Category: My Reflections


Assessment for learning (AFL) has been a long-standing practice in the field of education. Unfortunately it continues to be misunderstood and under utilized.  In our ever advancing technological age how can tech / online resources be used to assist educators in implementing AFL in their classrooms?  Here are a few links to sites that may spark some ideas:

Digital Technology Tools for Implementing Formative Assessment

5 Fantastic, Fast Formative Assessment Tools

Integrating Assessment and Instruction Using Technology and Performance Assessment

IMG_4091-0011.jpgTry going anywhere urban and see if you can find someone without a smartphone or connected device of some kind.  Virtually impossible in today’s wired(less) world.  This holds true for schools as well.  Both staff and student alike connected 24/7.  This holds both potential and pitfalls for our education system.

Student information systems have been a part of everyday life for school staff for well over 20 years now.  With this the presence of computers in the classroom has become a must.  Teachers are required to input attendance daily and marks on an ongoing basis.  Administrative staff use the system daily to adjust schedules, lookup demographic info, schedule courses, etc.  Our reliance on computers has taken hold in some classrooms with teachers adopting connected tech to engage students.

Fast forward to 2016 and smartphones are a reality in every classroom (to varying degrees depending on socio-economic circumstances).  What are we doing to harness the potential devices walking into our classrooms each and every day?  Is there a sign on the door claiming no phones allowed?  Is there a bucket at the front of the class where phones are deposited?  Are students encouraged to record homework using Evernote or OneNote?  Are apps like Remind being used to keep students on top of upcoming assignments?  Is Google translator being used to help students understand a new language?  Are videos being created to demo dissections in a biology class?

From my experience the reality is all of the above.  Yes there are still the classrooms where devices are taboo and must be kept out of site but there are those classrooms that fully utilize the potential of these powerful portable computers.  As an educator with a distinct bias towards use of technology to enhance both teaching and learning I cringe every time a device is handed to me after being confiscated.  Students have a responsibility to ensure they are being responsible in their use of smartphones by not texting or snapchatting during class but we as educators also must recognize that these devices are here to stay and we can either resist or realize the Borg were right all along.

imgresChange is difficult at the best of times but technological change seems to be on a whole other level.  Educational practice is personal and perfected seemingly in isolation.  Feedback is available but typically in short supply.  With this professional isolation comes the development of a skill-set that has been tried and tested over time.  A comfort zone is established and an ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ mindset.  A set of tools are also established and a comfort zone with these tools soon follows.  Enter the technological revolution!

Change for the sake of change is never a good thing.  ‘What problem are we trying to solve?’ is a great question to ask.  The SAMR model, developed by Dr. Ruben Puentedura, looks at the evolution of technological integration in education.  Replacing one device for another device without significant change in practice or student engagement lacks meaning or purpose.  This is not to say the potential for change is not present but rather the comfort with one form of technology or one methodology is a strong force against change.  So how can we achieve change given this dynamic?  Peer collaboration and/or curricular change are the influences that can bring about meaningful pedagogical change.  Without the necessity the urgency will never exist.  Without peer support the buy-in will never be achieved.  Now I speak in absolutes but in general these ideas hold true.

Peer collaboration is, in my opinion, the single greatest vehicle for change that exists in our system. Working along side a colleague in the same discipline (or cross-discipline) is inspiring and rejuvenating.  One example that comes to mind is of a group of colleagues who worked on identifying the fundamental skills a student needs entering Science 8 and developed a series of activities to start the school year and provide this foundation.  Collaboration between these colleagues persisted the entire school year and the difference in the enthusiasm and ability of those grade 8 students was evident.  Another example is when I had the pleasure of collaborating on a project in Biology 12 with support from the University of British Columbia.  The project focused on what part of the curriculum and the students put together fine projects but it was the professional conversations and thinking through the various challenges associated with the project that led to meaningful understanding of my teaching practice.

