Make School Different: 5 Things We Need to Stop Pretending

I have very much enjoyed reading the diverse posts at #makeschooldifferent of late. I just can’t help adding my Top 5 to the virtual discourse, so here goes…

1. We need to stop pretending… to celebrate differences in our staff and students and actually embrace them. There are many educators trying to change the culture of the traditional school. This includes developing new types of relationships with students in an effort to promote the most positive and productive learning environment possible. Too many teachers, administrators and parents are afraid of change. In doing so they themselves become ‘barriers’ to creating a unique educational experience that every student deserves.

2. We need to stop pretending… that every student needs to be a vocal leader who loves school. In an effort to create a positive school environment and turn out ‘ good character robots,’ some teachers attempt to force all students to be ‘leaders.’ I am all for encouraging students to be kind, respectful, happy people. Not everyone has a bubbly personality or is interested in taking up the next great cause selected by the teacher. This does not make them a bad person.

3.  We need to stop pretending… that just because we call something an authentic learning task (or real world learning task) that it is. For example, when we ask our class to calculate the area of a back yard which is 10m by 14m, and have them figure out how much it would cost to build a fence, this is not an authentic learning task. Do we do this at home all of the time? The answer is no! If we were to go buy the materials and build the fence, we can then call it an authentic learning task.

4. We need to stop pretending… that learning needs to happen in a classroom with a teacher looking over a student’s shoulder. Depending on the grade level, teachers need to get out of the way and let students learning on their own. We should be there to assist them not micromanage them.  

5. We need to stop pretending… that the positives of grades and standardized testing outweigh the negatives. Simply…they don’t

Hope you enjoy or don’t enjoy my list. Either way, I hope it adds to the discussion.

I challenge all educators from TLDSB to share their Top 5.


Learning or Achievement

“Grades are history” is a profound way of thinking about the difference between achievement (the past) and learning (the present and future).

This one of those ideas I wish I had articulated myself…thanks @pmillerscdsb!

I could not agree with you more.

Learning Momentum

What is our purpose? Our why?

Most people want to say learning. Student learning that carries on beyond the classroom. But the further you get from the student desk, the harder it is to say that, and mean it. Get far enough away from the student desk and it sometimes becomes less about learning and more about achievement. More about standardized scores, grades and averages. When you can’t see and hear and experience student learning directly, it is easy (and understandable) to look for measures to know how well our children are learning. The trouble is that these measures are limited in what they can tell you, just as they are limited in what they can tell the student.

Achievement is about the past.
Learning is about the present and future.

Students often see grades as an end point. Grades are history. Whether it’s an A or a D, a grade says “That’s it…

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Thanks to our IL and friend!

We are now less than one month away from our TLDSB Dragons Den pitches. All 27 groups have finalized their products/business and are continuing to gather research and find ways to improve their products and plans.

However I want to spend a moment talking about one of our adult collaborators (Mr. Peter Yungblut). Last year he assisted us by interviewing parents and students involved in our collaborative learning project.

This year, he has been working hard behind the scenes to gather dragons to listen to our student pitches and ask important questions. The inclusion of local business leaders and educators will provide the students with a real world experience (something we are striving for as educators). Peter’s hard work and dedication to the project is continuing to improve it, He continues to make strong connections with our community and use them to provide all the students with an authentic learning experience. In the beginning our project included 3 schools and over 100 grade 7/8 students. Now it not only includes them but also community members who can bring their expertise and experience to our students. This is what education should be about!!

On behalf of everyone who is involved in the Dragons Den, thank you Peter for being so dedicated to this project, our students and creating a unique learning experience in our board!


PD – Kudos to the ICT Staff at TLDSB

Most educators will tell you anyone who listens that there is nothing more frustrating than being forced or subjected to PD sessions that are a total waste of time. The outrageous demands placed on educators today coupled with the finite time we have to achieve them, means that we need every minute to count. With this in mind I want to dedicate this blog to the ICT staff at Trillium Lakelands District School Board.


Over the past 4 years I have been involved in several technology based initiatives and programs at our board. These include the Integrated Technology Champions program, the Innovation through Inquiry Program, Digital Learning Classroom initiative and a recipient of a Program Enhancement Grant. All of these programs are designed and run by our dedicated ICT staff members.

Their efforts have enabled my students and I:

-to not only integrate technology into our learning environment, but Redefine HOW WE LEARN (SAMR model) AND HOW WE SHARE IT WITH THE WORLD (Twitter, YouTube, D2L & our classroom website)

-to consistently choose the most appropriate type of technology to complete any given task (IPad, laptop, Google Drive, online application etc.)

