One of the best PD experiences I have ever had was at the Waterloo Region DSB’s CATC (Computers Across the Curriculum) Camp in August 2013. It was three intense days of learning and collaborating with some of the nicest (and hardest working) people you will ever meet. I left the Kempenfelt Conference Centre with much more than I expected.

This year I had planned to return as a facilitator and was really looking forward to working with everyone in such a relaxed yet purposeful atmosphere. Unfortunately I was unable to attend due to a family camping trip that was booked for the Friday and on the other side of the province. To be honest, only a family commitment would trump attending this event for me, it is that good!

In my opinion, one of the reasons that the CATC Camp model works so well as a professional development event for teachers is the culture that pervades the event. Based on my limited experience last year, I believe this culture is  built on three principles: student choice, the law of two feet, and a learner perspective.

For me, in this context, student choice refers to the fact that participants and facilitators at CATC Camp have all chosen to be there. By its very nature, being scheduled in the middle of August, you only get the most passionate attendees to dedicate this time for PD. I think this creates a sense of cohesiveness that builds a certain level of trust amongst a diverse group of educators. I don’t think the value of this can be understated when examining the culture of the event.

The law of two feet isn’t unique to CATC Camp but it imbues attendees with permission to focus on their own learning agenda. Without a rigid schedule of events or a formal structure that forces attendees to move at predetermined times, participants are given time to examine their personal goals and whether they are being met in a particular session. If they don’t match, no one feels guilty walking away and exploring a new session. Alternatively, if a participant is really digging into a particular concept or tool, or even having a good conversation with someone, they have tacit permission to stay and work as long as they would like.

Finally, participants take on the perspective of a learner. To clarify, I would define this as being open-minded, curious, and collaborative. When a group of people, especially educators, gather with this mindset good things are bound to happen!

So when I returned from our family trip and I perused the twitter feed for #catccamp14 I wasn’t surprised to see evidence of the culture I witnessed last year. Here is a  visualization of those tweets using Spot. Thanks to Doug Peterson for sharing this new tool in a recent blog post.

If you attended CATC Camp 2014, what was your impression of the culture?

What are some essential elements for effective teacher PD?

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

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xkcd Paleontology

I’m not teaching HSP3Mi this semester, but if I was I would use this comic in class:

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Google in Education Ontario Summit 2014

I had the privilege to attend the Ontario GAFE Summit today and wanted to record some of my thoughts before going into tomorrow.

In my opinion the opening keynote really set to tone for the day. Jennie Magiera presented an authentic reflection of her own journey integrating technology in her classroom. She was a learner sharing the ups and downs of her journey. She described various activities that she uses with her students, all underpinned with the message that technology integration should strive to make things better for students.

One idea I had that was inspired by her talk was to transition a behaviour management tool from paper to iPads and a Google Forum. Jennie described how she uses a Google form to do “emotional check ins” with her students. I use a strategy described by Barbara Colloroso as “Own it, Fix it, Plan it” (OFP) to get students to reflect on their behaviour when it strays from our established classroom norms. While OFP is a behaviour management and metacognitive tool, I’m inspired to try and merge it with Jennie’s emotional check ins to get a better picture of my students and what is driving their behaviour.

Here is the best slide from her presentation:

Another key point from Jennie’s keynote was her reference to the SAMR model. WRDSB CIO Mark Carbone has been working to introduce this model for technology integration and it keeps emerging across various educational contexts for me. Jennie described SAMR as a tool for answering the question “how can tech solve old problems in new ways?”

For the rest of the day I attended sessions on a variety of topics. The best in my opinion was Leading with Google Apps by Jason Markey. This was ironic considering I didn’t really see much that caught my eye during this portion of the day. At the last minute I decided to attend Jason’s session with Jane Mitchinson and I wasn’t disappointed. While the target audience was school administrators, I picked up an awesome list of Google Tips. Firstly, I learned about Boomerang which allows you to schedule emails in Gmail. I set up Gmail priority mailbox. I also learned about “Find a time” and “Appointment slots” in Google Calendar. After this session I don’t know how an school administrator couldn’t use GAFE tools to improve their productivity and manage their workload. Here is the link to Jason’s presentation.

After the sessions the day ended with a “Demo Slam” where various educators demonstrate various tools in 3 minutes or less for audience votes. It was a blur of innovative, geeked out tools that left me overwhelmed. I want to learn everything and find a way to integrate it into my practice!

As I left the building the belief that as teachers we need to be life-long learners was reinforced for me. Having been surrounded by so many people willing to give up their weekend to learn how to, in the words of Jennie Magiera, “make it better” I was inspired. Getting to learn alongside these passionate educators is one of the many reasons that I think I have the best job in the world.

How about you? If you attended the Summit what was your “big takeaway” from the first day? If you didn’t get the opportunity to attend, what makes great professional development in your opinion?


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Student reflections on learning with Civic Mirror

Recently I was told by a colleague from another school that she was made to promise NOT to use Civic Mirror with her Civics students. I have heard similar stories from various individuals around the WRDSB over the past couple of years since I have begun advocating on behalf of CM. It has always left me puzzled why teachers, who I would expect are accomplished learners in their own right, would so vehemently refuse to embrace a new approach to teaching civics that so clearly engaged students. It also gives me some added appreciation and respect for those who do try CM in their classes.

So at the end of our Civics course, at Bluevale we have begun asking our students the following question:

How has Civic Mirror changed your views on the learning process and your role as a student?

