Archive for category Sharing

Clay Shirky–Cognitive Surplus Assignment

The class I had last year was great in so many ways.  Sure there were some behavior issues, but generally, they were an energetic and happy bunch.  One thing that made them unique in my experience is they tended to shy away from class discussions.  Though good workers, individually and in small groups, the large group discussion didn’t produce a lot of apparent engagement.  I traditionally rely heavily on in class discussions; as such, we went a little faster than I’d normally go and a hole opened up in my long range plans.  Not wanting to run poetry as my only unit in language block, and not yet ready to start up their final presentations that would end their yearlong research, I was looking for something to do.

I had an assignment based on Clay Shirky’s article “Gin, Television, and Social Surplus “ that can be found at:  I had tried it before in June or in small doses like if half a split was on an extended trip or such.  The results were always mixed, limited, and somewhat muddled.  Whatever the reason, I decided to give it one more try.  I modified the assignment a little bit and presented it to the class not really knowing what to expect.  Well, they, by-in-large, took off with it.  It was the highlight of the year for many; it has become one of my “flagship” assignments; students were so excited about it, that they showed up this year with their ideas ready (which created minor problems with the brainstorm section…).

It went so well last yea, that I let it run much longer than I intended.  I feel students got a lot out of it.  I am still finding ways to leverage it into better assessment and evaluation but it lead to so many mini-lessons on learning skills, specific content, social skills, problem solving and personal growth that I have come to really value it.  This year, instead of one chunk in April/May, we are working through it part of every Friday.

Last year’s projects:

  • A radio station: We bought a raspberry pi computer and a few other components.  While one person (and I…and my brother-in-law) was working on the technical and software aspect, the others were developing their shows and the advertising/surveys/other that went along with it.  There were a lot of problems to be solved with the tech (thanks Glen!!) but in the end, they (and I) learned a lot.  What I liked most about this group was that the project met their diverse interests.  The artistic student was interested in making their banner, posters, etc.  One was interested in the Tech. 2 were interested in the programing.  I’ve never seen a group work on so completely different aspects of a single goal
  • Bird houses: I remember being a little disappointed with this group’s choice.  They were very strong academically and had a strong social conscious.  I was hoping for something a little more hard hitting.  Well, I approved their plan; in truth, I thought they’d finish early and do another project.  Instead they worked long and hard; I think this group got the most out of it.  Researching, problem solving, team work, logistics, etc.  There were a lot of obstacles and skills to learn.  In the end, they made 13 bird houses (PS: if any of this group is reading this: I still have the bird houses….please put them up this winter so that birds can use them in the spring).
  • The Art Club: One group ran an art club for primary students. They were the best planned group I had.  Every time I had a question, they had thought of it already, and had a good workable answer.  Students in this group got to show strengths (planning, organizing, creating) that I had a hard time seeing in more traditional class work.  The primaries loved their club; they got to make a craft every week for 8 weeks.  I think members of this group were very proud of their work and happy with the opportunity
  • The Movie: though this group had some logistic problems, some focus problems, and the movie didn’t get an Oscar nomination, they had fun, worked on social and learning skills, were quit pleased with their work and success.  The Group was likely a little large and had trouble finding specific tasks for everyone to do at times, but they all came together to make a product and everyone say it through to the end.  I wish I could see their movie again
  • The Youtube Channel: this group wanted to make a Youtube channel that would host Minecraft instructional and walkthrough videos. Technical problems, logistics, and even a little problem with focus made this project seem a little less successful than I hoped, but in truth, they still worked on planning, brainstorming, problem solving, and all the other skills associated with group work and projects.  While their product never really took off, they had a lot of success in learning to compromise, learning the technology, and attempting to create.  There are well positioned to be more successful next time
  • Wilderness Survival club: another group wanted to learn about wild edibles and other wilderness survival skills.  The first researched and learned some skills, found some opportunities to practice and eventually decided to apply their skills by running a club for other students to teach and share what they had learned.  Eventually, we took a small group out into the woods Wednesdays after school to do: shelter building, fire starting and theory, and navigation.  Everyone, even myself, had fun.
  • Orienteering obstacle course: The final group learned orienteering skills and developed a course for their peers in a local green space. It was a very well organized and fun event for the class and a great day outside.  Even undercover police came to check it outJ

This year, the groups are again working on a diverse group of activities: a cooking club; a group making art installations around the school; a movie; another attempt at a Youtube channel;  buying, building, painting and engraving games on picnic tables for the school yard; a mural on the wall of the gym; an outdoor permaculture garden and classroom; and homemade T-shirts to raise money for a local animal shelter.   It’s going to keep the kids (and me) busy….I’ll let you know how it goes.


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Student Bloggers 2014 – Here we go again!

Some of my followers on twitter might have noticed that I’ve been a little noisier recently.  Not only am I tweeting more often, I am tweeting about a wider variety of topics.  It is only recently that I have begun to tweet about chocolate or Olympic sports or leg lengthening surgery.  Those who have followed me for a while might have been expecting this-it’s February and that means it’s student blogging time.  Below is a list of student bloggers and their topics.  We are all hoping that people from beyond our classroom will engage us in public discourse.  Just by selecting 1 or 2 students, you can enrich the experience for all of them.  There are 3 ways you can help:

1) Follow a student below on twitter and engage them there.  Answer their questions, point them to resources, challenge their thinking, suggest others to follow that share their interest.  Show them the power of twitter beyond retweeting a request “to show the power of twitter” or “how far a tweet can go”

2) Read their blogs and leave a comment.  Answer their questions, challenge their thinking or assumptions, encourage or suggest further reading sources.

3) The easiest way to help is to retweet their tweets that I share.  You can at least do that…generate a little noise to help a student reach a larger or more receptive audience than I can.

Join in a discussion- teach and learn- the noise will only last a little while…ride it out.

Blog topics and URLS:

1) Child Beauty Pageants:

Twittter: @Childpagents



Twitter: @ChildsPageant


2) Exploring the future

Twitter: @future898

Blog Website:

3) poverty and “I am a Girl”

Twitter: @povertism

WordPress Blog:

4) The effects of video games

twitter: @effectsofgames


– or –

5) Twitter: @TVGEffects


6) Vimy Ridge

Twitter: @Vimy_Ridge_WW1


7) The history of video games

Twitter: @Gamings_History


8) The Twinkie

Twitter: @TwinkieEx


9) Space exploration

Twitter: @PaolucciInSpace


10) Aliens in media

Twitter: @InAliens


11) Child Soldiers

Twitter: @war_children


12) prejudice and acceptance

Twitter: @endtheprejudice


13) Factory Farming

Twitter: @savefarmanimal


14) Air Canada

twitter: @triboykyle


15) Animal Testing

twitter: @animaltesting00


16) Olympic sports

Twitter: @OlympicIdeal5


17) Animal Intellegence / rights

Twitter: @studentssps22


18) the Rwandan genocide

Twitter: @rwandagenocide_


19) Chocolate

Twitter: @chocolate_ISU


20) Nuclear Power

Twitter: @cw_nuclear


21) Pain

Twitter: @poison_pain


22) Plastics and the Pacific Garbage Patch

twitter: @juliplastica


23) Leg lengthing surgery

twitter: @XternalFixator

24) historic and current slave trades

Twitter: @SlaveTrade1700s


25) The Beauty Myth

Twitter: @cons_of_beauty


26) sports

twitter: @sportguy133


27) human evolution

Twitter: @sotweetedrhiley


28) should kids have homework

Twitter: @HomeworkYesErNo


Hopefully, you’ll find one or two that appeal to you and help make their experience more enriching.


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The process we went through to start blogging

 So the class of 2012’s blogs and Twitter accounts are off and running. I want to take a moment to detail the process I’ve gone through before and with them to get to this point. I think its going to be a long one so I’m just going to write a step-by-step list with little rhetorical flourish.

