Teaching and Learning in the 21st Century: The Sequel

Lots of sequels come out in the summer time (I think… Just go with it), and the OTF Teaching and Learning in the 21st Century conference was no exception. I was lucky to attend the conference last February as a panelist discussing my take on the use of social media in the classroom. Then I was doubly lucky to be able to hang out with Will Richardson (who’s played a huge role in influencing my philosophy about technology in the classroom) during the Minds on Media sessions the following day.

For the #OTF21C sequel (check that hashtag on twitter to see an archive of the tweets from the past three days), I got to repeat my panelist role but also became a Minds on Media facilitator (which meant less time picking Will’s brain but more time hanging with cool teachers eager to learn about blogging).

The panel discussion was essentially very similar to the one back in February. I noticed the same tension between those people (students, teachers, consultants) who are working with social media and those people (union representatives) tasked with protecting teachers from the potential dark side of social media. And I noticed Will biting his tongue at times (Excellent restraint, Will!). I just hope that down the road there will be teachers and students and administrators who shake their heads with amusement as they look back on the “old days” when we were all filled with angst about technology. There was one question toward the end of the panel from a teacher who was very concerned that students might be spending too much time in front of screens to the detriment of their physical and socio-emotional well-being. I’ve started to get a little tired and frustrated by questions like this, but I have to exercise a little more patience. I think I replied with something like, “Maybe, but people said the same thing about books, when books became more readily accessible. Same argument; different medium.” It is the same argument, but I have to remember that this is still a new and threatening area for some people so they may not see it as being the same.

After the panel Brian and I braved the record-breaking temperatures outside the hotel to visit Melanie McBride and Jason Nolan at the EDGE lab which is part of Ryerson’s Digital Media Zone. Wow is this place ever mind blowing! Read more about it here. After a tour, we headed upstairs where all the different teams worked. It’s an eclectic group. There were teams working on everything from mobile health apps (VitalHub) to game development (HugeMonster Inc.). And then there were research teams including EDGE lab where my friend Melanie works. The EDGE lab itself was a pretty eclectic group made up of people who brought unique and often opposing perspectives. Noah and Jason demonstrated some soft circuit prototypes they had developed to help adorable little girl communicate in and interact with her peers in spite of her limited speech and motor skills. We had some great conversations (I can’t even begin to attempt to sum them up here) about school and learning (and how the two are quite often mutually exclusive!). It’s incredibly liberating to talk to people who are interested in education but are not constrained by the traditional education system. There are so many ideas we don’t even discuss in education because we know we “can’t do that” in our current system. We walked back to the hotel like zombies, although in fairness I think was 38 degrees in downtown Toronto with a breeze that felt like a gust from a convection oven.

Then there was some much-needed socializing, and that’s all I’ll say about that.

Friday was devoted to Minds on Media. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Minds on Media process (brilliantly organized by Peter Skillen and Brenda Sherry), unlike traditional PD where one might sign up for a session, sit in a chair and listen to the presenter’s agenda, teachers are free to move from station to station and the agenda is that of the participants. I had a bunch of links and resources prepared but essentially my first question when people arrived was, “So, what do you want to talk about?” It was exhausting, but very rewarding and I loved it when a teacher ran over to me, beaming, saying “I just wrote my first blog post! And I embedded a video!”

I love these conferences because they provide me with a chance to learn as much as (or usually more) than I present, but I also love them because they are, as Melanie would say, affinity spaces. These are spaces where I get to learn how I want with the people who I want to learn with. Thanks to all my friends, old and new, for the great experience.

Doug Peterson, a friend and prolific blogger has posted a number of reflections on his own blog which you can read here.

Participatory Culture and the 21st century English teacher

Social network sites are an example of the ways in which youth engage in what Henry Jenkins calls participatory culture. In his white paper, “Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century”, Jenkins (2009) defines participatory culture as “a culture with low barriers to artistic expression and civic engagement, strong support for creating and sharing one’s creations, and some type of informal mentorship whereby what is known by the most experienced is passed along to novices” (p. 3). He goes on to identify specific skills that will be necessary to engage effectively in this participatory culture, namely:
· Play
· Performance
· Simulation
· Appropriation
· Multitasking
· Distributed Cognition
· Collective Intelligence
· Judgment
· Transmedia Navigation
· Networking
· Negotiation (p. 4)

Now I know this sounds a little jargony and the one thing I want to be careful to avoid (at least in my blog posts) as I pursue graduate work is jargon. So let me break it down for you and explain what I took away from this paper.

