Sunday, November 23, 2014

How I Got Hooked On Science Fair

Tonight I met with several members of the Simcoe County Regional Science and Technology Fair committee. It's only my second year on the committee but I truly enjoy spending time with the other members. On the way home tonight I took some time to reflect on why.

At a glance the members of the science fair committee seem pretty diverse. Although many of us are teachers, some are not. Those who teach do so in public schools, Catholic schools, private schools and colleges. Some of us have young children at home (who occasionally get dragged out to meetings) and some are retired empty-nesters. We often hold our meetings in restaurants and I'm betting it's hard for strangers to figure out what could possibly bring us all together.

Two years ago I attended the regional science fair as a judge. It was my first time at the fair (my school hadn't participated anytime in recent history) and all it took was one conversation with a 4th-grade scientist for me to be hooked. There is something wonderful about an 11-year-old kid who can speak passionately about their science project to a complete stranger. Not all of the students oozed with passion; some of the students were nervous, others robotic in their delivery. I recall one boy who provided one-word answers to every question I asked him (including 'What would you do differently next time?', "What was the most difficult problem you had to solve?" and other open-ended questions). Despite the nervous laughter and awkward moments, the energy in the room was unmistakeable. I loved every minute of that evening and immediately decided to get more involved with this event.

I think that's why I like the science fair committee members so much. At one point in time each one of them had their own 'first' experience with science fair that eventually led them to where they are today. Hours of volunteer time spent organizing the local fair and chaperoning students at the Canada Wide Science Fair are fuelled by the determination and passion of our budding student scientists. The type of person who believes in science fair is someone who believes in the power of young people to create new knowledge and make real change in our world. Who wouldn't want to be in that club?

I look forward to the day when I get a chance to attend the national science fair so that I can see our students perform against a backdrop of the best young science minds in the country. There are students in our county turning their garages and basements into laboratories, forming partnerships with world-class researchers, and designing technologies that make our world better. I'm very thankful for the opportunity to play a small part in helping them get their hard work acknowledged.

If you're curious about what science fair looks like in Simcoe County or wherever you live, volunteer to help out this year. You can be a judge (best job ever!) or simply pass out T-shirts - whatever your comfort level is. These fairs need the help of dedicated individuals to function. They also need teachers in schools to be willing to support budding student scientists, so if you're a classroom teacher who has never 'done' science fair, maybe this is the year. What better way to incorporate student-led inquiry into your science class?

Here are links to a couple of resources if you're curious... (social network for student scientists and engineers with a great science fair guide: (ideas and inspiration)

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Twitter and My PLN

Our recent board-wide launch of our New Pedagogies for Deep Learning (NPDL) project saw students, parents, teachers, and administrators gather in the same space to share their vision for education. We discussed barriers to progress and helped find ways to overcome them. We talked about the value of community connections and the power of student voice. We struggled with the open-ended nature of the project and the feeling of responsibility that comes with creating new learning in our schools.

During the NPDL launch we were encouraged to share our thinking throughout the day through Twitter. Many of us were happily ‘tweeting’ during many of the presentations and discussions. We tweeted to help us share insights, distill out the ‘big ideas,’ and acknowledge the contributions of other individuals around us. At about the midpoint of the day I overheard a comment from a teacher that could have come from me six months ago. To paraphrase, he said: ‘It’s a shame so many people are so busy Tweeting that they’re not listening.’ His words stopped me in my tracks. I understood his feelings completely. It was only about five months ago that I started using Twitter as a tool for professional learning, and it is only in the last month that I have come to appreciate its value.

Your professional learning network (we all have one) includes anyone you are connected to that enriches your work. When my daughters were born and I was on maternity leave, the other new mothers in the neighborhood were part of my professional learning network for parenthood. Friends and family who could offer advice or expertise on the telephone or by email were also part of that network. I would also consider strangers who shared their questions and advice on the web to be part of my network (like when you Google 'how to get my kid to eat vegetables?').

