Skip navigation
All Places > Explore > Teacher Blogs > Blog > 2019 > May

H is for Happy

Posted by lthomas May 30, 2019

Happy makes the learning happen


As parents we all voice the same sentiment for our children: "I just want them to be happy." But do we actively practice that sentiment? Do we teach the frames of mind that would ensure happiness in our children? Do we really know what being happy actually means?


Much research has been done of late that has clarified a great deal about "happy". Turns out, it has far more to offer than a sunny disposition and feeling contented. Parents are right to want happiness in their children albeit it is unlikely they know the science of why.


Rebecca Alder, consulting editor of Edutopia, outlines the research of Dr. David Rock, co-founder of the NeuroLeadership Institute, in her article How Are Happiness and Learning Connected? Rock intones "There is a large and growing body of research which indicates that people experiencing positive emotions perceive more options when trying to solve problems, solve more non-linear problems that require insight, [and they] collaborate better and generally perform better overall." In short, happy people learn better.




Scientifically speaking, happiness produces chemicals, specifically dopamine and serotonin, in the brain. When these substances are released it has positive effects on our memory as well as our brain’s ability to learn. Essentially our capacity to make connections, be creative and problem solve are all enhanced just by being happy.




Christina Hinton, Ed.D.’12 and lecturer from Harvard Graduate School of Education, examined the interplay of happiness, motivation, and success to find out just how important happiness is in learning.




Hinton used surveys to collect data on students’ happiness and motivation; collected qualitative data on happiness and motivation; and further data on students’ grade point averages all of which was then analyzed to explore the relationships among happiness, motivation, and academic achievement.




Key to Hinton's findings were associations that show how we can optimize students’ learning experiences. Namely:




Happiness is positively associated with intrinsic motivation (a personal drive to learn) for all students, and also with extrinsic motivation (outside sources like rewards, praise, or avoiding punishment) for students in grades K–3.

Happiness is also positively associated with GPA for students in grades 4–12.

Happiness and standardized test scores did not seem to be related, but further research is needed to confirm this.

Happiness is predicted by students’ satisfaction with school culture and relationships with teachers and peers.

Because I’m Happy by Victoria Jones


Further to Hinton's research, other benefits that have been shown by IWEN happiness lessons are:


Improved problem-solving abilities
Broadened horizons and expanded thinking
Building physical, intellectual, and social skills
Counteracted negative emotions
Protected mental health
Reduction in aggression in class
Improvement in school performance

So now we can appreciate how vitally important being happy is, not only for children's well being but also their learning and future success. But how does that happen? How can we support happiness?

There are many researchers who focus on happiness today; Sonja Lyubomirsky, Barbara Fredrickson, Ed Diener, Martin Seligman, Mihály Csíkszentmihályi to name but a few, and they all agree on one thing: happiness can be learned.


Martin Seligman is a psychologist and university professor and director of the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania. His work ranges from positive psychology to the study of helplessness, depression, optimism and pessimism, and flexibility. Seligman has come up with a formula for wellbeing he refers to with the acronym PERMA. PERMA stands for:

  1. Positive emotions: in essence, being optimistic. Having a positive outlook is necessary because it helps our relationships, sparks creativity, and allows us to see possibilities. It also strengthens us when we hit tough times because we can see which way steer to make things better.
  2. Engagement: being fully engaged in activities allows us to build creativity, reduce stress, and feel fulfilled and satisfied.
  3. Relationships: humans are social beings, so relationships are essential. Positive, supportive relationships are a key part of being happy and spreading happiness.
  4. Meaning: eventually we all realize the meaning of life is not money or popularity, rather it is something deeper. 
  5. Accomplishments: the sense of satisfaction as a result of our work towards our goals. Accomplishments give meaning to all performed tasks and are essential in achieving happiness.

Having happiness broken down in such a way is one example of how it can be taught.


There are a number of learning programs and apps that support the sort of learning Seligman espouses. Happiness Lessons, out of Hungary and based on the work of Martin Seligman and Prof. Sonja Lyubomirsky, aims to provide methodological support to develop the ability to nurture happiness in children through their scientifically approved curriculum. Launched in 2014, the program now boasts more than 3700 teachers providing the instruction to 60,000+ students. Another learning program, this one out of Australia, is Smiling MindThe not-for-profit organization works to make mindfulness accessible to all. You may wonder "Why mindfulness?" Mindfulness is about focusing attention on the here and now, rather than thinking about the past or worrying about the future, both things that we know are generally unproductive and do not promote well being and happiness. Being mindful can aid students in being more aware of their mindset and thus lead them to be more positive and optimistic. Mindfulness also plays an important role in your mental & physical wellbeing and can play a role in helping to:

  • Reduce the physical wear and tear on the body

  • Increase your immune system

  • Switch off excessive inflammation in the body

  • Relieve cardiovascular stress

  • Switch down cortisol and damage to your bones


There are many other apps and programs that promote learning happiness. Happy Feed is a daily gratitude journal whose aim is to promote positive thinking and optimism by helping people focus on the good things in their life. Happify takes you on a journey to better well being using evidence-based interventions in the form of games and activities. Based in the fields of positive psychology, mindfulness, and cognitive behavioral therapy, the goal is to re-frame negativity thus forming meaningful improvement in life satisfaction. Another game based strategy, SuperBetter, aims to build resilience, an important factor in happiness as it allows people to stay strong, motivated and optimistic even in the face of change and difficult challenges. Jane McGonigal, an award-winning game designer, powered SuperBetter with a framework that activates the psychological strengths of game-play to build resilience in real life. The Dalai Lama has weighed in on happiness saying that "Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions". And in that spirit, Action for Happiness works to help people take action to create a happier, more caring world. The end goal is a happier world, reduced mental health problems, and ultimately more well-rounded, happy, functioning people who help not only themselves but others as well. The movement embraces the spirit of community-mindedness which works to improve relationships and positivity at the same time. Community is important in supporting happiness as it helps build positive relationships, helps people feel supported and gives them a sense of belonging. The Happy Community Project works to do all those things and more. The project aims to "provide a process by which any community can increase its capacity for wellbeing and resiliency in an era of disruption." Similar to Seligman, the Happy Community Project determined factors that create long term happiness.

  • Belonging
  • Meaning
  • Sufficiency
  • Security
  • Fairness

Building a strong, happy community promotes strong social connections and fosters a sense of belonging, members develop a sense of responsibility toward other members of the community, reciprocal supportive relationships occur and promote peace and security, and ultimately give all a soul-nurturing experience.



I'm sure there are countless other programs, apps, and curriculum that support the idea of improving happiness. The bottom line is, happiness should be seen as a fundamental, integrated part of the school system. Science shows that the results are win-win. The child wins because they lead a more successful, fulfilling, happy life and society wins on numerous levels. First, it actually reduces cost burdens on society at large. Happy people are healthier, have a stronger immune system and fewer mental health problems. Just given those factors, health care costs and strain on an over-burdened health-care system are lessened. Secondly, we gain more caring, community-minded people to build a better world. What could be better than that?



G is for Galileo

Posted by lthomas May 30, 2019

Galileo experimented, pondered, and tested theories thereby laying the foundations of what we now know as the scientific method. He was also a keen observer, inventer and thought deeply on almost everything - definitely a Renaissance man. It's an understatement to say he was very clever, and he was very clever at many different things, so clever in fact that he is considered one of the central figures of the scientific revolution and is still touted as the hero of modern science. Astronomer, physicist, mathematician, inventor, and philosopher, Galileo appears to have been a very busy man with a very curious nature and isn't this what we love to see in our students?


If Galileo were alive today, what model of learning would he champion? Project-based learning? Interdisciplinary? Personalized? Makerspace?


You cannot teach a man anything; you can only help him find it within himself.



First of all, project-based learning would have been right up Galileo's alley. Maybe it's even his forgotten discovery! In truth, I jest, but you can see it right? Project-based learning is SO Galileoesque! Project Based Learning is a teaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to an authentic, engaging, and complex question, problem, or challenge. Given the experimental nature of much of Galileo's work, exploring a problem or complex question definitely fits his pattern. For example, after hearing about the invention of a 'spyglass', he went about constructing his own and improving the design in the process. The original spy glasses could only magnify about 3 times, whereas Galileo managed to magnify to 20 times. This became the basis for the telescope and how he was subsequently able to look at the moon, discover four of Jupiter's satellites, observe a supernova, establish the phases of Venus and discover sunspots, all of which allowed him to verify that the planets revolve around the sun (the Copernican system), not the earth (the geocentric system).  


His other accomplishments can be considered investigations of authentic, engaging challenges through experimenting and observation. His biography shows time and time again his inquisitive nature and his pursuit to answer problems. He definitely believed in using your mind:  


"I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use."


Galileo continually challenged himself, that's for sure. He also didn't look at failure as an end to his learning journey - he didn't graduate university, but that didn't stop him! When one avenue didn't work, he pursued another. This is one aspect that I particularly admire. Galileo did not see himself as any one type of learner or specialist, rather, he had a very interdisciplinary approach to learning enjoying mathematics, the sciences, and engineering, but he didn't ignore the arts! He was a very capable artist, writer, and philosopher as well.
He wrote prolifically on his findings, and published several treatises and books and included many drawings of his observations. Truly, we should consider him a STEM specialist with a large dose of creativity and the humanities on the side.

Drawings of the moon from Galileo's notebook

The fact that he invented or improved so many things (the telescope, the hydrostatic balance, the forerunner to the thermometer, the military compass - find more at 10 Major Accomplishments of Galileo) is testament to his prowess in a variety of fields, but also his love of designing and making. Today's maker culture would be very appealing to Galileo I would think.


Galileo exemplifies many of the practices that we know are successful methods for students to not only be engaged but to be immersed in their learning. Approaching learning for authentic reasons, for example utilizing the UN's sustainable development goals to solve real-world issues, then using experimentation and observation in order to solve those problems, and recording those observations and experiments through visually and in writing allows students to really practice an interdisciplinary approach for authentic reasons. Addressing the "big picture" by discussing the reasons behind the problems that are being addressed completes the picture as it adds the 'human' side (the humanities) and supports students in determining their own values and philosophy.


Overall, the most important lesson we can learn from Galileo is, as John Hattie so aptly outlines, that the best learning occurs when "students become their own teachers" and Galileo did that in spades (Hattie 18).


Hattie, John. Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning. New York: Routledge, 2012.

In considering education and how it should evolve to best prepare the class of 2030, we should look at it like we look at Frankenstein. Remember? That cautionary tale warning of the evils of science? Well, not really, it is more the tale of a scientist who longed for things in the past and, using science, worked to alter the future with little consideration for the impact on the present. Education can be a little like that.

They are common phrases: "it worked fine for me" or "I learned that way and I turned out alright". They reflect a longing for the past and resistance to change and the unknown. We implement change within the structures of the past and very often don't consider how it will actually affect the present. The problem is not the change or lack of change, it is the focus. Changing for the sake of change is unnecessary and dangerous because repercussions are all too often not considered. For example, we live in an age of tech, so, with no focus, the change that is implemented is "use tech in school" because that will prepare the child for the future. This is not so. Using tech just for the sake of using tech does nothing mostly because it is not focused on what is necessary - how a child learns and what will best support the child. Tech does not improve learning by itself, just like the typewriter did not improve writing. It made it more efficient, faster, but that doesn't mean it was good writing. The same goes for tech. Tech shouldn't be the focus: it is a tool, just like the typewriter.

This may be sounding like I am anti-tech, but this can't be further from the truth. I think tech can be a wonderful addition to education when embedded thoughtfully with a purpose. Using tech does not make a student ready for the future. A solid educational foundation that encourages critical thinking, creativity and collaboration does. Can tech enhance the learning of these skills? Certainly. Just thinking about the collaboration we have due to programs like Skype, translator apps, or Microsoft OneNote and Microsoft Teams where people can work simultaneously on a single project is stunning. Using tech to enhance learning in these ways will help make them future ready. Just replacing one way of doing something with tech will not.

In Ontario, there is a new push to require e-learning as a graduation requirement to complete high school. The reasoning that this is being done is to make students future ready. While the premise of helping students become more future ready is laudable, the method is flawed. It is a little like the Frankenstein problem: the consideration of the impact on the present is missing and that impact is far-reaching and multi-faceted.

First: Internet Capabilities.

Below is a map produced by the CRTC highlighting internet service available in Ontario.

map of internet service

Purple = Cable; Blue = DSL/Fibre; Green = Fixed Wireless; Yellow = LTE; Deep Red, Red, Orange, and Pink all represent unserved and underserved populations

This second map from Connected North, shows more distinctly the unserved and underserved population in just a portion of Ontario.



The expectation of completing a 4-credit e-learning requirement to graduate high school effectively marginalizes rural and Northern students solely due to unavailable and poor internet service.

Second: Scale

Right now there are approximately 50 000 students across Ontario registered in an e-learning course. There are 628 032 secondary school students in Ontario, if we divide that number by 4 we get an approximation of how many students there are per grade in high school, or 157 008 (Ministry of Education, 2017-2018). So, by just adding one grade taking one course each into the e-learning system, we have an influx triple+ the size of those currently enrolled. Scaling to that level creates its own issues and we will be scaling to over 600 000!

At present, the existing e-learning program is of high quality (i.e., several consortiums report a 90%+ pass rate).  In order to maintain this success, the Government will need to ensure that teachers have the initial teacher education – as well as the on-going professional development – to be able to design, deliver, and support high quality e-learning.  The Government will also need to make sure that the level of technical assistance that is provided to the students, teachers, schools, and school boards is increased at an appropriate level.  If e-learning is no longer a choice for students, the Government will also need to ensure that students have equal access to their e-learning outside of the traditional school building and school hours, as well as providing a much higher level of technical support to parents and the home.  These factors are all issues that need to be planned for with such a significant increase in the number of e-learning students, to ensure that the existing high quality program is scalable to the degree that the Government has indicated in this announcement.

CANeLearn: Ontario: e-Learning Graduation Requirement – Scalability

Third: Focus

The other problem is the focus. Brian Aspinall, in his new book Block Breaker, deftly states:

“All the technology in the world won’t make our classrooms 21st century ready. Redefining our roles as educators will.”

Block Breaker by Brian Aspinall

Requiring e-learning won't make students future-ready, just as using a typewriter doesn't make better writers. Focusing on the skills that will make students future ready; critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity, is necessary and taking e-learning doesn't guarantee any of those skills.

Victor Frankenstein sought to create life, but did not consider the repercussions of his actions; he accomplished that goal, but with disastrous consequences. In reimagining our education system to prepare our students for the future, let us not be like Victor Frankenstein. Let us instead carefully consider what it is we require, how to get there and what the consequences will be.

The excitement was palpable as we entered the conference area. There was an electric atmosphere that accentuated the enthusiasm of every individual and amplified it. I marveled at the apparent effect and afterward, I was in awe of the depth and breadth of learning I experienced.

I am talking about Microsoft's Global Education Exchange in Paris, France which I had the opportunity to attend this year from April 1st to 5th. I am convinced it should be renamed E3 - Educator Extravaganza Extraordinaire! While it is difficult to put into words, after a week of digesting everything that I learned and experienced, I'd like to attempt to relay to you some of my significant takeaways which I encapsulate in more "Es" - engagement, establishing relationships, and efficacy.


There was no doubt that every person there was engaged in what was going on from the keynote addresses to the educator challenge to the breakout sessions and the learning marketplace. The dynamic atmosphere underscored the deep learning opportunities offered. The conference was multi-faceted in its approach thus offering something for everyone taking into account subject area, level of students taught, teacher expertise, and individual teacher learning style. The array was truly mind-boggling.


Both day's keynotes were varied in topic, yet all highly engaging and informative. Day one opened with welcomes from Jean-Phillipe Courtois, EVP and President, Microsoft Global Sales, Marketing & Operations followed by Anthony Salcito, Vice President of Worldwide Education at Microsoft, who shared his views on the future of education, AI and how Microsoft wants to support teachers. A true stand out for me was Brianna Gopaul, a 15-year-old student from Toronto, Canada, who eloquently and confidently expressed how she is learning to solve complex problems through quantum computing. It was truly gratifying to hear the enthusiasm and curiosity of this young lady talking about her passion. Microsoft Innovative Educator Experts Vineeta Garg of India, Michael Fleischhacker of Austria, and Steve Crapnell of Australia gave informative demos in the power of VR/MR, Paint 3D, Microsoft Forms, and Immersive Reader in the classroom. I was rapt listening to each of them as they explained and showed how they were using the various tools to accomplish amazing experiences in the classroom. I was particularly fascinated with Garg's use of Paint 3D to make learning difficult mathematical concepts visual for her students and the myriad of possibilities for Forms and the Immersive Reader explained by Crapnell and Fleischhacker. Karey Killian, another MIE Expert and Teacher-Librarian from Pennsylvania, passionately shared her student's enthusiasm for connecting with others around the globe via Skype in the Classroom and Flipgrid. She also relayed how her library suffered a devastating loss of their books due to mold. Her story re-affirmed to me the commitment of Microsoft to support educators not only via technology but in more concrete ways when they subsequently announced that they were at that moment sending books to her school to refill the shelves to replace the books that were lost.

On day two, Stéphane Cloâtre, French MIE Expert and Global Minecraft Mentor, completely wowed me with how his students are using Minecraft: Education Edition to study cultural heritage through architecture. I was mindblown by his use of Minecraft to look at heritage buildings and plan future buildings incorporating SDGs and even print the builds with 3D printers. And finally, Carrie Patterson, Chief Operations Director at WE Charity, revealed how schools have been inspired to action through service learning through, a focus close to my heart as a #Teach SDGs Ambassador.

Breakout Sessions

The engagement continued through the Breakout Sessions that were offered over the course of the conference. Attendees could dive into learning more about OneNote; Flipgrid; Minecraft; Skype in the classroom; Global learning; Twitter; Coding with Micro:bit, Minecraft or Arcade; Virtual Reality; Service learning with WE schools. The specific sessions I participated in packed with valuable learning and discussion and lead by extremely knowledgeable, passionate people. The only downfall was not being able to attend them all!

Learning Marketplace

The Learning Marketplace was a treasure trove of amazing people and ideas. If you are unfamiliar with the concept, each educator participant (300 in this case!) came prepared to set up a display and talk about a lesson they do in their classes. The pure array of lesson designs was staggering ranging every age group and subject area. Some encompassed specific tools and approaches while others focused more on learning objectives, regardless they all communicated the unique focus of each educator to support their students in innovative ways.

[caption id="attachment_790" align="alignnone" width="4032"]20190403_181435 At the Learning Marketplace with Anthony Salcito[/caption]

Establishing relationships

Educator Challenge

My favourite part of the week was the Educator Challenge. First and foremost, for the relationships that I was able to develop with amazing people from across the globe. Each educator was put into a group of 5-6 including one MIE Fellow to act as a mentor to the group. We were then given a challenge to collaboratively create a lesson that would immerse students in Paris and would be judged in four major categories - inclusivity, creativity, collaboration, and student voice. Then they sent all of us out on buses and we hit the streets of Paris. We'd known each other for all of 20 minutes max and many had significant language barriers to overcome. This is where the real fun began. The bus tour of Paris was not only an icebreaker but part of the challenge as we had a Fliphunt to complete! Fliphunts are a fun activity similar to a scavenger hunt where you complete tasks, collect pictures and videos, then upload them to a Flipgrid. It offered lots of fun for our team and provided a great base to get to know each other.

[caption id="attachment_787" align="alignnone" width="1280"]IMG-20190403-WA0034 My team having a blast on the Fliphunt bus tour of Paris. From left, Piia Martikainen, Konstantine Drakopoulou, Chandni Agarwal, Patrick Bonnereau, myself, Ma Yu Juan, and Nathalie Mathieu[/caption]

The tour also served as first-hand idea collection in preparation for creating our collaborative lesson. Upon return to the conference centre, our team went straight to work putting together our ideas and trying to make them into a unified whole. The Microsoft Translator app was absolutely amazing in assisting us in communicating since not everyone in the group was fluent in English. I have to say I felt like I was in a Star Trek episode as we used this amazing tool. I was in awe of the speed of translation and its accuracy. We continued working on our challenge lesson the next morning and things got pretty tense in trying to bring everything together by the time deadline. That too taught me a lot. Living through a stressful experience brings you closer together - a bit like a group catharsis. Our team rose to the test and successfully completed uploading everything with 30 seconds to spare! Hard work pays off because my team also won first-runner up in the inclusivity category.

The challenge really reminded me to look at the lessons and activities that I design for my student through the eyes of my students. This week and especially during this challenge, I became the student experiencing some of the stress and anxiety that surrounds working with people you may not know very well in an unfamiliar environment. We had a lot of fun, but it also made me cognizant of how students may feel in similar working circumstances when they might not have the confidence, maturity, and expertise to deal with the situation.

In addition to building strong relationships with my challenge team, I built great relationships with my Canadian team.

[caption id="attachment_791" align="alignnone" width="1024"]IMG-20190404-WA0006.jpg The E2 2019 Canadian Team of Educators and School Leaders along with our intrepid Canadian Microsoft Leads Lia DeCicco and Mario Asta. Back Row: Jordan Tinney, Camille Rutherford, Michael Owen, Dave Sands, Stephen Whiffin, Christian Michalik, Clarke Hagan; Middle Row: Lia DeCicco, myself, Patricia Gartland, Colleen Horzelenberg, Joe Archer; Front Row: Mario Asta, Yves LaLiberté[/caption]

And I was thrilled to solidify relationships with educators I have known and admired via social media by meeting face to face. I was able to connect with so many people, this collage serves as only a small selection.

[caption id="attachment_793" align="alignnone" width="2896"]20190412_2059039101577946732592747.jpg EDU Heroes clockwise from top left: Angéls Soriano, Koen Timmers, Stephen Eustace, Mike Tholfsen, Marjolein Hoekstra, and "ETwinz" Alberto and Mario Herraez[/caption]

The big lesson learned is that it is all about relationships. Relationships build a better you and a learning network of passionate people who teach you, support you, and cheer for you is a game changer.


Efficacy: the power to produce an effect.

John Hattie, in his book Visible Learning for Teachers, admonishes "Know thy impact." In describing a key premise of his findings, Hattie asserts that a teacher's role is critical and it is their specific mind frame that most greatly affects a student's learning. That mind frame incorporates a myriad of beliefs including the teacher seeing themselves as an evaluator, as one who seeks feedback, involved in dialogue more than monologue, as someone who enjoys challenges, welcomes error, has high expectations for all, is passionate in promoting the language of learning, and finally as someone who sees themselves as a change agent.

The beauty of E2 and other conferences like it and why these sorts of learning opportunities are important as we look at the Class of 2030, is how their design and activities support and aid in helping an educator flourish in these mind frames. The focus throughout was on improving and seeking feedback to accomplish that end; collaborating and communicating in a learning dialogue; trying new things, failing and trying again. The conference exemplified the passionate promotion of the language of learning and challenged everyone there to be a change maker. These are the goals to strive for in order to give the class of now, 2030, and beyond what they need to succeed.

For me, it was a deeply gratifying experience to be involved and to come a few steps closer to being the kind of teacher that Hattie describes.

For more information on becoming a Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert and earning an opportunity to attend a future E2: Education Exchange, visit the Microsoft Educator's Community.

Hattie, John. Visible Learning for Teachers & Students: Maximizing Impact on Learning. Routledge, 2012.

D is for Debate

Posted by lthomas May 30, 2019

This house believes...

“It is better to debate a question without settling it than to settle a question without debating it.”
― Joseph Joubert

Debate is the cornerstone of freedom and democracy and without healthy debate, we lose. Noam Chomsky outlines the dangers of not having truly free debate: “The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum — even encourage the more critical and dissident views. That gives people the sense that there's free thinking going on, while all the time the presuppositions of the system are being reinforced by the limits put on the range of the debate.”

Unfortunately, social media and the internet have encouraged the sort of non-debate that Chomsky alludes to. A healthy debate is difficult when people vilify their opponent to a pariah state as so often happens the minute someone suggests an alternate view. Attack is not debate. How do we learn, if not from discussion and debate, even when we are passionate about the subject matter?

Furthermore, as Carl Sagan notes in Dragons of Eden: Speculations on the Evolution of Human Intelligence, “Those at too great a distance may, I am well aware, mistake ignorance for perspective.” People seem to like weighing in, thinking they have perspective, but in reality, they don't have all the details at all. Think of pictures and posts where people comment viciously, yet they don't know the whole story? No one seems to wait to hear both sides and weigh the fats judiciously. It's all about siding with the "right" answer - which is not to say always right, but merely popular.

We have come to a point where we must question: “Is there any point in public debate in a society where hardly anyone has been taught how to think, while millions have been taught what to think?” as Peter Hitchens so pointedly queried. The crux of the question is have we actually been taught to think? I think for a great many, yes we have, but unfortunately, there are those who jump on the bandwagon with little thought clinging fiercely to the 'what to think' beliefs they hold as sacrosanct. 

In this light, it becomes ever more important to ensure we protect education and teaching how to think, for thinking is the basis of all learning. We need to include the activities that offer experience and encourage reflection. As John Dewey states: “We do not learn from experience... we learn from reflecting on experience.” Better yet, give students problems to solve, and I don't mean just a math problem, I mean real-world problems. Dewey also weighed in on this idea: “give the pupils something to do, not something to learn; and the doing is of such a nature as to demand thinking; learning naturally results” because he continues,  “we only think when confronted with a problem.”


C is for Crayons

Posted by lthomas May 30, 2019

The third in a series discussing the Class of 2030.

I remember one Christmas getting the SUPER large box of Crayola Crayons. One hundred undulating colours of possibility. I was absolutely giddy with excitement. Imagine all the beautiful things I could draw! Astronauts or ballet dancers, camels or dragons, elephants or fairies, anything I could think of! The thought was staggering and thrilling and


Was it really the crayons that elicited all this fervour? No. You know what it was?

The exhilarating prospect of creation.

Few things have the capability of bestowing so much satisfaction but creating certainly does. More than satisfaction though, creation - the result of creativity - is necessary for our children to succeed in life. In the summary report The Class of 2030 and Life Ready Learning: The Technology Imperative, the result of research collaboration between Microsoft and McKinsey & Company's Education Practice, a dominant theme emerged: students need to explore, unlock their curiosity, and develop their creative potential. Specifically, "the class of 2030 will need deeper cognitive skills in priority areas such as creativity and problem-solving, social-emotional skills such as relationship building, self-awareness, and self-recognition will be increasingly important since they not only support academic learning but also promote well-being."

I would suggest that creativity is really at the center of all the other priority areas which may seem ironic given that many people automatically think of the Arts when they think of creativity, and deem it unimportant in relation to core subject areas like science and math. It's a right-brain/left-brain thing, right? No, it isn't. Creativity runs through ALL subject areas. Scott Barry Kaufman, in his blog “The Real Neuroscience of Creativity” on the Scientific American Blog Network, reveals that many

thoughtful cognitive neuroscientists ... are on the forefront of investigating what actually happens in the brain during the creative process. And their findings are overturning conventional and overly simplistic notions surrounding the neuroscience of creativity.

In fact, their findings suggest that

Creativity does not involve a single brain region or single side of the brain.

Instead, the entire creative process– from preparation to incubation to illumination to verification-- consists of many interacting cognitive processes (both conscious and unconscious) and emotions. Depending on the stage of the creative process, and what you’re actually attempting to create, different brain regions are recruited to handle the task.

Importantly, many of these brain regions work as a team to get the job done, and many recruit structures from both the left and right side of the brain.

So really, creativity encourages higher cognitive functioning like problem-solving. In fact, Nancy C. Andreasen, a leading neuroscientist who has spent decades studying creativity, has found that creative people have "stronger activations" and the "pattern has held true for both the artists and the scientists." Andreasen concludes that

the arts and the sciences are seen as separate tracks, and students are encouraged to specialize in one or the other. If we wish to nurture creative students, this may be a serious error.

While creativity can be seen to have strong ties to developing stronger cognitive functions, it also supports social-emotional growth. There are many studies that testify to the significant impact that creativity and the act of creating something has on emotional well-being. Painting, woodworking, knitting, and countless other pastimes that involve making something have all been shown to reduce stress which supports not only better physical health but mental wellbeing. Perhaps the boom in maker spaces attests to the recognition that making things is good for you. The Economist Intelligence Unit's research, Emotion and Cognition in the Age of AI, states that

Emotional well-being is a predictor of academic and employment success, and emotional literacy is crucial for self-awareness and navigating through life. As artificial intelligence transforms the labor market, the importance of human skills like creativity, interpersonal understanding, and empathy become more valuable.

So creativity and creation are strongly tied not only to improved cognitive skills but social-emotional well-being, and even success in life.

I'm convinced, let's break out the crayons everybody!


Andreasen, Nancy C. “Secrets of the Creative Brain.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 14 Feb. 2018, Accessed 1 Mar. 2019.
Holzapfel, Barbara. “Emotion and Cognition in the Age of AI: New Research from Microsoft Education and The Economist Intelligence Unit |.” Microsoft EDU, Microsoft Education, 20 Feb. 2019, Accessed 1 Mar. 2019.
Kaufman, Scott Barry. “The Real Neuroscience of Creativity.” Scientific American Blog Network, Scientific American, A Division of Springer Nature America, Inc., 19 Aug. 2013, Accessed 1 Mar. 2019.

Hello Ontario Teachers,


A team of educators committed to the preventative and proactive approach of building positive community and incorporating Social and Emotional Learning into the school day are creating a website to assist educators in achieving this goal.


The site, called SELspace, is in early phases and is very much under construction, but we would very much like to get some feedback from teachers. Suggestions, feedback, things you'd like to see within the site are all helpful insights to make this the best resource possible for educators. 


Please have a look and let us know your thoughts. The site is not ready to be released and we would ask that you not share it at this stage unless it's with someone who will also provide feedback. We are hoping to release SELspace by late Summer, early Fall 2019.




We do have a facebook page; feel free to join as we have been posting a lot of great articles, lessons, and inspiration.


Thank you in advance,

the SELspace team

Filter Blog

By date: By tag: