Creativity and storytelling are very important to many technology educators, and especially important to most Apple Distinguished Educators. Many ADEs share their learning, their story and document growth, through photography and videography using iPhone, iPad and many iOS and OS X features and tools. During the Apple Institute July 13th-19th I was a double camera slinging photographer with my Canon Rebel t3i and iPhone by my side. I took every opportunity to ask people questions about the tools, the gear and the art of picture making. Also, we were very fortunate that Bill Frakes and Laura Heald were present at the institute both to caputre the event but also to share some of their wisdom with the group. This blog post is about lessons learned about photography and picture making throughout the 2014 Global Apple Institute.

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After hearing about the excursions planned for the week to Torrey Pines State National Reserve, San Dieguito Lagoon, Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, Scripps Institution of Oceanography we were also informed that we would augment these experiences with an iTunes U course and a series of biology texts called Life On Earth by E. O. Wilson.

Then, much to the delight of everyone there, biologist and researcher Edward Osborne Wilson, also know as E.O. Wilson, took to the stage and sat in a leather seat unfolding his prepared notes. An incredibly dignified and generous man, Wilson spoke to us for an hour about biology, the importance of science to the human condition, and achieving excellence.  He even spoke boldly and unapologetically about religion.

E. O. Wilson Wilson, a highly successful, prolific and decorated scientist, focused on the study of ants, known as myrmecology.  He says that studying a single organism can lead to a great breakthrough.

“For every organism, there are advancements to be made that couldn’t be made from any other discipline.” ~ E. O. Wilson

To him, biology will help humanity and lead to better self understanding.  He invites all of us to take up membership in the scientific community as a natural and normal extension of our humanity.  It is not only our duty to take an interest in the natural world, but an unavoidable need we should not suppress.

Near the end of his talk he veered off the path of biology towards achieving excellence and nurturing excellence in young scientists.  He says that the successful scientists he knows did not have the highest IQ.  Wilson spoke of his friend Watson (as in James Watson, as in Watson and Crick as in DNA) who did not have the highest IQ, but more importantly a restlessness and an entrepreneurial obsession.  The great scientists had a desire to do something big.  They asked themselves “What hasn’t been done?”  and “What is extraordinary?”  As teachers, he asked of us to look for children who have this restlessness and desire for science and to encourage them on the path to owning their part in the scientific community.

E.O. Wilson has authored and led a team to create the highly interactive iBook series, Life on Earth.  These books are incredible.  Amazingly, they are also free.

E.O. Wilson’s Life on Earth Unit 1: Unity & Diversity of Life on Earth

E.O. Wilson’s Life on Earth Unit 2: Guided Tour of the Living Cell

E.O. Wilson’s Life on Earth Unit 3: Genetics

E.O. Wilson’s Life on Earth Unit 4: Animal Physiology

E.O. Wilson’s Life on Earth Unit 5: Plant Physiology

E.O. Wilson’s Life on Earth Unit 6: Guided Tour of Biodiversity

E.O. Wilson’s Life on Earth Unit 7: Guided Tour of Ecosystems


I am feeling inspired by Austin Kleon’s book Show Your Work and so I thought it would be fun to post some pictures from the making of my Google Teacher Academy application video.

Here is the video:

1st Shot: White background and desk.

This is taken in my basement with a white screen I often use in my class for video and for teaching about light to my grade 4s in our photography/light unit.  The slider for my camera made all the difference in each shot. The cam slider was much more effective then your regular Ken Burns effects within iMovie.  Though this was the last shot that I filmed, I wanted to start with just the desk to be sure it popped in each picture.  I want to create a continuous story with this visual as my anchor.

white screen

2nd shot: Jet Aircraft Museum

Thanks to my partner, Greg Marshall, we got access to the Jet Aircarft Museum here in London. Greg is learning to fly a plane so he was a natural at approaching the very kind and generous staff.

JAM Jet Aircraft Museum

3nd shot: Grand Bend, Lake Huron

This shot was taken in early May just after the Google Teacher Academy opened applications. It was really, really cold! I am wearing a full on puffy liner and parka!  I like the images that contrast nature with technology to remind us of the bigger picture.  It was funny to lug around the desk and all the stuff inside the desk. Each time I tried to make sure that the contents of the desk were in the same position.

beach Grand Bend

6th shot: The ARTS Project

After being turned down by Museum London, we turned to the friendly folks at The ARTS project who were more than happy to support the project.

