Saturday, December 21, 2013

#SunshineBlog Post

I am so pleased to have "Sunshine Blog" nominations from both Amy Bowker (@ClassCollect on twitter, blogging at and Megan Valois (@MsValois on twitter, blogging at

I had the opportunity to meet both of these amazing teachers at the Ottawa EdCamp - a PD event like no other. If you haven't been to an Ed Camp, I highly recommend it. I learned of the event through my twitter PLN, and decided to make the drive over to Ontario to check it out. I met some amazing people, and got some great ideas.

I have continued to learn from both Amy and Megan, and I am involved in #cdnedchat as a moderator, so Megan and I talk weekly about all things education. They are #eduSuperStars!

Here's how the Sunshine Blog awards work:

  1. Acknowledge the nominating blogger.
  2. Share 11 random facts about yourself.
  3. Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you.
  4. List 11 bloggers. They should be bloggers you believe deserve some recognition and a little blogging love!
  5. Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate to answer and let all the bloggers know they have been nominated. (You cannot nominate the blogger who nominated you.)

11 Random Facts about Me:

  1. I have a dog named Butters, after the character from South Park. He's good-natured, sweet, and not all that bright. I love him like crazy.
  2. I've only ever met one person who has bigger hands than me. I have big mitts. Srsly.
  3. I absolutely hated public speaking until late into my high school career. It was my music program that taught me the confidence to get in front of a group of people and just be who I am.
  4. I'm actually a trained wilderness guide. I know how exactly what they guys in "Deliverance" did wrong, and I've even met some locals while paddling a river in Georgia (although they were incredibly nice and hospitable).
  5. I wear my sleeves rolled-up most of the time, because it's really hard to find shirts that fit me. No one with arms this long usually has a torso this narrow.
  6. I drive a sensible sedan, but in an ideal world, I'd have a classic muscle car and a pickup truck with huge tires. That won't ever happen, but a guy can dream...
  7. I spent last summer working in landscaping. I was digging holes all day, and I really enjoyed it.
  8. I still have moments of terror when I'm about to speak to a group, whether its colleagues, students, or strangers. I'm just pretty good at faking confidence.
  9. I had, at one point, 10 piercings. I've since taken them all out, but I may get some done again. I'm not sure.
  10. I have a really hard time remembering names of adults. Students' names seem to stick more readily, but I'm terrible with names.
  11. I love snowboarding, and don't get onto the mountain nearly as often as I'd like. I taught it for several years, and I love getting out into the woods in winter.

11 Answers to 11 Questions

What’s your favorite thing about blogging or tweeting? 
I get to meet the most insipring people! I've connected with some very intelligent educatprs who are changing the world, and perhaps the most incredible thing is when I meet them in real life, they know who I am!

Favorite hobby?
I do hobby electronics in my spare time. I have soldering iron scars to prove it.

Favorite movie of all time? 
Hmmm. I don't watch many movies, but if I had to pick one, it would probably be "The Big Lebowski." The dude abides.

Favorite place you have traveled?
I lived in Whistler the summer after high school. Gorgeous country.

Favorite Twitter chat? 
Okay, I'm biased here because I moderate #cdnedchat, but I love it. Every Monday at 8 EST I get the opportunity to connect with some amazing people.

Favorite educational website - person or product? 
That's a tough one. I really like Richard Byrne's Free Tech 4 Teachers blog. He's responsible for keeping me up to date on a lot of great things. As for my favourite educational person, that would have to be Tanya Avrith (@edtechschools on twitter) - she's an amazing whirlwind of energy, enthusiasm, positivity, and support. I can't image how differently things would've worked out for me had I not been lucky enough to meet her!

If you had a superpower, what would it be? 
There are so many to choose from! I think maybe the ability to read minds, so I'd know how people think and how to present information in a way that makes sense to them.

Favorite book you’ve read in 2013? 
I re-read the hitchhikers Guide to the galaxy over the summer. Fantastic books.

Why teaching?
Everyone has a story about that teacher who really made a difference. They said something or did something that meant a lot to you, or changed your life. I want to be that teacher.

Proudest moment? 
I substituted in a grade 11 math class for a week during March of my first year teaching. There was one student who wasn't really into it, and I asked her what was going on. She told me that she was going to drop math. I told her that just because it didn't work for her at this time, in this place, with these people, that she didn't need to give up on math. She could always come back to it. At the end of the year, I was back at the school, and she stopped me in the hall and told me that she was going to try to do the math exam, even though she'd dropped math! (Actually, I ran into her recently, and she remembered that I subbed in her class! It took me a while to connect the dots, but the next time I see her, I'll tell her that she's responsible for one of my proudest moments in teaching).

Funniest thing you ever said in front of a group of students/educators? 
I say off-the-cuff random stuff pretty regularly in class. I don't take myself too seriously, but I'm not sure what the funniest thing I've ever said would be. I have clenched my hands into fists of rage and yelled "MaAaAaAaATH!" at the ceiling, though. Does that count?

