Tag Archives: PD

2017 Summertime Reads from the LEARN Team

“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more you learn, the more places you’ll go.” —Dr. Seuss


Inhale, exhale summertime is here… You made it through yet another school year chalked full of learning, sharing, collaborating, testing, planning, lecturing, worrying, writing, explaining, crying, making, meeting, rushing… sigh… Inhale, exhale: summertime is here. As we close the chapter on our students’ learning, another opens for our personal, and yes, selfish learning! The LEARN team wants to support you on recharging those batteries and inspiring your personal growth over the summer break… Inhale, exhale: summertime is here…

Katherine Dimas

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

An enchanting tale of a young musician’s early years as he strives to enter the famed University for the chance to study the arcane arts and “sympathy” (magic!).  After the murder of his family and their troupe of traveling performers by the mysterious Chandrian, his journey takes him from life as a traveling performer, to life in the slums and finally, to the University where he manages to begin his studies, despite being too young and too poor to enter. There is so much more to his story, and it unravels in layers of beautiful writing and an endearing cast of secondary characters.


Ben Loomer

Absolutely on Music: Conversations with Seiji Ozaw

Fun facts:  a) Haruki Murakami is my favourite author.  I try and read everything he writes.  b) I really love listening to music.  When I work and write I listen to instrumental jazz and classical music, and I’m always looking for suggestions. Murakami always peppers his books with cool musical references.  He used to own a jazz club.  c) As I write this I’m listening to Brahms Piano Concerto no.1.  Even more enjoyable now that I know a funny little story about a recording of the concert with Glenn Gould and conductor Lenny Bernstein (Seiji can call him Lenny, because he was his assistant conductor).

Rosie Himo






First Family by David Baldacci

Mayhem ensues in the Whitehouse after the President’s past secrets come to light. Great, fast-paced thriller for your summer reading.



Photo on 6-13-17 at 12.57 PM
Michael Canuel

The Happiness Hypothesis (Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom) by Jonathan Haidt

As the deadline approaches, it is strange how philosophical issues become so important. It offers a contemporary perspective on the human condition. Easy to read with large print and only so many big words. What this means is that I can drink my Stoli and still understand what I am reading. Inverted text in photo intentional!

Julie Pare

Le Code Quebec par Jean-Marc Léger, Jacques Nantel et Pierre Duhamel

Le code Québec : Les sept différences qui font de nous un peuple unique au monde.  Qui sommes-nous? Que voulons-nous? Qu’espérons-nous? Voilà de bien grandes questions existentielles ! Après Les 36 cordes sensibles des Québécois de Jacques Bouchard en 1978, les auteurs tentent de démystifier l’« Homo quebecensis » à partir de l’étude des milliers de sondages en dévoilant les sept traits identitaires des Québécois. Bref, si vous désirez mieux comprendre le « Quebecis vulgaris » sous toutes ses coutures, Le code Québec est votre lecture de l’été!

Dianne Conrod



Untangled by Lisa Damour

I work with teenagers. I live with teenagers. Is it surprising then, that I also read about teenagers? This book was recommended to me by other moms of adolescent girls and I am grateful! It’s full of practical advice and stories about how to cope live with a teenage girl, and if/when parents need to really worry.

Looking forward to being back in my hammock soon for more summer reading!

Mary Stewart



Seven Minutes from Home: An American Daughter’s Story by Laurel Richardson

Richardson is a sociologist who has helped to transform qualitative research in important ways by making it more accessible and inclusive to wider audiences. Poetry and plain language are two ways that she has done this. In her  latest book she tells about her personal life that unfolds in the area seven minutes from her home. It’s rich scholarship told as a story. She is soo, soo bright and doesn’t use big words without a reason. I like that.


Elizabeth Alloul




The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty

“Imagine that your husband wrote you a letter, to be opened after his death. Imagine, too, that the letter contains his deepest, darkest secret—something with the potential to destroy not just the life you built together, but the lives of others as well. Imagine, then, that you stumble across that letter while your husband is still very much alive. . . .”


Carolyn Buteau


Love Anthony by Lisa Genova

“I’m always hearing about how my brain doesn’t work right…But it doesn’t feel broken to me.”

Lisa Genova, an American neuroscientist and author, uses her medical background to create stories about characters with neurological disorders – in this case, learn about autism through Anthony’s world. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and you’ll travel along this unforgettable journey with the protagonist. Very enlightening read! I guarantee you won’t want to put it down.


Paul Rombough

You Only Live Twice by Chase Joynt & Mike Hoolboom

Mike’s films and life marked my own 80’s experience in Toronto, and I was glad to see when his prolific career was recently awarded the Governor General’s Awards in Visual and Media Arts  where he gave a powerful speech from the margins.  Then I saw that Zoe Whittall picked the book on CBC’s Canadian authors pick their favourite books of 2016 list.  She describes how the book “engages with so many interesting ideas around second lives and the possibilities that occur after major transitions” in the form of a series of letter exchanges between the two artists and survivors of a movement from one life to another.  As someone who has restarted more than a couple of times, I can’t wait to filter through their reflections and stories.

Thomas Stenzel


Maker-Centered Learning by E.P.Clapp, J. Ross, J.O.Ryan, S. Tishman

The Makerspace movement has become a hot topic over the last year across North America.  Here at LEARN, we have been involved in working with teachers, consultants and administrators, exploring how Makerspaces can work in different settings with different audiences but always trying to address the “why” of doing this.  This book by scholars from Harvard Graduate School looks at these same issues and should provide more food for thought.

Sarah Manolson



The Right to be Cold by Sheila Watt-Cloutier

I bought this book a few months ago after hearing the tail end of a dynamic radio interview with the author, but haven’t yet had the chance to pick it up. I’m hoping that in the summer days to come I will have the head and heart space to delve into this memoir by the well-known Inuit activist, which interweaves her personal story with the theme of climate change and how it poses an existential threat to a people whose culture is embedded in ice and snow.  A timely topic!



Christiane Dufour





Hag-Seed or The Tempest retold by Margaret Atwood

This book is part of the Hogarth Shakespeare project that sees Shakespeare’s works retold by acclaimed and best selling novelists of today. As much as Atwood’s A Handmaid’s Tale is dark, this retelling is a fun read that will keep you captivated, not wanting to put the book down.  I loved every line in this book.


