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.


The Big Flop

The more we share, the richer we become. – Jim Strachan

As a Technology & Teaching Coach, one important job is to differentiate the type of support I provide to teachers. The role has many differentiated relationships and that means taking group size into consideration. I try to begin by providing personalized support – one-on-one time with teachers, usually around other teachers in common spaces – and when I notice trends or situations in which teachers would benefit from working with one another, I try to connect them.

As part of my action plan, I am searching for effective models of PD for teachers and have been trying to avoid the ‘Workshop Session’ when possible. I accomplished this in part by avoiding the PD Day altogether, supervising a Duke of Edinburgh Dogsledding trip in Algonquin Park over the Family Day long weekend! I’m not sure which move was colder…

I have been eager to increase the opportunities for sharing between members of faculty and there were more than a few instances of teachers trying some pretty innovative things that were nagging at me as “need-to-share” examples of risk-taking, rethinking curriculum and other acts of courageous teaching. One teacher transformed his ability to give students feedback by invoking Doctopus to ease his transition to Google Docs. Another flipped the traditional ‘oral presentation’ assignment with Explain Everything in a Grade 7 French class, and had a great survival story of technical failures to tell.

So we reluctantly booked some time in our monthly staff meetings. If your school is like mine, it is an incredible challenge to get groups of people together in meaningful ways that maintain the special mixture of availability and attention. Our staff meetings are booked from 3:45pm – 5:00pm and generally end around 4:30, give or take a few errant items for the ‘Any Other Business’ section of the agenda.

Our day looked like a good one, with an overall short agenda. Our slide deck involved the minimum number of slides needed for adequate visual support, and we worked hard to prepare clear, brief remarks, but I couldn’t have planned a worse opening act. It turned out that Officer Tony of the Toronto Police Force would be making a 50-minute presentation to staff, walking us through an aggressive and detailed response plan to unthinkable events, conjuring in his audience the spirit and emotion of emergency, and leaving the room silent with caffeine-like jitters. It was 4:45 by the time the agenda came to “Sharing from the Technology Department”. I’m sure I must have cringed for a moment, wincing at the introduction and mustering a game face.

We forged ahead and I regret it still. To the credit of our dedicated Faculty, they tried hard to care. Teachers were digging into their stores of cognitive bandwidth, cheering on their colleagues with attentive listening faces and practicing restraint to not check their watches. We finished by 5:05, final notes were delivered. At 5:12, the meeting room was empty.

The sharing happened, but definitely not in the way that I had hoped. From conversations in the days to come, I gleaned that the effort was appreciated and despite foggy memory of the content, there was some peppering of interest to hear more. Chalk it up to an event of ‘exposure’.

What is the scaffold of learning? If exposure acts as a trigger for inquiring, a motivation to ask questions and make connections, I suppose that is a small step in the right direction. What mechanisms do other schools use to make time with intentionally-assembled colleagues? I heard someone recently say that if the motivation is there, teachers will find the time.

How does your school ‘do sharing’?

Today went well

Spending the day today at MaRS with Cohort21 was another really powerful reminder of the positive unexpected consequences of getting together a diverse group of likeminded individuals to overcome their common paradoxes and dissimilarities.

Today, I discovered Pocket, a ‘read it later’ service that integrates more directly to all the different ways that I discover teacher-relevant information. Articles from email, posts from twitter, videos through Feedly — it can all collect in and organize in Pocket. Thanks, @teach_tomorrow.

I had a great conversation with @cohort21tim from Lakefield about his new passion for ThingLink and how it supports instructional strategies that help him achieve that R – the redefinition of his Bio labs. Do the dissection first and then refer to it all year long. Must remember to tell Laura at our school about it.

Chatted briefly with Shelley about her multiple hats and how difficult it is to have a focussed vision of teacher development when everything from software licensing to a new server room ends up on your plate. The York School has the clearest vision for their faculty tech development, but I don’t think that’s something I would like to see us impose, yet.

I’m a softy for tight community, and I get excited when I hear Laura Johnson talk about the Maben School’s iPads. I believe so strongly in the ability of a Smartboard to unify an elementary-level classroom and that iPads can interface so nicely with it, to allow students to participate in creating the activities they do. Grab an iPad, snap an album of objects that have rectangles, then gather and redistribute the photos for a writing project. Mmmm. But I’m definitely excited to share what we have learned introducing iPads and workflows into our junior school’s iPads, just as others have shared their hard-learned expertise with us.

For my action plan … I still need to hear what others are doing that feels like successful teacher development. I continue to struggle with what to call it, whether it is PD or Sessions or Workshops or PLNs. Even though I know that ‘if you build it, it will come’ isn’t always true, I know that provided a really targeted experience is effective at changing hearts and minds. I want to hear more about those…

Brand New Day of Learning in C21 – Are Cohorts the way forward?

As a traveller, I once made a deal with myself. I would forever absolve myself of the guilt from not writing out  many of the thoughts and ideas that I wished I had taken time to reflect on in long form, and especially at the moment that I desired to write about something new. The need to chronicle my own cognitive back catalogue should never limit my ability to move on.

I would be remiss if I overlooked how different this year’s cohort feels to me. The difference, I assume, is mostly within me, since this year’s cohortees are as similarly diverse as last year’s cohortees. But things are clicking differently for me —  understanding the ability of Diigo to support not only sharing of resources with others but also my own gathering / sorting / grouping of my own web life, for example — and I can see much more of the intention behind Cohort21 itself.

My action plan last year looked at ways to find out how a school is integrating technology into its curricular program and school life, the “Technology Program” itself. This year, I would like to investigate models of integration in a school (e.g. 1:1, BYOD, labs and carts) as the intentional result of thought-out pedagogy, evidence-based research and strategic planning.

More broadly and even more importantly, I would like to learn about models of professional development. Are PD sessions and workshops most effective? As Justin asks, should we be learning about 21st century skills using 20th century instructional strategies? Are PLNs, PLCs TLCPs the way forward? How do you build structure into the organic? What is the relationship between innovation and improvement? Whole school minimum expectations vs. pockets of teachers engaging in professional inquiry?

It’s great to be part of such a curious, supportive group of teachers.



The Types of Questions We Ask

Much has been written about question types, especially in classroom lessons when they are most often related to higher-order thinking skills (HOTS). The Q-chart is one example of a tool used to illuminate some of the different assumptions carried by the choice and wording in a question.

I spent a lot of time generating and revising survey questions. It began with a brainstorm; every question about technology or tech-related teaching I could think of went into a list that I imagined I would eventually sort into categories. As late as the third draft of the question set, I was still sifting through questions like “Which web browser do you prefer?” and “How often do your students generate work products in class to be printed?”.

Leanne helped me refocus my questions by teaching me a few important lessons about research survey principles and how to decide what you want to measure.

High Value – Medium Complexity


This chart of Value and Complexity is a sample I looked at to do with mapping product features. The idea was that questions can be easy or complex to answer and can provide information of high or low value. I should be asking questions that provide high value information while moderating the complexity to suit the audience.

“What web browser do you use?” is easy to measure and might be interesting, but does not offer strategic value to our survey results. Overall, our aim is to establish a baseline for measuring our school’s Integration of Technology


Double-Barreled Questions

“How frequently do you use create screencasts and lesson PDFs for all students to access before class?” This is an example of a double-barreled question because it has too many parts combined into one single question. Perhaps you often create screencasts but only some students watch them. Perhaps you provide PDFs but not screencasts. I had a number of questions that needed separating. This created more questions, which links to another problem: the issue of survey psychology and fatigue.

Survey Fatigue impacts response rate and validity

Since our school discovered Google Forms, there has been a sharp increase in the number of surveys that staff and faculty are asked to complete. These range from a Grade 5 survey about Healthy Eating or a Grade 10 survey about Issues from the Native Studies course to a Professional Development Topics survey or a signup for Community Service Day supervision.

As our school is planning to implement VPP for its iPad apps, for example, a survey went out asking for feedback on the paid apps we currently own. Response rate was very low. So part of the ‘launch’ of this survey would need to include attention-getting information about the survey and its requirements, requested completion date, etc. Incentives like a gift card draw for early completion are difficult to offer for an anonymous survey because you can’t put names into a hat when you don’t know the names in the first place. I decided to share certain live-update statistics from part of the demographics section of the survey. Our faculty laptops are split 50/50 Mac and PC, so I could broadcast results that said there was a 42%/58% split across Mac/PC respondents and that might incite a competitive spirit to respond more readily to the survey. It did.

Final Anatomy of the Programme Survey:

  • Section 1: Tell us about yourself (5 questions) – Demographics
  • Section 2: Attitudes & Beliefs (3 questions) – Universal
  • Section 3: Practice / Use – By Faculty (5 questions) – school-wide
  • Section 4: Practice / Use – By You (10 questions) – per faculty member
  • Section 5: Skill Matrix (15 questions) – individual usage
  • Section 6: Resources & Tools (11 questions) – school tool feedback
  • Section 7: Opinions (5 questions) – general school feedback


Don’t Let Perfect Be The Enemy of Good

Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good. This advice has come up a few times in projects, lately. Whether on the hunt for the ideal LMS system or seeking the perfect wording for a survey question, achieving “done” will steadily become more important.

From Seth Godin’s blog this week:

All boats leak
 There’s always a defect, always a slow drip, somewhere. Every plan, every organization, every venture has a glitch.
The question isn’t, “is this perfect?” The question is, “will this get me there?”
Sometimes we make the mistake of ignoring the big leaks, the ones that threaten our journey.
More often, though, we’re so busy fixing tiny leaks that we get distracted from the real goal, which is to go somewhere.