I sense a change…

A few weeks ago I had the honor of attending and facilitating a Minds On Media session at the 3-day OTF conference Teaching and Learning in the 21st Century. This summer version was a repeat of a conference in February that filled up in minutes (I wrote about that day here).

The conference had and amazing vibe. An hour after starting there was an active twitter back channel conversation and a collaborative google doc sharing ideas. There were less technical difficulties and the internet worked well. The buzz was palpable.

I have a few theories about why the atmosphere at the conference was so wonderful. I think OTF along with Peter and Brenda have created an amazing package including Garfield Gini-Newman covering critical thinking, Will Richardson doing personal learning networks and then a Minds On Media event to wrap up and personalize the learning. This combination seems to me magical.

Maybe it also had something to do with the timing. Many participants were on a waiting list from February. It was summer so folks who were there were really interested in attending and brought their own computers instead of work ones.

Whatever the reason, the vibe was amazing and the learning productive. The participants took amazing risks and we really pushed our learning.

Unplug’d 11

Screen Shot 2015-12-03 at 12.17.36 PMDid you ever go to summer camp? Do you remember the bus ride home? Everyone is quiet, reflective, sad to be leaving. And then the unavoidable tears as final good-byes are said.

Why does this happen at camp and yet not after conferences in hotels, nor after traveling with teams?

What is it about the environment of summer camp that concretes bonds so strong you want the moment to never end?

I ask because I just spent the weekend camping with some of the best mentors there are. Even though I was stunned like a deer caught in headlights for most of the weekend I am going through the same feelings I faced at the end of every summer of camping as a child.

Screen Shot 2015-12-03 at 12.17.54 PMUnplug’d was a weekend adventure for 37 Canadian educators (K- post secondary). We began the adventure at Union Station Toronto taking the train to South River where we made our way via bike or hike to the off-the-grid resort Northern Edge Algonquin (NEA). While at NEA we worked in small groups to write and edit pieces discussing what we believe matters in education. The remainder of the weekend was spent telling stories while swimming, canoeing, relaxing and eating. These stories were powerful examples of all things important in education. Often moving us to tears we found common threads and values in our stories, solidifying bonds between the educators.Screen Shot 2015-12-03 at 12.18.42 PM

On that reflective bus ride home I started to think about how I ended up there. I’ve always valued innovation and networking in education, but how did I end up collaborating with THIS amazing group of educators? Then I remembered. It was because of Rodd Lucier. I had been stalking twitter for awhile following educators. Then a few years ago he asked a question on twitter that grabbed my attention. When I get passionate about something, I break free from the comfort zone of watching things go on around me. I was enraged enough to answer him (not enraged at him, just about the topic of discussion). Then began the prompts. “Put more info in your profile so we know who you are”. “You need to share that with other people”. “See, I told you good things happen when you share”. And, of course, he was right! 🙂 The more I shared, the more connections I made. The more I learned. The more comfortable I became taking risks in my own learning. Confident enough to participate in the discussions. Thank you Rodd.
At times during this weekend my natural instinct to sit back and watch came back. I wish I asked more questions. I wish I asked a lot more questions. I also avoided telling my story on camera. Reflecting back on Rodds words “good things happen when you share”, I’m going to tell my story here. This is the story of how I came to believe that supportive relationships are the foundation of learning. Learners require many positive relationships in their educational career. Supporting folks in the way Rodd and many others have supported me in taking some risk.
Jacs unplug’d 2011 story by jaccalder

The funny thing is, many teachers believe we have little control over the things that can “cause” students to be unsuccessful in our classes. Yet, we have control over the one thing that has the biggest impact on their success – our relationships with them.

For more information about Unplug’d:


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*keep your eye open for the release of the writing produced this weekend

Dear Google

Dear Google:

I’m an idiot. And so are you. I tried to cancel one of my two google accounts because I only really used one. So, I logged into it and removed the account. Then I went to log into the account that I do use. It was deleted!!!! GASP! The horror. I quickly did an inventory. These are the things I’ve lost:

  • all my google docs
  • all the forms I have active links out there for to collect info periodically are now dead (work related)
  • all my RSS feeds I read every night before bed – how do I remember hundreds of blogs to repopuate?
  • my entire youtube collection – mostly a collection of how-to videos used to quickly support teachers
  • my gmail
  • my google plus
  • my calendar and everything in it
  • my maps and places that were hyperlinked to from all over the place

