Resource: iPad as a Teaching Device

Most money spent on iPads in education is spent on purchasing LEARNING devices. iPads for student use in class. This is where the biggest impact on learning can happen. However, many teachers are getting their hands on iPads for teaching that they can personalize and set up for themselves. While this most directly impacts teaching, it can have great impacts on student learning as well.

Link to resource: 

Using Scratch in Digital Learning Strategies

We needed something to get our class back working together as a cohesive unit today. Yesterday we had an amazingly awful run of things trying to get text-to-speech tools installed and running on all students devices. It was chaotic, crazy and frustrating for many of us.

We had planned on starting with Scratch next Monday, but needed something exciting and fun to end the week on a positive note. Wow, did that plan work!

Scratch is a tool created by MIT that allows youth to create animations, videos, games, etc. while developing some skills required for coding. Over the past few years Scratch has moved to a web-based platform that runs in the browser. This means my students could access it from any device except iPads. Lucky for us, their teacher is a bit geeky and always has an extra Chromebook kicking around. In learning strategies we are using Scratch to address the following learning goals:

  • Practice skills required to learn new things.
  • Develop critical thinking skills required to troubleshoot when things don’t go as planned. What can you do when something doesn’t work?
  • Develop collaboration skills. Students can build together, learn new features from each other, build on each others code.
  • Practice critiquing each others work and providing effective feedback for improvement.
  • Reflect on what it means to have “grit” or resiliency. How do we respond and feel when things don’t go as planned?
  • Develop skills for creativity and innovation. How can you make this piece of work even better?
  • Provide context and practice of some literacy skills. We will be keeping design journals as we go.
  • Provide context for reflection on learning skills.
  • Provide a real virtual community to practice and demonstrate our digital citizenship skills in. These skills will include appropriate communication, sharing our work, remixing others work while providing credit.
We had great conversations about “the Grandma rule” (don’t post anything online that you don’t want Granny to see). We also talked about the skills required to troubleshoot when technology goes wrong and what it means to tinker and figure things out on our own.
During the initial exploration period, students explored previously created Scratch projects and started to create their own unplanned projects.  Unrestricted exploration. Their reflection was based on brainstorming things they could create. As I walked around class, I heard the following from students;
  • “how did you do that?”
  • “here! come see this!”
  • “Wow, did you know that you can… ?”
  • “ok, so what if you did this and I did this… “
  • “urrrrrggggg, why can’t I get this to work? Ok, lets try this…”
  • “I just made the coolest thing, come here and I’ll show you how I did it”
  • “so, how did the person make that game? Here, we can look at the code. Does it make sense?”
Todays class was the most engaged I have seen my students by far. It was also the most collaborative they have been, with exception of previous “directed” group work. Meaning, they were all up and learning over each others computer screens, helping each other out and interacting with each other.
Mission accomplished. A great end to the week. Next week we’ll each find a feature to share with classmates.

Is it not common sense? School culture and Fullan’s Six Secrets of Change

This summer I found myself reading (or rather, listening to the audiobook) Fullan’s Six Secrets of Change. As I was mowing the lawn, or driving, or walking the dog to this book, my mind kept making connections to the change in our school culture over the past year as we moved into 1:1 BYOD Blended Learning (every Grade 9 brings a laptop or tablet to school).

The shift in culture in the school has many factors most certainly. However, if you look at the shift in professional development over the past year you can see connections to each of Fullan’s secrets. I think this is just common sense?


Love your employees

    • about empowering, not running over or beating into submission
    • investing in teachers (our school was saturated with teacher-directed learning and release time for that)
    • believe in teachers, set high standards
    • empathy for the complication of change by all coaches, resource teachers and administrators

Connect Peers With Purpose

    • all groups looking at assessment and feedback through BYOD to support creativity, communication, critical thinking, collaboration
    • focus might be different for different groups, but all working on common purpose, for example:
      • TLLP team (interdisciplinary)
      • department teams (subject-specific)
      • SSI (math)

Capacity Building Prevails

    • creating the environment where it is ok to try new things, fail, and improve
    • tinkering becomes the norm
    • asking for an “extra set of hands” becomes the norm
    • still work to do, but we are certainly improving the culture – teachers asking others to come in while they “tried something new” to help troubleshoot and problem solve
    • non-judgemental

Learning is the Work

    • not focused on the digital tools, but focused on developing the attitude, skills and beliefs to become a life-long learner in the 21st Century
    • proven by our TLLP survey (teachers self-identified their biggest growth being in “modelling 21st century learning”)

