myself from my piece, I was able to see my work with fresh eyes. The advice, including a suggested title, made my writing better. Not perfect, but better. Although the many ideas shared in ‘Why Blank Matters” are sure to resonate with educators, the writing that communicates the ideas, is far from perfect. But realizing that the search for perfection might forever delay the completion of any piece of writing, maybe the 40 pieces in our document are just perfect enough. The book models for readers that ideas are worth sharing, and debating, even if only polished to a state of mild imperfection.

Perfection Myth #5: It is best to share ideas in slide decks that give clear answers.

Editing my final draft

We intentionally ignored this usual conference expectation. Each participant brought their own ideas, vision, and passion. Each person brought their 'story' to share over dinner. These ideas were challenged, reconsidered, and revised as the shared experiences of the summit unfolded.

The final formal moments of UnPlug’d were experienced as all the participants gathered in the Butterfly room, each given a brief moment to share a closing thought with the whole group. One at a time, we attempted to distill the thoughts and ideas that had been filtered throughout our weekend of shared experiences. Encouragement was offered, insights were shared, and profound statements were made.

Ben: I don’t want to speak for others, however, when my turn came I was overwhelmed with emotion and chose to share a key lesson that I had learned about courage. As my voice cracked, I let down my guard and shared what I had learned about courage from my interactions that weekend. I finished by sharing how this lesson about courage would guide me in the upcoming school year. This imperfect sharing of ideas allowed us to 'get real' about the situation that we are trying to improve.

Perfection Myth #6: Each planned activity achieved its intended purpose.

Tom Fullerton

One of the symbols of UnPlug’d was a large physical mindmap that represented the participants (stones), their ideas (wooden disks), and the connections between them (ribbon and twine). On site, Kim Crawford reflected “Just as we gather around a campfire, the ideas and people in the centre of our meeting room, provided the flame to foster our connectedness.” As the weekend progressed, Tom Fullerton further explained “The rocks were people and the wooden disks our ideas. We used cord to show connections. I described the rocks to my working group as not being as solid as they might appear. Each of us is shaped and rubbed smooth by contact with other rocks as we are pushed together by waves and wind, the conversations and experiences we share.”

Some participants looked to the map as an opportunity to let their artistic sensibilities shine. Others created personal icons as more of an afterthought. Limited access was available to the evolving map because the planning team opted to host ‘check-in’ meetings in the same central meeting space. In doing so, we unintentionally blocked participants from fully engaging with this piece.

Although the mindmap never fully realized its visual potential as a representation of the many connections among participants and their ideas, the artistic and symbolic elements were meaningful to many participants. Some withdrew artifacts from the collaborative piece as mementos of their experience. When members of the planning team stayed behind to finalize publication details, we were granted the honour of finding a home for the personalized artifacts that had been left behind by participants.

High Value Imperfection
Unplug'd had many imperfections. It wasn't perfect, it was real. Real conversations and struggles were shared. Real people maintained eye contact, were present in the moment, and expressed authentic empathy. Real people were heard and listened. Real people expressed how this experience has re-energized them for the challenge of a new school year. And real is beautiful... even if imperfect.


Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Process is the Product

There were many ‘A-Ha’ moments in the lead up to UnPlug'd, but the tipping point to the event, was the decision to revisit collaborative publishing. The publishing of one’s own words, refined to sit alongside the ideas of passionate peers, would become the pinpoint focus for our time at the Edge.

The resulting product, which is being released one chapter at a time over the next 6 weeks, is a book that encapsulates many of the things that participating Canadian educators think matter most. While you would think that bringing tech-savvy educators together to tell stories, and to think, and to share might lead to discussion about the latest technological tools, there was nary a mention of Google+ or any other emerging tool. The weekend was about connecting and learning.

Our book title: “Why ___________ Matters” gave each participant the opportunity to fill in the blank. This differentiated writing and story-telling task led to the exploration of a wide range of topics that resonated through the passionate participation of delegates. None-the-less, our collaborative book will leave many unconsidered ‘blanks’ including:

Why imperfection matters;
Why commitment matters;
Why stories matter;
Why authenticity matters;
Why healthy choices matter;
Why risk-taking matters;
Why circles matter.

