Chasing the Evolution of Technology… Sink or Swim?

I had the opportunity to spend this past week at Connect and network with some of the most influential educators in Ontario and across Canada. One conversation with a district level admin really resonated with me and I wanted to share my thoughts about it here…

I’m struggling with what I believe is an epidemic in education- chasing the evolution of technology.

How can we not?

 Literacy has always been defined by technology. And as such, if technology defines the context in which we learn, socialize and experience the world, we have to continue moving forward, or fear being left behind… or even worse, not providing our students with what they need to be successful now, and in the future.

But, as technology continues to develop at an exponential rate, we are forever being dragged along behind our changing times- trying to keep up and catch up to what’s new -and what’s next… but should we? How do we find that balance?

What compounds this issue is that we are bound by the funding allocated during each given school year to invest in initiatives that we believe will move learning forward. However, classroom teachers have become increasingly more aware of the initiative ‘shelf-life’ that carries a June expiration date.

What I’ve realized as a result of countless conversations with teachers is that these kind of experiences have conditioned us to start over every year with something new, regardless of where we were at in our learning the year before. June signifies the end… as opposed to a pause, with a focus on moving forward into September. So what are the implications for us? and for our students?

Repeating these kinds of experiences year after year is not only leaving teachers and students feeling exhausted and burnt out, but we are perpetuating a generalist skill set without ever really mastering anything… . Maybe some would argue this isn’t necessarily a bad thing?

If we compare the idea of integrating new technologies to that of teaching a new grade, the first experience you have is all about getting your feet wet, dipping your toes into the pool where you will eventually swim as you become more comfortable with the curriculum, the relationships you have with your students and your colleagues, and the experience of learning something new. But if we were asked to change grades every year we would never leave the shallow end. Is this not true for the integration of technology as well? If we are always looking ahead to ‘what’s new’, and continuously starting over year after year, might we -on some level- be committing ourselves to a more shallow implementation of technology-integration?

I understand that this posts generalizes the experience teachers have year and year, and it’s not the case for everyone. And I also recognize the need to change -and embrace it myself. However, I feel there is an urgent need for us as educators to better understand the “WHY” of our choices when integrating technology. I also believe we need to better understand HOW” these kinds of tech-integrated experiences will benefit learners in our system now, and in the future.

I have always been a firm believer in integrating technologies into classroom programs that are being using in the “real-world”. By doing so, we are recognizing and valuing the experiences our students have outside our system, while at the same time making informed decisions about the kinds of tech-integrated experiences our students need to be successful within our system. This “one-life” approach to technology integration allows us to build bridges between home and school, while helping students develop the necessary skills to be safe, productive, contributing digital citizens, guided by our knowledge of effective pedagogies. It’s not about ‘what’s new’. It’s about WHY, and IF new is better, and HOW it contributes to a better educational experience for learners. If our focus is on leveraging digital technologies to develop 21st Century Competencies, and create a culture of innovation, risk-taking, and continuous learning, it would stand to reason that we need to provide students with an educational experience based on continuity, so when they decide to dive into the deep end, they know how to swim.

#EveryoneCanCode PLC

Coding is today’s language of creativity.

~ Maria Klawe, President, Harvey Mudd College

This year a team of elementary teachers has come together to inquire about how we teach computational thinking through coding using our curriculum. Our cycle of inquiry is modelled after Kathy Murdoch’s Phases of Inquiry

Why Code?

Edutopia: Code Literacy: A 21st Century Requirement (excerpt)

When we acquired language, we didn’t just learn how to listen, but also how to speak. When we acquired text, we didn’t just learn how to read, but also how to write. Now that we have computers, we are learning to use them but not how to program them. When we are not code literate, we must accept the devices and software we use with whatever limitations and agendas their creators have built into them. How many times have you altered the content of a lesson or a presentation because you couldn’t figure out how to make the technology work the way you wanted? And have you ever considered that the software’s limitations may be less a function of the underlying technology than that of the [people] corporation that developed it? Would you even know where to begin distinguishing between the two?

~ Douglas Rushkoff, Digital Literacy Advocate – Codecademy

Our group came up with our own ideas about why teaching students to code is important, but more importantly, why it’s necessary:

  • Code is everywhere, and as contributing citizens of the world we need to understand how computers work
  • Engaging, empowering, creative, fun, innovative, inclusive, differentiated, inquiry-based, real-life  
  • Everyone has a entry point
  • Students who might be low achievers in traditional subjects often find success through coding
  • Multiple right answers to a solution
  • Looking for mistakes is rewarding
  • Builds procedural thinking, reinforces the writing process (edit, revise)
  • Builds spacial awareness
  • Coding can be integrated into to all subject areas in an interdisciplinary way
  • Computational Thinking = 21st Century Competencies (communication, collaboration, critical thinking and problem solving, creativity, citizenship, character)
  • In Canada, 182,000 digital jobs will need to be filled in 2017, and only 12,760 students will graduate post secondary majoring in ICT
  • If we don’t prepare students for today’s job market, who will?

