Evolution of Interest

I drove to Vancouver and back this weekend. As I was by myself, I had lots of time to think, which, these days, is a luxury. Being a mom to two teenage sons and a teacher who is at the end of the school year means that I have a very full schedule at the moment. Even though I’m committed to self-care, quiet time to reflect and let my mind wander is rare. I enjoyed the drive because of the beautiful sunshine, gorgeous scenery and the realizations that came with the time to think. One of those realizations was the evolution of my research interests. Here is a list of my musings in no particular order as these topics constantly jostle and re-rank themselves day to day.

Research Interest #1: Visual Literacy and Arts-Based Methods

I had a lovely day Saturday with the BC Art Teachers’ Association (BCATA) Executive. It was the last meeting of the school year and many of us went out for lunch afterwards. I’ve been a district rep for the BCATA for over ten years but only joined the executive as the intermediate rep last year. What an amazing group of people. So inspiring. I feel as if I’ve found my tribe. I want to help them advocate for the arts and love sitting at that table.

I realized, when driving home Saturday, that being a part of the BCATA Executive feeds my interest in the Visual Arts, and, in particular, my passion for visual literacy and arts-based methods. This strand of my MEd research is still super important to me and I wasn’t aware, until Saturday, that I was carrying on with learning about this strand of research in this way. I think it’s pretty neat that I found my way to such a cool group of people that can gently push me along in my continued learning about Arts Education.

Research Interest #2: (Digital) Citizenship

When I was starting to jot down the notes for this blog post, the continuation of my learning with this topic was the one that is the most obvious. Unlike the other two interests that somehow snuck up on me in a formal-research-kind-of-way, I know that I’m always immersed in learning more about digital technologies. I don’t see how a person can teach kids today and not be. It’s such a huge part of the world and a huge part of kids’ day to day lives. Being a part of the Elementary Connected Classrooms project allows me the opportunity to integrate technology into my teaching practice and student learning on a daily basis. I love that I can always learn more about technology and constantly feed my curiosity to check out the latest platform, explore a new tech tool or read the latest updates on anything and everything tech. This strand of research always seems present in my life.

Research Interest #3: Métis and Cree Epistemologies

This one’s a big one right now. Well, it’s always a big one, as it  flows through my veins and shapes every thought, interaction and behavior each day, but it subtly took over last year and is quietly and persistently refusing to be ignored.

You see, when I was off on a medical leave last year, I quickly became very, very bored. Netflix was great for awhile, but I lost interest sooner than I’d expected. And, disappointingly, I could only read so many books. What I needed was intellectual stimulation. So. I started to write.

I’ve always enjoyed writing. I attended a Young Author’s contest when I was 12 and have always wanted to be a writer.  So, because I was bored and had the time, I started to write. I also began to dive in to the whole world of being a writer. I joined writer’s groups online, bought a few highly recommended books on writing and even attempted NaNoWriMo (I failed. Miserably. A story for another day…).

I have a good, and I think, unique question that is driving my story. One Saturday night in March, sitting on the floor of my study, surrounded by all of the articles I’d read when working on this strand of research for my MEd in 2011, I realized I had slipped right back into researching again. Somewhere along the line, I started diving deeper and deeper into the Métis and Cree storyline (now and in the past 300 years or so) as that plotline crept it’s way into farther into my book. Through writing I had slipped back into my MEd research, which immediately made me think…hmm…I wonder if I can write a novel as part of a PhD? (A question I’ve since had answered. Again, a story for another day…). And so, through writing as inquiry, in a way, I continue to learn more and further my research on Métis and Cree epistemologies. And I’m over 14 000 words for my book too!

It was a powerful realization that I feel the need to continue to follow these research interests in some way. I’m compelled to do so. I can’t be me without learning more about my Métis and Cree heritage. I’m not truly happy if Visual Arts isn’t some sort of priority in my life. I don’t feel right if I’m not immersed in learning the latest about educational technology and the effect this has on children and youth growing up today. I’d had no idea what a transformative experience the Masters coursework would have on me. Thanks again to Vicki, Lynn and Leyton – the MEd experience doesn’t seem to have an end point. I like that it’s become so fully and completely integrated into my personal and professional learning in general.

Watershed Moments (Inspired by Dean Shareski and Chris Kennedy)

I’ve purposefully returned to reading and commenting on blogs in recent months and I read two really good (and connected) blog posts this weekend. I first read My Own Watershed Moments on Chris Kennedy’s blog Culture of Yes which led to me to Dean Shareski’s post, Watershed Moments of Learning, on Ideas and Thoughts. At the end of his post, Dean Shareski invited  his network to write about their own watershed moments of learning. That challenge was the inspiration for Chris Kennedy’s post and, in turn, they both prompted me to spend some time thinking and writing about my own watershed moments.