Kristine Thibeault





Canada by Mike Myers

In honour of this amazing country’s sesquicentennial, I’m recommending a book that not only made me proud… but had me laughing out loud! Mike Myers’ literary debut is an autobiographical love letter to a nation, from a famous expat who’s heart clearly remains here. Funny and insightful stories, with plenty of great memorabilia pics. Happy 150th birthday Canada!


Christine Truesdale


Syllabus – Notes from an Accidental Professor by Lynda Barry

I’ll be re-reading Syllabus – a dense collection of notes, drawings and activities kept by cartoonist and writer Lynda Barry in her first three years of teaching “The Unthinkable Mind”, an interdisciplinary studies in the arts course at the University of Wisconsin.  The book provides concrete exercises to foster writing and drawing practice, but its richness lies in Barry’s questioning of the fundamental purpose of art. It is an inquiry into the power of representation, of creation as an innately human endeavour, not reserved for those with unique talents. It is a deep dive into art practice as a way of thinking and being – “how are our hands, images, and insight connected?” A great way to start the summer, pull out the art supplies and start filling pages with unthinkable thoughts…


Inhale… Exhale… you made it… inhale… exhale… inhal…exha…in…ex..in..ex………

Have a great summer from the LEARN team.

Beyond the Textbook: ReMix yourself with new PD

Last November, LEARN and some local partners decided to organize an EdCamp for educators in Quebec – ReMixEd Camp MTL. The idea was simple: get a space, some food, some prizes, and amass a hundred or so educators together on a chilly fall Saturday to talk about all things education. A new way to approach professional development, a new way to connect with educators from different milieus, a new way to improve one’s practice through conversation and collaboration, a new way to grow as a professional, a new way to develop your growth mindset. Welcome to the “unconference”.

Photo by Chris Webb https://mymathadventures.wordpress.com/2015/11/29/remixed/

The basic idea of an EdCamp is pretty straight forward: no pre-organized sessions, no keynotes, no agenda, no pre-determined topics or themes; in essence the day is designed by the people attending the event. It is the attendees that build the agenda on the morning of the event. This truly makes the day for educators by educators. It’s magic lies in its simplicity. “So much of life and work is overly structured that it doesn’t give us… room to run and grow freely,” with our ideas, says entrepreneur Joshua Kauffman, who facilitates these unconferences around the world. “By contrast, the unstructured, high-energy environment of the unconference amplifies ideas.”

These unconferences have two rules that all attendees must follow; namely be selfish and don’t break out that powerpoint! This is a day for professional learning and conversation. If a session is not giving you want you need, get up and find a session that does – this is called the Law of Two-Feet. Even better, post a session topic that you’re interested in discussing on the communal agenda. Because the intent is to be unstructured (but not unfocused), letting ideas flow freely through engaging conversation, being shackled to your favourite powerpoint as you stand at the front of the room is not where we want to find you.


Some comments from last year’s ReMixEd Camp MTL 2015:

“This was a great experience for me. Edcamps are awesome and allow us to talk about what matters to us.”

“It was surprising everything that was done without charging participants. Other than the excellent sessions, the food was great and having all the prizes was fun.”

At ReMixEd Camp MTL 2016 we will offer your typical edcamp sessions, but we mix it up a bit. This year we will have an all -day full-on Makerspace set up for attendees, as well as an App Smash at noon for participants to show a crowd in 60 seconds how they use a given app in their classroom. And, of course, prizes! We get many sponsors that send amazing educational products for us to give away, like apps, iPad cases, document cameras, stickers, posters, tablets, subscriptions, discounts and on and on… Most participants leave with a goodie. This year we plan on ending in the early afternoon, so we will set up what we are calling the “energy table” that will offer snacks and drinks to get you through till two o’clock. We’ll even watch your kids for the day.

“I loved it! It was well worth the giving up of a Saturday, if only to have a genuine Maker experience. Although I have been promoting a maker culture in my school and library, and doing all the organizing for it, this was the first time I got behind the counter so to speak and tried to do something myself. I felt inordinately proud of my little light up felt flower!”

via @brnbond

We believe that a learning event of this kind needs to be open to all, so if you’re an educator or a soon-to-be educator, join us. The more diversity in our participants, the richer the conversations. We have made sure to work into the day lots of times for networking with fellow educators. Oh yes, I forgot to mention, this event is completely free, yes free.

“Sad this is only an annual event. Looking forward to the next one!”


Please visit our site www.remixedcamp.ca and register for the event today! You can follow all the action on the Whova app as well by searching for “remixed” in the app. Find us on Twitter and Facebook too!

A Teacher Learns to Code: a professional learning story

I’m an online teacher for LEARN, and I recently became a student in a classroom again, which hasn’t happened in a long time. In my development as a teacher, I tend to spend a lot of time online, learning new things independently in a just-in-time fashion, but this post is about an instance in which that didn’t work out, and I needed to be face-to-face with an instructor and peers. As usual, I learned way more than just what I set out to learn…

Audrey code


Until very recently, the only code I knew was Audrey code. For example, the first time I asked someone what “html” was, they answered me by saying “hyper text markup language.” I responded by blinking and saying thank you, which is Audrey code for “Now I have four more questions in addition to the one I just asked you.”

Probing further did not help. Every explanation seemed to make things worse, and intimidate me even more. Brow-furrowing, sighing, and wincing became part of my code. Nevertheless, I had a vague notion that it had something to do with the internet.

Coding? What is this coding?

Sometime later, I started seeing hashtags about coding on twitter, like #kidscancode, #codingforkids, and #coding. There was a lot of enthusiastic buzz from teachers about the many benefits of coding. Not only is it fun, addictive, & creative, but it improves understanding in math and languages as well. It was the creative part that interested me most!  I just wasn’t sure of what type of coding everyone was talking about, or what exactly was being created. But I knew that before I tried to get my students to code, I needed to know how to do it myself – teaching usually works out better that way.

I decided to join codeacademy.org and try to learn coding on my own.  I started with JavaScript, because I had heard it referenced while using my favourite software, geogebra. The lessons were easy enough to follow, and I made “progress” according to the site, but I still felt like I was in the dark as far as what I was creating. Where would I use this JavaScript interactive thingy? I was missing the big picture, and I just couldn’t keep at it without that. I felt constantly distracted, even agitated by that.

