This Week in Ontario Edublogs


It’s the first week of July.  That’s always nice.  If things would just warm up, it would be even better!  While waiting, check out these recent posts from some Ontario Educators.


Makerspace, Inquiry and Minecraft – Enrichment and Innovation Centre

Zoe Branigan-Pipe took her wisdom and expertise south to the ISTE Conference in Philadelphia.

Ever notice that this “international” conference is never held on July 4?  There’s no qualms about part of it being on July 1 though.

Anyway, Zoe teases us with what she plans to cover in her session.  Hopefully, there’s a followup post coming to let us know how it went.


The Microsoft OneNote Project – Ensuring Success For All Students

There are all kinds of people sharing information about the use of Google Apps for Education online.  I’ve mentioned before how there’s a real shortage of ideas and tips for those who use the Microsoft equivalent.  Diana Mancuso shares a list of ways that OneNote helps students.  Part of the list appears below – go to the original post to see the rest.

It should be noted that the blog post was sponsored by Microsoft Canada.

Near the bottom, she shares a link to the TDSB Assistive Technology Blog.  This looks like a great resource and worthy of bookmarking.


I’m Sorry!

Well, at least we now know that Aviva Dunsiger is not perfect.

Could there be a place with more “ears” than a school?

Comments get shared quickly among students and staff and, of course, often the original message gets lost.  I’m sorry to hear that this happened to anybody but Aviva’s post is a reminder that our reputation and self-worth can be hurt so quickly with just a short comment or action.


Regrets, We’ve All Had a Few

Of all the years that I’ve known, David Fife, I didn’t know that he was a musician.  In this post, David shares his thoughts about not keeping up with his music.

That really struck home with me.  I wanted to play the guitar in Grade 2.  The only problem was that my fingers weren’t long enough to go around the neck of the guitar.  So, my parents bought me lessons on a steel guitar.  For about the next 8 years, I learned every country and western and Hawaiian song ever made.  When I hit high school, I most certainly lost interest.  I haven’t lost the guitar though.  It’s made every move that I’ve ever made.  I might just pick it up and see if I still have that ol’ twang.


A Voice for My Students

Vilma Manahan was a new blogger that I discovered this past week.

The first post really struck a note with me.  It’s a collection of notes from the students written to her.  It’s an opportunity for the students to visit them over the summer and take part of a summer challenge that she’s posed to the students.  It will be interesting to follow up in the fall to see if it worked.  In the meantime, the notes are just awesome to read.  Student voice can be so powerful.


As always, this has been just a wonderful collection of posts from Ontario Edubloggers. Please take the time to read them in their entirety.  If you’re taking an AQ course this summer and creating your own blog, please take a moment to let me know at the form provided.

This Week in Ontario Edublogs


For many, this is the first day of the summer vacation.  Congratulations.  I hope that you’re kicking back and reading this with a coffee about 10am.  Here are some interesting posts from around the province I read this past week.


What social media are you on and what does it say about you?

How times have changed.  I can’t even picture my mother or father sitting in on a job interview.  After all, in the good old days, you went to the interview.  The interview didn’t come to you.

Check out Jennifer Casa-Todd’s post as she reveals how modern technology brought the interview into her house.  I can completely empathize with her struggle balancing teacher and parent.


Throwing Out Grades Isn’t a New Concept #ttog

I had to smile at Brian Aspinall’s post and thoughts about grades.  It reminded me of the legend that I was made aware of my first year teaching.  The folklore was this teacher never marked anything and didn’t keep a mark book.  When it was time to enter marks, he called each student to stand in front of him – he looked them over and then wrote down a number.  Truth or no truth?  Yanking the strings of a first year teacher?  I’m not sure but I enjoy remembering it.

Once Brian gets rolling in the post, he draws an interesting parallel between Physical Education and Mathematics.

He asks – why should the assessment be different?


Summer – My Time to Learn

Despite what you might read in these times of teacher bashing, summer time for teachers isn’t eight weeks of sun bathing.  It’s a time for professional work and professional learning at a pace that is self-determined.

