#PreSES14 STEM Educator Symposium @ Preston Middle

This is the second time I attended the symposium. I was asked to give a keynote at the museum called “The School of Tomorrow looks like Kindergarten” as well as give a talk about the SMART Collaborative Classroom. I was able to contribute to a discussion about their new Collaborative Class. Although I built the first one, I am quickly falling behind because I do not have enough boards for all my students, the PCs that are running them cannot keep up with the new software and the in ability to be a google /smart amp school.

I find it fascinating that they have such a synergistic group of people running a national conference at a middle school. They are awesome!!

I learned from Scott and his team the value of bringing a team. He brought many people to Canada to see things in action and they were able to build something. Five people going to one conference is much better than 5 people going to 5 conferences. On our way home, I am sure we annoyed the rest of the passengers as we redesigned RHS grade 9 & 10. The timing is interesting in that we are in the middle of high school renewal with few concrete examples to follow. I wonder what will happen? Is this the start of the realization of my vision that I stole from others, (C21 Canada), of high school looking like Kindergarten.

I really loved getting to know all the people at Preston. Of particular note was a new person, Cathy Sampson. She came up to me to thank me for my Collaborative Class. She started to tear up. Later in the symposium, she showed what she was doing in her math class using “discourse”. It was I who got teary. She took what I did and went a step beyond. I loved watching her talk about what a negative sign meant to the student and wanted the student to record it in their journal. Very Fun.

I hope to return to Preston and I hope it will be with a team that will help transform our grade 9-10 classes.

I got to know Deena from SMART. I have met her quickly once before and exchanged lots of emails, but this was wonderful. It is unfortunate that she was so busy. She did not get to participate in the symposium as much as I think she would have wanted. I was really hoping she would see my talk on the SMART Collaborative Classroom because I have new material and I had teachers doing the “Alive or Not” project. Oh well, I did get to have supper with her and learn how to better interact with her and SMART.

The CEO of Agilent, an HP spin off, gave her talk just after mine at the museum. She crystalized many of the things I have been thinking for a while. Some examples include, “Culture eats strategy for Breakfast”.


Ethics in Research, Legal Aspects 1 & 2 Courses Completed

Over the past few months, I have been working on 3 courses.

  • Ethics in Research from the University of  Illinois at Urban-Champaign is an online course that is done through their consortium of universities for anyone doing IRB approved research.
  • Legal Aspects 1 & 2 are modules working towards a New Brunswick Principal Certificate.


Pheasey Park Opens SCC and I chat with Shadow Ed Minister in UK.

Today, David and Gareth opened the FIRST SMART Collaborative Classroom in the UK. It was a pleasure to be a part of the day. The year 4 UK students gave their characteristics of “what is alive”, the last of 3 skype lessons between RHS in Canada and Pheasey Park in the UK.

I was honoured to answer a few questions about the technology. I was quick to talk about the PEDAGOGY that is now available because of the tech. Skype provides a world wide audience. The audience changes student attitude.”When I do it for my teacher, it just needs to be good enough, when I do it for the outside world it needs to be GOOD!”(Student quote from PRESES’13)

The SMARTBOARD provides a presence in the room during a SKYPE and provides a place for students to work together on this difficult question.

Math Collaboration…if it can happen here, it can happen anywhere!

I have been using my SMART Collaborative Classroom for a few years to help kids learn physics and chemistry while simultaneously teaching 21st Century Learning skills of Communication, Collaboration and Critical Thinking. This blog post is about a couple of math teachers who decided to try out the room. This is their first experience.

I had previously, but vaguely discussed how we use the SMARTBoards as student centered stations, where students work together to solve previously unseen questions. The day before March break, I was out of the room for the day and they decided it was a low enough risk to take a chance. Here is what they wrote to me afterwards.

