Educating With Technology: Changes for the Better

Food for Thought, Info, Professional Development, Reflection 7 Comments »

After 60 years in the classroom as a student, teacher, and K-12 Educational Technology Consultant, I have seen many changes. I maintain that the changes, particularly as they relate to the infusion of technology into K-12 classrooms, have improved the lives of both students and teachers.

I plan to address how technology has changed and improved education over the years. First, I want to make sure that the reader is aware of what drives educators. Regardless of whether a teacher uses the latest technology or the more traditional blackboard, I believe that what matters most, can best be described in Kathy Davis’ quotation:

Teacher Feature #3 - Kathy Davis 300 x 225

Since the child is the most important ingredient in the educational process, I thought that I would use the letters in the word “child” as an acrostic technique to frame my thoughts regarding educational change.

C is for: Computer Science & Change

I began my teaching career in 1967 teaching Grade 7 & 8 students Mathematics. In those days, my only form of technology was a spirit duplicator, a hand-cranked calculator, and my slide rule that I used to determine report card marks. I must admit that when I taught Mathematics, I assumed that all students solved problems using the same strategies and algorithms that I used and taught.

A few years later, I proposed teaching Computer Science to Grade 11 & 12 students. In those days, my Grade 11 & 12 students either used a school keypunch or pencil-marked optical cards to create a program on a deck of cards. I maintain that they were better programmers than today’s student because they only had “one run per day”. In other words, they flow-charted, traced their code extremely thoroughly, and assembled their program(s) into elastic-enclosed decks of cards which I drove out to the university each evening and ran through the U of M mainframe. The next day my Computer Science students would be waiting eagerly at my classroom door at 8:00 a.m. when I arrived. I would distribute their print-outs wrapped around each program deck of cards. There would be those who whooped with delight if their program ran successfully and printed out the correct answers. Others would frown as they carefully searched their print-out for the easy-to-spot syntax errors or the more challenging coding flaws in logic. It was while teaching programming to high school students that I had a real epiphany or change.

Teaching students Computer Science ... brought about four important changes in my teaching:

I remember reviewing an assignment and noting that while most students solved this one particular problem using the same logic that I would use, there was one student who tried a different approach. Although his print-out provided the correct answer, he took a rather unique approach in his logic. Perhaps it wasn’t the most efficient program because he used more lines of code but the important thing was that his coding showcased for me that not everyone thinks the same. In teaching junior high Mathematics, I had always assumed that all of my students would problem solve using the same algorithms or steps that I demonstrated and taught. Furthermore, I was quite proud that no Mathematics students could ever stump me and that I could solve every problem in the textbook to arrive at the correct result displayed in the answer key.

Teaching students Computer Science, and how to program computers, brought about four important changes in my teaching:

  1. The revelation that not everyone solved problems using the same methods or steps that I used;
  2. No longer did I feel as confident in always being able to solve all programming problems using the framework or existing coding proposed by each, and every student;
  3. Teaching programming helped me realize that I was no longer the “gatekeeper of knowledge” and that students often learned so much from their friends; and
  4. I learned how important it was for me to be able to say “I don’t know …”, but I always quickly followed this remark by stating “… but, when you figure it out, please show me.”

I have to agree with Steve Jobs who stated “Everybody should learn how to program a computer because it teaches you how to think”.


H is for: Help, Hand-outs & Hardware

Teaching a brand-new school initiated Computer Science course in the early 1970’s had its challenges. Unfortunately there was no one from your own school to mentor you in computer-related problems. Rather, you had to search out others who were, like you, introducing Computer Science to their Grade 11 and 12 students. Long before the Internet, we had to phone one another or meet face-to-face to gain help and share resources. Whenever I used the school’s ditto machine to duplicate Computer Science hand-outs, tests, or resource pages, I always ran off 10 extra copies. Each of these copies was carefully filed into a large manila envelope addressed to another educator in our city or province that was also teaching Computer Science. When the envelopes were filled, I would “snail mail” my resources out to my 10 Computer Science colleagues. I eagerly looked forward to the arrival of similar “hard copy” resources that I could modify and share with my students. Long before the acronym “PLN” became popular, we thrived and survived thanks to a willingness to support and share with one another.

In the late 70’s, the Apple II, Commodore PET, and Radio Shack TRS-80 microcomputers entered the market place. I bought my own Commodore PET 4032 with its cassette tape drive on which I stored programs. Within a year, I purchased a Commodore dual floppy disk drive to speed up access and to improve reliability. Undoubtedly, lower prices and increased storage capacity have dramatically changed over the past 30 years. For example, my first package of 10 Dysan 5.25” diskettes cost me $70. In other words, in those days, I had to pay $7 for a mere 170 KB of diskette storage space. Today by comparison, one can buy an 8 GB USB flash drive for the same $7 which can store the equivalent of 49,344 of my old Dysan floppy diskettes. Furthermore, today’s cloud storage has become very inexpensive with Flickr, for example, offering new users one free terrabyte of data storage. To put this in perspective, this free offer of storage capacity compares to the equivalent of 6,316,128 of my Commodore PET diskettes. Storage capacity and hardware improvements have definitely improved immeasurably over the past 30 years and with it improved ease of use for today’s educators and students.


I is for: Internet, Initiatives & Innovation

During the 80’s and early 90’s, my home and work computers were used in isolation. During those years, most of my computer use consisted of exploring computer assisted learning software, creating word-processed documents, managing databases, and manipulating spreadsheets. With the Internet came connection to other like-minded individuals and the excitement in education exploded as we learned and shared electronically. As access speeds increased, so did our capabilities.

When I first became the Educational Technology Consultant for the Winnipeg School Division in September 1981, I realized that I would be challenged to keep current with this technological explosion and to inform educators and students in our 80+ schools. To facilitate such sharing, in October 1984, I created a monthly educational newsletter called Bits and Bytes. In October 95, I started sharing my newsletter on the Internet as well as continuing to distribute it to each school through a limited number of printed copies. Teachers were delighted when this newsletter appeared on the world-wide-web as now many more readers could gain access to this resource. Furthermore, many teachers liked the fact that they now could quickly search my “Bits and Bytes” web site to find information rather than have to visit their school’s library and flip through past archived hard copies. Although “Bits and Bytes” is no longer available on our school division server, the Internet distribution undoubtedly facilitated the ease of sharing of information and resources during the majority of this newsletter’s 23 year existence.

In the fall of 1995, as the Internet and the Netscape web browser were evolving, Rod Brown and I came up with an innovative plan to run a “Let’s Get Connected” contest in the Winnipeg School Division. Schools were challenged to demonstrate how their staff and students were collaborating as they used technology to enhance learning. This innovative contest was scheduled in May 1996 and I asked other Computer Education Consultants, from nearby school divisions, to help judge the creative applications. These adjudicators were so impressed with the concept, that Richard Burkett, a Computer Education Consultant from the River East School Division, and I teamed up to expand this initiative to schools throughout our entire province. The goal of all “Let’s Get Connected” activities was to “connect” teachers and students in learning opportunities using technology. Not only did the Minister of Education declare May 12-16, 1997 as “Let’s Get Connected Week”, we also encouraged educators to design 32 innovative technology-related activities that engaged students. Through Internet connectivity with other innovative educators, we were proud to be able to facilitate a “Let’s Get Connected” learning adventure for four years in succession.

Without the Internet, the following powerful and inspirational initiative would not have blossomed.  Laura Stockman, a ten year old girl, decided to save her December’s daily allowance of $1.00 to donate to a worthy charity on Christmas day in honour of her recently deceased grandfather. I (@bkmetcalfe) shared Laura’s story in a blog post entitled How to Make a Difference in December. Chris Harbeck (@charbeck), a dedicated middle school colleague in the Winnipeg School Division, shared this idea with his students and challenged other educators and students to do the same. Chris’ UnPlug’d 2011 video entitled Why Digital Citizenship Matters celebrates how Laura’s initial idea caught on with his students. Three years later, thanks to Internet connectivity, I was enrolled in an innovative Digital Storytelling (DS106) open, online course. Our instructor, Alan Levine (@cogdog), challenged us to create a video describing an unexpected positive outcome after sharing something openly online. My Sharing is Caring video describes Laura’s inspirational story and how Internet connectivity facilitated the sharing of this inspiring initiative.

