Four years ago almost to the day, I wrote an article for our school's weekly newsletter. It was about travelling with students. It was inspired by the negative reaction of a person to the fact that students on a trip to Washington were using Instagram and Snapchat to take and send photos at the Lincoln Memorial. They weren't the only ones doing it, but they stood out in the school uniforms they were wearing on account of the fact that they had participated in a music festival earlier in the day. The point of the article was that our students were thoughtful, respectful, and engaged travellers almost all of the time, whether riding on buses, participating in activities, listening to tour guides, or taking pictures - not perfect individually or as groups, but pretty good. Here is a link to the post: Mirror Article - Road Trips with Students

I was back in Washington on the music trip again a few weeks ago and was at the Lincoln Memorial again. Some things were the same - it was a beautiful spring evening, it was crowded, and there was a lot of excitement. Some things were different - it seemed that the majority of people were seeing the site via a smartphone screen. Sure there were some cameras, but most were clicking and posting. The person who looked askance at our students on that spring evening in 2013 would have had a hard time figuring out who to be miffed with in 2017. My guess may have been the Pokémon Go players. I didn't notice them, but a fellow trip chaperone did. I may not have noticed it because I was trying to track down and shoo our students - sans uniforms this time - toward the rendezvous point as the light faded. As well, I was snapping photos and posting too...

Yes, I was posting too. After a long stint away from the cell phone community, I came in from the cold earlier this year on account of some travelling I was doing. I got a fancy phone with lots of bells and whistles. My family was bemused after years of listening to me speaking of freedom and railing against the prices and policies of the telcos (e.g. Why, exactly, do you have to pay a connection fee when you get a new phone with the same phone number and service provider?) When my last contract expired, I felt like Jean Valjean bidding farewell to Javert at the prison gate in Les Mis... Hum the tune of "Look Down" here...

Javert - played by Bell/Rogers/Telus:

Read the fine print of the contact you sign
This sheet allows us to gouge you by design
It warns you not to be reckless, Dan!

Jean Valjean - played by me:
I made a local call.

My students were always shocked that I didn't have a phone, wondering aloud how I managed to navigate through the world. I used to tell them it was quite easy if you weren't looking down at a screen while walking - fewer collisions and you can actually see stuff. I used to tease them about things like the apps in this blog entry's title - Facechat, Snapbook, and Instatwit. I may claim title to the last one, especially when one considers how much trouble people get themselves into with Twitter, regular folks and even people who have access to the nuclear codes...

Anyway, I got the phone and see the benefits alright. Without a phone, I struggled mightily to keep up with colleagues in the neat CIS Ontario learning program, @Cohort21. Some of them might recall my awkward use of my laptop to take a picture of my work during an early session. I was a Luddite in a world of technical wizards who possessed rectangular wands that could make instant magic. It was the same thing with Twitter during that program - it was never open on my laptop or home computers, and I missed great streams of interesting thinking. With the phone, I could now take quick pictures or videos of student work. During trips with students, I could now post images and updates. There is nothing like a nine-hour bus ride with students who are eager to bring you up to speed to help one rocket into the present! So I get it, the phone and the tools it comes equipped with are great. I surrender...

However, as a science and social studies teacher who has the very good fortune of travelling a fair amount with students, I do have a few wonderments... How do we invite students to take a break from games, videos, and photo filters and encourage them to look up and see, to look out of the windows of the bus as they travel through Flanders, along the Beauport shore, or amidst the rolling hills and farms of eastern Ontario or southwestern Pennsylvania? How do we help them to appreciate and, if needed, to re-activate the original heads up, 4D display system that we naturally possess - our eyes, ears, noses, even the skin on our cheeks and foreheads that allows us to feel the warm sun or the cool mist coming our way at a place like Montmorency Falls? How do we help them to see and notice and reflect before they rush to snap and post?

I offer these wonderments with a caveat. I may be vastly underestimating students and apologize here if I am. They are digital people who are used to this technology in a way that I am not and perhaps may never be. I only ask because I am so interested in the sights, sounds, and scents of a place, the feel of a place. I only ask because I wonder how much I have missed as I have monkeyed around with messaging, Instagram, and Twitter of late. As with most things I guess, the key is finding the right balance. Time to talk to fellow travellers on this shared and digital journey...



