Conversations In Ed Series

The Benefits of Thinking in Public


(Banksy photographed near Bethlehem by Markus Ortner CC BY-SA 2.5)

I am enjoying reading Clive Thompson’s book, Smarter Than You Think.  His thoughts on public thinking resonate with me at a time when the student use of cloud based tools to document thinking and exhibit artefacts of learning are restricted.

My principal recently asked me what resources I needed for my classroom.  My response was whiteboard paint so I can turn my walls into spaces for public thinking.  I think she assumed I was joking, but I believe we can all benefit from displaying our thinking.  Sadly, we miss out on important learning opportunities when we don’t take the time to share the process of learning. Sharing the process of learning can create a unique bond with the audience.  Thinking in public focuses more on the process than the product (Kleon, 2014).

“In this day and age, if your work isn’t online, it doesn’t exist.” (Kleon, 2014)



Public thinking is the epitome of sharing knowledge for the betterment of mankind.  Those who share publicly and openly are usually those that are more interested in improvement rather than ownership.  Thinking aloud stimulates creativity and facilitates like-minded people to find each other. “Studies have found that particularly when it comes to analytic or critical thought, the effort of communicating to someone else forces you to think more precisely, make deeper connections, and learn more” (Thompson, 2014).  Thinking aloud leads to more accountability than thinking internally.  Thompson summed this up well when he said,  “It’s easy to win an argument inside your head” (Thompson, 2014). Thinking aloud makes me a better writer, reasoner, and thinker because in the back of my mind there is always a voice that reminds me that my work may be critiqued.

Public thinking leads to better quality products because the collective is always going to be more creative than the individual. “Knowledge has always been created via conversation, argument, and consensus” (Thompson, 2014).  Take the success of the Mozilla Project.  A group of technology minded thinkers and developers who work together to keep the Internet alive and accessible, so people throughout the world can be informed contributors and creators of the Web.  The Mozilla Project shares the source code for their projects so others can remix the content and contribute to enhancing the product.  Mozilla is an organization who models thinking in public.

Public thinking can also lead to social change.  In the spring of 2011 when Egyptians staged nationwide demonstrations against the rule of President Hosni Mubarak. Hundreds of protesters were killed as Mubarak and his allies try to crush the uprising.  The people of Egypt took to social media to share their thoughts by bringing the crisis to the attention of the world. How many atrocities like this happen in areas of the world where public thinking is seen as an overtly defiant attack against government?


One of the biggest obstacles to sharing thinking publically is people and institutions that are stuck in the mindset of ownership and protectionism.  In education, at a time when people are developing incredibly beneficial learning networks, many educators work in highly competitive environments.  Movement between jobs, schools, and districts is incredibly difficult and sometimes the only way to get ahead is to develop and hold onto something unique and different.

Privacy is another obstacle standing in the way of thinking in public.  In Canada, educators across the country are bound by overly restrictive school district policies.  FIPPA was created to make public bodies more accountable to the public and protect personal privacy, not limit student’s creative process because their thinking is stored on a server located outside of the country. These laws are standing in the way of student learning and freedom of expression.

Fear also stands in the way of public displays of thought.  The fears of failure or critiques are often cited as reasons to internalize thinking.  Thinking aloud makes people vulnerable by revealing intimate knowledge of the way they think.  Risk taking is the precursor to public thinking.  This can be overcome by realizing that nothing worthwhile has ever been achieved without a long line of failures behind it.  In my profession, it is increasingly difficult to encourage my learners to take risks.  The fear of appearing to know everything paralyzes my learner’s ability to share their thoughts.  To conquer this, I need to create an environment that embraces failure as a part of the learning culture.

Implications For My Practice

My goal as an educator is to design meaningful and authentic learning experiences for students, model practices of lifelong learning, and provide opportunities to (co)create artifacts of learning.  After reading Smarter Than You Think, I have realised the benefits of encouraging students to share their work publicly.  It is important to engaging my learners in the act of thinking aloud through their learning, and not just at the end of a learning sequence.  “Public thinking is messy” (Thompson, 2014), but the benefits can be extraordinary.


