Tag Archives: learn

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Day 18: What Are We Trying To Do Here, Anyway?


Here is the writing that I published on the “30 Days of Learning” Project on the #OSSEMOOC website (ossemooc.wordpress.com).

Originally posted on Ontario School and System Leaders Edtech MOOC:

Written and shared by Donna Miller Fry

If you are like me, you sometimes hook on to ideas and run with them.

The excitement, the possibilities, it all pulls you in and you just go with it.

But those around you may not be entirely sure of what it is that you are trying to do.  Being able to clearly communicate, at a level where everyone understands your thinking, is an important component to effecting change.

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to present the #OSSEMOOC concept to a group of interested people.  Luckily, before my presentation, a colleague worked with me to help me distill the concept down to its key components, in a language that was meaningful to educators at all levels.

As we begin to work on our next projects in response to user requests and feedback, I think it is a good time to take a step…

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Stories of Open Sharing – And Why It Is Important

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Alan Levine (@cogdog) is a champion of open storytelling.

I followed Alan for years on Twitter before finally meeting him in person first in Terrace Bay (video below) and then again at Unplug*d12.

He asked me for our story about the time Commander Hadfield tweeted me to say that up in the ISS, he had watched the video my students helped create.  You can read the story here, but the full version, including the connections that led to the connections that led to the event, is told below.

Alan’s version can be found here.

I hope this inspires people to open their practice and put learning for all at the centre of everything they do.

Alan Levine, thanks for pushing me to do better, all the time.

Dean Shareski, thanks for modelling open and connected in all you do.

How I met the cogdog!

What Am I Doing Here?

It’s the first morning of #OTRK12. 

There are over 80 workshops for educators to attend over the next 2 days, and some of those presenters are waking up this morning and asking themselves, “What am I doing here?”.

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Presenting can be scary.  It can be intimidating.  We, as educators, can be evaluative. We all want to do well.  It’s our culture.


What are you doing here?

You are modelling best practice.  You are sharing your learning.

You are enabling others to learn.

You are connecting learners.  You are enriching lives. You are demonstrating courage.

You are walking the talk. You are Leading Learning.


What are the rest of us doing here?

We are here creating a culture of learning – a place where it is safe to share, where sharing is valued, and where the people with the courage to share are encouraged and applauded for putting themselves in that vulnerable position for our benefit.

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We are nurturing all learners.

Congratulations, and thank you, to every single educator who has stepped forward today and tomorrow to share learning with the rest of us.

Image credits:

Fear -the Italian voice via Compfight cc

Courage - DimitraTzanos via Compfight cc


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Focus on Beginners: What do you Need to Start Connecting?

Originally posted on Ontario School and System Leaders Edtech MOOC:

As we have travelled throughout the province this week, we have heard loud and clear that we need an easier entry point for our education leaders to start the connecting process.

Last Tuesday, connected leaders met to discuss how they became connected leaders – the catalyst that got them started.  Here are some of the things we learned.  Which of these do you need?  Which of these can you bring to a leader you know to help them connect?

1. TIME!  When can we possibly find the time to connect?


Educators are busy.  Nobody disputes that!  But could connecting actually make your life easier?  YES IT CAN!  You can pose a question on Twitter 24/7 and get an answer in minutes.  We have heard many stories with this theme.

Learn to make time.  Start with 15 minutes each day.  Some of us do “Tea and Twitter”,  some of us start…

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EdCampWR (part 2) – Everyone Has Something IMPORTANT to Share

This past week, I have been explaining the concept of “EdCamp” to a lot of people.  It’s on a Saturday, it’s free, it’s open to anyone wanting to learn, and “everyone has something to share”.  The program is driven by the learning needs of the people in attendance, and the smartest person in the room is the room.

What I love most is the “hunger to learn”.

Recently I attended #Educon in Philadelphia.  While sessions are determined in advance, it does rest on the principle that “everyone has something IMPORTANT to share”.  This is captured very clearly in this video.

A few of my favourite quotes that capture some of the thinking from #Educon:

David Jakes: “The first step in redesigning a classroom is discarding the notion that it has to be a classroom.” (2:36)

Chris Lehman: “What schools can become, are the places where we come together to learn…” (4:14)

Jose Vilson: “Trying to get education to be more about what kids can do instead of what they can’t do…” (5:30)

Ayla Gavins: “..I would eliminate ACCESS as the reason for not choosing to use technology.” (6:23)

Diana Laufenberg: “The one thing that teachers can do proactively is to share, everywhere possible, the positive things that are happening with our kids…” (7:14)

What is #Educon?  It’s a global tribe of support – 24/7.

It’s what EdCamps can be too.  Passion, learning, sharing, bringing hope for positive change to make our schools places where we support communities of learning.

When Learning Has Nothing To Do With It

Screen Shot 2014-02-17 at 1.38.53 PMLast week, Jan Wong, currently an Assistant Professor of Journalism and Communications at St. Thomas University in New Brunswick, wrote an article for the Chronicle Herald outlining her concern about her Journalism students cheating on quizzes.

The sentences from her post that most resonated with me are below.

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It should be no surprise at all that some students at a university are “conditioned to work for marks and only marks”.

The only criterion for acceptance to the university is “high marks”.

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When universities filter applicants based on marks, so that only students with really great marks can enter the institution, the students who arrive and attend class there will include those who have learned to play a game very well, and who will continue to play that game when they arrive.

Any senior high school teacher can attest to the fact that learning is not the priority for many grade 11 and 12 students.  The priority is getting the highest two-digit number possible through whatever means are necessary so that he/she can get access to a university program.

The ramifications of this selection process are numerous, and often do not relate to learning at all.  Some are, in fact, very negative.

  • Parents may bully the teachers who don’t give the needed or expected grades.
  • Students may select courses based on who they know will give them the marks they want.
  • Parents will track down a Principal in the summer and demand that their child’s marks be changed.
  • Students tell teachers that the mark they have received for their assignment is “unacceptable” and that they will need something higher.
  • “Cheating” is rampant on tests, exams and assignments.
  • Students learn to seek out exams from previous years, tests and student notes from previous years.
  • They learn how best to get as many marks as possible on every test and exam.
  • They will do almost anything for “bonus marks”, and they learn to manipulate a teacher to offer those “bonus marks”.

Students and parents figure out how to play the game.

Alfie Kohn has been writing about the problem with grades for many years.  One of his best articles is “From Degrading to De-Grading”  (http://www.alfiekohn.org/teaching/fdtd-g.htm), where he explores, among other things, the observations that grades reduce a student’s preference for challenging tasks, the quality of their thinking, and their interest in learning.

The lack of interest in learning by students who have been told that marks are what matters is well-documented, as in the observation below from Janice Fiamengo:

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Those who do well are called “good students”.  Some schools give out awards to students with the highest marks, encouraging competition instead of collaborative learning, and reinforcing that marks are what is really important at that school.

While there is a large and growing movement to put learning at the centre of the what school is about, as long as that final mark is the only requirement for university entrance, marks will remain the focus.

And universities will get what they have selected for.  When students don’t get the marks they want at university, they will react exactly as they have learned to react.

Once again, Janice Fiamengo:

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Fortunately, even the straight-A students are questioning  their school experience and why “marks” are seen as so important. Afraj Gill from “An A+ Student Regrets His Grades“:

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Learning to manipulate teachers to get good grades becomes an art form in itself: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J8s13_yOLeE

We need to deeply question a system with these values.  Is this the best way to graduate innovators and entrepreneurs?

I believe that we are rethinking what schools are for, how to nurture natural curiosity, and how to use focused innovation in our teaching in the K-12 sector.  I also see evidence that some post-secondary schools are beginning to understand that marks are not the best predictor of learning.

