NPDL visits RHSScience 12

After a fantastic Day 1 at eth Anglophone East NPDL Regional Summit, I am splitting pizza, veal, and the tallest cheeze cake with Michael Fullan, at a table with Meg and Joanne from NPDL and District Office people like Pam and Gregg. It was a bit surreal for a classroom teacher to be in this situation. #very exciting.

The excitement skyrocketed when I found out that the next day, Joanne Quinn would be visiting our school and my classroom. She travels around the world looking at wonderful examples of Deeper Learning for a living and now she will be seeing my class in action. Further more, it won’t be me in the classroom running things, but rather my student teacher. I have been talking about Competencies long before we heard of 21st Century Learning and before the formation of NPDL. In fact, I created the first SMART Collaborative Classroom so that students could leverage the interactive surfaces to instigate communication, collaboration and critical thinking in group work. Now THE Joanne Quinn will be coming to see it first hand.


When she walks in the room, students had already spent 2 days designing and conducting a lab on Newton’s 2nd Law and were now gathered around SMARTBoards in groups of 3 or 4 co-writing. There were lots of conversations between students about punctuation, voice, organization, interpreting graphs and understanding the science. When asked, students talked about how using the SMARTBoards forced students to focus on the same portion of the lab report at the same time, which caused conversations that are vastly different than when students divide and conquer in isolation.


At the end of the class, I asked Joanne what she thought. I was taken a little bit aback by her comment. “You have not incorporated the competencies in any way like we had planned”.  I did not know at first that this was a compliment. She talked about how they started NPDL to help teachers embed the development of Competencies in their classrooms and it was particularly difficult to find great examples at the high school level. “I have nothing for you”, she says. Apparently, I was natural. She did not see the decade of thought and experimentation that preceded her visit.  The technology was leveraged perfectly to develop communication. “You are so much further ahead of what we have seen at high school level around the world”. Outside, I think I said something like, “thank you, you are most generous.” Inside, it was one of the best feelings I have had in a long time. Validation that the hard work on this weird idea has legs.

“A visit to the Collaborative Physics Classroom is glimpse into what learning for the 21st century should be- students highly engaged in authentic real life tasks where they can be creative, collaborative and unique. Students demonstrate a strong grasp of the foundational skills and concepts but most importantly are applying them in ways that will impact their world locally and globally.” -Joanne Quinn, Global Director, New Pedagogies for Deep Learning (NPDL).

Engineering Brightness Canada asked to speak to NPDL and Michael Fullan

Just after Thanksgiving, Anglophone East School District hosted the Atlantic Region New Pedagogies for Deeper Learning Summit. It was so fantastic that Michael Fullan, Joanne Quinn and Meg from NPDL, along with almost 300 educators from as close as the Atlantic Region and as far as Vancouver, Virginia and Iowa gathered to talk about the potential for Deeper Learning. While there continues to be lots of excitement and fantastic examples in the k-8 sphere, it seems a desert in the realm of high school. This makes it particularly honourable that Engineering Brightness high school students were the only students invited to speak on stage to this fantastic audience.

Braeden and Beth both spoke. Beth is very comfortable on stage and did a fantastic job as per normal. She has a different cool story about how she took action to address Ellen’s Law. You can hear much more about that in the video of her speech. It is Braeden that is the topic of this story.

Beth and Braeden at NPDL

Braeden self-identifies as an extreme introvert who would not be able to do any kind of public speaking. I watched a transformation at the World Maker Faire. During the first half of the first day of the Maker Faire, Braeden sat in the background, allowing the more extroverted female students to interact at the booth. However, the girls needed a break and left Braeden and Kaleigh alone at the booth. He was put on the spot and magic happened. HE FOUND HIS VOICE! Only  48 hours later, he was volunteering to speak at the NPDL summit.

Engineering Brightness is a fantastic example of True Personalized learning where, each student finds their area of strength AND growth. While Braeden was quite comfortable with the STEM portions, for him, finding his voice was the real development. Now his voice is heard in class, with his peers all the time. Transformational.

