it’s been a while

It’s been a really long time but I’m back. Part of the reason why I’m back is because I started using Dragon dictation for Mac. I’m the first to complain about this program but I thought I should give a try in hopes of overcoming my frustrations with it as means of modeling how to use technology.

Since September, we have done a lot with technology in our classroom–many of the assignments are not new, many of them are similar to things I’ve done the past year but I thought I would share:

-we started the year by using to create a comic showing our classroom expectations. Our expectations this year were based upon “The Definite Dozen”–a set of expectations created by American college basketball coach for her team.   It’s a unique set of expectations because it focuses on students managing their own behavior.

–The first day of school my students used the iPads to create a Sock Puppet show demonstrating the routines that we have within our classroom. We quickly  shared these animations by projecting them onto the screen. What was amazing about this, was that it was an extremely meaningful assignment for them and it took less than 15 minutes from start to finish. In my opinion this is the beauty of the iPad in education–quick, easy, fun lessons.

-also on the first day of school, we jumped on the Q. R. Code bandwagon. To do this, I used http://www.weebly.comto create a website that would be linked to the codes.

-We talked about  infomercials: there structure and the descriptive language used to sell products. We watched a whole bunch of thems: the Shamwow, the Magic Bullet, and the Slap Chop were among the few that we deconstructed. From there, the boys used the descriptive language and the structure that we pulled from these infomercials and created their own using Puppet Pals on the iPod. We then shared these animations on our classroom blog.

–My students have all signed up for an Evernote account. All of our writing we are collecting within Evernote. The beauty of this is that were able to share the writing amongst each other simply and easily. Also, it allows them to have a digital portfolio of all the writing so that they can see their progress they’ve made throughout the year. In addition, we hope to use this as a way of teaching them organization and  management in the digital world.

–We signed up for Quadblogging last year. I really have an issue with using blogs unless they become a truly authentic writing experience. To truly do this, your blog needs to have some readers. This is Quadblogging comes in. You’re in a group of four, with schools spread out from all around the world.    The best part of this experience so far has been sharing our work and also comparing the differences and the similarities between our classroom and those classrooms in Australia, New Zealand, and the United States.

–Edmodo is the hub of our classroom. We’ve been using Edmodo to post assignments and share what we have done with the rest of the class. In addition, we have used this website to begin teaching the concepts of digital citizenship and online social skills. I hope to share a lot of these lessons and ideas on my TLLP blog  in the near future.

So. There you have it. My first blog post done using Dragon.  So it really wasn’t that hard but at times it was frustrating. I hope to use it some more.


Reflections on CATC Camp 2011

I could write in paragraphs for this post… but that ain’t happening.   Here are some words that came to mind when thinking about CATC Camp 2011.

  • patience…. I have none!  After listening to @dougpete I became very frustrated that I can’t have everything I want right now.  Money is always the issue and wish that I had an unlimited budget to work with.
  • humbled…  I am always amazed when I get the chance to work with educators that have taken one technology and learned everything about it.  Kim Gill and Cheryl Kewley, both teachers at Ryerson Public School in Cambridge, ON., are two examples of these types of experts.  Cheryl’s knowledge of SMART boards and SMART Notebook is amazing.  She rarely stumbled when the SMART board was acting up and was quick to answer questions of the participants.  Most of all, her practical examples of primary level SMART Notebook files was excellent.  Kim has many areas of expertise but demo’d the Livescribe Pen at camp this year.  I helped her out a bit but was mostly listening to her examples of how students can use the pen in the classroom.  I’m can’t wait to steal her ideas.
  • excited… to see the number of people who were excited to try new things with technology.  It is sometimes frustrating at the school level to not always see this happened.  Being around people who have a trying to incorporate technology in their classroom is amazing.
  • connected… it is great to hang-out with like-minded people, especially those that may not be classroom teachers.  I spent a lot of time with the IT technical staff and loved every minute of it.  In addition, I had the chance to connect with educators from throughout WRDSB, both in-person and as new followers on Twitter.
  • inspired… as a facilitator, I didn’t have much time to work on my own projects.  That being said, watching others allowed me to develop some new lesson ideas in my head.  In addition, I was excited to play with the eBeam interactive whiteboard that @markwcarbone  and @dougpete were playing with.  Although it has a long way to go, it is the ultimate geekerey to play with new toys.

Interesting Read – “Fostering Cross-Generational Dialogues about the Ethics of Online Life”

This is a post from my other blog: Citizens for a Digital World – my TLLP project blog.  I thought that I would post it here also!

In preparation for my research proposal for a Masters’ thesis and my TLLP project this year, I have been reading a great deal about Digital Citizenship and social skills over the last few months.


I stumbled across this article by Katie Davis, Shira Lee Katz, Rafi Santo and Carrie James.   (the wordle above is taken from the text of the article.)  I was immediately interested by the idea of a cross-generational dialogue that was present in the online conversations about digital citizenship.  It reminded my of a conference put on by WRDSB  a couple of years ago around this topic in which educators, community members and students were present.  It changed the dynamic of the discussions.


The online groups in this study focussed on five categories of ethical issues salient in online environments:identity, privacy, ownership and authorship, credibility, and participation.  In addition, the authors wanted to see the level of moral development and thinking that the participants had.  The three ways of thinking they identified as consequence thinking, moral thinking, and ethical thinking. The authors outlined how students move through each complex level of thinking “during the course of childhood, adolescence, and into adulthood.”   I found these categories and levels of thinking extremely easy to understand and a good way to break down social skill/digital citizenship instruction.


The study findings were not surprising yet still relevant.  The study found that adults “drew on moral and ethical ways of thinking to a greater degree than teen participants as they responded to various ethical issues concerning online life.”  In addition, teens exhibited ”a higher degree of consequence thinking”, the lowest level of thinking which focusses on “a concern for their own well being rather than the well being of others or the broader community.”


More important to me in my studies is that the study found “that the two groups [adults and students] were able to engage in genuine dialogue and find common ground.”  This suggests that teachers are able to engage students in discussion around digital citizenship and social skills.  In addition, the study suggested that the dialogues “provided opportunities for genuine, reciprocal exchanges between adults and teens” – something that is extremely important in digital citizenship instruction.


Check out the article – it’s a quick read with some good findings.




Book Review: The Art of Critical Pedagogy by Duncan-Andrade and Morrell

“Perpetual urban school failure is tolerated because deep down our nation subscribes to the belief that someone has to fail in school.  In fact, this quasi-Darwinian belief sustem is build into most schools through the existence of a largely unchallenged pedagogical system of grading and testing that by its very design guarantees failure for some.” (Duncan-Andrade and Morrell, p. 2)

This book will be a game changer for many educators.

My first visit when beginning a new educational text is to examine the “street creditability” of the authors who have put together the content of the book.  In this case, Jeffery Duncan-Andrade and Ernest Morrell continually articulate their ability to bring together their personal-practical theoretical perspectives throughout the novel.  As practicing teachers in both post-secondary and secondary institutions in the United States, Duncan-Andrade and Morrell outline their practical methods for engaging at-risk students in urban setting in critical pedagogy while consistently justifying these practices with a solid theoretical framework.

A reoccurring salient feature of their practice that spoke to me was their ability to engage students in critical practices while maintaining a high level of academic demand and rigger.  In describing their underlying principles for an application of critical pedagogy in a secondary English class in Oakland, California, Duncan-Andrade and Morrell (2008) state:

“Without agreeing on much else, we could agree with our colleagues in the English department at East Bay High, our on-site administrators, and state administrators that students needed to achieve academically in our schools.  Regardless of our philosophical foundation, we understood that our students existed in a world where they would be expected to take and perform well on standardized tests that served as gatekeepers to postsecondary education and, as a consequence, professional membership.” (p. 50)

As you increase and include critical pedagogy in a classroom, you need not jeopardize academic standards and expectations.  Duncan-Andrade and Morrell frequently address this issue by proving the high level of academic standards they placed on their students throughout the book.  In one situation, they had high school students examining university level texts and sources to acquire knowledge.

The authors also examined the relationship between critical pedagogy in the classroom and student apathy.  Too often teachers shy away from topics because some students in the classroom do not care about the topic.  Critical pedagogy can be one of the these topics as it requires students to have a desire to look critically at the curriculum and topics that serve as means to oppress them within society.  However, is forcing the student to engage in a critical practice not an oppressive act within itself?

A signifiant challenge was dealing with student apathy, student fear, and resistance in the context of the class. At times, prodding students meant telling student to get to work or directly confronting self defeating resistance.  These occasions often left sour tastes in our mouths; it seemed antithetical to our emancipator missions to force or coerce students to engage in critical work.  We struggled with an approach to students who verbalized that they did not want to participate in class assignments, even when these assignments emanated from students’ interests and addressed students’ concerns.  To let them progress through the course without developing academic and critical literacies would have been unconscionable, bit to use the threat of failing students to increase student productivity seemed equally unacceptable.  We ultimately decided that we would have to develop strategies to positively motivate students while also providing the mentoring and supports that they needed to function at a high intellectual level.  however, we were not about “getting on” students who were capable of more than they were producing.  After all, our role as educators required us to demand excellence from students even when they were not demanding excellence from themselves.” (p.96)

This was reassuring to me as I often feel as though “getting on” students for not producing is against many of my personal beliefs and understandings about student motivation.  However, at times, I do feel that it is appropriate – especially when the student is capable.

Finally, I appreciated the balance that was always present with Duncan-Andrade and Morell’s practices.  In particular, their understanding of the importance for students to identify and conquere the “master’s tools” and their inclusion of student experience and interest while continuing to include “dominate” texts and sources.

The authors (2008) describe the “master’s tools” as the ability for students to master a critical double consciousness by acquiring the “mechanical skills necessary to navigate oppressive social conditions and institutions and the critical skills to analyze and resist the hostility he or she endures and to develop a strong sense of community.” (p.84)  This ability to successfully navigate the hegemonic school structure while remaining critical is extremely important in the  ability for students to continue education in the present system.  Many educators are not yet with them and students will need to have the tools to be successful.

I made many connections with this idea in relation to my classroom.  Students with mental health concerns frequently struggle to learn the “master’s tools” of the classroom.  This struggle between their individual needs and learning style balanced with teacher expectations is an ongoing struggle.

Student experience is the key to success in the classroom.  Duncan-Andrade and Morrell describe an poetry unity that paired hip-hop text with canonical works.  Their reasoning for the inclusion of hip-hop into their poetry unit was “other teachers and members of the larger society perceived many of the students… as functionally illiterate and lacking in intellect” and that these assessments “ran counter to the our observations of our stdents’ sophisticated literacy practices that accompanied their participation in hip-hop culture.” (p.59)  John Dewey’s ideas come to mind: “the child should be at the center of the curriculum.” 

If this is the case, why do so many teachers continue to ignore technology integration in the classroom or use a computer lab for simple word processing.  This idea of using student experience to build on knowledge is not new, with Dewey writing “Experience and Education” in 1938, yet teachers have yet to incorporate student experience with their personal experience in the classroom.

It is a fantastic book with a solid mix of theory and practice.

That was a lot of work!

I started my Masters of Education this month at Wilfrid Laurier University.  As you can tell based on my limited blog postings, I have been working my butt off.  I loved every moment of it!

One of the many highlights was my critical pedagogy class and the reflection on my personal practical knowledge that took place.  It was amazing to read and engage in discussion with my peers about theorists and how their beliefs are mapped on to our own professional practice.

I thought that I would summarize my learnings in one short post:

  • no curriculum is politically neutral
  • bring student experience into the classroom is vital for true learning (Dewey) – This cemented the use of modern technology and social media in our classrooms
  • bell hooks rules – read Teaching to Transgress, it is amazing
  • my classroom metaphor: a circus  (*more on this later – it is a good thing!)
  • reading research studies and journal articles after a statistics course makes you very critical of said articles
As I continue on my M.Ed. travels, I will continue posting my learning and reflect on my practice on this blog.

Tools I wish I had used… maybe next year!

As the end of the year approaches, I am finding myself reflecting on the year happy with the results I have achieved with my students.  The highlight for me has been watching them develop their techno-toolbox that they will be able to use in highschool or when they return to their home schools for grade 8.

That being said, I often think that I could do more.  I know it is silly but I really want to incorporate all those great tools into my classroom.   Therefore, I have decided to make a “Next Year

” list:

1) Animation on the ipad – I have been playing with Sock Puppets and PuppetPals on the iPad


.  I love the ease of use and the ability to easy add your own images to the app.  Many of the online tools for animation are too complex or require a lot of patience (and bandwidth).  These apps quickly and easily create high quality animations that I can upload to my webpage or input into an iMovie.

2) Facebook/Edmodo – I love social media but am not yet using it enough in my classroom.  Being a grade 7/8 classroom, it is hard to balance the minimum age requires of Facebook and the reality that all of the under 13’s in my class use it.  Therefore, I’m going to try Edmodo.  It won’t be something that the students are already using but I guess that it is better than nothing.

3) More Mac – I really want my students using more Mac tools – Garage Band, iPhoto, and iMovie.  I haven’t quite figured out what some of the applications will be but I really want them to be using their easy options.

4) Authentic Blogging – again, I’m not really sure how this is going to work.  I really don’t want to make the students write on a blog that nobody is going to read but see a huge value in them reflecting and writing for the world to read.  However, as I have experienced, that is easier said than done.  Linking up with other congregated classroom might be one way to foster a writing-reading relationship that makes the experience authentic – but will this just get tiresome?  Who knows.

What are your tools that you want to bring to your rooms next year?  Any ideas that you haven’t explored quite yet?


Summer Reading Contest…. blah!

Let’s start this post with some Alfie Kohn:

The reward buys us a behavior — in this case, the act of checking out a book and reading it.  But at what price? The quality of performance in general and of learning in particular tend to decline significantly when people are extrinsically motivated. Moreover, once the library runs out of baseball cards, children are not only unlikely to continue reading; they are less likely to read than they were before the program began. Think about it: reading has been presented not as a pleasurable experience but as a means for obtaining a goody.

Needless to say, when I saw the Scholastic Summer Challenging popping up everywhere in the EduBlog world I became oddly angry.  Can we not get past the summer reading programs and develop truly meaningful experiences for students to enjoy novels and reading.  Scholastic will reward your children if they read books!  You can track their progress!  Blah!

Instead, I have developed a Top 10 list of things Scholastic could have used the money on instead of rewards.  Some of these ideas could be used by individual teachers in their classroom but some might be a little hard (we don’t all have Scholastic money).  Some could be used throughout the year to encourage reading.  Seriously, these were not hard to think up and many are better than the “read (or lie) and you might win a prize!” promotion.

  1. Create a website with online forums for students to discuss Scholastic’s best selling books.
  2. Weekly web chats with their most popular authors.
  3. Develop a summer novel/graphic novel that gets released week-by-week throughout the summer and culminating on Labour Day weekend with the final chapter.
  4. Create a weekly summer reading suggestion email/webpage for those students and teachers interested in keeping their reading minds going.
  5. Create an iPhone or web app that would allow students to track their reading.
  6. Instead of encouraging teachers to track their students, provide them with a virtual classroom to engage incoming students to read by connecting in a collaborative, safe setting.  This might include allowing access to exclusive content.
  7. Create and provide students with access to online/downloadable high interest magazines for the summer (ie. skateboard magazines, music, entertainment, etc).
  8. Daily news updates – create a website with links to high interest stories, videos, and websites.  Include a comment section for students to engage in discussion.
  9. Create a special online community (eg. Facebook group) where students can create a profile, share novel reviews and meet other kids from around the world.
  10. Give away one book, per student for the summer months.  A nice gift for dealing with all those stupid flyers throughout the year.

Just saying…. this program is further “evidence of just how many parents and educators are trapped by Skinnerian thinking” (Kohn)

Can you think of anything else?

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