Keeping the cart behind the horse

Whew! Another F2F almost done and I’m once again feeling inspired and overloaded with ideas. Thanks so much to all of the coaches and facilitators – @jmedved @lmcbeth @ddoucet @gnichols @shelleythomas – who planned this day for us and put so much time, energy, and thought into creating a space for collaboration, reflection, and inspiration.

The storyboarding process that we went through in the morning was my favourite part of the day. What steps would be necessary to put my action plan into place? What would they all involve?

I started with the idea of curating playlists of good content for each area of my course (e.g. using Illustrator for creating vector artwork, using InDesign for layout, etc.). Step 2 was to come up with a way of tracking and assessing students, using DocAppender, of course. As I continued to come up with storyboard steps, I realized at Step 4 that my order of operations was completely off. I need to do significant research into project based learning and design thinking in order to restructure my course so completely.

What started as my first step in the process became my last step by the time I completed my storyboard.

What started as my first step in the process became my last step by the time I completed my storyboard.

While at times it is wonderful to learn something new and jump in with both feet, I think that in order for this action plan to be successful, I absolutely have to put in the time to:

  1. learn more about design thinking about project-based learning
  2. come up with a list of core competencies that all members of my class will have to learn before embarking on the personalized structure of the course
  3. develop a structure, expectations, and timeline to frame the year
  4. develop a plan for assessment, including forms, rubrics, and schedule for conferencing with students
  5. curate playlists and develop resources for different skills areas

What I had originally written down as step one became my last step before implementation. If that doesn’t speak to the power of Cohort 21, I don’t know what does!

Thanks to @ptotera, @lmustard @chazzard @blng @maragona @mjohn for being there to bounce ideas off of and for challenging me today!

PS – Check out what trended in Toronto today!



Thoughts on my Action Plan

After November’s inspiring F2F session, I was raring to go. I checked my TweetDeck several times daily, I was reading and saving articles to read later on Diigo, and I was planning my blog posts in my head on my drive to and from school. And then… snowboard season started with all of its paperwork and chasing down waivers, I moved an entire library collection to our new space, I had my class do an evaluation that I still haven’t assessed and returned to them… And now it’s the day after the deadline for our Action Plan post, and here I am. I did actually write the bulk of a post yesterday afternoon, but lost it in its entirety by using the quickdraft feature in WordPress. Note to others: don’t do it! It was small consolation that @adamcaplan had the same thing happen to him:



It hurts a little less when you know that the experience is shared by others.


So I apologize for the list-y nature of this post. I was far more reflective the first time through, but I’m still mourning the loss of yesterday’s post and I’ve already missed the deadline. Instead, this is me putting out there on the web the design thinking process that I engaged in back in November, more to remind myself of it than anything else. I’m including additional commentary in italics to help readers further understanding my thinking.

Basically, the problem that I set out attempting to solve has to do with the Communications Technology course –  a brand new course for my school – that I am teaching for the first time. It’s got a wide open curriculum and can be anything I want it to be. And while I love teaching it, it comes with some challenges…


  • Trying to teach two sections of a course simultaneously. My co-teacher isn’t comfortable enough with the content to teach it, but both classes happen during the same period. Can’t have all in one room as students need computers to work on.
    • We’ve tried flip-flopping classes (one day with one section, one day with the other) but find it not flexible enough. Sometimes we need two or three days worth of instruction and practice before embarking on a project or task.
    • We’ve tried teaching via Google Hangouts – I’ll screenshare and my co-teacher projects her screen onto the board. We found that it isn’t very conducive to responding to students’ questions and challenges while broadcasting to two rooms full of students.
    • We’ve tried video lessons. I spent lots of time developing lessons with practice files for the students to follow along with, but found that students tended just to watch the videos straight through, rather than pausing and practicing with the files as was intended.
  • Teaching a new course with no set curriculum (content). It’s becoming increasingly technical and I’m finding it hard to stay far enough ahead of the students.
    • While I am quite comfortable with the content so far, I fear being “not enough”. My school prides itself on hiring expert teachers, but there are times when I don’t feel very expert at all, and as we get into more technical things, and especially when we begin video production, I fear that I will not have the skills (or the time!) to learn the content sufficiently to teach it.
  • A desire to share amazing tools and strategies with colleagues through professional development but so limited by available time / differing comfort levels with technology / lack of support
    • This is obviously a different problem but I thought that the solution could have some overlap with my other challenges.

Reframe & Rewrite:

  • How might I develop an effective asynchronous model for TGJ3M (and professional development?) so that students and teachers can learn at their own pace/level/area of interest without being constrained by classroom walls / access to the teacher/coach/integrator?
  • Needs (mine):
    • time
    • technology – online learning system with personal support
    • new ideas / new way of thinking
    • other experts to teach the things that I can’t possibly master in advance of the kids or learn sufficiently to teach the really motivated students
    • an understanding of the range of interests to limit/develop the scope of such a project
    • cooperation/buy-in from students to try something really different (and understand its value)
  • Needs (students):
    • clear expectations and instructions
    • a very clear structure
    • access to experts / support through the process
    • “how am I going to get marked?”
    • a way to avoid the “what’s the minimum I need to do in order to get a good mark?” trend that tends to happen in open-ended assignments

Crazy 8s (Ideate):


Crazy 8s: An uncomfortable but valuable process.

This process was super challenging and uncomfortable for me, but all of my sketches/ideations eventually led me to realization that something resembling the Cohort 21 model of self-guided discovery might be the answer I seek. Using a combination of a live and digital/online experience; developing a toolkit and leveraging it to find, organize, and share resources; harnessing the motivational power of badging; and leveraging teachers as coaches and facilitators rather than “imparters of knowledge” could be the million-dollar idea. I love the concept of students coming to class to work toward their own individual learning goals, and using this same design thinking process to come up with solutions to a real world problem.


Action Plan – The Big Question:

How might we… reconsider the current instructional model in order to better utilize/leverage teacher strength and better tap into student interests?


A few of my favourite sticky note suggestions from fellow C21ers.

A few of my favourite sticky note suggestions from fellow C21ers.


  • Throw out the model. Make up a new “system”.
  • Partnering with teachers and creating cross-curricular approaches.
  • Eliminate grades (no, seriously)…
  • Content vs. skills?
  • Flip classroom: students make their own videos to teach each other.
  • Content often lends itself to delivery; take a close look at the curriculum wording.
  • Assessments that allow for students to always pick their own individual topics.
  • #personalizedlearning @plearnchat
  • Sharing computers one day, split up next day, teach each other
  • Great conversation about learning spaces on Derek Doucet’s blog – check it out!
  • Start with the physical space? Follow @EdTechTeam for some exciting ideas around innovation involving students.
  • Check out @techinLatina – very similar question/idea
  • Interdisciplinary units

There were some great ideas, indeed, though some, I think, missed the mark slightly as I likely didn’t communicate my challenges and my question as clearly as I’d hoped. Perhaps reading through my entire thought process might inspire someone to add an additional question or suggestion to help me along the way? Please help!