Clarence Fisher (@glassbeed) of Snow Lake, Manitoba and Heather Durnin (@hdurnin) of Wingham, Ontario have embraced the Internet and demonstrated innovative teaching with technology. Although these two middle school teachers and their classes live in two different provinces and are separated by 2700 kilometers, they have effectively used the Internet and social media tools such as Google Docs, Twitter, Skype, virtual bulletin boards and WordPress blogs to build a caring community of learners. The Idea Hive is where the collaboration between the students in the two different schools occurs and their powerful online learning takes place. Using different technologies, these two educators continue to explore innovative ideas and exciting ways to engage their students.

Undoubtedly the Internet has facilitated easy communication, so that educators and their students can benefit from the innovative ideas and resources that are shared by both master teachers and master learners.


L is for: Literacy with ICT & Leveraged Learning

In 2006, after much research and working closely with educators throughout the province, the Manitoba Education, Citizenship and Youth produced a state-of-the-art model entitled Literacy with ICT Across the Curriculum.

“Literacy with Information and Communication Technology (LwICT) means thinking critically and creatively, about information and about communication, as citizens of the global community, while using ICT responsibly and ethically.”

The inquiry-based LwICT developmental continuum continues to be updated with many resources including the LwICT teacher handbook, parent handbook, posters, and web-based support.

This remarkable initiative continues to foster dramatic learning opportunities in Manitoba classrooms as teachers infuse technology to engage students on their journey to becoming responsible digital citizens.

Today, “just in time”, real-world, learning is the key. The Internet, together with its various social media applications makes learning so much easier. Not only can teachers search for and share engaging lesson activities but educators can also get inspired. No longer does one need to travel to expensive conferences to hear well-respected individuals.  Rather, one can stay at home in one’s pyjamas and become inspired by watching TED Talks presentations. Certainly one can learn from amazing presentations like Sir Ken Robinson’s How schools kill creativity. Similarly, Matt Henderson (@Henderson204), a high school teacher in Winnipeg, also presents his inquiry-based teaching model at the TEDxManitoba. Matt’s passion for inspiring and engaging his students is aptly shared through his powerful Teaching Ourselves to Last Forever presentation. Educators are encouraged to examine the powerful and creative conversations of the learning communities that Matt facilitates by visiting his Henderson Hallway blog.

Andy McKiel (@amckiel) has been an amazing catalyst to foster learning. As an active executive member of the Manitoba Association for Computing Educators (ManACE) and the provincial BYTE Conference, Andy has created and archived a multitude of online learning resources. Undoubtedly, one of his most exciting learning opportunities was the week he spent in Churchill, Manitoba studying polar bears. Working with scientists, Andy learned many important aspects about polar bears and their habitat which he shared with students and teachers world-wide via his blog Chilling with Nanuq.

Moving from bears to birds, we find Andy active tweeting (@amckiel). To facilitate learning amongst Manitoba educators, Andy has been collecting the Twitter “handles” of Manitoba teachers. He then uses the content curation service to collect daily tweets of Manitoba educators and display them in The Manitoba-educators Daily. If you want to find out what Manitoba educators are tweeting, you need to investigate Andy’s online newspaper.

With Twitter becoming so popular, three Manitoba teachers, decided to create a process by which educators could use this social networking tool to connect and chat about topics of interest. Zoe Bettess (@ZBettess) from Thompson teamed up with Winnipeg educators Georgette Nairn (@GeorgetteNairn) and Tanis Thiessen (@tjthiessen) to organize the “Manitoba Education Chat” (#MBedchat).  Every Wednesday night from 9:00 – 10:00 CST, interested educators filter tweets using the hashtag #MBedchat and provide answers to five questions related to the evening’s topic. Past chats have focused on our provincial SAGE Conference, the new Manitoba report card, the connected classroom, picture book month, and sharing strategies to support EAL students. All tweets are archived on the Manitoba Ed Chat blog so that others may learn. This #MBedchat educational chat provides great learning opportunities as ideas are shared and connections are made between like-minded educators. I encourage readers to sign up for Twitter, explore tutorials, utilize an interface like HootSuite, TweetChat, TweetDeck or another client which allows tweets to be displayed in columns, and join in the learning and fun.

For years, John Evans (@joevans) has been a prominent sharer of educational ideas and resources. In fact, his Why Sharing Matters video, in which he uses an apple basket metaphor as a measure of teacher wellness, imparts a powerful message to us all. John starts each weekday by rising early and sharing a wealth of educational ideas and resources through Twitter. Not only does he distribute educational information through his The Tech News Daily online newspaper, he also uses the Scoop-it online publishing tool to curate news, reviews, and resources which he shares through his online iPads in Education. However, John is perhaps known by more educators as the champion behind MAPLE – the MAnitoba Professional Learning Environment (MAPLE). This new Manitoba Education social networking service can be used to connect Manitoba educators to each other, to curriculum content, and to a variety of professional learning opportunities. This unique endeavour will provide Manitoba educators with new ways to connect with their curriculum, communicate, collaborate and learn.


D is for: Devices & Dedicated Dynamos

Lately there has been much discussion over the “Bring Your Own Device” (BYOD) initiative. Starting in 2010, Dakota Collegiate, in the Louis Riel School Division, was one of the first schools in Winnipeg to facilitate this endeavour. As one of the school leaders, Roy Norris (@Roy_Norris) teaches English in a 1:1 environment where each student brings his/her own technological device to school to enhance his/her learning. When visiting Roy’s class, I was astounded by the variety of devices that the students in the classroom were using. Some had Mac laptops, other classmates were using Windows netbooks, while others were connecting wirelessly using smart phones or tablets. My initial two thoughts were …Wouldn’t it be simpler, if all students in the class had the exact same device; and, as a teacher, is Roy expected to know everything about how each of these different devices work? From observation and discussion, it was clear that Roy empowered his students and encouraged them to collaborate to find solutions to both technical as well as subject-related problems. Furthermore, despite the variety of technology employed by his students, it was evident that they were all engaged in the learning process.

Some of you might wonder “what changes when every student has a computer in class?” To investigate such opportunities and challenges, I invite you to explore Roy’s wiki where he reflects and shares his thoughtful insights into his teaching in a dynamic BYOD classroom.

The leadership team in the St. James-Assiniboia School Division implemented a division-wide initiative to place devices into the hands of all K-12 students. The school division purchased about 3000 iPads which were distributed to every student in grades 6, 7 and 8. Students in lower grades will share 6 – 8 iPads in each classroom, while the senior high students will be encouraged to bring their own device from home. Undoubtedly the digital learning team of Andy McKiel (@amckiel), Darren Kuropatwa (@dkuropatwa), and Joan Badger (@jbadger) were extremely busy implementing this well thought-out plan.

As one would expect, the leadership team conducted a number of workshops and one-on-one mentoring to help teachers implement their school division’s Digital Learning Project’s 5C’s of: Communication, Collaboration, Creativity, Critical Thinking, and Citizenship. However, I was impressed with the attention to detail with other tasks that needed to be addressed. Right from the start, the middle school parents were informed of this iPad 1-to-1 initiative through a Learning in the Digital World presentation. Additionally, a Parent Information Page was created on the divisional web site to further inform parents about Technology Acceptable Use Policies, Creating an Apple ID, the iPad Take Home Agreement, and Caution Fees.

Other school divisions in Winnipeg, and throughout the province, are watching to see how this Learning with an iPad endeavour progresses and the benefits that these devices bring to the domain of learning.

The previous two references demonstrate what can be accomplished on both a school-wide and a division-wide basis when devices are introduced to each student. With such wide-spread support and effort, one would expect success. However, it is equally important to showcase the work and effort of individual teachers who encourage their students to learn in new and exciting ways. I have selected innovative ideas from Early, Middle and Senior Years environments to demonstrate how dedicated and dynamic educators can inspire and engage students.

What innovative learning can be implemented in two Early Years’ classrooms with the acquisition of two iPod Touches? Erin Clarke (@erinbrie) and Jeff Hoeppner (@bluebomber6), of the River East Transcona School Division, applied to the Manitoba Association for Computing Educators (ManACE) for a grant. Their application was supported with a rather creative Haiku video. These two teachers created a monthly Instagram challenge which presented a different word or theme each day. Teachers, students, and classrooms from across Manitoba (and beyond) shared their creative photos based on the theme of the day. Their #eduphotoaday blog traces their innovative journey as well as shares useful tips on photo apps, or important considerations such as Public vs. Private Instagram. Their November challenge was particularly interesting as they attempted to improve students’ picture taking by using daily prompts associated with photography such as “rule of thirds”, “birds-eye view”, and “reflection”. Erin and Herb, together with their students, demonstrate how technological devices used with dedicated dynamos can bring about engaged learning.

At the Middle Years level, Miles MacFarlane (@milesmac), from the Seven Oaks School Division, encourages his students through innovative ideas and projects. His students are engaged learning History as they create ancient civilizations using the Minecraft program. Furthermore, Miles’ blog entries and comment conversations are a powerful learning resource. Miles is the consummate blogger. Regardless of whether he is sharing his parenting thoughts in TeacherDad or his teaching journey through his Miles’ Tomes blog, his learning is transparent and genuine. How many educators do you know who would risk sharing online their Annual Reflection on Learning for all to see and comment upon?

This past June, Miles organized the first EduCamp – Winnipeg which was an “un-conference” where participants planned their day and learned and shared ideas and resources in an open environment. Not only does he have a busy teaching day, Miles is also engaged in online graduate work at George Washington University. Sharing his instructional workshop package for delivering a Creating a Twitter PLN definitely helps other educators “make connections with a global professional community using Twitter”. Although Miles and his family will be shortly leaving our province for a teacher exchange in Australia, we know he will continue to share with us through his Teacher Exchange blog. With Internet access, educators like Miles, can connect and share world-wide.

Phil Taylor (@ptaylorsjr), a Senior Years’ teacher at St. John’s-Ravencourt School, has always been one to share. Not content to only focus on sharing through his Learning Technologies blog, Phil is passionate about micro-blogging through Twitter. He uses a variety of applications to curate and distribute resources through such channels as Phil’s Learning Technology News, Trending Ed Tech News or his RebelMouse feed.

To facilitate and share learning, Phil created the SJR Learners wiki. For the past two years, Phil has been exploring Google’s 20% time concept with his students. Others may know this initiative as Genius Hour where students are given a portion of school time to explore, with the help of technology, any area of interest to themselves. As Phil states, it is remarkable to witness the time and effort that students will invest when focusing on an area in which they are passionate.

Like his students, Phil is passionate about sharing with fellow educators. As an early adopter of the Diigo personal information management system, Phil maintains and publically shares nine Diigo lists ranging from Android, Google Drive/Docs – Resources, Student Digital Footprint Guidelines, to Tablets in Education. However, the one which resonates most for me is his list of bookmarks shared in Building a PLN. I believe the key to survival in today’s fast-paced teaching environment is for educators to get connected and share through a Personal Learning Network or PLN. I have attempted to address the power and potential of a PLN in my own blog post entitled My PLN: A Teacher’s Treasure.

PLN-Get Connected

Having showcased dedicated Manitoba teachers in the Early, Middle and Senior Years areas, I thought I should finish with a brief look at the contributions of a Manitoba educational curriculum coordinator. Knowing that this last section focuses on the acrostic “D-words”, many readers might suggest that it would be a true oversight, if I did not include “Darren”.

Over the years, Darren Kuropatwa (@dkuropatwa) has been an inspiration for many educators looking for ways to integrate technology and improve student engagement and learning. Undoubtedly his scribe post, which he developed with his high school Mathematics students, continues to be an innovative learning process. Those unfamiliar with the background and benefits of this endeavour are encouraged to listen to Alan November’s interview of Darren about the specifics in Student Scribes 1, Student Scribes 2, and Student Scribes 3.

As a founding convener of the K12 Online Conference, Darren has provided educators world-wide with an opportunity to participate, share, and learn together. Darren is a well-respected international keynote speaker who is a dedicated, sharing, professional. Not content to research and keep his learning private, he shares his creativity and new-found knowledge with everyone. With more than 1000 slides displayed through Slideshare, Darren continues to enlighten educators with the wealth of powerful ideas and resources. For example, some of his creativity includes:

Lately Darren has shifted sharing his thoughts and ideas on his A Difference blog to a new video blog mechanism. He has now uploaded and shared more than 100 #WhileWalking YouTube videos where he poses questions and shares his thoughts about improving education in short, articulate video messages.

Clay Shirky states that “The change we are in the middle of isn’t minor, and it isn’t optional.”  Darren realizes this and does everything in his power to help educators adapt to this change.

In closing, it is obvious that changes in education have increased dramatically in my 40 year educational career. However, teachers today have so many more ways of connecting and sharing resources with other like-minded educators.

The key, I believe, is connectivity! Teachers today, who want to connect effectively with their students, must connect with other educators.

Connect or be Side-lined

One way that educators can improve is to examine the wealth of information that is being shared by these Manitoba educators. Take time to learn about your colleagues and investigate the related hyperlinks that I have identified. I purposely have listed each one’s Twitter “handle” in brackets following their names. For example, if you were to enter into a Google search field “Twitter @bkmetcalfe” (without quotes), regardless of whether you subscribed to Twitter or not, you would be presented with the particular educator’s real name and Twitter profile. In many cases, you would learn a bit about the educator and possibly gain access through a hyperlink to his/her blog. Below this information, one can see the number of tweets s/he has generated, the number of individuals s/he follows, together with the number of individuals following the particular educator. In addition, you would be able to scan the past tweets shared by this educator and gain a sense as to whether you might benefit from the information s/he was sharing.

Regardless of where you are in your journey to use of technology to enhance learning, it is important to remember that it is the “Child” that should always be your focus. Perhaps this final acrostic might summarize this post:

C onnections

H elp

I ndividuals

L earn

D ifferently

Take care & keep smiling :-)


– Flickr – Creative Commons image “A hundred years from now …”  by Brian Metcalfe

– Flickr – Creative Commons image “Get Connected!” by Paco Paco

– Flickr – Creative Commons image “Expand your Global Connections” by Langwitches

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I’m “standing on the shoulders of giants”.

DS106, Food for Thought, Professional Development, Social Networking No Comments »

Over the past two years, I have been inspired by the creative activities, sharing, and reflective feedback of members of an important learning community. Digital Storytelling (or DS106) is a free, open online course hosted at the University of Mary Washington. It is an unique learning environment. One may join and leave whenever one wants while becoming engaged in learning to “tell digital stories” through more than 400 creative assignments and related components.

For example, today’s “Daily Create” #541 challenged participants to “Draw something abstract out of straight lines.”

My creation below, requires one to “read between the lines”:


This design reflects, in many ways, the actions of my personal learning network or PLN. Like the straight-line components, my network and support team works in the background with little fanfare. In fact, “They make me look good!” Through a variety of social networking apps (including old-fashioned email), they recommend and reflect on new ideas while renewing my passion for learning and sharing in K-12 education.

As Isaac Newton said, “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” To all my PLN “giants”, be they students, teachers, family, or friends, I thank you all for caring and sharing.

Take care & keep smiling :-)

Credits: – Flickr – Creative Commons image “Standing on the shoulders of giants”
by Brian Metcalfe

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Teacher Feature #24 – Three Little Words

Food for Thought, Teacher Feature No Comments »

Technology empowers students. Certainly this brief sentence contains three important words. However, when creating this month’s “Teacher Feature”, I remembered “three little words” that will help reduce teacher stress while empowering students. It is recommended that teachers start responding to student questions, for which they don’t know the answer, with the three little words … “I don’t know”.

Teacher Feature #24 - Stephen Heppel

Teacher Feature #24 – Stephen Heppel – December, 2012

Undoubtedly, for some teachers, such a confession will be difficult. Especially if they have prided themselves on always knowing everything about their particular subject area(s). However, with technology invading our homes and our schools, it will be impossible, for even the most tech-minded individual, to always have the right answer. Therefore, I recommend that each teacher become more transparent and acknowledge students more frequently with “I don’t know … but if you find out, I’d love for you to share it with me”. With such feedback, the individual pupil is empowered as the traditional teacher’s and student’s roles are reversed.

In order to survive the barrage of questions posed by inquisitive Early Years students, some teachers direct their young students to “Ask three, before me.” What an amazing catch-phrase! This strategy asks that students search for answers in other ways as opposed to always relying on the teacher. Not only does it take pressure off the teacher, it also encourages students to learn new problem-solving techniques. Teachers, who are hoping to infuse technology into their classrooms, cannot know all the myriad of details about each software application. Neither can they know how to accomplish all tasks on each particular gadget in a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) classroom environment. Rather, empower the students to collaborate and problem solve as a community of learners. Such action will benefit them when they are employed in the real world.

I was very lucky to be exposed to such a “real world” learning experience when I enrolled in the popular “Digital Storytelling” course offered by the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia. This massive, open, online course (or MOOC), affectionately known as “DS106” (, ran for 15 weeks and exposed me to the realities of learning in the 21st century. No, there were no recommended textbooks nor required software applications. Neither were there specific handouts on how to create GIFs or a special effects using Photoshop or Gimp. Although the instructors worked hard, they did not take ownership for creating up-to-date instructions on how to accomplish a task using different versions of Photoshop. Rather students were empowered to search Google for “Photoshop tutorials” or communicate with others taking the course to learn how certain tasks were best accomplished. Furthermore, students were encouraged to share their creative assignments providing “behind the scenes” insights into how their projects were accomplished. Following the “ABCs” of DS106, students were encouraged to “Always Be Creating” and “Always Be Commenting” on other students’ work so that a true sharing and learning community could be fostered.

If we teach today as we taught yesterday, we rob children of tomorrow.

John Dewey said it best … “If we teach today as we taught yesterday, we rob children of tomorrow.” This message definitely resonates with me as a new year fast approaches. During this holiday season, teachers might consider pedagogical resolutions that they might adopt during the new year. Perhaps some of the following questions might cause you to reflect and change:

  • Can you move towards harnessing technology in your classroom?
  • How can you become less of a gatekeeper of knowledge and more of a facilitator of learning?
  • Are you willing to be more honest with students by saying “I don’t know”?
  • Would you be willing to explore one new educational application each month?
  • Could you connect with other educators to form a Personal Learning Network?
  • Will you encourage students to explore creative ways that technology can empower them?

As the year 2012 comes to an end, I want to wish all my readers and friends a warm Seasons Greetings and finish this post with three little words … “Happy New Year”.

Take care & keep smiling :-)

Larger Image: Brian Metcalfe’s Teacher Feature “photostream”

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Car Stereos, Connectivity and Teaching

Food for Thought, Info, Reflection 2 Comments »

My son sent me this thought-provoking illustration:

It seems like only yesterday that I envied friends who had new car stereos similar to the top image. True, they could now play their favourite CD album while cruising in the car. More importantly, in my mind, was the fact that the car stereo hardware could now play music in mp3 formats. Those, who were somewhat technologically savvy, could create “compilation” CDs containing favourite individual mp3 music tracks from a wide variety of entertainers. I still remember friends who had big binders of “compilation” CDs under the driver’s seat and, when you got into their car, their first question was “Do you have a favourite band?” or “Is there a music genre that you particularly like?”.

Today as Steve Jobs stated … “Your entire music library fits in your pocket”. Whether it be on any portable media player or smart phone, today’s youth just want to know where’s the cable to plug in their personal device into the car’s speaker system.

In fact, even this sought-after cable may be soon disappear with the following technological modification:

I conclude this post with a question to my teaching colleagues. With the rapid development of technology and with so many of our youth “connected” to music, shouldn’t we, as educators, explore how we too can become better connected?

Take care & keep smiling :-)

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Pay It Forward & The Power of a PLN

Activity, Info, LwICT, Tip No Comments »

All educators need to belong to a Personal Learning Network (or PLN). I am so much richer because I am able to connect, either in person or online, with like-minded colleagues who so willingly share and/or provide constructive feedback.

The power of the PLN was reinforced again last week. Although I am retired, I still enjoy attending regular meetings of the Manitoba Association of Educational Technology Leaders (MAETL). I was attending a meeting last Thursday when I took advantage of the collective knowledge of this professional group.

Knowing that I was in the process of writing a blog post about the upcoming “Pay It Forward Day” on April 26th, I needed to find a video that demonstrated the power of the pay it forward process. Six months ago, someone had sent me a link to a YouTube video suggesting that I might enjoy its message. I recall that it started with a young boy who falls off a skateboard onto the sidewalk. A construction worker takes the time to see if the young lad is injured before continuing on his way. The boy appreciates the caring gesture and pays it forward by helping carry groceries across the street for an elderly woman. This woman passes alongside someone who is looking for change to put into a parking meter and she provides the coins, and this “good deed” process continues throughout the video. Each recipient of these small acts of kindness pays it forward in turn. Unfortunately at the time, I did not bookmark the video or save this YouTube URL for later use.

As I started writing the former blog post, I remembered that I had seen a YouTube video that would be a great resource to stimulate class discussion on the pay it forward process. However, no matter what search terms I used to try to retrieve this video, I was unsuccessful.

However, at the end of our formal MAETL meeting, we have a “Short Snappers” agenda item, where anyone can share quick tips or web site resources that might benefit others in the group.

During “Short Snappers”, I used a process call “crowd sourcing” when I described the video that I was hoping to find to members in my professional learning network.

Some of my colleagues had seen the video and thought that it might have been part of a commercial.

However, within three minutes Joan Badger, a Curriculum Coordinator with St. James-Assiniboia School Division, had searched YouTube and had located the following powerful “pay it forward” video. I urge readers to follow this link to see how they might incorporate this powerful YouTube video into their “Pay It Forward” activities:


Watch this….
You will definitely share this……mp4




Take care & keep smiling :-)

Credits: Thanks to Justin Tarte for granting me permission to use the above Professional Learning Network image from his June 27, 2011 blog post entitled “The value of a PLN …

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Reflections on Gardner Campbell’s Ideas

DS106, Food for Thought, LwICT, Read/Write Web, Reflection 1 Comment »

The purpose of this post is two-fold. Although I am reflecting on both an article and a video by Gardner Campbell as part of my DS106 online course, I also want to introduce regular readers to the concept of a “Personal Cyberinfrastructure” that is definitely going to empower University students and, in time, perhaps even our own high school students.

In this first formal writing assignment of the DS106 course, students are asked to reflect on Gardner Campbell’s “A Personal Cyberinfrastructure” article and his YouTube video entitled “No Digital Facelifts: Thinking the Unthinkable About Open Educational Experiences”.

I will reflect on Gardner Campbell’s ideas by reacting to the following three questions:

1.     Why do people not want a bag of gold?
For all readers to gain a better understanding of Gardner Campbell’s “bag of gold” question, you must, at least, view the first 3:30 minutes of his above YouTube video. Furthermore, all readers will be particularly impressed with the talents of Tim Owens, who took this portion of Gardner’s audio track and, using the kinetic typography animation technique, created a very powerful Vimeo video called “Bag of Gold”.

Based on my past experience as an Education Technology Consultant in the K-12 environment, I believe that educators may reject a “bag of gold”, particularly a bag of new, “technology-related gold” for the following reasons:

  • Educators today are overwhelmed with all the additional tasks they are requested to do over and above their normal teaching duties. Hence any additional tasks, which may be perceived as requiring more effort and time commitment, are simply refused or ignored.
  • There is not enough time to teach the prescribed curriculum, let alone learn how to integrate technology.
  • The benefits are not perceived to be worth the time investment.
  • With new technology, many teachers are no longer the “experts”. This imbalance can cause some educators to feel threatened when teaching students who are now more experienced in their own technology-rich environment.
  • Some senior teachers may have lost their motivation to learn new things outside their own particular subject area(s) and may be quite content to maintain the status quo.
  • Too often new “bags of technology gold” may exhibit “hiccups” (e.g. loss on Internet connection) where one has to, not only plan a technology-related activity but also, prepare a non-technology alternative to reinforce curricular concepts.
  • One “bag of gold” is not enough; some teachers require a “bag of gold (e.g. computer) for each student, before they are willing to consider integrating technology into classroom practice.
  • It is easier to reject and pass the “bag of gold” on to a colleague, who can become the school “expert” rather than becoming a “risk-taker” and learn to use technology with one’s students.

2.     What is a digital facelift?
I interpret a digital facelift as adopting a new approach that has the potential to be innovative while one fails to take advantage of these new opportunities because such individuals are so entrenched in their old ways.

For example, many readers have witnessed the short “broken iPad” video that clearly demonstrates how a young child can become somewhat confused when the new skills, which they have acquired, no longer apply to the “old technology”. However, I am very concerned with a limited number of teachers who continue to apply old skills to new technology.

To help the reader better understand this situation, I will illustrate a rather rare scene that I have witnessed. Several years ago, some schools in my division were purchasing interactive whiteboards. These interactive devices displayed, through a projector, the software application that was on the teacher’s computer. The potential for engagement was the interactivity that occurred when a student used the whiteboard “pen” or his/her finger to activate or drag elements on the screen.

Unfortunately, I did witness one situation where the potential student engagement was forfeited because the teacher only seemed to recognize the similarity in the word “board” between “chalk board” and “white board”. This individual simply used the whiteboard as a projection screen and if a classroom whiteboard activity was merited, no students were allowed near the board as this new technology was reserved exclusively for the teacher who continued to teach “from the front of the class”. I can only hope that with time and experience, this teacher relinquished control and allowed the class to become engaged in their own learning through “hands-on” interaction with this powerful technology.

Gardner Campbell shared three important recursive steps that educators and students can take to avoid having a digital facelift. These practices are steps that we as teachers normally carry out but they can be amplified using technology or our by infusion through our provincial Literacy with Information and Communication Technology (LwICT) continuum. These steps include:

  • Narrating – Having both teachers and students “think out loud” as they tell the story of a particular subject area. For some this process might be similar to blogging.
  • Curating – How do you arrange your “progress portfolio” so that you can find resources and references quickly? True, students may choose to keep all their assignments in a traditional notebook. However, more and more students and teachers will begin using software applications to scan text and store data online for organizing and later retrieval.
  • Sharing – For me this practice is the most important. Constructive feedback from peers, together with a wider global audience, can motivate students in ways not possible in the traditional one dimensional student-teacher interaction. When students and teachers share their portfolios and resources online, everyone benefits through “leveraged learning”. Gardner quotes a colleague who states that “meaning happens when two people connect”.


In fact, teachers are slowly beginning to take advantage of the connections and learning that is afforded through the online communications of a Personal Learning Network.

 3.     What are the potential benefits/drawbacks of Personal Cyberinfrastructures?
I believe in Gardner Campbell’s proposal that first year university students should purchase their own domain name and start creating their life’s portfolio online. This is not just an idea but it is one that is put into practice by students at Mary Washington University who are enrolled in the first year Digital Storytelling DS106 course. True, for some it can be a challenge to think of an available domain name that is both professional and reflective of their passions. For example, I would have preferred if my domain was “” but because this domain was already owned, I had to insert hyphens in my version of this name.

The benefit of creating and reflecting through blogs in one’s own domain is that it creates a digital footprint which can be a powerful learning tool. One only has to look back at the various bench marks entries to witness the learning and connections that have been made as a student progresses through university.

Writing and reflecting are a powerful way of synthesizing lessons and lecture information. Furthermore, online research together with RSS feed information can be blended into one’s online notes to add quality and perspective. University students who do this faithfully and share such resources through a PLN or study groups can create a formidable resource for completing assignments and studying for exams.

However, I do have concerns for individual students who are less mature in their outlook or perhaps do not value their privacy as much as I think they should. Imagine the less mature students who, in their rush to pick a domain, choose one similar to the “Top 10 Worst Domain Names”. Furthermore, some less mature students might choose a domain name that seems “cute”, when viewed through the eyes of a first year student at a frat party but may lack the same appeal when viewed, several years later, by the HR department of potential employers.

In addition, I do think that there are students today who share “too much information” through social networking such as Facebook. Some do not hesitate to tell their “friends” (and potential thieves) that they “will be away from my home for all of July while I travel through Europe”.

There is no doubt in my mind that students need to be cautioned about selecting appropriate domain names and writing blog comments in a professional manner without surrendering their privacy. Gardner’s recommendation is that students might learn about aspects of blogging, wikis, web 2.0 applications, and privacy from faculty and advisers during the first year in university. An important celebratory event would be the purchase of an appropriate domain name and the application of such wise council as students begin creating online blogs and portfolios.

To those readers who think that Gardner Campbell’s recommendations are strictly theoretical, I suggest that they investigate the DS106 environment and view blogs of those who are enrolled for university credit. One will be amazed at the learning and support afforded these students as they become engaged and reflect on their learning journey.

For readers who might think that this post is focusing strictly on university students, I encourage you to examine Gardner Campbell’s ideas and think how these ideas might apply to senior years’ students in our K-12 environment. Perhaps there are high school students that you know who want to use web 2.0 tools and blogging to document their learning journey. Imagine the positive impact that you can have now and in their future if you provide help in selecting personal domain names and concerns regarding personal online privacy.

In conclusion, I think that we, as educators, need to make our own learning more transparent to our students. Furthermore, we should welcome the opportunity to learn from, and with, our students. I believe that Gardner Campbell articulated our next important steps when he stated at the end of his “A Personal Cyberinfrastructure” paper that:

“… we must start with individual learners. Those of us who work with students must guide them to build their own personal infrastructures, to embark on their own web odysseys. And yes, we must be ready to receive their guidance as well.”


[The Teachable Moment: I wanted to reward my regular readers who made it this far in my lengthy post. Jim Groom (aka Reverend), who is one of the amazing DS106 facilitators, recently shared this time-sharing tip. As an educator, who has access to YouTube videos, have you ever wanted to be able to quickly show your students the educational “nugget” without having to watch the entire video? If so, Jim recommended the Deep Links “YouTube Help” document. Essentially, one can append a time position “qualifier” to the end of any YouTube video URL or address. For example, if you wanted your students to focus on the message starting at the eight minute and 23 second position, one would simply add to the end of the YouTube video URL: #t=8m23s  To demonstrate this facility, I will list below two focal points in Gardner Campbell’s YouTube video. I trust you will find this time-saving strategy to be of benefit.

Gardner Campbell’s “No Digital Facelifts: …” YouTube “deep links” video entry points:

  • Bag of Gold:
    Start position at: 2 minutes and 3 seconds
  • Three steps to help avoid the “digital facelift”:
    Start position at: 14 minutes and ten seconds

To verify that these “deep links” work as indicated, readers must copy the address between the square brackets and paste this string (without brackets) into one’s browser address field. This process will start the YouTube video at the selected entry point rather than at the original starting position.]

Take care & keep smiling :-)

–   Flickr – Creative Commons image “Get Connected!
by Paco Paco –

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My PLN: A Teacher’s Treasure

Activity, Food for Thought, Professional Development, Project, Reflection 15 Comments »

My Personal Learning Network is the key to keeping me up-to-date with all the changes that are happening in education and how technology can best support and engage today’s students.

As the current year draws to a close, I wanted to pay tribute to all the students, educators, and friends who have helped me over the years. However, if I were to try to name them all, the list would be lengthy and I would run the very real risk of forgetting to acknowledge someone. Rather, I thought … perhaps I might write about the importance of my PLN and how it has helped me become a better educator. I must admit that when I first heard the acronym PLN, I thought that it might refer to support nurses who had not as yet earned their R.N. degree. However, over time I realized that my Personal Learning Network (or PLN) would become a very important, and key, ingredient in my life-long learning.

As an educator, I have always learned best when preparing a lesson for students or a workshop for teachers. I wondered if there was a way to pay tribute to my PLN through a video remix project that other educators might be able to adapt for use with their students.

I thought that perhaps I might consider writing a song and incorporate it into a music video as a tribute to my PLN. You may recall that I had a brief fling at song-writing when I created my “ICT-rap”, which was shared in my earlier blog post entitled “Reflect, Review and Rap”. After listening to this creation, you can perhaps understand why I’m still an educator as opposed to a celebrity who signs million dollar record contracts.  However the task, at that time, was to illustrate how students might use technology and their creative talents to summarize and review a unit of study through a unique and engaging process.

Over the past year, I have been exposed to two different creative musical videos that have made a dramatic impression on me. Recently, I viewed the powerful and professional song “It Starts With Me” that Ryan Miller and the staff and students from Stevenson School created to promote the Digital We venture. Earlier this year, I also remember being motivated by Dean Shareski’s inspirational musical birthday tribute “Happy Birthday Alec Couros”, where he facilitated a unique collaboration of individuals who thanked Alec “for being a friend”. On reflection, I realize that I was first exposed to both of these remarkable musical celebrations through two different talented educators, who regularly share and are part of my PLN.

Realizing that I do not have the creative, musical talents of Ryan Miller, nor the video expertise that Dean Shareski demonstrates, I felt that I might try to tell a musical story and pay tribute to my PLN in a somewhat different manner.

 YouTube Video: “My PLN – A Teacher’s Treasure
(For those who cannot view YouTube videos,
alternate video files are available for download at end of this post.)

To help educators adapt this musical video project idea for use with students in their classrooms, I will briefly identify the basic components and then provide additional information to explain each step in more detail.

  1. Pick a theme
  2. Create/find a tune
  3. Compose lyrics to tell your story
  4. Blend lyrics and melody into a song
  5. Select Creative Commons images
  6. Tell your story through technology
  7. Share your creation

1.    Pick a theme
I was motivated to pay tribute to students and teachers, and particularly, those in my PLN. On the other hand, students might decide to create a unit overview or showcase their musical and creative talents in a subject-related project. With the recent enthusiasm generated by Manitoba’s “We Day” and the “Digital We” contest, students may wish to demonstrate how they can make a change in their school, community or the world. I would encourage students to work in teams of two or three to collaborate on creating a song or music video.

2.    Create/find a tune
Admittedly, I am not a musical composer nor am I a great singer. Although I could perhaps create a tune with freeware musical loops, I considered attempting to find a melody that I could remix for my PLN project. With the festive season fast approaching, I wondered if there were any traditional Christmas carols whose tunes were now in the public domain. Melodies that were composed in the 18th or 19th century are no longer protected by copyright as they would now be in the public domain. In fact, I searched for “public domain music” and found the following list of “Public Domain Popular Songs Hits 1900 – 1920“. I was delighted to find that the “Colonel Bogey March” was listed in the public domain. Further research indicated that this popular tune was composed in 1914 by Lieutenant F.J. Ricketts, who as a British army bandmaster, created marches under the pseudonym Kenneth J. Alford. Older readers may remember this tune as it was whistled by British prisoners of war in the 1957 movie entitled “The Bridge on the River Kwai”. Perhaps viewing this movie’s trailer will jog one’s memory.

Teachable Moment: I had decided on this popular melody, which was free of U.S. copyright (or so I thought) because it was first composed before 1922. I found “The Colonel Bogey March“, played by the U.S. Navy Band, and downloaded the tune as an .mp3 file. Now that I had my tune component completed, I started creating lyrics and having fun as I created a story that I planned to share with students and teachers. In fact, I completed my musical video and had it converted to a YouTube format and starting writing this blog post when things started to unravel. First, I learned, upon a more in depth investigation, that Canadian copyright states that if the works were published before 1923, public domain occurs 50 years following the death of the composer. On the other hand, in England and the European Union, the works are protected under copyright for 70 years following the death of the composer. Since F.J. Ricketts passed away in 1945, the copyright in England would still be in effect for another four years and his march would only enter the public domain in 2015. However, what I failed to identify, during my initial brief investigation was that these past stipulations of works created before 1923, with public domain status occurring after 50 or 70 years following the composer’s death, apply only to music, lyrics and sheet music publications. In fact, Public Domain Info states that “there are NO sound recordings in the Public Domain in the USA and all sound recordings will remain under copyright until 2067.

I share my misfortune with students and educators so that you will not make this same mistake that I have in trying to “Find a Tune”. Rather, I urge students to avoid making music videos with popular songs (or even “old” songs that were created before 1923).  Use royalty-free music that can be legally download from sites such as ccMixter or Jamendo or better yet, create your own tunes and demonstrate your creativity.

3.    Compose lyrics to tell your story
Whenever I write poetry, I like to have the words in my verses rhyme appropriately. Likewise, when one uses a known or familiar melody, there is a tendency to want to follow the designated rhyme scheme. Often, I will hum the song to myself as I try a combination of words. Sometimes, I find it is better to play the .wav or .mp3 tune while composing lyrics, so that my words match the proper tempo and beat. For example, when trying to rhyme with the word “share”, I would go through the alphabet in order and list all possible rhyming words such as “bear”, “care”, “dare”, “fair”, etc. This rather time-consuming process was reduced considerably when I found the following two, indispensable rhyming tool web sites:

4.    Blend lyrics and melody into a song
Although Macintosh users will favour GarageBand as a popular music creation tool, I use the Audacity freeware audio editor which is available for Linux, Macintosh and Windows computers. If you are planning to use a previously created melody or a downloaded musical track, I recommend that Windows users set the following Audacity preference. Start Audacity, click on the “Edit” menu, and select “Preferences”. Under the “Audio I/O” tab, make certain to check off the option “Play other tracks while recording new one” and then press the “OK” button. This simple setting will allow users to listen to the background musical tune through earphones, while they sing and record the new lyrics or vocal track. Once the composition is blended, students can exhibit their creativity through remixing and adding a variety of effects to their musical creation. I’d recommend that students who create and share a song, also share the lyrics. An accompanying lyric sheet not only helps all audience members recognize all the words when listening but also helps listeners appreciate the the lyrical message and creativity demonstrated in the song-writing process.

5.    Select Creative Commons images to support your story (as required)
Although some students will be quite satisfied with the creation of a song, there will be others who want to blend images with their song to create the popular “music video”. In fact, pictures add so much interest to the story that I recommend students select Flickr images with Creative Commons licenses to enhance their message. It is recommended that teachers:

For example, to find the picture of the two people at the right, I entered the words “sharing hot dog” (without quotes) in the top search field on the Flickr “Advanced Search” page. I then checked off the “Photos/Videos” media type. Lastly, and most important, I checked off the bottom “Creative Commons” filter by selecting the two qualifiers to “Only search within Creative Commons-licensed content” and to “Find content to modify, adapt, or build upon” since I might possibly alter or remix the selected image.

I realize that student use of Flickr may be blocked by some school divisions. However, I would hope that educators would review, with students, the Creative Commons license types, how to search for such images, and stress that all images included in a video should be properly cited. Students who become engaged in such a project will use computers at home to search for Creative Commons images. Furthermore, if students plan to enter their music video in the “Digital We” contest (which closes March 14, 2012) and share their creativity, it is important that all components of the video be “free of copyright violations”.

A technique that I use whenever I am searching for possible images to include in a story is to use a word-processor to identify both potential images with their corresponding URL addresses. For example, if I think that I might use the above image, I would add it to my image list as “Couple Sharing Hot Dog:”. I can assure you that this process saves a great deal of time, particularly if you have already included a picture in your story and are now trying to find it again in order to provide the address link in the video “Credits”. Better to identify the picture with its source address and not use it, than waste valuable time attempting to locate the credit link later.

6.    Tell your story through technology
Once students have picked a theme and identified the audio and image components, they can then begin the assembly and blending of components to tell their story. Students, today, can tell their story through a variety of applications. Although I used PowerPoint, with specific, timed slide transitions, Alan Levine shares a powerful resource called “50+ Web 2.0 Ways to Tell a Story“. Alan, not only provides an alphabetical list with links to 50+ storytelling applications, he also organizes them by story categories. Teachers and students will find this resource to be very useful.

7.    Share your creation with others
I strongly believe in “leveraged learning”. By this I mean that we all learn and improve, by looking at, and examining, projects or stories that others have created. For example, I decided to include my refrain “1, 2, 3, 4, 5 … Learning everyday helps me survive … ” after I saw Ryan Miller’s video “It Starts With Me”. Ryan’s students chanted “1, 2, 3, 4 … I won’t sit back anymore … ” and I thought that this refrain added impact to their music video, so I adapted this idea. Likewise, students leverage and improve on tasks and projects when they have an opportunity to view similar endeavours. However, the key to facilitating “leveraged learning” is that we must share our creations in order to motivate and encourage others.

In closing, I would ask readers to click on the title of this blog post and then use the feedback comments form at the end to share links to creative songs, stories and/or musical videos that your students have created so that we may all improve.

Thanks for caring and sharing.

–   Flickr – Creative Commons image “Have you hugged your PLN today?”
by Corey Dahl –
–   Flickr – Creative Commons image “5/52 – Sharing a Lord of the Rings Dog
by kimncris –

Freebie Downloads:

Realizing that in some schools, students and teachers are blocked from viewing YouTube videos. To facilitate others viewing my music video tribute, I have provided my story in a variety of other formats.  These file variations are listed below, in order of increasing file size, so that readers may download and view a version which is appropriate for their environment:

Take care & keep smiling :-)

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K-12 Social Studies TeachMeet Connections

LwICT, Professional Development 1 Comment »

To survive in education today, teachers have to connect. Whether linkages are person-to-person or virtual (using the power of the Internet), those educators who can rely on the support of a Personal Learning Network (PLN) will be much more successful. More importantly, their students will ultimately gain from the resources, strategies and ideas that are shared amongst such “connected” educators.

A new, and rather unique, opportunity for K-12 Social Studies teachers to connect and learn together has come to my attention. This can happen through the scheduled meetings and resources shared on the TeachMeet web site at:

Those educators in Winnipeg, and the nearby surrounding area, are encouraged to attend a TeachMeet evening session. The next learning opportunity is only 3 days away on Monday, September 26, 2011 from 7:00 – 9:00 pm at Dalnavert Museum at 61 Carlton Street. Jason Smoker, from Linden Christian School, will be the featured presenter. He will share his experiences facilitating a medieval banquet with his three Grade 8 Social Studies classes.

Past TeachMeet get-togethers have included a tour of the host facilities together with a featured presentation which focused on educationally relevant aspects of the Social Studies curriculum. Following this main presentation, there are usually a series of “lightning round”, 2-3 minute, sharing opportunities conducted by Social Studies teachers. The TeachMeet organizers keep these sessions short and focused. They reasoned that if, for example, you are a Grade 12 History teacher and the current lighting round presenter is describing a Grade 4 Social Studies activity, you may not find the current information relevant. However, you know that in about three minutes time, another Social Studies teacher will share his/her classroom ideas or activities which may be aimed at high school teachers.

In addition to the tour and presentations, there are ample opportunities to network and forge new connections with like-minded Social Studies educators. Even if you may be unable to attend a specific event, you can still learn from the TeachMeet web site. Check out the date links, in the top right corner, of past TeachMeet sessions to see various resources and information that has been shared by both the featured and lightning round presenters.

If you are a K-12 Social Studies teacher, I encourage you to sign up by email so that you can take advantage of the TeachMeet way of connecting. If you are not, please share this blog post with other interested Social Studies teachers.

Take care & keep smiling :-)

Credit: Flickr – Creative Commons image “Dalnavert Museum”  by Dan McKay

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UnPlug’d: Why Sharing Matters! *

Activity, Food for Thought, Project, Social Networking 8 Comments »

The 37 innovative educators, who recently attended the UnPlug’d Canadian Educational Summit, were given a task. Each participant was challenged to identify one moment or idea, from his/her educational career, which was worthy to be shared in an online publication entitled “Why ___ Matters!”

The key was to “fill in the blank” by telling a story, with educational significance, in such a manner that other educators could also experience the situation, share the passion, and learn from it.

I reviewed the blogs of several participants, prior to their UnPlug’d weekend, and I identified with the challenges that they were facing. Upon reflection, I realized that this task of identifying one’s educational passion and describing it, in a 250 word story, was an exercise that all teachers should consider.

I asked myself … “What aspect of education do you think really matters?”  I decided that, for me, my story would be:

Why Sharing Matters! *

There are so many pressures on today’s teacher. It seems that every year, new, enhanced curricula are released, new technology and applications are introduced, and class sizes, as well as, additional subject/class responsibilities continue to increase. Furthermore, every effort is made to adjust one’s lessons/activities to meet the wide diversity of individual student needs. With decreasing school population, educators are asked to teach split classes or take responsibility for additional subjects outside their specialty areas. Teachers can no longer rely on having another colleague or partner teaching the same subject or grade level in their school. With so much additional pressure, teachers can no longer work in isolation. To survive, teachers need to form PLNs (Personal Learning Networks) and share ideas and resources.

Education is all about sharing. True, there are some teachers who can design and implement engaging learning activities or lessons without input from other sources. However, I believe that the vast majority of educators adapt lessons, strategies, or activities that they initially find in books, on the Internet, are exposed to through professional development, or are shared by colleagues. Teachers should continually be on the lookout for new and innovative ways to engage their students lest they fall into a trap of using the exact same resources, without modification, year after year.

The Internet provides a plethora of educational resources, as well as, a powerful mechanism to facilitate sharing and collaboration of ideas. No longer is it necessary for teachers to “snail mail” the “hard copies” of projects and activities to colleagues when so much of today’s resources are in electronic form. All one needs to do is identify the resource creator in the document, attach the material to an e-mail, and send it off to one or more educators.

Sharing educational resources is not about adopting but adapting resources and making them your own.

If, upon perusing an incoming shared resource, one feels that it can be used to enhance one’s classes, some additional work needs to be done. Sharing educational resources is not about adopting but adapting resources and making them your own. Each teacher needs to tweak and build upon the resource before using it with students and sharing it with others. Furthermore, I think that it is really important that recipients provide feedback to the original creator of the resource advising this individual how the product has been changed and enhanced.

In summary, I believe that educational sharing should involve the following five steps:

  1. Regularly share resources & ideas with at least one other educator
  2. Identify the creator (if possible) on all resources that you share
  3. Form a personal learning network (PLN)
  4. Adapt not adopt, shared resources
  5. Acknowledge and provide feedback to the original creator

Following these five steps will help educators cope with the increased pressure. Not only will your colleagues in your PLN thank you for sharing but, more importantly, your students will appreciate the increased innovative resources that you introduce in class to engage them in the learning process.

Sharing Through Examples:
I know that participants at UnPlug’d were concerned that either their textual essays or their supporting video stories would be viewed independently, in the on-line publication  “Why ___ Matters!”,  and that viewers might lack the proper context to fully appreciate their educational passion and vision.

When I reflected about my passion of sharing, I thought that the message would be clearer if I was able to include practical, real-life examples to help readers appreciate how a teacher might adapt and improve upon a potential classroom activity. Thanks to the innovative work and passion of Chris Harbeck, a middle school teacher at Sargent Park School, my suggested steps can be better illustrated.

1.   Regularly share resources & ideas with at least one other educator
I have always shared classroom resources with other educators. True, some educators might not have the initial confidence to share their own created activities. However, with the plethora of innovative resources on the Internet, it is easy to find ones that will help out most teachers. Sharing web addresses of such resources is a beginning. In fact, I have informed email recipients in past that “I’ll continue to share resources that I feel may be of interest. If however, you deem the information of little use, you know where the <Del>ete key is located.”

2.   Identify the creator (if possible) on all resources that you share
Certainly when one emails others the web address of a potential resource, the web site normally identifies the individual creator. However, when one creates his/her own resource, or when a colleague forwards such a resource, I think that it is very important that the creator’s email address be included in the document. I recommend that a cryptic version of one’s conventional email address be embedded in the footer, as illustrated in Jeff Sinnock’s “SPONSOR CHILD” Photo Story rubric (found in the “Download” section at the bottom of this linked post). Using a cryptic email convention will reduce unwanted spam being sent to the resource creator should the document be uploaded to the web. Including an email address in all shared documents, is the key for on-going communication.

3.   Form a Personal Learning Network (PLN)
This image illustrates the fundamental truth that all Personal Learning Networks begin with a single “connection” between two individuals. I believe that PLNs begin in a very informal manner with one person choosing to share information with one or more colleagues. Although initial sharing might be begin as person-to-person or through email, it might evolve to sharing information acquired through following blog RSS feeds, or Twitter “tweets” of respected educators through to sharing annotated bookmarks through Diigo. In fact, I often “lurk” (without commenting) and observe communication between a number of respected educators. However, when I find tidbits or ideas that I think might benefit others, I share the information.

For example, Chris Harbeck is an educator who I have admired for a number of years because he engages his students in creative ways while teaching Mathematics. As a former Math teacher, I know how difficult this subject can be and I have taught students who challenged me to explain “How is knowing the quadratic formula going to benefit me in later life?” Although I often stated that “Mathematics is all about problem solving”, Chris has taken this statement to a whole new level. Not only do Chris’ students examine Mathematics problems in the traditional sense, they are challenged to look at problems in a global sense as caring digital citizens.

This compassionate and global perspective was demonstrated in November, 2010 when I came across a story about Laura Stockman.  In her blog “25 Days to Make A Difference”, ten year old Laura, decided to save her December allowance of $1.00 per day to donate to a worthy charity on Christmas day in honour of her recently deceased grandfather. Although I could have simply shared Laura’s web site address with potentially interested educators, I decided to write a blog post entitled “How to Make A Difference in December”. Knowing that Chris and his students were always considering special projects, I sent Chris an email suggesting that he might want to investigate Laura’s project as one that his students might adopt.

4.   Adapt not adopt, shared resources
Adopting a shared resource is easy. One simply duplicates the resource, distributes it to your students, and completes the task or activity. However, teachers are challenged to adapt, rather than adopt, shared resources. For this to happen, teachers must take the original resource and improve on it or expand it in some fashion “to make it their own”. If all educators modified and improved resources before sharing them with colleagues, our repertoire of shared materials would gain in power and our students would benefit more.

Chris began adapting this “charity challenge” by suggesting that each of his students consider contributing 25 cents, of his/her own money, per day for each day in December. He then enhanced the activity by creating a blog post entitled “Would your students donate $0.25 a day?” where he challenged other schools and students to raise money in a similar fashion. In order that all participating school teams could see their progress throughout December, Chris next created his “25 Cents a Day” wiki.

The next adaptation for Chris was to investigate the power that students have to make a positive change, both locally as well as in remote areas of the world. In the Spring of 2011, Chris challenged his students to again contribute their own money to make several $25 micro-loans through the Kiva organization to members in third-world countries. His blog post entitled, “Teaching Citizenship – Part 3 – 25 Cents a Day” shares both the excitement and student engagement. However, I think that the last sentence of this blog post exemplifies the power of sharing when Chris states “Contact me and we can create a movement that will change people’s lives”.

5.   Acknowledge and provide feedback to the original creator
I think that it is very important that recipients of shared resources acknowledge the original creator. That is why I recommend that recipients ensure that the original creator’s email is embedded within the resource as outlined in Step 2. As an individual, who has created a number of educational resources from scratch, I would welcome feedback and/or modified documents from recipients indicating how they had adapted my work and what improvements were made. Such dialogue opens up communication and provides opportunities to expand connections within one’s Personal Learning Network.

Although I did not send an email to Laura Stockman thanking her for sharing her idea on-line, I did take time to acknowledge her innovative project by sending a comment to her blog post.

A Video With A Vision:
In conclusion, I strongly recommend that all readers view Chris Harbeck’s UnPlug’d video entitled “Why Digital Citizenship Matters!” Not only will you see how a shared December charity initiative can blossom and mature through commitment and innovative adaptation. More importantly, you will witness a passionate educator, who is definitely a “champion of teenagers”, share strategies for fostering digital citizenship in today’s youth.

Take care & keep smiling :-)

Credit: Flickr Image “Get Connected!” by Divergent Learner

* “Why Sharing Matters!” was the title that I had chosen for my draft of this post, long before John Evan’s story (of the same name) was recently revealed in Chapter 6 on the UnPlug’d web site.

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Clarence Fisher invests in students – Will you?

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Clarence Fisher has a mission! He wants to help global kids connect. To do this, he has enlisted his personal learning network and followers to help contribute a total of $4oo by July 26th to the development of an education tool that will help students interact and connect worldwide. I believe in Clarence Fisher and I believe in his vision!

Who is Clarence Fisher? Clarence is an innovative Manitoba master educator. Although, he has been awarded Canada’s Prime Minister’s Award for Teaching, he is known worldwide, throughout the blogging community, as an innovative educator who engages his middle years’ students and uses technology to foster 21st century learning. Clarence lives and teaches in Snow Lake, Manitoba, which is located at the center of three of Manitoba’s northern cities of Flin Flon, The Pas, and Thompson. As one who lives approximately 685 kilometers north of Winnipeg, one might consider Clarence to be somewhat isolated. However, don’t tell Clarence’s students that they are isolated, because they know differently! They have been connecting, through various innovative, technology-supported, projects, with students and educators worldwide during the past decade.

When I first began my blog back in January 2010, I wanted to include a few links in my Blogroll to exemplary educational resources. There was no hesitation in my inclusion of Clarence Fisher’s “Remote Access” blog as a unique window into an innovative teacher’s mind and middle years’ classroom .

However, it was Clarence’s two recent posts that piqued my curiosity:

Here was an educator who, in the latter part of July, should be “recharging his batteries” and enjoying his vacation with his family and friends. Rather, in his July 16th post, Clarence was expressing a need for “a recommendation engine for students that would help them find other students around the world that they can learn with”. Through this reflective blogging process and feedback from his personal learning network, Clarence finds that no one knows of such an educational application. Furthermore, many educators feel that his vision has merit but they all confess that they don’t have the necessary programming or coding skills to develop such an education tool. At this point, the vast majority of teachers would stop with a sigh and an “Oh well, it was a good idea …” mutter. Not so, Clarence! Rather, he demonstrates and models his problem solving strategies by submitting his idea to an out-sourcing “virtual worker” website. Here, he described his needs and application developers around the world bid on the job. From feedback, Clarence determines that he can hire a virtual worker(s) to create his vision of an “educational recommendation engine” for $450. Once again, many of us, with discretionary classroom budgets of less than $100 per school year, would fall before this insurmountable $450 barrier. Again Clarence accepts the challenge and tries a rather creative source of funding … you … the educational reader. In his July 19th blog post, “Helping Global Kids Connect“, Clarence decides to see if other readers are willing to add to his initial $50 investment and help contribute an additional $400.

As I publish this post on Saturday, July 23, I am pleased to note that through the generosity of nine readers, $265 has already been donated to this endeavour. One is strongly encouraged to make a pledge promptly before the Tuesday, July 26th deadline. If you believe in Clarence’s vision, as I do, don’t fail to contribute – even if the total surpasses $400. I am somewhat familiar with the “virtual worker” out-sourcing model, as I purchased services from in early 2010. This opportunity allowed me to describe ideas to be included in my “Life-Long-Learners”  letterhead and logo. Graphic designers, from around the world, submitted different creations for my review. It was truly an eye-opening, global experience for me as the winning design was created by a very gifted individual from the Ukraine. My experience would suggest that although Clarence has established a $450 coding fee, it may cost slightly more. Often bugs and anomalies do not appear until the application is used by different schools and many students.  In addition, through day-to-day classroom use, one starts to realize “tweaks” and enhancements that could be made. Should Clarence hope to implement such additional features, it might be nice to have funds available, in reserve, to reimburse the application developer(s).

In summary, I think that during this endeavour, Clarence Fisher has demonstrated, or will engage in, the following 10 problem solving steps:

  1. Identifying a problem
  2. Looking for an existing solution
  3. Collaborating and consulting with his personal learning network (PLN)
  4. Writing down an initial draft of what is needed and examples of how students might use such an application
  5. Searching crowd-sourcing web resources to gain an estimate for development costs
  6. Examining a unique way to fund the project through investment by peers
  7. Communicating and collaborating between Clarence and the application developer(s), once the funding is secured
  8. Testing the application within the classroom
  9. Sharing the application with others
  10. Celebrating the success of the endeavour and reflecting on it’s benefits

I commend Clarence for sharing this adventure with his readers and modelling these important problem-solving steps. As teachers, we would hope that all our students will use similar strategies whenever they encounter new problems on their way to becoming successful, life-long-learners.

In closing, I urge you to review Clarence’s proposal in his post “Helping Global Kids Connect” and seriously consider contributing. Perhaps Benjamin Franklin said it best, when he stated, “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.”

Take care & keep smiling :-)

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