As I continue to develop my own craft and strive to be the best educator I can, I plan to not only continue to share my finished work publicly, but also find the means to document the process of my work.  In my profession, educators slip into the practice of evaluating the end product, but there are clear benefits in evaluating the process in equal measures.


Kleon, A. (2014). Show Your Work!: 10 Ways to Share Your Creativity and Get Discovered (Kindle Edi., p. 224). Workman Publishing Company. Retrieved from


Thompson, C. (2014). Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing our Minds for the Better. New York: The Penguin Group.

Does Design Thinking Have A Place In Education?

Design Cycle_Design Thinking for Education (1)



In my latest #tiegrad course I have been tasked with better understanding design thinking, and to consider whether it could play a relevant part in my own instructional design process.  I wanted to share my initial findings as I seek a deeper understanding of the process.

If empathy, interpreting, imagining, planning, and testing are the principles of design thinking, then it is remarkably akin to the assessment cycle used in education.  They are both user centered, continuous, and intentional.  Perhaps design thinking is the new assessment cycle?  Regardless of your thoughts of the process of creating engaging, authentic, and relevant instruction in your classroom, I believe design thinking has a place in our education system, classrooms, and schools.

If “Design has a set of tools and methods that can guide people to new solutions.” (Nussbaum, 2009) and mainstream public-school education in Canada is having difficulty understanding the needs of the latest entrants into its system, then surely we can borrow some ideas from design thinking to inspire a new generation of learner.

I will be the first to admit that I struggle to consistently design learning experiences, which engage all my students.  I struggle with student apathy towards education, and I seem to focus so much of my day developing and maintaining relationships, understanding my learners, and meeting their socio-emotional needs that my current assessment practices need redesigning.  Can the design thinking cycle help?  I’m not sure yet, but I am certain that more time I spend with my learners working towards authentic, real life learning experiences the more engaged my class is, and the more satisfied I feel.

I see design thinking working across the curriculum.  In social studies, design thinking is idea for addressing many social justice issues such as hunger, education, poverty, and unclean water.  These global issues need a new approach and  creative solutions.  The collaborative nature and user-centered approach of design thinking can help.  This PBS documentary shows design thinking at work by highlight the work done by Stanford University’s Institute of Design (aka the students who created products that may save thousands of lives in Bangladesh, Indonesia and other developing countries they visited.

Teaching Students Design Thinking?

In contrast to the benefits of design thinking as a teaching tool in education, I enjoyed reading Debbie Morrison’s blog posting Why ‘Design Thinking’ Doesn’t Work in Education.  As an elementary school teacher working in an inner-city school with a disproportionately high number of at-risk students, I fully agree with her argument that design thinking has a place in instructional design but not in student curriculum.  She argues that design thinking, “… requires one to think of a problem from unconventional, even unlikely perspectives…”  and could be too complex for our k-12 education system.  My students do not have the school experience or life experience to deal with such abstract thinking.  Morrison further states that our current learners

“…have the creative confidence knocked out of them at an early age and little attention paid to developing their creative thinking skills thereafter. Any design thinking process would be greatly enhanced by people who have had the opportunity to hone their creative fluency, flexibility, originality and elaboration.”

My learners are concrete learners.  How do we teach creative fluency, flexibility, and originality, when these qualities may not be supported/valued at home?


Conversations In Ed: The Complexities of BYOD

Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) agreements are being developed in many school districts across the province, and although they vary in content from district to district, there are many similarities. I am currently working on developing a draft BYOD agreement for my district and I wanted to take the time to share my learning.

What are BYOD agreements?

Agreements to support the use of student’s own devices in schools, to educate students and staff on the consenting use of devices, and explain the consequences of misuse of the networks which support the devices. There currently exists a wide range of different BYOD agreements; some brief and others extremely lengthy. It appears as though no one BYOD agreement is a best fit for all schools, so make decisions that best fit the unique needs of school or district.

Why Do We Need BYOD?

We are in a time when so much of the research, inquiry, and collaborative learning students complete in a day are enabled by the use of devices such as a smartphones, laptops, or tablets. Schools and school districts do not have large enough technology budgets to accommodate the seer volume of devices required, so a well thought out BOYD agreement would enable students to engage in 21st Century Learning, and at the same time alleviate some of the budgetary concerns facing many schools. In addition, it is important to acknowledge the efficiency benefits of BYOD agreements. Without BYOD, students may need to spend unnecessary time learning unfamiliar software programs pre-installed on school devices before they are able to complete the required learning task. In contrast, students who are permitted to bring their own devices to school are already familiar with them and can attend to the learning task right away.

