Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Design is Hard. #GDD16

"Here's the next instalment of #Peel21st Blog Hop. We  thought we would continue to connect to the Ministry's 21st Century Competencies document and this time pair it with the Global Day of Design. So today was a challenge, design something, share it, and reflect here. Be sure to hop on over to the other blogs after and see what other #peel21st tweeps designed!"

So no big deal. Just design something. Think about a need in this world and create a 'thing' that will fill that need. You have every resource at your disposal, you just have to design it. 

Design is hard.

I grabbed a coffee, broke out my stylus & iPad, and opened up Paper 53. I was keen on the Global Day of Design, and thought it was such a great idea. Super stoked, and ready to design. Something. Anything. Just a little thing.

Design is hard.

I tried brainstorming and jotting down ideas for my creation. I thought I was going to sketch out a new car, revolutionary bike, new city streets (I was sitting at a Starbucks looking out a window - my inspiration was what I saw through that window). I then thought of what I know best - design a new classroom, a cover for a phone, a coffee mug, or a toy. Nothing came to me though. I kept telling myself it's already been done.

Design is really freaking hard.

This is the process of design though. We ask students to design something new all the time - new reports, videos, products even; but do we take the time to really think of how difficult this is. Design thinking is hard, it takes time; and it takes a lot of collaboration, to bounce ideas off of one another. I've come to realize, nothing is really 'new'; we just innovate a little on a lot of previous things, and we need to encourage this. 

So I checked my Twitter account to see what was happening. Then I designed...

We need to look at the world around us for inspiration, but acknowledge inspiration may not come right away. Give it time, let ideas percolate, swim around in that brain, and try, fail, and try again. It's all okay, and it doesn't have to be something that's going to change the world. It may only change your life for a moment, but you created something in that moment. And that is something. 

Be sure to check out the other #Peel21st bloggers and their thoughts, reflections, and moments of collaboration! And connect with them on Twitter!

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Vow to Collaborate

"Here's the next instalment of #Peel21st Blog Hop. We  thought we would reflect on the 21st Century Competencies released by the Ministry which discusses the core 21st Century skills that are essential elements in modern learning. We thought these competencies could be a great way to prompt a conversation amongst the #peel21st community and afar as well. This month, it's all about...

Collaboration: Near & Far

I think collaboration is an essential element in learning. It replicates 'real-world' scenarios where you need to draw on expertise amongst a group. It involves skills at various levels and across various dimensions. It allows individuals to see how their thinking, actions, processes, compare against others, who all come from different places. It truly is a learning experience in itself. But how much do we explore this with our students? How much do we ask them to collaborate, not just work as a team? How much do we emphasize all its aspects? Therefore...

  • I want my students to realize the difference between collaboration and working in a team. 
  • I want them to develop the skills necessary to resolve conflicts on their own. 
  • I wish for them to work together for a set of goals instead of just one. 
  • I will push my students to explore empathy, disagreements, respect, accomodations, support, connections, leadership, creativity, and flexibility.

  • I need to push my students, and myself, to collaborate across backgrounds & differences; and collaborate with both those in the room, and those across the globe. 
  • I need them to realize that collaboration can happen with those in far off lands, who may offer greater insight than what can be found on a website, in a book, and definitely, in the 1999 textbook. 
  • I would like them to hear the stories of others, to listen to those experiences, and to make something from that. 
  • I will support them to take the risks, try new things, and learn together.

Collaboration. Not just teamwork.

Be sure to check out the other #Peel21st bloggers and their thoughts, reflections, and moments of collaboration! And connect with them on Twitter!

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Passion Project

"Here's the next instalment of #Peel21st Blog Hop. This round it's all about student PASSION! Also, be sure to take a look at the blogs posted at the bottom, and hop from one to another to see some other best moments."

In your current role, how have and/or could you support students in discovering their passions in your practice?

I struggle with this. I think we all do. The feeling of being shackled to curriculum objectives, while trying to ensure students have the freedom to travel down paths that interest them. I think we often try to force things on our students that we feel are 'fun' or 'exciting ways to learn' but will they feel the same?

