The deal with #EduCon? I need to believe.

Neoteny, one of my favorite words, means the retention of childlike attributes in adulthood: idealism, experimentation and wonder. In this new world, not only must we behave more like children, we also must teach the next generation to retain those attributes that will allow them to be world-changing, innovative adults who will help us reinvent the future.

                                         Joi Ito

SLA, a small (530 students) school located in downtown Philadelphia, is self-described as “an inquiry-driven, project-based high school focused on 21st century learning”. SLA is a 1:1 project-based school located in a nondescript office building. As you enter there is no impressive foyer or multi-purpose room, shiny wall of awards, nor an expensive looking mission statement placard to greet you.

As you move through the school and spend time within the physical space, there is nothing overtly flashy about the school. School rules are modestly displayed on paper posters throughout the school and bulletin boards are covered with student projects.

So why go to SLA for Educon?

Was it to attend the dynamic participant driven “conversations” with lead learners who moved my thinking to new change horizons?

Was it to meet the fabulous and diverse colleagues who are significant landmarks on my learning landscape?

Was it to see Chris Lehmann, whose office sits open to the school “world” as an obvious hub of action with energy both infectious and immense always wearing his heart of deep care on his sleeve?

Was it to understand the school’s core values of inquiry, research, collaboration, presentation and reflection that are emphasized in all classes and see first-hand how these values act as bridge to create interdisciplinary projects and remove subject silos?

Grade 9 Identity Project - Masks with characteristics written in Spanish.
Grade 9 Identity Project – Masks with characteristics written in Spanish.

Or maybe it was to have 2 students voluntarily sit with us at lunch (school was in session on the Friday) and hear them describe in understated tones how they are experiencing an education that we only dream of?


Was it to see a school operate in its entirety from a place of why so clear and loud that no mission statement is needed, and to see just how tightly actions and policies align with SLA’s central ethic of care?

Or maybe it was, till way late each night, to weave a mutual dream of what school could be with my wonderfully supportive colleague Amy Nickel and hear her true, honest  care for children?

While the above are incredible, I would be lying if I said any were specifically why I came to SLA or were my major takeaway, my golden nugget.

I simply and selfishly wanted to know if it was true and possible that an entire school existed, thrived that held children close, every step of the way. I wanted to know it true, I wanted to know it possible…I wanted to believe.

I wanted to believe…that’s all I wanted…that’s what I got…and more.


Favorite Shared Educon Resource:

David Jakes‘ – Design Thinking

Favorite Chris Lehmann Educon Quotes:

“Kids should never be the implied object of their own education.

“Inquiry process provides a link between academics and the ethic of care.”

“What are the conditions for inquiry?”

“Replace “question” with dilemma. There tends to be more than one side to a dilemma but questions have answers.”

Favorite Educon 2.5 Sessions:

Creating an Ethics of Care – Chris Lehmann

Further SLA resources:

SLA Capstone Senior Project

SLA Standard Rubric

SLA Curriculum

Review time is Brainstorm-Categorize time.

What is looks like!

Just a little break from my break to share!

Review season is on us once again…

One of my all time favorite review activities (and it is active) is brainstorm-categorize. At right is what you end up with, below I have outlined the possible and modifiable steps that we followed as a class.

The how to:

1. Ask students to brainstorm as many words as possible. This can be a good time for them to look over notes, old tests etc. and pull out words they struggled with. Today I gave them the added challenge to try to find 10 power words (words that are big and important) and then try to think of “smaller” words that belong to those big words.

2. Ask for student volunteers as follows:

  • 2 students to write the words on the board.
  • 2 students to record words on pre-cut strips of paper.
  • 1 student to type up words in a Google doc.
Students recording words on board.
Students recording words on board.

3. After some solid brainstorming, go around room and ask students to share their words aloud, as the transcribers record words in the various locations. I find having 2 students at the board allows for this share out part to go a little faster.

4. When you have shared out all the brainstormed words, have the 2 student recorders with the strips of paper to distribute strips (with words on) evenly to all students.

5. While they are doing this, I put masking tape strips sticky side out on the board.

Sticky side out.
Sticky side out.

6. Students then work as a class to negotiate categories to group words into. I try to encourage them to think outside of the obvious categories, but this usually fails as it did today. I want them to feel ownership of the words and feel that them deciding on categories helps.

Adding their words.
Adding their words.

7. We worked on one category at a time and then students add their words that fit into the category. This usually involves discussion amongst students as they give and ask each other for advice on whether or not their word belongs. Sometimes students will categorize words incorrectly, others will quickly pounce on their error, no teacher intervention needed. Depending on the class you might want to have students say the word aloud and explain why the word belongs in the specific category.

8. After a fair amount of noise and commotion you a lovely wall of categorized words!

photo (15)

9. I then posted the Google doc (all typed up nicely by a student) link to our Facebook page and students have a vocabulary list that they could categorize again on their own as a possible review activity.

After we are done students always say: that was fun or that really helped. I really enjoy the activity as it brings a sense of closure, is active and social. Review can get a little dull!

Break from blogging for #etmooc: Top posts of 2012.

I will be taking a break from professional blogging over the next couple of months to take on some new projects. This breaks my heart in some ways, but I am very excited to dive into the MOOC world (#etmooc) amongst other projects. Maybe I will see you there?

I thought I might highlight posts that had clicked for you and for me over the last year.

I appreciate your support and comments over the past year of growth and evolution.

1. Dear Points….We need to break up. Inspired by @MrPicc112

2. Excuse me, I think I am having a revolution.

3. Establishing classroom routines: flex time, learning journals, hot seat, packets and more!

4. Recipe for a #flipclass: Homework + worksheets + random videos.

5. Inspired Countdown 2012.

6. Celebrating Canuck chicks who tweet.

On Collaboration and School Culture.


Did they “teach” us that one at teacher school?
Do you hear it talked about in staff rooms?

Do you know what it looks like or feels like?

It is like that urban legend you heard about in grade 4, someone’s cousin had spiders hatch out of their cheek while sleeping one night.

Yeah that one…the one that scared the pants off of you, even though you never actually met the person. I am not implying burnout is an urban legend, I am saying it is treated as such in teacher culture.

Teaching can be a tough job and there is a “survival of the fittest” culture in schools I have worked in. You can admit you are struggling…but only to a point, to certain people and in specific situations; if you show too much weakness others fear you might drag them under.

So how does this work if we are going to get teachers to grow, take on big bold risks, and try new things? How to support teachers when parents, critics or even other teachers have a go at what you are doing or trying? Attacks, no matter how well-meaning, can feel personal, consuming the small reserve in the energy tank.

Further, if the very adaptations that we as teachers have evolved over the courses of our careers have allowed for our survival how then to change AND not go extinct at the same time?

Last year I travelled through a wormhole of change. That I came out the other side is attributable it to one thing: a committed collaborative partner, Graham Johnson.

Graham and I, Pikes Peak, June 2011.
Graham and I, Pikes Peak, June 2011.

I have a strong support network outside of school, people who I trust, a husband who is in the biz, but they were not what kept me afloat. What kept me going and stopped me from giving up (cause there were days when I did consider giving up on change) were the continuous conversations that Graham and I had daily, sometimes hourly, about what we were specifically doing. When either of us hit a wall we dealt with it then and there, we brainstormed and co-created a viable solution. We established common goals (we wrote these out on paper) and committed to (even though he teaches Math and I Biology) common ground with certain practices (flexible assessment, Hot Seat, Whiteboarding, Learning Journals are all examples) We communicated via Twitter DMs dawn to late, phone chats and face to face debrief after school.

You might be thinking by now…yeah we know that collaboration is important, yesterday’s days news….next.

BUT. Hold up…

Collaboration is NOT just something you should really try someday and when you do it will be fun; it is like having a snow plow with no blade, a motor boat with no motor, or an axe with no blade. You cannot do the intense work of change without real-time continuous, connected collaboration that relates DIRECTLY to what you actually doing in your class. To collaborate I had to be willing to co-evolve, to commit to a common end (and by this I do not mean improve Grad rates) and at times (more than I might like) I needed to compromise; I had to first converge in the here and now to survive, before I could diverge and thrive later.

I used to think that if I controlled everything I could assure the final outcome would be high quality, this was a guaranteed ticket to burnout and was never sustainable. Now I know that through cooperating, compromising and collaborating I can evolve AND survive.

If we continue yelling out and waving our arms at teachers: Change this way! Come on let’s go! Pick it up! WITHOUT the collaborative, connected mindset and ecosystem firmly in place, we will perpetuate the medium for burnout.

We need to out the culture of “survival of the fittest” and replace with a flourishing visible ecosystem that is fluid, open and dynamic. We need to buoy teachers with collaborative partnerships, collective groupings, tools to connect in real-time and conditions that normalize collaboration as an integral part of the day-to-day.

Then…we can wave away.

“We can see the very beginnings of a new story beginning to emerge. it’s a narrative spread across a number of different disciplines in which cooperation, collective action and complex inter dependencies play a more important role and the central, and the all important role of competition and survival of the fittest shrinks just a little bit to make room.”
Harold Rheingold

Learning journals: A bench along the path.

Well designed gardens include pathways that are both inviting and offer places for rest and reflection. When designing a pathway through the garden we might add a bench in a tucked away corner or a reflection ball to pull the visitor deeper in.

