Category Archives: Social Media

We are just scratching the surface: Panorama Park

Guest Post: Lucky Kalair, Grade 6/7 Teacher at Panorama Park Elementary

Panorama Park’s Innovative Learning Design Story: A continuing journey of reflecting and sharing….
we are just scratching the surface.


Context: School with a population of 350 students, high ELL
Prior to ILD:
• slow wireless connection, limited experience with iPads, only a couple of DocCams, no ATV, MacBooks…

Post ILD: updated wireless connection, 40 iPads, updated MacBook cart,
5 ATVs, majority of classrooms have DocCams,…

Inquiry Question: How will focusing on digital storytelling and the implementation of WEB 2.0 tools increase student engagement and increase student communication skills?

As a result of the ILD project, the teaching practices of teachers have changed and enabled us to focus on student-directed learning. The ILD project has promoted greater reflecting, sharing, and co-learning with our students; we have focused on creating learning environments that are student centered with learning as the focus.  The technology has complemented the learning piece and has helped to increase student engagement and increase student communication skills.

Some of the things that happened at our school as a result of the ILD project include:

1. Transformative teaching/learning
• reflecting, questioning, sharing, exploring, experimenting, designing, and creating–>we are all learners–> co-learners
• moving from paper/pencil–>multimedia – voice, sound, visuals
• inquiry based –>uncovering curriculum–>more content choice-
• scaffolding and modelling thinking/learning–>adjusting our teaching/learning
• focusing on the process of learning
• engaged learners – student centered learning environment
• making thinking visible –>technology complements the learning
• empowering students–>greater student choice/voice/input
• partnership with students – reciprocal teaching – third space

2. Connecting/Collaborating/Sharing: Co-learning/Connecting with  students
• Digital Storytelling – iMovie trailers, KeyNote, PowerPoint, Book Creator, Popplet, Puppet Pals, ….
• WEB 2.0 Tools – Weebly – student web pages, teacher web pages, blogging, Glogster, Kidblog, iPadlet, Today’s Meet, Prezi, Skype, Twitter, PLN, publishing work on YouTube
• reflecting using blogging
• shift in learning/teaching–>student centered – they own their learning
• becoming co-creators, co-designers, co-architects of learning
• exploring ePorfolios –>documenting progression of learning
• presenting/sharing…communicating

3. Focus on: Differentiated Learning
• more voice/choice to represent learning – visuals, pictures, recording voice
• greater student ownership–>greater student motivation
• power of choice = students working at their level
• empowering students – building self-confidence

4. Personalized Learning: (‘How to use technology to enhance and magnify learning…’ – Neil Stephenson)
• increases student motivation and accountabiity
• how students want to learn, what they want to learn, how they represent their learning, how they share their learning
• Genius Hour, iMovie trailers…learning is relevant and meaningful and the technology piece complements the learning
• more content choice –>caliber of work improves–>shift in learning

5.  Assessment for Learning – AFL
•embedded in the learning process –>ePortfolios – the process of learning
•giving students opportunities to share and create using multiple options
•reflecting, self-reflections, peer feedback…blogging, collaborating, and discussing summative assessment …ePortfolios=progression of learning
• student-teacher conferences/presentations

6. ILD Team:
• blogs for reflecting/sharing —>3 teachers
• Twitter – #sd36learn #panopanthers –> 5 team members contributing
• share at staff mtgs, ILD mtgs – informal/formal, assemblies, pro-d

7. Next Year:
• building student ePortfolios – exploring Evernote, Google Docs,..
• Skype projects, global connections,…
• Blogging – Weebly/Kidblog •expanding Twitter PLN •staff mentoring
• student tech leaders as mentors for staff
• pro-d  •visiting other classes/schools   •PBL ….authentic learning
• conferencing/sharing with other classrooms/schools

8. Other Highlights and accomplishments in our first year of ILD:
• focusing on digital storytelling including: creating, designing, and sharing
• buddy activities
• students planning and discussing – reflecting, questioning, and exploring
• using manipulatives and technololgy
• Glogster – multiple options for sharing learning
• Genius Hour – Inquiry Learning – Wonder Qs – choice and voice
• creating iMovie Trailers – composing and sharing
• using Web 2.0 to collaborate ideas and content
• peers learning from peers – excited to explore blogging to represent their thinking and learning
• communicating with parents and peers – creating class and student web pages
• enhancing learning with Prezi
• students, teachers, and parents collaborating
• representing learning in a variety of ways
• brainstorming on Padlet
• participating in a Webinar – building, discussing, and creating together
• Skyping about careers
• using critical thinking skills
• creating simple digital portfolios using Weebly, exploring Kidblog
• self-reflection and self-assessment….peer feedback
• empowering students – learning together
• building confidence and self-esteem
• providing instant, descriptive, and specific feedback
• Many of our students would ask:
     • When can we start the next Genius Hour project?
     • Could we stay in at recess to finish our work?
     • Could I do an extra project?
     • Could we use the iPad or MacBook?
     • Could we make an iMovie trailer? Keynote?

During our first Webinar/Skype activity on careers, many grade seven students stayed in at recess to continue working on this activity. During LST, students were excited and motivated to track their reading speed. Students are asking about when can they blog next, excited about providing/receiving feedback from their peers. These are just a few examples of how some of our students became intrinsically motivated to learn new concepts. Again, learning was the focus with students being at the center, while the technology enriched the learning experience. Since teachers and students are co-learning together, there is positive energy being created and that is promoting collaboration, creativity, inspiration, and sharing.

