#BIT15Reads: Google hangout and making your reading visible

Today at 7:30 pm ET I’ll be hosting our second Google Hangout On Air so please join us if you’re able at:


or watch the live videostream here:

A few years ago now I worked with a team at my school in a Professional Learning Practice action research project where we learned how to help our students make their learning visible, by reflecting on our own teaching practice and making our professional learning visible.  That experience truly informed my career and I’ve found that being authentic and vulnerable in front of an audience, online or face-to-face, is a humbling and rewarding experience.  Ultimately it is sharing that leads to deeper personal connections and I aim to do this as much as possible.

In our book club #BIT15Reads, I invite you to share your reading as much as possible to join us as a community.  This week I found an upgrade to my favourite aggregator Zite….which has transformed into Flipboard.  I’m trying it out.  It might not be right for you…maybe you prefer Instagram or Tumblr but if you can, and you do, please share it to the hashtag #BIT15Reads as you’re making your way through a book.  It might be when a quote or graphic resonates with you, or it might be when you question or disagree with something written.

Jennifer Casa-Todd is reading Will Richardson’s book and she tweeted early into her book with a snapshot of the book (maybe an e-version?) of a quick quote she approved of.

Jennifer approval

Stepan Pruchnicky is reading Daniel Levitin’s book and took snapshots of his notes and his book highlighted  with tweets about his wondering.

Stepan wonder (1)Stepan Wonder 1

Stepan later turned his early thoughts into a blog post: http://140pluslearning.tumblr.com/post/128715359806/shhhhh-for-learnings-sake

So how we can make our reading visible to each other is one of the things I hope we can talk about in today’s Google Hangout.  Hope to see you there.

#BIT15Reads Labour Day Weekend Google Hangout On Air

Testing testing! This is our first attempt at meeting face-to-face….online! Using Google Hangouts on Air this is supposed to let me:

  • talk to some of my favourite #BIT15Reads members
  • livestream our discussion
  • record the event for later playback via YouTube

Don’t worry if you can’t make it this time, because we’re going to try to meet in this way each week at 7 pm EST on Sunday.  Please give me your feedback!  The best way to reach me is through our Goodreads Book Club, or on Twitter @banana29 or on Google+

So that was fun!  I apologize to anyone who tried to get into the Google hangout and couldn’t.  It’s completely my fault, you see, I saw the opportunity to make the discussion livestreamed and couldn’t resist, but it made a separate link to the correct hangout and it messed everyone up.  Please let’s try again next week!

In the meantime, it seems like the nuts and bolts are working, and then everyone is starting to commit to a book.  Again the goal is that you’ll read one book this month, fill out the form to vote, and then we’ll eliminate 5 books by October when we’ll repeat the process with a second book.  Of course you can read as many books as you like!

Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World by Jane McGonigal

Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World

I don’t think of myself as a gamer.  I have been known to play lots of those Flash-based Facebook games with my Candy Crush Saga friends, and occasionally a great puzzle-based novella will come along like Gabriel Knight 2,  Syberia or Ripper that I devour, but generally I didn’t think they were a big part of my life.  After reading just part 1, Why Games Make Us Happy, of McGonigal’s book, I started feeling that I could admit that I play Plants vs. Zombies and Game of Thrones Ascent almost every day!  Now that I’ve read McGonigal’s book completely, I know that it’s cool to be a gamer and I really want to believe that a game designer will win a Nobel Prize someday.


In Part II Reinventing Reality, McGonigal really opens up on the topic of how games can change our education system for the better.  I’m really intrigued with the idea of the game-based education being offered by Quest to Learn (p. 128). A very real challenge of my current position is to develop my staff’s comfort and skills with 21st century learning which largely focuses on digital fluency.  However, there are constantly battles between our current system and the growing desire from staff to collaborate and teach creatively.  The idea of redesigning the system from the ground up, the way that Quest to Learn has, is very appealing.  In hindsight, I know that the mindset of the administration and the staff has often been what held back change for the better design of our school and I wonder what kind of experiential learning the staff needs to help them grow in this direction.  We have a local company called Eagles Flight which worked with our department heads for one morning last January during exams, and essentially we played a quest game where we needed to get from one side of a desert to the other maximizing our resources, within a time limit and never having all the information we needed to play.  It was really fun!  Was it transformational?  No but it helped us to bond and gave us lots of fuel for good discussion for the rest of the day.


Having spent 5 years as a teacher-librarian now, one of the aspects of my job that I like best is how it gives me space to see the school as a whole system, and I can see the problem of the department silos.  At the risk of overglorifying the situation, I’m omniscient in a way that even the administration isn’t.  I’ve always enjoyed this role in my gaming experience as well, and was a big fan of many of the games McGonigal mentions in Part III, Chapter 14: Saving the Real World Together.  Besides Will Wright’s Sim City and The Sims, I was fascinated with the idea of Peter Molyneux’s game Black & White in which you need to make decisions for villagers based on moral quandaries. After reading McGonigal’s praise of the game, I dug out our old copy of Will Wright’s Spore and played through 4 levels with new appreciation for its design and trying to imagine what it would be really like to drop into the Ukraine, for example, and try to sort things out a bit. Maybe that’s the reason why I still like reality tv shows.  There’s a new one coming out this week called The Audience where 50 people make a life-changing decision for someone.  This experimentation in McGonigal’s “Saving the Real World Together” of taking a long view, practicing ecosystems thinking, and pilot experimentation (p. 297-98) are exactly the tools that I think we need our graduates to have exposure to.  One of the first computer games I remember loving is Lemonade Stand, where I simulated making a lemonade stand profitable based on fluctuating weather predictions and costs of lemon and sugar.  If I could remake school today, I’d start by making every single assignment follow McGonigal’s Saving the Real World criteria.  I might not be able to reconstruct my school into a Quest to Learn environment, but I can advocate for these 3 aspects in teaching design and that gives me hope that my influence will help save the world.  I suppose I need to see this through for the epic win.

Overall, Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World is a game-changer (excuse the pun).  I’ve started a Twitter List called Epic Winners that includes all sorts of people who are using games for positive change and deeper meaning inside schools and beyond.  It even lead me to find a library game that I’d like to try out called (what else?) Librarygame.   This isn’t the first time I’ve thought “I wish I could give a little surprise to a student who signs out the same book twice, or has signed out 10 books this year, or returns everything on time”.  Even if it was just a virtual badge to add to their student e-portfolio, I think they would appreciate it.  I know I would.


McGonigal, J. (2011). Reality is broken: Why games make us better and how they can change the world. New York, NY: Penguin Books.


View all my reviews

Making thinking visible

I started the year knowing that I wanted to spend more time helping students to be more visible about their thinking process.  Why?

  • I think we spend too much time evaluating products and not enough time evaluating processes
  • Learning to express yourself is such an important skill
  • Dissecting your own process will make patterns/habits visible and we can honour those that work and work on those that don’t
  • Creating an archive of processes means we’ll have a whole bank of ideas to jump off for future projects
  • This kind of documentation is a huge component in making inquiry questions richer/deeper

So then I thought can we combine this reflective practice with the authenticity of an online audience?  Could we insert some Vygotzky here and make reflective practice social?  I had the opportunity to take these questions to the next level when I was asked to join a group of other secondary teachers and we were given time release to collaborate and later share our findings.

With my grade 12 media arts students, I asked if each of them would make an individual blog and suggested WordPress or Blogger as the tool. I asked them to blog twice a week.  I gave them 9 required topics for the semester, a whack of suggested topics, and ample time in class to do it.  I had varying degrees of responses.

I was surprised that the students didn’t leap all over this.  Here are my students, in grade 12 media arts, the culminating year, the last semester of grade 12 and they were shy!!  I thought this would be their legacy, their swan song as they’re leaving high school forever (ever ever – insert echo).

I was also surprised how disadvantaged students who are already challenged by literacy had a hard time with this.  You have to understand that my classroom is filled with technology and cool art stuff so there are countless mediums to express with….but the basic interface, and maybe fear of expression were stumbling blocks that for 3 of 24 of the students, they could never quite get over.  I also found it a huge advantage to have public spaces and private spaces.  We had public blogs but a private wikispace where students could discuss academically, and where I posted all my content.  Our final research project was to explore a media artist and create a wikipage for our artist in a visual way based on common guiding questions.  We also used Twitter to encourage communication.  Their final exam is coming up and it will be entirely reflective as well.  I’m prepared to do it all inside GoogleDocs and to accept their responses electronically, but I’ll also have a ream of foolscap and printout copies in case the wireless is dodgy.

Questions I still have:

  • Why does appearing vulnerable prevent us from sharing our creative process and learning?
  • What can we do to foster trust in our face-to-face environments and online environments?
  • How can we get past the idea that only ‘experts’ have a valuable voice?

Crowd sourcing Psycho using Twitter

[View the story “Crowd sourcing Psycho using #maODSS” on Storify]

Trying to teach about Hitchcock’s Psycho, how Twitter can be used for learning and improving the self-directedness of learning all at once in media arts using the Twitter hashtag #maODSS

Storified by Alanna King· Wed, Mar 06 2013 17:22:17

Reflection: on entering the library

E contacted me today thinking about career changes, or sidesteps moving from classroom teaching to some of those rarer positions in schools like teacher-librarianship, and asked what are the differences between being a classroom teacher and being a librarian.  Moving into my fourth year in the library, I had a lot to say.  Here’s my response:

I’m doing my M.Ed. right now with a focus on teacher-librarianship. To my knowledge, there are only 2 programs of this calibre and distinction in all of North America…the one I’m in at the University of Alberta is completely online. The other is at the University of San Jose …and I don’t know much about it except that in my program we reference a lot of the work being done there.

I love being a librarian. Doing my M.Ed. I’ve discovered that I could happily move into educational research for the rest of my life. I’m actually going to be teaching one section of media arts (back with real students of my own!) this coming semester. I really miss being able to plan curriculum and I really miss developing relationships with students. However I love the autonomy of working as a teacher-librarian and I love the diversity of the topics and questions that come at me all day long. There’s an awful lot of psychology in the library that I hadn’t anticipated … coaxing students and staff to try new things all day long and building their confidence to go for it. I’d say my job is 3 parts: advocacy, collection and technology. I have a blog threadbarebeauty.wordpress.com if you want to check out my process in learning how to be a librarian, and I’m also really really into Twitter. So do I take my work home? Yeah…reading and information and sharing it is totally addictive and I pretty much do it every waking moment of every day. It’s a total obsession.

However, the role of librarian is completely morphing and you have to be prepared to go there with it. It’s exhausting trying to be the change agent all the time and I feel like my persona is now “that quirky girl with all those crazy ideas”. I’m not sure that they’re taking me seriously. I stimulate a lot of thought maybe, but change takes forever to happen. I have let go of the need to be the expert in the room and I hear myself saying “I don’t know but let’s go find out!” all day long. I read professional reading with breakfast, listen to an audiobook on the car to and from work, and read a third book again before I fall asleep at night.

And most of the work I do is never seen and I have to be ok with that. Going from teaching English/drama/media arts where there were shows and accolades and contests to library meant putting down a lot of ego. I’m trying to get comfortable with servitude but I humbly accept that I may never get there. Like teaching, it’s really busy and always different, but there’s a reliable structure to my day that makes it all possible.

Not sure if I inspired you or scared you, so ask anything.

Testing Twitter with Teens

In case I haven’t said it enough, my interaction with Twitter over the past two years, has been life-altering in terms of how I have come to rely on my online professional learning network for support in my development as an educator.  I have been wishing to bring that same understanding to students, and I have had two opportunities recently to try it out.  Follow along with me as I dissect my social media experiments.

Experiment #1: Moderating discussion at a common viewing experience (Digital Native model)

In April, I was pleasantly surprised to get an email from the Student Success committee in our board who wanted a teacher to moderate the discussion between students and actors for the First Light Theatre company’s production of Dennis Foon’s play: War.  The project had merit because every secondary school in the board would receive sponsored busing to the event. I volunteered with two other teachers to give it a shot.  We had four days and eight performances.  The three of us met chez moi for a couple hours to strategize. Various social media tools were suggested including Today’s Meet, Facebook and Twitter. Our only devices we were counting on and carrying were cellphones.  We weren’t even sure of our internet connection in the theatre space and if a projected backchannel feed would be appropriate. So that eliminated Today’s Meet, which isn’t a phone app and requires a solid Internet connection to constantly refresh.  We were aware of making teachers and students comfortable with online interaction in adherance with the Ontario College of Teachers Professional Advisory. We created a Facebook group, which was open, but still required students to request admission.  This was our downfall as students couldn’t check out was in the group before getting interested enough to request admission.  Only nine people joined the group, and seven of those were teachers.  Fail.

We also created a Twitter hashtag: #fltwar.  This too only had moderate success. Even when bribed with candy students showed little response.

Probable reasons for experiment failure:

  1. Students were told to leave their cellphones at school.
  2. The theatre wouldn’t give us access to their wireless so students didn’t want to use their limited dataplans.
  3. Students and teachers weren’t expecting to use cellphones in this way.
  4. Students without cellphones were left out.
  5. Students had no prior knowledge of the play so weren’t prepared with questions.

Experiment #2: Moderating discussion at a Q & A with a panel of experts (Teachers as 21st century tools model)

A class set up a panel of speakers to discuss mental health with teens.  The attendance was voluntary, and we knew who would be attending.  We invited both struggling teens and role model teens.  I created the hashtag #mhodss 2 weeks beforehand and made time to spend 30 minutes with each of the attending groups to explain Twitter and to talk about appropriate use.  The most asked question I was asked was “How do you know what to say?” So we even practiced saying something like “I’m very curious as to how Twitter will be used at #mhodss” or “I’m looking forward to #mhodss”.  We talked about the difference between following a teacher or tweeting to the hashtag.  On the day of the event, we used a projector screen not for the presentation, but for the backchannel.  We alternated between just showing the hashtag feed during peak Twitter times and using Another Tweet On the Wall.  We relied on Twitter for stimulating and redirecting discussion.  The topics involved with mental health were very personal, and Twitter gave a sense of anonymity to users.  We even had senior, leadership students offer to tweet for other group members, if they were too shy to ask a question. Overall, we had an amazing Tweetup with about 100 tweets using the hashtag. There was only 1 questionable word (but it was used in context!) and no one complained about being uncomfortable.  In fact, I think the public nature of displaying tweets persuaded more participants to get involved.

Probable reasons for experiment success:

  1. Students were shown to be leaders of the event.
  2. Group members and teachers were cultured why and how to use Twitter for this purpose.
  3. Questions and responses to tweets were made live and this improved relevance.
  4. The topic was meaningful to students through pre-event discussions.
  5. We had great internet connection in the wireless library hub.
  6. Participants didn’t feel left out because they could read the feed as well as be interactive in the discussion.
  7. The event was made more social because of backchanneling.

Here is the complete Twitterfeed for this event, created by Tweetdoc.  Mental-Health-forum-at-ODSS

Conclusion:  Twitter is completely viable tool for backchanneling at school, but it does require work to make the experience feel accessible and safe for teachers; and worthwhile and meaningful for students.  In recognizing that neither teachers nor students felt comfortable with Twitter and our intent in the first experiment, the accommodations made in the second experiment directly impacted its success.