Transparency Rules

    • survey pre and post, based on ISTE standards for teachers (teachers said that their biggest need was creating assessments and so that is where we focus next)

Systems Learn

    • can’t revolve everything around individual leaders, need to focus on the school as a whole
    • focus on developing many leaders
    • sharing encouraged at every staff mtg,
    • focus on distributed leadership, pairing teachers up to other teachers to share
    • my job as TLLP leader, became more about connecting others than trying to help everyone myself
    • humility and openness to change. we changed course many times

Reflections after the first week – Blended Learning

We survived. We survived our first week in a 1:1 BYOD Blended Learning initiative. All of our grade 9’s brought their own devices (laptop or tablet with a keyboard). It was a chaotic, hectic, crazy week for sure. I would say for many teachers we got “less” done this week in terms of student work, but that we are further ahead in setting up the culture of our classes. The student work I have seen appears to be very creative and collaborative so far (animations about acceptable use, digital collages, collaborative brainstorming,  digital or paper timelines of life plans).

I have a learning strategies class that is mostly boys. It is the nicest, kindest group of young adults I have ever met. Just fabulous. I had the opportunity to call the parents of these students yesterday and tell them how wonderful our first week was and I could hear the relief in the parents voices. The exasperated, large sigh of “thank you” coming from the other end of the phone. We often forget how stressful the first week of high school is for the support system behind our grade 9’s as well. Teenage boys are often poor communicators when asked “how was your day?”. “Fine” can often be the extent of the response. Parents can sometimes struggle to really get a grasp on how their students are adjusting to high school.

On Thursday I asked my class if they would be open to accepting a request from the life skills language teacher (Mrs. Fernandez), to use our class as “communication buddies” on Friday. Her class had been practicing some communication skills and were practicing introducing themselves to people and asking how others were doing. My class enthusiastically responded that YES! they would love to work with the life skills class.

It was a quick activity on Friday. The class came in for about 10 minutes. Students worked at tables with a few of my students and one life skills student who directed the conversation. My class yet again proved that they are the kindest, gentlest, most thoughtful, caring group of students I have ever met. There was respect dripping from the classroom.

This activity really had me considering what “blended learning” is. It certainly had me comparing what would have been lost in a purely eLearning course. Face-to-face social interactions are so very important in the development of teens. Throughout our course we will be doing many activities around diversity and differences. Today they demonstrated the skills of recognizing strengths in those with differences to ourselves in a face-to-face environment. I was very proud of my students’ leadership. As we build on the theme throughout the semester, we will take these skills and blend them into online environments as well. These environments will include open social media conversations, closed environments where classes from around the world are collaborating and video conferencing with people around the world.

Surviving the First Days of 1:1 BYOD Blended Learning

We have officially survived the first two days of having all our Grade 9s bringing in their own tablets or laptops. We have set up those who didn’t have devices with refurbished laptops. We have troubleshooted connection issues. I think all but a few are officially connected.

I am fascinated with the culture of the school. Every teacher I’ve spoken to has done something very different in these two days compared to previous first days back. That in itself is exciting for me. Students are excited and feel special. Teachers are getting used to things going wrong and modelling problem-solving skills to their students.

This week I’ve seen teachScreen Shot 2014-09-03 at 5.14.21 PMer Jen Lachapelle have her students create a padlet on the first day about what they think of when hear the word math. It provided a great base for an honest, deep conversation on the first day. Her class has also done some online polling and discussions.

A couple teachers have had their class doing interactive polls on the first day as a way to get to know each other. Leslie’s class were creating padlets about their partners strengths and interests. Google Classroom and D2L have been used in many classrooms to host discussions and share resources.

More than anything I’ve noticed a great culture in the school. For our school this move has huge implications for equity. We have a huge variety of devices being brought in by students. The devices we loaned out from the school are not marked in any way and can be set up to personally suit a student. I have seen no bullying or issues about types of devices. No one cares.  Best of all, students with SEA (special education equipment) appear to be much more willing to use their devices. Everyone has a device. All students will be taught how to use different tools to support their learning. No longer does a student with SEA equipment stand out any differently.

From a teachers point of view, I am at ease knowing that all my students have access to technology. All my students can develop the skills they need to work and learn in todays world.

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:



Seventh Fire Paddle Art

This post is being re-posted due to some technical difficulties on the blog.

The art show below using Google Open Gallery is a display of student art work. You can zoom in on specific art pieces, or open the entire display in another window.

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!