Teaching Out Loud

Putting something out there, and hoping to get something in return

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Tips for After That Inspiring Conference

So you just finished a conference, and you are heading home with boundless enthusiasm and a renewed vigour for all things teaching. So, how do you keep this energy up over the next couple of weeks, and transfer that to good practice back in the classroom? Here are some that have come in handy for me:

1. Reflect Tonight

Spend some time thinking about what you learned over the past couple of days, and write it down somewhere. Distill what you can into short ideas so that you can organize and plan for later.

2. Post it Somewhere

Learning is great, but comparing and contrasting experiences can allow you to see points outside of your experience. You met many great people over the conference, and now is the time to share what you learned. You can do that in a couple of ways – Blogging seems most obvious, but you could also try something like Storify, or, if you are brave, use YouTube of Vimeo to do a video blog.

3. Pick One or Two Things for the Short Term

If there is a mistake I have made over and over again, it is trying to do too much after a conference. Pick one or two items that you can do, without much assistance, over the next few months. That will keep your learning continue, but won’t create too much stress on your program. You want to have a staggered introduction to new ideas so that you can reflect and assess their impact in your classroom. Nobody at the conference, not the attendees or the presenters, did everything overnight, so you don’t have to either.

4. Create a Plan, and involve Others

Make a plan so that you remember what you want to do. I can’t tell you the number of times I have come back to a bookmark, and remembered some great idea that I had thought about doing. I have found that creating a short document with links and a timeline is a great way to keep on task. Keep visiting the document every month or so, and checking in with your progress. Also, if you can, involve a couple people in each goal. They will help you stay on task and give you another way to monitor your progress.

5. Find a Key Phrase or Two

Keep some little token or phrase from this journey, and use it to remind you of the energy you feel today. I have kept some doodads (like a 3D printed emblem) or words of wisdom (Google before you tweet is the new Think before you speak), as a way of keeping the memory alive. This is an excellent way to centre yourself as you start into exciting new directions.

That’s it. Congrats on being part of the learning, and now, more than ever, you can start being a leader in your class, school, board or world! Choose what you can do now, and leave the rest for later. Learning is about permanently changing your practice, and it isn’t easy.

Good Luck!

Driving Me Crazy

I have this feeling that learning ends up being a recursive algorithm, but I can’t define it yet.

I think my marth lesson on fractals has fried my brain.


I think my last post is a clear example of when fewer words are better. Please let me try this again:

We, as teachers, need to stop thinking of ‘computers’ as something to teach. It is now about teaching skills that have been augmented by accessing devices. Our research skills haven’t changed, but how we access the information has, and that is where our teaching needs to meet the technology. The skills to communicate learning are the same, but the breadth of creative options for students has been drastically increased, and that is where our students can lead the teaching.

That is all.

A Subtle Shift (or maybe not so Subtle)

Take a listen to this segment of CBC KW’s The Morning Edition -

While I applaud (and loudly proclaim) the continuing message that digital literacy is a necessary tool for students to have, I think we missed a more subtle shift that has been happening in education. To get to a place where mobile devices are used, and BYOD is taking hold, we needed to shift from the computer as an end to itself, into the computer as a tool to augment what is happening in the classroom.

We can see this in the movement taking place to change the landscape of how students access computers/devices during the school day. For the last 30 years, computers en mass have been kept to the confines of the lab setting. You would take the students down to the lab, and access when you could book time. Much of the time was spent learning “computers” i.e. mouse skills, word processing, data processing or possibly some games. It made some sense because it mimicked what was out in the working world. Computers were desktops, and you only had access to them when you were sitting right in front of them. But very quickly the devices became smaller and more powerful. Desktops gave way to portable laptops and laptops have given way to smartphones and tablets.

This device change brought access to the internet and the “Tsunami of Information” (<-- love that phrase, stole it from another CBC doc) to our fingertips. No longer are we (teachers) the gateway to information. Skills that were less necessary before, like trusting information found in school (see My Artful Curators presentation, and my favourite Hemingway quote), are now moved to the forefront. I know that I use my devices to access information like never before so why shouldn’t students expect that? Labs don’t make sense anymore. Students aren’t tethered when they access the work at home, so why do we do it at school?

So what do we do with labs? In the WRDSB, many schools have started to dismantle their labs in order to move the computers closer to the students and now we have been given the chance to go even further. Schools have opportunity to trade in desktops to get multiple iPads or Chromebooks per computer. With school learning spaces blanketed in wireless, students now have the chance to use the right tool at the right time.

This change requires that subtle shift in thinking. We now think in terms of devices and not computers, and this democratization of information is important. I no longer have to be the bearer of knowledge, but someone who can pass on the skills to find what is necessary. This access makes learning teacher AND student directed, rather than just the former. I know that students have started to request to use devices for situations that I wouldn’t have thought of previously. I hope we will get to a space where picking up a device becomes as natural as grabbing a ruler or calculator once was.

We are moving towards giving our students the best advantages to succeed into the world they will graduate into. Digital Literacy gives them the ability to wade through the information that is there, and make decisions for themselves about what they need to know.

Postlude: I am glad that the segment brought up equity of access, because it is an important topic. The WRDSB has provided each elementary school (by the end of this school year) with 40 iPads (20 iPad 2s, and 20 iPad Minis). This helps to supplement BYOD policies so that everyone gets a chance to work with, and access the technology.

Storytelling and the art of the End

Infinity Five
image courtesy of CBS

For the first time in a few years, I really wanted to watch a show when it was broadcast live. I had been content to watch shows 2 or 3 days past the air date so that my wife and I could watch them when we had the time. It made our lives easier and less hectic. But a finale is different and I wanted to be there when it ended. So Jen and I, and my sister and brother-in-law gathered at my parents house to watch the end of How I Met Your Mother. How I Met Your Mother has been a show steeped in mythology and building towards this meeting from the pilot episode (see this wonderful article from the AVCLUB that traces the perception of the show from Day 1). But mostly I loved to watch this show because I knew it had an end. Ted had to meet their mother. As far as titling goes, it is right up there with Snakes On A Plane, and without the meeting, the entire audience gets cheated out of what is rightfully theirs.

Reflecting on that journey made me think about the storytelling that I see in class and how it reflects the TV and Media that is, and has been, around for awhile. It made me realize that How I Met Your Mother is an anomaly, in that it shared a concrete goal. We knew where it was heading, and that gave the show a stronger narrative thread. I cared about the characters because I knew what was going to happen, and I was more willing to put up with some weaker threads knowing of the payoff that was to come. Most shows don’t give away their endgame, and are produced to go on as long as their audience is willing. I find this makes it easier to give up on a show because I am not tied into the ending.

This latter style is what I see from my students, and that I can recognize in myself. Stories are often started, but are ended abruptly or with little satisfaction. We tell stories like we need to draw out action, and have as little resolution as possible. That is all a 22 minute episode will allow. So how do we make this better? We need to start at the end.

The creators of How I Met Your Mother had the end in mind from the first season, which is evidenced by footage used in the final episode that was filmed during the first season (I kept that deliberately vague so as not to spoil anything). Working backwards allows the storyteller to keep focus on the end while moving through the story. This makes sense to me. We do this when we backwards plan a unit, and we do this when are goal setting, so why not when we are trying to build a story. The next time I introduce a story unit, I am going to get my students to work from the end, and see if we can’t get a great beginning.

A Tale of Two AQs

I took the Information and Integration of Computer Technology, and the Librarianship 1 AQs over the past 12 months from ETFO, and I have come out of them with two starkly different views of technology. While a full breakdown and dissection of the courses would take more time than either of them deserve, I wanted to make one pertinent point:

If you are looking for an idea of how to truly integrate computer technology into the classroom, take the Librarian AQ. It has a better underlying philosophy about technology (one that seems to be strongly supported by good pedagogy), than the IICT does, and provides a better overview of what will help make students successful.

The final two nails in the IICT coffin (for me) were the lessons on Microsoft Word/powerpoint and WebQuests. They were both outdated on content, mode and delivery. To be honest, I was furious when I encountered those lessons as “pedagogically sound”, and I did send an email to my course leader.

Has anyone else found the IICT AQ to be better at another institution?

Are there other AQs with a better technology focus?

Next step for me is my Masters, and I am looking forward to jumping back into the academic river!

Writing is Hard, and not


I go home and I think to myself that I have nothing to write, and so my site remains without update. Then I come to class and ask my students to write, and some say they have nothing to write. I realized, as I worked with them to come up with some high interest topics, that I am a giant hypocrite.

Stop Gif

Get back to writing!


Too Many Things

Today I realized that one of the most complex things that I do is simplification. Distilling a concept into its component parts takes time and energy, and it is a very hard thing to get right. Sometimes, I wish I had the writers from those cop procedurals (CSI, NCIS, any other acronym) who are able to bring forth the perfect metaphor at the right time.

Oh writers! How you like to jab at us.

But the truth is that these pearls are hard to come by, and for many of us, the metaphor only works if it is universal. Universality is hard to come by when experiences in a classroom differ greatly.

Do you have any metaphors that you use on a regular basis? I would love to add a few more to my repertoire.

I’ll share one that I find works for students trying to understand why they need to use the success criteria. All credit to Mrs. Smith (@smithwin) for the genesis of this idea.
(written as the script I say)

Imagine you are a baker. A client comes in and orders a birthday cake. When she arrives back in two weeks you present her with a dozen of the greatest cookies ever made. Is she going to be happy or upset? (pause for answers) Most likely, upset. Why? Because she wanted a cake. The same goes for the assignments you hand in. I let you know what I am expecting, so that I get my cake. Now, you can make me cake and cookies if you want. I would love to see and try your cookies, but make sure that I get my cake first.

So What Do You Want?

Marian Small (yes, that Marian Small) posted an interesting tweet yesterday that has had me thinking all day.

I realized that, while I have opinions, I have really just considered curriculum a given and not something that I have input into. The more I thought about the question, the move overwhelming it became to me. What do I want? There were so many things – less prescription, more focus on big ideas and process skills (you can see all of those mentioned in the responses to that tweet). Then I realized that I didn’t want a refresh. I wanted a do over.

A refresh assumes the same pedagogy, and the same direction. I don’t think we are living in the same pedagogical time as 2005 (last Math refresh).

What I think we need is two-fold:

1. A Better Basis of Support around the implementation of curriculum – Teachers need a support network (see this post by Tom Fuke, as he dives headfirst into his PLN) for new curricula. We need PD (and responsive and active PD), and we need the ability to have small group contact with “experts” or people who are willing to show and share. To often we end up teaching in a bubble, because it is hard to reach outside what we do day-to-day. We need the support, and the OK, to understand that what we have is new, and what we need is support.

2. We need to pull technology out of the lab – We, in Ontario, don’t live in a society where computers are locked to the desk/office/lab. So why is it that our main source of technological adaptation is in a lab setting? I admit that some of the reason is economical and structural. That way schools were built makes it hard to physically move a lab around. But some boards (well, at least the WRDSB) have indicated a new direction towards decentralized mobile access. I think it is time that we have words to that effect in our curriculum. We need to, at the very least, reflect the reality of the day, if not our hazy view of the future.

The curriculum is treated as gospel in many ways. I know that I have been reprimanded by my colleagues if what I have taught is not specifically written in (but well within the spirit of) the curriculum. Students need to be prepared, and if curriculum is the driving force, then we need a curriculum that drives teachers to new places.

Narrative Changes

I recently had the opportunity to experience the Spotlight Stories on my Moto X. The experience was unique and a little jarring. Essentially, your phone becomes a window into a the world of the story, and it is your task to follow, or not follow, along with what is being told.

I was enthralled the first time I went through the story. The second time through I chose to move around away from the main timeline, and see what else was going on. To be honest, the rest of the world was not quite as realized as the main story, but for a first attempt I was engrossed in the story.

It is my curse, that when I look at a new story (or any story, for that matter) I always try to picture it in class. I find that many stories written in the Junior Grades suffer from a lack of thought away from the main story, and break down logically when put under scrutiny. If I challenge my students to create their own “spotlight story”, it will engage students in the process of creating a world, and force them to think about what is happening away from the action. Driving thought away form the main story line will make students create a more cohesive narrative, and (I hope) have a better understanding of motivation.

That being said, we have only witnessed a first attempt. I really like the idea of a mobile device as a window into another world. I truly hope that Motorola will branch out access to many different devices, so we all share and explore together. Further to that, a creation engine (I admit, I don’t know the practicalities of this), would be outstanding to test out in a classroom.