Tag Archives: back to school

Small Steps Can Lead to Huge Changes

“Incredible change happens in your life when you decide to take control of what you do have power over instead of craving control over what you don’t.” – Steve Maraboli

As educators around the world usher in the new 2019-2020 school year, our focus turns to our subject matter. The content we are obligated to teach, the exams we must administer, the “power pointing” of our textbook, the managing of our classrooms – these are only a few of the plethora of tasks we face as the new students pile into our classrooms. Over the summer, we may have dreamed of the magnificent projects and deep learning experiences we wanted to bring to our students as well as new innovative practices and tools we were so excited to integrate. But alas, minds shift to immediate concerns like when Tommy disrupts the entire class or Jennie has a meltdown over her homework. Teaching is one of the most difficult jobs in the universe so making pedagogical changes to our established teaching practices slides down that priority pole the minute that school bell first rings.

Given the reality of teaching, it is easy to become overwhelmed at the idea of changing practice. It is best to think of change as happening in small, incremental steps. Instead of looking at completely revolutionizing your teaching, perhaps we need to narrow down the scope and think of that One Thing we could change this year which can be built upon in future years. If we orchestrate change in a more manageable way, I think we could make our classrooms more successful.

Cramming for the Exam

In Peter Brown’s book, Make it Stick, he demonstrates how small changes in the classroom can make all the difference in student success. Based on his research, Brown explains the brain learns best when, “practice is spaced out, interleaved with other learning, and varied,” (Brown, p.121).

Cramming for exams is considered massed practice, a.k.a. jamming as much into the brain as possible in a short period of time only to spew it out the next day, hoping your memory holds up. So, how could you make the content stick?

One change that is more beneficial to long-term, deeper learning is spacing out what you want students to learn by introducing concepts over longer periods of time because “the increased effort required to retrieve the learning after a little forgetting has an effect of retriggering consolidation, further strengthening memory” (Brown, p.124). Struggle is a good thing! For example, five hours spread out over two weeks is better than the same five hours right before the exam. One small change.

Spacing out your studying

Another change that could reap benefits is what Brown calls, “Interleaved Practice.” Interleaving the practice of two or more subjects or skills leads to deeper understanding through personal connections to previous knowledge. For example, if a student is learning how to play an instrument, they might practice scales, learn new chords, and spend some time improvising all within the same time period instead of simply focusing on practicing scales over the same period of time. A few tips on interleaving practice: make sure the skills connect with the content, mix in old and new material, and be patient because this takes time to establish. One small change.

Finally, mix it up! Variety is so important in the life-cycle of a classroom. Changing classroom practices encourages positive growth in all learners, including the instructor. For example, “instructors can design assignments or projects and train learners on skills that can be used to solve problems creatively; techniques including design thinking and rapid prototyping will help students to produce great solutions to any problem. Studies show more varied practice engages different parts of the brain,” (p.130). The inference being, the more challenging tasks and varied practice opportunities evokes deeper learning in all learners.

Change is difficult. But small changes are manageable and will lead to more success over time in the classroom. What’s your one thing?


Weinstein, Yana. “Learn How to Study Using… Spaced Practice.” The Learning Scientists, The Learning Scientists, 21 July 2016, https://www.learningscientists.org/blog/2016/7/21-1.

“Interleaving: Variety Is the Spice of Learning.” 3, 17 Sept. 2018, https://3starlearningexperiences.wordpress.com/2018/09/18/interleaving-variety-is-the-spice-of-learning/.

BROWN, PETER C. MAKE IT STICK: the Science of Successful Learning. BELKNAP HARVARD, 2018.

Connecting to Happiness

Photo by Carol VanHook – CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

It’s the first week of school, which means that it’s time for my fourth annual back-to-school blog post!  This is the perfect time for me to write about school because, for me, back-to-school is the most exciting time of the year, when we as educators get to connect with colleagues and students.

Last year I started to examine happiness to see if I could be better at my job if I made an effort to be happier at work.  Am I better at my job now?  I actually think so.  You can read about my #3happythingsatwork here.   I was certainly more conscious of, and grateful for, the many happy moments I have in my job, working with schools from across the province, in collaboration with an amazing gang of LEARNers.