In this post, Nicole Beuckelare shares what her summer priorities will be.

I hope that she enjoys success with her goals and, when you read her post, you’ll know why we’ll all benefit from her learning.


Making it work

I really enjoy reading posts like this.  It’s humbling and motivating to realize that, despite whatever set of skills I may have, there are others that have more.  For the eternal learner, it’s like waving a red flag in front of a bull.

Helen DeWaard shows some of her learning in this post.

I’ve always thought that everyone should build on their skill set.  I remember computer contact meetings where there would always be a sharing of what folks or others in their schools had been doing.  Every little bit builds more confidence and abilities.  Before long, you look at the mass of learning and you have a pretty decent portfolio of skills.


Puzzling

I’ll confess, the title sucked me in.  I like a good puzzle and James Hewett’s opening link takes you to a puzzle that’s been tossed around quite a bit lately.  But, what caught my attention was the list of iPad applications that he’s asked the students not to delete.

You’ll have to visit his post to see the entire list.  It’s always interesting to see the collection that people use in the classroom.

It’s great to see Green Screen on the list – so much can be done with that application in so many differing areas.


Camera Case & Pads of Paper Weigh In

The teacher part of this 3 Act lesson from Kyle Pearce sounds absolutely deadly.

But, once you get past that and get to the actual activity, it sounds like a great deal of fun and you can certainly see how engaging it would be for students.  I really like the questions that he poses to extend the learning.


Liking life

This quote from Paul Cornies’ blog attributed to Maya Angelou is an absolute feel-good thought to help close off the school year.

You’ve got to feel good about yourself after reading that.


Such an inspiring collection of learning, thinking, and sharing again this week.  Please find the time to click through and support these bloggers.  You can check out the entire collection here and certainly add yourself using the form if you’re not already on the list.

Have a wonderful summer.

Voting Results Today


The Magna Carta was signed on June 15, 1215.  It laid out so many things about democracy that we just take for granted these days.

I remember studying it in elementary school.  It wasn’t the sort of thing that appealed to all students but I had a curious interest in it.  Perhaps that was a precursor to the fascination that I have with the British monarchy.  Maybe it was the fact that something that was drafted so long ago could have such an impact on the development of Canada as a country.

Possibly the worst thing that today’s politician could be accused of would be to break the intent and be seen to or actually operate above the law of the land.

As I was doing my morning read, I found a number of articles making reference to the Magna Carta.  It makes sense; if you do the math it’s 800 years since the original signing and you know how we like birthdays.

In particular, I focused on this article.  “Internet ‘Magna Carta’ vote launched by British Library“.  When I first read the title, I thought that it was going to be a clause by clause analysis of the document and then have it crowd sourced or something.  I couldn’t have been more wrong!

As it turns out, this is a project from the British Library titled “My Digital Rights“.  The project is intent to build a “Magna Carta for the Digital Age“.

Given the importance of the Magna Carta to society, it does seem like a real natural.  The British Library has the entire website devoted to the project.  In it, you’ll find videos, themes and resources appropriate for the classroom.  Of course, there are also a collection of teaching resources.

The site is also collecting student votes for an internet “Bill of Rights” using the Magna Carta and its anniversary as a launchpad.

What’s intriguing is that most “Rules for the Internet” are top down driven by teachers, schools, or school districts.  Here the end user will have their say.  The parallels are almost scary.

It’s an interesting concept and the anniversary certainly sets the stage for the project.

The results from the student voting are supposed to be released today.  I wonder what will make the list?  Privacy?  Safety?

Mindsets


“The attention span of your average teenager is now over.”

The above was a great quote from a friend of mine that has just sort of stuck in my mind.  It’s just one of those cutesy things that grabs your attention and makes you smile if you’re a teacher and maybe a little angry if you’re a teenager.  Or not, if they lose interest.

It’s the phrase that I always used on the first night of my Computer Science teachable course.  My audience was students who wanted to be qualified with Computer Science as a qualification.  By themselves, they were all highly successful in university, some with Bachelor and Master Degrees with a concentration in Computer Science or, at least, have taken a number of courses in the discipline.  For me, it’s a nerdy dream come true.  My ideal class and I always enjoy teaching it.

In the course, they have to sit through 4 or 5 sessions with me before they go out for their first real classroom experiences.  In that time, I do my best to take them back to Grade 10 or 11 and demonstrate how to teach the essential teaching concepts.  It involves a great deal of manipulatives, grouping, manipulating, diagramming, documenting, etc.  We do eventually get to a bit of coding.  One thing that I learned that frustrated me was the amount of pushback that I received from them for this approach.  Unsurprisingly, their model of teaching Computer Science was from their university professors and their mindset was that teaching was just a matter of taking that approach and replicating it.  Sit down and read my Powerpoint slides.  However, attendance is taken and they have to force themselves to sit through my examples.

As they leave for their practicum, I give them my email address and it always happened.  Either through email during their two weeks out or the first week back where we would devote the first hour to debriefing (blowing off steam), the message was the same “Sir, now we get it”.  “We have to change our way of thinking about how best to teach the concepts for these kids.”

Well, my work here is done.

It’s very interesting to follow what happens after the course.  Many were fortunate enough to land teaching jobs and they do stay in touch.  Each course had its own private wiki where all of the classroom resources created were shared with them.  They still log in and poke around. 

It’s wonderful to see the amazing things that they’re now doing and their students most certainly benefit from their efforts.  Even those that didn’t get Computer Science teaching jobs have made the use of technology make amazing things happen.  Now, before my ego makes my head explode, my role wasn’t all that spectacular.  They had it in them and just needed to change their thoughts to make the magic happen.

Earlier this week, I had shared another of Sylvia Duckworth’s wonderful sketchnotes.

It was a collection of mindset statements based upon the work of Carol Dweck.  Based on my post, it had spurred the blogpost from Aviva Dunsiger
My Concerns With The Growth Mindset” and Brian Aspinall had written previously about his thoughts of two students “The Fixed Mindset of Student A & Student B“.  What I particularly liked about this whole thing was the exchange of ideas and challenging of assumptions from professional educators.  The more we question and challenge, the closer we get to fully understanding things.  Brian’s post describes two opposite students which I hope were contrived.  I can’t believe that any student is completely one way or the other.  It’s my belief that we all are an amalgam of these differing thoughts and approaches.  That’s why it’s so puzzling to be a teenager.

In education, we love theories to explain the unexplainable.  But, sometimes, we leap to a conclusion only to find that the conclusion moved and that we were wrong.

I wish I still had this book to make the reference but I recall reading a text at university about “bluebirds” and “buzzards” to describe students.  Hmmm.

I once worked with a person who had gone to a training session about Edward de Bono’s Thinking Hats.  Before a big presentation, she asked and we participated as crash test dummies for her work.  I still remember her statement of assumptions going into the exercise.  In particular, she noted that “Doug would be very concrete and sequential” because of his work with computers and helping people solve problems.  I’ll bet that he’s a white or blue hat.  She was quite surprised that green percolated to the top.  I was pleased, not only because green is my favourite colour, but it acknowledged that I was something more than the nerdy, computer guy that my school board had hired to do a certain job.  In fact, I would hazard a guess that most people who work so intensely with computers are like that in order to create something new or to go beyond a road block that would stop others.

Regardless, it disturbed me that a theory (and this is but one of them) could be used to categorize me in the eyes of others.  When you think about it, the educational path is littered with theories and ideas that well-intentioned people have created but never did the job perfectly.  Some were created by researchers searching for the concepts and, sadly, some are created by presenters/speakers who do their thing for a living and will charge you money to come and hear their latest money making scheme theory.

There’s a danger in hanging your hat on one particular theory that may well end up being disproved later.  Open minds are so helpful.

I think that this is why the concept of mindset is so intriguing to me.  It doesn’t attempt to classify students.  Instead, it takes a look at a particular statement or mindset and helps them develop an alternative.  For the teacher, working with students and helping them find the alternative is the recipe for success.  You can call it differentiated instruction or student choice, but the power of the approach lies in identifying the fixed approach and helping meld it into something that will help to engage and include the student, hopefully resulting in more satisfaction in learning. 

After all, isn’t that was teaching is all about?

You might find this research report interesting.  “Changing Mindsets“.

This Week in Ontario Edublogs


When you take a course, learning does get tedious.  Most of the time, you know what’s next or can make a pretty good guess.  That’s helpful if you’re the type that likes to work ahead.  But when you’re learning by reading blogs, you never know where your next source of wisdom will surface.  Here’s some of what I tucked away from Ontario Educators this past week.


Being Gifted.. Poetry from Young People

Zoe Branigan-Pipe published a Google Slideshow of poetry from some of the Gifted students that she worked with.  I’ll admit that it was fascinating reading and worked my way through them slowly.  The students really shared some interesting insights.

She’s putting it all together into a book and there’s a link there for others to contribute and get involved.  I like the concept – call for crowd sourcing by seeding with some examples and then taking flight.  I hope that it works out for her and her students.


My Concerns With The Growth Mindset
The Fixed Mindset of Student A & Student B

Aviva Dunsiger stirred the pot, as she often does, by commenting on the Sketchnote from Sylvia Duckworth that I’d included earlier in the week in a blog post.

She particularly focuses in on the use of what she calls “Edu-lingo”.  That did generate a smile here since, without all this lingo, researchers and consultants leading workshops would be out of business.  Heck, bloggers would be too, I suspect.

I think that her concerns have an element of legitimacy to them and many educators feel the same although don’t use social media to share them.  In her post, she brings in a previous post from Brian Aspinall where he uses Student A and Student B to demonstrate what he sees as the difference between the two types of mindsets.  I get what he was trying to demonstrate but I see a danger in viewing/labelling students this way.  I don’t believe that any student completely fits the description that he calls Student A or Student B.  I think I need to flesh out my thoughts a little deeper than this and will probably do so this weekend.

If the terms “Fixed” and “Growth” really are offensive, then I would recommend going back to the original sketchnote and covering them with your finger.  Just read from each column.  I would then deny any educator to question the message.


Don’t Raise Your Hands Students

I had read the article, from Australia, on the same day as David Fife.  I immediately thought – Bueller?  Bueller?

This method has created some controversy and I can understand why. On the surface it does seem a bit extreme. The intent behind it may have some merit, but will it really help the struggling student, or will it just discourage them even more.

I think that the concept sends an important message beyond the simple raising of hands.  It digs into effective teaching practice.  I’m thinking of the huge (800) class sizes at university.  You didn’t ask questions – the prof might not know, the students were there because they forced, nobody liked being booed and hissed at for prolonging the agony.  The message was quite clear; save your questions for the grad student who runs the smaller study sessions.  The interaction there was far more effective because of the smaller, personalized groupings.

As a profession, we’ve tried all kinds of ways to make the traditional approach work and come to the conclusion that formal lecturing just doesn’t work for everyone.

Today, most teachers work in an environment where you do many things other than lecturing to a full class.  We know that it works better for all kinds of reasons.

In the comments, Sue Bruyns links to this as further evidence of how raising hands works – Instructional Strategies: Raising Hands in Class and the Outlier Effect.  It’s a good read and really extends David’s original thoughts.


Duty Calls

I’ll open this comment on Shaun Grant’s post with his concluding paragraph.

This is one of the best bait and switch posts I’ve read in some time.  I’ll admit, Grant, that you had me suckered in with your original thoughts and premise.  It’s a good read for all educators and then you need to draw your own conclusions.


I’ll bet you never saw all this learning coming.  Click through and read the entire thoughts from these great blog posts.  Thanks again, Ontario Edubloggers.

This Week in Ontario Edublogs


Thinking and sharing never stops with Ontario Edubloggers.  Here’s some of what I read this past week.


Collaborating and Reflecting with Colin @colinjagoe

If you have to create a list of look-fors for the 21st Century educator, the terms “collaborate” and “reflect’ would most certainly make the list and Jamie Reaburn Weir worked them both into the title of this blog post.  That certainly makes it a required read.  As a co-chair of the Bring IT, Together conference, it really warms the heart to see success fall from the learning opportunities it gave.  In this case, Jamie indicates that this match happened during Ron Canuel’s keynote address.

She reflects on six issues from her experience.  When was the last time you took a risk?


Dealing with Stress – A Finished Yearbook Helps

The end of the school year is a stressful time.  With the current Ontario situation, it’s a great deal more stressful than normal.  Add to that all of the other curricular things that teachers do beyond the regular classroom and that six letter word takes on a new meaning.  I can sort of identify with Diana Maliszewsk’s feeling.  The end of the year does have its deadlines and there are no extensions.

But, I can’t fully appreciate it.  My background is in the secondary school panel and the yearbook was a task taken on by Grade 12 students.  I just got to enjoy hearing them work in the room next to my classroom all the time.  As Diana writes about in this post, it’s a whole different ball game in an elementary school.


Living in the Tension

Sue Dunlop talks about the same topic, only uses the word “tension” instead of “stress”.

I’m mindful that everyone is living it these days.  Sue specifically makes reference to leaders and that definitely includes all in the profession.  Everyone leads within their own sphere of influence.

Last evening, I participated in the #ONedchat and there were two participants who reported that they had received notices of being surplus.  That adds just another level to the discussion and I certainly hope that administrative leaders recognize the tension and acknowledge that success will only happen when everyone is pulling in the same direction.

Ambiguity. Uncertainty. Not knowing.


Doing not just saying…Leading by Example

Earlier this week, I had been inspired by the writings of Sue Waters and Sue Bruyns.  In the case of Sue Bruyns, she had completed a blogging challenge and it inspired at least one of the teachers in her district to write a blog post about leadership.  In this case, Ryan Matthews looked at the efforts of his leader and then looked at the students in his charge.  The post about modelling leadership is interesting and should give everyone a chance to pause and think.  Are you modelling what you want others to do?  If not, why not?


Genius Hour Blogs

I stumbled across this message from Heather Theijsmeijer on Twitter.

It led me to a class set of blogs.

What a great concept to have them all lined up in one place.

Could you replicate the concept in your class?


Looking for the [Student] Learning Intention

This just in…

I had already posted this when I got notice that Donna Fry had blogged this.  She makes reference to a video by Andy Hargreaves about Innovation without Improvement.

I know that researchers gotta research and Donna tied her look at enthusiastic amateurs into the message from the video.  Initiatives are nothing new in education.  How many times have you sat at a school meeting or department/division meeting and heard “this year, we’re going to do this”?

I think times have certainly changed and I applaud those loud amateurs.  Quite frankly, I’d like to see anyone who has got it right.  In fact, I think that the more that you know, the more refined your practice gets and the more you realize there are other things to learn.  Social media amplifies that voice.  Previously, it was only within the school  – and latching onto a like mind can be difficult.  Now, you’re just a blog post or Twitter message or mailing list message away from a connection that will help.  We know that not all attempts will be successful.  But, you can’t knock people for trying.

Unlike my psychologist’s recommendations, I think we should listen to those voices.

Donna absolutely nails it in her post:

 We are all on the path of learning as we integrate the use of technology into our school system.  However, at all times, student learning must be at the centre of our practice.

You shouldn’t have to go it on your own.  We have subject associations in this province.  What are they doing to help?


Speaking of Subject Association, I received a request from Peter Beens.  He’s trying to collect information about Ontario Educators’ are aware of their subject associations.  He’s asking for your input by completing this short survey.  Please take a moment to complete the survey and share it with colleagues.  If you forget the acronym, the complete list is available here.


What another nice collection of offerings from Ontario Edubloggers.  Please take a few moments to read these great posts in their entirety.

An Interview with Jennifer Aston


One of the really neat people that have helped me with divergent perspectives on social media is Jennifer Aston.  She’s an instructional coach with the Thames Valley District School Board and amplifies her work there online with social media.  It’s this amplification that takes me into different areas and I appreciate that.

JULGBoPV_400x400.jpeg

Doug:  Normally, I start my interviews by asking where we’ve first met face to face.  In this case, I don’t recall that we’ve actually met.  Correct?

Jennifer: We have not had the chance to meet yet, but I hope that we do one day! Hopefully in November at BIT2015. I hope this isn’t too forward but you are part of my morning routine. My “early riser” PLN tweeps. I often read the articles that you forward via Twitter with my morning coffee. Especially on Fridays with your “Best of Ontario Educator Blogs”.


Doug:  Whew!  I would have hated not to have remembered!  Now, your blog lists your name was Jennifer but on social media, I’ve always known you as Jen.  Can I call you Jen?


Jennifer: Of course.

Doug:  OK, Jen it is.  Tell us a little bit about your job as an instructional coach.

Jen:  This is my second year as an Instructional Coach with the TVDSB.  In our current model, there are 34 of us serving every single school in Thames Valley.  I don’t have a particular subject in which I specialize, I work with teachers in all subject areas K-8.  At the moment, I’m working in two French Immersion schools (that is my background) and two rural Public Schools.  Three of the schools are in the St. Thomas area and one is in downtown London.

Partnering with an Instructional Coach is up to the teacher and by invitation.  The work between a teacher and coach sort of follows the “Plan”, “Act”, “Reflect” cycle. When I first meet with a teacher, I try to do more listening than talking and ask the right questions to help guide our work together.  Next, entails either me watching the teacher teach and giving them feedback, co-planning and co-teaching together, or modelling an instructional strategy while the teacher observes. Sometimes once, sometimes for a longer period of time.  Afterwards, we debrief and talk about what we learned and what next steps would be of benefit to the students.

My job involves meeting the teacher where they are at. I think that over time, teachers have realized that I’m not judging them or evaluating them, and that I’m just interested in learning together. We focus on improving student learning. I help them figure out their best next step.

I’m also a part of a lot of professional learning networks and board initiatives involving teachers at my schools. I meet with administrators regularly to talk about school goals and instructional strategies.

I feel lucky to have this job, but I miss having my own classroom and students.  I do look forward to going back one day.  I’ve committed to another year of coaching, we can coach for up to 4 years.

Doug:  How does that differ from the learning technologies consultant that I used to work with at Thames Valley?  I fondly remember working with Cliff Kraeker

Jen:  Sometimes my work involves consulting with our consultants (we call them Learning Coordinators).  They are more specialized and have more expertise than I do.  I’ve developed great relationships with people in all kinds of different departments and I enjoy that collaboration as well. When I am stumped, I go to the learning coordinators for an answer if I can’t figure out something with the teacher, or if I need someone to help me clarify my thinking, suggest a good book, tell me what the research is saying or even just talk it out. They like to hear what I’m observing too.

Doug:  Do you have a family of schools or does your reach extend all over the District?

Jen: I’m working at Southwold PS, Sparta PS, Pierre Elliott Trudeau FIPS and Lord Roberts FIPS.  I currently serve approximately 120 teachers and 2100 students.  I have wonderful coaching colleagues in Elgin and we are very supportive of each other. All 34 of the Instructional Coaches have a conference board where we can ask each other questions, collaborate and investigate together or share resources.

Doug:  If I asked you what your current pet project in any of your schools was, what would you say?

Jen: Oh boy, I have too many at the moment!  Currently, the Blue-Green Algae issue in Lake Erie is one that I’m concerned about.  I started investigating it back in 2011 after an article I read with my students.  There’s also a great video by David Suzuki called “Save My Lake” which deepened my understanding.  It’s something I’ve been tracking and that has multiple ties in Social Studies and Science in a variety of different grades. What I like about the issue is that it’s not all “doom and gloom”.  Lake Erie made a comeback before.  There are lots of different perspectives and levels of government and agencies that need to work together.  It’s not enough to learn about something, what action can you take?

I’m a bit of an idealist – what if one of our kids comes up with the solution?

Doug:  If a reader of this blog was interested in the details of the project, could they find them online?

