Stumbling toward my question… finally.

The brilliant @gnichols and @jmedved have often said that sometimes just getting yourself in front of the right question can be the work of an entire season of Cohort 21. That’s where I’m at this year. Despite knowing since the 3rd F2F that my HMW question was all wrong for me for this point in time, following a 5 Whys protocol with @lbettencourt that ended in tears (yes, it’s true), I still seemed unable to land upon a better focus for my Action Plan. As it stands officially, my question is this: How might we engage always-busy faculty in meaningful and just-in-time PD? 

Not a bad question, to be sure. But I know deep down that I chose my question based on the fact that I had already come up with a plan that would allow me to check off that box and consider myself successful at another season of Cohort 21. But that is so not the point of Cohort 21.

After the soul-searching conversation with @lbettencourt, I also knew that if I was being honest with myself, worrying about engaging the faculty in my new tech integration position was not super high on my list of pain points. If we’re supposed to be trying to fix a big challenge in our practice, I had to finally admit that, despite trying to avoid it, my greatest challenge this year was about finding a balance for myself in my work and personal life. Even trying to put it out here in this space I struggle with feelings that it’s too selfish a question to be worthy of inclusion.

Before we get to it (I’m stalling because I haven’t actually figured out the wording yet but I’m convinced I’ll figure it out by the time I write out my thought process), there were a few things that got me to this place.

First, @amacrae‘s Action Plan that led to the CIS Ontario Women’s Network got me thinking hard about the power that we women have to support one another. So many of us are in the same boat of struggling to be everything to everyone in our lives and feeling inadequate. That night at UCC connected me with so many likeminded and similarly-challenged colleagues. I had an amazing chat with @swelbourn and a few others and I remember talking very little about school or teaching, but instead commiserating about the challenges of being a working mother. The session I attended with Stephanie Young on “Gender Biases in the Workplace” provided some honest information about the real struggles of pursuing a career and raising a family simultaneously.

Second, the Twitter chat that I hosted earlier in the year was focused on finding balance and seeking personal wellness. It was such a great chat and it felt to me like it was a topic that needed to be talked about. So many of us struggle during the school year to find time to self-care, or feel guilt when we stop working for an hour to do something that is good for our own mental health. We all have different individual challenges but it seemed clear that balance is for sure a challenge for most of us.

Third, my blog post during the March Break Is this the new normal got such a surprising and supportive response from the C21 community. I was afraid to come right out and say that I was struggling with these things, but I felt so supported by everyone who left a comment with a word of encouragement or understanding. (Thanks @lfarooq @amacrae @edaigle @jmedved @acampbellrogers!)

Finally, today at lunch I sat down with two incredible female colleagues who were already engaged in a conversation about, surprise, surprise: feeling guilt and exhaustion about being a working mother. It was like a message from the gods. On this day, the eve of the C21 final F2F, I couldn’t ignore it any longer. I had to change my question. One thing that Gisa mentioned, which I couldn’t get out of my head for the rest of the day, was that she would love to interview some other working mothers and find out what their greatest challenges were, and what hacks they’ve developed over the years in order to manage. As soon as she said this, I could see the documentary video forming in my head. This was what I wanted to do.

How might we recognize and share the challenges of being women/mothers/wives/teachers/coaches/fill-in-the-blank-with-the-other-hats-you-wear ? 

So I have no fancy slide deck summary of my journey. I’m sorry everyone. It’s after 9 p.m. and 4:30 a.m. will be here far too soon. But I’ve finally landed myself in front of the question that makes me excited to start to find ways to answer it. And it might not be #perfect but it’s #goodenough for now. 

Thanks for reading, and for all of your support on this roller coaster of a year. See you all tomorrow.

The wrong question

Going in to Friday’s F2F, my HMW question was this: How might we engage always-busy faculty in meaningful and just-in-time PD?

To be honest, this question was not so much developed as it was pulled haphazardly out of my panicked brain fog in a desperate attempt to get myself together in time for the third F2F. I ended up having to leave the second F2F before it even began in November, and so missed the whole design thinking process that everyone else engaged in to arrive at their raison d’être for Cohort 21 Season 7.  

I felt lost. So, in trying to come up with a HMW question, I figured I would focus on my new position as tech integrator. I knew I already had some PD sessions planned with faculty coming up, so perhaps I thought if I used this as my question, I would surely be able to declare this season a success without too much additional hard work. I don’t know. But arriving at the WE Global Learning Centre on Friday, I was not confident in my HMW question’s ability to survive some hardline challenging. And was I ever right.

For the “Five Whys” protocol, I sat down with the incredible @lbettencourt, and in the kindest and gentlest possible way, she proceeded to ask me “why” in such a way that it was immediately clear that I had not yet arrived at the right question. It very quickly became obvious to me that feelings of guilt and of not being enough were obscuring me from finding a HMW question that would actually serve to help me and improve my practice. We moved from a focus on faculty PD to conversations about busyness, balance and wellness. As it turned out, and as Lisa (my therapist for the day) helped me realize, my original question stemmed from a fear of not being good enough – in new position in particular, but also as a Cohort 21 coach, as a wife, and as a mother. I made my focus on faculty PD because I was worried that my colleagues and administrators at school might think I’m not doing my job if, by the end of the year, I don’t have hard data demonstrating the impact I’ve had.

My biggest takeaway from the day, besides the big burst of fresh energy that I got just from being in the same room with my tribe, was something that @gnichols said right near the end of the day

“Being in front of the right question is far more valuable than answering the wrong question.”

I may not be in front of the right question just yet, but I’m pretty sure I’ve found the wrong one. To be continued…

Thanks to everyone who asked questions, provided encouragement, and was engaged in the struggle of learning alongside me on Friday.  