Edit: I have left it vague; a rough sketch—if you want more detail about a specific step, just let me know…


  1. I was part of a committee that was looking at ways to improve gifted education in YRDSB a couple of years ago. Among other things, we explored the integration of technology and social media (shockingly:). I was pushed a little and encouraged to use Twitter with my class as part of the process. I was resistant, but I capitulated. I should not have; I was not ready. I was unprepared, and I don’t think that it was useful or even safe for my students. I continued to learn (by myself) because something in it appealed to me. It was a useful learning experience to me

  2. I became certain, and continue to maintain, that a teacher should not explore technology or any technique/content with students. You should explore it first yourself. If you are going to open a door to students, you had better know how, and you had better know what’s on the other side first. I have blogged this sentiment several times on this site.

  3. I learned more: I read articles from Techcrunch, GigaOm (specifically @mathewi). I read some Clay Shirky (“Here comes everybody”, “Cognitive Surplus”), I re-read Marshall McLuhan, Neil Postman. I read some Danah Boyd.

  4. I continued to use Twitter and other social media on my own. I started my own blog and made my own mistakes

  5. I had many conversations with my principal and vice-principal as well as board consultants. I developed my own robust permission/consent form/appropriate use of technology

2 years and some experimenting later, I was willing to try it again….the following are steps my class and I went through this year to get ready for January and February’s Journalism/Web 2.0/SM unit/ Public Discourse:

Part 1 – Exploring Media:

  1. we define media and explored some McLuhan and Postman. We explore a broad definition of what is media. We learn about how different media influence messages and have their own limitations. We learn about “hot” and “cold” media and the effect the receiver has on the message (but also how the media effects it as well).

  2. We explored Neil Postman’s “5 ideas we need to know about technological change.”

  3. We use it as a analytical framework for media using tools like:

  4. We explore brand creation and its relationship to people’s self fashioning as we explored advertising. I would have liked to spend more time on ad techniques and audience interaction (next time).

  5. They work on a series of “Media Koan’s” to get them looking at media differently and critically (you can see some of them here:

Part 2 –The Moodle Years:

  1. Our class uses our moodle course quite extensively. From the first week they are building a community of learners and are using digital tools to help each other and extend their learning beyond the classroom. There are many wiki’s, forums, topics, and discussions.

  2. They are introduced to Tucker’s rules for using social media

  3. They practice the skills of digital citizenship before they are formally introduced to the topic (at least from me). Before the “blogging unit” the average student has posted well over 100 times on our course.

Part 3- The ISU

  1. As part of the gifted program at our school, students participate in an independent study unit loosely based on Bloom’s Taxonomy (not that I’m the biggest fan, but it serves-with a few changes)

    1. Students select a topic that has a controversial element and begin researching and learning at school and at home. We teach a parallel curriculum of research skills and note taking that I would like to make more robust next year.

    2. Students demonstrate understanding of their topic in a interview

    3. Analysis (we think it should be 3rd before application-even if this violates Bloom’s). This year we skipped this because of time but it involves laying out, in an organization web, all the facts relevant to a topic (well within reason)

  2. students brush up over the winter holidays and first week back in Januray to hopefully have a good grasp of their topic before the blogging starts

Part 4.. “Corporations are people,” and “The news about the news”

Since there is so much talk about “free” services out there, I try to break down that barrier so they can see these business for what they are-businesses

  1. We talk about the driving ethics of business- for profit, branding and niche marketing. We look at Unilever and its strategies for the Dove and Axe brands.

  2. We look at types of news and the purpose of news from different stakeholder’s perspectives.

  3. We analysis the problem of corporate media control and SM as a possible counter force.

Part 5 – What is the internet really like?

Running parallel to parts 2-5 above, we start our social media/journalism/web 2.0/public discourse unit (some of the below items run concurrently)…

  1. We pre-teach vocabulary and concepts

  2. We discuss business models of “free” services like Zynga

  3. We discuss in detail issues of privacy. (for example: (“networked privacy”) , , , I discuss elements of: Why Privacy matters even if you have nothing to hide: by Daniel J. Solove, with them as well

  4. We explore the concepts digital footprint and digital citizenship. We host discussions on our moodle and bring in an array of sources.