I used to do this a lot when I taught business classes like Marketing. I would encourage students to create products they were interested in, but still placed restrictions and limitations on them. I thought I was doing them a favour by helping them to focus and channel their energy. I think I was doing it wrong though.

I never fully encouraged them to go further with their products and actually create. I was still too focused on ensuring their projects addressed every little detail I wanted to assess. I had my checklists, my templates, and my lesson plans. They could follow their passions so long as it fit within my structures. I think they pursued projects that they knew would fit within those parameters, without fully exploring ideas they may have wanted to. And to be honest, why would they? The final product was all just an idea on paper. It lacked any real tangible element.

What I find amazing now is the opportunity students have to actually create something real. The technology available to them - the possibilities for 3D production, coding for games, guides & websites for app creation, music hosting sites, video production tools etc. - allow them to truly pursue passions. It's no longer just an idea on paper, but an opportunity to CREATE! I now realize that if students were further supported to follow the design & creation process then the motivation would be there to pursue those passions. As well, that accomplishment in itself would fit any checklist, template, or lesson plan I could ever create for them.

The value of making is something I need to pursue further. Something I want all my students to experience, in whatever they do.  The design thinking process can take student learning to new heights. I think if we can offer this opportunity to all students, the passion for learning, like we have all felt, can take over.

Be sure to check out the other #Peel21st bloggers and their thoughts on discovering student passion:

Tuesday, February 2, 2016


"I've 'decided' to join the #ossemooc Blog Hop around George Couros' book 'The Innovator's Mindset'. To start things off, we've decided to share our ideas around the concept of innovation. Enjoy! Also, be sure to take a look at the blogs posted at the bottom, and hop from one to another to see some other ideas."

It might be my affinity for all things marketing - I love looking at new products, ideas, processes, etc. Talking about a topic such as innovation, I am immediately drawn to the stories of how products and services came to be. It's amazing to read about the people behind the YouTube, Spam, and the concept of sharing a car with a complete stranger. It has always struck me that when looking at these innovations now, they seem so simple; however, at the time so revolutionary. 

The stories however all share one quality that set them apart in my mind - improvement. And I don't mean over the long term; just an improvement from the day before they came into being. I do stumble over this idea at times when I look at products so popular and are considered innovations, and yet am left saying "Whaaaaa? Why?!" I think back to early days of social media tools (Twitter, Snapchat, YouTube, etc.) where many share that same expression. Many ask the simple question - how does this improve my life? It's difficult to see what's innovative at times because we fail to hear the story behind these innovations. The story always starts with a problem, and that is the key.

And so even though we find it difficult to see what is innovative at times, it doesn't mean it's not solving a problem. Many don't see the innovation because we don't see how the improvement impacts us - we hold innovations at a personal level and expect them to directly impact us. And if they don't, well they can't be innovative. Can they?

Sometimes it takes a new perspective - watching how a technological innovation can change a whole person's life. I think this is what strikes me as innovation - has it changed someone's way of doing something? Is it better than before? Than that to me is innovation. It doesn't have to be complicated. It just has to make a positive impact.

Be sure to check out the other #ossemooc bloggers and their ideas!

    Friday, January 29, 2016

    Our Limitations

    Sometimes we feel ashamed, embarrassed, or lost. I think it's important to remember...

    Thursday, January 28, 2016

    Optical Illusion

    Today was a bit of a tough one. A real great opportunity for professional learning, sharing, and connecting hit a bit of a snag. It was to be a great night, one that I think would have really done much for the learning community. The decision behind it was due to 'optics'.

    When I think of 'Optics' I often think of Economics. I know weird right? Tangent? But hang in here for a second. In economics we often look to indicators to judge economic performance. We look to GDP, unemployment, inflation, as well as several other indicators. What we often don't do however, is look behind these. For those who may be unaware, the big three (GDP, unemployment, and inflation) are not exactly perfect; and have flaws in using them to judge performance. However, we often look to these indicators because 'optically' they can be quickly used to make things 'look good'.