Whether it be digital storytelling or Web 2.0 activities, students have confidently, eagerly, and successfully showcased their learning, with emphasis on: choice, voice, and collaboration.  With increased opportunities for ‘choice’ in a student-centered learning environment, it is evident there is greater student participation, ownership for learning, and increased levels of engagement and motivation. This is exactly what Shelley Wright@wrightsroom focused on at the second Engaging the Digital learner series presentation.

A student-centered learning environment has enabled our students to improve: fluency skills, confidence, speaking, and writing skills. By giving students choices and opportunities to share their learning using a wide array of multi-media apps and platforms – iMovie, Popplet, Educreations, Keynote, Class weebly webpage, Explain Everything, and Kidbog, engagement levels increased. This helped to enhance student responsibility and accountability for their learning.

The learning curve has been steep for many of us; however, it is because of our Innovative Learning Designs inquiry project that we have seen the above outlined accomplishments. Wow – amazing that none of this would have happened without ILD! Reflecting back, it amazes me that we had no comprehension of any of the above at the beginning of the inquiry process in September. ILD has had a tremendous  impact on the learning of our teachers and students at Panorama Park. It has been a wonderful learning journey for all of us, and we look forward to continuing to enrich and enhance our learning experiences next year as co-learners with our students and each other.

Below is a video clip that we shared at our ILD sharing session: Snapshots of staff and students, at Panorama Park, co-learning about Digital Storytelling and using WEB 2.0 tools.

On behalf of Panorama Park’s ILD team, I would like to sincerely thank Elisa Carlson and the IMS team for supporting, guiding, and inspiring us on this fabulous learning journey. You are an amazing team – thank you!!

Guiding Principles: What do we believe?

What do we believe? We have some guiding principles that have anchored our digital learning journey as a district. Our vision has grown and is best represented through our Digital Learning Principles. Below is a short form of the “baker’s dozen,” a series of  belief statements that guide our work. These principles, outlined in the district strategic technology plan, grew over time. The principles are grounded in research about good teaching and learning.

1. Begin with a learning plan
We abolished the district’s traditional hardware replacement strategy and replaced it with a learning-centered strategy. Schools have to provide a forward-thinking, smart learning plan through an application process to ensure schools have the commitment and readiness to move learning and teaching forward in their schools. No grounded plan means no hardware.

2. The learning plan anchored in twenty-first century pedagogy
Key priorities for learning are identified at the outset: authentic learning tasks, descriptive feedback, inquiry learning, differentiated instruction, critical thinking skills, virtual and face-to-face collaboration, student voice and choice, and technology as a tool. The impact on transforming pedagogy? “It has totally revolutionized how I teach. I am not at the centre. The kids are at the centre,” explains Anne-Marie Middleton, Grade 7 Teacher at Hillcrest Elementary.

3. Action grounded in collaborative inquiry
Each application is team-focused and anchored in a job-embedded model of collaborative inquiry. Teams of teachers are engaged in studying meaningful questions about student learning and their own practice. Teachers own their own learning.

4. Evidence of student learning required
The district expects schools to share their organizational and individual learning and that of their students. Participants are required to report out using a flexible template to tell their story of learning.  These digital stories provide the inspiration, advice and resources for other schools also embarking on a digital learning journey.

5. Learning focus for all
While students are at the centre of our raison d’etre, we recognize that in organizations everyone is a learner and that we are all co-learners together: students, teachers, support staff, and administrators can equally share in the learning journey.

6. Empower teacher exploration months before student deployment
Teachers need time to experiment and play. Teachers need time to learn. We provide both devices and opportunity for staff development. Foundational idea: “Professional development is the hallmark of every successful technology implementation,” outlined in  the report commissioned by the National Coalition for Technology in Education & Training.

 7. Teacher-led, teacher-driven and centralized to the school house
The district is not dictating the direction. Schools, and teachers, decide their learning needs based on their school context. The result and our experience, we have gone from push to pull.  As educator Fraser Speirs declares: “I am no longer pushing technology at teachers. They are demanding this technology in their classrooms.”

8. Linking staff development opportunities across the system
Many educators are involved in two-year inquiry projects which include release time as well as a commitment to on-going learning with colleagues at their schools. Educators also have the opportunity to attend an inspiring dinner series with thought leaders in the field of educational technology, as well as after school workshops on topics as diverse as digital storytelling and moviemaking. In all cases, we focus on the learning, and not the tool.

9. Transformative practice shared and promoted via social media
We created our own hashtag: #sd36learn. We promote it and encourage the educators to keep the focus on learning, best practice, sharing resources and building connections. We acknowledge the words of Daniel Pink on the power of social media: “…the deepest, most enduring impact of social media might be on learning.”

10. Intentionally encouraging a radical social movement
Our goal is transforming education. Our diffusion strategy is creating networks of educators committed to creating the best learning conditions for students. As educators take risks, explore, experiment and play with their practice, we want to support their efforts. Creating a tipping point is key: “If you want to bring a fundamental change in people’s belief and behavior… you need to create a community around them, where those new beliefs can be practiced and expressed and nurtured,”  underscores Malcolm Gladwell.

11. Multiple projects/people supporting the same ideals all across district
We intentionally create a culture of innovation in practice by seeding pockets of innovation all across the district. Whether it is an Innovative Learning Designs project, a Learning Commons transformation, Making Thinking Visible, Out of Their Heads or a SS11 e-text initiative, they are all opportunities to focus teachers on shifting pedagogy to better embrace the ideals of curriculum transformation.