“Complex word problems were posted on the SMARTboards. Students were grouped (3-5; more when both our classes were combined). There was NO learning curve for the students to use the SMARTboard. All groups, in all three classes I did this with, were fully engaged in problem-solving. Students had choice of problems (from easy to difficult). They were able to use various tools that the SMARTboard offers (ruler, graph paper background, compass, etc.) to try and solve their problems. When our combined classes were working together, students were sharing French-English math vocabulary, which is really important for my FI students to know they can do math in English. My biggest success story though is one of my SEP students who never talks. All I ever get out of him is a mumbled hello, yes or no. I have never seen him talk to any of the students in the class. But yesterday, his group was stuck trying to solve a problem so he took the lead, went up the board and started explaining his idea to the other students who were all listening very attentively. Following his sketches and explanations, the group successfully solved the problem. That was a significant breakthrough for him. When I have done the same activity in my class, with students sitting at desks with separate papers in front of them, he does not contribute to the discussions at all.

I hope we can do this again soon. The students loved it, and I loved listening to the intense math conversations I heard all around the room. Thank you again for letting me use your room, and all of its resources. I know you’ve worked hard to get them. “


I share Top 3 ED Tech Stories of 2013 in Canada


I made the Top 3 Ed Tech stories of 2013 in Canada, shared with the other MindShare Learning Video Contest winners. We were right behind a great guy, the Minister of Ed from Alberta and Cmdr Hadfield who just returned from the stars, literally. I am blessed!

The Smart Collaborative Classroom jumps the pond

It is very cool that my idea from long ago has invaded not only North America, but is now jumping the pond to the UK and the EU.

A long time ago, I had an idea about multiple Interactive White Boards in the classroom where STUDENTS use them to collaborate on novel and challenging problems. SMART TECH helped me create my room. It will be the very first classroom in the world with multiple boards. It became the template for the SMART Collaborative Classroom (SCC).

Two days ago, a news film crew documented the first SCC in the UK and the EU. The school is Plessey Park Farm. Gareth Hancox, the teacher, and David Whyley from Whytek Consulting designed and use this fantastic learning environment. These kinds or rooms are a quickly growing movement that will allow students to work together differently as opposed to doing the same old things with digital tech. There are 50 such rooms in North America and new ones in the EU, including on in the Netherlands with Smart Exemplary Teacher, Boris.

Just minutes after the new crew left for the above report, I taught these students in the UK from Canada, a lesson about “What is Alive and What is Not.” It is an open ended question that allows creativity, merging of all the subjects, where students work together to debate and create.

These boards are all over the world but are largely used as TPR’s: traditional pedagogy replicator. They are a waste of time and money if that is the end of the story.

The digitization of education runs the very real risk of isolating us from the humans that are right in front of us. The Smartboard may be the pivotal tech that brings individuals together to work on difficult questions that requires digitization and simultaneously read each others body language. Will the Smart Collaborative Classrooms keep us from the Matrix education?

SMART Advisory Meetings

Nov 22nd, I was invited to Calgary to speak to their VIP Customer Advisory Board at their head office. It was almost like coming home. I was so welcoming. I loved re-meeting many and finally putting faces to the many emails. Of particular interest, was to meet Catherine and Robert. Robert and I met on twitter and now we met face to face. It was too bad that we did not get to chat more. I’m hoping we can meet up again.

  The advisory board is a group of administrators, superintendents and principals, who were brought in to advise SMART on their new directions. I was brought in to inform them of the work I am doing.

As always, I really appreciated the time that Neil Smith and Kristen took to spend with me. I appreciate our chats. I really got to know Brady during our trip to Banff. Some good talking, pondering and thinking. I like that he is so positive, but also a previous teacher.


I wonder where next will be.

Automated Aquaponics Greenhouse: a Student Project

I have a project that might be interesting to you. I am hoping to make a bold request. I hope it will be useful to our current students, but also to show what school could be in the future. Let me give you some rational.

Too many students do not have any idea what they want to do after high school. Many have heard of engineering, but have no idea what it is. Many students believe that subjects are isolated and so you do not need to know science if you are in business, nor do you need language for comp sci. etc… The community generally thinks that school should be the way it was when they went to school and are pretty disconnected from the school. Students do not see much of a connection between school and real life. Students need more connections to universities so that they make this important decision based on experience rather than a picture on a brochure or where their friends are going.

