Category Archives: Aligning Resources with Practices

Curation Tools, Social Media, and Student Digital Leadership

“The sheer volume of digital information that is available makes it increasingly challenging to find the information you are interested in.  Curation in a digital world isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity.”

–Stephen Dale

As I embark on a new self-directed course called, Social Media in Education at the University of Ontario, Institute for Technology (UOIT), I am set with the task of finding a curation tool to keep track of the various resources I accumulate over the next couple of months.  Because of the content of the course, I am thinking that the curation tool I select, should be public and shareable.

What is curation?

I really like Sylvia Tolisano’s definition of curation:

“…the ability to find, to filter, to evaluate, to annotate, to choose which sources are valuable.” (Valenza, et al. 2014)

Stephen Daly, in his article, Content Curation: The Future of Relevance, reminds us that when we think of curation we think of a museum curator who keeps abreast of trends, listens to what guests are discussing and finds resources that resonate well with those areas.  He states that you no longer need to have studied curation : “social media sharing has enabled anyone to share anything with the world.”  (Daly. 2014, pg 1)

Content Curation Tools

The following are a few content curation tools which I either like or want to explore and what I know about them so far:

Storify (13+) allows me to draw content from a Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, or Google Plus feed or from Google in order to create a digital story with annotations.  It’s also very intuitive; I use it regularly to consolidate learning like here and to summarize events.

Diigo allows me to individually or collaboratively bookmark and annotate links, pages, notes, and media.  I have been able to add tags to make my bookmarks searchable as well as add highlight, sticky notes, or screenshots to my libraries (Valenza, pg 63).   The Chrome extension is extremely useful.  I don’t believe there is an age restriction, but you need to sign up with an email.

Flipboard (13+) also has a handy Google Chrome extension and is a place to not just read content, but curate it as well.  I tried this tool out for one of my previous courses and like that I can add a comment or idea to the articles, videos, or photos that I “flip” and that I can also categorize magazines and share them.

Pinterest  My 16 year old uses Pintrest all the time for decorating and recipe ideas and I follow the Edumatch board, but that’s about it.  I’d like to explore how Pintrest might be used in a school or classroom setting especially because of its incredible visual quality; I know some teachers are already having their students create boards for a variety of subjects.

I have been using Google Plus Communities (13 +) more and more lately to share information, links, videos, or project ideas with various groups of people.  I think this platform has great potential as a curation platform.  I am interested in exploring this tool more in this context.

Bundlr is a tool that I learned about through Joyce Valenza, in Curation Platforms.  The tool allows you to create relevant “bundles” using articles, images, videos, tweets, and links and share them.  Out of all these tools it is the one tool I know absolutely nothing about but would like to challenge myself to explore.

I have also personally used Evernote and Symbaloo, to curate and organize articles, websites, images, and blogposts based on themes and ideas.  This blog  (any blog by virtue of tags) serves as a curation tool for my own learning as well.  Many of my friends (especially my Edumatch Voxer PLN),  also use Blendspace, Livebinders, Educlippers, and Scoop-it,.  Like anything when it comes to technology, there are literally a hundred apps and tools that might serve a similar purpose.  Check out this list.

So how many of these tools are currently being used by or taught to students?

The current practice in many schools when it comes to curating information involves citing or annotating resources for one specific unit or project at a time, usually in the form of research notes, a bibliography or annotated bibliography which is submitted it to the teacher and sometimes even graded.  This is good.

And so I asked the Twitterverse via a poll:

Curation Poll

Only about 35 out of 97 people who responded teach students to use online curation tools. This is by no means reliable data–people may have said no because they teach kindergarten or don’t meet the age restrictions or don’t have access to technology.  The results are interesting nonetheless.  As educators we are constantly seeking ways to be more efficient and productive with finding and organizing information, but this hasn’t quite translated to classroom practice. Don’t our students need these same skills?  I think we need to do better than this in 2016, especially when content curation utilizes so many different forms of literacy. Here is a graphic outlining Content Curation Competencies which I modified from Stephen Dale, and to which I applied three sample tools (Pintrest, Flipboard, and Storify).

Content Curation Competencies

Curation and Student Digital Leadership

In the meantime, I randomly Googled myself (a practice I regularly encourage students and teachers to do) and saw that my Symbaloo account came up. This made me think about Student Digital Leadership.

Why? I wonder about the current practice of showing students how to curate information specifically for a class or a teacher, which then never goes anywhere, when we could be teaching students curation tools that can actually contribute to their online presence and allow them to both learn and share their learning in a guided and scaffolded way.  Better?

What if we modelled what content curation looked like in the early years by having a collaborative online curation space, and then helping our kids select and create content for that online space?  This would work especially well in inquiry-rich classrooms where research is happening based on student interests.  Here is a link to a class-created Flipboards by Lisa Noble’s class.

What if students in older grades were able to make decisions about where to curate their work and that part of that decision included a social networking opportunity which allowed them to share their learning as well as actively learning from the curated resources of other students?

And what if we asked students in grade 12 to reflect on their curated resources from grade 9 and the extent to which they feel they have grown as learners and as information gatherers and seekers?