“By allowing students to bring in their own devices for learning–rather than insisting that they learn both content and device in school–there is an important opportunity to connect with not just their personal lives, but their natural way of doing things.” Terry Heick (


  1. Students are familiar their own devices and can concentrate more on creating, responding to, and reflecting on their learning, rather than learning how to use unfamiliar devices and software
  2. Helps to address the problem of schools trying to provide the necessary hardware for 21st Century learning with limited technology budgets by allowing students to bring their own devices to school
  3. Excellent learning tool to gain access to information, create content, respond and reflect on own learning
  4. Potential to widen the student learning networks from traditional classroom based networks to global networks


  1. BYOD does not address the equality differences between students and schools residing in low socioeconomic areas
  2. Theft and misuse of devices
  3. Time and money spent on educating users on device etiquette
  4. IT and network considerations


It is critically important to clearly communicate the rationale of BYOD with all partners in learning; students, teachers, parents, and guests. Including the BYOD in a general acceptable use policy (AUP) is one option, but a more targeted approach might be more successful. Listing the BYOD agreement on the school district website, emailing it out, or adding it to each students’ school registration process might be more beneficial.

Education and Training

Teachers, support staff, and students may need ongoing training with the decision making process of when and when not to use devices to enhance learning. It is also important to spend time educating students on device etiquette. Students may not be able to establish boundaries between work and play. Educators use a variety of expectations around device usage in their classrooms, some of them include:

  • Silent mode unless being used
  • Device stays in the backpack unless a member of staff asks you specifically to use it
  • Students must not use devices to record, transmit, or post photographic images or video of a person or persons on campus during school hours or during school activities, unless otherwise allowed by a teacher – see more
  • Students should only be using the devices to access files, information, images, or video that are directly related to the content of the lesson or assignment

Network Access Requirements

It is important to clearly communicate what type of devices are permitted under your BOYD agreement: smartphones, tablets, netbooks, and laptops, and what the minimum hardware/software requirements are needed to gain access to the network. No teacher wants to spend their morning trying to get an outdated netbook connected to the school wireless.

District/School IT Responsibilities

In my school district when I, or when students in my class, have hardware/software issues we submit an IT helpdesk e-ticket, but what happens when the number of devices in my class increase with BYOD? Will the IT department be overwhelmed with additional requests? Will the IT department be expected to provide students with service level agreements? What will happen when student data is lost, and will more infrastructures be needed in school? I think students will need to charge their devices in the middle of the day, and schools/districts may need to consider charging stations at some point in the future.


Network Security:

Network security is an important feature of BYOD. We asked ourselves questions such as, how will you manage the network with respect to restricting access to certain sites at certain times? Would we continue to use Ministry filters from PLNet, or would consider using our own internal knowledge to program our own filters?

Another questions raised by middle/high teachers were related to bandwidth. In one particular school, the WiFi bandwidth was seriously impacted as soon as buses started to arrive at school. As a 1000+ students started to walk through the doors and their phones started to auto detected the network, the network slowed to a crawl.

In our discussion we decide to limit the number of devices a student can use to connect to the network, block certain sites during recess and lunch, and have several different wireless networks in school to accommodate different users such as staff, students, and guests. We are currently looking into Bradford Networks to assist us with providing the software to manage our networks. They will be able to register IP address, track infractions, block access to network and sites, and manage security threats.


Unanswered Questions of BYOD Agreements

Along the way to developing an agreement, we came across many questions we have yet to decide solutions for. For example, what happens if a device is lost or damaged on school grounds? Who covers the cost of fixing the problem or replacing the device? Schools simply cannot afford to replace the cost of damaged devices, so the sole responsibility needs to lie with students, but will this result in students, who have devices, deciding not to bring them to school in fear of damaging? Perhaps students will need to purchase a type of insurance to cover the costs of damaged devices in schools.
What happens to students who misuse the networks they are accessing?
Will sites be blocked during recess and lunch? If so which ones, and will this decision be made at the district or school level?
Will a BYOD agreement mean unexpected and additional work by IT departments?