    In education, I think this happens as well. Standardized test scores, gradebook printouts, media stories, etc. only tell part of the story - typically the 'optically positive one'. However, we need to look past 'optics' and really think critically. Sometimes positive optics are negative; and something which may seem negative, is actually quite positive.

    • A school with high EQAO scores BUT all classrooms have desks with rows in them?
    • A learning environment touted as tech savvy BUT has huge photocopy numbers?
    • A gradebook printout for a student which averages 90% BUT all entries are tests and quizzes?
    • A professional development day for staff BUT all staff are working individually?

    These are just some things that require questioning. When we see things we often make assumptions because they look good. Sometimes we think things look bad, when in fact they look good. We need to dig deeper, and not just go with our gut. Otherwise we may casually disregard underwear, because optically it just doesn't look good.

    Wednesday, January 27, 2016

    A Pace for Learning

    Professional learning as a group is a challenge for every school. Trying to appease a variety of learners and support their learning journey is a delicate balance. It's really a 'no-win' situation as not everyone is invested the same way; and just like the students in our classroom, each has a different preference of learning.

    Today, I was a part of a discussion about this topic - how do we support the adult learners in the building so they can grow as professionals? The planning group's main concern was about the current pace of learning and the culture of learning in the school. It struck me at how similar this discussion was like the discussion we have about our students in our classrooms.

    We often look at our classrooms and plan according to curriculum. We know we have to fit in 'X' units of study in 'X' number of days. The pressure we put on ourselves as teachers to "finish the course" is countered by the pressure we put on ourselves to "ensure all students learn". This delicate balance is no different than what all school's deal with as part of their own professional learning.

    We hope to achieve learning goals as a staff by the end of each semester, or by the end of each year. Many would like to go 'slow' while others need to 'speed up'. We do need to ensure that all learn, and are supported with the appropriate resources and strategies to ensure understanding & proficiency. And if we race through the material then we can almost certainly ensure that learning will be haphazard at best. Going slow is therefore necessary.

    However, when it comes to certain learning goals there is no option however. Students are the ones directly impacted by our professional learning, and if we slow down too much then we are not living up to the expectations of our students. I'm not saying we need to put the pedal to the medal, but I think we always need to ensure our foot is at least on the pedal.

    I guess what I'm left with is just a question. When do we need to 'go'? And when do we need to 'go slow'? Either way, however, we still need to be going.

    Tuesday, January 26, 2016

    #Peel21st Sketch Hop

    "Here's the next instalment of #Peel21st Hop. This time it's a little different - instead of a blog, we decided to 'Sketch it Up'. Remember to check out others' sketches posted at the bottom"

    I have enjoyed 'doodling' over the years. I don't consider it much of an art, but I find myself during presetations, lectures, etc. needing to do something to keep myself focused - "Squirrel!"
    I noticed sketchnoting creep into my Twitter feed more and more recently, and came to realize that it could be a useful strategy to use while listening. It's helped keep my attention, aided in synthesizing information, and allows me to create a useful summary to reflect on after. 
    For this hop I decided, rather than summarize a lecture, just jot down some ideas about the future of school...

    Be sure to check out the other #Peel21st Sketchers and their best creations!

    Sketch it Up!

    Alright, so I'm no artist. Want to get that out of the way right off the bat. I can barely draw a stick figure, and don't even think about having me draw any kind of perspective! However, something grabbed my attention when I saw Sketchnoting for the first time. The visual representation of notetaking seemed to align pretty nicely with how I learn - colour, images, fonts, etc. - all capture the eye, and mind in turn.

    So I took a whirl; grabbed a stylus, and my ipad, and tried it out. It became evident early on that it's not exactly hard, but not exactly easy either. I learned a bit and still figuring it out, but here are some thoughts:

    1. Trying to sketchnote during a lecture or keynote may be the most difficult. Trying to synthesize information while creating a visual representation is pretty challenging. I came to realize it's all about the rough work while listening, and then going back over it after.
    2. Not all apps are the same, and finding one that works requires experimenting with each. Each may have slightly different tools, and 'play' differently. I have come to realize the ones that offer a grid of some sort really help, and allow you to judge spacing and size more effectively.
    3. Play, play, and more play - the fonts, the images, the layouts, and everything else. I started trying to refine a couple different specific font styles, banners, and layouts. This really helped as it created a bit of 'go-to' set of tools that I could use quickly for the times I did try sketchnoting a lecture or keynote.
    Other than that, it's a bit like doodling. ;)

    Friday, January 22, 2016

    Thursday, January 21, 2016


    Why do we do the things we do...

