A Visit to Lawfield Elementary School

As we look to renovate and build new schools, consideration is always given to updating standards to make sure that the instructional learning needs are met in an effect manner. We are taking time to learn what is happening in other areas. I recently had an opportunity to attend a site visit to Lawfield Elementary School in Hamilton with a team from our Board.

Initially, we gathered in the library to meet with Principal Bill DeMille, who provided an overview of some of the school initiatives. A couple of things struck me as Bill was making his comments. He clearly has a vision and understanding of

  • the features and functionality a school facility should have to support 21st century learning
  • skills a teacher needs in today’s learning environment
  • the impact of technology on student engagement
  • the importance of creating a learning environment where teachers are encouraged and supported to try new things

Things I noted at the school included:

  • a large display screen in the front hall of the school running a list of events and activities
  • teachers are expected to digitally capture events (pictures or video) for inclusion in the front hall monitor display
  • sound system throughout the school to facilitate audio enhancement of teacher voices
  • iPods are being used in  listening centre structure, or through the sound system
  • interactive white boards in each teaching environment with specific uses for shared reading, anchor charts and exemplars
  • wired and wireless internet connections
  • movement away from traditional desks to table clusters around jiffy poles supplying hydro and internet connections to student work area
  • shift to shared laptops in the classroom, long term goal for mainly mobile technology and fewer desktops

Photo Gallery

Sound System
Ceiling mounted data projectors
Table clusters
Interactive Whiteboard and teacher table
Teaching Tools: Document camera, iPhone & laptops
Embedded technology in the learning environment

Thank you to Principal Bill DeMille and his staff for sharing their educational environment and plans with us.

~ Mark

Backchannel Service

Backchannel is the practice of using networked computers to maintain a real-time online conversation alongside live spoken remarks. (see full Wikipedia article). Backchanneling provides an excellent way to capture audience reactions during a presentation. There are a number of Backchannel services available. I recently had the opportunity to participate in a session where the Today’sMeet service was used.

From the website:


Setting up your free temporary Backchannel space is easy: name the room, choose an expiry period, activate your room. TodaysMeet does not require any personal information for registration purposes. The URL to your room is ‘open’ to any user who knows the address. The URL is not published or distributed in any way by the company, so in a sense, does have a degree of privacy.

Depending on your audience, you may have to encourage the audience participation. In our case, we were using the Backchannel to submit questions to a presenter who was video conferenced into our workshop session.  The whole process work well, was free and certainly added to our learning experience.

Give the Backchannel concept a spin. I am sure you will find it a useful tool.

Related Links:

Website: Today’sMeet
Today’sMeet terms of use
Today’sMeet FAQs

~ Mark

Digital Citizenship Symposium

Our Board received some great news this week. The grant proposal that was submitted for work in the Character Development area has been accepted!!!

A formal working group will be struck shortly to work on this project. The intent is to focus on Digital Citizenship. At this point in time, preliminary discussions are revolving around the idea of preparing a 2 day symposium event which might include:

  • keynote speakers
  • sessions for students, staff and parents
  • ongoing activities such as workshops and/or contests beyond the actual event
  • continuation of the student input to technology planning day we started last year
  • community outreach

Anticipating the team members who will work on this event, I know the ideas, creativity and final product will be very rewarding and worthwhile. I was thinking, if details could be worked out,  it would be really nice if we could extend an invite to the Ontario PLP Cohort to connect in online for the key note sessions via Adobe Connect .

Lots to do, lots to think about – that is for sure.

~ Mark


History of the Internet: Reflections

Last Friday,  The Guardian published a series of interesting articles about the history of the Internet. On October 29th, 1969 the first two computers were connected between the University of California and the Stanford  Research Institute (several hundred miles) through an IMP (interface message processor) allowing the 2 users to login and type back and forth. While the actual date of the birth of the internet is debatable, this event arguably set the stage for everything that has followed.

There is some great reading in the publication and it certainly caused a trip down memory lane for me. Here are some of the things I remember using computers since the ‘early days’:

  • learning to program on a Sinclair computer, made by Timex
  • writing software for students on a Commodore PET
  • teaching introductory programming to grade 10 math students
  • the Icons – the first networked computers we had a school (10 MG file server)
  • learning to connect remotely to the file server (crashed more than it worked in those days)
  • music software on the Atari and Amiga computer systems (with MIDI capability)
  • buying my first 300 baud modem (and I still like hearing that ‘connect’ sound)
  • doing a WLU hosted stock market simulation with students (involved up/downloading)
  • WEIR – the Writers in Electronic Residence project
  • 1200 baud modems
  • the CHIMO communications system
  • the first library PAC machines, DOS interface
  • the first text based Mozilla browser
  • groups of computers sharing a single modem connection
  • all night long downloads, praying the connection was not interrupted
  • hosting and running a Bulletin Board System (BBS), an early email exchange system
  • writing software for my brother’s surveying company and using those early email methods to send the code
  • the early MACs, PCs, the first GUI interfaces
  • and the list goes on ….