This task, which initially seemed pretty easy, was, in retrospect, not as straightforward as I expected and turned out to be a good exercise in thinking and ranking. I’m guessing that this list will change with time so think of this as a snapshot of my ideas at this point in my life. I decided to organize my ideas using most of the same categories as Dean and Chris: PD Event/Conference, speaker or presentation, book, tool, and person.

 PD Event/Conference:

TEDx West Vancouver ED (2013) is my watershed PD event because it is one of the PD events I’ve attended in the last few years that continues to standout in my mind. It was my first (and so far only) TEDx, the first TEDx West Vancouver Ed, and one of those PD events where you finally get to meet all sorts of people in your PLN face to face (many for the first time – it was the first and only time I’ve ever had the chance to talk to Dean Shareski!). I loved the event. It reminded me that I became the educator I am because I left my small little town and ventured out to PD beyond. It inspired me in so many ways – the speakers were absolutely incredible (see the youtube videos here). It also, indirectly, reminded me that I learn best through arts based methods. At the time I had been tweeting at conferences to record and share professional learning but for whatever reason (serendipity I think), my devices were not connecting to the wifi that whole weekend so I switched to my default, old-school method – a sketchbook and colored, dry media. My doodles from that day, and a bit more of an explanation, are here.


Choosing just one speaker or presentation is super tough. For today though, I’m going to pick Helen Keegan as my watershed speaker. Her presentation on gamification at Edmedia in Victoria a few years ago dramatically changed my thinking. She introduced me to gamification and I’ve since become fascinated by this. Because of Helen, I co-created and taught one of the coolest units I’ve ever used with students last year – the Battle of the Books: Canadian Authors. That unit is a new twist on online literature circles that uses gamification as the method through which to engage kids and trick them into loving reading novels. I also have to give credit to Justin deVries and Mike Koppes from Kamloops for their awesome workshop that deepened my understanding of gamification at the PITA conference last fall. I’m still fascinated with gamification and plan to continue learning more about how to use this as one method to engage kids.


I love to read and I read a lot. To have to pick just one book, ever, to answer a question that starts with “Which book…” usually seems like an impossible task to me. So, accordingly, I decided on my top four watershed books as of right this minute, today:

#1: The Arts and the Creation of Mind by Elliot Eisner – This book was recommended to me by Dr. Vicki Kelly (see my watershed person below) when I was writing my thesis. When I started reading this book, I couldn’t believe that there was a book, written by a famous Stanford professor, that summed up everything I believed as an arts educator in such an articulate, academic way. It blew my mind. It still blows my mind. I’d been teaching a certain way and developing certain pedagogical beliefs during my years as a high school visual arts teacher (that transform my practice to this day). This book fit perfectly within, and gave sound theoretical basis to, all that I had learned, experienced and struggled with as a teacher passionate about arts based methods and the integration of the visual arts into students’ learning.

#2: Look to the Mountain by Gregory Cajete – This book was also recommended to me by Vicki when I was writing my thesis. It was the first book I ever read that actually described my mother’s way of teaching. You’d have to read my thesis or sit and chat with me for the complete explanation about that. My great-grandmother raised my mother (and my siblings and I) and my great-grandmother, in turn, was raised by her Cree grandmother. Essentially, my great-grandmother’s and my mother’s pedagogy and child-rearing philosophies were rooted in indigenous ways of learning and knowing. I can’t tell you how much it meant to me to read a book that actually described how my mom taught me to teach and to be with kids as a teacher. I think it will forever be one of my favourite non-fiction books for that reason.

#3: The World is Flat by Thomas Friedman – This is the same book mentioned by Chris Kennedy in his watershed post. In 2005, when this book was first published, I was starting my graduate coursework, learning about the emerging online tools, and attempting to wrap my head around the impact of what was taking place in the field of education because of the internet and the world wide web. This book really helped me to understand the changes happening at the time and pushed me to think about where learning in schools and the world in general was heading.

#4: An Imaginative Approach to Teaching by Kieran Egan – I really like reading books by Kieran Egan and I’ve admired and followed his work for a long time now. Several times when reading this book I would read a chapter at night and try out strategies the next day with my students. Many of those strategies are firmly embedded into my teaching practice. Because of this book, I often weave storytelling into my lessons and kids always seem to respond well. I once saw Kieran Egan when I was completing my MEd. He was working in a garden outside of the education faculty at SFU. I was starstruck and too shy to go say hello. I kick myself for that to this day. He looked so peaceful though, working away, surrounded by plants and I respected him and his peace too much to intrude at the time.