Google Apps scripts

Another effort that seemed, at the time, to be unrelated to html and coding was that I tried to learn how to write google apps script. I use google forms a lot, and there were specific things I wanted to be able to do with the data that my students were entering on those google forms. Off I went to google, and entered their google apps script “tutorials”. The problem here was that each link lead to so many other links that I lost my way very quickly. Unlike my codeacademy experience,  I was clear on what I wanted to create, but the tutorials didn’t seem organized in a user-friendly way. In fact, one of the links lead back to codeacademy, specifically to their JavaScript course, which I’d already tried. What this had to do with google apps script I didn’t know, which added to my confusion.

Convergence at Ladies Learning Code

These mysteries were finally solved for me on Sept 27 at a workshop in Ottawa called Ladies Learning Code. A friend had happened to mention to me that Sept 27 was National Ladies Learn to Code Day all across Canada. LLC (@llcodedotcom) is a not-for-profit Canadian organization devoted to teaching code to anyone who wants to learn in a comfortable, friendly, collaborative environment. They were having an introductory one-day workshop in many cities across Canada on Sept 27, so off I went to register. Unfortunately, the Montreal one was already full, so I decided to go to the one in Ottawa. I was persistent, because I was really interested in not only the coding, but the people who were organizing this amazing event, for free, on their weekend. People are endlessly fascinating to me, especially people who are passionate and creative.

I’m sitting just right of centre – coding!

I was not disappointed, in any way! Everyone working at the LLC session was a volunteer – our instructor, Jessica Eldredge (@jessabean),  the mentors (satellite teachers, one for every 4 participants), and the students from U of O. And everyone was friendly. You could tell right away that they were there to have fun and to help people. My favourite kind of people! I had a very strong sense that web developers are highly creative people who love doing what they do. And they love teaching other people how to do it! As for the participants, most were young, but there were a few my age, one of which sat at my table – coincidence? Probably not.

At last – the Big Picture

Within the first few minutes of the session, a lot of my previous confusion was cleared up by our instructor, Jessica Eldredge. She said that html was what created webpages, and that you could think of webpages as being in three layers, each one in a different type of code:

  1. The first is the content (text, pictures, links etc) which is created by the html.
  2. The second is the CSS, which is another language altogether, and which makes the content have a certain colour or style or placement on the webpage. In other words, it makes it look pretty.
  3. The third is the interactive elements, such as a gizmo on explorelearning.com. That’s where code like javascript comes in, and that’s where I had unwittingly started on my unsuccessful learning-to-code journey prior to this workshop. No wonder I had been confused – I had started with the last thing – javascript! Suddenly all the pieces fell into place for me. It felt like my mind was now truly open.


I really liked the way that the workshop was organized. It was kind of a mix of the flipped class and direct instruction. Jessica would spend a few minutes explaining something, then we would work for a while to complete the accompanying set of instructions, while getting lots of support from our “mentor.” Each group of four people had their own mentor. Ours was Gavin (@GavinNL), who was wonderful.  And he happens to be a math and science teacher! He was there in a heartbeat when we needed him, which was tremendously reassuring, but we also had the ability to move forward at our own pace as well, because we had already downloaded, prior to the workshop, all kinds of software and files, including all of Jessica’s slides and instructions. Hence the flipped element. I feel validated, because I use the flip in my own classes.

Audrey learned to code!

By lunchtime, I had made this:


Incredibly, I had written some html and css, and it had worked! We didn’t get to the interactive stuff, but at least now I know what it is, what it’s for, and where to go to continue to learn.

What else did I learn?

 Learning really is social. It means so much to be able to turn to someone, for a reaction, for help, for reassurance, and to offer it to them. Humans need humans.

  • I like having the option to move ahead or go back as I wish. And at different times during the day, I did both. Although at around 2:30, my saturated mind ground to a complete halt.
  • That option to move at one’s own pace is only truly available if the material given is well organized, easy to find, and contains good visuals and examples, which Jessica’s did.
  • Hearing someone say something is way more powerful than reading it to yourself.
  • A webpage is a file! That blew my mind. To see my webpage, I double-clicked on a file with .html at the end. I don’t know why that was so eye-opening for me, maybe because it made it all seem a lot less like magic and more like logic.
  • I need to have the big picture to learn some things. Otherwise, I’m constantly distracted and agitated.
  • Web developers are highly creative people who are passionate and love to teach other people how to do the same! I’m encouraging my own kids to learn, because they are very creative people too. So far no luck, after all, I’m their mom.
  • Finally, there are an awful lot of people out there who love to teach, and are really good at it, but very few of them do it for a living like I do. I’m lucky like that.

What’s next?

So what am I going to do with this? Not sure yet – I had a vague notion that I would rebuild my own blog from scratch, but that seems like it might be a bit too much to start off with. I remember feeling this way when I started to learn geogebra  – I had no idea what to make with it, I just knew that it was really really cool. That’s where I am now – any suggestions would be more than welcome! And that’s not Audrey code for anything!

Just Do It? Reflections on Perfection Paralysis

Irene’s work with her students is so inspiring. But when asked to share it with others, she declines, saying that it’s not really that great.
Dan is excited about making a movie with his students, but he feels that he needs to really master the latest software, and also learn more about sound editing before he tries. So no movie this year.
Elsie wants to try a new literacy approach, but there are so many facets of it that it seems overwhelming. Maybe next year, when she has read more and made a better plan, she’ll try it.

What do these stories have in common? They are all about people afflicted with a malady of our time: Perfection Paralysis. In fact, many of us are afflicted with it. Ironically, this blog post almost didn’t see the light of day because of it.

What is “Perfection Paralysis?” I would define it as the inability to let go of a work out of fear that it is substandard or imperfect, or to avoid trying something because our mastery of it is inadequate. It is a personality trait that many of us share, but it is also learned when we set unrealistic expectations for others as well as ourselves. For some, our natural fear of failure has escalated to a fear of imperfection.

A few months back, a newspaper article prompted a conversation with a colleague about the concept of perfection, and how we put enormous pressure on ourselves to be perfect to the point that it becomes paralyzing. The letter provoked some deep thinking.