One could write a list the size of a book, but I won’t.  Many of us are familiar with the portion of the journey over the last dozen years or so. Reading the publication somehow jolted my memories of the early telecommunication days – exciting times for sure. In those days, a lot of energy was spent just getting things to work. Who knew that we would end up where we are today:  a global community, fibre optic networking, web 2.0, free computer to computer video/audio connections, amazing collaboration tools, overwhelming information online which is doubling rapidly …. truly amazing.

Best of all, we have access to these amazing tools and a global community to impact on the educational process. Independent of your age, you are living at time when the opportunity to learn, connect and collaborate is nothing short of amazing. Embrace it!

~ Mark

K12 Content Filtering: centralized or distributed?

Content filtering is always an interesting topic for discussion because it is so multifaceted. In my earlier post I listed the points below as part of the discussion arena. In my context, the framework is K-12 education.

  • filter or not?
  • if you do, how much?
  • if you do, is it done centrally or at the school level?
  • how do you align content filtering with educational resource selection processes for print, video etc.?
  • block or allow social networking?
  • keep students safe
  • sufficient band width
  • how do you define ‘educational content’ in a way that makes sense in a K-12 context?
  • should content filtering be more age or grade appropriate?

There are no easy answers. It is easy to find valid reasons to sit on either side of the fence for each point. More importantly, there is a growing need to keep learning about what is right, what is doable and keeping the agenda moving forward in an appropriate fashion for K-12 education. Further reflection on this post has two aspects of content filtering churning around in my mind.

1. Copyright: Content filtering must respect copyright and your country/jurisdictions laws and regulations. This whole aspect of internet use is blurry in the global community. At face value, what you see in your browser is relatively consistent from your vantage point on the globe. The internet seems like ‘one place’. The reality is the servers, and therefore content are in different countries. What you are able to do with content (copy, download , redistribute, use in a school classroom setting etc.) will likely vary, depending on your regulations and these need to be respected.

2. Equitable access: A couple of weeks ago, I was having a meeting with @socmediatrust (Twitter) discussing Digital Citizenship and his work at schools presenting Internet safety sessions to students and parent groups. At some point in the conversation, we landed on content filtering. As mentioned above, there are many approaches to dealing with this. The focus of our discussion was bullet #3 – centralized or distributed to the school level systems. This led to an interesting talk framed around consistency and equity of access.

Providing content filtering from a centrally run system provides equitable access to resources deemed suitable for use by all students/staff/sites within a system. To me, this makes the most sense. Deem the content that is acceptable for use in a particular system through a fair mechanism to select and align content with educational needs. Then you can work away at fine tuning needs in a strategic way.  I can see value in having a ‘sliding scale’ effect for content filtering so it is adjusted for age levels – maybe something along the lines of  tightly controlled (young students), medium access (maybe grades six to eight) and more open for high school. Validate readiness for each level with a strong Digital Citizenship program to teach ethical, responsible, safe use and digital literacies.

Now, imagine a system where access is controlled at the school level. This could potentially be a dogs breakfast so to speak. Two (or more) schools serving the same age group of students may be serving up completely different content and access to web tools. This leads me to many questions about equity of access, lack of consistent approach within a large system, lack of consistent expectations and use by staff and students and awkward to dialog with parents when the rules (access) varies from site to site. As curriculum leaders, do school administrators bring their own ‘rules of access’ with them as they move site to site over their careers?  Hmmm.

My View: It seems to me, at least at this point in my thinking, the distributed model leaves more questions than answers. I would cast my vote for a centrally run system that allows for the ‘sliding scale’ fine tuning approach that is well aligned with curriculum needs and resource selection processes.

~ Mark

Links for 2009-10-23

Links: 2009 10 23 — Interesting finds of the week

1. National Film Board  announces an   iPhone/iTouch app

2. Wikispaces: ipod classroom resource

3. Edutopia: Reshaping learning from the ground up.

4. Wifi alliance: New WIFI  specs announced.

5. NY Times: Library readers wade into digital lending.

6. UK Guardian: Union boss supports mobile phonesin schools.

Enjoy the reading and learning!

~ Mark

Ontario PLP Kickoff Event

This evening I am taking a few minutes to reflect on the exciting day I had. Today was the launch of the Ontario PLP Cohort with Will Richardson and Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach. From the moment you entered the meeting room at WECDSB,  you could feel the energy and excitement has people found the team tables, plugged in laptops and connected to the wireless internet access. It was great to meet some people face to face that I had only worked with online!

The day was a ‘power’ session designed to make us all feel ‘whelmed’ – close to overwhelmed, but not quite! Sheryl presented first taking us through exercises to define networking and community as it pertains to our roles and the online world. Teams were provided opportunities to dialog about setting their expectations and assumptions about their ongoing working sessions. She beautifully set the stage for Will to present and challenge us as why the status quo will not do justice to preparing students for the world in which they will live and work. The presentations were well designed and delivered with impact.