Update on last year’s Action Plan

As I promised last week, today I’m back with an update on my 2015-2016 Action Plan, which centred around the question “How might we restructure Communications Technology to provide more and better opportunities for personalization and project-based learning?” Although it was technically last year’s Action Plan, it was a large project of which I merely scratched the surface last year. The intention was to continue to revamping process this year, and I have made some gains in that regard.

In my final slide deck from last year, I noted four areas of focus on the “what’s next?” slide:

In some of these areas, I believe I made significant progress.

1 ) Continue to learn about Design Thinking, project-based learning, and blended learning.

Blended, by Michael B. Horn & Heather Staker

I read an excellent book, Blended, over the summer, which helped to clarify some of the language around blended learning, the various models that exist, and the importance of understanding the purpose of implementing blended learning in your situation. (Is it a sustaining innovation or a disruptive innovation??) You can also read my “review” (mostly just my favourite quotes) on my Goodreads profile here. This book will continue to serve me well as I embark on my new position next year, which has as one of its mandates to develop a blended learning framework for my school.

Dive Into Inquiry, by Trevor Mackenzie

At the EdTechTeam summit in BC in November, I was lucky enough to meet Trevor Mackenzie, author of the book Dive Into Inquiry, who gave me a copy to read. I devoured it on the plane ride home, thrilled with the possibilities that it explored about getting students to focus on their passions as a vehicle for learning. This served as a guide for me as I restructured the last four months of my course, and although I didn’t follow his formula exactly, the book provided me with some language and some structure to guide my revamping.

2) Continue to leverage my new toolbox and networks to keep learning and growing.

I continued to read blogs, both of the Cohort 21 variety and those of the wider educational community. I made regular use of Twitter to keep learning, which proved to be one of the best sources of professional reading I could have ever imagined. And I had the opportunity to present at two EdTechTeam conferences in BC, which allowed me to expand my PLN even further. Acting as a coach with Cohort 21 this year also kept me in touch with the culture of continued reflection and growth, even if I was not always completely motivated to keep up at all times. (See last week’s blog post: “On Failure” for more details about that.)

3) Redesign Unit 1 to cover more core competencies and teach process analysis skills.

This was something that I had intended to plan in more detail over the summer holidays, but it did not exactly work out that way. Summer has a way of sneaking right by us, doesn’t it? However, despite not having done a ton of advanced planning, I did manage to rework my first two units in order to cover a broader range of skills and tools.

Last year, when I taught the course for the first time, I divided it into subject-specific units: Intro to Comm Tech, Photography, Graphic Design, Videography, Audio Production, and Social Media and Marketing. The challenge, of course, is that each of these is such a vast topic that we could only cover in brief if we were to have any hope of getting through them all in a survey-type course. Students who were really interested in videography had only a month and a half to explore that area, and we could barely scratch the surface of it. This time around, I changed the focus.

Unit 1, “Fundamentals of Communications Technology,” explored the principles behind Comm Tech (what is it, anyway??), and we focused on developing fundamental skills such as care and use of equipment, file management techniques, copyright adherence, and project organization and management. We learned how to manage bookmarks and sync our Chrome browsers to become more efficient, and we explored how to use our digital SLR cameras for the most basic of photography and videography tasks. All of these skills would be fundamental going forward, regardless of what area students were interested in pursuing.

In one of my prouder moments as a teacher, I eliminated the traditional test from the course and tried for the first time a performance-based or practical test – students were simply to demonstrate for me their mastery of simple processes, and they were assessed as having “achieved mastery”, “approaching mastery”, or “not yet there”. Not surprisingly, this was much more time consuming — it took two 80 minute periods to assess the group of 19 students — but to me seemed a much fairer and more authentic way of assessing the level of students’ skills. Can they do it or not?

In Unit 2, “Adobe Creative Cloud and Design Fundamentals,” we explored basic design fundamentals such as photo composition and the principles of good design. We were introduced to a variety of Creative Cloud applications (e.g. Photoshop, InDesign, Bridge, etc.) so that students could become familiar with the interfaces and basic tools that come up in each one. Again, these skills were intended to form a baseline so that students would then be able to build upon them as they embarked on their in depth, independent studies in the areas of their choosing.

4) Curate lists of basic resources for every area of study as a starting point for student learning.

This goal shifted significantly based on the inspiration from Trevor Mackenzie’s book.

Finally, in March we began the independent units, which, based in part on Trevor’s suggested structure, I divided into two modules: Guided Inquiry and Free Inquiry.

My version of “Guided Inquiry” was probably more a hybrid of what Trevor Mackenzie calls Controlled Inquiry and Guided Inquiry.

In the Guided Inquiry module, students chose a piece of software from Creative Cloud’s suite of apps. They could choose from Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator, Premiere Pro, Animate, Audition, and Muse. I curated resources for each of the software programs, and over the course of about a month, students worked through the resources (mostly from the incredible range of tutorials from Adobe’s website), taking notes and completing assessments and practice activities along the way. This was based on my initial forays into personalized learning last year, which focused on just Adobe Muse and Adobe Illustrator as options for students. You can read about that here.

Throughout this Guided Inquiry process, I was in the unique position of providing support and assistance while students worked through the resources, rather than standing at the front of the class providing the actual instruction. I freely admitted to students that I was unfamiliar with some of the software, and would do my best to help troubleshoot wherever possible. But the focus was on working through challenges, and seeking help from peers who were working on the same software, rather than coming to me immediately whenever they encountered a roadblock. This was a huge step in the right direction. I was able to monitor student progress and provide feedback on the learning process, as well as provide targeted support where needed. Awesome!

Now in Progress: the Free Inquiry stage

Finally, upon completion of the Guided Inquiry, we embarked on the Free Inquiry module. This would be the chance for students to really dive deeply into their area of focus. The students’ choices for the Guided Inquiry provided the basis for their topics for the Free Inquiry. For example, if a student was interested in videography as an area of focus, then they had chosen to complete the Guided Inquiry module on Premiere Pro (video editing software).

(Here I switch to the present tense, as we’re currently right in the middle of it.)

For the Free Inquiry, there are two components:

  1. A report, in the format of their choice, which is intended to provide a medium for students to communicate the evidence of their learning for the module. Students are required to conduct additional research, explore more tutorials, and deepen their understanding of the basic principles studied in the first two units so that they can create the most effective authentic piece possible. (See component #2.)
  2. An authentic piece, by which students will demonstrate their mastery of their new skills by creating a product — whether it be a marketing plan, a website, a documentary, a YouTube channel, an ad campaign, an animation, or anything else they choose! One requirement of the authentic piece is that it have an authentic audience outside of the teacher or the class. Students needed to think deeply about how they can create something that has a connection to the outside world, and I have been so impressed by the projects that some of them are choosing to undertake. One student is developing a marketing plan and website for the clothing company that he’s just started with a friend. Another is creating a promotional video for her mother’s jewellery company. Another is planning a complete design, including signage, menus, and staff uniforms, of a restaurant her father is starting. Still others are creating a shop on Redbubble where they will produce products like t-shirts and phone cases out of their original photos.

This process has been incredible for me to be a part of. Although I certainly learned several things along the way about the need to be clearer in my expectations and instructions, I have been blown away by the quality of ideas that students are proposing for their authentic piece, and the planning that they are doing to make their ideas come to life. Each class, I meet with individual students for nearly the entire 80 minutes, asking questions, getting updates on their progress, and providing feedback, ideas, resources for them to check out. Even more so now than during the Guided Inquiry, I feel like I am bringing so much more value to students in this role as coach or facilitator than I ever could as a teacher instructing the whole group from the front of the class.


In all, I would consider this process a success. I do not want to be content with how this has gone and leave it at that – I know that I can do better. However, I do feel as though the progress I’ve made will make it easier for another teacher to take on the teaching of Comm Tech in my absence next year without having to worry about lacking some of the technical skills that are the focus of the course.

I still have some lingering How Might We questions that I can make a focus going forward. How might I be clearer in my expectations? How might I present exemplars or provide ideas without limiting students’ creativity? How might I best help those students who lack motivation, struggle with time management, or seem not to have a passion that they want to tap into for their project? And how on earth will I assess all of these projects that are so vastly different from one another??

I would love to hear any ideas that you might have about how to continue to improve this process and make it as valuable as possible for all involved.

On Failure

This blog post has been rattling around in my brain, partially formed, for some time now. Something inside me was not willing to let it out by actually sitting down and writing it and then hitting “post”. But the time has come. Yesterday, catching up on my fellow Cohort-ers blogs, I came across @lmcbeth’s  “I’m starting my vlog” and @sregli’s “Do I need more grit?” blog posts. These two posts were the kick in the pants that I needed to come clean about my own failure lately. I know that the Cohort 21 gang is not a judgmental group, but there is still a certain amount of fear around sharing your shortcomings in a public forum such as this.

The Action Plan failure

At the third F2F, I was excited to come up with a second action plan for my second year as a member of Cohort 21. With an eye to my eventual goal of taking on more of a leadership role with regards to technology at CDS, I focused my action plan on this HMW question: How might we manage and improve the student user experience with teacher resources and learning management software?

Way back in January, shortly after having finalized my Action Plan question, I had an email from the Adobe Education Exchange detailing the upcoming start of a new free course on their education platform: “User Experience Design: UX to UI”. The description read as follows:

In this course participants will start off examining the users needs and creating relevant documentation that allows a digital, interactive project to have a better fitting, functional, final design

I was elated. This was exactly what I needed to take action on my action plan. I enrolled and anxiously waited for the start of the course on February 13. And then…

… it was snowboard season and I was all of a sudden overwhelmed by the amount of work that was required to convene that league.

… my Comm Tech course got incredibly busy as I was developing brand new content for students to work with as part of a guided inquiry module.

… I told myself that I would spend March Break catching up on the four weeks of coursework that I hadn’t even yet begun.

… March Break was almost over and I still hadn’t opened up the course, let alone completed a single assignment or participated in a single weekly live class.

… I essentially gave up and considered myself a massive failure for enrolling in a course and not taking a single step to complete it.

So my initial excitement about the relevance and the timeliness of the course ended up crumbling into a mountain of feelings of failure and inadequacy. Now, with just days to go before the final F2F, I haven’t taken a single step toward implementing my Action Plan: no research, no reading, no polling of stakeholders, nothing. #epicfail

The blogging failure

Last year, I felt like a rockstar blogger. I composed posts in my head while driving home from work or walking the dogs, and then I actually sat down to write them within a reasonable amount of time. This year, I’m not sure what changed. While I was constantly coming up with ideas for posts, for some reason I could not bring myself to put fingers to keyboard. I started out strongly, with five posts before the Christmas break, but since then, I’ve stagnated. I don’t get it: I really love blogging and want to do it more, so I wish I knew what had changed or how to fix it.

The coaching failure

I was over the moon when @jmedved and @gnichols asked me last April to be a coach for C21 this year. I couldn’t believe that they saw leadership potential in me, but I was determined to do a good job and not let them down. When it came down to it, though, whether at the F2F sessions or on blogs and social media, I feel as though I failed at this as well. Other coaches were able to offer excellent advice, ask thought-provoking questions, and share relevant resources with C21 members. I felt like all I could offer was a bit of cheerleading from the sidelines: “Thank you for sharing!” My fear of being inadequate and having nothing to offer held me back from hosting a Hangout or Twitter chat all year. I worry that I don’t even deserve to attend Friday’s F2F as I feel like I’ve contributed nothing to this year’s Cohort.