Insert Speech text here…

We are just from Riverview, NB, Canada. What can we do? You can LEAD!

Being from small town New Brunswick, the poorest province in Canada, we are bombarded with negative stories and the mass migration out of our province. When once we were the richest province in the country, no one wants our forest, our fish, our gypsum, or grind stones, our shale gas. Students quickly develop a sense that nothing good comes from New Brunswick, including themselves. Many think they have to leave or they have given up if they stay. We cannot compete this the rest of the world.

This trip to NYC has much deeper lessons than literacy, or engineering or graphic arts or sewing. The purposeful theme is to teach lessons that fight the negative narrative that students hear every day. You are from New Brunswick and not only can you can you compete with the rest of the world, YOU CAN LEAD!

The World Maker Faire invited you to the Faire and gave you THE prime location. The NY Times spent 30 minutes with you and are quoting you for their magazine focused on learning. The Maker Faire Editors gave you an Editor’s Choice Award.

Just to drive the lesson home, We went to the broadway show, “School of Rock”, where my previous student who sat at their same desks, was the lead. Justin took us back stage and described his unique wandering path as he followed his dream backed up with lots of work, dedication, and hope. There is a whole post dedicated to Justin and the School of Rock and how his story parallels the themes in the musical. 

The lesson was received by more than just the students. In addition to my students, there were almost 40 teachers from the Maritimes also attending the MakerFaire, in large part because of the efforts of Brilliant Labs. The teachers walking also saw that NB students could compete and excel on the world scale. My students are no better and no worse than their students.

I believe that there will be many more student run booths from NB at the World Maker Faire next year.

Next year, I am hoping to show that not only can NB students compete on the world scale, but I also want to show that the Anglophone and Francophone sectors can cooperate. Can we go to the MakerFaire in the UK and Paris as a bilingual team? Can the Anglophone students coach the Francophone students at the UK MakerFaire and shortly afterwards, can the Francophone students coach the Anglophone students at the Paris MakerFaire.


The Canadians are Coming: WORLD MAKER FAIR NYC, Sept 22-23rd, 2018

We were given THE PRIME location in the young builders section of the Word Maker Faire.


Six students shared duty with 1 person out in the crowd inviting passers by, 1 person giving the elevator pitch and follow up questions and 1 person showing little kids how to solder. Communication in real life. This strategy seemed to work well because the booth was rarely empty. The invitation with elevator pitch was long enough to get the kids to sit down and learn to solder. This in turn gave an extended time for E-B students to talk with the adults while they waited for their kid to finish. A lesson in not only communication, but in group dynamics. So many more lessons than just how to 3D print cases and solder circuits.

Girls in Engineering

Everyone was impressed with the student run booth. The other booths in the Young Builders section were mostly adults catering to the young or booths with young projects, with parents running the booth and kids running around. At our booth, the adults were close by, but out of sight. I only spoke with 4 participant adults, and that is because they specifically sought me out. Three of them spoke about how well spoke the students were.

Interviewed by NY TImes

Interviewed by NY Times

Both the New York Times and one of the MakerFaire Organizers each spent about 30 min at our booth. They both mentioned that they were impressed by a few things.

#1. That we were using engineering to solve a real problem in the world. As fun as making cool robots that fight each other might be, we were doing something real.

#2. That 5 of the 6 high school students were female. That is an oddity. What is it that we are doing different? It was fantastic to see these elementary aged girls looking up to the older high school girls as mentors as they learned how to solder. One little girl with a pink NASA hat left the booth saying, “Mom, I want to be an electrical engineer for NASA.”


#3. That students were in charge of the booth. While the adults gave advice, suggestions and a few ground rules, it was the students who made decisions on who would have break when, who would fill what role etc…

As a result, we are going to form a “significant” contribution to the NY Times Sunday Magazine dedicated to Learning.

One of the Editors of the MakerFaire actually took time out of her very busy schedule, knelt down on her knees in the grass and spoke with our students. She said that Engineering Brightness booth was brought up twice in the planning meetings in a positive way in between comments about the huge Google or Digikey booths because of our “raison d’etre”. She awarded the students with an “EDITOR’s CHOICE” award. ‘

The interview with the NY Times, the Editor’s Choice Award and the meeting with Justin Collette at the School of Rock, all combined together to give a new perspective of what it means to be from New Brunswick Canada, the poorest, but yet the best province in Canada?