I would like to create a project that would blur the lines between the courses, allow the community into school, show the connection between school and real life and give students a good idea of “engineering thinking”.

I would like for the science 12 class to engineer an automated aquaponics green house at RHS. Our green house suffers terribly during the holidays because no one is around to tend it. I would like to use cafeteria food to feed some fish, have the fish process the food, move their waste to feed the plants in soil-less containers and use the food for the breakfast club or the local food bank.

I would like my students to build sensors and pumps that would monitor water flow, temperature, pH, nitrates etc… And then make adjustments as required. If the water level got too low, a pump would turn on. If the temperature got to high, a window would open. If the PH got to high, a bit of acid would drip in. Alerts could be sent to smartphones that a person needs to attend to it. A web cam could monitor the situation.

Posters outside would show the chemistry and biology. An economics study could show if this is reasonable vs traditional gardening. We would want to publicize this to the papers, TV and community.

We need biology, chemistry, environmental science, and river experts.

I do not know how to do any of this, which means there is a wonderful opportunity to have community mentors. I also have no budget for this. I would love to have small groups of students work on different aspects of this project. I would like there to be mentors available so that students could tweet, email, Skype or phone experts in the various fields. We will need to design and build the stands, write the codes, build the pump automation, and deal with the sensors. We will need app creation, web space etc…

I would like to present it to the students in a big light. Suppose we were to colonize the moon. We would need food while we were there. But we will want to expend our energy doing other things than growing our food. It could also be attached to the school project we are doing around a natural disaster. Suppose Riverview were cut off from the rest of the world. How would we survive. A big piece of this is growing food.

A number of years ago, a friend of mine created a video to show how school could be different. There is a second video that shows a person doing something similar on the aquaponics tech . I wonder how close we can come to these two videos??

We can create a world winning education project right here at RHS. More importantly, it could be a project that helps inspire students for their futures and shows what school could/should look like to teachers and schools around the world

I hope you are interested. Perhaps we could chat?


4th Annual Ed Tech Summit: Moving Beyond Innovation


Robert Martellacci from Mindshare Learning asked me to give a 5 min Skype State of the Union Address about the challenges of innovation in education and how to move beyond pockets of innovation.

I thought about this for a while and had a couple of possible paths. It is interesting that we are currently trying to ponder how school would be different , the electronic devices policy and BYOD. I think that there is common ground here.

It might be useful to look at a case study to learn about some pitfalls. A number of years ago, the UK had a mass adoption of SMARTBoards at considerable expense. Although I applaud their attempt to be innovative, there was no clear vision of how students would learn differently. There was not enough time for the early adopters to figure out best practices before the masses received the new kit. As a result, teachers transferred all their overheads to PowerPoint or Notebook files and felt proud that they entered the digital age. Upon review, the pedagogy had not changed significantly. So much money and little change. They became a TPR – a Traditional Pedagogy Replicator.

Meanwhile, however, K-2 classes had already figured out that classes should be stations with organized student centered chaos. When SMARTBoards came in, they became just another station in the arsenal of stations. They were powerful in the hands of kids and transformational. The key is that they figured out the pedagogy before the kit arrived and had a vision of what could be.

As we look forward to these new technologies moving from innovative to mainstream, we need to present teachers with a vision of what could be different BEFORE the kit is introduced. We want them to reconsider teaching practices first. If we do not, the tendency will be to simply do what we always did with new kit.

“most agree that education needs to change. Some believe that it needs to be better, others think it needs to change”-Dean Shareski.

As tech arrives, it is a safer step to replicate old ways with new tech with the real danger of becoming entrenched. We encourage our students to take risks, but I wonder if our system encourages risk taking in our teachers. We are so worried about ruining kids that perhaps we suffer from analysis paralysis. At some point in time we need to ‘just do it’ with a vision of what could be. The teachers are typically too busy getting from day to day. Wonderful things can happen when a leader with a vision arrives who makes it ok to make responsible mistakes.

Do we have the courage to do more than make education better or consider how education can be different? The role of tech will move from pockets of innovation to mainstream naturally once we figure out the new pedagogy.