But as long as marks are the sole filter for entrance to university, we will be challenged to put learning, not grades, at the centre of what schools are for.

*Add-On -> A favourite post from @KarlFisch: http://thefischbowl.blogspot.ca/2013/10/your-gda-is-more-important-than-your-gpa.html

@sethgodinblog: http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2014/02/doing-what-gets-rewarded.html

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Student Mental Health in the Media

Recently, there was an uproar about math scores in Ontario.  The media called the results of the PISA test “a crisis” and quickly blamed schools, teachers, the education system, and anyone else related to public education.

Yesterday, we learned shocking statistics about the state of students’ mental health in Toronto District School Board.  The response? Train the teachers better to deal with students who have mental health issues, and train the students how to better deal with stress.


It’s interesting.

Schools get all the blame for math scores, but mental health issues are caused by other factors and we just need to work with it.

But I have yet to hear a response similar to the math “crisis”, that schools need to change to help students have a better state of mental health.

By change, I don’t mean adding mental health support, though that is also critically needed.

I mean change structurally.  How are schools contributing to the stress and anxiety students are reporting?

Where else do bells ring all the time?

Where else are you ostracized and singled out for being late even though you were outside and you can’t afford a watch and your best friend just told you she is pregnant….

Where else would it be considered right to stick kids in a huge gymnasium to write final exams that are “important assessments” that determine whether they get credits or not?

And we wonder why they are anxious?

As long as we see students as products and not people, we will create structures that work better in a factory than in nurturing people.

As long as we see school as preparation for life, when school actually is life, we will forget that providing rich learning experiences in a safe and nurturing environment is our role.

What structures in the school system can we change right now to provide quality of life and a relaxed learning environment for the youth in our communities?

Learning at #Educon

I am taking a moment away from the learning to capture some of the key ideas emerging from Educon 2.6:

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Click on the image if the Axioms are too small to read.  Consider how they might inform your daily practice.

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Educon is held at the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia. I took this shot during Kevin Jarrett’s (@kjarrett) photography workshop on #makeartnotpics.  I wanted to capture the heart in the window.  So appropriate!

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Jaime Casap (@jcasap) is always talking about how schools need to inspire digital leaders.  Digital citizens should be the norm, not what we work towards.

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A key comment at the panel on Friday night and then again from the keynote on Saturday was the idea that we need to now step back and rethink education.  Classrooms?  why?  Let’s use technology to make it different, not for the sake of being different but because learning can now be so much more powerful and inclusive.

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The engage vs. empower conversation was really refreshing.  So often the conversation barely reaches engagement because it is focused only on achievement, which can mean only test scores.  Don’t we want so much more for our learners than a test score?

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I love this conversation.  It’s not enough that we just empower kids to do what they want.  They don’t know what they don’t know.  Don’t they also have the right to be exposed to so many other things to wonder about and be curious about?

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One day of learning on a note paper.  I love how this makes thinking and learning visible.

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One of the highlights of #Educon for me was finally meeting David Jakes (@djakes) f2f.  To be mentioned on a Bill Ferriter note paper graphic with David Jakes is such an honour!

This particular graphic went viral during #Educon.  I strongly believe in ownership vs. buy-in in everything to do with learning.  It’s a distinction I first heard at #ECOO13 (I think) and it has permeated all of my work since then.

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Ah,  Richard Culatta, our Saturday morning keynote.  I had no idea what I was in for at this session, but I thought it would be USA Government stuff.  I was not even really looking forward to it.  But this guy rocked the  place.  My takeaway was his analogy of pencils and our school system.  You can sharpen that darn pencil until your fingers bleed but it will never be a pen, nor will it ever be Siri.  Now is the time to step back from the pencils and rethink what it needs to look like.  http://www.ed.gov/edblogs/technology/richard-culatta/

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Wow, wow, wow!  I sat down on Saturday morning and there I was, right behind David Warlick. :)  I worked to get @dwarlick to Thunder Bay a few years ago and he wowed us with his thinking.  I love how he takes a little nugget and wraps it up with his own flavours and then hands it to you in a conversation to go and do good work with.

