Rainy Days

Do you remember the old saying about saving things for rainy days?  I had the opportunity to reap the benefits of my own personal rainy day savings yesterday.

It was the Minds on Media event in Toronto.  The event was a full day of professional development for over 200 teachers.  There were no traditional sit ‘n git sessions but rather the event was an Open Court for those in attendance.  In the large ballroom, we had 8 learning sessions available for participants.  Some sessions were structured and others were truly drop in and talk about where you are in your learning and where you wish to go.  I was at a centre with @kellmoor to help consolidate the learning from the previous two days.  We thought that it would be about doing a little work with Twitter and that was that.

In fact, there was a lot to do with Twitter.  Kelly had her camera and was helping new Twitter users break out of their shell and replace the default egg icon with a real photo.  The next step was to find someone to follow.  The traditional route is to search and find people but I had a stash that helped out immensely.  It was the Ontario Educator list that I’ve been curating for a while.  There was real pleasure and surprise when people would recognize others already on the list.  So, folks, check your account today – there may be a bunch of new followers! Welcome them and follow them back.  Let’s keep this thing going.

As I check my form this morning, it’s cool to see that there were a number of people that have signed up at the LiveBinders site.  I hope that there are more great Ontario blogs to read as a consequence.

That was pretty much what my partner and I expected but we were really wrong in our expectations.

In fact, the only time throughout the day we got to talk was before the event and at lunch.  For the rest of the time, we headed in separate directions at separate tables.  I did sneak a look over once and it was classic Kelly.  She had her camera out taking pictures and had some of those at her table working their bling magic updating wikis and webpages with things that sparkled and shined.

Over at mine, we got into the whole concept of social bookmarking.  Again, my rainy day kicked in and I was able to show how Diigo and Delicious works with my own examples.  I explained how I post to Diigo which posts to Delicious which posts to my blog.  It was kind of cool to be able to explain this chain of electronic events rather than just blog about it as I’ve done recently.

Oh, blogs?  That opened the door to a comparison of platforms and we took a look at a number of different platforms.  The popular choice seemed to be WordPress.  We dug into the analytics and talked about the value of analyzing just who is visiting your site.  The question then turned to looking for something simpler.  We took a look at my Tumblr account that I’m using for my DailyShoot images.  Someone had been digging around and I had to explain what my Posterous account is all about.  That’s a place where I just tuck away links to media that I might use in presentations.  BTW, my favourite snag of all time, dedicated to that little guy who hangs out at our house some time.

The conversation just kept getting richer and richer.  We dug into wikis and tools for class organization and establishing a web presence. I had a few exemplars tucked away for that too.  There was a stumper too.  A Desire2Learn question made me “call a friend” and fortunately, there was a current DeLC in the audience and when I last looked, @techguy1717 was doing some noodle scratching as he looked at someone else’s configuration.

And, we did some video embedding and some editing and some configuring and probably a great deal more.  It was wonderfully engaging as a facilitator and so comforting to know that there are such awesome people so dedicated to getting their students connected to these powerful tools.  It’s so difficult to believe that only a few years ago, we tried to host everything on a server at the school level.

The folks that dropped by really seemed to understand the concepts and had a desire to take advantage of it.  I think that it’s a testament to the profession that there were no complains about time and effort to learn these things.  Don’t overlook the fact that this was done on a Saturday when there were a million other things that could have been done.

If people who attended truly follow though, I hope that they’ll take the opportunity to create their own resources so that they have their own rainy day examples that they can share with others and that the learning just keeps on going and going and going.

Thanks, @aforgrave – CC- BY NC SA

That’s the power of Minds on Media.  Kudos to @brendasherry and @peterskillen for keeping the pot stirred.


Don’t Do Stupid Things

Isn’t that great advice?  I received it from my parents, I’ve given it to my own children, and I was reminded about this on Thursday night.

On Thursday night, as part of the Ontario Teachers’ Federation Teaching and Learning in the 21st Century Professional Development event, I was asked to chair a panel after supper.  I agreed to do this and a great deal of preparation went in to the event.

I decided that I would script the event using a Google Document and laid out the evening as I thought that I would like it to go.  Once I was ready, I shared the document with the project manager for the event, Siria Szkurhan who went through and helped tighten the language in the questions.  We also talked on the phone to make sure that we got the maximum value from the panel of experts to make the event the most beneficial for the participants.  So that the panelists could be prepared, they were shared the agenda as well, in advance of the event.

