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On Tuesday, October 27, 2015, I attended the 6th Annual MindShare Learning Technology Canadian EdTech Leadership Summit at the MaRS Discovery District in downtown Toronto with my colleague, Emile Ferlisi noproblem.



As soon as I got there, Emile and I were offered swag, a photo op in front of a large sheet of banner paper that was decorated with all of the company logos who sponsored and were a part of the event. My first thought was, “Wow, this is impressive,” and my second immediate thought was, “I feel like a fish out of water.”


The day was full of keynote speakers and discussion panels as well as a Dragon’s Den Style Ed Tech start-up challenge where entrepreneurs presented their company mission and how their brand of technology could help students become more successful in school.


These presentations were enough to fire up the crowd of educators and business leaders in the field of education and technology. People had their phones out – not as a distraction, but to use as a tool to share, with whomever sees it, their thoughts and experiences at the Summit. There was a screen at the back of the room that would flash up tweets of people in
attendance that were happening in real time and it was more than enough to give even myself incentive to tweet my experience (and I admit, I got excited every time I would see a tweet of mine go up on the screen).


Some key ideas that resonated with me from the Summit are:


  • 21st century technology embedded in 20th century teaching practices and in a 19th century environment doesn’t cut it.
    • These great advances won’t matter unless we are utilizing them in the way that they are meant to be used and if we’re not creating the environment (both physically and mentally) that can help students run with these advancements and technological tools


  • Students shouldn’t be limited to the last textbook edition when they can have the best textbook right at their fingertips (the internet).
    • We are moving into an age where textbooks will become secondary resources for teachers – it’s our job not to rely on them so much anymore


  • Teachers should be thought of as designers who need to embrace technology and feel empowered utilizing it.
    • Technology in the classroom shouldn’t be seen as a scary and daunting entity, but as a way for us to enhance and engage the student’s learning experiences – once we change our mindset on how useful of a tool this can be, we’ll be more inclined to become more knowledgeable


  • Technology is a fantastic tool in education that can be used to bring parents into the learning picture and help connect students to experts or authors in the subjects they are learning.
    • How amazing is this concept? Long gone could be the days where the parents could know what their child is doing at school without having to ask them and getting a vague response in return. Instead of learning about an astronaut’s journey to space, maybe we could skype with one and learn from their experience directly – or maybe, we could have a connect with the author of a book we are reading as a class through twitter. The possibilities truly are endless of how we can bring learning to life.


  • Students show their learning in a way that makes sense to them, and if technology is a dominant aspect of their lives, then this is how they would most likely prefer to present their learning (and with this, we should think of this new type of learner as the technological learner).
    • If students can demonstrate their learning of a math concept using Minecraft instead of more traditional tools, why not let them? Are they still not demonstrating their learning?


  • If learning is personalized, shouldn’t all students be considered gifted?
    • This reminds me of the Albert Einstein quote on teaching a fish to ride a bike – just because this is not possible, does this mean that the fish is not smart?




The information provided was very inspirational and made me feel like we, as educators, are really doing our part in trying to keep up with the times. I feel like in an ideal world where every classroom has a Smart Board or, better yet, a laptop or some sort of device that each student has at their disposal, all of these ideas and advances would take their learning off the charts. But this is not the case and, in fact, unless there are huge sums of money being allocated towards technology in schools, this will most likely never be the case for some schools. This leads to another point that was discussed at the Summit: we don’t need technology to be great, but it definitely helps with some aspects of our teaching. We also need to understand that our students are growing up in a world where technology is all around them and will continue to grow and become more dominant in their lives. In 50 years, I wouldn’t be surprised if we could only see pencils in museums rather than classrooms.


The information was great, but I feel like there is an accessibility issue that didn’t really come up (other than speaking about Aboriginal students in Northern Ontario where bandwidths are very expensive and hard to come by).  In my perspective and working in an inner-city school (though we are lucky enough to have A LOT of technology), I feel like the information that was presented was really only presented for a specific student who lives in a specific area and goes to a specific school – this is not always the case and in fact I feel like this
might create more of a gap in learning. Despite these great strides that are happening with technology, we must never forget that students will always need that human connection to form the whole that is learning.


For myself, this Summit was just a reminder of how much more I need to integrate technology in my classroom. I always feel like I’m on the ball and “with it” until I see what else is going on and how much more I can really do. I was happy that the opportunity was presented to us to attend the event and it’s something that I will definitely take with me in my future planning for my students.

How are we Defining the Canadian Digital Learning Landscape?

