ECOO 2014 Some of what I learned – part II

I was really struck by the keynote by Ron Canuel.  I have never heard him before, but I could listen to him all day.  What great ideas!


Here are some of my notes and my thoughts since then -the italics are my comments tonight.

Impressive But not convincing – this was the name of the talk

Technology and integration into the classroom – this was the key point – technology is great, but how is it implemented?  This should be the major challenge for the administrator
If teachers are not on board, nothing happens. Average number of teachers a child will see K-12 is 55. Teachers have an enormous challenge.

You want to move an agenda forward? Surround yourself with people more intelligent and talented than you – to really move things ahead. A good note for all admin

CEA – Transforming Education – research-based , best practices based organization. We do not  base practice on solid research – this is what we need to do. Join us!  Excellent point – what research do we have to know that we are doing the right thing?  What really is effective, what do we really know?


Domains that we need to focus on:

Student engagementyes, but what about parent engagement
• Teaching the way we aspire to teach
• Challenges to change – a keynote in itself – covered very well by  George Couros’ keynote on the Friday
• Effective integration of technology into classrooms – what is effective? Nothing worse than bringing tech into the classroom and doing the same old thing.
• Neuroscience and the classroom
Technology that is transformational –

Students and teachers have done great things with chalk, pencil, etc technology is a portal to the imagination – who is on the other side – the student. What an important point!

Tech is not a tool – it is a portal to students – a really good point, we can’t see our new technology as ‘just another tool’ it is so much more than that!

“The more you trust teachers and decrease regulation achievement goes up”  What a great point – do boards listen to this , does the province consider this?

“The role of the teacher is to create the conditions for invention rather than provide ready-made knowledge”
Seymor Papert – this is the basic idea that motivates the work we are  doing on Makerspaces

Constructivism, Technology and the Future of classroom Learning – - quote on change in teaching methods
technological changes that have swept through society at large have left the educational system largely unchanged. In the course of 20 years, a dramatic rift has opened between the process of teaching and learning in the schools and the ways of obtaining knowledge in society at large, a rift made obvious by the fact that the process of teaching has not changed substantially, even in the past 100 years everything that you do has to be in moderation – it has to be in balance – 10% effective integration over 90% mindless implementation

Four common strategies from resistors of change: John Kotter Phi Delta Kappa magazine Dec 2010/Jan 2011

• Fear mongering eg. Wifi is harmful
• Death by delay eg. Pilot projects – what happened to that idea? Piloting create a very specific base of teachers trained – what happens when they move? We have to train the base, not jus a specific group of teachers.
• Confusion eg. Media focus
Early adoption – we have to see, how will it transform practice?

Blaming current technology on declining relationships in schools is disingenuous, to say the least – totally agree – technology connects people, helps kids to collaborate

Machines have nothing to do about encouraging positive relationships – this is what the teacher does.

We are in a structure that was created in 1894 and 1895 – designed to mimic the industrial system at the time.  When will we finally act on this and change our structures??

Students value teachers more on who they are than by what they say.

Learning how to think differently is what is important

Are students engaged? Rapid decrease from grade 5 to grade 10 -we need to change this, why are students not engaged – a question for all of us.

No courage = no change

Early adaptors don’t convince mid-adaptors do -what a key point!


ECOO 2014 Some of what I learned – part I..


This is my favourite conference.  I come away with great material each year and I make face-to-face connections with people I follow on Twitter and truly admire.  Some quick highlights in this category.  Sitting at a keynote and realizing I am sitting next to Donna Miller Fry who I have learned so much from this year.  Talking to George Couros just before his keynote and getting his words of wisdom, “man you really need to change your Twitter photo, no one can see you”.  Doug Peterson, my hero then chimed in “your photo is rather dark”.

These seem like very simple exchanges, but for me they show how much I have learned in the last year from these great educators.  We have barely (or never) ever met but there is a shared intimacy that comes from being part of the writing community on Twitter.

Some of the best learning at conferences for me now comes just from these quick connections.  They will be enough to sustain our on-going on-line relationships where I will continue to be enriched by their experience on an almost daily basis.

I talked to lots of vendors and attended as many keynotes and workshops as I could when not doing registration, but I think there is huge value in all the conversations with committee members (a truly wonderful group of people), vendors and twitter learning partners.  It is amazing to me that after 30 years in education, my learning experience is richer than ever.

We hear it now lots in workshops – to be an isolated educators really makes no sense anymore.  I truly lived that over the past four days.

I have lots more to write about, but as George says – relationships are key, certainly the most important aspect of the work we do.

Thank-you everyone, great seeing you all!








this is the way to finish a conference – what a great group!

BIT 2014 Day One

As educators, we need to be constantly enriched by new experiences and new learning.  Our  first day at the 2014 ECOO Conference certainly did this for all of us.  We started before 7:00am at the registration desk and were soon into the first keynote and then the half and full-day sessions.


I love the Minds on Media full day session – I really think it is one of the highlights of the entire conference.

I was able to take in four sessions throughout the day.  I find you really need to sit and talk with the presenters to get a good sense of what they are presenting.  Unlike the next two days where we will be running from workshop to workshop, today there was time to sit and talk to the presenters, try out some new tools and pick up some incredibly valuable resources.

I probably spent the most time in the Mindcraft session.  I am certainly no good at playing the game, but I am starting to get the concept.  Like makerspaces, one of the ideas is to give students a creative outlet to express their ideas in a new and innovative format.  I am starting to see all sorts of applications back at school.  I now have a great set of resources and a wonderful contact person to go to when I get bogged down.

I also learned about Ubuntu and how this operating system can be used to breathe life into old, slow laptops.  I can’t wait to try this out with some of the old machines we have kicking around our house.


Loading screen from Ubuntu 8.04 and 8.10.

Loading screen from Ubuntu 8.04 and 8.10. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There’s lots to learn talking to the vendors as well. I had some great talks with vendors from Northern Micro, Copernicus, Antidote, SmartpenCentral and Read & Write. I already have resources that I want to purchase for our school that I hope will benefit students and teachers.

The networking possibilities are endless.  Tonight, the learning will continue with a dance back in the main convention center.



BIT 2014 has started!

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Standing room only at first keynote of the day


We  have started with our first keynote speaker and the regular schedule is just about to start.  You can see all the events planned today on Lanyard at

Very exciting to be back here.  We started registering delegates last night and closed up at 10:00PM.  This morning we started again at 7:15 and are still registering people now.

Wednesday is the only day where you sign up for sessions.  Some are the morning only some go the entire day.  The wonderful vendor room opens at 10:00am.

I love the Minds on Media session.  It starts now and will go nonstop until 3:30pm.  It is a great opportunity to sit with presenters and try out the programs and products they are featuring.  But, don’t take my word.  Just follow the #bit14 hashtag today.


Conversation with Joanna Crapsi – Roxborough Park School on Parent Engagement

This morning I had an amazing conversation with the principal of Roxborough Park School regarding some of the parent engagement work she is doing at her school.  This is terrific work that needs to receive more exposure.  All these ideas are things that we would love to do at our school.
Joanna has been working on these programs for four years.  Here are some of the essential points from today.
1)  Funding is important to hire teachers to work with the student groups that have been targeted for additional academic coaching and to pay for the meals that take place after each session.
2)  The program is invitational – staff and admin make personal contact with the family to invite them to take part in the tutoring and the parent component of the program.
3)  Community partners are important to act as facilitators for the sessions identified by the parents.  Very important to coach facilitators that sessions are to be designed to create a dialogue rather than straight information sessions.
4)  Essential point – parents choose the sessions they are interested in – they design their own learning program during their first session at the school.  Topics have included, health and wellness, safety, stress management, how to finish high school, EQAO, how to read with your child – to name just a few.
5)  The sessions run twice a week for 15 weeks.  Tutoring is from 3:00PM – 4:30PM and the parent session is from 3:30PM – 4:30 PM.  All sessions conclude with a meal for the parents, students, facilitators and teachers.
6)  Child care needs to be in place.
7)  Your school is also running a special ELL initiative which sounds really interesting, it would be good to hear more about that.
This would be a terrific workshop idea at any educational conference.  We all know that parent engagement is important, the ‘how to’ is not as well known.
Any ideas that you would add to this list?

Progress with our makerspaces

Our innovations center group continues to grow. We have several student teachers who are members – some of them will be in our schools next week and we hope they will be able to help us make progress on the development of our makerspaces.  One of our members, Alison Evans Adnani of Maker Junior just put out this post – the things you need when you are starting a makerspace. It is such a great list I had to include all of it here.


One of the questions I often get asked is what would I put in a makerspace? Most of the making I do is with kids, and the age I most often work with is middle school, grades 5-8. So if I was building a middle school makerspace, this is how I would get started:
* Planning. Pencils, erases, paper – often this is overlooked and I’m usually looking for these materials when I’m helping to sketch out ideas. A whiteboard is useful. A whiteboard wall is even better!
* Art supplies. Paint, paintbrushes, paint pots or a palette. Markers. Glitter, sure, why not? Decoration is a valid step in making a project.
* Basic sticky stuff. Masking tape, glue sticks, duct tape, and a hot glue gun.
* Basic Circuits. Conductive paint, conductive thread, batteries (3V and double A), battery holders, wire, LEDs (flashing LEDs are always excellent), and wire strippers. Oh, and don’t forget a roll of aluminum foil. Always handy!
* Building materials. Cardboard – boxes, tubes, lots of cardboard. Foam core is very handy. Bristol board is fun. Felt, fabric, and clay can also be used for construction.
* Basic Tools. Sewing needles, hair dryers, screwdrivers, precision screwdrivers, and if there isn’t a hand held drill, maybe an awl or hole punch. Rulers and measuring tapes.
* Cutting tools. Scissors, wire cutters.
* Safety. A full set of safety glasses and a first aid kit.
* Housekeeping. A sink or access to water, paper towels, hand soap and a garbage can. A broom and dustpan are also useful for picking up the pieces.

And more advanced tools:
* Computers are important. As is an internet connection. It’s important to be able to look for inspiration. Chrome books are a good start, but eventually you’re going to want to set up IDEs and drivers for different microcontrollers.
* MaKey MaKey’s are my favorite way to introduce the idea of integrating the physical and virtual.
* Digital camera or web cam. Stop motion films are a great way to start creating.
* Some sort of computer controlled cutting machine – I’ve heard great things about vinyl cutters, but I don’t have one myself.
* 3D printers are instantly engaging. Be prepared for the upkeep. But what a great way to inspire learning!
* Sewing machines are always fun.
* Raspberry Pi – always fun to set up one as a computer. And have one available as a controller.
* Arduinos. You don’t need lots – but having a couple on hand is a good idea.

Have I forgotten anything? What would you put in a makerspace?

I think this is a pretty good list. The important thing here is that your makerspace does not all have to be full of arduinos and littleBits, there are all sorts of other things you need to have to really make it a creative space for kids.  We are finding now that once we explain to the teachers that a makerspace means making anything we had people volunteering to teach knitting or calligraphy.  We also now have a supply of Connects and have just put in an order for some lego.

Last week I watched a wonderful Google Hangout on makerspaces from the ISTE Librarian Network.  The hangout featured the work of Diana Rendina.  I have included the entire segment here because it really shows how a makerspace can develop and flourish over time.


So this week we started our first makerspace with the grade 5 and six students.  What I saw is what I always see.  Students immediately engaged figuring out how to use the new tools and gadgets that have been put in front of them.  They quickly figured out the Makey Makey kits and were soon figuring out what conducted a current and what didn’t.

The students were into the Makey Makey kits within minutes

They loved the littleBits kits and were able to come up with new interesting inventions very quickly.


we quickly realized that we needed more stations to keep everyone engaged.  But as you can see from the video above, the students were soon experimenting with new ways to make currents to keep the Makey Makey keyboard running!

We has less success with the arduino and Raspberry pi kits, but to be fair, this was the students’ first exposure to any of this material.  With time they will begin to learn how to use these kits as well.

So, we have a start.  Where do we go from here?

Making school and community seamless

This year I am working in a new school, one in a wonderfully diverse population in downtown Ottawa.  The ELL population is significant – around 45%.  Over 20% of families in our area speak a language other than English or French.  In many cases, the students have stronger language skills than their parents.

In 28 years of teaching, I have never worked in such an amazing community.  The families don’t have much, and many live in difficult circumstances. Having said that, this community has a wealth of  services that include the Somerset West Community Health Center, Social Rec Connect, the YMCA, a very busy community daycare and a whole host of services I haven’t figured out yet.

Our parents work hard.  Our children are wonderful and appreciate everything we are able to do for them.  We are heavily involved in a national campaign to build a better school yard and we are working hard to develop an integrated arts program and a makerspace.

So we are doing fine, but I think there is so much more to do.  How can we find ways to get our parents more engaged in the life of the school?

It is common in lower income areas that parent engagement tends to be lower.  There are all sorts of reasons for this.  For one thing, our parents are incredibly busy working to keep their families afloat.  Our information from EQAO shows us that the percentage of parents that read to their kids or work on the computer on learning programs is low.  Parents say they don’t have internet or computers and language is certainly a barrier.

So, what do we do?

Educational Leadership devoted a whole issue to this challenge in May 2011.  We have also found some really interesting programming in Hamilton-Wentworth called the Scholars Program.  The Scholars Program sounds great, but there is very little written about it.

It is very good to read about other experiences before forging ahead.  At this point, I really don’t have a definite idea on how to proceed, but what I have learned in my reading is that whatever program we put together has to be co-constructed with all stakeholders involved – the school board, Somerset West, Social Rec Connect, our school and most importantly, our parents.

This is how we will proceed.  I have an idea on what programs we should be offering, but I could be totally wrong – we all need to hear from the parents.  What do they need for themselves and their kids.

Then we can develop something special for our community!