Archive for the ‘21st Century Classroom’ Category

The Lack of iPad and Android at #ASCD12

March 25, 2012 Leave a comment

iPad has been with us for two years, and some great Android tablets have been around for at least half that time. Over a hundred million people are using these devices to interact with others, consume content, create and share understandings. They are everywhere at the conference – I’m sure there are hundreds, if not a thousand, tablets in teachers hands at #ASCD12. Yet when you look through the session book, they are near-completely absent.

I’m not trying to rag on the organizers of ASCD12 in any way – In fact I think they’ve done a fabulous job as usual. ASCD is my favourite conference, and I’ve been to many many others (I’m including my own conference, a ~400 delegate science conference). I’m really just making an observation of the sessions that were proposed.

This lack of tablets saddens me, because I’ve seen first hand how radically different they are than using desktops, laptops, or netbooks in the classroom. I’ve taught in the extremes – with a whiteboard marker and a textbook as my main resources, and a science class in a computer lab with web2.0 and social media heavily embedded. Technology (albeit, not on its own), opens so many doors. I’ve been a tech leader in my district for 3 years. This past year I’ve spent my time supporting students and teachers with iPads more than anything else. I confidently say, no other piece of technology in the past few years – no website, no computer, no cell phone – has caused as much genuine excitement and tangible positive influence on learning and teaching.

I don’t have all the answers, and I don’t know if anyone can be an expert teacher with a device that has only existed for a few years, but I’ve watched students speak words no one knew they had. I’ve seen kids write stories that touch the heart. And I’ve read e-mails from teachers who work late into the evening that simply couldn’t get motivated in the past. The iPad isn’t the answer. But it is the catalyst. And I just want to meet like-minded people who are way out on the edge with me on this one.

If you’re out there at #ascd12 and around on Monday, I’d love to hear your story

I’m presenting on the topic of iPads and student diversity at 8am in room 204c Monday Morning at #ASCD12. Stop in or come by after if you have an experience to share – I want to hear it.


Virtual Learning Coming … Now!

January 5, 2011 Leave a comment

On January 5 2011, Microsoft brought virtual reality to the masses by announcing Avatar Kinect. Avatar Kinect will allow users to engage in virtual environments, through an avatar that will depict real facial expressions and movements. Users will be able to enter virtual environments as their avatar, and engage in conversations and various other activities – even learning activities. This could push virtual reality to the critical mass that would make virtual learning environments feasible for millions of people.

Avatar Kinect will be able to run on the over 50 million XBox 360’s that already sit in living rooms – and these numbers are growing fast. It is possible that the software will eventually become available to all Windows users which is about 1 billion people. In the not too distant future this may be a regular way you connect with your students and colleagues – at which point I can finally stop having to worry about aligning my interactive white board!

The Role of 21C Skills in Learning Mathematics

November 26, 2010 Leave a comment

This post is the written form of a presentation I gave in a class that I am taking. The purpose was to show how I’ve been dealing with the tensions between 21st century skills and the work I’ve been doing in some math classrooms. The prezi (which lacks detail but shows a good over-view) is available here.

Twenty first century skills have been a topic of discussion in Alberta since 1987 when Alberta Education published Essential Concepts, Skills and Attitudes for Grade 12.  Since then various organizations have used the term ‘21st century skills’ to refer to a set of overarching skill sets and competencies to be developed throughout a child’s schooling (ISTE, 2007; Partnership for 21st Century Skills, n.d.; Alberta Education, 2010).

There seems to be consensus among the educational organizations regarding what 21st century skills are, each noting the following skills: critical thinking, problem solving, communication, collaboration, information fluency, citizenship and technology literacy. As a 21st Century Literacy consultant my job is to foster 21st century skill development of students in my work with teachers and in classrooms. It has been particularly difficult to do this in mathematics classrooms which has led me to wonder: do 21st century skills have any place in the mathematics classroom? I analyzed the Alberta Mathematics Program of Studies 10 – 12, as well as research in the field of mathematics education, looking for a relevance of 21st century skill development in the schooling of mathematics.

There seems to be a clear connection between 21st century skill sets and the tenants of the Mathematics Program of Studies in Alberta. The philosophy of the program states “Meaningful student discussions also provide essential links among concrete, pictorial, and symbolic representations of mathematics” and “The learning environment should value, respect and address all students’ experiences and ways of thinking, so that students are comfortable taking intellectual risks, asking questions and posing conjectures”. These statements directly identify the necessity of disciplinary discourse in the learning of mathematics.