The watershed tool would have to be Twitter. It’s been interesting to experience the evolution of this tool since I created my account in 2009. I enjoy spending time learning with and from other enthusiastic educators who love teaching and working with kids and Twitter allows me to do that with people all over the world from a small, rural town in the interior of BC. I can dip in to talk or comment whenever I feel like it and rarely does a day go by that I don’t check my feed to see what’s happening in the world. Of all the technology I’ve tried and use, I think that Twitter has transformed  professional learning for me (one example of how in this post here) more than anything else. Even with the changes that seemed to have come with the explosion of people using it in recent years, Twitter continues to be the tool that impacts my practice the most.


My watershed person, and someone who definitely had a profound impact on my thinking, teaching, personal life, and everything, really, is Dr. Vicki Kelly. She is one of the most important teachers of my life. Vicki was one of my professors during my Masters year at SFU in 2010-2011. I don’t think there’s any way that I could explain how much I learned from/with her and through her teaching. She is an expert teacher and one of the most brilliant people I’ve ever met. She helped me in a way that I don’t think any other professor could have. especially when it came to my learning about traditional Métis and Cree beliefs surrounding education and child-rearing. And it’s no small coincidence that two of my watershed books above were recommended by her.

Those are my watershed moments. Thanks to Dean and Chris for the inspiration and thanks for reading!


New in the ECC This Year: Multimedia Teacher Introductions

I spent my Saturday morning searching for distraction. My husband and son left for a day of travelling for team sports and, because I can’t go today, I needed to distract myself from feeling sad and disappointed that I’m not on the road with them.

I decided to check out something that I knew would distract me and cheer me up: the multimedia teacher introductions created but the ECC team that we are sharing with students next week.

Sitting here now, after watching those introductions, I am so impressed!! What a great way to start my Saturday morning! It’s obvious that each teacher put a huge amount of thoughtful, purposeful effort into creating amazing multimedia files. What an awesome introduction for the students, and what a powerful way to role-model citizenship in this digital age. The kids are going to love the intros! We will most likely embed the files into our online hub, which is a moodle site at the moment, but if you’d like watch my video, it’s here on our ECC vimeo page.

There’s so much I could write about the process of creating my teacher introduction. I’ve never done anything like it. First, I am thankful to have learned a great deal about Quicktime, Keynote, and iMovie. I’ve worked with all before, but I’ve never created a multimedia file with embedded video clips and voiceovers like this one. It was a new level of multimedia learning (and frustration – oh the frustrations!!) and I’m glad I pushed myself to do what I set out to create in the first place. Yesterday morning I was ready to give up and play it safe. But then I was at school, working through this on my prep, and at recess, and when I realized my students were interested in what I was going through and they kept asking questions, and kept trying to help me problem solve, I knew I had to push through and figure it out. And I did. Late, late last night, but I did. I’m going to thank my students for that extra motivation.

After watching all the introductions this morning, I’m also humbled by the wonderful group of teachers in the ECC team this year. Those introductions are awesome. They exemplify pure teacher passion to do well, to share and to create an important piece to start building the relationships within our unique learning community. And even though we are all at different levels in our comfort levels with technology, everyone pushed to try something new and make it work. I’m so impressed, and I’m so excited to work with this team of dedicated educators who aren’t afraid to take learning risks themselves. And the content? These people are super interesting! I can’t wait to talk to them about what they put in the videos!! And if I can’t wait, I’m guessing the students will be excited to meet them too. Even deconstructing the many layers of excitement the teacher introductions will create (are already creating) in the ECC is the type of complex engagement that seems to me to be unique to this project. I’d never seen anything quite like it until I was a part of the ECC.

While we’ve always done teacher introductions in the ECC to start our year, the multimedia teacher introductions are a new idea that was proposed by Jen when we met in the summer. We had originally planned to do a live video connection between all five classes and have a gallery walk around the room with the teacher introduction files loaded up at five computer stations around each room. I had envisioned looking at the video conferencing screen to see five classes of kids eagerly rushing from station to station, laughing and talking and waving at the video cameras as they moved around and actively learned about the five teachers from the introduction files. Jen also had the idea to create a Jeopardy type game for kids to participate in after watching the introductions to see how much they could remember about each teacher. We had planned a fun, active, hands-on, multimedia, connected lesson to start the year.

In reality, things are working out a little differently, which is often (usually?!) the way at the start of the school year, especially with all the technology we depend upon to connect and learn in the ECC. There’s always that need to be flexible as a teacher, yes? At this point, only four sites can connect at once with the good quality of video conferencing we are used to and we are hoping that the tech department can work their magic and find a way to make that work with all five sites at the same time. The SD #74 tech department is a vital part of our extended ECC family; I can’t even begin to express my appreciation for all they do to keep us up and running the majority of the time.

