Sunday, 6 December 2015


Thinking about planning a celebration for the HOUR OF CODE this week or just wondering how coding fits into your classroom? Then this post is for you...


Every day around the world, teachers are educating and engaging their students using the new literacy: coding. According to Stephen Hawking, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs "whether you want to uncover the secrets of the universe or pursue a career in the 21st century, basic computer programming is an essential skill to learn." And they are all pretty smart guys right?  So why hasn't the rest of the world fully adopted this mentality when it comes to constructing curriculum in our education system.  Through computational thinking coding is uniquely suited to not only promote problem solving skills, but gives a voice to our students by providing the ability of a new language through which to express oneself. From Mathematics to a second language, coding is a uniquely
versatile skill and your students are already programmed to use it. Which is why we decided to find coding in the curriculum for our kids and celebrate their hard work.


Earlier this year, I attended the OTRK 12 conference, where I was inspired by the keynote to provide better access for my students to technology.  After a little research, I started with a crowd funding site on GOFUNDME. While this type of crowd funding in education is extremely popular in the United States, I was advised that it may be in conflict with certain union regulations here in Canada. Not being one to give up easily, I then contacted the Education Foundation of Niagara.  Soon after our initial meeting my initiative was picked up as a pilot for schools to raise funds through the board by the amazing EFN team.  

COMPUTERS4CHANGE seeks to provide the students of Central Public School with greater access to technology. Using a blended learning model in a maker style environment, this initiative would support student learning in both English, French languages. Our students are already becoming proficient in two languages, COMPUTERS4CHANGE seeks to empower our students further with the most globally sought after language today: coding. This new language will not only inspire them now, but provide them with skills for jobs that do not even exist yet. 

Furthermore, through our after school programs we would be able to support students struggling in mathematics through a flipped classroom capacity, develop enrichment clubs to push students further, and to further facilitate a coding/robotics club to inspire girls in this field. Through this initiative, Central School and Grimsby would become a centre for innovation in education. With the help of our donors, it is our goal to change the world of tomorrow, by empowering the students we teach today. It is this very mindset, which is at the heart of our C3 Event this week


The key to any great initiative in education has two parts; it benefits students and it has support from colleagues and administration.  We have been very fortunate in our planning of this event to have both. I am blessed to work with a great staff and to continually have the support of my TECH FORCE 3 team members Julie and Ted. Each of us working in separate divisions allows us to support the school and bring OUR divisions unique perspective to any challenge.  They are legends...find these people at your school or in your board...they're there...just gotta find them.  I have also been fortunate to have earned the trust and support of my administration.  You can't just invite the world to your school and have 500+ kids from grades K-8 running around unless your administration is on board. I have also had continued support from our board's IT department, they are the unsung heroes who make our schools hum.

The day will be broken down into 3 blocks and each division is assigned one of those blocks to explore coding.  Through the six stations students, staff, parents and members of our community will interact and collaborate using a variety of technology and non-tech alternatives to increase competency and inspire an interest in coding.  The amazing challenges available on for their Hour of Code initiative will be used throughout the week and on the day.  We will also use the fantastic MIT app Scratch and Scratchjr as well as the awesome Tickle app.  Robotics (Spheros and Parrot Drones) from our COMPUTERS4CHANGE initiative and our Lego Robotics club will also play a big role.  We have also created dry erase coding blocks for HPE to be used for students to design warm-ups for the partners.  The blocks are the same design as found in Scratch, which enables us to keep the language common across the learning. Each station will include a critical challenge that integrates a number of curriculum expectations in it.  I will post our more concrete plans in an update this week.

We are a French Immersion school and we have recognized the benefit a second language gives to enriching our students lives.  We are very excited to empower them further with exposure to the most sought after language worldwide and look forward to how they make the future. 

See you all this Friday!

Here are some helpful links that have supported us in this day:

Monday, 3 August 2015

Ma Bell, They've Got The Ill Communications

"Ma Bell, I've got the ill communications"
"Ma Bell, I've got the ill communications"
"Ma Bell, I've got the ill communications"
                                              -Beastie Boys

Legendary New York hip hop group The Beastie Boys, chanted the above lyrics in their hit Get It Together.  This popular phrase refers to the outdated name for the whole of Bell Telephone Network.  After careful consideration, I respectfully posit that it is the opponents of mobile devices in the classroom that need to "Get It Together," and desist their "ill communication" on why we should ban the use of this technology at school.   

The Argument 

According to anti-device supports like Louis-Philippe Beland and Richard Murphy, "Mobile phones can be a source of great disruption in workplaces and classrooms, as they provide individuals with access to texting, games, social media and the Internet. Given these features, mobile phones have the potential to reduce the attention students pay to classes, and can therefore be detrimental to learning." 

The Rebuttal

I would argue that these devices are supportive to learning because "they provide individuals with access to texting, games, social media and the Internet." The argument of Beland and Murphy (as well as many others) derives its fuel from a learning environment where the students are disengaged and the teachers are not using the technology effectively or at all.  It is convenient to say that "cellphones are a distraction" in an environment where they are not able to be used for anything else. Perhaps we should ban pencils for the students may doodle, or books because they may read while the lesson is being taught.  If the lesson is not engaging, a window with the blinds drawn can offer the same disruption.  The problem is not the device, but the learning environment in which they are being used.  Providing students with authentic and engaging tasks in which the success of the process is supported through use of their device and you not only have the students invested in their learning, but you have them using their devices properly.

I remember my first year of teaching, BYOD was still a new concept at our school and teachers using technology for assessment was in it's infancy.  I taught Core French à la carte and would take anecdotal notes on my phone and use a markbook app to log evaluations.  During one of these moments of me taking a note on my device, a senior administrator, who I have a great deal of respect for, entered my class on their visit to our school.  There was a fair bit of alarm to see a teacher "texting" during instructional time.  After it was explained what I was doing, tensions calmed, but it was sign of just how new this all was.  I now have a BYOD policy in my Grade 3 (yes Grade 3) homeroom and have never had a problem once.  My kids use the "access to texting, games, social media and the Internet" to solve real world problems, communicate with students from other countries, work collaboratively, code and build 21st century fluencies like critical thinking.
We should not forget that several decades ago, teachers and schools were hesitant to another innovative technology in the classroom. Many teachers were convinced that it prevented students from learning valuable skills and test scores would plummet.The tool was a calculator that is now used in math classrooms around the world. Years from now, after teachers have become accustomed to mobile devices in our classrooms, the questions won’t center around whether we should use these tools in the learning process, but how we can use them effectively to promote student success.

Why Ronda Rousey Will Be Part of Our Grade 3 Learning This Year

I had never been a huge fan of MMA, but in retrospect I think it was more to do with misconceptions than understanding the sport itself. However, I always recognized and respected the discipline and training such a sport requires. Like many over the last few days, I was captivated by the incredible display by World Champion Ronda Rousey during her very brief fight against Bethe Correia.  This powerful woman is at the top of her game and an example of hard work, perseverance and dedication to young girls everywhere, with a personal story I appreciate.  Which reminded me of a lesson from last year.

Last year in my Grade 3 class, a number of the girls regularly came to me upset that the boys would not let them play soccer at recess.  Those that would not listen and tried to play anyways never received the ball and left the game quite upset.  Earlier that week, one of the students attempted to insult another by saying they threw "like a girl" during a gym class.

I try to instill in my students to Choose Kind and that we are a family of equal individuals, but like any concept, reinforcement is always necessary.  I showed them the #likeagirl campaign ad and discussed with them what equality meant and how we all do things our own way.  Stressing that this was important to Monsieur always seemed to make it more important to them. I could see they were starting to get it, but we weren't there yet.

The next day I had them join me on the carpet and we listened to the audio intro of Enter Sandman as covered by The Warning.  You probably remember these three talented young ladies rocking out Metallica on Youtube.  I then asked the students to describe what the musicians looked like, their ideas were as I expected.

I then turned the projector on and watched as their eyes bulged out of their head to see three young women, one of which was their age, belting out such a powerful song.  The discussion led to everyone sharing something they wished others new they were good at and how we shouldn't listen to that word stereotype.  I told them of my brief stint as a high school wrestler and how future Olympian and fellow teacher Tonya Verbeek used to toss me around like a rag doll.  

Seeing Tonya and other world class female athletes doing what they do best really hit home for these kids.  The were used to me going on about all of the contributions females had made to mathematics and science (all my students leave knowing they are mathematicians), but this was new territory for many of them. Witnessing the sports they loved, being professionally played by women.  The following recess something changed...

I peered out the window to see how second break was going, and there before me was the lesson I had just taught being realized.  A number of the girls from class had joined the game.  As the break ended, I was greeted by a giant hug..."Merci Monsieur! I scored a goal and everyone cheered."  Even if just in some small way, perhaps they were getting it.

So this year, aside from the mathematicians, the scientists, authors and rockers...perhaps Ms. Rousey will inspire a student of mine, girl or boy, to work hard and dedicate themselves to greatness. Respect one another, together we are stronger.  

Support Ronda's charity CLICK HERE
This post is dedicated to my daughter Sydney, who has always been her own person and proud of "breaking the mold."

Sunday, 2 August 2015

The Proof is in The Process: Problem-, Project-, and Inquiry-based Learning

Over the last decade, there has been significant research into the merits of problem-based learning, project-based learning and inquiry-based learning in education. Is there a difference? Is one more successful over another? When do I use them and for which subjects are they most effective?  

While each of these methods vary in some form, they all place an emphasis on process, not just content. They require students to make discoveries from authentic situations and purposes. The utilisation of this process to explore the curriculum, will not only develop the necessary knowledge and understanding in our students, but will empower them to become independent thinkers who can collect information apply this knowledge for real-world tasks. The model for this process can be broken down into key stages.  

Collaboratively Designed Learning Goals

During this stage, students and teachers work to recognize and flush out the problem/area of inquiry, develop questions and focus them into specific learning goals. These learning goals may directly or indirectly incorporate key areas of content knowledge and conceptual understanding. However, knowledge and understanding is not enough, these goals should seek to elicit higher level application skills as well.  The goals of each approach should seek to draw out critical thinking/problem solving, collaboration, and self-management through the acquisition of content knowledge and understanding. The realization of these goals may also help build other skills, habits of mind and work, and character qualities such as perseverance or creativity.  The involvement of student voice in this stage is of great importance. In order to make the entire process meaningful, students need to have ownership and use their judgment when solving a problem and answering a driving question. Otherwise it simply becomes a matter of following directions outlined by us.

Process Elements

A Question and A Problem

At the heart of these approaches is a problem to investigate and solve, or a question to explore and answer. It could be concrete (the school needs to reduce its use of paper) or abstract (deciding if and when violence is justified). An engaging problem or question makes learning more meaningful for students. This will ensure they are not just retaining knowledge; they are learning because they have a real need to know something, so they can apply this knowledge to find a solution or answer a question that is mearningful.

Cyclical Investigation

The process must force students to ask questions, research information, make connections between new information and prior knowledge and then collaborate to generate new questions until a satisfactory solution is found through exploration.  This is an area where 21st Century fluencies play a significant role in student centered learning.  With the proper technological knowledge, students can research using online journals and communicate via Skype or Google Hangouts with professionals and their peers. They can collaborate using shared docs on developing a plan and recording their findings.  They can create surveys using Google forms and develop a way to present their findings using the myriad of Web 2.0 presentation tools.

Communicate, Reflect and Connect

During the final  students use information and observations to answer questions and test their hypotheses. At this time, students will draw conclusions about questions and hypotheses, compare, sort, classify and interpret information. Reflection is the true teacher from experience and students will now use this tool to solidify all they have learned.  The culmination of this process will usually involve the creation of a product or method of sharing their findings.  

Describe these learning experiences in your classroom? Comment to support all our learning.

Is Edtech Killing Our Ability to Collaborate With Students?

There is a lot of debate on whether technology is helping or hurting our students and as the tech wave further infiltrates our schools I am sure the number of studies will continue to grow as well. I think this is a good conversation, an important one. We should always be evaluating what we do, how we do it and with what it is done. Are we fostering an environment that, as Liza Zarka posits, is "crippling our children's social skills" or are we collaborating with our students and empowering them in ways never before possible?

Classroom Community

Creating community in our classrooms is the foundation for good learning.  The way in which we layout our room, provide access to resources and create spaces to share are all keys to a successful learning environment.  This holds just as true to our digital classroom space as well, our class websites.  Regardless of the platform (Google Classroom, Desire2Learn, Edmodo etc.) a well designed class website that is utilised as an integral piece of collaboration can support students access to information, extend support beyond the classroom, and provide countless opportunities for teacher and student to interact with a global community as well.  

These platforms provide teachers with opportunities to designed a student centered learning environment.  We can deliver to our students challenges via Google docs, in game directions, or posts on the class site.  Together we can recognise the problem to be solved, develop goals and success criteria and then the students are able to develop their action plan for finding a solution.  We, as facilitator, provide students with clarification and support when needed.  In the virtual worlds of Minecraftedu, we can work together as Makers to problem solve.  Their self-efficacy with the technology actually invigorates them to share with their peers and teachers. It also provides a voice for students who need the support of this technology or come alive through using it. We are collaborating with our students, but they are the ones driving their learning.  Furthermore, as students are able to guide themselves with greater ease, the teacher is then able to work with small groups to ensure mastery. The technology has enabled us to work with our students and further enabled our students to be in control of how they learn.

Home/School Community

In her piece for PC Magazine, Stephanie Mlot explains many teachers in lower income areas find the access to technology as "a major challenge." However in areas where access at home is prevalent, a truly collaborative relationship can be fostered, adding home to the classroom community as well. We are able to provide flipped opportunities or create mini-lessons that provide students with the opportunity to solidify their understanding. These pieces can then be used by students who are absent to experience the learning they missed.  Furthermore, it empowers our student's family to be active members in our community.  Some of the greatest learning experience for my students last year came from conversations and resources from parents.  They are truly able to be a part of what is going on in the class and work with us to support their child.

This collaboration doesn't necessarily stop after the school year ends either.  To this day, I still have former students using our learning platform to ask for support, share their successes and even collaborate with my current classroom.  This continuity of collaboration is also evident in the social media available to be used. A class Twitter account is a place where we can interact with our students, parents, other teachers/students and the global community.  Skype allows us to collaborate and learn with are specific professionals, and can be used to support oral language use in lieu of pen pals.  We are no longer the lone educators of our students.  Through the use of technology, they are able to be students of the world.

So I will leave this decision to you the reader (I know where I stand), is educational technology hurting or helping our kids?

Saturday, 1 August 2015


The integration of technology into instruction is at the forefront of many teacher's professional learning, School Improvement Plans and an area of necessary improvement for many Faculties of Education. The strange thing about this is that the use of Information and Communication Technology has been part of the curriculum for well over a decade.  As one of the oldest curriculum documents, the Mathematics Grades 1-8 (2005) includes a number of explicit ways that ICT is encouraged to be utilized to promote student success.
The Role of Technology in Mathematics provide a range of tools that can significantly extend and enrich teachers’ instructional strategies and support students’ learning in mathematics. Teachers can use ICT tools and resources both for whole class instruction and to design programs that meet diverse student needs. Technology can help to reduce the time spent on routine mathematical tasks and to promote thinking and concept development. Powerful assistive and enabling computer and handheld technologies can be used seamlessly in teaching, learning, and assessment. These tools include simulations, multimedia resources, databases, access to large amounts of statistical data, and computer-assisted learning modules. Information and communications technologies can also be used in the classroom to connect students to other schools, at home and abroad, and to bring the global community into the local classroom. 
How is it then that the use of technology in elementary Mathematics instruction is still in a nearly pioneering stage?  While I realise that the variety of technology was not as abundant as it is now (the first iPad came out in 2010) the shift to effectively using technology as outlined in the curriculum documents has been extremely slow to implement.  As the revised editions of each curriculum document become more recent, there is a significant increase in the scope for technology integration.

We see in the 2009 edition of the Ontario Arts curriculum document an example of this increase in scope as the document outlines in detail the variety of tools available.  Below is a brief selection from that section:
Integrating technology into Arts instruction can provide a range of tools that can significantly extend and enrich teachers’ instructional strategies and support students’ learning in the arts. These tools include multimedia resources; databases; Internet websites; digital cameras; notation, sequencing, and accompaniment software; and software for animation, image/video editing, and graphic design. 

This section continues on and outlines a number of ways in which technology can be used in Music, Drama, Dance and Visual Arts.  Yet walk into an average elementary school art room, music class or drama presentation and many of these strategies and tools are absent.  Why? It has been in the Arts document for nearly ten years.

In the most recent edition I use, the French as a Second Language document (2013) builds on an intent developed in the Arts document, utilising language like "natural extension" or "students should be encouraged to use ICT."  The inclusion of language like this illuminates a stronger importance placed on technology integration from optional to nearly an expectation.
The integration of information and communications technologies into the FSL program represents a natural extension of the learning expectations. Whenever appropriate, therefore, students should be encouraged to use ICT to support and communicate their learning. Current technologies are useful both as research tools and as creative media. 

There is also an effort made to address the greater focus of the new document on supporting the significant cultural piece added to FSL.  Furthermore, we also acknowledge the explicit directive to teach about Digital Citizenship and Netiquette. 
Teachers and students may also be able to access authentic texts by French-speaking people from a variety of cultures through ICT. Although the Internet is a powerful learning tool, there are potential risks attached to its use. All students must be made aware of issues related to Internet privacy, safety, and responsible use, as well as of the potential for abuse of this technology, particularly when it is used to promote hatred. 
This marks a significant shift from instructors using ICT to support content delivery towards a necessary Technological/Pedagogical/Content Knowledge (TPACK) based facilitator.

Follow @mburnsmath  @ddmeyer  @marian_small @NCTM 

Follow @margotroi

Follow @sylviaduckworth  @jen_jinks

So then, why after over a decade are we still only beginning to witness an overall infusion of technology into educating?

Admittedly I am younger to being a teacher, than perhaps I am given credit for at times.  Perhaps this is the nature of the beast that is education. After all, the "new math" has been around for decades and the shift in this pedagogical approach has yet to be fully realized.  Maybe like any great change, it does not happen overnight, but rather through tiny gains over a period of time.  Regardless, the integration of ICT is explicit in every curriculum document and is seen to "significantly extend and enrich teachers’ instructional strategies and support students’ learning."  Therefore it is our responsibility to become TPACK based facilitators and the responsibility of our administration to provide effective professional development that enables us to do so.  

Sunday, 26 July 2015

You Are Affecting The System

Whenever a system is affected by an outside agent, its total energy changes. In general, a force is anything that causes a change. When a force causes a change in the energy of a system, physicists say that work has been done.  It is this work, this change in energy that has most recently caught my attention.  For it is my own work, my own energy that has changed and the outside agent that has caused this transformation is you.  You, the members of Twitter.

Yes you have changed me, my energy and my work for being a teacher.  You, this outside agent, have affected my energy for teaching like little other before you.  Admittedly, as I lay here thinking about how best to describe the influence people like you have had on my professional learning, this seemed like a pretty intellectual metaphor, an original thought.  But it turns out, as I searched further into the role change plays in various systems, I found another man for whom I have a great respect, had used a similar metaphor first.

Division Principal, Leadership Consultant, Ed Blogger and "change agent" to many of us, George Couros wrote eloquently in his blog The Principal of Change on the opportunity change gives and how our students can benefit from it (side note: while writing this post his brother and ed leader Alec Couros just followed me...crazy).  While our outside agents may have a different focus within our posts, the reality is that both our systems had changed as a cause of them.  While this area is of great interest to me, I will say thank you to George and get back to You now.

You are my Tribe, my educational army, you are my outside agents.  Why you?  Well as we indirectly share and support each other randomly through in a 140 characters or less, or directly through inspiring #edchats you are changing me.  You energize and inspire me to new and innovative ways of approaching education.  You provide guidance and I can turn to you for support at any time.  You showed me that there are others who care as I do and want to push the envelope.  You value and accept my passions and opinions.  Through you not only has my Technological competency grown, but so has my Pedagogical and Content Knowledge as well.   You are my Professional Learning Network and I thank you.

I remember when we first met, not at a school or some seedy bar, but on Twitter.  I was at a conference and these two great guys Tom Whitby and Steven W Anderson told me about you. I was naive to the power this platform held, but they were speaking my language and so I listened to them. It was a pretty overwhelming place with roughly 350,000 tweets sent every minute.  But then I started to find you, my Sherpas, and I followed you and began to learn.  I had begun to change.  After following you for a while, I felt confident enough to share my voice and soon you began to follow me too.  
I have driven my family to the brink of insanity with my regular sharings of new strategies and ideas I am learning.  The phrase "did you know?" or "this year I NEED to" escape my lips regularly.  You have really ignited what was already a pretty significant fire in me.  
The power of our network is evident, when #edchats are regularly trending and according to Twitter's number over 1% of all tweets are education related.    
While researching the Characteristics of Effective Professional Development, collaboration and self-directed learning were of great importance in all the articles I read.  The feedback on this topic I received seemed to support this as well as the advent of apps like Tweechme supporting #edchats and teacher involvement on Twitter.  This growing community we are all a part of is something special and has become an integral part of self-directed learning for hundreds of thousands of teachers around the world.  We are a global community affecting change on our systems and the systems of those we are connected to.

You are my 297 members and growing PLN.  You are my professional learning and inspiration.  You are my Sherpas and followers.  You are the change.