Referring back to last September’s blog post, I wrote that according to Alexander Kjerulf, “…what made people happy at work was related to relationshipsresultsfreedom (self-determination) or a combination of factors.”  Students are often told that school is their workplace (particularly when we are explaining why they shouldn’t wear shorts quite that short!), so just like the gainfully employed adults in their school buildings, it just makes send that they too will be more successful if they are happy.  When school is a source of happiness, students should be much more likely to attend and succeed.

I decided that when I met LEARN’s new group of online students for training last week, I would ask them this question: What makes you happy at school?

Looking at the answers from our online students, I was not surprised to see that many of them felt happy at school because of their friends – relationships.

  • Seeing friends and meeting new people
  • My friends and the fact that we are a small school
  • Laughing with friends
  • Sociability with students

Students also mentioned that feeling successful – results – made them happy at school.

“Getting good grades” came up more than once in their responses.

However, what made ME even happier (although it isn’t  really about MY happiness, is it?) was when the students considered the learning or the learning activity, not just the grades, as the source of their happiness.  In these answers I saw not only the results of learning but also the freedom of choice, to explore their own interests.

  • Reading, learning, experimenting and all manners of study which increase my knowledge.
  • I enjoy learning where activities are involved
  • When I learn something that is actually useful
  • Classes like art or photography
  • Math class makes me happy while at school
  • Learning new interesting things
  • Playing sports
  • History

Just when I thought I wouldn’t get the classic answers about happiness at school, I did get these two responses.  What makes you happy at school?

  • Recess!
  • Leaving

By asking students about what makes them happy at school, I also made a connection to a workshop with Dr. Mizuko Ito at the LCEEQ conference last February.   During her session, we examined case studies of students and brainstormed how these students’ interests outside of school, and their networks online, could help them connect more fully with school and their own learning.

Why?  According to the model of Connected Learning,  “Connected learning is realized when a young person is able to pursue a personal interest or passion with the support of friends and caring adults, and is in turn able to link this learning and interest to academic achievement, career success or civic engagement. This model is based on evidence that the most resilient, adaptive, and effective learning involves individual interest as well as social support to overcome adversity and provide recognition.”

If we find out what makes students happy, in and out of school, we are better able to relate to them and, in turn, help them connect to their learning.  If students have special skills that can be highlighted and recognized in the classroom, discovering them can allow the teacher to encourage the student and build confidence.   In these busy first days of school, take the time to establish the relationships and learn about your students.  Find out what they love, what makes them tick, and what makes them happy at school.  You will have the foundation on which to build future learning.

How do you learn about your students at the beginning of the year? What activities have helped you to make connections with your students and learn about their personal interests and passions?

More on Connected Learning:


Join us for the LEARN-RÉCIT Technology Summit, Connected Learning – Connected Lives


Happy Happier New Year!

Creative Commons Attribution license - http://www.flickr.com/photos/mlcastle/
It’s the journey…

(Disclaimer: Some of you may find my use of exclamation marks in this post to be a bit excessive. My apologies, but I wanted to infuse this blog post with Woo hoo!)

Welcome back! My post at around this same time last year was about setting goals for the upcoming school year. This year, my resolution is to  work consciously to make my 2013-2014 school year very happy, thereby hopefully making the year happier for those around me too!
As an educator, it has always been easy for me to be happy at the beginning of the school year. I am excited to start fresh. The halls are shiny. Students are enthusiastic about learning, and parents love to ease back into the routine that back-to-school brings. Then things happen over the course of the year that can make us feel less happy: stress, the daily grind, struggling to find balance, disappointments, and waning interest.
I started thinking about my own happiness, and its impact on others, a few years ago. My work with students and educators from across the province makes it very important for me to be happy. I want to work with positive, engaged and happy learners, so I feel the need to be a positive, engaged and happy principal.