Curricular change, as is slowly occurring in British Columbia, is another way to bring about fundamental change in a system.  Coupled with a reevaluation of what is important comes a reevaluation of assessment practices.  Asking yourself ‘why am I asking students to do this,’ or ‘what skill or concept am I assessing with this assignment,’ is key to any successful teaching practice.  If curricular outcomes drive pedagogy toward a student-centred approach with technology as its backbone then and only then will change not be an option.

Here we go….

It is wonderful to have a new school year begin with all the anticipation and anxiousness that comes with it.  Being in a school without staff and students makes you realize that schools are not bricks and mortar but rather the heart and soul of the staff and students that populate it.  It will be exciting to once again see the halls comes alive and see the wide-eyed optimism on the face of the students.  I wish everyone the best for the school year ahead and look forward to the challenges that await.

Tech Reflections for 2012

Well the world hasn’t come to an end so on goes the struggle to integrate technology into education.  2012 has seen the tablet take hold and firmly become the go-to device for many tech enthusiasts and casual tech users.  Schools are still struggling with less than ideal bandwidth and budgets still have little in the way of flexibility when it comes to tech spending.  But all is not lost as strides have been made to bring schools into the current tech revolution:

1. Wireless capability is slowly becoming a reality in most schools

2. Portable labs of laptops and ipads are more prevalent than in 2011

3. Social media is becoming a platform for communication and instruction in the classroom

4. BYOD is a reality – for better or for worse

5. Old tech like overheads and VCRs are being phased out and being replaced with Multimedia Projectors and CPUs

6. More projects are including a tech component, if not completely immersed in technology

7. Libraries are becoming Learning Commons and providing a venue for students to interact and synthesize information from a variety of sources

8. Professional development days are utilizing tech more and more with many schools opting to dedicate at least one day to technology integration

9. Educators are engaging in conversation through Twitter and developing networks across the globe

10. Educational resources and textbook companies are finally developing apps and publications that are cost-effective and easily integrated

We still have a long way to go to reach the level of tech integration students immerse themselves in on a daily basis, when not at school, but we are inching closer to parody.

iPads in education is not a unique topic by any means.  Many have written about these wonder devices that will change the educational landscape forever.  In theory I agree wholeheartedly that iPads in the classroom can become a powerful learning enhancer and promoter of student engagement.  The practical integration of these devices in a classroom is another story entirely.  Having had experience with both laptops and iPads in my classroom I quickly realized what the potential advantages and disadvantages are for both devices.  My focus here is on the iPad but a future post will look at laptops in the same critical light.  Here are my impressions of iPads in education:

The Good:

Technology in general, for many schools, is still a novelty so student engagement dramatically increases as a result.  As I have stated in previous posts the more standard technology becomes in the classroom the less novel its use will be.  It is for this reason that sound pedagogy has and always will be the key to student engagement.  But on the novel side of things here are some definite advantages to using iPads:

1. Ease of use: The iPad is an intuitive device able to picked up and navigated by anyone.  For the classroom teacher this means minimal time being spent training students on how to use the device and more time being spent on the curricular advantages of having the iPads.  This also means that teachers can spend time focusing on a collection of apps they find useful and target instruction on the use of those apps and not the device as a whole.

2. No cords: Not being tied down to a desk or bench means free movement and increased collaboration.  A static computer lab is the antithesis of collaboration and discussion whereas the iPad in a standard classroom can be an individual or multi-user device with ease.

3. Network speed: Having tried laptops and iPads on the same network backbone the iPads clocked in at a faster connectivity, hands down.  Now this still might be painfully slow for dynamic instruction in the classroom, depending on your district network infrastructure, but it should be a more pleasant experience to a static desktop or laptop lab.  The reason of course is the proprietary nature of the iPad and the integration of the O/S with the apps.  Windows-based machines can come in so many different hardware and software configurations that seamless integration is much harder to achieve.