Jen: Absolutely, here is the file folder that I created for a recent TVDSB “STEAM” conference presentation.

https://docs.google.com/a/thamesvalleymail.ca/folderview?id=0B2NPsKnlj2YoWjZreDc2T2JlVlU&usp=docslist_api

Doug:  In addition to your day job, you and Dawn Telfer moderate the #fslchat.  What got you interested in that?

Jen: When I first started working at Dawn’s school, it didn’t take me long to realize what a wealth of knowledge she is. She was a huge help as I got started and is a truly amazing teacher librarian. We soon realized that we were both on Twitter, passionate about the value of a second language and love talking tech.  We started researching together, asking around about existing language chats and participating in #langchat. Then we decided to start our own. I remember our first chat. It was Dawn, myself and one other person. We felt a bit embarrassed, but we had a vision and kept plugging away it and thankfully it grew! We’ve been fortunate to have some great supporters including Sylvia Duckworth, who just mentioned us amongst other language chats in Professionally Speaking.

I think we realize that teaching French whether it’s in Immersion or Core French is a specialized thing. On top of that, I think there are lots of Core French teachers that may be working in isolation and we were hoping to help them develop connections with other teachers.  It was really about building an online community of French teachers. What I love the most about it is that it’s less about Dawn and I and is starting to take on a life of it’s own.  We realize it would not be what it is without the people that contribute to it. Our vision is to get it to the point where it would run without us.

Doug:  How do you get regular ideas to keep the chat fresh and interesting?

Jen:  Our first year was easy.  There was a new Ontario curriculum that people were exploring and a wealth of topics came out of that.  This year, we’ve been asking for input from participants and many of our regulars are even guest hosting. We occasionally survey or just informally ask at the end of a chat.

Doug:  How many people would you have participating on any given week?  Are they mostly Ontario Educators?

Jen:  It ranges between ten and twenty participants.  Most of the teachers are from Ontario, but we also have chatters from Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Alberta and British-Columbia.

Doug:  If you were to sell the concept of the #fslchat to a non-participating FSL teacher, what would be your pitch?

Jen:  Come and get energized and inspired by some amazing French educators.

Doug:  You’ve recently become very engaged in coding/programming instructions.  As a former computer science teacher, that’s obviously very near and dear to my heart.  What’s your specific interest?

Jen: I have to credit Brian Aspinall with this one.  I was listening during a #csk8 chat and asked him where I should get started. I was forwarded and challenged to try a tutorial video and accepted.  As I worked, I immediately realized the value in it.  Next I tried some of the code.org tutorials with my 8 year old daughter.  I see so much valuable thinking skills and learning skills.  And kids are totally engaged.  Lisa Floyd was offering sessions for coaches and learning coordinators at TVDSB and I attended her session and saw how it connects to robotics and all the different languages there are to learn. Generally, I’m interested in learning languages. I think that coding language may be a choice for students in the future.  I’m exploring how learning to code is the same or different than learning a second language.  What metacognitive strategies are the same or different? How can you marry the two?

Doug:  Have you ever created a program or script for your own specific purpose?

Jen:  I have to admit that I’m a relative newbie to coding. So far, I’ve played around in code.org and in scratch.mit.edu.  I have to credit Austin Gagnier with my Scratch knowledge through his #csforstudents tutorials. I like making math visible through coding – making shapes and playing with equations.  My next step is moving from blocks to trying Python or Java and playing around with Scratch for Arduino this summer.

Doug:  Where do you see coding/programming fitting into your day job?

Jen:  Well, by now I’ve got a pretty good rapport with the teachers and students that I work with. I know a few teachers that might be interested and that are open to learning new things and I’ll gently try and weave it into the conversation. Or, just not so subtly flat out ask them!  This is a time of year when teachers seem more willing to try something new. So I have a few takers.

Earlier this year, I ran a coding club for Grade 3 students briefly at one of my schools. But I could not sustain it on my own. I’ve coded with a Grade 2 class, a couple of Grade 7 classes, a Grade 8 class and with a Grade 6 class pretty soon. Sometimes my approach is “can we try something?” which works well.