-to engage in learning with students from other school – collaboration and group projects through the web (Dragons Den)

-to be aware of our digital footprints and how to shape them to our advantage

-to understand that netiquette is a core value of all digital relationships

-to push the boundaries of our understanding and move outside our comfort zones (infographics, sharing completed work with the world)

-to view technology, AT ITS BEST as a powerful tool which can be used to develop our best selves, while AT ITS WORST  as a video game console which can create a generation of copy and pasting plagiarizers. 


Many of the best aspects of my classroom, powerful assignments, engaging learning opportunities, positive learning environment, integration of technologies to redefine our learning outcomes can be attributed back to conversations at PD sessions led by our ICT department. Every session I have attended over that last 5 years has left me excited to return to school to share these ideas/suggestions with peers and students. How many workshops can you say that you have been to where you know there will be several ideas or learning processes that can be brought back to your classroom and will improve the learning experiences of your students. While our leaders continually provide us with training on new programs, apps, and ideas for how they could be used, they always look to see what we are attempting to achieve with our students and how we work together to share our best practices with others.

In particular I would like to thank Jeremy and Tina for all of the time and effort they have put forth over the past few years. They consistently hear the whining, complaining and attempt to fix all of the many things that tend to go wrong with technology on a daily basis. Their patience and understanding when overwhelmed by teachers’ anxiety, frustration, anger and downright rudeness is inspiring to me. Thank you to all of the ICT staff, especially those we never see. We know you are working for all of us.

Keep up the great work.

I Wonder…Student Driven Inquiry Learning

Recently friends of mine have begun a new Twitter account called @AllinResource. They are hoping to create a network of educators who are willing to share low-prep, accessible, cross-curricular resources that students actually like!

As educators we are all looking for that. This is my first addition to their new enterprise. My students love the project. We had our entire school come to visit the projects and my class taught them about what they learned. It was some of the best learning we did all year.

Projects included: learning card tricks, building a penny board, building a fishing lure, making a bow and arrow, making a boomerang, taking apart and cleaning a carburetor just to name a few.

I hope your students enjoy this project as much as mine did.

Good luck with the new account (John and Mike)

The formatting is a problem. I have included the assignment, feedback form and rubric. If anyone wants the originals please feel free to contact me at my twitter account.




                                                              I WONDER…

           Have you ever wondered how they get the caramel inside the Caramilk bar? Me too!! Well here is your chance to explore the unknown. Your can impress family, friends and classmates with your knowledge of the world. You may wish to learn a new skill (juggling, magic tricks) or making or building a fishing lure, skateboard etc. BE CREATIVE! and HAVE FUN!  

You must:

 1)    Choose a topic, something you do not know or want to know more about

2)   Clear your topic with your teacher

3)   Develop 5 – 10 questions to help guide your research or learning

4)   Research the topic (using the organizer provided)

5)   Develop a presentation, demonstration, anything you can think of to share your findings about your topic. Be as creative as possible!

6)   Our class will share our work with the rest school.



                                     I Wonder Success Criteria


Knowledge of Content

£   Using correct form to share information                 (poster, PowerPoint, procedural, narrative, report, recap)

£   Provides critical information on the topic, to improve audience understanding

Understanding of Content/Form

£   Uses proper format based on form chosen



£   Clearly organized information

£   Logically organized information

£   Developed with the audience in mind               (complexity and steps)


£   Use of clear language to explain ideas(especially steps involved in a process)

£   Conventions (spelling)

£   Effective use of visuals/diagrams to demonstrate steps


£   Provides examples to improve personal understanding and that of the audience

£   Use of success criteria to assess and improve work

£   Reflection of what you have done to learn a new skill or develop your understanding


 1st Star


Next Step:

How to BUMP IT UP!




                                                    I Wonder Rubric



Level 1

Level 2

Level 3

Level 4


Knowledge & Content

(e.g. concepts; ideas; opinions; relationships among facts, ideas, concepts, themes)


limited understanding

of content and provides little detail to support topic


some understanding

of content and provides some detail to support topic




of content and provides strong detail to support topic


thorough understanding

of content and provides exceptional detail to support topic



(e.g. planning, generating ideas, gathering information, analysis, forming conclusions etc. )

Displays little planning and organization of information.


Results in limited development of the topic.


Displays some planning and organization of information.


Results in a basic development of the topic.


Displays substantial planning and organization of information.


Results in extensive development of the topic.


Displays exceptional planning and organization of information.


Results in a thorough development of the topic.




(e.g. presentation techniques, conventions, organization etc.)

Organizes ideas

and uses conventions,

vocabulary with




Limited use of creativity and a hook to attract audience to presentation


Organizes ideas

and uses conventions,

vocabulary with




Some evidence of creativity and a hook to attract audience to presentation


Organizes ideas

and uses conventions,

vocabulary with




Effective use of creativity and a hook to attract audience to presentation


Organizes ideas

and uses conventions,

vocabulary with

a high degree



Highly effective use of creativity and a hook to attract audience to presentation




(e.g., writing process, critical/creative analysis, critical literacy, metacognition,)

Uses critical/

creative thinking


with limited


Uses critical/

creative thinking


with some


Uses critical/

creative thinking

processes with



Uses critical/

creative thinking

processes with a high degree of effectiveness



Student Name:











Students are too Smart for False Authentic Learning Tasks: I Need Your Help

As the school year comes to an end it is to take stock of the successes, failures, shining moments and heart breaking letdowns. One thing I can honestly say about education is that it is NEVER boring. While students may sometimes feel bored with what they must learn (i.e. polyhedrons) and teachers question what they are forced to teach (making polyhedrons meaningful to a 12 year old???), we do however get to experience authentic learning with our students. 

After spending the past 3 days in Toronto, Ontario with 50 grade 7/8 students I again see what education could be. Interacting with real people outside of our (falsely) insulated classroom walls is critically important. What is a teacher to do? The ridiculous size of the Ontario Curriculum Documents precludes most teachers from taking the time to provide their students with real life learning. Unfortunately we have tricked ourselves into thinking that authentic learning tasks are ones which mirror real life situations. 

The reality is that students are too smart to be tricked into fully engaging in tasks that are simply fake. Yes they may mirror real world situations but they are NOT REAL. Do we as adults give our best effort when engaged in meetings and situations that are not real? It takes more time, effort, creativity, money, and technology to provide REAL AUTHENTIC LEARNING TASKS for students. It also takes less curriculum being forced upon educators from above, less bureaucracy (hoops) for educators to jump through, and less time spent justifying that I am doing my job and more time spent on actually doing my job.

Next year…I want my students too feel that what they spent their time, energy and effort on was real, and not something I as an educator have developed to resemble the real world. 

This may only be a dream, but it is mine.

It may end up being yet another false authentic learning task, but I don’t want it to be.

If you have any real authentic learning tasks that you have completed with your students I would love to hear about them. I am looking for creative, interesting ideas I can try and share with others.

Happy teaching

Technology in Education: The Sexual Education of the 1980’s

No, this blog is not what you think it is about!

As a teacher who is working to responsibly integrate new technologies into my classroom as a means of engaging my students and affording them the opportunity learn real world skills, I am frustrated with those who continue to live in fear of it. I am not a social networker. I still do not have a Facebook account, I do not Snapchat and I do not spend hours a week sharing my life story with people from my past whom I was not friends with in high school. After an inspiring workshop given by @kevinhoneycutt, he helped me re-evaluate my opposition to social media. His message of learning to use it for practical (even educational) purposes helped me overcome my general angst toward the often ridiculous nature of social media (this is just my opinion of course).

It has been inspiring these past few months to share ideas, read posts, gather ideas to improve my practice. I would like to take a moment to thank all of those people who openly share their ideas and experiences. This past week at my school (I am a grade 6/7/8 teacher in a rural school in Ontario, Canada), I was discussing my plan to create a classroom twitter account next year so that my students can share their ideas and work with the world. In the process I will model for and with them how to use this technology to better your life and the life of others around you. My colleague expressed how this was a bad idea and that I should not do this.

This stance was thinly veiled in a cloak personal concern. It was explained to me that parents may not be happy with this and I should make sure I am protected. While I agree the safety of my students and self are of paramount importance, that is not a good enough reason to not do it. If one were to read between the lines it was quite obvious that the warning was about not taking a chance of causing difficulty for the school, not for me personally. My response to my colleagues reply was that if we are worried about using Twitter as a teaching tool as it may cause problems…that is the greatest argument in favour of using it! Too many of my students have Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat accounts which they use with reckless abandonment and little or no reflective thought. I have taught my students about internet safety. We have even had a local police officer in the cyber crimes division in to speak with the students, yet based on what I have seen and been told it has clearly not sunk in.

I equate this mentality of fear regarding technology in schools to the introduction of sexual health education in elementary schools several decades ago. Many felt sexual health should be taught at home. These students are too young to learn about this! Learning about sex will make them have sex younger! Well guess what, learning about sexual health has not resulted in kids have sex at younger ages, rather it has resulted in kids having safer sex. Which has also directly related to a drop in teen pregnancy rates. 

Anyone who is reading this is most likely one of the converted. You are probably introducing your students to new technologies all the time, and most importantly working with them to learn to use it safely and responsibly. I ask all of you…do not let those who wish to live in a culture of fear regarding technology in our classrooms win. Rather take the lead yourself and show them what your students can do, when working together with a responsible adult.

Introducing Twitter in the classroom will not give our students viruses…rather it will help them practice safe technology usage and limit dangerous behaviours on-line. 


In Praise of Middle Schools

Currently I am a grade 6/7/8 teacher in a K-8 elementary school. Our entire school has less than 100 students (we are a small rural school). While this affords us many benefits: such as a family atmosphere, whole staff collaboration and an ability to build a relationship with every student, it does also have several significant drawbacks. Classes are most often prescribed in advance offering little chance for students who may need a break from one another to get it. It also provides no opportunity for grade level collaboration between colleagues and students within our building as there is only one classroom with each grade (although technology such as Google Drive and Adobe Connect have allowed us to collaborate with students from other schools which has been great!!).

But perhaps the single greatest flaw in this K-8 system is the administration and expectations placed on students and staff in a school which has students ranging from 5 years of age to 14. With increasing work hours, broken families, increased curricular expectations and social responsibilities, schools have been left to pick up the slack as the modern family breaks down. It has become extremely difficulty for parents to keep their jobs, raise their kids, keep up with technology, provide extracurricular opportunities and learning opportunities on a consistent basis. 

While school (some with vigor and some begrudgingly) take on these extra responsibilities we are left with teachers and admin who are stretched to limit. Nowhere is this more apparent than the 25 committees and 5 new board initiatives each school must adhere to on a yearly basis, to ensure that every aspect of the child’s life is addresses (or at least covered) by the school. Safe and Caring, health and nutrition, QDPA, and on and on and on…

The challenge continues that in a K-8 schools the needs of the students at each end of the spectrum are drastically different. Schools are built on a hierarchy of antiquated rules which often defy logic and common sense. How can we move into the 21st Century by creating rules that are applied in the same way to kids who are 14 years old and 5 years old? This makes no sense! I have taught gr. 7/8 for nearly 10 years now and nothing frustrates me more than how grade 7/8 students are treated like little kids. They are not! They are at an extremely difficult point in their development…trying to figure our who they are and who they want to be. 

Too often they are treated little kids, and then adults and admin are perplexed when their actions emulate those younger students. If we treat them little kids they will act that way! Often I run into difficulty when I fundamentally disagree with a ridiculous rule and openly choose not to enforce it. When I show trust and confidence in them, they most often reward that trust. Unfortunately many administrators and teacher only focus on the negative or silly actions…Hey folks (read about brain development 101…this is what they are programmed to do!).

My hope is that boards of education will change this out dated model.Create middle schools where students in grade 6-8 can cast of the shackles of our past education system and micromanaging administrators, and allow them to live, learn, create, search and yes make mistakes with a little more freedom. Until we are willing to trust them, work with them, and give up our need for control, I fear our grade 6/7/8 students will continue to rebel against the insanity that is K-8 schools. 

We need to give them a place where they feel like they are welcome.

We need to build an environment where they are valued and surround them with their peers. 

They need us to build them a home.

Middle School.

Inspired by a Stranger

I have been an educator for 10 years now. Those who know me would say that I am a critical thinker, who loves to teach and work with kids but has little time for the bureaucratic nature of education. My passion is trying to make positive connections with them, to help them see their potential and work with them to achieve it. I have little time for sentimentality or those in the profession who ‘drink the Kool-aid’ and consistently see their vocation as being above all others in importance.

Recently I met a student, a boy I did not know before and to be honest do not know really well. In the short time I spent with him (in my role as an educator) I learned about a boy who struggles with an extremely complicated life, but also has a gentle  nature and outstanding courage. At first, I had difficulty seeing the complex puzzle that is this kid. As I talked with him I was filled with questions. How can a person be both gentle, positive, courageous, and engaged in harming behavior at the same time? How can a person seemingly be so private and reserved yet openly honest and relaxed when discussing his personal challenges, with a couple of people he does not intimately know? I have been grappling with these question for days.

