The Walking Dead…at a School Near You?

People talk about the idea of a zombie apocalypse and if it could ever really happen, funny thing is it already has! Our children are being turned into veritable zombies everyday that they sit and do uninspired work at school or are expected to fit into a one-size fits all cookie cutter style of education.

I was struck as I read this line from Katie Martin’s Learner Centered Innovation,

Why do we accept disengagement as the norm? Are we really okay with being zombies, going to work day in and day out with little purpose or drive?

Katie’s frustration and downright disgust at the idea is palpable and I hope it would be to everyone – it certainly is to me. Thing is, that means we have to do something about it! Too often we complain about the sorry state of schooling today and the zombification of our children, but then we just go back to doing things the way we always have. That’s part of the problem!

I know I had many fears and stressful, sleepless nights worrying whether the new ideas I was trying would work or be a catastrophic disaster. It’s hard and uncomfortable, but I am so glad I powered through the doubt. I know I have grown because of it, and so have my students.

In a zombie apocalypse you can’t keep on doing everything how you always have. Face it, a mere trip to the grocery store could be fatal, but you can fight it. Arm yourself with innovation, enlist colleagues and your PLN to fight the battle with you, empower your students to rise up and crush those zombies.


On Being Timeless

Recently, Anthony Salcito, Vice President of Education at Microsoft, gave an analogy during his talk at the E2 Educator’s Conference in Singapore, he said: “If you took a surgeon from a hunded years ago out if an operating theatre and put him or her in a hospital today they would be completely lost and not aware of what to do, etc., but if you took a teacher from a hundred years ago and put him or her into a classroom they’d know what to do and they would be fine.” They would be fine because, no matter what subject or what age you teach, the base line of a good teacher is, as George Couros proclaimed, relationships, relationships, relationships. Furthermore, Katie Martin talks about surrounding yourself with people who will build you up and make you better. Teachers strive to be one of those people for their students.

Rather it is the resilience, the empathy, the humanity that are the most important, lasting things we teach.

No matter what subject we may be teaching, in the end the best we can teach our students have nothing to do with the subject at all. Rather it is the resilience, the empathy, the humanity that are the most important, lasting things we teach. We have many avenues and contexts to do this, but this is why a teacher is timeless. This is what will create a just society and good citizens. This is what will build a better world.

Tweak It!

Katie Martin’s thoughts on tweaking learning experiences and the way we do things resonated with me this week, particularly as I am in the midst of doing just that.

A couple years ago I asked my grade 11 English students what could be improved or changed in the course. What did they love? What impacted them? What did they hate? The answers lead me to re-evaluate the way I did things and what I focused on.

I had started blogging with my students for the first time ever that semester while reading Frankenstein and resoundingly the students cited that experience as one they found relevant and impactful, but other things in the course – particularly reading One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest- were not so successful.

I love Cuckoo’s Nest, and it fit so well thematically with the other texts on the course (Frankenstein and Macbeth), but apparently my students were not getting much out of it. That made me evaluate quite a few things. Was there something wrong with the way it was presented? What was it they didn’t like? Then I started to question why I was teaching that particular book. Was I just hung up on the fact that that is how I had always done it? So, I took a really critical look at the goals I had for that book and the course in general.

A big theme that runs throughout the texts in the course is mental illness. I wanted to keep that focus because it’s so very important to talk about in order to help support students and reduce the stigma attached to mental illness. Particularly in today’s climate of skyrocketing cases of depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses as well as rising numbers of suicides in teens (Mojtabai). I also concluded that if the students weren’t relating to the text, then that discussion would never happen. So I decided I should change the text. But to what? At the same time, I also wanted to infuse more non-fiction texts into the course, so I settled on memoirs which focused on mental health.

I wanted my students to be part of the developnent process so we chose five different memoirs as a group: The Evil Hours by David Morris; Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen; Monkey Mind by Daniel Smith; When Rabbit Howls by Trudi Chase and the Troops; and Quiet Room by Lori Schiller. Students reading the same book formed small discussion groups and we regularly shared what we were reading and learning with the class as a whole. At the same time, we learned about stigma, the history of the treatment of mental illness, and talked about typical misconceptions. At the end of the semester, the students cited blogging as before as one of their favourite activities, but they also said that the memoirs were the most worthwhile learning experience they had had in years providing the real world connections and authenticity as supportive evidence.

