Monday, 17 December 2012

Continuing the Work

To follow up on my last post, I have also been thinking what I need to do in order to make the best possible impact in the work I do. Here's what I'm thinking and am going to do in my work:
  • Work with and encourage as many people as possible in the building to use technology as a learning tool.
  • Step back from controlling and focus on coaching the use the Learning Commons.
  • Continue to suggest ways in which technology can be integrated into learning tasks.
  • Encourage colleagues to share their ideas with each other.
  • Continue to build capacity to understand the learning commons as a learning space.
  • Run mini workshops and brown bag lunches to support teachers and students.
  • Continue to make the learning visible in the learning commons so others can see what happens in there.
  • Keep doing what I'm doing...
I also don't think there is any one 'correct' way to do this, I just have to continue to focus on good learning and teaching. Hopefully it will stick and others will want to continue the work.

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Continuing the Legacy

What happens when you start something great and then move on?

This is a question I have asked myself a lot recently.

First of all, I think my work and the things we have developed at my school have been great, but do others? Is the work that I do valued by my colleagues?

So, three years ago we started transforming our school library into a learning commons. In a nut shell, we changed the space from a book storage area to a dynamic and engaging place to work - A place where students want to come and work on exciting and intellectually engaging learning projects.

My day-to-day work involves engaging students and teachers in projects that are laced with technology. Being a technology specialist, my expertise lie in being able to think digitally when it comes to different ways of expressing understanding. I help students through technical aspects of expressing and representing their work as well as introducing new ways to do so. We often learn how to use a new application together. I also have been given the opportunity to help build capacity with my colleagues. Through a learning coach kind of a roll, I help teachers integrate technology through the lens of discipline based inquiry.

I'm coming to the point in my career where I need to move on, or make a change, in order to continue growing as a professional. I have learned so much in the past year in my position and have never enjoyed my work as much as I do and now. I'm so excited about where I might end up next and what I might be doing.

My main concern is what will happen in my current setting when I have left. Will the learning commons continue to flourish? Will people still continue to use the space in creative and engaging ways with their learners? Will the school replace me, or will the dissolve my position and start something new? I also realize and respect the fact that it's not all about me and my school will survive without me. Although I do feel like I'm being be pig-headed sometimes, I now that it's not only me that has made our learning commons successful. I do however take my work seriously and want it to continue when I do leave, hence the questions I am asking.

Should I even be worried about what happens after I have left?

I guess it is up to the school whether or not they continue building on the work that we have done in the learning commons over the past three years. I guess if the work is valued by the greater community, then I will be replaced with someone willing to continue the legacy.

Time will tell - I'm sure a visit to the same site in the future (at some point) will give me the answer. This I will have to follow through with one day.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Introducing the AMAZING iPad!

We have had iPads in our school for all of 3.5 months. We are certainly not experts with them yet but we are trying different things and have some ideas for other schools wishing to deploy these amazing learning devices.

Our Experience So Far

First of all we borrowed some iPads and iPods from our Innovative Learning Commons with their Explore program. We had them for about 8 weeks and during that time we explored possible uses for iPads and/or iPods in our school. We decided to go with iPads due to the larger screen size and the possibility of more than one student working with the device at a time.

We created a website of our exploration during those two months. Find it here.
The website focuses on the Apps that we experimented with when deciding on what devices we would buy.

We quickly realized that the iPad is more than a game device, where students play game style, or drill and practice style Apps. What we found out was the iPad's most powerful tools came from the camera, speakers, microphone and also the ability to manipulate something on the screen.

With our new found understanding of learning this tool fits perfectly into today's classroom. The iPad allows students to focus of their strengths by utilizing them to express an understanding of what they are learning about.

Kathy Schrock has collected a lot of information about 'the best Apps' for learning. She shares and organizes them through Bloom's Taxonomy. Click here to see her other recommendations for mobile devices.

This is Kathy Schrocks revised 'Blooms Taxonomy' guide to possible learning tasks.
Here is a link to some of the favourite Apps compiled by teachers from our school as well as a few from colleagues that wanted to contribute to our list  (via Twitter). If you would like to contribute to this list, please fill in the form below.

There are many other versions of Apps aligned with Blooms Taxonomy. A quick Google search will bring up many different recommendations.

We have also shared more engaging and exciting learning projects that may or may not include our iPads, or mobile devices from other schools we're connected with. Find them on our collaborative Learning Commons blog - Area III Learning Commons.

Management of iPads

Managing a set of iPads has its challenges that's for sure. We bought 32 devices. We currently have 29 in our iPad PowerSync Cart by Bretford (which we also purchased).
We chose the PowerSync cart as we do not have enough iPads to go around the whole school (although I would definitely entertain the idea of a 1:1 ratio with iPads). We also want to keep them secure and also manage them easily from one computer. Pedagogically, I believe this is not the best idea as an iPad is designed to be an personalized mobile device as opposed to one that is used by a wide range of people. 

Because a lot of different people use each of the iPads, at different time, and for different purposes, they all fill up with different work pretty quickly, and therefore are hard to keep streamlined and 'clean'. In our building, we are working hard to educate our students to erase their work after it has been exported from the iPad.