Art Project

4th and 9th shots: Komoka Provincial Park, Thames River

One of my favourite places to run and play.

Komoka Park

10th shot: Fanshawe Pioneer Village

I love the old school compared to new school. It’s funny to think about continuity and change in education. Has it really changed that much from the days of the one room school house?

Pioneer Village

11th shot: Museum Of Ontario Archaeology

This is really my favourite shot.  The way the light comes in from the far door feels like magic to me. Plus, it was fun to climb up high to nab a shot from a different perspective. Can you spot me in the photo?

Long House


I loved this process. I learned that when you tell a story, you tell it to yourself too.  This is a message I believe with my entire heart, and it took making the video to really let the message come out.  I loved telling a story and creating something beautiful.  I am very proud that I was able to give my perspective while still meeting the condition of the application (talking about innovation and positive change).  Next, I want to create another video that is unrelated to any application process.


Thank you to Mark Hammons @mhammons for the most specific and honest feedback. For being so positive too.

Thank you to team Voxer and PLC friends for discussions and for being in the video: Greg Garner @classroom_tech, Jaime Vandergrift @JaimeVanderG, Tracy Clark @TracyClark08, Jon Samuelson @ipadsammy, Megan Valois @MsValois

Thank you to staff and students at my school.

Thank you to epic BMX riding of Kevin Gauci and his friends.

Thank you David Malone @dwmalone, Sylvia Duckworth @sylviaduckworth, and Tanya Avrith @edtechschools for leading the way and checking in with me throughout the process.

Thank you, most of all to Greg Marshall @mr_marshall grip and most inspiring human I know.


Skating Covent Garden London

Today Shannon Robb and I co-taught to kick off a new unit in Social Studies.  Through the picture above we were hoping to provoke students to think about aspects of daily life including:

  • Recreation
  • Clothing
  • Housing
  • Role of Children
  • Work
  • Religion and Spiritual Practices



We used a visible thinking strategy: I see, I think, I wonder.  Or, if you’re really fancy: I observe, I infer, I wonder.  The students wonderings are recording on this table below.

Student Number Wondering
20 I wonder if they are skating?
15 I wonder if they person with the white jacket was teaching the other guy.
8 I wonder if there is a restaurant?
19 I wonder if it’s London, Ontario
17 I wonder if it’s in London?
6 I wonder if it is Christmas time?
12 I wonder if the Christmas lights are in downtown London?
23 I wonder why there is snow.
14 I wonder if the snow hasn’t melted yet.
2 I wonder if it’s cold.
18 I wonder why they are skating.
5 I wonder if it’s fun to go skating there.
13 I wonder if it is a mall or something else.
9 I wonder if they are having fun?
10 I wonder if you can learn to skate there.
7 I wonder if I’ll know what’s the tallest building?
11 I wonder what the big A is for (The sign with the big A).
22 I wonder what is inside the buildings.
3 I wonder what the building in the background are for.
21 Absent.

We are going to keep track of the students wonderings and see how we can get our students to think more deeply over time.  Here are the themes that emerged from this first attempt.  Students wondered about:

Skating and Recreation/Fun  (N = 5)

Location (N = 2)

Celebrations, Religious and Spiritual Practices (N = 1)

Housing & Work (Infrastructure/services/buildings) (N=6)

As you can see by the themes that are in bold, some items from our list did come up.

Our next steps are to work with students using a shared inquiry model to focus on Religious and Spiritual practices in our daily lives. Shannon and I are leading with this one because we felt it was the most challenging and potentially would put students in an uncomfortable position of feeling as though they had to be ambassadors for their religions.  We want to facilitate sharing and students being able to see and learn from one another.  We decided to lead this one to ensure many voices are heard, model inclusion, empathy and appreciating different points of view. This will serve us well when students form inquiry circles to study the other aspects of daily life in the present day. We will guide the students to live like researchers and consider many different perspectives and points of view. They will also have to engage in social studies research methods to confirm or disprove what they think they know on various topics. This different forms of thinking and research will include: looking at artifacts, interviewing, studying pictures and other more traditional means of research including web search.