                            Posted by Emile Ferlisi in Effective Teaching and Learning in the Digital Age - @HCTLLP on Oct 30, 2015 7:30:00 AM                                             


Thanks to a special offer posted right here on teachontario, I was able to attend the 6th Annual Canadian Edtech Leadership Summit, presented by Mindshare Learning with a colleague of mine, mariafava . The theme of this learning summit was "Defining the Canadian Digital Learning Landscape". Insightful education professionals who are influencing the ways in which technology can improve our teaching practice and empower our students were on both sides of the stage in the MaRs Discovery District auditorium. We were immersed in an environment filled with hope, ideas and the promise of something more than what we are doing right now in education (even though many educators are doing some great things!). The speakers ranged from innovative educators to hopeful entrepreneurs to leaders who are making changes to education on the systemic, provincial level and beyond. As an educator with a lot to learn and a desire to do so, I found myself excited by the possibilities and perhaps even more excited in that I felt a strong connection to both the attendees and the speakers; I felt like I was surrounded, for the most part, by like-minded individuals with whom I shared many hopes and beliefs. Here are some thoughts on an experience that reinforced many of my most hopefully ideas.


Name tags are always a nice souvenir


Andreas Schleicher, director for the directorate of education and skills for the OECD, started our day via Skype by reminding us that the point of technology, particularly in our classrooms, is to mobilize, share and connect. He went on to explain that, as many of us would have guessed, studies have suggested that too much use of technology actually has negative effects on student outcomes while too little also has negative outcomes - balance, he concluded, remains the key. Before bidding us farewell, he was sure to reiterate a personal favorite of mine, "great technology never replaces great teaching". I was particularly pleased to hear that cliche because, while I am not a fan of overused expressions in general, this is an idea that I think we simply can't repeat enough: great technology never replaces great teaching. If we don't beat that drum once in a while, those who are resistant to change will label the innovators as "the ones who want to let the computer teach the kids". Perhaps most importantly, if we don't constantly remind ourselves of this truth, we run the risk of believing that the digital tools are enough; we run the risk of forgetting that the most significant part of teaching is our students and how we, the teachers, connect with our learners (not how they connect to technology).


Jordan Tinney, an innovative superintendent in Surrey B.C., followed. Tinney explained how leaders have to give teachers something that will actually make their job better - that something, in MOST cases CAN be connected to technology. Tinney was keen to point out that using technology was not the "be all to end all", and that any system needs dissenters. For the most part, however, Tinney explained how teachers can and will thrive when they are provided with the right digital tools to allow for a transformation in both their students' learning and their teaching. He talked about how structures need to be challenged and how flexibility needs to be built into our teaching ecosystems. Tinney also discussed the deprivatization of our teaching practice (collaboration and sharing effective practice with our peers and other stake holders) and an approach that allows teachers to be the designers of their programs. Essentially, he pointed to a curriculum that leaves learning outcomes vague and, therefore, allows the educators to develop approaches and employ tools that will fit the learning needs of their individual classes year after year. Perhaps the most important truth that Tinney reminded his audience of is that the core of teaching has never really changed; educators have always worked to support their students' ability to think critically and pick up several individualized skills along the way (perhaps not in that order, of course). In the digital age, however, it's the critical thinking and collaboration skills that our students will need the most since these are the skills that we simply cannot automate.


Tinney.jpgJordan Tinney's key beliefs


Brian Aspinall was possibly the easiest speaker to connect to for classroom educators. As an intermediate teacher in Chatham, Ontario he's improved student outcomes through creative teaching and the use of coding as well as encouraging his students to become content creators. Aspinall's take on the digital age is that we have these great tools at our fingertips, so "it's all about enabling teachers and learners to do great things". This kind of thinking is pretty straight forward for those of us who understand the potential of app creation, mine craft and other tools that allow students to create but the main difference for Brian Aspinall is that he doesn't just talk about the potential for creation, he guides his students through the process of actually becoming creators while they learn. In particular, Aspinall has unlocked his students creativity through 'scratch' as a coding platform; his students have done some remarkable things, including creating a probability experiment that had to flip a coin one million times (very cool app created by students!) to prove that experimental and theoretical probability really are closely connected thanks to the law of large numbers.


There was one point, however, during his talk that Brian posed a question about how he could present the things that his students had digitally created as "assessment". His rationale was that, when using a rubric to assess, a student who had completed what parents would consider to be a "real" project or assignment would simply "have to" receive a higher grade. This is where I wanted to jump onto the stage and interrupt (which of course I didn't!). As a special education teacher I am more than comfortable explaining to a parent how differentiation works. In fact, demonstrable tasks, digitally recorded work, audio recordings and a whole slew of other mediums are perfectly acceptable and, I would say, often more effective forms of assessment. Despite the fact that his presentation was great, I was left wanting to collaborate with Brian to help him understand that his assessments are very much in line with where education is already supposed to be in the province of Ontario (his concern was with parents' expectations). Ultimately, Brian reminded me that we all have something to learn from one another and, in many ways, that fits the theme of the event perfectly.