With as big an audience as we would have (potentially over 200 educators), I felt that we also needed to have some visuals to put the questions in context and so went about doing some research that would complement the questions posed to each of the panelists.  My friend Peter Skillen volunteered to man my laptop and go from tab to tab as the event unfolded.  He did a great job and the visual helped put a context to each of the questions.  I put links to all of the resources together into a bit.ly bundle and shared it here if you’re interested.

During the panel, we encouraged the continuation of the conference backchannel on Twitter and there were many comments flying about from the tag #OTF21C.  There weren’t any specific questions that appeared but we did have microphones for the audience to take advantage of the expertise on the stage.

First up, was Will Richardson who would lead a full day on Friday.  The goal here was to set the stage for why we were here and to break the ice for the rest of the panel.  I know that Will is widely travelled and asked him to share a couple of examples of the use of Social Media that he felt was exemplary.  I liked the answer that it was a great deal easier to find uses today than it was three years ago when he first spoke at another OTF event.  And, the panel was off.

We next heard from a couple of Ontario Educators.  Kelly Moore, an elementary school teacher from Greater Essex County share some of the successes that she enjoyed as a Teacher Librarian.  She gave some examples as Peter showed off her wiki on the screen.  Through example, Kelly explained how getting online was so helpful for the students that she reached.  I did get her to explain how she used Social Media to help her differentiate the learning process for her students.  After Kelly, we moved to Danika Barker, a secondary school English / Media teacher from Thames Valley.  I think that I had talked with her personally once or twice before this event but I sure knew all of the interesting things that happens in her classes.  She is very open with her comments on Twitter and through her blog.  What I was most interested in getting her to share was how she used Social Media in a blended format with her classes.  There were great answers and I think that the audience may have been surprised to hear that she had the luxury of an English class booked into a computer lab for an entire semester.  That opened all kinds of opportunities to move everything that she did online.  After their individual responses, I did ask both Kelly and Danika about balance and how they managed to learn these new things while at the same time having a real life.  There were interesting responses that reflected the professionalism in both of them attempting to reach every student in their charge, all the while looking for new and innovative ways to motivate.  At one point, Kelly noted that this was her hobby.  Imagine having a hobby that also turned into accelerated learning opportunities for students!

What would be an educational learning event if we didn’t have a student to talk about things?  Jaxson Khan was a very well spoken young man from a Peel Region school.  I didn’t know Jaxson going in and so decided to lob up a softball to get things started.  I had checked before he took the stage and yes, he was packing a smart phone.  What I didn’t expect was him to pull out a knapsack filled with the technology that he uses on a daily basis, including “his baby”, his Macbook Pro that he had worked for and paid by himself.  I suddenly felt badly that I wasn’t wearing a tie.  He then proceeded to share how he connects to his school network both inside the physical building and outside on the yard.  He freely talked about access to technology and how it didn’t seem to be distractive to him or his friends.  Jaxson is also a leader through the Ontario Student Trustees’ Association and talked about a recent survey of Ontario students and their attitudes towards the use of smart phones in school.  Jaxson also shared some insights about equity and even offered suggestions about how to put personal technology into the hands of all students.  Plain and simple, for me, this gentlemen stole the show.  You couldn’t help but feel humbled knowing that he was speaking for thousands of students.  We owe it to the Jaxsons in Ontario to provide the very best.

Next up was a guy with a tie.  Mark Carbone is the CIO for the Waterloo Region District School Board and he had his black tie with his Twitter name silk screened on it.  Mark and I have a long history of talking and debating educational technology issues.  I know that he and his district anguished long and hard about what parts of the internet provide the best educational relevance for students.  It was this relevance that led the district to not only unblock Facebook, but to develop strategies for using that as a community learning environment within their schools.  Mark talked about the successes but also reminded us that this project also had questioners within the district, particularly as it launched.  The administrative team is behind this effort and the audience got to experience the visionary approach taken under Mark’s leadership.  If you’re interesting in providing this type of learning environment, then you should cast a look at what Waterloo is doing.

Three of the teacher federations had representation on the panel.  At the first event three years ago, Bob Fisher from OSSTF had delivered his thoughts at that time.  As Bob noted, the big concern then was whether we should be using email to communicate with students.  Things certainly have changed since then!  Bob, Joe Pece from OECTA, and Jennifer Mitchell from ETFO shared some great advice from their individual federation perspectives.  Joe cautioned the group about keeping things in perspective and under control.  Bob talked about professional boundaries which is always a concern whether you’re using technology or not.  Finally, Jennifer talked about the differences between a personal and a professional appearance on services like Facebook.  It may not have occurred to the audience that you could manage two identities for specific purposes.  All three had great reminders that educators are very visible and that people are watching what we do and how we do it online and off.  All federations regularly provide advice to members about important issues.  ETFO provided a paper handout with reference to bulletins from Toronto about how to handle yourself online.  She encouraged all to take a look through the memos.  It is good advice for everyone.  All three representatives noted that their mandate was to stand behind and support their members.  We were all reminded that it is very easy to create videos or podcasts and quickly post them online for good and sometimes not so good purposes.

Coming full circle, I had the opportunity to ask Will Richardson about transparency and the teaching profession.  Just how transparent should an educator be?  Will shared his thoughts while we checked out what things that Danika has on her class blog.  There were specific directions for students and for parents as they use her resource.  As you’ll note in the article that Will wrote recently for ASCD, he pulls no punches in his thoughts about where all learners should head in their approaches to learning that take advantage of the network.  Will loves to talk about his kids and we closed by discussing parts of their Christmas gifts – personalized domain names for his children that he hopes they take advantage of in the future.  He did share with us that they were a little more excited by the other packages under the tree!

As you can imagine, with this great discussion, we had gone beyond our one hour timeline but nobody was leaving.  The discussion was first-rate from the panelists and we opened the mics on the floor to the audience for some great questions.  One that really interested me was a question about making schools hot spots.  There was a good discussion about equitable access throughout the province for all students to bring personal devlces and engage in their learning.  After all, they use them outside school hours and it’s just part of what they do.  Mark took us on one of those cart/horse stories with the neverending question of what do you buy first – connectivity and infrastructure or the devices?  Waterloo is in the enviable position of having their technology budget topped up to cover for the Ministry cutbacks in grants to school districts.

I was so happy with the way that the panel discussion went.  All of the panelists were on their game and shared successes, cautions, and strong doses of reality.  Time and technology are such precious commodities that they have to be managed intelligently.  With all that can be done, a considered approach does need to be taken.  I think that Bob spoke for everyone when he offered the best advice of all.  With all the good that can be done,  “Don’t Do Stupid Things”.

Awesome Learners

I couldn’t help but reflect on the OTF / CUE Google Workshop for Educators’ experience yesterday as I continued to apply my own personal learning to a project that I was working on.  Beyond the learning, I started to think about the personalities involved and how lucky that we are to have this group of folks to learn with.  It’s actually quite humbling to sit at the Tweetup and during the learning session and realize that you’re working along with some of the great educational minds and technology leaders in the province.

There are Computer Science teachers who have created resources that are shared throughout the province (and beyond); some people who live and breathe project based learning; folks whose classes are constantly online creating and sharing projects; cutting edge teacher-librarians; business educators bring contemporary skills into their classrooms and so many classroom instructors whose students are doing all kinds of incredibly innovative curriculum related things in their classrooms.  Amazingly, in this group of leaders, there were no overpowering egos.  The entire group were just there to network, to learn, and to bring new learnings home with them.  Everyone seemed to just want “more”.

It’s quite amazing to be there and to be part of the conversation that took place during the day.  Many of us were using Twitter to share our excitement and there were other Ontario educators who couldn’t join us that were following along from the comfort of their homes!

What put it all in focus for me were two blog entries that I enjoyed yesterday.

First, @peterskillen captured the day by pulling together all of the Twitter messages that were tagged with the #otfcue label.



What an awesome way to relive the day.  Thanks, Peter.  The entire post may be read on his blog, The Construction Zone.

The other was @jaccalder’s entry where she admitted to stalking the session in her recent blog post.  She took our key learning points from the day and summarized them with appropriate links to dig right to the source.




The real value came from the synthesis of the Twitter messages and suggestions for how they might work in the classroom.

Both blog entries are worth reading.  Both will engage you so make sure that you allocate sufficient time for the task.

What a great experience!  When you organize a workshop, you hope that you make changes to a classroom or two.  With this event and the subsequent conversations, look for great innovation coming to Ontario classrooms.  If you’ve been looking in the right places, there is already a discussion for the need to expand the reach that was seeded with this initial offering.

A lot of people want to join with this group of awesome learners.