Celebrate the Start the School Year!

As we begin another year (or new year) of teaching, I (Cathy) thought you would enjoy this video of a marvelous Flash Mob created for the West Des Moines Community School District to celebrate the start of a new school school year.  The flash mob was published on Youtube Aug 23, 2015.

“While the West Des Moines Community School District Superintendent was beginning her speech to the staff of WDMCS at the district-wide welcome back meeting, the teachers of the district created a flash mob to the enjoyment of their unsuspecting colleagues. With only one more day of preparation left, the teachers shared their talents by performing a parody of the song, “One more day” from Les Miserables.”

Enjoy!  And have a terrific year!

Reasons the U.S. Schooling System is Failing?

Education Week recently published an article outlining 8 (more) reasons the education system in the U.S. is failing. Matthew Lynch (2015) has put out a multi-series of articles discussing the issues which surround U.S. schooling today.Take a look at the list below. Do you feel all these items belong on this list? What is missing from this list? After reading the earlier parts of this series, I don’t see much attention paid to the state of teacher education or how teaching is viewed as a profession. I would love to hear your thoughts on this list:

  1. We still do not know how to handle high school dropouts
  2. We have not achieved education equity
  3. Technology brings a whole new dimension to cheating
  4. We still struggle with making teacher tenure benefit both students and teachers
  5. More of our schools need to consider year-round schooling
  6. We are still wrestling the achievement gap
  7. We need to consider how school security measures affect students
  8. We need to make assistive technology more available to students with disabilities

To read the entire article click here:


To read the rest first part of the series, click here:


Accelerated Learning and where it begins

I (Yiola) have been hard at work preparing my teacher education courses. This year was an complete review and reconceptualization of the courses — significant updates to not only the literature but to the ways in which we will explore the content.  I will share some of the changes to the pedagogy of my courses next week. This week I want to start at the start. Where does accelerated begin and how does it begin? I came across this interesting post and wanted to share it here. It is about paperless early years classrooms.


I remember when I taught first and second grade, I seldom used worksheets but I also did have the inquiry-based play either. My pedagogy was somewhere in between. But, truth be know, the teacher across the hall who had a full curriculum of worksheets was often commended for being highly organized and “on the ball” with her program.  I always wondered if that way of teaching was better. Her students, most of them, were learning to read and write. That is another truth. However, were they creative thinkers and problem solvers? Again, another truth, we did not pay much attention to those sorts of skills.  This was but a mere 10 – 15 years ago.

But now, I think we can all agree, that critical thinking and creativity and problem solving are very important skills for children to develop early in life. These skills do not develop from worksheet tasks. The link above talks about this and other inspirational considerations.

And so I share this post to begin at the beginning — play in the early years and how we move forward from there to more sophisticated modes of learning, through the grades and into post secondary teaching. Next week I plan to share some of challenges and questions I faced when reconstructing my courses.

Wearing Technology

I (Cathy) looked up the definition of technology the other day because I had lost track of the meaning outside of my association of technology with computers.  According to Dictionary.com, technology is “the application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes, especially in industry.  This refresher helped me to better grasp the technological clothing my husband has been wearing as of late.

For Father’s Day my husband was given an UnderArmour shirt (from our son-in-law) and challenged to wear it for a day. My husband has been a stanch believer in wearing cotton for many, many years, yet our son-in-law insisted that the new technology in fabric was far advanced in comfort and temperature control. I was intrigued.  Fabric technology?  I had to look it up and found this on the net…

“As a fullback at the University of Maryland, Kevin Plank got tired of having to change out of the sweat-soaked T-shirts worn under his jersey; however, he noticed that his compression shorts worn during practice stayed dry. This inspired him to make a T-shirt using moisture-wicking synthetic fabric.  After graduating from the University of Maryland, Kevin Plank developed his first prototype of the shirt, which he gave to his Maryland teammates and friends who had gone on to play in the NFL. Plank soon perfected the design creating a new T-shirt built from microfibers that wicked moisture and kept athletes cool, dry, and light”

220px-Kevin_Plank_-_UA_photo                                                                                 Kevin Plank

My husband agreed to try the shirt and fell in love with the texture, weight and maintained coolness of this new technologically advanced fabric against his skin. He has several shirts now and is looking at other forms of apparel.  My husband may not be up to date in computer technology, but he is sure ‘in’ when it comes to fabric technology.

