Saturday 25 October 2014

Peer into the Future of Education by Alan November

This was the conference that I attended yesterday. I have to admit that on my way there, I had been hoping that it would end early because I had so many errands to run. But it did not end early and I was not disappointed because it had succeeded in making me think! More specifically, it made me think about how technology can help us teach better than ever.

The first example that November gave us that illustrates the change in what we can teach and now expect from our students, is how we are no longer limited in the sources of information that our children have access to. If we give students an assignment to write about an event in history they are no longer limited to using only sources from their own country. They can access sources from other countries to understand other perspectives on that event and then learn from these differing perspectives.

Of course this access to other sources also means that we have lost control over what sources are available to our students and it is critically important that we teach them to analyze what they read. Two very important elements that we need to teach them is to look at who is producing the content that they read and how to confirm which of two conflicting sources is correct. The examples that November gave us for teaching who is producing content were a “.org” page owned by someone who does harm to that cause and an article that superficially looked like it was produced by a well renowned university but was actually produced by a student at that university who did not have his facts straight.

Alan November also showed us numerous websites that offer terrific learning and teaching opportunities. Here are some that I intend to explore further: Diigo, WolframAlpha, Kaizena,, Clubacademia, ScreenChomp, Scratch, Edx, FanFiction. I have to admit that none of the things discussed at this conference were things that I could do with my early primary class that I currently teach. However I did spend much of the day thinking about what skills we should be teaching our students in the early primary grades in order to enable them to be successful learners in tomorrow’s world.

It does seem reasonable to expect that the future of learning will be more about setting up individualized learning programs for children and the teacher’s role will be to assess where a student is at and use that information to create a learning program for them. For students to get the most out of this type of a learning program it is more important than ever for them to be independent, motivated, and capable learners. This means that early on in their education we should be teaching children to learn how to learn. In my online course, Learn Easier Study Better, I stress that learning how to be a better learner involves understanding  knowing how to motivate oneself, having a “can-do” attitude, developing confidence in one’s abilities, knowledge of the learning process, and good practical learning strategies. These are all things that we can and should teach our children starting at a young age. My passion for teaching my students how to learn better was definitely fed at yesterday’s conference!

Thursday 28 August 2014


Learn Easier Study Better was created with middle and high school students, online learners, and adult learners returning to a student role, in mind. Typically these types of students are the ones who most need to learn how to develop their ability to learn independently, boost their confidence in their abilities and basically learn easier and study better. However anyone who feels that they could improve their learning and study abilities will benefit from this course.
This course helps these students accomplish exactly this in two main ways. First, it will increase students' meta-cognition. This is the ability to think about one's thinking. Thus students will learn to recognize what it is that they do that helps their learning as well as what they do that hinders their learning. Secondly, this course encourages students to develop a growth mindset. A growth mindset includes perseverance and a "can do" attitude. A growth mindset is more indicative of success than IQ!
In this course you, you will learn to improve and maintain your motivation and attitude toward learning, understand the learning process, increase your confidence in your learning, and learn an assortment of tricks and strategies to help you learn and study more effectively. This is taught through standard videos, narrated slideshow videos, handouts, reading texts, and key concept visuals. Students will learn through repetition, reflection, and using the three modes of learning (auditory, visual, and kinesthetic).
It should take a student 4-5 hours to complete this course. This time lime includes watching the videos, reading and viewing the text materials and doing the handout exercises. The benefits of the work that you will do in this short time will be felt throughout your life!
If you or someone you know is interested, check out my course landing page!

Wednesday 13 August 2014

Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength

This summer, I reread Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength by Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney. This book basically discusses willpower in terms of self-control and self-regulation.The one chapter in this book that is most pertinent to raising children would be “Raising Strong Children: Self-Esteem Versus Self-Control”.

The biggest point that the authors make is that in the 1980's there was a big push to raise children’s self-esteem so that they would succeed better. But as more research was done, it was discovered that high self-esteem did not result in more success and better achievement. This initial assumption had it backwards because what was really at work was that when children experienced success and accomplishment, it raised their self-esteem. In fact all the general praise and recognition that we have given children when success and achievement was not even there has actually caused the societal problem of narcissism. The authors define narcissism as, “the self-absorbed conviction of personal superiority.”