I had several conversations with David over the course of #Educon.  He is a generous and thoughtful gentleman.

Screen Shot 2014-01-26 at 6.29.44 AMThink like Gretzky! Don’t pass the puck to the player, pass the puck to where the player will be when the puck arrives!  We need to stop planning for today and think about how exponential change will impact what we are doing.

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Like joy.  Learning, hope, joy, all reason enough to go to school.

Ah, see!  I was really there!  This panel discussion on open education was so thought-provoking.  I love the conversations that spiraled out of it.

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Love the simple, positive focus to the code of behaviour.

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My proud moment.  My heart sang when I saw this tweet.  What a beautiful construction!

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I love this.  We talked a lot about vulnerability at #Educon.  How does it feel to be “knocked off balance”?

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A “willingness to be disturbed” – to have our beliefs challenged by what others think.  We must admit we don’t know.  We have to let go of certainty.


Ayla Gavins told powerful stories of how Mission Hill School in Boston runs “without a principal”.  Everyone takes responsibility for the success of the school.

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I have a lot of time for Jackie Gerstein (@jackiegerstein).  She tweeted this gem while I was at #Educon and she was watching the live stream of the keynote.

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More of Sylvia’s brilliance.  I have followed her for years.  Love her work! (@smartinez)

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maslow tweet wifi

The importance of access to devices and connections (wifi) was emphasized over and over again at #Educon.  This graphic says it all.  Do you think that spending on giving access to all learners should be a priority?


Learn this century

Professional learning is one key to change.  We must all be learners.

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So important!  Conversations must push us and challenge our thinking, and we have to be okay with that.  It’s okay to be wrong!  It’s our best thinking at the time!

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It always starts with us.  Change the world.  #CTW

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Yes, it is really about relationships.

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So be courageous.  Get into the driver’s seat.  Progressive thinkers need to consider their sphere of influence.  How many progressive thinking teachers choose to move on and become school and system leaders?

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On the wall at #SLA Science Leadership Academy.

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Reflection in the glass at #SLA.  Let’s all enable the people in our school communities to soar.

Not Everybody Has a Good Day Every Day

Sometimes, things just don’t go well.  For so many of us, we are running, running, running.  We can take one or two things falling apart but there are days when catching a break seems elusive.

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Kurt & Kristina via Compfight cc

I had a morning like that today.

“At least I am here to experience it”, is what I kept saying to everyone around me.

While waiting to see a physician (you are getting the flavour of how things were going…), a young mother and her 8-year-old son sat down beside me.

Once the mom had her son settled, she opened a duotang that had about 40 rubrics in it.  She turned quickly to the last page.  It was full of level 3′s and 4′s.  She paused.  I could see the look of pride wash over her face. She quickly checked the previous few pages.  All 3′s and 4′s.

She grabbed her son’s arm and showed him.

“Joey!”, she said.  “These are all 3′s and 4′s!”

“Look back at the start, remember?  All 1′s and 2′s.  You have improved SO much!  Look how well you are doing! You are working so hard and you are improving so much.  I am so proud of you!”

I watched Joey as she praised him.  He seemed to be holding back.  Then quietly he showed her a few pages near the back of the book that were 1′s and 2′s.

She turned to him and said, “But Joey, not everybody has a good day every day!”

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-BeNnO- via Compfight cc

Lessons come to us from everywhere.

We have to remember that not everyone can be on their game every single day.   Students, teachers, parents, principals – we all have stuff that brings us down now and then.

I was fortunate to have great support all around me today.  When bad things happen to you, it gives those around you the chance to be a friend.

How do you make room for the bad days that other people in your life are having?

What do you with your chances to be a friend to those around you?