Group at World MakerFaire

Graphic Arts and Sewing: Preparation

In order to get ready to go to the World Maker Faire in NYC, The RHS Engineering Brightness students had to prepare a booth. That included making decisions about a table cloth, a banner, sponsor signs etc. Should we get a pop up poster? Where will people sit? Who will do what activity? Where will we put the soldering iron to teach kids how to solder? Should we purchase the table cloth or make it? What should we make it out of? Does anyone know how to sew?

They choose to omit a popup poster, purchase a perforated banner and sew their own table cloth. We sent the graphics away to a print company, but that still meant they had to learn how to sew.

They borrowed a sewing machine and brought it into the physics lab. Over 4 lunch hours, with some coaching from another student, they taught themselves how to sew, the ability to sew over pins if they are placed horizontally or vertically, the ability to rotate by keeping the needle down and folding the edges.

Learning to Sew

Some of them were good, some of them were terrible. At best, they learned that they could make their own things by sewing and at worst, they appreciate that different people are skilled at different things and that school usually only focuses on one kind of SMART.

It is more about “HOW ARE THEY SMART rather than “How Smart Are They?”

Literacy Matters: Prep for Makerfaire NYC

RHS Engineering Brightness students were invited to the World Maker Faire at the New York Hall of Science.


During the summer holidays, students came to my classroom while teachers were in pre-season meetings, to fund raise via letter writing. All of a sudden, spelling, voice and paragraph structure are very important. Students who were once bored of the mechanics of English, are now arguing over the use of semicolons and topic sentences. They were building, discussing, communication, problem solving…COLLABORATING as they made multiple drafts, not because their first draft wold be graded, but because the work had to be perfect. A 90% is not good enough. A single spelling mistake could mean the difference between receiving the financial support or not. The Silos of disciplines are removed. Purpose for learning makes all the difference.

Kinetic Sculpture Waves: S.T.E.A.M vs STEAM

Four adventurous girls in my Physics class attempted to demonstrate the motion of waves by learning about small electrical motors and a bunch of metal shop by creating a work of kinetic art.

They worked daily for the better part of 3 months. We often spent lunch time together teaching physics of the day so that during their actually physics class, they could go to the shop.

Scroll down on the SWAY to view the student report

They had already known the physics of transverse waves from September, but they did not know the shop skills required to create a work of art. This is a high level of Transdisciplinary studies- a great example of the difference between S.T.E.A.M and STEAM.

STEAM has been a buzz word around education and science worlds for a little while, most examples have the ART as a last minute add on so that they can qualify for funding. In S.T.E.A.M. projects the disciplines remain in silos with limited connection. The science is not needed for the art, nor is the art needed for the science. At the extreme of this are projects where one group of students do the Science, another does the engineering and a third group does the art. It only becomes S.T.E.A.M when all the groups contribute their pieces together. However the interconnectivity and interdependence of the disciplines are not obvious to the individual students.

STEAM projects are fluid. Each discipline does not stand on its own but together they mean something meaningful. In this case, each individual student learned the science, learned to design in 3D, 3D print, cut metal, weld and spray paint.


Allan November and Me


Recently, we met with Alan November at the infamous Union Oyster Bar in downtown Boston. It was a bit surreal chatting with this icon of the educational world over a 2 hour chowder in the booth next to Kennedy’s infamous booth in one of Boston’s original institutions. He was most generous to meet us in town to spend his valuable time with strangers and talk education. Thank you.