So, in the last few weeks, after numerous emails, we decided to complete the teacher intro files as planned and share them as best fits our classes next week. I hope we can still do the Jeopardy lesson idea as I think that would be a great way for kids to communicate their learning. We’ve also decided to give the students the challenge of creating a classroom introduction next week and I’m super excited to see what happens with that too.

It’s neat to see the ECC unfolding in a whole new way this year! Thanks for reading!

This post was also shared on the ECC collaborative blog here.

New, official leadership roles for the first time

For the first time in my teaching career, I am officially in a leadership position! I’ve always thought I’d work towards that eventually, but also have always said no, or shied away from working towards that type of position. I have had many reasons – children at home, Masters studies to complete, the desire to focus only on the act of teaching – and yet this year, for the first time, I find myself in not one, but two, leadership roles. I’m finding priorities are shifting and I have a few new things to focus on in relation to the number one priority of my students.

First Role: Connected Classrooms Coordinator/Lead Teacher

In June, Brooke, my amazing colleague and then lead Connected Classroom teacher made a parallel move within the district to become the lead Connected 8 teacher. That move resulted in a leadership shift in the Elementary Connected Classrooms with me becoming the new lead! I met with Brooke in mid-August to learn about my new role and was excited to see all that I would be responsible for. It’s a definite change in mindset and now I have a real reason to start learning about leadership. It’s something I’ve always thought I’d eventually turn towards at some point in my career and this is a great way to ease into it a little more gently. Interesting how personal relevancy can so profoundly change one’s perspective.

Second Role: Mentoring a Teacher Candidate (Student Teacher)

On the first day of school this year, for the first time in 16 years of teaching, I’ll have a student teacher (or, as she is called through her university, a teacher candidate). Although she doesn’t actually start her practicum until Tuesday, she and I have been working together all summer via texting, email, twitter, several sessions at the school and one evening tea in my kitchen. There is so much more to being a teacher than showing up at school. To me, and to many, it is a lifestyle, and that, I think, is one thing that I want to share with her. It’s a lifestyle that I love (most of the time!) and I want her to understand so much more than the curricular learning outcomes and strategies to use for teaching place value.

One bonus for me is that I feel motivated and excited already. I’m already benefitting from the opportunity to be a teacher mentor. She keeps thanking me for taking the time to involve her and communicate with her, but I keep thinking that I need to thank her for the injection of added interest and excitement she’s bringing to my practice. I think she is going to be a great teacher, and I’m excited to help her along and watch her take these last final steps into the profession.

Where do I start?

Leadership is one of those words that’s everywhere. I always paid attention, but always felt that it didn’t really apply to me. We all, however, can be leaders and I understand how I fit inside that definition, but personally it felt as if the real leaders were the administrators, upper district administrators and others in that type of position. Suddenly, I fit under my own umbrella and a whole new tangent of research, learning, reading, people and possibilities are meaningful. There is a lot that I want to learn, but with time becoming scarce as school goes back in next week, I need to choose my first few steps carefully.

So, books to read, blogs to find, tweeps to follow and a long talk with my dad (a high school administrator for 30 years and the president of a large teachers association for a few years too) to help me get going! What do you think? Any ideas on where I should start?


Imagery by Plug Us In and used with permission from Flickr.

Impact of the elementary connected classrooms on student engagement

This writing is cross-posted at the Elementary Connected Classrooms Project. It is focused on topics related to our work on the Growing Innovations grant project and my second contribution to our collaborative ECC blog. In less than one month, all the groups involved in Growing Innovations are attending an event showcasing each project. The following post is a response to one of the final questions we are to answer as the project timelines come to a close.

How has Connected Classrooms impacted student engagement in the classroom?


Starting with today

I looked through the doorway during a lesson this morning, peeking out to see what the group of students outside was doing. I could see what looked like a huddle of nine boys, all squeezing in around the one student holding the camera. They were watching the playback of a video clip they had just filmed. As I watched, the Aboriginal Student Support Worker supervising students working outside caught my eye. She smiled and said “they’re sure having fun!” As she spoke, the group suddenly broke apart, smiles on every face. They started running toward the classroom, having completed their video clip, ready to upload it to a netbook. Each student looked energized, happy, and motivated. They were fully engaged in their learning.

To put this in context, we started a multimedia unit last week in the Connected Classrooms. Today I introduced software for creating and editing videos. After a 15 minute lesson introducing the learning intentions, software and a quick review of royalty-free audio sites from the week before, I set students free to explore, create and direct their own learning.

That was when the learning started to get messy.

By messy, I mean that some students immediately went over to grab a camera and start filming video clips. One group of students began taking photos for a stop motion animation film. Several students opened up the royalty-free music sites from the week before and started downloading audio. Many students decided to try out the software for themselves and started creating a slideshow right away.

There were students working alone, lost in their own world of multimedia exploration, other students worked with a partner and learned from each other as they went along, and still other students working in small groups. Students were inside, outside, in the back room, out in the hallway and working in the room next door.

I could barely finish up with one student before another came up with an urgent question – How do I upload the video onto my flashdrive? How do I download this song? Where are all the cameras because we need one? – and on and on and on. The students wanted to know, needed to know, the answers so they could get on with creating their multimedia pieces. No hesitation to ask questions from this group.

And that was just the students in my classroom at Cayoosh. Watching the screen from time to time, I could see most of the students in Ashcroft and Lytton at their computers, but I wondered how many of my other students in those places were off with cameras and ideas during the connection. I also wondered if there were any questions from those students afar, but, thankfully, as both of my Connected Classroom colleagues are extremely tech-savvy when it comes to multimedia, I was confident that they were able to answer all questions at their sites.

It was a great class and the learning only stopped because lunch arrived. Students didn’t want to stop. They procrastinated when it came time to finish up – just let me download this one last song, I just need to get the photos off the camera, I want to show my friend the video I made – please Ms G? When I turned the microphone on to finish up the connected lesson with all three sites, I felt as if I was interrupting all the students. The Ashcroft and Lytton students seemed completely engaged as well. The chorus of “Goodbye!” was quieter than usual, and my guess is that students were so into the multimedia activities that our closing farewell faded in importance, a rare and unusual occurrence.

How has connected classrooms impacted student engagement?

Which brings me back to the original question: how has connected classrooms impacted student engagement in my classroom? Even reflecting solely on today’s lesson, there are so many ways to answer this question. There are the obvious answers based on the latest research focused on student engagement in schools. During the connected lesson, students were focused and on task.  They wanted to keep going and didn’t want to stop and disengage from their activities. They took the initiative to ask questions and move beyond the walls of the classroom to get the photos or video footage they needed. They were animated, energetic and brought that ‘edge of chaos’ feeling to the learning environment that seems productive and alive.


Going beyond a quick study of student cues, I would argue that learning in an environment in which multimedia and new technologies are simply embedded into everyday activities is highly engaging for students. Our students have a variety of multimedia equipment available to learn with and from. The students constantly engage with multimedia content; showing them how to create multimedia themselves is of interest to them. They want to learn it. It is relevant to their lives. And in the Connected Classrooms, with resources and people to help, students couldn’t wait to get started on multimedia creations all their own.

Digital teachers

I think that our role as ‘digital teachers’, an idea I developed during my Masters coursework, is also one aspect of the connected classrooms that impacts student engagement overall, and certainly within multimedia unit lessons like the one today. As connected classroom teachers, we create at least one multimedia project per month. The monthly news is created and shared from each site at the end of the month. While students help with this process by recording special events in photographs and video each month, the task of creating and editing the video falls to the teachers. We take this role seriously, showing students responsible, appropriate and safe ways to create and share content online.

Teacher engagement

Another way in which Connected Classrooms impacts student engagement is through teacher engagement. All three of us have choice as to what we teach. I still remember the shock I felt when my administrator asked me what I wanted to teach on my days as the lead teacher. Not surprisingly, we each teach an area that is highly interesting to us. Brooke’s passion for environmental stewardship comes through loud and clear during her Tuesday lessons on current events. Aislinn’s love of children’s literature is obvious not only in her Reading Power lesson activities, but also in her always new and interesting book choices. I love photography and multimedia and I know that my excitement passes along to the students during my Thursday lessons. Our authentic engagement with the topics we teach is obvious; the students get to learn from not one, but three people excited to share about a topic both personally and professionally important to them.

To finish

Student engagement is a tricky topic and the Connected Classroom is an extremely rich and complex learning environment so I’m quite certain I have not in any way adequately answered the Growing Innovation question, but hopefully my thoughts prompted by one lesson have at least made sense and perhaps inspired some new thinking along the way.

Back to an impossible task

I haven’t sat down to write about the ECC since last summer. At that time, I was at the end of my thesis, obsessed with trying to sort and articulate my learning from an indescribably amazing MEd year. One of the struggles I experienced at the time was trying to simplify the Connected Classrooms. At the time I remember thinking that the more I learned about the ECC, the larger it became in my mind and that no amount of thinking or learning or discussing or writing could ever justify, simplify or capture all that the ECC really is because it is such a rich, complicated, wonderful learning and teaching environment.