Mindshare Learning founder and CEO Robert Martellacci was pleased after the summit


Our day ended with a great talk and product pitch (that's what it was) from Lane Merrifield who has already had great success in the edupreneur world. Lane was the creator of Club Penguin which has been acquired by Disney. After a well-received introduction about how the software that educators are stuck with is sub-par to say the least (our current IEP writer fits this category, if I'm honest), Lane reminded us that, for some reason, education has not changed all that much for the past 35 years. He's right, of course. Especially when we are talking about assessment (which ties nicely into Brian's issue AND Lane's new software, of course) and reporting. Lane explained how technology could make a teacher's work not only more effective, but more engaging and meaningful to educators, learners and parents. With his newest software, Freshgrade, Lane Merrifield hopes to take teaching one step closer to the following metaphor: "If teachers are like Ironman, then edtech needs to be like Jarvis". The idea is that education technology will continue to improve until it finally gets to the point where it is responsive to a teacher's needs (intuitive even) and simply doesn't create "an extra layer of work" for the teacher. Lane's software definitely seems to be heading in this direction and I'd be surprised if several school boards don't look to using Freshgrade as a means to meeting the "Pathways to Success" expectations that Ontario schools are currently being asked to satisfy.


I'm very thankfully to have taken part in the Edtech Leadership Summit. I've been reminded of how thankful I am to be an educator in a time where change, continuous learning and both initiating and embracing innovation is not only welcomed, it's required. I am excited to see what's to come, but even more excited to help create it!


Digital Citizenship Is Just Citizenship

Posted by Emile Ferlisi in Effective Teaching and Learning in the Digital Age - @HCTLLP on Oct 27, 2015 7:08:00 AM


With the unavoidable increase of technology in the classroom and seemingly never ending opportunities for PD that go along with it, digital citizenship has emerged as a bona fide buzz topic. Indeed, I think I have seen more content, lesson plans and 'tips' on how to teach digital citizenship than I ever encountered as a first year teacher trying to wrap my head around ways to teach citizenship and character formation to my grade 6 students. Here's the thing: citizenship and character formation (perhaps interchangeable, perhaps not, depending on your perspective) seem to come naturally, or at least a little more naturally, to many teachers. Why? Because the teachers are living in the 'real world' where we benefit from treating each other with respect and dignity - civility at the very least - and also realize that there are certain measures that need to be taken to ensure the safety of person and property. In the real world, being a person of character and a good citizen has a fairly close connection to building a positive image of yourself. Character building and citizenship education are also wonderful pieces of any bullying-prevention program (Safe Schools Action Teams should be taking notes!). As I said, the fact that teachers are living in this 'real world' makes educating students about this reality a little easier.




As someone who probably uses twitter too often and has to consciously MAKE myself disconnect, I find the tenets of digital citizenship to be nothing more than common sense - no more difficult to understand than, let's say, why we should lock our doors when we leave the house every morning: it's more than possible that nothing will happen, but it's also quite possible that someone will clean you out (to be fair, though, even just checking to see if a stranger's door is unlocked takes a lot of nerve). Yes, strong passwords, common sense in what you post, compassion in how you treat others and avoiding the multiple ways that you can create a negative online presence for yourself (and worse) all make perfect sense to me as someone who spends a lot of his time immersed in some form of digital communication or interaction. I can build these kinds of lessons into my day to day teaching rather easily (much like we feel that we can model good interpersonal relationships, manners, or perhaps even common sense) since it's just a part of who I am and what I do in my day to day life it comes naturally. However, I'm aware that the reality is many students will require explicit instruction and guidance in these areas (which makes perfect sense) but, perhaps even more importantly, many current teachers are still functioning without digital citizenship skills, since they simply don't need them to get through their day to day lives - I would suggest that this is why a clear distinction and ready-made lessons are necessary when it comes to addressing digital citizenship.



Prior to writing this, my thinking was that digital citizenship is just the evolution of citizenship. We live in a world that is increasingly connected, a world where technology is ubiquitous and geographically distances of thousands of miles don't mean all that much (well, you do have to be aware of time zones, but you can collaborate with someone in Switzerland on a project rather easily if you like).  As a blogger for various websites, I collaborated with people all over the USA, and as an educator who is striving to learn from sources beyond his own backyard, I interact with people from a variety of disciplines and backgrounds (not just educators) on twitter, regularly. As someone who is passionate about many social justice causes and concerns I sign digital petitions that originate from any number of countries around the world and donate to various causes, based nearly anywhere in the world, often from my smart phone and, again, on a regular basis. Managing all of these digital interactions with civility, decency and in a way that allows me to maintain a positive reputation and contribute to the world in a positive way requires good citizenship. Period. Digital citizenship is not something separate from plain old (new?) citizenship. Educators who already interact with the global community in the way that I've mentioned will have no problem understanding my point in all of this. For others, however, this blog might not serve much of a purpose. In that case, allow me to refer you to an excellent summary of what we need to explicitly teach with regards to digital citizenship, by Vicki Davis: What Your Students Really Need to Know About Digital Citizenship | Edutopia.