Ideally, you would compare and contrast the tool’s features, check the terms of service to ensure it doesn’t sell your private information and that you are using the tool with the age suggested.  Even better, why not decide as a class what features you deem important and have your students investigate a few of them and decide on which tool(s) they’d like to use for the year?


An emphasis on curation will not only help students to track the plethora of information on the web, and provide them with essential literacy skills but an organizational tool they can readily use if they choose to go to post-secondary.  It also serves to provide students with an opportunity to learn and share their learning and thus foster Digital Leadership skills.


Dale, S. (2014). Content curation: The future of relevance.Business Information Review, 31(4), 199-205. doi:10.1177/0266382114564267

Valenza, J. K., Boyer, B. L., & Curtis, D. (2014). Curation outside the library world. Library Technology Reports, 50(7), 51.

Valenza, J. K., Boyer, B. L., & Curtis, D. (2014). Curation platforms. Library Technology Reports, 50(7), 60.


Design Thinking and Professional Learning

When I learned about the Global Design Day event on April 26th, 2016, proposed by AJ Juliani and John Spenser, I was so excited!  The event is about engaging in building, creating, & tinkering which reinforces so many 21st century competencies.  Any time we can come together as a community to try something which is about trying something different from the norm (with or without technology) is also a wonderful way to build community! It didn’t take much convincing before Daniel LaGamba got on board and we had the support of senior administration and our awesome 21C Board team to go ahead and promote this event.

Daniel and I set out to host a Google Hangout on Air (via Tozzle which was totally new learning for us) in order to tell the Teacher-Librarians in our 108 schools what this was all about.  We were completely excited until we realized that April 26th was a day when we had various teachers coming to the Board for professional learning in our 21C initiative.  We would not be able to go to the schools to support this event!  So what to do?  Provide a Global Day of Design Professional learning opportunity of course.  We only had two hours and wanted to make the most of it.

What this looked like:

We began with this awesome video about the Launch Cycle created by John Spenser which clearly identifies what design thinking and the Launch cycle look like:

We then had participants choose one of four design challenges based on interest.  We chose not to go with the design challenges already on the GlobalDayofDesign website.  Below you will find a brief description of what each of these challenges looked like.

Screen Shot 2016-05-03 at 6.39.44 AM

The workshop was then divided up as follows:

  • Time to Design, Create, and/or Build
  • Time to Capture and Record the Process (digitally or with chart paper & markers)
  • Time to Share designs as well as the process (challenges, successes)
  • Debrief

Choice 1: Breakout EDU

In this design challenge, participants had to solve a simple Break Out EDU challenge (Candy Caper).  They then sat in small subject/grade specific groups to create an extension to the game  for their students.  This was an idea suggested by Jeffrey Humphries when I chatted with him about my thinking for Global Design Day.  In our debrief, I talked with teachers about how valuable it would be for students to create the challenges for other students. Here is a link to one of the group’s reflection using Flipagram and here is a link to a reflection using Adobe Voice.

Choice 2: Virtual Reality and Make Do

Stephanie Wilson, a psychologist with our District came up with this idea which was incredibly powerful.  Participants experience the story of Sidra, a young girl in a refugee camp via Google Cardboard and the Vrse app.  They then design a prototype for something that would make her life better and use cardboard and Make-dos to create the prototype.  This is an incredible design opportunity that also builds empathy and cultural awareness and can be replicated with any virtual reality app.

Choice 3: Greeen Screen Movie Making

In this digital design challenge, participants created a storyboard for a green screen film project using the DoInk iPad app.  This app is new to participants, so many of them first spent time playing and discovering and reported one of their successes being learning that they could re-size and re-position the main image.  In a short time, particpants were able to create short green-screen videos and proudly showcased them.

Choice 4: 3D Design

We don’t have a 3D printer…but know who does?? The local library!  We connected with them for our Mental Health Symposium Makerspace and they were more than happy to come back for Global Day of Design.  They brought robots to be coded and vinyl designs too! And best of all, teacher participants now know that building a relationship with their community library is not only possible, but a good idea!

I can’t wait for the schools who participated to contribute to our District’s collaborative blog with their reflections and experiences with their students for Global Day of Design!

You can see some of our #ycdsb21c teachers and students who were involved in this storify by AJ Juliani.

I know it was just a day, but lots of teachers and students have had the opportunity to experience design thinking as a way of practicing 21st century competencies. And best of all, it was FUN!

Why not try this for your next professional learning day?  I’d be happy to help!



Success is your personal best: What does that look like in school?

Are you like me?  It seems that no matter what I’m doing, I always seem to connect things back to education.  I guess I know that teaching and learning is a vocation for me, not just a job.

So I was in Spin class this morning and couldn’t stop thinking about this class as an analogy for learning.  First of all, I only started spinning about 8 months ago because a friend of mine who was a Spin Instructor told me it was awesome; I had written it off previously as something I didn’t enjoy or couldn’t master.  In the spirit of trying things outside of my comfort zone, I picked it up again and now it’s my absolute favourite class.

But I digress.