Here are some of the responses I received this semester:

“Civic Mirror has shown me that having fun while learning is very important, it is very effective at teaching because it gives us a much more hands on experience with governance, and trying to successfully self-govern ourselves, it is a challenge but if we all can learn to work together it would be much easier. There is one thing that this course has taught very well and that is we must be able to work together in order to create a better society for all.”

“The civic mirror has taught me that if you give students the power to control their class they will do a good job and that learning doesn’t have to be taking notes and studying it can be fun and still teach. The reason ii think this is because our class did a good job running the class and almost all of the time we were on task. The reason I think that learning is better this way is because in the civic mirror you learn from your mistakes not from a textbook which I think is a better lesson anyway because when there is a consequence for someone’s actions they are more likely to want to correct it.”

“The Civic Mirror changed my views on the learning process and my role as a student by showing me that learning about something that does not sound very interesting can be fun when you can learn about it in a fun way, like the simulation did. My role as a student changed because now I realize that learning can be interesting and enjoyable if it is in a form that you enjoy. The simulation helped me learn about these, about Canada, and about what I can do as a responsible citizen.”

“Civic mirror has has drastically changed my views on my learning process as a student because it gave me the opportunity to learn through experiencing instead of taking notes. I really enjoyed the hands on experience instead of sitting in class and taking notes or doing work sheets. Also, we the students got the opportunity to run the class and learned a lot of valuable responsibility skills.”

“The way that the Civic Mirror changed my views is that getting involved makes learning a lot better and easier. It really changed my views of what my roles as a student is. I realised that my role as a student is to participate and take responsibility for my own learning. In Civic Mirror if you just sit back and let everything happen you are going to fall behind. You must be aware of everything that is going on to be as successful as you can. Also in Civic Mirror, paying close attention and getting involved in as much as you can would have made the completion of the modules a lot easier because you would have had more examples of things that they asked of such as figuring out what kind of country we have so that we can compare ours to another similar country in the real world.”

Sometimes I struggle to communicate how effective this tool is at meeting the curriculum objectives for the Civics course. I worry that I appear to be some wild-eyed fanatic, blind in my devotion to the tool. But when I read the above comments by my students I don’t feel so wild-eyed and fanatical, rather it  makes me question why some teachers I speak with refuse to entertain the idea of using Civic Mirror in their departments and classrooms.

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Pearson & #OntSM

Here is the Storify (?) that I have created to curate the tweets from #ontsm this past weekend. I’m still mulling over how I want to respond to the entire situation but I thought it worthwhile to make note of the many, many interesting tweets related to the event. Some questions that I have “marinating” are:

  1. Is there anything inherently wrong with the use of focus groups by corporations that work in the education sector?
  2. Should discussions related to the use and implications of social media for stakeholders in education be
  3. What are the similarities/differences between the recent “Google Apps for Education” event and this one by Pearson Education?
  4. Is the Ministry of Education involved in discussions related to the use of social media in education?
  5. What are the characteristics of the interactions between various individuals and groups within this apparent subculture of “connected” Ontario educators?
  6. What does the response after the event say about the state of education in Ontario and the relationships between Ontario educators?

If you attended this event or watched it from afar, what questions are most pertinent for you?

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Creating Common Craft Videos in History Class

Last December, during Unit Three: 1939-1959 in my Grade Ten Canadian History class, I decided to depart from the newspaper project which was the summative assignment for the unit. In its place, I wanted to provide my students with more choice in both content and format. I also wanted to try to link their final product more explicitly to the curriculum documents.

The result was the Unit Three: 1939-1959 Self-Directed Group Assignment. Click on the link to view the assignment instructions that I gave to students. Essentially I wanted them to make the following choices in their groups:

  1. Identify if they would focus on aspects of Historical Significance (HS) or Continuity and Change (C&C).
  2. Explicitly identify and incorporate four curriculum outcomes in their final product (I gave them this Curriculum Body of Evidence chart with explicit overall expectations from the Ontario curriculum documents)
  3. Pick a topic for their content
  4. Pick a format for their assignment: a Common Craft-style video or a Human Wax Museum

 Here are some of the results:

C&C Science and Technology WWI to WWII from Daniel Ballantyne on Vimeo.

I will save my reflections on this activity for another post, but feel free to leave your feedback or questions below.

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TVO’s The Agenda Twitter Stream

Today I attended a taping of the Agenda at the Communitech Hub in Kitchener. The topic was “Learning 2030″ and various individuals discussed what schools will look like in eighteen years. In short it was fascinating. Here are the tweets below:


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Twitter & Teacher PD

Since I began using twitter a couple of years ago it has become an important tool for my professional development. Below is an example of the types of conversations that are facilitated by Twitter:


Yes, it was an intense conversation, but what I enjoyed was the collegiality of the process. These conversations push my thinking and challenge my assumptions as a teacher. In short, they help me to continually pursue the stance of a ‘life long learner’.

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Teaching Civics in Ontario

I recently responded to a post on TVO’s The Agenda blog asking teachers to share a tool which is indispensable to their teaching. I found this after reading a great post by Rick McCleary on his use of Twitter in the classroom and was inspired to share my use of the Civic Mirror in my Civics courses. After sending in my response, I was contacted by TVO to write a guest blog, similar to Rick’s, explaining why I think Civic Mirror is so useful. Here is my submission:

Read More »

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Back to the blog!

As you can see by the lack of activity I’ve taken a hiatus from the Cookie Cutter. As I put the finishing touches on my M.Ed thesis I hope that trend will be reversed. I have so much that I would like to say about education but have had to work to stay focused on the thesis. Hopefully a portion of the 5-20 hours a week that I set aside for thesis work can be redirected towards sharing my thoughts with you here.

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