Hour of Code 2014 (Reblog)

The Hour of Code for 2014 is coming.  Teachers and students from all over will be using classroom tools to get a flavour for what coding/programming is all about.

There’s no one language that we’ve come to agreement on that would be perfect.  So, we’re all over the map with this one!  Choose one and do it well.

To help the cause, great people all over the web have been building activities and tutorials that will take one hour-ish to complete.  Hopefully, it doesn’t stop there and the coding activities and skills inspire great things to happen from this experience.  Computer Science is a wonderful discipline that opens so many doors.  It’s tough to believe that any student wouldn’t want to have an awareness of it with the chance of going into it big time.

On social media, I had been resting on my laurels because I had assembled some resources for last year’s event.  It occurred to me that the digitally responsible person would check the links for things that have gone away and be on the lookout for new resources.  That was the task yesterday.

I’m happy to announce and share the latest, greatest, up to datest, all links verified as of November 24, 2014, version.

Thanks to my digital friend Sue, in addition to the Learnist and Pearltree collections that I had last year, I create a Flipboard magazine with my new found abilities.  Thanks, Sue.  Links to them all appear below.  (They all point to the same resources; I just wanted to use a few tools)

I hope that you find these resources useful and that one or two of them might make it into your classroom for the Hour of Code, December 8-14, 2014.

p.s. if you have a favourite resource that isn’t included, shoot me the link and I’ll get it added.

p.p.s.  After I posted this, I realized that I might be visiting Brian Aspinall’s classroom today.  So, I whipped up another resource – this time using his excellent NKWiry resource.

Don’t Let The Good Stuff Go Away

As the school year comes to the end, I thought that I would share the post below.  It’s abot one of my favourite blogging utilities – BlogBooker – and how it’s so useful as things wrap up.  It’s a great way to archive a year’s worth of blogging to share with students, parents, post to your classroom wiki – all in the name of backing up and making a record of this year’s work.  Plus, it can serve as inspiration for next year’s blogging efforts.  There’s nothing like a good example.

As it turns out, when I went looking for this post, I’ve mentioned BlogBooker many times.  You can see all the references here.

Here’s the “Post from the Past” that I’d like to bring forward today.  The original post is from June 26, 2013.

This is another “Post From The Past” that is very appropriate given that we’re approaching the end of the school year here in Ontario.  You and/or your students have been blogging all year.  Will you just abandon your efforts?  Or, will you make a copy of it to save, use as an example, email to parents, give to students to keep, or use for any other of a myriad of purposes?

BlogBooker is an awesome service.  It will take the entire contents of your blog (with a little work) and create a PDF file that you can tuck away or otherwise repurpose so that you don’t lose the effort that went into it’s creation.  Here from August 22, 2010 is my post “To do more with your blog“.

Hey, you might even want to turn it into “A Flipping Blog“!


Yesterday, George Couros asked for a little input through a Twitter message.


My first reaction what that this might be a step backward in the goal of integrating technology for students.  After all, if you have a blog, why would you want to revert to a newsletter format?  In its simplest format, it could be a paper document that’s sent home to parents.

But then, I started thinking.  There are a lot of reasons why it might be desirable to have a blog in newsletter format.  Some that immediately come to mind are:

  1. Not every parent has internet at home for any of a wide variety of reasons;
  2. The blog might be private with only student access for privacy concerns;
  3. Access to blogs might be blocked at school but the teacher blogs from home;
  4. The principal of the school wishes to have paper generated for whatever reason;
  5. The blog might be part of a project where a culminating document detailing everything is desired;
  6. The blog is reset for a new year or new unit or
  7. You just want a copy of your blog in another format …

Yes, upon further review, I can see where there may be reasons for a blog to be in a different format for a specific use.

I think that the other thing about a solution would be that it needs to be easily re-purposed by a teacher to the differing format.  Typically, blogs have considerable effort in their creation and who has the time for yet another creation?

I then thought about BlogBooker.  I had blogged about its use in the past here.  At that point, I was thinking about using it as a way to create a backup for a blog or a permanent record of thoughts.  I’ve actually used it to create a couple of backups of my entire blog.  It works very easily when I want a book of everything (including the graphics and pictures that I embed in posts) but would it do the trick on a more flexible basis?

