How Do We Teach Empathy?

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This weeks readings had me thinking about two important concepts for our youth today:

  • How did you learn to be empathetic?
  • How can we empower students and other stakeholders to use technology to positively impact the world?

When I look at empathy and building empathy, I see it as part of our emotional intelligence. Recently, there has been much written about EQ and the fact that building EQ in youth is just as important as IQ, if not more important. There is lots of great literature out there that speaks to this, but I want to highlight a couple of very quick resources. The first is entitled 10 Reasons Why Emotional Intelligence Is Critical for Leaders This article nicely encapsulates the reasons as to why emotional intelligence is necessary for the success of anyone in leadership, without it, we cannot connect with those that we lead. Of course we see synonyms for empathy in this list such as “leading with the heart”, and “compassion”, but we also see other key traits, such as “respect”and “communication”.

The second article, entitled The Importance of Empathy in Leadership, does a nice job of explaining the why behind the importance of empathy, simply put: “I thought that my goal was to get my associates to follow the exact outline that we knew would bring them success, but in reality, my role was to enable them to be successful by taking barriers out of their way and supporting them. I needed to learn to be more of a coach than a manager. My job wasn’t to tell them what they need to do, because they already knew. Part of my role was to be a sounding board, an in-office therapist and the person that they could come to who would build up their ego. Someone who could push them to their goals and put them in a position to succeed.” It might seem odd to label oneself as a therapist when in a leadership position, but understanding the people that work for you or that you collaborate with, means listening to them, like a good therapist would. It also means empowering them to be the best version of themselves.

One last article I wish to point to is from the World Economic Forum, entitled The 10 skills you need to thrive in the Fourth Industrial Revolution (seen above). Listed there is EQ, as one of the necessary 2020 skills for success in the world of work. Again, further evidence that empathy and EQ should be taught in schools and in the home.

I find it interesting to note that the list in its entirety consists of what some would call soft skills, but I would rather label them as essential skills. I think the terminology of “soft skills” tends to detract from just how important they are. The below video from Edutopia does a nice job of capturing this argument.

So we know that empathy and emotional intelligence are key to being a successful leader, but how do we go about building empathy in our students? In my opinion there are three ways to do this, by bringing empathy building literature into the classroom, by engaging students in service learning trips, and by providing them with a variety of experiences in order to build empathy.

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We know that what our students read, and what literature we bring into a classroom can have a profound impact on our students. Bringing in both fiction and non-fiction texts that have a social justice lens can open our students to a completely different world. Beyond just reading these texts in class, having students reflect and discuss what they read can take their learning a step further, and solidify the experience.  In the journal article Preparing Students for Global Citizenship in the Twenty-First Century: Integrating Social Justice through Global Literature, this idea is summarized quite eloquently: “Through exposure to this type of literature, students gain multiple perspectives and learn about the social, political, and moral conditions under which people around the world live. They also develop respect and understanding of socially and politically oppressed peoples and learn why it is important to promote social justice”. Although this particular example takes place in a grade three classroom, it can be applied to other elementary classrooms, and really the whole school, using grade and stage appropriate texts.

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Another way to build empathy with students is to take them out of the normal classroom and school environment and participate in service learning trips. These are called a variety of things from schools around the world: service learning, classroom without walls, experiential education, etc. A nice working definition comes from Vanderbilt University: “A form of experiential education where learning occurs through a cycle of action and reflection as students seek to achieve real objectives for the community and deeper understanding and skills for themselves.” This definition comes from the article What the Heck Is Service Learning?. Again, like the literature above these intense experiences can be solidified through reflection and discussion, both during and after the trip takes place. As is mentioned in Chapter 2 of How to Establish a High School Service Learning Program, “The rationale for service learning is that students learn best (1) by doing, (2) by serving, and (3) by reflecting on the experience”. What separates Service Learning from other types of trips or experiences is the time for students to reflect, and the deep ties to curriculum; this is what makes these experiences so powerful for students in terms of building empathy.

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The third way to teach empathy is through experiences. I am using this third method as a catch all category for what the previous two do not cover. This could be volunteerism, charity work, fundraisers, guest speakers at the school, or documentaries, just to name a few examples. To me, these are not as powerful as the previous two, however, they can still be effective, especially when coupled with the previous two. Let me provide a working example here. One organization that has done a good job of this with students is MetoWe. What started as a 12 year old who was determined to help end child labor, had developed into a huge global charity that has a massive impact. They offer training sessions for teachers, students and parents, hold large conferences, support social justice clubs and charity work in schools, and support service learning trips for students and families around the world. When a school is able to partner with an organization like this, there are many experiences that teach empathy and emotional intelligence that they can tap into.

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Knowing that these three methodologies can work, where does technology fit in? Technology can offer our students a broader voice to express themselves and reflect upon the experience that they have had. Whether it is about a social justice text, a charity event at school, a guest speaker from a local NGO, or a one week service learning trip, there are lots of great tech tools to provide students voice, and to help them amplify that voice in a broader space to allow for greater feedback and audience participation. The TedTalk this week from Scott McLeod is full of great examples. Entitled Extracurricular empowerment, Scott highlights several students that used blogs, Twitter, created documentaries, online zines, YouTube channels, and other methods to amplify their voice, share, and gain feedback. On Scott’s blog dangerously irrelevant, he offers some more great examples to look at of students amplifying their voice through technology. There are so many great tech tools that exist for a variety of grade levels. These allow students to truly have a voice and share with a broader community.