Chief Happiness Officer

I read and enjoyed The Art of Happiness by the Dalai Lama and Howard Cutler, but I wasn’t always feeling Zen. I needed practical and fun ways of looking at daily happiness at work. Last May, I had the good fortune to attend WorldBlu Live conference. When I noticed a workshop entitled “How to Bring a Bit More “Woo hoo!” to Your Workplace”, I knew I had to check it out.
The presenter, Alexander Kjerulf, is the Chief Happiness Officer (great title!) of Woohoo Inc. and the author of the international bestseller Happy Hour is 9 to 5. Alex’s enthusiasm for making/keeping work fun is contagious! We spend a large chunk of our waking hours at work, so it is vital to find happiness in our jobs.
At the beginning of the session, Alex asked us all to think back on a time when we were very happy at work. So please indulge me, and take a minute to picture a specific time when you were really happy at work. (Hopefully it won’t take longer than a minute to remember one!)
Now think back, way back in my case, to when you were a student… How will you create those memorable happy moments for your students at school this year?

Most of our happy moments at work or school (work for children!) fit into one of the categories that Alex then outlined. In all the examples shared in the session, what made people happy at work was related to relationships, results, freedom (self-determination) or a combination of factors. So, to be happy at work, it just makes sense to foster positive relationships, to recognize and celebrate successes, and to create opportunities that allow for choice.

Here are a few other takeaways from his session:

Take the time to properly greet co-workers and students. This means making eye contact, calling people by name, and maybe adding a little personal comment about a shared interest or a compliment. Example: “Hey Dianne! Happy Friday! You look great in blue!” or “Good morning, Mark! Did you see the game last night? Go Habs Go!” It takes a few seconds to add a personal word or two, but it sets the tone for a happy day and stresses the importance that should be placed on relationships.

Create a culture of praise. I love this idea because I will use any excuse to celebrate. However, this idea goes beyond birthdays and asks us to focus on the meaningful positive things about our students and co-workers when we see it and really highlight the good we do! At the end of a project, create a party atmosphere and celebrate a job well done. (In the spirit of the culture of praise, I want to give a shout out here to the amazing educators I work with at LEARN and across the province, the fabulous students who make this time of year so exciting, and everyone at LEARN for making everything run smoothly! Woo hoo! *Insert high kick here!*)

Share successes. Do a round table at a staff meeting to give colleagues the opportunity to share something great that happened in class this week. Ask students who had breakthroughs to share their work on a bulletin board, class blog, or in a sharing circle.

What practical ways will I use this year to be my happiest self?
1 – I will celebrate the positive at work! I will express my gratitude face-to-face, and by using our office Appreciation Station and our organization’s Random Acts of Appreciation wiki space. Taking the time to recognize all I have to be grateful for makes me, and the appreciated colleagues, feel happy.
2 – I will bring Woo hoo! to my workplace! (Thank you, Alex!) Sharing jokes, surprising colleagues and students with little treats, just because, make life sweeter. I love some of the ideas from Alex’s blog.
3 – I will focus on my happiness at work at least once a week! For the past few weeks, every Friday, I have been tweeting three things that made me happy at work during the week. Another great idea from Alex! Just looking back and naming specific things makes me happy and encourages me to focus on the positive.

Please join me this Friday using the hash tag #3happythingsatwork on Twitter (see my Storify) or just write your three happy things in the comments below. Wishing you great happiness this school year!

New (School) Year Resolutions

Shopping for school supplies

Confession:  I have never liked New Year’s Eve.  Too much pressure is associated with that one night: going to a huge party, dressing in fancy duds, and staying up late.  Then, we have the angst over making New Year’s resolutions.  Stressful!

For me, the best time to make meaningful resolutions is in the first days of the school year.  This timing makes sense for teachers and students, but also for parents who may have more time to think now that their children are back to school.  We have had a summer to reflect back on the past academic year and look ahead to the one to come.  Starting school means new teachers, new classes, new supplies, new clothes, and most of all, a whole new school year with its amazing potential.  Even now after, dare I write it, 40 school-starting Septembers, I still find this time of year just as exciting and full of possibility.  It is a perfect opportunity to re-focus and make improvements!