Change of Plan

As our understanding of the value that iPads will bring to our students, we have decided to make a few adjustments to the way we deploy them. Just this week we decided that we will put one device into each classroom and leave the remaining 18 devices in the cart so they can be booked by classroom. The idea at this stage is to have the classroom teacher manage the Apps and settings on their classroom iPad. This means they will be able to build up a collection of Apps to use in their own classroom and help personalize learning for students in their own class. Obviously, one iPad doesn't go very far, but we hope this will help teachers gain a deeper understanding of their value.

We still need to work out how we will will manage the buying of Apps.
  • Who will pay for Apps that cost?
  • What happens when the teacher leaves the a school - What happens to the Apps if it was their own account that purchased Apps
  • How can we keep control of the 'buying'?
  • How do we encourage the buying of 'good' Apps?
  • What is a 'good' App?
  • What email will we use for the iTunes account?
There will be other questions that will arise, for sure. We also have some answers to the questions above that we will explore in the coming days and weeks.

Have I missed anything? Probably.

I am excited to see where our journey goes next with iPads in learning. I look forward to sharing our journey. I welcome any questions or comments that others may have.

Friday, 21 September 2012

Social Media Forever

The things we don't think about, or realize, about social media - One of our grade 5/6 classes were discussing Terry Fox and a way to find out more about him. One of the students thought they could look up his Facebook page - "because it might be still around from when he was alive". The class agreed that would be a great idea! Of course, Terry would've had a Facebook page - everyone has Facebook.

Little did they know,  Facebook wasn't around, or even close to being around, in 1981. These grade 5/6 students just assumed that Facebook has been around forever. Social media is such a normal part of their young lives that it must have been their for everyone.

Another class that I was working this week (a grade 4/5 group) was discussing Terry Fox as well. I thought we could tie in what the other class had come up. So we decided to make a Terry Fox bulletin board (Faceboard) and imagine what his Facebook page might have looked like when he was alive. Our question was "How might Terry Fox go about promoting the Marathon of Hope if he was still alive now?".

Some of the students had a hard time thinking about this and implementing. Some thought that they couldn't do it as they weren't allowed a Facebook account. Others were fine with the idea and fully understood the concept.

Students were to post messages to Terry Fox to thank him, ask questions, write them from his perspective.

This is what they came up with.

The first posts were exactly what I imagined they might look like. Relatively weak and lacking any kind of substance. After some feedback students were able edit their thoughts and give their post some more oomph. This is something we will definitely work on and develop in the future.

What a great discussion about the positive power of social media and the reason why some people use it. It also showed students that us old teachers even value Facebook and that its OK to talk about it and include it in our learning experiences.

What next? 

We thought we could leave the main part of this bulletin board up and change the contents. It would be a great way to promote Social Media for a good cause. We thought we could even try real time posting, where students could post notes using post-it notes or something else similar.

I wonder what else we could do? How else could we promote the use of Social Media as a learning tool to elementary students?

Pleas feel free to comment. We would love feedback.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Learning to Share the Learning

5 Days in and I'm still bubbling with enthusiasm about school this year...

My Problem:

I'm excited about all the NEW learning that will happen this year, in and out of the classroom. Over the past year I have learned that, as a teacher, I learn so much from both students and colleagues. The power of social media has really hit me hard lately. However, I have a problem - I need a clean and powerful way to share this learning tool to other teachers I work with. How can I prove that this will the best PD that they will ever be involved in. How can I hit them over the head with Twitter hammer and knock some sense into them?

What Tools Do I Use Now?

Currently I utilize the following social media and Web 2.0 tools to document and share my learning:


Twitter is my main hub for learning through social media. Everything else I use came from Twitter in some round-about way. I browse through Twitter and find tweets that interest me from people within and outside of my Personal Learning Network(PLN). I find new people to add to my PLN through retweets(RT) and mentions. As my PLN grows I find it harder and harder to keep up with it all. Maybe I have to start using a different Twitter client other than the Twitter App itself, or simply find better ways to filter the amount of information.


Obviously (as you're reading this) I use my blog to reflect on things I learn about or things I wonder about. I use it primarily for myself but love to share my thoughts with the wider community.

Pocket (formerly Read it Later)

I use Pocket to save articles I find on Twitter so I can read them at a later time. I have never referred to one of those articles or shared one from my Pocket account.


I have been using Evernote for a while now but this year have started to focus on using it to help myself become paperless. I do use various Apps to help me cut down on stickies and other paper, but Evernote is great for making notes, jotting down ideas, and other times when I need to write something down and save it. I also write some of my draft blog posts using Evernote. Another reason I like this App is because it is so accessible. I can access it on my phone, iPad or laptop.


This is an automation website. It works on a simple formula of - IF That Then This. As impersonal as automated tweets might seem. IFTTT allows me to do things such as record or be notified of tweets from specific people or hashtags. IFTTT allows me to filter my twitter feed easily. I also use IFTTT in conjunction with Buffer.


Buffer is a social media client that allows you to post to social media sites at specific times. This allows me to post when I think  might be a better time to post a tweet. At the moment I mainly use Buffer in conjunction with IFTTT to thank people who follow me on twitter.


