Where do you learn and share?

I have spent several years developing an online presence as I learned about web 2.0 tools and social networking. Through this I have met many people who have influenced my thinking and helped me grow as a learner. I started by reading blogs, moved up to leaving comments and eventually joined a variety of social media sites where the conversations around education are both informative and inspiring. I hope my contributions have had some ripples that gave others food for thought.

I recently joined a MOOC (Massive Online Open Course) and have had my head spinning as I grapple with ideas afresh, pushed and prodded by others who are part of the course. One idea which has come to the fore has been to think about your PLN (professional / personal learning network). Ben Wilkoff talked about where he goes to learn as not so much a network but a neighbourhood. I really liked that notion though I would expand it to say that I go to different neighbourhoods for different learning and sharing. A neighbourhood has a feeling of developing relationships and that has certainly been my experience.

Why bother connecting? It has given me access to a variety of people thinking about education  – ideas for classrooms, ideas for change, helpful tips, ways of connecting students… With education budgets shrinking, it becomes more and more important to find ways of learning and growing outside of large scale, expensive conferences.

7degreesOne place that always gives me food for thought is the K12 Online Conference. One presentation that really spoke to me this year was done by Rodd Lucier, a teacher from Komoko, Ontario. In his presentation, 7 Degrees of Connectedness, he talked about the many ways he connected and connects to people around the world. But how does one get started and why should this be a good thing?


I spoke with Rodd via Skype. You can hear our conversation here:

Have a look at his K12 Online Presentation: 7 degrees of Connectedness

How do you build a PLN? I asked participants in the MOOC via twitter and Google+ how they started. Here are some of their replies:

whitneykilgour: @susanvg Hashtag search for topics of interest led me to find like-minded people. Their posts became my morning newspaper… via flipboard.

Debs Seed: @susanvg I started building my PLN by looking at who other people followed. Starting with my tutor

Alison Iredale: @susanvg started by following big names in Ed tech. Then policy sites.

Michael Buist: The obvious answer for me is Twitter. I first started out lurking, reading what other people were saying and sharing. Then as I felt like I had a voice and had something worthwhile to share, I became more of a contributor to the Twitterverse. And when someone values your tweets (retweets, favorites, replies), it validates your voice and makes you want to connect more.

Trish McCluskey: I agree Michael. Often tweets lead you to other social media sites like Slideshare, Youtube, Scoopit etc and you find a treasure trove of great resources which you can’t help but tell others about. Providing feedback to the producers of such resources can open up some great exchanges of ideas.

and from Brendan Murphy: blogging and commenting on other blogs

There are many ways to start connecting and being part of that amorphous group of educators who are sharing and reflecting on their practice. There is no longer any reason to feel isolated. There is a welcoming community willing to share.

Don’t be afraid to start slowly. When you are ready you will find it iresistable to get your feet wet.

Where do you fit?
7 degrees of connectedness

Rodd’s blog: The Clever Sheep
Follow Rodd on Twitter: @thecleversheep

Cartograf: Taking time for power mapping

When your day is long, and you are intellectually spread thin, nothing refreshes like a quick afternoon map.  I don’t know about you, but even when I can’t focus on anything else, maps are easy to fall into and get lost.  They are places where I can dream, in both space and time, of the captivating worlds that we study in school.  I can wander through maps, like a nomad wandering through a desert, and I can find myself face to face with wonders.  And what is great about maps is that in no time at all the scope and perspective of the past and present can be visualized clearly and with great complexity.  You could call this power mapping. But the best power mapping process requires a tool equivalent to the task.   We are calling that new application Cartograf, and we are inviting you to visit its first installation online at http://cartograf.learnquebec.ca/  and take the time out to try it and start thinking about how you could make it part of your daily routine.

Cartograf Homepage

Cartograf in a Nutshell

Instigated, designed and developed by teachers and counselors at the RECIT en univers social (RECITUS), together with LEARN team members like myself and several other partner organizations, the Cartograf application originally responded to student skills contained in the Geography and History programs in the QEP (Quebec Education Program).   In familiar terms that could apply to other subjects too, these programs require students to:

  • Examine phenomena from various perspectives (think different aerial views, zooming in to street level, examining relevant photographs!).
  • Situate those phenomena in space and time (think of pinning “markers” on the globe!).
  • Gather and organize facts, which they must also interpret (think coloured maps, legends, shapes, labels and descriptions).
  • Compare the information gathered to other facts, which is then shared with other students, and becomes the centre of debate, opinions and conclusions (think now of more than one map, viewed simultaneously or in alternation).

Though each competency or skill is relatively evident and simple to accomplish, when taken all together, the process social scientists follow is one that is complex.   Until now, what was lacking was a tool that allowed for that complexity to be played out with students.

Why Cartograf?

So why not just use existing tools like Google Earth, Google Maps and alternatives like OpenStreetMaps? In this case, less is more. Cartograf basically  uses all three technologies at once, allowing students to toggle from one view to another without changing tools – making the tool more practical for classroom use.  Cartograf also bypasses thorny security issues because student access and private information is managed by RECITUS or LEARN.

Students who are developing competency through an examination of phenomena do more than just read and draw on maps.  They interpret territory and societies in Geography and History. In other subjects, similar processes help them deconstruct cultural representations, artwork, texts and other documents.  With these student processes in mind, a second challenge emerged for the designers of the Cartograf application:  to be able to include texts, images and documents within the mapping space, and to have at one’s finger tips the tools (such as more complex sketching tools, custom legends, and customizable iconography) needed to more completely interpret our world.

Marker InfoA Student Scenario

Imagine a scenario like this in your class:  A student uses one of Cartgraf’s mapping tools to zoom in to a historically important neighbourhood in England, and she places a pin or “marker” at that location.  Within that marker she makes initial observations using a built-in word processor; she can even link to a video on Youtube.

Tracing regions
Using simple drawing tools, she delineates other areas of her map, uses icons to label points of significance, inserts shapes and lines to explain worlds both past and present.


Image in MarkerPerhaps our student would like to do more for certain key points. She uploads representative images collected elsewhere on the internet (such as photos, relevant artwork, or scans of primary source documents).  And then, to further examine a monument, an old quarter or port as it exists today, she uses the built-in Google Street View feature to capture that moment in a marker, and she includes it it as part of her project.

SVG Editer for sketchesLet’s say that our student wants to interpret her documents even further.  Imagine the sort of programs she would need to sketch her ideas right on the images she has collected – Photoshop, Illustrator, etc.  Without leaving the Cartograf application, and without installing any other software, she can click a button to reveal a complete drawing suite called SVG Edit.  This allows her to trace ideas over the uploaded documents.  These edited sketches are retained within the location markers, thereby keeping her work in the context of her map and assignment.

Now imagine she is not alone and she wants to work collaboratively with others!  When students use Google Map services they are able to share maps by sending them through email.   But what they can’t easily do is work together on maps with other students.   Similarly, the teacher task of marking different mapping assignments can be daunting, requiring the same sort of mailing of links or access to individual maps one at a time.  Cartograf is an application for teachers and students that eliminates the hassle involved in sharing and working simultaneously on the same projects.

Share code panelFor example, now two students are working on mapping historical sites in England.  They might start out on their own, then move to using the sharing feature in Cartograf.  The sharing feature allows them to see (but not edit) each other’s work, toggle their partner’s points off and on, and view their combined document collections and sketches in progress.  Once all the students’ tasks are complete, they can then share their maps with their teacher. The teacher can also share starter maps and instructions to students.

Using a system of secret tags for sharing and security eliminates any need for a teacher administration section and therefore doesn’t burden the user with additional management interfaces to learn.

In short, Cartograf allows the teacher and students to learn using maps and images, to situate their learning on a worldwide stage, and to visualize their interpretation and opinions using only one tool.   It is a rare example of an online collaborative application that is easy to use and quick to manage, yet is powerful and limited only by the user’s imagination.

If you want to see how a mapping tool like Cartograf could be used in the context of a complete LES, consider the LES recently produced by RECITUS/LEARN  for Secondary Geography on the Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park: A Protected Territory at  https://www.learnquebec.ca/geography#teach  Students can now use Cartograf in this LES to identify and describe Marine Parks around the world.  The other tools in Cartograf could help them sketch the territory and indicate players and factors involved.

Could your students use a little power mapping to get them through the day?   How might you use Cartograf in your subject area?  What could you do with images, maps, views and the ability to draw on documents in your class?  Consider commenting to this post and sharing your ideas!





Teacher Profiles: An Interview With Catherine Barnard

Happy New Year from the LEARN bloggers! At this time of renewal and rethinking old habits, here’s hoping this Teacher Profile of Catherine Barnard  inspires you to “upgrade” an area of your literacy teaching practice!  As Catherine and I have discussed many times there are countless possibilities out there to engage and support both your students and yourself in deep literacy learning.  We’ve written about blogging for literacy as well as the art of commenting on blogs – now meet a teacher who uses the full potential of blogging with her students.



Teacher’s name: Catherine Barnard
School: North Hatley Elementary
Subject:  General
Levels: Cycle 2
Experience: 6 years


Melanie:  Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Catherine:  I grew up in the Eastern Townships, and though I studied at McGill University, I decided to come back and teach for the ETSB. I have been lucky enough to have various opportunities to travel. I have snorkelled the islands of Hawaii and discovered the vineyards of northern Italy. I am an avid racket sports player and enjoy running…on most days! I love picture books and use them often in my classroom to model various writing traits strong authors use.

Melanie:  What inspired you to start blogging with your students?

Catherine:  When I first started with the ETSB, the ability to have access to laptops in my class was an opportunity for me to experiment with multimedia projects. These types of projects gave students a chance to uniquely utilize their literacy skills, and more concretely established the idea of an audience. They helped students discover, develop, apply and establish links with the world around them. This also prompted students to not only engage enthusiastically, but it pushed students to communicate their ideas clearly and creatively.

However, I knew inside that these great learning opportunities were unfortunately limited to the time I was spending on the multimedia projects. And, the reality was that often, not all of my students were able to take on the same amount of responsibility! I started to realize that I needed to find a way to use technology more consistently in my classroom without always having to undertake a “big” media project.

Though I used my Smart board and various online tools to teach daily, I didn’t have something students could access and be contributors to on a regular basis. I had had a class website my first year teaching and enjoyed being able to organize great online tools, showcase my students’ work and have a means to communicate with both students and parents. The only thing missing was a place where ALL students could easily contribute! It didn’t take me long to figure out that what I needed was a class blog!

With a blog, I not only had a place to organize great online tools, display multimedia endeavours and a platform to communicate with both students and parents, but I also had a medium to showcase web 2.0 activities. Moreover, a blog was a way for my students to showcase their work individually, communicate ideas, points of view with peers and discuss through comments! Blogging is really a web journal of our classroom projects, activities and our “news”. By putting up posts, students and myself are able to reflect our unique perspectives and build relationships with readers and other bloggers. It truly is our interactive 5th classroom wall!

Melanie:  Can you give us a quick overview of how you use the blog in classroom?

Catherine:  Firstly, I’ve used the blog differently depending on the year. I teach a multi-grade cycle 2 class and the student needs, comfort levels, as well as my access to technology can vary from year to year. Consequently, some years students are contributors to our class blog, while other years, each student has been able to obtain their own blog to manage.

On a daily basis, I have also exploited the classroom blog in various ways. Essentially, blogs provide a communication space that teachers can utilize with students whenever there is a curriculum need to develop writing, share ideas and reflect on work being undertaken in the classroom. Sometimes it has been used for journaling, collaborating, sharing writing and other works, engaging in reading discussions, book reviews or ethical issues, and of course commenting to peers! Various web 2.0 tools available online help keep the blog vibrant and the students motivated!

Finally, I have used the blog in different subjects from Math to Art and most importantly, my students have collaborated with classes from around the world on multiple projects.  This authentic audience has greatly influenced the way they perceive the projects they undertake!

Melanie:  How has the blog impacted your teaching and evaluation practices?

Catherine:  The best way to express how blogging has impacted my teaching would be to show you a video my students and I made last year about Quadblogging (Four teachers agree to have their students comment on each other’s blogs in an organized fashion. Each week, one of the four gets a turn as the spotlight class. The other three classes visit and leave comments. Over the course of a month, every student’s work gets read and commented upon. Along the way, students learn about respectful online communication).

This video truly demonstrates the power of blogging and having an audience to share in your learning: (http://quadblogging.net/highlights/).

As for my evaluation practices, the blog has provided, for me, additional formative assessment opportunities. Through various web 2.0 activities and their comments, students are given a different medium to showcase their learning.

Melanie:  What did you feel was the greatest accomplishment that came from implementing this project in your classroom?

Catherine:  My greatest accomplishment or main goal is to have my students engaged in literacy and having fun! Blogging is just another way of allowing students to interact with print. I want them to have a way of communicating their thoughts, ideas, values and points of view in different contexts and through meaningful dialogue.

Even as a young teacher, I sometimes wonder about technology and I’m not always convinced whether its advantages out way its disadvantages. However, technology is not going away and I believe that as an educator, my role is to adapt to this growing presence in children’s lives and best equip them to use technology successfully and significantly. These days, students heavily depend on technology as a constant source of entertainment. The trick is to find a way to harness that innate quality of play children have with technology and apply it to the curriculum. I believe blogging can provide an enriched and innovative practice that helps students become more independent and successful literacy learners.

I don’t doubt that watching students involve themselves in the blogging process has been both exciting and rewarding. I have seen students who might typically not excel in various literacy situations, engage extensively. Hopefully this can continue to be a source of motivation for students and for me, as a teacher. Finally, I truly believe blogging has opened up forms of collaboration that have allowed my students to take their learning far beyond the walls of my classroom.

Melanie:  What words of advice could you offer another teacher who was interested in starting blogging with their students?

Catherine:  Well, the first step is to ‘blog surf’ as I call it! I spent hours visiting other people’s blogs, more specifically other classroom blogs! I was amazed with what I discovered. There are some incredible teachers out there with wonderful ideas and resources.

Teachers who would like to start a classroom blog need to have time to get their head around how to use the medium. They need to figure out how blogging can best be integrated within their own classroom reality and teaching practices. It is too easy to be “wowed” by the glamour of the platform and to lose sight of the fact that it is still best used as a tool for students to gain a deeper understanding of what is already being taught. Blogging, like any other tool should be used to enhance student learning. Without teacher support and guidance, I believe blogging can become meaningless and potentially a classroom distraction.

After visiting several blogs, teachers will need to find a blogging platform that feels comfortable to them. There are several excellent ones out there. I use Edublog, which in my opinion is a fantastic educational provider. A free Edublog account is available, but for about 40$ a year, an Edublog Pro subscription provides you with additional storage, priority email support, and much more.

Once a class blog is created, I suggest teachers spend time experimenting themselves with posts and become more familiar with various online tools that can be embedded into blogs. This experimenting stage is crucial and helps ensure beginning teachers don’t put too much pressure on themselves.

So, if I were to pick the 3 most important things to remember about starting a blog it would probably have to be:

1)    Don’t reinvent the wheel: Check out other blogs!

2)    Get your head around the lingo: posts, comments, widget etc.

3)    Start small!


Here is a useful link: The 10 Most Important Things To Figure Out About Blogging.


Melanie:  Can you offer some blogs that have inspired you and your students?

Catherine:  A must read is Nathan Turf’s class blog, Mr.Turf.ca and his own educator blog called Portable PD.ca

Of course, any of the blogs in our Blogroll are wonderful models:


You can also listen to Catherine talk about her experiences blogging with her classroom in an interview podcast she did with Susan van Gelder.  Simply click here and sit back and enjoy the interview.

As well, here is Catherine’s classroom blog Miss B’s Block.  Visit it and leave some comments for her students.  They will LOVE to see your feedback for sure!!  You can also check out her previous classroom blog here.  It is closed for comments but filled with interesting learning adventures all the same.

Why not take some time this holiday season to consider all that blogging can bring to your literacy program.  As Catherine reminds us, start small and you will quickly discover the enormous impact it can have on your students.

If you are intrigued, don’t hesitate to reach out.  Support and guidance is only a comment away.

Happy and Healthy 2013, everyone!