There is something very powerful about writing down a few resolutions in the fall.  By putting those positive hopes and plans into words and actually posting them somewhere, they can easily be referred to and you can keep on track with the direction you are hoping to follow for the year.  Of course, this is a great exercise for students, too!

In our first staff meeting of this year, all of LEARN’s online teachers talked about trying new things.  Everyone was excited to share plans and discuss ideas.

This year, it was our most experienced online teacher who most surprised and delighted all of us with his resolution for the school year.  This teacher has been teaching for over 30 years, and has taught online courses for 16 (just in case any of you thought online courses were a new thing!)  He has amazing results and every year he receives many notes from his students and their parents, thanking him for the time and effort he gives students to ensure their success.  With his stellar history, what motivation would he have for changing the way he teaches?

Well…last year, this same teacher observed changes in teaching methods being embraced by other online colleagues.  He witnessed their excitement for flipping the classroom.   He watched them using social media to join and form personal learning networks (Twitter) and for students to share with a wider audience (blogs).  He saw that they were interacting and learning with students and colleagues outside of the class space, and as he said, “I see how much fun you are having!”   Even as a master teacher, he was still open to the excitement and possibility of trying something new that would provide him with more ways to connect to and help students.

My favourite part of being an educator is that I get to start fresh each fall and with each year, I have the opportunity to get better.  Why not take advantage of the New Year and identify a few changes or challenges that will make this year a great one for you and your students?

Have you made any resolutions for 2012-2013?

Happy New Year!

School Life in Malawi: The Challenges Faced by Malawian Teachers

Broken school furniture in Malawi

As Sophie’s time in Malawi continued, she was fortunate to be invited not only to observe classrooms in action but to speak also with the Malawian teachers about the daily struggles that they face both in and out of the classroom. Through discussions and comparisons, we learn what is universal about the challenges faced by schools and what is unique to Malawi and to our own milieu.  As we here in Quebec begin to start thinking about heading “back to school”, it might help us to look at our own challenges with different eyes when we read and consider what school life in Malawi encompasses.

As Seen Through Sophie’s Eyes

All over the world, teachers face numerous challenges. In Canada, one of the biggest challenges that teachers face is meeting the needs of an increasingly diverse student population. Canadian students today come from a wide range of backgrounds. The Canadian population is racially, religiously, linguistically, and ethnically diverse. Moreover, students who enter our classrooms come from a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds as well, meaning that not all children come from happy, safe, and supportive homes. Inclusion has also become popular in many Canadian provinces, most notably Quebec. Therefore, teachers must also help those with learning disabilities and behavioural problems reach their full potential. Needless to say, Canadian teachers have their hands full and these challenges are made even more difficult when we consider the predominantly white, female, and middle class population of teachers that are in charge of educating our youth. The Canadian student body is extremely diverse, yet the overall population of our teachers is not. But these challenges are for a future discussion, as I wish to turn my attention to some of the challenges that Malawian teachers face.

Although some of the challenges that Malawian teachers face are similar to those faced by their Canadian counterparts, the main problem in Malawi is a serious lack of funds. Poverty in Canada is common, but not nearly as common as it is in Malawi. Malawi is amongst one of the ten poorest countries in the world. Consequently, the Malawian government has substantially less money to put aside for education than the Canadian government has.

During my visit at Mponda Primary School, I had the opportunity to talk with the headmaster (principal) of the school about the difficulties of teaching in Malawi. He told me that the challenges that Malawian teachers face fall into two categories: academic challenges and physical challenges. Under the category ‘academic challenges’ falls a lack of materials such as textbooks, exercise books, story books, maps, atlases, student uniforms (Malawian students are required to wear uniforms at school to help prevent bullying), balls for sports such as soccer and netball (netball is similar to basketball), and portable boards (portable boards are very useful because many of the classrooms are outdoors as there is not enough space indoors). Another ‘academic challenge’ is a shortage of teachers. Student-teacher ratios are very high because there are not enough teachers despite the fact that the Malawian government has been trying to train more teachers. At Mponda Primary School, for instance, there is only one teacher per standard (grade) and each standard is averaged at 40 students. Chilanga Sighted Primary School faces the same problem, but to a greater extent because the student body is larger, with an average of 80 students per teacher. Imagine having 40 to 80 primary-aged students in your classroom!