Rarely am I blind sided by a student. I generally am able to break down barriers with my students and create positive relationships that set the tone for learning and sharing together in my classroom. I am one who loves my work, enjoys my school relationships but tries to keep a professional divide between my work and my home. Much of my home life is spent focusing on my wonderful wife and two great kids.

This week however I am having difficulty accepting the fact that I will not have further contact with this student (as he is not one of mine). His honesty and ability to smile when sharing such difficult information has left me shaken, amazed, humbled, confused, saddened, worried, astonished, and INSPIRED.

I am inspired by the trust he showed in us by telling us the truth.

I am inspired by the courage he has shown to make the difficult personal decisions he has made – to be true to himself. When making different decisions may have been easier.

I am inspired by the way he is not hiding from others – when many others (perhaps even myself) would relent to outside pressures.

I am inspired by him.

I hope that I get the chance to see him again, I also hope to have the courage to tell him all of these things.

Is a 21st Century Education Possible in a 19th Century System

Our current education system is entering a time of great promise and change. We are presently on the precipice of the next great leap in educational reorganization and learning…or the continuance of what is quickly becoming a tired antiquated system. All social media forms (which currently house some of our best thinkers) are filled with passionate, dedicated people sharing their beliefs, successes, reflections and visions for a better academic tomorrow. We (as I would like to be counted among them) are experiencing small to moderate successes and sharing those stories with all of our education brethren.

As many of us work passionately to use the system to find new resources to take risks implementing modern strategies, technologies, theories and pedagogical ideals which go against the dominant (popular) thinking, I am left wondering if we can truly be successful as educators in developing 21st Century Learners from the civil war which currently exists in public education.

On a daily basis I express to my students the joy of making mistakes and learning from them. We have collaborated with students from other schools using Google Docs to improve our ability to work together from a distance and create individual passion for learning and sharing information.  To engage in this type of learning, to develop a relationship with someone you have only ever seen over Adobe Connect meetings takes courage,  personal drive and a whole host of academic ans social skills. But most of all it takes time…the one precious resource we are seriously lacking.

I am not proposing that we lengthen the school day or year in an effort to create artificial time. Rather, we as professional educators need be given more freedom to spend extra time on those learning opportunities that will provide the most benefit to our students, the type of learning  they will carrying with them outside of the classroom and into their future lives.

One way to assist teachers in making learning more meaningful for students is to change the current rules regarding report cards. While the vast majority of educators agree that report cards themselves are a poor way to educate parents about their child’s academic and social progress (read more about feedback by @tbed63  and listen to  @BAMRadioNetwork ), many boards and ministries of education have yet to accept this. The expectations placed on teachers to report on so many areas of the curriculum (with a letter or numerical grades) each term often results in teacher scrambling to ‘teach’ enough material to fill a prescribed number of academic boxes.

These two ideals run counter to one another, I will attempt to clarify here. Teachers often and up ‘speed teaching’ parts of a bulging curriculum in an effort to satisfy a numerical requirement for educational hierarchies. Authentic learning tasks, using technology to expand the classroom, in an effort to allow students to develop 21st Century Skills, takes time. In fact it may significantly run over the 2 week time period you had allotted for Skypeing with Chris Hadfield, reading and responding to blogs and posts written by NASA and assisting your students to choose an aspect of space or space exploration they are passionate about and complete an inquiry project with the ultimate goal of sharing what they have learned with their peers.

It is asinine to think that students and educators are best served by the outdated 19th Century educational system whereby a certain number of ‘boxes’ needed to be filled by the end of term 1, term 2 and term 3. Educators need to be free to assess the needs of their own class and program/plan accordingly. To be forced to report on a specific number of subject (each with numerous strands) each term is far to rigid for creative teaching and passionate learning.

It is time to command a change! As professionals we should not be forced to cover a prescribed set of material each term which in no way takes the needs and passions of different learners and teachers from individual schools into account. This often leads to rushing through material for the express purpose of filling a box on an outdated tool (report cards).

If we are going to teach material, lets do it for the right reasons. Do it because it has some value to the students. Do it in a time frame that respects the material, the learner and the educator.  Do it for your student who works with you every day. In the end…he/she is the one who matters most.