Trying Something new: VR & Google Expedition

Google Expedition 1Check out this grand adventure!  This is way beyond Google Cardboard that I wrote about previously! This picture shows 24 of our 30 new Google Expedition viewers waiting to be fully formatted and set up so that we (the new PRRD8 Instructional Coaches) can get them into the hands of eager teachers and students around our division!

There has been lots to do to get this set-up ready to ‘hit the road’.

  • The tech guys have been formatting and securing the phones that go into each of the viewers.
  • Cathy and I have been doing lots of experimenting and app testing to get used to how they work and to decide on some of the basic apps, in addition to Google Expedition, that would be useful for classrooms.
  • We’ve had to buy a smaller wheeled-storage / carrying device to transport them in; the set-up in the picture takes two grown ups to load into a vehicle, and it won’t fit into the trunk of our cars!
  • We’ve also been stretching the limits of our YouTube channel and playlist knowledge as we come up with an expedient way to get additional content to all student in a timely manner when we are not use the actual Google Expedition app.

So, steep learning curve, yes, but a very exciting one! Can’t wait to update with ‘stories from the classroom’ once we are able to hit the road with this set-up!


IMMOOCing with colleagues: trying something new for Season 3

I was very much inspired by participating in the first two “seasons” of IMMOOC. Now, I will be honest that I did not complete every task that was assigned and each time, although I had high hopes, I only averaged three or four of the six blog posts. Despite this, I thought the concept of a massive on-line learning community was exciting, and the learning was indeed visible. In fact, I was jealous of those who were participating in IMMOOC as a group of colleagues from a school, or division, and dreamed that someday I might be able to also convince some colleagues to join in.innovators mindset

Then the stars aligned. George Couros announced an October 2017 IMMOOC Season 3, and several colleagues were wondering if I would be trying to gather staff into another book study. I took this as a sign that it was time to try the IMMOOC group participation that I had always coveted.

The back story to this is that I teach high school and over the last few years I’ve gathered some interested colleagues together to try a book study together -something that hadn’t really happen at our school previously. This was a new thing and I blogged about it several times years ago, as you can read about here and here. Some of the books had a greater impact than others, but the process always occurred over many months, usually at school, somehow connected to the school day. Some of my colleagues have been in all of the book studies and were willing to give this new 6-week power book study a try. We even recruited a fresh face or two.

In the end, it would be easy to sum up this dream IMMOOC group study as a failure. The every-week-for-6-weeks pace was just too much. In fact, I think my dear colleagues were mostly relieved when I sent out a message after Week 4 that we weren’t going to try to assemble for the rest of the weeks. I think that only one other person in the group even attempted to blog (thanks, Heather). I’m not sure that anyone commented on a single ‘strangers’ blog. I’m not sure that anyone else followed the IMMOOC learning after we gave up the group in Week 4.

Yet despite these perceived failures, I think that there is always some growth and learning that occurs when we try to push a bit of innovation forward. For example:

  • Some of my colleagues read Innovator’s Mindset for the first time.
  • Some of my colleagues started the book and will get around to finishing it eventually.
  • Several of these colleagues participated in their first Twitter Chat.
  • Other colleagues were reminded of the good learning space that Twitter can be.
  • We got to sit in each other’s homes and re-connect and talk about educational issues that we don’t get around to discussing at school.
  • Even though I don’t think we watched a single full video session from beginning to end, it was because we ran out of time because we were spurred to discussion by something one of the guests said that we agreed or didn’t agree with (ie. the definition of and debate about homework!)
  • I learned that a book study at our school is indeed best attempted over a semester or a year, not a month!

If nothing else, this experience is a good reminder that just because a plan doesn’t pan out, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it was a waste of time. In fact, doesn’t some of the best learning take place when things don’t go as planned.

Sharing openly and regularly: #IMMOOC Season 3, Week 5

One of the prompts for this week’s “short blog challenge” during the Innovator’s Mindset #IMMOOC online book study (Season 3, Week 5):

“How do we share openly and regularly to further our own learning and development?”

That is the question! This is so hard for so many of us to do as educators. Both parts are hard: the “openly” and the “regularly”!

Many teachers find the “openly” part difficult, as it puts us in a perceived place of vulnerability. At the high school level, we rarely collaborate or share our classrooms due to doubt. Will people judge me? What if my lesson doesn’t go perfectly? Why does anyone else care what I have to say?  All of these doubts hinder us from engaging in learning and collaboration with others.

For time-strapped teachers, the “regularly” part is also difficult. I just finished sending an email ‘disbanding’ our #IMMOOC book club for the remainder of this season. My colleagues were too overwhelmed trying to meet together weekly, like this whirlwind #IMMOOC challenges us to do.  Our group members might be a bit sad that it has come to this, but I’m sure most are ultimately breathing a sigh of relief! Of course, regularly doesn’t have to mean weekly, but, inevitably, regularly becomes occasionally, which often becomes rarely. And sadly, amidst marking and report cards, our own learning and development often is a low priority.

Fortunately, trying out voluntary book studies as a staff has pushed some of our school staff members to further our learning and development. As a result of doing book studies together:

  • we’ve tried new literacy activities (Thanks Kylene Beers!).
  • we’ve adopted some school wide literacy initiatives, such as a high school wide Word List
  • we’ve had great conversations –the kind that never happen as you fly past one another in the hallway at school
  • we’ve shared openly and developed new ideas together


Trying something new: A new job!

This fall marks the 21st year that I have taught high school Social Studies (and English)  in Room 124.  That’s a pretty long time.  In fact, I am the first teacher to ever have occupied this room, since I started teaching at this school the year that it opened. So it felt pretty weird today telling class after class that within a week or two, they would have a new teacher, as I would be moving on to a new job.

Here is the October 11 version of my new job process…..a flashback if you will, that didn’t get published immediately:

Today is Wednesday. This past Friday I went for an interview for a temporary Instructional Coach- a position that has come about mid-semester due to some unexpected provincial funding. Saturday I was offered the job. Monday night after Thanksgiving Dinner, I was making sub plans for a Tuesday Instructional Coaching event hosted by a neighbouring school division.  Today I was telling my students that I’d be leaving them.  This has been a whirl-wind of a week. (And that doesn’t even count Saturday, when my family spent the day moving my parents off of the farm that has been in the family for over 100 years!)

Fortunately, they didn’t cheer and dance at the thought of getting rid of me! I was most surprised by the reaction of my last period of the day class. This is my non-academic crew; the ones that don’t love being at school, but stay because they know that it probably makes sense to endure it in the long run.  I have taught most of these students in a previous year, and some of the poor lads and lasses have been stuck with me for three years in a row. Some of the most surprising characters took it almost as a personal insult that I was leaving them. Some asked if I had my calendar mixed up because it wasn’t April (when April Fool’s Day comes along).  Luckily, the remainder of class time was a distraction with a lively simulation of capitalism as we had a “wicket factory” for the rest of the day.

Although there are many uncertainties about this new position at this early stage, the heavy weight of reality of “leaving home” is a certainty.  I won’t have been out of this classroom for this long of a time period since I was on maternity leave with my twin babies almost 17 years ago!  Of course, that seems like just yesterday, too.

And of course, change is good. But it can still be scary, even when you are an adult with very exciting possibilities before you.

Innovator = Reflector = Cursed?, #IMMOOC Season 3, Week 2

One of the topics for Week 2 of Season 3 of the #IMMOOC (Innovator’s Mindset Massive Open Online Course) asks us to examine George Couros’ 8 Characteristics of an Innovator and discuss which of these we might exemplify. In IMMOOC Season 1 I wrote about risk-taking and resilience. and in Season 2 about being reflective.

This time around, I will reflect once again on the innovative habit of “being reflective”, but without re-reading what I wrote last time – this will make for some interesting real life research! The first thing that comes to mind as I think about being reflective is that it can be a curse.

My son has just started his college undergrad courses on the road to becoming a teacher. In his first month of college, he is doing an observation practicum in a kindergarten class. Yesterday he was labouring over his first journal-type entry as a “reflective practitioner”, as his text book describes it. So this got me thinking about how very naturally and continually I reflect on my teaching practice. I guess the habit has been ingrained since my pre-service teaching days when I had to do post-lesson reflections, written down on paper.

Of course as full time teachers, most of us do not have time to sit down and formally journal about the successes and failures of our many lessons a day. Despite this, my lesson plans and student handout materials are scrawled with suggestions and changes for next time. My methods and work are constantly evolving, although not always in significant shifts. Often the changes are to increase clarification or because I’ve found a better source, or often, a new technology tool/approach that I think would be engaging for students.

Thus the curse: being reflective causes a teacher more work. I often am jealous of my colleagues who are not wired to be as reflective. They can make a lesson once, and whether it was mildly or wildly successful or not at all, they can go on to teach it semester after semester with nary an alteration. I do not have this ability. I am often jealous of those who can just keep teaching the same ol’ thing. Semester after semester. Year after year.

Often jealous, but not always. In the end, why do I go through the torment of reflection and the resulting revision? Because it is probably best for our students. If we expect our students’ best work, and require them to revise and rework their submissions, knowing that they can create a better piece of work, it would be hypocritically if we were not willing to do the same.

Innovator’s Mindset – trying a staff version of #IMMOOC 3

innovators mindsetThis is our staff’s 3rd attempt at doing a book study together…. but a very different approach.

Some EBHS staff will get together to participate together-ish in the 3rd online edition of #IMMOOC with YouTube lives sessions to watch, Twitter Chats, blogs posts and commenting on the blogs of others. This will undoubtedly push some members out side of their comfort zone….just what an innovator should do. I’ve personally participated in the first 2 online #IMMOOC sessions, and am glad I’ve finally been able to get a crew to join me (from the many who purchased his book when he was at our 2016 Teacher’s Convention). Here’s to trying something new! I hope we can stick with it!

Post Script: Wondering how it went? Click here

Won’t that technology be obsolete in 5 years?

In the college course that I teach on technology in education, we spend  the first two weeks learning Smart Notebook software. The previous instructor designed the course that way, and being a Smart Notebook devotee myself, I have followed that part of the outline, at least for the time being.

Although students may have been in classrooms where Smart Notebook was used by their teachers, students themselves have mastered PowerPoint. PowerPoint is safe and familiar. For most, Smart Notebook is a new software that does not respond like a Microsoft product. Many experience frustration as they work their way through the self-guided learning tasks, and if it wasn’t required for a college assignment, many would just give up and revert to PowerPoint, like many teachers before them have done.

In this atmosphere of early uncertainty and frustration using Notebook, one student mentioned how some teacher friends of his had told him that Smart Boards would be obsolete in a few years.

Of course!

Technology is like that! Are we still going to learn Smart Notebook in this course? Absolutely.

The Smart Board technology display is changing rapidly – the part that, when used with a projector, is often just used to show YouTube videos in many classes. Interestingly however, the newest school to open in our city this past September installed Smart Boards.

But the power is in the software — that’s the part that many of my colleagues have never taken the time to get to know, but these students will. Once they can fully create with Notebook and have unleashed its power in their lesson planning, then by all means they can revert to PowerPoint or projecting Word documents on the Smart Board, or whatever new display technology they might have. However, my experience is that for the majority of people, once they take the time to learn the power of Notebook, their view of it as a teaching tool changes.

There are other reasons that learning Smart Notebook still makes sense. In our part if the province, almost all classrooms have Smart Board hardware on the wall and Smart Notebook installed on at least the teacher computers. With oil dropping to $40 a barrel (or lower!) it is unlikely that Alberta teachers will be in line for any significant, system-wide technology replacements in the near future! And when these students graduate with their teaching degree in 2 years, their new classroom will likely still have a Smart Board, as will the classrooms that they do their pre-service teaching in over the next few months.

But mostly….technology changes. When I first started using Smart Notebook 10+ years ago, YouTube was just being invented. Showing a video on my new projector still required a lot of time and effort to capture it in a usable digital file. And it was years after that before we could access YouTube from a school computer.

When I did my teacher training in the early 1990s, the internet as we know it didn’t exist. In one of my mandatory university technology and teaching classes, we had to do a test to prove that we could thread a film projector and another to show that we could create a properly centered overhead transparency sheet. Most of my classmates never did use a film projector in their classrooms, but we all had binders full of overhead transparencies….until we got our Smart boards and projectors over 10 years later.

I did take another technology in education option course at university where I experienced frustration similar to that of my college students experiencing Smart Notebook software for the first time. It was the early days of personal computers and Microsoft Word was probably in its first version. Our prof made us type a document with proper word processor formatting – he was going to view the formatting trail, not just what it looked like when we printed! No more return at the end of every line and return twice to double space. No 5 spaces to tab. We had to do fancy things like bold some words….
It is laughable now, but it was an extremely frustrating endeavor, perhaps more so because it was the first time many of us had used a computer with a mouse! But that frustration of learning how to use a product to its fullest potential was a most valuable experience, as ever since then, I have been a proficient word processor. I’ve worked with many colleagues since who have struggled with Word, now the most basic of teaching tools, because they never really had to learn how to use it. I guess it shouldn’t be surprising that many of them don’t use Smart Notebook either!

Yes, Smart Notebook may become obsolete. Or it might be like Microsoft Word and the rest of its Office – virtually unrecognizable from its original version 20 some years later.
That’s the world of technology in education. Ever-changing, but never going away. So we will learn to use today’s most useful tools as they will lead to the tools of the future.

Something new: A Trip to Africa

So here’s something new that I’ll be trying: travel to Africa.

From August 7-30, my husband and I will be part of a team of 7 that will travel to Uganda and Zambia doing community/school/coaching/humanitarian/mission work.  My hubby’s been to Zambia 4 times, but this will be my first trip ever to the African continent.

Trying something new!

You ask, “How do digital portfolios promote literacy?”

Dear colleagues,

Some of you seem to be having a difficult time connecting our digital portfolio space  with the concept of literacy.  When I sit at our division literacy meetings I am inundated with techniques and terms that relate to literacy at the elementary level. There’s lots of discussion of levelled reading, and Fountas and Pinnell are household terms. I know you too, are wondering who they are; I’ve learned they are some big literacy names in the elementary world that have little relevance for high school.

As you might imagine, promoting literacy at the high school level when we are all silo-ed into our towers of coursework–this is a daunting task. Thus, the idea of a very versatile digital space where we could encourage both staff and students to write and read each other’s writing, where we could showcase and write about the exciting projects and learning that we are doing outside of the realm of paper and pencil–this seemed like an exciting possibility.  The more I researched digital portfolios and saw how they were being used for different subject areas and grade levels, the more they seemed to be a really good fit for developing literacy in a high school environment, for getting students to write write write , and for writing for an authentic audience.

However, it is evident that where the Literacy Team sees literacy building –writing and reading –at every turn, there are those of you who see no connection. Where we see development of students and of literacy skills that are cross-curricular and cross-career, there are those of you see only an infringement on your course.  Our Literacy Team has worked so hard this first year to provide opportunities to show you the possibilities,  and to work together as a staff to brainstorm possibilities, but clearly we have not been very successful.  

Alas, as I lament, here is a list of examples that I am compelled to compile. This list is a small sampling of easy and obvious ways that I see literacy being developed through tasks that we already do in some form, that can be improved upon through the digital platform, Edublogs, that we have access to. Perhaps you can come to see some of these things as promoting literacy…..

1. You know that survey that you do at the beginning of teaching Romeo and Juliet? The one where you ask if there is such thing as love at first site? Or would you date a boy/girl that your parents forbid you from dating?  And do you know how the same kids want to be heard and the same ones wish to stay invisible? Having students respond via portfolio, helps everyone to have a voice. It could be that they all could comment in the comment string of your controversial question, and then respectfully respond to the comments of their peers. Or perhaps they each pick a controversial question that they feel passionate about or could safely write about, and do a five minute quick write before the class discusses orally.  Total time needed…7 to 15 minutes.

2. You know when students are finished their unit exam, and they maybe veg on their phones until their classmates are done? What if they first had to add one of the following to their “course page”?  Total time needed….10 to 20 minutes.

  • A summary of the unit
  • What they found most difficult/confusing/challenging or easiest in the last unit
  • Something they learned that surprised them in this unit
  • A new skill that they learned or improved in this unit
  • Or, if nothing else, a point form list of the objectives for the unit

3.  You know in English or Social when you ask students to take a position or write a thesis and then support it with their best evidence? Or maybe defend or refute a controversial scientifictopic? What if they wrote that paragraph or body paragraph in a blog post, and then were grouped with 2 to 4 other students whose work they would read.  First of all, when they know they are writing for peers, not just for the teacher, quality and care often improve. Secondly, they are now exposed to 3 other ways to handle the same task, gaining valuable ideas and strategies for future writing tasks.  In addition, you can ask them to respectfully comment with a challenge, an addition, or an “I hadn’t considered that”.  The commenting process is a great place to teach and enforce tone and audience. Moreover, providing this type of appropriate business-like feedback is an important work-place writing skill that needs to be practiced –they aren’t learning it from their YouTube channels!

4. You know how most of the reading we do is on the internet, and  that internet  writing is formatted in ways to keep our attention? This will be the writing that many of our students will be expected to do in their jobs or careers.  I’m not suggesting we discontinue essay writing, or formal lab writing, but I am suggesting that students most definitely need practice with producing text that appeals to an audience in an easily readable format. They need practice with organizing their work with headings and subtitles and bullet points and short conscience summaries.  These are exactly the literacy skills  that students will develop and practice as they build their course “pages” on the portfolio side of their blog.

Our colleague, Mrs. Krause,  describes the digital portfolio building process to the parents of her Info Processing students as ‘building a web page’. Essentially, that is one of the skills our students are developing as they work in Edublogs.  While one has to learn a few technicalities of button pushing to operate the blog, the very process of having a web space is about writing!

Thus, in the creation of our digital portfolio space, this is very much a literacy focus.  Is anyone with me yet?

Trying somethng new: Google Cardboard

Assembling Cardboard viewers


For at least a year, I have been planning to buy a Google Cardboard to experiment with, knowing that it would have so many possibilities in a high school Social Studies setting.

Finally, thanks to our school tech guy, we have purchased about 8 of the cheapest sets we could find ( the ‘$US exchange is a killer). When I pulled the first pieces out of the packaging, I wondered if our spend-thrift had been a mistake, but after finally figuring out the full assembly, we have ended up with sturdy little gadgets. My Work Experience student, Kamille, spent the better parts of two class periods assembling them, but, “It was fun.”

So now, MY learning starts. Fortunately I have a great list of VR education sites to start with–shared by a teacher at a Google Summit event who attended the “Cardboard” session that I didn’t have time to.   I might take my first practice group expedition the next time I supervise DT room…..