Let’s stop ranking what we consume!

I’m going to treat this post like an Easter egg, and come back to open it later. It contains the seeds of some ideas that need further developing at a later stage.

Something interesting happened this weekend – I got caught up on my marking!

Somewhere in this marathon session, I was abruptly reminded again of a literacy misconception that I’m getting pretty tired of hearing. Here is my attempt at explaining this.

When considering WHAT we consume, this can be broken into the categories of reading, listening and viewing media texts. Within these silos, there are a range of different media types. The misconception comes when people rank these medias in terms of difficulty, and it is as such:

  1. Literary texts – with novels being the ultimate
  2. Informational texts
  3. Graphic texts
  4. Listening
  5. Media texts

I came across this misconception (?) again and again in my marking. I don’t know where it came from. I don’t know how it is perpetuated. And it frustrates me.

There are so many skills required to critically consume these different kinds of texts. And I have no doubt that there are complicated skills required to consume a novel – thus the reason there are entire university degrees devoted to understanding this text type! But to then demote the others texts – I have a problem with that.

I think it goes back to the purpose for consuming. And who doesn’t need to consume these. I’ve mentioned before about my profound sadness walking into a classroom a few years ago (again, I appreciate the privilege of being able to go into other classes) and saw an entire intermediate class with novels in their hands. They were required to all read a novel – and I understand the motivation. The teacher wanted the students to do better in reading – so they had to read novels to make them better readers.

I’m continually haunted by this objective: preparing our students to be literate in the world of tomorrow. Novels have a place – but not for everyone, and not in every situation. The reality is that (most?) people may not read novels in their adult lives (which is a shame, because great fiction teaches us how to be better humans!) so they need to be literate in a variety of text forms.

So in my dreams, when I get the chance for higher study, I’ll look into the complexities involved in consuming these different texts. So now I’ll leave it here.




Making Innovation Easier

What has changed in our world today that not only makes innovation easier to do, but is also necessary for our students?

I’ve been thinking a lot about technology lately, and specifically (as it ties into my MOOC on The Innovator’s Mindset) on how it fosters innovation in my teaching.

But specifically, I’m haunted by the pendulum allegations that cell phones have no place in the classroom. I get nervous when I hear public outcry against cell phones, and by extension, technology.

I’ve long since embraced technology. At the beginning, I foolishly thought it was a tool of engagement (if you use technology, the kids will pay attention!) but have since evolved this thinking into accepting technology as an integral tool in our lives – one that must be leveraged for sophisticated purposes. Now I feel myself moving towards DEMANDING technology use in our schools. How are we still having these conversations about technology use? These powerful devices, that a lot of our students have, that can fit into our pockets, that are more powerful than the technology used to put people on the moon – how are we still not embracing these?

So with that in mind, I wanted to think about HOW technology is making innovation easier.

But first, some background. Innovation, as defined by George Couros, is this: “Innovation as a way of thinking that creates something new and better.” I think this is important. Sometimes new isn’t necessarily better. But I believe that this act of creation is important, this act of innovation and imagination is critical. Yes, I believe that we are preparing our students for a world of problems that don’t yet exist. And yes, I do see the irony of this statement, having worked in the field of education that is preposterously slow to change. How is it that classes and schools still look like this?!?

So here are my thoughts on how technology is making innovation happen in my classroom.

1. Access to information

Students have incredible access to information. And this has fundamentally shifted my place within the classroom. This has been especially evident when I recently started teaching science. Being a science teacher comes with all sorts of expectations and baggage. I love fostering the inherent curiosity of our world, but I don’t know everything about everything – but I don’t have to. I do have to know how to access technology, how to foster inquiry, and how to ask un-google-able questions. My favourite part of my day is when I can say, “I don’t know. Let’s find out!”.

Now I know that having access to information doesn’t necessarily lead to innovation – but it should. Innovation isn’t necessarily creating something new. It could be taking an existing idea/product and changing it – presumably to make it better. A few years ago, I had a student that shared the same sense of humour – which was sealed by his insistence of adding Bluetooth to unnecessary products – often with hilarious results. We both recognized that sometimes unnecessary innovation was frivolous.

But sometimes looking for answers is a part of the innovation process. Which leads me to my next thought.

2. Process over Products

I need to be clear here. I too get excited about innovative products. But I still think the process of innovation is much more important – which can be seen in our current Design Thinking and STEM excitement. However, this goes back to our Science Fair days – when the process/thinking should have been celebrated, but too often it was the product.

Technology helps in this process in that it makes it easier. Publishing a writing piece is now easier when there are so many tools to help in the planning, research, revision and publishing stages. Though paper and pencil is important, leveraging technology makes this process easier.

In my writing focus now, we are looking at the process of revision: making big changes to improve the writing. So many were loathe to engaged in the rough draft/good copy nonsense – and for good reason. If they were using a document processor, how easy it to copy and paste paragraphs, move and improve ideas?

too much technology

This was my favourite moment of the week. This is a student using his laptop, iPad and phone (I staged the second laptop because I thought it was funny). But how incredible is this? This is one of the most innovative students I’ve worked with, leveraging his technology for very sophisticated purposes. He isn’t distracted because he is engaged. He’s engaged because we are working to create irresistibly engaging learning experiences for him.

Here’s to looking forward!


Technology is Amazing: Digital Citizenship Symposium

This past week our Intermediate Division (Grades 7&8 students) participated in our afternoon of Digital Citizenship. Students attended 4 different sessions:

  • Cyber-bullying & Digital Drama
  • Digital Footprint & Reputation
  • Relationships & Communication
  • Self-Image & Identity

These lessons were from the amazing site: https://www.commonsensemedia.org/educators/digital-citizenship

Such great resources!

After participating in these sessions, students were gathered together to discuss our code of conduct.

technology code of conduct.JPG

After, they completed an exam. If they were successful, they were issued a Digital Driver’s License.

One thing that I felt was very important was to approach this day with a positive perspective. Technology is amazing. Now, I’m not naive. I’ve had experiences when students have made mistakes – often dramatic mistakes – that have negatively impacted the culture of technology in our learning spaces. But is this is what we focus on, then this is culture that we foster.

I’m optimistic about the coming year and our journey with technology. I have hopes for the possibilities and faith in our students.


How I succeeded (and failed) at the #1st3Days Challenge

As of yesterday, I have completed one Day 1-5 rotation in the school schedule. I guess this means that the year is now up and running! One thing I really wanted to try this start-up was something I came across on Twitter – and now that I’m searching back throughout this hashtag, I’m not even sure if I’ve interpreted it correctly! My goal was to start the year talking less than the kids.

My goal this year was to start the year talking less than the kids.

In welcoming my new classes, I wanted to focus on building relationships and trust among the kids and myself. I wanted to have a “casual” start to the year, drawing inspiration from the Finish method, found here.

So we talked, we shared experiences. I showed pictures of my summer (to bridge and build connections, as most were concerned with figuring me out). We took breaks (a good thing, because it was so hot!). We went outside, we hung out, we talked, we sat quietly and we watched a movie. We held our first community circle.

Now there were unavoidable times where I needed to talk at the kids. We needed to be clear about some rules and expectations, there couldn’t wait. But I didn’t push it, and I purposely held off on curriculum – for the most part!

And here is where I think I failed. I’m teaching intermediate (Grade 7&8) science on rotary this year, meaning I see all 4 intermediate classes 3 times per cycle. So there was an expectation that I would “do science” when they came to me. So I thought I would jump into Design Thinking (thank you John Spencer and AJ Juliani!). I presented the challenges to the kids, and then let them have at it.

I had the following challenges for the students:

  • design a marble run on a sheet of poster board, using only recycled paper and glue
  • construct a tall free-standing structure using a length of tape (1m) and straws and scissors
  • design a machine that throws a mini-marshmallow, using only elastic bands and Popsicle sticks.
  • in 5 minutes, design a maze that takes someone at least 30 seconds to solve (paper an pencil)
  • using tape and straws, design a structure that supports a tennis ball


In coming up with these challenges, I thought they would be a fun and casual way to introduce students to the science class. I was not prepared for how deep and meaningful this teaching became!

These activities quickly turned into rich and valuable diagnostic data. I very quickly determined what the students did well with these design thinking challenges, and I also uncovered what we need to work on. This became so much more than just fun and causal start to the year.

We were able to build relationships and trust for each other, as the challenges were of no “real” consequence (in that they weren’t marked, as some kids are very mark oriented). We quickly understood the need to adopt a design thinking mindset, in that failures were a chance to keep learning, begging for new ideas and iterations!

So even though I wanted to hold off on the curriculum and teaching, I ended up failing at this (in science!) in that this became some of the richest teaching I’ve done!

I can’t wait to keep digging into this!



A promise to ship: publishing and sharing our work

The following is an excerpt from my text “The Consumer’s and Producer’s Workshop“.

The natural end-point of any writing endeavor is to publish. This is the act of sharing a text, presumably in a finished and polished form. In making a broad generalization (which can be dangerous), students’ experiences with publishing predominantly mean that they are sharing a finished product with the teacher, possibly a few others.

Within the producer’s workshop, the published work is shared with the class, possibly even the world (depending on the school’s or teacher’s level of comfort with technology). In my class, the published work is shared with the class, using a “public” forum on the MOODLE.

Now, depending on the class climate, previous experience with publishing, and student’s level of comfort and confidence, this can be no easy task. In accepting the challenge to publish, students are sharing their work, possibly leaving themselves vulnerable to criticism. If a classroom climate is not properly set up to accept students who publish, then this experience could end up being very negative.

Not all students view themselves as competent writers. This is always a challenge to overcome. However, I stress that students not BE the best rather that they BE THEIR best. If what they produce is truly their best, then we can ask no more.

However, I stress that students not BE the best rather that they BE THEIR best. If what they produce is truly their best, then we can ask no more.

Students are on different places along their developmental continuum. They need to see this, and to compare themselves with others is only helpful if it helps themselves to improve.