Mr. November has such a large network and set of experiences to draw upon. I love that he talked about practical examples of classrooms and teachers that he knows- theory put to practical use. I found it interesting that he told a story about a physics teacher that I should absolutely meet and with whom I should spend some time as a fellow physics teacher. It turns out, that he was speaking about Robert Goodman, someone I already knew. Robert and I were both back-to-back guest presenters at the SMART Technologies Collaborative Classroom way back in ISTE San Antonio 2013 just before they released Smart AMP; even before it had a name or a platform. He presented on how he is using SMART Notebook to bring a needed level of continuity and consistency to physics teachers in New Jersey and how they were recruiting and training physics teachers with his SMART Notebook content. I presented on my design of the Collaborative Classroom, the same room in which we were presenting.

The more we chatted with Alan, the more we realized that we were on the right track. We have been pushing the boundaries a little bit and were uncertain how far the pendulum should swing. He confirmed almost everything that we said. While I have been using technology and STEM and STEAM etc.. he warned me not to get attached to a particular piece of kit or acronym or program because they will not stand the test of time. However, good teaching will. That is exactly what I have been working hard to do. As I present around the world, my father , a retired master teacher, often remarks, oh, that is so 1974 or 1989 or 2003. He has seen the pendulum swing left and right and back again multiple times. Dad would say that there are lots of kinds of students who need lots of kinds of teaching strategies regardless of the program, the school improvement plan, the acronym, the buzzwords or the posters.

Alan November makes me think about my classroom. On the outside, my classroom looks tech rich, but quick observers do not take the time to see that the devil is in the details. Observers are blinded by the tech and do not take the time to see the small but critical nuances in the PEDAGOGY that tech allows to happen, that is the real nugget of innovation and the real difference in making our students future ready. For example, when I say that I use SMART Boards, people only hear SMART Boards and move on because they have gone as far as they can go with that tech without listening to how much further and different we have gone. The same thing happens with Probeware, O365, SPAN Walls etc… I need to find a better way to elevator pitch the critical nuances. While we use the same terms, I am uncertain we have the same understanding. When we use STEM, STEAM, Collaboration and Critical Thinking, I worry that observers too quickly dismiss what we are doing and say, “we are doing that too” and miss the golden nuggets that make it different.

It seems odd that a physics and chemistry teacher from small town Riverview New Brunswick is interacting with people like Alan November, that he is recommending we talk to people, some of whom I have already interacted, and confirmed a path that I started a number of years ago, long before STEM, STEAM, Global Competencies were in vogue. I believe our ideas will last long after these terms have been replaced with the next round of terminology to describe what good teaching in the 4th industrial revolution might be.

CJ STEM, STEAM and Beyond…Personalized learning

The curtains rise to the first song which rocked the house! Despite all the lights, the music, jumping around, I saw a familiar look in his eyes as he rocked the guitar and the spot light changed from the first character to the him, the lead of a Broadway hit. He is living his dream. Every strum of the power chord was a friendly invitation to all those who thought his path was frivolous, to see him now.

Tonight, I went to see one of my previous students as the lead in “School of Rock” on Broadway. I was teary before it even began. Teaching is the most wonderful and important professions of all.

school of rock 2

Ten years ago, this very energetic student took my high school physics class.  While, he was personable, enthusiastic, respectful and made reasonable grades, he often seemed distracted and was distracting. Multiple times a week, he pestered me to go to the chem lab and “blow something up”. I finally had a few moments of sub crazy to take him to the lab. His eyes popped out of his head the first time we made a charcoal flare. I hoped this single outing had appeased his badgering. I was wrong.

The next day, his eyes told me he wanted to go back to the chem lab. It clicked in my head that there was something here. I took a breath, took a moment and pondered. How might I capture this spark, and personalize his learning to develop his passion. You see, the same talent and skill that was the Bain of many teachers’ classrooms, also made him a national level improv actor and coach.

“What if we did a chemistry road show? You could flip through this book of chemistry and physics demonstrations, learn the science, write a script, design some costumes, prepare the chemicals (under supervision), run some dress rehearsals and then actually take it on the road to the local elementary and middle schools.”

“We CAN? …YEAH!!” Within the week, he gathered a team of 5 around him and had written a first draft.

We spent a couple of lunches and after schools learning about endothermic and exothermic reactions, collision theory, the effect of particle size on kinetics, catalysts and thermodynamics. They spent much more time figuring out how to incorporate the demonstrations in to a cohesive, reasonable script, complete with considerations for showmanship and logistics.