There are lots of different instructors who each have their own strengths and styles and who motivate us in different ways.  Kelly, the owner of the gym, encourages us to modify the speed & resistance to suit our own needs; actually all of the instructors say that.  She tells us that success and failure is just a state of mind in this class and that the goal is to do our personal best.  I LOVE this!  It gives me the freedom to not compare myself to the person spinning beside me (though admittedly I always sneak a peak to see what others beside me are doing).  Each week I push myself to go a little farther & to increase my resistance so I am working harder.  When I leave the gym, it is with a sense of elation and accomplishment: success!

This morning, another instructor told us the same thing–modify according to where you are at.  But then, she walked around and checked everyone’s speed.  I guess this was meant to encourage us to go faster & push harder, but what it did to me, was make me cover my speedometer with my towel and pray she wouldn’t say anything to me  or check my progress.

And if you haven’t already made the connection, I am thinking about what this looks like for..

  • teachers leading learning in classrooms,
  • administrators leading learning in a school, and
  • people like me who are leading professional learning at the District level.

It made me think about  John Hattie’s idea of a year’s worth of growth and my evolving understanding of what that means, and what George Couros says in The Innovator’s Mindset about helping people move from their Point A to their Point B.

Are we measuring one learner’s performance against another or are we helping learners to recognize their strengths ?

Are we allowing adequate time or opportunity for them to reflect on where they need to go with our guidance, descriptive feedback, and encouragement?

Are we saying one thing but then our actions indicate differently?

Are we celebrating what success looks like in incremental steps,  or do we hold an unattainable standard that some learners may never even try to reach for because it seems too impossible to do so?

How do we help learners to know what their “personal best” looks like and help them become accountable to themselves when they don’t get there?

Does this look the same whether we are talking about young learners in a classroom or adult learners engaging in professional development?

I will never go as far or as fast as the gal who spins beside me on Saturday mornings.  We have different body types and fitness levels.  I’m ok with that. But I can tell you that compared to 8 months ago, I am rockin’ it!

Success =YOUR personal bestnot someone else's


If Everything is Social Media to teens…

I just read this excellent post by Carl Hooker, The Truth About Teens: Everything is Social Media, shared by George Couros. Hooker speaks about his experiences working with a group of students and the questions he asked them about their social media uses and habits.  You really should read the full post; the activities and responses are awesome!

A couple of the questions really resonates. One was whether or not they believed a deleted photo really disappeared and the other was about which apps kids were using including ones which parents should beware of.  I love the honesty of the kids.

What I found interesting:

-KiK was listed as a messaging tool in this list by the students, but not placed in the “beware” category.  This app has come under scrutiny for cyberbullying (Check out this CNN article) and when I hosted a panel of adults and teens, Tinder also came up as an app to be aware of.

-YikYak was listed (as perhaps it should be), and yet, as I learned from experience, that this is complicated.

One of the main conclusions that came out was that students are using platforms that would not necessarily be considered social media and using them to communicate with one another in similar ways to how they are using social media.

Obviously there are no right or wrong answers and each school community will have different experiences from which to draw their opinions.  It is however clear that there are a whole host of social media sites that can be used for nefarious reasons.  It’s not about the tool, but the user of the tool.  I can use YikYak (as my daughter does) to post silly puns about her day, or I can use it to demean someone annonymously.  I can use Twitter to promote awareness about an organization or an important cause, or I can use it to subtext and demoralize someone. And I can use Youtube to do the same thing.

Any social media tool can be used negatively or positively

And, if indeed teens use many spaces in the same way as they use social media, then is it really effective for us to spend so much time fear-mongering in schools about how bad social media is?  We arbitrarily block sites– I say arbitrarily because the list Hooker generated yielded some apps neither he nor I have heard of, so an IT Dept would not know to block it.  Shouldn’t we instead, be spending more of that time teaching kids how to communicate effectively online and in some of these spaces?

This is on my mind especially because of the events of the other day.  I tweeted out the link to a hashtag that kids had created for the Ontario Secondary School Literacy test. #osslt2016  My daughter and I got a real kick out of the very clever posts by students who had just written the test.  Even EQAO (the governing body overseeing the test) responded light-heartedly:

Then a friend of mine pointed out that there was an extremely inappropriate post in the feed. When I looked, I was mortified. Instinctively, I deleted my tweet and reported the tweet as offensive.  This student basically likened writing the test to wanting to be a suicide bomber and included a photo!

Then I took a closer look.  This was just a grade 10 kid trying to be funny and not really understanding the impact.  I looked at his Facebook page (easy enough to find) and realized from the very innocent profile and posts that he had just made a vast error in judgement.

I instinctively contacted him via Twitter.  It could have gone one of two ways: he could have responded maliciously, or he could have realized his error.  Here is how the exchange went:

Me: This is never ever appropriate. Nor is it funny.  And this tweet can come back to haunt you when you are looking for a job.

Student: (Liked, Retweeted) Thx

Me: You are welcome. Delete it and hopefully no one will see it for now. Good luck!

Student: Kk (Deleted the tweet)

If I wasn’t in this space, I would not have been able to help this student.

This experience has reaffirmed my conviction that we need to spend more time focusing on using social media in positive ways.  When we talk about social media, we can’t always use the fear narrative; but we need to be in these spaces to help students navigate the tricky waters!

Carl Hooker’s post and my own experience have me wondering:

Do we use Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, etc…in our teaching and learning ? Or are we blocking them and having kids communicate in these spaces on their own?