UnPlug’d was intentionally structured to engage participants in increasingly personal conversations, that in the end led participants to share stories and writing that would make possible the end result: a book. By traveling together, dining together, singing together, paddling together, washing dishes together, doing yoga together, watching the night sky together, we became a more tightly knit tribe.

In a following post, I’ll be writing about the flexible but carefully structured ‘lesson plan’ for UnPlug’d, but there is one big, big thing I’d like #unplugd11 participants to consider: How can you bring similar community building experiences to your classroom in the coming school year?

Will you make time to share personal stories?
Will your classroom leverage 'circle-ness'?
Will you embrace opportunities to share healthy food together?
Will you model and support risk-taking?
Will you foster an environment that harnesses individual accountability to the group?
Will you be fully attentive to the needs of colleagues and students?

Will you build community through ordinary actions, in order to create an extraordinary learning environment?

Photo Credits: Andy Forgrave, Northern Edge Algonquin, Bryan Jackson

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

UnPlug'd Approaches...

In recent weeks and months, I've been thinking and creating with a terrific group of Canadian collaborators who are breathing life into a first-of-its-kind event. Very soon, we will be taking a collective pause from our virtual learning networks, in order to connect face-to-face, and to think deeply about what it means to be a teacher; learner; and change agent.

“If a teacher thinks in the forest, does he/she make a sound?”

A diverse collection of Canadian educators with experience that spans primary, elementary, secondary, and post-secondary classrooms, will answer that very question at ‘UnPlug’d: Canadian Education Summit’.

UnPlug’d delegates will gather amidst the concrete of downtown Toronto, before making their way to Northern Edge Algonquin, a retreat on the northwest corner of Algonquin Park. By the time the weekend is over, participants will have traveled by plane, train, bus, kayak, canoe, and mountain bike, all in order to connect with transparent learners who embrace opportunities to think, learn, and teach.

By unplugging from their highly networked personal and professional lives, participating Canadian change agents will:

- reflect on personal and professional learning while forging connections to the learning stories of other participants;
- share stories of small scale innovation with colleagues who are similarly engaged in discovering what matters most in teaching and learning;
- transform digital relationships through face-to-face encounters, strengthening the loose ties that bind us as networked Canadian educators;
- go deeper with ideas than might otherwise be possible, amidst the hush of a natural, purely Canadian setting;
- come to appreciate what it means to be a teacher and learner, in Canada, both today, and for tomorrow.

“But will it make a sound?”

A multitude of conversations, stories, and ideas will resonate from the UnPlug’d experience. The collective wisdom of the group will become evident through the digital release of “UnPlug’d: Why _________ Matters” which will follow on the heels of the summit. Throughout the days and weeks that follow, blog posts, audio reflections and multimedia pieces can be anticipated from particpating delegates.

To discover more about UnPlug’d and to meet the participants, visit
To tour the venue we’ll be meeting at, visit
To receive UnPlug’d updates, follow @unplugdca
To learn from the delegates before and after they unplug, follow the group:!/unplugdca/unplugd-2011

Monday, June 6, 2011

Why I Love the Game

This past week, I had the great pleasure of taking my 8 year old onto a real golf course for the first time. Over the past few summers, he has developed a swing on the range, and has learned some golf etiquette at the local pitch and putt; but this was his first chance to tee it up for real. As we worked our way around the course, I found myself reflecting on the way golf is naturally differentiated for players of varying skills. By the time we'd finished, I had 9 holes worth of reflections to share.

Hole #1 Differentiated Challenge
I usually play the blues, hitting my tee shots from tees just in front of those reserved for professional golfers. Students on the golf team at our school, usually play from the whites; my wife starts at the reds; and the new golfer in the family, played his first round from the yellow tees. For each hole, the game of golf is differentiated, allowing player with varying levels of experience, to choose an apt challenge. I found myself thinking that school could be a much more engaging place if we could provide custom starting points for each of our students.

Hole #2 Modern Tools
While design and innovation lead to the introduction of new clubs and new learning technologies every year, the goals of both golf and school remain relatively unchanged. Many golfers find comfort in well-worn tools, like a familiar wedge or putter that just feels right; while teachers and students may be comforted in the familiarity of pencil or chalk. Those who ignore innovations in club design or developments in learning technologies, may struggle to produce their best work. It remains my opinion that hickory shafts and chalk, belong in the same place... the museum archives. We've got more effective tools to leverage.