In terms of physical challenges, I have been told that many Malawian schools lack physical space. At Mponda Primary School, there are only four indoor classrooms, yet, there are eight standards in elementary school. So four out of eight classrooms are outside, which is very unpleasant and inconvenient when the rainy season arrives. At Chilanga Sighted Primary School, there is one indoor classroom per standard, but these classrooms are crowded because there are approximately 1 000 students in the school. In order for students to be seated comfortably at Chilanga Primary, there should probably be between 2 and 4 classrooms per standard, as opposed to only one.

Other physical challenges include a lack of seats and desks. Many students have no choice but to sit on the hard cement floors or wet grass. Additionally, there is a lack of washrooms. Many schools have no toilets and some schools only have one or two. According to Mr. Lemani and the headmaster of Mponda Primary School, there should be at least 1 toilet per 25 boys and 1 toilet per 10 girls. This is a far stretch for most schools. Access to transportation is another issue that Malawian schools face. In Canada, we have buses that transport students to and from the school. In Malawi, many students are forced to walk many kilometers in order to get to school and then to go back home. Finally, most teachers must live on the compound of the school. The houses that these teachers live in are in very bad condition and need serious repairs. How many of these challenges do Canadian schools, teachers, and students face?

The challenges that I listed above have come up in conversation time and time again with every teacher that I have encountered so far in Malawi. I hope that it is fair of me to generalize that these are issues that teachers all over Malawi are facing. However, Mr. Lemani will be reading over my blog very shortly and will hopefully offer his insights below like last time.  Until next time, I wish you all the best.

Sophie Bass

Mr. Lemani Responds

Although Sophie has explained the situation quite well, there are additional challenges that teachers face that should not be forgotten. One problem is the lack of incentives for teachers such as poor and/or lack of accommodation, no electricity, low salaries, lack of promotions, and lack of orientation. Also, most teachers prefer working in urban areas as opposed to rural ones because there are no social facilities in rural areas (hospitals, for example). One of the initiatives that the government undertook to attract teachers to rural areas was to give them a rural allowance of 5 000 kwachas (approximately 19 Canadian dollars), but due to the devaluation of the kwacha, this money is too little to attract teachers. Yet another challenge that many teachers face is that they start to resort to drill and practice methods of teaching because of two reasons: (1) they have a big workload and (2) the syllabus is exam-oriented.

As for students, one problem is that some rural schools do not have a feeding program. Another problem for many students is that many of them cannot attend school because they do not have enough money to buy school uniforms. Also, some students have to walk long distances to get to school and a lot of parents do not encourage their children to go to school because they do not see the importance of education. On an encouraging note, child labor is becoming minimal due to civic education and awareness. More parents are encouraging their children to go to school.

Henry Lemani


For some background about Malawi, see the Wikipedia entry – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malawi

Other posts in this series:

School Life in Malawi Part I: An Introduction to the Warm Heart of Africa

School Life in Malawi: A Brief Overview of Their Education System

School Life in Malawi: A Reflection on Malawian Teaching Methods


Memories From the Field: Looking back on a teacher’s experience

(c) Todd Berman

by Melanie Stonebanks

Knowledge emerges only through invention and re-invention, through the restless, impatient continuing, hopeful inquiry (we) pursue in the world, with the world, and with each other. – Paulo Freire

In the fall of 1992 a wide eyed naive young woman sat on a teacher’s desk scanning an empty classroom in a public elementary school located in the inner-city of Montreal, Québec.  Having recently graduated from the Department of Education at McGill University she was filled with ideas of how she was going to make a difference in the lives of her students.  With a box full of illustrated picture books and a file folder of activities she knew that she was where she was meant to be and that the next few months were going to be the best ones of her life.  After all, she had been so successful in her suburban neighbourhood working with the children at her local church, community pool and park; the perfect archetype of the North American teacher.  How different could it be teaching children in this milieu?  They would love her and all that she was going to bring to them.

Fast forward a month.

A young man sits on the second floor balcony of his apartment in Notre-Dame de Grace, Montreal.  He has just returned from teaching a day of physical education to some elementary aged children.  It has been a good day.  He calmly strums away a melody on his guitar humming and thinking carefree thoughts.  His eyes look out down the adjacent street and he sees an old woman who appears to be not only carrying two heavy bags in her hands but the weight of the world on her shoulders as well.  He watches as she shuffles along for a couple of steps, lays down her burdens and with shoulders shaking obviously sobs before continuing on her way.  He is filled with empathy for what this poor old thing must be dealing with.  Suddenly, he sits up.  A dawning recognition sweeps over him.  As the figure approaches, he realizes that it is not some aged bag lady but his girlfriend coming home from her teaching day.

Whatever preparation that young woman thought she had, whatever advantage of race, socioeconomic status, religion (and even gender in the elementary school environment) she possessed, did not prepare her for the challenges of the urban/inner-city schools and clientele. Those dreams, my dreams, of sharing my love for language arts came to a crashing halt in a context I, given my university education, had little right in which to teach.  I found myself, during many long sleepless nights, wondering why my degree did not specify limiting my teaching boundaries to only reproducing education to those like me.

I must admit that I hate it when my husband, compares his experience going to the same schools as I did.  After all, his elementary school was not only within the same school board, but was a mere five to ten blocks away from my own and we went to the same high school. How is it possible that his schooling experiences differed so much from my own? However, I am well aware that our individual student histories did much to shape how we approached teaching in the system a number of years later.

For Melanie, a person who loved her elementary school experience, anything that approached critical perspectives of her beloved home away from home was a personal affront. For Christopher, a person who felt elementary school was something to endure, theory of education provided an exploratory window into understanding experience and changing schools. Certainly, the fact that we both grew up in a homogeneous, White, Christian, middle class neighbourhood and until some ten years ago, public schools in Québec, Canada were either streamed as Protestant or Catholic, played an integral role in our experiences in school, as Melanie was a reflection of the system and Christopher was not. (Stonebanks & Stonebanks, 2008, p.2)


The years I spent teaching in the elementary classroom were fraught with many inner battles of attempting to make sense of the disconnect between my personal school and home life experiences and those of my students.  Our lives, in almost every way seemed to be dissimilar and therefore the ideals that I brought with me into their classroom did not always serve them in the best possible way.  My memories though of my years in the classroom are happy ones that I will cherish forever.   And, having bumped into one of my former grade 2 students in the elevator at McGill University, in her final year of the Bachelor of Education program, where she told me that I was the reason she had decided to go into the field of teaching, I am confident that I was able to successfully support the learning of my young charges. Add to that a phone call from one of my husband’s university students who had decided to enter into the field of education despite her family repeatedly telling her that it would be too difficult a battle for a young Muslim woman sporting a hijab.  She had been a grade 5 student of mine during my first year of teaching.  I had brought my husband into my urban/inner-city class on a variety of occasions for support and “street cred” as his brown skin and Iranian, Muslim heritage gave me an instant stamp of approval in this multicultural milieu.  It was actually his presence in the classroom that allowed this young Pakistani Muslim girl to see herself in the role of teacher. It was a naive and even shoddy attempt at acceptance, but in the absence of any efforts by other teachers to even try and bridge the wide chasm of “them vs. us”, it worked. All I wanted to do was try and get the children to love reading and writing as much as I did, and rather than think critically about the subject, material and the methods, my attempts focussed on building relationships. Not that this is an unworthy goal, but in the absence of the aforementioned aspects to critically examine, what I was basically imparting was a sentiment of “trust me and you’ll see that I am, ‘we’ are right”, rather than questioning the foundation and purpose of literacy.