Do we talk to students about apps that worry them and brainstorm ways to turn possible negative experiences into positives?

Do we explicitly teach students how to comment effectively online, in a variety of places? Give them strategies to respond (or not respond) to inappropriate comments?  Give them challenges to respond positively to change the trajectory of negative posts?

Do we allow our students to comment on the Youtube videos they watch in class or do we just share the link ?   Or do we block Youtube altogether?

Do we help students in school develop an online presence so that when they are “googled” they have positives that outweigh some of the gaps in judgement?

We need to focus on Digital Citizenship AND Digital Leadership in school simultaneously.


Professional Learning and Physical Constraints

I was honoured to be invited to facilitate a workshop for Canadian World Studies teachers around the topic of inquiry-based learning.  As I began to plan, I realized that they were scheduled to be in a very small meeting room and no other space was available.

As a facilitator I had a few choices. Let the physical space stop me from doing what I think is essential (providing hands learning experiences) and create a sit-and-get presentation, decline the invitation because I couldn’t do it justice…

OR, become innovative within constraints (one my favourite big ideas out of George Couros’ Innovator’s Mindset book ).  I chose to be creative with my physical space and use the hallway, as well as the power of Google Slides to collaborate within the confines of the small space.

There were more than a few eyebrows raised as I was setting up my inquiry stations and putting up images and QR codes on the walls of the hallway. And I knew that we would have to be relatively quiet considering the Accounting Department works primarily on that floor. I had to move some of the furniture, of course as well.  As District personnel walked past, I wondered what they were thinking.  A few of them asked and others just paused inquisitively to look.


This experience has me wondering a few things:

Is learning visible in all aspects of our school organizations?  Do all stakeholders, regardless of role, who work in our educational system know what this looks like and is it important that they do?

How many of our physical spaces (in schools, in District offices) which were created so long ago, prohibit true collaboration and exploration?  And if they do, how can we be creative with our physical spaces so we see opportunities instead of obstacles?

What’s more important in a learning organization: a little noise, some moved furniture, or tape marks on walls or active hands-on, learning experiences?

If indeed we want teachers to move towards learner-centered classrooms, then doesn’t our professional learning need to model this stance no matter what room we are in?

What do we say when we walk by teachers’ rooms  or by hallways when active learning is happening? Do we think things are out of control, or do we recognize that learning and collaboration is sometimes messy and noisy?

In the end, I think the teachers appreciated the opportunity to move, discuss, share, and wonder.  And I was glad that I didn’t let physical space stop me from modelling what inquiry looks like (though I might try sticky tack instead of tape next time) 🙂

How might we measure Innovative Practice?

innovative practice

Monitoring and measurement are things that I know I am supposed to do in my role as Literacy Consultant, but it is something I find the most difficult to do.

In a recent collaborative inquiry with teachers on inquiry-based learning, my colleague Sonia Racco and I tried to come up with a pre and post tool that was formatted similar to OSSLT questions.  One question asked students to create a question, the next asked them to summarize the main idea, and the third asked them to make a connection.  We used a graphic text.  And when we set out to do this, it seemed reasonable enough…

And yet, by the end of the inquiry, teachers had really moved in their understanding of inquiry-based learning and had tried it out in their own classrooms.  They brought student questions to the table and when we looked at them together, teachers and students were asking good questions, were engaged in critical thinking, and were genuinely interested in learning.  Students also created some really neat artefacts of their learning which we shared at one of our sessions.

And we decided that giving the post-diagnostic in the format we had given the pre-diagnostic did not make sense.  Because what mattered to us was the fact that teachers and students were engaged in a learner-centered process of learning and felt more comfortable with the stages of inquiry-based learning.

Measure Innovation

And so I struggle with the idea of assessing innovative practice.  If we are using standardized test measurements to determine “success” of a school community in 2016, are we missing the point entirely?  What are some more powerful measures of success? How can we convince parents that these measures are more valuable than report card marks and test scores?  How can we convince other stakeholders?

I go back to my What Ifs from another #InnovatorsMindset Blog Hop and can’t help but think that we do have the tools and the creativity to make a shift in practice here.

What if, we used technology tools such as Explain everything or iMovie (insert any other similar tool here) to capture the learning reflections and thinking of students and shared these as artifacts with the wider community?

What if instead of a Fraser Report, the true report of a successful school could be told through the voice of a student?  And not just a student on a Council, but a student in grade 9 applied or grade 12 open?  A dis-engaged grade 7 student?

What if the school climate exit cards could be captured in video reflections and garnered as much credence as the formulaic exit cards Districts are currently collecting?  Can school climate be measured by how happy kids are? how interested they are in their learning? How effectively they can read, write, represent, create, think critically?

I already see video reflections being used as a means to capture learning and reflection at several levels.  I see George Couros modelling this during in his work with teachers and administrators.  (Check out #LDSBCollaborate and the video reflections there) . I see Jen Hegna, Director of Information and Learning Technology for Byron Public Schools in Minnesota use video reflections to capture the learning experiences of teachers and students in her District to create a Board report summarizing a 1:1 iPad initiative.  I see the 21st Century learning branch of Ontario creating a resource for what technology-enabled learning looks like in classrooms across the province (of which I am honoured to be a part).  I see principals such as Doug Timm creating video newsletters for his parent community.   And I see it in classrooms whereby children beginning in Kindergarten are explaining their thinking and learning and this learning is being shared with parents to change the conversation around, “What did you do in school today?”.