For Catholic educators, the Ottawa Catholic School Board has put together a great website that aims to support digital citizenship education for Catholic learners: OCSB Digital Citizenship


Also, Ontario educators might be particularly interested in the work done by the Ontario Software Acquisition Program Advisory Committee (OSAPAC), who have put together some excellent digital citizenship resources.


Finally, if you take the time to read Vicki Davis' blog, you'll notice that my "Digital Citizenship is Just Citizenship" title shares a philosophy with Anne Collier. While I came to my conclusion without Ms. Collier's help, I will give credit where it's due - this is the age of collaboration, after all, and that's what a good (digital) citizen would do.

Hello Effective Teaching and Learning in the Digital Age - @HCTLLP team! My apologies for the tardiness on any posting whatsoever. I'm going to use the age old excuse of "things have been busy" as my reason for not yet blogging (or posting anything for that matter). You can insert your skepticism and "we all are busy Mike" comments here.


Last week our admin team held a meeting for all teachers who were interested in joining the tech team. The topic of conversation was generally around how to implement the use of personal electronic devices (PEDs) at our school. As this project moves forward, I will definitely be blogging about it, but in the meantime, another topic arose at the meeting which was: with students bringing in PEDs, will there be as much of a need for a computer lab or would it be best to distribute those computers to the classrooms?


I've heard this issue/question brought up many times before and my knee jerk reaction is always "NO!" Why would you get rid of a computer lab when we are trying utilize technology as a tool in our teaching? I immediately envisioned a number of my activities for the year being cancelled. How could I have students record and edit their own radio announcement? When would I find time to utilize our e-learning/blended learning page? No PowerPoint presentations for inquiry projects or using Bitstrips for students to write and create comic strips. My usual knee jerk reaction was halted however. My admin team carried on their train of thought and added that "if our lab isn't being utilized to the best of it's ability, the computers may serve a better purpose in our classrooms where you can have everyone accessing technology at any given time. Between PEDs, computers, and even our roaming lab of iPads at the school, you could integrate technology seamlessly in the class for all tasks."


I couldn't help but immediately be brought back to the notes on the SAMR model from the first meeting of our TLLP.


I substituted the term tech with "The computer lab" and immediately began to reflect. Had all those assignments/activities that I was so afraid to lose in my "repertoire of tech based activities" really just been my way of using the computer lab as a means to substitute and augment for paper/pencil tasks or presentations? Was I actually not utilizing the computer lab to the best of it's and my ability? I guess I was having one of those proverbial "A-ha!" moments. I had to come up with an answer, and I think ended up answering the question with sometimes I don't use the computer lab to the best of it's ability. It's sometimes because there are many layers to the answer. I sometimes have misused the computer lab when I simply replace a Language notebook with a word processor, but I don't think I misuse it when I sometimes have to replace that Language notebook with a word processor because many students have problems writing with a pencil versus typing (both for physical and mental reasons). I sometimes misuse the computer lab if I'm simply replacing it with the library when students have to research for an inquiry project but I don't think I'm misusing it when media found online or content I can provide on an e-learning website may provide the answers to their inquiry questions or even cause them to ask more questions. But do I need a room of 30 computers to get this all done, or can I achieve those goals with a variety of technological tools in a responsive classroom? Maybe for those purposes I just listed, I don't need a computer lab after all.


But then I thought about my radio announcement project. It's a task I do every year when we cover announcement writing. I have students write an announcement about an important event and then record that announcement. They take their recording and edit it as though it would be played on the radio (complete with sound effects and music). It goes beyond simply writing, and it goes beyond students just reading their announcement to the class. It provides them with an opportunity to create something and bring in elements of media. From my experience, many students tend to view writing as a chore. So why not provide not only a clear purpose, but an exciting and fun end result of that writing. When I do this activity, all students make use of a program called Mixcraft that our school board purchased. It provides all the proper tools to record and edit recordings. How would this task look if we had multiple tech devices in the class, each running different operating systems, carrying a vastly different set of programs? I think it could potentially wind up being a much more complicated task then it already is. If everyone has the same set of tools to work with, you strip away many obstacles that are created when you are simultaneously working with multiple platforms. All of a sudden I'm back supporting a computer lab.


I realize I've probably spent way too much time on this topic, but I think it's a topic that's worth discussing. On one hand, having a computer lab might seem redundant if we should be working towards implementing technology regularly in our classrooms. However, for ease of use and providing students with equal opportunities wouldn't it be nice to still have a room where every student can access a form of tech that you think is worthy of use?


I would be really interested to know what my TLLP group members and other educators think about the issue.