By Marcus Quigmire from Florida, USA (Perfection  Uploaded by Princess Mérida) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
By Marcus Quigmire from Florida, USA (Perfection Uploaded by Princess Mérida) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Over the years much of the focus of much of my work has been to assist educators with the implementation of technology in the classroom. As I’ve worked with teachers to introduce technology over the years, often heard refrains have been:

“I’m not good with computers”;
“It’s not ready to share with others”; or
“My work isn’t good enough to share.”

The sentiment is understandable. We want to put our best face forward, and what we do not know well is often intimidating, or even threatening. But I am often left with the impression that many people feel that they must possess either a high level of expertise or a natural aptitude in order to be able to use technology.

When I attempt to introduce a professional educator to something new, and the first line of response is, “Before we begin, you should know that I suck at this,” then what should my reaction be? Comebacks like this make work for people like me much more difficult, because they imply defeat.

This frustrating starting point is not exclusive to technology, but the curious way that people perceive computers and technology has preoccupied and driven me since I entered education 20 years ago.

Computing devices are unfeeling, precise, calculating, and unforgiving of error. Perhaps the perceived threat is that if we are not perfect, we are somehow inferior. There is a social aspect to it too. No one wants to be caught out looking less than competent in front of his or her students and colleagues. Considering that students are steeped in technology these days, it is still hard for many teachers to accept that they are not necessarily the experts in the classroom when it comes to technology.

So how do we address the problem of “perfection paralysis?” Is the solution to lower our standards?

I think that when we look at the work of our colleagues and students, we tend to be too pedantic. The result is to focus on minutiae rather than taking overall quality into consideration. If a teacher has used technology with their students to produce something, and we focus on small details rather than the big picture, it takes away from the fact that the teacher has moved forward in their use of technology. It puts the pressure on individuals to focus on those details and cultivates perfection paralysis.

Let us celebrate progress and encourage engagement rather than resorting to pickiness.

The strategy that has worked best for me over the years has been to create a non-threatening atmosphere in which teachers can experiment and explore without repercussions as they become more familiar with technology tools. The key is to cultivate a climate of discovery and experimentation as opposed to one of judgement and unattainable standards. After all, we don’t expect our students to be perfect the first time around. We encourage them to experiment and take risks. If everything had to be perfect right away, we’d never get anything done!

It’s about time we give ourselves the gift of ‘just fine’ as opposed to ‘best’. The gift of ‘try and see’ instead of ‘has to be perfect’. One thing is for sure: we’ll all be moving forward and our students will benefit from our spoken and unspoken lessons of experimentation.


To read about another educator’s struggle with perfection paralysis check out this blog post by Vicki Davis from Cool Cat Teacher Blog.



Always Learning – possibilities and practicalities

Photo by Chris James, shared under a CC license

The beginning of the school year always has me energized. I’m ready to learn new things and switch around the way I do things. I’m no longer in the classroom, but I love to share with teachers. There has  never been a better time for teachers to have the opportunity to learn from the experts – other teachers, consultants and people in the field in a variety of capacities. There are so many possibilities.

Then there are the practicalities. How do you learn best? Face to Face? Online? How much time do you have to spend on your personal PD? Here are a few of the many offerings coming up.

tabsumTablet Summit

(full disclosure – LEARN is organizing this along with the local RECIT)
October 21, 2013 in Laval

One face to face opportunity coming up is the Table Summit which will feature teachers in the field who are using tablets (iPads, Chromebooks…)  in the classroom. Wes Freyer will be the keynote speaker. His site: Mapping Media to the Common Core has many suggestions for using tablets for creating (narratives, radio shows and so much more) It’s easy to find web sites that list a myriad of apps, but they can be overwhelming. I like to learn from people who contextualize  – pedagogy first and then the apps that support it. There are lots of sessions being offered. And face to face sessions allow you really to connect with people.


Sometimes we can’t get away from our classrooms or get the funding needed to go to conferences. There are so many opportunities to attend online conferences and workshops at no financial cost. When you are unable to attend synchronously (while it is happening) you can watch sessions later as they are usually archived. Here are a few of the many possibilities for learning from and with educators around the world. I’ve written about some of these before – but a refresher is always handy!


LEARN Web Events

(full disclosure – I help to organize them) http://learnquebec.ca/en/content/professional_development/webevents/index.html

These hour long events are held in zenlive (a kind of online classroom)  and are open to Quebec teachers. They are held once or twice a month, usually in the evening, on a variety of topics. It’s a great opportunity to get in touch with Quebec teachers who are teaching the same curriculum as you are.  Who knows? You might meet someone in the chat who is dealing with the same kinds of issues as you. They could become part of your learning network. You have to register for events. You can check the LEARN site for announcements of upcoming events, or sign up to get emails announcing them.


K12 Online Conference

(full disclosure: I am on the organizing committee)
The opening keynote will be available on October 14
In Week One (October 21 – 25) two sessions a day will be unveiled in each of the following strands: Open Learning and Outside Learning
Week 2 (October 28 – November 1) will feature the same number of sessions in the following strands: Leading Learning and Building Learning.

This is the only totally asynchronous (all sessions are pre-recorded and archived – most of the last 7 years of presentations are still available) conference of which I am aware. The focus of the conference is on pedagogy and technology. This has been a great source of  learning for me. These sessions are created by educators in the field, many of whom are classroom teachers. There have been presentations by people from the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, as well as by teachers from International Schools from around the world. This is an opportunity to learn from the best.



You only have a few minutes at a time to devote to learning new things? Tanya Avrith (from the Lester B. Pearson School Board) and Holly Clark, from San Diego,  have been interviewing educators about their practice. Meet EduSlam. The segments are short, around five minutes, and you can find many ideas for integrating technology in the classroom. These little nuggets are short in terms of time, but long in terms of value!

Classroom 2.0 Live!