4. App Integration: The iPad allows for smooth integration between apps so creation of dynamic content becomes second-nature.  The ability to record a video, import it into iMovie, create a soundtrack in Garageband and export it into a Keynote presentation is amazingly easy.  The cutdown nature of these apps compared to the more robust desktop versions means the options are limited but the basics are easy to access.

5. Specific vs. General Apps: Many educators focus on looking for apps specific to their discipline but will sometimes ignore the power of using a generalized app.  As a science teacher I have looked at many of the specific science apps and some are good but most are mediocre.  I then turned to using apps like Dragon Dictation, iMovie, Toontastic, Keynote as a few examples.  These apps are not subject specific and depending on how you have embedded them into your lesson can be equally if not more powerful than a subject specific app.

6. Simple or Complex: Depending on your level of comfort the iPad can be used as a simple web-surfing device or a machine able to create rich, unique content.  This makes the iPad a wonderful entry-level to high-end user device.

The Bad:

It can’t be all sunshine and roses.  Here are some of the drawbacks to iPads in the classroom:

1. Proprietary: The seamless integration of apps on the iPad also means that getting content out of the iPad is really, really tricky.  There are ways to transfer content from the iPad to another computer but it takes a certain level of technical expertise and, more often than not, an iTunes account which then must be shared amongst multiple devices.

2. Single-User: The iPad was made to be a single-user device.  The very nature of the device is a personal tablet customized to meet the needs of a single-user.  This makes sharing a class set of iPads amongst an entire school cumbersome.  The difficulty becomes in partitioning content so it can’t be altered by other users.  A simple example are photos taken on the iPad.  There is currently no way to secure a bank of photos so only a single-user can access or delete them.  This means a student in another class can both access, use or alter your photos without difficulty.  There are ways around this, exporting to iPhoto being the ideal one, but this is not always a practical solution for a busy classroom with 30+ students.

3. Poor network infrastructure: Now this is not a fault of the iPad but rather a tragic reality for many schools.  A slow data pipeline into schools, coupled with the addition of new devices accessing an aging network means painfully slow login times and network speed.  The iPad can only do so much until it gets jammed on the same information highway as every other machine in the building.  Districts need to ensure the backbone of the network is sufficient enough to accommodate iPads, smartphones, laptops and other wireless devices logging in at peak times during the day.

4. Handing in Assignments: So a student has created a beautiful keynote presentation on Charles Darwin and wants to hand it in before the end of class… they run out of time and can’t hand it in to you until next class.  They come back and realize it is deleted.  Locking down content is difficult, if not currently impossible, to do on the iPad.  This means handing in assignments must be done immediately for fear of something terrible, like the scenario above, taking place.  All teachers must ensure they have an iTunes and e-mail ready to go for students to submit content.  Students will need to set up an e-mail account on the iPad before trying to e-mail content out to you.  The trick is making sure students delete their e-mail information before leaving the device otherwise their e-mail is now open for others to access.  This goes back to the single-user nature of the device.  If you are just using the iPads for the first time in your class and don’t realize this right away you may have quite a headache when students want to submit assignments at the end of class.

5. Security: This is true for any piece of equipment but making sure all devices are back and in working order before the end of class is a necessary evil.  One solution is to assign a specific iPad to each student, like a textbook, so you have a list to refer to should something go wrong.  Another helpful tip is to assign the job of collecting and sorting the iPads to one student in each class so you have another set of eyes to help you.

The Ugly:

1. Meaningful Integration: This is not really an ugly but as you use the iPads more and more in the classroom you will need to make the experience more and more meaningful.  There are only so many keynote or iMovie projects you can assign.  The ugly part becomes the time required to meaningfully reflect upon your practice and decide how iPads, or tech in general, can complement your teaching style.  This is ugly because it is not easy to critically look at yourself and it is even harder to do when someone else is doing the looking.  This is why provincial, district or school initiatives that call for the use of technology under the guise of some new groundbreaking educational reform will always fall on deaf ears.  The critical analysis has to be on an individual basis and has to come from a genuine desire to see how technology can be used to complement sound pedagogy.

