This Week in Ontario Edublogs


Things certainly have heated up in Ontario this week.  Weather-wise and blogging-wise.  Here’s some of the reading I enjoyed this past week.


The Diefenbunker: Canada’s Cold War Museum

The Diefenbunker was certainly something that we discussed in school.  It was part of Canada’s concern about the Cold War.  I did not know that it was a public museum where you could get a sense of the fear and paranoia that was a part of the day.  Andy Forgrave and son took a trip there and posted pictures and his reflections on the visit.  This is a very interesting read for me.


Why Children Misbehave —- Under Construction

You know, if you could bottle the answer to this question, you could sell millions to educators.  FlyOnTheClassroomWall (not her real name, of course, but she’s not public with it on the blog so I won’t mention it here) takes a look at a number of reasons from the book Theory and Practice with Adolescents and shares some of her insights.  Towards the end, she concludes with a list of accommodations…a good list.


Step 8 in Going Green: Remain Calm! Remember Al Gore: ‘Despair is not an option’!

Hill of Greens was a new blog discovery for me this week.  Written by Julie Johnson, this is a documentary of her work in “going green”.

At present, there are eight posts to the blog but they’re very personal and certainly has inspired this reader to reflect on my own habits.  I’ve followed Julie on Twitter for some time now, but didn’t know this blog existed.  I’m glad that I found it.


I Can’t Do This

This post is a wonderful poem written by Dr. Muriel Corbierre.

The content is a reminder that those faces in front of you all bring different skills to the classroom.  It’s also a reminder to students that not everything is as equally “easy” for everyone.

I’ll bet you can find a lot of uses for this poem.


Holistic approaches for Learning with Technology

This post, from Deborah McCallum was a refreshing break from some of the mindless posts about SAMR that you see so often these days.  She takes a reasoned approach about teaching in general.  It’s a reminder that analyzing the use of technology isolated from everything else really is a disservice.  Teaching and learning is a complicated eco system.  Big reminder here “Who owns the learning?”


Sunset Reflection

This is something that we all can do.  I can take sunset pictures from the end of the driveway any day that I want.  Sheila Stewart shares here thoughts, not only on the beauty of the sunsets that she enjoys in NorthWest Ontario but what they symbolize to her.

It’s a good reminder to us all that we need to take more pictures.


An Interview with Tom D’Amico

In case you missed it, I recently had the opportunity to interview Tom D’Amico, superintendent from the Ottawa Catholic School Board.  Tom actively models what I believe educational leaders should.  For me, it was a great chance to ask some questions that I had about what he does and why he does it.

Doug:  From my perspective, you’re “leading by leading” in this field and I really admire that.  Do you ever get questioned by colleagues for being so open about your learning and sharing?

In addition to the content that Tom generates and shares, he also shares many of the links to resources that he uses regularly.  There’s a great deal there for you and you might just want to pass the link along to your own leaders.  What more could they be doing to support the cause of learning?  Are they modelling the sort of thing that you need them to?


Thanks, everyone for continuing to blog and lead the charge for Ontario Educators.  Please check out their blog posts at the links provided and the complete list of Ontario Edubloggers here.

An Interview with Tom D’Amico


This is a real treat for me.  I’ve been a follower and a fan of Tom D’Amico for a long time.  I have a real appreciation for those who scour the web, find, and then share the best of the resources.  Tom is a daily source for inspiration through sharing with his Twitter account @TDOttawa.  The best part is that his finds are archived in his Scoop.it! resource iGeneration – 21st Century Education.

Thank you for agreeing to the interview, Tom.  I’m really looking forward to your thoughts and insights.

Doug:  I always start with this for people that I’ve met in person – do you recall when we first met?

Tom:  I’m not certain but likely in the early 90’s at the Educational Computing Organization of Ontario conference (ECOO).  In the early 1990s I created a pilot Multimedia course and shared the resources at ECOO.

Doug:  What inspired you to get involved with Twitter?

Tom:  In January 2009 I changed from being a high school Principal, to Superintendent of Information Technologies.   I wanted to model professional learning and I also wanted to expand my own professional learning network.   Twitter was a natural location at the time to connect with others interested in leveraging technology for increased student achievement.  I had no idea what I was doing, but I’ve always gone with the philosophy “Just Do It”, and I started my global professional learning network at that time.

