Tag Archives: technology

Engaging Girls in Technology: Anyone, anyone?

by Kristina Alexanderson
Photo by Kristina Alexanderson

What can we do at our schools, in our communities and across the province to promote change and get girls more involved in technology? Feel free to start the conversation below or with a tweet @learnquebec.

I had the pleasure of attending an information and round table session with Anne Shillolo at Bring IT Together 2014. Anne is the Coordinator of Educational Technology, and eLearning Contact, at the Near North District School Board in Ontario. During Anne’s workshop, By Design: Engaging Girls in Tech, I learned a number of interesting facts about the role of women in the history of technology, specifically modern computing. For example: Did you know that Hedy Lamarr (yes, the 1940’s Hollywood starlet!) is the inventor of the frequency-hopping spread spectrum technology used as a foundation for modern Wifi, Bluetooth and GPS? I also found out some surprising and disheartening truths. Did you know that the wage gap for women not only persists but gets wider as one’s level of education goes up? Did you know that the percentage of female computer science grads has declined dramatically since the mid 80’s? All the while, thousands of highly paid programming jobs go unfilled each year. According to Anne (and others), one possible solution to these problems is to engage girls in technology as early and as often as possible in order to encourage the prospects of a career in ICT.

But how?

In the fall, I participated in a McGill/Learn seminar with esteemed developmental psychologist Howard Gardner. During the final Q&A, he was asked by a teacher in the audience what essential skill or knowledge should we be teaching our students in order to equip them for the world of tomorrow. His response: coding. My colleague, Susan van Gelder, an early adopter and teacher of technology, wrote an excellent piece last year about the importance of getting our youngest students interested in coding. In To Code: Forward 2014, Susan shares how her students were empowered by their Logo experience and learned “procedural thinking, problem-solving and debugging”.

If you need more proof that programming is something that all students should be learning, perhaps Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg can convince you in this short video, What Most Schools Don’t Teach:

So, we definitely have ideas in terms of how to get kids excited and engaged with technology at an early age. However, one of the major obstacles in the implementation of school-wide computing programs, as pointed out by Anne’s research, is that there is simply a shortage of teachers able to teach these courses. Currently, in Ontario, only three faculties of education offer Computer Science qualifications and one of them (Queen’s) is in the process of phasing it out. Not surprisingly, fewer than one third of Ontario High schools offer even a single computer science course.

Thankfully, some institutions are mandating that their teachers complete training in programming in order to teach it. And, then there are the brave individuals who are taking it upon themselves to learn to code. You can read all about teacher Audrey McLaren’s foray into the world of coding and her participation in National Ladies Learn to Code Day in A Teacher Learns to Code.

Personally, I think computing has always had a serious image problem, particularly for girls. I remember my computer science class circa 1985. The classroom was tucked away, in the nether regions of a sprawling Toronto high school. Dark and unfriendly, the room was littered with towers, wires and computer guts. Frankly, the learning space itself did not speak to my design sensibilities and make me want to get creative … it made me want to run away! Add to that a complete lack of awareness on my part in terms of the possibilities of a career in computer science, and the fact that the Internet was not even on my radar, and well, I couldn’t see the importance or relevance and simply wasn’t interested.

Thirty years later and there are so many more sub-areas of computer science, like graphics, human-computer interaction and computational biology, and as educators we need to get the word out. Computing should not be seen as a solitary, boring, dare-I-say geeky endeavour, but as a way to solve real-world problems in collaboration with others.

What do you think?


Here are some great sites and organizations that Anne highlighted during her workshop that promote women in technology, educate and inspire:

You can follow Anne @anneshillolo.






Make this the Year of the RAT: level up your use of technology

Photo by: Geoff R under a CC license
Photo by: Geoff R under a CC license

How are you using technology with your students? Tell us below or tweet @learnquebec.

A new year – I like taking time to take stock of where I am in life. Have I accomplished previous goals? Do I need to tweak them? Establish new goals? Now is a good time to reflect on how best to reach your students (though I am sure it does not take a new year for you to do that; it is a constant for teachers).

