Saturday, 21 December 2013

Passion in Action

Sweet Thunder! is going to roll again.

 Many of you are participating in a passion project for class, and some of those projects are things that you'd be doing anyway, even if no course credit was involved. I love that. All of us work and play outside of school--passionately I hope. We've been discussing the intersection of talent, passion, and faith, and how these things can move beyond theory and into practice. Well, here's my example: The Cycle of Giving.

The Cycle of Giving is a yearly event put on by The WRENCH (Winnipeg Repair, Education, and Cycling Hub) that brings together volunteers to reclaim bikes from the landfill, rebuild them, and give them to community children for Christmas. You can read about this year's event in the Free Press, here.

I'm an amateur bike mechanic. Learning to repair and build my own bikes started as a personal passion project and has developed into a handy skill and a lifestyle/hobby. So, it was cool and humbling to rub shoulders with so many other mechanics, most of whom were far more skilled than I am. I'm still learning.
Tools of the trade (admittedly in a bit of disarray).
Parts, parts, and...

...more parts for rebuilds and recycling (pun intended).
My faith includes a deep concern for people and the communities we live in, including the state of our environments, both urban and global. The Cycle of Giving allowed me to combine my talent, passion, and faith. I helped prevent 900 bikes from ending up in the landfill. Children (250+ children!) received bikes for Christmas and a connection to a local bike program. I worked with people from a variety of faiths and worldviews with whom I had at least one common connection, a starting point for relationship and community.

Call it community-building or earth-keeping; call me an image-bearer or a mechanic in God's kingdom. Call it what you like, but it is what a life of faith is about--using the passion and talents God has given to improve relationships, communities, and the environment in His name. It was a blessing to be a small part of it, and I pray the blessings will spread exponentially through the families and their communities.
As good as new!
Mechanic rebuilt, tested, and approved. Now, off to a home with a proper-sized rider.
Merry Christmas!

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Inspired and Inspiring Projects

This first round of passion projects has been a learning process for all of us, so I thought I'd start this post (my first in a long time) with some quotes that are inspiring me.
"Have you ever realized that it sometimes doesn't matter how much you feel like doing something? Sometimes, you're just not that great at it. But...greatness requires practice." ~Bryanne
"If any of you fellow people have heard of the magic school bus, you would know Mrs. Frizzle always says "Get messy, take chances, make mistakes!" and that's what I want to do." ~Hannah
Douglas Karr
Learning involves mistakes and practice. Education is a messy business, filled with winding paths and false starts as we find ways to learn and grow. However, it sometimes feels like mistake is a bad word in school, so bad that things like play, brainstorm, and experiment have also become risky instead of fun and full of potential to learn. Based on several of your projects, Hannah, Bryanne, and many more of you have not completely forgotten that messy mistakes can sometimes be great discoveries if you're paying attention.

If you've been a slow starter when it comes to your passion project, take heart. Learn from your mistakes. Don't let fear of failure keep you from starting or restarting. Start. Don't know where you're going? Don't worry. When it comes to learning, the journey is just as important as the destination. Take the first step. Start.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Check Out Our Wall

This is a live look at a Padlet wall that we will use for exit slips and questions throughout the semester. Bookmark the link for easy access.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Welcome Back!

(CC BY 2.0) shared by Lel4nd
School is back! Maybe that excites you; maybe that scares you, but ready or not here comes the 2013/2014 school year, the launching pad of the class of 2014.

I'm excited (and a wee bit scared) about so many of the plans for the year, and I'll need plenty of help--from God and from you--to bring them to life.

This blog is a growing hub of information and resources that will support our learning. It's a work in progress designed to challenge, inspire, and support your growth and education. So, welcome, and prepare yourself because this year I'm not simply going to hand you the steering wheel; I'm going to chuck the wheel out the window, and we're going to re-imagine this ride called school. Buckle up! (see class for details)

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Poetry from Literary Focus


you said it at supper
over macaroni and cheese
“We have a predicament, Dad.”
“That means problem,”
your sister chimed in
(always my teachers as much as my students)
“We love staying and playing with Mom,
and Kindergarten rocks,
but we can’t do both.”
“Yeah, that’s a predicament, Dad.”

“Cute,” I thought. “That’s sweet.”
and the moment slipped away
until now--

It’s your birthday
--can you be five already!--
and I watch you
blow out candles and
the past five years.
You open gifts and
your eyes twinkle
with a future full of reading,
swimming, and two-wheelers.
I see little big girls, and it’s
a predicament
a problem

I treasure our past.
I see a brimming future.
Can’t I have both?

In the moment, yes.
Together, on your birthday
we embrace today.
What a present!

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Making the Grade

I want to begin by thanking the six of you in Comp who have helped me learn so much about learning and motivation. Your efforts (and sometimes your lack of effort ;-) have helped me begin to see the exciting possibilities of reorganizing and repurposing a class. I also have been less organized and polished than I would typically be in a class, and I thank you for focusing on the positive results and embracing the messiness that accompanies first attempts, trial and error, and collaboration. If I've learned one thing well, this semester, it is that I have a lot more to learn (and that really excites me instead of scares me)!

Endless grading of term papers
photo by joguldi
My learning log this week looks at assessment. I've learned that a single percentage grade that comes from me alone is not an adequate response to the work you've done, even if it is accompanied by comments. You deserve better and more frequent feedback from a greater number of sources. Your blogs have provided some of this, but we can do better. Your voice must be a more important factor in the assessment process, both individually and collectively. I'm learning about how to make these ideas a reality in our classes.

Below I've included an excerpt of a course description from one of Dean Shareski's classes. He's a professor at the University of Regina. Some of his students determine eighty percent of their mark. You can check out the entire sample, but I'd really like some feedback on one section: Social Learning. I'm really invested in community building, as you know, so this section really resonates with me and seems important. I also think it is undervalued and underrepresented in our assessment at school.

Here's where you come in. I'd like some feedback on the social learning section. What are your reactions to having part of your mark depend on how you benefitted from and contributed to the learning of others? Can you think of specific things you've learned from someone else in your class this semester? Have you contributed to anyone else's learning? Please, leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

Assessment Sample from Dean Shareski

Tech Tasks
A simple summary and assessment about the quality, consistency and timeliness of your work. Grade yourself between 20-30% percent of the course.
Grade yourself between 15-25% Use a rubric or your own standard based your favorite blogs. Be sure to reference the criteria discussed on the course assignment page.
This will be a challenging one for some of you but the core of this will be your interview with your mentoring teacher. I would like a report that highlights your involvement as well. Grade yourself between 20-30%
Social Learning
This will be about a one page report answering the 2 questions: What did I contribute to the learning of others? and What did I learn from others? 10-20%
Final Reflection
This will be a media presentation of your learning. We’ll talk more about the format of this next week. This will be the only assignment that I’ll grade exclusively. You decide between its value between 10-20%

Sunday, 21 April 2013

What's My Motivation?

I'm in the middle of learning about motivation. During the last year or two I've had some success implementing principles of motivation promoted by Dan Pink, who writes and speaks about motivation. The video below is familiar to some of you; it demonstrates that autonomy, mastery, and purpose are far better motivators than incentives (like money or marks) in many cases.

Your passion projects are one example of success in my expanding knowledge of motivation. For several of you, choosing your own projects and improving skills involved with those projects has proven to be very motivating. You are working hard, spending time outside of school, and learning with more joy and interest. I'm thrilled.

However, in other instances, work is not being completed. I have set up novel studies in a variety of ways that include student choice and voice, but a majority of students don't complete the necessary reading. I'm stumped.

There are parallels in my own learning. My desire to help next year's 1:1 iPad project succeed motivated me to learn new skills, ask new questions about teaching, attend meetings, collaborate with others, and generally spend more of my discretionary time on work. That's the power of autonomy, mastery, and purpose. But, recently I completed mid-term reports, and while I understand the importance of this work, I put off some of the marking and preparation for reports in order to pursue more interesting work. Only the looming deadline motivated me to shift gears and get the less pleasant work done. Deadlines (and the potential consequences of missing them) are motivating.

So, while I have expanded my understanding of motivation, I have more to learn, particularly about the application of motivation theory. My latest thought is that we all have a unique ratio of freedom and restriction that will optimize our motivation--a personal motivation profile. Personally I am more productive when I'm aware of my own motivation profile; as an educator I need to have a clearer picture of the motivation profiles of the learners in class so that I can help them maximize their learning. I'm scratching the surface of an idea that I'm sure has been studied by many sharper minds. I plan to discover what these giants have to say, and then maybe I'll be able to stand on their shoulders and see a little bit farther.

What's your motivation?