Links from presentation:

Media Literacy

Media Awareness Network
Don’t Buy It
Centre for Media Literacy
Association for Media Literacy
Critical Media Literacy

Blogs to Read

Dangerously Irrelevant
Free Technology for Teachers
Moving at the Speed of Creativity
Cool Cat Teacher
The Spicy Learning Blog

New Teacher Resources

Tools for the 21st Century Teacher
The Educator’s PLN Ning

Follow these people on Twitter.

Is this rude?


Photo by Jason Wun

I’m not talking about what I do with it. Just the device itself.

Is it rude?

I realize that people can use it in rude ways, but does that make the thing itself rude?

I ask this question because after sharing my experience that my previous post describes with some colleagues, the reaction I got was something like “Oh, well … I mean, that’s unfortunate, but it was a cell phone.”

And when I ask, “So if it had been a lap top, or my iPad, or a piece of paper, would it have been rude?” the response is “No, I don’t think that would be considered rude.”

So what is it about the cell phone that immediately makes some people automatically attach labels like “rude” “unprofessional” and “off-task”?

I think this is a case of residual anachronistic perceptions about what cell phones are used for, and at the risk of sounding ageist, I think it’s (sometimes) generational. I’m not sure when the last time was I actually used my iPhone as a phone–actually yes I do. I used it to do a Facetime call with my friend who lives in Alberta. The rest of the time I use my phone to text, send email, blog, enter information into my calendar, listen to music, search the web, and jot down ideas.

I suspect that those colleagues who winced when I said “cell phone” are the same people who, if they own a cell phone, only use it as a phone, and therefore have a hard time understanding how it can be used for learning purposes. And this is not an ageist thing, now that I think about it because I have a colleague who is younger than I am and she also winces a bit when I talk about cell phones in the classroom.

My friend Royan ominously commented on my previous post that:

Seriously though, I think your little experience has touched on a growing divide in our systems. I think there’s something of a quiet civil war occurring.

A quiet civil war? Yikes! I’d hate to think that’s really happening. Don’t we have more important things to worry about than the devices students (or teachers) use for learning? Shouldn’t we be worried about the learning itself?

How to Shut Down a Learner: Intention and Perception in Classroom Management

I had a pretty earth shattering learning experience today that I feel the need to reflect on it in the hope that this profoundly negative experience can have a positive outcome.

I was at a PD session today, and in the interest of respecting the privacy of the people involved, I won’t mention names or specific details. As the presenter opened the session and discussed “housekeeping” issues, she mentioned the process for supply coverage. Being a naturally disorganized person, I’ve learned that the best way to deal with new information is to act on it. So I pull out my iPhone and jot down a quick email to my secretary (because that makes her job easier and I respect her professionalism).

And then there’s silence. Crickets may have chirped. But I thought, nah… she’s not seriously doing the disapproving teacher silent treatment. Then it got awkward and I looked up and yep, that’s exactly what she was doing. And so, silly rational girl that I am, I quietly and politely explained what I was doing, to which she replied, “Your secretary can wait until tomorrow.”

So I stared for a moment, baffled and humiliated while all my peers watched and waited, and I said, “Okay…” and put my phone away mid-email.

So here’s what I learned:

I can not and should not assume that all PD facilitators are comfortable with the ways in which adult learners (and frankly… any learners) use technology. Some people still perceive technology use by participants as disrespect. They may be wrong, but I still need to remember that my colleagues in real life are not the same as my colleagues on Twitter.

But more importantly, I learned first hand how students feel when a teacher decides to “make an example” out of a student. You want a sure fire way to incite antagonism, conflict, anxiety, anger, and humiliation? Mission accomplished. Not only did I feel demeaned and misunderstood, I lost face in front of my peers. I could feel the gaze of 40+ pairs of eyes boring into the back of my head as they wondered, “Who is THAT loser?”

Did I ever tune out and shut down. She lost me for the rest of the day. I gained some useful information in the afternoon after I could vent to some friends, and I did have a fairly unproductive conversation with the presenter at break. She seemed to be under the impression that we were in cahoots and she thanked me for letting her make her point about cell phone use. I tried to politely but firmly explain how she made me feel and that in the future she might want to consider that adult learners (just like student learners) have different learning styles, and just as some people need to take a moment to jot down information in an agenda or on a sticky note, others might use technology. That didn’t seem to have much impact. She thanked me again and reiterated her respect for me, which left me angry and even more demeaned.