Everything’s not lost

Despite this general feeling of failure and lack of motivation lately, there is some positive news to report. I need to remind myself that all is not lost despite feeling like this year’s Action Plan is a lost cause. Here are a few things worth celebrating:

Progress on last year’s Action Plan

I feel as though I’ve made significant progress on last year’s AP, which was framed as How might we restructure Comm Tech to provide more & better opportunities for personalization and project-based learning?  

I am committing to writing a second blog post this week (!!) to outline some of the major changes and initiatives that I’ve been working on with respect to this.

New job

With tons of support and encouragement from @gnichols, @jmedved, and @lmcbeth, I applied for and was the successful candidate for a new position as Technology Integration Specialist for the Middle and Senior Schools at CDS. This is my dream position and I am so looking forward to starting it, though its start will be delayed for one more year because ….

Life changes

…. I will be off next year on maternity leave! Baby Weening-Levesque is due August 20 and Shawn and I are beyond thrilled.

I do actually wonder if some of the lack of motivation about the previously-mentioned failures might have something to do with the mindshift that seems to have taken place in my brain with the news that we are expecting. Hormones, maybe?


In any case, the (perceived) failures of this year will not define me. I am here to shout from the rooftops that I am putting this behind me and starting fresh. Every day is a new day, and every morning an opportunity to make changes that I didn’t make yesterday.

I loved this (always so timely!) post from Seth Godin’s blog and think it fits in well here:

Sometimes it feels like Seth Godin just gets me, you know?

“You learn by doing it. Actually, by not doing it. You learn by doing it wrong, by falling off, by getting back on, by doing it again. PS this approach works for lots of things, not just bikes. Most things, in fact.”

We tell our students that failure is a “first attempt in learning”. That it is through failure that they grow and learn how to approach a problem differently next time. Failure cannot be the final destination. It is simply a part of the journey – a station along the railroad, a rest stop on the highway, an airport where we have a layover. We pass through it, but it’s not where we stay and spend our time. So I’m outta here – see ya! 🙂

Learning Management and the Student UX: My 2016-17 Action Plan

Last year, my action plan centred upon restructuring my Communications Technology class in order to allow students to spend more time focusing on their own areas of interest. While this is still a work in progress—so far, I’ve revamped my first two units to try to cover a broader base of basic skills—my hope is that in January we will be able to begin independent exploration of our areas of interest. This is a big project for me and is likely to take up most of my attention this year, as I figure out along with the students how to best track and monitor their progress, support them by providing resources and small group instruction, and manage the logistics of 19 students each doing their own thing.

In the meantime, however, I’ve begun to think about how I could begin work on a second action plan—one on a slightly smaller scope, to give me a new area to focus on as well. Although I was saddened to miss the second F2F session at the York School and the design thinking process that everyone else had the chance to engage in, I have been giving a lot of thought to another problem that I could tackle in my practice. I keep coming back to the idea of the user experience (UX) in my course management software. At The Country Day School, a few years ago we moved from (the very expensive!) Blackboard LMS to (the very free!) Google Sites as a learning management platform.

The shift created quite the bumpy ride for both teachers and students. Some of the challenges included the following:

  • Teachers had to learn a completely new system for communicating digitally with students, and the platform was neither very user friendly nor intuitive to learn;
  • Although we created a basic template for teachers to use to ensure some consistency across teachers’ sites, the varied levels of comfort with the software meant that some sites were far more easy to navigate and use;
  • Students had to learn how to navigate this new platform, and the customizability of Sites meant that, despite using the same template as a starting point, every teacher set up their site differently.
  • Shortly after we introduced the new system, Google Classroom came out. Many teachers began using this platform in addition to/instead of Sites, which led to confusion for students about where to go and how to work with both platforms.

There are so many great tools available for managing resources and communicating digitally with students. With so many options out there, how do we know which to use and how to use them effectively?

To add another layer of challenge, we originally set up all of the school sites according to a single naming convention, so that it would be simpler for admin to gain access to and navigate to any site. Now, as the new Google Sites has come out, the user-friendliness of its new interface means that teachers will likely want to switch to that. However, the new Sites live within Drive, and making the switch to that will complicate things further. Not only will teachers need to learn yet another piece of software (albeit one that is much more user-friendly!) to make and manage their classroom resources, how will we ensure consistency among teachers and ease of use for students? Still other teachers are asking students to use a variety of digital portfolio products. Herein lies my HMW question:

My 2016-2017 Action Plan question: How might we manage and improve the student user experience with teacher resources and learning management software?

I know it doesn’t have much of a ring to it, but in the world of digital design, the user experience is king: Can your customers quickly and effortlessly find the information they are looking for? Does the design work intuitively?

Here’s a link to a great article by Design Shack outlining the importance of UX: Why does user experience matter?

The essential components of the user experience, according to Design Shack.

“UX is the experience, emotion, intuition and connection a user feels when using a site or product.”

Do our students feel frustrated when navigating their class sites? Do they intuitively know how to interact with it or does it require concerted effort? And will they actually use them if they are difficult or frustrating to work with?

Thus, my action plan for 2016-2017 will centre around a) ensuring that my own class resource Site is intuitive and easy to work with, especially given the chaotic nature of the second half of my course and the need to have resources that are easy to find, and b) trying to develop a strategy for all teachers to improve the UX of their sites.

I’d love to hear what your schools are doing in terms of learning management software and the requirements and/or best practices for teachers in terms of the setup of their digital spaces. Please share!

L’éternel recommencement

Wow. Il est difficile de croire que l’on est déjà en octobre, presque arrivé aux congés d’Action de grâce. Le mois de septembre s’est passé vite; c’est comme ce que l’on dit: le temps file quand on s’amuse!

Pour les enseignants et les étudiants, le mois de septembre représente toujours un nouveau départ. Tout le monde a la chance de recommencer de nouveau et de prendre des résolutions pour le nouvel an.