12. Mobile learning + the new electricity
Based on the key trends identified in The Horizons Report, we made a decision to focus on mobile devices. That decision meant that providing a quality wireless solution together with upgrading Internet links were top priorities for all our schools. We want to create opportunities for students to learn on any device, anytime, anywhere.

13. Education requirements leading technological shifts
Whatever technological changes are taking place around the world, we know the needs of learning should set direction for how technology is provided. All technology decisions are to be made in service of the needs of learners and educators.

Thanks to the many educators in our Innovative Learning Designs projects that contributed to our learning. Thanks as well to the members of the three focus groups that responded to our questions as we explored ideas such as: what works well, what needs improvement, where to next? Your insights enable us to move forward on the continuous improvement journey. The guiding principles themselves were developed and refined by a team: Helping Teachers Orwell Kowalyshyn (@kowalyshyn), Kevin Amboe (@amboe_k), Lisa Domeier (@librarymall), IT Director Dan Turner (@dj_turner) and myself.


“The truth about story telling is… that’s all we are.”  Dean Shareski

We live in our stories. There is power in telling our stories and sharing them with others. This video celebrates the learning that took place in the Surrey School District during Year One of our Innovative Learning Designs Project. The focus for the video was to explore how we, as educators, might facilitate and transform the story-telling skills of our students through the integration of technology in the classroom.

As Lisa Domeier de Suarez (former Teacher Librarian Helping Teacher) visited the various pilot schools and talked to the students and teachers involved she discovered the myriad ways students were using technology to tell their stories.  Ms. Domeier de Suarez noted the wide range of age groups and ability level able to participate in these projects.  The students readily embraced the possibilities and transformative directions made possible by the use of various technological tools and by being connected with the outside world through web publishing.

Students of all ages and ability levels were able to create: eBooks, movies, animations, stop-motion movies, demonstration videos — even alternative ‘histories’ of civilization — to tell their stories and share these stories with the rest of the world.

The response of those involved was overwhelmingly positive.  These story-telling projects were opening doors for students to share themselves with the world and each other in new and exciting ways.  There was a palpable sense in those interviewed that they were just beginning to discover the possibilities available; where this could go in the future was anyone’s guess.

Note: Thank you to Chris Walton, LST Teacher, for writing this guest post. This video features the reflections of several of our students along with Fraser Heights Vice Principal, Denton Muir, and SD 36 teachers:  Lynda Dyck, Barbara Feltham, Lara Hayward, John Kelly, Jessica Pelat, Narinder Walia, Chris Walton and Jody Wilson.  Thanks to, Lisa Domier de Suarez and Forrest Smith, for creating this video snapshot of Year One of our learning journey. This video premiered as part of an #sd36learn workshop at ISTE last year.

For more on story telling in the 21st Century see this slideshare by Dean Shareski:

Reflection: The Vehicle for Continuous Improvement

Reflection can help deal with ambiguity, stress and change. In our work, we often have to cope with new, unique problems we have not met before. The ability to reflect is essential to recognising and confronting the uncertainly we feel as we try to deal with these problems.

All this means that reflection is not a bland or innocuous process—it is central to becoming a powerful, critical professional who is prepared to challenge the way things are done.

Quality Improvement Agency for Lifelong Learning

This past week was mind-bending in a multitude of ways. Our district was fortunate to have Bill Ferriter from North Carolina present as part of our Engaging the Digital Learner Series: Going Deeper. Bill encouraged teachers to be innovative with their practice and to ask students to do work that truly matters. Bill challenged us to create highly engaged learning spaces to meet the needs of the iGeneration. The impact of his message on the audience of 280educators was electrifying. Even our district’s twitter feed was working overtime as educators responded to the session, sharing their learning in the room.

For me, there was an ironic juxtaposition between encouraging educators to push the boundaries of their practice, connecting students to others around the world to solve real and meaningful problems while simultaneously pausing to examine our practice in the light of Internet safety and privacy issues.  The timing was coincidental but we (Dan Turner, Director of IMS and myself) had invited Alec Couros to come to our district to examine our practices and give us advice on the work we are doing. Alec is a well-regarded Professor of Education Technology at the University of Saskatchewan, a sought-after presenter, and a thought leader on navigating the digital highway (see here). Together, we are looking at important questions, such as:

  • What does governing a progressive, innovative, digital, 24/7, 21st century learning environment look like?
  • How can we create safe, collaborative environments for student and staff to personalize their learning while maximizing the use of Web 2.0 tools?
  • How can we navigate the risks successfully?
  • What are the checks and balances we need moving forward as a district?
  • What safeguards need to be in place to ensure the “walled garden” provides safe opportunities for students to become responsible digital citizens?
  • Conversely, outside of the “walled garden,” what safeguards need to be in place to ensure students become responsible digital citizens?

If the world is indeed our classroom–we can now see and almost touch it through technology–we need to ensure we are preparing students to navigate the digital landscape both safely and successfully.  We also want to make sure that we are using technology for meaningful work and not for mere digital entertainment.

Alec Couros was collecting data on this visit. We were approaching the questions and our dilemma through a case study analysis. We arranged for him to visit some lead schools and teachers (George Vanier Elementary, Johnston Heights Secondary and Bonaccord Elementary) to find out how their students were engaging in the digital space and what safeguards were in place. We want to find a way to put systems into place to ensure ALL of our schools are engaging in best practices navigating the new digital frontier.  We did not want to select schools where we knew they were doing it “right” but schools where they were stretching the boundaries of their practice. We also had Alec interview selected individuals (Helping Teachers, IMS staff and Senior leaders) that could provide him with a snapshot of the burning issues or concerns that arise when you release students and teachers to learn using 21st century ideals.

I was fortunate enough to attend many of these interviews. Teachers and administrators described what the students in their classes and schools were doing. Teachers are providing amazing learning experiences for students. The dialogue was rich. The conversations frank. Dilemmas were discussed and potential solutions explored.  Not all of the questions were comfortable for us. Sometimes we need to be a little uncomfortable. It provides us with the motivation to change. When you invite an expert in, there is a large measure of vulnerability that goes along with that. The learning for all of us at the table was valuable and thought provoking.

For me personally, having someone examine our work in the district was a reflective exercise on my leadership. I had the “should have” experience. I should have communicated more. I should have provided more guidance. I should have demonstrated more leadership when I knew things needed to be done. I should have spent more time doing XX. I should have delegated other duties and made these ones a priority. I should have spoken up at critical meetings. Why didn’t I insist that some of these matters were important and we needed to find agreement and resolution as a district?  If principals and teachers do not know or have the information they need to ensure students are educated appropriately, we in district positions bear that responsibility. Clearly, I should have carved out time to stop and think about the work on a larger scale rather than rush from meeting to meeting to attend the urgent as opposed to that which is truly important. “For many practitioners, doing swallows up learning” (see Joy Amulya, italics mine). I needed more of a reflective pause to determine what really mattered.

Of course, I have excuses. I could make lists of them. At the end of the day, however, the responsibility for guiding the educators in our district rests on my shoulders as a Director of Instructor with Technology in my portfolio. I share that responsibly with other Senior Leaders but, for the most part, the buck stops at my doorstep. Having had the opportunity for some sleep, some family distraction, some unrelated reading, a longish run in the fresh air, a late afternoon nap—I can now step back and see it more objectively. Dissonance and a “should have” experience is not such a bad thing; it will motivate me to ensure we come out at the other end in the best possible position we can be in. Even the Wikipedia entry on Reflective Practice notes, “In particular, people in leadership positions have a tremendous development opportunity if they engage in reflective practice” (italics mine).

At the end of Alec’s time with us, he will prepare a white paper (of sorts) and we will have recommendations to help move us forward. I look forward to benefiting from his expertise (and of those he interviewed). We hope it is a document that other districts might find valuable as well. Our goal is to continue to be innovative, providing rich learning opportunities for students and teachers that make sense for our generation of learners. We do this is the context of continuous improvement. As we engage in “deeper forms of reflection, it becomes possible to identify learning edges, those questions or issues that an individual or group is seeking to understand in order to advance their work” (see Amulya).  I want to be on the learning edge to push the boundaries of what we can do in education. We engage in reflective practice as a form of purposeful learning (see Amulya). It drives us to action and is the vehicle for continuous improvement. I look forward to the journey.

Learning: Just so-oh, pedestrian

What am I learning? Well, the magic fairy didn’t appear; I had no personal tutor over the holidays and my fantasy did not materialize (see post here). I did, however, have a commitment to myself that I would try and PLAY with my learning. I wanted to have time to just “fiddle” and learn some new things. I didn’t want to read a manual (really, spare me) nor any detailed instructions but I was desperate enough to resort to checking out a couple of how-to videos. Then I launched in. For many of you, this list will be just so-oh, pedestrian. But for me it represents pushing my learning curve from where I am now. Some of these are things I wanted to do last summer, but just didn’t get to.  These are small steps, new learning, pushing the boundaries and wanting to understand the multitude of ways and contexts in which professional learning can take place. This is my gig. I think I have a responsibility to dive in.

1. About.Me
One of our Engaging the Digital Learner speakers (I can’t remember who: Dean Shareski? Shelley Wright? George Couros?) said we should really go to this website and grab our name, reserve our spot before someone else did. I was inspired by Ryan Hong’s page and breathed deep seeing Karen Lirenman’s background, however, I could only muster some picture of me with no lipstick riding the trails in Kelowna. Forgive the no lipstick. I am a tomboy at the best of times. And the picture brings back memories of being physical. That is what I love to do. is really just one page on the web that is a visual resume. Think of it as a web-based business card that cuts to the quick about what counts for you. Most of the pages are absolutely stunning (convince me that they did not have professional photographers!).

2. Pinterest
I am not a Martha Stewart kind of person. I do not scrapbook. I had no interest in ever using this particular tool. I actually read that women predominantly use this web tool, which was simply not motivating for me.  However, I decided that I should learn it too, because, here was a place I could keep interesting pictures and quotes. I am fascinated by design, by beautiful pictures and by visual arresting images. I also collect thoughtful quotes. I have files of them…at home, at school. Here was a way to do the same thing electronically. So, I now have an account. Not a big deal. Pretty simple. But what really clinched it was that “Pin it” bookmark on the top of my tool bar. It is just so easy to “pin it.” I have just started so I don’t have many things pinned but you are welcome to check it out here. I do have to say there are some weird things about it. Like, now I have a bunch of friends. I am following people I didn’t know I was following and suddenly people are following me. Let’s be clear, these aren’t real friends but I can live with this as I explore it.

3. A Virtual Book Study:
It was a simple suggestion from a former Helping Teacher (@amnewish). “I am going to do this book study. I thought you might like to try it too.” I am now signed up for the ISTE SIGAdmin discussion of World Class Learners: Educating Creative and Entrepreneurial Students (by Yong Zhao). I have never really been in a book study group and certainly have never done one on-line. I just thought maybe it was time to change that. I have signed up and now will be participating through a CourseSite by Blackboard. That will be new to me too.

4. Google+
During the holiday Tia Henriksen (@TiaHenriksen) sent me an invitation to join Google+. I just thought, “Oh no, please, something else to learn.” Yes, that was my first reaction. But then I thought maybe I should jump in anyway and add it to my list. My 16 year old advised me it was a waste of time. He proceeded to lecture me on how Google + did not live up to all it was promised to be. He explained it received a lot of hype at the beginning but it has faded now. My 16 year old knows everything. I won’t tell you my response back to him. I am now in Google+. My circles are pretty sad but you are welcome to connect with me. We are in the age of connection and I need all the help I can get! I’m not really sure I understand it but perhaps the purpose will become clearer as I forge ahead with it. Is Google+ doing anything for you?

5. Diigo
This was the web tool I really was most interested in learning. Over vacation, I spent a few days in my office cleaning up paperwork and culling files. What I discovered was the many fascinating articles I had read about technology prior to launching our original Innovative Learning Designs projects. Buried deep in those files, I had the articles from Maine, from the Rocky Point school district, from Joe Morelock in Oregon and from Chicago as well. At a recent meeting with Apple representatives, they referenced these places. I had forgotten. Orwell Kowalyshyn (@kowalyshyn) gave me many of these references over two years ago. These districts had informed the development of our own projects. I wanted a way to file these articles electronically so I could have them. I’m in diigo now. I have just started but remember, the first step is the hardest one!

6. For Future Learning:
I did go back to visit my LinkedIn account. I still can’t figure out the advantage of being in there. I am not looking for a job, I don’t need any more relationships (I have enough challenges managing the ones I do have), and I haven’t found any of the discussions useful yet. I also find it a strange thing to invite or connect with people. It seems, I don’t know, just kind of bold. Awkward. I find the same true about Google+. It seems like saying, “I have no friends. Will you be mine?”

There are many more things I need to learn. Some of these things I did because I want to redesign my blog (Shhh! It’s a secret). I have a plan. I have sketched it out. This was part of my learning curve before I get to the redesign.

Did this seem pedestrian to you? Do you have something new you learned? Did it feel like “playing?” And is there some other tool you think I should have learned? Let me know.

The author still wonders, given the multitude of Web 2.0 tools “out there,” what makes the most sense for people such as her? If you were not prone to adopting technology easily, what would be the top five you would recommend as useful to others? Why? She would have liked to have a list (partially vetted by the Teacher-Librarian experts of the digital-highway) to know what would really make the best use of her time.


My Top Three List for 2012 (with apologies to Chris Kennedy)

Ahhh…I too have drafted a top three list. Thank you to Chris Kennedy (@chrkennedy) for inspiring this post but sincere apologies as well. As you can see, my categories are a bit different. Unlike Chris, this list does not represent a long tradition but a spontaneous moment of reflection. I am still drowning from “drinking from the firehose” but will endeavour to mark some important moments in the past year. I must say, however, it is a struggle to remember the past year. Hasn’t it rushed by in a blur? What did I really learn? Why can’t I be as reflective, profound and wise as others to nail down the most salient features of my year of learning? Here is my half-hearted and whimsical attempt at some of the good, the bad and the ugly.

Books I should have read and didn’t (see photo):

1. Finnish Lessons
2. Fierce Conversations
3. Where Good Ideas Come From
I started them, I caressed the covers, I read the author’s bios and skimmed the introductions with the fond thought that I might read them, write a review and post it in my blog. Alas, I read the intro, maybe a chapter or two, but I did not read them. They did not hold my attention but I’m sure they are all great books.


Books I did read that were really worth it:
1. Why School? by Will Richardson
2. Inquiry: A District Wide Approach to Staff and Student Learning
3. The Connected Educator
Why School? was fabulous. I bought copies for all my Innovative Learning Designs schools. Inquiry is a book all senior leadership staff should read. What does it mean for members of leadership team to engage in inquiry? Do we share that inquiry with others? Where are we on the learning journey? How can inquiry permeate the organization system-wide? The Connected Educator I read poolside last year during spring break while my personal pool-boy delivered bottled water and pistachio nuts. The four boys (ages 16, 13, 8 & 5) were chained to digital devices in the motel room so I could have a moment of peace and quiet. No wonder I loved the book.

Pro-D Events I wish I attended but didn’t:
1. Learning Forward
2. Workshop: How to write regular posts that others want to read
3. A private boot camp on technology designed just for me (so much to learn, so little time)
I should go to a Learning Forward conference because I have never been and because this is the central focus of my work as a Director of Instruction. I want to go but have not yet made it a priority. As for writing posts, is there any way to make this easy? What a struggle. I hope to write a post weekly but if I manage to get two done a month I am grateful. Writing is hard work. Finally, I want my own boot camp. Someone could walk me through the things I want to learn (this would be personalized learning at its best). And they could show me, hand over hand, just what I need to do. I watch, I do. Repeat (because I forget easy). I wouldn’t have to read a manual or watch a video. It would be face-to-face. This is a totally selfish fantasy. We all need to have at least one.

Professional Development Events I attended and loved (and not necessarily in this order):
1. ISTE 2012
2. Connected Ed Canada Conference 
3. Apple Educational Leaders’ Institute (an invite only event)
These events were about learning and people. Those were my highlights. I love learning and sharing or talking about it with others. It wasn’t just the sessions, it was the in between conversations, walks, discussions, and dinners as well. I was inspired. I was rejuvenated. I was refreshed.  I wanted more.

Things I should have taught my four boys but didn’t:
1. Using technology to create rather than consume (that’s why they need teachers)
2. Creating ibooks rather than playing Minecraft, Travian or Flow
3. Solving inter-personal problems with your brothers (there must be an app for that)

Most Rewarding:
1. Working with teachers
2. Learning
3. System change/innovation
I really like working with teachers. I love learning. I am fascinated by system change. End story. Full stop.

Things I hate:
1. Sitting still in long meetings (I just have to fidget with something)
2. Paper & more paper (Where should it get filed? Is there no respect for trees?)
3. My calendar (For my secretary, it’s a dirty word)
These are the reasons we call “work” “work”.

Best Personal Activities:
1. Starting running, again
2. Family boot camp in Arizona (mountain-biking, hiking, running, weights)
3. Outdoor adventures
Work is sedentary. I need to be physical. Work generally takes place inside offices and meeting rooms. I crave the outdoors.

Best Non-Educational Reading:
1. The Sharper the Knife the Less you Cry: Love, Laugher and Tears in Paris at the World’s Most Famous Cooking School
2. The Kitchen Counter Cooking School: How a Few Simple Lessons Transformed Nine Culinary Novices into Fearless Home Cooks
3. Childrens’ Books (too many of them to choose)

Favorite Treats (indulge when inbox is overflowing):
1. Ms. Vickie’s chips (preferably with dip)
2. Starbucks, especially when someone else is treating (Can you say skinny Caramel Macchiato?)
3. Chocolate covered nuts

Worst Things in my World:
1. Being injured, again
2. Sleep deprivation
3. Workload

Things that make me smile:
1. Outrageous videos (don’t some days just feel like this?)

2. People that make me laugh
3. My children (occasionally)

Things I can’t control:
1. Other people
2. Budgets
3. School Act

Things I can control:
1. Creating space for teachers to experiment with their learning
2. Designing opportunities for innovation
3. Connecting learners together

It was a crazy year. I had lots of fun. I loved making things happen and pushing the envelope of innovation. If it has made a difference for students, for teachers, then there is some gratification. Thanks for being with me (and putting up with me) on my outrageous learning journey!

What’s your rock?

I want to be a linchpin. Seth Godin says, “Every organization needs a linchpin, the one person who can bring it together and make a difference.” Can we create an organization of linchpins committed to making a difference? And he adds, “What will make someone a linchpin is not a shortcut.  It’s the understanding of which hard work is worth doing.” What is the most important work? Which hard work is worth doing? Do we have clarity and laser-like focus on what truly counts?

My personal goal is to transform education. I have a rock in my office that I keep on my desk. My goal is written with a black sharpie across the rock. I have intentionally used this to guide my work and remind me of my focus. My goal is broken down further into two key pieces so when I speak of transforming education it looks like this:

  • Continue to create and support opportunities for Curriculum Transformation (ie: personalized learning, 21st century learning).
  • Use technology as a tool to leverage change in pedagogy in order to transform teaching.

Essential to achieving my goal is building capacity across the organization. For me, this fits. I am fundamentally addicted to learning. I have a thirst for knowledge that is inherent in my being. I do believe that when others are equally engaged and passionate about their own learning, it has the potential to transform the organization and the classroom. When we find what we are passionate about, when it is connected to a higher purpose (making a difference with students), we are released to maximize our potential. The enthusiasm for learning, for growing, for improving, is infectious. It spreads across the organization, across the school, and into the classroom. Students reap the benefits.

At a recent meeting with some district staff and external guests, I brought my rock for “show & tell.” I used it as a symbol to talk about what is important in my work, and the work of the district. I also talked about it in connection with our district. I do feel that if we can transform education in Surrey (the largest district in the province), that we can transform it in other places as well. I see our district as a potential “tipping point.” Do it here, do it in a big way, and it will overflow and tip out to the rest of the province. In some respects, it is embarrassing to share one’s deeply personal goal with others in this fashion. I try not to feel self-conscious but it feels like one is undressing a bit of one’s soul, of what is at the essence of one’s being, in a room full of strangers. I do like to dream big but I don’t always like to share that out publicly. Others might think I am crazy. But, that being said, I would rather be crazy and adventurous than live my life in a stalemated routine of sameness. The “bleeding edge” suits me quite fine.

I have people standing on my rock. How do I know this? They are committed to the same work as me. We do it together. Our Superintendent has described his view of the purpose of our organization: “Building Human Capacity.” I would consider that his rock. And I stand on his rock as well as my own. What is your rock? And whose rock do you stand on? Does the clarity of your focus help drive your actions? We are inundated with the urgent that we sometimes lose sight of what is most important. Let’s bring clarity to our work. Which is the hard work worth doing? What’s your rock?


Extreme Learning: Extreme Influence

Karen Lirenmans is an extreme learner. This is not much different from how she trains. We rode our bikes out to the tip of River Road and back again. It was on the way back and in the last five minutes of our 90-minute ride that she dropped me.  I was actually stunned. I had forgotten she had completed five Ironmans. She is unassuming in her endurance and remarkable in her tenacity. She brings the same intensity to her learning and her teaching. Perhaps what is most remarkable about Karen, however, is the measure of influence she is having across North America. Tucked away in the corner of Bonnacord Elementary School in Surrey, B.C., she spends her days teaching six year olds. This is her first love. She cares passionately and deeply about her students.  She is determined to see them be successful. By night she shares her stories, her struggles and her passion for learning and her students around the globe.

Karen is focused on good instruction. She only recently fell into using technology. Initially, she didn’t even have an iPad. She borrowed the district’s loaner iPod set for a short time.  Seeing her intensity for integrating technology, my team found a way to get her one iPad. That was how it started. We smuggled her into an Apple Canada Bootcamp at the Richmond Headquarters with a secondary school staff so she could get some intensive hands-on instruction. From that small beginning she has since been catapulted into the limelight as an oft-requested presenter, speaker and writer.  She has even been asked to write a book. Her post about Using One iPad in the Classroom (click here) went viral, receiving over 7600 hits.  She has written for the International Reading Association on three separate occasions (click here).  She has written for Kidblog as well (click here). Her podcast is featured here.  Her upcoming webinar is scheduled December 8th and you can register here. She just became a DEN Star (see what that means here). Besides her prolific popularity in the digital world, she is frequently asked to present after school workshops or pro-d sessions in our district. She is one of our district’s Innovators (also referred to as a “mover & shaker”) as well as a Digital Coach. She is now involved in an Innovative Learning Designs Project (Phase 2) at her school as well as the district’s Making Thinking Visible (one-to-one literacy pilot). She is recently became part of a joint initiative between the district and the union focused on Teacher Inquiry.

In her words:

In July 2011, I joined twitter and almost immediately became a connected educator learning from some amazing global educators.  Seeing the potential of being a connected educator, I felt it was important for my students to be connected learners too.  We set up a class blog where we shared our learning with the world (over 20,000 hits).  My students were given their own individual blogs to write for a global audience.  We regularly visited class blogs, and left comments and responded to the comments that left for us.  We skyped, and face timed with classes in Ontario, Saskatchewan, and Illinois, sharing our learning with them while learning from them too.  We took part in twitter chats with other classes, and even started our own hash tag where we shared secrets about Santa with the world.   We learned how to draw a comic character from a student in Ontario through a video his teacher had.  We connected globally and learned from students around the world.  In addition we were involved in several global projects including Quad Blogging, Full of Beans Project, and a Flat Classroom Pilot Project.  We worked collaboratively with many other classes in the Flat Classroom project. While my students learned from me, their teacher, they also learned from one another and from children and teachers around the world.  We were true global learners. Oh and did I mention, my students were only in grade one.

Karen continues to push her own learning, to create connected opportunities for her students and to share her thinking around the globe. Few would know we have a teacher like this hidden in our own backyard. A women of extremes, whether she is training for an Ironman, pursuing her own learning, teaching her students or influencing the educators around her and across the globe—clearly, she is transforming the way we learn and teach.

Karen Lirenman teaches at Bonnacord Elementary School in Surrey, British Columbia. She has taught for over 20 years. You can follow Karen on Twitter at @KLirenman. She is a regular contributor to #1stchat.

21st Century Learners: Activating & Facilitating the Passions of Students

Student:  What is binary code?
Mr. Hong:  I want you to find out for tomorrow and explain it to the class.
This student showed up the next day, explained what he learned to the class, and had completed his first homework assignment of the year in what else, but binary code.  The assignment was to create his own name card for his desk.      

Teaching and learning have evolved.  As a teacher, my role is not to regurgitate my knowledge and expect students to comprehend or even remember it.  My job, as a teacher of the 21st century, is to activate and facilitate the passions of my students and to provide them with the skills required to become proficient and independent learners.

The motto that my students live by is sprawled across the banner of our class website. It is based on the pillars of 21st Century Learning: Communication/Collaboration, Critical thinking and Creativity/Innovation.

Communication/Collaboration: Our blog-based site created a social network for students and amassed a hit count of just under 45,000 hits by the end of the 2012 school year.  This large number of hits resulted from my students posting daily comments on our daily blog/planner, and also from the massive personal learning network (PLN) that is available to teachers via social media streams such as twitter and Facebook.  In addition to their regular blog posts, each student in my class created their own ‘Learning Journeys/E-folio’  to showcase some of the work they were proud of.  All of this built up their confidence, and by the end of the year, students were independently displaying their passions with minimal guidance (click here).

Students learned through clear learning intentions, student generated criteria, deep questioning, self and peer assessment/feedback and self-reflections.  The assessment for learning practices allowed students to take ownership of their learning and ultimately enabled them to articulate what they had learned. Social media integration, such as blog sites, allow students to learn from one another at any time from any place on earth.  Social media is a major component of modern literacy and the power of it needs to be harnessed by more educators.

By accessing the global collection of information that is the Internet, my  students are able to broaden their horizons and expand their cultural knowledge, while at the same time experiencing just how small the world has become.

Many Hillcrest students recently participated in the Global Read Aloud and blogged with classes from across North America. This deepened their understanding of concepts discussed in the novel, as well, it also deepened their understanding of how easy it is to learn from and communicate with students from around the world.

Critical Thinking/Problem Solving: Technology has empowered my students to do what students before them were unable to do. My students often tell me their older siblings are unable to do what they have been doing.  My students are able to find relevant and reliable research very quickly and easily through modern research methods.  They can easily distinguish between what is important and what is irrelevant. In reference to Bloom’s Taxonomy, they are able to reach the higher levels of synthesis and analysis.

Creativity/Innovation: My students are able to create complex graphs through the use of spreadsheets and by inputting different formulas.  They are able to create professional-looking and interactive presentations using various forms of media. Some examples include engaging movies, Prezi presentations, their own music through GarageBand, professional looking photographs using their mobile devices and graphic editing software such as Instagram and Pixlr to enhance their images.  By the end of the year, the students were so creative and there was a great deal of cross-curricular learning taking place.

Students were using what they learned in art class , in other subjects such as science (see the desert tortoise and eco-systems.  Some students drew all their images by hand, and then digitally enhanced their drawings by using graphic design sites such as,, and

Literacy and learning have taken on a whole new shape and form.  It is not simply a matter of being able to read a book and being able to answer questions.  Diving into inquiry and drawing connections between different concepts and worldly issues is a necessity in today’s society. Literacy, as it needs to be understood today, goes far beyond traditional modes of thinking, teaching, and learning.

This guest post was written by Ryan Hong (@RyanJHong), Grade 6/7 teacher at Hillcrest Elementary School in Surrey School District (#36).  Author’s Note: I am lucky to be able to work with a great staff at Hillcrest Elementary.  I have learned much from each and every teacher I work with.  We work collaboratively and each of us brings our unique passions to the table.  I teach a Grade 6/7 combined class and work with 4 other teachers who do the same.  I am also very lucky to work with a progressive and supportive administrator who sees value in teaching students the skills that will enable students to own their learning!  I have much respect for Yrsa Jensen, Anne-Marie Middleton, Linda Wilson, Alison VanWermeskerken, and Natasha Findlay.  We model the 4 C’s of 21st Century Learning and are dedicated professionals.    


Pondering Personal Space, Connected Minds and Action

Chance favours the connected mind.
Steven Johnson

How do we create a coral reef in our organizations? Where do good ideas happen? Can we create an environment where innovation thrives? Is there a space where good ideas can collide? Do we encourage opportunities for personal reflection too? And how do we allow that collaborative collision space, those innovative ideas, to generate action?

I keep thinking about the tweet from Neil Stephenson:

I want a coral reef too. I hunt down Steven Johnson. I remember I have the book (Where Good Ideas Come From: A Natural History of Innovation). It sat on my night table for a little while. True confessions: I only read the first few chapters, as the book didn’t quite hold me. I head back to the digital highway and find some reviews that give me the basics on what I need to know.  I tweet a librarian who connects me to some more good related resources.

I watch the video:

Johnson has many entertaining ideas but I am particularly struck by the notion of connection. “Chance favours the connected mind” keeps reverberating in my head. I see it lived in our district, through our innovative projects, our Engaging the Digital Learner series and through our district’s professional learning network (see our twitter hashtag #sd36learn). I follow the hashtag and I see teacher after teacher making a connection with someone across the system. This connection often goes beyond the virtual.  Sometimes I see they visit each other’s schools, make arrangements to meet for real coffee and/or discuss their practice. I see people connecting across grades and from high school to elementary school in unusual ways, creating productive alliances around teaching and learning. This is a curious thing.

Johnson talks about the ‘liquid network’ as “an environment where ideas come into contact with each other.” He provides the historical context of coffee houses in 17th and 18th century–these were places people gathered to share ideas over coffee. We do that virtually via twitter. We do it in real-time, face-to-face in many schools. It often happens organically. But can we be strategic about ensuring it happens? Is there a liquid network in all our schools? Throughout our districts? Where are we taking time to incubate our hunches? Where are we connecting our good ideas beyond the virtual realm?  Does it happen in our staff rooms? In the hallways? At the Board Office? In the meetings we hold? At pro-d days or in between sessions at conferences? And do we create this same type of space for students in the classroom? In the library? The learning commons? Can we structure this architecturally into our system rather than leaving it to organic and spontaneous hit and miss activity? Can we be intentional and strategic in our diffusion strategies?

And when do we take the time for our own personal reflection so that we can come to the table rich with ideas and thoughts? Nigel Barlow asked us, “Where are you when you have great ideas?” Think about it. Where are you? Some of my best ideas come during or after a run. For me, these ideas come when there is an opportunity for both silence and alone time, often on the heels of a complex problem, significant question, or conundrum where someone at work has challenged me. Some of the best work we do is when we are asked curious questions, not yes or no questions, but those kind of questions that create that puzzled look on our faces. These are thought-provoking and disturbing questions that can create some uncomfortable dissonance. This is a good thing. I need the personal time to process, to reflect and to see things from different angles. Then I can come back to the coral reef to let the ideas collide, grow bigger and come to life.

and come to life. Coral reefs are one of the most diverse ecosystems that flourish with life. The liquid network–whether it is over virtual coffee or the life-giving waters of the coral reef– is a potent metaphor; ideas connect, expand and are adopted.  Can we design our organizations to do the same?  I grapple with the notion of creating a coral reef for ideas and collaboration but I keep thinking about action. Does it come alive? Does it change our schools? Does it change our practice? Does it change learning?  Does it change me? How can I work better and differently in my position so that all of us can pause to think deeply, to connect richly with others (both virtually and in person), and then to allow those innovative ideas to become a lived reality across a large system.

I am looking for an organizational coral reef where ideas collide in some form of liquid network. I want whole scale change that permeates the system and where ideas are so attractive others are pulled to them from across schools and the organization. This is not about a one-classroom silo of significant change dependent on one teacher, or one team of teachers with a supportive administration. This is about creating capacity across a monolithic system. This is about generative conversations that lead us to learn and grow in such ways that we are compelled to change our practice. Call it what you may–the coral reef, the liquid network—but this becomes the inspiration for transformation. The contagion of good ideas spreads, is explored, and is action-ed. The organization grows and reinvents itself. We reinvent ourselves. And as we do that, our own sense of purpose, our own passion for our work, grows and comes alive as well. And professionally, this is how we come to life, too.