So, students, do I ever get how you feel when a teacher decides to make an example out of you and I SWEAR to never do it again. I’d like to think I don’t do this very often but once is too much.

This really isn’t about technology; it’s about how a teacher can effect the climate of a classroom and a students’ willingness to take risks and participate. If you want quiet, demure, compliant students (who are seething with rage and resentment) go ahead. Humiliate them. Make examples of them. Center them out. But I don’t think that’s what you want. It’s sure not what I want.

And once the awkwardness and humiliation has faded, DON’T bring it up again just before you depart for the day, thanking the clearly unwilling and humiliated learner for allowing you to make that point you felt you needed to make, and then wait for acknowledgment from the defeated and raging learner while the entire “class” fidgets awkwardly or gawks at the learner. That’s just cruel, and rubs salt in the wound.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Reflections on ECOO 2010

The most important thing I learned was that if at all possible, attend a conference with a friend. I know I had a ton of Twitter friends at ECOO, but it was awfully nice to be able to go with my friend Wendy, both for moral support and to have someone to bounce new ideas off of.

The second most important thing I learned is to make sure your Twitter picture accurately reflects your current hairstyle, otherwise people find it very disorienting.

The third most important thing I learned is that wireless WILL cut out at a pivotal moment during your presentation, so use an ethernet cord if at all possible.

I loved the presentation by @royanlee who has become the “it” boy of technology and student engagement (Although I personally feel it’s cheating to bring your students–just kidding, Royan. Well played.). He also has absolutely, hands-down, the best delivery when it comes to dealing with difficult questions. So calm and low key. Remember me when you become the next Will Richardson, okay?

A big shout out to “Pegah the Perfect” who talked to us about her blog.

I also loved @neilstephenson’s cigar box project presentation. Talk about making history relevant! Also, he made reference to St.Thomas and Jumbo the elephant which gets him bonus points since I teach in St. Thomas.

The Pecha Kucha was something I dreaded but turned out to be one of the most positive moments of the whole weekend. I can’t wait to try this presentation style with my students. Thanks to @msjweir who asked me to present. It was great to meet @Grade1 and @peterskillen face to face, and also great to see @thecleversheep, @KimMcGill again.

It’s great to be at a conference like this because these people GET me. I’m not weird or out-there with them. People don’t look at me strangely when I talk about using Wikipedia for research and I don’t have to use my “do you ban paper because students are passing notes” analogy about cellphones. On the other hand, I have to remember that when I get back to my school, some people will wrinkle their noses when I talk about cell phones and cringe when I say Wikipedia is a good place to begin research projects. Baby steps.

And now, I give you the ECOO 2010 Pecha Kuchas, with many thanks to @colinjagoe for rockstar editing.

A Vision of Education in 2020

For my graduate class I had to write a paper outlining and justifying my vision of eduaction in 2020. I’m pretty sure I haven’t exactly rocked the APA format, and I’m also pretty sure my professor didn’t intend a 3000 word paper, but I had so many ideas I just couldn’t contain myself. Then I remembered that I had to to cite everything and it just…well…snowballed.

My vision is not an ideal vision. It’s not an edutopia, but I think it’s a logical vision based on current trends and research.

A Vision of Education in 2020

Note: I screwed up the first time I posted this. Should look nicer now.

Now what?


Photo credit

After TED and Saturday’s workshops, I asked myself the above question and then quickly remembered– Oh yeah! I’m bringing two students to the Board Office (insert angelic chorus and shaft of light beaming down from the heavens–just kidding. I’ve worked there. I know.) to share their experiences with Ning and bookclubs with some intermediate teachers.

I feel like I’ve missed a lot of class lately so I was feeling a little guilty but now as I sit at home at 3:30(!) sipping a caramel machiatto and eating some cookies and reflecting on the day–guilt be gone! I did–or rather–we did good today!

My super smart and talented friend Heather who I abandoned last year to return to the classroom asked me if I’d be willing to come and speak at the final sessions of a series of Creating Strategic Readers workshops. Now while I’m thrilled to be back in the classroom there are a number of things I really miss about being a learning coordinator:

  • having time to direct my own professional learning
  • being a part of important board initiatives
  • being in the loop
  • the salad bar in the cafeteria
  • being able to go to the washroom whenever I want (!)
  • But mostly — I miss working with all the cool people (particularly Heather–or H-Dawg as I like to call her. It’s her street name. It’s a thing. … never mind)

So when Heather asked me to come in I was really excited–also because I got to share things that I’d actually tried with students–unlike last year where I had to speak in theoretical terms which was often frustrating. Heather also asked me if I could bring some students.

