Tag Archives: Professional Learning

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!



Promoting Student & Teacher Voice using Dotstorming tool

I don’t very often write a post about a tech tool, but I have to say, I LOVE Dotstorming as a tool for learner voice that was shared by the awesome, Richard Byrne.  I have been searching for a tool similar to Google Moderator (which no longer exists) which would enable participants to suggest a topic or idea and then vote on the idea which they like best.  Not only does this promote a participatory culture, but it also promotes critical thinking.

Enter Dotstorming! It has a similar interface and user-friendliness that I love about Padlet (though much more simplistic), but the added feature is that you can give participants voting privileges!

Teacher Voice: Professional Learning

This week, we had schools come in for our 21C District-wide initiative.  Teams of 10 teachers per school come out for the first session as a team, and then subsequently, we differentiate their professional learning opportunities based on interest and tech ability (novice, intermediate, advanced).  The struggle has always been, how to do this.  We have used Google Forms in the past and that works well, but it then becomes difficult to sort the responses and share these so that everyone feels that they are part of the process.

So we tried the tool to see how it would work for our purpose: we asked participants to suggest a Break Out session idea based on their own learning need and vote on 3 they would like to participate in.  Teachers brand new to the 21C teams were able to do this with relative ease and the outliers completed theirs, helped others, and had already clicked on the tutorial thinking about how they might use this.

We will do this each time our teams come out (10 X 100 teachers), and will use this to plan our sessions and because the tool indicates the name of the person who suggested the topic, we already know which teacher-leader facilitators might want to help lead the session.

Screen Shot 2016-01-30 at 7.39.40 AM

Other ideas:


I love the look of the post-it notes and the Edcamp board, but I really want to try using this tool the next time we run our EdCamp.  It would be far easier for participants to see the choices and ultimately for us to create a schedule!

Staff Meetings and More

Can’t you just see how useful this might be in other areas of adult learning?  Teachers can suggest topics for staff meeting learning and school-wide decisions can be easily made in this forum.  Teachers want to be heard and this would be a perfect and fast way to do this!

Looking at innovative spaces?  There is a share image feature whereby participants can upload an image (say of an innovative space idea) and staff can vote on their preference.

Please suggest any other ideas for professional learning in the comments!

Student Voice: Student Learning

Once teachers experience the simplicity of the tool, it will be very easy to bring this tool into the classroom to encourage participation and student voice!

Minds On

Before a lesson or unit, use Dotstorming to have students contribute what they already know about the topic and vote on one peer’s idea with which they agree. At the end of the unit, they can re-visit to add new learning and cast another vote.


Applying Understanding & Critical Thinking: Why not have students upload an image that they think best describes the concept learned in the previous lesson.  This will provide a teacher with a very good sense of how much the students understood the concept and whether or not they could apply that concept.

Co-constructing Success Criteria:  One of the most effective techniques I use when having students create something new is to have them peruse several examples, rank them, and identify the strengths and weaknesses. (See this Careers lesson example).  Once students experience that process, I have them co-construct what an effective…..(blog post, infographic, poster, trailer, PSA, etc..) looks like and we collectively decide on the success criteria which can then be used to assess the final product. The next time I do this,  I would use Dotstorming for students to submit their ideas and vote on the most important ones.


We often say students can’t transfer their skills from one context/subject to another.  Research suggest that metacognitive reflection can help students to do this.  For example, I taught grade 9 students how to use Read and Write for Google and then asked them where else and how else they might use this tool.  I used Padlet and it worked effectively, but I think I would use the Dotstorming tool instead because though I asked students to read through the responses of their peers, not all students did this.  But they really would have to in order to vote.

This same question can be applied to any course material…How can you use _____in your everyday life?

Here is a guide to using Dotstorming including a how-to video via Richard Byrne’s site, Free Tech for Teachers.  

I’m sure there a hundred other ideas you might have for classroom use.  Please share them in the comments!

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.

Screen Shot 2015-12-27 at 4.46.03 PM

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 edcamp.org)
  • 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)

Screen Shot 2015-12-21 at 9.43.31 AM

Screen Shot 2015-12-21 at 9.00.45 AM

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.

Screen Shot 2015-12-21 at 8.37.08 AM

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.

Screen Shot 2015-12-21 at 8.10.36 AM

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!