After deleting the account I quickly went to the google restore account tool (awesome) and entered my info and verification code. They approved the restore and restored my account. Upon checking my account I quickly found that they restored the WRONG ACCOUNT!!! They restored the account that I do not use. So, I entered the form a few more times trying to figure out how to explain that they had restored the wrong account. There is no place to enter random facts like that. There is no email address. There is no phone number. Eventually they booted me and will not accept my forms to request the account be restored anymore. I filled out too many. How do I contact them to get the proper account restored? I tried their help forum. Left a post explaining. Nothing. Nada. Still no account.

So… what have I learned? Google wants to be a productivity and collaborative power house. Google tries to link every app they can get their hands on to one account. They want us to put all our eggs in one basket. What happens when that basket is dropped? Everything is lost. Everything. Google – you need to rethink your ways. If you want me to use your programs for work and productivity then you need to have someone I can call when things go wrong. Even if its a paid-for service or a pro service, or something. There has to be a way to get support when something goes wrong.

I will certainly stop using Google forms for work. Stop using youtube for hosting my work related videos. Stop using Google blogs. Stop using Google RSS feeds. I have learned. I will spread my use of the “cloud” out. There are other options for every google app I use. I will use different hosts. I will research those hosts and what happens when something goes wrong. I will no longer put all my eggs in one basket.

I created the problem, which really kills me, but I need you to help me solve it. You haven’t been there for me. In the meantime when working with teachers and students I will suggest we look at all our options and research the support options before making decisions I made blindly before. Thank you for the learning experience.

Jac Rocks

Hows that for an egotistical blog post title?

I’ve struggled for a long time to make this blog post. A few weeks ago I got a SMART Notebook file from a grade 6 teacher I worked closely with this year. We worked together on a project called Learning Math Together (LMT). We found ways to connect this grade 6 class to a grade 4/5 class on the other side of the board to do math collaboratively. They used polycom video conference equipment, adobe connect, TIGed, Aviary Education and a few other technologies.

This SMART Notebook file from the teacher was an image they left written comments on with each letter of “Jac Rocks” linked to an audio file of a song. The audio files were all songs created by students to thank me. Normally I would listen to the songs (tear up) and share with a few close friends and family members. I would not post this online to share. BUT… after thinking pretty long about it. I need to share it.

I need to share it because these songs are not a reflection of my work. They are a reflection of their teachers work. I believe their gratitude has been transferred to me, but is truly for their teacher. The world needs to hear more stories of what happened in this grade 6 math class this year (a few posts I’ve written about this class include Plan B’s, day of SMART Boards, music math) .

I was in their class between 6-10 times this year. I helped co-teach lessons with their teacher when she was using a million different tools to connect students. The students loved me because their teacher and I had an excellent collaborative relationship. We got along wonderfully, laughed tons and took lots of risk trying new things. Students pick up on this.

I just played the audio file for my parents. They asked “how did the students know those were the things you were trying to do? That those were your goals?”. They verbalize all the things we hoped they would get out of the math program. The things the students mention in their songs that really make me happy are:

  • increased confidence
  • math is fun
  • many different ways to do things
  • taking risk to solve problems and learn is necessary
  • have to work hard to solve problems
  • try different tools
  • they feel smart

All of these things are reflective of the learning environment the teacher set up in her class (not my participation). I got all the thanks from the students because every time I showed up we did something insane, chaotic and fun (hence I was there to help). Realistically, it was the teacher who set up the environment, relationships and learning activities that helped develop these values in her students.

I’ve converted the file to an audio file and roughly removed all the student names. I’ve also taken out the image where the students write me comments. There is fourteen minutes of audio, but listening to even a few minutes is a great way to hear how these students have put value on collaboration, fun, doing things many different ways, taking risk and creativity.


I love when students verbalize the result of reflective practice and ongoing teacher learning. Who better to help us gauge what works and what needs improvement?

Marci (@marciduncan), thank you for a wonderful year and letting me into your class to experience all the great things going on. Congrats on playing a large role in the development and success of 27 amazing children all with different learning needs. You have empowered them to continue their learning in ways that works for them.

I now have to plan my response in song to these amazing students. Any ideas?