Chasing Squirrels

I don’t blog twice in one day very often, but these posts are almost writing themselves today.   I could subtitle this post ‘teacher talk…recorded!’.  I had the great pleasure of speaking with Chris Cluff, master EDU conversation facilitator and creator of the Chasing Squirrels podcast.

Rewind 10 months. Podcast? Summit and conference presenter? Blogger? Networking? Online Youtube session? Really? How?

Life is funny like that.  Saying ‘yes’ has had a bit of a chain reaction this year.  It’s been the busiest teaching year of my life because I’ve decided to say yes to opportunities.  It has been so rewarding, largely because I’ve be-friended so many amazing teachers both in and out of my Board.

Educators can empower each other. A quick tweet or DM to make a connection or ask a question on behalf of a new member of your PLN can change your trajectory.  Teachers we meet help shape our edu interests and their passions are often contagious.  I always want to try something new after meeting an energized teacher.

The new, this time, came from a quick Twitter DM sent from a new friend that said something like “Chris, you’ve got to talk to this guy”.  A few weeks later and I have a podcast in the can!

It was a blast.  First of all, Chris researches his podcast guests and checks out their digital footprint. He then creates an amazing sketchnote that serves as a conversation roadmap. So cool.


Next we just chatted, off air. We geeked out on teacher talk.  Eventually Chris asked if we should hit record and officially start the podcast.  He warned the hour would fly by, and it literally felt like ten minutes.

I ramble, I talk too fast, I clearly say ‘um’ too often, but I must admit that sharing my views and motivations on record was somewhat liberating.  I reflect personally all the time.  Reflecting along with someone else took it to another level.

I told Chris afterwards that there is something special about a podcast.  As the listener you are not distracted with visuals and you end up tuning very carefully into the nuances of conversation.

Tuning in.  Active listening skills.  I see opportunity here in my classroom.  Another medium to adapt, explore and add to the digital toolbelt? Hopefully my students take my lead and say ‘yes’.

A night of teacher talk left me with a new pal, a growing network and a very cool experience to reflect upon. Chris’ inquisitive nature is indeed contagious.  He’s chasing squirrels.  I think I know why.



Talking Shop


Ah, teacher talk.  A beautiful thing for an inquiring educator. Not so good for spouses of said educators (haha!).  Connecting with others can be so fruitful, especially if it is a true give and take of ideas.

How does a whole day (and then some) of teacher talk sound?  Motivating? Encouraging? Challenging? Celebratory? Exhausting?  All of the above?

Yesterday our #tllp2017 #listenlouderlttp team met for our first official day of planning. The fall kickoff of our Listen Louder: Amplifying Student Voice in Math Self-Assessment through Technology Teacher Leadership and Learning Program project is fast approaching and we wanted a day to meet face-to-face to ensure that we are ready for the first day of school in the fall. We don’t want to waste a day.  We invited teachers currently in the project trenches, research folks and even a colleague representing the academia world to ensure that our teacher talk was on point. We feel that we have so much to learn (as teachers) and see value in our inquiry. We’re confident that putting the energy into creating reflective, self-assessing students will be worth the energy. Big time.

We feel that students who amplify their voice by having choice in the tools they use to share their thinking will be empowered with the agency provided to them.  Will they engage in self-directing activities? Will they be motivated by having their voice honoured? Will we see a difference across ages and divisions?  Can we recognize that learning is a long-game and we should focus on scaffolding the how-to-learn skill-set? Will there be an audience for what we uncover through this process?

Teacher talk – teacher talk – teacher talk…or teacher asks?  Has someone ever studied the ratio of statements to questions in a ‘teacher talk’? Hey, researchers, might be onto something here (ha, ha).  Sharing, telling, asking, refining, questioning, reanalyzing, changing mindsets, more talking.  What elements come together to make the best kind of shop talk in the EDU world?

It was a busy, and at times heavy, day.  When you are funding your own release time with project budget, time is money.

In terms of focused ‘shop talk’, I think our TLLP Team got their money’s worth yesterday.


Here’s our not-so-concise elevator pitch:

We are exploring self-assessment as a learning tool…and we have questions:

  • How does the use of reflection frameworks (e.g., single-point rubrics) affect student meta-cognition and teacher practice?
  • What is the relationship between technology and student choice and voice?
  • What are some promising practices for teacher reflection?

We are exploring how teachers can amplify student voice in classrooms by providing students with choice in the digital tools they use to ‘show what they know’.

Follow the story at #ListenLouderTLLP

Energy-Exchanging at the London Ontario Google Summit

I was flattered when approached to put in a proposal to be one of Thames Valley’s speakers at the May 2017 Google Summit held at Saunder’s Highschool in London, Ontario.  My initial “what could I possibly…” instinct was short-lived and an idea for a session on the power of visual literacy popped into my head.  I did not have a specific idea of what that meant, but I typed it into the form and hit ‘send’.

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Three months of consciously collecting relevant digital student samples, academic rationales and real-world samples/inspiration followed. Before I knew it I had too many ideas in my Drive folder. I also fine-tuned my own knowledge at this point.  If I was going to be the ‘expert’ (haha!) I’d need to dig a bit deeper into my tools of choice – Drawings and Slides.

google slidesgoogle draw




I think I might approach the importance of visual literacy slightly different than others. Visuals are crucial in building context, emotion, connections and inferences.  So much of what we ‘read’ is covered in imagery or at least in fonts that are manipulated to look like images themselves.  Consider a walk through a mall, a peek in your mailbox, or any reading you do online or on any sort of screen.  Images are powerful. Readers need to consider how to make reading inferences not simply based on the text alone.  Writers need to know how to create and PUBLISH media that honours the importance of the visual.

I think about my students.  I think about my own kids. What do they gravitate towards? What do they enjoy creating? I know from my experiences in primary/junior that writing tasks involving the inclusion of visual media are met with much more anticipation than text-only writing.  The out-of-nowhere success of the graphic novel genre speaks to this. There is as much engagement with strong writers as there is with the more reluctant writers with these publishing opportunities.  Memes, blog entries, book snaps, PWIMs or image-labeling, info-graphic creation, website or slideshow work, non-fiction digital posters, photo essays (word free) and slogan-based writing of all sorts is easily tech-enhanced and fun.

Why are these visually-amplified selections of writing more fun to create?  I have two theories:

  1. It’s real world. Aside from that rare, quiet moment when I can actually read an image-free novel, how often do you read text that isn’t connected to imagery? These students have been raised in a world of hyper-colour, fast-pitch messages.  They speak the language.
  2. It’s powerful.  It grabs audiences.  The visuals demand attention from the reader and then the text becomes apparent and the deeper message is received.  Think about the writing you see in hallways and malls where you actually stop and look. Examine what it was that grabbed you.  Where you the target audience?

Somehow writing with tech makes my son want to write.  It’s a simple as that.  He watches me and his mom write.  It’s not with a pencil (unless it’s chicken-scratched to-do lists on a ripped sticky note).  This is his world of literacy.

So in a nutshell I shared a bunch of ways to grab audiences with the cool features in Slides and Drawings.  The WHY matters the most.  I hope that came through.

A Picture’s Worth 1000 Words Slide Deck


This is what happens at voluntary teacher gatherings: you share your energy with others – they share their energy back 10-fold.  I met so many super humans at this Summit.  The face-to-face introductions after months of twitter hearts are a lot of fun.  Brand new faces are everywhere and you’ll likely find your digital PLN growing each day.  You leave feeling like you have more expertise at your fingertips.  Reaching out beyond your silo seems so much easier.

There were a couple stand-out moments for me at this event.  I entered the 3-minute demo slam that is held at the end of the first day.  This entailed taking the stage in between other competitors (most of whom are pros, authors or keynote speakers!) and trying to infuse some humour into a techie show-off of sorts.  Fun!  Nerve-wracking too. Why subject yourself to it?  I figured it was a good way to put myself ‘out-there’ and make some more connections.  It was really cool to read the supportive tweets.   I came in second place after the voting. I’ll take it!

Another highlight was hanging with the presenters and the Edtech Team afterwards and just listening to people’s education journeys.  Lines are never straight in this career. After thinking about the amazing people I was able to talk with, it appears as though the lines for successful teachers are often formed into webs.  Connect, connect, connect. Opportunities arise through connection.  (Laser tag with this group was a blast ~haha~, but honestly, ‘Bulbosaur’ is not a cool code name.  Not cool.)

I think I have a better appreciation of what being innovative means today. There are some teachers out there really shaking things up.  Inspiring.  Lucky students.

The Summit met my high expectations and then some.  I so need to sleep now.


Shout-out time to the Thames Valley and Edtechteam crews
for putting on such a well-run event.  Kudos.  See you next year.


Amplifying Voices – Oh, Canada!

Friday, April 21st, was at once a relief, a celebration, and a fruitful realization of 8 months of planning.  It was our Grade 4 Film Night Celebration at the Aylmer Old Town Hall.  My students and I took over the historic venue for an hour.  It was a multi-modal, multi-literacy, multi-art, multi-media performance and premiere.  If you bear with me, I’ll walk you through how I envisioned the evening and how my students realized that goal.