I’m supposed to be writing a post for the ECC blog, yet, as I sit, all topics I had brainstormed that stare at me from my pages of notes seem to swell, and the familiar outward swirling of this topic seems to appear in my mind. I feel very much still within the final processing stages of learning from my Masters year and I realize that I’ll have to reconcile within my mind to isolate one little snippet to write about today. Now, to grab that one little piece before it gets picked up in the gigantic vortex of thought…

The reason for all of this is the Growing Innovations Grant. Last year, Brooke, an ECC colleague, and Brenna, a Connected 8 teacher, started the grant application process and, long story short, our application was successful and we received the grant. With that came responsibilities, including the creation of, and regular contributions to, an ECC blog. At our most recent ECC collaboration day, we decided that one blog post per month until the spring would be a good way to move forward and make progress towards our project goals listed in the grant application.

Now, while I was excited that we’d be collaboratively blogging about the ECC, I was even more excited when I learned that we could use some of our grant money for release time to actually do the thinking, writing and posting. I love to write, and find writing for professional purposes very valuable, but if you read my blog, you’ll know that, lately anyway, I rarely post. Priorities being what they are, I just don’t have the time to spend writing at my computer a few times a week. Give me a choice between playing Battleship with my child or writing a blog post in that last 30 minutes of free time after dinner is done, dishes are washed and the laundry is on, etc., etc., I’ll choose Battleship every time.

Fortunately, the luxury of time has been afforded to me in small parcels over the next few months. I’m excited to write. But, at the same time, it’s interesting that while I am supposed to be thinking about writing on the ECC, instead I end up on a tangent about the situation of writing itself.

Writing about the ECC again will be both challenging and extremely valuable. It’s a great opportunity to continue the learning that I started in my MEd year of research and, without the extra push of the ECC blog and release time, I probably wouldn’t have the time to do it, not to mention the challenges I still experience trying to wrestle one manageable piece to tame into being my topic.

Enough thinking, I’d best get started…

(Digital) Citizenship

Less than two weeks ago, I was excited that eight months of teacher research was solidifying into the central idea of learning relationships. While I originally focused my MEd on student/teacher rapport through a video camera, there is much more going on in the Elementary Connected Classrooms to focus simply on the teacher/student relationship. There are peer-to-peer relationships, the collaborative relationships between the three teachers involved, and then all the crossovers between the almost 70 students and 3 teachers interacting in different ways (not just through the camera) each week. I decided that the term ‘learning relationships’ better described the complicated web of interpersonal connections in our unique setting and changed my terminology to reflect that deeper understanding.

I was, however, only temporarily satisfied with ‘learning relationships’ as the hub of my research. It just seemed too simple and not quite right. Now, after further reflections on my experiences at the Digital Learning Spring Conference and another weekend at SFU with a brilliant professor, I finally think (I hope!) I’ve found the main themes that connect all other ideas at the center of my learning.

At this point, deep caring for children – all children – sits as the base of my pedagogy. It always has. Motherhood is a part of that, but not all of it. I care deeply for the well-being and the happiness and the future of all children, mine first, of course, but other’s children are a close second. I love working with kids and absolutely fight for the best education they can possibly get because, in my opinion, not offering what they deserve in the classroom every day is a disservice to them.
digital citizenship

In my opinion, if we, as educators, truly care about children, we need to honour the learning environment that today’s children are growing up in. If we are guiding them to become good citizens, we need to incorporate digital citizenship into their learning. Each child, family, and community will vary as to the extent to which new technologies have become a part of daily life, hence the idea of honoring each individual’s learning environment. Thanks to some simple online dialogue with David Truss, I’ve decided that (digital) citizenship is the other main theme that binds all my research strands. Citizenship is still the main idea, but with the lesser theme of digital connected to it.

A vital component of (digital) citizenship is how to create and maintain healthy learning relationships. I worry about those, for example, who don’t understand social media because it is the way of the world in a very real sense. We need more educators to become experts in how to use new technologies, if for no other reason than to be good role models and guide the kids; the kids who will use those technologies anyway, regardless of whether or not they’ve received guidance to help keep them productive and safe. Even more important, we need educators who don’t get caught up in the technology, but who become (digital) citizens themselves and then gain a greater understanding of the larger, more meaningful themes, such as learning relationships, within that new technologically-rich context.

Imagery by I am I.A.M. from Flickr.com and altered as allowed per CC license using FotoFlexer’s SuperPixelate.

Connecting, Innovating, and Personalizing Education

Last November, the Ministry of Education sent a videographer to our district to film the Elementary Connected Classrooms project. The videographer spent the day filming in the TechnoKidz classroom in Lytton, one of our three Connected Classrooms. The video was just released in the Ministry Media Room and, if you watch carefully, that’s me teaching onscreen 39 seconds in. It was my turn to teach that day and, somewhat nervously, I taught about word usage and becoming a Wordsmith (inspired by a writing lesson from the Traits of Writing book).

We learned today that the video made from the filming is part of a Ministry press release entitled “Growing innovation brings personalized learning to life“. The video is mentioned at the end of the press release and it shows how we’re connecting students with innovative technology use and, in the process, taking steps to personalize education for our rural students.

Even though the video is only 51 seconds long, it’s pretty neat to have the project recognized in this way!

The Boys and the Tech Connection

The painting below sits at the front of my research journal for my Masters coursework. It took me twenty years to find and, that story, though too long and not quite relevant enough to include in its entirety here, has woven its way into my inquiry. That painting symbolizes a new layer of understanding into why I do what I do at home, at school and in my Masters research.

Mother and Child

Madame Vigee-Le Brun and her daughter, Jeanne-Lucie-Louise,  1789
(painted by Louise Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun)

Last night I sat supposedly working on report cards watching and listening to my children. My two sons were both on the home PC playing with a friend. The friend was far away – a 6 hour drive from here – visiting family. The friend, let’s call him Leif, has been my older son’s best friend for years. They are both rough tumble boys who seem to be from two worlds; the first world of tree forts and dirt biking switches back and forth with the second, newer world of video games and Youtube.

The boys were playing a free online video game that had a chat feature, so the three of them were chatting away, laughing, yelling, discussing what to do, goofing around, having a great time. They were using, very proficiently, a variety of technological tools to have fun with a friend.

A confession: I don’t always like technology. I do love it for some things, but it’s awful in other ways. It can be a huge waste of time, it can create real problems in people’s lives and I question the overall health of sitting in front of a screen for too many hours in a day. But it’s a part of our lives, our childrens’ and students’ lives very much so, and I feel it’s important to stay one step ahead of the younger generation in order to guide, role-model and help them navigate the world through the lens of technology. That’s a huge, heavy lens that nearly all children wear now. I want to be able to help them be able to stand up under its weight and think critically while looking through that lens. I also want to help them realize that they can, and should, sometimes take that lens off and unplug.

I stopped writing report cards and started to pay attention when I realized what the boys were doing. I stopped when I realized how the technology was allowing for a positive, transformative friendship-solidifying experience. I started to pay close attention to how the communication enabled by the technology was enhancing the connection and relationship between the boys, even over a vast geographical distance.

I started to think about the connection to my job. What the boys were doing is basically the same thing we’re doing with the Elementary Connected Classrooms project. One goal for the project is to create and maintain a relationship, a real connection, using technology, to bridge geographical distance and enlarge students’ peer group while at the same time giving them practice, in a safe and guided way, to learn how to learn from and with others online.

And that’s what my boys were doing. Using technology, under my guidance and watchful eye (from the kitchen table where I sat, I had a direct view of the computer screen, not to mention that I was close enough to hear the chat perfectly) to bridge the distance and maintain and enhance a friendship. They were using technology to play with a friend. It sounds so simple, but the more I think about it, the more complex it seems to be.

One thing I’ve known for years is that motherhood is a huge motivator for me. For example, all that I do with technology…from TLITE to the MEd inquiry to the Connected Classroom to all my independent, online PLN pro-d…it’s all, at the very heart of the matter, to do with being a mother. I am very motivated to stay one step ahead of my children and want to know just enough so that I know more about technology than them. I strive to keep them productive and literate and competitive and safe with their use of technology. I know they are growing up as Marc Prensky’s ‘digital natives’, and I want, as their mother, to be able to help guide them and help them along in that technological environment as I strive to do in every other aspect of their lives. I’ve known this all along. I’ve always known that, before my students, who I do absolutely love working with and who I try to be a wonderful teacher to in so many ways, are my own children. I am always so much more a mother than I am a teacher.

And that’s when I really had to stop. I was reminded of my older son’s entry into a visualization exercise we did at class one day. Basically, in the middle of a guided meditative type exercise to focus our thoughts on our inquiry, my son popped his head into my envisioned classroom. Since it happened, I’ve been wondering why. I was convinced, out of guilt, I think, that he was literally barging in on my imagined inquiry because I was neglecting him and his brother with all of the extra work and travel that the Masters has brought to our lives.

But he wasn’t barging in, he was reminding me. He was reminding me that motherhood is the driving force behind all that I do with technology. I do care about my students and take my job as a teacher in this small community very seriously. But I’m a mom first and foremost in all that I do. Which brings me, finally, to the painting of the mother and child…

I’ve loved that painting since before having children of my own. It is motherhood, simply and beautifully.