I chose two girls from my 4C class last semester. They weren’t the highest achievers in my class and they weren’t the stereotypical “good students”, but they were really great kids–one very outgoing and confident, and one a little shy and quiet. We drove down to the board office and I explained to the girls that I would talk for a bit, but that the teachers would be way more interested in what they had to say.

The girls rocked! It was so awesome when a teacher asked me a question and I was able to redirect to the girls. eg/ Teacher: So did you find that the boys in the class were more engaged when using your class Ning?

Me: Girls?

Superstar student #1: Oh yeah!

Superstar student #2: Totally!

Superstar student #1: Like Andrew–he’d never read a book before!

Teacher: But what about bullying? How did you find the other students were when it came to saying inappropriate things?

Me: Girls?

Superstar Student #1: Well, like Ms. Barker was monitoring everything so we know we couldn’t say bad stuff–not that we would–

Superstar Student #2: Yeah, and actually I felt like the opposite happened. Like even if you didn’t really like someone, you were still writing positive comments. It’s like were a big team and we all want to help each other out.

Me: I paid them to say that.

So cool. The girls were great. I think the coolest part was what we talked about when on the way home. The girls talked about how teachers needed to be open-minded and try new things and they liked it when teachers tried to value the things they did outside of class. I know they were only two of my students, but it was so nice to feel like all of my hunches about what made good teaching were true at least for them. Plus they were so much more credible as experts than I ever could be.

No, the coolest part was when I overheard a teacher say to another teacher “They’re awesome!”

And sure, some of the teachers were resistant, or they felt like they couldn’t do this with their students, or that it must take way too much time, but now that I’m a classroom teacher, my response is simple: Yes it takes time. Yes there are challenges. But it’s worth it to me because I see the difference it makes in my students’ learning. If you feel like you’ve got enough challenges right now, or you don’t think it’s worth the time, don’t do it. I’m just sharing.

So liberating. Seriously. Last year when teachers would push back or come up with excuses I would get really defensive. Now I smile and nod and say, “Then this may not be the right choice for you.” And I can say that because I know what works for me and it’s totally worth it–especially when I hear Superstar Student # 2 say “Wow I think we really rocked that, don’t you?”

Yep. We rocked that.


Danika Barker; live

This Friday I was lucky enough to be asked to speak at an independently organized TED event. When Jamie Weir asked me to speak way back in … October?… I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into. I was flattered, but I also have a habit of saying yes to things when they seem very far away, and then deciding how to make it work later.


Well April 9th popped up pretty fast! Oh, and did I mention I also agreed to present two workshops at our board’s big technology conference the next morning? Why? WHY?

I knew that I wanted to talk about my action research project but trying to figure out how to cram all that into a 5 minute talk was quite daunting. I managed to pick out the highlights–I hope–and tell people why I thought Ning was such a great teaching and learning tool. I made cute slides. I memorized and rehearsed. I picked out my shoes. I believe my shoes were a trending topic on Twitter that night.

The night was a blur! One minute I was suggesting iPhone apps to Paul Finkelstein.


The next minute I was discussing the dubious merits of Fast Eddie’s with Dan Misener (whilst lusting after his iPad).


And then, somehow, I was up!

And the computer running my slides threw a tantrum and had to be rebooted while I tried to make small talk and considered beat-boxing to fill the dead time. Technology glitches aside, I made it through the talk, and I really appreciate all the hard work the tech team did to jump over those impossible-to-foresee hurdles. My Twitter friends were so supportive and kind and thanks to the miracle of technology, my friends and family were able to watch online. So cool!

I felt a little out of my league when I realized I was speaking at the same event as Alec Couros, Jesse Brown, Ray Zahab, Paul Finkelstein, (aw, heck, EVERYONE. Check out this roster of speakers), but what an amazing opportunity to network and be inspired.

Small confession: I was such a nervous wreck, I did a very bad job at mingling. There were so many people I wanted to meet face to face, but as soon I was done talking, I hid in the green room and scarfed a sub. There. I admit it. But I wasn’t alone. After giving a hilarious and engaging talk, Jesse Brown, co-founder of Bitstrips


joined me in the greenroom and we had a great chat about technology in schools, visual literacy, and the surprising positive side of the partial anonymity that social networking creates. He was awesome!

