Been a while

So, I have not contributed in a while.  Lots of reasons, mostly related to time, but also in some degree related to inspiration and motivation.  These two are inexorably linked as well.  As a result of being very busy, both personally and professionally, I have not had the time to write, and more importantly to think about writing, but I think even more important, is when I get bogged down and busy, and at times stressed, then I lose initiative to create.  This covers all creativity.  I dabble in song writing and have on my plate a goal to record a full length album…CD…whatever you call them these days.  I still call them albums.  Anyway, a few weeks ago, I was alone in my house for 10 days.  What an opportunity!  I set up my music gear, recording gear and could leave it set up.  I should have been able to record a lot of test tracks, learn more about my recorder, and get working.   It did not work.  I was simply not in the mood.  I just could not summon the creativity required to create.  Of the 10-12 songs I want to produce, I have ideas for most of them, rough lyrics for some, and music ideas for probably half.  This is a great accomplishment, if only I can take it to the next stage and actually do something with it.  What an opportunity lost, but what could I do?  Nothing.  Even on a few evenings when I dabbled, (I wrote a short blues song that was an inside joke for a few friends), it was not great.  It just did not flow.  Attempts to be creative within the structure of the song, in particular short leads and fills, were simply garbage.  I even left them for two days and went back.  No.  Garbage.  Alas, I am no further ahead than I thought I would be.  I own a camp (we do not call them cottages in this part of Northern Ontario) and I usually spend a few days at Christmas at the camp.  Perhaps I will drag all my stuff through the snow, and find inspiration….perhaps not.  I just cannot tell.

So, the long and short of all of this, and I do intend this to be short,  Brandon, is how many other people are affected like this?  I know your “traditional artsy people”, and I say that with tongue firmly in cheek, have blocks.  I think we all have blocks.  The stereotype of the writer, or the painter, stuck on that first line, or first stroke apply to all of us.  Most of us in our profession, are able to find ways around it, because we can probably put some things off until later, rearrange schedules, etc.  Journalist and artists and film makers and musicians do not have that luxury, but most of us do.

However, my thoughts lie with students.  Our system is such that a bout of “creative block” can seriously challenge our students.  Our education system is designed on an agricultural/industrial model.  When one is on a thrasher, or an assembly line, we do not worry about creativity, unless we are thrashing our way through creating a crop circle.  The process is simply repeated step after step until the product is done.  In our increasingly complex, connected and digital world, this is failing us.  We are, in my mind, not inspiring minds much more than we were in 1984.  Guess who graduated from high school in 1984 feeling rather uninspired?  It is not a trick question.

So, how do we approach this?  I am not a proponent of the heady days of free time, unstructured lessons, open walls and little responsibility.  I know we need to have kids leave this system with marketable and transferable skills, but I am unsure of how well this system can deal with the fact that our over structured system surely leave some out, and most surely does not allow terribly well for creativity and blocks.  We try.  We have “deadlines”, “drop dead dates” and “due dates” and “okay, you can have until Friday..”, but in my experience, the kids who need these, are not fighting through blocks, they are disorganized, dealing with stress in their lives, ill-prepared for their work, etc, etc, etc.  Very few students who are handing in work late are doing so because they are fighting a creative block, yet those blocks have to be happening.

I am a relatively mature 46 year old professional, who knows how to meet deadlines, most of the time.  I planned to spend time creatively, on my own time, for my own pleasure, something I have been dreaming of doing for years (and which technology now makes possible…but that is another post) and I had difficulty summoning the creative mood to accomplish much more than write and record a joke song about a fish.  My conditions were perfect. The only way they could have been better, I supposes, was if I was in a recording studio in the Alps.  My conditions were optimum, but I could not summon the creative mood.

How must so many of our students be struggling with creating when they are dealing with the lives some of them deal with?  And, my creativity is just for me.  I mean, i will try to get my album on iTunes, but let’s be real, it is not becoming a gold seller.  But, our students have a lot to lose when they cannot summon creativity, and our world is demanding more and more of it, and their marks, but far more importantly, their learning will be affected.

I do not have an answer, but I think that we need to think about it.


Thanks @bgrasley.  Engagement again.  I like your definition.  I have tried to use this one:  when anyone wants to learn something, they are engaged.  It is not hard to tell if they want to learn something.  Just watch a little kid with a new toy.  Anyway, I wanted to also speak to engagement, as I have several times, but man, I have not solved this problem….would be rich if i did, I guess.

I think about why people want to learn.  Pre-historically (I am not an archaeologist) I would say our ancestors wanted to learn to make things better or easier.  Learning how to make and keep fire was important.  There was a real reason to learn, and I am sure they all wanted to learn.  The same for tools, shelter, etc.  I was at Stonehenge last March.  What made those people engaged enough to want to figure out how to do that?

When kids ask “why do we have to learn this”, I think they are thinking like are pre-historic relatives.  If fire was not useful to them, they would not have had much reason to learn how to harness it.  Yes, sitting by a fire and staring into the flames is cool, but if one is dodging stampeding Mastadons, one does not have time to gaze into the flames for entertainment.  So, for so many years, we learned and wanted to learn to make our lives better.  That meant that we were learning to create information.  Once they knew how to make fire, and the first generation were teaching their young, the eye rolls probably started:  why do we have to learn this, we already have fire”

So much of what we teach to kids, is stuff that someone else figured out.  yes, stuff they need to know, but stuff someone else created.  So, the spark, unless the kid wants/needs to know it for some reason, is not going to be naturally there.  But if we can run our schools from an enquiry mode, throwout some that curriculum and let kids learn what there interested in, then we have a start.  But, this is the Ivory Tower…I do not yet have the answers, but I know that how we are doing things is not working.  As @bgrasley said, the extrinsic motivation only goes so far.  Great for the kid who wants to be a lawyer, but what about the majority of kids who are not sure what is going on in the world?  We have to engage their minds, and while I am soapboxing, man, oh man, or lady oh lady, does technology ever have a roll in that.

I was supervising kids the other day in the computer lab, who were watching a youtube video (gasp…) of a guy blowing stuff up….little bottles of ink.  Mindless entertainment?  Not in my mind, especially when it was repeated in super slow mo, showing the entire act slowly.  And apparently, in the beginning of the video, he talks about the equipment he uses, the process to record, etc, etc.  Yup, on Youtube…no need to buy all the stuff, learn how to do it, etc.  It is right there.  I can guarantee many of our teachers would not be aware of that video series, but how many would want to be “taught” about them by the students they “are teaching”, with their fancy BA and B.ed degrees?  A bit facetious, I know, but hey, this is a blog and I can say what I want, because it will probably be blocked through a content filter anyway, right?  Now @bgrasley, not sure if I tagged you properly in this…still not familar with with interface.  Also did not grammar check (I mean myself, not electronically) or really read over….not intended to be a polished product, but instead it is a stream of rambling thoughts…I think….

Social Media as a Writing Tool


Using Twitter to help students write concise topic sentences in J/I should be a standard practice!

Originally posted on ~ Mark's Musings ~

The other day I happened to catch a segment of The Current CBC broadcast as I was driving between school appointments. The topic was big data based the book Dataclysm, which certainly captivated my interest for a variety of reasons.

Dataclysm book cover

              Image from

I happened to tune in just at the moment the discussion was focused on analyzing data written in social media, Twitter in this case.   While many view social media communications as somewhat inane,  an in depth analysis reveals some interesting facts.


  • writing tends to be more sophisticated
  • word length is 20% longer
  • lexical density ,  the proportion  of meaning carrying words, is  higher than in many other forms of writing (email, magazines etc.  – perhaps opposite to what you would think)
  • with a limitation on the number of characters per message or post, 140 in this case,  people learn to improve word choices
  • in turn,  this improves editing…

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This is me not keeping up


Hey! If it helps, I remembered how to change passwords for my staff in the HESS Professional Learning site…..saving some time for you and Tarmo and the other guy who I don’t remember….

Originally posted on Brandon Grasley's Blog:

I was right to be a little nervous about starting my new job this fall. Not because I’m unskilled, or my students will devour me, or I’ve lost touch with the realities of teaching.

It’s because I have one foot in each world, and those two worlds both want to take over.