Were I to return to the classroom, would I do things differently now?  Would I be more in tuned with the reality of what I needed to do to create a curriculum that fostered critical literacy so that my students would be able to transfer their questions and perspectives from the safety of the classroom into the outside world?  Would I be a better reflective practionner, able to observe and analyze the teaching and learning exchanges taking place on a daily basis in order to modify and improve my craft?  The answer that comes without any surprise is most definitely.  However, I feel that it is important to re-examine and reflect on my early years in the field, mistakes and all, so that I might at least be an example of how living, loving and learning about critical literacy is a never-ending evolution and that each and every one of us has the ability to ourselves be a project of possibility.

Join me in my next few posts as I will share some of my early classroom attempts to engage my students in critical literacy experiences.  There will be some successes and some misses along the way.  Nonetheless, there will much to think about and hopefully enough to inspire those of you out there in the field right now.  More soon!


References for further reading:

Freire, P. (c1993, 2000). Pedagogy of the Oppressed: 30th Anniversary Edition. New York: Continuum.


Stonebanks, C. D. & Stonebanks, M. (2008). Religion and Diversity in our Classrooms. in Shirley R. Steinberg (Ed). Diversity: A Reader. New York:  Peter Lang Publishing.


Beginner’s Mind: A first-time online teacher’s experience, so far.

The year has just started, so realistically all I ever expected to report on were first impressions anyway, of what it means to teach online at the secondary level, of how this great adventure begins.  Conclusions?  Well, they will have to wait until later, to be able to say, yes, you can teach the Quebec program the way it was meant to be taught, yes students can learn constructively, yes synchronous really means real-time.  For now it is not about projecting into the future, but staying grounded in the present.  It is all new, all the time.  That’s what I tell the students.  And that that will be our force.

Zenlive is our platform, an interactive space where students can see and hear me and where they can interact with each other, just like in a real classroom.  Re-read those words, a real classroom.  Real walls?  Real windows?  Real live students?  If I think too much about it I find myself doubting what is real at all.  Zenlive is an experience, for me and for them, where nothing is like it was before, everything is new and each step is conscious and fresh at the same time.

“Are we going to get to see our teacher?” If they had been spoken aloud the words might have echoed off the pale walls of a freshly painted classroom, that new September smell.  But these words were texted to us in a small space at the bottom of the interface, hardly noticeable except to the experienced online teachers present.  It was both an awkward reminder that I would have to rely on the technology’s limits to communicate, but also that their questions might now come to me in a form that they have mastered and that I have not:  the text message!  My response to this question in my first few days was to test their web cameras at every chance I got, to have them respond to questions as if we were all together, to see and hear them like before.  Their response was more often than not a LOL or 🙂 or sometimes a :-/ or a :u or even a 😐 if they just didn’t get it.  I was in another world, their world.  And indeed, I was the beginner too.

This will be our force, I had said. And so the next few days were spent trying out features like the breakout rooms in Zenlive.  I drag their avatar into a room and they work on a whiteboard, chat and even talk (though they didn’t talk much) with another two classmates.  It worked, sort of.  They were able to construct for themselves a sense to the question asked of them, so when I brought them all back together they might share what they had learned.  “Who was in the breakout room number two?” I said.  But no one knew.  I hadn’t thought to write down who was where.  Simply relying on the technology to do everything for me just wasn’t going to do it.  My first mistake in online classroom management was to forget to manage online.

Only a few more notes before I end, because frankly today I need all morning to plan the next classes!  First off, technology means it will eventually break, so you always need a backup plan, several if possible. Technology also means you have to talk slowly, because your tech is not always their tech, and you can’t rely on kilobits and cpu cycles to always be the same for everyone.  The upside here is that the information must be clear and concise, and you must repeat things a lot!  And finally, technology still does mean a world of teaching with almost no limits, however that implies setting limits, making goals, and restricting your line of thinking so that we are all on the same page.  For example, introduce new tools one at a time and include exploration time for students (and the teacher!), time to make mistakes.

And so, this week’s plans?  It’s History Sec. 4, so of course we will…Respond to a problem, in the context of a situation.  We will formulate questions, search and organize information using a prescribed method.  We will rigorously reason and interpret the facts, then form an opinion.  And after all is said and done, we will present our findings using… Voicethread! a “collaborative, multimedia slide show that holds images, documents, and videos and allows people to leave comments using voice, text, audio file, or video.”   Well, >:o  and >:O and :-O and °o° and °O°!    And :-S because that’s a whole lot of things that are about to break.  And finally 😎 because now all eyes are wide and open, including mine.


[Are you teaching and/or learning online?  What do you think?]




Technologie 101

Voici ma classe en 2011. Regardez attentivement ces 2 images et trouvez l’intrus.

Vous avez trouvé? Non, ce n’est pas le tableau vert. Encore moins les dictionnaires et les Bescherelles version papier. Regardez de plus près encore. Indice : barre beige au bas de la photo. Ça y est, vous y êtes?

C’est petit, je vous l’accorde. Alors gros plans :

Mais qu’est-ce donc?

Voici mon histoire.

Nouvelle année, nouveau défi! Intégrer le plus possible la technologie dans ma classe. Premiers pas… J’ai décidé de créer un site web et de l’utiliser en classe avec mes élèves (www.madamepare.com).

Première journée d’école. Je suis fébrile à l’idée de rencontrer mes nouveaux élèves, d’être à nouveau dans une classe (j’étais absente l’an dernier). Comme tout bon professeur, j’avais soigneusement préparé mon premier cours. Toute l’information se retrouve sur mon site web. Je vais le présenter à la classe. Moins de photocopies et plus l’excuse « Madame, j’ai perdu mon papier! »

J’ai déniché un projecteur multimédia, je le réserve. J’amène mon ordinateur personnel. J’installe un fil bleu (qui vient de chez moi) avec du tape gris sur le plancher pour la connexion Internet. Voilà, les outils sont là. J’arrive quelques minutes avant mon premier cours afin de m’installer. SURPRISE! Je n’ai même pas une prise électrique dans ma classe! Incroyable direz-vous, mais vrai!

Après plusieurs tentatives, j’ai enfin trouvé le nouveau gadget du siècle (datant d’au moins 25 ans minimum): une prise électrique portative qui s’installe sur une barre électrifiée! Bienvenue en 2011 !

Julie Paré




Back to School…online

Last week all across Quebec, students went back to school.  When we think of “back to school”, some of us (even teachers!) picture the advertisement where the happy parents sing, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year” while morose/sullen children drag behind them as if they are walking toward the worst fate imaginable.  However, I have to say that the students I had the pleasure to work with this week were seemed excited to get back to school.  Mind you, these students may have been excited because they were going to be learning in a way new to most of them, through online classes.

When I asked these students what they most looked forward to about learning online, their answers were varied.  Some commented on learning using new technology.  They seemed to really enjoy working with LEARN’s new interactive teaching/learning platform Zenlive.  We talked, too, about how other web resources like blogs, discussion forums, Voicethread, google docs, etc would be integrated into their classes.

Some commented on how they hoped learning online would help them to become more independent learners.  Although our online courses are taught live and they interact with their teachers every day, the teacher cannot see the students.  Students must develop responsibility and work independently even though not under the watchful eyes of the teacher.  Former students write to us about how the skills they developed as independent learners have served them well when they went from their small schools to large CEGEPS.

Others just were looking forward to simple things like having other students the same age or in the same grade in their classes.  The reality of small English schools across Quebec is that all classes are multi-level. Those teachers and students must be amazing multi-taskers!   Taking courses online means that students get to enjoy the luxury of being in a class with only students in their grade all taking the same course.  Imagine!

We have some teen moms in online classes this year, and what they were most looking forward to was graduating.  While LEARN does offer some high level math and science options, we also offer history and science courses that are basic graduation requirements.   We hope to help these students meet their goals with online courses.

I don’t know what it is about September, but as soon as I get back to school and start meeting new online students, I get very energized.  There was so much excitement and hope in their comments during our initial online training sessions.   For me, it is truly “the most wonderful time of the year.”  All the best for the 2011-2012 school year!

What has made you (or your students/children) excited to get back to school this year?  Share your own back to school experiences with great teachers, welcoming classrooms, new school supplies, shining hallways or new technology in your school.

Dianne Conrod

Principal – Online Learning