Who is your Doug Peterson?

IMG_3488A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to spend some time with Doug Peterson (AKA @dougpete, AKA yoda <my master>) in Windsor, Ontario. It may have appeared that the purpose of the visit was to ‘Faceoff at Maxwell School”. But the real purpose was to connect face to face with a colleague and friend that has truly impacted my professional growth by inspiring and teaching me to think outside the box and challenge me in so many ways –to be authentic, creative and innovating in my teaching and learning.

My visit with Doug has truly made me reflect about a dichotomy of learning that I have been thinking about and I ask, why has this learning community – this PLN –  had such a strong impact on my relationships within my workplace (the brick and mortar workplace)? Have I become more distant and less social and even less collaborative? Does it matter? Is it just that our learning spaces are changing and that I am adapting?

In fact, this is a dichotomy that I struggle with in a profession where collaboration and team work are key ingredients to success. On one hand, my organization tells me who to collaborate with, when to collaborate, how to collaborate and what to collaborate about – but most important – to be there in person. Choice is rarely an option. I admit – this has resulted in disengagement. I wish it hasn’t. But, on the other hand what I have discovered through learning networks is so incredibly empowering. I have become fully engaged and inspired by learners (YOU) and educators (yes, you again) across the world that challenge me and engage me, EVERYDAY to be creative and critical at the same time.
Doug Peterson is a perfect example of a colleague that has helped me improve my practice and yet lives over 400km’s away.  In spending these days, (in person) with Doug -as we toured schools and drove across the countryside,  Doug explained to me the importance of authenticity, 

“We need to use the tools and strategies ourselves first and tell our stories, that’s what makes us connect to our students”.

Perhaps it is this very statement that has caused such a struggle for me–  and so I asked Doug, “How do I be fully engaged within buildings that I work in, while also embracing these new digital coaching platforms?” Doug has been a leader, a coach and a mentor and to him, distance or time zones or buildings is not essential when developing supportive learning communities or learning spaces. It is simply about the people and their choices.  I am not sure if it really matters whether or not Doug works in my immediate building, or collaborates and coaches from a distance. I am not sure it really matters if  my learning and professional development and growth happens in networked environments vs brick and mortar – as long as the learning a growth happens, builds capacity for others, and is sustainable.  I wonder how long it will take our organizations to embrace the idea of choice and customization when developing our PLC’s. Who is your Doug Peterson?

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Do we need Social Media policies?


Web 2.O promotes sharing, openness, transparency, and collective knowledge. Web 2.0 tools  are low cost (sometimes free) and accessible anywhere with Internet access. These tools are available in several mediums (video, text, audio, images). They don’t require a great deal of computer or tech knowledge to use and are generally usable on any computer or mobile device and from almost anywhere in the world. These characteristics would at first glance seem like a perfect recipe for any teacher, classroom or student. But they come with a price. Content is public. Anyone can post anything about anyone at anytime, from anywhere. Regardless of skill, knowledge, age, or ability, anyone can publish his or her work. And yet, even knowing this price – this risk, some teachers and their students across our globe are doing it anyway. Some have fully implemented social media into their classrooms and in their own professional development often without policy, without guidelines and without district support or professional development. They use social media to empower students, to promote discussion, critical thinking and problem solving. But often due to the lack of public or community understanding, these educators face scrutiny in the media.

I argue that social media policies in education are lacking and require attention. However, because of the fast changing pace of social media and the lack of knowledge and research of its use in education, policy makers are taking a cautious stance.

The recently published, ‘Professional Advisory – Use of Electronic Communication and Social Media(Ontario College of Teachers, 2011) is an excellent example of this – where the problem is defined and framed by focusing on teacher behaviour and appropriate conduct, rather than framing the problem as being the lack of teacher preparedness and lack of district initiative for ongoing professional development about the appropriate use of social networking tools at all level of education.  The intended message of the advisory is very clear  – in large blue font on the cover of the document reads,

This professional  advisory  is  intended  to  provide  a   context  for  the  responsible,  professional  use  of     electronic  communication  and  social  media  by   members  of  the  College. For the  purposes  of  this  advisory,  electronic     communication  and  social  media  encompass     software,  applications  (including  those  running     on  mobile  devices),  e-­mail  and  web  sites,  which     enable  users  to  interact,  create  and  exchange     information  online.  Examples include,  but  are     not  limited  to,  sites  such  as  Facebook,  Twitter,   LinkedIn,  Flickr,  YouTube,  Wikipedia,  Picasa     and  MySpace. (Ontario College of Teachers, 2011)

In this case, the Ontario College of Teacher intention is to set guidelines about teacher use of these tools. Since many teachers have already been using these tools in their classrooms as instructional practice, without these guidelines in place, it will be interesting to see what changes, these cautions will have in Ontario classrooms. Will teachers stop using these tools? From the point of view of the College, whose mandate is to provide guidelines for the teaching profession,  the recently published advisory would seem appropriate. However, the real problem should be the lack of training and knowledge that the members have about the use of the tools as they pertain to education since professional conduct is nothing new. And, it is nothing new that some teachers and educators  breach their professional conduct, as told by our history. Further, simple searches on the Internet lead to thousands of blogs, Wikispaces, classroom Youtube videos, and even classroom Facebook pages. Almost every night (or day) of the week, teachers from around the world are gathering to discuss strategies and research based methods both using synchronous and a synchronous learning methods. Real people around the world are using these tools to advocate for change and social justice. Teachers across the world are using sites such as Skype in the Classroom™ or Voice Thread (and so  much more) to connect students with other students and classrooms, authors, and experts. School districts, directors of education, superintendents, trustees, teachers and students can follow and contribute to the same news feeds and respond to one another in real time using social media tools. I am fully immersed in this world of knowledge mobilization and interactivity and yet I still find it incredible.

Regardless, policies continue to focus on those teachers that are not using these tools effectively, instead of addressing the issues at a system level. Policies need to be putting the responsibility on the districts to provide proper and ongoing training for teachers which includes professional conduct. Policies need to allow districts room to move and grow at the same speed as the tools our students are using when they go home.  Such policies should insist that schools are teaching proper use of social media tools rather than discourage it. Above all, such policies and guidelines need to be considered priority. If schools are not teaching and modeling these tools, who will?

As educators, are we content with letting our children use web 2.0 social media tools without proper instruction? They are doing it anyway, so lets bring it into the classroom and teach them to use it safely and properly. Policies and guidelines should take a proactive approach

Consider the following questions –

1.     Why are some teachers and schools making decisions to use social media tools into their instructional practice without district policy or guidelines?

2.     Has the growth in cloud based instructional tools and individual use of social media forced districts to develop related policies?

3.     Are teachers putting themselves and their students at risk by using tools and strategies that are not addressed by policy?

4.     Finally, is it possible to create a policy about social media when the tools and programs are changing at exponential rates?

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Collaborative Reflection – Our 21st Century Fluencies

This video is a collaborative effort from people across Ontario, Canada, and the world to demonstrate and reflect how they have incorporated 21st Century Fluencies and NETS (s) with their students and colleagues. These interviews and discussions were done over the past two weeks using Skype and incorporate a large demographic of perspectives in education (students, teachers, principals, consultants and faculty members). Thanks to @Royan_Lee and his class from providing the background music (via Skype)!

Consider widening the perspectives in this video by answer the same questions (audio, video or text form)

1) What is your name, your role and where are you from?

2) What was your favourite learning activity (yourself or with your students)?

3) What advice do you have for other educators learning (and using) about the NETS (ISTE standards)?

4) What are you looking forward to for next year?

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A glance into a networked classroom – what tools will we use this week? (and why)

Incredible really – the amount of resource that is available in a networked classroom. There is no excuse for classrooms and students NOT to have access to the tools that only require an internet feed.  As I completed my day plans  (6th Grade classroom) this week, I reflected on the type of resource that I am using and how I balance my teaching strategies to meet a diverse set of student needs. I found myself smiling-  feeling satisfied and proud that many of the resources below were FED to me from my PLN – via Twitter and RSS. I thank the educators and learners out there that continue to share and collaborate with me. You have inspired me to continue to take risks, to share, and to give. I will be presenting at the Bridges for Learning (Canada) conference on Friday May 14 (http://www.bridges-canada.com/Conference.aspx) where I will demonstrate and discuss how these tools can be incorporated into the classroom as not only a method to engage learners, but as a way to collaborate with others, to differentiate teaching and learning and to tap into a variety of resources and tools. I encourage you to comment on this blog and share at least three links that you are also using this week to engage and teach others.

From May 10 – 15 students will explore the following tools:

We will be using Skype (@zbpipe) this week to read Shel Siverstein Poems to @gradeone. We will be practising vocabulary skills (specifically understanding homophones and contractions) with @jendeyenberg. As well, we well be Skyping  @lthumann. My students and I will be participating in a discussion about open learning and teaching and using tools like skype to flatten our walls.

Sliderocket: Students will be continuing to present their Video Essays – a culminating / inquiry based social studies project – example: Technology Connections

Google Docs: Students will use Google docs as the primary tool for writing and editing. Including creating collaborative powerpoints for their social studies assignments. See Example: The Wendat

Wikispaces: Students will continue to use this wikispace – to post information and assignments that relate to our First Nations and Early Explorers unit.

Scratch: Students will continue using this program as the platform to develop commercials as part of our Media Literacy unit on Advertising. Example here. Here students will use the provided PDF’s and interactive videos to learn how to use the Scratch tools to create their own interactive games, videos and digital stories. Students will also continue to write and then publish their Bitstrip assignments from last week based on their Social Studies projects and internet safety assignments.

Voicethread: While researching current news (Gulf Oil spill) and its impact on society, students will read the book, The Elders are Watching” to help them make connections to the Aboriginal Unit.  Students will use Voicethread to post comments, reflections and connections. Students from partner classes will be encouraged to read and reflect as well to promote a discussion through a blog or skype.

Smories: http://bit.ly/9IVva; Students will review and discuss the stories on Smories (Videos of kids reading their stories)
Students can use this opportunity to reflect on their own reading and writing skills. They will use the prompts given at the site to write and publish their own stories. Students will use this gained knowledge to write their own stories and legends using themes and Ideas from our First Nations unit.

Teacher Exploration: These are sites I have not used before but will make an effort to explore the resources throughout the week.
http://www.triptico.co.uk/ – This site has a massive amount of interactive activities that are great with the IWB.
http://www.text-speech.com/ As always, I am always exploring new tools. I would like to see how well this text to speech application works with students.

Paint a song: http://herraizsoto.es/labuat/eng/
Students are currently working on descriptive writing and how art and music can evoke different emotions in each of us. This link will provide a starter for the lesson, with both music, visuals and interactivity.

Web cams: 10 Awesome Webcam Feeds from Around the World http://bit.ly/aF1F1qI would
During breaks, transition periods and lunch, students will be given an opportunity to explore this site on the classroom Smartboard.

ESL vocabulary building: http://www.netrover.com/~kingskid/phonics/phonics_main.htm; There are ESL students in the class who will use this site to continue vocabulary development ; These are great worksheets for prefix and suffix vocabulary building activities:http://www.esl-galaxy.com/prefixsuffix.html

EQAO practice Test: http://www.eqao.com/Parents/Elementary/036/BookletsandGuides.aspx?Lang=E&gr=036&yr=09; Students will be writing the EQAO test beginning on May 31, 2010. They will be provided with sample tests and opportunities to practice and review the content in class. I will be sending home a practise writing test this week as well as a practise Math Test.

Advertising: Media Awareness; Students will use this resource as they describe in specific detail the topic, purpose, and audience for media texts. They will begin to plan, create, and identify the challenges they may face in achieving their purpose and will identify an appropriate form to suit their advertisement depending on the purpose and audience and explain why it is an appropriate choice;

The influence of Advertising: Influence of Advertising This text, could provide useful information for both student and teacher about the influence of advertising. The students could use a program like Diigo to highlight the article and add their comments on the class diigo account. This tool will assist them when discussing and analyzing text features and summarizing.

Make Interactive Timelines: http://www.timetoast.com/;  Students will review current news while discussing our environment and biodiversity unit. They will read the information found at: Planetgree.discover.com about the Gulf Oil Spill. Students will use timetoast to create a timeline and will be encouraged to critically analyze and discuss the decisions and choices made. Students will also have an opportunity to discuss the point of views discussed in the article as well as giving their own. This will be done in debate form and will podcasted for further reflection and as a way to engage others using Ipadio or Garage Band. Further, students will discuss the use of timelines for this topic and others and how it helps the reader understand and process the information differently.

Learning.com – Students continue to use Learning.com– a this learning platform which focuses on STEM. These are interactive lessons and are provided to each student based on learning need.

Ripple.com – an interactive reading program. My students will use the books provided and chosen by @Kathycassidy ‘s class and will record the books. An engaging way to have students practice oral language and reading fluency.

Edublogs: Students continue to write weekly blogs using edublog platform.

Wallwisher: In language, students will predict and ask question while reading. Example – The North Star


VOICE THREAD: Are you prepared to join a Learning Network?

Our Google Doc

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Inquiry Based Learning – A TedxOntario Theme


Many years ago, during my teacher training, I was asked to write my philosophy of education. As a new teacher, this was a daunting task because I had not yet tapped into a philosophy. At that time, the only thing that I could do was reflect upon how I learn. I was always driven by inquiry. I asked lots of questions and when I got the answers, I asked more questions based on the answers. I liked to create my own assignments and I often neglected the required ones. I wanted to be in control of my own learning. I was the student that asked, “what’s the point of this?”. I was not good at memorizing facts, resulting in many years of poor grades, – What I needed the most, was to be given the freedom to discover knowledge for myself.

I don’t know if it is coincidence, or irony, or purposeful planning but it seemed to me that the principles of inquiry based learning were a major theme at TedxOntario on April 9, 2010.
Ray Zhab from Impossible2Possible inspired the audience as he talked about how his personal journey of transformation, through inquiry and experience has changed his life. Ray uses his experiences to inspire people – children and adults- that they CAN achieve beyond their perceived limits and that hard work, determination and support are the key factors. Lee LeFever of Commoncraft, followed Ray and again emphasized the importance of connections when learning. Learning something new needs to have a meaningful context. Joel Savoy, a classroom teacher, again emphasized the importance of inquiry through hands-on experiential learning programs and connections to the world beyond the classroom. We heard Tim Long joke about his own experiences with “do it yourself” winner projects, but his message was clear – discovery is engaging.

It has taken many years for me to recognize that my approach to learning is one that widely known as an “inquiry approach”.

“Its core premises include the requirement that learning should be based around student’s questions. Pedagogy and curriculum requires students to work together to solve problems rather than receiving direct instructions on what to do from the teacher. The teacher’s job in an inquiry learning environment is therefore not to provide knowledge, but instead to help students along the process of discovering knowledge themselves. – Wikipediea

The education system that I grew up with, did not support this approach. And it didn’t for Jesse Brown either – another TedxOntario speaker. Jesse explained that in spite of this system, he persisted by constantly asking questions, trying new methods of learning and tapping into the intelligences that were not considered ‘academic enough’ for school credit. He joked about spending so much time ‘in the office’ and yet, all joking aside, Jesse expressed grave concern that school has not allowed- or encouraged – many students to learn in the visual and interactive way that they are used to -during non school hours.

It is ironic, and not surprising that I too, a teacher today, base my own philosophy on Dewey’s theory of learning – “that the best learning and growth occur when people are confronted with authentic, real problems to solve.” Whether it be constructing a ‘hands-on’ Lego set, or leading expeditions across the Sahara Desert, or creating a learning platform to hone and support visual literacy, I believe in what Dewey emphasized,

“that curriculum and instruction should be based on integrated, problem-based tasks with hands-on activities that engage learners.

Even a century ago, he advocated that students needed a wider sense of themselves and a global approach.

Tim Ludwig – was the last presenter for the TedxOntario event. A shy, high school student, braved the stage and conquered his own fear and years of discomfort amongst educators. His message was clear. Get to know your students. He reminded the educators in the crowd that boredom results in disruption. Tim talked about his need for inquiry based, hand-on and experiential learning as not optional – but as necessary for kids like him (and me…..and Jesse Brown) to succeed.

There are many blogs and websites that discuss inquiry based learning. Thirteen.org advocates that “Educators must understand that schools need to go beyond data and information accumulation and move toward the generation of useful and applicable knowledge” and stated that “Inquiry in education should be about a greater understanding of the world in which they live, learn, communicate, and work.” The Queens University page states that, “one of the most important teaching practices used today is the use of inquiry in the classroom. With the inquiry method of instruction, students arrive at an understanding of concepts by themselves and the responsibility for learning rests with them”. Further, the Center for leadership in learning at McMaster University suggests that, “Teaching through “inquiry” involves engaging students in the research process with instructor support and coaching at a level appropriate to their starting skills. Students learn discipline specific content but in doing so, engage and refine their inquiry skills.”

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Student Centered – not always comfortable, but necessary

“All learning begins with the Learner” – John Dewey

The other day,  I received an email from a student which initially made me uncomfortable. She stated that she found my homework assignment, “confusing” and “unnecessary” and that she has chosen to do something else (write a short story in blog format). How dare she. I worked hard on that homework assignment and I expected this to be done. I planned to talk to her in the morning.

As she entered the classroom, I wasted no time. I  looked at her  straight in the eyes and said,

“Congratulations. You self-advocated. You are making choices and directing your own learning and I am proud of you.”

That morning, when she entered the classroom, something hit me. Literally, I had to stop and sit down. This student, like the others, demonstrated exactly what I’ve been trying to teach – a student centered, self-advocating approach to learning. I hope it continues. I hope that other teachers give her a handshake when she questions her assignments and challenges projects. I hope that she continues to explore new ways to learn, to share, and to collaborate.

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TEDxOntarioEd – April 9th, 2010, Hamilton Location

Looking forward to the upcoming TEDxOntarioEd event?

If you are anywhere near Hamilton Area and would like to join other like minded individuals for an evening of fun, learning and networking
join the TEDxOntario Satellite Hamilton Location. This event is being HOSTED by Aviva Dunsiger
at: Ancaster Meadow School (93 Kitty Murray Lane, Ancaster, Ontario).


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“I love my network – seriously – what great people. Teaching has never been so exciting” – A.Couros

Let’s not kid ourselves, we are all in this “PLN” because it makes our jobs more exciting and it’s FUN. Sure, we say it is for the good of our students. Sure, we say that we learn more and that we always have experts and information at our fingertips, from anywhere, from anyone, at any time of the day. Sure, we get to connect and collaborate when we want and then tune out, when we need a break. OK, I admit, my learning curve has peaked this year because I have this resource – this bank of ideas that just keep pouring in, all day long. But still, what drives me to maintain my PLN, to participate, to seek out members and support colleagues – is the fact that I stay ENGAGED. I wonder what happens to teachers when they don’t feel engaged anymore?

Well – I feel pretty engaged. Today, I thank @mrspal, a colleague in Philly that I met through twitter and blogging. Just read her blog: http://middleschool101.edublogs.org and you will see that she has a passion for education that is viral. She is transparent in her teaching and makes it a priority to share and support others.

“Take a walk down memory lane”

After reading her post “take a walk down memory lane”, an interactive, inquiry-based activity using Google Streets View, she inspired me to try it out on my own students. Within the hour, she emailed me her lesson plan/student instruction sheet and seemed as excited as I was. Now that is open source, open content, free, creative commons, license-free at its GREATEST.

STUDENTS – Enjoy the activity. TEACHERS – Enjoy your students enjoying the activity

Come and take a walk with me…

Can you imagine being a young child and walking through your neighborhood? Do you ever wonder what it was like when your parents were growing up? How about your grandparents?

This assignment is going to tap into your technology skills, conversational skills, and story telling skills using google street view as a platform along with any of the digital storytelling platforms that we’ve used in the past.

For more information, Click Here

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