I am most interested in hearing from both parents and teachers this week. How do you build and teach empathy in the classroom, at school, and at home? What tech tools are you using to allow your students and children to amplify their voices?

The Truth Is Out There

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This week was all about thinking. Taking the time to think before you post, think before you repost, think before you react, think before you judge, think before you emote, and to think about your thinking. There is so much information, misinformation, and disinformation coming at students these days, that the job of educators to teach critical thinking skills is far more important than ever before. The reading this week on the topic of deciphering and authenticating information spoke to me the most. Having spent years teaching high school students, I have seen first hand the need for students to be taught the appropriate research skills. Not only the appropriate research skills, but how to determine if a source is authentic, and to think critically about the media they are engaging with.

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The report Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century sums up the opportunity for educators quite nicely:

“Misinformation abounds online, but so do mechanisms for self correction. In such a world, we can only trust established institutions so far. We all must learn how to read one source of information against another; to understand the contexts within which information is produced and circulated; to identify the mechanisms that ensure the accuracy of information as well as realizing under which circumstances those mechanisms work best. Confronted with a world in which information is unreliable, many of us fall back on cynicism, distrusting everything we read. Rather, we should foster a climate of healthy skepticism, in which all truth claims are weighed carefully, but there is an ethical commitment to identifying and reporting the truth.” –  page 46

This spoke to me for a variety of reasons. Beyond looking for reputable institutions, the report encourages a deeper dive into the “contexts” in which material is produced. What are the motivations for producing the article? Where might funding come from for the website? What affiliations might the source institution have? Are they a for profit or non-profit institution? These are just some of the ways to understand context. Furthermore, I found it refreshing that the report encourages educators to work with students to move beyond “cynicism”, which is easy for educators and students to slip into, but to move forward and be “healthy skeptics”, challenging what we read, and committing to research to find the truth.

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There are many great resources that exist to help educators to teach students to become more critical of the media they consume. I want to highlight some of them here. However, before I dive into the first one, I want to comment on one of the articles from our additional reading.  The Future of Truth and Misinformation Online from the Pew Research Center. The Pew Research Center interviewed over 100 scholars, technology professionals, and strategic thinkers about the future of fake news. This article is fascinating in that the results were split, half of the experts believe the situation around misinformation will improve and the other half believe that the situation will only worsen. To me this only proves the fact, that as educators, we must continue to teach critical literacy and critical thinking skills. With the amount of information only increasing, teaching our students to be healthy skeptics is a mandatory skill for their future success.

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Now on to the resources for educators and parents. The first one that I would like to highlight is the media smarts website. This website is dedicated to digital and media literacy, and is a Canadian Non-Profit. As stated on their website: “Our vision is that children and youth have the critical thinking skills to engage with media as active and informed digital citizens.” There are great resources from how to authenticate information, to the impacts of misinformation, to verifying online news, to the ethics of sharing information.

The next website is the European Association for Viewer Interests. They are a non-profit organization that empowers individuals to be active, engaged citizens in today’s increasingly challenging media environment. Besides being a non-profit, they are also funded from a variety of well trusted sources. Two particular resources that I want to highlight for parents and educators are the Online News Verification Game and the 10 Types of Misleading News. The Online News Verification Game, is a game that students can play to determine the quality of an online resource. This one appealed to me because of its gamification approach to building critical analysis skills. Additionally, students play the game in groups which contributes to building collaboration and communication skills. The second resource is an infographic that highlights 10 types of misleading news. We all know that “fake news”can be damaging, but so can misleading news, and it can be damaging in a variety of ways. This infographic can easily be posted in the classroom, or shared through a LMS for ease of use.

I have been a fan of John Green and his YouTube channel Crash Course World History for many years. What started off as a a history based YouTube Channel has grown into a variety of subjects from English to Science to Philosophy and others. In January this year, a series entitled Navigating Digital Information was launched to help students, teachers and parents alike to navigate information on the internet. I like this series for several reasons. It is supported by the Poynter Institute, a non-profit journalism school, and Media Wise, whose curriculum is currently being developed by Stanford History Education Group. Additionally, throughout the series there are many research studies that are quoted and his commentary is grounded in good research. In the second episode, John Green recommends three questions when assessing the validity of a resource and fact checking:

  1. Who is behind the information?
  2. What is the evidence for their claim?
  3. What do other sources say about the organization and its claims?

The final resource that I wish to comment on is the MediaWise website. This is a great source for articles on the topics of misinformation. Additionally, as mentioned above this is the source for finding curriculum for MS and HS students on fact checking and deciphering media. The curriculum is called Civic Online Reasoning, and will be available this fall.

I am interested in hearing from other educators this week on how they tackle this subject? What do you think of the resources listed above? And what resources do you use to teach your students to be critical in regards to online media?

Sharing Sometimes Isn’t Caring

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Last week, my post concentrated on teens and their use of social media, but this week I would like to shift the focus to parents. This week the additional resources spoke to me greatly, in particular the topic of parents posting pictures online of their children, otherwise known as ‘sharenting’. As an educator, but more importantly, as a parent, there was a lot of food for thought, and material to challenge my current way of thinking. I have definitely seen my fair share of sharenting on social media, and even been a part of it. I have many social media accounts, used in a variety of ways, from personal to connecting with family to professional.