Sometimes taking a risk and trying something together works out well.  Other times if it fails. It’s easier to fail with someone else and figure out why.

Ultimately, I need to have an open stance to learning new things.  Modeling this for our students and for other teachers is really important.

Doug:  You’ve really embraced social media.  In particular, I’m incredibly impressed with your #fsl Sharing resource.  

https://drive.google.com/folderview?id=0BzLADYfqmhwdRTZ3WDhySkROUVk&usp=docslist_api&ddrp=1#

What’s the story behind this?

Jen:  I think this was Dawn’s idea. Or it might have been one of the chat participant’s ideas.  I read “Drive” by Daniel Pink last summer and did some reflection about open source sharing. I think I started one on my own, but it didn’t take off.  Dawn revived it and got the community participating more. I think that we have to be flexible and use what others are using. Curation is important too. We have to go with the flow… I’m learning to “Storify” the chat and posting to a Google Plus community that was created by one of our participants.  David Fife, who is a VP in my area has shown me a new platform involving Twitter and opening up the possibility of video chats. Dawn and I are meeting to check it out this week and might try it before the end of the year. I like to try new things and form my own opinions of them.

Doug:  And, you’re a regular blogger at https://jaston.edublogs.org/  What’s your motivation to blog?

Jen:  My supervisor Susan Bruyns and Cliff Kraeker.  Sue first mentioned it to me in a meeting we were having after starting the Instructional Coach role.  My reaction was kind of “meh… I’m good with 140 characters”.  Later, Cliff offered a session for coaches on blogging.  He was really passionate about it. Sue was in attendance too. During the session she mentioned that as Instructional Coaches, we have a unique perspective that needs to be shared. When it became less about me and more about giving something clicked.  Having a supervisor that is on Twitter, blogs regularly and keeps current on tech trends is motivating. I’m glad that so many people in leadership positions at TVDSB are tweeting and modelling being connected in education.

Doug:  Where do you get ideas for blogging content?

Jen:  I get a majority of my ideas through the work that I do with teachers and students.  Sometimes, an idea comes after a conversation with an administrator where I am asked some good probing questions. I’m often reflecting on my drives to and from St. Thomas and in between schools. Because I’m not specialized in one area, I think about connections and common ideas I see in multiple subjects. It just sort of builds up and then I just know when it’s time to write and sort it out online.  It’s rather cathartic. Sometimes I have to live with the blog for a few days before hitting the publishing button. It’s still terrifying at times.

Doug:  Have you had success as an instructional coach in getting others to blog?

Jen:  I’m working on it. Dawn and I collaborated on a blog last year. That led to her blogging about the transformation of her library to a learning commons.  As I am sitting here, I’m already thinking about ripping off this idea and interviewing some of my #fslchatters via my blog.  Perhaps they would get the blogging bug that way too…

Doug:  You’re also a proud mother.  Does your enthusiasm for social media (and technology) spillover at home?

Jen:  I am a proud mum. I’ve got two amazing, articulate, strong, spirited and creative girls.  But my husband and I are pretty strict about screen time. We have CBC radio on a lot and my kids will act out a “Debaters” episode. They were ridiculously excited to go to the CBC building in Toronto hoping they might meet Steve Patterson. They love bagpipe music thanks to my husband’s influence.

The girls know that I post picture of them on Facebook, but never on Twitter. They have really limited iPad or TV time at our house. I don’t think they fully understand social media yet. They are often outside, building stuff, exploring, making up games, drawing, reading etc. My husband also loves Twitter, but he uses his for more political reasons. We use it for different purposes.

I know the day will come though. It’s important that I model how to use it positively.

We’re going to be coding together this summer though!  I do test out apps with them to see how easy they are to use and get their opinions.

Doug:  Thank you so much for taking the time for this interview.  We now have so much more to talk about if we ever do get a chance to meet.

Jennifer is online with Twitter at:  https://twitter.com/jen_aston  Give her a follow and check out her blog at https://jaston.edublogs.org/.  And, if the idea of a chat about FSL intrigues you, get involved #fslchat Sundays, 9-10pm.