Episode 25 – Divergent


In this episode, we interview Joanne Milligan who is the Department Head of Mathematics at Mississauga Secondary School. She shares how she believes that the students she sees each and every day are shaped by the ever-changing world we all live in. She talks about how she has adapted to meet the needs of these learners, and how she gives students the power to direct and be aware of their own learning.

What’s New in the World of EML

Jim shared an idea to support project-based learning activities. The status, details, goals, and so on of students’ ongoing project-based learning can change from session to sessions, day to day. One of hallmarks of PBL is regular and open sharing of ongoing work. A simple solution using Google tools is to create a Slides Doc in which all students have edit access but each student owns a slide. This slide acts as their project portal and can contain images, videos, descriptions, details, instructions, links, comments pertaining to their project. The slides are dynamic and continuously updated. This approach not only serves a project management purpose but also can be a source of assessment as learning in the form of ongoing reflection and planning.

Amit shared the work that he was doing with the teachers over at Caledon East Public School on a three part workshop on Empowering Modern Learners. He talked about how they spent the first part really diving into the document and into the Innovative Elements, and how the teachers wanted to focus in on one Element in particular: Access to Technology. These discussions led them to conversations about docAppender as a tool to use, and Amit mentioned how sometimes these tools can be used as the spark that “Ignites” the passions of learners.

Links from the Interview with Joanne Milligan:

In her interview, Joanne mentioned:

Shares for the Week

Jim shared research into computational thinking from Harvard. The research helps educators think straight about computational thinking in three domains: defining, assessing and supporting. Jim also shared ideas from the Creative Computing Curriculum Guide.


Amit shared a new podcast that he is listening to by Jen Giffen and Kim Pollishuke who are two Digital Learning Resource Teachers in the York District School Board. Their podcast, called the Shukes and Giff Podcast, is a weekly show that shares some really cool EdTech “treasures” they have found and where they talk about how they use them in their work with teachers. They share some of their “Ahas” and encourage teachers to “give it a go”. They are using the Anchor App to record their podcasts, and having a lot of fun sharing their ideas.

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Episode 24 – The NeverEnding Story


In this episode, we interview Jael Richardson who is the author of The Stone Thrower: A Daughter’s Lesson, A Father’s Life which is a novel about her father Chuck Ealey. Jael is not only a former Peel student, but she is a celebrated writer who was a Toronto District School Board Writer-In-Residence in 2013 and 2016. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Guelph, and she lives in Brampton, Ontario where she founded and continues to serve as the Artistic Director for the Festival of Literary Diversity.

What’s New in the World of EML

Jim shared some of the work he is doing with a team of teachers from Turner Fenton who are passionate about changing and improving how they are assessing students. One of the key themes that came of out the work was that one of the most productive and useful conversations between staff was to share how teachers in different departments and courses are finding, recording and organizing the different kinds of evidence of learning from students in their context. Triangulation methods are not identical between different classes and subjects.

Amit shared the work that he was doing with some English teachers over at Humberview Secondary School around assessment. He mentioned that they started their work around looking at docAppender as a tool to collect evidence of student learning, and that brought them to a point where they started having conversations about why they are doing some of the assessments they currently have. He encouraged teachers to continue to take a step back and examine the why when it comes to any assessments to ensure that the assessments themselves are empowering for students and that they offer them a chance to build on skills.

Links from the Interview with Jael Richardson

Jael shared:

Shares for the Week

Jim shared an Edutopia article entitled Finding Students’ Hidden Strengths and Passions written by Maurice J. Elias. One way we can ensure that students feel empowered is to foster learning that grows from each child’s interests and passions. But, sometimes, that information is not clear to the child or to the the child’s teacher. The article includes some simple advice to help teachers take action in order to find out:

  1. have all your students tell you about their hobbies or other things they really like to do or are very good at
  2. ask students to talk about times when they found out something surprising and good about someone else
  3. have students talk to their parents or guardians about “hidden talents” (you may want to use this exact term)

…action must be taken to find what is hidden. Let’s be sure we are taking those actions so that our students do not lose some of their most deeply treasured possessions: their strengths and passions. —Maurice J. Elias

Amit shared his visit to the Google Offices in Kitchener that the GEG Ontario Group hosted as a kick off to the EdTech Team‘s Ontario Summit this past weekend. Here are some of the images he captured on his tour:

Episode 23 – Dream Weaver

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In this episode, we interview Kathryn Lagerquist who is a STEAM teacher at Brisdale Public School. She shares how she connects the 21st Century Competencies found in Empowering Modern Learners to the work she is doing with her learners. She talks a lot about using creativity and tapping into the imagination and dreams of her students. In her interview she also shares how she believes that critical thinking should be the cornerstone of education.

What’s New in the World of EML

Jim shared some work he recently did with the English teachers at Turner Fenton SS. We spent some time exploring the opportunities afforded by using green screens and digital storytelling and video production. The app we looked at was Green Screen by Doink. There are many learning opportunities afforded in each of the three phases of production: pre-production, production and post-production. Another exciting thing we talked about, and actually did on the day, was the experience of discovery with the technology for students: what can this technology do to help tell a story? What’s the potential and how does it work. That can inform new ideas and provide a structure for design and innovation, much like the creative learning spiral:


Amit shared the work he was doing with new teachers through the NTIP Program specifically around the work that is being done in secondary schools around Final evaluations and assessment. He talked about how sometimes new teachers feel like they need permission do try innovative things in their practice, and how the Empowering Modern Learners vision document gives teachers permission to not have to teach how they were taught.

Links from the Interview with Kathryn Lagerquist

In the interview Kathryn shared:

Shares for the Week

Jim shared book called Invent to Learn by By Sylvia Libow Martinez and Gary Stager. The book is an outstanding resource for teachers and parents and includes comprehensive and detail information about how students can make and learn through good projects that align with their passions. Here are some of the topics addressed in the book:

  • Maker movement
  • Constructionism
  • Design thinking, invention and innovation
  • Project based learning
  • How does it look in the classroom
  • Examples of activities
  • Shaping the learning environment
  • Chapter 14 includes quite a large list of linked resources

Amit shared a video entitled “What Dark Skinned People Will Never Tell You

He mentioned why it’s important to use texts and content that is culturally responsive so that our learners can not only see themselves in their learning, but that they see that they too are beautiful and we do not limit them to one concept of beauty. He mentioned that if we truly want our students to be empathetic, global citizens, we need to show them more than just a Euro-centric view of the world. He talked about the connections between this Belief Statement and equity:

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Episode 22 – The Director’s Cut


In this episode, we interview Peter Joshua who is the Director of Education in the Peel District School Board. Peter shares his passion for teaching and learning in a new age, and offers encouragement for teachers who are trying to empower their modern learners in their classes each and every day. He talks about how classrooms are constantly changing, and shares how he has been inspired by the work being done in Peel by our teachers, students, administrators, superintendents and trustees.

What’s New in the World of EML?

Jim shared an a-ha moment he had recently where he thought this is it – this is what empowered students do. Working with another teacher in a grade 5 class, Jim noticed and took note of, the quality of the interactions between the students and their teacher. In every case, when students approached the teacher, they did not have questions about what to do, how to do it, what should they be doing next, or saying that they were done.

Instead, the questions students were asking demonstrated they were driving their learning and their actions. Questions were more about asking to leave the room to go get a resource, or if they could borrow her phone for an experiment, or if they could bounce some ideas off her to receive some input, or ask when some supplies would be delivered because it was part of the project they were working on. Interactions that were initiated by her were open-ended, asking questions such as: How’s it going so far? What’s coming up? How did you solve that issue you had yesterday?

Jim’s reflection was that paying close attention to the kinds of questions and the quality of interactions between students, and between students and teachers, reveals crucial information about the level of empowerment of students. 

Further reading: Empowering Students to Find Their Own Way

Amit shared the work that he was doing with the “Modern Family” Department at Mayfield Secondary School. He talked about how a conversation about Empowering Modern Learners led to conversations about assessment and then revamping major components of the course itself. He advocated for teachers to be given this time to be released together as there was so much they were able to accomplish in one day as they were offsite and together.

Links from the Interview with Peter Joshua

If we teach

Shares for the Week

Jim shared an excellent video created by Education Alberta. It was created to serve as a brief but informative introduction to Universal Design for Learning principles. Jim also discusses UDL’s application to teaching practice and how the Empowering Modern Learners vision aligns with UDL principles.

Amit shared a video from the World Economic Forum about the innovative ways that India is working toward reusing plastics to make roads. He talked about how important it is for teachers to provide opportunities for their learners to be creative and innovative in their learning to prepare them to be creative, innovative thinkers when they leave school.

He also talked about the Call for Facilitators for Peel’s first Digital Toolbox Summit. Digital Toolbox Summit Image (1) (1)

The Summit is just for educators in the Peel District School Board, so if you are looking to facilitate a workshop for the day, you can find the information here and/or you can apply here. You can email Amit at amit.mehrotra@peelsb.com if you have any questions.

Episode 21: Tomorrowland


In this episode we interview Susan Adamthwaite who is the Student Success Coordinator 7-12 in Peel. She shares how part of her jobs is to help expand the Learning Environment to include experiences outside of the classroom walls for students. She hopes to create authentic opportunities for students that challenge them and allow them to become global citizens. She shares how she views Empowering Modern Learners as a blueprint to becoming a life-long learner.

What’s New in the World of EML

Jim shared a discussion he had with a teacher about apps and the SAMR model. She had printed out a chart off a website that seemed to show which apps are to be used within certain tiers of the SAMR model:


The problem with charts like this one (and there are many others online), as well intentioned as they are, is that educators who view them often infer that, for example, if they use Explain Everything (which is classified as a ‘redefinition app’ in this chart) then they will be integrating technology at the Redefinition level. However, the SAMR model was not designed to classify technology. It was created by Ruben Puentedura as a reflection tool for individual teachers to use as they improve their teaching practice by integrated technology to make learning more powerful for students. In fact, any of the apps listed in the chart above could be used at any of the SAMR levels depending on how they are being used in relation to the original task. A few years ago, Jim assembled a few ideas/examples of how the SAMR model could be used to bring some structure our reflections about how the use of different technologies might make a learning task more powerful.

Amit shared he has been doing with the Business teachers at Castlebrooke Secondary School who are hoping to move toward a Feedback Based Assessment Model in September. Their principal, Q Hoppie, was featured in Episode 14: Inside Out, where he shared the school’s vision around Project Based Learning, and it connects to the work that is also being done at Mayfield Secondary School and the information that Jim Kardash shared in Episode 4: Rogue One. He talked about the work they are doing around Informative Assessment and how being a co-learner is such a rewarding process.

Links from the Interview with Susan Adamthwaite

Susan shared a couple of books:

You can reach Susan on Twitter or on email at susan.adamthwaite@peelsb.com.

Shares for the Week

Jim shared an inspiring TEDx talk called Five Principles of Extraordinary Math Teaching by Dan Finkel. We promise that it will be 15 minutes of your time well used:

Here are the 5 principles he outlines in the video:

  1. Start from questions
  2. Students need time to struggle
  3. You are not the answer key
  4. Say yes to your students’ ideas
  5. Play!

The ideas are exciting, inspiring, and completely align with PDSB’s EngageMath initiative and the Empowering Modern Learners vision. What Jim loves most about the principles is that the core of all the principles is thinking. The goal of mathematics education is not rote training to solve problems; the goal is to engender and encourage students to become very adept at mathematical thinking.  As Dan says in the video, if they are just  memorizing the steps of how to solve a math problem, there is no real thinking going on.

Amit shared a clip from the Jimmy Fallon Show where he and Chadwick Boseman listen to people who share how they have been inspired by The Black Panther movie.

Amit talked about how if we are trying to create empathetic, global citizens, that we need to expose our learners to more than just a Euro-Centric view of the world. He mentioned that learners can only feel truly empowered when they see themselves in their learning, and when they see that they too can be heroes. Part of empowering students means helping them see that ALL of our students have a place in this world.

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.