Sunday, 14 April 2013

A Beautiful Blend

This week collaboration ruled. I'm determined to make our iPad pilot project a success next year, so I'm learning and doing all I can to ensure that vision becomes reality, including trying out all kinds of stuff with our class (backchannel anyone?). I've traded and tested ideas and questions with someone in almost every role in the school this week: technicians, teachers, administrators, students, parents, support staff. It's an impressive list really.

What did I learn? A group made up of different people with different talents and perspectives who can disagree about plenty but who also have a common goal will create something great. In fact, they will be more likely to create something great than any individual because, together, they possess more talent and experience than any one person (as long as they find ways to work together). This idea isn't new to me, but this week I got my hands very dirty, working with so many people, and I learned about collaboration in a deeper way than ever before. Thanks for being part of the blending.

Sunday, 7 April 2013


This sketch has been attributed to Demetri Martin, author of This Is A Book.
Two events this week really underlined something I've been thinking about for several months.

The first was a recognition of some recent growth and learning. In December I decided that I needed to improve my knowledge of and proficiency with technology. I had been working through some teaching ideas, and I began to see that technology could help those ideas take shape. This week, after several months of learning, some people  I typically relied on for help with tech asked me for some advice about tech. Suddenly I saw how much I had learned. I'll still need their help, but the fact that I could help them in this area allowed me to understand and reflect on how much I've learned. Still much to learn.

The second was listening to Mélina deliver her progress report (thanks again for the treat, Mélina). She's excitedly talking (not unusual) about her adventures in the kitchen, relaying how her vlog was photobombed, and confessing that only a little more than half of her cake pops avoided imploding. She's reporting this with a smile--without a hint of embarrassment or failure--because she's learning. Typically in school, a student who made almost as many mistakes in a class she did correct moves would not be smiling when the bell rang. But Mélina was too busy learning to let mistakes get her down.

These two experiences came together when I saw the simple drawing above. I know I've written about mistakes in an earlier post, but these two experiences didn't focus on mistakes; they focused on success. When I reflected on my recent forays into technology, I saw many "mistakes". Mélina described a few mistakes. However, in both situations, I only heard a story of success. At least for a moment, both Mélina and I so fully embraced the version of success as rendered in the drawing on the right, that we simply accepted failure as part of the learning process--a necessary part of the process.

This week I learned more thoroughly to embrace the word fail as F.ound A.nother I.nsight for L.earning. It's cheesy, I know, but seeing the principle in action this week was almost as sweet as that Skor bar cake pop.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

TEDx Manitoba

This is a quick post to send you the link for the application to be part of  the TEDx Manitoba Youth event. Click here to apply. If you are unfamiliar with TED, it's an organization that organizes conferences around the concept, "ideas worth spreading." Check out for some great videos of TED talks.

Sunday, 10 March 2013


CC license shared by Ross Mayfield
There are a few things I've learned this week, but I haven't had time to properly reflect on them. Instead, I've been chasing down ideas on Twitter, previewing videos on YouTube, filling up my Pocket and Feeddler readers, and downloading apps for work and play on my iPad.

Computers and the internet have always been part of my teaching and learning, but in the last year I've really tried to explore the potential of technology as a central element of school instead of an add-on. The experience has led me to a whole new level of literacy, but I think there are some weaknesses in my skills. Digital literacy is a much debated concept these days. People, including me, are trying to develop a working definition of what skills are needed to successfully navigate the fluid digital world.

One challenge of the digital age is managing and filtering all the information and access of the internet. This week revealed to me that I need to further develop my ability to limit and focus. I often felt rushed and a touch frantic as I flitted from device to device like a hummingbird in a bird-feeder factory. I skimmed articles and sampled ideas like I was binging at Costco which made me slightly motion sick and didn't satisfy my hunger.

Now, I did get a lot of work done, but only after I stopped churning and decided to focus on one thing at a time. I cleared away all unnecessary devices and windows in order to focus on one task until it was complete. My eyes didn't sneak a peek at my inbox counter, and my mind didn't wander to the score of the Jets game because I intentionally limited my exposure by cleaning up my desktop and tabletop. I controlled the flow of digital information and distraction, taking only what I needed to complete my current project.

So, I learned that I have plenty to learn about digital literacy, and it made me wonder about ICE. Last year I had no trouble unplugging for a week, but this year I'm much more heavily and regularly connected than I was last year. Will I feel different about the experience? We'll see, but after a hectic weekend on the world wide web, I'm looking forward to a week of being me, unplugged.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Oops! My Bad

This week I learned more about how important mistakes are when learning. In class I mentioned how our school system has inadvertently taught us that being wrong is a very bad thing. This has stunted our creativity, our critical thinking, and our playfulness. We're so concerned with avoiding being wrong that we'd rather not raise our hand or participate in something challenging. Failure is the ultimate shame.  The embedded video is a TED talk by Kathryn Schulz who studies being wrong and its role in our lives. If you're interested and have 18 minutes to spare, you may want to check it out.

I'm trying to change our attitude toward mistakes and failure starting with this class, and this week only increased my belief that it is a much needed attitude adjustment. Not only did this video inspire me, but so did an encounter with one of my daughters. She's six, and on Friday after school she started crying. I took her into my arms, calmed her, and tried to decipher the sniffly, sobby story of what was wrong. Turns out she made a mistake at school. 

The class was working on optical illusions. Students were supposed to draw boxy, plaid-like patterns on a circular piece of paper. The paper circles were pierced in the centre by a pencil, resembling a flat umbrella. When the pencil is rolled between the palms, the circle spins, and the boxy pattern whirls into a colourful circle. Well, my daughter, not seeing the relevance or the big picture, quickly scribbled a blotchy pattern on her circle. When the teacher gently tried to show her the need for a plaid pattern, the shame of being wrong descended on my little girl. The only thing that reduced her shame to a manageable level was another little girl in her class who immediately volunteered that she had made the same mistake.

Back at home, I tried to convinced my daughter that school was one of the best places to make mistakes. She recently learned to ice skate at school, and she's getting pretty good. I asked her if she ever fell. 
"Of course!" she said with her silly-daddy look on her face. 
"Oh no! I said, "That's a mistake."
She quickly replied, "No it isn't. That's how you learn to skate."
I let her wisdom sink in and then we talked some more about learning, but I have haven't been able to shake her innate understanding that learning involves mistakes while at the same time she's ashamed to make any at school. This is a big problem within our education system. I learned a bit more this week about how deep it runs within me and the system, and I want to be part of the solution. Any ideas? Let's talk and learn playfully without fear of being wrong. 

Saturday, 16 February 2013


CC0 1.0
The second semester has barely sprouted. Should I have learned something already? While the outcomes for Comp. are fairly clear, the outcomes to measure my learning are not so neatly laid out, so I'll have to make them up as I go. (Perhaps you will help?) Here are some things I'd like to learn:

  1. How will the technology we use (mobile devices, apps, the internet) influence our learning?
  2. Will we begin to break down the traditional separations between classes, grade-levels, even school buildings and borders so that we can learn how we'd like to? In other words, will learning in Biology blend with writing in LA and illustration in Art? Will projects from one semester get revamped or continued in the next semester? Will students from different classes or different schools do work together?

The answers to these questions will have to wait until this semester grows bigger and branches out more. To this point I've learned that:

  • planning to be flexible is more work than planning a more controlled lesson
  • learning new apps and skills takes time. We've spent time in class experimenting and trouble-shooting, but we're learning about our technology tools. I was a bit impatient to begin using those tools, but we're making progress (our shared notes for example).
  • the smartest person in the room is...the room. Together we can do things that any one of us couldn't do alone. Our group poetry reading has already had some brilliant moments of collective discovery where we built meaning together and learned from one another. I'm loving it.

We've started well. We planted some seeds, and ideas are beginning to sprout. But, those ideas are tender and delicate. The more difficult work of weeding and watering, of writing and research, is just ahead, and our ideas won't amount to much unless we tend to them. From what I've seen so far, we're ready to roll up our sleeves and get to work.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Learning Logs: This Idea Has Wheels

A learning log is a type of journal focused on making learning more visible. Our learning logs will consist of weekly posts about what we've learned during this class together. As you develop your journals I'd like two elements to show up in each post: 1. connections to the course outcomes 2. specific  references to homework/classwork. These two details will help show your learning.

Page 416 in Writers INC lists some ideas about learning logs, including:

  • write a summary
  • argue for or against an idea
  • write what you'd still like to know about a topic
  • explain your work to a specific audience (a young child, an alien from another planet, grandpa)

You could also write about:

  • a new app or technology 
  • how you see technology fitting into class/life
  • how you learn best
  • poetry, music, writing, and viewing
  • the course outcomes
  • your latest projects
  • how you'll apply your learning in the future
  • connections between class and life outside of class
  • ...or something else

Remember to use labels! Label your learning log posts "Learning Log".