The procedure is pretty easy.

  1. Export your blog content from your blog  (it’s in XML format but most people wouldn’t care or need to care about the format);
  2. Upload the content to Blogbooker;
  3. Wait a minute of two;
  4. Download your book in PDF format.

Conceivably that PDF could be filed away for posterity or printed if it absolutely had to be.

But, what about content of a shorter duration?  I never really paid close enough attention when I did the steps above to see if it was customizable.  So, I went through the process and actually paid attention this time.

Now, I use WordPress as my host and so went to my dashboard and the export tool.


Well, I’ll be.  There are configuration options!  I can set a start and end date.  In terms of the content, I could choose just the posts or all content.  I’m thinking that just the posts would suit my needs best.  Click on the “Download Export File” button and it’s on my hard drive.  That was easy.  The only limitation that I could see was that the export was done month by month.  Probably not a big issue as the newsletter might well be a monthly one.

Now, it’s over to BlogBooker.

Step one is to let BlogBooker know what type of Blog this comes from.  It supports WordPress, Blogger, and LiveJournal.  That’s a good selection.  Then comes the WOW moment.  There are a huge collection of formatting options for the output.  The preferences are customizable for any purpose.  I elected NOT to use “Footnoted Links” because my blog entries have a great deal of links in them.  If the ultimate goal is to send it to a printer, then you’re not going to want each entry on a separate page, I hope.


Give BlogBooker a few moments and voila!  There’s the nicely formatted book in PDF format that you can download or view right in your browser.  I really like the fact that I could customize further the start/finish dates of the publication and the images are intact.  I really like the concept and it was so simple to do.  Plus, the headers and footers put a nice finishing touch on the whole product.

It even includes pumpkin shirts!


Thanks, George, for the question and the opportunity for me to revisit this very powerful application.  Thanks, also to Aviva and Peter for keeping the conversation going.


This Week in Ontario Edublogs

From a spammer this week…

I know this site gives quality based articles or reviews and other information, is there any other web site which gives these kinds
of data in quality?

Why yes.  Yes, there is.  They’re called Ontario Edubloggers.  If you had looked around, you might have found these blog posts this week.

Make it a Bestseller

Paul Cornies’ blog is always a source for morning inspiration with the quotes that he shares.

On Thursday, he posted a series of quotes and one of them should absolutely be on the walls of every classroom.

Student Scientists: Can you make a rainbow?

I want to be in this class!  Jocelyn Schmidt’s class had the tools and the inquiry desired to make a rainbow in their kindergarten class.  Read this post to see how they did it.

I feel so silly…I go the traditional route and wait for it to rain and then go outside hoping to find one.


In the search for the latest and greatest digital and electronic solutions to everything, mathematics is right in the midst.  Let’s not overlook the traditional games that help learn mathematics concepts.  Mary-Ann Fuduric shares how she uses traditional games like Yahtzee and others work with her students.

After all, games are all about probability, keeping score, patterns, …  Why wouldn’t you use them?

I’ve played them all!  Missing from the list is the wonderful game Mahjongg.

Teach Like A Designer

Andrea Kerr offers a thought provoking post about UDL and how technology can meld with the traditional to create an inclusive learning environment for all students.  To support her thesis, she’s included a pair of videos that really provide some insights.  It’s not a quick read, but I think it’s one well worth the time.

The ultimate goal is important…

The teacher can therefore plan and create a positive classroom environment, free of frustrations, bias, and exclusion.

Now, if our spammer friend would only take the time to look around, he/she/it would definitely be turned on by the thoughts of Ontario Edubloggers!

Check out these posts at the links provided and wander around the complete list.  The Livebinder is shared above but if you’d like the Scoop.it! version, click here.

Thanks so much for those who are blogging and sharing regularly.

Curating Groundhogs

Lest you think that the Super Bowl is the only event today, Wiarton Willie will pop to see his shadow before sitting down in front of the tube.  Here’s a “Post from the Past” about Groundhog Day resources.  Will the day lose its excitement for children because it happens on the weekend or will the activities be rolled into February 3?

In case you missed it the first time around and are looking for Groundhog Day ideas….