As an intro for those of you who are new to the concept, here is a quick two minute guide to the idea of sharenting, by Dr. Lisa Lazard

From Dr. Lisa Lazard

The article ‘Sharenting’: Can Parents Post Too Much About Their Kids Online? brought up some salient points. One of the things I liked about Stacey Steinberg’s approach was the fact that she focussed the conversation around individual families. Each family has to come to an agreement about what works for them. She states: “I think our kids need to be able to come of age in a way that they have control over their digital footprint,” she says. “So it’s really important that before we press ‘share’ on our digital devices, so to speak, that we really think about who they might become, who they might want to become and how can we best give them an opportunity to control this new digital identity that they’ll grow to be in charge of one day.” This point by Steinberg is so important because many of us think it might be a harmless picture, but our digital footprint can live forever, so we have to consider the fact that these photos could exist in cyberspace for a long time. We have to ask ourselves, “how will this impact my child?”

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Another important consideration is to open up the dialogue with your kids. She states: “I actually talk to my kids before I post pictures of them, and I’m very protective of what information is out there and who the audience might be for the pictures. I don’t really think that my child would one day wake up and be surprised by it … . Now of course, that conversation is very different with a 5-year-old versus with an 8-year-old or a soon-to-be 13-year-old. But I do have that conversation regularly, and I think that parents who don’t have that conversation absolutely need to be prepared for one day, that their child may find this trail that’s been left from all the years that they have been growing up.” I could not agree with this more, especially as your child becomes older. We might have had a history of posting pictures of our children, but it is important to honour their voices and opinions on the matter. Without understanding what they want, and the young adult that they might be, it could really lead to a divide between you and them, or in extreme cases, as seen recently, to actual legal action:

18 Year Old Sues Parents for Posting Baby Pictures on Facebook

Child sues parents for posting ’embarrassing’ baby pictures on social media

Photo by Wesley Tingey on Unsplash

Another article that highlights the importance of open dialogue is Can you stop your parents sharing photos of you online? This article reinforces the fact that keeping an open dialogue with your children is important and to take their opinion into consideration before you post. The opinions of the teenagers in the article vary drastically, from those that don’t mind at all if their children post, to those that don’t want their parents to post a single picture. Even Gwyneth Paltrow is not impervious to her child’s wrath, as she is called out by her daughter for posting a picture of the two of them on Instagram. Just because we are parents does not mean we always know best, especially when it comes to social media. As I, and many others, have stated before, social media is such a new phenomena that we are literally living a social experiment. We don’t really know what the long term effects of any of what we are using will have on us as individuals, as society, and how will impact our relationships long term. Sure there are a lot of experts and researchers, but at best they have short term research and no longitudinal data.

From Dad University

I found the above piece of media from Dad University quite comical, but he made some excellent points, especially this one: “Starting kids off young with the notion that views and likes matter is not a good idea”. He goes on to explain that this builds a false sense of self and leads to a perpetual vacuum of constantly seeking likes and views, something I can definitely agree with. I also loved his list of 4 questions that you should ask yourself before posting pictures of your children:

  1. Did I get consent?
  2. Why am I posting?
  3. Will be child be upset or embarrassed about the post?
  4. Do I want this to be part of my child’s digital archive?

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

These questions are a great starting point before hitting the ‘post’ button on any social media platform. This reading has given me a lot to think about. Now that my own children are getting older and have become pre-teens, I know it is important that I dialogue with them before I post anything. I am curious to hear from other parents this week about what drives their motivation to post and do they dialogue with their kids before doing so?

An Eye Opening Experience

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This week’s reading was some of the most fascinating so far for me. I definitely consider myself a heavy user of social media, with Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, Snapchat, and Instagram accounts. Working in the world of tech, it is almost a requirement to be engaged with social media to some degree.  My social media accounts are important for family, friendships, my professional learning network, news, and many other functions. What I found so engaging this week, were the eye opening experiences I read about, which really shifted my understanding of how teens engage with social media.

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When I think about the way I communicated with my friends as a teenager, compared to how students communicate today, I would honestly say the only difference is that the speed of the communication has changed. Friendships are paramount to teens, just like they were to me, and maintaining those friendships just as important. Additionally, being in the know was part of the friendship experience for me; who was dating who, when was the next party, and many other topics as outlined in the articles that we read.  With the addition of smartphones, teens are able to always be in touch, and I believe have more friendships that are far reaching. As an adult, growing into social media use, I have seen the way I interact with my friends change, and remain the same. Being able to connect with family and friends from afar is a huge benefit as an international teacher, but I also value being able to sit down, face to face, and catch up with family and friends, unplugged, unwired.

