Promoting balance as we go digital


This past Thursday we held our Grade 9 Orientation day. A great group of teacher and student leaders led the grade 9’s through an “Amazing Race” of stations, including getting their devices connected, scavenger hunts through the school and SPARK activities.

Since I’ve started working at MSS, there have been two major questions that have helped guide our work.

How can periodic, short exercise breaks help student well-being both physically and mentally?

How can the use of student devices support the development of creativity, critical thinking, communication, citizenship, collaboration and character education?

While these goals may seem at odds, I believe that they are important to consider together. Balance is needed. There are a group of amazing educators in our building who have helped the rest of us integrate SPARK activities into our classes. They provide us with examples of activities on a regular basis, simple equipment to try, stories of success and challenge. They support the rest of us as we move outside of our comfort zone and try new things.

On Thursday, we had reporters from CTV Barrie and The Globe and Mail join our Orientation day. I think it is a perfect display of our dual focus that one was there to look at our Blended Learning initiative and the other how we use SPARK activities in class to support student well-being.

What a great start (before the real start) to the school year!



Focus on 1 thing, and I’m here to help!

This week has been one of the most exciting weeks in my educational career. Usually the week before school starts, teachers are all in the building for the better part of most days, but everyone works in their own classroom. In relative isolation. I’m never sure who is in the building. This week I know. Because we’ve been working together for a few hours every morning.

We gather in the library as we filter in. I’ve highlighted a few tools through a “demo class” where teachers act as the students and try the tools. Then teachers develop class materials for next week, asking for help when needed and sharing ideas. It’s not just me helping folks. Its everyone helping each other.

There has been one thing that has come out my mouth more times than I can count this week.

Focus on one or two things until you are comfortable with those. Don’t forget, I’m here to help. I’ll help you prep and plan and then be there for when all hell breaks loose in the classroom“.

As we move into next week with each grade 9 bringing their own laptops or tablets in, I’m sure plenty will go wrong. I’m comforted to know that we all have each other to turn to and ask for help.



Prepping for 1:1 BYOD – Getting excited for a new year!

Today I was yet again amazed by the thoughtfulness, creativity and dedication of the teachers at MSS and PSS. As both schools head into our “Blended Learning Initiative” where every grade 9 will bring a laptop or tablet, teachers have spent a year learning in high gear. Some have used the term “saturated” to describe our schools in terms of professional development.

Much of the year was spent focused on changing how we, as teachers learn and getting our heads around the possibilities for learning, teaching and assessment. Of course, some effort was put into learning new tools, but this was not the major focus.

Today (the first day the school was open) a group of 15 – 20 teachers met in the library to work out any technical difficulties using D2L. Teachers met to make sure no one had any troubles that would prevent them prepping effectively this week. We activated courses, imported content from courses we worked on last year or over the summer. We refreshed how to embed video and discussion forums. Many shared  their plans for the first few days in a blended environment and shared materials with others. It was basically one big collaborative planning session. We were all creating our own class plans, but using the strengths of everyone to help out. Our boards eLC (Tim Hasiuk) kindly spent the entire morning connected to us through a Google Hangout. When teachers needed help merging courses within D2L, or other technical requests teachers could go to the computer and “ask Tim”. It was an amazing support to have. Tim would share his screen to work with a teacher. A great model of 21st century learning.

Tomorrow morning we have a guided exploration and planning with the new tool Google Classroom. Our focus will be on using it for effective peer and teacher feedback. Wednesday we will do a guided exploration of ClassFlow with a focus on formative assessment and differentiation.

To be honest, I expected very few teachers this morning. It was a beautiful day on Georgian Bay and I anticipated many teachers still spending time with family before we get back to work. I am constantly amazed by the engagement and dedication of my colleagues. They kinda rock. I’m very excited for next Tuesday! Wish us luck 🙂



Resources we use to help support blended learning can be found here:



Summarizing our TLLP Learning

This post was cross-posted from our TLLP Blog:


We officially wrapped up our TLLP today. It was bitter sweet. As we looked back at our learning and reflected on the capacity built within our school this year we are flabbergasted. It has been an excellent year for developing a culture of learning and sharing among staff, moving forward in our learning as a group. We were able to personalize learning for all staff to honour all starting points and needs.