Doug:  Of all the archive utilities that are available, what attracted you to Scoop.IT?

Tom:  This was really trial and error.  I had tried many edTools for archiving and curating.  I was using Delicious and Diigo for social bookmarking and a variety of other tools including Twitter.  Scoop.IT turned out to be my favourite tool since it automated my work flow.  It allowed me to quickly view other Scoop.IT postings, curate ones I found interesting, and I could also then share and schedule Tweets all on the same screen.  These features worked well for me and I’ve been an avid user of ScoopIT ever since.

Doug:  With all of the things that you could be doing, what intrigues you about finding and curating educational technology resources?

Tom:  As a teacher I saw first hand the impact of technology on both my students and on my teaching practice.  When I was teaching in the early 90s technology was a scarcity as was connectivity.  I was fortunate to have access to a computer lab and to multimedia computers so I was able to see how students were engaged when using technology and how the classroom discipline issues that took up so much of my time as a young teacher, were non-existent when students were using computers.  I’ve kept that passion and insight with me over my 25 years with the Ottawa Catholic School Board. 

I spend time locating and sharing resources as one of my ways of staying connected to the classroom.  As an administrator I looked for resources that could help teachers and other administrators save time by automating work flows, and as a result they would have more time to develop professional relationships with their students. 

Although I advocate the use of technology in the classroom, the greatest impact a teacher or administrator can have on their students is by getting to know them and focusing on positive relationships that leave all students with a feeling of hope and knowing that the teacher or administrator really cares about them as a person, not just as a student taking a particular subject.

Doug:  Before you became the Associate Director with the Ottawa Catholic School Board, you were a superintendent in charge of Learning Technologies.  How did you get the inspiration for innovation in that role?

Tom:  In 2009 when I became the superintendent of information technologies I worked collectively with many talented educators to come up with a vision of how we would integrate technology with pedagogy to innovate teaching practices in our Board. 

One of the first things we did was change the title of the department from Information Technology, to Learning Technologies.  I changed my title from Superintendent of Information Technology to Superintendent of Student Success – Learning Technologies.  This subtle change, set the focus on Learning. 

We moved from a Board that was focused on a culture of caution and fear of technology, to one that focused on curiosity and innovation.  We shared a white paper “A BluePrint for Change – Towards 2020 Connecting with our Students” and this set the direction for the many changes that we implemented in the last 5 years including adding the 4Cs to our Board Priorities and embracing social media and Google Apps for Education as tools to lead the change.

Doug:  What initiatives are you particularly proud of from that portfolio?

Tom:  I’m proud of many changes that took place as part of the vision for our District.   We moved to enterprise wireless, we added LCD/SmartBoards to every classroom so that teachers could access digital resources, we provided all teachers with laptops, we created a social media policy and encouraged teachers to be online where their students were, we converted our libraries to learning commons, we moved to blended learning, we promoted BYOD, and we had extensive PD opportunities and focused on the proper pedagogy to ensure that the technology was being used to do more than just digitize static learning activities.  We also began investing strategically in devices for students, from iPads to Chromebooks, and we began to address the digital divide that existed for some of our families and their access to technology.

Doug:  How big is online learning through eLearningOntario within the OCSB?

Tom:  Traditional eLearning has not been a focus for the majority of our students, but rather blended learning has been the priority.  We do have a small number of students who benefit from online courses, and we have about 18 online courses offered every year to students across our 15 high schools.  

When we had focus groups with students one of the key messages they shared was that they did not want to lose the social aspect of going to school everyday, they liked to use technology, but the majority were not looking to complete courses online.  We did introduce a game based blended learning grade 10 course in Careers/Civics to ensure that all of our graduates will have taken at least one course delivered via a platform such as BlackBoard or Desire2Learn.

Doug:  According to Twitter, you’re approaching 10,000 followers.  Obviously, I’m not the only one who appreciates your efforts!  How many of these followers would you estimate are from OCSB?

Tom:  I’ve never tracked the number directly from our Board.  The majority of our 83 schools have Twitter accounts and we have many staff who actively share and learn via twitter.  We hired a full time social media community engagement specialist in our communications department to help develop this skill set in our employees and to engage with our community. 