I did not recognize then what I have since come to know as truth, “use areas of confidence to explore areas of uncomfortableness”. Like working out, learning is painful and scary. So, I used his confidence and passion for performing to teach the science that he was previously distracted to learn.

We had multiple successful performances that involved dry ice, liquid nitrogen, flames, smoke and discrepant events. On the last demonstration of our last performances, someone had not mixed the correct ratio of chemicals and it produced more smoke than expected. While there was no danger to the kids, the sports event that was scheduled for later that day had to be postponed.

I believe this had a positive impact on his final grades. While he knew the content of the Chemistry Road show inside and out, he also seemed to understand the rest of the content better too. I never had to worry about a distracted or distracting student, even when we were doing word problems.

One day as graduation approached, the grads were discussing the various paths and schools that each would pursue. He told the group that he was going to attend Second City in Chicago for improv. I congratulated him with enthusiasm; however, the whispers around the student tables and the staff room were largely something like, “go ahead, get that improv thing out of your system and we will see you after your gap year?” or “when will you grow up Peter Pan?” or “who does he think he is, going off to Second City..does he think he is good enough to be on SNL? Doesn’t he know he is from New Brunswick”

Facebook allowed me to keep infrequent and loose connection to him as he did dinner theater, improv, got a teacher’s license and even got married.

One evening just a year ago, I had a moment of déjà vu when I saw a car commercial. Surely that cannot be CJ. Come to find out not only was he in a couple of commercials, but he had some appearances in some TV episodes, had an animated series that he wrote picked up by NetFlix and was starring as the lead in School of Rock!!

school of rock 1

Recently, I found myself on Broadway, skipping the long line up to pick up reserved tickets at the box office for School of Rock. It was a bit overwhelming walking into the theatre with the pressed tin ceilings, the red drapes, lineups at the concession stand. Ushers were directing people to their seats and the beautiful large red curtain with the snake and School of Rock logo. CJ’s picture and bio was front and center with super impressive bios of the other extremely well decorated veterans. He was in the spotlight surrounded by wonderfulness. As the guests file in, dressed in their Broadway best, you can hear the excitement in the voices of both the little kids and the adults. The magnitude and significance began to hit home. While others where talking about the rumours of how good he was, I was telling my colleague stories of his antics in class and using a flare to smoking out the elementary students. I was not sure that I had contributed in anyway to his success, yet I felt such a sense of fatherly pride because I was fortunate to witness his development first hand.

The curtains rise to the first song which rocked the house! Despite all the lights, the music, jumping around, I saw a familiar look in his eyes as he rocked the guitar and the spot light changed from the first character to the him, the lead of a Broadway hit. He is living his dream. Every strum of the power chord was a friendly invitation to all those who thought his path was frivolous, to see him now.

The lyrics that he sings parallel much of his high school experience. “At the top of Mount Rock, The doubters, and the Haters, and the hipsters let ‘em laugh, Soon they’ll all be begging for my roadie’s autograph. I know my time is coming, Well, hopefully its coming, I’m pretty sure its coming any day. Once they hear me Play !!! Then the dream that I had since the day I turned 10 will be finally coming true and no one’ll call me a loser again, or tell me what I can’t do. “

It is not lost on me the irony. One song talks about sticking it to the man, all the people trying to tell you what you can or cannot do, to put limits on your dreams and box you in. I laughed out loud. Later, in the parent’s night scene, he has to explain to the adults who are charged with developing kids into wonderful adults, to look beyond a score on a test about how intelligent and talented his students truly were. One of the songs (listen to me) behoves the adults to put away their preconceived notions of their kids and to take a moment, to breath and pay attention. “I’ve got so much inside, If only you would listen” “you just don’t want to see the real me…  but I promise one day I’ll make you hear.”

The standing ovation started very early by all those around me and lasted a long time, confirmed that even those newly connected to him thought he was as awesome as I did. I am uncertain they had a tear falling of both cheeks like I did.

school of rock 4

We waited outside the stage door for 30 min while the cast signed autographs for everyone, despite a physically and emotionally draining performance. A cast member comes out to the street and yells out my name over the noise of the crowd…Ian….Ian…. CJ wants you to come back stage. I arrive on stage in the middle of a photoshoot with fans. In the middle of the picture, he yells…”that is my physics teacher”. The picture is taken, he runs and jumps, feet off the ground into a huge hug. Laughing the whole way. He told everyone that he heard me laugh and pointed out where I must have been sitting. “It had been a long time since I heard Fogarty’s laugh.” After a pic on set, he showed me his dressing room, the same room that gave Linda Ronstat her start. He made it to the top of the Mount Rock.

We went out for something to eat and drink. The bouncers and waitresses all know him by name, and give him hugs, fist bumps …a la TV series Cheers. After a few minutes of speechlessness, I tell him how proud I am of him and I hope he is proud. His response will most certainly be a turning point in my career.

Some precursor. Over the past year and even just on the drive down to NY, I had talked with my car pooling colleague that I have been wondering about my effectiveness as a classroom teacher. While I am trying to be relevant and develop kids through teaching science, am I just transferring science knowledge? Should I continue teaching? Am I making a difference?

In the bar on 8th street, CJ said, you should be proud. My teachers did not know what to do with me. I was done my work, had lots of energy, lots of enthusiasm and personality. One teacher actually said, go back and put your head on the desk while you wait. Others did similar. But you were one of my seminal teachers. You took a moment, you listened, you saw my passion and created something for me.” There were other activities in school like student council, coffee houses and most importantly, IMPROV that allowed him to express himself. The Chemistry Road Show was the only place in school that embraced him and used his areas of confidence to explore uncomfortable learning. “I can still tell you about endo and endothermic reactions, kinetics, the recipes, the ratios and the procedure.” This was terribly encouraging to me. Personalization through contextualization.

Then he says, you care about your students and about your content. I still remember the day you talked about candles in space (microgravity) and time travel. He then proceeds to give details as evidence that this silly lecture I gave over a decade ago had stuck.

Conclusions… As I write this blog, I find it interesting that in some ways, maybe there are some small similarities between the way I teach science and the way School of Rock suggests education could be. Perhaps a book should be written that describes the educational philosophy that is hyperbolically described in the School of Rock. Aren’t there funny parallels to CJ’s life to those of his on stage students.

Do we provide time and space in our day, our curriculum and assessments to pause, listen to kids, see who they might be, see beyond what they might see for themselves and point them on their personalized way?


A 1st Year Uni Student Perspective part 2: Engineering Brightness Leads to Research

A student perspective given at the Atlantic Regional Liberal Summit attended by the Provincial Premier’s, the Federal Ministers and federal MPs.


As an Integrated Science student, a big part of second semester is the opportunity to do research, and I was so thankful to have done Engineering Brightness before I started the research. Engineering Brightness and all the experiences it gave me, have lead me to one of the greatest experiences I have ever had: the opportunity to work with a group to study the uniformity and dosimetry of radiation when a 3D bolus is used in external beam radiation therapy for cancer treatment.

Having all the research opportunities pitched to us, we were told to expect having to learn to 3D model and 3D print, as well as a large time commitment greater than that anticipated when signing up for this program. I was the only one with experience in 3D printing and design already from Engineering Brightness, as well as a history of time commitment on top of schooling. I could confidently dive into this research opportunity and explore my passion for medicine with minimal emotional trauma. Since these skills were different from those taught in regular high school, this made me appear even more qualified. In fact, my supervisor told me that there was a huge portion of people who wanted the same project I did, but I was chosen over the others.

I believe Engineering Brightness has caused a chain reaction in my life. I was doing real work for real people, exploring a passion of mine, as well as learning plenty of other new skills not taught in first year university. It has allowed me to adapt and make my world bigger, which in turn has lead to more opportunities. I am hoping these will lead me to even more opportunities such as med school or wherever else my life may take me. Either way, I know very well that Engineering Brightness was probably the best decision I ever made in high school.