It’s pretty hard to keep a secret on the internet when you’re transparent.  That came to bite me this morning.  I’ve been working on something and had a couple of people uncover what I was doing.  One actually tweeted about it.

So, I guess I’ll have to come clean with it.

One of the big events in primary classrooms is Groundhog Day.  All kinds of activities happen in classrooms and crafts, drawings, songs, science, etc. all make the day for the big event.  I’ve always maintained a list of resources for this day that I update.  This year, I thought that I would migrate the otherwise boring website to one of the online sites that I’ve been using to curate things.  But, which one?

I was just monkeying around when Tim happened to stumble on it.  He must have been looking at my Scoopit account and noticed that I had this work in progress.  It’s a collection of my resources for Groundhog Day – scooped.  But, I don’t think he’s seen the others!  I’ve also started to curate the same resources at Pinterest and LiveBinders.  I was looking for the best possible scenario.

This was one of the sites. I have the Scoopit bookmarklet stuck in my bookmarks bar and adding resources was just as easy as going to the page and bookmarking it.  Scoopit identifies images on the page as well as a short descriptor.  To use it, just click the title and you’re at the target site.  For this purpose, Scoopit did a nice job although one of the sites wouldn’t allow the bookmarklet to work.

Pinterest similarly has a bookmarklet for finding and bookmarking resources.  You get to choose up front which of the images will be the face of the pin. Rather than the two column format of Scoopit, Pinterest takes a pin to wall approach so that none of the sites are lined up.  It’s an engaging approach.  Sadly, Pinterest absolutely requires an image on the page in order for the pin to work.  So, not all of the sites ended up getting pinned.  But, find a story that looks good, click it, and you’re there.

LiveBinders takes a different approach.  Instead of giving you one of the catchy images on the target website, you get the entire website embedded in the binder.  The URL is presented at the top and a click leaves the LiveBinder and takes you to the actual website.  Since the actual website is embedded each time, everything that I wanted to include appears in the binder.

In all three cases, there are more resources than would fit on an entire computer screen.  Well, unless you had a big honking screen, I suppose.  Scoopit and Pinterest scroll up and down to see all of the resources.  LiveBinders requires that you click the navigation arrows to move left and right unless you organize the tabs by categories.  I suppose I could have all the Wiarton Willie’s in one tab, the Punxsutawney Phil’s in another, science in another, arts and crafts in another, and so on.

LiveBinders also has the advantage of the presentation mode so that you can visit the sites and not lose the curation page.  That’s handy if you are browsing your way through everything.

Anyway, all three did a nice job of bringing them together into one spot.  Feel free now to use or share with anyone who might take advantage of the resource this Thursday.

Richer Blog Posts

Right now, my blogging editor of choice is ScribeFire which is an extension / addon for Mozilla Firefox or Google Chrome whichever happens to be open when the blogging moment comes along.  Similarly, it is independent on the computer that I’m using – Macintosh, Ubuntu, or Windows.

One of the nice features that ScribeFire had was integration with Zementa.  Zementa is a really unique piece of coding – as you create your post, it looks at your content and suggests images or links based upon the content of what you’re creating.  When I’m done the post, I take a look at the related articles and pick a few and they appear at the bottom of the post.  So, if we go back to my blog post of January 3, it was one of my “This Week in Ontario Edublogs” and I would pick a few of the suggestions and they appear at the bottom of the post, like this…

Related articles

I liked the concept.  It’s like having your own personal research assistant finding articles related to your post.  Some are supportive and some are counter to the topic.  I always figure that it makes the post that much richer by bringing in the related content.

Mysteriously, the feature was remove from Scribefire with no reported reason.  It’s not something to moan about, it’s the perogative of the developer to do what she/he wants to do with their product.

But, WordPress had a similar feature.  So, I got into the habit of writing the post in ScribeFire, posting it, and then loading the post in WordPress itself where I had the choice to add stories from there.

Then, that feature went away too!  Not mysterious this time.  From the WordPress support forums,

Instead, the folks at WordPress are working on their own utility.  At this point, it seems to be searching and finding related content from within the blog itself.

That’s kind of cool.  At least my older posts don’t go unnoticed.

But, I still like the option of choosing my own related articles from a list.  It only took a couple of days until this dummy blogger thought – I’ll bet that Zementa has written an extension / addon for the browser!