While sitting around the table at the final Cohort 21 Fact-to-face gathering yesterday, I reflected on what's next and said that I wanted to take a sabbatical from formal PD for a bit because I wanted to think about where I have been for a while. Sensing a guilty note in my voice, one of the gathering's guests, Rick from Hillfield Strathallan College, told me to relax and not to apologize. He suggested that I didn't have to be a pioneer all the time and that it was okay to be a settler. Thanks, Rick! What a great way to look at this!

So often both our society and our vocation urge us to the edge and keep pushing us toward new horizons. Sure some people can live out there, always looking for the next mountain top and what's beyond. However, some people do become settlers once they find the right spot. That does not mean they settle for what is or how things are. They create and innovate in place, tend and mend, reflect on seed time and harvest, manage lean times and those that are bountiful, hold on to some customs, traditions, and practices a little, and change with the times a little. Pioneers and settlers are both important in teaching and in the management of change. As for me, I am going to settle down and tend things for a while. I will, however, look for postcards from the edge, postcards that urge me to try new things and even to pull up stakes and move on!

Take care,

Dan B.

PS - Derek, you were right! It was too early for the last post...

Cohort 21 is a collaborative learning experience that led participants to create an action plan by using a design process. It takes place face-to-face in real time and in the virtual world too. It is electric and eclectic. It is led by thoughtful and energetic facilitators Garth and Justin and kind and patient program alumni who serve as coaches. It is about inspiring educators to effect change by taking action on their action plans. It is a gateway to more learning and collaboration.

What was is like? It was fun and a little scary. It was hard work in the midst of other hard work. It was challenging to try to do my best work and humbling as I tried to navigate the worlds of blogs (Okay!) and Twitter (Not so okay!). It was great to learn from, talk to, and reflect with so many fine and highly motivated educators who share both a love of learning and a respectful desire to grow alongside the learners with whom they work.

I would recommend it... highly!

#cohort 21


The last post? Sound the trumpet? Maybe, maybe not. I don't see this as the end of the beginning but rather as the end of an action/reflection process that is part of a much longer journey.

This image helps to remind me of something we talk about as we evolve our programs - each step we take represents a quarter turn of the screw. The current turn is related to and informed by the previous turns and will relate to and inform future turns. The Cohort 21 collaborative opportunity aimed at helping us to wrestle with a "How might we...?" question has been such a turn. My question - "How might we... use a variety of strategies to engage all learners and to build creative confidence?" - grew out of a desire to add a new strategy - inquiry-based learning - to a collection of strategies we have studied and applied to help our students. The images below give a sense of it...


We started with the curriculum, then sought to tackle that through UBD-based planning. We used ideas from project-based learning theory, iTHINK training, thinking about differentiation, and our reading and research about STEM education to craft our iSTEAM program. We collaborated, reflected, talked, modified, took two steps forward and one step back, consolidated until we had a pretty tight program for our students in Grades 6-8. It featured a steady increase in expectations from year to year and within years. It featured a matrix of content and skills and experiences. It included a set of well-organized tasks. And yet, it seemed not quite enough. Students in younger grades were working at inquiry-based learning. A question was asked, not unkindly, at a meeting, "Is this task not simply generating umpteen versions of the same thing?" Queasiness ensued. There might be something to that... So, off we went to some great training on inquiry-based learning. Now the question was, how do we integrate that into our program. This is where the Cohort 21 opportunity came in. We would try to integrate inquiry-based learning opportunities into some of our work in order to engage more learners and to build their creative confidence.

What worked? Well, lots of things. A little survey told me that students were ready for more risk but still wanted some structure. That led me to suggest that we take a quarter turn approach and add more options to our work. Each project would be challenge by choice. For example, in Grade 6 science students were given the choice to build a simple electric car out of a set kit of materials or to use littleBits, Sphero, or Makey Makey kits to design a new electrical vehicle or device. We had a few perfectly nifty standard cars but a range of other products including a house that had a light and a cooling system, a dual purpose keyboard, and a Sphero-based vehicle that aimed to fetch a bowl of cereal. Many Grade 7 students built strong conventional bridges but some used their knowledge of structures and building to create prototypes of a biodome for settlers on Mars and a building meant to withstand the force of a tornado. Grade 8 students looked at the properties of standard and non-Newtonian fluids and were encouraged to test any property of either type of fluid in any way they chose, as long as we had or could fashion the proper equipment and testing environments. They designed collision barriers and protective sports gear, broke water into its constituent parts using hydrolysis, and looked into differences in density. Pictures? Reflections? Not this time around - it was a little exciting in the lab as we were sailing in uncharted waters in each class, urging students on, holding them back, turning a blind eye, avoiding blinding... It was seat of the pants flying at times, messy at times, exhilarating and inspiring all the time! Was it hard to do all at once? Yes - sober second thought might have led me to focus on one grade. Smarter people than me suggested it in their out loud voices. Well... go big or go home!