TLLP Progress

Posted by msmelow Oct 26, 2015

tWe are well into our TLLP project now and are working our way through using 3 different electronic portfolio tools. The learning curve has been immense as we have had to personally develop familiarity with our respective eportfolio platforms and then share this learning with our students. In each of our classes we have gotten to the point where our students have uploaded materials to their own portfolios and we have begun the process of providing feedback in order to establish opportunities for student self-reflection. We are finding that it is important to revisit our initial goals for our project as it is so easy to get caught up in the tech issues.


Has anyone used electronic portfolios to promote student reflection and metacognition? We would love to hear about your experiences.

Creating Real Rapport with Your Students


As a special education teacher, I often have the opportunity to work with students who many of my colleagues find...let's say, difficult to work with. On my worst days I get frustrated by how it often seems that classroom teachers are at a loss when students don't fit their expectations. Have you ever wondered why a certain student is okay with another teacher but simply unworkable with you? Building rapport is hard work. We can't assume that the old "respect me because I am the teacher" model will work for all of our students, or even most of them these days. Perhaps there are communities where this still works very well, but this hasn't been my experience and it's always advantageous to learn through difficult circumstances: to use a sports analogy, if you can handle the big leagues, you'll be just fine in the minors.


So, how do we build meaningful connections with our students so that they can get the most from their experience with education? Here are my thoughts:


ALWAYS greet EVERY student you pass in the hall!


Depending on your personality and the size of the school you work at, this might seem obvious or ridiculous. Tell you what, I'm going to boldly say that we should ALL say good morning or good afternoon or just plain hello to each and every student we pass in the hall. Why not! If you aren't in a good mood, you'd better fake it! We are here to create a positive, welcoming environment for our students and a pleasant greeting is simply the beginning of this reality. On that note, even though I just said to "fake it", you really do need to be genuine when you are greeting the students. You really have to wear you teacher hat and be positive (within reason!) from the start of your day to its finish. Behaving this way is a skill and just like any other skill you have to practice it - but you will get better and better at it and, trust me, your relationships with the students will benefit greatly from this approach. It won't hurt to follow this approach with your colleagues too - why not!


Find something to like about every student you work with


I think we've all heard a colleague complain about a particular student; if their day was bad enough, we might have even heard them say things that are all too human, but still should have gone unsaid. How do we succeed when we have a student who seems to WANT to make us upset rather than learn? First off, try to remember that it probably isn't you that they don't like. More often than not the students who are the most difficult to deal with have already been told, year in and year out, that they are not good students, that their behaviour is unacceptable, that their needs won't be met. Obviously they haven't been told any of these things explicitly, but they have learned them implicitly; these ideas have found a home in their heads and have started to contribute to "automatic" thinking. The only way to combat this thinking is to actually find a redeeming trait. What is it about this person that makes them special and maybe even enjoyable? Forget about mathematics or language or whatever. Find something pleasant about this student - you will find something! Whether it's a sports team they like, their sense of humour, a food they enjoy, a pet they have or a movie they've seen, find something to connect over. Now, just because you've found a common ground, it doesn't mean the student will start behaving perfectly but at least you will have a starting point to begin tearing down those negative thinking patterns.


Understand that school is a 'necessary evil' for several students; Academics aren't everything!


I understand that this heading seems off for a blog written by an educator. I take my responsibility to deliver the Ontario curriculum very seriously; I understand that we can't simply avoid it or skimp, however, there is a lot more to teaching than academics. If we really want to give our students a chance to succeed, we have to make them believe that school is a place worth going to, not a place where they're always in trouble of some sort. We have to do our best to empathize with our students: if academics were your number one focus as a child then you might have a very hard time with this - but it's up to you to work at understanding where your students are coming from, not up to them to meet the expectations of what your idea of a good student is. Again, if you connect with your students as people, you'll have a much greater chance of having them consistently on board with your teaching, which will give you a real shot at moving them forward academically.


Understand the community you work in


This is a misunderstood and necessary step to really doing great things in any community. Whether it means looking up government data, consulting with a friend who knows the neighbourhood, meeting with your administrator or just taking some time to pay attention to the students you teach and the community you're in, you have to know where you are to understand how to be effective there! If you're not empathetic to the lives your students and their families live, you simply cannot connect meaningfully with them. Some knowledge about your neighbourhood will go a long way, whether you're teaching in an area of privilege or an area where most families aren't quite as privileged.


Authenticity is the key


We're not teaching subjects, we're teaching people. That might be a cliche, but it's a meaningful one. If we are unable to connect with our students, we simply cannot do a great job in teaching them. Perhaps a more distanced approach is effective for some students or at the post-secondary level, but when we are teaching elementary-aged students and high school students as well, the human element is key. I've always found that genuinely caring about students leads to positive outcomes, for both the students and teachers. We've all heard that teaching has elements of a science and elements of an art embedded within it. Building a rapport definitely falls into the category of an art. Hopefully some of what I've said here can help you to perfect the art of making more meaningful connections with your students - the best learning happens once these deep connections are made.