The program further identifies 7 processes that are “critical aspects of learning (Mathematics Grade 10-12, pp 4). These processes include: communication, connections, mental mathematics and estimation, problem solving, reasoning, technology and visualization. Even though the program explicitly states a need for discourse, communication and reasoning, these processes aren’t built into the outcomes as they are in other Alberta Education Program of Studies (Social Studies, Science and English/Language Arts).  Another point of interest are the 21st century skills that aren’t mentioned: collaboration, innovation, information fluency and digital literacy.

Research in mathematics education does suggest that at least some of the 21st century skills are important to the learning of mathematics. Lampert (2005/1990) distinguished there was a difference between traditional school mathematics and the discipline of mathematics. Traditionally, school mathematics has involved students being told mathematical principles and then using those principles to solve problems. In the discipline, ‘knowers’ of mathematics make conjecture, identify assumptions, and challenge one another and themselves to develop new understandings that are shared by those involved in the discourse of the discipline. Lampert suggested in order for our students to become ‘knowers‘ of mathematics “[A student] needs to be able to stand back from his or her own knowledge, evaluate its antecedent assumptions, argue about the foundations of its legitimacy, and be willing to have others do the same” (Lampert, 2005/1990 pp 154).  This type of conjecturing, reasoning and arguing is how students develop an understanding of the mathematics as a discipline and it occurs through authentic discourse between students.

The National Council for Teachers of Mathematics also identifies  the importance of collaboration and verbal exchange. They state “Interacting with others offers opportunities for exchanging and reflecting on ideas… Students should work effectively with others” (NCTM, 2000 pp 349). Mathematics and mathematical understanding doesn’t develop in isolation – it  develops through frequent and meaningful interactions with others in a community.

Twenty first century skill sets are well-defined and agreed upon by various organizations. These skills are very directly stated in the Alberta Mathematics Program of Studies showing their importance in the program, despite not being as well-developed as in other content areas. They are also showing up in research and important literature, suggesting that 21st Century skills were important far before the 21st century – simply put,  these skills lead to the learning of mathematics. The question that will further drive much of my thinking is how can teachers develop 21st century skills, specifically discourse and collaboration, in the secondary mathematics classroom?


International Society for Technology in Education. (2007) National Educational Technology Standards for Students (2nd ed.)

Alberta Education. (2010). Inspiring Action on Education: A Discussion Paper [Data file]. Retrieved from

Alberta Education. (1987). Essential Concepts, Skills and Attitudes for Grade 12 (2nd draft). Edmonton, AB.

Partnership For 21s Century Skills. (n.d.). Framework for 21st Century Learning. Retrieved October, 28 2010, from

National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. (2000). Principles and Standards for School Mathematics. Reston, VA.

Lampert, M. (2004) When the Problem Is Not the Question and the Solution Is Not the Answer: Mathematical Knowing and Teaching. In Carpenter, T. P., Dossey, J. A., & Koehler, J. L. (Ed.) Classics in Mathematics Education Research (pp. 153-169). Reston, VA: The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. (Reprinted from American Educational Research Journal, Spring 1990, 27, 29-63)

How Prezi Can Change Your World (or keep you boring)

November 21, 2010 4 comments

When I first was introduced to Prezi ‘way back when’ I thought it was so awesome, as most of you I’m sure can understand. It’s clean, simple to use, it looks great, and it’s pretty solid regarding performance. But after a few interactions it got boring – fast. In the end if all you do is move your PowerPoint presentations onto prezi you haven’t really changed your pedagogy or advanced your teaching. All you would have done is made it a little prettier. So how can it change your world of teaching?

A few months ago prezi announced a new feature – prezi meeting. Up to ten users (last I checked) can collaborate in real time on a presentation, watching each other type, edit, upload media, and work on layouts. It works incredibly well and other users are represented in the 2D space by little avatar dudes. Think about how this can be used in your classroom (or outside of it for that matter).

Now your students can be the creators of information, relying on the knowledge of the group/community to develop a common understanding. Visualize having groups of students creating thought webs, brainstorming together – but everyone is responsible for writing and coming up with ideas. Things happen faster on prezi because everyone can work on the same document at once, and all students are engaged. Students can see each other work as it happens, and still be working themselves.

My avatar along with Susana's avatar depicting both of our places while editing a prezi document

Even as a teacher/consultant this changes the way I work. While preparing for a recent presentation on social media my co-presenter, Susana, and I were able to collaborate online ‘side by side’ while working from our respective homes over 100 km’s apart. It was a faster process than e-mailing each other a document back and forth, or logging in and out of a drop box, worrying about over-writing the others work. It also allowed us to share ideas, chat, and truely collaborate to make the presentation a product of both of our thinkings.

With the proliferation of so many synchronous tools online the learning environm ent has a real opportunity to change. I hope we can embrace these tools to genuinely better the education of our students, not just to dress up the same old classroom.