I transitioned from Delicious social bookmarking to a new Diigo account early this year. I believe that Diigo is more powerful than Delicious, especially for teachers. With Diigo, I can follow other educators and the webpages and notes they save. At this point I haven't really utilized it that well. I have recently just begun to bookmark interesting websites again that I find through colleagues and my PLN. My Diigo account can be found here


I saw this great video advertising Google+ yesterday I have a Google account but have not really started using Google+. I use Facebook and have not seen the point in using book of these Apps. Although, I think Google+ is more powerful for educators as it allows you to share in many different ways. My Google+ account can be found with


Facebook for me has always been a way for me to stay in touch with friends and family. I made the decision, when I joined Twitter, that I would use one Facebook for personal connections and Twitter for my professional connections. I'm starting to think that they will merge in the future. We'll see.

Where Next?

After looking at this list, I begin to think that I have too many things to think about. However, each one of these Web2.0 tools have unique uses and offer me something that other ones cannot. Also, as time is precious to me, I wonder if juggling all of the different accounts is too much. I guess I will continue to use them all and if one drops off the radar then so be it. 

My real dilemma and the reason I started thinking about this post is that I need to share what I learn from twitter with the Face-to-Face colleagues I work with. Most of them do not use social media as a professional learning tool but do for personal social networking. Not many use Twitter and do not understand how it works. Once I have them on-board with joining up I will be able to run little workshops and tinker sessions but first I have to get them to believe in it and buy-in.

What I need is a way to give a picture of what twitter is about. I need to keep certain tweets, articles and examples of how powerful it can as a learning tool. I think I will try to expand my blog and add pages for the different purposes of sharing. Here I can also house a hub for my different Apps and their associated accounts. I'll post more on this development as it unfolds.

An Inspiration to all

I'd also like to thank the people that have inspired me to share and learn from others as well as develop my own PLN are the greatest advocates for social media as a PD tool. Here are some snippets of their work.

George Couros (@gcouros)- George is a Division Principal for Innovative Teaching and Learning in the Parkland School Division in central Alberta. This video is a presentation George did at Syracuse to promote twitter and PLNs - The work that George does is documented on his blog website

Dean Shareski (@shareski)- is a Digital Learning Consultant with the Prairie South School Division in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. I love the way Shareski shares. He has a slick blog that has different pages that presents himself and what he has learned. simply has links to the social media sites that he shares on.His blog site can be found at

Alec Couros (@courosa) - Is George's older Brother and another advocate for social media in learning. Dr. Alec Couros is a professor of educational technology and media at the Faculty of Education, University of Regina. Through Twitter he also shares plethora of amazing links and stories about social media as the best PD tool. His blog can be found at

Saturday, 8 September 2012

A Learning Commons Teacher: What would THEY do?

I wrote this post after our first day of school last week. I forgot to publish it ~ Take 2!

Today we had our first day. It was great to see our students settle fast into their new classrooms with their teacher for the year.

As it was Tuesday, we also had our first staff Tuesday Staff meeting for the year. Our heads were already spinning from a great first day but we still had it in us to discuss a few things. One of those being my position in the Learning Commons (LC). As it has been undecided, it's important we all get an understanding and also have some input into what I will be focusing on right from the beginning of the year. The discussion went well. This post is some of my my thoughts after the fact. A chance for me to think about what value I can add to learning in our school.

Some of the things that were mentioned were the following:
  • Our school will continue to focus on working and developing Galileo and Inquiry Based Learning principals. We will focus on using the Disciplined based model of inquiry.
  • We will have a full time teacher working out of the LC. We also discussed that the LC is an extension of the classroom.
  • My position would not be solely going into classrooms to teach a particular App or technology based tool. I would more than likely compliment or add something extra to the learning in a project ~ Small group work, displacing a teacher, adding another teacher to a group to enable more diverse grouping, 1-on-1 work with particular students, etc...
  • That my position would not be providing any Non Instructional Time (NIT) for teachers, as originally thought.
  • Teachers could think about how I could be utilised that would work for them and their students.
  • We also talked about the fact of making learning visible. The dream that I have is to showcase the learning happening in our building with the wider community ~ that being within our system/district as well as in the global classroom of Twitter :)
What a great opportunity - To be able to work both students and teachers and be engaged in some amazing learning.

What do I think I can offer the students of our school? What is it that I really specialise in? I am certainly not saying that I'm the only expert in inquiry or technology in our school. As I mentioned in our staff meeting, I actually struggle to always think about the big picture. What I think I can do is think in a digital sense. I can take an idea and thinking how students might be able to present that idea using technology. This ability comes from being aware of Apps and tools available to us and to be able to make a connection between a specific tech tool and the curriculum.

One of my main focuses as the LC teacher will continue to be on student engagement. I enjoy the challenge of trying to get students who sometimes struggle to engage themselves in learning tasks, to take ownership of their learning and express what they know about something in a way that is meaningful to them. I try to find something technology related that may be able to help them. Of course, technology based learning tools aren't always the best answer but I do believe with some creative thought, technology can definitely make learning more accessible for many of our students.