    Why do we set up our classrooms in rows?
    Why do we design schools the way we do?
    Why are classrooms closed off?
    Why do we set up our desks at the front of the room?
    Why do we have desks?
    Why do we lecture?
    Why do we have computer labs?
    Why do we make technology an event?
    Why do we assign tests, quizzes, and exams?
    Why do we provide homework?
    Why do we teach the same lessons as last year; as 5 years ago; as 10?
    Why do we plan our lessons prior to knowing our students?
    Why do we have school bells?
    Why do we have audio announcements?
    Why do we have 'community centres' separate from school?
    Why do we start school before 10 am?
    Why do we start the school year in September?
    Why do we have exams after a winter break?
    Why do we organize departments by subject specialties?
    Why do we "prepare students for university"?
    Why do we have grade levels based on age?
    Why do we have lesson periods & semesters?
    Why do we have subject specific courses?
    Why do we run professional development the way we do?
    Why do we teach in the same school for so long?
    Why do we renumerate based on degree & length of teaching experience?
    Why do we all not have to earn spec. ed. qualifications?


    If we don't ask questions, how will we move forward?

    Wednesday, January 20, 2016

    Zone of Proximal Influence

    I had the pleasure a few years ago of listening to a keynote by John Seely Brown. He shared insight into the world that he has occupied for so long - innovation. From his years at Xerox PARC to the Institute for Research on Learning, he provided great stories and details from his experiences. However, one thing more than any stuck with me; and to this day, I find myself repeating it to anyone I think could benefit from listening to...

    I say this often to students, and have thought about this quote all this time in the context of the classroom. It has become part of my 'mantra' I guess when it comes to teaching. However, it recently struck me, what are we doing ourselves as educators?

    Many of us frequently connect in virtual environments where we can share resources, stories, and insights into our 'worlds'. For the most part we've all been able to connect with peers in our buildings, families of schools, or region in real life as well on a somewhat regular basis. However, how many of us are lucky enough to have daily social interactions that push our learning forward?

    I have benefitted from working daily with others who have shared my interests, and passion. Being able to plan together, bounce ideas off one another, and take risks has been an incredible learning experience. I wonder some days where I would be in my own learning if I didn't have such a 'zone of proximal influence' (copyright all rights reserved trademark keepsies no takebacks).

    I don't think that is the kind of social learning that JSB was talking about, but imagine if everyone had this opportunity? What would the world be like?

    Tuesday, January 19, 2016

    Is the Staff Room Closed?

    It's always interesting to walk into a school you are unfamiliar with. There are instant impressions made about the culture of the school. Like many cultural centres, there are many artifacts that tell us how to behave?; What is valued?; How people work, act, and use the space? All of these 'things' provide great insight into the teaching and learning in the school.

    I've noticed none may be more telling than the staff room. I find as soon as I enter this secret world I am instantly attuned to the collaborative culture of the school. There are those rooms where you are welcomed, those where you are the invisible person, those where you want to join the party, and those where there the only party happened way back in 1957. It's always a surprise.

    Up until today I have felt like staff rooms are for the most part 'closed'; a thing of the past, an ancient relic of systems, and structures past. I think these are spaces that could better be used, modified or overhauled for better purposes. Maybe another learning space for students or teachers?

    However, I walked into a staffroom today at lunch and found myself wanting to be part of the party. A great number of staff were together, eating lunch, sharing stories, and breaking bread together. I know this could be a one off, but I was actually warned about this prior to going in there; that this happens daily. I was instantly struck by the culture that existed and wondered how did they get here?

    I don't have an answer to this, and I am sure I could have simply posed the question to the group. I just wonder, what did they do to 'open' the staffroom again?