Final reflections on CONT-702

As I wrap up the final module of my summer AQ, Integration of Information and Computer Technology in Instruction, Part 2, I am prompted to reflect on my learning. And what better place than a blog for doing that? 

Module 1: A Vision of 21st Century Learning

Module 1 focused on setting the stage for technology integration by emphasizing the philosophical and pedagogical basis for integration technology in the classroom. For me, this was really valuable, as one of my primary goals in the course was to develop my understanding of what it really means to integrate technology in a meaningful way, and not just as a fun add-on or an excuse to try out new tools (because, let’s face it, I really like trying out new tools!). Using technology can help to shift the classroom environment from the traditional, factory model of churning out clones to one that values innovation, creativity, problem-solving and collaboration. As the technology integration specialist at my school, I have a particularly important responsibility of vetting technology tools before introducing them to my colleagues, and so it is key that I ensure that I have this framework in mind at all times.

The suggestions of my fellow candidates of a couple of specific technologies piqued my interest as well. Anchor FM, a tool for creating and distributing podcasts, got me thinking about how easily podcasting would fit into my Comm Tech curriculum, and further discussions and modules really solidified for me the value of podcasting for developing student skills of communication and critical thinking. 

Module 2: The 21st Century Classroom

Module 2 focused on exploring inquiry-based, flipped, and blended learning. In this module, I was able to solidify my belief that going fully “flipped” in my classroom is not the way to go, but at the same time, I recognized that there are so many more ways of blending learning than simply using screencast videos to teach concepts. The value of blended learning was made more apparent, not just in its ability to support more personalized learning for students, but also in the way it takes advantage of existing resources and tech tools to free up the teacher to do impactful work beyond direct instruction, like providing more feedback and personalized support to students.  

The major assessment for this module was the creation of an inquiry-based lesson plan, and I was so excited to be able to take a couple of loose ideas that had been rolling around my brain for a while and fashion them into a coherent project plan that I will actually be able to use come September. 

Module 3: Instructional Strategies

The third module brought with it two more tasks that had immediately practical implications for the upcoming academic year. I got to explore augmented reality as a new instructional strategy and developed a project for my work with the grade 7 guidance classes next year. I also was tasked with creating a teacher workshop using one of several instructional strategies, and so I was able to create a complete resource for a Tech Breakfast for teachers in the fall, a practice I started this past spring and plan to continue. Two birds, one stone! 

Module 4: Connect!

This was another valuable module that focused on various ways of connecting – to students, to other teachers, to parents, and connecting our students to the wider world. I had two major takeaways from this unit. First, I want to be more proactive with my communication with parents to ensure that positive communication sets the tone for the year. Rather than communicating with parents only when something is going wrong, I want to share good news stories and successes from our class. Second, reflecting on the PLN that I have, between Twitter, blogging, reading blogs, and using Google Hangouts, I realized what a huge impact that my PLN has on my professional learning on a daily basis. I feel gratitude for having the opportunity to participate in these forums and learn from others who are far wiser and more experienced than I am. As a result, I want to share my experience with the faculty at my school, so I plan to run a Tech Breakfast all about dipping your toes into the PLN water in order to start taking charge of your own professional development. I got some great feedback from fellow candidates about making sure that this is done in a low-pressure way that is not intimidating.

Module 5: Skills for a Digital Age

Finally, module 5 focused on digital citizenship and 21st century skills. I got to explore new resources to support digital citizenship in the classroom, and I uncovered several ideas (from course readings and other candidates’ posts) for embedding these lessons as a regular part of my Comm Tech class. My work with the grade 7s on digital citizenship as part of their Guidance classes will benefit from the variety of resources, especially those from Common Sense education, that I discovered. 

Final reflection

At the start of this course, I made a commitment to myself not to use any existing projects or activities as a basis for my coursework. Instead, I would create something new for each task, and try to use new-to-me technologies, or tech tools that I wasn’t very comfortable with yet, in order to stretch myself. Although it meant that several of the tasks and assignments took me longer than perhaps they could have, I feel as though upon completion, I now have a whole new set of classroom activities that I can implement next year. Because I’ll be teaching a new course, doing this also helped me to get more familiar with my new curriculum and set up several activities and projects that I will be able to use in my planning. Going beyond what I already knew and did in my class forced me to think creatively and try new things, and I’m grateful for having done that. 

Going forward, I still hope to explore many of the instructional strategies that I didn’t have a chance to explore in depth, and I still feel like I could continue to hone my criteria for selecting and using technology in order to ensure impactful and transformative learning for my students. But I’ve expanded my PLN, engaged in meaningful discussions with my fellow candidates, and used a significant portion of my summer to grow as an educator and renew my commitment to life-long learning. So I would call that a success. Thanks for everything, CONT-702!

My go-to tools for building and maintaining my PLN

I wrote this reflection on the value of PLNs for my AQ course, but my blog seemed like an ideal place to cross-post it given the content.

I already have a fairly well-established PLN, and I can pretty confidently agree with the sentiment found in one of the articles: “Interestingly, many teachers who are active online have remarked that they’ve learned a great deal more from their PLN than from any professional development session they’ve attended.” (Step 1: What is a PLN? Teacher Challenge) That said, much of my PLN has been established and built thanks to in person professional development experiences as well, and my PD experiences have been enriched thanks to the connection with my PLN. 

I have been on Twitter since 2012, though it was not until about 2015 that I started really exploring the possibilities for taking advantage of it for professional learning. I discovered Tweetdeck, which is a service/website that allows you to manage your Twitter feed more effectively, and that made all the difference. With Tweetdeck, rather than just seeing a single stream of all of the accounts that you follow, you can also follow “lists” (groups of people that you or others can curate) or hashtags. This allows you to choose what you see. While looking at Tweetdeck can be overwhelming, for me, I have found that it is the best way to really curate and find that you’re looking for. Twitter in general can be overwhelming, as well. The best advice I ever received about using Twitter is that while it can be a firehose of information, you are free to dip your cup in to collect a bit of water every once in a while. Like many of the articles mentioned, you can spend as much or as little time as you choose to. For me, it is five to fifteen minutes per day. By following the right people, I am able to discover articles, resources, and news that are up to date and relevant to my interests. Participating in or hosting Twitter chats, as well, can open up discussions and get me reflecting personally about my practice. Follow me here.

Tweetdeck can appear overwhelming at first glance but it is actually a really useful tool for sorting tweets by groups or hashtags.

I have also been blogging since the fall of 2015, when I was prompted to start a blog as part of a full-year professional development experience called Cohort 21. It is an integrated experience that basically allows you to work on a particular area of your teaching practice for the full year, with four face-to-face sessions with facilitators, coaches and other participants, while remaining connected throughout the year by blogging, Tweeting, and using Google Hangouts. For me, the main benefit of blogging is that it forces me to be a reflective practitioner. I don’t blog as much as I’d like to, but I love being able to share successful projects or classroom experiences, and I find so much value in reflecting on those activities that didn’t go so well, and hearing from others who have had similar experiences or suggestions for improvement. Obviously, student privacy is a big concern, so I do not post any photos of students or any details about where I work or particulars of my students. I have in the past posted some student work with the students’ and their parents’ permission. You can follow my blog here. 

I also use Feedly to read and follow a large collection of educational blogs. (I have a personal Feedly account, as well, for following non-educational blogs.) Feedly allows me to see all of the unread blog posts in one place, rather than having to visit each site on its own. My only complaint about following a lot of these educational blogs is that many of them have become monetized, and so there are a lot of sponsored posts and self-promotion that I find I have to wade through. I’ve had to start unfollowing some of them for that reason – not enough substance, too much selling.  A couple of my favourites: Seth Godin (not necessarily education-related but he’s got such good stuff!), EdTechTeam, and Cult of Pedagogy.

Google Hangouts is the third of my secret weapons in my PLN. Hangouts lives in my Gmail, which I always have open on my computer. Often when you think of Hangouts, you think of video chatting, for which it is a wonderful tool. However, I am a part of several group chats through Hangouts, which allow a group of people to communicate asynchronously but without having to navigate to a new page in the browser or check in to a different website. In particular, I am part of a Canada-wide educators chat that is one of the most valuable tools that I have. I have had to turn off notifications or else my devices would be pinging constantly as this particular chat is extremely active. But if I have a question – about what tool would be the best for the job, or a troubleshooting question about a particular app or service – I usually get the answer I need within ten minutes. For example, a teacher at my school might ask me if there is an app out there that does x y or z. I post my question to the chat, and the teacher thinks I’m a superhero when I have an answer for them before the end of the day. I am so lucky to be a part of that chat, and I am included because I made personal, in-real-life connections with some of these educators while attending and presenting at professional development conferences. 

Finally, I know that the next frontier for being a connected educator is podcasts. I simply don’t find that I have the right blocks of time to listen to podcasts regularly. (My drive to work is 30 minutes, but a lot of podcasts are longer than that, and I hate having to stop mid-podcast!) However, the one podcast that I do try to stay on top of as much as possible is Cult of Pedagogy. Jennifer Gonzalez does great work and tackles really pertinent topics. 

All of these above tools are my “go to” ways of fitting in professional development wherever I can. Having a PLN is all about a mindset of lifelong learning, and I don’t have to wait for the budget to allow me to attend a massive national conference in order to learn something new, nearly every day. I can’t say enough about the benefits of developing a PLN like this. 

One last thing that really resonated with me from the readings was this quote: 

“Too often connected educators are the worst advocates of connectedness because of their enthusiasm for what , and how they are learning. They tend to overwhelm the less informed with too much information that would scare off anyone who already views technology as an obstacle to overcome, as opposed to a tool to be learned and used effectively.” (Tom Whitby, The Connected Educator Culture)

I can certainly attest to this, as it seems like many of my colleagues just close their ears when I start talking about using Twitter. Does anyone have any tips or ideas for not coming across as overwhelming or preachy when trying to get colleagues to start exploring some of these PLN tools??

iPads vs. Laptops: the Showdown

N.B: I am currently enrolled in (and neck-deep in course content for) a summer AQ course on “Integration of Information and Computer Technology in Instruction, Part 2” and decided to post one of my assignments as a blog post. I’d love for my Cohort 21 community to weigh in on the discussion and fill me in on any arguments I may have missed! 

Inspired by a previous discussion in this course about the merits and drawbacks of iPads vs. laptops in the classroom, I chose to explore a series of articles that discussed this very topic. 

Here are the links to the articles I read:

For the love of laptops: As learning tools, tablets don’t cut it by Gary Stager, 2013

Day of the tablet: In classrooms, it’s the right tool for the job by Dan Brenner, 2013

IPads for College Classrooms: Not so fast, some professors say  by Ben Weider, 2011

The iPad in Education: Uses, benefits and challenges by Thierry Karsenti and Aurelien Fievez, 2013

My essential question that guided my inquiry into this topic was “Are iPads or laptop computers a better choice as a learning tool in classrooms?”

Interestingly, on, not one article that I could find on 1-to-1 computing was published after 2014. This leads me to believe that this site has not been continuously updated, as I am confident that there are many, many articles and research summaries out there that have more up-to-date information. Because of this, several of the arguments made in the articles, especially those that argued against iPads as a learning tool, were outdated and no longer relevant. Here are my summaries: 

For the love of laptops: As learning tools, tablets don’t cut it by Gary Stager, 2013

This article argues that laptops are the best choice for learning in schools. The author begins by talking about how he has been providing professional development for schools implementing laptop programs for many years now, and how the adoption of the laptop in schools “embodied a school’s commitment to realizing the dreams of John Dewey, Seymour Papert, and John Holt: to embrace learning-by-doing anytime, anyplace, unencumbered by the traditional curriculum or bell schedule.” Herein lies my first concern with this article. This seems a very overly optimistic understanding of the actual impact of the use of laptops in schools. While yes, laptops in schools provide teachers with the opportunity to do new things in their classes, the examples of where schools have radically transformed their entire structure and pedagogy thanks to the possibilities of laptops are few and far between. I can think of a few examples – High Tech High comes to mind, for instance – but I would say that as a general rule, so far, technology use in schools has been less than transformative of the overall structure of schools. 

However, the author redeems himself somewhat when he states that his “work has been guided by a desire to help kids learn and do in ways and in knowledge domains that were otherwise inaccessible. Computing, the act of using a computer to make things—programs, novels, art, video, robots—is the game changer.” I appreciate that he recognizes that transformation is possible in the things we ask students to do, thanks to technology, because that, to me, has always been the end goal of technology integration.

The author’s principal arguments against the iPad are these: 

  • “The iPad can’t do the things I most value in a computer for learners” such as the creation of executable files, programming, robotics, and filmmaking. 
    • I would argue that most of this represents an outdated argument that does not take into account the many new apps and tools available on an iPad for filmmaking (iMovie, Adobe Clip) or programming and robotics (Scratch, Dash & Dot, etc.)
  • “The iPad is a consumption device” suitable mainly for consuming videos, e-textbooks (which “reinforces a quaint view of education that transfers agency from learners to publishers”)
    • Again, this is no longer the case as the number of apps available for creation of content continue to grow.
  • “The iPad provides an illusion of modernity with no real challenge to the nature of schooling” and is a “tool of compliance, not empowerment.”

Day of the tablet: In classrooms, it’s the right tool for the job by Dan Brenner, 2013

This article represents the opposing viewpoint to that of Gary Stager. Brenner argues that given the demands of schooling and student needs, the iPad is the ideal tool for the job. He ensures that he is clear in his assessment that there is a time and a place for laptops (for example, he mentioned that he typed this article on his laptop, not his tablet), but that iPads check all the right boxes for use in schools including portability, creation and production of work, communication between teachers and students, and going paperless. 

The portability of iPads, as compared to laptops, is Brenner’s first arguments. It’s hard to disagree with this. The battery life, size, and weight, especially for the price (when compared to similarly sized and weighted laptops) are difficult to match. Score one for the iPad!

One of my own primary arguments against the iPad, and one that came up in the iPads for College Classrooms article as well, is the fact that typing on an iPad is not ideal. For writing an essay, taking down notes, or doing any length of written communication, iPads are frustrating. However, the author pre-empts this argument by indicating that during the iPad pilot project he is discussing, students were provided with keyboard iPad cases. This, I think is a good thing. Without a keyboard, an iPad is nearly impossible to do any writing on. 

The ability to go paperless in the classroom, with iPads facilitating both teacher-student and student-to-student communication, is another good argument. In the pilot project he is discussing, all student work is submitted digitally, assesses it, and returns it digitally, cutting down on paper clutter and the possibility of misplacing work. Again, this is a valid argument, though I would also argue that this is more than possible with the use of laptops as well. 

Finally, Brenner argues that iPads provide the tools to allow students and teachers to be “researchers, questioners, creators of ideas, and producers of innovative thought and knowledge.” In particular, he talks about iBooks Author, iMovie, and iTunesU as particularly useful tools for teachers and students to create content. IMovie came up as an important tool in our discussion in this course as well. The ability to use the camera and immediately edit clips into a professional-looking movie, without all of the barriers to entry of a high-end editing suite, is a real plus. 

Summary and conclusion

I am not going to summarize the other two articles but simply reference some of their arguments in my conclusion.

First of all, all of the articles that I read were too outdated to be of much value, in my opinion. Many of the arguments against iPads included data that was no longer true. In particular, the iPads for College Classrooms article argued that since iPads require slow finger-typing, they make written coursework difficult. However, that argument is rendered moot if students have access to Bluetooth keyboards connected to their iPads. Similarly, the same article continues that the “finger-based tablets are passive devices that have limited use in higher education”, since professors and students cannot use them to easily annotate resources. Again, with the advent of the Apple Pencil, this argument is no longer based in reality and does not apply. With the advances in technology and the addition of new apps and accessories, iPads can take a strong advantage.

Advantage: iPAD 


IPads have always had the advantage over traditional laptops due to their portability, weight, and cost relative to similar-sized laptops. However, to really make an iPad as useful as a learning tool as possible, an Apple Pencil and a bluetooth keyboard are almost indispensible. The addition of these accessories does two things: they add to the overall weight and take away from the portability of iPads, and they add to the total cost. (A single Apple Pencil alone is worth $115!) 

Secondly, none of the articles were written recently enough to take into consideration the development of a new type of laptop – the netbook – such as Chromebooks, whose cost is considerably cheaper than an iPad, and whose portability is just about on par. 

Advantage: NONE 


Another argument that should be made in favour of Chromebooks (I’m moving away from laptops now, as my experience is almost entirely limited to Chromebooks in the classroom rather than traditional laptops) is that they are ideal for a school setting because of the ease of managing and updating them. Updates can be completed remotely and services can be added or removed at the click of a button from the administrator’s console. 

Adding and removing apps from an iPad, and updating the iOS, is a different story, and I have the emotional scars to prove it. Every time there was an update, or a teacher wanted another app added to the iPad, each device had to be physically handled on an individual basis to do the updates. Not ideal when we’re thinking about the manpower and time required to do this. (If there is a management system available that I am unaware of, then please do let me know!)

Advantage: CHROMEBOOK 


IPads are intended as a personal device. If every student has their own iPad, then this argument is moot. However, at my school, iPads are a shared device. We have carts with iPads on them that must serve multiple classes at multiple grade levels. The difficulties encountered with this are numerous. Students are constantly leaving an account signed in that causes conflicts with another student’s account. Students have to worry that a work in progress might not be there the next time they go to work on it. 

Chromebooks, on the other hand, are designed to be shared devices and they eliminate the conflicts that occur when a student forgets to log off. A student’s preferred Chrome browser setup automatically appears when they log on, and all traces of that student are removed when they turn off the device. This is a huge win for Chromebooks for me. 

Advantage: CHROMEBOOK 


The sheer number of apps available for iPads is staggering (and sometimes overwhelming!). Chromebooks have traditionally been limited to apps that can run on a browser, but more and more software companies are developing Chromebook friendly versions of apps. For instance, a couple of years ago, you would be hard pressed to find a browser-friendly video editing tool. Now there are several. 

Advantage: NONE 


While many Chromebooks now have reversible cameras, I have yet to encounter a Chromebook that is as easy to use as a video camera as an iPad. For quick content creation, using sophisticated apps, the iPad wins in this department. Additionally, there is no version available for Chromebooks of the highly technical Creative Cloud software by Adobe, which includes Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign and Premiere Pro. There are iPad, apps, however, which, although limited in their scope, can provide a starting point for this software suite. 

Advantage: iPAD 


An iPad, by its nature, is a touch screen environment. Chromebooks are not, which can add accessibility issues, especially for young students not accustomed to using a mouse or trackpad. However, more Chromebooks are being developed that have touch screen capabilities, which could lead to the Chromebook catching up in this department. 

Advantage: iPAD 

So with that, you’ve heard all the arguments. I’ll leave it up to you to decide. Leave me a comment to let me know where you stand! 

Oh, and full disclosure from me: I wrote this blog post on my desktop computer, with my Apple Pencil-annotated articles open in OneNote on my iPad beside me. I created the illustrations below (my terrible first attempt at sketchnoting that left me with a terribly kinked neck!) using Adobe Draw on my iPad.

For me, the clear winner would be a combination of both, as I truly believe that both the iPad and the laptop have their place in different situations.

Is this the new normal?

Day 8 of March Break. Despite a massive list of “to do’s” and goals for this much-needed mid-year respite, I’ve only just begun to scratch a few things off and am already feeling guilt about time misspent. Writing a blog post was certainly one thing on that list, in addition to renewing my Google L2 Certification, prepping my final units for the third term, and doing a video course on Adobe Premiere Pro. These are on top of the almost-too-many-to-list personal “to do’s” that have been waiting for months for me to tackle.

We keep reminding Cohort participants that there is no need to feel #cohortguilt, but then why do I feel it so constantly?

It’s not just #cohortguilt, either. I feel like I’m experiencing guilt in every area of my life these days, and I want to know: is this just par for the course now? Is this the new normal? Will I always now feel guilty if I send my daughter to daycare when I’m home from work? Will I ever have the chance to sit and read my book without feeling like I should be doing something more productive?

I’ve always valued my professional development so highly, so it’s really hard for me to admit that I don’t particularly want to spend my personal time to study for my recertification exam. I am not particularly keen on developing a rubric when it seems like everyone else is enjoying themselves on a tropical beach. I can’t bring myself to start that Premiere Pro course because I’m afraid it will end up being like every other online course I’ve started this year and didn’t finish.

Is this just how it’s going to be from now on?

Seth Godin on the Cohort

Thanks to @jmedved and @gnichols, every morning I start my day with a small dose of Seth Godin’s wisdom. Here’s what I came across today (and I’m sure most of you have seen it as well):

For accessibility reasons, I’ll repost the original text here:

It’s tempting to seek to change just one person at a time. After all, if you fail, no one will notice.

It’s also tempting to try to change everyone. But of course, there really is no everyone, not any more. Too much noise, too many different situations and narratives. When you try to change everyone, you’re mostly giving up.

The third alternative is where real impact happens: Finding a cohort of people who want to change together.

Organizing them and then teaching and leading them.

It’s not only peer pressure. But that helps.

When a group is in sync, the change is reinforcing. When people can see how parts of your message resonate with their peers, they’re more likely to reconsider them in a positive light. And mostly, as in all modern marketing, “people like us do things like this” is the primary driver.

He continues:

If you want to make change, begin by making culture. Begin by organizing a tightly knit group. Begin by getting people in sync.

Culture beats strategy. So much that culture is strategy.

Sounds like Seth Godin could be an honourary member of Cohort 21!

So much of what he talks about here is exactly what this is all about. Finding our tribe, connecting with others who want the same things as we do – who aren’t satisfied with how things are and how they’ve always been, but who want to make real change.

Maybe we could invite Seth to speak at our final F2F in April?? 🙂

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.


A Blended Learning meta-exploration

Distraught at the idea that the Cohort 21 F2F on April 22 represented the official end of the year for this incredible professional development experience, I signed up for an online AQ course on Technology Integration with Queen’s University which began this month. I figured it would be a natural follow up to the growth I’ve already done this year, and would help me round out the spring term with a good challenge.

Just because I've officially graduated from C21 doesn't mean the learning has to stop!

Just because I’ve officially graduated from C21 doesn’t mean the learning has to stop!

So far we’ve explored the foundations of technology integration in the classroom and just been looking at ministry-licensed software, web apps, podcasts, and e-learning. Still to come are modules on hardware, the learner, learning cultures, and program planning.

A recent task was to present information on the benefits and tools available for e-learning, so I decided to focus on blended learning specifically, as it related closely to my C21 Action Plan and my own interests.

I could have created a poster, brochure, or presentation, but, never one to want to take the easy way out, I had made it a goal that for every assignment or task, I would try to explore and employ a different web tool to present my ideas.  My original thought was to create a website to promote blended learning as a pedagogical tool, but for the size of the project, it seemed like overkill. I still wanted to do something interactive, though.

I’d heard of the idea of using the “Go to section based on answer” advanced function of Google Forms, so decided to try it in order to create an interactive exploration of blended learning.

Here’s what I came up with. Check it out and let me know how it goes!

Blended Learning form

(click the link to try out the form)


The creation of this activity required quite a bit of planning, but, like many things, advanced planning led to smooth sailing when it came to actually building the form. Here’s the planning document that I used to organize my pages before I began building:

Building the 'choose your own adventure' form was a breeze with a bit of advanced planning!

Building the ‘choose your own adventure’ form was a breeze with a bit of advanced planning.

I can envision lots of possibilities for this tool for implementing blended learning (so meta, right?!). The ability to add images, video and text could make it a fantastic option for presenting content, checking for understanding, and revisiting areas of difficulty, all without any marking involved – a fully student-led and student-centred activity!

While planning, I referenced Sylvia Duckworth’s document “How to make a ‘Choose your own adventure’ story with Google Apps”, though obviously it was a slightly different process for presenting content rather than a story.

This was a fun experiment that I really enjoyed! I will definitely be looking for content that I can present to students through this format next year in Comm Tech!


Have you tried using the “Go to section based on answer” function of Google Forms? How did you use it? Can you think of other ways that you could try using this feature in your own teaching? I’d love to hear about it!

Be better than you were yesterday: words to live by

Back in the groove again. It didn’t take long, did it? March Break is already a distant memory, and for me, it seemed like the benefits of the break, and the feeling of being rested and caught up, were quickly swept away with the first bell last Tuesday. That said, despite the third term busyness, I haven’t been able to get one particular thought out of my head. After my last blog post (which I wrote before passing my Google Certified Educator Level 2 exam!), I’ve been thinking about submitting a proposal to present at one of the GAFE Summits (London, ON – May 28-29).

The Summit I attended last year in Lachine, Quebec was my first real exposure to the wonder of possibilities that Google Apps provide, and that experience has really shaped me – both as a teacher, and as a learner. I had been to inspiring conferences before, but never before had the learning that I had done actually make an immediate and continued difference in my teaching. All of a sudden, I felt like I just wanted to learn more and more. I became what I thought might be annoyingly preachy about the benefits of using Google Docs over the expensive and proprietary Word or Pages (“One version rather than multiple files that you email back and forth to yourself!” “No more lost USB keys!” “Gone are the days of not being able to open up other people’s’ files because you don’t have the software!”).

"Revision history" according to Microsoft Word.

“Revision history” according to Microsoft Word.

I and my colleague Melissa began the transition of moving all of our library resources to Google Docs, and we started making Google Tools an integral part of the research process workflow that we would teach to students.

Do you know the power of the force "Make-a-copy" in Google Docs? A game-changer when you're providing templates for students!

Do you know the power of the force “Make-a-copy” in Google Docs? A game-changer when you’re providing templates for students!


And the learning continues. In addition to achieving Level 2 in the certification process, over the Break I committed to eliminating Microsoft Outlook as my email client and jumping in to Gmail with both feet, even for my work email. I asked IT to forward all of my email to my school-provided Google account, I researched inbox management strategies, and I got to Inbox Zero. I have been working on fine-tuning my workflow to ensure that my email does not get out of control like it once did. With filters, labels, and multiple inboxes, I am already seeing a big difference in how I interact with the massive amounts of email that we tend to receive on a daily basis.

In any case, I am doubtful that I need to continue to convince you that I am wholly convinced about the merits of Google Apps for Education. (I’m sure that I will write another blog post or two about other tools that I love!) But when Leslie suggested in a comment on my last post that I apply to present at a Google Summit, I was stoked. It is a professional goal of mine to do something like that, and to be able to provide even one person with the same spark that was lit in me last year would be an incredible experience.

As I worked through possible topic ideas, however, doubts began to creep in. Who am I to think that I could possibly be good enough to present at a Summit?! I’d heard of colleagues leaving a session mumbling about how it wasn’t that great, or how they wished they’d attended a different session – what if that was MY session they were leaving? Or, even worse, what if nobody came at all? Could I fill a full hour with inspiring demonstrations and ideas? Could I answer people’s questions sufficiently? And, ridiculously, what would I even write in my bio?

I’m not writing this to get assurances about my worth or value in the comments – please don’t provide anything of the sort! I’m just exploring the sneaky nature of our self-doubt, which I know our students face daily as well. If we want to be learners along with our students, we need to be willing to put ourselves out there and be vulnerable as well. If we want to improve, we need to do things that are hard! Despite the awkward grammatical structure of this quote, it is one that I think is appropriate here:

Although this quote is all over the internet, I couldn’t find the original source. Image from Pixabay.

Here’s where I would love to hear your comments, though. Below are a couple of possibilities I’m weighing for a presentation proposal. I’d love some feedback. Would sessions such as these interest you? Why or why not? Could I word these summaries more effectively? Can you think of ways in which I could improve the overall appeal of the sessions?

Possibility #1: Growing Success with Google Forms: Improving assessment and the feedback cycle

Ontario’s Growing Success document/philosophy emphasizes descriptive feedback of student achievement and regular and ongoing tracking of learning skills and habits, but it can be overwhelming to keep up with this in practice. Do you find it difficult to provide sufficient and timely descriptive feedback to students? Do you find yourself scribbling notes about learning skills in this notebook, on this Post-it, and on that random sheet of paper? How do you keep yourself organized and your students engaged in the feedback cycle?
Come to this session to explore the use of Forms and Add-Ons to help to streamline your assessment and evaluation practices. Learn how to create a simple form to track learning skills and work habits and how to apply filters in Sheets to sort your data. See how to use AutoCrat or Form Publisher to populate a custom rubric with achievement levels and your feedback. Explore how DocAppender can help you to create a single location for a students’ assessment so that you can create a two-way feedback loop.

Possibility #2 (far less developed): Personalizing Learning with Hyperdocs

With an increasing emphasis on personalized learning in schools, explore how you can enable your students to pursue their own interests and learn at their own pace using Google Apps. I will share my recent experience with implementing a self-directed learning module in my classroom, making the most of existing online tutorials, the power of hyperlinks and bookmarks, and the feedback/conversation tools in Google Docs to allow students to take charge of their own learning experience.

If you’ve been to a Google Summit, were there areas you thought were lacking? What would be the topic of the presentation that you’d like to see?

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!