Sure enough:

A couple of quick downloads later and I’m back in business.  The format has changed a bit and it actually looks a little like what WordPress is doing with the thumbnails.

I’ll take them both!  My posts are enriched by my own past content and by others on the web.  Who could ask for more?

I wish both of these developers all the best in refining these tools.  They take my own thoughts to a new level with the thinking of other posts.  I know that my proofreaders Sheila and Lisa may not believe this but I do read my own posts and I do enjoy following the related stories.  For the inclusion of a few more clicks, there’s even great content.

(My choice of example above has skewed the results available to me! <grin>  But, it does serve as a good example)


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Minds on Media at #ECOO13

One of the truly unique experiences at #ECOO13 will be the Minds on Media event.  It’s designed to honour the learner and so much can be learned by attending.  It’s entirely hands-on, working with colleagues and a facilitator.  I’ve been part of this even both as a facilitator and a pedagogista so can vouch to the event.  This year’s event features returning facilitators and new ones.

  • Create More, Consume Less: Creation apps and effective use. Angie Harrison,York Region DSB: @TechieAng
  • Tune In To Learn: Broadcasting with your Students – Aviva Dunsiger, Hamilton-Wentworth DSB: @avivaloca
  • Rock Your World: Creating in Garageband for iOS – Royan Lee , York Region DSB: @royanlee
  • Inquiry Science: Tinker. Play. Think. – Colin Jagoe, Kawartha Pine Ridge DSB: @colinjagoe
  • ArcGIS – online & mobile: Mapping & Geography Peter McAsh, Avon Maitland DSB: @pmcash
  • The Sum of the Parts: Constructing and Capturing Conceptual Understanding in Mathematics – MaryKay Goindi, Upper Grand DSB: @MKGoindi
  • Playing with Media Literacy – Michelle Solomon, Neil Andersen, Carol Arcus, The Association for Media Literacy: @msolomonteacher
  • Introducing Kids to Computer Programming. It might be easier than you think … David Scott Upper Grand DSB
  • Building a PLN (Personal Learning Network) – Tim King, Upper Grand DSB: @tk1ng
  • N00bing it up in Minecraft: And how it relates to school- Liam O’Donnell, Toronto DSB: @liamodonnell


Last year, before #ECOO12, I had the opportunity to interview Brenda Sherry and Peter Skillen, the Minds on Media organizers and the genius behind the design for learning that participants will experience.  The interview is reproduced below.

Doug:  Thank you, Brenda and Peter, for the opportunity to dig into your thoughts about education in Ontario and your insights into technology and how best to use it.

In reading both your blogs over the years, I know that you mention great thinkers that have influenced your own thoughts.  If I had to ask you to narrow it to just one, who would it be and why?

Brenda: Oh boy.  This is a difficult question for me because so many thinkers do influence me, including Peter who has been such a great colleague who pushes my thinking.  I’d have to say Seymour Papert and his concept of ‘constructionism’ has definitely influenced my beliefs about how technology can best support learning in socio-constructivist environments.  His views about the value of computational thinking led me to begin programming using MicroWorlds JR in my Grade 1/2 class, and I think this continues to be an overlooked area in educational technology especially with the recent allure of web 2.0 tools.  

Peter: One?! Oh Doug. You’re killing me!  ;-) Marlene Scardamalia & Carl Bereiter (as a team) would have to rise to the top of my list. Their early (and continuing) work on ‘knowledge construction’ and ‘expertise’ has been instrumental in how I frame much of my learning, reading and everyday work. Back then – in the eighties – of course, when people spoke of collaborative construction of knowledge they were seen as a bit loony and the term ‘knowledge co-construction’ was viewed as ‘hoity toity’. Now these concepts are de rigueur and everyone is using them. And with that comes the danger of ‘lexical drift’ where they really lose their original meaning. I would also be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge Brenda for her role in ‘keeping me real’ and in her brilliance in operationalizing much that she and I think and talk about.

Doug:  A few years ago, the two of you were instrumental in rethinking what the ECOO (Educational Computing Organization of Ontario) conference might be.  In fact, Brenda chaired the conference for a few years.  In what direction do you feel you took the conference?

Brenda: We were definitely observing Ontario teachers beginning to synthesize their knowledge of how people learn in the 21st century and the technologies that really leverage deeper learning.  We wanted to share that capacity in a conference for teachers, by teachers.  Our mission has been to inspire people with engaging speakers, to connect them through social media, and to focus on teachers as learners – regardless of their expertise with technology – and therefore we’ve called the conference Inspire. Connect. Learn. for several years now.   Those three words really guide our planning.  

Peter: We wanted to move the conference from a focus on technology to a focus on ‘learning’ and ‘teaching’ enhanced by the affordances of technologies that have infused the lives of kids, teachers and society at large. It is no longer enough to speak about ‘computers in education’ because, as we know, chips are integrated into so many devices and travel in our pockets. Wearable computers are on the horizon. So it is really important for us to think about these things as ‘cognitive partners’ and to also help educators understand that and the ‘other than cognitive’ impacts – the social restructuring of classroom and schools, media literacy, information, attention and mindfulness issues, etc.

Doug:  Where do you think that the conference needs to head in the future?  Can a once a year conference do it or does the whole ECOO organization need a rethink?

Peter: I like the format of the conference. I know it’s cool to think ‘unconference’, ‘conversations’, ‘co-construction’ and ‘crowdsourcing’. I, too, love these constructs and implementations. But, having said that, there are many times when people just love to ‘sit and git’ – as I do when I watch a movie or a concert. I engage differently. I don’t need to be backchanneling then.
Ok folks – lighten up! Don’t dance on me because I am supporting that format. LOL I love all the other too! Goodness knows, I do enough of it. ;-) In fact, I do enough to reflect deeply on the impact of these various forms of interactions – what works when and unintended effects and all.

However, a single conference a year is not enough for ECOO to be doing. ECOO used to be much more. We had mini-conferences across the province. There were Special Interest Groups (SIGs) for elementary, Logo, secondary, etc. We had a journal – the ECOO Output that was distributed to members. We need to do more.

Alas, it is a volunteer organization.

Brenda:  I think Ontario teachers love the chance to be f2f and connect in real-time.  They keep connected after the fact using social media, but I’d have to agree with Peter, once a year is definitely not enough, and networking on twitter provides a good start, but not a place where deeper conversations and sharing can happen.  I hope that the future holds more opportunities for members to become involved in shorter term projects that they are passionate about (I’m thinking subject/topic groups or one-day events here but there are likely many more) either in virtual or physical spaces.  I’d love for ECOO to be able to ‘pull’ those creative ideas and folks into the fold and see what emerges!

(read John Seely Brown’s The Power of Pull for more ideas on transforming organizations)

Doug:  In both your roles now, you see and support educators on a daily basis.  Could you describe how you fill your days doing this?

Brenda:  I’m a technology coach K-12 so I work with teachers who are new to using technology in their classrooms or who have students bringing in their own technology to class (sometimes assistive technology as well).   My work involves helping teachers to begin with their learning goals and then choose technology that will support those goals and work well with the kinds of learners they have and their particular subject area.  I’m hoping to get some teachers connected within our board for discussion, action research and a celebration of effective technology use this year.

Peter: Most of my work with educators these days is in online spaces – sometimes formally through the Powerful Learning Practice and Ontario Teachers’ Federation and sometimes informally through social networks. In both cases, I am learning to use ‘appreciative inquiry’ to draw out of the individuals what they want to learn and how they want to learn it. Then, it’s my role to help them learn that. At the same time, I have my larger educational goals in mind – so it is always a balancing act satisfying both our goals.

Doug:  I’ll put you on the spot.  Who is needier?  Brand new teachers from Faculties of Education or educators with some experience?

Brenda: Tricky question all right!  It’s been my experience that regardless of whether they are new or experienced, teachers who are familiar with cooperative learning or more student-directed learning environments seems to embrace technology quickly as a way to get students collaborating, inviting in experts and unique resources, documenting their learning, and making thinking and discussion visible.   Teachers who are unfamiliar with the shift that is happening towards learning communities where the teacher is there to ‘facilitate’ learning (and learn along with students) rather than to be the transmitter of knowledge need more support.  To me, that’s not a question of technology knowledge, as much as a question about what makes 21st century pedagogy different — what needs to change — both brand new teachers and experienced teachers need to have lots of discussion about this.

Peter: One of the ‘myths’ that Brenda and I talk with people about is this: “When young teachers join the profession, computers will be integrated effectively.” The assumption is that they are ‘digital natives’ and so are awesome with technology. Well, there are a couple of points to note. One is they may be great with ‘socializing’ with computers a la Facebook or Instagram – but they do not likely have tons of skills related to using computers for cognitive gain or for computational reasons – like programming. (Now, I am not saying everybody needs to be a heavy-duty programmer – but, I do believe, as Rushkoff states ‘program or be programmed’. And, as Brenda mentioned Seymour Papert and Logo (MicroWorlds) earlier, I will say that the ability to control the machine at that level allows teachers and students to ‘tiptoe back through their thinking’ as they try to debug their programs.)

The other point to note is that, as mentioned, it is not all about the technology. It is about a philosophy of learning and teaching. It is about how one perceives the world and how one situates oneself. Who is in charge of the learning? If you say, ‘students should be in charge of their learning’, then what do you mean by that? It needs to be unpacked and discussed. It requires that you look at scenarios and where power is located. For example, if students are to be in charge of their own learning can they choose not to do assignments or show up for class on time, and so on? Big questions of authority and self-determination.

Doug:  In the past year, both of you have become involved with the Powerful Learning Practice organization.  That really promotes the concepts of connectivism.  Do you find the principles consistent with your core beliefs?

Brenda:  Yes!  Connectivism is at the heart of the way I do business these days and PLP does promote that.   When I’m asked to coach in a school, for example, it’s not really just me who visits but my whole network, as these are the resources (people and ideas) that I rely upon in order to maneuver effectively through the learning landscape of today’s world.  One of my favourite quotes is by John Holt “Learning is not the product of teaching.  Learning is the product of the activity of learners”.  I do believe that learning in groups can result in a synergy not present in individual settings, that learning is social, and that activity with others is a key part of building knowledge.  Along with that comes a necessary balance of individual reflection….but that’s a whole new discussion!

Peter: I agree that Powerful Learning Practice (PLP) promotes the concepts of connectivism. But, I also see that PLP blends a huge number of current and long-standing theories and practices including connectivism. This pot-pourri is extremely consistent with my beliefs. And, to be truthful, those who know me recognize that I would not be involved with an organization so deeply if that were not the case. ;-)

Now, do I agree with every detail of these theories? Clearly not. But that is the nature of being a critical thinker, isn’t it? Finding dissonance in practice or theory is what leads to advancing new ideas and changing it up. There is no truth. There are only approximations. Maybe we are  all TAs – Theory Approximators!  LOL

Doug:  So, connectivism and constructivism can co-exist?

Brenda:  In my mind, yes, they can co-exist.  Since I’m a believer in Papert’s ‘constructionism’ (the act of creating artefacts that demonstrate knowledge) connectivism is a nice complement because it suggests that once knowledge has been articulated in some form (i.e. made public in some way…made its way out of your head, so to speak) then the ability to connect can enhance that knowledge either by building upon it, reflecting upon it, or through the discourse that might arise from it.  I admit I did try to attend the MOOC that George Siemens and Stephen Downes held on Connectivism, but I’m afraid that I need to make more time for it and try again to get a better handle on the theory of connectivism.

Peter: In my mind, absolutely. But, then I think constructivism and behaviourism can co-exist.  And that would be a stretch for most people. :-) But, here’s my recent thinking on that one – backed up by some great new books*. Most of our day to day activities are carried out by each of us without conscious thought or even awareness — certainly not by an overt decision-making process.

We couldn’t possibly manage to get through the day if that were the case. Can you imagine the turmoil a centipede would have if she tried to think and decide which leg should be moved at which time. She’d be tripping and falling all day long! So we run on auto-pilot. And, yes, of course we also make many decisions based on weighing alternatives. I get that. But, when one acknowledges the premise, then one is agreeing that automatized, behaviourist responses are integral to our every day living.

Yet, on a different level, we are conscious, decision-making creatures with a soul, a heart, and a sense of self. So we can exercise our metacognitive skills in setting goals, generating alternative strategies and reflecting on our learning.

Our minds, in this western society, tend to lean towards distinct categorization of the world around. It is the way we attempt to make sense of it. I understand that. It also leads us to parse the world in dichotomies – an ‘on’ or ‘off’, a ‘yes’ or ‘no’, kind of categorization. This, of course, has been amplified by our binary age of ‘ones’ and ‘zeroes’. However, it is not necessary to think that my philosophy of education is ‘constructivist or not’ or ‘connectivist or not’. The world is much more complex than that. It is a rich fabric of textured confusion which has many elements interwoven throughout – so I believe that there are elements of many theories that make up my educational philosophy. If you wish, read “I’m Confused! I Thought I was a Social Constructionist!

Doug:  The Minds on Media is a unique professional learning experience.  I have been “brought into the fold” and have served both as a facilitator and a pedagogista.  How did you develop the concept?

Brenda:  We have been so enriched by having you at our events Doug, thank you!   

After many years of participating in professional development,  both as learners and facilitators, we started to talk about the fact that the method of professional learning (usually ‘sit and git’ or not entirely responsive to the needs of the learners) didn’t always match the kinds of shifts in practice that need to happen in a technology infused classroom.  We thought that by experiencing an alternative that is learner driven, multi-modal, and somewhat ‘flipped’ to give the learner control over resources and activities that fit their needs, teachers would appreciate a model for how that might look in the classroom.  Indeed, we are NOT saying that a lecture-style presentation isn’t excellent in certain cases and serves a purpose for learning that we all need and enjoy at one time or another…rather we are saying that there are alternatives and engaging teachers in this kind of learning themselves is a good place to start.  

Peter: Doug, we have been thrilled to have your expertise and mentorship in both those roles and as a friend and colleague. Thank you for that.

The concept grew somewhat organically – except to say that we both have strong beliefs about several learning principles:

  • the locus of control for learning should be in the hands of the learner
  • the facilitator must be aware of, and respond to, the learner’s desires, needs and expertise
  • the learner should leave empowered to learn further – beyond the MOM event
  • there are always experts among us

So it made a lot of sense when we were organizing the ECOO conferences that we run a ‘hands on’ day for people with these ideas in mind. But, we wanted more than their hands on – we wanted their ‘minds on’.

Doug:  Explain the role of the pedagogista for my readers please.

Brenda:  I’ve always been interested in constructivist approaches, and a few years back Gary Stager recommended a book called The Hundred Languages of Children which outlines the Reggio Emilia approach for early childhood education that began in Italy.  One of the elements that stood out most for me was the emphasis that the schools put on teacher observation and reflection in understanding their learners.   They value this so much in fact, that pedagogistas work alongside teachers in order to keep focused on pedagogy and to use observations to direct next steps with students – really a constantly evolving kind of formative assessment.  It’s easy, when teaching, to be caught up in the tasks of the moment related to lessons or the plan for the day.  The pedagogistas bring a more metacognitive approach to the classroom and we thought it would be valuable to have that role during Minds On Media as well!

Peter: I know Brenda will answer this one more ‘correctly’ than I because of her greater familiarity with its roots. I take some liberty with the construct of ‘pedagogista’. :-) For Minds on Media, we felt it necessary to have one or two folks roaming around the space, listening in, being attuned for opportunities to be the ‘metacognitive’ prompter! You know, when you are engrossed in learning a skill, it is sometimes difficult to ‘zoom out’ and to see the bigger picture. The pedagogista can assist in that ‘envisioning’ – that shifting of the lens so that the learner (teacher) can see their learning in a larger context. So the pedagogista might say, “I see you are here at this centre asking questions that you have about this topic. How’s that working for you compared to a sit ‘n’ git session? I’m wondering how you might see that occurring in your classroom.” Or, “You are doing interesting things with Google docs at this centre. Can you imagine ways this might enhance your students’ learning?”

Doug:  From my experience, you have taken a very liberal approach to the word “Media”!  What does “Media” mean to you in “Minds on Media”?

Peter: Media, to me, are any artifacts of thought that are externalized. So written words, spoken words, typed words, paintings, sounds produced, and so on qualify as media as do the tools that produce them. Pretty liberal in some senses – but quite classic as well.