My professional learning network as a teacher has always included my colleagues, teacher friends near and far, and occasionally those teachers who shared their experiences and resources on the internet in a way that was searchable (many thanks to those strangers, by the way!). New tools like Twitter have significantly changed my ability to connect with like-minded individuals in a meaningful way. On Twitter I ‘follow’ people who post information that enriches my learning. Many people I follow tweet information about current education research, the incorporation of technology in the classroom, or ideas and philosophies that challenge my thinking. Another subset of people I follow includes teachers in my school board that are sharing the work they do in their classrooms.

I don’t have time to read every tweet that I have welcomed into my account, but I have the power to organize my Twitter account in such a way that I won’t miss the most important bits. Tweeters use hashtags to help sift through the billions of tweets on the internet to find useful information. During our NPDL launch we used two hashtags: ‘#NPDL’ and ‘#SCDSB.' During the BringIT Together conference we used ‘#bit14.’ During the Science Teachers' Association of Ontario conference last week we used ‘#STAO2014.’ If you do a search on Twitter for any of these terms you’ll find a rich collection of thoughts, ideas, photos, resources, and links posted by the people tweeting at these events. I can go back to these searches to find a link or idea that I want to explore further. I can look at my own tweets to recapture my state of mind during a keynote speech. I can see who else was tweeting if I want to connect or reconnect with people who were at the event. I think of these searches as collective ‘meeting minutes’ created by a giant human flock of tweeting attendees. This type of communication is called ‘backchaneling’ (participating in an electronic, real-time conversation during a live event) and can be a great way to hear and record opinions of all types of people. I would have been the last kid to put my hand up at school but I might have produced a flurry of on-topic tweets in the background given the opportunity.

So, back to the comment made at the NPDL launch. Confronted with someone who held the same opinions I held six months ago regarding social media I had to think carefully about my response. Aside from a 30-minute lecture on the wonders of Twitter, my options were limited:

“We are listening,” might sound too defensive.

“Here, let me show you how awesome this is!” might be a little too pushy for some.

My choice? “I know it looks like we’re not listening, but we are. {insert big smile} Think of it like taking notes as a group.”

Hopefully that was enough to raise some curiosity about the process. Hopefully I was able to communicate that I was listening and participating.

If you’ve read this far and you’re Twitter-curious (but reluctant to actually give it a go yourself), check out these ‘Storify’ collections of Tweets from the three events I discussed. Each little story is only a small subset of the tweeting that went on, but will hopefully give you a taste of what it is we’re all doing when we hear a speaker say something wonderful only to turn to our devices and start tapping away at a tweet.

Tweet collections from Storify (there are three here; check them out!):


ECOO conference (#bit14):

STAO conference (#STAO2014):

Monday, November 10, 2014

'Bring IT, Together' Conference Debrief - Part 2

Part 1 of my conference debrief can be found in my previous post:

This post is a summary of my take-aways from conference sessions I attended. They're here for me more than anything, but I would like to invite you to browse - you might find something interesting to you! If you want more information about any of these presentations I'll do my best to help you find it. I have included Twitter handels for presenters if I have them.

STEM Lesson: How to extract DNA from a banana
Martha (@marthajez) and Drew Jez from Fair Chance Learning. Loved this session; as a science teacher I love the idea of recording observations using video and photo documentation as well as in writing. The USB microscope for class viewing was neat. We Skyped with a scientist to discuss our findings and ask questions (VROC program). Partners in Research, in addition to VROC, offers other exciting opportunities including STEM summer camp.

The Flipped Classroom - Rethinking the Math Classroom
Excellent talk to teacher Adam Agar about the flipped teacher model used by his school's math department ( As a teacher who has done some flipping I appreciated that he focused on the important part: what happens IN the classroom after students have watched video lessons at home. He discussed grouping students on like tasks, seating arrangements for small-group instruction, and the neat ability they have to offer mixed 10D/12U math classes. Think about that...10D and 12U together? Very neat. Key ideas to take away: it's OK to have videos from multiple teachers (different students learn differently), exit tickets and quizzes are key to ensuring students are progressing, students write tests when they're ready, and there is a focus on individualized support. Equity issues addressed with DVD or USB. Adam reports greater student ownership of learning and understanding.

