2013 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 38,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 14 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Categories: 21st Century Competencies, 21st Century Learning, Capacity Building, Community Engagement, Education Transformation, ETMOOC, Human Resources, Inclusive Education | Tags: | 1 Comment

Badges for Assessment – Why Not?

Ever since participating in a Blackboard Collaborate session with Doug Belshaw at ETMOOC 2013,  I’ve been wanting to learn more about badges as an authentic way for students to demonstrate and receive credit for their learning. With our province so heavily engaged in curriculum redesign, and with educators being called upon to consider new and innovative ways to plan, carry out and assess learning; I’m leaving no rock unturned in an effort to support them in their efforts. Badges, to me, looks like something worth exploring further.

Look here if you would like to gain a better understanding of the concept of badges. I encourage you to read the “Ten Things to Know About Badges.”


I quickly became intrigued while looking through the Mozilla Open Badges platform, however it seemed as though most of the badges were designed for high school and adult learners, so, as an elementary principal I decided to see if there was anything out there for younger students, and in doing so, came across a free website called ClassBadges. I like this one because teachers can set up and manage a class account where each student has an individual login. Badges could be selected from an existing bank or customized for individual students or classes, and easily be aligned to academic goals, curriculum outcomes, or 21st century competencies. Teachers could work with students to identify areas of interest, then create criteria that would need to be met in order to earn that particular badge. The teacher would award badges electronically to students when they were satisfied the criteria had been met. Once awarded, the student would be given access to the badge, which could be displayed anywhere electronically.  Each badge, with its criteria could be added to the bank for other students who may be interested in earning that badge themselves. Can you see the possibilities here?

Sample Badge from

Sample Badge from ClassBadges Website

Sample Badge from ClassBadges Website

Sample Badge from ClassBadges Website

Badges, I think, could offer a way to document different types of authentic learning both inside and outside the school. Perhaps they could place an emphasis on important competencies such as global awareness, digital citizenship, collaboration, and creativity. Perhaps they could provide students with more control over their own learning and give a more complete picture of their abilities in relation to the program of study. Once earned, perhaps a digital portfolio (website, wiki, blog, etc.) could be used to house, display and share badges with others.

Sigh… there I go again with my pie in the sky thinking. It would be easy to list the many reasons why “badges” (and so many other forward thinking ideas) just won’t work, but to that I say, “If it’s important you’ll find a way; if it’s not you’ll find an excuse.”

I encourage you to explore badges and let me know what you think.

Categories: 21st Century Competencies, 21st Century Learning, Education Transformation, ETMOOC | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Reflecting on Digital Literacy

In an effort to support my teachers in reflecting more deeply on their practice I’ve been using this teacher self-assessment tool since September. It is based on our provinces Teacher Quality Standard (TQS), which applies to teacher certification, professional development, supervision and evaluation, and which is supported by descriptors of selected knowledge, skills and attributes (KSAs) appropriate to teachers at different stages of their careers. We believe the tool is an excellent reference point for teachers to self-assess, reflect on, and engage in a professional conversation about their practice. So we set time aside in our monthly staff meetings to do just that. In small groups, the month’s KSA and it’s elements are discussed and in doing so strengths and areas for growth are identified. As part of our school improvement plan, teams of teachers are then offered release time to complete capacity building projects and improve current practice. 

We focus on one KSA at a time, as to not make the process overwhelming for our teachers. I’m acutely aware of the many important responsibilities competing for their attention each and every day. But this is important. If teachers are going to be expected to keep pace with the ever-changing education landscape, they must be given the time to review, discuss, and reflect on their current practice. Reflection, in my opinion, is underrated; and when combined with safe, respectful professional conversation with peers, is the single most important activity in support of continual growth.


Looking at the TQS you will notice that the KSAs relate to competencies that have always been important in teaching. Things like the ability to plan effectively, an understanding of curriculum, solid classroom management, and relationship building. And, of course these will continue to be important in the future. What appears to be missing, unfortunately, is that whole area of digital literacy. The TQS, which guides teacher practice, has yet to be updated to include digital literacy.

So for the month of February our teachers have been reflecting on digital literacy and to what degree it’s been present in their daily practice. The tool below (click on it to see the entire tool) has been guiding their reflection. At next weeks staff meeting, when we come together for our monthly professional conversation, I hope my teachers identify the need to place a great deal of emphasis on this going forward. 



Categories: 21st Century Competencies, 21st Century Learning, Capacity Building, Education Transformation, ETMOOC | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

Listen To Me – I Can Read

audioboo_logo[1]We’ve had the Audioboo App on our school iPads for a while now. It’s a great podcasting tool because you can easily record student’s voices and the recording automatically uploads to the Audioboo website where you can manage all your “Boos” and embed them wherever you want. If you don’t have iPads, you can do it all, right from your PC as well. Here, for example, is a recording of a student teacher giving a testimonial after completing an internship at our school. Recently, the concept of recording students reading books came across my Twitter stream. This was not the first time I heard about the high yield strategy of providing children with the opportunity to listen to themselves read. This has been found to improve confidence, fluency and comprehension as the article indicated. So last week, after being reminded of this, we introduced two new activities at our school, one with grade 5 and the other with grade 1. Grade 5 – The students had already been involved in the 100 Word Challenge, a weekly creative writing activity for children 16 and under. Each week a prompt is given, which can be a picture or a series of individual words and the children can use up to 100 words to write a creative piece. In our case, grade 4, 5 and 6 students complete their writing on Microsoft Word, post it on their blog and then link it to the 100 Word Challenge blog. They receive some excellent comments from teachers and students around the world and may be selected as part of the weekly showcase of excellent writing. Here’s where the podcasting comes in. Starting last week the students have been voice recording their written entries. We have been embedding the Audioboo recording into their blog post along with the written piece. The students really enjoy hearing their voice and will be able to monitor their own progress as they add more entries to their blogs throughout the year. Here are a couple of examples: Alexis and her story about a dark stormy night in New York City and Tyler writing about a poor bird. Grade 1 – If you want to see what pride looks like, just watch the face of a grade 1 student as they listen to themself read. Last week,CB276635-5691-4882-A165-60847A63D7A7-229-0000003ADC57D570[1] before returning their library books we voice recorded them reading their book. Then, we assisted them in embedding the recording in a Kidblog post. After sending the posts out through our school Twitter feed, a teacher and her students from Texas left a bunch of comments. What a powerful affirmation for our students. Here is Kayla reading Frog and Toad are Friends and Lemuel reading Nicky Upstairs and Down. I encourage you to take a look at the comments they have already recieved. They can’t wait to hear themselves read again next week. We are looking forward to discovering more ways to incorporate voice recording into the literacy activities at our school. If the way in which our students are engaged in the process is any indication, I suspect more teachers will give it a try.

Categories: 21st Century Competencies, 21st Century Learning, ETMOOC, Inclusive Education | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Student Blogging a Year and a Half Later

Last year we introduced blogging in an attempt to better engage students in their learning. In early September, every grade 4, 5 and 6 student was set up with an account and away we went. Blogging, we thought, would provide one means to build many of the so called 21st century competencies being touted by the education ministry in our province. Kidblog seemed like the perfect platform as it was a safe and easy tool designed specifically for younger students.

iheartblogging-379x243[1]At first, teachers were somewhat perplexed by how to use the blogs with their students. This paperless new platform challenged their very thinking, and left them questioning how it could possibly be used to meet important learner outcomes in the Program of Study. There was a great deal of conversation around the relevance of blogging and some even referred to it as “a waste of valuable instructional time.”

In spite of some reluctance, everyone endeavoured to give blogging a try and as the year got underway students were taught how to log in and apply basic etiquette while sharing their thoughts and ideas in an online environment. Although some incorporated blogging in a more meaningful way than others, everyone eventually became somewhat comfortable with the management of their class accounts. Even the reluctant adopters tolerated some blogging once they witnessed the high levels of student engagement.

Fast forward to this year where blogs have been set up for students in grades 1 through 6 and teachers have a much clearer understanding of how to plan, teach and assess student’s online work. In October we held an evening PD session and nearly every teacher attended, building capacity in our collective knowledge about student blogging.  After spending last year learning about the blogs, they are now better equipped to work blogs into daily instruction. We’ve come a long way in a year and a half.

Below I’ve listed a few of the blogging activities I’ve witnessed at my school. I invite you to click on the links to see our student’s work.

1. Collaborate with other classes by completing a novel study on classics like Charlottes Web and The One and Only Ivan through the Global Read Aloud. Example #1 Example #2 Example #3

2. Debate the environmental impact of practices such as gas fracking, oil drilling and clear cutting by writing a position statement then comment on other posts by agreeing or disagreeing. Example #1 Example #2 

3. Participate in cool challenges like the 100 Word Challenge by posting a creative piece based on a prompt. The entry must be exactly 100 words in length, will receive constructive comments, and may be selected for a weekly showcase. Example #1 Example #2

4. Introduce yourself to the world. Example #1 Example #2

5. Post partial pictures of interesting things around the school and ask others to comment by guessing what it is. Post the answer after a week or so. Example #1 Example #2

6. Write about important topics such as bullying and world peace and engage in an online conversation with peers. Example #1 Example #2 Example #3

7. Respond to teacher posts in different subject areas and justify your comment. Example #1 Example #2

8. Introduce yourself to the teachers at the Jr. High School you will attend next year. Example #1 Example #2

9. Write a post to the Minister of Education, sharing your thoughts on the future of schools. Example #1 Example #2

10. Write an inspirational post about a retiring staff member at your school. Example #1 Example #2

11. Stand up for human rights by writing a post protesting the atrocities committed by irresponsible leaders. Example #1 Example #2

A year and a half ago we took a chance and started blogging with our students. Today, I sure am glad we did.

Categories: 21st Century Competencies, 21st Century Learning, ETMOOC | Tags: , , , , | 12 Comments

First Step in Connected Learning – Open Your Door

With our ETMOOC focus on connected learning this past week I have been reflecting on the journey I have undertaken in building my own PLN, one that I’ve come to lean heavily on for ongoing professional growth. A few short years (or months) ago I kept pretty much to myself, having a fairly direct line between me and any new information I wanted to bring into my practice. It was the move toward a culture of PLCs in my school division that helped me understand the importance of collaborating with colleagues to improve as a teacher and administrator. Now, I honestly don’t know how I could operate without my PLN.

If you are participating in this ETMOOC you have probably already come to realize the importance of being connected, and all the benefits it holds. We are the “rich” when it comes to connected learning. And you know that old saying, “The rich get richer and the poor get poorer.” Many in our schools are the “poor” and have yet to embark on the connected learning journey. Some of our most important work will be in encouraging them to take that first step.

So, before they join Twitter. Before they start a blog. Before they open a G+ account. Before they dive into a Massive Online Open Course. Encourage them to open the door of their classroom and connect with the colleague next door. It’s the first step in the connected learning journey.

The following clip illustrates a first step for teachers at my school a couple years ago.

Categories: Capacity Building, ETMOOC | Tags: , , , | 12 Comments

Observations on ETMOOC Week 1 – People, Processes and Stuff

For a few years now I have been following the annual Horizon Report.

The internationally recognized New Media Consortium (NMC) Horizon Report is a comprehensive research venture established in 2002 that identifies and describes emerging technologies likely to have a large impact over the coming five years in education around the globe. In the 2011 report “personal learning environments” was expected to be 4 to 5 years away from adoption into the mainstream and in the 2012 report, 2 to 3 years away. Interestingly enough, in the 2010 report there is no mention of personal learning environments at all.

The report describes personal learning environments as something that “supports self-directed and group-based learning, designed around each user’s goals, with great capacity for flexibility and customization.” It goes on to say that “while the concept of PLEs is still fairly fluid, it is clear that a PLE is not simply a technology but an approach or process that is individualized by design, and thus different from person to person.”

So now I find myself in ETMOOC, a 12 week long Massive Open Online Course with a focus on Technology & Media, along with hundreds of other early adopters who I assume are, like me, looking for ways to continue on their lifelong journey of learning. This has been an amazing week and I thank the conspirators for their foresight and leadership. Although it takes innovative, divergent thinkers like yourselves to get something as big as this off the ground, I’m sure your intentions will be realized as our MOOC takes on a life of its own.gg53965385[1]

Some of my observations from this past week:

The People – Wow! What a learning experience it was for me to view all the ETMOOC introductions. I was both humbled and reinforced every day as I saw what was put out there for all to see. Everything from simple blog posts to intricate multi-media presentations were used to introduce ourselves to our new community. Through these introductions alone, the learning had already begun in full force. The one thing that stood out for me was how far we’ve come with our attitude toward online safety and sharing of personal information. People openly depicted names and images of homes, work places, colleagues, and loved ones. Just a few short years ago we as a society were so much more careful about our digital footprint.

The Processes – I really liked how the introductory sessions were accessible through both Blackboard Collaborate and a Twitter Chat (and were repeated for those who missed or were from different time zones). I participated in both and came away with a sense of being part of something important. @courosa and @cogdog moderated these sessions and did a great job of reminding us why we are here. I’m already thinking the “C” in MOOC stands more for community and less for course. The blog hub and G+ community will also serve as great platforms to communicate and build relationships. I noticed that someone suggested we stick to one social media platform to keep things simpler. Personally, I like the varied approach. It forces me to broaden my skills. It will be interesting to see where most of the interaction takes place. I have one final thought in this area. Thank you for keeping Friday, Saturday and Sunday off the schedule.

The Stuff – Theres a lot of really good stuff being shared already. How many multi media presentation tools have you added to your “I have to learn that” list after intro week? We saw iMovie, Vimeo, YouTube, Voki, Tagxedo, PhotoPeach, Glogster, and Go! Animate just to name a few. Also, the introductions to Twitter, Blogging and Social Curation were perfectly placed in this first week. In my opinion a wonderful example of relevant scaffolding of learning. Many will benefit going forward as a result of those presentations.

One week in and I’m not regretting my decision to join ETMOOC. And if what I am hearing from others on Twitter, Blogs and G+ is any indication, the Horizon Report has probably got it right.

Categories: 21st Century Learning, Capacity Building, Community Engagement, Education Transformation, ETMOOC | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Throw It All – Some Will Stick

Big snow came to our city last week and the students at my school basked in their glory. There’s something about kids playing in newly fallen snow that makes us all smile. They go all out; jumping, diving and rolling in it with this renewed sense of reckless abandon. They risk everything, as though nothing can stop them from their mission of utilizing every last ounce of the fluffy white stuff. Like Ken Robinson says, they are in their element.

As principal, my job of course, is to make sure all this fun fits within the guidelines of our school rules and consequence those that step over that line. So on Friday afternoon I walked throughout the school grounds to make sure all was right with the world. As the bell sounded and students were entering the school I took one last glance around and saw this.

Snow thrown against the wall.

Some snow got stuck on the wall

It appeared as though some students thought it was a good idea to hold target practice on a wall and I was taken back to my own childhood when my friends and I did the exact same thing. We loved throwing the snow at a target and then being able to see that some of it stuck. We always knew how close we were to our desired target because some of it, not all, would be left there to see.

This gets me thinking about my work as a principal who desperately wants to move my school forward to better engage todays learners. It’s easy to get discouraged when I introduce what I think is a forward thinking idea and not everyone feels the same way. As a matter of fact, many of the ideas I put out there fall flat on their face. Each teacher, it seems, has their own reason why they feel they can or can’t entertain the latest initiative, proposal, or suggestion.

I had an excellent conversation with my grade 4 and 5 teachers a few days ago. I met with them to introduce the 100 Word Challenge, a weekly creative writing activity for children where a prompt is given and they can use up to 100 words to write a creative piece. It is then posted on a class blog and linked to the 100 Word Challenge blog, where others from around the world comment on the entry. I thought this was a great idea as the teachers were looking for better ways to utilized their Kidblog accounts and this was the perfect platform to do just that.

During the conversation I made a point to let them know (as I always do) that there was no pressure to use the website – “My job”, I said, “is to bring these things to your attention and you should decide if its something you see of value to you and your students.” Then, one of the teachers said something very interesting. “Does that mean”, he said with a chuckle, “that if we don’t see its value you’ll meet with us again next week to share something else?” To that I smiled and answered “Yes, I will do that even if you see the value in this activity.” By the way, this time they saw the value and all of them are giving the 100 Word Challenge a try.

By now my teachers know that I share a lot but force very little. Isn’t that our job as learning leaders – looking out over the horizon and introducing our teachers to all the new things to consider? Shouldn’t we lead by example? Like the children’s approach to a blanket of newly fallen snow, shouldn’t we be taking it all in and sharing it all out?

If we throw it all – some will surely stick.

Categories: Education Transformation, ETMOOC | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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