Narcissism has been on the rise in North America for decades. What is the problem with narcissism? This chapter lists some of the big issues such as professors complaining that students feel entitled to high grades without having to study, and employers report problems with young workers who expect to have all the benefits of a high level executive job without actually paying their dues. In fact, news reports have stated that the under 34 age group has the highest rates of unemployment and college professors and teachers have also complained about parents expecting their children to get high grades without earning them. One documentary that highlights the issues of narcissism in today’s youth is CBC’s Hyper Parents, Coddled Kids.  Although it does not use the word narcissism, as you watch it you can see that narcissism runs rampant in the examples that it highlights.

 In this chapter, Baumeister and Tierney point out how the Asian parenting philosophy actually promotes self-control and results in the youngsters raised in this manner outperforming their peers, even outperforming their peers with higher IQs, which was once thought to be indicative of success. Youngsters raised in this manner do not exhibit high levels of narcissism. Typically, Asian cultures expect a higher level of self-control from their children even at an early age. An example would be expecting toddlers to be potty-trained at younger ages. As well, delayed gratification plays a large role in raising children. Not giving their children a big-ticket item until they have achieved a particular accomplishment.  Mothers who emigrated from China most frequently mentioned setting high goals, enforcing tough standards, and requiring children to do extra homework.
Following the discussion on Asian parenting styles and their flourishing children, the authors then bring up examples of low expectations of American raised children that has allowed the nanny reality television shows to boom.  These nanny shows typically show a home where the children are running wild and then a nanny comes in and establishes structure and discipline that is consistent above all else but also as immediate as possible. Consistency is the most important rule of discipline. The consequence itself does not need to be over the top. In fact it can be as mild as some firm words. It is good to have the consequence follow the misbehaviour as soon as possible for it to be as effective as possible.

This chapter also points out that “nearly all experts agree that children need and want clear rules, and that being held accountable for obeying the rules is a vital feature of healthy development.” As well, children need monitoring   to develop a healthy sense of self-control. It has been found that a lack of adult supervision during the teenage years turned out to be one of the strongest predictors of criminal behavior. Children whose parents keep tabs on them are less likely to use illegal drugs. Parental monitoring helps kids develop self-control when parents remind and expect their children to behave according to standards that have been expressed and taught at home. Controlling one’s attention is also a crucial part of developing willpower. Television, even if it is quality programming does not teach people to control their attention. Reading, role play games, and other games that engage a child’s attention and focus for longer periods of time will help children learn to control their attention. That is a lot of valuable information packed into one chapter for parents, caregivers, and educators, to dig into when improving their ability to raise children with a healthy dose of self-control.


Wednesday 6 August 2014

Teaching Online

Two years ago, I decided that I wanted to create an online course. I knew what I wanted to teach but I did not know how I could teach it online. Then a year ago I heard about Udemy. After checking it out I realized that this would be the perfect platform for my course! So over this past year, I have been researching, planning, and writing my course. As well, I took a course on Udemy on How to Create a Udemy Course.

The easy part is done. Now I am working on getting my course published. While writing the course I was in my element. I had been researching learning and study skills for well over a year and I am very passionate about the idea of empowering students to become more independent and in-control of their learning. Now I am plugging away at the technical aspect of creating and editing high quality videos. Ironically, I have had to take my own advice that I give in my course on maintaining my motivation, improving my confidence in my abilities, and being patient with my learning process.

When I feel stuck, I turn to three options. One, I go back to my notes or the course itself. Two, I take a break and turn to the new and improved Udemy course How to Create Your Udemy Course. After all, repetition is key! That is another key concept in my course, Learn Easier Study Better. Third, I sleep on it. Sometimes for more than one night. I think that I'm over the toughest part. So hopefully my next post will be when my course is done. Or if I need another breather, it will be on one of the books that I read this summer. Wish me luck!