Rethinking our assessment practices is not impossible; it just requires a shift in what we value as a true gauge of what innovation and learning looks like.

Check out these other blogs on the topic.  What I love about them is how each have approached the topic so differently!

Leigh Cassell

Donna Fry

Tina Zita

Mark Carbone

Amit Mehrotra

Stacey Wallwin

Lisa Noble

What are your ideas about how we might assess innovative practice?  Add your blog URL to the OSSEMOOC Blog Hop or feel free to comment here.



Professional learning that works

There is no paucity of articles bemoaning the state of professional learning and providing suggestions as to what to do about this.  I have been collecting articles about this since I began the draft version of this post back in August.

Doug Peterson’s post, “Thinking about Professional Learning”,  based on Tom Whitby’s post, “Poor Teachers, Who is to Blame”.

Katie Martin’s post, Re-envisioning how teachers learn  and two posts by EdSurge about personalized learning for PD.  Part 1 and Part 2

Mark E. Weston’s post, Flip the Switch for Professional Learning and Professional Development vs Professional Learning by George Couros.

These are all great reads about the need to personalize learning for teachers.  My reflection here provides insight into the models which I have had the privilege to lead and that I believe have been very effective for us in our District.

One of the key components in all of these is that professional learning opportunities I have led are voluntary in that teachers choose to participate.  

The Collaborative Inquiry Model

Many Districts in Ontario have been employing this method of professional development for several years now.  The point of a Collaborative Inquiry (CI) is not to come to a session where a District leader gives you a mass of strategies to go and try and then you are on your own.  It is a learning process which involves trial and error, co-learning, co-assessing, and reflecting.  It is iterative and requires a sustained commitment to meeting regularly.  At the end of the inquiry, there are no golden answers, but a better understanding of how to approach a student need.

The basic components of this model of professional learning include:

  • developing an inquiry focus to address a student need based on data (including standardized test scores, student work, and observations/anectdotal information)
  • unpacking assumptions (both teacher and student)
  • experiencing strategies and protocols rather than just presenting them and thinking about what these look like in the context of the student need
  • determining and/or developing resources needed
  • selecting two or three students to observe closely over the course of the CI
  • co-planning, co-teaching, co-debriefing
  • observation of student learning in the classroom
  • reflection and refocus based on student learning and feedback

For example, a Collaborative Inquiry I ran last year asked the question, “If we give students greater opportunities to plan, monitor, and evaluate their learning will they become more self-directed learners?”  The question came from a desire for English teachers in my District to address the “Reflecting on Skills” strand in their Curriculum expectations.

And though our journey began with this very broad and lofty question, when we reflected on student work and listened to student feedback we realized we needed to reassess our direction and focus on something more specific: we decided on metacognitive strategies with reading as we noticed this to be the more student urgent need.  In the end, the students involved in the inquiry did see a value in metacognitive reflection before, during, & after reading, and became better at planning, monitoring, evaluating their own learning.  The teachers with whom I worked felt they had more strategies to address metacognition, and we all came to a better understanding of what metacognition looked like in a high school English classroom.

Learning Series

The Learning Series model is a solution to the  one-off PD session which we all know does not work, but is less intensive than the Collaborative Inquiry model (which is fairly time intensive as it requires co-planning, co-teaching, and co-debriefing and ideally works better with a smaller group of teachers).  A Learning Series model allows for teachers to come together to address a specific student learning need and meet regularly to address it.

This model includes the following elements:

  • establishing Norms for working and learning together to create a risk-free environment
  • community building activities and opportunities for sharing and asking questions
  • selecting two students of “interest” to pay particular attention to as we move through the learning series
  • experiencing a variety of strategies and protocols and brainstorming ideas for how to best incorporate these into the classroom
  • trying it out–teachers go back and try the lesson, idea, or strategy/protocol in their class; co-teaching is voluntary
  • collaborative assessment of student learning and conversations about next steps
  • hands-on integration of technology in the context of the student learning need
  • regular assessment of whether or not the series is meeting the needs of learners a re-focus as necessary
  • participants (the same group) meets about five times over the course of the school year
  • culminates in sharing and celebrating

My Learning Series this year is focused on Reading in the 21st Century. This particular series is also concerned with meeting the needs of students with learning disabilities, so we went through similulations in order to better understand what accommodations need to look like to support those students. Though I do provide the framework for the sessions, these are guidelines only and the sessions themselves are participatory and hands on.  If we need to spend more time on one idea, rather than move onto another, then that is what we do.  The time spent in community building means that teachers feel comfortable challenging one another (and me), and asking questions.

Inquiry Carousels

Last Spring, our elementary Curriculum team (led by Sonia Racco, Annette D’Addese, Yvette Sztorc, and Simone Kennedy) created a professional learning opportunity in the form of Inquiry Carousels as the culmination of some of the Collaborative Inquiries they ran.  What did this look like?  Essentially teachers who were involved in the CI’s, set up stations and shared their learning journeys including artefacts of student work. Participants (Teachers K-12) were invited to visit each station for sharing and asking questions.   It was a great consolidation and sharing opportunity for teachers who had engaged in the Collaborative Inquiry throughout the year, and an engaging experience for people who had never been a part of a CI, but who were interested in learning more about Inquiry-based learning in their classrooms. Most people left saying it was one of the best sessions they had attended.  It was organic, fluid, and very learner-centered.