I will be interested to see when my position goes this year. How much teachers will value having someone else to turn to. There will need to be a fair bit of change in the way we think. In my experience teachers often don't like giving up the control in their classroom. I do agree it is hard to see your students walk out and work with someone else. I'm not sure why but with guidance, hearing testaments and seeing it work through modelling, this new way of looking at learning will be more widely accepted and grasped by educators everywhere.

It's not going to be an easy journey but I do believe it will be well worth it.

Friday, 31 August 2012

New Year, New Ideas!

This blog post has taken me all summer to write and complete. Well, actually summer has past and now we're back in school - Back to the grind!

Yee-Haa! We're back in school, and after the amazing way I finished the last school year off, my excitement has continued into this new 2012-2013 school year and I'm keen to get things rolling. We have so many changes this year in our building and I'm hoping they're all going to help us (as a staff) continue to focus on being better educators.

Some of the changes we have experienced are:

Change in Demographics

At the end of last year we lost the students from a community that was being fed into our school. They now have their own community school at another site. We now only have the students from our own community in our building. This will affect us in a couple of different ways: (1) We now only have approximately 230 students after having around 450 in previous years. Having a smaller school will allow us to develop different relationships with our students. (2) being that we only have kids from our local community, we will be able to be a community school in the true sense of the word. We will hopefully really be able to connect with our students and their respective families at a deeper and closer level.

Increase in Admin Personnel

With the loss of students our school would have been almost half vacant. To solve this problem, our school board moved the area office into the empty side of the building. This means we have our Area Director, AISI Teaching Specialists, Curriculum Specialists as well as a Student Learning Team (psychologists, speech therapist and other specialists). Wow! So many more adults around. With around 45 extra people, this will add another dynamic to our staffroom, our hallways, our parking lot etc etc. What an amazing opportunity to have all these wonderful educators and learning specialists so close to us. We will be able to celebrate learning and share ideas on a regular basis. It will be great to be able to connect with so many different people with so many different expertise.

Change of Staff

At the end of the last school year. We obviously had a lot of people leave our staff. We had teachers that retired, teachers that needed a a change, and teachers that kindly chose to surplus themselves. We have been fortunate enough to keep an amazing group of educators and gain a couple of new ones. It will be very cool to get to know everyone at a more personal and closer level as well as work and collaborate with each other more easily.

We also lost most of our School Assistants from last year and now have only have 3 as opposed to 8-10. This will be a challenge for us as teachers as we will not be able to rely on extra help in the classroom as much as we have in the past. We have been lucky enough to retain our two Educational Assistants who work with our most challenged learners. They will be busy ladies this year. :)

My New Challenges and Goals for 2012-2013

This year I do not have the title of Learning Leader attached to my resume. With the drop in numbers, we lost the allocated budget for that title. However, I am lucky enough to have kept my non-classroom based position of working in our learning commons (library). I want to take this position to another level this year by accessing some of my new found resources and knowledge gained from colleagues and other professionals around the world (Thanks Twitter!). Although I write these goals down now, I'm sure they will change and be altered as the year continues. I will come back and revisit them on a regular basis. My work portfolio will always be treated as a working document. It will be edited and tweaked to suit.

140 Character PD

Two of the finest connected educators have inspired me about the power of being connected through Twitter (@gcouros and @courosa). They travel the globe promoting change in education and the power of collaboration with colleagues from all around the world.

My goal this year is to spread the word in my building, and beyond, about the power of twitter and the amazing PD teachers can gain from 140 characters.

The Learning Commons

One of my main focuses in the last three years has been working towards changing our school library to a 21st century library. A learning commons where students work to their strengths, a place to go to find information from books and from the Internet, a space to work in to create and build knowledge in way that is meaningful to themselves, a place for learners to express their understanding in many different ways and forms.

After two years of experimenting in our learning commons, we are ready to step it up a notch and try as many different things as we can. With our smaller staff we can almost all be a part of the learning commons team. We can continue to build this amazing learning space to suit our students as best we can.

I will continue to find new people to connect with around our district (and of course around the world) to help get feedback about things we do. We love to share what we do in our learning commons and we will be searching for others who want to share their projects as well.

Two of my main sources of inspiration have been Erin Hansen (@HansenEP) and Mike Mackenzie (@Mik_enzie). Erin was one of the people who inspired me to begin this journey. She has been supportive and encouraging throughout. I appreciate her support and look forward to continuing the conversation. Mike works at a school a few blocks from me and has just begun the learning commons journey in his building. We have begun to work closely together to share ideas and try new things. Mike's enthusiasm with his school's new learning commons has inspired me to rekindle our own journey - Thank you both! I look forward to sharing ideas getting feedback from you both.

Mobile Learning

At the end of last year we got 30 new iPads. We begun to learn about the power of mobile learning and how they will benefit our students. This year I hope to gain a deeper understanding of how to manage them successfully in our building.  Through twitter and it's plethora of iPad resources we will share what we do with these amazing devices. For an insight into what we have begun to explore, check out our Mobile Learning Website.  

Inquiry Based Learning & Project Based Learning

Half way through last year our area was involved with in PD series of workshops aimed at all Area III based learning leaders. The series focused on the different aspects of disciplined based inquiry.

My focus for the upcoming year is to continue to develop a strong sense of understanding of inquiry through the 8 disciplines. I mentioned these in an earlier post at the end of my #30 Day Challenge. I'm hoping to connect with the AISI Learning Leaders in our building to reflect with as well as other learning leaders from within Area III.

