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 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 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 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

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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.