I welcome your comments and feedback on this post.  If anyone has solutions for the problems posed in this post I welcome your willingness to share them.

21st Century Learning is all the rage in education these days.  Many people still haven’t a clue how to define 21st Century Learning including many of its proponents.  I see it as good practice that capitalizes on student interest and inherit willingness to adopt technology.  Student engagement is the underlying key of 21st Century Learning as it has been for countless other educational initiatives that have been introduced throughout the years.  Maria Montessori had as her basic foundation student engagement.  So the concept is not new but the packaging has changed.  Instead of wooden manipulatives we have plastic cases and glass screens.

Another aspect of this wave of educational reform around tech integration is the top-down nature of its implementation.  Ministries, school districts and schools are making the decision to go tech and teachers are being asked to come along for the ride.  Now many teachers are willingly if not enthusiastically embracing this change but many are hesitant if not reluctant to adjust their practice.  Students are a major factor in driving this technological bus as they come to school with any number of devices capable of complex calculations once only possible in large desktop machines.  The ease by which students obtain information and digest content makes the acquisition of factual information seemingly obsolete.  Teachers today recognize this paradigm shift and are making the appropriate adjustments to their practice.  This is no different from a surgeon learning a new surgical technique or a mechanic taking advantage of computer diagnostics to troubleshoot an engine problem.  Professionals are constantly revising and improving upon their practice… this is part and parcel of being a professional.

So does the need for educational change need to come from the grassroots or can it be a top-down initiative?  I propose that the reason 21st Century Learning has been met with such resistance is because of the way it has been introduced to educators.  It assumes the system is broken and that change is necessary for its continued survival and relevance.  Now let’s take the obvious budgetary problems public education faces these days out of this argument for a moment and only discuss the day-to-day practice of educating children.  How would you feel if you were told that you are not keeping up and that your ways are old and out-of-date and unless you embrace this new approach to teaching you will be left behind or potentially out of a job?  That was the approach, maybe not so blunt, that the Ministry of Education took when introducing their education plan for the province.  My first reaction to such a statement would be to put my back up and defend myself.  Whatever comes after a statement like this is irrelevant as you have already lost your audience.  Videos shown to teachers exclaiming the backward nature of today’s educational system serve the same purpose.  How can you encourage someone to change when you start the conversation in such a negative fashion?  Perhaps a more appreciative approach to educational reform is what is required.

Let’s start with the fact that the system is not broken and that teachers are doing an amazing job of educating today’s student with fewer resources and dwindling budgets.  Move on to the reality that technology is here to stay and is becoming an integral part of our lives.  Then ask the question how education can take advantage of this technological revolution and have both teaching and learning benefit.  The conversation has begun.  There is no greater joy for a teacher than to see students engaged in meaningful conversation related to something you have introduced.  Conversation is necessary and must be had in a genuine way to truly allow ideas to blossom.  The trick afterwards is to have the resources in place to take advantage of the ideas generated.

Technology integration, as with any educational initiative, can start as a top-down introduction but then must be quickly handed over to the grassroots so they can morph it and make it work within their practice.  It cannot be force-fed or mandated.  It must be encouraged and fostered.  Champions must be allowed to flourish and must be provided the resources (time, money, etc) to truly thrive.  A clear rationale must be given and backed up by respected professionals in the field.  A wholehearted attempt to truly embrace this change must be taken, including upgrading infrastructure, providing release time and resources.  Concrete examples of what this may look like in a classroom should be provided so that educators can see what their colleagues are doing and perhaps found a way to make it work in their own class.

Ask yourself this question… have you been asked to define 21st Century Learning from your perspective?  If not then we have a long way to go.