Wednesday 7 May 2014

May 2nd, 2014 Professional Development Day

I attended the School District #35 sponsored professional day conference for WGSS feeder schools. The keynote speaker for the morning session was Lynie Tener who spoke on Exploring Learning and Teaching. Lynie Tener spoke to the idea of teaching to all students not just the capable ones. She presented a lot of Carol Dweck’s research, particularly her findings for the different effects of praising children for their ability and praising them for their effort. When praised for their ability, students tend to refuse challenges so that they don’t prove themselves unable and they experience more anxiety when presented with more challenging work. But with praise for effort, children were more likely to accept challenges and deal with failures as learning experiences. This has been much quoted research of late and I struggled to remember who I have been reading lately that has also gone into these findings in detail.
Then Tener spoke more about Carol Dweck’s work on a growth mindset versus a fixed mindset. With a fixed mindset, people tend to believe that their intelligence is somewhat fixed and there isn’t a lot that they can do to improve it. They shut down with criticism, avoid challenges, and do what they can to make themselves look smart. With a growth mindset, people know that their intelligence can improve. They believe that their knowledge and abilities will improve with hard work. Criticism and setbacks are just tools for learning.
Finally, Lynie Tener spoke about the OECD’s 7 Principles of Learning. She expounded on each the principles; learners at the centre, the social nature of learning, emotions are integral to learning, recognizing individual differences, stretching all students, assessment for learning, and building horizontal connections. Then she had us to some reflection on how we teach in regards to these principles.

For my second session I attended UDL: Universal Design for Learning given by Anne Midzain. She explained that the philosophy of Universal Design for Learning was about getting to know your students as a community of learners as well as individual learners. Then you start by looking at their strengths. When using this model we teach with the three principles: Representation, Action and Expression, and Engagement. Anne Midzain also gave us the following websites to explore:,, and This is a model that I am very interested in learning more about!

The final session I attended was Primary Genius Hour given by Tracy Cramer. I have been interested in Genius Hour for awhile now but have struggled to picture how to put it into practise with a class of 24 grade one and two students with just me. I have heard teachers of intermediate grades express frustration with implementing it due to the lack of independence among many children these days and with maxed out class sizes the lack of independence is even more taxing. This session gave me some great ideas! First of all she had her students partnered up with “inquiry buddies”. These were older buddies who can write! Another good idea is to start with a class topic. That way she gathered research material on that topic. The students were able to research different subtopics of that class topic. With just these two details, I have a much clearer idea of how I might implement this kind of inquiry into my classroom for the next school year!

Saturday 22 March 2014

Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence

This past winter, I read Daniel Goleman's Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence. I have been meaning to write about it for awhile because of the obvious connection to education and why and how we can teach children how to focus better. Then today I came across the webinar Education for Today: Rethinking Skills for Success with Daniel Goleman and Peter Senge, which reminded me that I wanted to process my thoughts about the book.

Daniel Goleman, in this book, explains three kinds of focus: Inner focus, Other focus, and Outer focus. Inner focus is the ability to tune into ourselves and determine what we are feeling, where the feeling comes from, and what we can do about it. Other focus is tuning into others and developing and understanding necessary for developing solid relationships. Outer focus is tuning into the world around us and understanding how things work and the consequences of actions.

Teaching students these kinds of focus will help them live happier more successful lives as the skills involved for these types of focus are exactly the skills that Richard Boyatzis argues make for better leadership in his course Inspiring Leadership through Emotional Intelligence. See my post below on this course. These skills are addressed and taught in Social Emotional Learning (SEL) curriculum. Research has found that SEL programs increase pro-social behaviors by 10%, decrease antisocial behavior by 10%, and increase academic performance by 10%. One major strategy for developing all these types of focus is teaching mindfulness. See my posts on mindfulness.

In the webinar mentioned above it is argued that the there are three crucial skill sets that need to be taught for student success in life. The first is self-mastery which is essentially the skills that Goleman explains are part of inner focus. The second is empathy and caring which is basically the skills involved in other focus. The third skill set is systems understanding which relates to the skills involved in outer focus.