The design of a learning pathway is really no different if we hope to invite and nurture reflection for learners. A year ago I was not an overly reflective learner myself. A year later however, I crave blogging, as I would a run or a good book. Reflection provides time and opportunity to clear out brain debris, reorganize, synthesize and seek inspiration. The real appeal of blogging for me has been the chance to step out of my practice and view it from the outside. I am not sure if this makes sense to you, but when I explained this to fellow Biology teacher Amy Nickel she agreed (and if Amy agrees it must be true!). For me (and probably you) teaching is a personal activity and most of the time I am too immersed in the act of doing it to see clearly what it is I am doing.

Deep meaningful reflection has become one of my most favoured and used tools in my personal learning tool box. I wanted to offer learners the same opportunities as they make their journey.

When first offering students opportunities for reflection I considered the following:

1. Private or public?

2. Digital or paper?

3. Audience?

4. Format?

I decided on inexpensive (35 cents), portable, paper learning journals that are written during class time, and are read only by me. I provided general prompts at the start, later in semester I encouraged them to write holistically in a stream of consciousness. Early in the semester I prompted everyone to take part in journal writing to get the habit going and to provide some quiet reflective time within the day. As the semester progressed I let students decide for themselves if it was meaningful for them to continue (last year I insisted, but last semester I wondered why insist?). Some students seemed to take to it immediately, some seemed to just enjoy the chance to take time out of their day to be quiet (which I think is valid) and some were frustrated by the process.

Simple, inexpensive and portable. Personalized with a $ Store nameplate sticker!


1. Convenient – Journals in class made it hassle free.

2. Inexpensive.

3. Private – Students shared personal information that they might not have otherwise.

4. Low tech – Not dependent on tech or internet connection.

5. Personal – I enjoy reading and responding to students in writing (feels personal for me).

6. Timely feedback – Provided insight as to what was going well and where students were struggling.

7. Evidence for me to change – Provided me with concrete evidence that students can very accurately self access and can make concrete plans to remediate.

8. Connection – Students love to read my comments.

9. Stress free – No strings attached (ie not for marks) so enjoyable for all.


1. Lack of authenticity for some – Not authentic and/or meaningful for all students.

2. Limited audience – Read by me alone.

3. Limited creativity – Paper not digital.

4. Negative reactions – “Why do we have to do this in Biology class?” Difficult to get to the deeper power of reflection in such a short time.

5. Limited function – Found that by mid-semester that we had tapped out on the big insights (personal and class related).

Next semester I am planning/hoping to change things up. I am thinking about going digital; expanding the audience and function of the reflection.

What have you tried in your classroom? What worked well for you and your students?

Would love to hear!

Celebrating Canuck chicks who tweet.

Last year I saw a list that bugged me. A lot. SOME OF CANADA’S TOP EDUTWEETERS 2.0 Only 15 are women? Huh? If you take a look at the percent of women in education (66% in 2005 ) this number does not jive. This disconnect stuck with me and made me a little more mindful of who I was following and the gender of the voices that were resonating with me the most, not in a critical way, but in an observant way. It also pushed me to find female voices on Twitter or to notice if in fact, there were female voices out there that did resonate with me. I also read this article  On Twitter, Men Are Retweeted Far More Than Women (And You’re Probably Sexist, Too) in the summer which got me thinking some more. It takes you to TWEE-Q (“Twitter Equality Quotient”) which asks:

“Gender equality is always a hot conversation topic on Twitter. We were curious about how equal the conversation ON Twitter really is and created this little experiment in order to find out the truth. The idea is as simple as elegant: insert the twitterhandle you want analyzed and we’ll check the balance between the sexes behind your retweets. A 10 is the perfect Twee-Q. Do you dare to start with yourself?”

My TWEE-Q is not very high!!

My TWEE-Q is 3.2!
My TWEE-Q is 3.2!

So below are just some of the Canuck Chicks who I have followed over the last couple of months (and who are not already on the LIST above). This “list” is not annotated or numbered intentionally! It represents some Canadian (sorry my Yankee lovelies) women in education who I have noticed out here, either on Twitter, blogging or both. Maybe who have women who you follow to add? Maybe you have ideas on why there seems to be less female presence in the Twitter-sphere, especially in Canada? Maybe you have not noticed this but will have a look at who you RT? Or maybe you think gender just does not matter?


Starleigh Grass

Jodie Reeder

Pamela Richardson

Jenny Cho


Michelle Hiebert

Audrey McLaren McG

Tia Henriksen

Heidi Hass Gable

E Gregory

Barb Danielsen

Patti Walker

Gallit Zvi

Naryn Searcy

Karen Lirenman

Lisa Domeier

Verena Roberts

Claire Thompson

Sheila Stewart

Carrie Gelson

Sheila Morrisette

Elisa Carlson

Valerie Irvine

Cheers my fellow Canadian lovelies, here is to Tweeting up a storm! P.S. If you are a Canuck chick who tweets and you are not on the above this list send me your name and I’ll add it on, it is not meant to be exclusive in any way 🙂