Student Learning Proposals

Our District allots a budget for teachers who are interested in pursuing their own professional learning needs to submit a proposal for teacher-release time.  In this model, a Curriculum consultant or program resource teacher’s support may be requested if needed.  Primarily the learning happens at the school level and is driven by a community of learners interested in pursuing a common problem of practice.

When one-offs are inevitable

A few weeks ago, my colleague Gina Micomonaco and I had to run a session on Assessment for our NTIP (new teacher) program: A one-off and NOT voluntary like the other opportunities listed here. With only 2 hours and an after lunch time slot, the easiest thing to do would have been to engage in the presentation model with occasional opportunities to “turn and talk” with a partner.  We opted for a more constructivist approach.  We gave each group a different artefact (student work, an assessment tool, etc…), a copy of Growing Success (our Assesment and Evaluation guidelines for Ontario), and guiding questions about Assessement FOR, AS, and OF learning.  The result?  Almost the entire session was spent discussing the nuances of assessement in small groups in ways we would never have been able to achieve by presenting information at the front of the room.  We strategically and intentionally modeled what learner-centered instruction could look like, even in a very content-driven context and though there were still questions at the end of it, their feedback indicated that they really had a better understanding of assessment by the end.

EdCamps and District-Level Conferences

Let’s face it, the average teacher is not afforded the luxury of attending a conference–it’s just too cost-prohibiitive.  So it is incumbent upon District leaders to provide opportunities to teachers to attend an EdCamp and/or an in-house conference, free of charge which is modelled after some of the bigger conference experiences.  Teachers can choose sessions that will help them to learn and grow and are provided with the opportunity to network and share beyond the walls of their own classrooms and schools.  Best of all, our sessions are facilitated by our own teacher leaders which ultimately buids the capacity of our own talented teachers.

Elements of this model that have worked for us:

  • Lead learners from throughout the District facilitate sessions based on successful classroom practices.
  • Ignite sessions (by both teachers and students) which provide just the right amount of ideas and motivation.
  • Lots of opportunities for hands-on sessions where participants are doing rather than listening, blended with opportunities to pose questions and have discussions about topics that are important to them.
  • Providing food and prizes and not charging our teachers to attend
  • providing a back-channel for feedback and questions

Is all of the Professional Learning offered by our District this personalized?  Of course not.  But these are some concrete examples of professional learning opportunities that have worked and that we continue to model as we move towards more learner-centered and participant driven approaches.

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This post by Dean Shareski, Professional learning is messy is an interesting read on the topic and suggests that job-embedded practices are top-down, which they can be.  It’s worth a read.

What are some of the examples of professional learning models that have really worked for you in your District?  What has the best learning looked like for you? Please share!




Is the EdCamp model right for all learners?

Ever since I attended a virtual Ed Camp this past summer, I really wanted to organize one for my District.   So many of the amazing Educators in my PLN, especially my Edumatch Voxer friends had organized Ed Camps and had given me lots of advice and resources to help get us started.  If you are on Twitter, you know that the Ed Camp model is the preferred method of professional learning nowadays and I wanted to bring that to my District.

To me, the idea of choosing my own topics, having a discussion around a topic which involves the sharing of ideas vs having to listen to someone at the front of the room show me things I already know is ideal.  The Edcamp “Law of Two Feet” whereby you let your legs do the walking and go to another session is also appealing as I have wanted to do that so many times at conferences.

But that’s me.

When I shared the model with my awesome 21C Board team, some of whom had never heard of it, a few of them were hesitant and a little skeptical.  They brought up good points:

  • What about the learner who doesn’t know what they don’t know?
  • What about the learner who is just beginning on their journey to integrate technology and needs time to consolidate and a place for hands on practice?
  • If we invite everyone, then will the people there get excited by tools not in our District’s ecosystem which we have been trying hard to establish?
  • Can the Law of Two feet actually prevent a learning opportunity?  If I don’t give a session enough time, move on to the next, and then the next, might I get nothing at all out of that session?

All very valid.  I have to admit, I was a little disappointed that the EdCamp wouldn’t run as I had envisioned it in my head, but in the end, we went with a blended model which honoured the contributions and concerns of our team and the needs of the system–with a few added flourishes.

21C Camp 2016:  What we did

  • We opted for a 1/2 day of learning rather than a full one
  • We chose to limit participation to our District (so we actually could not use the kit that was offered to us by
  • Participants indicated what they wanted to learn and what they wanted to share when they walked in and sessions were created based on this
  • We allotted ample time to network in between sessions and had food and coffee 🙂
  • Participants were encouraged to use the Law of Two Feet
  • We had student keynotes happening while the sessions were being organized
  • We had included in the registration link an optional beginner Google Apps for Education stream for participants who wished to use their time that way
  • We had prizes and a button maker (just for fun)

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What really worked

Student Keynotes

We had three very different student presentations.  Adam Goldbloom (grade 9) showed us how Google Apps for Education have helped him become more organized and a better student despite his learning disability.  Daniel Masci (grade 9) and June Wi (grade 12) showed us the power of Robotics and how it connects to subjects they are studying.  And finally, Aidan Aird, (grade 11) spoke about how he has capitalized on social media to spread the word about students doing remarkable work in the area of STEM using his Developing Innovations website.