In June of 2013 we did a “pre” survey and this June 2014 we completed a “post” survey. This survey included all teachers on staff, not just the TLLP core team. Our TLLP was designed to include staff from all areas of the school as we moved through the year.

The first part of our survey asked teachers to self-assess themselves on the five main competencies outlined in the ISTE Standards for Teachers. They were assessing themselves as either ‘beginning, developing, proficient or transformative’. From this first part of the survey we learned the following:

  • we feel we made a slight improvement in “facilitate and inspire student learning and creativity”. This area was already high.
  • the folks who were proficient in “designing and developing digital age learning experiences and assessments” shifted up to transformative levels, but not many “beginners” moved. This is an area of great need for us.
  • a large shift in “model digital age work and learning”. This area was quite low before this year – we demonstrated impressive gains.
  • substantial improvement in “promote and model digital citizenship and responsibility”. This area was already fairly high.
  • a large shift in “engage in professional growth and leadership”. We were quite low and have shown large improvements.

I find it very interesting that teachers feel they have made excellent movement in their own selves as learners in the 21st century and modelling working in the digital age. It makes perfect sense to me that our next area of great need is to design and collaborate on creating ‘digital age learning experiences and assessments’.

Next, we asked a variety of questions and learned the following:

Types of future learning desired by teachers:

  • specific requests for 1:1 expert training and small group setting supports.
  • A shift out of “workshops about specific digital tools” and into “release time to work with other colleagues co-planning” and “attending conferences”.
  • Request for watching or visiting colleagues classrooms remained the same

Specific digital tools support:

  • More “creation” tool support requested
  • D2L requests stayed the same, but with specific higher-end tool support opposed to beginner requests
  • Huge increase in requests for Google Apps support

Essential Practices

  • Specific requests to support providing descriptive feedback digitally
  • Increase in requests for developing class or learner profiles
  • Decrease in requests for differentiated instruction, but an increase in differentiated assessment


Again, these responses make sense to me and show a further need for co-creating assessment and learning experiences.

We began the year focused on the “mechanics of BYOD”. We communicated with teachers that as we head into September 2014 (where all grade 9’s are bringing in devices) that teachers had to have the following four mechanics sorted out, but that they could choose any tools to accomplish these goals that they wished (we provided supports and examples of all the major players).

  1. Share information to students (files, material, links, media, etc.)
  2. Receive information from students (documents, links, video, audio)
  3. Provide descriptive feedback digitally
  4. Provide a space for facilitated online student collaboration (discussion, sharing resources and collaboration)

As we moved throughout the year, we focused our efforts more and more away from the mechanics on more on defining what “Blended Learning” is and on creating differentiated assessments and providing descriptive feedback online. As we built capacity throughout the year, more and more teachers wanted to be involved. Our school board Program department graciously supported some additional collaboration (with release time) as we ran out of release time quite early in the year.

It sure was an excellent year and our reflection has provided us with some clear direction for moving forward. Many teachers expressed a sadness that our TLLP was at an end. I can honestly say that I have never seen such movement in terms of a large group of teachers transitioning into truly owning and directing their own learning. Each one of our collaborations was guided by participating teacher suggestions and ideas (not my ideas as a the leader, but participating teachers). Thanks to all the teachers who stepped up and were involved in this years TLLP at MSS and PSS!



ClassFlow for Interactive Teacher-Directed Sessions

This post was cross-posted from our TLLP blog:


This time of year, as final exams get close, many teachers find themselves doing short bursts of teacher-directed concept review. They are also looking for feedback from their students to inform what areas of the course to review with students.

One tool that could help make teacher-directed sessions more interactive is ClassFlow.

This video below is a demonstration on how to use ClassFlow.