My new awareness of technological fabric has given me pause to reconsider what technological advances are in store for us in education that are not computer based.  What will change?  Desks?  Art materials?  Windows?  Will the entire classroom environment transform?  Will we dress differently as a result of technology?  The possibilities are endless… and exciting.



Intertwining Digital Technology Into Literacy Methods Courses

Pooja and I (Clare) did an analysis of 6 literacy teacher educators who truly intertwined digital technology into their literacy methods courses. (Book chapter will be published soon and we will post that info.) In the meantime I thought this chart might be useful for literacy teacher educators who are preparing for the upcoming school year.

Overall Goal: Teaching 2.0
Specific Goals Example
Make literacy classes participatory ·      Post comments on each other’s work (e.g., Wall Wisher, Text tagging, Voice Thread)

·      Post comments in asynchronous time

·      Provide student teachers with feedback on-line and encourage them to respond to the feedback

·      During class student teachers post questions or contribute comments to a shared space

·      Before class student teachers post comments about the readings

·      Create Wordles when analyzing a text

Create an infrastructure for accessing resources and for sharing resources ·      Develop a repository of resources on a university platform (e.g., Blackboard) or on their own website

·      Share books, videos, websites on a class Wiki

·      Use DT tools (e.g., Smartboard) to access info on the spot while teaching

·      Access materials/videos for use in teaching (e.g., Globe Theatre productions of Shakespearean plays)

Provide authentic learning experiences ·      Student teachers make an iMovie on a specific topic (e.g., on bullying)

·      Analyze videos student teachers created during their practice teaching

·      Skype with authors they are reading

·      Participate in teacher communities by contributing to blogs and Twitter feeds

·      Participate in teacher-focused events (e.g., contribute a piece to a BBC competition on current affairs/news)

·      Student teachers create podcasts on an aspect of literacy to share with broader community

·      Watch videos of authors they are reading (both scholarly articles and children’s literature)

·      Student teachers post photographs of themselves on the university platform as a way to introduce themselves to their classmates

Gain an understanding of the increasingly globalized nature of literacy

·      View videos from other countries (e.g., teachers in Japan) to see similarities and differences with their own context

·      Participate in world-wide teacher communities

·      Participate in crowd-sourcing

·      Share statistics on literacy beyond home country

·      Use visual representations (e.g., photographs) to move student teachers beyond their immediate world to unpack a range of issues (e.g., gender representation in children’s literature)

Reframe issues related to literacy and literacy teaching ·      Watch videos of teaching (exemplary or poor practice) and analyze them

·      Use videos from their practice teaching classes as “data” for their inquiry projects

·      Student teachers select a picture from a photo array and relate the action in the photograph to a theory they have been working on

Bridge practice teaching and the academic program ·      Reflect on practice teaching by sharing and analyzing photographs/videos they took

·      Use email and social media to remain connected during practice teaching and as a place for student teachers to ask questions or share concerns

·      Create a video case study of pupils which relates to a theory of literacy

We also created a graphic to capture the elements of their pedagogy:

Literacy Graphci

Their courses were fundamentally different because they had truly reconceptualized their teaching, not simply tinkering by adding glitzy DT; rather, they constructed highly participatory experiences that occurred before, during, and after the official 3-hour class. Learning occurred in multiple ways: readings, f2f discussions, online communities, viewing, analyzing, and providing feedback on texts which immersed student teachers into the issues of literacy. It went far beyond introducing “methods” to teach literacy; it was framed by learning to teach literacy as a global citizen. This ambitious goal was matched with unparalleled support by the professors. Their multimodal/technology-rich teaching practices modeled the possibilities available to teachers and students; however, they were constantly trying to balance preparing student teachers to address the traditional forms of literacy, which they will probably observe in schools, with more expansive understandings. They had not discarded typical elements of literacy methods courses such as teaching the writing process or components of a balanced literacy program.

