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.

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:



MSS and PSS Transition to a Blended Learning, 1:1 BYOD Environment in Fall 2014

Its official! MSS and PSS are moving to a blended learning environment, 1:1 BYOD in the Fall of 2014!

Read the press release here: .


What does this mean?

It means that all grade 9’s coming into our schools will bring a laptop or a tablet starting September 2014. A fully functional device that they choose. If a family cannot provide one for their student, we will. One that they take home for the school year. Every one of our grade 9’s will have access to the technology they need to access resources, materials, communication/collaboration tools and the support they need after school hours and in school.

Students will all have different devices. Students can choose the devices that work best for them based on their strengths, needs and preferences.


How does this impact learning? What will the classroom look like?

To be completely clear – this does NOT mean students will be doing online courses. Students will attend face-to-face classes as they do now and the teacher will be there leading the learning. There will still be lessons. At times the devices won’t be used at all, because we still put a very high value on discussion, collaboration, group work, physical activity, artistic abilities, design process, building things, tinkering and making. In classes right now many teachers post materials online, hold online discussions and collaboration opportunities using the web. Our concern is that not every student has access to these in an equitable manner. When each student has a device, teachers can integrate technology seamlessly. Students can choose how to organize learning materials in ways that make sense to them. Everyone can participate fully.

When every student has a device, it allows;

  • learning to be differentiated among students (access different types of materials, based on learning styles, to learn the same content or develop the same skills). Basically we can all learn the same things, but take different pathways to get there.
  • collaboration among class members and beyond the walls of our classes to be seamless (example: having a med student support a science class in learning body systems, discussions with authors)
  • students to take on more responsibility for their own learning
  • students to create digital artefacts that demonstrate their understanding of concepts (digital artefacts could include video, animation, audio recordings, blog posts, etc.)
  • students to develop the skills required for post-secondary options such as college, the workplace and university. Almost all jobs, universities and colleges use technology. Whether it be computers and tablets in the workplace or online learning management systems that every university and college has moved towards using, the technology is there.


What does this mean for teacher professional development?

It makes the goals of our TLLP project ever so important. We are supporting each other in developing the skills we need to lead the learning in a classroom infused with technology. We need to learn things as simple as how to use some tools and as complicated and philosophies and pedagogies to engage learners in this technology-enabled learning environment. We will do this by focusing on high-yield, tried-and-true, research-based instructional strategies. For example, research shows that descriptive feedback is one way of truly helping students improve. We will embed this strategy with technology that can be accessed on every type of device and practice using it with our students. Doing this with a variety of instructional strategies, we will develop the skills we need to lead the learning effectively in this new and exciting learning environment!