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I would like to think that I was pretty up to speed on how students used social media. Having taught teenagers most of my career and having had good relationships with kids I could ask them questions about how they interact with social media and get a pretty honest response.  However, when I read Like. Flirt Ghost: A Journey Into the Social Media Lives of Teens and 13 Right Now I definitely had my eyes opened even more. Some of the new learning for me was how dependent teens were on getting “likes” and “emojis” from their peers or crushes. Also, the fact that they combed through their social media profiles deleting pics if they were older, or if they did not garner enough attention.  Additionally, I was surprised that there were so many unwritten rules about how one interacted with others through social media, or maintained their own account. I had the chance to talk to some junior and senior level students at my school, and in terms of Instagram, they were indeed able to confirm some of these unwritten rules. Although, these students did not spend so much time deleting posts that did not have a certain amount of likes, they definitely spent time “cleaning out” their Instagram accounts, so that only the best of the best photos survived. Specifically, in the article 13 Right Now, the father Dave, spoke about the fact that his daughter, Katherine, has never had some of her very best friends over to their home. I recall having friends over all the time as teenagers, in fact one of my best friends practically lived with us for a while.  I could not imagine growing up and not visiting my friend’s houses. Part of me wants to question the authenticity of the friendships that form solely digitally, but another part of me thinks that I need to also understand that norms change, ways of human interaction change, and paradigm shifts happen.

Photo by Marc-Olivier Jodoin on Unsplash

The pace of communication has changed drastically, and so has access to information. This has affected the way in which social interactions take place. Teens can spend time nurturing those relationships that are important to them. While this is important, teens can literally be connected with their friends 24 hours a day, and they are in some cases. Statistics tell us that teens are indeed sleeping less, from 2012 to 2015 the number of teens sleeping less than 7 hours per night jumped 22 percent according to two US National Surveys (Analysis: Teens are sleeping less. Why? Smartphones).  From the teens I spoke with at my school, all of them keep their smartphones with them at night, and only a few power down the device. This is why even older teens need guidance and support from parents when managing their social media and smartphone usage.

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Recently, there was a great article from the Washington Post, entitled: New report: Most teens say social media makes them feel better, not worse, about themselves. This article has lots of informative statistics on teen use of social media, but the key takeaway is that, overall, teens are much happier on social media than we would expect.  And I think this makes a lot of sense. As discussed above, their relationships have shifted to the digital space, and so, if there interactions are taking place in this space, then of course they are going to be much happier here. They have grown up in this space and with relationships in this space, so putting our adult lens on it does not make sense, because we cannot truly understand it, as our experiences were much different.  The other point that I would like to comment on is that there are those segments of teens who are vulnerable and do experience cyber-bullying, or those that might come across inappropriate content. This is where parents still need to be involved and have conversations with their kids about what they are doing in a digital space, even when parents think their kids are old enough to manage, they still need to keep dialogue open.

One of my favourite YouTube channels has always been Crash Course, by John Green. His videos are quick paced, informative and very witty. I used many snippets when I taught World History.  He recently had a 10 part series on Digital Information, with the final episode dedicated to social media. It is definitely worth the watch:

“When we’re this reliant on a media ecosystem full of pollution, we have to take responsibility for what we read, post and share. And to do that we should fully understand how social media networks really function including the good stuff, and also the terrible stuff.” This quote from John Green is powerful, and speaks to why dialogue with parents and a good digital citizenship program are essential for kids. Our teens are spending a great deal of time on social media and as such are seeing all sorts of ideology, advertisements, and news. Teaching them how to decipher what is real from fake, and how to search laterally for information is a vital skill.

This week more than any, I am really curious about what my peers and others experiences were like in speaking with students around the topic of social media? What were your new insights? How did your thinking shift from what you thought before?

You Can’t Always Get What You Want

Copyright by Nick Youngson CC BY-SA 3.0 Alpha Stock Images

Looking through my course one blog posts, I did indeed cite every photo that I used. I also made sure that the photos were pulled from websites that allowed for photo use. The three websites that I used for most photos were Creative Commons, labeled for reuse photos from Google Image Search, and my favorite source Unsplash. Since beginning this course I have thought a great deal about my school, and what further work we need to do around copyright education, and of course my role in all of it. Being the Director of IT and Innovation, part of my portfolio is to work with staff to set direction around educating our students about these issues. Just today, I happened to be in our Learning Center while elementary students were working in Google Slides. All of them were pulling images from Google, without selecting images for reuse, nor were they citing their photos. Again, it had me very reflective about the work we have to do with both staff and students. Two resources from this week’s reading that have given me a great place to start are You can use a picture if, which is a great infographic on the circumstances in which you can actually use a picture, and this infographic, created by Tanya LeClair, which contains links to many great websites where students can legally pull photos.

Domenico Loia

I enjoyed the reading this week and the TedTalks. What I appreciated the most was that they represented a variety of viewpoints on the issue of copyright infringement. The MIT sponsored document; Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century contains many great points to think about.  Specifically, the paper points to three areas of concern when it comes to educating youth around media: The Participation Gap, The Transparency Problem, and The Ethics Challenge. I would like to speak to The Ethics Challenge, as this area of concern relates to our current discussion. What I found fascinating after reading this section of the paper, was that there was no specific mention of teaching copyright laws or proper citation to young people. There was much mention of young people entering the digital space, whether it be through gaming, blogs, or myspace (yes I said myspace!). The paper also had many great suggestions of how to engage youth in this burgeoning space, while at the same time honouring their need for authenticity. One quote that I believe encompasses this topic from a broad perspective, is as follows:

“One important goal of media education should be to encourage young people to become more reflective about the ethical choices they make as participants and communicators and the impact they have on others.We may, in the short run, have to accept that cyberspace’s ethical norms are in flux: we are taking part in a prolonged experiment in what happens when one lowers the barriers of entry into a communication landscape. For the present moment, asking and working through questions of ethical practices may be more valuable than the answers produced because the process will help everyone to recognize and articulate the different assumptions that guide their behavior.” (pg 17) I believe that the last sentence is very true, many of the discussions around ethical practice will help to understand the variety of perspectives that exist, yet at the same time much work has been done recently (after this white paper) to protect artists and their work. But still, as the digital space continues to expand, and morph, there are many discussions to be had about copyright infringement, and this is why this topic needs to be part of a curriculum in schools.