Brenda: To me, media can mean tools and techniques as well as the activity of constructing messages.  We vary the kinds of centres we have at Minds on Media; sometimes we are exploring ways to construct artefacts using technology (e.g., Scratch, logo, digital storytelling), sometimes we are exploring the use of tools to develop a different kind of community of learners (e.g., Edmodo, blogging, wikis, PLNs).  You’re right, we do use the term loosely, often based upon the passion of those who might be running a centre.  I think we put more emphasis on the fact that we’d like people to play with media ‘mindfully’ – to be reflective, purposeful and playful in their approach to using media in the classroom.

Doug:  The next opportunity that educators have to experience a Minds on Media event will be a pre-conference for the ECOO conference.  What sorts of things would a participant experience?

Brenda:  It’s going to be a treat!  Our theme is knowledge building so facilitators took that in a way that speaks to them, and we have the following centres this year:

  • Documenting Student Achievement with Aviva Dunsiger
  • Using iPads for Knowledge Construction in the Learner-Centered Classroom with Colin Harris
  • The Idea Hive Classroom Community: Students Sharing, Creating and Learning Together in Online Spaces with Heather Durnin
  • Social Networking with Edmodo  with Peter McAsh
  • Making Thinking Transparent and Visible with Voicethread with Royan Lee
  • Discover how to Create an Inclusive Classroom by Infusing Powerful Equity Messages
  • Throughout your Day with Susan Watt and Trish Morgan
  • Using Audio in the K-12 Classroom with Zoe Branigan-Pipe
  • Special Education and Technology with Kim Gill
  • Thinking and Creating with Melinda Kolk – Owner, Tech4Learning

Peter: Brenda has named the centres we have this year so that is the tangible side. People will experience dissonance, control, frustration, deep learning, exhilaration and a sense of belonging to a community of like-minded educators.

Doug:  You have a brand new slate of facilitators for this round of Minds on Media at ECOO.  How do you decide the topics and facilitators for the event?

Peter: It’s a challenge for us. Here’s the deal. We have so many excellent educators in this province, it’s been difficult since our first Minds On Media event. We started with a bunch of cool folks who really gelled at an OTF event. And there are so many great people – so it has been difficult. We just feel it needs to be changed up every now and so often to accommodate those whom Minds On Media serves.

Brenda: It’s usually a collaborative process based on the passion of the folks who would like to participate and the needs that we think might be out there.  We decided on a whole new set of folks this year because we are interested in sharing the news about talented Ontario educators!  There are so many teachers who are doing great things and we want to share out that expertise and connect ECOO participants to these wonderful educators.

Doug:  We’ve discussed this many times so it comes as no surprise that I’m a real supporter of this model for professional learning.  Do you have a formula that a school district or other organization could use to facilitate a session of their own?  Have you used it at UGDSB and the Toronto YM/YWCA?  Have other districts used it?

Brenda:  Well, it’s about honouring the expertise that already resides in your district, so we encourage folks to create their own sessions and celebrate their own educators.  We do feel that there are some critical elements to making the day work well, and we share some of these at this site: Minds on Media  Like most good learning environments, much of the preparation goes on in the background and before the day arrives.  We hope that anyone who values the approach can feel free to take what we’ve learned and try it out with their own spin to it!

Peter: As Brenda says, we are interested in helping people understand what has made it work and discussing how it can be better. Take the resources and thoughts and fly!

Doug:  Could I ask you to look at the images on your computer and share the best picture that you’ve got that clearly illustrates what Minds on Media looks like and means for potential participants?

Peter: I really have no pics of the events Doug. But, these represent it in some ways!

Brenda:  This picture was taken when I was lucky to get a private tour of MIT’s Media Lab from a grad student who happened to be wandering around while I was there early one Saturday morning a few years ago.  That was very cool!  It was like a big playground of toys and creations in progress.  That’s how I feel about Minds On Media — it’s playful and creative and constructive (and also messy) — I love seeing teachers get excited about things that they make to take back to their classrooms!

Doug:  Thank you for your time and thoughts for this posting.  Educators in the province are so fortunate to have your continued experience and input to both the ECOO Conference and the Minds on Media event.  Many thanks!

This interview and all of the interviews that I’m conducted online are available from the link at the top of the page.