Episode 20: Quantum Leap


In this episode, we interview David Wiwchar who is currently teaching Physical Education and Science at Mayfield Secondary School. Dave shares a bit about his journey from being a student at Mayfield to now being a teacher there who is opening up his assessment practices and using technology as a way to help giving feedback in a more effective manner. His ideas parallel Jim Kardash who spoke in Episode 4: Rogue One, but he also shares how he has truly embodied becoming a co-learner by learning how to code in order to make Google tools do what he wants.

What’s New in the World of EML

Jim shared a conversation he had with a primary teacher who asked him about her craft table and who wondered what the difference was between a craft table and makerspace. The most important aspect is how the space is used rather than what it is called. In the conversation with the teacher, Jim shared some common themes he has seen in other school-based makerspaces, including:

  • Maker stance or mindset is in place – creative learning, students work on projects, usually longer term, making things there are interested in or passionate about, a way for teachers to learn more about their students, a way for children to express themselves and ideas, thoughts that are important to them
  • Idea that if children can imagine it, they make it
  • Roles – students make the choices of what to make, teachers support with materials, interest, questions, allowing time to tinker, play, experiment
  • Ways to use those experiences – Teacher ties to curriculum, inquiries (rather than predetermined lessons or procedures) for example – students can share, discuss, reflect, write about what they are making, connect to other experiences
  • Oral language, conversations, observations – opportunity for assessment
  • Students ideally are making, and then discussing what they are making with each other, peers and classmates (structures often need to be put into place to ensure)

The core feature of most makerspaces is they are intentionally designed spaces that serve as an invitation to children to play and make things they wish to make. (Chapter 1 of Makerspace Playbook clearly describes the historical and philosophical foundation of the maker movement.)

Amit shared the amazing work done by Francine Tulloch-Harvey and her crew who put on the Peel Equity Summit. He saw many of the links between the equity work that is happening in the Board and the Empowering Modern Learners vision document. Dr. Carl James put on an amazing keynote address followed by presentations by equity leaders in Peel.

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Links from the Interview with David Wiwchar

Shares for the Week

Jim shared a free, online document called the Makerspace Playbook as a very practical guide to thinking about, developing, implementing, and maintaining a school-based makerspace.

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Amit shared a great resource from Kasey Bell entitled Word Sneak Activity that is inspired by Jimmy Fallon. He talked about how the activity could be used to review terms students may need to know in a class or to introduce terms they will be learning about. It’s great for a pre-assessment or even as a Minds On or Bell-Ringer activity. Here’s an example of a great one with Jimmy Fallon and Bryan Cranston:

Episode 19 – Design Inc.


In this episode, we interview Julie Vandendool who is an ISSP Teacher at Alloa Public School. Julie shares how her role involves helping teachers design their lessons with all their learners in mind. She talks about working from a Universal Design For Learning standpoint and guiding students to make choices that help them know themselves as learners.

What’s New in the World of EML?

Jim shared a student’s project that explored how energy can be converted into different forms. Specifically, her LEGO Mindstorms robot converted electrical energy into kinetic energy. The project was exciting to her and she talked about various other interesting things she learned along the way. Also, and perhaps the most important point, is that her project was not one of 25 LEGO Mindstorms projects, each exploring energy. She chose to explore the conversion of energy in this way creating a project she was excited about. Other students followed their own passions and found their own ways to explore that was exciting to them.

Amit shared the work that he was doing with teachers and students at Whaley’s Corner Public School around a digital playground where learners got to explore Dash & Dot, Sphero, Lego WeDos, Ozobots, Osmos, Scratch Jr. and Makey Makeys. What started as a Lunch & Learn for teachers turned into a full exploration with students who were very curious about the different robots that were “crawling” around the room. He worked with the teacher librarian Kate Sharp on using the various tools with learners.


Links from the Interview with Julie Vandendool

Julie also shared these fantastic resources for educators:

Shares for the Week

Jim shared the free, online tool Desmos. His main point was that younger students, for example, in the junior level, can easily explore concepts such as y=3 or y=x and see a graphical representation on the Cartesian plane. Because Demos was designed to be interactive and easy to use, young children can play with simple or complex equations and explore mathematical ideas to see what happens. There are plenty of teaching ideas and classroom activities shared on the site to help teachers get started.

Jim shared that his first Desmos project was a circle. The project demonstrates how easy it is to add interactive coefficients in order to play with the equation’s points in real time. One of the things Jim learned from experimenting with circle function in Desmos is that as long as the powers are equal and even,  x^a + y^a = 25 where a is 2, 4, 6, … the greater the power is, more the circle turns into a square! Give it a try here.

Amit shared the work that he is doing with the GEG Ontario Team and the Ontario Learning Series that will take place on February 28th at 7:30. You can find more information about the session on the GEG Website or by checking out the details in the photo below.

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Episode 18 – A Current Affair

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In this episode we interview Judy McKeown who is currently the Department Head of English at Louise Arbour Secondary School. She shares how she is helping her students take risks in their learning and learn how to be empathetic global citizens. She talks about how she uses “Hot Topics” as a way to generate discussions and try to meet both teachers and students where they are at in their learning.

What’s New in the World of EML?

Jim is working with several teachers whose students are making projects using the BBC micro:bit project board. These are small circuit boards that include an array of LED lights, light intensity sensors, an accelerometer, two buttons, USB connector, bluetooth, and pins to connect to other components (such as speakers or motors). In one of his middle schools, a teacher had tried to used the Arduino Uno with her students but was disappointed because she found it to be more complicated than she thought and she did not have enough time to give students so that they could properly explore and create projects with it. The micro:bit proved to be a much better project board for her students. Interesting fact: In 2016, every grade 7 student in the UK was given a micro:bit free of charge for school projects.

Jim shared a description of one of the students’ first programs using the micro:bit. It plays a lullaby when the light level goes below 50:


Amit shared the work that he did with the families at James Bolton Public School recently for their Empowering Modern Parents night. Families had an opportunity to come in and learn about Google Classroom, Read & Write for Google Chrome, Screen Time Balance and Cyber Safety. It was a great way to engage these stakeholders in the work that we are doing around Empowering Modern Learners, and Amit talked about how more schools need to be doing this in order to help families understand the work that we are doing and the shifts we are trying to make in education.

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Links from the Interview with Judy McKeown

Shares for the Week

Jim recently shared a blog post on Twitter after a conversation with a teacher about the similarities between a Reggio-inspired approach in the classroom and the Empowering Modern Learners vision. Jim’s admitted that he is no expert in schools of Reggio Emilia but, from what he has read, these are some of the parallels:

  • Children are curious, competent and able to take an active role in their own learning
  • Collaboration, a learning culture of students uncovering the curriculum (instead of the teacher ‘covering’ it), inquiry and project-based learning
  • A learning culture in which every student’s voice and ideas are valued and listened to in order to meet their needs and respect their own learning process
  • The learning environment acts a ‘third teacher’ which is interwoven into learning culture. What ideas and messages does the learning environment convey to the students who are making, speaking and learning there?
  • Informative assessment focuses on documenting the learning process as it is going on, not reporting the results of the learning after time in the classroom is over
  • The hundred languages of children is an eloquent way of characterizing not only student voice but also the diversity of those voices, and that each students needs to be supported to find their own way into making connections between new information and previous learning.

The Wikipedia entry entitled Reggio Emilia approach also has good information and references.

Amit shared the amazing YouTube Channel that that Assistive Technology Resource Teachers (ATRTs) in Peel have set up for teachers and students to use. There are great videos there on using Read & Write for Google Chrome, but also on different Chrome Extensions that students and teachers can use. He also spoke about the work that he is doing with some of the ATRTs on the EquatIO pilot that is coming to some schools and talked not only about the power of that tool, but also how teachers can access it for free.

Episode 17 – The Voice


In this episode, we interview Brandon Pachan, who is currently teaching Grade 8 SciTech LASS & Primary Dance and Drama at Macville Public School. He shares the work he is doing around Inquiry both at the Intermediate and Primary level. He also shares how the rules of improv he learned about are helping him empower his learners each and every day.

What’s New in the World of EML?

Jim shared work he is doing with a new teacher-librarian at a middle school. She is in her first year of the role and trying to rethink and redesign the library space, as well as a few other adjacent spaces, to better serve students, the maker mindset, and STEAM-based activities. She is connecting with other amazing teacher-librarians around the board such as @the_mulc and @MrSchuermann. Jim suggested that this year is a learning year and a pilot year, one in which any barriers to the most efficient and collaborative use of the space are identified and eliminated for next year.

Amit shared the work he is doing at Louise Arbour Secondary School‘s English Department around using Simon Sinek‘s Start With Why to frame the work they are doing with Empowering Modern Learners. Although they are focusing in on one element right now, they understand how all of the elements are interconnected, but starting with one can sometimes make navigating the change a bit more manageable.

Links from the Interview with Brandon Pachan

Shares for the Week

Jim was very inspired by Brandon’s connection between his three rules of improv and his teacher practice. Jim did some more reading is search of more inspiration from the world of improv. He found two more ideas that resonated with him. The first is from a list by David Algar and the idea is “change, change, change” with the point being that the characters in a scene must go through a change as a result of their experiences in the scene – I think learning is no different – students change their ideas, values, understandings, concepts everyday at school as a result of their experiences there. But how can we be the most respectful to their idiosyncratic views and notions in our teaching practice? The other idea come from Fancypants by Tina Fey and Jim found a short excerpt online. Fey’s idea is that there are no mistakes, only opportunities. Any misinterpretations by others in the scene with you are not mistakes but opportunities and everyone needs to go with them, whatever they might be. The same can be said of the dynamics of a classroom of students and the teacher in the room. There is nothing more DIS-empowering than learning under a climate where mistakes are feared and taking risks are unsupported and unwelcome.

Amit shared a blog post by Katie Martin entitled “10 Characteristics of Professional Learning that Inspires Learner-Centered Innovation” where she talks about how to make professional learning more meaningful for teachers.

10 Characterisitcs

He talked also about how using a one-size-fits-all approach to professional learning is not the most authentic learning and doesn’t empower teachers. He spoke about how the Empowering Modern Learners document does not talk about teachers and students, but learners generally as we are all learners in this ever-changing world.


Episode 16 – This Is Us


In this episode, we interview Melissa Wilson who is Instructional Coordinator of Indigenous Education in Peel. Melissa shares the work she is doing with schools across the board to bring an awareness of the true history of Canada and the work she does around identity. She also encourages teachers to step outside of their comfort zones, take risks and embrace being a co-learner with their students.

What’s New in the World of EML?

Jim shared some work he has been doing in a grade 6 class. During some co-planning, we discussed the issue of genuine collaboration, and what that looks like. One of the strategies that I thought of was to view a group document on two levels: 1. the content that was created and 2. the way the document was put together over time. That is, one suggestion I had was for students to examine the way in which a document was created after it was done. Google Docs already has the ability to “see revision history” under the “File” menu item but there is also a great add-on called draftback that animates the creation of the doc over time, edit by edit.

Amit shared the work he did with teachers at Allan Drive Middle School around using Spheros as a way to Ignite the curiosity of the learners in the building and as a way to introduce Empowering Modern Learners to the community. He talked with the teachers about having a community BBQ and introducing the vision document and what it means for the learners in the building.

Links from the Interview with Melissa Wilson

Shares for the Week

Indigenous Writes

Jim shared a book recommended by Melissa called Indigenous Writes by Chelsea Vowel. For Jim, this book was, and continues to be, the source of an authentic and articulate Indigenous perspective on a wide variety of events, issues and experiences. This is in contrast to the almost exclusively Eurocentric historical and social perspective that he has heard all his life, in his education and in society. Jim also shared how he is following some indigenous voices on Twitter. One person that stands out to him is Veldon Coburn who is Anishinaabe from Pikwàkanagàna and teaches at McGill University. Jim shared that he has so much to learn and so much to unlearn.

Amit shared a film entitled “Soar” by Alyce Tzue that is a great film that can be used to make interdisciplinary connections. On the site Teaching Ideas, they go over many of the cross-curricular connections that can be used for the short film, and Amit also saw some connections to using the film as a way to discuss learners as empathetic, global citizens.

Episode 15 – Small Wonder

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In this episode, Jim interviews Jennifer Pagniello who is a grade 3 teacher at Ray Lawson Public School. She shares how she is using the guided inquiry framework as a way to help empower her students. She also talks about the changes she has made to her assessment practices with the help of her Instructional Coach Mary Neely and Peel’s Instructional Coordinator for Assessment Kristen Clarke who we interviewed in Episode 11 – The Wonder Years.

What’s New in the World of EML?

Jim shared some of the key ideas and messages from Jennifer’s interview. Specifically:

  • provocations are intentionally tied back to big ideas in the curriculum
  • Jim loved the way Jennifer worded this: “Instead of me telling them the expectations, the students are unfolding them on their own.”
  • assessing students all focusing on different questions – gathering evidence of learning COP – teacher’s role facilitating conversations – the conversations move the learning forward
  • uses Flipgrid, students can create a short video, talk about some key wonderings from the session, reflection, can serve as check-in
  • key learning environment innovation – Interactive bulletin board – provides focus, student planning, exploration + co constructed criteria – always come back to the expectations for CONTENT and SKILLS
  • Below bulletin board – interactive word wall, provocations, materials-students can grab resources

Amit shared the work that he is doing at Mount Royal Public School around making one small tweak to their assessment practices to bring them more in line with Growing Success as well as Empowering Modern Learners. He discussed how some of the teachers faced some pushback from students, but that they were all willing to co-learn in the process and not allow students to be passive recipients of learning during the process.


Links from the Interview with Jennifer Pagniello

Shares for the Week

Jim shared an excellent resource for teachers looking to explore inquiry-based learning. The book is called Dive into Inquiry by Trevor MacKenzie. In his book, he describes a scaffolded approach to student inquiry by defining several types:


Amit shared an article entitled “Students LEAD to Learn” by Jessica Slusser who discusses how The Friday Institute for Educational Innovation in the College of Education at NC State University announced last week a new program where they are trying to create opportunities for personalized learning that adapts to how students learn best. The free experience, called Students LEAD (Learn, Explore, & Advocate Differently), “guides students to explore key areas such as attention, memory, idea expression and time management” and connects to the concept of Learning to Learn as found in the 21st Century Competencies Innovative Element. 

Once the course is complete, students and teachers receive an Advocacy Plan (sample pictured below) that shows their strengths, challenges and makes recommendations to consider.

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Episode 14 – Inside Out


In this episode, we interview Rasulan “Q” Hoppie, and he shares how he is trying to weave Empowering Modern Learners inside and out of everything happening at Castlebrooke Secondary School. He shares how the teachers are empowering students through the use of Project-Based Learning, and that they have an ICT Mindset throughout the building. There are no textbooks in the schools as they are trying to encourage learners to use technology to access information. He also shares the amazing work he is doing with the We Rise Together Action Plan in the board.

What’s New in the World of EML?

Jim shared a recording of a grade 5 student sharing his thinking and his actions in the midst of coding a game using Scratch. His Pacman game was progressing very well and on the day Jim recorded him, we had some conversations exploring ideas regarding how to code the walls so that Pacman bump into them and not pass through.

The video below captures his first successful attempt to get Pacman to bounce off a wall when he runs into it. This success came at the end of many other attempts, each of which were not mistakes or errors; a growth mindset culture in the classroom is being built and sustained, one in which everything done and everything learned in the process of solving problems is new and valuable knowledge.

Amit shared the work he was doing at James Grieve Public School with Monika Jaitly‘s kindergarten class. They were working with Scratch Jr. as a new way to tell stories about what they were doing over their Holiday Break. The students were not only collaborating, but they were problem solving and communicating in a new way. It was very empowering for these students as most of them can’t write yet, but this gave them a way to tell their stories using technology.

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Links from the Interview with Q Hoppie

Shares for the Week

Jim shared a recent blog post called How to Learn? One of the main ideas of his post is the notion that highly ranked hits in Google when searching for “how to learn” result in resources that assume a transmission or delivery approach to how people learn. Jim wonders if readers will infer that that what learning is all about and not a more active, constructive process.

Amit shared a Ted Talk by Ritu Karidhal who is an Indian scientist working in the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). She was a Deputy Operations Director for India’s Mars orbiter mission, Mangalyaan. She is one of the women scientists who are now popularly known as “Rocket Women of India”. He was so impressed by her passion and hopes that it something that can be shared with students through Empowering Modern Learners.

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Amit talked about the connections to making our students become global citizens and how the talk speaks to the UN Goals for Sustainable Development #5 talks about Gender Equality