Connected from the Start

hand up

hand up by flickr user L.Bo via CC

Raise your hand if any of the following applies to you:

a) you hear people talking about using Skype or blogging in their classrooms, but really aren’t sure what they’re talking about or why they might want to do that;

b) you would LOVE to do some connecting with other classrooms around the world, but just aren’t sure how to take the first steps;

c) you have your class blogging, but would like to find some ways to take it “up a notch”, and find an authentic audience for your class;

d) you sometimes have an urge to pound your head against the wall, as you try to explain to people that meaningful, real tech integration is possible in their classrooms – even primary classrooms?

If any of those scenarios apply to you, you need Kathy Cassidy’s new book, “Connected from the Start”.  She’s taken everything you could possibly need  – both the rationale behind integrating technology into a classroom, and the concrete how-to to make it happen, and put it into one, thoroughly engaging, example-filled spot. It’s actually kind of breathtaking, when you start to dig into it.

I recently listened to a national call-in show here in Canada about the book vs digital print, and whether the second would eventually make the first obsolete. The responses were overwhelmingly in favour of the old-school book, and the joy of curling up with hot chocolate and said book. I paced around my kitchen making dinner, trying to get through to the show (unsuccessfully), and muttering under my breath: “yeah, but what about professional resources, with hyperlinks and other added features – what about textbooks, what about being able to critically think, and make notes on what you’re reading?” (

This book, this amazing, revelatory, magical, beautiful book – this is the example I would  have used. It’s an e-book from PLP Press (one hopes the first of many), and reading it, as an educator interested in trying to take my technology practice up a notch, is like being handed a detailed game plan. Need to see what she means by a particular idea? Click on the video that shows her class demonstrating it (and experience their joy in what they’re doing). Want to see the background on digital footprint that she references? Click the link – you’re there.

The book is not only a great experience for a teacher, it’s terrific for a learner. The information is chunked, so you can take it one gentle, hand-held step at a time. And the “how-tos” are just that – there is no previous knowledge assumed (I am really beginning to think this is a key piece in convincing people to try this sort of teaching and learning). It  is a true step-by-step approach, and you can determine how many steps you’re ready to take.

Throughout the book, Cassidy manages a great balance between the why and the how. It’s that balance we’re always looking for – where good pedagogy is driving the use of the technology. So, she explains why she uses Skype in her classroom, and what it brings to her students (with concrete, curriculum-linked examples), and then she takes you through exactly how to set it up for your classroom.

If this was a hard-copy book, it would already be dog-eared and highlighted into oblivion (and I would suggest reading it in a .pdf program that will let you highlight and annotate) This is a keeper, one to have in your digital backpack all the time, but,  most of all, it’s one to share. Give it to your admin, your colleagues, your student teacher. Their students will thank you.

P.S. (If (d) above was your answer – get the book. Your head will thank you.)

You can find an excerpt from the book here, as well as ordering information. It’s on sale ’til April 23.

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Why Walk When You Can Fly – a final #etmooc reflection

This lyric, from a Mary Chapin Carpenter song of the same title, really sums up the experience of #etmooc, and why I was here. I came to #etmooc, at least partially, to find other people who wanted to fly – who wanted to push themselves beyond the everyday, who knew there was more out there, and who wanted to explore that “path less travelled by”.  I was not disappointed.

One of the biggest takeaways for me  has been the people, and the connections made. I did the connected learner experience last year through PLP Network, and it was remarkable, introduced me to some incredible co-learners, and helped me start to build a phenomenal PLN. In this learning community, because I had been nurtured by that one, I had the on-line learning/sharing experience to jump right into conversations, and to engage with people I had never met, which I think can be difficult for people who are new to this mode of co-learning.

One of my favourite moments of #etmooc was the webinar with Howard Rheingold. I loved the chance to interact with a major voice in digital literacy theory, in a “small-room” kind of environment. I am much more aware of opportunities to talk about crap detection, to encourage my students to critically look at the material they engage with, than I was before the module on digital literacy. I had my co-workers amiably shaking their heads at my energy this morning, when I bounced in and suggested a lesson on looking at a number of the on-line April Fools’ Day hoaxes, and what made them effective (and what could tip a discerning viewer off). Encouraging critical thinking has grown a larger section in my toolbox than it previously had.

I very much appreciated Christine Hendricks’ vlog reflection ( on how her use of Twitter has changed due to her participation in #etmooc. I think, like her, that my Twitter use has really begun to evolve into deeper conversations with people I am connected to. I am more likely to direct a link to a specific person, or share a resource as part of a conversation, instead of simply shooting a really interesting link out into the random twitterverse, hoping that someone might find it useful.

What would I change? I would make myself dive deeper into the Google+ space, where I think a great deal of learning happened, which I didn’t feel terrifically connected to. I would set myself concrete deadlines for blogging – I really did want to do that more often, though I’m pleased with what I ended up publishing. I would probably not want to do a set of report cards in the middle of this kind of learning experience again, as they disrupted a flow I had established.

What am I taking away? A decidedly deeper (both concrete and theoretical) understanding of the topics we tackled; a great group of resources (in the diigo group and in the Google+ group) to go back to, as time allows; a fabulous extension of my PLN; and a higher comfort level with the asynchronous, multiple-spaced on-line learning experience.

To close (with apologies for the religious imagery – I am married to an Anglican priest, and have just come through Holy Week), I have been more confirmed than ever in my belief that we cannot “seek the living among the dead”. If we want to help our students (and our colleagues, and ourselves) move into the amazing world that’s all around us, we cannot rely on the tools that have equipped us for the past 100 years. Our students’ learning experience cannot look the same as ours did, because the world is not the same. We need to accept that there is some vocation involved here – where your great passion meets a great need in the world – and get on with our everyday work of turning water into wine. You know when you accomplish it – when you know you have given your students something that they will continue to remix and reuse, because it’s a life skill – be it critical thinking, the ability to be a contributing citizen of their brave new world, or just the curiosity to ask another great question.

“Why take when you could be giving, why watch as the world goes by? It’s a hard enough life to be living; why walk when you can fly?” (Mary Chapin Carpenter)

With huge thanks to all the participants and facilitators in #etmooc in this iteration. The porch light’s on, always, and Alec, there’s a candle in the window for your dad.

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Open for/to Learning

After a great #etmchat on March 6, I had the realization that, because of the old-school things I enjoy, I’ve been part of the open movement for a long time. In fact, I’ve been part of it much longer than I’ve known such a thing existed or what to call it.

I’m a knitter and a foodie, and those are both passions where the remix is just an understood part of  what you do.
If you read food blogs, you know that reworking a recipe is what it’s all about. Writers regularly share their successes, and their utter disasters, as they play around with the chemistry of a recipe.  I am a particular fan of a blog called Food in Jars, where Marisa McLellan posts what she’s done with a particular small-batch canning recipe, and then always asks what other people have done with that ingredient, and the comments are full of creative twists on the starting point.
In the Kitchen Counter Cooking School, author Kathleen Flinn chronicles her journey of giving people the freedom to experiment, to play, to taste, to see what works for them. There is always a beginning, but nothing to say that you must slavishly imitate that beginning, if you think something will work better. In her current blog, Cook Fearless, she now picks a topic a month, and challenges her readers not to be afraid, and invites them to tweak recipes to make them their own.  My own recipe books are full of notations and hints, as I try different things to feed my family delicious, healthy food.
When a friend asks you for a recipe for that amazing dish you brought to the potluck, you hand it on happily, without thinking about copyright or licensing, and knowing that it will be transformed again.
Knitters have been adding their own variations to design elements for hundreds of years, and it’s rare to see two knitters complete the same pattern with the precisely same end result. One popular activity (both virtual and f2f) is called a knitalong or KAL. A group of knitters picks a pattern to knit, asynchronously but within a particular time frame. People blog and talk about their progress, share the spots where they’re stuck, crowdsource solutions to pattern errors (often with the designer gratefully helping), and eventually share the finished product. The process, and the learning that comes from sharing about it, (along with a little extrinsic motivation)  is why you enter into a KAL. (My f2f knitting group is about to begin a KAL on this pattern.
Arachnid II gloves, designed and photographed by Karen Fournier via Ravelry

Arachnid II gloves, designed and photographed by Karen Fournier via Ravelry

I’ll share photos of the finished projects to show you the kind of range you get even if everybody’s using the same pattern).
Even without a KAL, knitters love to create infinite variations on a theme. Entering the search term “hat” into the pattern database on Ravelry, a knit and crochet social media site, comes up with over 44,000 entries (no, that’s not a mistake). One assumes that a lot of those would never have happened if someone hadn’t shared a pattern. And that Rav database is incredible – it holds over 350,000 patterns, of which at least a third are free.
Once you’ve chosen a pattern, the world is your oyster. You can tweak at will – change the yarn, the colour, the stitch pattern, the collar, the sleeves. I have a favourite baby sweater and have knitted about 15 of them over the years, no two alike.  I can go to any of my stitch dictionaries, and find a pattern that suits the recipient – so the friend moving out west gets a wheat-sheaf design in her daughter’s sweater, and the mom who ran our breakfast program gets a tree of life motif in her son’s.Tools like Goodreader, that let you annotate a .pdf, and track your changes, are the modern version of my grandmother’s neatly penned marginalia with names attached to each variation. If a variation works out really well, you can now easily choose to publish your pattern, for others to start from, on their designing journey.
Knitters, like other crafters, are also supremely willing to share our technical knowledge, in the hope of getting others hooked on our particular fibre-crack. A rough day at school was recently made better by receiving a text from a friend who needed to know how to do a particular stitch she wasn’t understanding. After a couple attempts, I was able to send her a link to a video, because she’s a visual learner. When I wanted to try a new handspinning technique recently, I had a variety of instructors to choose from, who had posted hands-on video. I have a student in Grade 7, without another knitter in her family, who is an accomplished knitter thanks to YouTube. What we once relied on family members to pass on, we can now learn from our extended knitting PLN, both virtual and f2f.
What am I trying to get at, in a rambling, roundabout way? That many of us come from generations of people who have been remixing the content of their lives for a long time. At a recent panel discussion I attended, one of the panelists talked about how hard it was for teachers to teach open collaboration and sharing, when they hadn’t been down that path themselves. How do we show our colleagues (and remind ourselves) that we walk that path everyday in other parts of our lives?
I’m wondering how we give people the gift of understanding that sharing their learning, and great lesson plans, and assessment ideas, and years of hands-on expertise is no different, and that the rewards that will come back to them are huge.
Not our sugar shack, but similar. Photo credit: flickr user ian.monroe via cc