Round Up

This year will bring some exciting new challenges and I can't wait to encounter them. I have never been so excited as a teacher to get going with the new year. This new found enthusiasm is due to the connections I have made over the past year. Thank you all! We really are in the best profession!

I plan to post a reflection after a few days in with the students. I will of course give some 140 character anecdotes along the way :) - Follow me at @stevewclark.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

That's a Wrap: #30DayChallenge and Year End Post

Wow, where did that 30 days go?

I feel this is going to be a fairly lame post. I have nothing except excuses for the my lack of posts for in my first 30 Day Challenge.

At the end of May, when a couple of colleagues (and fellow PLN members - who were half way through their own 30 day challenge) encouraged me to get going on my own 30 day adventure, I decided to take the plunge and challenge myself.

What an awesome concept! 30 solid days of reflection and delving into my own practice (and in my case, the practice of colleagues) to find things I liked, didn't like, things I did well and things I could improve on.

I decided to focus on engagement through inquiry which has been my personal professional focus for more than half of the school year. The inquiry portion of my focus came from working with other Learning Leaders from Area III and also with The Galileo Network and Amy Park (@amydawnpark). From day one I was so inspired by this new understanding of what inquiry based learning actually is. Rather than just big projects and always having a big umbrella question to explore, inquiry as I know it now, is a dynamic and engaging way of teaching and learning. It's an intentionally planned learning process by looking through different lenses/disciplines such as the following:
  • Authenticity
  • Academic Rigor
  • Connecting with Expertise
  • Appropriate use of Technology
  • Active Exploration
  • Elaborated Communication
  • Beyond the Classroom
  • and Assessment
As a staff, and through out PD with Galileo, we have learned to assess our IBL projects through the Galileo designed Discipline Based Inquiry Rubric.

Over the course of my 30 Day Challenge, I tried to look into the projects I was involved in and find elements and disciplines of inquiry. While it was hard on some days to find my way into classrooms and actually be a part of the learning,  I did see that the people in our building are now trying to incorporate some of these disciplines into their teaching. As we have found out, we're not going to get this over night. It's going to be a long process to change our way of thinking from the teacher always being the holder of knowledge and transforming it so that our students become the experts. They become scientist, authors, mathematicians and historians and in turn become totally engaged in their learning.

For a while now my strengths have been in the use of technology in the classroom. My passion is finding new ways of presenting and expressing an understanding of concepts. What I have really learned by thinking about my practice, is that I need to ensure that the technology we use in the classroom matches or compliments the concept, or idea that students are inquiring into. I have begun to think entirely differently when it comes to the use of technology in the classroom. I now think about what I want the students to know or understand and then think about how technology will help them throughout the learning process. Sometimes, it might be to help understand how a concept works, or how to express an understanding of that concept at the end of a project. Sometimes it might be to communicate with others, in the their own classroom, or from outside the school and on the other side of the world. Teachers might also use technology (and this is my new personal favourite) to give students critical feedback. My enthusiasm for technology as a learning tool is stronger than ever!

This past couple of months we have been exploring iPads as a learning tool. These powerful little devices have really blown me away. They really enable teachers and students to do everything I mentioned in the above paragraph. The other cool thing about iPads are that they are so new in education that we are learning more and more about them as a learning tool everyday. Through an exploration program facilitated by our [CBE] Innovative Learning Commons (#cbeilc ~ twitter conversation), we were asked to share projects, student work, examples of Apps and anything else we could that may help others understand the value of the iPad in the classroom. 

We decided very early on that we would steer away from drill and practice style Apps. I realized that the iPad has way more potential than game based applications and that the students plays and then forget about. We focused on Apps that used the camera and audio capabilities. Most of the Apps we liked and have explored thus far use one or both of these iPad features. The Apps we have enjoyed using so far as follows:
  • ShowMe
  • Stop Motion Studio HD
  • Comic Life
  • Skitch
  • Voice Recorder for iPad
For more information on our exploration with iPads please visit the website I made to showcase our learning ~ We have got more plans to develop this site next year. I will more than likely change domains due to the discontinuing of iWeb. I will post any changes to the domain as they happen. 

This year has been an amazing one for me. I have never finished the year off so excited to come back in September. Don't get me wrong, I am loving my summer and spending time with my wife and kids. However, I look forward to the challenges ahead.

My next post will be about my wishes and aspirations for the 2012-2013 school year!

Friday, 22 June 2012

Mobile Learning: An Exploration

Here is web site I have been working on. We have just begun exploring the value of iPads as a learning tool.

My impression so far is - AWESOME!!

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Meaningful Engagement and the Countdown

Something that has hit me over the last couple weeks is the idea of engagement and the end of the year. I never really thought they went together. I've always been inclined to think that it's hard to get any kind of meaningful work done in the last couple of weeks as the kids start to lose focus, and the interest, to learn. This has certainly been the case for me in my classroom before and I'm sure it's happening all around in many North American classrooms right at this moment.