Hole #3 Acing the Test
Through a combination of luck and skill, I was rewarded with my only hole-in-one on May 26, 1990. It was the 17th hole, a par four at Oakwood G. & C.C. where my tournament ace, keyed my foursome's victory. I remember many details from the experience, including the fact that I had to delay hitting my shot until two young golfers walked through our fairway; that I used an orange Top Flight golf ball on the tee; that my 5 wood drew in a right-to-left arc, landed on the green and rolled into the hole. Which leads to the question: What do you remember most vividly about the last test that you aced? The perfect performance on a written test may be more common, but is it far less memorable. How critical can either ace be, when you realize that given the opportunity to replay a hole you've mastered, or re-take a previously aced test, most of us are unlikely to again realize such perfection.

Hole #4 Practice as an End in Itself
As in learning, there is work to be done if you are to achieve to your best potential on tournament day. Whether practice takes place on the range where different aspects of the game are practiced in isolation; or on the course where you practice skills in the context of the game, most players find enjoyment in the practice. And the enjoyment happens in spite of the fact that many players, spend significant time on the weakest parts of their game. Knowing that every student in a classroom has a unique skill set, I'm left to wonder: Why it is common for every student to practice their way through a common set of experiences? How might the teacher discover which types of practice would be most apt for a given individual? Can choice, context, and varied practice lead individuals to enjoy the practice of academics?

Hole #5 We Play By Rules
The rules in golf may seem unfair at times, but wherever possible, you 'play it as it lies'. It's a game that relies upon the honesty of the competitors, even when the rules don't seem to make sense. In the world of school, many students look for ways to bend the rules or to outright ignore those that may seem unjust. The parallel seems to be that both school and golf tend to outlaw tools that make the 'game' too easy. Golf balls that go too straight off the tee, or those that travel too far in the air, or clubs that provide the advantage of extra spin are deemed to be illegal equipment. In the classroom, calculators were once seen to provide an unfair advantage; but today, tools like Wikipedia are deemed untrustworthy, while smart phones that provide access to the 'sum of human knowledge', are banned from exam rooms.

Hole #6 Handicaps Level the Playing Field
In golf, once you've been involved in enough 'assessments', your performance becomes predictable. The resulting golf handicap gives each competitor an equal opportunity to win an event. In a handicapped golf tournament, one has to turn in a performance that is better than his or her normal performance, in order to be rewarded. In contrast, handicaps in the classroom appear as challenges that result in an imbalance. Adaptive technologies, varied learning strategies, and universal designs may offset a learner's identified disability, but most of the time, learners are assessed using identical performance scales. As a result, the education system tends to reward the same kids over and over again, just for doing that they've been successful at doing throughout their school careers. As more and more educators embrace differentiated assessment, the practice may be seen as one to reward learners with 'assessment handicaps'.

Hole #7 The Team 'Scramble'
Occasionally, golf and school offer opportunities to learn and play as the member of a team. In golf, the scramble tournament allows a team of competitors to take advantage of the best shots of colleagues. Whether a long ball specialist or an expert putter, being a part of a foursome is most rewarding when your teammates brings different talents to the course. In the classroom, the best parallel I can think of, is when rich performance tasks allow learners to play unique roles in designing solutions to compelling problems. At their very best, both learning and golf are social experiences that bring out the best in the participants.

Hole #8 Data Driven Assessment
In golf, knowing exact yardages to fairway bunkers, water hazards, and pin placements, gives the player a tremendous advantage in making appropriate club selection. Whether using a laser range-finder, a GPS tool, or an iOS solution, players with the right information, are far more likely to make wise decisions on the course. In the classroom, it is the pre-assessment that offers a teacher similarly useful data. Knowing what your students know, and what they need to know, the informed teacher is more likely to plan an appropriate and productive range of learning activities. So, why is it that educators are far more likely to give tests only at the end of a unit of study? Experienced teachers know that gauging the strengths and weaknesses of their students, allows them to play 'target golf'.

Hole #9 What Did You Score?
Ultimately, golf is a game against yourself, and perfection is unattainable. Just as report cards attempt commonly boil down and individual's achievement to a number, so too does your scorecard . Whether or not you have rich stories to share about amazing experiences on the course or in the classroom, that final grade how success is ultimately measured. Yet, after every round, we take the time to celebrate our on course adventures with fellow competitors. Wouldn't it be wonderful if we paid more attention to the affective experiences of learners? We commonly share assessment data, and report our findings to parents, but what about sharing the anecdotes that make learning in your classroom more than 'a good walk, spoiled'?

Photo Credits:, kazamatsuri, VancityAllie, jc_091447

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Creative Commons Goes Mainstream

Have you heard the news? YouTube is embracing Creative Commons and allowing users to tag videos as being licensed for reuse and remixing. When this news is partnered with the YouTube video editor, budding content creators are the big winners.

What do you think? Will educators be able to take advantage of these user-friendly developments? Will learners at your school be encouraged to legally remix fresh video productions? Does your school's Internet filter need to be re-considered?

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Do You Have a Robin?

Batman had Robin; Simon had Garfunkel; Jordan had Pippen; Abbot had Costello. Each of these duos had an impact that was arguably greater than any one might have had without initial collaborative success. Alone, each of these folks might have made a difference, but it was as members of a team, that they had their greatest impact.

In education, that someone who helps you change your little corner of the educational landscape is priceless. The partner who listens to your ideas; the sidekick who gives you encouragement to try something different; the colleague who nudges you when you need to get back on track... these are the people who help you be your best. But the special connections who join you in a collaborative project; who present alongside you at conferences; who join you in drafting that grant proposal... these are the people who truly amplify your impact.

Even though these folks might never have met B.T. (before Twitter), a few examples from my Personal Learning Network serve as exemplary case studies, demonstrating the power of partnerships:

1] Heather Durnin and Clarence Fisher recently led their charges to collaboratively publish a book.
2] Dean Shareski and Alec Couros began presenting as 'Lazy Professors' but are regularly in the same time & space.
3] Zoe Branigan-Pipe and Doug Peterson co-presented at the OSLA Faceoff, and continue to learn from one another.
4] Ben Hazzard and Kelly Power started #edbookclub, but this year, they also teamed up to deliver a keynote presentation.
5] Chris Lehmann and Scott McLeod are about to publish What School Administrators Need to Know About Digital Technologies and Social Media.
6] Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach and Will Richardson co-founded Powerful Learning Practice, and regularly push one another's learning.

While it may be tempting to gauge the success of one's Personal Learning Network by counting Twitter followers or blog subscribers, the true measure of your professional impact, may be the number of dynamic duos with whom you've become professionally engaged. Do you know any folks who would make a terrific team? Why not put them in touch? Who knows, if you reach out yourself, maybe there's a Robin out there waiting to join you for a spin in the Batmobile?

Photo Credit: Bounce; Rodd Lucier

Thursday, May 19, 2011

"So... What do you do for a living?"

The Elevator Pitch is a meticulously crafted message, usually to sell an idea to a prospective investor. It is generally a short audio highlight reel, commonly used as a sales pitch, but I think it can be useful in many different situations.

For me, the most apt time for me to use a short, engaging presentation, is in introducing myself. Whether meeting educators for the first time, or striking up a conversation with fellow golfers on the tee block, I'd prefer to pitch myself as something more than 'teacher'. I just don't appreciate the baggage that sometimes comes with the job title, especially when I'm not sure about the other person's past scholastic experience. Maybe that's why my most recent name badge listed my job title as 'Education Change Agent'.

A Skill Worth Teaching
In recent months I've seen a few teachers offer students the opportunity to prepare a TED-style talk on a topic of personal interest. While the preparation and delivery of a compelling talk may be a rewarding learning experience, I'm not so sure it's as useful a skill, as the more concise, face-to-face elevator pitch. The ability to enter into an engaging discussion by way of a carefully crafted and well-rehearsed introduction is a practical skill, mastered by few.

With practice, students will be able to tell compelling personal narratives, with confidence, in under two minutes.

1] Role play having students confidently introduce themselves to prospective employers;
2] Give students a 30 second opportunity to sum up their individual contributions to the class or group;
3] Encourage individuals to 'sell' a thesis or project proposal;
4] Allow groups to develop product pitches along the lines of 'Dragons' Den' or 'Shark Tank'.

Kids who model a strong, positive self-image are more likely to be successful in school, work and life. Take the time to lead your charges to the gift of a unique personal elevator pitch. And while you're at it, prepare yourself for the next time you hear the invitation: 'So... What do you do for a living?'

Photo credit: Marco Wessel, James Provost

Monday, May 9, 2011

Motion Capture Animation

This short video and an accompanying audio podcast, tell the story of how motion capture, and 3D technology are being used to fill the demand for special effects, animation, and videogame production. The interview with Tobias Wiegant took place at Canada 3.0.

If you found the video of interest, you might like to review the full length audio podcast.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Machine is Indeed Using Us

Does this title sound familiar? It's very similar to Michael Wesch's viral video from a few years ago: The Machine is Us/ing Us. When I first saw this video in 2008, it inspired me to write a series of posts about how users of the World Wide Web, were Teaching the Machine. Now, just three years later, it seems as if the machine has become smart enough to customize the information it provides to each of us.

Yesterday, after hearing Wesch describe how his video went viral, participants at Canada 3.0 were called by Sonija Monga, to reflect on how we derive meaning and insights from our networks.

By virtue of my membership in a network that is already functioning as a bit of a like-minded hive, I discovered an answer to my question thanks to a tweet from Alec Couros, Take nine minutes to consider Eli Pariser's warning: Beware online "filter bubbles"

I don't know if the machine can yet answer these questions, but there are many things we need to think about:

Is there a problem with each user being the recipient of customized service from a news provider; an online store; a search engine?
Does the machine know enough to provide us not only with relevant results, but also with an unbiased determination of the most important content?
How good are our personal learning network at discovering content from varying points of view?
How might a young person's unseen profile and early online habits, affect their future online experiences?

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Tipping the Iceberg

Many of our colleagues liken the makeover of our education system to the steering of a large 'directionally challenged' ship. Taking a different tack, I like to consider our educational system as being analogous to an iceberg. With little doubt that we are in the midst of global climate change, the iceberg's very existence is under threat. Understanding that accelerating change that is real in every other facet of society, surely we can conclude that the modern understanding of school, is similarly at risk.

What if we Tip the Iceberg?
For educators dieting on a menu of progressive blog posts and viral education videos, it's enticing to think that we might just be at a tipping point for transforming education. But before tipping that iceberg over to discover a whole new world, we have to realize the enormity of the task we hope to undertake. Even if change agents understand the immensity of the cube we're attempting to flip, I'm not so sure we fully understand the repercussions of widespread transformation. Might a controlled melting the cube into a more meaningful form be a more sensible strategy?

Educators in this social learning space, are attuned to messages about engaging project based learning; leveraging social media; and ensuring that students 'own the learning'. But these messages fly against the comfortable anchor of daily lessons that over many years, have become the frozen foundation of our practice. Rebel educators have always been leaping from the crest of the berg, furthering their own learning in the quiet and lonely crevices provided by the unseen surfaces of our iceberg. Maybe by way of slow drip, we can lead colleagues and students to consider exploring these new worlds? Maybe we need to polish the smoothest portions of the iceberg, revealing the many innovations that are taking place below the surface?

Does the Iceberg Even Know It's Changing?
For the past many years, I've been frustrated in the way our schools have offered mass market, paper-based lessons for individual learners to digest and regurgitate. Many of the lessons I see first hand, and those I experience through my children may be irrelevant, but I find reassurance in the many trailblazers who, in spite of daunting obstacles, are reinventing education for future generations. Few who work in the relative stability of the known school system, seem to take notice, but positive changes are taking hold. I believe it is through the sharing our collective stories of success, that we are most likely to inspire a curricular meltdown to a core of relevant learning experiences.

In the end, it is that unseen part of the iceberg, where innovators test the limits of today's learners, that will lead to a course correction for that steamship that everyone seems so intent on 'turning around'. What are you waiting for? Sound the alarm by pointing your colleagues to a blog post, a video, a podcast. You've just been drafted as the look-out in the crow's nest.

Photo Credits: Guille Avalos, Natalie Lucier, Canadian Science & Technology Museum

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Copyright School

It's surprising that it has taken this long, but Google has gone and created Copyright School, a short interactive course on how users can make appropriate use of media when posting content to YouTube. While resources have existed for some time to teach clients how to ensure their posting of material doesn't violate copyright, I discovered the news through the form of a short animated video that was embedded at Mashable.

It's a great beginning, but lessons on fair use, copyright, and Creative Commons, are long overdue. In preparing students to flourish in an increasingly media-centric world, there is a need for classroom teachers and students from primary school through university, to understand how to create content in ways that respect the wishes of other content creators.

WIth a link to copyright information now appearing at the bottom of every YouTube page, maybe Google will expand this copyright course to include:

* How to find and use appropriately licensed music for synchronized works
* How to credit photographers when using their CC licensed works
* How to make the most of archival film footage found in the public domain
* How to use Creative Commons to share your own work with the world

Now that YouTube is now one of the world's most popular search engines, I'm hopeful those who visit the site to consume media, will find themselves following links to learn about the ethical creation of mulitmedia.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Social Media Advisory

The Ontario College of Teachers released today, 'Professional Advisory: Use of Electronic Communication and Social Media', advising members to make appropriate use of social media with students.

My fear is that many educators will see this as a warning, granting reasonable grounds to remain on the social media sidelines. The first headline I read, spun the story as a cautionary tale: "College of Teachers says social media the wrong way for teachers to communicate".

Even though the 'professional advisory' is filled with caveats, fear of social media can be allayed, provided teachers use common sense in their e-communication. The news release put it this way:
“Represent yourself in social media the same way you would in person.”

In partial contrast, the OCT also released a companion video that rationalizes why educators should engage the use of modern communication tools:

Take the time to review the document. If you have questions or comments that you'd like to share, I'll be happy to bring them along to one of the regional information sessions taking place in the next few weeks. Are there any other 'appropriate use of social media' documents' I should reference?

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Top Ten Tech Tools (Spring 2011)

It's been almost three years since I first blogged my Top Ten Tech Tools, and plenty has changed. Consistent with my earlier ramblings about 2011 being The Year of the Cloud, I'm finding that more and more of the tools I'm using, are accessible from any computer or smart phone. Here then, my 'revised' top ten tech tools for 2011:

I've had a Gmail account since June of 2004, and even though those in the younger generation tend to prefer short instant communication, this tool is the hub of my e-office. A few of the reasons I love the service: I can leverage customized filters for incoming mail; I can link documents to calendar events or to do lists; I can instantly convert attachments to Google Docs; I can search content I've sent or received using Google's highly efficient search tool. What's not to like?

Google Docs
Whether publishing surveys and forms, or collaboratively creating text-based documents, I love the fact that Google makes my work is available from any device. With a click of the sharing button, any folder or document can become the basis of a team project.

In the past three to four years, Twitter has proven itself to be the best way for me to keep in touch with distant members of my learning community. Among several aggregators of content, I still gravitate towards Tweetdeck. Leveraging groups, search tools, url-shortening, photo uploads and more, this app has proven to be the best way for me to sort 'nearly live' news, learning, and social communications.

I'm posting 'the good stuff' I stumble across in both places. Although Google is sometimes quicker at finding anything I archive, Clever App still grabs the feed to this content, so social bookmarking remains the best way to share my findings.

Sharing files with myself or with colleagues, this tool allows me to do it with ease, from any device. Now that tools like Drop-it-to-Me and JotForm allow web-based uploads to my folders, DropBox is also a sensible file collection solution.

As I continue to work on projects with colleagues who are in other provinces and countries, Skype has become our go-to tool for collaborative meetings. With participants opening relevant shared Google docs in their browser of choice, we can co-develop solutions, or use free A/V to deepen social connections. With the recent launch of Skype in the Classroom, at least 9000 educators from around the world agree this is a valuable networking tool.

I made the leap to a premium account to teach students how modern tools can replace paper notebooks. Accessing the work from any computer or smart phone, users can upload and tag audio, text, photo, video or document files; and can and share web-based files or folders with colleagues.

One of the cloud services I use that am happy to pay for, Flickr works in partnership with iPhoto, allowing me to share and back-up photos and videos. What's more, Flickr is home to a growing legion of photographers making their work available for use, remixing, and sharing via Creative Commons.

One of the few tools I use that only resides on my computer, Keynote remains my presentation tool of choice. Untethered, I control this tool with Keynote Remote on my iPhone. In order to share content I produce on Keynote, I host my presentations at Slideshare.

Creative Commons
This tool is as much a state-of-mind as it is a tech tool, and I'm including it on my list for the first time. If CC is new to you, it would be well worth your time to visit Creative Commons: What Every Educator Needs to Know.