I placed that image at the front of my research journal weeks ago, not really knowing how it connected to my inquiry, but sensing and trusting that it did. Watching the boys and the tech connection tonight helped me to not only understand why my son appeared in my visualization, but also to remember why this inquiry is so important to me. Those boys and their technology made me realize that motherhood is one of my deepest motivators and the one lens that I never take off.

Thanks boys. Just another reason to appreciate those rangy boys that I’ve always enjoyed so much…

A Chance Meeting

Yesterday a student changed the way I think.

Allow me to explain. I was being a dutiful sports-mom and was a sideline official at my child’s sporting event. One of my duties was to ensure that the score sheet was correct. As I was verifying the visiting teams’ roster, I was surprised to notice a familiar name: Hubert Smith.


Hubert is a part of the Connected Classrooms project. He lives in a different community geographically distant from my home and both communities are in the same school district. Furthermore, both Hubert’s class and my class are a part of the Connected Classrooms project so, everyday when the classes connect using the latest video conferencing and desktop sharing software to teach and learn collaboratively across the district, Hubert sees me as one of his teachers. Some days I’m teaching his class a lesson through a video camera, other days I’m a supporting teacher guiding my students through the other teacher’s lesson activities.

camera cropped

Also, Hubert is reading the novel I am teaching in our Online Literature Circles. Every week I post a deep thinking question to our Connected Classrooms Moodle site and Hubert, along with all the other students reading the novel, posts a response to the forum. We’ve had some good discussions online and Hubert even took the initiative to post a music video relevant to our novel. He and I have built some student/teacher rapport within the Connected Classrooms environment. I have never met Hubert face to face but, as one of his teachers, he has been learning from me for over three months now. This is something I’m sure distance education teachers are used to, but not me.

After the sporting event mentioned above,  when it was finally time to leave and go home, I looked up and saw a boy walking out of the changing rooms with his mother. The way he looked at me, I instantly knew that it was Hubert. He smiled, tentatively, then, after I smiled tentatively back, his face transformed into a full, happy smile of recognition and he waved. He mother came walking over and introduced herself, starting our conversation by explaining that Hubert had said I was his teacher.


It was the coolest and oddest experience I have had in a long time as a teacher. Here, before me, was a student of mine that I have been teaching for over three months. We know one another as student and teacher and have interacted as such in a variety of ways but always through a virtual connection.

I am still amazes at how powerful the actual face to face meeting was. It was so nice to put a face to the name and be able to chat with him in person. We talked about the game and his team, we talked about school and we parted saying ‘see you next week’. Meeting his mother was wonderful, too.  I love meeting students’ parents for many reasons and she was so warm and seemed genuinely happy to meet me.

The chance meeting with Hubert, and the power of the experience, was timely. I’m currently finishing my research proposal for the Masters course and I’ve struggled to find the exact words with which to frame my inquiry. My inquiry is centered around arts-based methods and advocating for visual arts. I also feel a need to research indigenous worldviews to more fully understand hidden perspectives that I bring into the classroom each day. And, somewhere, I was hoping that those two topics would intersect and enlighten me with their connection.

I have constantly thought that those two topics are enough and should be the focus for my research but the unique learning environment that is the Connected Classrooms keeps creeping into my inquiry. I have purposefully tried to leave the context of teaching through new technologies out of the inquiry for simplicity’s sake.

But the reality of it is that, everyday, when I turn on that video conferencing equipment or login to the Connected Classrooms Moodle site, I am teaching in a radically different way than I have ever taught before. I can’t remove that from my inquiry. The way that my pedagogy is shifting as a result of the Connected Classrooms is profound and effects everything about my teaching practice, including the research for my Masters Degree. While I would like to leave the complexities of teaching with these new technologies out of my research, I can’t, and I shouldn’t.

Hubert reminded me that the context of the Connected Classrooms is effecting who I am as an educator, how I teach and what I believe about teaching and learning. He reminded me that the students are at the center of my inquiry and that I have entered into a teaching position which fundamentally changes the connection between student and teacher. And while I’m fascinated with the arts and intrigued by indigenous methods, I can’t ignore the environment in which I’ll be exploring those ideas.

Which takes me to a whole new level of thinking in this inquiry process…can I connect all three? I thought I’d tried, but really I was just asking separate questions that didn’t connect. Now I wonder, can I make meaning and create knowledge about using arts-based methods while gaining understanding of inherent  indigenous paradigms in a technology-rich learning environment that is innovative to the point of fundamentally transforming teaching and learning?

The more I write, the more I think, the more questions I have…all thanks to Hubert.

Hubert is a pseudonym to protect the student’s actual identity.
Soccer game by RaeA from Flickr.com, Hands 2 by A Taridona and Camera equipment by me.