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…