J-Fish (

The article entitled: Top Euro court: No, you can’t steal images from other websites (too bad a school had to be sued to confirm this little fact), provides a very poignant message for our schools today. What would seem like a straightforward situation, actually ended very poorly for the school involved. After reading the article I could logically see both sides of the argument. The picture was already out there in cyberspace, so why bother citing it. However, the artist should have say over what audience views the picture. Students need to be taught to properly cite information, and to always err on the side of caution. I believe that schools have the responsibility to not only teach about copyright laws and proper citations, but to have this learning as part of a broader context of learning, namely digital citizenship. I also believe that this curriculum needs to start early and happen on a recurring basis so that it is embedded deeply within our students; so that when they go looking for an image, it is without a second thought that they are looking for these images in places where they can legally use them. These days there are some great programs that exist, and teachers do not need to reinvent the wheel, one great starting place is Common Sense Media, where one can find resources from K-12. As I work towards building this type of curriculum and program at my school, I am wondering what others are doing at their schools, and if they have a program for teaching copyright laws and digital citizenship?

Unit Plan – The Scientific History of Earth

Image result for Planet Earth


I chose my final topic through speaking with teachers in the Middle School and simply asking them if anyone wanted to collaborate to embed more technology into any of their units of study. I currently am teaching a coding course with another teacher, but felt that using this course may have been too easy of an approach since the course is tech based to begin with. A new MS Science teacher was open to collaborating so we began the process by simply sitting down and looking at what he was currently doing.  The Unit is called: The Scientific History of Earth and is for grade 8 science students. I asked him to give me an overview of the unit and his learning targets for the students, as well as the skills that he wanted to them to have by the end of the unit. When we looked at the unit we found several areas that tech could enhance the learning experience. From there we examined the ISTE standards (see below) and found some that would work well with what he was trying to achieve, namely student voice and creativity , this is where 1c and 6b, were chosen, later on, 3c was added once we saw a fit between one of the tech tools and this standard.


Students use technology to seek feedback that informs and improves their practice and to demonstrate their learning in a variety of ways.


Students curate information from digital resources using a variety of tools and methods to create collections of artifacts that demonstrate meaningful connections or conclusions.


Students create original works or responsibly repurpose or remix digital resources into new creations.

I provided the teacher with a list of tech options I thought would enhance this unit and work well. From there I left them with him, to mull them over. I wanted him to feel comfortable with what we were going to do and have the ultimate decision so that I had the buy in that was necessary to make the integration a success. And of course, he knows his students best. We decided to use Wakelet and Flipgrid.  Wakelet will be used for the students vocabulary words as an opportunity to creatively display their knowledge. Traditionally, students have copied vocabulary words in their notebooks and I presented Wakelet as a way to allow the students to present vocabulary in a multitude of ways, and to extend their learning.

Image result for wakelet
Image result for flipgrid

As a means for reflection post lab, Flipgrid will be used. Traditionally, students write up their labs and submit them once the lab is complete, but there is no opportunity to reflect on the learning experience itself, nor an opportunity for discussion with each other.  Flipgrid will be use to provide a space for reflection and metacognition, and for students to share their thoughts with their classmates and receive feedback.

This experience was similar to the way I have been collaborating with teachers over the past few years. I always sit down with a colleague and look at their curriculum, learning goals, and what skills they want students to walk away with. If it is a situation where we are planning something from scratch, we take the same approach, and take the time to build the unit together.


In my previous blog post Knowledge and Skills B4 Tech, I spoke at length about the need to consider knowledge and skills before considering the tech. This was a thought process that has developed over the past few years, and this unit only served to reinforce that belief. The other learning that really impacted this unit was the reading on constructivism and collectivism. As I thought about the students lab and wanting to have them really be critical with their process and metacognitive post lab, I had constructivism in the back of my mind. Allowing the students the opportunity to apply their learning in an authentic way.  With the students putting together their Wakelets, I thought about the multitude of ways they could demonstrate their knowledge and the manner in which using this tool allows them to connect everything.

What has influenced me most in course one is a pretty simple concept, but as adults, can be very hard to enact. This is the ability to be a role model for failure. Beyond my unit plan, this is a philosophy that I have been trying to embody in my leadership as well. If I make a mistake, I own it and model with my team that I am reflective around it, and seek out their advice. I am the leader, but I am also the learner. In this unit, we wanted to give the students some new technology to play with, and make mistakes with it in the process. And we have modeled that it is perfectly fine to make mistakes, as long as we learn and reflect.

Besides the learning goals and skills that we have outlined, I hope that the students have two new tech tools that they can transfer to other classes. Flipgrid can be more teacher driven, so they may have to wait for the teacher in another subject area to drive that process. However, if students are making presentations it can be a great way for them to seek out feedback on the student learning experience. Wakelet can be used for just about anything! I have encouraged students to use it in other subject areas, or student clubs, etc. I also hope that this gives them the confidence to play with more education apps that can prove useful for them in their classes.

I had the chance to facilitate the learning around Wakelet with the students. I started with a very quick slideshow on Wakelet, and then provided time for them to play. I gave them fifteen minutes to build a Wakelet on any hobby of their choosing and I set a list of the types of files that they had to add.  This was an enjoyable way for them to play and learn. Once their time was up and had them pair up for feedback. The classroom teacher and I then laid out the requirements for their vocabulary assignment using Wakelet. The feedback from the students was extremely positive. During “play time” they were engaged and learned very quickly. The only negative feedback that I received was that they wanted more time to play.  One other question that I think I would have asked them was how they could apply it to other courses.

Here is a link to the complete unit plan

And here are a few of the Wakelets that students worked on, keep in mind these are a work in progress as the unit is ongoing:




Theories, Theories, Everywhere!

This week’s readings could not have been more timely. Last year our school signed a partnership with Harvard through Research Schools International, and this past weekend we had someone from Harvard visit to present the research taking place, and spend a day planning with teachers for next steps.  We had a great turnout of teachers who will be undertaking action research in their classrooms. Below is a picture of the work being done by our staff on February 23, 2019. Enough about ISC for now, onto the reading from the week.

I wanted to briefly touch on Connectivism and Constructivism.  Let me start by quoting Siemen’s work: Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age;

“Connectivism is the integration of principles explored by chaos, network, and complexity and self-organization theories. Learning is a process that occurs within nebulous environments of shifting core elements – not entirely under the control of the individual. Learning (defined as actionable knowledge) can reside outside of ourselves (within an organization or a database), is focused on connecting specialized information sets, and the connections that enable us to learn more are more important than our current state of knowing”.

This definition, while wordy, very accurately describes learning in a digital, connected, and constantly changing context. It truly is not always under the control of the individual, these days while being connected, we often can have deep learning experiences without even intending to. I like that the word ‘chaotic’ is used here; it truly represents what learning in a digital age can look like, coming from a variety of places at any given time. I think this word chaos also represents the fact that we must have the skill of determining useful from not useful knowledge. We can’t possibly take everything in, so we must be able to quickly discern what is necessary, and what is not. The other challenge is that knowledge is being learned, researched, developed, and made available at such a pace that we must learn the skill to use new knowledge before it is obsolete.

Kipras Štreimikis

A nice representation of this connectedness and receiving new knowledge is found in the Bell article: Connectivism: Its Place in Theory-Informed Research and Innovation in Technology-Enabled Learning. In this article, there is a link to a Blog, entitled Teach Web Blog, which contains a great video by Wendy Drexler entitled: Connectivism: Networked Student…The Movie. This video accurately depicts the organized chaos that is digital learning, it is definitely worth a watch. She does a good job of visually representing digital learning in a connected world, and the pace of learning that occurs.

Here is another great summary video on Connectivism that I found, by Brandy Dudas:

Moving onto Constructivism. The Bodner article: Constructivism: A Theory of Knowledge. Bodner states: “Piaget believed that knowledge is acquired as the result of a life-long constructive process in which we try to organize, structure, and restructure our experiences in light of existing schemes of thought, and thereby gradually modifying and expanding theses schemes”. What constructs this knowledge can vary widely. Especially, if we take into account what learning looks like in a digital age. Dewey, like Piaget, was also a constructivist, and wrote about constructivism before Piaget did. He purported that children learn best when they interact with their environments and are actively involved with the school curriculum.  He argued that rather than the child being a passive recipient of knowledge, children are better served if they take an active part in the process of their own learning (teachthought). It is quite amazing the Dewey wrote this almost 100 years ago, and these are still ideas that we are pushing for today, personalization of learning, student voice and choice, experiential education, authentic learning, etc. Dewey further argued that for education to be at its most effective, children should be given learning opportunities that enabled them to link present content to previous experiences and knowledge. Again, this, we know, is good teaching practice, connecting one learning experience to the next, in order to reinforce the learning.

Nicole Adams

I definitely think that both of these theories can co-exist with another. Constructivism gives us the idea that knowledge is built upon prior knowledge, and that students must be actively engaged in their learning. Connectivism gives us the idea that learning takes place within a connected network, one that is always changing and developing. I see these fitting together like this: Students must be actively engaged in their learning through their connections that exist beyond the walls of the classroom, in an authentic manner. I am interested to hear what others think about Connectivism and Constructivism, and how these theories manifest themselves in schools and classrooms.

Knowledge and Skills B4 Tech

When I first started to integrate tech into my lesson planning, and I am talking many moons ago here, I was definitely more focussed on the tech, than I was the students, or the learning targets. I think in many instances this is why the impact that I may have been looking for did not take place. When I think back, part of this was due to the fact that I was a newer teacher and there is a tendency to want to be progressive and bring new things to the classroom, without always thinking it fully through. In addition, being new, there was a lack of that deep knowledge of standards and learning targets. The other part was if I thought I had found some great new tech tool, at least in my mind, I would jump in right away. Sometimes it is best to seek out the advice of others before jumping into something new. I think the below meme represents where I used to be 🙂

When I look at the way I plan technology integration currently, it is completely different. I know that my time working in curriculum had a profound effect on how I approach my work now, and this is a great thing. As Kim Cofino mentions in her article 3 Steps to Transforming Learning in Your Classroom, it has to start with what you want a student to know and be able to do, what are your learning targets? I quite like that this was labelled as step zero, because this should be the basis, the foundation, before you even speak the words technology.

At this stage, two other things that I like to consider are the SAMR model and the TPACK model. You can see the SAMR on Kim’s Blog post, I have included the TPACK model below.

These two models help me with planning purposes and keeping me on the right track. If you are unfamiliar with them, I highly suggest reviewing them before beginning to embed technology into your unit planning.

Last year I had the opportunity to attend the Unplugged Conference at the American School of Bombay.  There, I attended a session by Dr. Ruben Peuntedura, the creator of the SAMR model. Here are a couple of my key takeaways from his session:

  • The most challenging stage is to move from Augmentation to Modification
  • SAMR Ladder – Take a unit of study and start with substitution and move along towards Redefinition – One does not need to move all the way to Redefinition, a new teacher to the technology can stop at a point that makes them comfortable
  • The research tells us that the SAMR model works (exponential pay off as we move along the ladder), it is vital to provide the time for teachers to do the work.  It will be work to learn and implement the technology, but we have to support them to do so
  • To do the best design with the SAMR model, it is important to consider the TPACK model at the same time
  • Authentic audiences drive students to perform better, the research supports this.  Additionally, authentic mentorship combined with an authentic audience drives this further

If you are looking for some of the research that he mentions above, or looking to delve deeper into the SAMR model, Ruben’s blog is a great place to do some research:

There is a great article on the blog, entitled SAMR and the EdTech Quintet, which speaks to integration of the model with TPACK, the EdTech Quintet, and other models, plus it includes research on the positive impact of using the SAMR model.

After I consider those models, then I select the tech. This is where having some experience, a good network, and being a connected educator come into play.  We all know there are too many tools in existence for us to keep up with all of them. However, through our network and connections we can conduct the research that we would like. And of course this is only in consultation with the teacher, as I want to make sure their students are ready(and the teacher too), and the students have the prior skills to allow for success. Of course we may have to push them out of their comfort zones, but we want to ensure we have them set for a positive experience and growth. From our readings I also like the Teach Thought article on 15 Questions To Ask About Tech Integration in your Classroom.  These make for some solid reflection before heading into the classroom with your tech.

Kim’s other steps include using real world tasks and utilizing an authentic audience. These are two steps which are highly valuable and help to motivate students.  As Dr. Peuntedura mentions above, authentic audiences help to drive students, and even more so when coupled with authentic mentorship. I’m also a big proponent of Project Based Learning, which is a model that supports authentic tasks, and authentic audiences.

I came across the video below when searching for embedding technology into the classroom.  A couple of important points that Khan makes. Firstly, he states himself, that the technology is a tool, not the primary, a tool to complement what is happening in the physical classroom.  Second, he speaks about personalized learning, students learning at their own pace, and learning about what interests them. Again, no mention of tech, but students first. It’s a short video and worth the watch.

This week especially, I am really curious to hear how others go about embedding technology into their classrooms. What do your processes look like?

Be a Role Model of Failure

Two new skills that I plan to incorporate into my Course 1 final project are Wakelet and Flipgrid.

Image result for wakelet
Image result for flipgrid

My goal is to not only incorporate these into a Unit Plan for MS Grade 8 Science (my Course 1 Final Project), but to teach others in the school about these two tools. The best way to learn something for me is to have the responsibility to teach others.

Action StepTimeline
1. Investigate WakeletWeek of February 4
2.Investigate FlipgridWeek of February 4
3. Teach Wakelet to StaffWeek of February 11
4. Teach Flipgrid to StaffWeek of February 18
5. Work with teachers in classroom to teach either toolWeek of February 11 and 18
6. Incorporate Wakelet and Flipgrid into Course One Final ProjectWeek of February 25

In terms of my own learning around these two tools, I have had the chance to experiment with them both.

The first Wakelet I put together was for a social science teacher.  I remember walking into the MS teachers workroom and asking them “who is working on something for kids right now”? One of the social science teachers was working on a presentation for her students on responsible production and consumption.  So I asked her to share her slides with me and said I am going to share with her a creative new tool that I had just found. Here is the example that I created for her.

Here is a quick presentation I put together for our staff and students on Wakelet. I plan to use this with staff and students when training, but mostly give them time to play!

In terms of Flipgrid, I had my very first experience with this tool recently.  In an online course on coaching that I am taking, I was asked to record a welcome video using Flipgrid.  Before I recorded my video, I found this quick intro video to help me quickly understand what it could do:

I decided to incorporate Flipgrid into the unit that I am collaborating with another teacher on for my course one final project. It will allow students to provide feedback in a quick and efficient manner, and in a differentiated way.

My research into both of these tools has been through two methods.  As I mentioned previously, I looked at YouTube for information on Flipgrid, and I did the same for Wakelet.  This, of course, was a quick method to see examples and how to videos. The second place I went looking for information was Twitter.  Using hashtags like #flipgrid, #flipgridfever, #wakelet and #wakeletwave, I have been able to do some great research and find wonderful examples of how these tools are being utilized for student learning and growth. As I have been writing this post, I have just discovered that Wakelet and Flipgrid have joined forces, here is a quick intro video where I discovered this:

Learning any new skill as an educator provides us with the opportunity to put ourselves in the shoes of the kids whom we teach. Of course we should continually look to learn in order to up-skill ourselves and be better professionals, but I feel just as equally important a reason, is so that we can struggle, be frustrated, seek help, make mistakes, and then, ultimately, find success. Here is a nice read on Teaching Children it’s OK to Fail. We often tell our students that it is permissible to make mistakes and learn from them, but we don’t allow ourselves the same breathing room.  Even more powerful, I think, is when we can experience this ourselves and share it back with our students. In making ourselves vulnerable, we actually empower our students.

How do we Decrease the Gap?

Another week filled with tremendous resources. There was so much I wanted to comment on.  However,  this week, in honour of Black History Month, I want to focus on marginalized youth and the digital divide.

The first reading entitled Connected Learning from the Connected Learning Research Network spoke to the idea of connected learning and what it could do for adolescents.  If you don’t know what exactly it is, definition follows: ”learning that is socially embedded, interest-driven, and oriented toward educational, economic, or political opportunity. Connected learning is realized when a young person pursues a personal interest or passion with the support of friends and caring adults, and is in turn able to link this learning and interest to academic achievement, career possibilities, or civic engagement”.  My immediate response to this was that this is great! When you have students who are supported by their peers, have a strong interest in the topic, and that topic is academically oriented, strong learning can occur outside of the classroom. This made me think of corporate initiatives like the Google 20% (whereby Google employees get 20% of their time to pursue passion projects), or 3Ms 15% time.  Connected learning could be the catalyst to send a whole new group of innovators and design thinkers into the workforce.

However, as always, my spidey senses started to tingle; what about the students on the margins?  It is wonderful for those who are white, middle class and have the support and funding for parents and other role models, but what about the others?  I was quite pleased as I read further, the report mentioned this: “There is also a growing gap between the progressive use of digital media outside of the classroom, and the no-frills offerings of most public schools that educate our most vulnerable populations. This gap contributes to widespread alienation from educational institutions, particularly among non-dominant youth”. Further reading into the document reveals: “Despite the recent gains by African American students in educational testing, they still lag far behind their white counterparts”. I thought to myself, this is great, we are getting to the crux of the problem; how do we provide access for everyone, so that we level the playing field?

Mimi Ito, one of the researchers for Connected Learning, speaks to marginalized youth in her Edutopia Interview about the research.

Again, there is great promise with this concept of up-skilling adolescents by them pursuing their interests.  She speaks about a minimum baseline knowledge that all kids should have, but there is no direction as to how all of them should get there. In her 21st Century Talk, she is much more direct, which I was happy to see.

She points to statistics of upper class versus lower class kids, and the huge difference in access to after school specialized programming, and of course technology. As opposed to closing the gap, as was once the common thinking, the gap is actually increasing between those adolescents with privilege, and those on the margins (see graphic below). Furthermore, she points out that MOOCs (Massively Open Online Courses), are mostly taken by those in the upper classes.  So again, those on the margins fall further behind. Unfortunately, in both videos, we are not offered any insight as to how we (as privileged, educated people) can help to solve this problem.

Hansen and Reich, 2015

A few days ago I participated in a Twitter Chat from with a theme centered on Black History Month.  One of the questions surrounded role models for marginalized students, and I think this highlights part of a multifaceted problem.  I mentioned that I had a grade 12 student tell me several years ago that I was the first teacher of color that she had ever had, and for her it made a huge difference to see a role model that looked like her.  I think if things are going to change, we need teachers, administrators, and district level leadership that represents those students in the margins. I remember being promoted in my school board back in Canada.  Walking into our first district leadership meeting, I was flabbergasted.  These were monthly meetings for all Principals, Vice-Principals, and district level leaders. In a school board of nearly 100 schools I could pinpoint those leaders who looked like me. If marginalized adolescents are to be in leadership roles, they must see themselves in the leaders in front of them. This is at least one way to move things forward.

In Kaufman’s TedTalk about the first 20 hours in terms of learning a new skill he speaks to removing the barriers.  Now I know in the context of his speech he is talking about distractions as barriers. But in the context of our marginalized youth, the barriers are much more significant. How do we overcome these barriers that minorities face?  Barriers such as access to technology, parents and role models to demonstrate the learning, time to invest in the technology, a network of supporters, academic guidance, and others.

Matthew Garoffolo

The internet was supposed to be the great saviour.  It would magically lift those who are in poverty, in the margins, and minorities, out of gutters, and onto the digital freeway with everyone else.  Unfortunately, that has not happened, and as we can see in some instances, is actually getting worse. The big question I am left with, and I leave you with, is:

How do we use technology to lift the ‘others’ up and give them the same opportunities as those who have access to everything, so that they may be truly connected?