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 13 – Born to Run


In this episode, we interview Luke Mahoney who is currently the principal at Brian W. Fleming Public School. Luke shares how he is supporting the learners in his building to run with their ideas through being a lead learner and creating innovative Learning Environments. He also talks about the value he places on providing equitable Access to Technology and what that means for learners to be empowered.

What’s New in the World of EML?

Jim visited a school learning environment designed by Kris Schuermann, a teacher librarian he has worked with in the past. He had a chance recently to see some of the exciting and empowering things going on at his current school, Aylesbury Public School. Jim also chatted with a few Grade 5 students about a six-week project they and their classmates were a part of in fall. It involved designing, building and coding LEGO Mindstorms robots to complete a specific task involving sensing and movement related to geometric shapes. 

One student spoke about collaboration, another about patience and perseverance, and the third spoke about how their projects were related to wide variety of traditional curriculum subjects. It was clear that the students understood the interdisciplinary nature of project-based learning. Please listen to the podcast to hear the girls themselves explaining their ideas and experiences. 

Amit shared the work he was doing with the Secondary Assessment Leadership Team (SALT) around Final Evaluations. He mentioned that teachers are creating sample final evaluations and reflecting on the process. The final evaluations are being made in line with both Growing Success and the AssessPeel Guide on Final Evaluations.

Links from the Interview with Luke Mahoney

Shares for the Week

Jim highlighted a useful resource created by Kris Schuermann, the teacher librarian at Aylesbury PS. The link connects to a Google Site where Kris includes photos and descriptions of his “Maker Education” Library space.

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He also explains the inquiry model he uses with students and describes each of the “maker stations” and what they contain. Other sections of his makerspace are mentioned that reveal more of the philosophy of his space, a philosophy which highly aligned with the EML vision. His space and approach is compelling example of the ideas in the EML vision being realized and put in practice. Mr. Schuermann on Twitter: @MrSchuermann

Jim also shared some of the ideas captured in this graphic by George Couros (original source):


Amit shared an article entitled The Greatest Challenge Facing School Leaders in a Digital World by Scott McLeod that talks about the challenges faced by school leaders when thinking about integrating technology. He mentioned moving along in the SAMR Model so that technology is not just being used as a substitution for learning, but that it is redefining what is possible. He also talked about Simon Sinek’s Start With Why and his Golden Circle that he uses in his book. 

Golden Circle

He finished off by talking a bit about the book Drive by Daniel Pink which mentions the idea of people needing autonomy, mastery & purpose in order to find passions and have something that drives them in their work.

Episode 10 – Short Circuit

IMG_0766 2

In this episode, we interview Adam Hughes, who is the Chief Information Officer for the Peel District School Board. He shares how the work being done in Learning Technology Support Services (LTSS) connects to Empowering Modern Learners. He also shares the new vision LTSS has established and the journey they took to get there.

What’s New in the World of EML?

learnersJim shared his strong first impressions of a Thanh Trieu’s Grade 5 class at Cherrytree PS this year. Students were excited, engaged and empowered in their inquiries and project work going on. It is clear from the first moments one enters the class that this is what it looks like when a strong belief about learners being competent, capable and able to take an active role in their own learning is being realized.

Amit shared the work that Sapna Khosa, who was a guest back in Episode 5: Family Ties, did after attending a coding workshop. She modelled being a lead learner with her students by learning about how to code one evening, and diving right into the learning the following day. This is a great way to promote a positive Learning Culture in the school as teachers learn along with their students.

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Links from the Interview with Adam Hughes

Adam shared the new vision for LTSS:

At LTSS, our vision is to collaborate as strategic partners to deliver innovative, reliable, and adaptable solutions that will enable all learners to reach higher levels of success through equitable access to technology. To achieve our vision, we will:

  • Be strategic partners to better serve the needs of all learners, including our students, staff, parents, and our community.
  • Provide adaptable and robust technology solutions that manage cost and risk while promoting creativity and innovation for all learners.  
  • Deliver operational excellence with modern, reliable, and responsive services to drive efficiencies.

Adam also shared the journey that LTSS has been on to get to this point. He talked about a quotation from Michael Fullan.

Shares for the Week

Jim discussed a new curation and sharing tool he and some teachers & students are exploring at makershare.com. Jim recently set up his portfolio page there. The site provides the means by which users can create a maker profile and then add projects to their profile’s portfolio. This aligns with many established practices of using portfolios as a major component of creative learning approaches (e.g., creative learning spiral, 4Ps, design-thinking) in the classroom. (Scratch also uses the project page portfolio approach.) Jim has promised to revisit this resources in a later podcast to comment on its effectiveness when using with students. If you try this with your students, be sure to first obtain parent permission if students are younger than 13 and please share thoughts on how well it works for sharing and curating project-based learning activities.

Amit shared an episode from Chris Nesi‘s House of EdTech Podcast that goes over a number of different apps that can help empower students.

Amit also shared a video that was produced by The Communications and Community Relations department at the Peel District School Board in conjunction with Peel’s Director of Education Peter Joshua who did a Jimmy Fallon inspired video entitled “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas”.

There was also a share to the bloopers that came out of the video as well as a mention that there will be a section on our website to highlight our own bloopers (watch for a link here over the winter break to listen to our outtakes).

Episode 7 – Home Improvement


In this episode, we interview Erica Armstrong, who is currently an Assistive Technology Resource Teacher in Peel District School Board. She shares how she made improvements in her classroom to promote a positive Learning Environment for her students, and how by creating a safe space, students were more inclined to take risks.

What’s New in the World of EML?

Jim shared the work he is doing with a teacher who is striving to make improvements to her learning environment, and he made mention of the Ministry of Ontario Monograph on the The Third Teacher.

Amit shared the work the Humberview Secondary School students are doing to create their own Podcast entitled “The Howl” and played a clip from the introduction of the show. Students are highlighting the amazing things happening at the school by interviewing teachers and students.

Amit also shared the work he was doing with the Castlebrooke Secondary School History teachers on Learning Maps. He mentioned a Google Sheet that has Learning Maps that people have created and are sharing, and talked about how creating Learning Maps can be a long process, but it helps to make improvements to student learning and empowers them by allowing them to be part of their Informative Assessment.

Links from the Interview with Erica Armstrong

Shares for the Week

Jim shared a recent post he made in his blog called 5 ways to turn the hour of code into the year of learning. In his post, he recommends five ideas that might help extend the initial experience student have with the Hour of Code:

  1. Learn to code by starting your own coding project
  2. Think of coding as a literacy
  3. Plan a design-thinking, project-based learning activity
  4. Use programmable robots or controller boards
  5. Offer challenges but maintain student voice & choice

In #5, he shared a Scratch studio that contains (currently) 28 mathland challenges many of which connect directly to the Ontario Curriculum:

mathland chall

Amit shared the idea of putting together a Google Doodle as a challenge entering into the Hour of Code that is approaching. This is something that is connected to Google’s CS First Program. You can watch the video that explains the challenge and then follow along in Amit’s screencast below.

Amit also mentioned the upcoming Peel STEAM Conference that will take place on April 19th, 2018 at John Fraser Secondary School. If you are interested in applying you can click here.




Episode 6 – La La Land

LauraIn this episode, we chat with Laura Smiley who is currently the acting Department Head for Moderns for FSL and ESL at John Fraser Secondary. Laura shares what she’s doing with her students in FSL and how it connects to Empowering Modern Learners. She shares that since she has made changes to her practice, her students sometimes get so immersed in their learning, they don’t want to leave at the end of class. Laura believes that as educators, it is our duty to prepare students to become members of a global, diverse and rapidly changing society, going beyond the classroom and transferring learned skills and knowledge. In this way, students continually learn and work to develop their place and role as active and responsible citizens.

In the introduction, Jim mentioned the idea of “Flow” by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and you can watch this video to learn more about it:

What’s New in the World of EML?

Amit shared the work he is doing with a teacher and students at Mayfield Secondary School around podcasting. Their teacher is asking students to explore podcasting as a means to express their ideas about the texts they’re reading, and she wanted to use a new medium.

Jim shared the work he is doing with the teacher librarian, along with other teachers and students, at Arnott Charlton PS. A school club has been established called the “Design Clubhouse” in which about 60 students meet to work on long-term design projects in the makerspace and LLC space at the school. We are learning about what students are interested in designing and what connections could be made to the curriculum if brought into the classroom.

Links from the Interview with Laura Smiley

Shares for the Week

Jim shared points from a conversation he had last week with a small group around the idea of engagement:

It reminded him of the above graphic, created by @plugusin, which draws a distinction between engagement, which is more about strategies to get students interested and excited about what we what them to learn, and empowerment, which is more about supporting students to learn by following their interests and passions. I think both are often on the table but they are both on a continuum of student agency:Screen Shot 2017-11-13 at 2.02.33 PM

Image by John Spencer

Amit shared an article from Mindshift entitled Developing Students’ Ability to Give and Take Effective Feedback by Katrina Schwartz where she outlines a method of using Edward de Bono‘s strategy called the “Six Thinking Hats” to help students provide and receive feedback in class. He outlined what the various hats look like as well as what ground rules were set down for these students. The video below shows a sample that was shared in the article.

Episode 5 – Family Ties

SupnaIn this episode Amit interviews Sapna Khosa who is a Grade 6 teacher at James Grieve Public School who shares how she is creating a positive Learning Culture and Learning Environment with her students and how when students feel like they’re part of a family in their class, the learning opportunities are endless.

What’s New in the World of EML?

Amit shared his experience with the staff and students at Larkspur Public School and the work they did to promote 21st Century Competencies and Models of Learning by using a Breakout EDU kit. The students were very excited about the experience as the video below show.

Breakout EDU at Larkspur


Jim recounted a recent conversation with a grade one teacher who, just last week, was beginning to see significant improvements in self-regulation among her students after two months of focus on the development of empathy, kindness and self-regulation. Jim shared a few examples of how she works with students to carefully listen and to help them (teach and model) to work through conflicts when they arise. Students witness and experience repeated positive and constructive social interactions that, over time, build feelings of safety, caring and kindness. In turn, these become a normal part of the culture of the class. She cites Stuart Shanker’s book Calm, Alert and Learning as an excellent resource.

Links from the Interview with Sapna Khosa 

Shares for the Week

Jim shared a recent article from the Toronto Star which describes a survey that showed how almost half of Ontario youth miss school because of anxiety. Mental illness and mental health are important issues that need to be continually addressed and considered.

Links to Peel Board’s Bullying Prevention Resources:

Amit shared an article about How Project-Based Learning Unleashes Students’ Creativity by Pamela Brennan and Brandi Zivilik that talks about moving outside of the four walls of the learning environment to involve the community in project-based learning. It’s a great way to promote collaboration, creativity and help our students “as a community of learners”. 

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Episode 2 – Meet the Parents


In this episode we interview Keri Ewart who has just started as a Modern Learning Resource Teacher, so we ask her about her experiences in the classroom and how she empowered her modern learners.

What’s New in the World of EML?

  • Amit shared his story of Dylan Cockell who is starting a podcast up at Humberview Secondary School
  • Jim shared stories of success from teachers using SeeSaw to help connect with parents as well as Google Forms to help with their informative assessment

Links from the Interview with Keri Ewart

  • Empower by A.J. Juliani and John Spencer
  • Contact Keri: keri.ewart@peelsb.com or on Twitter

Shares for the Week 

  • Amit shared this PSA that was created by Burger King to bring attention to standing up to bullying:

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“Whether the grade is good or bad, you’re taking the student away from focusing on intrinsic interest and tying their experience to grades,” Immordino-Yang explained. Under such circumstances, genuine interest in learning for its own sake wilts. “Grades can be an impetus to work, and can be really satisfying,” she said. “But when emotions about the grade swamp students’ emotions about a subject, that’s a problem.”

Once considered obstacles to thinking, emotions are now understood to be interdependent with various cognitive processes. A better way to think about emotion’s centrality to learning, Immordino-Yang writes in Emotions, Learning, and the Brain, is this: “We only think about things we care about.” When kids care mainly about grades, they’re devoting more mental resources to the assessment than to the actual subject matter.

Starr Sackstein is also interviewed:

“Grades have the ability to make kids feel stupid or smart, and that’s a huge power,” [Sackstein] said. Teachers are human, she added, and will respond emotionally and sometimes arbitrarily to different kids and various types of work. When students define themselves positively or negatively by those judgments, they cede control over their well-being to someone — a teacher — who may not understand them.