20/20 Reflections on TEDxWestVancouverEd

I couldn’t find time to write this before the summer and, although the event happened over two months ago, I can’t shake the desire to share a few things from that day. Certain things have stayed with me so clearly. I’m curious to explore blogging from this long-term memory perspective as there seems to be an unusual tension between the strong urge to write about a fantastic experience and the perception that, because that learning experience occurred so long ago, that it’s too late to write about it. Think of the relevance to teaching and learning in that statement. Guess I have another blog post to add to the list…


I have to congratulate the organizers of TEDxWestVancouverED for creating a wonderful day of professional development. While it was my first TED experience of any kind, other than watching the videos online, of course, I can appreciate the organization that goes into an event like that and I think they did a great job. I was most impressed at how the topics, ideas and questions raised during each speaker’s talk throughout the day seemed to scaffold into each other as the day progressed. It proved to be a masterful organization of sessions that led to a powerful but seamless learning experience.

Secondly, I LOVED hearing the speakers. I have wanted to hear Dean Shareski in person for years! He did not disappoint. My visual notes on his talk are here. AND I was lucky enough to get to meet him! Not surprising that one of my most lasting memories from that day was being a part of one of his famous jumping photos with all the amazing (and fun!) people I met from #SD36learns. No doubt in my mind that fun = lasting memories. Who wouldn’t want to add that equation into a learning environment?

Saying that all the speakers were wonderful is an understatement. Chris Kennedy, also a speaker that day, lists links to many of the speakers in his own TEDxWestVanED post if you’d like to see for yourself.

Another person I’ve wanted to meet for years was Shelley Wright. I think there are many parallels between our experiences as educators and I admire, and am inspired by, her passion, her bravery and her steadfast belief and trust in her students.

Aside from the speakers and all that I learned from them, the other big takeaway for me was meeting and talking with people in general. The opportunity to say hello to the speakers was made possible due to the fact that it was a smaller event.

I have to say, meeting all the enthusiastic people from #sd36learns was another highlight of my day. Not only did I do my practicum in Surrey, but I was also attached to a Surrey cohort for my graduate diploma coursework that led to everything I do online and with technology. Because of those reasons, I feel a certain attachment to the district and I’m thrilled to see the progress the district is making. No doubt this is due to the amazing educators working there and it was a pleasure to finally meet so many pln members face to face that day! The bonus for me was hanging out with Iram Khan, a pln member who turned out to be an old friend of my first brother. Reminiscing and comparing stories made lunch extra special for me!

Finally, I have to mention my visual notes. I was extremely frustrated that I couldn’t connect to the wifi at all that day. Neither my phone, nor my laptop, would connect. Luckily, I had a notebook and my pencil case with me so I decided to take ‘visual notes’ instead of tweeting during the talks. I’ve defaulted to this visual form of note-taking, or doodling, all my life and its interesting to see it becoming a more popular way to record and share notes.

The ‘stop’ moment for me occurred after I posted photos of my doodles as a Flickr set that night. The impact and re-sharing of my visual doodles online seemed much, much higher than the impact and re-sharing of professional tweeting I’ve done at events in the past. There were almost 200 views of my Flickr set within 24 hours of posting the photos. Would a set of my tweets get that many intentional views? Probably not. What is it about visual notes that increases engagement? I have many thoughts and questions on this, all stemming from my interest in visual literacy and my MEd research.

So, not only is hindsight 20/20, it also appears to allow for added reflection and gives ideas the time needed to expand.


Photo of TEDx sign and screen by me

What’s Creating the Connection?

Yesterday I attended a social media workshop in neighboring SD #73 (Kamloops). This was, for me, a follow up to the Digital Learning Spring Conference and a chance to deepen my learning around notions of digital citizenship for Masters studies. It was also a great opportunity to connect with other educators in my PLN. Special thanks to Cale Birks (@birklearns) for arranging so that I was able to attend!


It was incredible to watch the presenter, George Couros, once again manage to encourage the attendees to the point that many opened up to begin to trust social media. At the start of the day, there were four of us, including George, on Twitter. By the end of the morning, several new tweeters were contributing to the #kamloopsgc hashtag and as the day went on, I noticed the presence of many educators exploring social media, either for the first time or with a new perspective.

As in Vancouver last month, the highlight for me was a chance to connect with like-minded educators, especially those I’d only ‘met’ online via social media. I had the chance to visit with George, whom I’d first met at the Digital Learning Spring Conference. George introduced me to Cale, who introduced me to others. Probably the neatest connection was to Tracy Poelzer (@SD73Techie), the District Tech Coordinator for SD#73. We’ve followed one another on Twitter for quite some time and, at the start of the day, did the “Hey, where are you sitting?” tweets, which led to a wave across the room and, finally, a face to face meeting at coffee. Turns out, though, that I’d seen Tracy speak several times in April at the Regional Science Fair in Kamloops when I attended as a parent with my son. It was really neat to have that extra connection to make an already positive introduction that much more meaningful.

There were maybe 150 in attendance for the morning workshop and, from my viewpoint, many seemed unsure of social media at the start of the day. There were numerous concerns about how to even integrate technology into schools. By the end of the morning, however, there was a hopeful buzz in the room and by the end of the day there was evidence that practice had changed.

I left with some unanticipated questions. The overall experience left me wondering about those in the room who engage in social media and technology on a daily basis. What is it about these ‘like-minded’ educators I’m meeting through social media? Why are we alike? Why do we, if you think of the group as a unique cohort, a subsection of educators, engage with technology the way we do and embed it into our practice?

I know my answer, and I think it’s the same answer many  of my PLN would offer – that we need to because it’s the world our students are growing up in. Is that the common thread that connects us – our related awareness of, and comfort level within, the larger learning environment that our students are growing up within? Or is it that we’re challenge-loving risk-takers who don’t mind pushing outside of our comfort zone to engage with tools and environments that are uncertain and sometimes overwhelming? Simply a contemporary group of overachievers? I’m not certain yet, but I’d love to figure out what’s creating the connection.

Imagery by tiddlywinker on Flickr.com

Conference + Social Media = Powerful Learning Experience

I experienced the most powerful professional development of my life this past week at the Digital Learning Spring Conference in Vancouver. I attended as a co-presenter, along with my Elementary Connected Classroom (ECC) colleagues. The three of us gave a 45 minute presentation sharing our work in the ECCThe view from my balcony project, and while that was a powerful learning experience in itself, it was only one tiny piece of my overall experience.

The keynotes, Dr. Alec Couros and George Couros, were fantastic. These guys understand what education is all about. They know that the students come first and their passion as educators is inspiring. The keynote was one of the best I’ve seen, mixing insight and wisdom with humor and sibling rivalry. Their keynote, another piece of my learning, is here and well worth looking at.

Usually, good keynotes, being a presenter and other workshops would be enough to make for an intense pro-d experience. And they did, most definitely. But, the thing that transformed a regular conference experience into a powerful learning experience was social media itself.

Before the conference, I sent out a few tweets to people I wanted to meet face to face. I’ve been building a digital identity for five years now with blogging, Flickr, Slideshare, Twitter and more, and I’ve carefully selected certain educators to learn from and with online. The conference was my first chance to connect with some of these people, and it absolutely transformed the conference experience. I met some amazing people and enjoyed wonderful conversations. Some of those conversations were backchannel tweets during workshops, some were face to face over lunch or later at night, and some were just plain silly (at one point I felt like the girl sitting in the back of the classroom laughing with the troublemakers, just like high school all over again).

The lasting impression is that without careful, purposeful use of social media to build relationships with like-minded educators, none of those connections would have happened. I would have attended the conference, been inspired, and gone home like I have dozens of times before.

Instead, I went, I presented, I was inspired, I socialized and I left with new friends and acquaintances. I left feeling connected to some of the most amazing people I’ve ever met. I left with the feeling that I’d found a few more of my ‘peeps’, as Dr. Kelly (from my MEd) calls those who you can really learn with and from in life. I left feeling empowered by deep, meaningful learning connections that will continue after, rather than end with, the final keynote. It was the most powerful learning experience I’ve ever had and it would never have happened without social media.

Taking a Photo a Day

I love photography. I always have. I’ve always been the person who’s rarely in any photos because I’m the one taking them. Teaching photography is an woodabsolute pleasure and I enjoy sharing my passion for the subject with my students.

Last New Year’s Eve, I decided to take on the challenge of taking a photo a day for the duration of 2010. Not surpisingly, I learned about the photo a day challenge through Twitter. My first photo, at the right, is one of my favourites so far. I started because I love taking photographs, but I also though that it might be an interesting assignment for my photography students and I like to try things out before I bring them into the classroom.

FragilityI decided to follow @dailyshoot on Twitter because they tweet simple, good photo assignments each day. It helps to keep motivated and inspired. You can even tweet your photo with a link and they’ll add it to their Daily Shoot site. I usually try the daily shoot assignment, but, if the opportunity presents itself, I veer off and capture images of my choice.

I use my Flickr account to archive my daily photos. I also joined two groups on Flickr: the 2010/365photos group (a group largely made up of After the rain...edubloggers which started in 2008) and the Art Ed 365/2010 (another group similiar to the first, but specifically for art teachers). I already had a Flickr account, so it was just a matter of finding the groups (which I learned about from my PLN on Twitter) and joining. Both groups contain members that I either follow on Twitter or that have a blog I subscribe to. I purposefully joined groups that would extend my existing PLN experience and I’ve found that being a part of the group has made my commitment more real.

The benefits I’ve experienced so far are:

  • a greater awareness, a constant searching, for that awesome photo
  • some great photos that I’m really proud of
  • a neat visual record of my year so far
  • an understanding of what it feels like to have to take photos in the same place every day. I get it now when my photo students come in and say ‘there’s nothing to take photos of in this school’,  whereas before I’d privately think, ‘how could there be nothing to take photos of in the whole school?’

The struggles I’ve had so far:

  • finding inspiration in the same spaces day after day. I think it’s time to go on some long drives to take advantage of the beautiful natural setting surrounding me. Looking at my photos so far, very few are outside of my house or my classroom, even though I take my camera with me everywhere I go. I want to change that.
  • remembering to take the photos. I haven’t missed a day yet although I haven’t posted all the photos online, but I have forgotten until late at night and then I was stuck taking a photo just because I had to. Not surprisingly, those don’t turn out very well.
  • technical difficulties. I’m getting a dark spot in the lower right corner of my recent photos. It only shows up in certain close up situations with the flash and it’s ruined a few good photos already.
  • uploading the photos to Flickr, then naming them, tagging them, adding them to the group pool, etc. Is there an easier way to archive the daily photo? There probably is, but I haven’t found it yet, so I usually only upload every couple of weeks or so.

In this time of limitless online professional development, the daily photo is a Linesvaluable and worthwhile learning experience. I’ve really enjoyed it so far and I think it will make for a valuable photography assignment for my students. I wonder about others’ experience so far and I think in a classroom setting, where the students can sit and talk about their successes, struggles, etc. face to face, it will be even better.

All images by me.

It’s Been Awhile…

Where to start?

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted. My apologies to those of you who do check in regularly. I’ve thought, at least once a week, of something that would make a great topic for a post, but then life rushed me right past it before I could pull it out of my mind and onto the ‘new post’ window.

Here’s what’s happened in the last two months to prevent me from posting:

#1. Report cards. I’ve been teaching for 14 years and I still haven’t figured out how to do reports without the rest of my life coming to a complete standstill. Any ideas?

#2. Presentation to colleagues on Using Web 2.0 Tools To Build and Maintain a Personal Learning Network for the district non-instructional day in November. This was really a long, detailed Tech Corner designed to spread the word about the great potential for learning connections using technology.

#3. Twitter. Wow. I said that in August, and I’m still saying that now. In only six months I’ve sent 636 tweets, decided to follow 302 people and I’ve picked up 195 followers along the way. If you want to be connected in the world today, you have to be on Twitter. It’s just that simple. It does come with a price though. It’s taken a fair chunk of my computer time away from this blog but because it’s microblogging, I still think I’m moving forward with my online pro-d.