I also got to chat with Kathy Hibbert who I’ve followed on Twitter for a while and finally got to meet face to face. It was so nice to see that I wasn’t the only nervous one! I wish I’d been able to stick around for her talk but I had to be up early to present at Medway early the next morning.

Did I mention that I finally got to meet Jamie Weir face to face? Read her blog here.


She and the rest of her crew should be very proud.

A huge thanks to Jamie, Rodd, Ben, Kim, Sharon, Colin, and everyone else who worked to make Friday night happen. It was a night I will never forget.

Photo of the Day: TEDxOntarioEd Team

And now, here’s my TEDx talk:

Reflections on this semester’s love affair with technology

Othello wordle

I could use the extended metaphor of a torrid romance with a sexy bad boy to describe my experience with technology this semester, but that might a bit overblown and, some might argue, a product of my students’ obsession with Team Edward vs. Team Jacob. Zombies are also trendy right now, but I don’t think brain is equipped to fashion that metaphor right now.

So, let’s get to it.

As I finish up this semester I’ve had some hits and misses. If you’ve read some of my other posts this year (and I know, they have been few and far between. New school, new challenges, new excuses), you’ll know that I approached my classes with year with a kind of outlook that can only be described as naively optimistic. I saw rainbows and puppy dogs everywhere I looked. I assumed my students would be putty in my hands because they were digital natives and I GOT them. So, in summary:

Stumbling blocks:

  • I didn’t consider that other members of the staff might resent the fact that two English classes were scheduled in a computer lab every day when access to computer labs is already at a premium. Not my fault, but it didn’t really matter.
  • Although my students are digital natives, they were not all tech-savvy
  • Although most of my students use social networking sites and web 2.0 apps on a regular basis, a number of them balked at using these tools for educational purposes
  • Many students were opposed to sharing their work (even though many of them are okay with showing inappropriate pictures on facebook!)
  • Some of my students have adopted anti-technology positions in, what I can only assume is, a desire to please authority figures who condemn technology as frivolous or non-academic.
  • Paper: I still need paper for some things, and for some reason I feel like I’m being judged as a bad teacher if my students don’t have any paper handouts. I’m working on it.
  • Oh, and apparently I adopt every new tool that interests me.

Now, for the good news:

  • Some of my students changed their minds. I had a student tell me that initially, he was “creeped-out” by edmodo, because he didn’t really understand what it was. He is a thoughtful cautious student who has taken to heart all the warnings about the dangers of posting too much information about yourself online. As the student learned that social networking sites can be leveraged for positive purposes, he came to love edmodo because he found that he could access assignments and send me messages using a tool he was already using (um, that’s the internet if you’re wondering. Or the “the infornet” as my mother-in-law calls it).  Edmodo has been a huge success. It’s eliminated a great deal of paper–not to mention excuses.
  • Ning: I used Ning for a number of different purposes. At first I didn’t really know how I’d use it (I’m finishing my action research project on this and I’ll post it soon so I won’t go into great detail here), but eventually the most significant use became blogging. Some of my students were skeptical about the Ning at first, but their work stands for itself. They shared and read ideas they would have never otherwise encountered. They also reached much deeper levels of synthesis and analysis because their posts were not “published pieces” in a traditional sense.
  • My website and class blog. I did a pretty good job of updating my class blogs on a daily basis. Now when I scroll back through my posts, I have a wonderful series of snapshots of my semester. It’s fantastic. I never managed to update my “daybook” or planner the way I’ve kept my blog up to date.

In the immortal words of Joss Whedon, “Where do we go from here?” (Oh, Buffy, how I miss you)

  • I’m going to use Ning even more, and try to do even more with student blogging now that I have evidence that supports its effectiveness.
  • Edmodo: I need to do more training at the beginning of the semester so that students use edmodo properly. (How to submit an assignment vs. how to send a link)
  • Use less paper. I can do it!
  • Bring in Diigo. Love Diigo, but didn’t really get a chance to try it.

I think that’s plenty for now. I’ll keep you posted.

I promise.

No really!

So I changed my mind

My original action research plan was hampered by my failure to remember who teenagers are and that perhaps trying to get them to share information that they may deem too private and personal would defeat my original purpose.

So with that in mind I moved on to a different plan. With no further ado, here is my rough draft of my introduction: