Advancing the Integration Agenda

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What, exactly, makes technology perfectly suited to be integrated across the curriculum? Why is technology uniquely primed to enhance learning across subjects in ways that, say, grammatical skills in Language Arts or problem-solving approaches in Math are still most often taught as an isolated subject? How should students learn technology-related skills, and when should this learning take place?

These questions haunt me. They have been discussed in thousands of amateur blog posts, and also in a limited body of rigorous, peer-reviewed research. I read ISTE’s Journal of Research on Technology in Education every publishing and contrast its findings with the flashier tech-related Edutopia headlines, but the clarity I seek remains ahead of me.

Because this is the year I am trying to examine the semantic discourse of technology in education-related contexts, I should be as precise as possible and mention here that when I say Technology, I really mean the skills of using digital technology – the various applications of devices or pieces of software. When I refer to Integration, I mean the a model of embedding digital technology into classes and activities to support the learning of other subjects – and though I do say ‘other’ subjects, the essential issue is that Technology is not itself a subject with it’s own curriculum – not in Ontario, and not until Grade 9 – so the ideas that underpin a scope and sequence for a ‘Computers’ curriculum oriented towards the elementary and intermediate divisions of student learners is somewhat enigmatic to me, still.  Continue reading “Advancing the Integration Agenda”

How I Changed My Writing in 50 Days

They say it takes 3 weeks to create a habit; go to the gym regularly for 21 days and you will build up the routine-forming momentum to carry you effortlessly into the future. Easier said than done, since it has been my experience that those first 3 weeks are the hardest (and the physical and mood improvements of having gone to the gym don’t make sitting on my couch any less appealing in advance of going to the gym), but perhaps that’s exactly the point – the first 3 weeks are the hardest, and then it gets easier.

This 7-week writing course followed a similar pattern for me. Organizing course materials, carving out work time, and building an understanding of what to expect (and what is expected) takes time and cannot be rushed. Looking back on the course as a whole, feeling only now that I’ve found my groove, I can see three areas in which I developed.

There are time-tested, established strategies that writers use to create effect. The rule of 3’s, the activating of language, the verbing of descriptions and adjectives, avoiding 3 words when 2 will do – the list goes on – and each helps me add effectiveness. Through these techniques ,I can make choices about how to communicate my message with style.

Adopting a sense of audience helps me focus and direct my message to the right person. I develop character persona that influence my word choices so girls in Grade 8 and adult colleagues alike are receiving text from me with a differentiated tone. I can thin out my information and keep content lean by understanding their WIIFM (What’s In It For Me).

My aha moment in this course came through the experience of writing weekly. Writing is a muscle. As muscles are supported by joints, bones and even nutrition, writing requires supports – information, environment and even nutrition. Writing can be lean or built; it can perform or disappoint; it can delight or ache. Sometimes, existing layers of writing skill must be shredded to make way for something newer, stronger.

One insight I have is that, just as exercise builds a hunger for different nutrients, writing has triggered my desire to read differently. I find that I am craving models of quality writing to influence my own developing style and have less appetite for the common pop style of the social media echo chamber.

As this post and the course each draw to a close, I am making a public commitment to blog more and to apply these new skills when I do. You can find me over at and I’ll be excited to receive your comments there.

Thanks for being with me in this 7 week journey – and here’s to the next 50 days!

Crossposted from the blog, Writing for Learner Engagement. 

The Peril of Templates


If you have ever spent time studying rhetorical patterns in popular media, you might have a keenly developed *nonsense* detector. I know I do. It isn’t actual *nonsense* we detect – it’s other things, like bias or unfair power dynamics – but the view of our world through a critical lens sets off those tiny little alarm bells anytime we think someone might be trying to influence us against our sensible wills.

One of these alarm bells goes off anytime I leaf through templates. While designing my infographic this week, I was both grateful for the visual support and leery of the many decisions I was agreeing to through this single choice. It is too easy to accept what is offered without considering all the different decisions it bundles. It’s outsourcing your design without drafting an RFP. Uninformed as I was when I made the selection, it was only while I working within its playground that I became aware of its features. It’s choosing something for superficial reasons and hoping it works out.

Move up the title box and a separate dropshadow reveals itself. Select all items in the header and discover that odd symbol (equal parts signpost and speech bubble) is actually hiding a tree top so the eye can so subtly detect similar elements used to frame each section title below. Clever, but I can’t claim credit for the design. At most, it’s because I chose well.

To be fair, it’s not over til it’s over. Choose the wrong story logic, try it out, learn through your mistake, make a better choice, keep going. The writing process of drafting and editing isn’t linear and neither is, nor should be, immune from the welcome influence of outside suggestion.

So maybe that’s the point. When you or I choose a good template, we reap a double benefit of having something that looks the way we want it without having to build it from scratch. We can learn about our message by trying on an offered suggestion, and adjust it ourselves as we go along. Once we press the ‘publish’ button and stamp our name to claim responsibility for the good and bad, we can be assured through our own due diligence as a writer that someone else’s generic template matches the impact we intend. We offer credit to the template designer as credit is due.

And as for being leery of templates, perhaps simply being aware of the influence they can have is half the battle.

Crossposted from the blog, Writing for Learner Engagement. 

The Rules for Writing Online Content Are Not What You Think

What’s different about online?

If you think writing online content is particularly different from writing print content, think again!

It’s not the medium that determines the rules; it’s another factor. It doesn’t have a name, so let’s call it Todd. Todd is combination of audience and form – a double-whammy that helps guide you to write in a way that can be easily read. If you multiply the attention span of your audience by the chaos of the form, you get your Todd Factor.

The higher the Todd factor, the more you need to:

  • Leave white space to let text breathe
  • Use particular fonts that are easy to read
  • Include bold text to emphasize headings for easy scanning

You also need to:

  • Provide images that replace text information but also provide a mental break.
  • Use a catchy narrator voice that makes you sound hip and relatable. (Know what I mean?)
  • Chunk details into 3s. This list used to be just one, but I caught myself in editing.

Lower Todd Factors mean that the audience’s attention span can be expected to be longer, or the form is quiet. This allow for more colourful language, longer prose, and lists in regular text prose. My blog has lots of white space, the Metro free newspaper has little of that.

To the degree that there are differences in online / offline reading, the rules depend more on the human context of your form than on your medium alone.

That’s all for this week,

P.S. The interview with Josh reminded me how much more attention you can earn when you make a social connection with the reader / listener / viewer. The art framed in Kristi’s mis-en-scene had an impact on the amount of caring I brought to listening to the interview. This weekend at the HotDocs Podcast festival, I saw a podcaster in real life that I previously had only heard in voice, and this already made listening to recent episodes a more fulsome experience.

I guess seeing or hearing a person creates a connection to them as a narrator and perhaps buys them a couple more pages of attention in print, or an extra few seconds of eye scanning on their blog.

Flesh Reading Level 65.8

Crossposted from my now-retired blog, Writing for Learner Engagement. 

5 Hard Parts of Writing Lean

5. Avoiding throat clearing. It was tempting to write an introduction to this list, but the title says enough.

4. Slashing whole thoughts. It’s easy to wordsmith sentences, but truly slimming content means slashing nice-to-have ideas if they aren’t priority thoughts.

3. Maintaining voice and connection. I hate to admit it, but an audience isn’t given; it’s earned. While I love to think that my readers are drawn naturally to my genius ideas, an occasional moment of in·im·i·ta·ble human honesty helps build and maintain the relationship. It’s okay to address you directly. I love you.

2. Loosening arguments. Each piece has a unique balance of length, attention, and quality. A thesis without arguments is vacuous. There is such a thing as too skinny to function.

1. Formulaic Construction is unimaginative. The plethora of 3, 4, and 5 item listicles may make the 4±1 rule seem tired, but there is comforting familiarity in these structures. Sometimes, tried and true is what works.

Crossposted from my now-retired blog, Writing for Learner Engagement. 

Do Not Say We Have Only Text

Crossposted from my now-retired blog, Writing for Learner Engagement. 

4 min read

Our digital culture is noisy. The space we call “online” is flooded with visual clutter and gutless content. The attention we deliver to incoming electronic communications is fractured and highly sought by forces more powerful than the average joe communicator. Marketing teams with full-time writers and data analysts know just the right words to use in a post triggered at just the right time. So, in such an environment, how can an email to teachers with instructions about how to use our Report Card program compete with the temptation of professionally-crafted distraction?

To me, the answer is this: despite this critically-low ratio of signal to noise, people yearn for connection and meaning in their content. Our psychology may betray us as we respond to click-bait but, deep down, we crave content that matters, that actually helps us advance and improve ourselves. I chose this plain blog theme as my gift to you – a chance to experience calm when reading online, to be as distraction-free as I may provide on your behalf.

This week, I found myself mimicking some of the conventions of the click-bait posts we’ve all seen around the Internet. As I mentioned in a discussion post elsewhere, titles such as 5 Things I learned this week (and number 3 will blow your mind) are no longer clever; they are beneath us. I refuse to copy them. I am struggling to create an alternate voice for myself that strays from conventions I have otherwise adopted. Softening academic, precise, correct language into something that reads more colloquially – and feels more relatable – is my challenge for the week.

In the re-writing assignment, the damage of inactive text became clear. I worked to create an audience that I can speak to directly, and built the language around a reader character. “You will be able to…”, “Your friends will thank you”, “Don’t you hate when…”, and pulling in the reader by including myself by saying “Those of us who…”. Saying, not just writing. There is a balance between the reader understanding consciously that the text has a writer, and being able to construct an abstract narrator and allow them to speak. Speak, not just write or be read. That kind of language brings writing to life. This kind of language brings life to writing. Such subtle differences are at once subjective and respectful. Even if being spoken to is not your cup of tea, at least the writer tried. You have got to give them points for that!

In the emails I send to staff, I work hard at being concise, but I also adopt the linguistic norms I experience from my school’s communication culture. I quickly replaced “Hi Everyone” with “Hello Faculty” or “Hi Grade 9-12 Teachers”, hoping that activating the salutation of my note would give a reader a sense of the company they kept as part of an intended audience. I aspire not to use 2 words when 1 will do, but sometimes the second word enhances the specificity of my instruction.

From early conversations with my colleagues, I remember receiving conflicting advice. “Adam, just tell me exactly what to do, in explicit detail, and I’ll do it – can’t go wrong.” Others asked, “why are there so many instructions? Too much reading! Just give me the big picture; I’ll try it and ask for help if I get stuck.” Over the years, I have hacked away, using formatting such as headings to give a sense of the most important information, and organizational structures to help provide detail without making it mandatory or overwhelming. The language is active but concise. I don’t editorialize when addressing the targeted mass, though I do violate my own beliefs about email as an information-only medium and use pleasantries like “I hope you are having a wonderful weekend” and “Good luck with Report Cards” as a way to project context and establish a reader’s relationship.

I think the main difference about writing for learner engagement is that it supposes a new form and a different purpose for reading. While I will always view face-to-face interaction as superior and preferred, I can think of a few people who would prefer never to have to speak face to face. They enjoy the safety of keeping their communications asynchronous. It gives them time to think, time to process, time to craft a response. These affordances are important to their own task orientation – moreso than the social elements of work life – and I need to respect this diversity, too. Writing readable content involves crafting a relationship and motivating the reader to want to participate. It upgrades a functional collection of information to make it instructive and memorable, or, at the very least, enjoyable.

I hope you can sense my struggle, and that it resonates with you, too. Thanks for the time you invested in reading this post through to the end. Your comments or feedback are encouraged, and certainly most welcome. – Adam

Everything is the Best!

Everything is The Best!

When balance leads to connections.
When balance leads to connections.

September 2016 brought the most beautiful weather and the busiest school year start-up in recent memory. A lot of change is underway as always, and I feel incredibly optimistic about it. I feel like everything is the best!

This post is not an exposition of ecstatic joy, a telling of the year-to-date through the lens of the LEGO Movie’s “Everything is Awesome”. Though the year is off to a positive start, many projects do need quite a bit of work. But as a person informed heavily by my intuition, and as pattern seeker, I’m noticing something I think it worth blogging about, and maybe pulling on this thread will lead to noticing a thing of substance.

It seems that a tide of Liberal Arts is coming back to wash aside the trend of STE{A)M, and I have to admit I’m excited about that.

Some research into the term Liberal Arts reveals its origin as Continue reading “Everything is the Best!”

Thinking as a Designer: Following a Protocol

Using Design Thinking to Refine an Action Plan

Today was the second Face-to-Face meeting of Cohort 21 and spent the time together following a Design Thinking protocol based on Design Thinking For Educators toolkit from IDEO.

We received a 7-page booklet as a graphic organizer to help us to:

  • add procedural structure to our process
  • capture our thinking and ideas tangibly in a visual way; and
  • scaffold the development of a focus question by exploring user needs, empathizing with various perspectives, answering challenge questions and clarifying the problem.

At my school, we want to inform the future development of what we are referring to as a technology position. Whether this becomes a scope and sequence or a strategic pillar or a technology curriculum is still not fully articulated, but we are beginning with the idea that we want to know what’s going on right now. In a variety of areas. For a variety of grades. Or divisions. Or academic disciplines – we aren’t really sure. So we started with the most broad possible question, “What’s Going On?”

Design 2015.11.21
Problem Focus template

First, we reflected on some challenges we were having and looked at the perspectives of a few individuals involved in or affected by this challenge. Considering two different students (one in Gr 3 and one in Gr 6), I tried to describe my motivation to look at this problem in terms of value to them. How would their lives be different if this challenge didn’t exist? I identified a few barriers (people problems, systemic problems) and worked towards a solutions-focussed articulation of a design question, phrased in the human-centred language of possibility, “How Might We…”


Action plan 2 2015.11.21
Ideation template

My favourite part of the process was the deep digging of initial responses to my working question. “Crazy Eights” is the idea that you use a mixture of speed and perseverence to generate 8 different ideas that might become solutions. You remove constraints such as time, money, personel, knowing how to do it, and other features usually associated with reasonability and just generate ideas, or ideate, in the lexicon of DesignIt is a wonderful experience to notice the moment when you are reaching beyond the low-hanging fruit, using the best worst idea to challenge your own thinking (“Hey, this aspect isn’t such a bad idea after all.”) and move rapidly enough to want to go back to add additional detail afterwards.

Action plan 1 2015.11.21
Sourcing input from ‘the crowd’

Having settled on a working question, “How Might We structure & implement a technology curriculum for teachers and students that enhances teaching and learning in our Junior School?”, we posted the questions to request feedback. This process of walking the halls, browsing the falls, digesting the working questions, providing feedback on any and all aspects of the question / possible solutions / challenge questions was really satisfying, but it took a long time!

I received a collection of ideas from some pretty smart and experienced cohort members. Thanks to @clovrics for helping me articulate my design question (good luck to her on her quest to organize independent Math learning) and to @crussell for providing a really great sample of something similar she has worked on.

Stepping Out of the Horseradish

Remember summer?

How softly it shut!  Now, we find ourselves waking up at the usual time – usual for school – with the sunrise suddenly missing, and it strikes in discord against the light within! I feel better knowing that it’s time to start again with a new team of coaches for another great year of Cohort 21. I couldn’t be more excited!

My year of learning so far as been influenced by a few characters, each representative of an idea that impacts teaching and my work with our teachers. I’ll refer to each idea individually, but know that they all connect to the importance of Community for cohesion, connectedness and learning.

I also want to state, as if something that’s written should be taken as true, that I aspire to stop talking about Technology. It feels lazy. Chairs are technology. Indoor lighting is technology. Pencils are technology, especially the clicky ones or the ones with multiple lead capsules. Paper is also technology, and we are effective at outsourcing (and taking for granted) the arboriculturists, and the pulp and paper processes.

So I want to be clear about what I mean when I talk about integrating technology or digital tools, and make sure we aren’t missing each other; that those who contribute to the conversations about technology & learning are using language that refers to specific things or ideas.  I feel driven to delve into the semantics of discourse on ‘Technology and Teaching’, and help zoom in on the available spaces in the relationship between digital technologies, innovative teaching, skills and content for students, and the best possible attitudes for teachers and school leaders today. There are many opportunities for positive change in these spaces.

If the 21st century was a single school year, we would just be returning from Thanksgiving Break. How appropriate! We’ve had a great start-up, but we are more than a seventh of the way though the century already; if we are not already, it’s time to get moving!

The World is Analog

“We live in a Digital World” – let this be the 88,901th search result on Google for that exact phrase. And you should absolutely watch the first one. But it isn’t true that we do. For all the 0s and 1s tucked into a CD (which aren’t actually 0 and 1, they are carved out, physical divets in plastic), the speakers or earphones that create the actual sound are analog. The World is Analog.

David Sax talking analog at #firesideconf
David Sax is an author, journalist and mensch. He’s one of my oldest friends and we have had over a decade of conversations about the role of technology (here, I mean communication technologies such as social media and other text-based messages) and phatic relationships, including those relationships which are so vital in Education contexts. He is writing his third book, this one about the Revenge of Analog and how certain elements of digital culture giving way to their original, analog counterparts. I am excited to read his book and I know it will be relevant to the important decisions we make as teachers, as we continue to use screen-based devices in ways that enhance teaching and learning, and pay credence to their human impact on transactional communication and positive educational relationships.

A Screen-Free Tech Conference

In September, I attended the first ever #firesideconf – a screen-free tech conference held at the camp where David Sax and I met. The immersive retreat was co-organized by Steven Pulver, another old friend, lawyer/MBA and former camp colleague. When do we start referring to people we work with as ‘colleagues’? Certainly sometime after being teenagers working together at a summer camp! Anyway, he and Daniel Levine wanted to gather people working broadly in Toronto’s Tech Community to a weekend of sharing ideas in the analog context that a camp provides –  communal eating and living, outdoor activities and the creative, open mindset promoted by “musical flutterboards” and the agony and ecstasy of sitting outdoors in cold overcast weather next to a warm raging campfire.

#firesideconf in Bancroft, Ontario
It was a really inspiring thing, to be part of an inaugural event, living the emotions of its organizers and helping actively to contribute as a member of a new community, to its overall success. I came away with a few new ideas worth keeping, in particular one from Steve Tam of Indiegogo articulating a new space that exists between work and life – not a balance carved out of each domain, but an actual third zone. Meeting new people always provides opportunity to gain and share perspectives, and what better place to do it then on the waterski dock.

To A Worm In Horseradish…

To a worm in Horseradish, the world is Horseradish. I am celebrating the 10th anniversary of hearing this old yiddish expression in Malcolm Gladwell’s 2006 Ted Talk about Choice, Happiness and Spaghetti Sauce.  It resonates with me because I know the value of stepping outside our usual zone, adopting new stances to help us perceive challenges (and ourselves) differently, hearing the language that other industries use to approach solving problems in the work we also do, and to open ourselves up to questions we didn’t think to ask and ideas we didn’t know we were missing.

Cohort 21 helps me experience this through Face-to-Face meetings and the relationships that translate into online interaction in between them. I’m excited for my involvement with Cohort 21 (2015-2016) to challenge me, once again, to step out of the horseradish!

What's Next ?

A Teacher Inquiry Trajectory on Making Feedback Visible


As teachers, we provide feedback to students all the time. If you have ever wondered exactly why we do it, what makes feedback effective, and which method is the best ways to provide it, you’re not alone.

David and Adam wondered about these questions and decided to undertake an arc of inquiry to investigate the answers. This blog post describes their process and some of the resources they recommend if you would like to explore this topic yourself.


Providing feedback is one of the most effective instructional strategies a teacher can use to help their students learn.

As David has previously written, effective teacher feedback, according to renowned educational researcher John Hattie, can double the “rate of learning” among students (Hattie 2012).

As well, John Marzano, in his meta-analysis of teaching strategies and their impact on learning, attributes an effect size of .61 to the tool of Setting Goals & Providing Feedback, which means that his meta-analysis shows that receiving feedback contributes to a 23% gain for those students in the 50th percentile, compared to those students who are not provided with feedback at all (Marzano 2001).

Feedback comes in many forms, and David and Adam decided to inquire about two modes of delivery: Digital-Typewritten and Digital-Verbal.

The following two research questions were developed:

  • What type of digital feedback – typewritten or verbally recorded – most benefits students’ essay writing for Geography?
  • In what ways does the digital recording of written and verbal feedback to students clarify understanding of the feedback?


In a grade 11 geography class of 11 students, David and his students progressed through these phases:


The trajectory begins with a preliminary survey to gather baseline information on students’ prior experience receiving feedback.

Students receive an essay assignment at the outset of the course. Over the course of the year, students will complete four essays, two during the first term and one each the subsequent two academic terms. The first paper is formative in nature (assessment for learning) and graded according to a rubric which includes criteria across levels in all four of the achievement categories.

In addition, students receive specific descriptive feedback in one of two digital formats; verbal or typewritten. The typewritten feedback is attached using the commenting/review feature of a word processor. The verbal feedback is recorded online using a digital tool called Kaizena, which enables teachers to provide students with asynchronous, verbal feedback that is embedded within context of the student’s digital submission. For typewritten feedback, files and links may be shared or passed back and forth. For verbal feedback, it is important for teachers and students to each add both the Kaizena Mini Add-on for Google Docs and the Kaizena Plug-In for Chrome.

Resources for Feedback and Reflection

In addition to the above Essay Rubric and Feedback Tutorials, this survey was developed to solicit insights from students regarding their perceptions of the impact of the feedback on their essays and about their learning preferences for the two modes of the feedback delivery.

As the term advances and students progress through the project, there will be opportunities to reflect on what is learned about these instances of feedback. Information from the students will inform these conclusions and an interview can posted here between David and Adam.

Here is a recording of our thoughts on the process to date.

Global Education Community Offering

If you would like to experience receiving feedback in a digital-verbal format using Kaizena, David and Adam would be happy to support you. Simply leave a note in the comments, below, with a link to a Google Doc that you create. Respond with the following prompts in that document, and they will request to share it and connect with you.

  • One thing I really like that about this post / this idea is…
  • After reading this trajectory post, I wonder…
  • I anticipate that digital-verbal feedback will be very effective for some students because…

Looking Forward to Connecting!


This post appears on the Cohort21 Network in support of coursework completed for the UOIT Integration of Information and Computer Technology Into the Classroom AQ Part 1.