#4. Christmas. I think for the first time in my life, I managed to pull off a wonderful, organized, fun-filled family Christmas without tiring myself out. I made it a priority and I maintained balance which meant that some things, like blogging, just didn’t take place. But this is some of what I did accomplish:

  • 8 batches of gingerbread cookies (my specialty)Christmas Baking
  • 4 batches of sugar cookies
  • 2 batches of shortbread (secret family recipe)
  • 1 batch of krumkake
  • 1 gingerbread house
  • several Christmas movies, complete with treats, blankets, pjs, and other comfy movie night necessities
  • a beautiful Norwegian Christmas Eve dinner, etc., for my husband’s family

#5. I joined a book club. My first, actually. A wonderfully inspiring colleague asked me to be a member so I couldn’t refuse! We’re reading Teaching with the Brain in Mind by Eric Jensen. The coolest part so far was a conference call to Eric himself (turns out one of my colleagues knows him, what are the odds?!) after we read the first chapter.

That’s my update! I don’t do New Year’s resolutions, but I do plan on posting more regularly. More to come…

Week #1 – 31 Day Blogging Challenge

I’m seven days in on 31 Days to Being a Better Blogger.

One of the best things about self-directed learning is that you don’t have to fit your learning into the larger agenda of outer influence. Life is busy and I was happy to read that others participating in the challenge are more focused on the learning that the 31 day time frame. After all, it is the learning that’s important. Personally, I would rather take more time and maximize the experience. Besides, no one actually specified 31 days in a row

Here are the tasks I’ve completed to date:

Day 1 – Email a New Reader – My ‘new reader’ was someone I already knew, which is more at my comfort level, but I will take the step and email more readers unknown to me for a couple of reasons. First, I think it is a great way to continue conversations. Second, I’d like my readers to know that I appreciate their comments and I value their opinions. And, finally, I was on the receiving end of an email from a blogging conversation myself last summer and it was empowering to have someone take the time to contact me (thanks Jan!).

Day 2 – Run a ‘First Time Reader Audit’ on your Blog – I’m lucky that one of my siblings is very tech savvy and has given me some great feedback. I think I will push one step further after reading other participants reflections and get another first time reader to do an audit.

Day 3 – Search for and Join a Forum – Darren Rowse is right, this is a great way to build one’s PLN. I belong to Classroom 2.0, Learning Unleashed, BC Literacy Forum, Art Education 2.0 and my latest favourite, Images4Education. You do get exposure for your blog, plus your own blogging space within the ning itself, not to mention all the great learning possibilities that can arise from a group of like-minded individuals gathering together in one online space.

Day 4 – Interlink Archived Posts – Now that I’m building up the number of posts I’ve written, I have been able to continue themes that I’d already written on. And, just to be fancy, I interlinked archived posts in this post. Did you find them?

Day 5 – Conduct an ‘About Page Audit’ – I did this today. I’d like to add a photo of some sort, or maybe a different kind of visual (perhaps a Wordle?).  I’m happy with what it says about me for now.

Day 6 – Email an Old Time Reader – I think this is a natural extension of the conversations that get started from commenting and co-commenting. In the past week, I’ve emailed three people to continue conversations that began as a result of a blogging comment exchange.

Day 7 – Plan Your Next Week’s Posting Schedule – Great idea, and I’m a planner, so I tend to do this constantly for all aspects of my life (although not as much as my dad – you should see his planning system – but that’s another post!). I remember Betty, Cindy and Virginia discussing little notebooks and other methods of planning during a KnowSchools week. I followed their advice and carry a little black notebook with me everywhere I go that’s full of post ideas. Running out of ideas will not be a problem; my problem will be finding the time to post!

That’s what I accomplished for the 31 Day Challenge this week. Next week I want to connect more with the other participants and work on that group learning experience. I still feel behind compared to many of my fellow participants (Nic was on Day 11 last Wednesday – go Nic!), but I do think I’m off to a good start! Stay tuned…

Image by Squonk 11 on Flickr.com

My PLN – The Open Window after the Door Closed

Steve Dembo is the motivation behind this post (thanks Steve!). His last post asked if personal learning networks, or PLNs, are bad for morale. That post inspired me and when I’m inspired I sometimes go on with a little too much detail. You might want to grab some coffee or tea and then settle in to read this one.

Last April I completed a graduate diploma on educational uses of technology. I live in a rural area and drove a considerable distance for sessions at the university. I always drove home motivated and rejuvenated, ready and excited to implement what I’d learned.

The last drive home, however, was bittersweet. I was thankful to be finished, happy to have a life back (no more homework!!!), and proud of my accomplishment, but I was very sad to be leaving an inspiring group of people. My cohort had motivated me and helped me grow and learn for over two years. I wondered what I would do without that formal learning atmosphere, without that regular injection of professional motivation, without my newfound, albeit formally organized, PLN.Window

What’s that saying, ‘when one door closes, a window opens’? Very true in this case…

Before leaving on that last day of coursework, I asked my faculty associate, Julia, how I could stay connected from a distance. She didn’t hesitate with her one word answer – ‘blog’ was all she said. I admit, at the time, I was dissatisfied with her answer. I wanted to maintain the momentum I had experienced with my personal and professional development. I wanted to continue my learning on how to include transformative uses of technology in my teaching. I wanted to have that motivation and inspiration that came from my cohort. Her answer seemed too simple and it didn’t seem to be the answer I was looking for.

Regardless, due to my immense respect for her, I took Julia’s advice. I had been reading blogs recommended throughout the coursework (Weblogg-ed, 2 cents Worth, Alan November) so I started working on my blogroll and trying to comment once a week. By the time summer rolled around, I was spending a part of Saturday morning, tea in hand, reading blogs. My RSS feed list was growing, as was my list of bookmarks on Del.icio.us. I was beginning to think that I could at least continue self-directed learning via blogging in this way. At Julia’s suggestion, I was at the beginning stages of developing my PLN online and I didn’t even know it.

During the summer I started planning on how to use blogs in an art classroom. In TLITE, I’d learned to try out new technologies before using them in the classroom. The logical first step was to start my own blog, but I was scared, and a little leery, to do so for the usual reasons.

It was about this time that I received an email from KnowSchools about an online conference on blogging. I decided to sign up, and that was the catalyst I needed to get started on my own blog.

Was Julia right? Was blogging the answer to my question on how to maintain that professional growth and stay connected after moving back to my rural home? Absolutely, yes!

In less than a year, my PLN is expanding in ways I never anticipated. I’m working on collaborative blogging projects within my district. I have little blogging conversations with people around the world. And, most importantly, I’m ready to transform the learning in my classroom using blogging as the tool. So far, the positives far outweigh the negatives and I’m only getting started.

In his post, Steve Dembo asked if being hyper-connected was bad for morale. It could be, if you’re a glass half empty type of person. But then, most things are perceived in a negative way with those types of people. At this point, for me, being hyper-connected is great! It’s exactly the type of motivation and inspiration that I need. I love my small town and my small school. Both have been incredibly supportive of any projects I’ve undertaken related to integrating technology into my teaching. However, for continued professional growth, I also love the idea of a PLN that is wide-open with limitless possibilities. But then again, I am a glass half full type of person…

Image – Window by Jezzebelle from Flickr.com

Six Things Learned in My First Two Weeks

Reflection time. Here are six things I’ve learned about blogging in my first two weeks:

  1. Maintaining a blog takes time. I’ve spent 3-4 hours per week designing and writing posts. I realize that it’s a work in progress and I like the continuous improvements as my blog evolves.
  2. Visual appeal is important. I created a Flickr account and added the link to my page. One thing I want to learn next is how to include photos in my posts, especially copyright free images off the net.
  3. I want to use my blog to help build my PLN. Blogging is a good way to build a personal learning network. Check out Sue Waters’s recent posts on the subject – if you hurry, there’s a survey you can fill out.
  4. Activate your Widgets – I waited (impatiently!) for little red dots to appear after I added a ClustrMap (a widget suggested by Jan Smith – thanks Jan!). I knew people were visiting my blog, but no red dots! Turns out that an email from ClustrMap that I misread was really the way to activate the widget…oops!
  5. I’m enjoying myself. Writing relaxes me, it always has. It doesn’t matter if I write with a pen or with a keyboard. There is, however, something extra special about a beautiful, handmade journal and a really fabulous pen…
  6. Bloggers can be compared to rock stars. Steve Dembo at Teach 42 wrote a great post full of encouraging words for beginning bloggers:

“When you get right down to it, the best way to be a successful blogger… is to be one. To put yourself out there, to be bold and promote yourself, to be confident in your worth and quite simply to be the Rock Star you truly are.”