An area of interest for me has always been the use of technology in the classroom. How are you using technology with your students? The answer to this question often depends on the availability of technology  and often, how comfortable you are with technology.

Using technology is not about jumping on a bandwagon. Nor is it about using technology just to say you use technology.  It is about seeing ways that technology can enhance the teaching / learning experience. Pedagogy always comes first! There are several models that can help you think about technology use: TPACK and SAMR are two that are used a lot.  SAMR stands for


At the substitution level, technology is used for a task that could be done without it. An example would be writing with a word processor instead of on paper or printing out a quiz from the computer and then filling it in). The task remains the same. There is no added benefit to using technology.  Tasks are often driven by the teacher.

At the augmentation level, there is an added benefit. A student uses the tools in the word processor to check spelling or grammar. The teacher prepares a quiz with Google Forms so the student can get fast feedback regarding their understanding of a concept. These are still tasks that are generally done in a classroom

At the modification level, the tasks begin to change with the use of technology. The students are able to do things that would not be possible without technology. An example would be using Google Docs to write. Students could share their document with others and get peer feedback, or they could even collaborate on a project.  These artifacts could be shared via a blog so that they have an authentic audience – they are writing not just for the teacher.

At the redefinition level, the tasks are completely different – students may create documentary videos, collaborate on projects with other students around the world. They use technology to contact experts;

You can learn more about SAMR in this video.

Image from Openclipart by qubodup
Image from Openclipart by qubodup


I recently came across another way of assessing technology use which uses the acronym RAT – it is a simpler version of the SAMR model. I learned about it from the Digital Literacy Blog (well worth a read).

There are just 3 levels:

R :: replacement | redundant | retrograde
A :: augmented | average | acceptable
T :: transformed | terrific | tremendous

The adjectives were added by the author of the Digital Literacy Blog. This is a slightly simpler way of looking at how you are integrating technology.

Image from: http://doverdlc.blogspot.ca/2013/06/the-rat-samr-transformative-technology.html

While one should aim to plan at least some of your classroom activities to be at the transformative level, there are certainly times when the other levels are useful. A quick class quiz using Google docs may be useful. Not all writing can lead to video productions or other complex artifacts; sometimes a word-processor is just what you need. And, as in anything you do, if you find yourself at mainly the substitution or replacement level, don’t feel you have to take a leap to suddenly planning everything at the transformative level. Baby steps are fine!

So here’s to goal-setting and new challenges for 2015. But remember to make them the kind of goals that can actually be realized.


Here are some interesting reads to help you reflect on your teaching and learning with technology:

SAMR Success is not about tech

Curriculum and Learning: Examples from the Classroom

Assessing Technology Integration: The RAT  – Replacement, Amplification and Transformation – Framework by Dr. Joan Hughes, Dr. Ruth Thomas and Cassie Scharber


An Inside Look at Using Twitter with Students: Our Third Twitter Chat


photo by Matt Hamm CC BY-NC 2.0
photo by Matt Hamm CC BY-NC 2.0

This past week, the teachers, students, and principal of LearnQuebec’s online school had our third all-school twitter chat. Three is a magic number. Once you’ve done something three times, it starts to become a habit. You also start to notice trends, behaviours, what works best, and what doesn’t. Most importantly, you get an idea of how it’s evolving, if it’s gaining traction, and we are all now convinced we are onto something!




A little background:

Our classroom (students’ names appear in chat area at lower left,
hidden here of course)
  • We’re synchronous online classroom teachers. Our students are in brick and mortar schools all day but when it’s time for Math, Science, Physics, or Chemistry, they get online with us. They are from all over Quebec, many in remote areas. We’re all pretty used to interacting live online, in fact, we pretty much crave it due to the lack of f2f time.
  • By “all-school”, I mean all of our teachers, all of our students, and our principal.
  • Most of the teachers already use Twitter with their students, so most of them already had accounts and were comfortable using it.
  • At the beginning of each year, we get permission from the parents of our students to be online in many sites – google drive, twitter, blogs, geogebratube….and the list just keeps growing every year. So that part was already taken care of.
  • For non-Tweeters: A twitter chat is what happens when a bunch of people all get on Twitter at the same time to tweet at each other. It’s like a party that happens online, except that you can actually have way more conversations with way more people at a twitter chat than you could ever manage at a party.

The story so far:

We started having these twitter chats in February of this year. Our purpose was to create a stronger sense of community amongst our online students, whom we almost never get to see face to face, and who almost never get to see each other. Here’s a quick synopsis of the first two chats:

Chat 1: Feb. 5, 2014:  If you’d like to read all the details of this wonderful event, including the actual tweets that happened that night, I blogged all about it here. If you’d rather not read that whole chapter, allow me to summarize: It was great! We decided on 5 questions, the theme of which was online learning – the one thing that unites all of us. The participation rate was very encouraging – we had about 35% of them there, and by the end of the evening, there were about 700 tweets with the #lqchat hashtag. The staff were all so thrilled by the event that we spontaneously had a staff meeting immediately afterward to debrief! We were so blown away by how enthusiastic our students were about the opportunity to interact this way. It took a while to calm down! My takeaway was that every human needs to connect, regardless of age, academic interest, or what medium you use. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Chat 2: March 12, 2014:  Unfortunately, I didn’t blog about this one, not because it wasn’t great or important though! You can see the complete chat here, separated into questions. Summary: This time we used some of our students’ suggestions for chat topics, like career plans. The theme was still online-based, but also looking to the future – theirs and ours. Once again, the staff met afterwards to take it all in together. Chats can be quite overwhelming. Not only is the sheer volume of tweets impossible to keep up with, but the stimulation generated by all the ideas and connections can be quite overpowering as well. We had about the same amount of participation, and we were once again thrilled by it all. As a side note, suddenly there was more tweeting happening on a daily basis from some of the more reluctant tweeters on our staff! My takeaway – sometimes to get from A to B you have to aim for C, and then unexpectedly end up at B on your way there.

Our latest chapter:

Chat 3: April 22, 2014: This time, we asked for the students’ ideas in a more concrete way. Peggy Drolet made a google spreadsheet for them in which to give their input. The staff met, and together came up with the questions, using as many of their suggestions as possible, while keeping it safe, appropriate, non-academic, and interesting. Unfortunately, as I write this, Storify is not fully cooperating, at the moment, in giving us the full set of tweets for all the questions, so I have had to take a few snips to give you an idea of the flavour of the responses.


Here the Storify for the prechat chatting that took place. As it happened, that night there was also a very important hockey game happening at the exact same time as our chat. This hockey game happened to involve the Montreal Canadians. Have I mentioned we are all Canadians? Living in Quebec? So, of course, we get a little excited about hockey. More than a few people were, um, multi-tasking during the chat! These happened before and during the chat:


And finally, here are the actual chat questions, with a few of the responses:

Q1: What is the happiest/proudest you have ever been in your life?


Q2 What is the coolest thing about math/science?


Q3: What is your favourite pastime/hobby?


Q4: What tech tool is your favourite & why?

q4a q4b

Q5: What about you would people find the most surprising?


Q6: What is something that you are not learning presently in school that you want to learn?


This last question took an interesting and unexpected turn toward the end!


A few other things that happened:

An idea was hatched for us all to do our own version of Pharrell’s Happy video!


Our students’ personalities, sense of humour revealed themselves:


And as usual, our fabulous principal was there and supportive “like a boss”!


Finally, the day after the chat, we all asked our students to type their reactions on the eboard in class. I have taken snips of those and put them on this padlet wall, word for word. Yes indeed, I really think we’re onto something!

POP goes the Portfolio: Digital portfolio in the POP Classroom

Photo by Eliot Phillips – CC Attribution License CC BY 2.0

One of the main goals of schooling is to prepare students for a fulfilling life in the workplace, an often difficult task when you are functioning in a traditional course-based high-school model. Enter The Personal Orientation Project (POP). POP is a Career Development course aimed at Secondary Cycle Two (Grade 9) students. Its purpose is to guide students in the process of discovering different career paths, providing them with tools to make appropriate career choices. More so than many high school courses, POP offers an venue for real self-directed learning. The teacher’s role is to support the students in their career explorations, and to offer them opportunities to think outside the box by examining career possibilities that they might not have considered on their own.

The POP course is not a typical high school course. Students undertake career development explorations with greater autonomy than in many of their other courses. In the process of learning about different career paths and their own aptitudes and interests, students collect a rich bank of experiences and knowledge, while the teacher acts as a guide and sounding board.

The POP learning and evaluation process is known as KPOP (Know Yourself, Plan, On-Task and Ponder). KPOP mirrors the phases of self-regulated learning: Planning, Doing and Reflecting, with self-knowledge added to the mix. Each phase is scaffolded with reflection questions that help the student develop their profile and execute a career exploration.

The use of portfolio in POP can enrich career explorations for the student, and make teacher’s role easier. Maintaining a portfolio allows the student to not only keep a record of his/her explorations and reflections, it also facilitates sharing those experiences with the teacher and peers

Technology plays an important role in POP. The configuration of the POP classroom is effectively a computer lab environment in which students can conduct web research on various careers, experience simulations of different work environments (e.g., aviation), or learn to use the software employed in different professions.

Pop epearl logo

POP-ePearl is a digital portfolio tool designed specifically for POP. It is a component of the ePearl digital portfolio tool developed by Concordia University’s Centre for the Study of Learning and Performance (CSLP) in partnership with LEARN, MELS and others. POP-ePearl leverages the technology angle of the POP course.

There are several key advantages that POP-ePearl offers:

  • Convenience: Students can typically use ePearl anywhere they can access their school board portal, and since they are working in a POP classroom, they can record their experiences and reflections as they work through their career explorations.
  • Immediacy: Teacher and peer feedback on student work can be shared with students easily and quickly.
  • Iteration: The student can easily build on their experiences as they pursue other explorations, and refer to earlier work.

Craig Bullett is the RÉCIT animator for the Eastern Shores School Board (ESSB). For Craig, POP-ePearl offers distinct advantages for POP teachers and their students.

“There are resources built-in,” according to Craig, “You don’t have to spend time looking for stuff or creating it. There are plenty of resources available for teachers to feel comfortable managing the course.”

POP-ePearl supports POP through close integration with the learning and evaluation process. Students are presented with help prompts, cues and suggested reflection questions as they work through the phases of KPOP. They can record their reflections and experiences in different ways: writing directly in ePearl, recording their voice, attaching files created elsewhere or even linking to an external site like a blog or a photo stream. Students’ learning traces are always available to their teacher, but can be shared by each student with individuals or the whole class. Using a parent mode, students can also get feedback from their parents.

New approaches are not always an easy sell, and teachers are sometimes reticent to take on a new way of working, so Craig took a unique approach.

“I offered to launch it for teachers to their students. One teacher took me up on it and it worked well. The teacher was able to be a ‘fly on the wall’ and learn with their students as I introduced it.”

“Three other teachers have since approached me to do the same.”

Eastern Shores has had to be resourceful in its use of POP materials. Instead of purchasing a full set of POP experiential toolkits for each of their schools, a limited supply of kits are rotated through the schools on a schedule. Not only is it an effective way to manage limited resources, but time constraints it imposes in the classroom can actually help the students manage their time.

In this kind of setting, POP-ePearl can play a role by saving students and teachers time. Since the POP classroom is set up with technology in mind, students have immediate access to it.

Travis Hall, Career Development Consultant at English Montreal School Board, saw the usefulness of POP-ePearl immediately.

“POP ePEARL makes sense. That was my first thought when I tried it,” says Travis.

Matthew Maxham teaches the Personal Orientation Project (POP) at LaurenHill Academy in Ville St-Laurent. His is a large school and he has many students. For Matthew POP-ePearl has an obvious plus: “Now I won’t need to rent a van to take student work home to mark.”

Are you interested in learning more about POP-ePearl and getting a look at the tool? Join me at the next LEARN Web Event on April 9th.

Teacher Profile: Jody Meacher

jodyName: Jody Meacher
School and Board: Parkview Elementary, Eastern Townships School Board
Subject: all – Level 1, Cycle 2 Elementary

I met Jody over the years, probably first some years ago when I was doing some training for Apple at the ETSB and later our paths would cross at conferences. I had the pleasure of sitting in on her session at Springboards in 2013: A + B + C = D.

I recently spoke with Jody over Skype. When I asked about her years of experience as a teacher she said that teaching had been in her blood for a long time, first when she was a soccer referee and skiing instructor and later as a classroom teacher. She started in the teaching profession in 1998 and has been with the Eastern Townships School Board since 2001.

Being in the ETSB, she is fortunate to have a technology rich environment. By her choice she has a variety of devices in her classroom: iPads, iPod touches and netbooks. She herself has a MacBook for her own use. She has enough devices so that each student can be using one, but not enough of any one for the entire class. Jody talked about how her journey from  1:1 laptops in 2003 to her current situation was a move from teacher control of everyone doing the same thing to more autonomy for the students and with more variation in what is happening in the classroom. Jody likes to have a mix of tools – it allows for each tool to be used for its best purposes. As she put it, “I don’t always need a hammer. Sometimes I need a screwdriver.” For example, the iPod touches are easier to use as cameras than the iPads, so students can easily use them for photography especially when walking around the school. The netbooks are easier to use for typing, while the iPads, with bigger screens than the iPods are more appropriate for certain apps. There is also overlap as all devices can be used on the Internet, for example. Jody wants her students to be critical users of technology, thinking about the most appropriate device for the purpose they want. The variety of devices also reminds Jody that not everyone needs to be doing the same thing at the same time. Some students can be working on a script while others are doing stop-motion animation and still others are manipulating puppets… All students can be working on different aspects of a project with the appropriate devices. Not all parts of the project need to include technology. For example, students may be working on paper for their storyboards.

Using technology is not without its challenges. Jody is still searching for the best way to transfer files from one device to another so that projects can be pulled together smoothly.

composite image remixed from http://www.flickr.com/photos/50318388@N00/7213947838/ under a CC license
composite image remixed from http://www.flickr.com/photos/50318388@N00/7213947838/ under a CC license

It is not just technology that pushes Jody’s students to think more deeply. Her approach: A (apps) + B (because) + C (collaboration) = D (deeper talk) is not about the technology, but about thinking more deeply, communicating clearly and negotiating around ideas. Whatever the students are doing, the because, being able to explain the process and the why behind their thoughts. is always in the forefront.

Jody’s students often work in pairs. It encourages talking to learn. They may be creating a video (Explain Everything or Educreations) to capture their thinking  such as the process of how they solved a math problem. They may be creating a teaching video. Jody puts a big emphasis on “Because Statements”. Students need to be able to justify their thinking, their ideas, their strategies. They need to be able to support their reasons / reasoning. When taking on roles such as iPad operator and solution director, the latter needs to be able to justify what s/he asks the iPad operator to do and explain it clearly enough for the him/her to understand.

Whether working in pairs or as a class on a large project, it is the justifying and negotiating that moves projects forward and deepens the learning. One person’s “because” may lead to another person’s rebuttal “because” with each step moving the thinking forward and leading to much deeper thinking and understanding. It takes work to convince others of ones ideas and it takes listening to, as a class, come up with the best solutions. The students learn to make choices based on reasons and not on the popularity of a particular student. Consensus building and negotiating take time, but the results always lead to a stronger production.

With this approach Jody’s students are on their way to becoming critical thinkers and good listeners and communicators.

We chatted a bit about apps and the need to think about the because of why you would use one. She recommended Richard Byrne’s blog: Free Technology for Teachers, BECAUSE he always puts the emphasis on how to use his recommendations in education.

You can listen to the full interview.

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.