Not only did the students present, but Aidan led a session and Adam contributed in another one.  This really added to the day and I would highly recommend adding student voice to your next event.  We plan to have student Ignites at our next Ed Tech event in March.

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A Beginner Stream

Despite the fact that this is contrary to the Ed Camp model, and I didn’t want to add this at first, I am glad we did because this was a good idea.  Having a place for people to go to get their questions answered in a very hands on and practical way is essential for some learners.  The session itself revolved around what participants needed to know, but the format was very much a show-and-practice approach which really benefitted many of the participants who had never been to a Saturday learning day/ Ed Camp and who really needed to learn by doing.  The people who attended the beginner stream loved it.  They stayed in the same place for the whole morning and really felt confident that they could try something when they returned to school.

Prizes and a Button Maker: The Fun Factor

Doug Peterson insisted that prizes are a must, so we pounded the pavement and got some great prizes which built a buzz of excitement throughout the day.  Also, we thought it would be fun if participants could make their own buttons!  We borrowed a button maker from a local school and when it came without instructions, tried to figure it out!  Three of us jumped up and down for joy when we created our first button (after about 5 failed attempts).  In the spirit of making and fun, we decided we would include the button maker, without instructions for participants to play with throughout the morning.


Reflection and New Learning

At one point I was sitting in on a discussion about the merits of Google Classroom vs our Board’s virtual Learning environment, Desire to Learn. It was a wonderful combination of discussion, showcasing of information, asking questions: essentially what an Edcamp session should look like.  And yet, I noticed one participant who kept trying to create a Google Classroom and being quite frustrated.  Her body language spoke volumes and I approached her at the end of the session. She wanted someone to take her through it.    She told me that she gave up her Saturday to learn, and though having a discussion about the topic was great, she wanted to be able to have something she could go back and try on Monday.

This was an aha moment for me.  You see, I am the type of learner who would go back home, create my Google Classroom, and if I got stuck, Google it.  But I need to remember that not every learner is like this–not that they won’t be some day–but at this moment in time, their needs are very different from mine. Let’s be honest–if teacher is going to give up a day out of her weekend, she should have a learning experience that fully meets her needs.

I sat and showed her what to do and told her that if she thought her time would be better spent consolidating her learning, that she NOT go to her last session.  Instead, I directed her to an empty room where she could just work on it.   If I hadn’t noticed her body language or been at that session, she would likely have left the day dissatisfied with her learning experience.

Next time, I would incorporate into the day a room for people to go to consolidate their learning with a facilitator there to help trouble shoot.

We take participant feedback very seriously.  The comments below affirmed our team’s own reflections and will inform our next steps.

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And so…

It really was a great day of learning and mostly everyone who came loved it…but I truly believe there are no absolutes in Education (or in life).  The EdCamp model works so well for me because I am a connected Educator who regularly converses about educational issues and I have been dabbling in Ed Tech for many years.  Like the students in our classes, District leaders need to remember that people might need different entry points.  No group should feel alienated when it comes to professional learning; it is the role of the District to provide learning opportunities that meet the needs of all learners.  I am grateful to my team for suggesting the changes, and I am glad that as the lead organizer I was not so arrogant not to listen.

When we run our next Ed Tech event on March 5th, we will be able to take the best of this and other previous events and hopefully create a learning opportunity that is even more awesome!

Why do we feel the need to abandon good ideas for the next shiny new thing?

I was recently at the Bring It Together conference (BIT15) and engaged in an interesting conversation about using Periscope in Education, moderated by Andrew Campbell. We covered many important nuances on the topic, but what resonated with me, in particular was Andrew’s comment that we never seem to celebrate mastery of something, before we feel the need to jump onto the next thing (referring to Periscope vs the various other live stream/video options as well as other tech tools brought up in our conversation).

I’ve been thinking of teaching and learning with Infographics in this context after my Digital Literacy course last week was dedicated to Infographics.  I realized that despite the many benefits for teaching with infographics and even more for creating them, that there isn’t very much shared about the genre among the professional learning community I follow on Twitter anymore. I know I started talking about them in 2011 in one of my earliest blog posts.

 Are infographics already so yesterday?

Is this another case of abandoning an effective practice for something shiny and new?

Is it important that we teach students how to read and create infographics?

I reaiize that I had fallen victim to this mentality.  I too had stopped talking about infographics and instead have been focused on skechnoting which has been popularized by Silvia Tolisano, Sylvia Duckworth, Royan Lee and Vicky Davis, among others.  As a fan of Sylvia Duckworth’s work, I even tried my hand at one for this topic using Sylvia’s tutorial.  (you have no idea how long this took me to create!!).

Sketchnote Infographics

And though sketchnoting is a form of data visualization, reading, interpreting, and creating infographics are important for literacy AND numeracy skill acquisition and should NOT be ignored in education today!