Case in point

I like to blog. I enjoy dumping my thinking and reflections here. See how many posts I’ve had since school started? Yeah. Ugh.

Finding time

There is more to do in a day than can be done in a day. My system-level e-Learning transition work officially takes just one period a day, but tends to spill over into 3+ periods a day. My online, combined ICS3C/ICS3U course is supposed to happen in another 75 minutes; that one mostly soaks up my evenings. MDM4U is the most manageable, probably because my class time is utterly sacred and untouchable. So I…

View original 179 more words

A Rich Seam and EQAO

Okay, so this will be a short one!  I am just starting to read, A Rich Seam, which was emailed to all principals in the Algoma District School Board today, and will form a good portion of the work we do in the next two PD days, and hopefully, in the next 8 years!

I have only read through a bit of it, but already, I am wondering about the connection between this document, and the EQAO announcement that I wrote about last.  The following line, taken from A Rich Seam, “Until we find new ways to define and measure success – ways that measure schools’ adoption of new pedagogies and students’ achievement of deep learning outcomes – crucial system factors will stand in opposition to innovation.” (sorry….I am unsure of how to properly cite in this new forum…..forgive me!) has got me stirring.  One of two things is possible, both of which I think are fantastic.

1.  EQAO is ahead of the curve on this, is in sync with this thinking, has been involved in the work as outlined in this first of essays on the 21st century school system and is being proactive.

2.  EQAO is not working in step with this report/thinking, but has come to similar conclusions in its own.

Either way, it is good.  Are we finally leaving behind schools and strategies and curriculum and processes that clearly disengage the majority of our kids?  Resisting the urge to use an expletive here, I sure hope so.  It is too late for my eldest, now in University, who survived despite the system put in front of her, but daughter number two, currently in grade 10 may be able to find a school system that engages her.  I hope.  We have come a long way in 30 years, but I still see kids as disengaged as I was, in 1984. One of the reasons I eventually sought teaching as a career, and even more so, administration, was because I wanted to provide kids with a learning experience that engaged them, taught them, opened their minds and made them global citizens.  One does not do that by writing science definitions on the board.

So, I have only read a bit of this essay I referenced and am already excited that it is only the first of some, and perhaps many to come.  I am tentatively excited again.  I have been talking a lot about technology in the last few years.  I have written a bit about it too, but I am afraid that my enthusiasm has not yet translated into much in the way of changes in teaching in my schools.  I am sorry, no wait, I am not even sorry, but a power point of slides, though a projector,  that illustrate the parts of a cell, or the timelines of ancient Greece is no more using technology than is making bunny shadows when the Power Point is done.  It is still the transmission of basic facts from a sage, to those horribly disengaged students, many of whom are hoping to remember about 7/10 of the parts of the cell, so they can go onto to something else just as mundane.  I know this is hyperbole, and that there are great things going on in all schools, including my own, but I think we have to be very, very critical of our system if we want to change it, and we have to change it.  It will change on its own if we don’t, so we have to take the opportunity to manage that change ourselves, instead of having it done to us.  But I digress, yet again….

So before this degrades into something already more rambling than it already is, I will conclude.  I love technology.  My latest love is an app for my iPhone called “Plane Finder”  It shows on a map, all the commercial planes flying in the world.  So when  a contrail goes over me, I look at it and find out info about the plane (I can even point my phone at it, and use the lens…really cool!) including direction, airline, type of plane, altitude, etc.  It all started one summer day (Oh God, there he goes again) when I was at my camp, and I could clearly see a large 4 engine commercial jet flying over us.  Based on my somewhat limited knowledge of commercial aircraft, it was either a 767 or an Airbus A380.  So, my neighbour’s grandson, a 15 year old digital native, hops on our Seadoo, goes across the lake to get a signal, and comes back with info on the Korean Air flight from Soeul to JKF!  In the meantime, I had photographed the plane, and zoomed in on the camera screen, and I could clearly see blue and red colouring (photo attached, unsure of resolution in this app, and hence you might not be able to zoom as I could) on the tail.  Branden returned with his phone and showed me the data!  I was hooked, yet again, to another piece of software.  I now also have two apps that detail plane ownership, based on tail letters, one for the US and one for Canada.

The point is, this technology for me is just fun and interesting.  I drove my family nuts for a few weeks, running out of the house to check out the planes way off on the horizon!  However, this is the world we are talking about.  In a stunning ode to the old days, I could tentatively show this to kids, have them spot a plane, then research a pile of data about it….based on interest:  some could look into the plane, others into the geography of the flight, others into where the plane is going and why, or where it came from and why, etc, etc, but I am afraid even that is not 21st century deep learning.  It is just a spark, and a weak one at that, but, I believe, that somehow, someway, there is so much more we can be doing, and while I know for sure I do not know exactly what to do and how to do it (that is what my PLN is for….:D) I know that I hold the tool in my hand.  It is as if I have a hammer in my hand for the first time, and Notre Dame’s construction awaits.

So, I will read the rest of A Rich Seam and see what my little mind can find to get excited about.  The scariest part is, while I do not know where it is going, I know that it has to go there, somehow.  I have 8 years or so left in this business (so many other experiences await me!) and I really think that the system I walk away from will be drastically changed, and I hope I have a small part in making that happen.  And, just in case that sounds just a wee bit narcissist, it is not intended to be.  I want to be part of the change that is going to make our system much better for my daughter who is hoping to be a part of it, and for my grandkids, if they ever come, for whom I worry, as the world becomes more and more complex and challenging, as it continues to shrink in scale.  The world’s problems, both physical and social are growing and in order for the next generation to find solutions, they need to know have had nothing but deep learning experiences from JK-12 and onwards.  And no, a power point is not going to cut it.

And, in case anyone happened to read the blog before, I am even more intrigued now with how the EQAO changes are going to look and the change they themselves may drive in our practice.  I still think that the EQAO changes are good for kids, but perhaps even more important for the system that professes to be “teaching” them!  I guess ultimately, that is a good deal of the problem isn’t it?  Our system “teaches”.  Our kids need to “learn”.

Korean Air Airbus 380 as photographed above Hornepayne, Ontario, early August 2014

Korean Air Airbus 380 as photographed above Hornepayne, Ontario, early August 2014

EQAO’s Move

So, I have never been a fan of large scale assessments.  I agree they offer information, as does anything and everything a student does.  However, I suspect it is because of the small environment I have always worked in, large scale assessments rarely tell us anything we did not already know or suspect.  They are far more valuable to me, to track trends over time in a larger scale, than in individual data.

I will tell a funny story though. Not sure my daughter reads my blog, but she will be mad at me.  My eldest daughter was an early reader.  When she arrived in school, she was more than ready.  She also, was very interested in math as a child too.  So, along came grade 3 testing, and when I received her information (my first year as principal), I was a bit surprised to see a lower level in reading, as compared to math and writing.  So, I asked her about it. Her response, perhaps not verbatim after all these years, but very close to it, was:  “I like to read, but I do not like answering stupid questions about what I read”.  Out of the mouths of 8 year olds.  She is now 19, in second year university, loving her chemistry major with courses in math and french…..other than some reading in French, no “stupid questions” to answer, but she still reads voraciously.  Go figure.

So, I got away from my intended path with that anecdote, but I love telling that story.  How many results in EQAO testing reflect student engagement, or lack thereof?  However, that goes for every assessment, doesn’t it?

So, EQAO, or for those of you reading who might not be from Ontario, the Education Quality and Accountability Office, has announced that starting this fall, they are moving towards all EQAO testing to be electronically done.  Again, for non-Ontario residents, we do large scale provincial testing in grades 3 and 6 (math, writing and the aforementioned reading), grade 9 mathematics, and grade 10 literacy.  The grade 10 literacy test is a graduation requirement.

My first thoughts upon reading the news release on Twitter, was “wow, they finally moving the pencil and paper test, to a format more conducive to the pedagogy we all practice!”  I was pleased.  Then I thought “wait, this is a government agency.  Could simply be a money saver…”.  So I took a closer look, and much to my great surprise and glee (well glee is a bit heavy of a word), but the first two points in the news release were, in regards to why the move is taking place:

  • bring the provincial assessments in line with the digital world we live in and the digital classroom that plays an increasing part in education;
  • make the assessments more engaging for students by allowing them to demonstrate their knowledge and skills in a number of different ways;

There are also several other bullets that highlite other reasons, all of which are sound and to me, an improvement in the testing.  If you are interested, check out:

So, I suppose I should wait for the proof before I become a convert to the new EQAO, but I have to say, that I am buoyed by the prospect.  It sounds to me that EQAO is moving testing into the 21st century digital world, and with a reference to “flexible scheduling”, perhaps even beginning a massive shift from the very structured environment within which we deliver education.  You know, that system that still operates on the agricultural calendar.

However, of all the elements that intrigue me the most, is the form of the test.  It hints, ever so seductively at a test that can offer students a wide array of ways to demonstrate their learning, their intelligence and their creativity, in ways that paper and pencil simply cannot do.  This is the exact reason our pedagogy is slowly lumbering towards this goal.  However, what this shift will do, is accelerate that process.  Everyone knows that schools “teach to the test” in the sense that our pedagogical strategies and expectations are aligned with EQAO, which represents the curriculum.  It is not the old days of “teaching to the test”,. but an acknowledgement that our strategies in the class must align with the expectations of the curriculum, as represented by EQAO.

So, excited I am, because I truly believe this seismic change will help to prepare students for the world they are living in, and the future world we know nothing about.  I also believe it will help to move our school system to one that recognizes that fact by using more and digital and interactive resources to develop our students’ minds and creativity.

Now, I am on the clock….not time for an edit, so please, forgive my numerous, I am sure, syntax and style errors….

Blogging about Blogging

So, today was the day I finally caught up with Donna Miller Fry, @fryed, to talk about a little project that she has ongoing at the ministry level.  The project involves (if I understood Donna correctly, in the late August frame of mind I was in) building capacity among principals and other school leaders around blogging and its use in education.  An obvious corollary, perfectly intended, is as school leaders, we must lead by example and if a Director blogs, more likely is it that the SO community will blog, which will encourage the principal’s and VP’s to blog, which should lead it all down to teachers using blogs in schools.

Of course, as it is with administrators in general, but especially those of us in the North, our conversation weaved through several other winding alleys, all related in some way to how our unique geography and social realities affect our jobs and how we do them, but….after agreeing to share some thoughts about my own blogging journey, as short as it has been, I realized, I had not blogged since the bogdown known as June happened, and it was time to get going again.

So, just a short blog, about blogging.  I asked myself, why do I blog?  What am I achieving?  Is it actually useful to me either professionally or personally?  Many more questions, but just a few to start.

Why do I blog?  To express myself to a wider audience, and to use a format that will help me to frame my thoughts around issues that usually complex.  I do not blog about how to put siding on my summer project, as well, there is only one way, which is straight….but if one were to be really bored, or an insomniac, and went through my postings, they would see most of my posts are a way to think out loud.  As well, people comment, and contribute.  It is like an essay, on any topic I want, with no painstaking references and feedback of the entirely non-judgmental type… so really, it is pretty cool.

Am I achieving anything?  Well I am contributing instead of consuming.  Even if the contributions are not earth shaking nor Pulitzer bound, they are contributing, in a small manner.  I also achieve a sense of satisfaction, for the ability to express thought and think out loud, again, without the usual judgment that has always been around in almost every other situation….

The last question, I may have already answered, in a nebulous way, but I think i did.  I enjoy blogging, and not just about education, about everything.  So if I enjoy it, it is useful to me both professionally and personally.  I have made contacts professionally, and felt enjoyment in letting some ideas flow, so yes, it is useful.  Like music though, the feeling and mood must strike me properly, or I can go for ages and blog not a thing!  Who knows whether the coming month will be a flurry of blogging of barren ground, but regardless, as it meanders in and out of my life, it does serve a purpose, and may even possibly connect with others and produce something new for myself, and for others…..

So, until next time, I shall leave you with a view that all of us Northerners will look at and “get” immediately!

To all my loyal readers (less than  5, I know), have a great school year and keep in touch!DSC_6091