I do know from analytics that approximately 50% of my network is from the U.S.A., 30% from Canada, and 20% from other regions of the world.

Doug:  Does it matter to you where they come from?  Why or why not?

Tom:  One of best features of social media is that it breaks down barriers so we can all learn from one another in a global context.  Gone are the days that learning only happened in the school or at the district.

Doug:  Do you ever find that ideas you’ve shared end up in your district’s classrooms?

Tom:  Yes, I often hear from administrators or from other staff that they are using an edTool that I had recommended, or they signed up for a free service or are connecting with other educators around the world.  This is rewarding feedback that helps me to validate the time that I put into reading and sharing resources.

Doug:  From my perspective, you’re “leading by leading” in this field and I really admire that.  Do you ever get questioned by colleagues for being so open about your learning and sharing?

Tom:  No, I’ve never been questioned about being open with sharing.  I have had questions about the level of online engagement and how to manage the large number of interactions when you move beyond your Board.  Time management is always a key for all educators and setting limits and recognizing that you can’t be on all social learning networks an important framework.

Doug:  I know the resources that I use for my daily inspiration and your readings do seem to cross at times but you always seem to find even more interesting things.  Care to share your work flow?

Tom:  I subscribe to over 1000 different sites/blogs/newsletters.  I use Unroll.me to package the newsletters into a single email that I receive each day with about 75-100 posts.  I quickly scan this single email to determine which articles are relevant and that I may wish to review.   I also use Feedly.com as my RSS feeder to review articles with a basis on EdTech.   I use Scoop.IT as a source of recommended articles based on topics I have setup including:  EdTech, Leadership, and Pedagogy.

I spend about 10 hours per week, usually first thing in the morning and then about an hour every evening reading articles online and then curating the most interesting ones via Scoop.It and scheduling tweets within Scoop.IT to go out the next day.  Using ScoopIT I am able to schedule by the hour and also include a photo in the tweet and relevant hashtags.  I make sure that I also use appropriate keyword tags in Scoop.IT so that I can find resources later when I need them.

I use TweetDeck to review and respond to mentions on Twitter.  I try to do this at least every two days.

Some people enjoy watching T.V., I enjoy reading and learning via the Internet.  Substitute 1-2 hours of evening T.V. watching, and there is time to curate resources on topics of interest.

Where possible, I filter what I’m reading by following others who curate great content such as:  Edutopia, Edudemic, MakeUseof.com, Free Technology for Teachers, Education Technology and Mobile Learning, and several Paper.li accounts including yours – The Best of Ontario Education Daily

There are many other favourites that would be wrapped up in my Unroll.me each day such as:  Nine Connections, Diigo weekly summaries on various topics, SmartBrief on EdTech, ASCD Express, EdWeb.net, TechCrunch, eWeek, Daily Genius Edtech updates, Education Dive:K12, Brook Top 5 tweets, and summaries from TCEA and ISTE… to name a few.

Doug:  How often do you go back and use the resources that you’ve tucked away?

Tom:  I use my Scoop.IT archive on a regular basis.  If someone asks if I can recommend a good tool for a particular need (such as a BackChannel), I can do a keyword search in my Scoop.IT account and quickly provide them with current resources on the topic.  Whenever I deliver a presentation I always update the content by reviewing resources that I’ve “scooped” on that topic over the last year.

Doug:  How important is a social media presence in the OCSB?  Are schools encouraged to have Twitter / Facebook / Google + / etc. accounts?

Tom:  Yes – we are an extremely active Board when it comes to social media.  Just about all of our schools have Twitter accounts and we have hundreds of staff sharing via their personal or their class Twitter accounts.  Many of our schools have Facebook accounts.  We have very active Google + communities based on shared interests, such as French teachers, Kindergarten teachers, etc.  

Social media has opened up the sharing of resources between educators and schools across our district.

Doug:  What advice do you provide the learners/leaders within your system about the use of social media?  Do you have a routine to be followed if something goes wrong?

Tom:  I would suggest that they begin by working with a trusted colleague who is on social media.   We will send our social media community staff member to work with them or one of our education technology integrators to help them out.  We have staff resource booklets available online to take them step by step on how to create accounts using tools such as Twitter and how to effectively use the tools. 