With a new school year rapidly approaching, educators, students and parents are filled with enthusiasm for a successful year ahead. As an educator the beginning of a new school year brings with it new ideas and the desire to improve upon our practice. Every year we strive to do a little better, be a bit more organized, add more variety to our lessons, try and reach those seemingly unreachable students and do the best job possible for our students and ourselves.

Perhaps this is the year that you are thinking of introducing technology into your practice. Technology you say… I already use an overhead projector, Multimedia projector, have a Smartboard, etc. Well maybe this is the year you introduce an e-learning aspect to your practice. First of all it is important to note that technology is not the be all and end all many people make it out to be. Technology will not replace good classroom practice and sound pedagogy. A great teacher will be a great teacher whether they use technology or not. So now that we have that cleared up many of us still see technology as being complementary to the learning process and a way to engage students with devices and applications they are choosing to use in their spare time.

The difficulty comes in deciding what to introduce, how to introduce it and how to effectively use it. Another difficulty is the nature of the teaching profession. Once the school year begins it is self-preservation to use tried and true methods of teaching and learning rather than move outside your comfort zone and try something that may or may not work. The hectic nature of the profession makes it difficult for new ideas to be introduced and implemented in the same school year. That is why now is the perfect time of year to start thinking about our practice and what we want to accomplish this upcoming school year. Many of us have started to turn our attention towards September and are beginning preparations for the classes / courses we will be teaching. Here are a few suggestions on e-learning strategies that can be easily introduced and allow you to get your technological feet wet:

1. From Poster to Prezi: Convert an existing project you have to an online assignment utilizing presentation tools like Prezi or Empressr. Both sites are user-friendly and can be picked up fairly quickly even by the most novice of students.

2. Put that Smartphone to Good Use: Many students these days carry a Smartphone with them these days. Why not have students film a short video of themselves and e-mail the results to you? You can have students film themselves conducting an experiment or learning a concept. Minimal prep required and will add a new twist to handing in homework.

3. E-mail Me: Collecting assignments or homework can be difficult at the best of times. Keeping track of late assignments or students that are absent can take up valuable prep time. Why not have students e-mail assignments to you? You have the luxury of a timestamp that tells you exactly when the assignment was turned in and it provides an opportunity for students that are absent to submit assignments from home.

4. Class Blog: This takes a little more work to setup but with sites like Tumblr, WordPress, Moodle and Edmodo much of the work is done for you. Developing an online presence for your course is a very powerful way to start to remove the walls of learning and allow for students to engage with content outside of the classroom. It is also an excellent way to bring parents into the fold by providing them a window into your classroom. More on this in later posts.

5. Social Media: This is another tricky one to do well but an easy one to start and play with during the course of a school year. Developing a Facebook site for a club or team is a great way to stay connected and disseminate information to people quickly and effectively (make sure you check your school districts policy on Facebook before proceeding). Twitter is another service that allows teachers to step outside the box and provide enrichment opportunities for students by tweeting out links to videos, blogs, discussion boards on whatever topic is being discussed in class. It can also be used to broadcast homework information and test dates. I have found this to be a great way to remove the excuse, “I was away so I didn’t know…’ from the students repertoire.

6. Laptops and iPads: if your school has access to these devices take advantage of it. Bring them into your class and simply have students play. The level of engagement, from my experience, has been extremely high if not 100% each time I brought these devices in. The work the students do on the device need not be difficult… it might as simple as looking up information for a project or completing a homework assignment and e-mailing it to you. The idea is to introduce the idea of e-learning into the classroom and then develop more meaningful ways to take advantage of these technologies.

These are in no way the only entry points to tech integration in the classroom but they might be a good way for the tech-reluctant educator to dive in and see what potential technology holds for their practice. I welcome your comments and feedback. I also would like to hear if you have other ways educators can get their technological feet wet.

Twitter is a social networking and microblogging service that allows you to answer the question, “What are you doing?”by sending short text messages 140 characters in length, called “tweets”, to your friends, or “followers.”