Les enseignants et les élèves ont tous la chance de recommencer de nouveau en semptembre.

Les enseignants et les élèves ont tous la chance de recommencer de nouveau en semptembre.

Pour moi, cette nouvelle année scolaire me semblait différente de toutes les autres. Après avoir participé à Cohort 21 l’année dernière, j’avais un sentiment d’espoir comme je ne l’avais jamais senti. Je me sentais équipée pour de nouveaux défis, et préparée d’essayer de nouvelles choses et de prendre des risques.

J’avais de grands plans de réécrire le curriculum de mon cours pendant l’été, mais je n’ai pas réussi à finir tout ce que j’avais voulu faire. La dernière semaine avant la rentrée, j’ai commencé à déplorer la fin d’été et à m’en vouloir de ne pas avoir tout fait comme planifié. Heureusement, je suis tombée sur une article sur Adobe Spark qui s’appelle “Why perfectionism is a creativity killer and how to overcome it.”

Cette citation m’a donné la relance dont j’avais besoin:

A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed at some indefinite time in the future.

A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed at some indefinite time in the future.

Je savais que si je décidais de ne pas commencer avec les changements que j’ai voulu instituer dans mon cours, à cause du fait que tout n’était pas perfectionné, j’aurais raté à mes buts. Je ne finirai jamais à préparer et à apprendre, et je dois l’accepter. On se plaint souvent que les élèves ne veulent pas essayer des choses parce qu’ils craignent rater; il faut que les enseignants montrent l’exemple et prennent de risques aussi.  

Alors, le premier jour de classe, j’ai expliqué à mes élèves qu’on allait apprendre ensemble cette année. Le plan de l’année n’était pas fini, mais je leur ai dit qu’on allait  le finir ensemble. Et je pense que les élèves appréciaient le fait que leur enseignant admettait qu’elle ne savait pas tout.

Je suis ravie que cette année j’aurai encore la chance de prendre part à Cohort 21, cette fois dans le rôle d’entraîneur. Mes experiences l’année dernière avec Cohort 21 ont transformé mes idées, ont changé mes priorités, et m’ont fait repenser ma philosophie de l’éducation. Elles m’ont encouragé d’essayer de nouvelles choses – les choses qui me faisaient peur, comme de mettre mes pensées sur un blogue, et de présenter à un sommet Google. Ces nouvelles choses ont mené à d’autres opportunités: dans deux semaines j’irai à Vernon, en Colombie-Britannique, pour présenter quatre ateliers en français à un sommet Google! Les portes continuent à s’ouvrir pour moi, et Cohort 21 m’a donné le courage de traverser le seuil.

J’ai hâte de commencer ce voyage avec les 30+ nouveaux participants des autres écoles CIS. Bonne année à tous!

Merci à @ddoucet pour m’avoir encouragé d’écrire cet article en français. (Encore une chose qui me fait peur!)

What Olympic diving judging has to do with grading in schools

Sometime in mid-July, I finally finished reading Tony Wagner’s book Creating Innovators, which had been recommended to me by several Cohort 21 members as a starting point for re-imagining my classroom. While I planned to write a full review of the book, Garth beat me to it (see his review here). Instead, I began copying my favourite quotes from the book into my Goodreads account, and doing so helped remind me of several of the main reasons I had wanted to redesign my Comm Tech course in the first place.

This quote in particular stuck out to me:

“Here again, we see a strong emphasis on collaboration (versus individual achievement); multidisciplinary learning (versus specialization); an emphasis on creating things and student empowerment (versus passively consuming knowledge); encouragement of intellectual risk-taking and trial and error (versus risk avoidance); and finally, a strong emphasis on intrinsic (versus extrinsic) motivation, with the absence of grades and the faculty’s focus on encouraging students to pursue their passions.” (184)

I’ve also been following Starr Sackstein on Twitter (@mssackstein) who is a big proponent of removing grades from the assessment question, so I’ve been thinking about that possibility in my classroom. See her TedX talk here:

I don’t know if I’m quite ready to go grade-less, but I do know that the way I hope to structure my class this year will make the traditional ‘one-size-fits-all’ scoring system or rubric next to impossible. How will I account for student risk-taking in my grading, in order to encourage students to take risks without the fear of being penalized by failure?

We are in the midst of the Rio 2016 Olympic games, and while I’m not an avid Olympics watcher, my boyfriend likes to have them on, regardless of what sport is on. Thus, this weekend we ended up watching a few hours of women’s 3 meter diving. Knowing nothing about diving, I was curious about how the scores were calculated, and what the degree of difficulty had to do with the score that the diver was awarded. As it turns out (and maybe I’m the only person in the world who didn’t know this!), the three median scores are added together and multiplied by the degree of difficulty, so a higher difficulty rating will allow for a higher possible final score.

A male diver performs a reverse tuck from 3-meter springboard

A male diver performs a reverse tuck from 3-meter springboard

Then, as I copied out Wagner’s quote about risk-taking versus risk avoidance, my mind returned to the world of Olympic diving. The bigger the risk divers take, the higher possible score they can achieve. Even if they are not able to perform as perfectly in a difficult dive as they would have in a simpler, less risky dive, they can still be successful as the scoring system rewards risk-taking. I wondered if there was any sort of way to do something similar when it comes to grading in my class. Could I work with the students to assign a “difficulty rating” to certain differentiated or individualized tasks, so that if a student attempts a more challenging task with a higher possibility of failure, they can still somehow be rewarded for the risk-taking in their grade? Can the work students do as part of the process contribute to their final grade, even if the final result would otherwise be considered a failure?

Should students, like divers, be rewarded for attempting a higher "level of difficulty" in their graded tasks?

Should students, like divers, be rewarded for attempting a higher “level of difficulty” in their graded tasks?

Has anyone ever attempted something like this? What might it look like, exactly? I’d love to hear some of your thoughts.


Lights, Camera, Action Plan!

When you break it down, my action plan can be summed up with this: Restructure Comm Tech to provide more and better opportunities for personalization and project-based learning.



It’s amazing how simple it can seem when you break it down to its essence, isn’t it? Even too obvious?  And yet it’s incredible  the amount of design thinking that went into realizing what was the right question to ask.

The power of Design Thinking.

The power of Design Thinking.


For my Action Plan blog post, I am going to elaborate on the points in my slide deck. (Having studied Presentation Zen with my class this year, I can’t bring myself to write paragraphs on my slide deck, and yet my ideas require some explanation.)



#1) You can’t do it alone (and why would you want to?)

Developing my professional network through Cohort 21 and on Twitter has been one of the single greatest parts of this experience for me. I’d heard over and over about developing a PLN and how it can be useful, but until I really learned how to use Twitter effectively, I had no idea how valuable it could be. I also learned that I really enjoyed blogging, and I can’t even begin to explain how excited I got every time I got a notification of a new comment! That feeling of being connected to other educators who are dedicated to improving their practice and who want to help you grow is a powerful thing.

#2) It’s going to take time (and probably more than you think.)

When you think big, you have to realize that you’re not going to be able to change everything instantaneously. I know that it is going to take me a couple of years to completely reorganize my course, and I recognize that it would be foolhardy to attempt massive changes without testing my ideas out on a smaller scale. That’s what this year has been for me: one of determining the problem that I want to solve, learning some strategies, ideas, and techniques for doing it, and trying out a new model of instruction. This summer, I will work on expanding that model, with the eventual goal of completely revamping my Comm Tech course. Baby steps!

#3) It’s not going to be easy (but the challenge will make it and you better in the end.)

This entire process has been super challenging, and finding the time to devote to it has been difficult. However, not once have I regretted taking the time to really reflect on my practice.

Trying out new instructional models in my classroom was not met with resounding applause, either. There were students who resisted taking responsibility for their learning, and who preferred for me to teach in the traditional manner. I don’t expect it to go totally smoothly as I continue to integrate design thinking, project-based learning and blended learning in my class, but I am confident that students will begin to see the value of it, and maybe even begin to embrace it! (A glimmer of hope: I spoke to a group of prospective students at our Academic Fair a couple of months ago and talked about my vision for the course: a structure wherein students would choose their interests and pursue them independently, curating resources along the way. A student came to me last week and told me that he’d already begun the process as he thinks the scope of the animation project he wants to do is bigger than he’ll be able to complete in a single school year!)

Next steps


#1) Continue to learn about Design Thinking, Project-based learning, and blended learning

I’m currently reading Creating Innovators by Tony Wagner and Graphic Design Thinking: Beyond Brainstorming by Ellen Lupton, and I have all sorts of articles on these topics bookmarked, waiting to be read. My summer reading list is a mile long!

#2) Continue to leverage my new toolbox and networks to keep learning and growing.

I plan to keep blogging about my teaching and learning. While my posts may not be as focussed on my Action Plan as they have been this year, I do love having a space to put my ideas and questions out there, so I won’t be logging off anytime soon.

#3) Redesign Unit 1 to cover more core competencies and teach basic technical skills.

As I mentioned in my last blog post (read it here if you missed it), my initial foray into independent learning yielded some good insights. I realized that there were several things that I needed to teach explicitly in order for students to be successful, so I plan to rewrite my first unit to incorporate more of those basic skills. Examples of these would include instruction on how to manage files, how to create a YouTube playlist, and some sort of activity that emphasizes the importance of following step-by-step instructions carefully. In order to really let students drive their own learning, I will also have to cover some more general technical skills in the first unit, as well.  As an example, this year, we learned how to work our digital SLR cameras for taking photos in our photography unit, and we learned how to switch to video in our video production unit. I plan to incorporate basic technical aspects of the cameras, for both photography and video, in Unit 1 next year. That way, students will have a baseline toolkit that they will be able to draw upon whether they choose to focus on photography or video.

This year, I used a traditional test to assess students’ understanding of photography and camera basics.  A practical, hands-on test to end the first unit would be a much more effective way to ensure students have the skills they need before moving on. (It was really ridiculous, actually. I had a question on the test: “Explain one of the three ways you can change your ISO on the camera.” Do I really care if they can explain it? Wouldn’t it be so much easier just to have them show me?!) I wonder if I was worried about not having a written record of students’ work to justify the grade they achieved. But looking back on it now, I can’t believe I thought that was a good test question!

#4) Curate lists of basic resources for every area of study as a starting point for student learning.

I want to be able to provide students with a starting point for each possible area of study. Chances are, not everyone will come to class on the first day knowing what elements of Comm Tech they want to pursue. Putting together a set of resources that students will be able to use to get a taste of the possibilities that await them will be one of my projects for this summer. And I can make it more fun for myself by trying out new ways of presenting those resources. Hyperdoc? YouTube video with cards? See more ideas here in Google’s Education Training Centre unit on Designing Interactive Curricula. The possibilities are endless!

Final Thoughts on the End of the Beginning


The Cohort 21 experience for me, this year, has been one of recognizing the value of going through these sometimes-challenging stages of questioning to arrive at the right questions. In so many ways, it was a version of what I want to see happening in my classroom – students discovering what they’re most interested in learning and solving, and then seeking out resources, support, and coaching to make it happen.

Never before have I spent so much time thinking about the challenges in my teaching and how to improve as a teacher. Like many others have mentioned in their final blog posts, I am not ready for this experience to be over and I am not going to let it end after April 22. This really is the end of the beginning for me. I’m not going anywhere and I hope that you will continue to follow my story here!

On my Action Plan presentation:

Huge thanks are due to @mrathier and @ecunningham whose beautiful Action Plan presentations (see Melissa’s here and see Emily’s here) inspired the design and format of my presentation. I loved Melissa’s use of an infographic style, which inspired me to try out Piktochart, and Emily’s simple format. Taking a cue from what I want my own students to do, I chose to learn something new rather than stick with what I already knew I could do easily. Lifelong learning, ftw!

Click here to view the full presentation.

Taking the first step toward personalizing learning

Although it’s possible that I haven’t yet articulated it as such, my action plan is centred around the idea of implementing project-based and personalized learning in my Grade 11 Communications Technology class. I realized after our third face-to-face session in January that my plan of attack was a bit misguided (see “Keeping the cart behind the horse”). While revamping my entire course for this academic year would not be possible at that stage in the year, I decided to take some small steps to try out a version of personalized learning for the tail end of our unit on Graphic Design.

This year was the first time that TGJ3M was offered at CDS, and I wasn’t sure how the timing would work out. My plan was to structure it as a survey-type course, offering units in basic technology skills, photography, graphic design, video & audio production, and social media. The graphic design unit had a lot of elements, including technology instruction in Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator, and Muse; partway through it, the plan was to introduce the ISU – a large, self-directed project where students would use some of the tools they’d learned to create a media campaign. As most teachers quickly find out, even when they’ve taught a course more than once, the school year seems to disappear before your eyes. Before you know it, exams are looming and you’re not where you’d planned and hoped to be. Comm Tech was no different for me. We’d barely scratched the surface of InDesign and we were already getting late in the year.

How did it get so late so soon?

As frustrating as it seemed at first, it turned out that this was a gift from the Cohort21 gods, who must have known that I needed to stop thinking about my action plan in terms of next year, and do something now to implement it. I still needed to cover Muse and Illustrator, but there was no way that, in the time we had, students could learn both with enough depth to actually create something with them. Enter the personalization bit: after being introduced to the concept of the ISU, students needed to choose which program would serve them best for their end-of-year project. Muse would be for the wannabe web designers, whose media campaign would include a website, and Illustrator would be for those who wanted to create a logo as part of their campaign. We watched introductory videos for both, and then students were off to the races.

Self-Directed Learning Module

In the weeks leading up to what I came to call the Self-Directed Learning Module, I explored the extensive collections of short, simple how-to videos found on, copying video URLs and descriptions to two separate hyperdocs (hyperdocs defined). I divided each module into three sections: Getting Started (short, basic introductory videos for the key tools for each program), Assessment for Learning (a series of videos with sample files for students to create either a logo or a website along with the videos), and Independent Learning (a section for students to seek out resources that answer their burning questions or teach them additional tools). For each video, students were to take detailed notes to look back on for reference. Each section was followed by a reflection and a learning skills self-assessment.

You can view each document here:

Adobe Illustrator Self-Directed Learning Module

Adobe Muse Self-Directed Learning Module

I knew they were long documents so I tried to make use of some of the tools in Docs to make it easier to navigate. I created bookmarks for each section and made a footer with links to each bookmark. Just recently, Docs also introduced the new “Outline” feature, which recognizes your headings and uses the grey space beside your doc to create a “smart” table of contents.

Learning skills are something that I don’t keep track of as much as I should; I had students complete a self-assessment of their learning skills three times throughout the process, and my final assessment at the conclusion of the module included my take on their work habits and learning skills. (Needless to say, students’ perceptions of how hard they’re working often differed from my own!)

Students had to reflect upon their learning skills and work habits after each section of the module. (Click the image to view the entire Self-Assessment form.)

Students had to reflect upon their learning skills and work habits after each section of the module. (Click the image to view the entire Self-Assessment form.)

The final time they completed the self-assessment, I used advanced Google Forms tools (“Go to page based on answer”) to have students provide the basic information required for a Certificate of Completion, and used the Add-on Form Publisher to automatically generate a certificate and email it to students. I liked the idea of incorporating the idea of badging into the process, and it also made it easier for me to see exactly which students had fully completed the module.

A custom, automated certificate brought in a "badging" element to the module.

A custom, automated certificate brought in a “badging” element to the module.

If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em!

One of the challenges I identified in the first step of the action plan process was that I was beginning to find it difficult to stay far enough ahead of the students to feel like the expert. Although I knew my way around Illustrator and Muse, this self-directed learning module was a perfect opportunity for me to learn along with the students. I gave myself homework, and I went through the video-watching and note-taking process just as the students did. Knowing exactly what was in the videos made me a better resource for my class – I faced some of the same difficulties they did, and my background knowledge of the software could help to fill in the blanks where the videos did not cover something. I was able to use my notes as an example for students, as I found that many of them didn’t really know how to take effective notes (I saw a lot of video summaries in place of notes).  

I was able to use my notes as an example for students; I don't know if they've ever had much explicit instruction on how to take effective notes.

I was able to use my notes as an example for students; I’m not sure if they’ve ever had much explicit instruction on how to take effective notes.

During class, I used the time to respond to student questions and go through their documents, making comments on their notes and reflections: How could you take better notes to help you remember a process more effectively? Could practicing with the software as you watch help you to retain things better? What do you do when a video doesn’t explain something thoroughly?


This process was certainly not all roses. Trying to keep students on track and using their class time effectively was a challenge. I had a hard time balancing the “independent work time” with my desire for students to act as resources for one another and try to problem-solve together (in my class, at least, this often quickly devolves into social time). I found it frustrating that despite writing what I thought were crystal-clear instructions, students seemed not to read them. I spent most of the class periods responding to questions whose answers were contained either within the document or within the videos or webpages. Part of the intent for this module was for students to recognize the vast network of resources available to them when they wanted to learn something, and my hope was that they would try to find an answer before turning to me. I’d love to hear some ideas about how to help students work towards greater independence and resilience in the face of setbacks. I want to create a culture of independence and problem-solving in my classroom next year – does anyone have any activities that I could use to start the year off on the right foot?



Despite the challenges and frustration, I believe that this was a valuable experience both for me and for my students. It was awesome to see some students embrace the freedom of working at their own pace, and I could tell that they enjoyed having the freedom to choose what to learn. I was able to spend more time supporting and facilitating individual student learning and answering questions, and less time trying to deliver content to a large group. My biggest takeaways are to keep instructions simple, and next time I might divide the three sections into three separate documents, with a clearer structure (part 1, part 2, part 3 as opposed to my three randomly-named sections). Does anyone have any other feedback or ideas for making this a more successful experience for all?

My action plan goal will remain to work towards a completely revamped course for next year with a personalized structure based on larger projects. In the meantime, however, I will take some of the lessons learned from this experience to support my students as they work on their ISUs.

Getting Geeky with Google

The winter term at school has been a crazy one. Between teaching, grading, reports, coaching, and all of the other things that tend to accumulate as the year goes on, I was literally counting the seconds until my March Break began. And no, I was not headed off to some warm, exotic destination to sip piña coladas on a beach. Nope, I was staying close to home with my pooches, catching up on some much-needed sleep, and tackling some long-overdue projects at home. One item on my massive To Do list is to write a blog post and to reflect on my action plan so far. Another is to complete Level 2 of the Google Educator program. And this is what brings me here now.

My March Break has consisted of lots of quality walks with the dogs, including this one. Despite not going somewhere tropical for the break, there's lots to appreciate about staying home and getting stuff done!

My March Break has consisted of lots of quality walks with the dogs, including this one, this morning. Despite not going somewhere tropical for the break, there’s a lot to appreciate about staying home and getting stuff done!


I’ve spent the past couple of mornings working through the Google Educator Level 2 lessons. My boyfriend thinks I’m crazy for spending my days off doing “school work”, but I love learning new things, and it’s a bonus if the things I’m learning can help me to improve my teaching practice or my efficiency in my work life. I truly hope that my desire to continue learning every day will also inspire my students (or even just one of them!) to recognize the importance of being a lifelong learner, and to realize that learning for its own sake– and not for getting “A’s”– is the key to loving the process.

I highly recommend the Google Certified Educator program to anyone who wants to improve their practice. Level 1 I found quite simple, but even though I was already a fairly accomplished user of GAFE (Google Apps for Education) tools, I certainly learned a few new things. The program is consistently focused not just on learning how to use tools effectively, but how to use them in order to improve your pedagogy and your efficiency. The lessons underline the collaborative and interactive possibilities with many of the tools, and they recognize the importance of helping educators stay organized and on top of their grading and feedback cycles.

Here are a few of the key ideas that I’ve gleaned from the Level 2 training:

Add-ons for Google Docs, Sheets, and Forms:

  • Thanks to the genius of Leslie McBeth’s GAFE summit presentations, I’d already been introduced to the world of Add-ons and how they can make the feedback cycle more authentic, timely, and efficient. I’ve been using DocAppender (a Forms add-on) in my class this year, and every student has a Doc that contains all of their feedback, from general observations to test scores, from peer assessments to full rubrics. It changed my life and allowed me to give FAR more feedback than I’d ever been able to provide to students, and it keeps it all in one place for students.
  • There are so many more add-ons available than I’ll ever be able to master. But I’ve explored a few of them, and here are some of my favourites: autoCrat (for making custom Docs or PDFs out of form responses), Flubaroo (for auto-grading quizzes), Yet Another Mail Merge (for creating custom replies for technology booking requests sent to the library), Form Notifications (for getting notified every time a form is submitted), and FormPublisher (similar to autoCrat). Staying on top of the add-ons and extensions available and how to use them could be a full-time job, but I’m keeping it as a priority for my professional development time, as they’ve probably made the biggest difference in my teaching, assessment, and workflow than any other tool I’ve encountered.

The endless possibilities for personalizing learning (a huge component of my action plan) through Google tools:

  • Docs: creating  interactive documents for guiding students on a personalized learning journey; using Tables of Contents, Bookmarks, and internal and external hyperlinks to help students navigate the Doc.
  • Forms: self-assessment, peer-assessment, and teacher-assessment forms; using forms for quick understanding checks (autograded using Flubaroo); using “choose your own adventure” features on Forms to help ensure understanding; using Forms to auto-fill and customize rubrics using Form Publisher or autoCrat add-ons.
  • YouTube: using annotations and cards to make my flipped lesson videos more interactive and useful for all learners.
  • Sites & Blogs: using Sites and/or blogs to create digital portfolios for students to display, reflect on, and share their learning journey throughout the year.

The continuous learning that I need to engage in:

The lessons on using Google Sheets for data analysis were way above my level of comprehension. Although they linked to pages with explanations, even those were too complex for my non-mathematical brain to understand. I’ve added a course on using Google Sheets to my playlist so that I can continue to learn and challenge myself to understand the tool more thoroughly and leverage it more effectively for my data tracking.

"All this learning is hard work! I thought we were on vacation!"

“All this learning is hard work! I thought we were on vacation!”

In all, working through this training has reminded me once again of the importance of staying current with technology to ensure that a) I’m providing my students with the best and most personalized learning experience possible, b) I’m giving effective and timely feedback, and c) I’m modeling the value of self-directed and passion-based learning. There are SO many amazing tools available to us, and taking the time to learn about them, practice them, and try them out in my practice is so fun and rewarding.

And reading Leslie’s recent blog posts about her experiences with the Google Certified Innovator program have helped me to set my next goals for my own professional development! Happy March Break, everyone! I hope you’re finding it restful and re-energizing – I know that I am!