Honourable mentions for connecting with students: Coach a team, lead a club, generate conversation with students on supervision time (yard duty)


Fava Grade 8 Teacher Blogger

Posted by mariafava Oct 16, 2015

Class Messenger -- Online Agenda

                            Posted by Maria Fava in Effective Teaching and Learning in the Digital Age - @HCTLLP on Oct 16, 2015 1:27:50 PM                                             


Sifting through the heaps of resources that Emile (noproblem) kindly sent, I have to admit it was a little overwhelming. There are just so many great resources, I wanted to try them all out! But some were not age appropriate for my grade 8 students and also I actually function better when I do something called sleep! So I needed to figure out which would be most useful for my class right now.


Enter Class Messenger . This "online agenda" is a great idea as it includes both students and parents. Long gone are the days where the response, "I don't have any," follows the question, "What do you have for homework?" This site allows teachers to not only post reminders about school activities or tests -- it also allows for documents to be uploaded so that parents are aware of exactly what work is being done and by uploading the rubric, parents will also be aware of what the expectations are.


I believe Class Messenger can be a game changer if used often and properly. Any message that I post on the site will be sent to parents and students via email or text (or both). I'm hoping that this works out because I can definitely see myself using this in the future as well. I'm also pretty sure that my students may find it amusing (or annoying) that their teacher is sending them homework reminders during the evening when they thought they'd be free of me!



class messenger.JPG


I definitely want to explore other resources that were given to us, but I think this is a good start.


                    Being part of Holy Cross's TLLP team has been a blessing. Being around like minded individuals who's desire to utilize available funded tech is vey exciting!!!  However, as excited as I may, my initial steps "into the tech fire" so to speak have been rather heated.  I have been trouble shooting our iPad lab at our school and much to my dismay our school board has only provided selected apps teachers may access.  I understand that when rolling out tech, you want to limit the amount of accessibility at first so ICT will not get boggled down with various product issue or that various apps need appropriate licensing etc.  However, as a member of the iPad pilot project and serendipitously, our TLLP team, this is super frustrating since a few web based apps are not fully functional on mobile devices.  This of course limits the potential utilization of the tech and potential learning opportunities within the classroom.  It ultimately breaks done the efficiency of the tech, one of the sole reasons most people utilize tech, is because it allows the educated user to receive quicker production than the typical traditional academic activities.


                   Personally, I have made attempts in rectifying the issues, I have become increasingly  frustrated with our ICT department.  I know they are not to blame for this issue in it's entirety, but I mean if your going to roll out a tech pilot project, especially in the 21st century at least have the foresight to allow participants in the project to modify as necessary.  We can jailbreak an iPhone in seconds, but a school broad can't allow access to one respresentative per school to modify it's application suite to better suit the needs of its users.  I believe that certain tech savvy teachers need to be given more access to the tech, since we are the ones on the front lines.  Now I get the other side of the coin as well.  This could lead to a plethora of other legal issues, but how much better could the tech be if we could utilize 100 percent of it's potential rather than 70 percent?  Apps like mathletics could motivate the competitive student within the classroom rather than the soccer field.  Apps like SeeSaw can allow teachers to share instantly with parents, their children's work achievement.


                    As much as I love utilizing tech in the classroom and thrilled I am to get an iPad lab for our school, I guess I have get through the headaches first!!!  Hopefully, my TLLP undertaking with Office 365 is much less cumbersome and the application suite on our broad iPads are@ revised.   Teacher Learning & Leadership Program (TLLP)Effective Teaching and Learning in the Digital Age - @HCTLLPShare

'Learn, Share, Change-How we Think Just Like Raj Dhingra (on a smaller scale)' - Originally posted in Effective Teaching and Learning in the Digital Age on October 14th, 2015


After watching Raj Dhingra I was a little disappointed: He totally beat me to the punch and did it in a powerful way - a Tedtalk no less! - well before our project for learning, sharing and changing the way we use technology in our school (and hopefully far beyond) had been hatched, he was striving for change on a global scale.


Of course I wasn't really disappointed; the truth is I was inspired and excited! Some great thinking has been done on this topic - go ahead and search on YouTube or type in "educational technology" in your google search bar...bam! More content than you could possible go through. To be fair, there is a lot that you wouldn't want to go through because, in the age of social media, everyone has a voice whether you want to hear it or not - but there is a lot of great content (like the HCTLLP!).