I have just finished my second creation from Sew Electric. To get full instructions on your own sparkling bracelet with Lilypad parts, go here.

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What is the Voxer?

Voxer is and app that functions like a walkie talkie that you can use with friends to chat and leave messages.  Thanks to Jon Samuelson a.k.a. iPadSammy for turning me on to Voxer.

Who cares?

In Dale Stephens’ book Hacking your Education, he promotes the idea of uncollege and learning on your own. He talks about how one way to create your own learning environment is to host a salon type experience at your house or dorm or wherever. Invite intelligent people over, feed them some yummy food and discuss.  Voila! Your very own incubator for ideas and inspiration at the low cost of a pizza or a home cooked meal.  Then today, thanks to recommendations from two friends on Voxer, I visited and stumbled upon an article about the importance of a support group for creatives.  The article spoke of a “creatives anonymous” type group.

Then, I realized how Voxer is my version of the Salons.  These groups are becoming increasingly valuable as my creative support groups.  It’s a wonderful island of concentrated talk (and sometimes just silly jibber-jam and skim-skam chat with our own lexicon of choice words) in a sea of tweets, blog posts and conferences that don’t seem to carry enough of a continuous relationship to really keep my feet grounded and my head reaching ever higher up.

The future of social networking and your PLC

I am a connected educator.  This is not a lofty title or self promotion.  All this means is that when I have a question, I can tweet something out and there are people who tweet back to help me.  All it means is that I have contributed just enough good to the ecosystem of education technology that I can occasionally dip from the vast well for help and support.  All it means is that I can speak to the Internet, and it speaks back.  I think once a learner is at the stage where the Internet speaks back, the learner is on the edge of a richer interaction and learning system.  The next step is to use tools to break out and have longer, sustained conversations with your favourite people on the Web.  Enter Voxer or whatever tool for creating smaller groups for hanging out, messing around and geeking out.

Inspired by a blog post by Brandon Grasley, here are my current thoughts on whether or not to teach programming.  This is a comment I left on Brandon’s blog, but I had so much fun writing it, I wanted to have my own archive of my thinking.  Thoughts?  Be sure to check out his post too.

Yes! No! Yes, and . . .

I flip flop between 1 and 0 on whether programming should be taught.

Yes! Program or be programmed.

No! It’s akin to learning Latin a generation ago.

Yes! The Internet of things is increasingly present. Your oven will soon be connected to the web. Anything that is networked can be hacked both in good ways and not so good ways. (Restate: program or be programmed).

No! Increasingly you can do powerful things in the bit world without C+ to Ruby to Python and whatever program language you want to teach. Which raises the next issue: which programming language does one teach?

Yes, and . . {.where I think I really stand on this issue} . . .yes, we should be teaching/learning programming, *and* there should be an interplay between the bits and the atoms. In a word, MAKE. I think programming that is contextualized in making and the maker movement stands a better chance at democratizing the tools of creation, production, invention and general goodness. I think programming that blends on screen and face2face-in-my-hand creations satisfies our love for 1 and 0 and the reality of our flesh and bone atomic life.

So, why stop at programming? What people really need is a Fablab.

Yes! There are 10 kinds of people in this world. Those that understand binary and those who do not.

Sunshine Blog Award

December 2, 2013 — Leave a comment

How sweet to get a tweet from Cathy Yenca @mathycathy and to be one of her 11 choice blogs.  This is what I love about the Internet: it’s about community and people being nice to one another.  Cathy Yenca is a supremely awesome mathematics educator who blogs and creates and shares.  Thanks, Cathy, for the shout out.  It was a nice gesture, so I think I’ll keep the good vibes going forward.

Sunshine Blog Awards go a little something like this (copied from Cathy’s Blog post):

  1. Acknowledge the nominating blogger. (Done and done!)
  2. Share 11 random facts about yourself.
  3. Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you.
  4. List 11 bloggers. They should be bloggers you believe deserve some recognition and a little blogging love!
  5. Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate to answer and let all the bloggers know they have been nominated. (You cannot nominate the blogger who nominated you.)