Quick to Prototype: Integrating and Iterating Ideas
Unexpected talk about going gradeless in secondary English classrooms. The teachers (Scott Kemp - @kempscott and Anne Doelman - @adoelman) published midterm and final grades only. Use of 'Body of Evidence Chart' and 'Reading Log' to track progress. The take home messages were simple but powerful: systems resist ideas and we need to accept that; the focus shouldn't be success or we'll never get there; don't use leeches to treat the flu (a.k.a. the old way likely isn't the only/best way; for 'going gradeless' to be a success, relationships with students and parents are key.

Junior Students Virtually Paperless
Paperless in a grade 6 classroom. Josh Ellis (@Joshuaellis34) uses Edmodo as his LMS. Students can BYOD but there is a one-strike rule (misuse = no more device at school) that he has never had to use. One neat idea was that if students used a web-based assessment or learning tool (eg. Gizmos) they can upload a screenshot to the LMS when they're finished to keep the grading all in one place. Josh has students create how-to tools or sets down challenges (like the one he gave us - to upload a selfie to the LMS ASAP) to help students learn new tech tools.

Capturing Student Learning in the Secondary Classroom
Kendra Spira (@KendraSpira) shared her Science adventures. Students made an instructional video on how to tie your shoes before making one to explain protein synthesis; using an everyday task as a starting point helped students learn the tech and identified need for improvement. She showed a neat 'recreate the picture' assignment where students in Grade 10 Optics needed to recreate an image using curved mirrors and explain how they did it/how the optics work. Kendra's students have blogged about Science in the news and she has seen really meaningful contributions from introvert students. Student inquiry on genetics provoked lots of thought and interesting products such as the 'Enviro Pig Song' about GM pigs.

Global Teenager Project
Students connect with a community of learners from all over the world in a learning circle. The themes have wonderful connections to many different subject areas and great way to 'go global' with your class. Students shared products and feedback with each other throughout the project. Teacher Laura Thompson described her success with a difficult group of intermediate students; great engagement and investment in this project because it was authentic.

Motivate, Engage and Learn - Using Thinglink, Padlet and Blogs
Great presentation from a principal (Jay Sugunan - @JaySugunan) and two teachers (Gurmeet Sandhu - @gurmeet3601 and Jenny Parr - @MsJParr) about using digital tools to engage students. Thinglink example about First Nations people and their traditions; picture linked to information about many aspects of culture. The use of padlet as a research collaboration tool (collaborate to collect ideas and information on one topic) or to accomplish a goal (eg. create a timeline of the history of flight) was neat. Google forms were being used with Grade 3 to collect feedback and ideas, and teachers are introducing multiple choice to get students familiar with this type of test question.

Providing Dynamic Feedback Online
Great tips from Paul Hatala (@phatala) to spruce up rubrics in D2L by adding videos, photos, exemplars, built-in feedback, personalization, etc. He showed us how to build up competencies and learning objectives so that we can assess most recent, most consistent. The power of ePortfolio was discussed: tied to student, not teacher; can be shared for feedback or flipped into a presentation at the end of a learning cycle. I liked the demo of iDoceo app ($8) for collecting anecdotal observations.

Storytelling with the Moving Image
Why video? Gives voice to ideas and creativity, great for cross-curricular projects, great for community engagement. Certainly most of the work involved in producing a film is in the planning: storyboards; plan shots; practice; shoot; edit. Ernest Agbuya shared his students' TIFF award-winning short film. Daniella Marchese (email: shared some TIFF learning resources. Teachers are encouraged to hold their own film festivals to share students work. Filmic Pro and Videon were suggested as apps as alternatives/upgrades to iMovie.

Genius Bar: Leveraging Student Expertise to Build a Tech Support System
Great presentation describing how a club of about 12 junior students was formed to provide tech help to the teaching staff. Students has to submit resumes and show evidence of tech problem-solving in a group interview. Grade 3 students were brought on as apprentices. Document to help with planning a Genius Bar at your school: . What a great way to give your students important responsibilities while improving availability of tech support in the school.