In any case, I couldn't help but record my thoughts and connections as I watched. Here's the video, my thoughts follow:



Raj Dhingra points us to a change in how we actually think about teaching. Educators who have been raised in a global, "collaborate from miles away", culture have no excuse but to embrace technology in our teaching. Many of us have lived in times where technology and its advancement has been ubiquitous, so it makes sense that we'd find ways to implement the technology that we use in our day to day lives in our classrooms (we might even learn a few new ones that make sense to the students we are teaching!). If we are trying to prepare students for "the real world", we need to use tools that are from "the real world". Even though many of our traditional methods still work for "getting answers", are they still helping us to teach our students how to think - if they ever did?


calvin and hobbes education.jpgJust to be clear, having students memorize facts is NOT evil, but your teaching better go WAY beyond that!


Dhingra focuses on the reality that more fancy and expensive tools do not equal more learning; in some cases they simply make it LOOK like a school is doing what is necessary in terms of digital learning; the effective use of the tools and teacher capacity to implement and apply the tools to their specific classroom needs is what matters. Our project has a strong focus on building teacher capacity in using tools that fit their classroom needs - that is why team members choose their own area of focus. Ideally, this would create a habit of finding tools that suit your class on an ongoing basis (though you'd find overlap too, of course) and learning by experimenting with the tools and collaborating with colleagues.



Dhingra, like anyone worth listening to, reminds us that innovation is key and he points to the Firefly project in Turkey as a powerful example of this. The Firefly project shows us that big ideas with big implementation are far more effective and empowering than outfitting schools with the latest Apple gadgetry or Google Chrome books, etc (not that these tools aren't excellent, because they certainly are). The "hunger for tech candy" that Dhingra mentions is all too visible in all of our school boards or at least at the individual teacher or school level. We really must remember that technology itself isn't what matters, using it well and having broad implementation is what matters!



His story about Richmond City in Virginia highlights the fact that many communities in North America have very real socio-economic concerns. Systemically, we cannot let socio-economic differences impact access to high quality education for our students This kind of thinking is what leaves me uncomfortable with the "flipped" classroom; what if you teach in a place where the latest laptop, tablet, or even smartphone is just not on the priority list for the families you serve? If that's the case in the community where you teach, then a flipped classroom could further limit access to opportunity. There are neighbourhoods in Toronto and the GTA where 1 in 4 or 1 in 5 families are living below the poverty line  - that's 5 or 6 students in an "average sized" classroom. While we are implementing technology for our learners, we have to be sure that we aren't widening the gaps that already exist in our society when it comes to genuine access to opportunity - our focus should be on providing access to technology within our schools.

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We need to focus on access to technology within our schools



Dhingra drives home the idea that technology can change how we educate and he is most certainly correct. But even though his Tedtalk happened more than three years ago, how many of us have actually "torn down the walls" as he suggests?  Coaching students and teaching them how to learn is the role of the teacher - but somewhere along the line we have forgotten that the best teachers have always taught their students how to learn. Effectively using technology really does shift our focus onto teaching learners how to think for themselves and removes the necessity for us to be the only "go to" person for content and information. More often than not, we can learn with our students as we explore amounts of information that we can't possible know - this isn't to say that we can suddenly become ICT experts and ignore the fact that we need to know the content we are teaching because we certainly need to be knowledgeable about the subjects we teach (I hesitate to say "masters" of the content because some of us are uncomfortable calling ourselves "masters" of what we teach). Technology facilitates a co-learning stance; the fact that "my teacher is learning with me" also further develops rapport between student and teacher and can build engagement while enhancing well-being.                                                                                                                      



Our project is truly an effort in learning, sharing and changing. We're providing our students with useful digital tools AND guiding them through the effective use of these tools. Our team members are learning from their learners and determining what tools best suit their classroom needs. As we implement our tools we share our learning (successes and failures!) through our group here and through our tweets @HCTLLP . Ultimately, we're hoping to inspire and influence positive change in an area where, as we learned from the video, improvement and change is possible and necessary.

'How Technology Helps us Know Our Learners'  first posted in "Effective Teaching and Learning in the Digital Age" on October 8th, 2015



To be effective educators, we must know our students. An obvious statement, but something that we need to focus on nonetheless. Beyond the necessary elements of creating a welcoming, positive, inclusive and accepting learning environment we must also build rapport with our students on a personal level. Once we have these basics covered (and they are always a work in progress) it's time to work on understanding our learners through assessment. "Knowing our learners" through meaningful assessment is an area of focus for several boards, including the DPCDSB, of which I am a part. How can technology help us to be more effective in getting to know our learners? First of all, we draw upon the reality that, with today's technology, we simply can't limit our students to paper pencil tasks.




If we want to get the most accurate and fair evaluation and expression of what our students know, and who they are, we will have to find ways to implement technology in deliberate and meaningful ways. As a special education teacher I am drawn to digital tools that bridge the gap for students who have severe difficulty demonstrating their learning with traditional methods, but all learners can benefit from the chance to express themselves and their learnings through digital tools.