The Smartest Kids in the World And How They Got That Way: An Exploration of the Schools in PISAs top Achieving Countries

1307-toch-white_bk_article  My (Yiola) summer has been filled with reading, writing, and a lot of play with my two young children.  From Curious George to Jane Yolan, we covered a lot of ground… and then there was some time for me. One of the texts I read this summer was an interesting report by journalist Amanda Ripley. In her book, The smartest kids in the world and how they got that way Ripley tracks three American high school students who went on exchange to three of the top performing PISA countries: Finland, Korea, and Poland.  What I like about the text is that the three countries Ripley selects could not be more different in culture, and systems.

While there is much controversy about the PISA test and its effects, the details outlined in the book are interesting and insightful. I found the following key points interesting:

The countries that score high on PISA value academic and take academic learning seriously:

“The question then was not what other countries were doing, but why. Why did these countries have this consensus around rigor? In the education superpowers, every child knew the importance of an education. These countries had experienced national failure in recent memory; they knew what an existential crisis felt like. In many U.S. schools, however, the priorities were muddled beyond recognition. Sports were central to American students’ lives and school cultures in a way in which they were not in most education superpowers. Exchange students agreed almost universally on this point. Nine out of ten international students I surveyed said that U.S. kids placed a higher priority on sports, and six out of ten American exchange students agreed with them. Even in middle school, other researchers had found, American students spent double the amount of time playing sports as Koreans.”

Countries whose students who did well on the PISA value early childhood education:

“In most countries, attending some kind of early childhood program (i.e., preschool or prekindergarten) led to real and lasting benefits. On average, kids who did so for more than a year scored much higher in math by age fifteen (more than a year ahead of other students).”

Parental involvement IS important:

“Parents who read to their children weekly or daily when they were young raised children who scored twenty-five points higher on PISA by the time they were fifteen years old. That was almost a full year of learning. More affluent parents were more likely to read to their children almost everywhere, but even among families within the same socioeconomic group, parents who read to their children tended to raise kids who scored fourteen points higher on PISA. By contrast, parents who regularly played with alphabet toys with their young children saw no such benefit.”

What I appreciated the most when reading the book was the message that teachers in the high scoring countries are deeply valued members of society. From university admissions through to classroom practice, teachers are carefully selected, very well educated, and they maintain high standards in their practice.

I like the contrasts it provides between nations that have high test scores. As I read I kept comparing Canada, and more specifically the Ontario context to the countries (mainly Finland) and was feeling rather optimistic about the direction we are going.

Technology vs Attention

lap top for pet owners_n

A friend of mine (Cathy) is a writer and she frequently complains about her darling cat sitting on her key board, especially when she has a deadline to meet.  The cartoon above reminded me of her, yet I doubt her cat would accept the new lap top model depicted.  I not not so sure it’s about closeness as it is about the attention.  Looking.  Listening.  Touching.  Speaking. I once tried to read  book while bottle feeding my son and he fussed and cried until I put it away.    At six months he knew where my attention was, and it wasn’t on him.  Holding him wasn’t enough.  Feeding him wasn’t enough.  That was our time and the book was cheating him.  I was amazed he could register that at such a young age.  It was a good lesson.   After that, I saved my reading for when he was napping.   I’m sure my friend’s cat would know too.   Although I was amused by the cartoon, I also saw it as a warning.  Our devices are seductive;  our lives are busy and demanding; but I’m not so sure we really get ahead by multitasking when it comes to attending to the ones we love.

Creating Interactive Content

I recently learned about a useful digital technology app I am sure I will be using this upcoming school year. Riddle is an app which let’s you easily and quickly create:

  • opinion polls
  • lists
  • quizzes
  • personality tests
  • commenticles (commenting on articles)

Riddle allows you to customize your content by adding images,YouTube videos, animated gifs, articles from the web, personal photos, etc. Once your interactive social content (opinion poll, list, quiz, test, commenticle) is created, there are several ways to share it. You can embed the content into your own blog or website. Or you could e-mail the link out to your class. You can also share your created content through Facebook or Twitter.

I spent 30 minutes playing around on this site and came up with so many great ideas on how to use it in my classroom. Using the opinion polls, I will create an ice-breaker activity and e-mail it out to my class and show the results on the first day of class. Also, if I want my class to discuss an article, I will use the commenticle feature. Below is a commenticle I made on Riddle:

Screen Shot 2015-08-18 at 11.39.34 AM

To learn more about RIddle and make your own interactive content this school year, check out the link: