Brand New Tool, Same Old School?


This is a guest post by Marc-André Lalande, a consultant with the RÉCIT Provincial Service in General Adult Education. It was originally published as part of the online newsletter Online PD Monthly.

photo by Sean MacEntee Creative Commons License
photo by Sean MacEntee
Creative Commons License

Can you remember this? The first iPad was sold in April 2010; that’s only three and half years ago. I say “only” because these devices, the iPad as well as other tablets, are already somewhat ordinary today, part of the scenery. I recall very strong skepticism regarding the success of the iPad the first few months before and after its launch. “Who needs a big iPod touch?” many said. If you’d like to wax nostalgic, you’ll find some of these old remarks in this post by Thessaly La Force in The New Yorker (Arpil 5, 2010). You can also read how it made Steve Jobs feel in this Apple Insider piece: “Steve Jobs was ‘annoyed and depressed’ over initial reaction to iPad launch”.

Embracing the Once Shunned

Today, some schools and centres are very proud to announce their “one tablet per pupil” programs. The real question for me is this: “Are we looking for a brand new tool to do the same old school?” I hope that we will be leveraging the tablet for the great advantage of having ubiquitous access to information in all its glorious forms more than for apps that offer electronic versions of what used to be done in activity books. For that to happen, I believe we need to change a few things about our vision of school and of pedagogy. But change is scary…

Change Is Scary
Marc-André Lalande, 1:58
A short, light-hearted conversation starter on the place of tablets in the classroom.

Connection Is Power Is Connection

The real power of the tablet lies in having it always available so learners can look up info as need be, squiggle notes, take pictures and movies, communicate, create, collaborate, you know, the whole kit and caboodle of what really matters for learning. In my view, having the tablets sit in a cart until the teacher decides what activity they’re going to be used for, everybody at the same time, defeats the purpose of a tablet. And that makes access to Wi-Fi a priority before buying anything else… unless you want to move your class to a coffee shop.

You Want Your Own

If you already have one of your own, you know that a tablet isn’t really designed to be shared. You’re logged in to everything all the time and all your personal media is accessible as you flick the thing open.
Principals often ask me how they should go about managing their tablets in their school or centre. My answer is “Don’t”.  Let the students and staff bring their own and lend as many as you can to those who can’t afford one… long term; let them take it home. Get a waiting list going if need be. But I’ll bet you’ll see a change in Christmas lists happening in no time. The best thing is to have learners and staff manage their own device so they can install the apps they want and need; having someone else manage your tablet is a huge inconvenience … so avoid it if you can.

On BYOD and how the classroom is changing


Sam Gliksman: BYOD – Bring your own device from EDtalks on Vimeo.

So there you go… All set and ready for change: a change in how we use technology and when we use it, a change in device management, and most importantly, a change in pedagogy. So yes, all of this can seem a little overwhelming at first. Change is scary. But the status quo… now that is truly terrifying!


You can find out more from Marc-André on his PD Pinterest collection.

Teacher Book Picks: Favourites from the Field

by Chapendra shared under CC
Photo by Chapendra Reading [Day 12] under a CC license

With the winter holidays quickly upon us, many educators across the province will soon be on a two week break from the classroom. Susan and I thought that this might be an opportune time to talk about books, in particular, books that highlight innovative classroom practice, suggest novel strategies to engage students, and provide insight into the mind of the learner. Yes, it’s time to get mentally re-energized people! So, we asked a few of our esteemed colleagues for their latest and greatest in terms professional development reads. Here’s what they had to say:

Audrey McLaren, online math teacher from Dorval highly recommends a recently published book, Flipping 2.0 edited by Jason Bretzmann.

Flipping 2.0 is a book made for teachers by teachers. It’s full of practical ideas for anyone interested in flipping their classroom. Teachers from many different subject areas and levels each contributed a chapter full of their experiences and insights in their own flipping journey. In this book you can find tips not only about teaching math, social sciences, English, and science using the flip, but also flipped professional development, as well as suggestions for what technology tools to use.

It bears mentioning that Audrey is no slouch when it comes to flipping her classroom and did in fact contribute one of the chapters in this book. (Way to go, Audrey!) So, if the ideas in this collection inspire her – they will surely inspire you too.

Peggy Drolet, online math teacher living in Quebec City, gives two thumbs to a book that has seriously impacted on her classroom practice, Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess.

As Burgess suggests on the front cover, “Increase Student Engagement, Boost Your Creativity, and Transform Your Life as an Educator”. What I love about this book is that the author is passionate about both teaching and his subject, history. He describes what that looks like and he shares it with his students: “When we model enthusiasm it rubs off on everyone around us.” In Part 1 of his book, each chapter is dedicated to explaining the acronym PIRATE: Passion, Immersion, Rapport, Ask & Analyze, Transformation, Enthusiasm. Part 2 is full of inspiring examples of how to “Craft Engaging Lessons”. The last section is dedicated to advice on “How to Set Sail”.

When I reflect on my teaching practices, I constantly look for ideas on how to engage students in their learning. Burgess continually refers to teaching as “an adventure full of challenges and excitement”. You can follow him on Twitter @burgessdave. The hashtag #tlap is what drew me to his inspirational book in the first place. By following this hashtag, you too can engage in rich conversations with teachers all over the continent who implement his strategies.  Burgess hopes you will (like any good pirate!) “…explore unchartered territories and brave new adventures.”

 Aaargh – sounds like a great journey to embark upon!!

On the Platform, Reading
Photo by Mo Riza On the Platform, Reading under a  CC license

Teacher Neil MacIntosh, the Science Guy at Pontiac High, gave us his (very!) honest review and recommendation of Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning by John Hattie.

So, I was all set NOT to like this slender book, which at first blush, seemed to be a flavour of the month. I started reading without holding any great hopes as to its impact on my teaching or my thoughts on teaching. But…by about Chapter 3, I realized that I was completely into the text and ideas put forth by Hattie, Professor of Education at the University of Melbourne.

This is a follow-up to Visible Learning: a Synthesis of Over 800 Meta-Analyses Relating to Achievement.  The data for the meta-analyses have been left safely untouched in the last 100 pages of the text – no worries, gentle reader. What I found interesting and satisfying, and why I didn’t roll my eyes, was Hattie’s calm acknowledgement of the general ideas of teaching; the messiness, and the unrecognized efforts so many teachers put into their profession.  Some approaches that teachers have taken have worked and have helped student learning, others less so (learning styles anyone?).

Hattie’s analysis of the data suggests that almost everything a teacher does has a positive effect. However, teachers need to continually focus on best practices to improve student achievement, as well as to be aware of their own impact on their students. The biggest chunk of the book is about lesson preparation and delivery – what works and what doesn’t for both teacher and students. Changes need to be based on evidence…to be measurable. Hattie sees the teacher in the classroom as the primary agent of change, with the support of school leadership. “Teachers’ beliefs and commitments are the greatest influence on student achievement over which we have some control.” Thus, the title is apt: Visible Learning for Teachers, to help them in their practice.

Photo by J Brew Reading with Kindle in my Study under a  CC license

But wait, we also have books to share.

From Susan:

I love the book, Invent to Learn: Making, Tinkering and Engineering in the Classroom, by Sylvia Martinez and Gary Stager.  If you want to get a taste of what you will find, watch their presentation from the K12 Online Conference. The book is not just about making things but is also about the philosophy of education behind it – of people learning by doing. I’ve written in the past about the maker movement. Stager and Martinez lay out why it is imperative that students be engaged in creating and demonstrate how any teacher can move towards empowering their students to construct, to tinker, and to become problem-solvers in a student-centred environment.

Another book I continue to enjoy leafing through is only available from the iBook store in electronic version. It is currently off the virtual shelves but will be back soon, author, Tim Holt assured me. It is 180 Questions written by Tim with the help of other visionary educators. There are 180 ideas to ponder about teaching and learning accompanied by beautiful photos, live links to web sites and blog posts as well as QR codes embedded which lead you off to articles. This would be a great book to explore on your own or share one page at a time (180 school days) with colleagues. It would generate wonderful discussions as well as help practitioners be reflective about their practice.

From Kristine:

I just finished, The App Generation: How Today’s Youth Navigate Identity, Intimacy, and Imagination in a Digital World by Howard Gardner and Katie Davis. This is a great book for anybody interested in how digital media is shaping the lives of our youth. What I like most about this book is that it is highly research driven but doesn’t feel that way because of how the research or “story” is delivered…through the comparative lens of three very different digital generations, as represented by Howard, Katie and Molly (Katie’s younger sister). The book is full of great interviews and anecdotes, as well as one very interesting study comparing youthful artistic productions pre and post app-suffusion.  I also appreciate that the authors don’t seem to be pushing any particular agenda and suggest that the technological world of today can either hinder and make teens “app-dependent” or help and “app-enable” them.

A book that is not all that new (2009) but that recently caught my attention is, Boys Adrift: The Five Factors Driving the Growing Epidemic of Unmotivated Boys and Underachieving Young Men by Leonard Sax, M.D., Ph.D. I have to admit that this is one that I’m saving for the holidays as I have yet to read beyond the introduction. As the parent of three boys, what interests me is that Sax not only delves into 20 years of clinical research to explain why boys today are less resilient and less ambitious than they were before, but he also provides strategies for educators and parents on how to re-engage them.

One final recommendation (and gift!) from Susan:

A book that is great to consult is Wes Fryer’s, Mapping Media to the Common Core. Available as an e-book it is full of ideas of ways students can be creating artifacts in any subject area to demonstrate a deeper understanding of the content. I have a couple of links to copies to give away. I would be happy to mail the cards with the information to the  first two non-LEARN educators who leave comments with great professional book suggestions. It would be wonderful to add to the list and share our favourite reads that stimulate us to think about our students and our craft.

With that…we wish you all happy holidays and happy reading!

Kristine Thibeault & Susan van Gelder

To Tweet or not To Tweet? Twitter in My Classroom

Twitter for me? Twitter for my classroom? Is it really possible? I mean Twitter is for finding out what Justin Bieber eats for breakfast or which NHL hockey players are injured for the next game. Or so I thought… Four years ago, I attended the ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) conference. The theme was “Exploring Excellence”. One of the workshops I attended changed my whole outlook on social media in the classroom. The workshop turned out to be extremely overwhelming—hashtags, retweet, twitter handles, follow, #ff, and much more. But there was one statement that caught my attention. “You make it what you want to make it. Follow your interests and your passion.” My passion is teaching. I am a math teacher. I teach secondary 4 students. My goal as a teacher is to provide opportunities for my students to be active in their learning. Math is not a spectator course and I feel students have to express their thoughts about their trials, their errors, and their celebrations. I am continuously seeking ways to help teenagers become comfortable, confident and I want to instill a love for learning. That summer, after the conference, I lurked. I became comfortable with Twitter. I learned the language. I discovered a tremendous amount of resources I am now using in my classroom and I made connections with the most inspiring educators on this planet. And so, –three years later—yes, I tweet with my students.

Why I think Twitter is a powerful teaching tool Often, teenagers feel their voice is not important. They feel they are not contributing anything worthwhile. To them, their thoughts are unimportant for their teachers and their peers. A hashtag I created, #mystrategy, was to prompt the students to share what makes them successful when they are solving a math problem. One of my students tweeted


And I responded.


If the students feel their input is valued, they will feel they have a voice.

How I set up our class Twitter account First, we have a class discussion. What is Twitter? Every year, I discover not many students have Twitter accounts, nor do they know how to use Twitter. And they do not really know how we will use it. So, I start with a definition. Then, we discuss, “Why will we use Twitter?” We discuss how valuable this tool can be for their math learning. We exchange ideas on the importance of collaboration. We talk about leaving a digital footprint and the importance of being careful about what we share on the internet. After our discussion, I provide the following slides:

Slides my students will see

  Examples of tweets/hashtags

For the first three months, students do not know what to tweet. It is important to create prompts. Here are some examples along with some student tweets: The students tweet about math “Make a statement about the graph”




The students share happy moments

“What was your happiest learning moment this week?”


The students share what works for them when using a math concept

“What steps must I be careful with when using the quadratic formula?”




And the students become very creative:



The students encourage each other before an evaluation

“How will you prepare for the evaluation” or “What will you put on your memory aid”



The students have conversations:



The students share their questions, thoughts, ideas, and words of encouragement.




And there are many other hashtags we use.

#INTU (I need to understand)




And I tweet.



Here is a voicthread. You will find out what my students think of twitter.

What my students say


As a teacher I have gained so much on Twitter. My teaching practices have changed because of the ideas that are shared by my Professional Learning Network. (PLN) Here are a few awesome educators that have had an impact on my outlook on what it means to be engaged, connected and collaborative in a classroom; @cybraryman1, @c_durley,@ShellTerrell, @coolcatteacher. And the most inspirational person for me is @angelamaiers. On the last day of school, I tweeted the following. It was inspired by Angela Maiers’ popular hashtag, #youmatter