I have since continued to tweak and develop the Mental Health Memoir Unit. For example, I began putting together mini lessons focusing on different mental illnesses. Then I remembered John Spencer in Empower saying “What am I doing for my students that they could be doing themselves?” At that point I scrapped the mini lessons and started outlining the presentation project that now accompanies reading the memoirs. I wanted students to practice 21st Century learning skills like collaboration and critical thinking, as well as embedding technology in the process. I used the Triple E Framework outlined by Dr. Liz Colb as my lens to plan and assess technology use in the unit. What I came up with is this: Students begin by completing research using databases and composing annotated bibliographies. Their memoir reading group then uses this information and what has impacted them from the memoir to collaboratively develop a visual and oral presentation to teach the class about the specific mental illness their memoir focuses on.

Tweaking some more, I made some connections with experts in the mental health field who graciously Skyped with my students. We spoke with a Professor who teaches abnormal psychology in a nursing program and who has first hand experience dealing with depression and anxiety as a teen. We also spoke to David Granirer who began Stand Up for Mental Health, a program that teaches stand up comedy while providing therapeutic benefits people helping then to overcome many of the fears and struggles wrapped up in their illnesses.

This semester I added some new titles to the collection of memoirs – Skin Game by Caroline Kettlewell, Unholy Ghosts edited by Nell Casey, Unquiet Mind by Kay Redfield, Just Checking By Emily Colas, and Unbearable Lightness by Portia deRossi. I’m also planning on showing my students #BookSnaps so they can reflect as they read and then be able to use the snaps in their visual presentation. We are also going to have a Stress and Anxiety workshop lead by our board’s Mental Health Lead. Ultimately I plan to have students create Public Service Announcements to take their learning outside the classroom into the school and community and help create change and a more accepting and supportive environment for everyone.

I continue to tweak every time I teach this unit to ensure it remains relevant and continues to challenge students. I know it meets curriculum standards, but I want it to do so much more. In the Foreward of Teaching in the Fourth Industrial Revolution by Armand Doucet, Jelmer Evers, Elisa Guerra, Dr. Nadia Lopez, Michael Soskil and Koen Timmers, Professor Klaus Schwab notes that “students must be adept…in developing profoundly human skills such as leadership, social-emotional intelligence, and critical thinking” and that collaboration, empathy and teamwork will define the education of the future.” This unit hopefully does that and also encourages students to see “the need for continued lifelong learning” that Schwab sees as pivotal for future success.

Doucet, Armand, et al. Teaching in the Fourth Industrial Revolution: Standing at the Precipice. Routledge, 2018.
Mojtabai, R., et al. “National Trends in the Prevalence and Treatment of Depression in Adolescents and Young Adults.” Pediatrics, Vol. 138, No. 6, 2016, doi:10.1542/peds.2016-1878.
Spencer, John, and A. J. Juliani. Empower: What Happens When Students Own Their Learning. IMpress, 2017.

Be Revolutionary: Focus on the People

There’s a revolution going on all around us. An innovation revolution. And an innovation revolution is just what we need to support our students and ourselves. If we truly want to do the best for our students we have to innovate. Teaching the way we were taught isn’t going to cut it anymore. We need to start recognizing the bigger picture: focus on the students, not the content!

In a recent article, “Interpersonal Skills and Today’s Job Market”, published in The Graduate School of Education at Harvard’s online magazine Usable Knowledge Leah Shafer writes that we need to focus more on collaboration and people skills because that is what the job market needs. She says, “Professions requiring high levels of social interaction — such as managers, teachers, nurses, therapists, consultants, and lawyers — have grown by nearly 12 percentage points as a share of all jobs in the United States economy in the last 30 years. Math-intensive but less social jobs shrunk by 3.3 percentage points over the same period. The pay for more social-intensive jobs is increasing at a faster rate as well.” Shafer’s statistics reaffirm what many teachers already know – education needs to be about more than content and knowledge accumulation, rather it should focus more on developing soft skills like collaboration, communication, critical thinking, leadership and work ethic. Shafer promotes “group projects… [as] valuable learning opportunities.”  Just as John Spencer and A.J. Juliani’s book Empower advocates student-lead, project-based learning, so too does Shafer saying “long-term project-based work, in which students work as a team, receive feedback, and revise together, are also important experiences. And when assessing students, teachers should take teamwork into account, signifying that the ability to collaborate is just as important as the content students are learning or producing.”

Shafer’s article was largely based on David Deming’s research published in his paper “The Growing Importance of Social Skills in the Labor Market”. Deming asserts “You want the classroom to reflect the richness of real-life interactions, and to give people experience in the kinds of settings that are going to be useful to them when they leave school”. Isn’t that what we all want? This shouldn’t even be questioned, but somehow it isn’t always the case. Sometimes people are too stuck in the past and have a hard time relinquishing control to actually allow these real-life interactions and experiences to happen in the classroom. Others may feel they are very forward thinking and in tune with twenty-first-century classroom thinking and design by focusing on the technological advances of today and the need for students to learn advanced digital skills to compete in a computerized world. Engaging students with technology, enhancing what they are already doing with technology, and extending their learning via technology is important, but should not be the focus. As Deming points out: “it’s the human qualities like flexibility, reading body language, and human interaction that are really at the forefront of necessities in student learning. David Deming states: “Human interaction in the workplace involves team production, with workers playing off of each other’s strengths and adapting flexibly to changing circumstances. Such non-routine interaction is at the heart of the human advantage over machines.”

Shafer and Deming’s revelations go right to the heart of Katie Martin’s Learner-Centered Innovation.

Technology and access to information aren’t the most important factors in creating twenty-first-century classrooms; teachers are. The power of the teacher comes not from the information she shares but from the opportunities she creates for students to learn how to learn, solve problems, and apply learning in meaningful ways.

Katie Martin, Learner-Centered Innovation

Embracing innovative classroom approaches that emphasize human interaction and allow students to lead and learn are key to twenty-first-century learning design and our children’s future. What are you waiting for? Be revolutionary.


Deming DJ. The Growing Importance of Social Skills in the Labor Market. Quarterly Journal of Economics. Forthcoming.
Martin, Katie. Learner-Centered Innovation: Spark Curiosity, Ignite Passion and Unleash Genius . IMPress, a division of Dave Burgess Consulting, Inc., 2018
Shafer, Leah. “Interpersonal Skills and Today’s Job Market.” Usable Knowledge, Harvard Graduate School of Education, 17 Oct. 2017,

Innovative Messages

What messages are you sending?

Let’s consider the messages we send when we innovate in the classroom. We show our students that learning is ongoing, a process and something to embrace – always. Innovation enhances everything we do. It makes life interesting. It creates passion. It’s contagious. But most importantly it says we think enough of our students to put in that hard work!

It says we value you.

This is exactly why teachers are the most important part of the 21st Century learning classroom, as Katie Martin says in Learner-Centered Innovation: Spark Curiosity, Ignite Passion, and Unleash Genius: “Technology and access to information aren’t the most important factors in creating twenty-first-century classrooms; teachers are. The power of the teacher comes not from the information she shares but from the opportunities she creates for students to learn how to learn, solve problems, and apply learning in meaningful ways.”

When we innovate in the classroom the unspoken messages we send are more powerful than any cool lesson we can come up with. In fact, a teacher who tries new things and bombs is more important than any great lesson. The learning that takes place in these awkward, perhaps difficult circumstances truly teaches our students what it takes – resilience, iteration, and reflection – even a little grace. Nobody said failing meant falling flat! It is possible to fail with style a la Buzz Lightyear and Toy Story. What could be more important than showing our students that we value them enough to stick our neck out and fail and then try again?

Katie Martin asserts that “No longer do students need to access teachers for content, but they desperately need teachers to guide them as they develop the skills, knowledge, and dispositions to be lifelong learners and critical consumers. Students need teachers to help them make sense of information so that they can create new and better ideas that will move us all forward.”

Innovation enhances everything, especially the messages we send. What’s your next message going to be?

Opportunities Abound Outside Your Comfort Zone

Have you ever looked around at teachers you admire and wondered “How do they do that? How do they have so much energy? It’s like cool opportunities just fall in their lap!”

I used to think like that. Then I discovered something… opportunities don’t fall in people’s laps. People work for them. And that energy? It magically creates more energy.

My teaching career has had quite a few ups and downs. After four years as a substitute teacher I finally got a full time teaching position. I was ecstatic. I soon moved to a new, specialized off site program for hard to reach students. I have to admit, I felt lost a lot of the time, but I really liked the kids and missed them when I went off on maternity leave with my third child.

When I returned to work, I finally started to feel like I was improving as a teacher and getting on top of things. I had supportive colleagues and a principal who really encouraged me to stretch myself. She got me involved in a cross panel committee and then as Student Success Lead. Things were exciting, and all the learning I was participating in really energized me and my practice.

Then life took an abrupt left turn. My son, 5 at the time, was diagnosed with cancer. Our family got through that ordeal relatively unscathed, thankfully, but a little more than 2 years later my mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer…then my dad died followed swiftly by my mom. In total it was four years of reeling on an emotional roller coaster that left little mental space for me to up my teaching game.

Slowly the cloud lifted and I started to get back on track. Part of me felt like I was starting over again, like an unsure, new teacher back at square one, but I plugged along. I came to a point when I felt pretty disheartened. I criticized and second-guessed myself all the time. I was frustrated. My confidence level was low and I felt unfulfilled. Really it was pretty self-sabotaging stuff.

Fortunately for me around that time my board was incorporating tech in a big way – tablets for all teachers and each classroom. The use of tech in the classroom has always intrigued me and I jumped into learning all I could and speedily became very efficient. So much so that I was asked to join a new team in my board – the Digital Lead Learner team.

The Digital Lead Learner team was a turning point for me, and for the most part – not about tech! Being on the team opened possibilities for learning I didn’t even know existed. It encouraged me to see things from a different perspective – a bigger perspective. It helped me find my “why” again and so much more.

I have stepped outside my comfort zone more in the past three years than I have in the last twenty. I have lead workshops for my colleagues; co-hosted a Twitter chat; joined global collaboration projects (Climate Action Project and Innovation Project) with my students, changed and updated my teaching practice by embedding tech like D2L, OneNote, Class Notebook, and Flipgrid to name a few; and tried new things in class that made me very nervous – Skype, student-led learning, and blogging. I’m looking forward to presenting at the upcoming ConnectED Conference and I’m going to teach refugees via Skype through Project Kakuma. Talk about exciting and scary rolled into one! But that’s what’s great! That’s where learning happens. I remember totally feeling like Carolyn Cormier – frozen hovering over the button. But I know the best learning takes place in that scary spot outside our comfort zone and now I know HOW to work through scary and WHY it’s so important to do it.

I’ve also learned that, as John Spencer and A.J. Juliani point out in their book Empower, “the world deserves your creativity.” I had never looked at things this way, now I do – for myself and my students.

Opportunities don’t fall in your lap, but they are out there waiting for you to jump out of your comfort zone and fall right into their lap.

The Seven ‘One’ders of OneNote

I’m sure you’ve heard of the Seven Wonders of the World…

Wonders of the Ancient World:

NEW Wonders:


Did you know there’s a NEW set of wonders?

Prepare to be awed and amazed as you discover the Seven ‘One’ders of OneNote!!!

Being a bit of an organization freak, you can guess what attracted me to OneNote in the first place…


OneNote has pretty stunning organizational capabilities. I was able to put all my files (which were A LOT, I might add) for my classes into one binder and have it organized with ultra-efficiency. Unlike when my files were organized in folders on my computer, I can also include websites, videos, pictures, virtually anything in my OneNote that I use in my classes. I am able to organize everything into section groups, sections and pages. I can even add internal links to make finding things easier. Truly, the fact that everything is searchable in OneNote  is an added bonus that means I’ll never lose anything again!

Here’s a great creative writing idea that takes OneNote’s multi-layer organizational and internal linking capabilities to a new level: create a choose your own adventure book! Find out the process from Pip Cleaves in the blog post OneNote and Choose Your Own Adventure Book.

This amazing feat can only be bested by the veritable Colosseum of collaborative capabilities that OneNote allows.


Collaboration is at the centre of 21st Century learning skills. While collaborative skills can be encouraged face to face during class, having the capability to continue collaborating outside the time and space of school empowers students to take charge of their learning. Furthermore, the sharing functions allow for limitless users and real time collaboration making sharing and working together on a global scale possible.

A few ways I have used OneNote to collaborate are:

  • An English department notebook which houses course outlines, units and lessons for all our English courses.
  • A teaching staff notebook containing meeting notes, resources, locker assignments, team rosters, health and safety memos, and much more that aid staff in day to day tasks.
  • A Global Collaboration project notebook shared with all participating teachers (Climate Action Project) in over 60 countries where the outline of the project, planning notes, resources and timelines were shared

If I could get back all the good ideas I’ve lost I could fill the ancient library of Alexandria! So conquering curation is the next job to tackle. Even the Colossus of Rhodes could take notes!


OneNote has become my go to curation tool. I can share to OneNote from any of my devices – PC, tablet, cell – and select where it goes so I am able to keep myself informed and organized! The OneNote Web Clipper allows seamless saving of anything on the web to OneNote. The clipper icon lives on your browser tool bar allowing you to easily clip to OneNote, organize and edit it, then access it from any device. The clipper also allows you to select only the article, recipe, or product information you really need from the webpage, thus eliminating clutter.

The OneNote Web Clipper window

Office Lens is another great tool that is really helpful for curation. It’s like having a scanner in your pocket. You can take a picture of documents, whiteboards, receipts, even SketchNotes and drawings and it will digitize them and can make them readable so the Immersive Reader can read aloud to you! Office Lens can convert the pictures you take of docs or whiteboards, etc. to PDF, Word and PowerPoint slides then you can save them to OneNote.

The Lighthouse at Alexandria is not the only thing shining a light! OneNote’s Learning Tools act as a beacon for student accessibility and differentiated learning.

Learning tools

OneNote’s Learning Tools add-in has been rated the top Dyslexia app for 2016 and Jordan Shapiro of Forbes Magazine says it is “one of the most disruptive education technologies yet.” Learning Tools features an Immersive Reader and a Dictate function. The Immersive Reader allows students powerful capabilities like Read Aloud, which reads and highlights text simultaneously greatly helping students with comprehension and focus – students are even able to select from various voices; and Font control, which allows users to increase or decrease font size, change font or background colour and widen text spacing, all of which can enhance reading fluency. The Dictate function allows students talk-to-text capabilities aiding them in authoring and increasing confidence.

While translation is not part of the Learning Tools add-in, I think it’s important to mention here. OneNote is able to translate over 60 language – including Klingon for you Star Trek fans! This is a fantastic resource for ELL and ESL teachers and students alike, just one more reason to love OneNote!

In short, learning tools are simple to use and very effective with proven benefits as seen in the chart below.

Feature Proven Benefit
Enhanced dictation Improves authoring text
Focus mode Sustains attention and improves reading speed
Immersive reading Improves comprehension and sustains attention
Font spacing and short lines Improve reading speed by addressing “visual crowding”
Parts of speech Supports instruction and improves writing quality
Syllabification Improves word recognition
Comprehension mode Improves comprehension by an average of 10%


For more information check out this article: New Research: Learning Tools Improves Reading Comprehension or Learning Tools for OneNote Improves Learning for All

The Taj Mahal ranks as a jewel of Muslim art and architecture expressing the Taj’s love for his wife. Creative expression capabilities with Digital Ink ranks as our next ‘One’der

Digital Ink

Digital Ink in OneNote allows for creative expression and so much more. The impact on learning is astronomical! According to an IDC report, Digital Ink in the Classroom, ink boosts education: teachers increase the quality of instruction by 88%, teachers save time grading papers by 50%, teachers save time preparing lessons by 67%, and students score 25%-36% higher on science tests.

With digital ink you can handwrite your notes, annotate documents, or sketch your ideas, even write your math equations! You can then convert your handwriting to text you can edit.

Replay is a newer feature of OneNote that allows you to record Digital Ink and turn it into a movie-like animation. It lives in the VIEW tab. You can move back and forth to watch thinking in action. Think of all the times you watched a demo and wished you could play it again…you can now!

China built a wall to keep invaders out, OneNote allows you to pick your own walls for safety and for fun!

Password Protect

The password protect feature in OneNote may be overlooked, but it’s a useful and powerful feature. Support staff in my board – people like speech pathologists, social workers and child and youth workers, love OneNote for the organizational and collaborative qualities available, but they need to be cognizant of personal information and safety of students first and foremost. The password protect function is a must in their daily work. They are able to keep sensitive notes and files organized and have the assurance of them also being protected. They can even share their notebooks and have certain sections “locked” and can choose to make them available on a need to know basis via a private password.

Password protect is not just great for safety of information, it can be fun too! Some very creative educators have used this function to run Escape the Classroom events with their students. What a engaging, fun way to review or learn material! Have a look at an example from Kyle Kirshenbaum, Escape the Classroom. Learn more from Alyssa Martin and Lin Lee with their Escape Room presentation and Instructional Guide

The Greek poet Antipater of Sidon, wrote of the Temple of Artemis: “When I saw the house of Artemis that mounted to the clouds, those other marvels lost their brilliancy, and I said, ‘Lo, apart from Olympus, the Sun never looked on aught so grand'” just like the grandest ‘One’der of them all: Class Notebook.

Class Notebook

As if OneNote wasn’t incredible enough, Microsoft created Class Notebook with three sections. Each section has different authoring and viewing permissions to allow the best of all worlds.

Class Notebook comes with three sections:

  1. Content library – where the author can view and edit, but everyone else can only view
  2. Collaboration space – where everyone has the ability to view and edit
  3. Student notebooks – a student’s personal workspace. Only the student and the teacher can view and edit this section

Having sections with separate viewing and editing permissions was a stroke of pure genius in my estimation. I can create a digital textbook for my students specific to their needs. Not only am I able to organize and house handouts and lessons in the content library, I can embed videos, presentations, and all kinds of content. To make the idea of creating a textbook that perfectly fits your classes and students even better, Open Education Resources are now accessible right in OneNote (available with the latest version -1.8.4 – of the class notebook add-in). Over 300,000 standards aligned lessons and integral assessments via Microsoft Forms can be searched and inserted right into your content library. Talk about streamlining!

The collaboration space allows for whole class discussion or collaborative group projects. Teachers are even able to lock the collaboration space if required to allow for assessment of a group project perhaps.

The student’s personal notebook gives students the ability to ask questions and receive feedback as needed from the teacher while at the same time helping them to stay organized. Teachers are able to distribute handouts. sections or whole content libraries to all students with ease via the distribute function. Additionally, reviewing work is just as efficient with the review tab.

I’m sure it hasn’t been too difficult to tell that I LOVE ONENOTE!!! While it may not rank as big in the world as the Pyramid of Giza, I think the impact and possibilities that OneNote allows its users mean it won’t disappear like the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.


Bikes, Balance & Gravity

“Look at him go! I think he’s got the hang of it!”

“Hmm, maybe not quite yet.”

It was the umpteenth time my son had fallen that day learning to ride his bike, but it looked like the frustration was getting to him at this point as I watched him get up and give his bike a good swift kick. I walked over to give him some words of encouragement. He stood there indignantly, hands balled up in little fists, and exclaimed “I hate gravity!” 

Every parent who has ever taught their child to ride a bike will understand my story and the challenges of teaching your child to ride a bike. How exactly do you teach coordination? What about balance? How do you even explain it well to a five year old?

I was recently reminded of this bike riding incident whilst reading Empower by John Spencer and A.J. Juliani. It made me consider all the things that you can’t really teach that are involved in riding a bike – coordination, multi-tasking, balance. That’s why we very often start with training wheels. In teaching we would call that scaffolding – give supports to allow students to learn a few parts required on a task, then gradually remove the supports until they can do the whole process on their own.

When riding a bike the training wheels allow you to focus on pedalling, your momentum; and steering, your focus and where you’re going. When we get good at those two things we remove the training wheels. That’s when we learn balance. Balance brings it all together. Without balance you don’t get far because gravity takes over.

I’m excited to implement strategies to empower my students, and I will use training wheels at first – for me and my students. A few months ago I did a blogging project with my grade 11 students. We were reading Frankenstein and I wanted them to blog at least three times as they read the book. I gave mini lessons about using the blogging site, effective blogging, and citations and copyright. We discussed how they could write about anything they wanted as we read. I also gave a list of ideas to help them get started. As they read and posted, I gave them feedback for improvement, but no marks. At the very end of the process students showed great improvement in all areas of their blog posts – the quality of the content, the depth of their critical thinking, and the effectiveness of their presentation of the material. What surprised me most was how many students struggled with the freedom of writing anything they wanted. I was glad I had included some starting ideas, and even then there were a few students who had a lot of difficulty and required more guidance. A.J. Juliani states that many students are “blinded by choice at first” (Spencer & Juliani 40). In his book Pure Genius, Don Wettrick pointed out that 80% of his students imploded when given 20% Time citing that “freedom is hard” (Wettrick 20). Training wheels are important to provide when starting students on the road to independence. 

Having the students do multiple posts was important for the process as well because it allowed students to develop their momentum and focus. The students’ first posts were usually bare bones in terms of blogging effectiveness. There were no links or tags, and pictures and other media might have been included but didn’t always support the post effectively. They were just starting to pedal and needed to build momentum, but they also needed to hone their steering techniques. Many started with focusing only on content, but then were able to broaden their focus as they moved forward. By the third post they had pedalling and steering down pat and had developed the balance they lacked at the beginning of the project. They no longer need the supports I had in place and were able to ride on their own. In reflections from the students at the end of the semester I am consistently told how much they enjoy the blogging project. They appreciate taking on something new and loved the freedom and creativity it allowed them.

Spencer and Juliani pointed out that students need to be able to “learn, unlearn, and relearn” because we live in a world where this process is the reality and they need to be able to “get new information and analyze it, apply it, and use it to create or evaluate” (Spencer & Juliani 19). Applying their critical thinking skills in a new way, adjusting their writing processes in a new situation, and evaluating their work for effectiveness on a new platform reflect this process. 

Even the teacher needs to utilize training wheels. I know when I’m not in balance. Sometimes I tend to do all the steering. I don’t let the students take the wheel and have a hard time letting go of that control. Part if my learning process has been not only to loosen up and relinquish control, but also recognize when to do so. Sometimes I’m on a roll and the momentum is amazing! Unfortunately, for me that tends to mean the focus can suffer and students become confused. I have learned to reflect often and ask my students for feedback. They are always helpful with their observations and  suggestions and appreciate that we are trying new things and learning together. Frequent feedback and self reflection have helped me develop and improve. No more training wheels needed – til the next time my students and I embark on a new adventure riding our learning bikes!

Spencer, John & Juliani, A.J. Empower. IMpress, 2017.

Wettrick, Don. Pure Genius. San Diego: Dave Burgess Consulting, Inc. 2014.

Will you play with me?

The cry of every child rings in our ears bringing sweet remembrances of days long past when we too eagerly ran out to play with our friends. But times change, we grow older, and we don’t play so much anymore. Unfortunately, a decline in play doesn’t only happen because we get older. In the last 50 years, play has declined dramatically for children. Our focus has changed to test scores and building resumes as opposed to free play. Children’s free time is scheduled and controlled more than any other generation before.

Recently my principal included a link to an article in our OneNote Staff notebook under the heading Lonely Boys. The article, Thoughts on Vegas, and Why Men Keep Doing This by Charlie Hoehn, outlines the relationship between play and mental illness. Hoehn has a particular focus on boys and men in his article while I am going to speak in more general terms.

In essence, mental and emotional health deteriorates when children are deprived of play. Charlie Hoehn describes Dr. Stuart Brown’s research studying commonalities between “The Texas Sniper” and other mass murderers. Brown’s conclusions showed lack of play as a child had a significant negative impact on those he studied.

Brown recalls:

None of them engaged in healthy rough-and-tumble play. The linkages that lead to Charles Whitman producing this crime was an unbelievable suppression of play behavior throughout his life by a very overbearing, very disturbed father.

Hoehn asserts that

Play may be God’s greatest gift to mankind. It’s how we form friendships, and learn skills, and master difficult things that help us survive. Play is a release valve for stress, and an outlet for creativity. Play brings us music, comedy, dance, and everything we value.

Healthy play is necessary for growth and success. Play is how children learn to understand social systems and navigate the world, build friendships and de-stress. Unfortunately, our North American lifestyle and school system have progressively been limiting play. In fact, Hoehn comments that lack of play today has resulted in

a generation of the most anxious, depressed, and suicidal American children on record.

Hoehn continues to enlighten us with research from Dr. Peter Gray:

Over the past half century, in the United States and other developed nations, children’s free play with other children has declined sharply. Over the same period, anxiety, depression, suicide, feelings of helplessness, and narcissism have increased sharply in children, adolescents, and young adults… The decline in play has contributed to the rise in the psychopathology of young people.

In short, Hoehn concludes that, more than ever, people feel alone because they don’t have strong ties of friendship that are normally developed through play.

Hoehn’s article meshes well with the webinar The Science of Happiness by Kim Strobel from the Ditch That Textbook Digital Summit.

In the webinar, Strobel focuses primarily on teachers. She asserts that teachers are quite hard on themselves and tend to ‘overdue it’. Many teachers put in long hours in order to provide the best learning experiences for their students, but it is at the expense of their own self-care and wellbeing as well as their family time. This type of work and time commitment leads them to not only exhaustion, but unhappiness. Strobel points out that this behaviour is actually counterintuitive given that we are actually up to 31% more productive when we are happy.

The take away?

First, as a teacher, make time for play. Let students explore in their learning. They will become more well-rounded, emotionally stable people in the end.

Second, we all need to be happy, go out and play, enjoy our family and downtime because we need to in order to become our best selves.

Happy holidays everyone, recharge and play.

So Many Silver Linings

This past week I had the pleasure of co-hosting a TweetMeet with some of my fellow Digital Lead Learners @GEDSB21C: Teaching in the Cloud, in collaboration with #MSFTEdChatCA and I have to say, it underscores what a powerful tool Twitter can be — truly to my amazement. Let me explain…

It wasn’t so long ago that I joined Twitter, mostly due to attending the Connect2016 conference in Niagara Falls. I kept hearing about Twitter handles and what so and so found on Twitter and who they connected to, frankly, I found it mind boggling, so I just had to see what all the fuss was about. Little did I know the world it would open for me. It would be a gross understatement to say I was surprisingly shocked and in all the best of ways. No longer did I see Twitter as some silly piece of social media that celebrities used to entrap the common man in their media web. It could actually be used with great effect for meaningful dialogue.

Over the course of the next year and a half, my appreciation for Twitter magnified. I have had the opportunity to develop a PLN (Personal Learning Network) full of innovative, creative, supportive educators who I will probably never meet, but who have and continue to help me grow and learn at what would be described as an exponential rate. Case in point: a year ago, I didn’t even know what a TweetMeet was, let alone think I would be helping to host one!

The cloud offers so many silver linings

Flabberghastedness aside, (I know, I’m an English teacher, and that probably isn’t a word…but it works!) I was further thrilled with the new views, ideas and possibilities that I learned through the TweetMeet. The cloud offers so many silver linings: co-authoring and collaborative possibilities in real time, ease of accessibility, and powerful learning tools to name just a few. Let’s look a little closer at some of those silver linings…

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Co-authoring and Collaboration

Cloud access allows for teachers and students to co-author and collaborate in real time. That’s powerful learning community! Jeff Dumoulin

One of the many things the cloud affords users is the ability to co-author and collaborate in real time. Being able to share files via OneDrive (available in Office 365) allows users to collaborate and co-author quickly and easily.

You can see in the above picture that you can click on any file in your OneDrive holdings, right click the vertical elipsis next to the file name, and select share from the drop down menu. Once you click share a new window opens where you can then send emails to whomever you would like to share your file with. You are also able to select whether or not to allow editing or only viewing by your invited parties.

What does this mean specifically? In my class I have utilized this ability to encourage student collaboration. During our time working on the Climate Action Project, my students were able to share a PowerPoint slideshow and a Sway presentation to work on simultaneously to develop cohesive presentations that we then uploaded and shared globally on the project website. Likewise, sharing OneNote notebooks offers the same collaborative ability across small or large groups of people – whether that is a whole staff, a department, or a working team. Our English department has a shared OneNote notebook that we all contribute to that contains complete courses for every class we offer in the department as well as other teacher resources. It has been an excellent way to support new teachers coming in to cover a leave as well as seasoned teachers who are teaching a new course. Class OneNote notebooks allows even more capabilities by including various sections with different permissions: a collaborative section that can be edited by anyone who the notebook has been shared with, a content section that can only be edited by the teacher but viewed by all, and a student section which can be edited and viewed by the student and the teacher. Class notebooks are a versatile platform for blended learning models, as an easy means for students to stay organized, a great method for students to access work from home, or allow parents to see what their child is doing and stay updated about their child’s work. Changes made by any author are automatically synced keeping any file up to date for all users and across all platforms and, since OneDrive can be synced not only to your desktop, but your tablet, cell phone, or whatever device you may choose to use, students can use whatever device they are comfortable with.

In short, the cloud allows students and teachers to work together anytime, anywhere. It opens the door to increased participation and engagement for students who may not do so in a traditional classroom setting. Furthermore, parents can be given viewing access in order to support and showcase student learning to the fullest.

Accessibility and Learning Tools

Cloud tools offer accessibility features not available from the traditional blackboard note. Dave Abbey

Accessibility features and learning tools are game-changers when working in the cloud. Many of these capabilities are offered across an array of products to allow the user seamless operation and ease of use. First, the Microsoft’s Immersive Reader function which started in OneNote has been expanded and now lives in Outlook on the web, OneNote for Windows 10 app, and Microsoft Word online. The Immersive Reader helps people read more effectively in a number of ways: it eliminates common distractions, such as advertising, from the screen; it has a read aloud feature to aid in decoding and comprehension; it allows the user to increase spacing between letters in order to eliminate visual crowding; and it will even show the break-down of syllables and identify parts of speech. All of these techniques have been shown to greatly improve reading comprehension and reading ability. (For more information see Leveling the Playing Field with Microsoft Learning Tools written by Katherine McKnight PhD and published by the Center for Evaluation & Study of Educational Equity RTI International). Secondly, Microsoft now has the Dictate add-in for Outlook, Word and PowerPoint that uses speech recognition software to convert speech to text. Not only great for student’s who have difficulty writing, but think of all the times you wish you could take notes or just jot something down, but you’re driving or making supper, or whatever. Now you can do it orally. There are many more tools and capabilities that allow easy use and access for everyone and a myriad of examples of their use. I encourage you to share your moments with others about how you and your students use these tools.

If you are interested in learning more about any of the tools I’ve talked about, there are great tutorials on the Microsoft Educator’s Community. Interested in joining a TweetMeet but don’t know anything about it? Check out TweetMeet: Join the Chatter. Getting Started with OneNote and OneNote Class Notebook: A Teacher’s All-in-One Notebook for Students are fantastic introductions to these powerful tools and finally Accessibility Tools: Meeting the Needs of Diverse Learners offers overviews of all the capabilities Microsoft tools and apps have to offer.