This Week in Ontario Edublogs

Friday posts are my most favourite.  I like to take some time to honour some of the spectacular blog entries from the great collection of Ontario Edubloggers.  Please click through and support these folks.

The Impact of Culture on Feedback

I thought that this post from Royan Lee was one of the more important ones that I’d read in a while.  In the post, he explores just what feedback means.

This one needs to be shared far and wide.

He inspired a couple of blog entries from me on the topic.

Third From the Top


Meant to be?

I followed a tip for a blog post from the WordPress inspiration post and ended up at Royan’s post.  In the first of the entries, he made me reflect upon the evolving nature of formal (read that as report cards) feedback.

Hot and Sour Soup

It was a comment on that post that led me to the second.

I think that it’s great that we allow ourselves to tinker and think about so many things when it comes to feedback.  It would be so easy to just take the handbook and do what you’re told to do.  I included a dialogue between two Ontario educators about the paperless classroom as an example of the professional discourse that we are fortunate enough to see, if we’re connected.

It also reinforces the sorrow that one feels for those who elect not to get online and participate.

The Science of Passion-Based Learning

Writing an article for the PLPNetwork, one of Ontario’s treasures when it comes to educational thinking, Peter Skillen takes on some research and his thinking about passion-based learning.  He makes the argument that passion based goes beyond simple engagement.

He deals with the devil – memorization as a baseline for the discussion.

His post caused me to think about my own experiences.  This time, it was about the computer programs I’d written over the years.  At university, it wasn’t uncommon to nap in the evening and then head over to the computer centre for the middle of the night programming.  That was, for me, engagement.  (and the reality that the mainframes were much more responsive then).

But, passion appears when I would work all day, wolf down some sort of supper and then program and debug (admittedly more debugging than programming) all evening and then all night.  Yes, I was engaged, but it was the passion for the project that kept me at it.

In this post, I think that Peter really nails it.  Kudos, bud.

Persistence Pays Off….

They never had pottery in art class when I went to school.  But, if you were attending Nipigon-Red Rock District High School, you’d get an opportunity to be creative in this field apparently.

A recent post indicates that there’s more than just that.  Students had to experience what it was like to be a real potter and reclaim their own materials.  This post includes a nice collection of photos showing the process the students followed.  Wow!

Commander Hadfield Saw Us!

And, if that wasn’t enough, how about some out of this world experiences for the students!  They created a video and sent a Twitter message to Chris Hadfield in the International Space Station where he watched it and tweeted back!

The experience is captured forever in this post.  Also check out the reference to principal Donna Fry’s explanation about their involvement with the project.  Again, wow!

Please check out these posts at the links above.  You can check out the rest of the great things coming from the keyboards of Ontario Educators here.

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Top Posts of 2012

Here is a list of posts that I did write.  Going back over the months, these were the five with the most visits by you, the clicking public.

The statistics were provided by WordPress.

Some of the most fun (for me anyway) posts involved the interview series.  I really liked the opportunity to get to know some of the folks more.

Thank you so much for your loyalty and sharing the blog with others.  It’s really appreciated.

Happy New Year!

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This Week in Ontario Edublogs

There were some simply amazing posts by those involved in Ontario Education this week.  My sincere thanks for taking the time to create the great content.  There’s a great deal to think about in the selection that I’ve chosen to look at in this post.  Please take the time to follow through to the original posts and comment.  Or comment below.

Why Technology Training for Faculty is a waste of time… (not really… but…)
I was drawn to Alana Callan’s recent post because of the title.  In reality, it was her thoughts about a post that she had read.

So, I gave a Whew! and read on.  I like the fact that she’s recognizing that the conversation is changing.  It used to be that professional learning taught the tool and you hoped that pedagogy followed.  Then, the pedagogs took over and everything was about the rationale for doings something and you hoped that the skills to actually use it came afterwards.

The reality, it seems to me, is that both are needed but far more time and opportunities have to be provided to learners.  I get a kick out of school systems that take students for 10 months to acquire skills but feel that two or three days devoted to formal “training” (whatever that means) gets the job done and you expect the world to change.  We expect learning to be continuous for students; why shouldn’t we expect the same thing from professionals?  Much time and efforts need to be devoted to professional learning for staff if you’re going to get substantial change.  In light of that, I think it explains why so many of us continue to learn by making the connections to others online daily.

We expect that students will try and fail in the learning process but we’re always there to help them get up and have another run at it.  Shouldn’t the same philosophy and patience be devoted to staff learning?

Parent Engagement:  Poorly Defined?
The 5 Most Overhyped Trends in Education
Let’s call this two for the price of one.  Andrew Campbell started the discussion with what he saw as overhyped trends and Sheila Stewart focussed in on the last one – Parent Engagement.

I guess I have a problem seeing this as a trend, much less one that’s overhyped.  My parents were certainly engaged in my education.  I couldn’t get away with anything and at least one of them were at the school at every opportunity.  Even at university, I would get the inquisition whenever we got together!  How was I doing on tests and projects and exams and …?  I think that, as long as there have been parents, there have been varying levels of interest and involvement in student school.  So, I don’t see it as a trend and I don’t care who defines it whether it’s poorly or not so poorly.

Is the situation not one of attitude?  As teachers, do we not want to recognize the role that a parent can play in making schools years a success?  Yes, there are some parents that are more vocal than others.  Yes, there are single parents.  Yes, there are parents that work permanent midnights.  Yes, there are so many permutations.  It seems to me that the doors to communication need to be open.  Telephone calls can be made.  In today’s world, there are no shortages of opportunities to communicate.  Parent Councils?  Absolutely – you see them bringing in speakers to help parents understand life as it exists in today’s world.  Nobody teaches you how to be a parent so every little bit helps.

My Day on CBC Radio: The Journey
What would you do if you threw a party and the guest of honour didn’t show up?  I was almost in that boat at the ECOO Conference.  We wanted to have a panel discussion among the keynote speakers moderated by CBC Radio’s Nora Young.  We had them all there but we were missing something important – the voice of now in schools.  After all, the conference theme was Education in the Now Century.  During the planning, when I raised the issue, Bill MacKenzie asked who I would recommend.  One name popped to the front of my mind – Donna Fry.  She was big in social media, was a classroom teacher, was an eLearning Teacher, was a vice-principal, and now was a principal.  If there ever was a person who had experienced it all….

Things would have been a great deal easier if Donna could get to the conference by driving up the 407.  That’s a little difficult when you live on the other end of Lake Superior!  Read Donna’s post to get the details of her trip east.  It wasn’t easy.  After I got her situated on the stage, the least I could do was get her a glass of water – her only request.  From there, she proceeded to steal the show!

Dude, where’s my camera?
This picture from Royan Lee’s post says it all.

I’m really at a loss to put any kind of spin on this one.  The post and the comments from Royan’s readers say it all.  If you’re not prepared to trust that teachers will use technology properly, I’d suggest that you just save your money and not buy the stuff.  Or, maybe Alana is right.  Just disable all functionality of the technology and then you won’t need to have professional learning or discourse.  The students will be safe (the only possible reason I could think of this) and you won’t have to worry at all about making new content via pictures or movies documenting a child’s world.


I would be remiss not to have a word about Andy Forgrave’s latest post…

Haiku, do you?
I don’t get Haiku.  I don’t think I ever studied it.  I don’t recall ever writing it.  I do read it every now and again from the keyboard of Andy Forgrave who tags it #twhaiku.  It’s obviously an art form I’m incapable of creating.  But Andy can and I think his stuff is good.  What do I know?  At least it’s interesting.

I wrote a post yesterday about Haiku Deck for the iPad.  Since I know two things about Haiku – it’s a Japanese poetic form and Andy creates it – I figure the least I could do is make reference to his abilities in my post.  I was also interested that Andy hadn’t shared it with me already.  One of the joys of our infrequent get togethers is to have him teach me about his latest passion.  After all, he was the one that introduced me to Prose with Bros.

I didn’t expect that my post would inspire him to write a post back on his own blog.  I also didn’t expect that he would analyze my thoughts in Haiku.  Now I must confess – I’m not sure whether his post was positive or negative – it was just Haiku!

Thanks, Andy.

Check out these posts at the links above or all the writers from the Ontario Edubloggers Livebinder.  If you’re a blogger or an Ontario Educator who wants to be added to the Twitter Ontario Educator list, there’s a form there.  Complete the form and I’ll get you added as soon as I can and I’ll create a personalize badge for your blog.

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This Week in Ontario Edublogs


It’s time for a little Friday roundup of some of the best reads from posts from Ontario Educators.  It’s not an easy time to stay focused for Ontario Educators so kudos to the bloggers that get past all that’s going on and to stay the course in the great creating and sharing that happens to regularly

An Interview with Royan Lee

I did an interview with Royan Lee and he was kind enough to make reference to it on his blog.

So often, those of us who use technology are seen as one-dimensional by others.  That’s why I was all over a previous post from Royan about the Thinking Books that he uses with his classes.  If you read the entire interview, you’ll see that not only do those who use technology do so well, but that it’s strongly based in good practice.  We had a few people ask for permission to pass it along to their internal school networks.  It’s really not necessary since everything in this blog is licensed liberally with a Creative Commons license.  Royan gave a great interview and I hope that his words of wisdom can help others.  The post was cross-posted on

Why did Government House Leader John Milloy retract his Tweet?

If there’s any doubt that people are following and hanging on your every bit of social media presence, just do something out of the ordinary and see if someone notices.  Peter Beens reports a Twitter message from the House Leader that went missing in action.  Ontario educators especially are keeping tabs on anything political as it applies to collective agreements.  This is an interesting post as was Peter’s earlier one I’m Tired of the Propoganda.  In that post, Peter offered the best advice to parents.

Redefining “Team”

Amidst all the talk going on about Ontario education and Ontario teachers, something that seems to be missing is the professionalism of Ontario educators.  There are lots of great teachers doing great preparation for the new school year in September.  Even tougher are those who are dealing with new subjects or new grades.  Aviva Dunsiger is making a big move in grades this year and talks about the teammates that she has amassed over the summer to help her make the transition.  Don’t we all need a little help every now and again?

What seemed like a simple request…

These are the types of emails/phone calls that those of us who support others with educational technology just love to get.  So often, the calls are “I lost something” or “I forget how to do this” or “Where is my home drive”.  There’s a big difference between helping someone with an immediate, albeit urgent need that may require a couple of mouse clicks and helping someone develop a long range plan.  In this posting, Alana Callan shares her reactions and thoughts when she got that email.  It was great reading and it sounds like her floodgates opened to support her colleague.  Way to go, Alana.

I would encourage you to follow the links and read the complete posts.  There’s great reading to be had.  You can follow the entire collection of Ontario Edublogs at this link.


An Interview with Royan Lee

Recently, if you’ve been following Royan Lee (@royanlee) on Twitter, you’ve had a glimpse of what his classroom will look like in a couple of weeks when school resumes.  He’s openly transparent about what he and his students do.  Yesterday, he posted about his students’ “Thinking Books” and that really got me thinking.

In the middle of the post, he notes:
We are paperless in the sense that students and I don’t use paper to submit and return assignments, but we use paper everyday in the process of learning, to collaborate and think. Paper is an absolutely essential tool for learning; we shouldn’t try to eliminate it just for the sake of it.

After a couple of back and forths on Twitter and comment on his blog, I thought that this needed to be more than just a tweet or two and decided to turn this into a blog post.  I’ll also post this to

Doug:  Thank you for sharing your thoughts about paper and technology as you introduced us to your Thinking Books.  I really like the title and would like to follow up with some questions.

Doug:  In your post, you describe yourself as a Learning Centre Classroom Teacher.  If I was to walk into your classroom on a typical day, what would I see?

Royan: Well, we’re all public school teachers that deal with budgets, limitations, and equality of resources, right? In my room, you will currently see round tables designed for four people in a N-S-E-W configuration. You will also see an old IKEA kitchen bench which was redundant in my house, so now serves as essentially a work and charging station for mobile technology. We affectionately call it ‘the bar’. Look high and you’ll see something we’re terribly fortunate to have: a ceiling mounted projector. Other than that, it’s the same ol’ blackboard, whiteboard, etc. Oh, did I mention there are iPad devices and mobile devices scattered everywhere?

Doug:  Does your layout change when you’re using technology versus using paper for your activities?

Royan: Nope.

Doug:  Would you call your classroom a BYOT learning environment?  If so, how do you ensure that the students have the applications that you need?

Royan: One of the keys to getting BYOT to work in our class is our access to Google Apps for Ed. That, more than the devices, are the real key to making it work from a technical standpoint. GApps are device agnostic, and ever more so by the day.

Doug:  For students that don’t bring their own technology, do they feel different?  How do you address this?

Royan: This is the biggest molehill made into a mountain with BYOT. I try my best to foster a culture of equity where people get what they need, but not necessarily in an equal manner. We need our students to be comfortable with “he needs a notebook for this, and she needs an MacBook Pro for that”. That being said, BYOT works for us from an equity perspective because we have enough devices to supplement ‘have-nots’, and, like Robert Munsch, we share everything. When students see that I am willing to let a student use my iPhone or MacBook at any given time, they have no problem sharing. My students are not in little pods; devices are scattered everywhere. If an iPad gets bumped, bruised, or even shattered because of this environment, well, que sera. Learning trumps touch screens.

Doug:  For the technology that exists in your classroom (the MacBook Pros, the smartphones, and the iPads), who determines and installs the applications?  Most importantly, who makes sure everything is properly charged?

Royan: My students and I in equal measures. By the end of the year, there is always a core group of mini Doug Petes and Royan Lees eager to look after EVERYTHING tech related. My ‘geniuses’, to borrow the Apple Store term.

Doug:  In looking through the examples you shared from your Thinking Book, there is some pretty interesting artwork!  Is this the nature of the classes that use the Thinking Book or is The Arts a strong theme through everything that you do?

Royan: The arts is everything for me. I don’t even do it consciously. And, by ‘arts’, I mean creativity, risk taking, comfort in open-endedness. Some of my biggest influences pedagogically are David Booth, Larry Shwartz, and Bob Barton, not Steve Jobs and Bill Gates.

Doug:  Are students allowed to take their Thinking Books home with them?  Are they allowed to take any of the classroom technology home?

Royan: Yes, everything. I’ve let students sign out iPads and 1 out of 100 times they come back damaged. Great odds.

Doug:  Are the Thinking Books or any of the technology used in a student led parent-teacher conference?  How?

Royan: Yes, absolutely, I’m so glad you asked that. They are essential artifacts for explaining the ‘whys’ of this kind of learning to parents, especially skeptical ones. Many parents hear about what we do and think: a) Awesome! b) What a hippie crackpot? c) Does he work for Apple? I want to make sure the latter two understand that it’s about their child as a whole, not as a number.

Doug:  In your post and my follow up Twitter message, it’s very clear that you have a balance of 50-50 with technology versus traditional paper.  Is this optimum?  How do you know?

Royan: I do think it’s optimum, because that’s the ratio I’ve observed students gravitate towards in settings where traditional tools and tech are integrated seamlessly on-demand. When the tech is boring because it’s always around, students can more objectively talk about which tools best serve a particular purpose for them.

Doug:  Is the use of paper or technology for a particular task a student choice?  Do you ensure that students experience all modes during the course of the school year?

Royan: It’s a mix. I basically use a gradual release of responsibility framework for this. I start off saying, “this must be done in Animoto, that must be done in chart paper, etc.,” then I get students to reflect on the tools. By January, everyone’s pretty metacognitive about it. I prefer to use differentiation, rather than systems like TRIBES, for culture building.

Doug:  Are there subjects that tend to be better addressed with paper than technology?

Royan: It’s funny you should mention that because I’m always thinking about this question. There are two main situations where I find technology to be a disruption, favouring pen and paper tools: math problem solving, and independent reading. I find that these two activities are ones that demand the most perseverance and quietness in the artificial setting that is a room of 30 sweaty children. I find it a good time to disconnect.

Doug:  Do you favour one or the other for student writing?

Royan: I personally favour digital by far, and I encourage students to write digitally, because of the collaborative and editing possibilities. Except in the case of idea generation. I try and make that a matter of personal choice.

Doug:  Do you use any other methods for students to create a learning portfolio?

Royan:  Yes, we use blogs, which we basically treat as our digital Thinking Books. Read more here.

Doug:  Do you have the full support of your administration and parents in your approach?  How do you show evidence of learning?

Royan: I do have a lot of support from parents and admin, which is basically what allows us to do what we do. In the case of the former group, I occasionally run into barriers from a vocal minority. I treat them as teachable moments. My approach has always been that if I think I may be doing something that is perceived as subversive in any way (note that I say perceived – many stakeholders have no problem with ‘traditional’ methods that have no foundation in curriculum or theory) I am ready with my pedagogical defence for it.

Doug:  Thank you, Royan.  One final question – if a classroom teacher is reading this and looking to get started with a blended approach to traditional paper versus using technology, where should they start?  How will THEY know they’re being successful?

Royan: Hmmm. This is a tough question for me, because I feel like my most honest answer could be seen as unhelpful or glib. I suppose the way I started is just by… starting. By trying to integrate technology into what I was doing, by collaborating with people and sharing my stories. I’ve done far more failing than anything else. Basically it’s about disposition. If you’re ok with working with these tools – any tools – in a manner akin to my 1yo learning to use a spoon, then you’re off to the races! I don’t really want to say, “Well, start with Google Docs” or “Get a MacBook Pro” or whatever. It makes no sense to say that because so much of it is contextual. It’s more important to take rewarding risks, surround yourself with people venturing similar terrain, and be resilient. As Yoda says, do or do not, there is no try. Do, reflect, share, do, reflect, share. Rinse, repeat. Thanks, Doug, love talking to ya.

Again, thank you, Royan.  p.s. He did miss a real opportunity.  If you’re getting started or you’re looking for ideas to refine your approaches, make sure that you follow Royan’s blog where he shares so much.