Doug: Thank you so much for agreeing to the interview. Let’s start with an easy question – where did our paths first cross? Either online or not.
Emily: Our first encounter was through Twitter! I remember my first BIT (pretty sure it was 2014) where I had the chance to really start to learn what it mean to be a connected educator. My goal was to then find Ontario educators to follow and learn from and someone recommended that your Follow Friday was a great place to start (and still is a great place to go back to each week!). For the next few months, I was more of a lurker and then, finding my voice, engaged a bit more. Online interactions followed us for the next few years and we crossed paths last year at BIT17 in person (I believe this is the first time we ‘official’ met F2F).
Derek: Thanks for offering us the opportunity to share today. It’s been a pleasure knowing you for a few years within the virtual environment but it was only recently at the #ECOOcamp we met in person. Admittedly it feels odd saying that as I feel like we’ve known each for some time.
Doug: The two of you were the keynote speakers at the first ever #ECOOcamp in Owen Sound. That happened on the big ice/snow/rain storm of 2018. Yet, both of you showed up and delivered wonderful messages. Did you ever think about not showing up and blaming the weather?
Emily: If educators were going to be there, I was going to be there. Although I chose not to come in the night before, I ensured that I made it out that morning before the storm came in (and pretty sure it chased me all the way up Hwy 6 from Fergus!). Canada, anytime of the year, comes with weather challenges and we see educators, parents, and students making the trek to get to school and this event was no different.
Derek: In all honesty there was no way I was going to miss the event. The rationale behind that decision is simple. The organizers, speakers, presenters, put so much work and dedication into offering an experience like this and it wouldn’t feel right to miss it. There is so much work that goes on far beyond what is visible to everyone in attendance and online. It’s the communication, interviews, research which makes these opportunities difficult to orchestrate. I feel as though we were given an amazing opportunity the least we can do is show up to share our message/passion. I actually joked with Martha Jez that even if no one shows up I’ll periscope to ensure the message gets out.
Doug: How many different weather scenarios did you pack and bring clothes for?
Emily: On my journey up to Owen Sound that morning I had all the winter emergency essentials! I had shoes and boots, extra socks, blankets, sweaters, and overnight bag as well as clothes to wear at #ECOOCamp. I think I was a bit more worried about losing battery on my device, so I made to sure pack my extra battery pack, have both computers fully charged and lots of different cables/dongles to connect anything and everything together. Rather than get stuck in the snow, I was more worried about getting rerouted and not quite knowing where I was!
Derek: I’m really bad for this and love to have contingency plans A-Z. I had two suitcases in my car which included but was not limited to: winter coat, spring coat, winter accessories, gym attire and running shoes, and four sets of work clothes in case I was stranded. All of this coupled with multiple battery charging packs.
Doug: What was the inspiration for the keynote addresses that you delivered?
Emily: I had the honour of going first thing in the morning; to set the tone for a day of learning with each other and building the energy to last until Derek’s closing message. My goal was to inspire educators to embrace the future and give something new a try, with a few laughs along the way. Taking that journey from what technology first looked like in the classroom, to all of the potential technology that is on the horizon, there is a lot to get excited about. The inspiration came from our students, many of who, are excited to try to news things and learn how to solve problems just a bit differently than how we were taught with these new tools.
Derek: Well first off let me say that I heard so many amazing presentations over the course of the day including Emily’s which was great. I loved her motivating approach to the talk and it was a great way to kickstart the day.
In terms of my own talk, I wanted to shape it so there was potentially something for everyone. Even if you’re not an educator perhaps you could take something away from it. The general theme of my talk was teaching and learning with empathy. As mentioned in my talk this is something I don’t often talk about although it is a area of interest and passion for myself.
Doug: We were so appreciative that you followed through with your commitments and made the trip. Those in the audience were as well.
Both EdTechTeam and Fair Chance Learning donated door prizes for the event. I was curious but didn’t open them. Can you tell us what was in the packages?
Emily: The surprise EdTechTeam Canada bags were dongle bags themselves (great for holding cords, iPad minis or portable speakers. Their soft insides provide a bit of extra padding for anything a bit more fragile. Inside the bags there was a Google Cardboard viewer and a battery pack for those who may need a bit more power while exploring the world of virtual reality.