Saturdays at noon Eastern Time

Each week focuses on a specific topic with invited guests. With a lot of action in the chat, you learn from both the presenters and the attendees.  All sessions are archived along with a myriad of links in a Livebinder to help you learn about the week’s topic in greater depth. Here’s a sample

Steve Hargadon helps to organize a series of online conferences. Here are the upcoming events. These conference take place 24 hours a day over a few days with speakers from around the world.

stemGlobal STEMx Education Conference

September 19-21, 2013

From their site: “STEMxCon will be a highly inclusive and engaging event that will encourage primary, secondary, and tertiary (K-16) students and educators around the world to share and learn about innovative approaches to STEMx learning and teaching. “ Science and math teachers as well as generalists will find sessions of interest. Not available during the conference? Pick one archived session and watch it – you may get hooked.

connectedConnected Educator Month


This initiative out of the US offers a myriad of events, tweetchats, webinars and opportunities to connect with other educators. Powerful Learning Practice has created a document: The CEM Starter Kit, for teachers who want to participate. There are great tips on how to become a connected educator.

globaledThe Global Education Conference

Monday, November 18 through Friday, November 22, 2013

If last year is any indication, sessions are held 24/7 as there are speakers from around the world. The focus of the conference is global education. In addition to hearing top notch presenters, it is an opportunity to connect with educators from around the world and to find teachers who want to collaborate on global classroom projects. When I last visited the site, speakers had not yet been announced.

Here are a couple more online conferences to check out:

The Reform Symposium RSCON
October 11-13, 2013

Library 2.013 The Future of Libraries
October 18-19, 2013

Then there are online courses, tweetchats

It may seem overwhelming, so pick and choose at your comfort level. There is no shortage of possibilities for learners of all kinds to learn, connect and renew. And in today’s world you can do that practically anywhere!

A Reminder That Life is Good: the QEP, Professional Autonomy and Paulo Freire

7075566659_b2d828bbeb_oIt was the spring of 1999.  Heading out the door of the inner city elementary school where both my husband and I were working, I bombarded him (as I always did) with a series of mini episodes of what had gone on in my grade 5/6 classroom that day; snippets of exchanges with the students, jokes and fun mixed with a smattering of “a-ha!” moments that were always to be celebrated.   He smiled, half listening; clearly deep in thoughts of his own. Earlier that year, Christopher had developed curriculum that integrated, among other subject areas, literacy, technology and sports in a way that was not only improving the students’ reading and writing abilities but was so engaging that it inspired a targeted group of at-risk kids; it built their self esteem and commitment to continue along the path of learning.

News of this dynamic teaching and learning curriculum had reached the ears of the ministry and he was now going to be the focus of a documentary that would clearly demonstrate for the rest of the province the QEP (our new Quebec Education Program) in action, lived out with an at-risk population. Our principal was delighted.  I was thrilled and Christopher was overwhelmed to be recognized in this way. I continued bubbling with what all this meant.  He was going to be the face of the QEP.  How wonderful!!

As we buckled up our seat belts, Christopher turned to me and spoke for the first time since we had walked out the school door, “Mel.  What the hell is the QEP?”

I remember laughing out loud.  As we had just recently returned from living in the Cree community of Mistissini for over a year and a half, we had missed all the commotion and build up of the soon to be implemented Quebec Education Program.  This didn’t seem to matter though because as it turned out, the philosophy and ideology behind this “Reform” was based on what was occurring in our classrooms already.  It emphasized the importance of knowledge acquisition, critical thinking, inquiry-based learning, collaboration, cross-curricular learning, and democratic living.

As I read more deeply the numerous documents produced by The Ministère de l’Éducation, du Loisir et du Sport (MELS), it quickly became obvious to me, that there were many elements of the QEP being implemented that would profoundly alter the teaching and learning in Québec schools in my opinion for the better.  For one thing, it accorded greater recognition to the professional, teaching methods, and choice of methods of evaluation of students’ learning (MELS, 2005, p. 8).  As well, it allowed teachers to choose their pedagogical approaches according to the situation, the nature of the learning to be accomplished or the students’ characteristics.  This could be managed by lecturing, explicit instruction, project-based teaching, inductive teaching, strategic instruction, cooperative learning or any other method the teacher deemed appropriate. (MELS, 2005).

For the first time in my career, this progressive ideological shift was putting the teachers in control of their own classrooms.  It was affording them the opportunity to be autonomous professionals.  Who knew better than the teacher him/herself what was best for their students?

The role of teachers became one of supporting students in their learning process, helping them structure and build on their knowledge, rather than being the expert who transmits information.  Students were encouraged to participate in constructing their knowledge. “Instead of mostly listening, they are actively engaged in processing the information so as to transform it into knowledge and competencies.” They may even act as experts in cases where they have specific knowledge. (MELS, 2001, p. 2)  In this “innovative” way of looking at teaching and learning, of primary concern is that students transform information into viable and transferable knowledge “The elements of knowledge students develop are tools that should help them understand and take action in the world,”(MELS, 2001, p.1).  Learning does not simply take place in the classroom.  It does not begin and end with the ringing of the bells, “…the reform aims for learning that takes place in school to be transferable, i.e. to serve a purpose other than just school.” (MELS, 2001, p. 2).

It goes without saying that having teachers take into consideration a program that implies a major adaptation on the pedagogic level has been anything but easy. We must be patient and keep in mind that changes of such magnitude cannot be implemented into a machine as vast as the educational network over a short period of time or without experiencing some difficulties.  Many have questioned whether or not the disruption and disorder brought about by this shift has been worth it.  I am reminded of Margaret Meek, who in referring to Freire writes “and He wants us to consider the worth of an idea by asking what difference it would make” (Freire & Macedo, 1987, p. xxvii). When looking at the pedagogic basis and the potential outcomes for students being educated in this way, I think it will make an enormous difference in the way that teachers and students come together to share in the learning process, to dialogue and to empower each other and themselves.  So my answer to the question “Is it worth it?” rings out loud and clear “Yes, it is most definitely worth it!”

Fast forward almost ten years.

In the fall of 2008, I had the privilege of taking a graduate course with a critical pedagogue who had come to McGill.  It was a time in my life that I will never forget.  He would sit at the head of the semi-circle, clad in black jeans and a black t-shirt and he would talk to us…no, tell us stories is probably more accurate.  One thing was clear, he was not impressed with the manner in which schools operated and the overtly discriminatory practices that occurred throughout our North American system.  He spoke of the issues of a standardized curriculum where so many students were simply left out of the equation due to their gender, race, ethnicity, religion, orientation or social status and of teachers who were forced by the government to push a curriculum that they knew would fail so many of their students. 

One evening, half way through the semester, a number of my peers, who were not from Québec, joined in on the conversation, angrily claiming that they understood exactly what this critical pedagogue was talking about.  They ranted openly about the problems we had here in Québec as our curriculum was without question as standardized as others throughout the rest of Canada and the United States.  I was shocked by their statements.  How could anyone who had read this document claim that it was standardized when the very underlying philosophy promoted teacher professionalism and autonomy by advocating self-selection of pedagogy, resources, methods and evaluation?  It became clear to me that they hadn’t read the document.  And when I asked this question outright, the answer that echoed around the room was that indeed they hadn’t.

Months later, I was sitting in his home, when his son, who was a high school ELA teacher, walked into the room holding onto his laptop.  His eyes were wide in disbelief as he scanned the screen.  Looking up from his reading of The Québec Education Program he exclaimed in disbelief “Hey, did you know that Freire is quoted in here?”  I chuckled out loud.  Here was the son of two of the most prevalent minds in critical pedagogy, not to mention a successful English Secondary School teacher, and he was just now realizing that the curriculum he was teaching was based on the theories and ideology of Paulo Freire.

What struck home at this point was that here was a curriculum document that was almost ten years into implementation and it was still being referred to as “The Reform” or even “New” and added to that was the reality that so many in the field of education, from classroom teachers to critical pedagogues, had never taken the time to sit down and read it through in order to understand the freedom it offered along with the respect of viewing teachers as professionals.

In an era of “No Child Left Behind” standardized curriculum throughout the United States and a thrust for “back to the basics” in most of North America, we in Québec have been given the opportunity through the Québec Education Program (QEP) to teach a completely unstandardized curriculum.  Nowhere is this more apparent than in the Freireian based model of critical pedagogy underlying the English Language Arts literacy program. It was designed to promote the development of literacy as both an individual achievement and a social skill as well as “the development of a confident learner who finds in language, discourse and genre a means of coming to terms with ideas and experiences, and a medium for communicating with others and learning across the curriculum” (MELS, 2008,  p.6)

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of presenting our Quebec curriculum at a gathering of academics and teachers at The International Congress of Qualitative Inquiry, held at the University of Illinois.  The dialogue that followed my presentation was a mix of shock and confusion.  There was an overwhelming buzz of excitement and genuine interest in the curriculum that is found here in Quebec.  No one could believe that our teachers were awarded such autonomy and self-determination in deciding the best suited pedagogy, resources and teaching strategies to ensure their particular group of students be able to meet the outcomes at the end of a cycle.  They cringed as they compared this to the system under which they were forced to work; teach to the test, no time for the rest.  There simply wasn’t a mechanism put in place that would permit them to look at their students as individuals, to allow for a variety of perspectives or opinions, or for that matter to even ask the students what they wanted or cared to learn. They were envious of what we had in place and I truly began to understand once again how lucky we were.

So as the end of year stress begins to build.  I think it is important to remember that we have been given a very precious gift…the acknowledgment that we are capable and competent to accomplish great learning alongside our students.  And to think that we have a government document that supports this, reassures me time and again.  When the pressure starts to become too much, I simply have to open up the QEP and read “More than ever, teaching requires autonomy, creativity and professional expertise.” (MELS, 2001, p.5) If you ask me, that’s not a bad thing at all to have to work towards!


For further reading:

Freire, P. & Macedo, D. (1987). Literacy: Reading the Word and the World. London: Routledge.

Québec. Ministère de l’Éducation, du Loisir et du Sport. The Education Reform: The Changes Under Way. Bibliothèque nationale du Québec, 2005. Retrieved from http://www.mels.gouv.qc.ca/lancement/Renouveau_ped/452771.pdf

Québec. Ministère de l’Éducation, du Loisir et du Sport. (2007). Provincewide panorama – Literacy in Québec in 2003. Info Adult-Ed. Vol. 4, Issue 1, January 2001.  Retrieved from http://www.mels.gouv.qc.ca/_information_continue/info/index_en.asp?page=article6

Québec. Ministère de l’Éducation, du Loisir et du Sport. Québec Education Program, Preschool Education, Elementary Education. Bibliothèque nationale du Québec, 2001. Retrieved from http://www.mels.gouv.qc.ca/dfgj/dp/programme_de_formation/primaire/pdf/educprg2001/educprg2001.pdf

Québec. Ministère de l’Éducation, du Loisir et du Sport. Québec Education Program, Secondary School Education, Cycle Two. Bibliothèque nationale du Québec, 2008. Retrieved from http://www.mels.gouv.qc.ca/sections/programmeformation/secondaire2/medias/en/5b_QEP_SELA.pdf

Online PD: Tasters and Takeaways


F2F Robotics Workshop with Christiane Dufour

In early October, I blogged wistfully about my experiences as an online grad student and highlighted a spanking new teacher PD project that we were initiating at LEARN: Web Events.  Each month, an educational topic, tool or approach was presented via ZenLive (our online platform), to intimate groups of interested folk from Quebec and beyond. Following each live event, an archive of the session, as well as many supplementary resources were made available to all. We did indeed have some very thoughtful presentations and engaging discussions around a wide variety of topics: from blogging in the literacy classroom, to the creation of visual journals, to the use of some really cool online tools in the social sciences, to flipping the class, to the impact of la féminisation in the teaching of FLS. These “tasters” allowed for teachers to get…well a taste…of each of the highlighted themes, as well as suggestions of avenues for further investigation, potential implementation and possible community building.

Screen shot 2013-05-22 at 11.48.37 AM
Online Robotics Workshop – Using ZenLive

One very interesting (and promising) offshoot of our monthly web events, was the creation of the web series. This emerging PD model currently involves taking a hands-on workshop, which would traditionally occur f2f over much of one entire day, and breaking it down into more manageable chunks (1 to 1.5 hr), which are then delivered at a distance using widely available online technology. Needless to say, I wanted to be a part of our inaugural sessions and signed myself up as both a behind the scenes supporter and a participant for We Can, WeDO & We Will! Robotics in the Kindergarten Class with Christiane Dufour. Christiane is a veteran educator, who has been providing teacher training and professional development in the integration of technology for learning since 1985. For the past few years, with her LEARN consultant hat on (just one of her many!), she has been giving f2f workshops to kindergarten teachers on how to implement a robotics program in the classroom.

In my previous blog post, I suggested that in order for PD (of any permutation or combination) to be effective it had to meet the generally accepted benchmarks of quality. I interviewed Christiane last week and asked her how she felt her kindergarten robotics web series had done just that. Have a listen to what she has to say…some genuine nuggets about the planning, implementation, successes and challenges of providing good online PD.

How were your sessions content or subject-matter focused with an understanding of student learning needs?

How were you able to provide opportunities for active learning around authentic tasks?

How was collaboration encouraged?

Tell us how you organized the sessions over time?

How did you allow for feedback and follow-up?

What about continued support?

As evidenced by Christiane, the delivery of this type of PD should not be undertaken by the faint of heart. For the animator, it clearly involves a great deal of planning, preparation, persistence & follow-through. But what of the participant…did these sessions meet the needs of the individual, positively impact on practice and improve student outcomes? I am happy to report that we have the anecdotal traces to answer yes to the first two of these important questions, and I look forward to hearing more from you in response to the third and as part of a continuing conversation. Please feel free to leave your feedback or suggestions below.

Twitter Chats – Making Connections

Photo by: Amodiovalerio Verde under a CC license
Photo by: Amodiovalerio Verde under a CC license

I know many people think of twitter as a place where people post the inanities of their lives “Having coffee at…” “I’m at the corner of…” Twitter has much more to offer than that. By judiciously following some incredible educators, I have a network of people from whom I learn (and I hope they learn a bit from me). I have been on Twitter since 2007; my initial participation was tentative. I read tweets. It was only as I slowly built up my network that I started to really use twitter as a source of professional development. You can follow some of the leaders in education. Don’t be shy; they may not follow you back, but they won’t block you from seeing what they share.

Now I take part in tweet chats. What is a tweet chat, you ask? It is a conversation on twitter. A time is set aside for discussion on a particular topic. All participating use a hashtag that identifies that the tweet is part of the chat e.g. #cdnedchat. Tanya Avrith, from Lester B. Pearson School Board, is one of the founders of the Canadian EdChat (the other being Michael Quinn from SWLSB). I participated in the inaugural chat on April 29 and there were educators taking part from across the country. I had the opportunity to speak with Tanya about cdnedchat. Here is what she had to say.

tweetdeckChats are usually moderated, with the moderator posing a question to start off the conversation. The pace may be very fast, but there are tools to help slow down the tweets. One tool is tweetchat. You simply enter a hashtag and let tweetchat do the work. You can pause, set the refresh rate and change the size of the tweets. This site is strictly for viewing the conversation. When you are ready to start contributing, a tool that can help you  is Tweetdeck (I use it and Tanya mentioned it as well). You can create a column to follow a particular hashtag. This article can help get you started.

In a chat the moderator will post a question usually starting with Q1. Participants may answer the question A1 or contribute a tweet on the topic. During the hour the moderator will add questions to keep the conversation going.

A sample column from my tweetdeck can be seen on the left. You can reply to a tweet add or find out more; you can retweet  to share something you thought was interesting, with or without adding your own comment  and you can favourite a tweet to easily find it later. When there is someone whose tweets speak to you, you can follow them to see what they are tweeting when not part of a tweet chat. It’s a great way to build up your PLN. Tweetdeck makes it easy to follow the thread of a conversation.

Here are a few Twitter acronyms which will help you decipher some tweets

@username – the @ addresses a specific user
DM – direct message (you can only tweet directly to someone who follows you)
RT – Retweet
MT – modified tweet (when you retweet but edit the retweet)

There are many tweet chats run by educators. The #cdnedchat is a great place to start as the ideas and links you get are posted by fellow Canadian educators. It takes place every Monday at 8:00pm Eastern Time. Find out more on the web site and be sure to watch Tanya’s video on why these chats are important. There are also tweet chats that target specific kinds of teachers (Kindergarten, Science, Flipping…) For an extensive list, have a look at what Cybraryman has curated. Remember, if you can’t be there at the specified time, you can always go back to read what transpired by searching the hashtag.

Q1 Have you taken part in a tweetchat? What did you gain from it?

Q2 Are there tweetchats that you would recommend for your colleagues and why?

Q3 What do you think about having a tweetchat around each week of LEARN’s blog?

I’m looking forward to your answers.


A Mentoring Model for Professional Development Part II: Epilogue

Mary Ellen Lynch (at left) in her classroom with participating teachers from RSB

Towards the beginning of the 2012-2013 school year, I wrote about a multi-board professional development initiative that involved mentoring. As the year draws slowly but surely to a close, the mentors got together to take stock and review lessons learned.

The Mentors

The three teachers who acted as mentors have been involved in using ePEARL and ABRA (part of a series of tools known as The Learning Toolkit or LTK) for several years now. Individually, they have explored ways to deepen their Cycle One students’ literacy experiences and awareness of their learning process. Collectively, they have shared what works and what doesn’t and have motivated each other to keep going in spite of various hurdles and challenges. The mentors are:

  • Tanya Bell Beccat (EMSB)
  • Irene Tsimilkis (SWLSB)
  • Mary Ellen Lynch (RSB)
Tanya Bell Beccat from EMSB
Irene Tsimilkis (center) with V.Pillay and L.Lysenko of the CSLP.
Irene Tsimilkis (center) with V.Pillay and L.Lysenko of the CSLP.

Over the 2012-2013 school year these three teachers, along with a dozen others, worked on multiplying expertise and professional experimentation through a PDIG grant. Here is how it broke down:

The Outcome – Plus, Minus, Interesting*

*The PMI model – Plus, Minus and Interesting, created by Edward Di Bono in 1982, is a common tool used in reflecting on an experience. 


All three mentors reported having worked with the teachers from their school or board, with only one teacher leaving the project due to retirement. On the face of it, this doesn’t seem like much of a plus, but if you’ve ever been in a classroom and school, you’ll know that sticking with a project that involves a multi-month commitment is HUGE. Mentors either invited teachers into their classrooms to see how the mentors work with ePEARL and ABRA or visited teachers in their own schools. All mentors engaged in co-planning and team teaching with some of their mentees.

Interest in the Learning Toolkit increased overall. Two of the three mentors reported more teachers interested in using ePearl and ABRA in the coming school year. Administrators were also paying attention and some even visited classrooms when guests were invited.

The three mentor teachers were able to further refine their own practice with early literacy and self-regulation. The PDIG allowed them the time

  • to share skill and experience with colleagues
  • to develop healthy working relationships (proximity)
  • to team teach with other teachers and learn from them


This project in general went really well, so there aren’t huge minuses to report! However, lack of institutional support at worst or benign neglect at best often characterizes ePEARL and ABRA integration efforts. Speaking in general terms, changes in on-site administrators such as principals and vice-principals can result in abrupt about-faces in what practices are given support. If an administrator believes in your work and supports your efforts, great! If, however, the institutional focus suddenly shifts, not so great!  For a teacher whose changes in practice come about over many years of experimentation and refining, this can be disconcerting and discouraging and leave him or her emotionally drained.


Not all teachers felt ready to share their learning process with their mentor. The best relationships were between teachers that worked in the same school as their mentors, which reinforces the idea that personal relationships matter a great deal when it comes to a mentoring model. Mentors were quickly able to diagnose problems or help out just in time. However, given that sharing of one’s learning process is not the main indicator of changes to practice, it would be wise not to read too much into quiet mentees. Just because they don’t tell you about it, doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. In fact, att one of the schools in this project, it seemed for a while as though the three mentee teachers were not engaged in making changes to their practice. Turns out, while small steps were taken this year, next year the WHOLE STAFF would like to explore the use of LTK in literacy development and self-regulation. It would be interesting to explore how this positive contagion occurred, but occur it did!

Future Steps

All three mentor teachers are eager to continue next year, adding new teachers in older grades to the project, and possibly creating new mentors as well. It is hoped that they can continue to work together across three boards and multiple schools!

What are your thoughts about this professional development model? I would love to hear from you!



For more:

A Mentoring Model for Professional Development

Centre for the Study of Learning and Performance

Videoconferencing: Pitfalls, Pedagogy and Possibilities

by superkimbo
by superkimbo

I have a love/hate relationship with videoconferencing (VC). Ok, hate might be a tad strong. Love/irritation? Love/frustration? You see, living in a rural community here in Quebec, I get to use VC a lot. Granted, it’s incredibly convenient NOT to have to get up in the darkness of early morning and drive for hours in order to attend a meeting or do a presentation in Montreal. But more often than not, I feel that I’m missing out on something by not being physically present: the backchannel conversations that take place out of range of the microphone, the informal discussions around the lunch table, the more subtle body language of participants and colleagues. So, I was very happy to meet Craig Bullett (via VC no less!), as he made me see that this oft-maligned technology as I know it can be used effectively, and not just for something as pedestrian as a meeting, but for the highest of purposes…for teaching and learning.

Tell us a little bit about yourself, your background and experience?

Craig: For the past 4 years, I’ve coordinated videoconferences for the Community Learning Centre initiative that make links to the Quebec curriculum. The CLC concept is a MELS project, with over 37 centres across Quebec, which are dispersed through all 10 English School Boards in the province. These centres serve as hubs for English-language education and community development in their respective communities. We also partner with various local organizations and help them bring their resources to the educational community. I have taught many high school subjects over a 10-year teaching career with specializations in computer & technology and FSL. I also have a Masters in Educational Technology with experience in Distance Ed and e-learning.

Would you share a specific classroom project that you feel was particularly successful in terms of both effective use of VC and student learning outcomes?

Craig: One of the most memorable classroom VC experiences I’ve helped to coordinate was a writing workshop with “The Joy of Spooking” author PJ Bracegirdle. He was in Montreal and the participants were at an elementary school in Magog. This session was good because it was on time, it was on topic, it was on task and…it was interactive! The presenter was teaching a lesson about character development. For the ice-breaker, the author read an excerpt from his novel, a spooky book for young readers. Then, he and the students shared strategies for creating a character’s name. Once the students had a name, they were asked to draw their characters and each student was invited to walk up to the camera for a brief show and tell of the drawing. The final activity involved further development of their new characters and the writing of a sequence of events. The post-event feedback from all involved was highly positive and the teacher reported having difficulty in getting the students to stop writing when it was time to work on other subjects. I was also informed that the school library had to create a waiting list for students requesting spooky books!

Explain how you approach a VC event when working with teachers and others to create engaging learning opportunities. What are some of the conception phase considerations that determine whether VC is an appropriate medium?

Craig: My main caveat is this: If you don’t need interaction/reaction from your participants…DO NOT VC! Unlike face-to-face presentations, with VC you actually need to design the interactions. VC interactivity is more like a game-show or talk show than an infomercial. The host and the participants need to be equally prepared. So, when teachers consider using VC for an event they should be asking themselves:

  • What is the purpose of my event?
  • Who is my audience? (Location and numbers are important.)
  • Why will I use VC? (Think about outcomes. Can VC get me there?)

Once you’ve decided that using VC is the right choice, if you are the organizer some of the pre-planning involves:

  • Setting a date.
  • Inviting participants  (don’t forget to get confirmations or send reminders).
  • Booking a venue(s).
  • Sharing material, resources and links with all involved.
  • Reserving bridging and technical support as needed.

If you are the classroom teacher you will need to:

  • Reserve the VC room.
  • Preview and modify content for your students.
  • Create buzz for learners about the upcoming event.
  • Prep the class to introduce themselves at the beginning and make closing remarks or “thank you’s” at the conclusion.

And once everything is over, evaluating the session is of the utmost importance. Follow-up to confirm successful outcomes and critical reflection on the experience are essential in order to integrate improvements into future events.

Where can interested teachers find resources to help with the ideas stage and planning for a VC event?

Craig: I thought you’d never ask! No, seriously there are tons of great resources listed on the LEARN site and you can find specifics in terms of CLC collaborations and educational videoconferencing here: www.learnquebec.ca/clc

As well, the 2Learn.ca Education Society has some amazing resources that support teachers who are interested in VC opportunities. These are mostly within Alberta but there are many collaborations with Quebec partners: www.2learn.ca/VC

And of course, I’m always available if people want to connect directly!


Have you been involved in any interesting classroom or professional development VC experiences that you’d like to share? Please don’t hesitate to school me in the comments section below 🙂