As a non-classroom based Learning Leader, my job is to support teachers and students by helping to design and implement engaging and authentic learning tasks/inquiry based projects. I've noticed my schedule become more and more empty as the year has come closer to an end. At this crazy time of year teachers are:

  • busy getting their report cards finalized
  • cleaning their classrooms
  • prepping to move to another classroom
  • getting ready to move to another school or retire from the profession
  • and in some cases, getting classrooms ready in preparation for building alteration work to be done over the summer. 
At our school all of the above is happening. It's crazy!

So my question has always been, why do kids 'lose it' at this time of the year? Why can't they be bothered to work? I've always said, and hear a lot of colleagues say (with regard to their students), "they're so ready summer" or "they're so tired and in need of a holiday".

After visiting another school today, I confirmed what I have been wondering lately ~ Is it our students who need the break? Or is it more us that need a break? Are we still focused on student learning? Or are we focusing on other things that are going on in our school? Are we planning authentic learning tasks right up to the final whistle? Are we, even as teachers, learning all the way to the final day of school? My assumption would be that towards the end of the year our brain and/or our attitudes begin to slow down and focus on other things rather than what our students really need, want and deserve.

As I toured the school I visited today (Calgary Science School) I saw quite a different attitude. Even though it was their Sports Day throughout the morning and also the fact that there is only a few days few days of school left, their was meaningful learning going on where ever I went - It was awesome to see. The tasks students were doing were similar kinds of tasks you might see going on in our school during the year, but this is the final week and they're still slogging away at the work.

Back in my own building, a new teacher who has only been teaching for a few weeks (she's fresh out of university), has her grade 5 students engaged in reflecting about a novel they just finished reading. They are presenting their feelings about certain parts of the book through the medium of making a movie using iMovie. They choose a particular part of the book reflected through a picture copied from the book. Then, importing the photo in to imovie and incorporating classical music, they are using Ken Burns effects to talk about the feelings of certain characters in the story. The work they are doing is focused, meaningful to the class, it's fun and certainly authentic. It been a breathe of fresh air to see. And also reconfirms my thoughts. Here is someone who is fresh into the profession and she's rearing to go. Long may her flame keep burning!

As a whole staff, I wonder how we might go about things differently next year when approaching a holiday or the end of the year. How can we ensure that we are still working on meaningful projects, even at those silly times of the year?

Do we need to have direction from the top? Do we all just need to refocus our attention on the job all the way to that final buzzer?

I guess we'll see again next year...

Delicious to Diigo

This week, I made the transition from Delicious to Diigo. I have hardly heard anyone mention Delicious as of late. However, I've heard everyone talking about and recommending Diigo. I have yet to find out the extra capabilities but I'm sure it's better for my needs as an educator. I now need to make it come alive for me as a resource. Sharing it through my blog is one way for me to start this process.

It was easy to do. I was able to export all my bookmarks (including tags) from delicious to my computer's desktop. It saved the file as an HTML document. Then once my new account in Diigo was created, I just imported the saved file and BOOM! It was done!

The next job is to go through my bookmarks and find obsolete ones. I'm hoping there is a tool for that.

Here are my ever-changing Diigo tags displayed in a cloud.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Google Form for Recommending Apps

This is a form I made for our staff to fill out throughout our exploration time with the CBE ILC iPads and iPods. The results of the survey/form can be found in this Google Spreadsheet. Please feel free to give your two cents and also to share with others!

Friday, 15 June 2012

ShowMe an Awesome App


Over the past few months, we have been exploring the what possible uses and value that iPads and iPods could could bring into our building. Apart from the buzz that each and every student had whenever these mobile devices were in the classroom, we have found some amazing Apps that could be so valuable in the classroom.

One of those Apps was one that a colleague found in her personal exploration of iPad resources. That App, called ShowMe (ShowMe on Twitter - @showmeapp), is an amazing way for students to show their understanding of a topic or concept, or share an idea by drawing and talking about it. It works somewhat like Smart Recorder does for a desktop computer. It records whatever you do on the screen as well as your voice. You can also record your voice over the top while playing back.

An account does need to be created in order to share recordings. An account is free and very little personal information is shared. Students under the age of 13 would need to have an account ShowMent made for them (either one that a parent acknowledges or a teacher created account). I would try to make an account for my class to access.

However, a way around creating an account is to playback ShowMe's directly form iPad. With a Apple VGA adaptor cable you can mirror whatever is on your iPad screen through a data projector.

Here is a link to the ShowMe website with some of their ideas for using the App in the classroom -

During the City Planning Project students were given a plot of land and a question:
  • You are given a piece of land for sustainable and responsible development.  How can we organize this area while meeting the diverse needs of plants, animals and humans?
Groups of students then worked together to plan out their piece of land. Through the discussion of ideas and sharing of opinions each group designed their plan together. Groups then shared their plan to the class using ShowMe. This was an amazing way for students to plan, collaborate, draw and colour their ideas, change and adapt their work and finally present.

Thanks to Laura Hildebrandt and Kate Logan for sharing this App making learning more engaging for our learners.

This video shows the Recording being shared. I speed the video up through the middle to show more progress.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Yawwwwwwwn - Fractions are boring!

Day 5 - #30DayChallenge

Fractions - one of the hardest concepts for elementary kids to get a grasp of.