Here’s why:

Infographics(Krauss, 2012)

Reading Infographics

  • Infographics are everywhere; students need to make sense of information in that format.
  • Because infographics include both visual and text, they engage more of the brain: The “eye is exquisitely sensitive–language with the eye + language of the mind = two languages both working at the same time” (McCandles, 2010).
  • Critical Literacy questions (Whose voice is missing? Is this source credible? What is the purpose? etc…) can be addressed naturally via an infographic.
  • The graphics within infographics can sometimes be mis-represented to make a specific point.  Looking at the graphics for misrepresentation of data is an important numeracy and critical thinking skill.

Creating infographics

  • In order to create an infographic a student needs to sort information, determine what is most important, and organize text and images in a cohesive way.  This requires students to think critically and creatively and to communicate ideas effectively.
  • Creating infographics really do require tech tools (canva, pictochart) which requires them to practice digital, technical knowledge.
  • If students are engaged in an inquiry they can ask their own questions and create their own data (with support).  This is important for developing research skills including creating effective questions.
  • Data has to be represented accurately.  These considerations require both literacy and numeracy skills.

Here is a presentation I created last year which I revised last week.  It includes resources to get you started.

Here is presentation with notes about recognizing misrepresented data, created by Diana Santos.

This New York Times Learning Network post shared by Dr. Janette Hughes provides a variety of resources that refer to subject-specific infographics.

I think we need to be cautious as educators about jumping from one fad to another.  We need to consider the skills students need to have and commit to those lessons that will meet those needs most effectively.  Creating infographics does take time, but considering the skills students are practicing, I think it is time well spent.


Krauss, J. (2012).  Leading and Learning with Technology, ISTE.

McCandless, D. (2010). The Beauty of Data Visualization, TED Talk


A local innovation project: St. Jerome’s SPLICE week

As much as I was impressed by the innovation I saw at ISTE 2015 in Philadelphia, there is a local project that I’d like to highlight in my District that is just as powerful as some of initiatives I saw showcased there.

Ingredients for Success

  • 1 highly motivated Intermediate teacher-team willing to try something completely different
  • 1 administrator supporting the initiative and removing barriers that might impede success
  • 1 collaborative peer group exploring ePortfolio and the All About Me Portfolio
  • 2 dashes of inspiration (Bishop Strachan‘s similar initiative & George Couros’ presentation @YCDSB talking about Innovation week at Parkland School Division in Alberta)
  • 1 bunch of  grade 7/8 students using their creativity and passion as inspiration

Bake for 1 full week.  Result is an amazing learning opportunity for students!

Marisa Benakis and Brad Blucher, two intermediate teachers at St. Jerome Catholic Elementary School decided to drop everything in order to create a unique learning experience for their intermediate students.  In order to do this, they needed and got support from their Intermediate team and administrator, Michele Reume who gave them the go-ahead to eliminate all other subject periods.  This meant that the whole school day for one full week would be entirely devoted to this self-directed learning opportunity.  I’m not sure what SPLICE stands for exactly, but the learning initiative was awesome!

Goals of SPLICE (as articulated in the student handout)

  • To learn more about a topic that interests you
  • To push your creativity and innovative thinking skills
  • To reflect upon yourself as a learner and the learning process
  • To communicate your learning and experiences to others

Students could research or create absoultely anything of their choice and could work independently or up to groups of three.  Most importantly, they had to capture the process in a reflection and share the learning with their peers.

These are just a few of the presentations I was privileged to see:

  • A student created an All About Me scrapbook and showcased the process in film
  • A group of students built a marshmallow launcher (after unsuccessfully trying to create a potato launcher)
  • A student painted a canvas and created an accompanying short story

Many more projects can be seen in this storify.


One of the questions that is a burning one for educators is, how can you possibly assess or evaluate a project like this?  Well, Benakis and Blucher addressed this in two ways.  Firstly, students were evaluated on the quality of their oral presentation.  And though you might be wondering, what if a student isn’t strong orally,  I can assure you that when a student is presenting a project that is meaningful and personal to them, this is a non-issue.

There is also an explicit focus on Assessment AS Learning through these guided questions:

  • What did you learn about yourself as a creator?
  • What was difficult? What was interesting?
  • What would you do differently?

When we chatted later, we agreed that if we really wanted to go into the Curriculum to evaluate the project, we would likely find lots of curriculum connections.

Connections to the Individual Program Pathways, All About Me Portfolio

Both Benakis and Blucher are involved in a District  pilot exploring ways in which to implement the Creating Pathways to Success Policy Document; more specifically helping students address these four areas:  Who Am I? What do I want to Become? What are my Opportunities? What is my plan for achieving my goals?

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Many other teachers in that collaborative pilot, led by Michelle Bulger, Ines DiTullio, and Patricia Zaroski are providing students with unique opportunities to explore these questions.

Interested in hosting your own Innovation or SPLICE week?

Contact @marisabenny or @blucherclass  They are so passionate about the project and its success, they would be willing to assist anyone who is interested in trying it!

Jesse McLean, @jmclean77 , of the Parkland Public School District in Alberta, generously shares his resources here.  He too is excited for schools to realize the benefits of an Innovation week project.