Aylmer Film Night INVITE 2017

As our invitation summarizes, the evening for our visitors would start with a visit to the green screen lobby where a number of students armed with iPads gave you a selection of background images to select from.  These images came from our research time at the Aylmer Public Library and the Aylmer Museum.  Step back in time!

Visitors included parents, siblings, seniors from the community and collaborators (the VON, the Public Library, the Museum, Town Council and the 150 Committee, inspiring teachers and administrators, local historians, and the Mayor).  After saying cheese, they were greeted by a clothesline of identity poems using digitally manipulated images from around the community taken on iPads.

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They were then invited to enter the auditorium by a student greeter (perhaps after receiving your VIP pin) and were able to choose a seat to best take in the show.  Visitors likely looked up and saw the giant union jack painted on the ceiling, reminding them of the age of the theatre (what an amazing venue! – thank you Town of Aylmer Canada 150 Committee)!

At show time, the students and I did a little pep talk in the lobby, recognizing the unique opportunity we had to share our voices in the community.  We were introduced, took the stage, said hello, and sang a song we wrote especially for the night.

Click here to watch our ‘Canada 150: Explore – Create – Reflect & Connect’ song.

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It felt so great to sing it outside of our rehearsal situations (thank you for your patience, neighboring teachers).

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In my classroom I talk a lot about showing and vocalizing appreciation for others.  It was fitting for us, then, to identify our VIPs for the evening and give the audience a standing ovation.  A lot of great people in Aylmer gave time and resources to help us learn more about our Town.  This gave our inquiry and research project a richness unattainable in a classroom.  Stories from seniors, a visit in the Mayor’s Council Chambers, building and community tours by local history buffs.  We were so fortunate to partner with the Aylmer Public Library and a Western Prof as they led us through hours of microfilm and archive database work, citation practice and web-savvy tutorials.  A VIP pin and a standing O was the least we could do. I am very grateful to these individuals for these opportunities.

It is at this point I asked my students to sit and we premiered our 21 minute film. The film consisted of over 120 student-created media pieces.  We created greenscreen memes and filmed TED-Talk style videos in front of archival photography.  The focus of the TED talks was to take the perspective of a future Town Councillor and create a 3 point plan to make our Town even better.  We worked with Mme. Hatch to film bilingual community tours (using photo puppets and digital locations captured on our iPads).  We also showed a sampling of the hours of work we put into our community research “glideshows” (try Spark Page if you haven’t already!).  I tried my hand at screen-casting to capture these websites ‘gliding’.  The students’ final products turned out stunningly!  Town Council is placing a digital copy of the film into the Canada 150 time capsule for future generations to unearth.

The students were so proud to see themselves on a real big screen.  And yes – we wore our track and field t-shirts.  Go team!

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Watch our culminating filmCLICK HERE

I was very pleased to introduce the students as “your future Town Councillors” at the conclusion of the film!

At this point we did a shared reading of a shared writing piece we completed collaboratively on a shared Google Drawing using a variety of sentence-starters.  I was excited to see a few students pull in some curriculum connections from the Fall. We read from our iPads (green-style):

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We ended the night with our version of the White Stripes’ song ‘We’re Going To Be Friends’.  We performed this song at an assembly back in September as a way to celebrate new friendships at the beginning of the school year.  It just felt right to end the evening reinforcing the idea that friendships and connections are the glue holding communities together.

After final applause we received warm words from Town Councillor Laur and then we headed back to the lobby, feeling great and fist-bumping.  Parents and VIPs were gracious with their feedback, and then it was done. Success!  And time for a nap!

(I think I have a lot of thank you notes to write!)

Detailed, full-length student media samples can be found on the website we’ve created for A Kid’s Guide To Canada.  Artefact Website

Manipulating Reality

Students were tasked with ‘hooking’ in their audience with a poetic provocation.  Take an image of a place in our community – sourced from a recent community photography walking tour – and twist it digitally so as to perhaps camouflage the original location. Make the audience look twice, right?  And while they’re at it, perhaps read the selection of adjectives each student has added to their community identity poem.

How to hook your audience with a visual POW in a few easy steps.

  1. Take great photos.  We used the grid feature on our iPads to select images that filled 2/3rds of the screen. This left some white space – important!
  2. Import photo into Google Drawing.  Shrink/size the image until it covers 1/4th of the drawing.
  3. Using image options, tint the photo and adjust transparency and brightness so that a black font would contrast with the image nicely.
  4. Now flip the photo vertically and horizontally to create a kaleidoscopic effect.
  5. Add text boxes with your message and arrange them strategically.

BOOM! A futuristic look at something ordinary.  We focused on locations in our community. Let’s find out if our audience can figure out where in town we were.

Putting the visual into literacy.

Carters identity poem

Hunters identy poem!!!!!

Nevaeh's Identity peom

Kyle's identity poem

Singing about Science!

The #ichoosetapwater video contest was promoted via poster back in the fall.  I don’t know why, but I’ve never entered any contests before with my class.  This one aligned so nicely with my ‘community citizenship through curriculum’ project that I had to do it.  Using iPads daily in the room has been empowering for kids – both in creativity and in learning that there are so many ways to share their thinking in a way that suits their personal voice.  I wanted to pull some of their tech know-how into the film contest.

I blogged earlier about the creative process we followed to produce stop motion animation videos in small groups tackling the various lyrics that were written based on brainstorming students did collaboratively on a Padlet.  We invited our other grade 4 friends into the process to make it a big group work project.  We really dug into the purpose of the contest and ensured that our main points were clearly highlighted in the song.  Conservation.  Preservation.  Pollution.  Energy.  Re-usability.  Appreciation of our great lake natural resources.  Big themes worth singing about, right?

Who would have thought we’d not only get invited to the Blue Carpet Event,

but actually come in first place?  $1000 to put towards student learning.  Amazing water bottles for all the students.  Incredibly, an opportunity to record a 30 second public service announcement ‘commercial’ for a popular radio station in St. Thomas.  These are all incredible opportunities for kids supported by the events’ sponsors.

File_006 (2)Even with all this, I think the most important part of the process was showing students that THEIR work had a real audience outside of our classroom.  Just being invited to an event at an art gallery during an evening and having our film screened was a big win for the grade 4s.  The VIPs would come to the front, one by one, opening golden papers to announce finalists.  Our school name wasn’t spoken until the end.  Then the photograph time started!  We posed for photos for 15 minutes.  Within the hour their success was tweeted about, posted on facebook, and official statements were collected for the papers.  A REAL audience. Powerful stuff.

The money will go to purchase more iPads.  Without them, our stop motion animations wouldn’t have happened in the first place.  They have become the go-to tool for creative endeavors in and outside of my classroom (yahoo to their portability!).  Then the phone call came to book time with myFM 94.1 to arrange a recording time for our 30 second radio spot.  That’s when the excitement started all over again.

We practiced for 30 minutes prior to recording time and got pumped up for the experience. We went up to the room where the myFM set up captured the interest of the students and set the tone for the event.

We did 3 recordings.  The first was our 30 second commercial.  The earlier practice paid off and we got the recording we wanted on the first attempt!  What a great feeling – a real collaborative success!  We then recorded the full length song, including the spoken lines near the end.  Nailed it on the first try as well!  We were able to listen to the playback immediately and watch as the production crew manipulated pitch and amplitude of the sound waves (a perfect science link for grade four).  Finally, the myFM team had the students co-create a typical radio ad with sound effects, background music, and attention-grabbing vocals.  We talked about audience, purpose, and the ins and outs of radio advertising.  All in all, a great hour of learning and creating!

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So how did it all turn out?  The 30 second spot, the full song (which will play one day during regular rotation!) and the practice commercial were fine-tuned at the station and sent back. They sound so great.

There’s something so satisfying about an idea becoming a successful final product. Students literally found their voice, and for two weeks their audience is in the 10s of thousands.  Incredible.

30 Second Commercial Audio

Full version

Having Fun Creating an Ad

A huge thank you to the sponsors for a meaningful experience that these 9 and 10 year olds will never forget.

Canada 150 Project ‘Portal’

The new google sites makes creating a webpage really fun and truly simple.  I have been collecting student samples of work to share for the national project entitled A Kid’s Guide To Canada and wondering about the cumbersome nature of uploading so many digital works to someone else’s website form.  I want to share as many cool things as we can but was not interested in the administration side of multiple uploads.

Then, brainstorm!

Through the amazing sharing capacity of Google Drive, I was able to upload the samples I wanted to a Google Site that I created.  I uploaded the Google Site link to the A Kid’s Guide to Canada webpage and now I only need to update my Site, not theirs.  What this means is I’m more likely to add fresh content as it is as simple as selecting new videos, photos or other works and inserting them into the existing site.

We’re JUST getting started, but check it out!  Poetry, digital photography manipulation, bilingual green-screen films and heritage artifact memes to come!

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