If something goes wrong, staff contact our learning technologies department and they work with the provider such as Facebook, Twitter, or Google, to work out a solution.  We ensure that all of our staff are aware of our social media policy that was created to encourage staff use of social media in a responsible manner.

Doug:  Speaking of leaders, there are very few superintendents/directors that have significant contributions to the collective learning like you do.  What can be done to encourage more to jump in and start sharing their learning?

Tom:  Across the province we are sharing with one another how we are using social media in our administrator roles.   Within our Board we have many administrators who are very active and they present on a regular basis and share with their associations how social learning and social networking is having an impact on student achievement.

Staff can easily become overwhelmed with the number of edTools available and the amount of time that can be invested in online professional learning networks.  My advice is to not try to do it all, find one or two tools that meet the goals that they are trying to achieve and work with those.  There is no need to be on every possible social network or to know every latest social media tool.

Doug:  How is digital citizenship and responsibility addressed with students in the OCSB?

Tom:  As we opened up our schools to BYOD and to online resources and we encouraged the use of social media, we also wanted to ensure that digital citizenship became part of the yearly curriculum.  In the early years of our plan we had many guest speakers and presentations.  Although we still have presentations for students and for parents, we created curriculum that is taught to all students every year to focus on the responsible use of social media and technology.  

We now have bilingual resources linked to the curriculum covering all grades from kindergarten to grade 12.  We call our resource, “Samaritans on the Digital Road” and it is instructed and sequenced on a yearly basis to help students participate in a digital world in a proactive, responsible, and compassionate manner.   Our resources are freely shared via this Google site.

Doug:  Are there any specific initiatives for the upcoming school year from Ottawa Catholic that we should keep an eye on?

Tom:  We continue to look at transitioning away from traditional textbooks to more paperless resources.   We have recently licensed Hapara for our teacher’s use and we are focusing on automated workflows for teachers/students so that both rely less on traditional print based workflows and move more into ePortfolios.

We are part of the global New Pedagogies for Deeper Learning initiative that focuses heavily on leveraging technology for improved student achievement.  We will continue to expand our involvement in this global initiative.

More and more of our schools and learning commons are initiating MakerSpaces and have embraced the Maker movement.   I’m looking forward to seeing how our talented staff help our students become more creative through the use of these transformed spaces.

Doug:  The upcoming school year could be a challenge.  Do you see any way that a collective agreement could be in place with teachers and school districts before September?

Tom:  The negotiations currently are at the central provincial table and I’m not directly involved with the provincial negotiations.  I’m hopeful that a resolution can be found to ensure that all students across Ontario continue to benefit from Ontario’s strong educational system. 

If agreements are not reached prior to the start of the year, it will likely be a challenging time for staff and students.  The important thing to remember is that work to rule or strike or lockouts eventually do end, so everyone needs to keep positive relations through the challenging time so that we can continue to progress and innovate as a system when agreements are reached.

Doug:  Tom, I appreciate you taking the time to share your thoughts with us.  I know that I look forward to your daily shares and now I know even more about the person behind the Twitter handle.  Thank you so much.

You can follow Tom on Twitter at @TDOttawa and his Scoop.it! page is located at:  http://www.scoop.it/t/igeneration-21st-century-education.

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.

Bingo!


Recently, I got an invitation from Shelley Sanchez Terrell inviting me to check out her Livecast at Edutech 2015 workshop.

Unfortunately, by the time I got around to watching the video, it had been removed.

But, left behind, was a collaborative document that I found really interesting.  I can remember doing this “under the table” during an educational talk by a superintendent to count the number of buzzwords used during the presentation.  The idea was to be the first to get a Bingo. 

Shelley used the concept to create a Bingo card for social media.  What a great idea for a mixer activity.  I’m alone as I write this post so decide to take the test myself.

I’ve got some work to do. 

You can check out the resources and make one of your own from here.

Even better, why not create a social media Bingo card of your own tailored to your group?

I think this would be a dynamite activity to have students create their own social media inventory and awareness.

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.

About Blogging Inspired by Two Sues


I had these two links copied to draft status on my blog.  I didn’t know how or when or even if I could use the two of them together.  They’re from two of my favourite Sue bloggers.