Our team has met a few times now and these are our reflections following our last meeting:

Terri Munn  My mind has been opened today to next steps that I can take to apply students learning with coding to more creative applications.  I will be exploring Scratch in more detail to see ways that students can use their knowledge of commands, sequences and functions to create short and informative videos.  I also enjoyed speaking with colleagues about the amazing ways that they are using green screens and the app “Green Screen by Do Ink” in their classrooms.

Michelle McDonald  I am excited to add a coding element to my NPfDL task.  The conversation today helped me think about how to integrate coding into the curricular work I am already doing. Just like with the integration of the iPads, I need to remember to do this one step at a time.  When I go back to school, I am going to make sure I share the coding work my students do with others to help my colleagues see the value in this kind of learning.

Heather Durnin  Today I confirmed how much I miss teaching with Scratch. There was a lot of excitement generated when we were sharing how to use Scratch in Language Arts. Code.Org lessons may be a feasible (but not as great) to use on iPads. I’m optimistic that curriculum resources are available from other provinces and that this very clever group will unearth the possibilities.

Alex Hutchison  I enjoyed hearing about the cool projects that people are doing, and that many of us are on the same page in terms of finding out there are so many programs/apps/ideas that it’s hard to know where to start and where to stop. I am excited to play with the new tech toys that are coming. I appreciate the opportunity to share thoughts, validate some practices I’m using, and be challenged to justify how I use other practices.

Chris Kevill  Much greater intro to Scratch. I look forward to working with my students to explore and create with this platform. It has a freedom to it that other platforms like Swift and seem to lack. I think the conversations that we are having about curriculum connections and computational thinking will definitely help get staff who have reservations about this work get on board with coding.

Melissa Campbell  Today I learned about a few new interesting ways to connect Scratch to the curriculum. I also learned a little about how to integrate Language using Google slides to create a really great narrative story. I also learned more about and how to set my class up to run through a series of lessons to help support what they are doing in Scratch. I can not wait to go back and try some of these things with my students. Also, I am looking forward to exploring where else I can make curriculum connections!

Leigh Cassell   Where to start… we had a really interesting discussion about the ways teachers in our PLC are integrating technology -specifically teaching computational thinking through coding- into a variety of subject areas in an interdisciplinary way. I’ve listed some of the ideas shared below! If any of those ideas peak your interest, I hope you will reach to that particular teacher to learn more!

Nicole Kaufman -Students are using a coding program called Scratch to write narratives. Check out Ms. K’s Scratch narrative here!

Michelle McDonald -Students are building and coding Lego EV3s to learn about Structures in science. She is also experimenting with Vex Robotics. Ask her how!

Alex Hutchinson -Alex’s students are coding their own music compositions.

Melissa Campbell -Students are learning how to use Scratch – a coding program to create stories.

Heather Durnin -Heather’s kids are learning computational thinking skills through coding, and 3D printing their ideas to bring them to life.

Terri Munn -Students in Terri’s class have been experimenting by coding Spheros.

Chris Kevill -Choose Your Own Adventure (CYOA) in Chris Kevill’s class. Students are using Google Slides to collaborate and create their first Choose Your Own Adventure stories. His students are also experimenting with Scratch and

Link to Template Slides for CYOA (a work in progress)

Image created by Chris Kevill

Coding gives you the basis to understand the world of today and control the world of tomorrow. There are few more rewarding experiences one can have.

I~ Jeff Skoll, Founder, Participant Media

If you’d like to learn more about our inquiry, we are happy to share our learning with you! Are you experimenting with coding in your classroom program? We’d love to hear from you! Please leave us a comment below…

Reposted: Mirror your Computer on to your iPads


NOTE: I recently learned that although TeamViewer is free to download, in order to use TeamViewer in your classroom there is an expectation that you purchase a license. Please contact TeamViewer about acquiring an individual license if your school is interested in using this service.

You may be thinking… but I have Air Server??? Remember that Air Server allows you to mirror the content on your iPad on to the computer that is connected to your SMARTBoard. TeamViewer allows you to mirror what is on your computer screen on to one or more iPads, tablets or Chromebooks. So why would you want to do that?

I had the pleasure of connecting with Tracy McPherson-Zachar, Itinerant Teacher of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing/ Itinerant Teacher of the Blind and Low Vision for AMDSB. She has been looking for a solution to support the children in her care who require a “close-up” copy of the texts they are reading. Tracy and I spent the afternoon experimenting with TeamViewer, which is a free app that allows you to project what is on your computer screen on to one or more devices in your classroom. Of course as Tracy and I talked further I couldn’t help but think if it’s good for one, how might others benefit from this kind of technology?

We all have students who require preferential seating close to the front of the room in order to meet their learning needs. TeamViewer makes it possible now for those students who used to need a “special seat at the front” to interact with text no matter where they are in the classroom.

If you would like TeamViewer downloaded on your computer, you must first purchase a license. Your next step would then be to ask your TRA to submit an eBase request for the install. All that’s left for you to do is download the app on your iPads and follow the on screen instructions to get started.

If you have any questions, or would like to share how you are using TeamViewer in your classroom, please leave a comment below!