Category Archives: General


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I’m a day late.

But I likely wouldn’t have joined at all if today wasn’t a snow day. Yes, it’s April 4th and there’s a blizzard out there. Wanna see?


The blizzard is also responsible for my project choice: #ruralroutegardensdailyvideo. Because I just happened on #the100dayproject, I needed an idea in a hurry. And because I haven’t allowed myself any planning time, I needed to choose an idea that is eminently doable. As I gazed out over the thick blanket of snow covering the gardens this morning (just yesterday almost snow-free) my hopes for an early start to the season disappeared, but the idea to film one part of the garden for 100 days sprung to life.

I love my gardens. I love that I designed and built them. I love watching them grow and change from day-to-day.

For #the100dayproject, I won’t be capturing random photos of my garden because I am taking to heart the advice of Elle Luna and Lindsay Jean Thomson, facilitators of #the100dayproject, who strongly suggest setting some constraints on the project. Here then are the criteria:

  • Action—> video a day
  • Location—> front garden
  • Type of shot—> pan left to right for 30 secs
  • Time—> random
  • Tools—> Pixel 2 phone, no filters

And here is the first video:


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#onewordOnt Introduction

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Why take on the #oneword challenge?

There are many reasons why one would take on this challenge, but for most, it comes down to focus and intentionality. Having one word through which to “see” your practice, to guide your work, and to reflect on your professional learning gives you a chance to be really intentional about your professional growth. Having one word to concentrate on allows you the time to delve into the nuances of the word, to look at it from various angles, to hold it close and then to view it from a distance. Having one word gives you the chance to be shaped by it.

Scroll through our Twitter hashtag #onewordOnt to read the vibrant and supportive conversation in this community.


Read a few of the #onewordOnt 2016 posts.

Sue Dunlop

Aviva Dunsiger

Donna Fry

Diana Maliszewski

Heather Theijsmeijer

Tina Zita

Julie Balen

Then consider what your word of the year will be.

Join us by tweeting out your word to #onewordOnt.

You can also write a post where you can make your thinking about the word visible. Remember to share your post to #onewordOnt, too!!

There is no deadline. But, all of the words shared to #onewordOnt by January 20th will be collected into a word cloud!!


Finally, to ensure that I don’t miss your word, please check this document before January 20th.  If your word is missing, let me know via Twitter or in the comments below.

I am so eager to see our 2018 list!

Context:The #OneWordONT project began in 2015 with #OSSEMOOC (Ontario School and System Leaders Edtech MOOC – OSAPAC’s community of leaders learning how technology can change practice in education). By 2017, the Ontario Ministry of Education cut funding for OSSEMOOC, but I decided to continue the project since I believe that it helps build community and it offers a personal, non-threatening entry point to Twitter specifically and to a PLN generally. 


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Poplar trees and tablets. Thinking about engagement.

When my family gets together there is always at least one project on the agenda. From building furniture to changing the brakes on a car, the kids come home to do their ‘making’. “It’s great to do projects here”, they say. “The space, tools and materials are all at hand!”

We don’t mind. The kids, all in their 20’s, are ready to learn from us. They now want to know about buying tires, making jam, and planting trees. 

Last week, on December 24th actually, the project was to take down an old poplar in the back of the property. Tricky business taking down a 60 foot tree.


But this kind of project is exactly the type that gets everyone ramped-up. There are calculations to be done, and re-done, and theories regarding the falling tree’s trajectory to be hashed out (and then bet upon). Oh what fun!

My job is to document the process, and I did by snapping pics and posting them to the family Google hangout. 

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And then an unexpected message appeared.

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Last year for Christmas, I got my 85 year old father a tablet. Learning to use it has been a slow process. He doesn’t have a smart phone (yet), so everything is new for him. Each time he comes for a visit, he learns or relearns one thing. This fall he began to attend a class to learn more about how to use the tablet.

And he joined the family hangout.

This was always the goal. The family chat is lively with lots of pictures shared. It is one way we stay connected, and I knew that beyond appreciating the conversations, he too would be more connected to all of us. He never chatted with us though, preferring to ‘listen in’. 

