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 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 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 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 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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