If you aren't already familiar with it, the SAMR model, designed by Dr. Ruben Puentedura, helps us to articulate what we are actually doing (or can be doing) with our deliberate use of technology.   -  Substitution, Augmentation, Modification, Redefinition  - 


While the team members continue to tweet their experiences (follow us @HCTLLP) en route to writing blog posts that chronicle their classroom experiences, I'll regularly highlight some of the most successful instances of technology implementation from my role as a Special Education Resource Teacher, past and present- please note that I'll be using pseudonyms for my students' names.


This first experience really opened my eyes to the potential that digital tools have in unlocking our students' potential.



Success #1 - Anna: Anna was a grade 8 student who had been on an IEP for several years. Anna was working with grade 3 expectations in language and grade 4 expectations in mathematics and these significant modifications troubled me as her new SERT, several years ago. Early on in the school year, the classroom teacher and I looked at Anna's written work and had to agree that based on her paper-pencil work, Anna's IEP seemed accurate for writing. When we read together, Anna's decoding difficulties presented themselves and the cognitive energy she spent trying to decode drained her capacity for comprehension. Without digital tools, it was fair to say that Anna could only access the curriculum at the late primary or early junior level.


Much later on in the school year, after receiving some training for Kurzweil, I decided that I'd use the text-to-speech software for Anna's next reading assessment and that she would have the same assessment as her grade 8 peers. The software would also allow Anna to type her responses. When the assessment came, Anna was reluctant at first - she didn't want to leave the classroom ( a problem that the availability of technology in the classroom hopefully helps to remove for us now). Once I had spent a few minutes showing her how to use the software, Anna happily worked through her reading independently and with confidence. After scoring her typed assessment, Anna's classroom teacher confirmed that she had scored a "high level 2", which would basically put her around the C+ range - almost a B-. Now, I understand that we don't regularly pat ourselves on the back over "almost a B-", but in this case we're talking about a student who was suddenly assessed at grade level, even though her individual education plan suggested significant modifications were necessary, and was able to demonstrate an understanding that was very much on par with her grade level peers.



When she was given the right tools, Anna could work through the grade 8 curriculum; her IEP was most certainly an underestimation of her abilities. In this case, technology clearly helped us to know our learner and we, of course, responded to our new understanding of Anna's learning profile by making access to technology a regular part of her program (not as easy in our school five or six years ago as it is today). Working with Anna taught me that we must understand the needs of our learners in order to address them: effective use of digital tools helps us do both!


Besides Kurzweil, tools like Texthelp Read and Write Gold are excellent text-to-speech tools that many school boards are now making available to all learners. Texthelp, in particular, is an excellent tool that Anna didn't have the chance to use because we simply didn't have the software yet - more on Texthelp next time.

'Educating our Students and Each Other' - Originally posted in: 'Effective Teaching and Learning in the Digital Age' on Monday, September 28th, 2015


On Friday our TLLP, Effective Teaching and Learning in the Digital Age, was officially launched. The project hopes to build teacher efficacy through collaboration and is divided into two phases: Phase 1 includes team members selecting digital technologies and learning tools that fit with the diverse learning needs of their classrooms and align with the Dufferin Peel Catholic District School Board Learning Plan. While teachers are implementing their chosen tools they will share their successes and failures (learnings!) through social media regularly, including blogging their experiences in this group at least once a month. Phase 2 allows team members to mentor a peer within our school who is interested in learning how to implement the tool that they've become an "expert" in. My role as team leader is to provide the team with support and resources at every turn while organizing and chairing our meetings, running our twitter feed and doing my best to navigate through the logistics of securing additional technology for the team to implement (when all is said and done, the team will have exclusive use of 16 laptops and 8 tablets).



Our students are living in a world that is very different from the one that we grew up in. Even if we are able to "keep up" with the changes in technology that we are living through, we are still challenged to prepare our students for a world that futurists can only speculate about, a world filled with realities that we most certainly do not have right now. The very least that we can do, as educators, is prepare our students and teach them with the technologies that we DO have here and now! This belief is the driving force behind our project. Our goal is to improve as educators and to help our peers (in our school and beyond) to improve as well. If we improve, our students will ultimately benefit.


Professional diversity is an asset to our TLLP team; we have teachers from primary, junior and intermediate divisions as well as special education and an itinerant teacher for the deaf and hard of hearing. We are also happy to have our Special Assignment teacher onboard along with a satellite member from St. Francis of Assisi within our board and are working on adding a Speech and Language Pathologist to the team. Multiple perspectives, including those of our administrators will add depth and meaning to our project - collaboration is key.


Based on our pre-project survey, we have a team of teachers who are comfortable using technology in their classrooms and passionate about improving their capacity. The area where most team members felt they could improve was in their ability to mentor a peer; the project will most certainly give them the chance to grow in this area of professional development.


We'll be blogging here regularly and, now that the philosophy and methodology have been outlined, you can follow the experiences of our team members by joining or following our group. Thanks, team!


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