Don’t Overlook the Learning in Those “Inconvenient” Steps

About 2 years ago today, one of my Gr. 5 teachers (the amazing Sean Smith) completely shifted my thinking around ed tech in the classroom.  We were working together and supporting our students in a project that involved them researching and synthesizing their thinking in an iMovie video.  Students were engaged in the project and were quite enjoying making their learning visible in the videos they were creating.

Enter those “inconvenient” tech steps.

Once their videos were created, it was time to have them showcase their videos by putting them on their own Weebly websites that they’d be working on throughout the school year.

This meant several clunky steps for students…

  1. Exporting the video to the iPad camera roll.
  2. Downloading the video from the iPad camera roll onto a student laptop.
  3. Changing the format of the video from an MOV file to an mp4 file.
  4. Logging onto their Weebly websites.
  5. Creating a new page.
  6. Putting in a video web part.
  7. Uploading the mp4 file to the web part.
  8. …and finally, publishing the web page for others to view.


I remember thinking, it would be so much better if the students could hit one button and magically the videos that they had created would be uploaded onto their Weebly websites.  It was my good friend and teaching colleague, Sean, who completely re-framed my thinking on this.

He looked at me and said, “I actually like that it takes lots of steps.  Just think about all the skills they are learning along the way!”

Wow, was he ever right!  Those “inconvenient” steps, were actually incredible learning opportunities to help students build their digital literacy skills.  It helped them learn to problem solve, and more importantly, develop an adaptive digital skill set that is needed in order to thrive in the world today.

So next time you think… “I wish it could just be one button and done”… remember to not overlook the learning in those “inconvenient” steps.

Putting Students in the Driver’s Seat of Learning

As a 16yr old, I remember just how excited I was to get my driver’s license. I had been working at a fast food restaurant for 3 years, tucking away every dollar I made so I could buy my own car. I practiced driving with my dad almost every day in his clunky manual 4×4 truck, as he gave me tips, advice, and guidance so that one day I could drive my own car wherever I needed to go. My dad knew for me to be an independent and capable driver, I had to be behind the wheel and experience the road for myself.

Fast forward to today, and the lessons I learned while driving with my dad continue to shape my views and actions as an educator. Providing students rich opportunities that help them learn how to learn, and equipping them with the skills, mindset, and experience needed to be a life-long learner should be our number one focus.

This is the true goal of using ed-tech in education: putting students in the driver’s seat of learning.

There are so many great educational analogies I continue to pull from my experiences in learning to drive with my dad.

  • Process over product
    • Learning to drive is all about the experience during the actual drive.
  • Guide on the side
    • Imagine how little I would have learned if my dad was behind the wheel and I sat in the passenger seat as he told me what I needed to know? Like guiding a new driver, the greatest benefit occurs when we put technology and learning in the hands of students.
  • Learning in real-life isn’t about getting a grade
    • My dad never looked at me after a drive and said, “C+, son”. His feedback was always formative, timely, and helped me with my next steps in being an independent driver.
  • Reflecting deepens the learning
    • My dad would always review each drive with me afterwards. Asking me simple questions like, “what did you learn?” and “what would you do differently next time?“.
  • Learning is messy
    • I can’t tell you how many times I stalled my dad’s truck and got stuck on a hill. That didn’t matter though, as my dad wasn’t looking for perfection. He knew that stalling over and over again meant I would learn how to use the clutch in any situation. It was all about failing forward. It’s these types of trial-and-error experiences that help students develop adaptive skillsets where they can leverage tech to deepen their learning in any situation.
  • No two drivers are the same
    • My sister and I took very different paths in becoming independent drivers. She chose to drive an automatic and took longer before she was comfortable in driving on her own. Again, this didn’t matter, as my dad personalized the learning experience for each of us.

The analogies truly are endless.

By providing student authentic opportunities to be in the “driver’s seat“, we truly prepare them to one day drive their own learning wherever it needs to go.

Learn Technology One ‘Instrument’ at a Time…

stick_figure_balancing_gadgets_1600_wht_9599Learning to use and integrate educational technology is very similar to becoming a musician that is proficient at playing many instruments.

As Seth Godin depicts so well in his book, The Dip, when it comes to many new endeavours we often experience a learning curve that looks something like the following (below):


Now as much as we’d all love for this line to be linear, it’s often not the case.  When it comes to technology and learning something new, we often have to spend many hours before we feel comfortable and confident in using the new tool/app/program.  An added layer of complexity comes in when we’re hoping to use this new technology with our students in our classrooms.  We don’t just want to feel somewhat confident, we all want to feel prepared and ready to support our students and deal with any hiccups that will inevitably pop up.

When it comes to learning about new ed tech and taking the leap to use it with your students, one mindset/approach that I believe is worth adopting is to “learn one instrument at a time”.

Learn one instrument at a time.

We sometimes see really gifted musicians around us that seem to be able to play anything. Piano, drums, guitar, etc.  What we fail to see is the journey that those musicians took to become proficient in using each instrument.  The hours upon hours they spent solely focusing on one instrument aren’t always evident to the rest of us.  Upon feeling confident in playing one instrument, learning a second one isn’t so daunting.  There is still a learning curve for that second instrument, but often there is significant transferable knowledge and experience that you can apply from all your previous learning that reduces the dip in this second curve (and the third curve, and so on).  Learning to use and integrate educational technology is very similar to becoming a musician that is proficient in playing many instruments.

Years ago, when I first started looking to introduce new technologies to my students, I went with the “try everything and see what sticks” approach.  I tried to learn about every new web 2.0 tool that was coming out and immediately implement that tool in my classroom.  The problem with this approach is that I was often setting my students up to use these new technologies at a very surface level.  Not only that, but I didn’t provide them the necessary time that is needed to become competent at using something new in their learning.

The mindset I now adopt when it comes to educational technology is to “learn one instrument at a time”.  Now don’t get me wrong… I absolutely still dabble in all sorts of new technologies that are emerging (mainly because I’m a bit of a tech geek).  That being said, when looking to implement new technology with my students, I’m setting them (and myself) up for success by focusing on using one technology tool and supporting them in becoming proficient at using it over time.  For example, if you’ve decided you want to learn more about e-Portfolios and implement them with your students, think about all the ways you can leverage this tool across all your subjects/classes to enhance and deepen learning for your students.  Google Apps for Education, iPads in the classroom, countless web 2.0 tools, coding, creating student websites… the list is infinite and continues to grow at an exponential rate.  By focusing on one new technology at a time, you empower your students to truly add this new technology to their tool belt (and it becomes a realistic go-to option for them when engaging in their learning).  This approach also gets you as the teacher the most “bang for your buck”.  As a teacher, time is always a scarce commodity.  If you can learn and implement the same technology throughout many of your classes/courses and throughout your teaching day, you will observe a much greater impact on your investment.

This focused approach on one new technology at a time sets us all (students, teachers, administrators, parents) up for success.  Similar to those multi-talented musicians, we can always look to layer on and add a new instrument to our repertoires, once we’ve spent significant time becoming proficient at the first instrument.   And since ed tech skills are so transferable, each new technology will often be easier to layer on than the last.

Learn one instrument at a time… better yet, implement one instrument at a time.

Don’t underestimate the importance of the “S” in the “SAMR” journey…

new-technologiesThe SAMR model provides a simplistic, yet powerful framework to help educators move towards more meaningful integration of technology in the classroom.  SAMR stands for Substitution, Augmentation, Modification, and Redefinition and it represented a continuum defined as follows:

Substitution: Technology is used as a direct substitute for what you might do already, with no functional change.
Augmentation: Technology is a direct substitute, but there is functional improvement over what you did without the technology.
Modification: Technology allows you to significantly redesign the task.
Redefinition: Technology allows you to do what was previously not possible.

Often the entry level in the model, Substitution, is unfortunately not viewed in the most positive light.  An example of Substitution would be a student typing up an assignment instead of writing it out on paper.  While there is literally no functional change in this process, I believe we need to understand, and in fact honour, just how important this shift can be in the SAMR journey.

For many of us, integrating new tech in our classrooms often means investing lots of time in learning about the new technology.  It can make us feel vulnerable and it can take quite some time before we feel comfortable in using the technology in our teaching practice.  As such, I often observe colleagues looking for ways to easily incorporate the technology into what they are already doing with their students.  I actually think this a great way to start one’s journey with new technology. It lets you integrate the tech in a low-risk way (since the only new thing in the equation is the technology itself), which in turn gives you the time and space to develop your skillset and level of confidence with the new tool.

One important thing to note however, while Substitution is a great start when it comes to integrating new technology in your teaching practice, it’s important that the technology has the ability to move towards Augmentation, Modification, and ideally Redefinition.

For example, if all you ever do is replace a worksheet from being completed on paper to being completed on a computer, you won’t enhance and improve learning for your students.  It’s important that we purposefully select technology that has the ability to Redefine learning, even if we start by using it in a Substitutive way.

A tool like Google Docs highlights this perfectly.  You could implement Google Docs with your students and just have them type up assignments using this tool instead of writing up assignments on paper.  This would be Substitution and it would never move beyond that.  The great thing about Google Docs though is that is has the ABILITY to Redefine learning.  You could in fact have students collaboratively use this tool with students not even in the room (i.e. in other classrooms, in other schools, and even other countries).

So don’t feel like starting with the “S” in SAMR is a bad thing, just be sure you’re on track to move towards “A”“M”, and eventually “R”!

What Elite Athletes Can Teach Us About Self-Reflection

exercising_weights_brain_1600_clr_9217Educational technology can be really powerful in supporting our students in reflecting on their own learning. Last year, I had the privilege of supporting teachers at my school in implementing technology (laptops, iPads, and more) in meaningful ways in the classroom. Throughout the year, many of them started finding unique ways to use laptops and iPads with their students. Seeing my colleagues innovative in this way was so wonderful as it was a great indicator for how comfortable and empowered they were feeling in incorporating educational technologies in their classrooms.

One day, I stopped by one of our Gr. 2 classrooms and witnessed our students using iPads to self-reflect in a way that I’d never really seen before.

Our wonderful Gr. 2 teacher had students creating videos of themselves analyzing another video of themselves reading… What?! That might sound a bit complicated, but it was actually brilliantly simple.  Here’s what they were doing it:

(1) Students first paired up and grabbed an iPad.

(2) They took turns recording each other reading a passage (using the video function on the iPad). Specifically they held the camera over top of the book so their recorded video would show the student tracking their reading passage with their finger.

reading-passage(3) They then exported this reading passage video into the Explain Everything app.

  • If you’re unfamiliar with this app, basically it is a blank white board in which you can insert images, videos, text, etc… and then making a video recording of whatever you move around on the screen (while also picking up your voice using the microphone).
  • This app is a great way for students to explain concepts by making a voice-over video.

(4) Once their reading passage video was on the Explain Everything whiteboard, the teacher and student got together and would record themselves analyzing the student’s reading passage video.

  • The teacher and the student could pause the reading passage video at any point and share things they thought the student was doing well and what they may want to focus on more in the future.


The end result was a video of each student analyzing their own reading (something that would not be possible to the same degree without technology)!  This is an example of true “redefinition” in the SAMR model and a powerful way that my forward-thinking colleague took a simplistic idea and did something truly innovative to support student learning.

This concept of analyzing a video of yourself isn’t necessarily new, as elite athletes watch videos of their performances all the time in order to improve their skills and understanding.  The concept is somewhat new however in education and is just one simple example of how technology can truly revolutionize teaching and learning!

What Fishing and Building Capacity in Using Ed Tech Have in Common

fish computerIt’s truly remarkable how quickly tech is being integrated into education. It was only 6 years ago that the first iPad was released and now we see hundreds of them in schools (our district alone has over 3,000 at this point). Software, hardware, apps… they’re all evolving at a mind-bending pace. The possibilities of how technology can enhance and accelerate student learning are infinite.

But possibilities don’t go anywhere unless we build the capacity to make them a reality in our classrooms and in our schools. How can we support all educators (teachers, administrators, support staff) in developing an ed tech skillset and grow a digital learning culture in education? Well, I believe that fishing can teach us a thing or two. When we’re supporting educators around educational technology, we need to ask ourselves…

“Is this a good time to give a fish or teach to fish?”

If we’re going to build capacity for educators to use technology in meaningful ways in the classroom, we need to “teach them to fish”. We can do this by talking through our thinking as we support them in troubleshooting technology.  We can also ensure we are giving them the time and space to play and take risks in their ed tech learning. That all being said, sometimes we need to just give someone a fish. There are some troubleshooting instances where time is limited and people just need a quick solution for their tech problem. I believe we need to strike a balance between “giving fish” and “teaching to fish”.

Asking ourselves if the current situation is a good time to “give a fish” or “teach to fish” is a great way to meet people’s immediate needs and at the same time capitalize on the best opportunities to build capacity.

Why we need to be careful when analyzing student data…

square digital-388075_1920Achievement data can be really powerful in helping us better understand our students (their strengths, their needs, their interests, etc).  Analyzing this data can help us meaningfully plan interventions, supports, and approaches to engage our students.

But how much can we trust the data we’re looking at?

Well it depends… some data sets are more accurate then others.  There are certain factors that can make a certain data set less reliable.

Let me give you an example.

In schools, we often look at cohort data to analyze how a group of students is doing as they progress from year to year.  Let’s say we follow this year’s group of Kindergarten students in our school for the next 4 years (i.e. from K to Gr. 3).  Perhaps we analyze their report card achievement for Reading.  As we compare their Kindergarten results to Grade 1, 2 and 3, we can see if the cohort is improving or falling behind over time.

But again, how reliable is this data?

There are many factors that come into play that can greatly skew our results.  Let’s just consider one factor: students coming and going. Within a given school year many students come and go. Depending on your school, you may have a lot more coming and going then others.  Let’s say for argument’s sake that each year you have 5% of your students leave to go elsewhere and also have 5% new students come into your school.  Think about what this means when analyzing cohort data that spans 4 years  After each year, 10% of the students in the data are new!  When analyzing how students did in Kindergarten compared to Grade 3 in a given cohort, you may be looking at a group that has had 40% turnover over those 4 years (i.e. only 60% of the students in your Grade 3 cohort actually attended Kindergarten at your school and contributed to the Kindergarten data collected).

This is just one factor that can greatly skew your data.  Another factor that can affect the data is students having different teachers each year (with potentially very different approaches to assessment).

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I am not saying we should avoid looking at this data. I do think however that we need to be careful when analyzing it and be sure to triangulate it with other data sets (both quantitative and qualitative).

There are some factors in data sets that should raise a red flag and signal you to be more careful when analyzing it. Factors such as:

  • Data that is collected over a longer period of time (multiple terms or multiple years)
  • Data that involves large cohorts of students (grades, schools, districts)
  • Data that involves more subjective assessment (ex. analyzing achievement in the Arts)
  • Data that involves different cohorts of students (ex. analyzing Grade 2 data of many years… this would involve a new cohort each year, and we know how unique student cohorts can be)

There are certainly more factors than those listed here that can skew your data.  So be careful when analyzing student data, and be sure to consider any factors that could be affecting this data to make it less reliable.  And be sure to triangulate the data with other data sets, as well as your observations/conversations.


Back-to-School: One thing that parents do in the 21st century that they never used to…

back to schoolIn just a few short weeks, a new school year will begin. In education, we’re so very fortunate in that we get a fresh start every year. Every September, teachers are excited to meet their new students and to try new things to engage them in their learning. Students are excited to see who is in their class (or classes) and have high hopes of doing well and having success in their academics. Parents are also excited for the new school year and also have high hopes for their children.

Parents do so very much to support their children in getting off on the right foot with the new school year. Back-to-school shopping, reestablishing routines, helping their children understand their new schedules… these are just some of the countless things that parents do to support their children for back-to-school.

There’s one more thing that many parents will do as the new school year begins…

They “Google” their child’s teacher.

With many employers Google searching their applicants, it’s not hard to imagine that many parents are doing the same with their child’s teacher. As an administrator in an elementary school, on more than one occasion, I had a parent approach me and tell me that they Googled my name. One parent in particular warmed my heart and showed me a picture she found when searching my name and looking through the images in Google. The picture was of me and her child and she shared just how much she appreciated that I took such a keen interest in helping him be successful in school. It’s something I’ll never forget. For 2 reasons:

  1. It reminded me just how much of an honour it is that we as educators get to shape and mold the most precious gift of our parents (their children).
  2. People look you up!

In a recent Google search, I came across dozens of articles on just how many businesses Google search their applicants. The low end (48% – Career Addict)… the high end (80% – Huffington Post)! These employers are hiring someone to fill a vacant position (something they no doubt care about). Parents on the other hand are entrusting you with their child (something they ABSOLUTELY care about). I have yet to see a study on the % of parents that Google their child’s teacher, but it’s not hard to imagine it would be in a similar (if not higher) range as the businesses above. When we host our next iPLAN (Parents Learning About the Net) session, I will be sure to poll the crowd and report back.

So why does this matter? Well for me it highlights just how important it is that educators, parents, and students learn about digital citizenship. It also highlights how important it is that we as educators model digital citizenship, because it will be put to the test! Parents and students will see the digital footprint we have online. This doesn’t mean we should try and have zero web presence. For one, that’s becoming more and more impossible. Even if you don’t post anything online, many of your friends and family will. I know some people that refuse to use social media, yet they are tagged in many photos of their friends and family. The second, and more important reason is that we need to model the way for the future generation. Students get plenty of examples around them of negative digital footprints, and when students Google my name, I want them to be exposed to what a positive digital footprint looks like.

Educators that are looking for a place to start, I highly recommend Digital Citizenship in Schools by Mike Ribble. Mike provides a great framework that focuses on the nine elements of digital citizenship and how to incorporate them in the classroom. He advocates that you begin on the elements that are of highest priority to your unique school community. An overview of the nine elements can also be found on his website:

So as we prepare for the new school year and get our classrooms and schools ready to welcome back students… don’t forget to continue growing a positive digital footprint on the web.

The answers are in the room… but what happens when we all leave the room?… Bring the room with you!

workplace-1245776_1920We’ve all heard it before… “the answers are in the room”.  When we get together as educators, we all come to the “room” with a breadth and depth of experiences, and when we purposefully structure our learning to tap into our individual and unique experiences, we all truly benefit.

I’ve been fortunate in my career, to be a part of many professional learning opportunities that have taken “the answers are in the room” approach.  These sessions/events were all filled with aha moments, shifts in my mindset, new connections, new ideas, and a motivation to continue my learning journey.

But what happens when we all leave the “room”?

Unfortunately, in many cases the answer is “not very much”.  We may take new ideas and new ways of thinking and start to test them out back at our schools/classrooms, but all that incredible learning that was happening back in the “room” often slows to a halt and next thing we know, we’re back on our own individual learning journeys.

So how do we keep the “room” going?  How do we continue to connect and leverage each other’s knowledge and experiences once we all head our separate directions?

Well… one answer is to bring the “room” with you!  Go digital!

We can leverage technology communication tools (Twitter, Skype, Google Hangouts, Blogs…) to continue the rich conversations and continue to leverage and tap into the experiences and wisdom of our colleagues.   We can also do this from anywhere and at anytime.

PLNs aren’t new by any means, and I’ve been fortunate to be involved in a handful of professional learning opportunities that have fostered continued connections once the day is done… but purposefully creating ongoing opportunities for members in the “room” to connect once we all leave the room is something I wish we did more of.

Should I send this picture or not? “Old-school” thinking to help you decide

No postTo share or not to share… that is the question (and you may only take a couple seconds to decide)!

In our world today, you can share an image with someone else with just a few finger taps on a screen. There are more and more stories each and every day about images that are sent/posted that have hurt individuals, companies, families, etc… and many of them in a life-altering and devastating fashion. The posting or sharing of inappropriate images is a very real concern in the digital world.

When working with students, parents, and educators in developing effective strategies to stay safe and positive in the online world, I often find that we grow our understanding when we think about things from a different lens or perspective.  One example of this that truly resonated with me came from a police liaison officer that I worked with as a Vice-Principal in our district.  He spoke to a group of parents at one of our PAC meetings and shared just how unlikely it was “back in the day” for someone to send another person an inappropriate picture. He shared that thinking “old-school” is a great way to help us decide whether or not to send an image to somebody else. He went on to describe just how much time and effort it would take to capture and send a picture or yourself to someone else (not to mention the potentially embarrassing steps that are involved in the process).

Here’s how he described it:

  • You decide you’re going to send someone an inappropriate photo
  • You then get your camera to take the photo
  • Once you take the picture, you take your camera to the store to get the film developed (which means others could potentially see your inappropriate photo)
  • You pick up and pay for your photo
  • You put the photo in an envelope, stamp it, and address it to someone specific
  • You put that envelope in the mail…

…you can see that this process could take days, if not weeks, and would involve many steps along the way that would make you pause and think, “is this really a good idea?”

While this example certainly got some laughs in the room, it really resonated with all of us as a great way for us to frame our thinking (and help us educate our children) when it comes to sending digital photos to someone else.  So if you’re every unsure on whether or not to push send… just think “old-school”.