Not our sugar shack, but similar. Photo credit: flickr user ian.monroe via cc

As I type this, I am taking part in one of spring’s great remixes. Maple-scented steam is rolling off a new stainless evaporator, and the sap, for the first time in this bush, is being delivered by tubing. My kids, reading happily beside me, are the 7th generation of my husband’s family to make syrup on this land, and helped build what we sometimes refer to as sugar shack 2.0. It’s a process built on the open sharing of knowledge, between cultures and through generations, and the end product is all the more delicious for that.
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Whew! (and the need for Differentiated Instruction in a MOOC)

photo credit: Confused by digiart2001 via CC (

I just had a total “whew” moment of being very, very “whelmed” (credit for the word goes to @snbeach, who makes me feel that way regularly), and it led to some bigger questions for me.







I picked up a tweet asking people  to contribute to a slide show on connected learning as part of #etmooc. Seemed easy enough, so off I went to click the link.

I’m at work, where my default browser must be Internet Explorer in order for my laptop to function optimally (yup, I know, don’t go there). That meant that I could see the slideshow, but not contribute to it. “I can deal with that!” I thought, and opened up Chrome, but to my surprise, I got the same message. What now?

First, I clicked on the more information tab, which told me GoogleDrive should work on my Chrome Browser; so I downloaded GoogleDrive. Still no change in the error message. I “hmmmed” for a minute, and then thought: “maybe it’s still thinking Explorer is the browser”, so I went in,and switched over my default browser, and “ta-dah” – Success!

I added my slide (which eventually meant adding another add-on to my browser), found an image on CC, added it, worked around how to add my text below it (could I use the notes section?), and was reasonably pleased with the finished project. Switched my browser back (kind of proud of myself on that one), and realized that the reasonably simple task had taken a pretty big chunk of my prep time. And then I thought… (and this is my big question)…

How would someone who had never done this before have managed this? And at what point would they have given up?

This has become one of my guiding questions since I started doing on-line learning in a major way last year.

I’m a pretty ADD person, and can manage multiple streams of information reasonably well, and I think that makes things like webinars with their backchannels, and audio, and visual inputs manageable for me. But even for me, the first couple of minutes of a webinar, when I’ve been out of practice for a while, get my heart pumping, and my adrenaline flowing like crazy.

Image: hair pulling out  by wstera2 via cc (

Image: hair pulling out by wstera2 via cc (

“How do I “write” on the screen”? “I forget how to grab the mike”, “Where are all those smiley faces coming from?”,  and the biggest one, “why does everyone else seem to know what they’re doing?” are only some of the things that come flying into my head, and I have a hard time imagining someone who is totally new to this feeling positive about the experience.

So, I want to know, in the context of a MOOC specifically and in the larger context of education technology-related P.D., how do we “start where they are” for our adult learners?

We are amazingly good at differentiating for our students. We know and understand that it’s a part of our job, we search out techniques to make learning more manageable for them – we chunk, we use anchor charts, we present information in a million different ways. My struggle is that I don’t think we’re especially good at remembering that when we’re teaching each other.

I think small steps are one answer; I think lots and lots of guiding advice is another (repeating instructions for how to write, or use the microphone during a webinar, so someone who comes in late still gets the information; sending out “be prepared” ideas before a twitterchat ); I think one-to-one mentoring is ideal ( a colleague asked the other day if I would sit down with her, because she still doesn’t “get” Twitter, and knows that I do); but I’m still stuck with the thought of someone trying to do what I did today, and bailing at any one of a number of spots, because it’s just not intuitive for them.

How do we convince people to buy in, when it can be a real challenge sometimes?

Looking for answers as always….

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intro post

Hi! Here I am, attempting to be coherent late on a Sunday evening – not always the best idea! However, here goes. As you’ll hear/see in the video, I’m a mom, spouse, addicted knitter, reader, and a lifelong learner. I’m also a fitness boot camp attempter (not always successful!), and a profound believer in the need to change the way we educate our kids. My kids are 9 and 11, and are having completely different experiences in terms of technology integration in their learning, and I think we need to figure out how to improve that disparity. As a Core French teacher, I’m also really interested in BYOD, and how I can use that in my classroom, since I often don’t have access to a lab. Digital citizenship is a growing passion. Looking forward to learning with everybody!

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