  5. We discuss related internet issues that the students find and bring back to a moodle hosted discussions

  6. We discuss the effects of networks and being part of a community (and the production of hyper-local news

  7. We talk about the “Who owns the digital you” series by Tim Chambers

  8. We talk about how Twitter and SM are publishing and broadcasting networks and how they are different from a conversation. We learn about the implications of Danah Boyd’s work: 4 ideas of the internet persistent, replicable, searchable, scalable (“Social Network Sites as Networked Publics: Affordances, Dynamics, and Implications.” In Networked Self: Identity, Community, and Culture on Social Network Sites (ed. Zizi Papacharissi); the dangers of the invisible audience; and

  9. We have discussions about some of the following (dependend on time or where we menader arround:

    1. real name policies: , , , “Real Names” Policies Are an Abuse of Power , (again) , and

    2. other issues as discovered by their earlier serachs and conversations

  1. Other safety

    1. (especially the 3rd in the list)

    2. And corollary issues like:

Part 6 –Their turn?

  1. I introduce them to the complexities of Twitter and some of the issues: reinforce the 4 Danah boyd principles and the invisible audience, Spambots, etiquette, offensive content, and how to use twitter well. We gather and look at sources for twitter and blogging. We talk about the different uses of twitter and the like. We primarily use twitter to build an audience and advertise blog posts to drive traffic to our discussions

  2. Students decide which strategy they want to use for entering public discourse from here: They are also free to make their own moodle course and mimic the process if they feel they are not ready (given the time spend on caution, I don’t feel I can make it mandatory…this year 2 students chose this option…we made them teachers of their own moodle course and they use that as a website to host their classmates or others they invite into discussions on their topic).

  3. Students make their first 10 tweets, and I review them carefully. We discuss clarity, long term consequences, digital citizenship issues. Once their first 10 are vetted, they are approved to tweet at will!

  4. Finally, the part that the public sees: Students begin to build their own posts or comment on the posts of others depending on their chosen strategy, tweet to drive traffic to their posts, build audiences, engage in discussions, and learn….

Part 7 – Their learning log:

  1. Students record their activities and their thoughts about them on their learning log (hosted on the class moodle) which I monitor, continuously assess, and eventually evaluate

That is the sketch…I feel I’ve left a lot out….might have to update. But in the meantime please consider following one of my student accounts and commenting on their posts. They can be found here:







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Our bid for Best Buy’s “The Best in Class Fund”

Best Buy has a program of offering grants to schools to be used on digital technology.  Our school went through the process and was awarded $20,000. Many thanks to Stephen Hurley and others for starting and encouraging the thinking and exploration that led us to this point.  We still have other areas we are continuing to focus on based on this article: and two posts by Stephen Hurley that I continue to lose the links for.  Hopefully, he (or someone else) will respond below and post the links to his blog posts on “imagination rooms” and “invigorating the front entrance to a school.” Both posts I believe are on hosted on the CEA’s website.   Here is the text from our successful bid.  

Best Buy Essay Contest

Question 1: How do you plan to use the technology with your students to inspire and enhance their education? Please be as detailed as possible (500 words).

We plan to use the technology to enhance our students learning experience at Glen shields in four areas:

1) We plan to invigorate our front lobby as a communal learning and sharing space that promotes student learning and community/parental engagement. Our plan is to create a space that can be used by students, teachers and parents to meet communally to interact and work on their own projects. We envision a space that encourages collaboration and welcomes a school’s diverse set of stakeholders to met and share in learning. We require computers, technology to support video conferencing and video editing, and a television to broadcast announcements for this space.

2) We wish to create an imagination room in a section of our library resource centre. This would offer a student center where they would be free to pursue self-directed and collaborative learning activities with a focus on critical thinking and inquiry through a lens of creativity and innovative exploration. We require computers, tablets and an LCD projector, technology to support video conferencing and video editing, Livescribe pens (allows you to digitally record everything you write and say) and other experiential learning kits (like circuit boards, robotics, etc.) available in this space.

3) We are interested in filling some of our public spaces around the school with social learning centers. Similar to the imagination room, these would be hubs of self-directed social learning and inquiry. We want to include computers and other technology resources dedicated to supporting an interactive and inquiry based learning experience.

4) We’d like to augment the technology already available as part of the classroom program. We require additional LCD projectors, computers to increase the size of our portable laptop/netbook labs, etc.