The short format of the tweet is a defining characteristic of the service, allowing informal collaboration and quick information sharing that provides relief from rising email and IM fatigue. Twittering is also a less gated method of communication: you can share information with people that you wouldn’t normally exchange email or IM messages with, opening up your circle of contacts to an ever-growing community of like-minded people.  You can send your messages using the Twitter website directly, as a single SMS alert, or via a third-party application such as Twirl, Snitter, or the Twitterfox add-on for Firefox.  Your tweets are displayed on your profile page, on the home page of each of your followers, and in the Twitter public timeline (unless you disable this in your account settings.)


Teacher <-> Student Communication via Twitter

If a communication is to be rational, it must have meaning.  On occasions, an individual tweet may not seem to meet that assumption.  However a thread of tweets on a particular topic can prove to be most meaningful, as they can provide the basis for subsequent analysis to reveal the meaning and other indirect, frequently irrelevant, information about the event.

As an education tool, tweets could suffice to merely track student attendance at an assignment, as well as determining of what value the assignment was.  To do this, the teacher could designate an account, a hashtag, e.g. #Assignment 01, to which the students as followers send their tweets.  The teacher then would collect all the tweets sent by the class to examine the tweets of those who did, or did not, attend to determine whether the value of what they submitted was worthwhile.  This might also prove helpful as a record of attendance for students who have to attend a number of activities in their field during the semester.

It can also be used to provide short, concise information on homework assignments, test dates, lesson details and link locations to interesting and relevant sites.  The potential to use Twitter as a real-time communication tool in the classroom is also intriguing and has been tried at post-secondary with mixed results.  A possible application could be to have a live-stream of comments from students, as a teacher lectures, to provide feedback to the teacher or even better to ask questions of the teacher that they may to shy or reluctant to ask otherwise.

There is value in the networking and real-time interaction that you can get using Twitter. Many educators and academics find this to be an effective strategy for dealing with the isolation that can come from working in the classroom or office. Imagine encountering technical difficulties during your lesson and having a means of receiving assistance within minutes. Consider the ability to receive assistance from others during a teachable moment in which you don’t know the answer to a student’s inquiry.

Pros and Cons


  1. It can be narcissistic. Does anyone care what I had for lunch?
  2. It can be boring. Is my average day so exciting that I have to share its details with the world?
  3. It can be redundant. I already have a daily blog. Why do I need Twitter?
  4. It can be time-consuming. It will distract from other, more important tasks.
  5. It can be dangerous. Letting someone know where I am at all times is like legalized stalking.
  6. It can contribute to the dumbing down of society. Most people don’t have the attention span for a well-crafted argument in a book. The blog is a step-down. Are we taking an even further step down, demanding our information in bite-sized chunks?


  1. The rapidness of disseminating information. amazed at how quickly the information went out.
  2. The ability to share interesting articles.
  3. The importance of conciseness. The brilliance of Twitter is its limitation of 140 characters. Most blogs are surfed, not read. Putting out a brief quote will probably be read by more people than a long blog post.
  4. Connecting with others. I am on Twitter primarily because I get to “follow” other people on Twitter. It keeps me connected to others who put out edifying “tweets” and who pass along interesting information.
  5. Boosting the blog. It takes a lot of work to maintain a daily blog. Linking to a blog post on Twitter gives my “followers” the opportunity to pass the article on to others who may benefit from it.

Here’s how to avoid the cons:

  1. Narcissism? Don’t make the majority of your “tweets” about you.
  2. Boring? Again, don’t make the majority of your “tweets” about you.
  3. Redundant? Instead of letting Twitter compete with your blog, let it point people to your blog.
  4. Time-consuming? Limit the number of people you follow and don’t constantly check for updates.
  5. Dangerous? Avoid giving details of your whereabouts and plans.
  6. Dumbing Down Society? Send along good links to thoughtful articles and news stories.