Browsing articles in "Conferences"
Nov 22, 2013
Comments Off on Just Ask.

Just Ask.

Every now and again, you need a kick in the ass. You get complacent. You get lazy. You feel like, “Yeah, I’m doing pretty good.” I was feeling this way in the early parts of the semester. I was “on top” of things. My students were relatively all engaged and learning, I was tweaking what’s worked in the past. I was doing alright.

But the truth was plopped in front of me by Heather Durnin (@hdurnin), a grade eight teacher. While presenting at the ECOO conference about all the cool things she does in her classroom, it dawned on me where I was really lacking. I wasn’t asking.

I was having all these “brilliant” (it’s relative, I know) ideas about how to make the learning more authentic for my students and then determining the idea wouldn’t work for one of the following reasons:

  1. I don’t have the time to set it up.
  2. I don’t have the energy to set it up.
  3. I’ll probably get turned down.
  4. I won’t get permission.
  5. The timing won’t work out.
  6. I don’t have the tech requirements.
  7. And so on, and so on.

I was killing the idea before it left my head.

And here’s the beauty of what Heather presented, she just asked. She took the idea and ask for help. She threw the possibilities into the wind and waited. She reminded us that she got rejected plenty, but for the few times it works out, it is worth it.

I’m able to explode the walls off the classroom by simply asking for others to join us, collaborate, teach us, be apart of the community by asking.

Simple and elegant, just ask. The perfect kick in the ass I needed.

Oct 29, 2012

The ECOO Experience #ecoo12

Last Thursday, I had the privilege of presenting my thoughts and ideas at the ECOO Conference 2012. My presentation was geared around my assessment and evaluation methods and madness.

I was proud to speak in front of such an intelligent, engaged audience who asked so many great questions and provided some varied perspectives. I have embedded below the slides from my presentation.


The conference moved this year from one where the tool was the principal focus to the pedagogical shift taking shape in education. Obviously, I like this move. I think too often we spend time worrying about the what and how of teaching, and too little time is spent wrestling with the why. This conference enabled that wrestling.

However, it also enabled something else for me, it forced me to focus my thinking around assessment, which ironically I spoke about. I realized, with more clarity than I had before, that assessment is right now the linchpin to the shift in education.

John Seely Brown, Michael Fullan, and even Nora Young, all addressed the shift in instruction, but none of them offered the insight into the shift in assessment and I fear that is underlooked.

Frankly, assessment and evaluation may be the structure of the system that slows down change the most.

I see it as there are two main cogs in education, instruction and assessment, and while instruction is slowly coming to life, assessment is still in a state of disrepair. It’s rusted over and will take some serious elbow grease to get it moving again.

And we can’t disregard it.

We’ve made cosmetic changes to evaluation, however, at the end of the day will universities and colleges accept our students if they haven’t jumped through the hoops of GPAs and averages. What then becomes of the innovation, creative problem solving, and imagination?

The ECOO experience has focused in my interest in assessment and evaluation, it has left me with more questions than answers and has enabled me to connect with other educators asking those same questions. I can’t wait to see where this takes me.


It’s Not About the Number

Dec 14, 2011

Cast a Vote: Moving Students from Apathy to Advocacy.

In Ontario, only 48% of eligible voters voted in the most recent provincial election. Pathetic.

That said, StudentVote (an organization that enables mock-student election to run concurrently with real elections) ran elections in more than 50% of all schools. Their participation is climbing.

And that’s why we came together. Well, kind of.

Last Saturday, I participated in the StudentVote Post-Election Consultation where a group of 60 or so teachers from across the country and across the educational landscape got together and talked about the future of civic engagement.

How do we move students from apathetic to engaged? The question sounds familiar because, of course, we struggle with this in every facet of education. But this was different.

Organized and run by the StudentVote staff, the consultation was structured, yet free-flowing. Basically a moderated discussion about what has worked, specifically our successes with StudentVote, and how we can engage students in further civic duty.

It was refreshing to hear so many ideas connecting our joy of democracy and ways to make learning about it, and engaging in it, more authentic.

And that’s where my head was, “Give me something real.” Not “school-ized”.

There were a few solid ideas:

– A day where students can “grill” MPs or MPPs. Get them in the classroom and don’t describe what you do, defend your [party’s] positions. Students would have to be informed on the issues and be able to intelligently ask questions. Will do this for sure next semester with my FFP.

– Democracy boot camp – This was run by the StudentVote people, but I didn’t participate. From the brief snippets of info that I got I see it as a one day all inclusive bombardment of our political system including panel discussions with representatives from the parties. I like this idea. I think students can get involved and maybe run one for a feeder school, or maybe multiple feeder schools, if not our school. Heck, we could invite parents and the community. Lots of potential with this one, though right now, many random thoughts.

On top of all the discussion we had a fantastic guest speaker of Alison Loat (@alisonloat) from Samara. This organization looks at civic engagement and is a “research, think-tank” (take a gander at some of the reports they’ve published). She spoke that the civically disengaged aren’t necessarily apathetic, but often they have negative experience with bureaucracy.

How can we move politics closer to democracy?


A few questions I had going in and coming out of the day:

1. How do we keep students (heck, everyone) engaged in matters of the state between elections?

2. What “simulations” / “games” / “events” are there for students to participate in meaningful authentic ways with parliament?

3. How can we make citizenship, both digital and otherwise, part of all curriculums, not just that in Grade 10 civics?

4. Does StudentVote really work? Does it really make them voters in the future?


The truth is, I’m not a civics teacher. I teach it as an element of the Futures Forum Project, but it’s not my baby. Being civically engaged and an advocate for our civic rights and responsibilities is my thing.

How do we create meaningful, authentic learning opportunities for our students and allow them to experience success/ownership of the direction of our country/province/city? How do we include them in our community?


My other line of thinking is for a possible follow-up post, but here a few quick random thoughts:

  • (1)The professional development was geared towards helping this non-profit organization. How does this effect teacher engagement on a Saturday? When professional development (or any learning) has a clear and direct goal are people more inclined to over-engage? Is that possible?
  • (2)The consultation was also “paid”. We each got money for showing up. How does that affect the commitment to professional development? How would have the turnout/engagement been different?
  • It was difficult to determine the hierarchy of the group. Sure, there was the organization who was “leading” the discussions, but it was a flat organization. How did this affect people’s willingness to share?
  • StudentVote was open to back channelling, yet it didn’t really happen. How could this have enabled more sharing? What is our hesitation? Are these the people to start that push with?
  • If a teacher is engaged in one element of school life (civics, elections, politics, sports, drama, etc.) are they less effective in other venues? Should we promote teacher specialization or breadth learning?
(Author’s Note 1: I refer to the day as PD, mainly because that what it was for me. A chance for me to develop professionally. As Taylor mentions in the comments, from StudentVote’s perspective it was a consultation. Fair enough, but ultimately, it was a chance for me to learn.)
(Author’s Note 2: Paid, may not be the right word, but the idea that participants were walking away with something concrete, is important. How that changes buy-in, and in turn, what that might look like in different circumstances is interesting.)



This blog is all over the place, I know. There are so many good, creative thoughts that came out of the day for me and I feel like this is the way I need to express them. Hope it is readable.

Oct 27, 2011

Technology Conferences for Teachers – Is It Time We Stopped?

Having attended ECOO last week, I often heard about the need to change the model for this technology conference.

There seemed to be a desire from attendees to do two things:

  1. Differentiate between the beginners in the ed-tech sphere and the veterans.
  2. Stop talking/presenting about the how we use technology and start talking more about the why we should use it.

Dan Ballantyne (@ballantynedj) and I, while driving home, decided to take on the debate of number two. Dan took the side that specific technology conferences are still important to facilitate a larger percentage of teachers to connect via social media and other technologies, where I took the side that we need to focus on the why of pedagogy and that the tools are just support, therefore shouldn’t warrant their own conference.

We recorded our debate to use as a podcast.  Enjoy listening.

Comments or debate is always welcome.

This podcast has been cross-posted on Dan’s blog Avoiding Cookie Cutter Syndrome.

Although, we ran out of steam, I believe the debate is far from over. I have been contemplating the implication of the debate over the last few days and I’ve witnessed and heard various colleagues’ frustration and interaction with technology.  I understand that my comfort with technology has allowed me to push the pedagogical ideas, where someone who is leery of social media’s influence is not able to get there, yet.

My thoughts have also been largely influenced over the last few days by the various conversations around BYOD. It is easy to look at the pedagogy that utilizes technology when that is your norm.  I certainly appreciated the Teach Paperless blog, Bring Your Own Contexts.

Oct 24, 2011
Comments Off on What I Learned at ECOO 2011 + A Few Extras

What I Learned at ECOO 2011 + A Few Extras

The thing about conferences is that it is rarely the presentations that promote the most learning.

Yeah, they are good in stimulating something in the brain, but it generally happens in the times between sessions around the lunch table, coffee breaks and, in the case of ECOO, around the iPad where learning becomes something more than a PowerPoint presentation.

I was lucky enough to have attended the ECOO 11 Conference in Toronto last week. On top of that, I was privileged to deliver two presentations so I could hopefully stimulate some conversations for people.

But the real luck is in the time. I had so much great collaborative time with my co-presenters and others, that I was able to really push my learning.

So, then what did I learn:

  • I learned that there is a need and desire for taking technology conferences and including less about the tools and more about the underlying philosophy that moves education.  I heard multiple times over the days, how we talk so much about the how, we don’t spend enough time on the WHY.  This has me thinking that an un-conference held in Kitchener/Waterloo might be what we need, a sort of companion to ECOO.
  • I learned that the narrative form of video games is far more complex than I originally would have thought. I need to spend time “gaming for a purpose”, which I have not done.
  • I learned that nodding during a presentation is incredible helpful. It made me so much more at ease when I saw someone nodding to the gibberish that was running from my mouth.
  • I learned that technological hardware is fairly stagnant and that the real power is how the software/social media can address so many of the educational revolution ideas.  The changes in software matter more and more.
  • I learned that facilitating a discussion as your presentation, looks messy and may make you question your being there, but it is essential to moving the ball.
  • I learned that authenticity might be my new favourite word when describing where education should be going.

Here are a few of my  tweets from the conference:


Delivered: Friday, October 21st @ 9:30am with Anne Doelman, Christy Wood, Dave Lambert and Emily Schmuck

FFP Presentation ECOO

Delivered: Friday, October 21st @ 1:45pm with Daniel Ballantyne

Authentic Assessment Presentation – ECOO 2011

May 16, 2011

Building Capacity for Unlikely Leaders…

On May 4 and 5th, I was lucky enough to attend the Helping Canadian Kids Thrive conference in Regina, SK.  It was an excellent, thought-provoking conference experience.

I was lucky enough for three distinct exceptional experiences.

1. The Best Buddies Blues Band

This little outfit, pairing children with intellectually disabilities and intellectually able buddies, rocked the house.  There was not one person in the crowd of nearly 300 that wasn’t smiling as the unparalleled joy was permeated from the stage. It showed that the academics of school are rarely as important as we think in developing a society that works with and respects all of its members.  Easily the highlight of the conference and it had nothing to do with what I learned and had everything to do with what I was reminded.  Life is to be enjoyed, so live in the moments of joy.

2. Ryan Hreljac’s Presentation

Ryan Hreljac was the Friday afternoon keynote speaker. Ryan is known around the world for his Ryan’s Well Foundation where he has actively engaged in fundraising for various waterpoints around the world.  He is also known as an advocate of clean drinking water for all.  His presentation on Friday afternoon was understated and powerful.

Now, as a 19 year old, he stressed a message that he’s “not anything special, in fact, I was not one of those kids. But I found my thing.  My puzzle piece.”  He implored the crowd to find their own puzzle piece.  You can’t be Mother Theresa and that’s okay, instead be the best version of you.

He reminded me to find humility amidst praise, recognize that change is slow at times, fast at times (like when you are on Oprah –twice) and that whatever speed it is at is the speed it’s meant to be.

He spoke of the growing consumption of clean water in North America and the drastic effects that a non-conservation social attitude will have.

The difference between him and Craig Kielburger struck me as impressively profound. Rather than being a guy who has a million dollar marketing campaign, Ryan is a regular guy who goes about his passion.  Craig is to Don Cherry, what Ryan is to Ron Maclean.  At the end of the day, I’d rather sit and talk and listen to Ron Maclean as what is hidden is most impressive.

3. Reframing Leadership: Building Capacity in Unlikely Leaders

On Friday morning, a colleague and I had an opportunity to present on an explicit practice we have tried to implement and encourage within our school.  Our “framework”, as we’ve dubbed it, includes many tried and true leadership theories blended together working towards adding an element where we find, invite, help and support our at-risk students with leadership opportunities.

Our framework is simple.

  1. Unlearn and Rethink Leadership — It is our nature to provide leadership opportunities for our high flyers.  They naturally find these opportunities, however, when we re-frame what leader looks like, and how leadership functions, we also rethink which students can fill these opportunities.
  2. Discover the Point of Entry — Students who don’t see themselves as leaders or who lack the ‘leader attitude’ are most often going to avoid stepping up. We, as the adults in the building, need to find the hidden leader within but then also recognize that an action, specific task or specific issue might be the point of entry for that student.  Being recognized as a leader is sometimes the first step is recognizing yourself as a leader.
  3. Build a Culture of Support — Having a school culture that cultivates unlikely leaders is essential.  It can’t be one person trying to work with them all, we need to establish an ethic of where leaders (likely and unlikely) have strong support to try something and fail.  Allowing for failure and building from failure in a safe and positive way is key to transitioning an unlikely leaders attitude and vision of herself.
  4. Teach the Skills — Most unlikely leaders lack specific leadership skills and it is very important that we teach in the moment the skills that are necessary.  Never take for granted the skill deficits that these leaders may have and the great opportunities that will arise for these students to learn them.
  5. Identify and Overcome Barriers — One of the biggest things we can do to make unlikely leaders, ultimately successful, is to help them identify what the barriers are that they face and help them brainstorm the solutions.  It is imperative that we don’t provide the solutions or steer them away from barriers, rather it is important that these unlikely leaders face the barriers head on and build the capacity to problem-solve and overcome barriers in their future.

There was a bunch more in our presentation including balloons (a metaphor for building a culture of support), house of cards (a challenge in need of leadership) and some great videos (specifically Derek Sivers’ “First Follower” video.)  The slide deck will is below.


Reframing Leadership: Building Capacity in our Unlikely Leaders


Apr 26, 2011

Accepted: Thrive Conference and ECOO 2011

Excited that my three conference presentation proposals have been accepted this year.

This May 5 – 6, myself and a colleague will be travelling to Regina, Saskatchewan to present on the topic of “Reframing Leadership: Building Capacity in Unlikely Leaders” at the Helping Canadian Kids Thrive Conference.  Our presentation summary reads:

Many people can recognize a traditional student leader: confident, poised, well-spoken. Yet many students with the capacity to lead present themselves differently.  At Cameron Heights in Kitchener, Ontario, we have built an explicit framework that enables all students to uncover their passion, discover and build leadership skills and engage in school leadership.  By understanding that the biggest impediment to leadership is having support, members of theschool community have built a climate of supporting unlikely leaders. Our pursuit of social justice, character development and youth success is mirrored in our insistence that all students have the capacity to lead.  During our session, we will let you know how we built that climate, continue to build capacity, and continuously find leaders in the unlikeliest of youth.  But more importantly, we will spend a considerable amount of time discussing, brainstorming and developing capacity for you to bring the ideas and opportunities back to your hidden leaders

I will be uploading the slide deck here in a few days along with a blog post that I’ve written outlining what we have deemed our explicit framework for unlikely leadership.  I will include video / commentary etc. after the presentation.


Two presentation proposals have been accepted for the ECOO 2011 conference for next October. The first presentation is titled Cross-Curricular Collaboration: Using Social Media for Authentic Assessment” which I will be presenting with @ballantynedj. Our presentation summary reads:

What happens when you take two teachers from different schools, teaching different subjects in different grades and you give them a choice of tools? You get opportunities for students to learn with authentic experience, authentic audience and authentic feedback and assessment for/of/as learning. By embracing various social media tools Scott and Dan brought their classes together developing a cross-curricular collaborative approach to learning and evaluation. In this presentation Scott and Dan will take you through the methods and madness of their collaboration helping you understand and prepare to bring authentic assessment experiences into your classroom.

The second presentation is titled “Futures Forum Project: Building the classroom of the future…” which I will be presenting with a group of teachers involved in FFP.  The presentation summary reads:

Seven schools from the WRDSB participated in a pilot project geared towards integrating three courses (English, Civics and Careers) in an inquiry-focused, student directed, technology infused learning environment. Hear from the seven teachers who built strategies of collaboration and community to engage grade 10 students. Using creativity, problem solving and formulating great questions, these teachers created opportunities for students to follow their interests and create personalized learning experiences. Using netbooks, iPads, social media and other tech tools, students learned their way into the future everyday.

Needless to say, I’m very excited for these opportunities. I’ll post more information, including notes, thoughts and slide decks as they become available.

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