11 Nominees:

  1. Tanya Avrith - @edtechschools,
  2. Andrew Hannah - @MrHannahCanada,
  3. Chris Webb - @Crippit,
  4. Maggie Vonck - @MaggieVonck,
  5. Ken Shelton - @k_shelton,
  6. Jason Markey - @JasonMMarkey,
  7. Michelle Armstrong - @myarm
  8. Alice Keeler - @AliceKeeler,
  9. Holly Clark - @HollyEdTechDiva,
  10. Mark Wagner - @MarkWagner,
  11. Jennie Magiera - @MsMagiera,

11 Questions for my Nominees:

  1. What made you start blogging or tweeting?
  2. Who is the most impressive person you've met this year?
  3. What was the moment you knew that you wanted to teach?
  4. What was your best moment in a classroom?
  5. What was your worst moment in a classroom?
  6. If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be?
  7. Where is your dream field trip?
  8. How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuk wood?
  9. What's the hardest thing about being a teacher?
  10. How did a teacher make a difference for you when you were a student?
  11. What's the worst book you've ever read all the way through?

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Why open-source is changing the world.

Free and Open Source Logo,
courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
One of the aspects of technology on which I expound frequently is the ability to get technology to do what you want it to do, rather than to use technology to do what the technology creator envisioned.

So what's the big difference there? I mean, the people creating the tools probably have a good idea of what they should be used for, right? iMovie is meant to edit movies. Google Earth is meant to be a "digital globe," isn't it?

Yes and no. I'm all for using digital tools for their intended purpose. If they're designed well to do a specific job, chances are they'll be effective at it. To me, nothing surpasses Apple in this aspect - their tools are well designed, and do exactly what they say they'll do.

But is that enough?

I hate feeling confined. I'm not claustrophobic physically, but I think I'm a technological claustrophobe. I don't want to be penned in to only doing things I'm allowed to do. If I can think of something cool that I'd love a tool to be able to do, I want it to do it. Now. It's definitely part of the culture of instant-gratification in which I thrive, but there's more to it than just gimme now!

As a creator, there is no possible way to imagine all the varieties of applications and uses for something. I've learned this lesson again and again as students creatively interpret assignments in different ways. It's something I encourage, and I try to build that accommodation into my evaluation tools. I want to evaluate the learning process, and I want my students to have the freedom to learn in new, unique and exciting ways. The more avenues of learning they explore, the more opportunity they will have to discover how they learn best (at least, in my own opinion).

And this is where FOSS shines.

Providing students new pathways of learning is along the same lines as providing users the opportunity to customize apps, add functionality, and explore and experiment. As Make Magazine put it in their Owner's Manifesto, "If you can't open it, you don't own it." I want students to own their learning. I want them to be able to explore, experiment, play. I want the freedom to do that with the tools I use, too.

Image: OpenClipart
Ultimately, I want the freedom to be allowed to break things. I don't want a guarantee that things will always work perfectly, because in my experience, those guarantees are hollow and empty. Things do not always work perfectly. But I want to be allowed to get into the nitty-gritty details, to try my hand at adding, improving, or changing the way something works. Letting users determine their own experience of a tool requires a creator to loosen the reins and trust that the user will make improvements.

And this, I think, translates into teaching in a direct way. As an educator, I often need to remember to "loosen the reins" and allow my students to create in new and unique ways. I need to encourage innovation, creativity, and enable my students to contribute their own voice to how learning happens.

Which is why I try to live in an open-source way.

I want to share what I do, how I do it, and how it works. Not because everything that I do is so wonderful - I know there's always room for improvement. What I'd like is to see my ideas spark something in others - whether it be my students, another teacher, or anyone, really. Someone who reads what I've written and thinks "Hey, that's a great idea. What if I..." Our culture is moving towards a place where ideas are no longer proprietary, but are as strong as the collective group who creates and improves them. By crowd-sourcing innovation, humanity will benefit. So loosen the reins, share what you're doing, and allow (and encourage) creative interpretations. Your life will be richer for it.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Reflections on the Montreal #GAFEsummit

Yesterday and today, I had the privilege to attend and speak at the Google Apps for Education Summit in Montreal, Quebec. A full weekend devoted to learning, connecting, collaborating, and sharing. After reflecting on the weekend, and obsessing about how I'm going to change things up in my classroom, here are some thoughts about what made this event the single most empowering, inspiring professional development event of my life.
Image: EdTech Team

The culture at the event was warm, inviting, and positive.

No matter who you were, what you knew, or how you felt before this event, I believe that every single participant felt the power of the culture of learning that permeated this event. Every single person, from the magnificent and inspiring presenters like Jenny Magiera (@MsMagiera on Twitter), down to the people I had a chance to get to know quickly from a passing comment in the hall, could feel the "Edu Love" (to steal a phrase from my own personal inspiration Tanya Avrith - @edtechschools on Twitter). It was a place where learning is celebrated, risk taking is encouraged, and failure is okay.

Respect for ourselves, each other and our commitment to our profession was clear.

Image: OpenClipart
You could see respect among attendees evident in the conversations, the smiles, and each session was about becoming better at what we do. Not just becoming better at teaching, but at reaching our students and leading them to discover and share our excitement about learning. Knowledge is a powerful thing, and encouraging students to believe that they can learn empowers them. I know I feel incredibly empowered this evening, thinking about all the new things I can now do, or new things that I've seen that I can't yet do, but I will be able to when the time comes to learn how.

These are people who understand what the future holds.

No, they're not clairvoyant. They won't pick tomorrow's lottery numbers or make a fortune in the stock market. They can see that the future will require people to be equipped with the techniques to adapt, to innovate, and to collaborate in new and exciting ways. If we want to teach those skills, we need to practice them, understand them, encourage them, and live them. Without a doubt, every single person that I had the opportunity to meet this weekend gets it.

I have friends.
Image: OpenClipart

I don't mean buddies to go watch the game. I don't mean people who will "like" my status on facebook. My friends are not limited by where we live, what we earn, or how we look. I have friends who share my vision, my enthusiasm and my passion for doing the best we can. My friends have high standards. My friends are not content with the way things are. My friends see the way things could be, and they are working hard to create change in the world. My friends are sharing what they do, not for publicity, but out of a genuine desire to make education better. My friends are smart, creative, talented, funny, supportive, and unique. And my friends lift me up. They make me more than I would be without them.

And finally, what stuck with me the most was this:

We need to keep doing what we're doing, because what we're doing will change the world.

Pretty grand announcement, I know. But I truly believe this. By innovating, reflecting, and redesigning what education means and how it operates, we will give our students new tools for success in a new world. By thinking critically about what we do and how we do it, we can create change at the most fundamental and important level of our society: how we raise our children.

Thanks to the EdTech Team for putting on a great event. I can't wait until the next one!

To everyone who was at the event: keep tweeting, blogging, sharing, talking, and innovating. You are the change - be who you want the world to become.

Setting up a Daily Math Problem

Here is a quick (a little over two minute) video that shows how I set up a daily math problem for my students. Be forewarned: this is fast! Don't be surprised if you miss a bit the first time around.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Google Apps to Redefine your Classroom.

Today at 3:00 pm, I will be presenting a session on using Google Apps for Education to redefine your classroom, as a part of the Google Summit in Montreal, QC.

Since this event is all about how you can use Google tools to redefine what you can do with your students, I thought I would take advantage of some of the great Google Apps to share what I'm doing with the world. As an educator, I'm always learning new things, trying new tools, and looking at how they can meet my objectives.

Above you'll see a Google Hangout On Air. Starting at 3:00, you'll be able to stream the session live. Once it's over, it will be posted to my YouTube channel as an archive. I encourage you to check it out if you aren't able to attend my session in person. The presentation is embedded below.


Getting Going with GAFE

This morning I presented a session on getting started with Google Apps for Education.

Here are the slides from the presentation. Feel free to share!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Getting Going with GAFE pre-workshop survey

In preparation for the Getting Going with GAFE workshop at the Quebec Google Summit, I've put together a short survey. If you're coming to the session, or if you're just interested in getting an introduction to Google Apps for Education, please take a moment to fill out the survey.

The session will take place at 10:00 am, next Saturday (December 7th). I'm looking forward to seeing you there!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Automatically create lesson plans

Image: OpenClipart
One of the professional tasks I often don't spend enough time doing is writing good, well-formatted lesson plans. Don't get me wrong: I have carefully planned, well thought out lessons, and I take the time to reflect on their efficacy and how I can change them in the future. It's just the way I work.

However, I'm not as disciplined about writing nicely formatted lesson plans that include all the competencies from the Quebec Education Program, for students and for myself. It's not that I don't consider them - I just rarely get the time to copy and paste them into a formal written plan. I was much more disciplined when I was in teacher training than I am now.

As a method of procrastination (and also to explore the potential of Google Forms and some Apps Scripts), I created a lesson plan builder. In a few simple steps, it will create a nicely formatted lesson plan, includes all the relevant text from the QEP, names it according to the same rules for each plan, and puts it into one place.

One of my professional goals is to create and share, and encourage my students to do the same. I tout myself as a proponent of open-source (and anyone who reads this blog probably has already noticed that), and I want to put my money where my mouth is. I will use the tool to publish the lesson plans under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 license in the hopes that other teachers will come across the plans, use them, change them, build on them, improve them, and share them again.

That's my long-range goal. I've still got to figure out exactly how I want to go about publishing these using Google Sites. In the meantime, the lesson plan builder will automatically email a copy of the formatted plan in PDF to the email address of the author. It's a temporary solution, and I hope it doesn't keep anyone from using it. All plans created will eventually be published to the world-at-large.

I've embedded the tool below. I hope you find it as useful as I do.