Together, technology in these 4 areas would allow us to offer diverse learning experiences to our students that would otherwise be impossible. Given the limitations of our current resources, technology has primarily been dedicated to classroom use and the instruction of students. We would like to dedicate this new investment in technology to further promote student learning and experimentation. This would allow us to offer the following experiences more efficiently and effectively to our students: virtual field trips to increase their understanding of the world in which they live, skyped connections to others – to have our students not just learn about others but to learn from others in an innovative and interactive way; work with all stakeholders (parents and students) to create videos to facilitate flipped classrooms; access a school Moodle course to foster an internal learning community and access points to develop learning communities outside the school through the integrated use of social media.

We feel that such opportunities will raise the level of engagement of some of our students experiencing learning challenges and provide valuable outlets for our more independent and creative learners. Independent access to learning tools and social learning contexts will provide a voice in our school community to groups that have been traditionally silenced or lacked voice as they access the rich environment offered by social media through digital technology.

Question 2: Tell us more about the students that would be directly impacted and how they would benefit from the grant. (250 words)

Our school is a microcosm ofCanada. Our school is an incredibly diverse school; this offers the same advantages and challenges of Canada as a whole. We service a community that includes a high number of recent immigrants and ELL learners, a diverse array of socio-economic realities, a large visible minority community, and gifted learners. Many students in this school have only limited access to digital technology, the Internet, social media and independent self-guided learning. Digital technology will help us service the diverse needs of this group. It will allow us to provide both a common experience of base instruction and learning, and it will allow us to focus on each student’s specific needs and interests.

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Student Twitter Account Roll

Most of my students chose to use Twitter and blogging as part of their independent study unit.  These are my student’s Twitter accounts dedicated to their independent study topics.  They would appreciate a follow and a visit to their blogs (Some aren’t quite ready for visitors yet….).  Their handles indicate their topic; hopefully 1 or 2 of the topics interest you.  This is a good opportunity to demonstrate the value of twitter, instead of just re-tweeting requests to “see how far a tweet can go…”



@dystopia_soma Blog:

@gmfoodopinions Blog:

@Shalit_deal Blog:

@em_radiation Blog:

@saudirights_rz Blog:

@FactoryFarms1 Blog:

@NuclearinCanada Blog:

@bestr8againsth8 Blog:

@cloning2 Blog:

@pitbullbanning Blog: 

@ChildCare458 Blog:

@D_Euthanasia Blog:

@Recycle_Smart Blog:

@aff_action2 Blog:

@hans_liberation Blog:

@beautypageants1 Blog: 


@WebIssues Blog:

@Globe_Warm Blog: 

GeneticModify1 Blog:

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Is it fair to the good kids that the “Bad” kids hold them back?

 I’d like to take a different tone today. Today’s post isn’t about technology in education. It is related to education, but it is more personal than professional. Today, I want to talk about something that’s been bothering me for awhile.  This might be too personal, but I need the write this as cathartic release; luckily, very few people read my blog. Its a bit scattered; please bare with me.

It hurts me to hear teachers say things to the effect of:  its not fair – the “bad” kids are holding everyone else back.  This hurts me because, in at least in 90 % of cases, my son will be worse.  When my autistic son enters school, should we place him in a regular class, he will be disruptive, frustrating- he will require more attention than anyone else, maybe than everyone else.

I am a teacher and I understand why it is said.  I kind of agree. I sometimes say the same thing. I am a horrible hypocrite. However:

It’s true that it’s not fair to the good kids but it’s also true that it is even more unfair to the “bad” kids.  Did they choose to be bad?  It’s holding them back even more then the good kids.  Why are they bad? Do they have free autonomous choice to be bad?  Of course not- we don’t let children enter contracts or be alone or drive or vote or be charged with a crime because we recognize that a child’s autonomy is limited at best.  So why are they bad?  If it’s not truly their choice then it’s something else? Economic? Family problems? Medical condition? Who are the victims- the good or the “bad” kids? Who’s really being held back and why?

This is what being inclusive looks like.  We don’t leave people behind.  We help and support.  We do that in all aspects of our society.

 My son will disrupt the learning or others.  He will push children out of the way.  He will scream and cry in class.  He will have accidents and need to be changed.  He will run away.  He will disrupt every assembly – everyone will stare.  Kids will laugh at him, make fun of him, make fun of his brother because if him.  He won’t have any friends.  He’ll spend the day looking for the missing letter from a puzzle instead of what is is supposed to do.  He will need someone to help feed him.  He won’t be able to sign his name on the art he was helped on.  He will need help washing himself after art.  After school he will have 4 different types of therapy – physio, OT, speech, ABA. 

While things will improve as he ages, they will never go away.  I hurt when I think I have to add the resentment of parents, students and teachers to the list if difficulties – I can accept other students resenting him as they’re still learning too – but adding parents and teachers, while understandable, hurts me.

Maybe it won’t be so hard; maybe he will learn to cope with school as long as people learn to cope with him. 

He might be a more extreme example but hopefully, he can demonstrate a principle – it’s not fair to the ‘bad’ kids that they hold people back; its not fair that they are themselves held back; it’s not fair that they absolutely require the empathy of others – or maybe it is fair – all kids are learning; all require empathy.


Please tell me I’m wrong; where are my mistakes? Be critical; that’s how I learn…

A colleague of mine recently remarked that my blog was too negative; that it belabored the facts; and I was missing the main point of social media – sharing!

I countered by saying, I try to share as much as I can; some of my posts are sharing resources that I created, and I re-tweet points, arguments and resources that I think should be considered or have value.

In regards to belaboring the facts, I responded that I had no idea what that actually means.  Relevant facts are always…well, relevant! They, when applied correctly, are argument busters – they help you gage if an idea had merit or not. Value facts; they keep us grounded in reality.

In terms of being too negative I saw his point; taken as a whole, my blog and tweets are more disagreeable then many others.  I saw his point, but I emphatically disagree.  This is what critical thinking looks like.  Critical thinking is the analysis of where a concept is weak or wrong; it is an exploration of negative consequences, oversights, weaknesses, errors, assumptions, etc.  

There might be some misunderstanding out there on what critical thinking is. You aren’t thinking critically when you point out the benefit of something or when you are optimistic.  Those are other analytical strategies.  Critical thinking is the subset of analytic activities that attack – its the reductio ad absurdum and the like. It is the process used in systems analysis (from everything to computer programs to making sure the maintenance schedule for aircraft repair is adequate); it is the process used by your defense lawyer as he breaks down the Crown’s argument; it is the method of Socrates – he never said, “wow, I see your point; I can’t wait to share it with the Sophists.”

We hear people presenting the merits of critical thinking a lot; they present the need that our students have for them; however, we rarely hear anyone embracing someone else’s critical thoughts. It’s much like coffee – when asked, people generally say they like it dark and rich when the truth is the majority of us like it milky and weak (Malcolm Gladwell on Spaghetti sauce at When asked, people generally say that they value critical thinking, then when confronted by it, see it as negativity and then as something to avoid or dismiss (“you say you love the baby, but you crucify the man (Jim Croce).”). Though people say they value critical thinking; they don’t embrace the actual thoughts only the vague unassuming concept. As a profession, we tend to see it as the “black hat” from de Bono’s 6 hats…something associated with negativity. Even in many sources of this method, we are warned to not use it too much.

No such warning exists for the optimistic hat. Well, I don’t want my airplane mechanic to be overly optimistic; I don’t want my lawyer to be (should I need one); I don’t want journalists to be; or farmers (“don’t worry; crops grow themselves; don’t worry, I’m sure the ecoli wont spread”) or educators.

I find the irony a bit too thick to even enjoy when an educator shares someone’s critical argument at face value…when anyone optimistically accepts a critical argument and shares it saying, “great point to consider…” they have missed something fundamental; they have forgotten to be critical. I also have very little respect for someone who prefers to ignore an argument because it is too negative and goes off in search of some great list of 100 apps that every student needs or 100 uses for twitter in your classroom. Without seeking the possible weakness or negative consequences, one’s optimism is reckless and naive.