Difference making: I Can Bike

In 2004, we had somehow managed to get (and stay) pregnant during a conjugal visit while Dad was away at teacher’s college 3 hours north for the year.  We were paying rent on two different apartments, I was massively pregnant and leaving teaching for maternity leave, Dad was looking for a first-time teaching job and we needed to leave our cute apartment for something with onsite laundry.  When we first had our son, we were living in an apartment in the countryside above a 3-car garage.  In August it looked fantastic: 2 bedrooms, storage, parking and laundry, and peace and quiet.

By December, my son was all ready to meet those tummy-time goals but I was afraid to put him down on the freezing cold floor.  As anyone who has ever explored their abdominal core muscles will tell you, you need a soft but not too soft surface to be able to press into.  I couldn’t both warm up the floor area and provide those conditions so I truly believe that I didn’t give him enough floor time. These are the manic thoughts of a new mother.  Yet when he struggles now to do something at age 14, this lack of tummy-time is one of those things I still beat myself up about.  We moved into our first house a few months later.

When my son was about 3 years old, the staff at our publicly-subsidized childcare centre noticed some differences.  One of them was that he hid under the table with his hands over his ears during fire drills, rather than listening to the instructions about how to leave the room.  Another difference was that he was having a really hard time using scissors.  My thought was “Scissors!  I’ve never given my child scissors!  They’re sharp!  What could he possibly need to cut at the age of 3?”  Well, as a secondary educator of over 20 years that shows you what I know about preschool and primary curriculum.  Zero. Zilch. Bupkis.  Everything I’ve learned is through the eyes of a parent of a son with special needs.

One of the choices we made many years later was to live on a cul-de-sac with very little traffic. When viewing the house I could overlook all sorts of other problems with the house because I was imagining the safety and security that our son would have playing on that street.  It’s a sort of fortress to invite people into or keep bad things out.  In fact, other families come down to our end of the circle to learn how to rollerblade, or to jump on the snow pile or to learn how to bike.  Maybe all parents feel this way, but in a neighbourhood like ours, the kids growing up together, all seem to hit a lot of the same milestones together.  Except for our son.  It’s those goddamn milestones that separate us.

Blogger Andrea Haefele shared a post this week which included a video called Ian by TheCGBros which is award-winning for its animation.  Just take 10 minutes to watch so you can kind of get into the headspace of where I am today in writing this post.

Andrea’s post tackles the idea of an accessible playground which is working really well for her child, but how the culture of other families still needs to be adjusted.  So our friend Doug Peterson picked up this blog post and one of mine to talk about special education this week, and his guests picked up on a key theme right away: It’s not about the rocket ship (or playground or the cul-de sac) it’s about changing the culture.

To me what is so brilliant about the movie Ian is that the character tries multiple times to be that difference maker himself.  But not until his new friends experience what life is like on the other side of the fence, can they really understand the barriers that he is facing.

Likewise, the cul-de-sac couldn’t provide the answers for our son as he watched the other neighbourhood kids get their first vehicles: scooters, skateboards, and anything that involved being mobile at high speeds.  We got him a mountain bike.  We tried balancing and teaching, but sometimes the cul-de-sac feels like a fishbowl where all the neighbours can watch you try and fail.  So our son has balance issues, and anxiety about balance.  He couldn’t seem to feel comfortable enough with his feet at a low enough seat level to touch the ground and at the same time high enough to give him room to pedal.  My rheumatoid arthritis means I just can’t hang on to the back of the bike very long without pain so our spurts of running with me hanging onto the back for stability were very short.  He was crying, I was crying.  It sucked ass.

We got him a Plasmacar.  Very cool, and easy to use right away.  He was zooming down the driveway into the circle immediately.   It just wasn’t very fast….very juvenile. I mean look at the age of the kids in these promo pictures.  The neighbourhood kids on bikes younger and older than my son soon were even further apart in cool points.

An important parenting lesson I’ve learned: sometimes you just need to farm out the teaching to other teachers.  He clings to me and cries and then that breaks my heart and I just enable the clinging.  One of the best things that one of our first caregivers taught me: just let him go as if putting him into the arms of someone else was the most natural thing ever.  Prolonging the handing over made it worse to say good-bye, for both of us, than ever.   I have always been REALLY choosy about who babysat or got to work with my son.  If you’re on the shortlist, you know you’ve gone through rigorous scrutiny to be there.

Insert: Kidsability.  I’ve ranted about the distance we travel for quality programming for my son before but there are sometimes when it is just worth it.  So I committed that I would join my son in my running shoes and drive the distance to the program every day  and not take off during the 3 hours to do errands for a week so that he could learn how to ride a bike in their program.  As usual when we arrived, I am immediately struck by how easy my life is.  There are parents and children with way more challenges than we have.  It’s continually humbling to work with and near children with developmental challenges.  I love it.

We arrived at the designated arena and a Kidsability staff member, an I Can Bike staff person and a young, athletic volunteer were assigned to us.  That’s a ratio of 3 helpful people to 1 child…and then as I hoped/feared, I was asked to watch from behind the plexiglass.  Being peripheral is both liberating and exhausting.  I can see him, he can see me, but the distance is enough that he realizes that he has to meet the challenge, and I realize that I need to respect the process and not ‘be helpful/in the way’.  Oh yeah, they also loaned him this bike and had a full-time technical staff that were constantly making adjustments to the vehicles to individualize them for the kids.  Keys to making it work: upright body position (not mountain bike), BMX-style handles so that hands are comfortably able to grip, and the there are no brakes on here yet….we eventually went to hand brakes.  You can’t just walk into Canadian Tire and buy this model off the rack.

This is Day 1.  See what they do here?  They test out a back wheel roller which is going to slow down the bike, stabilize it and give him some immediate confidence.  Teaching reflection point: how many times do we offer our students an opportunity to really shine before increasing the difficulty?  My son in this picture is showing you that he feels safe, and cool and confident.  The I Can Bike program makes adjustments to that particular bike two or three times in a session.  The person in the red shirt is a volunteer that ran with his bike for the full 3 hours.  He had a fresh volunteer the full time.


Here is day 3.  I just want to repeat that for emphasis:  Day 3.  In about 7 hours, this program has taught my kid to ride a real bike.  My post of that day says this:  “What did you today? I watched my kid ride a bike for the first time!!! Thanks Kidsability and I Can Shine.”  I’m sweaty, I’m bawling my eyes out, I’m sitting behind the plexiglass, and there is a Kidsability person near me to hold my hand and I am so glad that I didn’t go grocery-shopping and miss this moment.  He’s shouting: “I found my balance!”

Fortunately for our son, Dad is a mechanical monster so he went to the local scrap heap with a former bike-crazy student and sourced a comfortable frame, BMX-style handlebars, painted it colours like Ironman for cool points, and bought a squishy seat.  Since then we’ve always modified for hand brakes.  That’s the ticket.  Our kid has grown up in the neighbourhood with the rest of them riding bikes.

So if you want to make a difference: give a kid some wheels. Any way you need to.

Useful links:

Our program provider Kidsability brings in this program annually: https://www.kidsability.ca/icanbike

If you want to watch more joyful videos of


If you want to bring I Can Bike to a program near you:


In search of a flattened taxonomy for tech integration

When I PD (yes, as a verb), I look for things that will push me out of my comfort zone: new venues, new people and new ideas. I asked to present at the OSSTF Educational Technology conference this week as it was described as trying to reach teachers who were reluctant to use technology in their classrooms. I hoped to meet people who didn’t even own cellphones, and I did! I had the dreaded last spot of the day to present in.  I say ‘dreaded’ because I am deadly in the last spot.  By the time the last spot rolls around I have everyone else’s presentations in my head, I’m second guessing what I have to say and, let’s face it, I’m tired.  In this case though, I was also unsure of my audience.  How do you get reluctant people to buy in to your message?  I decided to present the idea of How to become Comfortable with being Uncomfortable.

Earlier in the day, I participated in a session run by Amanda Anderson as she talked about classroom technology that she uses to help her ELL students to accelerate their language learning.  Her fifth slide was this one:

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Amanda stopped me thinking about anything else for the rest of the week with her statement that we need to stop aiming to integrate technology in learning and instead created blended learning situations. I really like Amanda’s definition, and was even more appreciative when I saw her beautiful reference to this article as a blended learning starting point. Later the same day, presenting finally, I felt the earth shift as one of the godfathers of educational technology in Ontario rolled his eyes when I mentioned the SAMR model to my audience of reluctant technology users.  I’ve relied on both TPACK and SAMR for years now to explain that models of technology use are real but imperfect because we still haven’t achieved those elusive 21st century competencies (now to be re-branded as Global Competencies in Ontario).  I’m not married to the idea of SAMR but I refer to it as a rubric for improving the task in which technology is used.  I am particularly fond of the S in SAMR as I try to only resort to Substitution when the wifi goes down.

Why is everything in education either a ladder, a pyramid or a target?  Do we not know any other 2-D shapes? I see the complexity of the issue of integrating technology effectively into learning as more of a sphere.  The Canadian School Libraries Association said it really well in its 2014 document Leading Learning: “The learning commons promotes personalization, inquiry, and the integration of technology through the implementation of innovative curricular design and assessment.”  The 3D-ness of the sphere allows us to reiterate the process over and over again rather than to climb a ladder or hit a target or move up the levels of a pyramid.  In my job as teacher-librarian, I maintain and advocate for the use of technology for improved collaboration, communication and creativity inside the building, and into the community.  Often then I am using the C’s as another handy way to encourage the use of technology in schools.

My favourite abbreviated model though actually comes from the TV Show Silicon Valley: SOMOLO.  This is how I ended my presentation.  If we can make learning with technology more social (C for collaboration and Vygotzky would be proud); mobile (using the tech in student pockets as well as the board-approved device) and local (authentic, relevant and real in the user’s life), then we’re making huge gains.  With SOMOLO, I think our pedagogy and integration of technology will improve, perhaps to even become seamlessly blended in learning.

Woefully, I think about 100 people of the 150 had left by the time the last spot arrived, and my audience sat all the way at the back of a cavernous room.  Thank goodness for the wireless mouse. Looking back at that moment, I think the uncomfortable-ness I was experiencing, was just what I needed to push me to put my thoughts down here.

PS: In revisiting this idea with @dougpete, he gave me a whack of articles which (like any good teacher-librarian) I have curated into a Flipboard all about questioning the purpose of SAMR for your use:

View my Flipboard Magazine.