In both of these posts, they muse about blogging and its importance.  I found both of these posts very insightful and certainly have kept them around for personal inspiration.  The tipping point for joining them together in this post came from a Twitter message from Sue Bruyns yesterday.

She had forced herself to write a blog post a day for the month of May and was celebrating her success with a series of Twitter messages acknowledging those who had encouraged her with comments and thoughts.  One tribute even came in the form of a blog post – “Doing not just saying…Leading by Example“.

It reminds me of the quote – “That’s all there is and there ain’t no more”.  Hopefully, it doesn’t apply in Sue’s case; she does demonstrate the sort of leadership open thinking that people within her district really appreciate.

Sue Waters’ post suggests that it goes further and she offers a nice collection of reasons why educators might want to blog.  It’s the nature of the beast that teachers live in a world of assessment and evaluation.  Can the value of a blog be quantified?  Certainly, the Teach 100 list tries.  Check out their criteria for the number and ranking that they assign to blogs.  Does this extend Sue Waters’ original list?  Are educators competitive enough to try for a higher score?  It certainly is interesting but a little frustrating when you see blogs on the list that haven’t been updated in months.  Their rankings continue to be based on success from a time gone by.

Proponents of blogging in the classroom know the reasons students benefit – student voice, writing for an audience, you learn when you think and then create, presentation style, diversity of resources, applied research, and so much more.

Shouldn’t the same apply to educators?

I’d like to consider another reason.

As educators, we love curating resources using services like Diigo, Pinterest, Storify, Flipboard, …

But, where do we ever curate our own thoughts?  Where do we keep track of people who extend our thinking?

The answer, of course, is in your blog.  It’s the one spot that is uniquely YOU and YOUR thoughts.  They can end up in the most unexpected places.

As I mentioned in Sue Bruyns’ Thank you post, not every post is going to “knock it out of the park”.  “War and Peace” writing doesn’t happen daily.  But your thinking sure does.  Why not document it and open your thoughts up to discussion by colleagues?

Sue Waters definitely stirs the pot and thinking regularly with her entries.  Why shouldn’t we all be doing the same?

Thanks to my favourite Sues for the inspiration for this post.

And, here’s the big news!  Sue Bruyns has a blog post for June 1.  She’s hooked and continues to share her learning and her thoughts.

Hands on Geometry


Geometry was always one of my favourite subject areas.  I guess I just like the whole concept of visualization and being able to manipulate shapes.

One of the universal tools for geometry exploration and construction is the Geoboard.  I used it quite a bit teaching Grade 9 mathematics.  It was a wonderful tool to even the playing field for students coming from Grade 8 and having varying levels of geometry understanding.  It was also a reminder that, since banning javelin throwing, it was one of the few times that we intentionally arm students with weapons.  You’ve just got to know that with 14 year olds, the first few days with the Geoboards and real elastic bands was interesting.

Time moves on and it’s a natural that this wonderful technique has been extended to the digital world.  Same stretching concepts, coloured and unbreakable bands, and a kinder, gentler, less painful implementation.  With school computers meshed with Bring Your Own Device programs, finding a universal solution is a desirable move.

The Math Learning Centre provides one that’s both web and app based.

There are lots of options available depending upon your needs and screen size.

Of course, measurement dealing with area and perimeter leap to mind.  But, don’t limit yourself to just that.  With a little imagination, this device lends itself to all kinds of ideas.  Check out these Pinterest resources from Diane Fangmeyer, The Remade Mama and Inesa A as starting points.  Of course, Pinterest is the perfect place to pin these ideas.

I remember one particularly neat idea we used with the Grade 9s.  Standing in downtown Windsor, one of them had taken a picture of the Detroit skyline and the students replicated it in class with a series of Geoboards.  (We had small ones so had to improvise).  We used a picture of the Renaissance Centre and the students painstakingly reproduced it on the Geoboards.  Of course, it had to be to scale.  Imagine the math.  It was a great activity.

Doing it today, the mechanics would be completely different.  We’d be doing it on computers or devices.

The Math Learning Centre makes its Geoboard available for free:

They’re well worth a look and evaluation for your classroom.