Breaking down walls: cross-divisional collaboratoin
Grade 10 Applied Civics/Careers/English class (Andrew Bieronski - @AndrewBieronski) paired up with Grade 4 Extended French class (Alison Bullock - @aliringbull). Students in Grade 4 class were challenged to create an ancient site or structure to be part of a museum exhibit. They had to provide QR code audio guides to their product. Grade 10 students created planning packages to guide their Grade 4 team regarding content, timelines, and success criteria. Grade 4's blogged and Grade 10's responded. Google Hangouts used to allow the students to 'check-in' virtually. In the end, the Grade 10 students visited the museum exhibit. The engagement and ownership was outstanding for students in both classes.

Whew! Now that I have made some room in my brain I can get ready for STAO.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

'Bring IT, Together' Conference Debrief - Part 1

As a new blogger this is my first attempt to summarize a conference experience in writing. I don't want to assume that all readers have been to a conference before, so I'll attempt to describe the overall experience before sharing the good bits.

Picture a place where hundreds (sometimes thousands) of like-minded people converge in a single location to share their passion. There are conferences for dentists, weavers, physicists, philosophers - if you can think it up, it probably exists. Last week I spent three days in Niagara Falls at 'Bring IT, Together 2014,' a conference hosted by ECOO (the Educational Computing Organization of Ontario) and OASBO-ICT (Ontario Association of School Business Officials - Information and Communication Technology). This conference is for people interested in the use of digital tools to transform education and there were over 1500 attendees. Over three days I attended three keynote speeches, four in-depth hands-on technology sessions, and 12 talks given by educators (or organizations that partner with educators). My brain is full to the brim and I have a happy afterglow that is not unlike a post-Thanksgiving-dinner glow; maybe too much of a good thing, but totally worth it.

I wanted to summarize my learning and share some links to resources. The first bit is covered in this post; more coming soon!

Keynote Speeches

Wednesday: Technology and the Art of Learning (Artemis Papert and Brian Silverman)
My take-home: Kids learn best when working on projects that are personally meaningful to them. Technology can't be the teacher; good teachers must understand their students. Programming is a new medium for learning and creating. Great demo of TurtleArt. (remember programming in LOGO in the 80's? I do.)

Thursday: The Power of Technology to Prepare Students for the Future (Richard Byrne)
My take-home: The 'thinking economy' is universal; jobs will come and go but thinking skills remain important. Instead of 'today we will learn about,' try 'today we will explore.'

Friday: Impressive, but not Convincing (Ron Canuel)
My take-home: Use technology in moderation and use it for things that are transformational. Relationships are key; students remember who we are, not what we say. We need courage to change. Early technology adopters don't make the difference; 'mid-adopters' do.

Wednesday: Minds on Media Hands-on Sessions

Makey Makey
I've been waiting to get my hands on one of these for a while. If you don't know what it is, check it out: Makey Makey on YouTube. I played 'One Button Bob' with a button I drew with a pencil, played a keyboard drawn on a piece of paper, and played Tetris with Play-Doh. Serious fun.

3-D Printing
Excellent demonstration and explanations by grade 7 and 8 teachers. If you're interested in 3-D printing something you create yourself, you can use a 3-D drawing program like Google SketchUp. A simpler alternative is Tinkercad; it even allows direct upload to manufacturers who can print your designs if you don't have your own 3-D printer. Golden statue of your family mascot, anyone?

Coding for Kids
I tried out some Scratch and some Tynker. I have a way to go here; it took me a while to figure out how to activate the laws of physics in Tynker. (Things were more interesting when Physics was on.) An interesting side note is that I got to watch a Sphero (app-controlled robot ball) in action.

I mentioned this above; it was demonstrated in the first keynote session. It was fun to get a chance to play with the program and talk to Artemis Papert. I've had lots of fun playing with this since and would love to use it as a way to teach coding; I like that it's a one-trick pony; why not start with art? I made this image this afternoon and it's just one of many created by me and my daughters.

To be continued...Thursday and Friday conference sessions covered in next post.

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Much more than a new perspective.

I became a teacher in 2003. I taught science for 10 years before, give or take a mat leave or two, before taking on my current central role. I had (and still have) excellent mentors who taught (teach) me the value of routines, relationships, organization and balance. I could have taught very happily for 10 or 20 more years without changing anything.

In April I saw the job postings for IRT positions in an email attachment. I read the attachment more than once, but thought up many excuses for not taking action. There were commitments I had made to the school that I didn't want to back out on: student government, academic awards assembly, etc. There was my family to consider; a new job might mean irregular hours and would certainly take me farther away from home. The third major excuse I made was that I was probably not cut out for this type of role. I am an introvert and have always carefully navigated my workplace spaces and relationships in a way that allows me to feel calm and in control.  Subject closed. Stay put and continue to blow students' minds with the wonders of science.

Just as I was beginning to forget the job postings, my principal re-emailed them to me. In a cleverly-worded and encouraging email she pointed out that I might not see another posting for a science IRT any time in the near future. My excuses started to look pretty lame and I had to re-examine my decision to ignore this opportunity. A few weeks later I was excited and speechless as I accepted my new position. A mild feeling of doom crept over me as it often does when I leap into the unknown.

I suppose I'm similar to Scaredy Squirrel in some ways; I like to be in familiar places with an emergency kit at hand. I like the familiarity of regular work hours and workspaces. I like having a departmental team who know my strengths, support my needs, and put up with my quirks. I like eating my leftovers at 10:40 and setting up tomorrow's labs at 2:45.

Now that I am here in 'the unknown' I have been forced to acknowledge that I should have done more to make connections outside of my school sooner. The new learning and new relationships of the last few weeks have been transformative. I have been surprised how content I am to be a part of the whirlwind of activity generated by my team. I think it is wonderful that a job change has allowed me to redefine or reimagine my place in the education machine.

A few things I have discovered about myself so far:

  • I really like being a mentor.
  • I'm an effective tech teacher (and tech cheerleader, when needed).
  • I miss having contact with students.
  • I quickly overcame my trepidation about walking in to a new school.
  • I am better at remembering names and conversations than I thought I would be.

The next two weeks will bring two conferences (ECOO and STAO) and two major project launches. Lots to think about. Lots of action. As long as I get some quiet time in the evenings I know I'll get through the over-stimulating days and be able to process everything new that comes my way. The personal growth and potential to make positive change are worth the discomforts that come with my new roll.

I think that blogging has become part of my emergency kit, and I am forced to wonder whether Scaredy Squirrel ever thought about blogging. :)

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The grass is different on the other side.

The secondary science classroom is my natural environment. I have supervised fetal pig dissections involving 34 students and put my trust in hundreds of teenagers as they melt, boil, mix, and observe chemicals. I have labeled and stored a large number of dangerous substances and dealt with hazardous waste disposal. Outside of the classroom I have helped students put on musicals, organize dances, navigate relationship breakups, choose post-secondary programmes, and deal with all of the pressures they face as young adults. These things are part of the natural rhythm of my day. When I teach Chemistry courses I am teaching students who have chosen my class as an elective; everyone is there with some kind of agenda. Although we find time for fun and for indulging curiosity there is a great deal invested in grades at this level. The enjoyable bits of learning sometimes get lost as students focus on their numerical grade and their chance of being accepted into their university or college of choice.

My biggest 'wow' moments so far this year have been in elementary schools. This is not a surprise. I spent four weeks in a middle school during teacher's college, but aside from than I have been living my work life inside high school science departments. Last week I spent one morning in a grade 2 classroom. This was my first opportunity to stand back and watch a primary class in action. I got to see the morning routines; the students' roles and responsibilities were clear and they moved naturally from one task to the next. The class is doing some neat activities (genius hour and Global Read Aloud, among others) but it was the vibe in the classroom that really got me thinking about the differences between my teaching experience and this environment. The culture in an elementary classroom is different for several reasons, the clearest being that students spend more time in one room with one teacher instead of moving from room to room as they do in my high school. Being in the classroom space got my creative instincts tingling with thoughts of cross-curricular integration. I have often yearned for more time with my students during the day. It can be tricky to cultivate relationships with certain students - the introverts, for example - within a 75-minute time limit sandwiched between math class and a bus home.

On Friday last week I spent the entire day in an elementary school library. I worked with the librarian to help students in grades 2, 3, 6, and 8 create green screen videos. The highlight of my day was sitting on the floor along with the grade 6 students, fielding their insightful questions about the green screen. We tried our best to answer each question and used hands-on demonstrations to illustrate whenever possible. The curiosity and engagement of the students was different from what I experience in secondary: more creativity and wonder, less skepticism, and much less fear of failure. The looks on students' faces were more trusting than those I am accustomed to, and the average 'thank-you' at the end of the day was more sincere.

I'm not naive enough to think that after months or years in elementary school I would come home from work every day eager to tell everyone about how fabulous my day was. I am also keenly aware than my new role allows me to interact with students in a way that may differ from a student-teacher relationship in a classroom. It's possible that I wouldn't last a month as a teacher in elementary school. What I find sad is that I won't ever get a chance to try. It is a shame that our system prevents people from 'jumping the fence' to the other panel without taking a serious hit to our seniority. The potential for rich learning experiences and for creating a sense of unity among elementary and secondary teachers is astounding.

I find myself wondering what some of the first impressions of my elementary teacher colleagues has been when they go into a secondary school. Please comment if you have any thoughts to share.

The gratitude I feel for the learning opportunity my new job affords me is unmeasurable. I will do my best to pass on what I learn to my colleagues in secondary. Maybe on my birthday I'll make a wish that the future will provide more chances for elementary and secondary teachers to work and learn together. (Someone had better remind me to make the wish. Or maybe I'll wish it right now.)

Sunday, October 19, 2014

'Spoiling the Surprise' - Is this something we need to worry about?

Indulge me by participating in a little visualization:
You're strolling down the hallway of your school and are walking past the classroom of a colleague who teaches a grade lower than the one you are currently teaching. Your ears perk up when you hear something familiar. A feeling of panic rises inside you when you realize what you're hearing: your colleague is using an activity/demo/video/whatchamacallit that you usually use during your unit on widgets! The moment of surprise you would have had with your future students has been ruined.

This has happened to me many times before. I have been a Chemistry teacher for the most part and I have in my back pocket a wide array of demos and other activities that do an exemplary job of driving home key topics for my grade 11 and 12 students. It used to make my uncomfortable when one of these 'key' demos was done by another teacher in grade 9 and 10. (It isn't that I don't do any demos with the 9's and 10's...just different ones!)

Over time I learned that a demo being 'spoiled' wasn't the end of the world. One reason is that my school was quite large; in any of my Chemistry classes a certain activity was still likely to be new for a majority of students. Another reason I learned to relax about demo spoilage is that when experiencing the same demo for the second time students have an opportunity to think more deeply about what they are seeing. Viewing something that is unusually entertaining or unexpected can cause excitement and confusion that may not aid a student in performing a critical analysis of the event. Subsequent viewings allow more time for reflection and students are more prepared to ask good questions about the science behind the event, going deeper than 'How did you do that, Miss?'

Surprise-spoilage is on my mind because of the 'green screen' fun I had this weekend at my daughter's birthday party. The girls are all in grade 3 and we made some sweet 'Wanted' posters at the cowgirl party:
Sweet, right? Our family is on a green screen roll...we even made some funny photos of my in-laws this weekend. Nerd alert.

Today I found myself wondering whether I had spoiled a moment the girls might have later this year, or maybe next year, when their teacher decides to do something epic with the green screen at school. Have I ruined his or her 'Ta-da!' moment? The answer is probably yes; the girls will not be as wowed as they would have been otherwise. On the other hand, maybe the girls' green screen knowledge will have them more prepared to think up something really creative for their class to do. I'm hoping that in taking away from the 'wow' moment I have given a little something to the moments that follow. Maybe I've helped create some movie-making mavens. Time will tell.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

If I Could be a Student for One Semester...

Today I decided that I want to go back to high school so that I can take some tech classes. I spent the day with a group of communication technology teachers who were meeting to share and learn about some of the toys and tools available to them. My role today was to support the teachers' introduction to GAFE by providing login support and demonstrating a few of the tools (forms, Classroom, docs). Easy, right? Nope. I has some serious competition.

Representatives from Canon were on hand to demonstrated some of the features of their XA camcorder. The demonstration of the functionality of this camera made me seriously consider whether I had something I needed to make a documentary about right now. For instance, maybe I need to show people how to use GAFE on their smartphones whilst rollerskating on the waterfront trail. That might be useful, right?

The TriCaster was another gorgeous piece of equipment on display. I had never been exposed to this type of equipment before, and the possibilities it offered for broadcasting events were mind-blowing. Wouldn't it be great to cover a school event and intersperse the live feed with live or pre-recorded interviews (shot in front of a green screen, of course), commercials (made by me ahead of time), colour commentary, participant bios, and shots of the audience? Mindblowing.

The granddaddy of technology show-and-tell items today was a GoPro camera attached to a drone. It was like something out of a James Bond movie. It is flown with a remote control, knows how to return 'home' if it runs low on power, and has terrific image stabilization. Is this a gadget that everyone needs? No. Is this a gadget that inspires people to think big? Absolutely.

Today I am left thinking about what I would do if I were in high school right now. Tech seems like the place to be for anyone with a creative streak. The tools at students' fingers allow them to realize a larger artistic vision than students in the past were able to. So, what would I be creating if I was a student in Comm Tech right now? Only a secondment from my secondment would let me answer that question. I wonder if my bosses would let me go back to school for just one semester...

Friday, October 10, 2014

EdCamp Reflections

September was filled with many new experiences as I started my central position. You could almost hear the energy crackling in our workspace (which has been nicknamed ‘The PIT’ as we are the Program and Innovation Team). Some of the energy in the PIT was focused on planning EdCamp Barrie, held on September 27th. Several members of my team have been working on this for many months. Their efforts and vision culminated in an energizing day of PD for participants from across Ontario.

Mental Preparation
I first heard about EdCamp last June when I started following my new colleagues on Twitter. I had no idea what it involved and was happy to see a ‘What is an EdCamp?’ link on the event website. My personal preference is that events in my life proceed in a predictable and reliable fashion. I prefer to have a concrete home and work schedule. I do not like making last-minute plans for dinner parties. When I go to conferences I always carefully read the programme and make decisions in advance about which sessions I want to attend. As a result, my mind was baffled by the organic, crowd-sourced, open-ended nature of an ‘unconference.’ I wasn’t sure what to expect, and had no choice but to be at peace with that.

EdCamp Barrie took place on what I consider to be home turf. It wasn’t only that it was happening in my city; it was taking place in the school I have taught in for over 10 years. That, coupled with the familiar faces of the organizers, made me feel at home from the start. (Definitely a good starting point for an introvert.) Our keynote address was given by two local elementary students, and was a great catalyst to focus our attention on our most important ‘Why?’: our students. The keynote speakers and student volunteers were surprised and pleased to see so many teachers participating in an activity like this on such a beautiful fall day. I suppose students are accustomed to seeing teachers put in extra time in gyms or music classrooms but hadn’t often (or ever) considered the extra time many of us commit to professional development. Perhaps more of us should share our professional learning activities openly with our students so that they can understand that we are all lifelong learners.

Watching the schedule for the day come together from attendees’ suggestions was really neat. Reading a description of this process does not do justice to the flurry of activity (reading/comparing/grouping) that actually takes place as organizers do their best to group similar questions from the hundreds that we generated. The resulting schedule was beautiful to behold and elicited a sense of pride in the group before we had attended a single session. Our collaborative session notes allowed the conversation to continue after EdCamp, when we could revisit shared resources and questions and take advantage of new relationships to embark on formal and informal collaborations.

Being relatively new to the Twitterverse, EdCamp was the first time that I found myself looking into the face of someone who I had known previously only as ‘@--- that tweets about widgets’ or ‘@--- whose class is learning coding this week.’ It was really neat to make a personal connection with some of these people who have unknowingly been teaching me so much these last weeks. The value of face-to-face is evident during EdCamp sessions. Live conversation takes on a depth and urgency that cannot be replicated in a Twitter conversation. At EdCamp you can ask a question and get five completely different answers, each backed up by rich experience and insight. Within sessions the generosity of those sharing their ideas and experiences was only matched by the honesty of the ignorant. I had the opportunity to be one of the generous contributors in a GAFE session and then admit complete ignorance in a coding session. I found myself wondering what was a bigger influence on participants’ amazing attitudes: that EdCamp attracts individuals who are this way, or that EdCamp by design brings out the best in everyone. I’m guessing that nature and nurture play equal roles in this.

Early in September I had begun tweeting back-and-forth with a friend from my days in the Faculty of Education at Brock University. She indicated an interest in attending EdCamp Barrie and was successful in convincing her husband (also our classmate at Brock) that they should come to Barrie and be guests at the home I share with my husband (yet another Brock classmate) and my daughters. Considering the location of their current home - Manitoulin Island - I crossed my fingers that the Barrie event would be a success and that the 10-hour return trip would be worth their while. I hadn’t seen my classmates for 12 years and wanted our reunion to be a success. It was. We attended EdCamp together (scoring this reunion photo in the process) and reminisced long into the evening, waxing poetic about everything from education to home improvement. I look forward to visiting Manitoulin this summer so we can continue these conversations.

Thanks, EdCamp!

*This portmanteau is brought to you by ‘Look Around You.’

Saturday, October 04, 2014

First Real Blog Post (teenagers made me do it)

I have been waiting for the reality of my new job to set in. I think I'm about 50% there. I am an instructional resource teacher with a focus on Science K - 12 in our new 'Program and Innovation' department. After 11 years in the classroom this is a big change for me. My 3 minute drive to work has transformed into long drives in the country as I move from school to school. I have enjoyed the extra time for quiet reflection and the opportunity to catch up on the backlog of podcasts waiting patiently on my iPod.

While I have not started supporting teachers in collaborative inquiries yet I have had a chance to visit a number of schools across the county to support teachers as they learn to access and use their GAFE accounts. My incredible team has gone beyond the call of duty to reach out and answer teachers' requests for help by organizing after school "GAFE Cafes" at about 15 locations across the school board as well as 'lunch and learn' sessions in nearly every secondary school. Teachers have responded with "Thank you. More, please!" as they get a taste of what GAFE has to offer them. Together with the new training I have received and my self-directed quest to have a deeper understanding of the GAFE, iPad apps, and Microsoft resources available to our teachers and students my brain is left aching at the end of each day. For the most part it is a happy ache.

This week I had the pleasure of visiting one of our secondary schools to see BYOD in action. All Grade 9 students at the school are BYOD this year. I learned a great deal about the logistics involved: device charging, log-in lags, wifi limitations, cross-platform problems, etc. The best part of my visit was the opportunity to interact with students. Their honest appraisals of BYOD and willingness to share their learning with us was fantastic and energizing. It wasn't until later that day that I realized what made it even more special. I miss teenagers.

If someone had told me in June that I'd be craving the company of teenagers by October 1st I would have called them crazy. It's not crazy, though. I miss my classroom. I miss face-to-face connections with students. I miss the 'Wow!" moments in science class. (Btw have you seen this STEM teacher recruitment video? I love it:

I can't wait to visit more classrooms and have contact with students. I also can't wait to get back into my own classroom when my two year secondment ends. This is a wonderful feeling because it is an affirmation of my decision to enter this profession. Students are at the centre of what we do.

I am grateful to have an incredible two-year learning journey ahead of me and delighted that I will have the chance to work with a large number of teachers and students. The thought of the classroom that awaits me at the end of this journey will keep me focused on what is important. Missing teenagers this week is what prompted me to write this blog post. It is as if I have found my muse.

I need to end this post by putting a blogging goal in writing (because I know that will help me stay on track). My goal is to write an average of once each week until the end of my secondment. I reserve the right to blog about knitting, camping, road trips, quilting, or other such matter during the summer. (Just saying...)

If you have read this far I am humbled. Thank you.