Derek: Fair Chance Learning donated several “maker kits” which included a micro:bit, alligator clips, additional sensors, and stickers for either teacher or student to get started with coding and STEAM based applications. It’s a great prize for anyone who is either interested in learning to code or for those looking to move from a coding environment into a world of robotics and understand how they work.
Doug: ECOO and those who were in attendance and won really appreciated the generosity.
Respectively, your positions are “Director of Professional Development, #EdTechTeam” and “Director of Integrated STEAM Education with Fair Chance Learning”. What do these positions involve?
Emily: My role is to connect educators to ideas and ideas to educators across Canada and the world. Almost like a hub, I am able to share in person and online. There are some amazing things going on across Canada and I have the opportunity to make sure those stories are told and shared. I have the opportunity to empower and inspire educators to jump in, try something new and take a risk in their classrooms, all while having the support of their students (or learning from/with their students!). Learning alongside educators, we are able to discover and implement tools that work across platforms, devices, and that are best for the learning (technology-based or not!) – not just the latest, flashy tool!
Derek: Doug, our entire team jokes about this all the time. There is not enough time or space to encapsulate what this role entails. We struggle to tell our families what we do (I think they believe we’re making it up) but this is what is exciting about it. In all honesty it’s a variety of things. We have the opportunity to create professional development for school boards throughout Canada, we work on creating digital resources for online use, we’ve recently partnered with several major organizations with the focus being to better equip both teachers and students with modern resources. The thing I am most proud of however is that we get the opportunity to get to work directly with students. If you follow us online you will see where we go students aren’t far behind. Even at #ECOOcamp we had student support and this is what it is really about. Giving students a platform and a voice to share what they are doing. Fair Chance is really about empowering and inspiring kids, something our entire team is devoted to.
Doug: These director positions must also involve a great deal of travel and hotel stays. Do you have any stories to share?
Emily: Yes, lots of stays in many different places. Although there is not one story in particular, it is the stories that I get to learn from those who I meet. Whether they are the stories of the educators we are learning with and coaching, or their students who help out, or those outside the realm of educator on the way there, their stories add the opportunity to learn something new, explore a different concept or work together to solve a challenge.
Derek: You’re right in that the travel can be extensive but it also allows us to connect with people we otherwise would never meet. This isn’t overly exciting but in a short time frame I’ve had the opportunity to visit at least each province and territory (including Nunavut). I mention this because it’s really given me a different perspective that goes far beyond teaching. I am far more aware of what challenges people from each region are subjected to and how we can help. I am forever grateful for that opportunity.
On a personal note, one of my favourite trips was to Vancouver this year because I was able to bring both my wife and newborn son along with me. We were heavily involved with IT4K12 but having them there was amazing and we even got to climb a few mountains.
Doug: Before these positions, you had other jobs in education. Can you describe them?
Emily: Prior to EdTechTeam Canada, I was in the classroom as a Math, Computer Science and English as a Second Language Teacher. I taught Orangeville District Secondary School (Go Bears!) as well as other schools in UGDSB as I moved from Occasional Teacher, to LTO Teacher to Contract. Before UGDSB, I had the opportunity to teach over in the UK for a year as a Maths and ICT teacher in Cleethorpes.
Derek: Prior to this opportunity with Fair Chance Learning I was a teacher at Stoneybrook PS in London Ontario with the Thames Valley District School Board (TVDSB). Preceding that I worked within Engineering in various capacities. I also do work for Hacked Education which is a passion of mine.
Doug: If I asked you to highlight one moment in your career, what would it be?
Emily: My highlight so far is when I had the chance to work with the English Language Learners at ODSS as that program was just getting off the ground running. We had the chance of not only learning English (and boy did I learn too!) but also understanding the different cultures, traditions and values we all brought to the group. We also practiced reading in English to our reading buddies who were enrolled the DD class at our school. Those relationships will be with us forever!
Derek: It is difficult to pick one moment that stands out the most. That being said my school surprised me on my birthday and every class went out in the hallway and clapped as I had to walk throughout to music only to arrive at a surprise awaiting me. What was most special about this is that my students created something for me that is of personal importance and something I will always treasure. I was so proud of them for doing something beyond amazing for someone else. This really showed me the direct impact teachers can have.
Doug: Since both of you are so deeply vested in technology, there must have been a break-through moment where you were really convinced you were on the right track. Can you share it?
Emily: My Grade 11 College Math class while teaching at ODSS. The class fell in second semester, and the flip-flopping afternoon period. At the start of the semester, I was struggling to keep the students engaged, to keep them excited about math and, ultimately, to keep them coming to class. That semester, I had the opportunity to attend my first EdTechTeam Summit where I had the chance of learning about an application called Pear Deck. I decided to give it a go with this class to see how it would work. Many of my students were BYOD with their own smartphones and for those without, we borrowed a small group of Chromebooks. As we learned through Pear Deck’s social learning environment, my students were hooked; it changed the atmosphere of the classroom. I met the students where they were at and on the platform, this group, felt most comfortable on. I could go on and on why Pear Deck really helped my students gain their voice and build their understanding of mathematics, but that part will be for another story. I had always used technology with my students before, but this Grade 11 Math class and Pear Deck was definitely one of the memorable breakthroughs.
Derek: Since I was a kid I’ve been invested in learning how and more importantly why things work. This led me down a path of design and multiple iterations. It wasn’t until I was able to share this approach with students and see their response to it that I understood the power technology can have on them. I love the way technology makes learning accessible for all learners. The feedback I’ve received from the students themselves transcends most of what I’ve done in the classroom. I love when students start to believe in themselves and realize how amazing they are.
Doug: Now that you have moved into these current positions, you see and experience all kinds of applications of technology in the classroom. What would you describe as the most inspirational experience you’ve seen?
Emily: The best practice of technology, in my opinion, is when that technology works together to connect students to a larger community. Whether it is a computer science class out of Hamilton, Ontario creating app that solve a problem or the power of students creating a keyboard in their native language, technology has the power to connect us. Allowing classes to explore the world through virtual reality or connecting to an expert in the subject they are learning, I am most inspired when students see their learning beyond the four walls of the classroom.
Derek: While I’m not trying to couch my response it’s difficult to select one thing because each individual has different needs and things adapt and change over time. That being said my wife is an occupational therapist and always reminds me that the most powerful tools are ones that inspire and create opportunity or increased independence for the user. The things that inspire me are creations which help others through empathic design. When students reach out to people within their community (and beyond) to solve a genuine problem it provokes an emotional response. This gives true purpose to their work.
Doug: What areas of technology use do you feel education isn’t doing a good enough job with? What can be done to change this?
Derek: I feel as though education is doing well in terms of technological implementation. One potential bottleneck is the allocation of resources. Throughout my travels I’ve noticed there is often a lack of equitable distribution. I am excited for what the future holds especially in terms of machine learning, mixed reality, and big data/analytics.
Doug: Today, people have multiple devices at their fingertips and I imagine that you’re no different. What’s your favourite go-to piece of technology?
Emily: Lately it has been my Google Home. I don’t know if I would be able to cook without it anymore! From ‘OK Google, set a 5 minute timer’ to ‘What’s the next step’ in a recipe, she usually has the answers I need. I also love the ability to play music (and of course Netflix) from asking a simple question.
Derek: I’m sure my wife would say my phone as it seems like we are permanently tethered to our devices at times but my maker side would advocate for my soldering iron or 3D printers. It’s more of a creation space which supports the notion of producing over consuming.
Doug: I envy the opportunities that you have in your positions. What’s the next big event on your calendar?
Emily: We have lots of different events coming up (edtechteam.com/Canada). Working with Adult Education teachers up in Barrie and working with Board Office staff in Kitchener are two Ontario based ones on the horizon!
Derek: This week our team is off to Connect in Niagara Falls and then I’m flying out to Thunder Bay to work with a school board. There are lots of exciting things on the horizon!
Doug: Will we see you at the Bring IT, Together Conference in Niagara Falls in November?
Emily: Bring IT, Together is the conference that got this all started for me. I always do my best to attend.
Derek: This is one of my favourite events of the year so if I have any say yes! Pending any unforeseen events we’ll be there…let’s grab a beverage!
Doug: It was great to have both of you for the interview and also at Owen Sound. Thanks you so much.
Make sure that you follow Emily and Derek on social media:
This post is part of a series where I interview interesting people to find a little more about them or their passions. You can see all of my interviews at https://dougpete.wordpress.com/interviews