If there is one thing that has become clear in education to those on the front lines these days is that our education system needs to teach more than just reading, writing, math, and other academic subjects. My major concern with the current push for project based learning is that if we do not teach children these three kinds of focus that Goleman explains in his book (or the self regulation that Stuart Shanker promotes) then many children will not succeed. Students without focus will not get much out of project based learning. When so many students are struggling with self regulation issues, inner, other, and outer focus can help them succeed and live happier lives.

Monday 3 March 2014

February 21st 2014 Professional Day

On February 21st, I attended Think Langley's #odyssey14 conference. I attended 3 sessions.

Daily 5: Question and Answer Session - I attended this session because I had read the book years ago when I was still teaching intermediate. Now I'm back in primary and reading The CAFE Book. I felt a refresher would be helpful as well as the time to look at the Daily 5 through primary eyes. I am happy to say that I did get some good ideas for "word work" apps as well as encouraging learning independence and stamina.

Explain Everything! Practical Uses and How-Tos For Screencasting on Your iPad - Kudos to Victoria Olson for being so organized. Here is slideshow that went with the workshop. We played around and got our hands "dirty". Originally, I choose this workshop because I'm interested in learning more about screencasting to present ideas on brain-based learning. However, I must say that I was impressed with the practical classroom applications that Victoria showed us. Having students read a passage or explain a math concept are the ideas that excited me most!

So You Want to Mystery Skype? - Okay, I have to admit, I choose this workshop by default as all the ones I was really interested in were full. I think Mystery Skype is a pretty simple concept and was pretty clear when Will Richardson explained it at the Learning in a Networked World (see earlier blog). This workshop was  facilitated by Victoria Olson as well and she gave us lots of ideas about what jobs there are for students to take on and then we actually did a Mystery Skype. So I do feel quite prepared to do this in the classroom and I've even found a class to do it with!

Wednesday 15 January 2014

Inspiring Leadership through Emotional Intelligence

Wow, I took my first course through Coursera! What a great experience. I took the 8 week course Inspiring Leadership through EmotionalIntelligence. It was offered by Case Western Reserve University and the Instructor was Richard Boyatzis. It was an 8 week course that I worked on from October 28th through December 23rd of 2013. It was a great experience and it has turned me into a Coursera fan. I am registered in an upcoming class on public speaking.

The big idea in this course that impacted me the most is that inspiring leaders create experiences of hope, compassion, mindfulness, and playfulness with the people around them. As well, these qualities are important to have in our own experiences to keep us renewed and to ameliorate the effects of stress in our lives. Of course once you think about it, it seems to be common sense that experiences of hope, compassion, mindfulness, and playfulness would help us build resonant relationships and keep us feeling positive and renewed. The course offers up the neuroscience to back up the common sense as well. Being a big fan of neuroscience I enjoyed the readings immensely.

Another big idea that I really appreciated was that of Boyatzis’ Intentional Change Theory (ICT). This theory is basically a model of sustained, desired change for people individually or in groups. Reading and listening to this theory was like a light bulb going off. It was explaining so much of what I’ve seen and experienced but was not entirely conscious of or able to put it into words. Not only does this course explain how one can use ICT to change in the direction one wants to, but it also explains how it can be used to coach others and to develop as an organization.

As a classroom teacher, I am a leader. I think that it is easy to take for granted that because I am more experienced, knowledgeable, and mature than my students then leadership is natural and easy. This course has made me more aware of the importance of building resonant relationships with my students, renewing my own emotional well-being, and coaching my students with the use of hope. I think that most teachers are aware that good relationships in the classroom make for more effective teaching an learning but I haven't typically thought of building relationships specifically for the purpose of leading. Attitude is contagious but so is energy level and motivation and this course offered lots of information and strategies in regards to keep ourselves strong and renewed. By using hope, I can move my students into a positive emotional affect which makes it much easier for them to see how to move forward with their goals and helps them take ownership of their learning.

I found the readings in this course to be very interesting and enjoyable. The lectures were focused and the assignments were practical and really did help me learn the information in a minds-on manner. My favourite assignment was creating a personal vision aimed at creating the experience of hope. Not only did I experience hope while writing it but the vision has stayed with me and I experience hope just thinking about it. I have also gone back and read it a few times already. Thank you, Coursera, Case Western Reserve University, and Richard Boyatzis!