What didn't work? A little foray in social studies was spectacularly unsuccessful. It was too open ended and the students did not have enough key information to "find their passion." More teaching and discussions would have helped the students go madly off in all directions more successfully and confidently!

What didn't surprise me? I was not surprised that lots of students really jumped at the chance to try something different. The fact that lots of students did not take this chance did not surprise me either. As with any learning community, our school has lots of different learners, many of whom still need lots of structure and coaching through their middle school years,. The challenge for teachers in this type of situation is to figure out how much of a nudge toward the risky options one should give.

If I had to do it all over again... I might like more time to plan things out. But maybe not, Maybe it was time to take off the training wheels and wobble into the future.. or a scraped knee and elbow.

What's next? I've got to figure out the social studies flow and timing. Maybe I will borrow the science framework of offering up a straight ahead task along with the option to follow one's nose into something more interesting... As for science, more of the same, but I will wait and see what the younger students coming in bring to the table as experienced veterans of inquiry-based learning. Overall, I need time to reflect, talk things over, and consolidate a few things.

Here is a link to my Action Plan Slide Deck - I know, I know, it is long and wordy. A colleague has suggested that I get paid by the word. To quote Popeye, "I yam what I yam!"

Thanks to colleagues and students, members of this learning community, and people at home for helping me along this stage of the journey.



How might we... use a variety of strategies to engage all learners and to build creative confidence?

For now, we see through a glass, darkly... - from an old letter

While trying to address my "How might we..." question, I have been puzzling over how to capture the magic of Reggio-inspired inquiry with my Grades 6, 7, and 8 science classes and my Grade 8 Social Studies classes. I have been catching glimpses, but the way ahead has seemed dimly lit. Certain things obscure the view - my own conventionality, the learning needs of the students, the reality of team teaching (which is awesome!) and trying to plan this out amidst the hectic life of (insert any school name here), and the hammer on the anvil call of the curriculum. What to do? Our head of Teaching Learning gave some good advice - start small with one project. Good advice - that is but one of the many, many reasons she has a chair that spins and a room with a view! As well, Cohort21 colleagues suggest that we ask our "clients" what they think. Another good idea, so that is what I did.

I never cared much for moonlit skies
I never wink back at fireflies
But now that the stars are in your eyes
I'm beginning to see the light... - from old song

Here is what I learned from the survey (Due to the nature of my questions, my graphs were Jackson Pollock-Like squirrelly, so I did the math in my typical analog way - proving yet again that dinosaurs are not really extinct, at least one of them is alive and well and wearing glasses and a lab coat at Montcrest School)...

  • Nearly two-thirds of our students like to dive in, explore a topic by watching a video or messing around with gear BEFORE reading about it and discussing it - they like to have some "that's interesting.." and "Why?" time before getting too far down the road.
  • It is about a 50/50 split between those who like to choose their own adventure within a topic and those who like to "order from the menu", whether the topic list is created by the teacher or generated by the class.
  • It is about a 50/50 split between those who like to learn new skills while doing scaffolding tasks and those who like to acquire new skills when they need them.
  • Two-thirds of our students liked to have a choice about how to share their learning, though quarter of the Grade 8s survey would rather work from a teacher generated template. Interestingly, none of the Grade 6 students wanted to use a standard template. My hunch-y analysis of this is related to the fact that the Grade 6 students have participated in inquiry-based learning in grades 4 and 5 while the Grade 8 students missed out on that style of learning opportunity while doing very interesting but more scripted tasks.
  • Three-quarters of our students said they were excited, encouraged, motivated or some combination of the three to create their own learning adventure. Of the remaining students, many opted for one or more of the aforementioned feelings while acknowledging that they may still be nervous about the prospect. This feeling mirror that of their teacher...

So where are we now? Well, I think the students are ready and just waiting for the adults to catch up. Therefore, I have worked with my colleagues to open the door a crack and take ACTION! Here is the plan that is going to help me:

Done and done:

  • Consultation with Head of Curriculum
  • Student Survey
  • Reading tea leaves of Student Survey
  • Reading!

In progress:

  • Consult with teaching colleagues about inquiry-based learning and planning
  • Having science students mess around with various gear and techniques in different lab activities
  • Viewing and discussing God Grew Tired of Us, the story of Sudanese refugees, with Grade 8 Social Studies students and learning about causes of human migration
  • Grade 6 Science - Maker task requiring students to create a useful device using littleBits, Makey Makey, Sphere, various and sundry electrical gear
  • Grade 7 Science - Maker task requiring to make a structure that will be tested using reasonable force
  • Grade 8 Science - Using what they have learned about the properties of fluids, design and conduct an experiment about a topic of interest using standard and non-Newtonian fluids
  • Grade 8 Social Studies - Students research and report on a family story about migration to Canada or one of the many stories of people who have come to Canada as refugees, from Poles in the 1830s to Syrians in 2016
  • Looking for and reading related articles

Still to come:

  • Trying to join the Hangout on February 28th
  • Taking observational notes about projects, student reactions, ideas for next time
  • Working on Action Plan - the beginning of the beginning
  • Completing slideshow on work and learning to date prior to F2F 4, April 21
  • Attending F2F 4 at Havergal

Ideas? Re-directs? Please and thank you!


"...there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don't know we don't know. And if one looks throughout the history of our country and other free countries, it is the latter category that tend to be the difficult ones."

- Former U.S. Secretary Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. 2 February 2002

This quotation burbled through my mind as I considered the week just past. In searching for the original wording, I was reminded of the context in which it was uttered and discovered the neat story of its origins. Johari Window

Known Knowns: I learned, or rather, was reminded of two things that were true about the past, at least according to my Grade 8 History students. First, everything was on fire. This explains why student work related to the creation of letters or newspapers or journal entries to convey a sense of the events and voices of the past are quite often crumbly and singed around the edges. This leads me to a couple of questions -  how many drafts have gone up in smoke and how many smoke detectors have whined in the execution of these tasks. Second, everyone in the past spilled their tea, a lot! This explains the various and sundry stains on the aforementioned letters, newspapers, and journals. I chuckle about this every year, but I love and respect my students' pursuit of "museum craft" and special effects!


Known Unknowns: I continue to puzzle over how to manage differentiation and inquiry as my action plan percolates. it is unknown now and will be an unfolding process, but I am seeing through the glass less darkly as I read, consult, and gather strategies. I am really appreciating the articles people have been posting and the suggestions that blog responders have been giving.

Unknown Unknowns: I did not know that I did not know that there is such a thing as the "Cosmic Cab" in Toronto. On our way to the CIS/DMZ event on Monday evening, two colleagues and I called a taxi to take us over to Ryerson. Into the driveway pulled the neatest cab I have every seen. It was covered in holiday decorations on the outside and featured festive lighting, a cup of candy canes, and our choice of Karaoke, holiday music, or the movie Elf on screens mounted on the back of the two front seats. The driver, Mr. Akber Batada, is a very nice person who loves his job. He changes the cab's decor with the seasons. When we arrived, the cab caused a sidewalk sensation as people took pictures, looked inside, and talked to Mr. Batada. The needle did not move on my cool factor, but that legend of the cab and its pilot continued to grow! I realized  that I not only have a bucket list but an unknown bucket list, a menu of things I don;t know I have to do. Accidentally and happily, I crossed one off! Put a ride in this cab on your bucket list!



I have enjoyed our session on design thinking and action plan work today. My thinking has changed in lots of ways but especially with regard to where student input and choice comes in - as "users" and "choosers" of the learning processes we plan. I used to think that my teaching partners and I had to plan the daylights out of our units. I am coming to realize that we are planning  the life out of them too. I think our students can play a much larger role in our learning together. I am still wondering a lot about how to balance  the students' need for some direct instruction so that they know enough of the "language" of a subject to allow them to navigate their inquiry. It is a puzzlement that I look forward to working through as I work on the action plan around increasing student engagement and creative confidence. I got some great ideas from Cohort21 colleagues - here is an image of a sheet that gathered some crowd-sourced suggestions:


Special thanks to Lara Jensen from UCC for sharing a great example about the inquiry process - Gord Downie's personal inquiry that led to The Secret Path. What a cool way to think about it!


Back in the day, before cell phones made us nearly always message-able if not totally  reachable, the answering machine was a big deal. It was a little disconcerting at first as many people talked to the machine's voice before realizing they had to wait for the tone to leave a message. I remember my Dad's first few messages went something like this, "What? Hello? Oh, Audrey, they have one of those message machines! What aim I supposed to do?" An audible sigh is heard before Mum would reply, "Leave a message,  Lloyd."  As I think about working with students, I sometimes feel a bit like my Dad, not sure what to do when the the message doesn't seem to be hitting a live, or rather lively, audience. That is why I am really interested in working on strategies to help enhance student engagement though the use of inquiry and new technologies, hoping that they pick up in person or later on!

Now, that is all great but there is more to this message sending and receiving thing. A long while back now, in the late 70s and early 80s, AT&T and Bell had ads out that urged people to make a long distance call in order to "Reach out and touch someone!" They were fun ads and the jingle still sticks in my mind. As a teacher, one is in the reaching out business. I get that. But here is something else that I have been thinking about. It is based on something I saw about Blue Jay star Josh Donaldson. His high school coach was interviewed and given credit for getting a somewhat head strong player who wasn't always ready to accept coaching on the right track. The coach said  something like this, " Oh sure, I helped, I reached out to him all right. I do that for all the players. The big thing was that he was ready to reach back, that made all the difference." In my work, I am trying to keep that in mind. I am going to do my best to learn, grown, and build my craft. I am going to prepare lessons and tasks that have lots of options and handholds for different learners. I am going to try to reach out to them as people and learners. I am also going to try to understand and accept that they may or may not reach back today, tomorrow, or to me at all. That is the humbling path that I see myself travelling in this work. I think trying my best and understanding the results before pushing on will make all the difference.


As a faculty, we were asked to read Carol Dweck's book, Mindset: A New Psychology of Success, over the summer. The ideas from the book and our reflections about them will be the focus of ongoing PD in our school this year.

I enjoyed the book a great deal. I found it interesting the way that the author applied her understanding to different fields - from sports to business, from relationships to learning. The key takeaway for me was the sense that if we are to be lifelong learners, we have to give ourselves permission to learn, to fail, to grow. We have be talking a lot about this as teachers and sharing it with our students and their parents. Personally, I have reflected on my own approaches to things and to ideas.

9342c09d0aee50a6685dffb639d5d230-image-300x300The book was not without its "Yeah, but..." moments for me as I read. For instance, I have some questions about how to help students (and myself!) understand mindsets, about how much a teacher can really delve into the source of those mindsets, about finding the time and place and skills one needs to have respectful conversations about them. The way we think about ourselves, our learning, and our relationships is a complex knot of strings spun from home, culture, experience, and the wiring in our brains. While we do want to pull on those strings with courage, we also want to pull with care! I am looking forward to working through some of this with my colleagues at school and with you online!


Lao Tzu - The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.

I am all about the learning journey, and I have started on a big one today at Cohort21. I learned a lot, mostly about how far behind I feel with things like Diigo and Twitter. I find it interesting that I was a little ahead of the curve when Twitter first came out and I asked if I could use it to have reluctant class participants ask their questions and share their ideas electronically. It wasn't in the cards then - maybe now?

I really appreciate all the help that fellow members, coaches, and facilitators offered today and promise to give in the weeks and months to come. I am very excited to work on the art and craft of teaching - I am a believer in the idea of teaching as an art, a craft, a trade like masonry or weaving in the sense of requiring lifelong learning and refinement. I cannot wait to work on an action plan to help me to be a better teacher and to learn and grow with my colleagues and students. I really love to learn about learning and the wonderful subjects that I get to teach.

I am energized by the excitement of everyone and hope that I can share my own with you!