Sample BYOD Agreements:

Great BYOD Links:

What Does It Mean To Be An Open Educator?

In my last #tiegrad class we discussed what it means to be an open educator.  Since then, I’ve been developing my own understanding of ‘open practices.’


According to Wikipedia:

Open education is a collective term[1] to describe institutional practices and programmatic initiatives that broaden access to the learning and training traditionally offered through formal education systems. The qualifier “open” of open education refers to the elimination of barriers that can preclude both opportunities and recognition for participation in institution-based learning. One aspect of openness in or “opening up” education is the development and adoption of open educational resources.”

My understanding of Open Education is that it represents a mindset – a way of thinking of others instead of ourselves.  Educators who engage in ‘open practices’ create a culture of sharing, collaboration, and cooperation.  They work together toward a common goal.  Each one offering a unique perspective, or enriching the process of collaboration with their past experiences and knowledge.  It can start local with team teaching or grade group collaboration within a school, or it can extend beyond the boundaries of the school to the virtual world.  Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC), for example, are readily available online, and cater to a variety of subjects areas and topics.  These courses allow learners to connect via the web, share their knowledge, and better their understanding of the subject matter being discussed.  There exists technologies, which allow educators to connect in more informal ways but many of them are hidden behind passwords and usernames.  When we adopt a mindset of open practices, as educators, our practice can flourish and our students thrive.

One of the most exciting aspects of open education, as it relates to my own practice, is the ability to participate in my own personalized professional development.  I don’t always feel like I connect to the professional development opportunities that my school district hosts or those offered by my school, but I do get excited knowing that I can connect with other educators in subject areas of interest, and create, share, and adapt content, which I can then used to enhance the learning experience I have with my students.

Open Education also has real and meaningful impact outside of my own classroom practice.  It has huge implications from a social justice perspective.  I spend a lot of time engaging my intermediate students in service-learning projects that help them to understand, and create awareness around, local and global issues.  Our many discussions over the years always lead back to the root cause of many social justice issues, education.  Institutional-based education is not readily available for many children around the world, particularly girls, so access to education via the Internet is critical to helping us solve this problem.

What Limits Open Practices?

Closed practice educators may be more concerned about claiming ownership of knowledge, protecting intellectual property, or simply feeling like they have nothing to offer others.  I get it!  It is not easy to be publicly visible about your practice because you open yourself up to the possibility of criticism and critiques.

Fear can also limit open practices.  Recently my school district adopted Sharepoint as tool to better connect students and teachers in the district.  It is a step in the right direction but the tool is only really meaningful in the closed environment of our school district.  It’s not possible to share documents, and create content with anyone outside of our group.  Why?  Perhaps schools feel anxious about privacy and the potential dangers of open practices, or maybe they feel the need to exercise control over knowledge and information.  My students can definitely learn a great deal from the skilled students and staff in the district, but I am certain they can learn an awful lot from those outside of my district, as well.

What Tools Do Open Educators Use?

Educators who engage in open practices often need specific tools to help them connect with like-minded professionals.  Some of these tools may be described as Open Educational Resources (OER’s).  In order for an educational resource to be classified as open, it needs to meet four key criteria.  OER’s need to be intentionally created for others to redistribute, reuse, revise, and remix.  Creative Commons work meets many of these requirements.  Unlike a research paper or a textbook, which is created once and is static, OER’s are dynamic.  They are always a continuous work in progress; much like the educator I strive to be.

Keywords relating to the topic of Open Education:

MOOC – Massive Open Online Course – MOOC List

OER – Open Educational Resources

#ETMOOC – Educational Technology Massive Open Online Course

#openedu – Open Education Twitter hashtag

#ceetopen – Community of Expertise in Educational Technology

What Do We Need In Order To Create Change In Education?




I don’t claim to have any answers to the above question, but when Heidi (@h_james18) from my #tiegrad Master’s class asked this question on Twitter recently, my mind began to wander.

When I’m wrapping my head around big picture ideas it sometimes helps to look at the situation from the opposing direction. With that in mind, I think I know what we don’t need. We don’t need sweeping changes laid forth by a panicked government trying to play catch-up, nor do we need top down directions from our school districts, and I’m pretty sure that throwing money into technology for technology’s sake isn’t the answer either.

Maybe we need to start small… We can’t change the face of education tomorrow, next month, or even next year so let’s not panic! A little self-talk for myself there… We can, however, start to make small changes by connecting, and sharing ideas, with like-minded educators in our buildings, our school districts, and our learning networks.

I think we need to become creative at finding the necessary time to connect. Time, built into our daily work schedule, where we can meet with colleagues and grade groupings to hash out best practices and create authentic learning opportunities for our students, outside of the four walls of our classrooms. In Will Richardson’s book, Why School, he talks about the importance of unlearning and relearning in our teaching practices. Unlearning and relearning doesn’t always happen in the confines of our four classroom walls, nor does educational change.

Most importantly we need the confidence and the support to make changes in our own practice. Change not for sake of it, but change based on empirically sound research. We need to practice in ways that students learn best. Tom Schimmer, a BC educator and an expert on assessment, talks about the four stages of changes; new ideas start off being marginalized, then ridiculed, often criticised, before finally being accepted. It serves as a good reminder for me that we need support for educational change to take place.

What are the impediments to educational change?

I suppose this could be a standalone topic by itself… Sometimes I think students themselves may represent impediments to change. I wonder if they have the skills to fully embrace a model of personalized inquiry-driven learning? I know so many of the students I work with have become so ingrained with the stand and deliver model that there is sometimes confusion or anxiety toward a different approach.

Could our school buildings be impediments to educational change? Sometimes, I wish I could knock down the classroom walls and join my kindergarten buddy class for the day. Would a major restructuring of the physical space in our schools send a clear message that we value multi-age working groups that are based on interest level over groupings based on age and associated grade level?

Are our current data gathering and reporting methods impediments to change? When I am required to give my students a standardized math assessment at the beginning of the year that I know full well they are going to bomb, I question the validity of some of our methods of gathering data. When students are excited to receive their report card, not to celebrate the learning that has taken place or hear about areas of growth, but to count the number of A’s and B’s they received, which they can later transfer into cash from their parents, there is a clear problem.

What are you thoughts on educational change and its forces of resistance?

EDCI 338: Media Clip on Research Background and Interests

This post marks the start of a new educational related journey for me.  I’ve decided to go back to school and further my understanding of the best practices available to engage and motivate my learners.  I’m part of a small cohort #tiegrad and our first assignment is to create a media clip based on our educational interests.
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I’ve been involved in education in Chilliwack since 2007 and I currently work at Central Elementary Community School.  I am looking forward to the program but I am a little nervous about being able to juggle life, work, and school, especially with my first baby on the way.  The last few years have been extremely satisfying as an educator.  I’ve have started to develop a voice in education, continually try to improve my craft, and started to myself questions like, “What kind of learning environment am I creating?” “Does the activity I’m asking students to do relate to the learning outcome?” and “Am I feeding my students knowledge or posing questions to which we can discover the answers to together?”

I have several areas of interest I’d like to share with.  One area of interested is a part of my weekly schedule I have coined CHOICE – Children Have Ownership In Choice Education.  You might know it as genius hour, enquiry learning, or personalized learning.  I think it’s important to create time in the weekly schedule where students are encouraged to find their passions and explore them.  During CHOICE, I don’t plan to have too many answers for students, but plenty of questions.  I can visualize what it looks like, to some extent, but I’m having difficulty creating a framework to suit all my learners.  I wanted to include it in my schedule last year but couldn’t find the right time.  Perhaps the right time is not when everything is aligned, but now.  I read Will Richardson’s book “Why School?” last year and I loved Larry Rosenstock’s quote:

“We have to stop delivering the curriculum to kids.  We have to start discovering it with them.”

I get it!  It makes sense to me, but I still wonder what it looks like for all my students.  I am looking forward to reading Angela Maiers, “The Passion-Driven Classroom” which I believe speaks to this type of learning.