A few things that would make prezi (or a similar tool) even better

  • apps for ipad/iphone/android
  • chat feature – so far i’ve just been typing randomly in the prezi to talk to people, and sometimes have forgotten to delete a few comments before using the presentation
  • tracking to know who has done what work
  • comments such as that on MS word for reviewing with peers

Presentation: Managing Your Digital Tattoo

October 16, 2010 Leave a comment

I held a session on Friday with Danny Maas for grade 5 and 6 students in our district.  We were asked to speak to digital citizenship, and so given the timeframe we focused on the idea of a digital tattoo.  We collaboratively built a presentation using prezi meeting, and in less than an hour on prezi meeting we created the basis for what turned out to be a very successful session.

Our goal was to inform students of the concept of a digital tattoo, and to empower students with some basic knowledge so that they could make informed decisions when they participate online.  We framed the session around two sub topics: respecting others and respecting self.

We wanted to talk about cyberbullying, and Danny introduced this great video to strike up some conversation among students.  We provided the focus question “how do the things I  and do online affect the people around me” to talk about the video, and students came up with great ideas about cyberbullying, how it makes the bully feel, the victim, and how it victimizes the whole community.  Students were even able to make connections with things they can do to prevent and maybe even stop cyberbullying.  We also got into conversations about how other people’s perceptions can be changed by our activities online.

Danny then shared another video to show what social media sites do with your information.  Students talked about the responsibility they have when posting information about not only themselves but others online. They came up with ideas on when it might be appropriate to post pictures/videos of others, and how it might make other people feel when you do that (in both positive and negative ways).

Overall it was about 50 minutes of mostly students talking and sharing ideas, collaborating to construct a common knowledge of how their actions online affect both themselves and the people they interact with.  Danny and I both felt confident that, generally, students left the session empowered with knowledge that would be important when making decisions and judgements when interacting online.

Thanks Danny for the great session!

REBEL: Reform IS Happening, One Classroom At A Time

October 16, 2010 Leave a comment

I think that the discourse surrounding educational reform often becomes heated because the language, the intentions and meanings of the common phrases, are still being negotiated through the process of discourse itself.  I find that when engaged in talk of reform, others are speaking about systemic change; the need to change the teachers, the physical buildings, the resources, the school boards, the funding, the students, the politics and the overall opinions of society on education.  I prefer to focus simply on the process of learning that students are engaged in.  The former is a massive undertaking perhaps better left to the politically powerful and ambitious.  The latter is doable by me, a teacher, each and every day, in a very tangible way.

Realistically, most of us aren’t going to wake up Monday morning and change the world by Friday at 3:00 pm.  What we can achieve during the week is reform for our own classroom practices.  In fact this is already happening from the efforts of many individual teachers.  As a consultant I see hundreds of individual classrooms through school visits. What I’ve noticed over the past year is; more student collaboration, increased discourse in the classroom (and beyond the classroom using the interactive web), creativity being honoured and encouraged, discovery and inquiry becoming common methods of constructing understandings, problem solving, critical thinking, and a general understanding that knowledge on its own is no longer power, but being able to use it in unique ways is!  Phew!

While it is becoming increasingly important to look at possible systemic change in education, we need to start with change in our own classrooms. For many of us, this is already happening.  We need to celebrate these individual victories, and use our own classrooms as a model for our schools, our district, our states/provinces, and eventually the entire institution of education.


For more blog posts on educational reform, please see the REBEL Education Reform WallWisher

“Searching Online Is A Waste of Time” – Really?!?!?!

September 28, 2010 1 comment

Once upon a time my partner, Susana , was sitting in a room full of teachers when she overheard something that got her blood flowing.

Before I go on, I guess I should tell you some background.  Susana and I work full-time as consultants for publicly funded schools promoting 21st Century teaching and learning strategies.  We work with teachers to promote reflective practice and focus on teaching teachers to teach learning strategies.

So, imagine Susana and I sitting at the lunch table, when across the room a teacher says

I tell my students to just use their textbooks to find information, searching online is a waste of time

Wow, really?  [start sarcasm] Now, don’t get me wrong.  I’m all for promoting the use of expensive textbooks bought with public funding.  How else would unnamed publishing companies make their money on information that is available for free? [/end sarcasm] Seriously, information is so abundant it is effectively worthless.  Our jobs as educators in the 21st century is to teach our students to discern between what is required and what is superfluous.  Students must learn to discriminate between reliable and unreliable sources.  Susana would agree with me when I say that this skill is possibly one of the most important in the digital world and in a global community.  Information is coming at them more than ever on; google, bing, facebook, twitter, the blogosphere, YouTube, podcasts, tv news broadcast, radio and… oh yeah, print resources including textbooks.

The only way that our students will learn this is if we explicitly teach these skills and provide opportunity to hone them.  Searching online is anything but a waste of time.


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