Last week when my dad saw what we were doing, he was intensely jealous. He wanted to be there with us to be part of the excitement. In fact, he was so engaged in the event that he overcame his fear of texting, of doing something wrong, of looking silly in a public space, and he typed out his disappointment and admonishment.

How come major move happening without senior advisor?

This story is a terrific example of what engagement can look like at the various stages of learning. Clearly, my dad was motivated to learn how to use  the tablet. He persisted in his learning even though he didn’t always have a teacher. He sought out direct instruction and he practiced. As his confidence grew, he showed a willingness to join the hangout and then to participate in it.

Engaging our learners is not about entertaining them. It’s not about making things easier. It’s not about doing everything for them. It’s not about how much fun they’re having. Rather, student engagement is his or her intellectual commitment to learning. It is building the skills and knowledge needed to make that leap, conduct that inquiry, or create that project. It is the day to day, week to week, month to month learning that makes taking that risk possible. 

I’d love to hear your observations about learner engagement.

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Edcamp Manitoulin 2014 in the news

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The first edcamp for Manitoulin Island, Sudbury, and the North Shore took place on Saturday, May 10, 2014 at beautiful Red Lodge, on Lake Manitou. Nineteen participants from across Ontario and representing Public, Catholic, and First Nations School Boards invested their Saturday to learn professionally and diversify their ideas.

The day began with some opening “minds-on” activities by Jenn Chan and Colin Lacey of Exhibit Change ( a Toronto-based design-driven community engagement firm), and then participants built the day around the conversations they wanted to have. Caroline Black, teacher at Wasse-Abin High School in Wikwemikong connected with Andy Forgrave, middle school teacher from Belleville, Ontario, to co-host a conversation on how to inspire students’ curiosity and imagination, while another group of participants gathered to talk about strengthening the Professional Learning Community process. Other conversations included how to integrate the Arts in all subject areas, how to integrate technology in the teaching and learning process, and how to think about educational change.

Response to the day was overwhelmingly positive. Donna Fry, Ontario Education Officer, and former Manitoulin Island resident, commented that “The conversations were really rich.  I saw “aha” moments in peoples’ eyes. We all learned and shared and saw the power in that.”

Participants also made new connections that day. Jillian Ospina, from the Sudbury Catholic School Board, was glad she made the trip over to the Island. “I met some really fantastic people.  I really enjoyed hearing from others and sharing my experiences a supportive and non-judgmental environment.”

Connie Freeman, a grade 8 teacher at Lakeview School in M’Chigeeng, reflected on the fact that Edcamp Manitoulin Island crossed school districts and grade divisions, which was a unique experience for most edcampers. “It was a good networking opportunity and a chance to share with teachers from other locations and boards.”

Edcamps are one way educators can build their professional learning networks (PLN) and keep up with new ideas and educational practices. “You got the chance to interact with forward-thinking educators who all want to make a difference, which is very refreshing, “ explained Manitoulin Secondary teacher, Heather Theijsmeijer. Heather, along with Yana Bauer from Manitoulin Secondary School and Julie Balen from Wasse Abin High School, was instrumental in connecting Edcamp Island with Edcamp Sault (also holding their first Edcamp on May 10th) to help extend the conversations in both events.

Edcamp Manitoulin Island was well supported with 3 of the Manitoulin School Boards providing sponsorship for the event: KTEI, M’Chigeeng Lakeview School, and the Rainbow District School Board.


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The lighter side of blogging.

A few weeks ago I received the blogging challenge that has been making the rounds. Donna Fry reminds us that there should be joy in our writing, and I agree. The joy that I feel about teaching and learning needs to emerge from whatever I am currently thinking through. But the lighthearted tone that some writers are seemingly so easily able to generate (like Dean Shareski) is something that I always have to work on.

Here’s how this blogging challenge works:

  1. Acknowledge the nominating blogger.
  2. Share 11 random facts about yourself.
  3. Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you.
  4. List 11 bloggers.
  5. Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate to answer, and let all the bloggers know they have been nominated. Don’t nominate a blogger who has nominated you.

1. My nominating blogger:  PLN Cheer leader Donna Fry is exactly the kind of person you need in your corner when you’re learning.

Am I Ready For This??!

2.  Eleven Random Facts About Julie Balen:

1. Christmas is not my favourite holiday. It’s never been, even when I was little. Extreme consumption is an activity that I have trouble with.

2. It follows then  that shopping is a struggle for me…even online. 

3. I spent many summers working for mining companies, but never in an office.

4. Salt snacks over sugar.

5. Peter Gzowski is my all time favourite radio host.

6. The tapping of fingers drives me crazy.

7.  I once performed in a fringe festival.

8. I have no Native, French, or British blood. But I am Canadian.

9.  I believe in having large windows through which to view the world, and a larger door through which to invite the world.

10. I won the silver medal in the Quebec Regional Winter Games (curling).

11. I met Pierre Elliot Trudeau twice.

3. The 11 questions Donna created for me:

1. What was the first “subject area” you studied after leaving high school?

English Literature…haven’t strayed far from my love of learning about the world through the lens of literary works.

2. If you could cook anything, what would you cook for supper tonight?

Chicken parmigiana—-olive oil, fresh parm, free range chicken and homemade pasta…mmmm.

3. What makes you stop and pause during your day?

Light. Winter light glowing through snow or glistening off of ice. Sunrise and sunset of course, but also shadows and angles of light in the yard and house. First light, twilight, starlight, and moon light. We live deep in the country where there are no street lights or store lights, so night lights give rise to wonder and possibility. And then there is summer light, you know, that quality of light that makes everything look like a post card.

4. Cats or Dogs?

Haha…dogs. I have had many dogs in my life: Scamp, Napoleon, Akela, Baloo, Satchmo, and Hawkeye. BUT, I do have a 12 year old cat, the only cat I have ever had and he makes me laugh more and more each day.

5. If you could have only one Pinterest Board, what would the topic be?

Gardens. No question.

6. What was the catalyst that got you blogging in the first place?

Cathy Mere. She hosted both the Peter Johnston Opening Minds book study in July of 2012 and then the PB 10for10 2012 event. I stumbled upon these events, and they catapulted me into the online learning environment.

7. What is one (funny) childhood misconception that you had, or that you have experienced with a young child? (for example, we lived near Manilla, Ontario during the eruption of Mount Pinatubo. My 5-year-old daughter watched the news and thought it was right near our house!)

This is really tough…My first-born child, when he was 3 years old, loved the original Land Before Time movie. He fell in love with the story and the characters…he was Little Foot. However, maybe because he had no experience with TV prior to viewing the film (or maybe this is quite common with kids regardless), I can remember him standing in front of the TV, faced pressed against the screen, lamenting that “I want to be there, mom…inside there with Sarah.”

8. What was your favourite summer job?

Working at the mine and making a ton of money so I could afford to go to university.

9. Where do you find flow?

In conversations with others, not necessarily like-minded and not necessarily face-to-face, but with anyone who will honestly and truly engage with me.

10. What was one personal challenge you faced in 2013?

Finding as much time as I could to participate in ETMOOC!

11. What are YOU passionate about?

Moving people to do great things for other people.


Are You Ready For This?

 4. My list of bloggers includes  those who have encouraged me and those I hope to encourage:

1. Jenn Chan @jennzia

2. Rhonda Jessen @rljessen

3. Sarah Le @sarle83

4. Cathy Mere @cathymere

5. Brendan Murphy @dendari

6. Lisa Noble @nobleknits2

7. Amy Rudd @aruddteacher100

8. Peter Skillen @peterskillen

9. Yana Bauer @arachnemom

10. Mackenzie Sayers @macksayers

11. Heather Theijsmijer @HTheijsmeijer

5.  And my 11 questions for you are:

 1. What does online learning mean for you?

2. What makes you laugh?

3.  Satellite vs. Netflix?

4. Movie or Novel?

5. Who is your favourite Canadian author?

6. If you could go on vacation any where in the world, where would that be?

7. Favourite wild flower?

8. What educational event do you REALLY want to attend?

9. What is the one tech tool you cannot live without?

10. Hottest educational trend/author for you right now.

11 List three high points of 2013.


That’s if folks. It took me way longer to write this post than I thought it would….maybe it’s the time of year? In any case, enjoy the process!

Wishing everyone a terrific end to 2013 and an inspirational start to 2014!


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To my Ontario PLN. Hello.

I have been thinking about constructing a post to introduce myself more officially to some Ontario educators I have met online for a few weeks now. This move is important because relationship, connection, and community is the be-all and end-all for me. Of course, it takes time for meaningful relationships to form, but at the very least we should be able to answer the basic question, “Who the heck is this person anyway?”

This is how one draft began…



I am a high school English teacher  by trade, but as of 2010 I began working as the K-12 literacy coach for the Wikwemikong Board of Education.I have spent many years teaching and learning about teaching in isolation. But I am not speaking of teachers closing the doors of their classrooms because I didn’t. Nor am I speaking about being physically isolated as many First Nations schools are because we aren’t.

Nope. I am referring to being professionally isolated from other educators, school boards, and the Ministry of Education itself. First Nations schools are federally funded and until very recently were not included in provincial initiatives.  With the opportunity to connect face-to-face limited to the rare conference, we were left to our own devices to move our practice forward.

When I heard about Twitter, I immediately signed up. It was April 2009.  However, without the connections to subject associations (the English Association is quite inactive), unions, or the ministry, I could not ‘see’ anything happening in education, so I moved on. I played around with Facebook in the classroom, certified as a Flat Classroom teacher, and then ran into #etmooc and #gafesummit where I did begin to connect with Ontario educators. (This is the end of a draft post.)

To this point, my thinking in this post was really about how hard it can be to find people to connect with, who share enough of the same context as yours so that the engagement is meaningful and relevant. Through #flatclass and #etmooc, I made lots of connections to educators both globally and nationally, and I  appreciate the conversations I have with this part of my PLN, but I did wonder where my fellow Ontario educators were.

#Ontsm answered that question, and what I learned from a week of public thinking and reflecting on social media can be found here.

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I started teaching directly to digital citizenship this year in conjunction with the Flat Class Project one of my colleagues was running in her leadership class. I also ran the same lessons, more or less, with a grade 6 and grade 8 class who participated in Global Read Aloud 2012.  Post-#Ontsm, I have to say that those lessons just scratched the surface of the conversations teachers have to have with students about navigating the social media landscape. The problem with that thinking is it assumes that the teachers understand the conversation themselves, and after witnessing a week dominated by intense back and forth discussion, critical questions, and deep reflection by educators who are well-traveled in the social media landscape, that thinking couldn’t be farther from the truth.That it is paramount for teachers to be involved in social media is clear to me, and I have been chipping away at their resistance to engaging in social media through holding Tweet chats and Google Hangouts for various book studies, and modeling the use of creation and curation tools in their classrooms.  I need to do more though. I need to unpack the lessons learned from #ontsm and connect them to the curriculum.  I need to demonstrate that this is not a stand alone lesson or unit. Rather, our consideration of social media must be woven throughout all of our teaching.

Here is some of what I’ve learned this week.

Social Media & the Curriculum
1. The importance of understanding the conventions of any text form.2. Understanding the power of word choice. What is derogatory language and how can we ensure that the language we use is not hurtful or distracting?

3.  Creating media products in all content areas to summarize and synthesize.

4. Incorporating critical literacy across the curriculum

5. Digital literacies (here I am referencing Doug Belshaw’s work used in a prior post)

“Once we see that online texts are not exactly written or spoken, we begin to understand that cyber literacy requires a special form of critical thinking. Communication in the online world is not quite like anything else.” Gurak (2001)

Evidence from #ontsm
The hashtag: why and how it’s used. See Brian Harrison’s explanation here.Some language used in tweets and posts may have caused many to wince: “teen-like” and “coming out of the woodwork”

Andy’s Scoopit! and Alanna’s Storify.

All of the posts and tweets surrounding the corporate agenda. But for me, especially Jane’s comments on media literacy.

To recognize as Stepan does that even in the social media landscape we are human and that relationships matter.

We need to pay attention to the inevitable gaps that appear in our 140 character conversations.

And finally…beyond what learning I can transfer into my practice from this social media conversation, I have  questions about the process of consultation in educational change.  One of the hottest topics in the province centres on student voice and inclusion, and yet in this conversation the issue of diversity did not venture beyond credentials. Did Pearson include the voices of minority populations? ELL? Special Education? First Nations? Rural? How can we work towards having not only a common  curriculum in this province, but also common representation?

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