Another area of interest to me is self-regulation.  I work in an inner-city school with a disproportionately high number of at-risk children.  Many of these children are either too stimulated or not stimulated enough to partake in the learning process.  The need to develop students’ ability to self-regulate has become glaring obvious to everyone who works in my school, so this year I’m working with a new program called MindUP curriculum developed by the Goldie Hawn Foundation.  MindUP teaches social and emotional learning skills, brain science, a positive mindset, and mindful awareness.  Right now we’re working on deep breathing techniques, and will soon be learning about important parts of the brain, and how signals in our brain get blocked during times of stress and over stimulation.

I‘m an avid Twitter user and have found real value in Twitter over the years, particularly when developing learning networks, making connections, and working to improving my craft.  I like to explore student-learning networks in more depth.  The thought of my own students making connections with other students, teachers, professionals from around the world who work in fields they are interested in excites me no end.  I’ve tried them with students with mixed success but never with a whole class.

Game-based learning is an area of education that fascinates me.  I’ve just finished reading Now You See It by Cathy Davidson and in her books she talks about designing lesson in a gaming format where lessons allow for risk taking, meaningful creation, nonlinear navigation, problem solving, and an understanding of rule structures  So many of my students play video games and are engaged, motivated, and incredibly creative with them.  Nothing would please me more than to transfer some of those experiences into the classroom.

Finally, I have to let you into a little secret.  All the areas of professional interest I’ve mentioned already pale in comparison to what gets me up in the morning.  Four years ago I took my grade 6’s to Free The Children’s We Day in Vancouver, and that one experience change my views on education and what’s really important in school.  Building positive healthy relationships with one another, exercising tolerance, forgiveness, and above all else caring for one another is what really matters.  Thanks to We Day, my classroom has become a hub for social justice issues both globally and locally.  We fight hunger, stand against inequality, educate our local community about homelessness and water issues, and advocate for human rights.

I look forward to learning and sharing with you.

Conversations In Ed Series #1: Advocating For Co-Ed Sports Teams:



This post is the start of a series of postings which are designed to create conversations on a variety of educational topics. Feel free to add your thoughts in the comments section.

I have been thinking about this topic for a couple of years, because I have yet to hear valid reasons for segregated our students when they play on school sports teams?  Is it really necessary to separate girls and boys for team sports, at the elementary level?

Developing co-ed sports teams at the upper elementary level can create more harmonious classroom relationships between girls and boys, and may even lead to a deeper sense of gender equality later in life.  Those that play together learn to live together. I have often been dismayed by the lack of respect boys and girls show each on the playground, occasionally in the classroom, and frequently on the field of play. These offences are usually gross-generalizations passed down through generations. I have lost count how many times I have heard these quiet murmurings on and around the soccer, “They are just girls,” “We should score lots of goals today, they have girls on their team,” “You can’t skip with us you’re a boy.”

I have heard the argument that the physical differences between boys and girls should be reason enough to separate them, but I disagree.  In my experience, boys and girls aged 10, 11, and 12 (the age which students in my school district typically join sports teams) are very similar in bodyweight and height. Sure, there are times when the opposition towers over my smallest boys and girls, but they know its safe to play and nobody will intentionally hurt them.

Playing on co-ed teams teaches children to be more socially responsible.  One of our school’s goals is social responsibility. We learn social responsibly in different ways throughout the day, and one way is through play. What better way is there to learn these skills, in a truly authentic way? The power of a great play between a boy and girl on the soccer field cannot be understated, especially when that moment of mutual respect is later transferred to the classroom in terms of working together in harmony. I would even go so far as to say that later in life that single moment could lead to a deeper sense of gender equality.

Our schools should mirror society’s move towards greater gender equality.  We don’t have public schools for boys and public schools for girls in British Columbia.  In fact, we activity encourage our students to work in mixed gender groups in the classroom, so why not on the sports field?  Working and playing with the opposite sex is a skill and a necessity in life.  The sooner we close the gap by developing co-ed teams at the elementary level the better.

Is it really necessary to separate girls and boys for team sports, at the elementary level?  Co-ed teams foster a sense of mutual respect, they teach social responsibility, and they mirror what happens naturally in the classroom.

Further reading on gender bias’ in education:

View of single sex public education:
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