Monday, May 22, 2017

Two beautiful 12-acre properties

Well it was a long process... but our severances and re-zoning are finally complete! Here are the two listings, one with a small house and two garages, and one vacant.
Property with house
Vacant land

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Coding To Illuminate the Curriculum

Imagine a corporate PD event, seven hours long, where less than 20 minutes is spent using the company’s product, Swift Playgrounds.
Imagine exploring the impact of coding on learning, without actually coding.
Imagine finally understanding the role of computational thinking across the curriculum.
That’s the investment in coding in elementary and secondary schools that Apple made this past week. The Swift Playgrounds Early Adopter Summit was held Wednesday, May 3 at MaRS in Toronto.
For several years, I had been working hard to integrate coding activities into my science, geography and media classes, and then more recently to support other teachers with the same goals. We have used Scratch and other block coding, and also had huge amounts of fun with robots ranging from BeeBots, to Dash and Dot and Sphero, to the power of Lego EV3s. This fall I welcomed the addition of Swift Playgrounds to the coding landscape, as it is in my opinion by far the best computer science learning course around.
This fall also marked the online publication of the Ontario Ministry of Education’s Coding in Elementary resource. This corresponds with my original approach, providing dozens of Scratch (online) and unplugged coding projects across numerous different areas of the curriculum.
I felt that I and others were really making headway in answering the question: with no coding curriculum (a la Britain, BC, Nova Scotia), how do Ontario teachers bring this essential new skill into their classes? I strongly believe that there is now a wealth of resources, guidance and professional community support for anyone to do this.
However, this week’s Apple event extended my thinking in ways I would not have imagined. In conjunction with Future Design School, we spent the day learning about process design, design thinking, and approaching our chosen aspects of the Ontario curriculum to incorporate computational thinking.
We also took advantage of Apple’s Learn to Code 1 & 2 Teacher Guide (available as a free iBook). The Guide is organized to follow the Swift Playgrounds course, moving through Commands, Debugging, Functions, Loops, Conditional Code and more. Each section of the Teacher Guide includes: Introduction, Activities, Practice in Swift Playgrounds, Reflection and Journal. The Activities are mostly unplugged, so that children can physically experience or act out the coding concepts.
It is easy to see how this is a great method of teaching coding. Apple sees this goal as a “social imperative, part of good citizenship. Code is all around us. We must empower all kids to understand how things work… Become more resilient, a better problem solver.”
But even more valuable for me was the exploration of links between coding, design thinking and all areas of the curriculum. As our Ontario documents are being re-written, they include more expectations that involve meta-cognition, choice, analysis and deeper thinking. Speaking personally, I find this quite challenging to teach. But I found the combination of coding, design thinking, and the Teacher Guide fulfilled what FDS speakers referred to as, “computational thinking coupled with human imagination.” It allowed me to envision ways to fully immerse myself and my students in the curriculum.
When it came time for us to consolidate our own learning and start building a unit, many in the room chose math and science topics. However, I was already exploring several pathways within Grade 8 Reading and Writing. I was also inspired by one FDS teacher who showcased a grade 5 social studies unit.
I landed upon Grade 8 Writing overall expectation 1, “generate, gather, and organize ideas and information to write for an intended purpose and audience.
I then selected some specific expectations:
1.1 identify the topic, purpose, and audience for more complex writing
1.2 generate ideas about more challenging topics and identify those most appropriate
to the purpose
1.3 gather information to support ideas for writing, using a variety of strategies and a wide range of print and electronic
As a teacher, I felt I always short-changed the very first step: identify the topic, purpose and audience. As well, I don’t think I let my students spend enough time investigating needs of audiences and characteristics of writing forms. I don’t think we ever spent much time talking about why some forms might be more suited to certain audiences.
I think that beginning with an Activity from the Teacher Guide (De-bugging, Functions, etc.), followed by hand-on practice in Swift Playgrounds would be a concrete and analogous way to lead into these discussions about audiences for writing, and writing forms.
By Grade 8, many students have become a bit jaded about their capabilities. There has been much discussion about concepts such as growth mindset and resiliency in math, and the same needs exist in our English courses. I think using Swift Playgrounds would be a great way to launch students along a pathway to success in any course, and to do justice to the richness inherent in the curriculum.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

#notabookstudy Week 1

I was very keen to be a part of this project for any number of reasons. Well, 10 to be precise!
In addition to knowing I would learn more about the work of Cathy Fosnot and how it relates to our goals in Ontario and Near North DSB math classrooms, I was fascinated to learn more about building a community of learners online.

I am always telling people that I learned most of what I know about tech-enabled learning and teaching from colleagues I met on Twitter. I have also had an all-purpose blog, that I contribute to in fits and starts, for several years. More recently, I have friended quite a few teacher friends in the virtual world of Facebook. I had explored on the fringes of the #ossemooc project as well.
But when Donna Fry started promoting #notabookstudy, I knew I wanted to try to become a part of it. It all boiled down to those 10 reasons!

For a variety of circumstances, I had to watch Week 1 from the sidelines. But now I am geared up for Week 2, and have my own reading done. My next blog post will address one of Cathy Fosnot’s questions – to the best of my ability.
But the new learning for me has been huge – VoiceEd Radio, trying to support participating bloggers by commenting on their thoughtful posts, not to mention Fosnot’s work itself.
I can’t help thinking of the potential for our #notabookstudy online community in light of our board’s new work with George Couros. Will my local colleagues take the plunge into the Twitterverse? If yes, might they be open to further online collaboration and learning.

I am very much looking forward to these possibilities.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Our path to leveraging digital

Yesterday was one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had, as a presenter, co-learner and colleague.
Although our board has been at the forefront of supporting teachers in integrating technology into their practice, it has seemed like a very long time getting to the point where we are talking about leveraging digital for teaching and learning. As opposed to learning the basics of our tools and how they work.
For four years, we have had the Tech For Teachers program to provide a device to all full-time teachers. We have supported these teachers from year to year with regional sessions on Intro to MacBook, or iPad, for example. But we have never had the chance to meet to think deeply about using tech to meet specific student or teacher needs.
With our MISA grant complemented by board funds, we not only had the chance to present two regional events to explore these ideas, but the money to support teachers with ongoing learning in their schools.
The event was very well received, and a number of participants even lingered afterwards, to continue their discussions with each other and with us. Tech experts and new users alike were engaged and inspired, it seemed to me.
The first sign that this was going to be a popular program came when we sent the original email to principals. We were seeking five teams of two from each school. Half an hour after I clicked Send, these spots were filled, and requests to participate continued to flow in over then next days and weeks.
The original email read as follows:
The project will include an exploration and implementation of our board’s Office 365 tools, including some or all of: Mail, Calendar, Sway, Word, Powerpoint, Excel, One Drive, Forms, Planner, One Note, Class Notebook, People, Tasks, Video, SharePoint, Delve, Newsfeed and Skype, as well as the Office Lens app. Learning will address teacher and student productivity as well as 21st century competencies such as Communication and Collaboration.
We are seeking teams of two teachers from schools. Teachers will be able to support one another, and will be sharing release time to plan and reflect.
Release time
Teams will meet on Tuesday, February 28 for a full day of PD. Half a day will focus on the apps and their potential, followed by half a day of classroom-focused personal planning to narrow the focus of learning and application for the teams. (PD location to be determined based on participants.)
Between March 1 and May 31, schools will be allotted several release days to continue activities such as planning, co-planning, observing, and reflecting. Teams can use this time as they wish. Examples of activities might include meetings, co-teaching opportunities, or releasing other teachers within the school to work alongside the team.
ET Department staff will be available upon request to support the teams during March, April and May.
Data Collection
We will ask teachers and their students to complete a brief survey on February 28 and May 31.
We could never have guessed that this seemingly simple project would generate so much enthusiasm.
Obviously, before starting to plan the details of our introductory sessions, we knew that we had tapped into a demand for information on these apps, but we were looking for a way to go beyond the “how-to” approach. We also knew that we wanted to to have the follow-up release time used in a self-directed fashion.
With everyone more or less familiar with the terminology of the Collaborative Inquiry, this seemed like a logical way to plan. We had also recently enjoyed PD with CI guru Jenni Donohoo. We were give her second book as a resource, and I went out and bought the first one as well. Both were invaluable in getting me back into the CI process, and also to give me ideas and values as a facilitator.
Our keynote for the day described our Near North environment and vision, and also referenced Fullan’s 6Cs and the ministry foundation document: Towards Defining 21c century competencies for Ontario.”
We followed up with an activity where teachers used sticky notes to write down a series of personal needs: urgent student need, professional need, digital citizenship need, curriculum expectation that could be adapted with technology, etc.
Then, several teachers were asked to come forward and transfer all the sticky notes from the whiteboard onto chart papers with the headings: Communication, Collaboration, Critical Thinking, Creativity, and Citizenship.
At this point, participants could graphically see that their needs, which might be fulfilled by various O365 apps, also fell into categories of 21c or global competencies.
The next couple of hour were spent exploring several apps: Word and One Drive, Sway, One Note and Class Notebook, Lens, and Skype for Business.
Then, participants had a quick refresher on the CI process before starting to work on their own plans.
When everyone shared their ideas at the end, the vision and creativity shone from each team, as a wide array of ideas, questions, strategies, success criteria, grade involvement and use of release time was revealed.
This whole day far exceed my dreams and expectations, and I can’t wait to see the great things that are accomplished at the school level in the next three months. 

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Windows MovieMaker – RIP

I heard today that Windows MovieMaker is no more! Double checking when I got home I discovered that as of January 10, 2017, MovieMaker was discontinued with no replacement.
What a bittersweet moment! This workhorse of a multimedia program was a staple in my classes for many years, before we had iPads and the wizardry of iMovie and many other apps. No, in those days, we had MovieMaker and it was fantastic!
Looking back to nearly 15 years ago, teachers at our school only used the computer lab during their assigned periods for word processing and sometimes research – to be written up via more word processing. Myself included!
Then, my friend Len told me about this app that was built into Windows and therefore available for free on all our machines. He taught his class, then me, and then one of his students came along on Day 1 to help me out.
I never looked back.
MovieMaker might have been a bit clunky but by gosh you could search for and save photos off the Internet, make a slideshow, and add a soundtrack (I am sure I could still hum Blues Highway if I put my mind to it!) – all on a computer in the lab. This simple process alone called upon skills that were new to students. For example, it provided an authentic reason to discuss and insist on using network drives instead of the local C: drives. In later years, it prompted lessons on Creative Commons photos and music.
For a long time, I started every year with MovieMaker projects. It was definitely a case of introducing something quite new to the students. In Year 1 of MovieMaker we started simple with some personal projects. To this day I still have Who Let The Dogs Out in my iTunes, after buying it for a student to use:)
But several years later my Grade 8 history students used MovieMaker to make incredibly evocative photo essays comparing the lives of children in other countries to their own in Canada. We always built a sharing component into their work, and the discussions and metacognition value were enormous.
The height of our use of MovieMaker occurred in the years of Speaker’s Corner. We had a large free-standing brick-wall backdrop from the theatre, and a tripod and small video camera – containing mini-cassette tapes. All this apparatus lived in my core classroom for a month. My friend Len came through again and showed me how to work the camera. Then, for a month all my media classes in the computer lab ran as follows: pick a topic, start researching and creating a basic slideshow into which the video would be dropped. Meanwhile, across the hall to my classroom they would go in small groups to film themselves. I tried to make the task as realistic as possible, with short speeches and all production work done by the students themselves. I kept away from the room, and left them to show some responsibility. I was never disappointed.
My work came later. Every Saturday for three weeks I would go to school and transfer the speech files off the cassette tapes, to name them and store them on the shared network drive where the students could pick them up and place them as the centrepiece of their opinion slide shows.
With three or four classes, this was usually 100+ projects. What a production!
We also held a film festival in the theatre during the last week of school to screen a wide range of projects and vote on an equally wide range of “awards.” I still remember one popular Speaker’s Corner. Many years ago, this student chose to speak about gay rights, and the theme of tolerance. I still remember one of her slides: “Don’t like gay marriage? Don’t get one!”.
I have to say, the values I learned through the process of learning MovieMaker and regularly integrating multi-media forms of response into my classes has stayed with me to this day. Yes I will miss it, but I am equally happy to be learning new apps and spreading the word about the wonderful variety of assessment forms now available to us.