Tribute to Cookie Ladies

Today many people around the Twitterverse are honouring Alan Levine (aka @cogdog) and the recent passing of his mother. Alan’s mother was known as the “cookie lady” as every Sunday she baked chocolate chip cookies and delivered them to strangers and people she came in contact with that particular week. To show our support for Alan people are baking cookies and delivering them in her memory in what we are calling “cookies for Cog Dog

I connected with Alan in Courtice just a few short hours before his mom’s passing. We talked about his parents (as it was the anniversary of his father’s death the day before) and before he left town, he picked up his last postcard (from Ontario) for his mom. He never had the chance to mail that postcard. My deepest condolences go to Alan and his family as they deal with the loss of such a special lady.

I wanted to participate in Cookies for Cog Dog for a few reasons. 1) I feel connected to this story as I just met Alan recently (and on the particular day of his mom’s passing), 2) my own family is dealing with health issues right now (and I’m a softy when it comes to my mom and dad, and 3) I have my own “cookie lady” that I want to honour and remember.

Joanne McDonald was a teacher friend of mine that I became very close with in a former work location. Joanne was the most compassionate and caring lady and had the biggest heart. She was the kind of person who had dealt with hardships in her life and always supported the underdog. Joanne used to make the best cookies and I was very fortunate to be one of her taste testers with each new batch. Now I love soft cookies, not the crumbly, hard kind, and Joanne’s cookies always melted in your mouth. She made great chocolate chip cookies, but it was her peanut butter cookies and short bread recipes that I always looked forward to. My dear friend Joanne suffered from a brain aneurysm a few years back and later died of a heart attack while in care. To this day I think of her often and one of the ways I choose to honour her memory is to make her shortbread cookie recipe each Christmas when my mom and I do our annual Christmas bake off. I’d love to include a photo of Joanne, but I am away from home where all of my photos of her are.

So today when I make ‘cookies for cog dog’ I will be making Joanne’s recipe. The recipients of these delicious treats will be the nurses at the hospital in Toronto where my dad is currently staying. These people work very hard to provide the best care for their patients in a system that has them over-worked and under-staffed. We have a history with this hospital as we spent 6 months here 17 years ago when my father had his car accident that left him a quadriplegic. So today, by participating in this event, I feel like I am pulling together a bunch of important people with one gesture.

Thanks health care professionals – my dad is very important to me.

Good-bye Cookie Ladies – you’ve forever left your marks in our hearts.

Why the Tool Matters

My written contribution to “Why ______ Matters” was inspired by an incredible year in a congregated special education class in a brand new, technology-focused school. I shared my story of the amazing successes my students experienced, largely in part to the vast amount of new technology available to them. The topic is very near and dear to my heart as I watched these first percentile learners connect, communicate, and collaborate with students in regular classrooms around the world using social media. Simply by having access to “cool tools” such as iPads and Livescribe smartpens, the playing field was not only leveled a little, but the stigma of being in a special class was removed. These students were no longer ashamed to need accommodations and were actually very proud to be in “the class that tries out all the technology”. Selecting the right tools is always a concern, whether it’s computer technology or art supplies, so I’ve really explored the use of many different technologies and strategies. That being said, I am convinced that the technology used this year is what made the difference in my students’ education. They pick up these tools and use them without any pre-teaching. In fact, they are often experimenting and finding tricks and tips that they teach me! For many of our special education students, this is HUGE as they become teachers and leaders (for some it’s a new phenomenon). I have watched confidence and participation increase ten-fold simply by adding a mobile device or a web connection to a lesson. The immediate and constant feedback that many digital tools provide is perfect for our students with attention issues and the motivation factor simply can not be ignored. For many students in our special education programs, this is key. If we can engage these learners by using appropriate tools then we have to be doing more (as a system) to provide better access to students with special needs. I could go on and on and on about this…but I won’t (for now).

I knew when I was preparing for Unplug’d that this is the story I needed to share. I had much more difficulty deciding how I would share this beyond my personal narrative. Writing about this topic in a concise manner was impossible for me, so I decided to stick with what I know, and for me – that’s poetry. I’m not sure if it’s due to years working with primary students or just my innate love for the sound of rhymes, but for some reason it was so much easier for me to be creative with this “essay”. I still struggled with keeping it small. The size requirements set for our publication was a challenge for many but I really didn’t know how I would take my poem and literally cut it in half! This is where the small group collaboration really changed my game… I wasn’t sure how it would go having others pick apart my work, my art. I mean, how can you easily critique poetry? Well…they did. It was painful pulling apart my work and trying to decide what should stay, go, or be tweaked. I certainly could NOT have done this without the insights of my group members. I am really grateful that each member was honest and direct, while sensitive at the same time. I am pleased with the changes and suggestions provided by these awesome individuals, and in the end, their input made it better.

Read the original poem in its entirety here:
Why the Tool Matters – Unplugd11

This is an exciting week, reliving the Unplug’d vibe, as our chapter has been released, our videos are also being released, and a #ds106radio chat will take place on Thursday evening with the chapter two authors. If you’d like to take part, you can post questions HERE before Thursday at 9:00 EDT or you can listen to ds106radio and tweet along with us!

Unplug’d 11

I have been struggling where to begin with the many thoughts and emotions floating around in this body of mine after attending #Unplug’d11.

MomentsTthat Melt Your Heart

As I begin my weekend of networking and learning at #CATC11. I am bombarded with questions from my WRDSB tweeps about the event. I find myself not knowing where to begin. Do I start with the events, the structure of the weekend? You can go to the official site for all that. Do I start with the purpose and artifacts created? Nope, those can also be found online with the epub releases. Do I start sharing stories and tales of connections made? Well, I could but many of those can be seen in the flickr photos or through the stories shared in our document. Do I explain the impact this had on me? I’m not sure my words can even begin to describe the intense range of feelings I have around the relationships developed and the many “ah ha’s” and touching moments. I had hair-on-end styled goosebumps this past weekend more times than I can count. How do you even attempt to recount the experiences that led to those moments?

What I can say is that I’ve been forever changed. Each and every one of these people that told their stories, shared a song, engaged in down time play, or simply smiled and listened somehow made this weekend what it was. I don’t think that any one of us going into this could even imagine what would occur. Although we began with a goal in mind – to unplug and connect to collaborate on a published document about what matters in Canadian education – so much more happened. When people asked me what I learned, I think I can say that “face to face relationships matter” and that “story telling is important”. The other things I learned were all lessons from people, not programs, tools, or books.

Even as I sit here in my room at Kempenfelt conference centre, alone, I hear Melanie McBride’s words about autonomy and how if I want to sit alone and reflect, that OK. This is my fourth time attending this camp and I always wanted to make the most of each and every moment, working late in the room with others, helping and soaking in everything there is to learn. I would have NEVER taken a break at 3:30 of DAY 1 to go off by myself to write. Thank you Melanie for reminding me that I don’t always have to be “ON”.

I have been having the “Unplug’d tinglies” as Alec Couros called them ever since the event ended. I have been glued to my screen, looking at the photos being posted, the tweets coming through my feed, and the blog posts that are slowly trickling out a few each day. Each time I see one, I immediately feel that heart in throat feeling that brings me right back to that time and space. When I read Daryl Bambic’s words on her blog, I was speechless. She was able to capture many of the emotions I had been experiencing and articulated them much better than I would have. I agree with Jaclyn Calder’s comparison to summer camp on her blog and can relate to the words shared by Alana Callan and Kelly Power. I am touched by Danika Barker’s story and related to many of the feelings Lorna Costantini expressed with her initial reflections. When I read Rob Fisher’s words, I am transported back to that moment when his simple phrase “I spent 3 days in Algonquin park at the Northern Edge with 37 people that care so much about education that it hurts.” literally took the breath out of the room. Unplug’d lives on with all that is shared.

I was also reminded of the power of music and how much it means to me. From the canoe serenade by Bryan Jackson, to the campfire tunes with Stephen Hurley, to the introduction of ds106radio by Giulia Forsythe, to the chats with Andy McKeil about my favourite band, music was a big part of this experience for me, as it is in my daily life. This weekend reminded me that I have to feed this part of my soul frequently. Music lovers, share on!

Bryan serenades Giulia and I while we paddle to the West Wind Tree at sunset.

I also learned that I need to make changes with what I do with my time. I am spending WAY too much time in from of a screen and working. I need to unplug more often to feed my soul. I already knew that water, being near it or in it, grounds me. I need to spend more time near water. Thanks Todd and the folks at Northern Edge Algonquin for helping me to remember this. In fact, as soon as I press POST here, I’m heading down to the water with a book and my beverage of choice (I know you Unplug’ers will find that hard to believe) to enjoy the sunshine before I re-engage with the current learning that is going on here in this time and space…

17 years – We’ve come a long way baby!

It’s so strange how 17 years seems like an eternity, like a lifetime ago and then you see the calendar and suddenly you’re back in time, revisiting the moment like it was yesterday. Funny how a date can spark such vivid memories…

17 years ago today my father was involved in a car accident that would change his and our lives forever. As winter popped back up momentarily that spring morning my dad left the house for work like any other day not knowing that it would be a long time before he would be able to come back. During his morning commute, my dad lost control on black ice and rolled his car into a ditch. During this event my father was thrown around, not wearing his seat belt, and broke his neck, leaving him paralyzed from the chest down – a quadriplegic.

A Different World

A Different World

I can retell almost every moment, detail and feeling that washed over me that day; the chronology of events, the people, the craziness… I also recall the brutally cruel year that followed with all of the complications and changes my dad had to endure (and still continues to go through). Although the incident happened to my dad, it truly was a family changing event. My mother, our rock, has been the glue that’s kept us together. She has selflessly given everything she has got to support her husband and family. I could write an entire book on the medals this woman deserves and I could write a drama with all of the stories, related issues, and unbelievable “side effects” of dealing with this altered life…some funny and some down right despicable. But I write this today reflecting on how far we’ve come; my dad, my parents, my family. I am so proud of my family and the bond that we share. I am overwhelmed with pride to have such amazing, strong, caring role models and on this day more than any other I can’t help but to think – we’ve come a long way baby!

My heroes

My heroes

SMART Exemplary Educator Application

The CATC (Computers Across the Curruculum) Committee at my school has decided to apply for the SMART Showcase School designation. This application process requires a large variety of criteria to be met, one of which is to have a SMART Exemplary Educator on staff. Since we currently don’t have any staff member in that position, I decided to pull something together in time for the quickly approaching deadline. With just two days to plan, prepare, organize, record, and upload my video, this is the final product of my video submission that is the main part of the application process. The perfectionist in me wants to edit this like crazy but with limited time, it is what it is! Wish me luck!

SMART Exemplary Educator

Wikify Me

This evening I had the opportunity to instruct my first IT workshop for the WRDSB with Mary Sue Meredith (@marysueme on twitter) on Collaborative Projects with Wikis. What a great way to spread the wiki love that has been growing with each and every one I’ve been involved in this year. I find this fascinating as I have only been using wikis with students for 6 months. It’s grown from being a showcase or online classroom portfolio to collaboration between local classrooms and now with projects around the globe. It was very interesting to present with Mary Sue. We did all of our planning online using Google docs, email, and Skype. Another first for me. We designed our session as a show and tell, with time built in to create and work on participant’s wikis. For a Thursday after school session just before March Break, I was impressed to even have an audience! With such a small, intimate crowd I am so glad we had that time at the end to assist with their wiki site development. I am firm believer that if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it. With the break approaching the usual busyness of the school year, it’s easy to move on and not incorporate this new learning into your practice, despite best intentions. I hope the participants felt this was beneficial as well.

When pulling together the resources for this session, I was a little amazed at all of the different uses and collaborators I’ve been involved in through wikis. I’ve used wikis strictly for my class to showcase work, I’ve created wikis for our class to share with other classes, and I’ve participated in global projects created by others. I’ve also been using wikis to collaborate professionally with other teachers, locally and provincially. Although a new wiki user, I am always blown away when I come across a new idea for using wikis for education. I can only imagine how my wiki love will grow over time!

Collaborative Projects with Wikis
Mary Sue Meredith & Kim Gill
WRDSB – March 10, 2011

Tweeting for 1 year, 2 months, 3 days as of January 31st

Twitter Grader

I recently tried out a Twitter app called Twitter Grader. With a score of 94/100 I can’t help but recognize how far I’ve come since joining Twitter. I’ll admit I was reluctant to join. I poked around a couple of time but I just didn’t “get it” so I quickly gave up on the notion of becoming a “tweep”. It wasn’t until I attended ECOO 2009 that I was convinced to give Twitter a real chance. After hearing so many educators talk about their Twitter connections and the things they’ve learned, I couldn’t help but get swept up in the moment.

I began with the idea that I would attempt to log in to twitter for a minimum of 5 minutes a day and only follow those involved in the field of education (sorry Ashton Kutcher and Perez Hilton). Tagged onto my usual email, facebook, and favourite site check in routine, I figured “what’s 5 more minutes”? After a short while I discovered that this really isn’t too fun unless you follow interesting people, so my goal quickly went from logging in each day to following one new person a day. This really built up my following list and began to make Twitter more exciting. I was beginning to follow conversations and find greater connections to people learning about similar topics. I discovered so many new web tools that I was eager to try out. My PLN or learning network began to take shape and now I was ready to move beyond the “lurker” stage into a position where I felt comfortable responding to posts and providing a few of my own. My new goal was to post, post, post…whether it be a retweet, sharing of a site, or simply a comment in response to a twitter conversation, I wanted to get involved. This process has taken time but I’m now focusing on having others respond to ME! This means I must find meaningful things to share and ask questions that desire a response. It’s beginning to change how I am interacting with Twitter. The new goal is to have someone respond to ME at least once each day.  I have a long way to go to become an “influential tweep”, but I’m on my way. Who knows, maybe this will eventually lead to regular blogging or quite possibly sharing of my own ideas and original work!!! Baby steps!!!

Totally Terrific “Tech-tastic” Day

What a strange and unique technology-focused day Friday turned out to be!

It all started when some visitors from a private school in Hamilton contacted me to arrange a visit and tour of our new school.  Their librarian had attended my ECOO session on ipods and forwarded my wiki link with the presentation information to a member of her staff.  This in and of itself is pretty cool!  So a date was set and now here we are!  Proudly, I showed off our dual boot computer lab, our sound systems, document cameras, and SMARTBoards in each classroom. It was neat to hear the oohs and ahs as I continued to show the Response Clickers, Livescribe pens, and eventually the ipod and ipad applications that we’ve been using.  It certainly hit home again how fortunate my staff and I are to work in such an advanced building and to have so many great tools available to us.  While I was “tied up” showing off our technology my students were either blogging about their “wild self” (a fun activity where they create a hybrid human with various animal body parts) or using the SMARTBoard to work on a money activity.  I was busy for over an hour with our guests and my special education class was able to manage “without me” for the entire time!  This definitely would not have happened if they weren’t so engaged with the technology they were using.

That was just the first block of the day!

Onto block #2.  Today was the day for our next online video conference with 4 other classrooms.  Each month we meet together using Adobe Connect to share learning from the Social Studies curriculum.  We call these sessions our Canada Connections program.  Each class represents a different grade level so we have students from grade 2 – 6 learning together.  The children love seeing the other classes appear on our screen as we present each time.  This time we were meeting to discuss Quebec.  As new users of the software there are bound to be issues and glitches as we attempt different features of the program.  The live presentations went fine but there were some major issues with screen sharing that caused huge delays and some classes were not able to share their entire presentation.  This was an eye opener for our students as they realized that teachers have to problem solve too when things don’t work out as planned!

During our third and final block of the day the children tweet about their daily learning.  This is one of my favourite parts of the day!  I love that they reflect and share what they have done.  My class is getting quite the follower base now and a few of our twitter friends have been commenting on the things we’ve been sharing.  One class at a school in Kitchener (that is not part of our Canada Connections group) looked at our wiki and saw our presentation information and commented even though they aren’t participating!  During our daily tweet out, one of my students mentioned the issues with our adobe connect session.  Within minutes adobe connect sent us out a customer support question and tried to assist us in solving the problem!  No phone calls or emails were made to seek support but through twitter, we got it anyway! Very cool!

mentioned issue

Screen capture of student tweet.

outside interest

Screen capture of outside interest in our project!

support offered

Screen capture of unsolicited support!

my thoughts

Personal thoughts on daily tweets

Twitter came through again for me two more times later on in the day.  Once the class was gone to gym (my planning time), I turned to twitter to see if others were having issues with Kidblog as I couldn’t log in.  Within minutes Kidblog had looked into the problem and tweeted back an apology for disruption to service!  Again, no phone call was made for support…it found me!  Even better!


Screen capture of unsolicited apology!

The most exciting technology focus of my day came at the end of the day when an influential tweep posted about their live school broadcast.  This is something we’ve been looking into at our own school and have had some issues with wiring and networking.  Each solution that has been proposed so far is an expensive one, some costing upwards of $10000!  George Couros’ post about his school’s morning broadcast led me to discover “Livestream”, where I created a free account and embedded the Livestream widget directly onto our school website and VOILA we now have solved our problem of broadcasting to each of the classrooms.  What’s even better is that it’s accessible to families and anyone else that wants to “tune in” to see what we are sharing at any given time!

Raptor Reports Livestream

Coming Soon!  Thanks to amazing educators that share!

So from sharing our tools and techniques, to online video conferencing (ups and downs), to twitter support, this particular day was a totally terrific “tech-tastic” day!

Barrday Nomination

Today I nominated a colleague for a local teaching award.  Here is the short post related to her nomination.

I am nominating Cheryl Kewley for the Barrday Teacher of Excellence Award. As a colleague of Cheryl’s, I see, on a daily basis, her grade 1 classroom transformed into a magical place for children’s learning. Her program is engaging and child-centered with lots of opportunities for creative expression.  The sheer joy for learning displayed on their faces each day and their excitement to share their learning sometimes causes me to wish that I could be a child again in her grade 1 class. Cheryl models respectful behaviour and demands the same of her students.  Each and every member of her little community is valued and encouraged to participate to the best of their abilities. She naturally differentiates instruction to meet the various needs of her young learners.

Cheryl integrates technology into her daily practice, motivating children to participate with various SMARTBoard lessons.  As one of the computer contacts for our school, Cheryl provides a great deal of support to staff as well.  Colleagues rely on her knowledge and willingness to share, as she is an exemplary teacher of technology integration.

On a personal level, Cheryl connects with others and clearly demonstrates care and concern for the well-being of all.  She is one of the first people there to lend a listening ear or offer assistance with a daunting project or task.

Cheryl’s creative and innovative teaching practices, and her ongoing demonstration of respect and integrity, clearly exemplifies the criteria to be a “Teacher of Excellence”.