The balance of the day was a mini ‘boot camp’ to get the 100 participants oriented to the online tools required to complete our work over the next year. We took tours of Wikispaces, Twitter, Delicious and Ning. After each tour, we had working time to register accounts, set defaults and get oriented to using the various tools. We will use #ontarioplp as our Twitter hash tag.

The wrap-up session included establishing our rules of engagement, booking Elluminate session times and reaffirming our individual commitment to participant and get the maximum learning, sharing and contributing over the next few months.

I am very excited to be a part of this project and learning with educators from Canada and the U.S.A.  We have a great team from our Board and I look forward to moving our thinking about learning, systemic change and the role of teaching forward.

Thank you Sheryl and Will for a great day.

~ Mark

En Route to PLP Ontario

Today I was looking forward to heading out in the afternoon for the PLP Ontario session with Will Richardson. My Blackberry blinked as morning communications rolled in. Traffic reports from Twitter were indicating some construction delays along the 401 route at Woodstock, but hopefully those would be clear by the time I was on the road.

It was a beautiful sunny afternoon, warm for this time of year. I made by traditional pre-drive stop at Tim Horton’s – black coffee, half decaf, then set my playlist on my ipod and off I went. Current traffic reports were now clear other than some paving west of London, so I was anticipating a good trip.

The drive was great, as expected. The unexpected was the road signs. I saw 3 signs that caught my attention. This first two were the standard wooden painted signs.

1. Fatigue kills, take a break.
2. Tailgating kills, leave some space.

While you can’t argue with either one of these statements, there was something unsettling about them. I guess it was the negative spin on encouraging positive driving habits.

The 3rd sign was one of those programmable, over the highway ones. You would expect to see a message concerning traffic conditions. The message was:

Don’t text or email while driving.

Whoa! – not expected at all. October 26th is hands free day on Ontario. Make sure you are ready for safe travel. Looking for hands free gear?   Many local vendors will have equipment, but you might be interested in checking out this cleverly named website:  Lets Yada

Drive safely!

~ Mark

iPod Touch Classroom Project

Last Friday we  held the kickoff meeting for our iPods in the Classroom project.


The meeting provided an opportunity to bring teachers, administrators and central staff together to talk about the purpose of the project, complete some initial training, look at logistics and set next steps and timelines in place. The purpose of this project is multifaceted. Our comprehensive approach will:

  • Investigate the impact on teaching preparation, roles and instruction in a setting where each student will have a wifi enabled mobile device
  • Use iPods as an integrated learning tool in alignment with our identified instructional strategies and high yield tools
  • Align the use of the mobile devices to technology integration frameworks including:
  • Infuse a Digital Citizenship component concerning appropriate use, expectations, responsibilities and security with an eye to aligning to our existing Acceptable Use Procedure
  • Learn about the logistics of using mobile devices: charging, syncing, content management, device reliability etc.
  • Look at the use related resources: video cables (iPod to TV/data projector), document cameras, listening centre hardware (linking and daisy chaining audio)
  • Support the professional learning with research based evidence of the impact on student engagement, learning improvement and student assessment

The selected schools will provide an opportunity to examine the use of the iPod in the following environments:

  • a technology focused JK-6 school
  • a JK-8 school with an emphasis on grades 6-8
  • a congregated enrichment class

The day provided a good opportunity to familiarize staff with the operation of the iPod Touch units and explore some of the potential applications to be used. Alignment with our Board’s key learning strategies and the technology frameworks will keep us away from using the ‘drill and kill’ style applications.

A highlight in the training was conferencing in an Apple Education Expert to instruct over our Adobe Connect web conferencing system, licensed for use in Ontario schools. We anticipate using the web conferencing throughout the project to facilitate sharing between teachers at the selected schools. I am hopeful we can establish a protocol to use the conferencing to facilitate viewing a live ‘model classroom’ environment once the appropriate understandings re privacy and protocols have been put in place.

It was a great day and we are excited to have this initiative moving forward. I will share what we learn in future blog posts.

~ Mark

Presenting on the Web – session 2

Further to my earlier post this week about my live web presenting session, we had additional successes with our Thursday night session with our computer contact group. What did we do differently?

1. I changed the setup in the presenting area in my office, which was the remote site.  We adjusted the lighting to make the room slightly darker and eliminated some backlight which caused a little glare in the first round.

2. I relocated my speaking notes from my desk to a raised vertical stand tucked in closely to my laptop to minimize my eye movement. The net effect allowed me to look more directly at the camera so the setup was more like a newscast arrangement.

3. In the meeting room end, we turned the MacBook laptop around so the web cam was facing the audience. This certainly gives you a better sense of connection with the audience as the presenter. We are able to do a better job adjusting the mic settings to allow me to hear questions from the audience more clearly.

All in all, a much better experience. The next meeting with this group is scheduled for February. At that time, we will offer a chance for some of the 100+  attendees over the two session to join us in an online meeting. If winter driving is a factor, we should have improved attendance with the online option – bonus!!!

~ Mark