11 Random Facts about me

  1. A few months ago I started a father daughter book club.  It’s just me and my dad.  He is a huge reader and reads mainly history. We walk together once a week and discuss our books.  It’s the best.
  2. I love candy.
  3. Mayonnaise is gross.
  4. I own 4 bikes and a motorcycle.
  5. Until October, I hadn’t had a cell phone for 5 years.
  6. I don’t colour my hair.  I stopped colouring my hair and gave up my cell phone to help pay for motorcycle insurance 5 years ago.
  7. I share a birthday with Miley Cyrus, and I am okay with that.
  8. I love math.
  9. My childhood dream was to be a downhill ski racer.  I like high speed!
  10. I don’t have my own biological children. When people ask me if I have kids, I say “Yes, 20 or more a year!”
  11. I am terrible at coming up with Halloween costumes.

Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you.

  1. What is your favorite movie of all time?  Out of Africa
  2. If you could have attended any concert anytime in history, what would it have been?  Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” Music and Ballet that nearly caused a riot.
  3. What do you do for fun?  Hobby?  Ride bikes.
  4. What two guests would make the best comedic pair as co-hosts for the Oscars?  ?dunno?
  5. Cat, Dog or Goldfish? Why?  As pets? As tattoos? No thanks.
  6. How do you caffeinate?    Espresso!
  7. Favorite twitter chat?  #1to1techat #cdnedchat
  8. Best place you ever vacationed? Whistler, B.C. is pretty epic.
  9. Best book you’ve read in 2013? Ready Player One. Here is my list of reads from this year.
  10. Favorite television shows?  Don’t watch TV.
  11. What is one thing you never/rarely share that you are exceptionally proud of?  My husband.

My Sunshine Award Blogger Nominees

  1. Kristen Wideen
  2. Tracy Clark
  3. Holly Clark
  4. Courtney Pepe
  5. Susan Bruyns
  6. Megan Valois
  7. Jon Samuelson
  8. David Fife
  9. Kyle Pearce
  10. Doug Pete
  11. Rolland Chidiac


I present Leah Buechley:

Leah Buechley

Dr. Buechley did some simple counting. She looked over the 36 issues ever published from Make magazine and went looking for who makers are according to who is on the cover and who is writing stories.

Who are makers?

Of 36 issues of Make, featuring 40 people on the cover, here is the breakdown of boys, women and people of colour:
85% boys and men
15% girls and women
0% people of colour
The editorial staff at Make includes 15 people. 87% are men, 13% are women and none represent a visible minority.
Leah Buechley suggests that this is not really a problem if Make is a niche subculture doing it’s own niche thing.  But, when Make spawns a not-for profit with the same branding, then, she points that there is issue with this lack of representation.

What are the makers making?

Not only is it predominantly white boys and men, but the projects featured are overwhelmingly about electronics, battling robots, and vehicles.
What is making?

So, we know who the makers are according to Make (white males). We know what they are making according to Make (electronics).  Leah Buechley suggests that the magazine has a responsibility to reflect other forms of making, like textiles which is her area of expertise, in order to be broader. Particularly if Make is moving into the educational realm and public education.

Who will bring the maker movement to public schools?

The teaching force, in case you didn’t notice, is mostly women.  So, if the people that are championing Fablabs and maker movement want to get anywhere in public education, I think we need to consider that the teaching force is largely female and very few of whom have a science background.  I think the maker movement, if it is going to gain any traction at the school level (public school especially), must resonate with a female teachers.  That may be hard to accomplish if the perception of maker, as presented in the media, is white males with electronic-battling-bots.

Every child a maker? Hang on a LED-flashing minute.

In the spirit of Leah Buechey’s semi-challenging talk, I too would like to throw another rock at this movement to shake things up a bit further.  I am uncomfortable with the slogan: Every child a maker.  Like Leah Buechley, and many of the people at Fablearn, I think Making is marvelous.  But, I worry about making children make.  Forcing children to make electronics is normally called a sweat shop. I think we easily vilify traditional school activities and hold up complicated, expensive and literally flashing activities as reforming education.  But hang on a LED-flashing minute.  What if a kid is not into making?  That child could be white, black, brown, yellow or purple for all I care, but if they don’t want to make, they shouldn’t be coerced into making.  Buechley points out that the enthusiastic maker disciples who want to spread the message must  “come with your excitement, but come ready to listen and hear what kids are excited about.”  I think we need to ask who wants to make? We need to ask what do students want to make.  Otherwise we are yet again reducing the learning experience into a really fancy, expensive, flashing 3D worksheet equivalent that happens to also be potentially dangerous and often lacking in connections to the curriculum.
A child can be just as bored with a worksheet as with attempting to program a robot, sew a flashing teddy bear or watch a 3D printer (especially the last one). There, I said it.  You can’t make your way out of boredom and move away from less than perfect teaching by throwing a child and her teacher into a Fablab.  Creating plastic artefacts that have one foot in the landfill is a dangerous way to think about educational reform.

Making is about engaging the head, hands and heart.

What will change education is exposure to rich and meaningful hands on tasks that engage the heart, head and hands as Gary Stager suggested in his keynote.  We need to empower and support a largely female-non-science-educated teaching force with tools, tool kits, guides and guidebooks to lower the barriers to equipment and increase access to making at any price point.  We need to keep our vision locked on student learning.  We must regain and maintain a laser sharp focus on the process, inquiry, problem solving, debugging and nurturing passion and engagement that I think FabLabs are more than capable of facilitating.

Maker boys and girls

I think this movement is going to work. I would not have flown across the country if I didn’t believe that. But, we must be aware of the face of the teaching force and the face of the students we serve. We must also keep the focus on choice and exploration. We must focus on opening opportunities not shutting kids into sweat shops.  We must honour that the tradition of making has been around a long time and with many women at the centre of crafting and textiles.  Let’s name the gender and race issue so we can hopefully in the near future erase them completely so a hammer or a sewing machine are no longer dripping with dated notions of men’s and women’s work.  I would love to see the day where a hammer or a sewing machine are as gender neutral as a pencil or an iPad.

“Make, you haven’t earned my trust.”

Leah Buechley said “Make, you haven’t earned my trust.”  One way to garner her trust is to “be honestly generous to what people are invested in.”  She is completely right. We must honour what teachers and more importantly what students are interested in, or else this is as bad as test prep only worse because you can’t burn your finger tips when filling out bubble sheets.

Fablearn 2013

Fablearn 2013 Digital Fabrication in Education Conference began yesterday and concludes today.  A small conference with a focused topic is a nice contrast to the two large anything-goes conferences I have just come from.  While it’s great to have a zillion choices at large conferences, having the opportunity to go deep on one topic you love is just fantastic. The conference organizers describe the event as follows:

“FabLearn is a venue for educators, policy-makers, students, designers, researchers, and makers to present, discuss, and learn about digital fabrication in education, the “makers” culture, and hands-on learning.”

In a word, it’s about making.


Curiosity number one for me was to check out the Fablab at the Centre for Education and Research at Stanford (CERAS). A small yet optimally utilized space full of all the tools tricks and goodies one could image for a maker space.  The bright colours and easy access reflect Paulo Blikstein’s aesthetic. He suggests these spaces should not feel like a garage and should be gender neutral.  People working in the lab, including children, should have access to materials with ease. Dangerous tools should be labelled and there should be lots of visual support so that it is obvious what something is for and can do.

FabLab Fablab door FabLab picture of inside

Workshop 1: Teaching Children to Program

Gary Stager guided participants through the how, what and why of teaching computer science to children.  We also played with Turtle Art which you can download for free here.  I made this turtle art goodness with some help from Gary, an activity card, and my new friend Amit.

Turtle Art

Amit Deutsch Googler, Programmer, all around nice guy.

Amit was kind enough to rock the Hack the Classroom sticker!

Workshop 2: Effective Prompt Setting and Making Across the Curriculum: Integrating Project-Based Learning into the Classroom

Sylvia Martinez talked to conferees about the conditions for making a good prompt to guide instruction and learning in a maker space. A good prompt is brief, ambiguous, and immune to assessment.

IMG_0057 IMG_0059Sylvia Gerstein and Gary Stager

New friends at Fablearn and their soft electronic creations

Thank You

Thank you very much to the organizers of Fablearn for providing me a scholarship to help me attend this conference. It would not have been possible to attend with their support. I am also fortunate that I had some support from an angel back in my school board who helped with the release time and covered the cost of supply.  You know who you are, I just don’t know if you are aware how grateful I am. Thank you.