Today I invited myself into a grade three class that were learning about fractions. The lesson was not deep inquiry or problem based but more of an exploration around understanding 'part of a whole'.

The students had completed some preliminary activities around finding the shaded fractions of shaded areas. I think in most cases students were able find and write or describe fractions of 'pizzas'. I walked in during the class discussion about they'd already done.

I helped out with the lesson and by the end I noticed that some students were yawning, bored and still struggling with what we has been talking about. I know that the understanding of fractions won't happen in one lesson but I also wonder if we could have had the students work on more engaging work.

How could we make this more authentic and engaging for these grade threes. To me, the biggest problem was the timeframe we had to work with. The exam is next week and there is still content to be covered (a typical problem, I'm sure for many gr3, 6, and 9 teachers.

My ideas for making the work more engaging:

  • Real Problem - designing a real life problem for students to solve - This would possibly a longer project so not good for this time of year
  • Add in some authentic tasks - building, making, cutting, drawing, explaining, and finding fractions from our community/school building
  • Using technology:
    • Smart Notebook for solving problems and building fractions
    • iPads - Finding and taking pictures of fractions
  • Using ideas from Marion Small - using "Big Ideas" as building blocks for developing understanding
  • Doing a range of different activities to help reach all learners

Have any other ideas? Please share!

Monday, 4 June 2012

Student Choice - Too Much or Too Little?

Day 4 - #30DayChallenge

These days in education we always seem to be talking about giving students more choice.

Today's focus is on a project I have been involved with in a Grade 4 Social Studies class. The teachers wanted to to have their students engaged in Social Studies project where they learned about the past through telling stories about artifacts. The focus of the project was to study artifacts from Alberta's history and then find out what that artifact meant to Alberta and its people. The artifacts came from a variety of sources such as The Glenbow Museum, the CBE Aboriginal collection of artifacts and teachers' personal collection of artifacts.

The following is what the students were able to choose:

  • Each student chose an artifact they were interested in and research information about it.
  • Students chose/found their own source of information - in print and/or Internet
  • Each group (that the teacher formed) got to choose a format to present their stories
  • As a class, the students help choose (co-created) the criteria of what and how the project would by assessed

Positive takeaways

  • From the moment I was involved with these classes they were ENGAGED. They have been so into what they are learning about. The excitement on the faces of these Grade 4's has been a sight for sore eyes! They have been so enthused to share their knowledge about the origin and history of each particular artifact.
  • The students acted like archeologists to find out more about their artifacts. They really felt like experts.
  • Almost all student have found success with their learning. Some student have needed more coaching than other but all have been able to learn something about their chosen artifact.
  • The small amount of information that most students found was enough for most to infer, or guess, the value of that artifact to Albertans and the stories it might tell.

Negative takeaways

  • This project has been hard to manage. The students had 7 or more choices of ways to present their information. This made it hard to give enough support/feedback to each and every group.
  • The artifacts were hard to research. We did not come up with enough sources to help the students. The information we found was not necessary what we needed to know about the artifact.
  • Students who often struggle to access information and pull important and relevant information found it hard to infer a deeper understanding of the artifacts.

What would I repeat what I would change next time?

  • I loved the enthusiasm this project brought to Social Studies, a subject I have always found hard to make exciting. I would definitely do a project like this again - Acting like archeologists, and presenting their findings was a powerful way to learn about our history.
  • I think the range of choice when it came to presenting the information was too broad. Next time we could suggest everyone presents in a similar way, such as a video for an online museum, a page out of a brochure, an audio recording for a radio show etc
  • I would make the research more successful ~ give certain websites to use or narrow down possible research sources. This was hard to do with such a wide range of artifacts the students had to learn about.

Things I wonder?

  • I wonder how to find sources of information without making it a HUGE task ~ Is this possible?
  • What are some other ways to engage students with artifacts?
  • Were there enough choice in this project?
  • Were there or to many choices?
I will post some photos of students working on this project soon...

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Daydream Regularly to be More Engaged!

Day 2 - #30DayChallange

I wonder how many teachers give their students a chance to daydream every day?

Today I discovered a blog post about the positive effects of daydreaming. Wow! That's awesome!

Why Daydreaming Isn’t a Waste of Time by Annie Murphy Paul -

In this day and age it seems that we're too busy to stop and relax. I certainly don't just sit down and listen to the sounds around me, or to music, or just stare into space. I know if I did, my brain would probably start spinning with all the things I had to do. I wonder what students would do when asked to daydream. What would they think? How would it benefit their work and their Learning?

Annie Murphy Paul believes, "A lack of time to daydream may even hamper kids" capacity to pay attention when they need to". When in a relaxed state, our brain settles down and actually reflects, remembers, and thinks ahead. When we give it a chance, our brain will do what it does best, think!

This is a great example of another metacognitive skill that may help our learners become more engaged learners. Something I want to try with my learners!

Friday, 1 June 2012

Day1 ~ #30DayChallenge

Engagement Through Inquiry: 

As I was thinking about what to post today, I met with a teacher to talk about our plan for next week. Sitting in the centre of her classroom was a student made city - The City Project - I asked her how about it. It started off as a simple French project and then turned into an integrated inquiry projecting. They integrated Math (Area and Perimeter) , Social (Democracy), Science (Trees and Forests) and French (Places in our city).


Students have been totally engaged in this project throughout the past two weeks. The inquiry question was as follows: You are given a piece of land for sustainable and responsible development. How can we organize this area while meeting the diverse needs of plants, animals and humans?

A lot of city planners decided to incorporate rooftop gardens to their buildings


I believe that the engagement in this project comes from the fact that the students owned it. They did the planning, they made the decisions, they made the mistakes, and they made adjustments. Through collaboration, students had to plan and decide on a city that met everybody's needs.

Thursday, 31 May 2012

My #30DayChallenge

Here we go!

Developing a PLN has its benefits. It also has its downside. You become more accountable ;) Here I was, quietly passing on some ideas and next minute, I've accepted the #30DayChallenge myself! 

Thanks to @amydawnpark, @candicecshaw and @deirdrebailey. You've all inspired me to take up the challenge too! The only problem I have is that school finishes in less than 30 days so I'm going to have to be creative! However, I do promise to take up the challenge again in the new school year!


This year my focus has been on engagement. As a Learning Leader in my school my job has been to help colleagues engage their students through authentic and exciting learning tasks! I'm also responsible for the implementation and transformation of our Library to Learning Commons. This has been a great way to think of a learning space such as the Learning Commons as a place to engage students in projects they choose to get immersed in.

My first half was a write-off. I was off on a couple of leaves (due to a beautiful baby being born and a trip to my motherland, NZ:) so I felt like I hardly got anything achieved in the first half of the year. When I returned after Christmas, I was on board to tackle the rest of the year as best I could.

In January, along came Galileo. Our Area III office invited all elementary Learning Leaders (LL) to participate in a PD opportunity with Galileo that consisted of 6 full-day workshops. We have had the chance to co-create and collaborate with other LLs from within our Area. It has been a great opportunity to grow and develop my understanding of planning and implementing engaging tasks for a variety of students in our K-6 setting.

The #30daychallenge for me is about culminating what I have learned this year by reflecting on what goes on in the teaching and learning I'm involved within my school. I don't have a homeroom so I have the added benefit of working with kids from Kindergarten up to grade 6. I'll also be watching and learning what other teachers do and reflecting on that too. I plan to visit two other schools to gather some more ideas and feedback. My reflection will be based on the 8 areas of the Galileo Discipline Based Inquiry Rubric:
  • Authenticity
  • Academic Rigor
  • Assessment
  • Beyond the School
  • Appropriate Use of Technology
  • Active Exploration
  • Connecting with Expertise
  • Elaborated Communication

I'm aiming at posting at least once a week and also tweeting articles and reflection from other educators through my PLN on twitter (@stevewclark)


Friday, 25 May 2012

To Blog or Not to Blog?

Since starting this blog (just yesterday), I have been given a few different opinions on blogging. Some good, some not so good. So, it got me thinking.... What is the point of a blog for me? Why bother?

Well, this year has been for sure the biggest, most influential year of learning I have had in my short career as a teacher. I started playing around with Twitter and I quickly found a ton of resources, insights and opinions about teaching and learning. My head begun to spin shortly after. How the heck could I store all this new information? How could I process it and even begin to think about how I might take new these new ideas and use them in the classroom.

One of big goals this year has been to find an effective way to make the learning (and teaching) that happens in my classroom more visible. My blogging venture will help make this more of a reality.

After being involved in a professional development series within our area, I begun to network with people in different schools that are in a similar position to me. Through face-to-face discussion the idea of blogging as a way to reflect on what I learn begun to take shape. My main problem was how I might possibly find the time to blog. After thinking and thinking and having a day to play, I took the chance. Why not!??

My questions for others would be:

  • Why do you blog? 
  • What do you get out of it?
  • What's the point?
  • Is it worth it?

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Learning Through Reflection

I used to blog. When blogging first became popular, before the days of Facebook, I tried it. It was a way for to keep in touch with family, to share my news and give my friends and family in New Zealand an idea of what my life looked like in a different country.

Then Facebook showed up and my blogging came to a halt.

Now I turn back to my Blogger account with a different goal in mind. A way for me and others to reflect professionally. Another way for me to collaborate with like-minded educators. I'm hoping this might turn into a way for our staff to reflect on our teaching practise and to move our work forward.

In the past few months, I have begun to discover a prolific amount of new information. Digital media has been a way for me to find new and exciting ways to improve my understanding of my job.  Through Twitter (@stdevo37), I have started to build a PLN (Personal Learning Network). I have started connecting with colleagues from around the globe to help grow my knowledge and ability both in and out of the classroom.

Being enthusiastic about technology as a learning tool, I am always looking for new ways to help engage students in learning tasks. For me, this year has been all about engagement. At my school, we have focused on UDL to help reach all of our students. Our goal has been to personalize learning so that success can be found by all. We have also looked into Inquiry Based Learning (as described by Neil Stephenson - Link). I have been lucky enough to have been involved with a professional development series with Galileo and other CBE Area III Learning Leaders. We have learned so much about learning and how students learn best - Another post to come about this soon!

Through this blog, I hope to be able to document my progress as an educator who is passionate about learning.