Friday, 11 July 2014

From Toning Out Lectures to Slurping Up MOOCs: My Modern Learning Journey

For the most part, I hated being a university student. I had trouble finding relevance in what I was learning, and as an English major (with a minor in Religious Studies), I found myself laden down with dense texts that I never actually absorbed or appreciated. I felt constantly overwhelmed and, if I couldn't do something perfectly, I stopped trying. (Now, however, I'm trying to let go of some of that lifelong perfectionism and live by a new motto: "Don't worry, be crappy". Basically, I'm trying not to worry about being perfect. Instead, I'm willing to put things out there and risk being "crappy". Hence, my return to blogging, which, as a reflective practice, is a work in progress!)

As an adult learner, I've approached my learning very differently. I particularly enjoy online learning and reading and watching course material at my own pace (and as many times as I want!). I have taken five online Additional Qualifications or Additional Basic Qualification courses in order to increase my status in the Ontario College of Teachers. I carefully selected courses that I thought would be relevant and interesting to me. Most of them were. I particularly enjoyed my Integrating Information Communication Technology specialist (I found the third course to be the most challenging and interesting, as many of my classmates were quite experienced and inspired me) and my Language Additional Basic Qualification.

I regularly read books that are relevant to my profession, and take part online and in-person professional development opportunities that appeal to me. Lately, I've found that I've so totally immersed myself in technology in education that I have become very comfortable with what is out there right now. I need to challenge myself to look at new things or look at things from a new perspective. However, taking time to read not-quite-education-but-still-related-to-my-teaching books (stay tuned for a Disney post, as well as posts about brains and motivation) has been the most inspiring of all. I get really excited when I learn about or make connections between different fields and ideas. I love talking, listening and reading work by passionate people who don't necessarily share my profession, but share some ideals or passions. I also love hearing about things from a totally new point of view and having my thinking challenged.

Last summer, I participated in a MOOC (massive open online course) through Stanford University (la-dee-dah!). "How to Learn Math" with Jo Boaler was great, but things got busy and I didn't devote as much time as I would have liked to completing all modules. Once my classmates had moved on, it was difficult to find the motivation to read old (sometimes abandoned) message boards and participate after the fact.

This summer, I've committed to another Stanford Online course, "International Women's Health and Human Rights"with Anne Firth Murray. It started today. I remembered that it started today at about 10 p.m. It's now 3:14 a.m. (Pi Time!) and I'm only going to head to bed because I'm playing with some kids in the morning and want to be able to give them some good energy! It's awesome so far. I'm totally "in my element" (thank you, Sir Ken) and "flowing". Time has flown and I'm so excited.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Think Tank

For the past year or so, an idea has been percolating in my mind and I've been sharing bits and pieces of it with friends as it forms in my head.

I want to start an education Think Tank here in Ottawa. There are a lot of incredible educators in the area and I never get enough time to really sit down and talk with them, share ideas and collaborate. I think that the Think Tank can solve that. Imagine, once a month (because I am hopelessly in love with alliteration, on the third Thursday of each month), passionate educators sitting down outside of an educational setting (somewhere like a restaurant) and making their own professional development by sharing about the things that are most important to them.

Since becoming connected to other educators online (through Twitter, Skype in the Classroom and blogs), I've noticed an empowering trend - educators picking their own personalized professional development. We seek out the people, thoughts and ideas that inspire us and can easily communicate with them.

Online learning has been extremely powerful for me the past five or six years, and even more so in the past two years as I have begun to connect with more amazing people. I feel way to safe behind my computer, though. I want more face to face time with people who challenge and excite me. I need more.

I have tremendously enjoyed my time at conferences and non-traditional PD (EdCamp and Playdate), but want something that is more a part of my routine throughout the year. So, when I saw my friend Amy Bowker tweeting about wanting to start Coffee Cues in Ottawa, I got excited and told her that I'd been thinking of starting something similar. Today, we had a bit of a Coffee Cue, meeting at Starbucks in Chapters, and talking for hours about what is making us excited this summer in our own PD. Coffee Cues are all about sharing successes and I want that to be a part of this, but I want to go a few giant leaps further...

I shared with her my ideas and we ironed out some plans.

Here's the plan for Think Tank: #thta

  • No one is as smart as all of us: Educators of all shape, form and role (staff in public, Catholic or private schools; consultants; university and college profs; pre-service teachers...) get together at a pre-determined location in Ottawa on the third Thursday of each month for dinner, drinks, support, inspiration and/or planning. 
  • The Best of What Is, Imagine What Could Be: We will use an Appreciative Inquiry model (more about that later!) to informally discuss the things that participants are passionate about and want to change. 
  • ECO: Evolving, Collaborative and Organic Process: Think Tank will be a really organic process, giving participants freedom to direct conversations in the way that is helpful to them, sharing and talking with other participants, connecting them to amazing ideas and people along the way.
  • Blue Sky Thinking: Ultimately and eventually, I'd love to find people who are interested in helping me follow some of my BIG blue sky dreams - which include: exploring the BEd model; applying for grants to increase technology (and tech training for teachers) in classrooms and schools; starting an experimental school within the public board; starting a tutoring centre a la 826 Valencia; rewrite curriculum documents with a focus on competencies rather than content (plus lots of emotional intelligence and responsible citizenship); lobby for system-wide change (small class sizes, elimination of standardized testing, to name a few goals!) - and have people share their own and find support for them!

Is this right for you?

  • Are you a passionate educator of some shape, form or role?
  • Do you live in the Ottawa area? Are you visiting the Ottawa area on a Think Tank Third Thursday?
  • Are you willing to use some of your personal evening time to meet with other passionate educators?
  • Do you have questions, dreams, ideas and plans you'd like to share?

Upcoming dates:
  • Thursday, September 18th, 2014 6 p.m.-whenever, 1000 Sushi Islands, 1696 Carling Ave., Ottawa
  • Thursday, October 16th, 2014 - location TBA
  • Thursday, November 20th, 2014 - location TBA

I am ridiculously excited to spend some time in the Think Tank and see where our imaginations take us.

If this sounds like it could be for you, leave a comment, tweet at me (@misspollock), email me (, tweet with the hashtag #thta, or just show up!

Sign up here for more info:

Sunday, 6 July 2014

#NBTchat in Oz

I love Twitter chats. With no school right now, I actually have time to really focus on them. For the uninitiated, there are literally dozens of chats hosted by teachers and provide you with personalized professional development each and every week. I've been looking over the list of edchats and joining ones that I think sound interesting.

Tonight, I joined #NBTchat (No Box Thinking Chat) and it was the BEST Twitter chat I've been a part of to date. Amazing creativity, enthusiastic sharing and every moment was interesting. As usual, it was hard to keep up with the stream of tweets, but I loved it so much that I popped over to Storify and made a record of my favourite tweets.

I loved that the moderator, Dr. Sharon Young approached the chat in a novel way. Each question asked the participants to relate No Box Thinking (as in, you're not only outside the box, you've gotten rid of the box entirely) to characters from The Wizard of Oz. There was a 30 minute pre-chat that teased at the theme as well.

If you don't participate in Twitter chats yet, I cannot recommend them highly enough. Find one that appeals to you and give it a go! They're the best way to build your PLN.


Instead of focusing on how I had such good intentions for my blog and haven't even come close to posting regularly, I'm just going to get started on this post and make a goal to post more often. That shouldn't be hard, as I have written exactly four posts in a year and a half.

This is what relaxation looks like! I rewatched the entire first
season of Orange is the New Black with my mother-in-law.
She loved it.
In the middle of June, Todd Nesloney (@techninjatodd), the principal of Navasota Elementary in Texas, tweeted out an invitation to join his staff in a Summer Learning Series (#summerLS). Although I am totally wiped from a crazily busy year, I thought I should give it a try. As it turns out, I'm really glad I did. It explains my return to this blog!

For those of you who don't know me in person, I am a BLOG LOVER. It started out with a little Will Arnett research project (for those of you who know me, keep the details to yourself!). After several months of blogging on my own, I realized the awesome educational potential of blogging, and blogged with my grade 7/8 classes at Fielding Drive Public in Ottawa. Access to the school's one computer lab was always an issue, but the blog work students did was incredible and in 2009, I moved four History classes totally online. You can check out my History Blog and the amazing student blogs. The year after that, I changed the name of my blog to a Digital Classroom and have integrated a class blog that I host ever since. Despite, or perhaps because of, the success of using a blog to help direct my students and celebrate our learning, I have let a personal/professional blog go by the wayside. However, I get so many wonderful resources, ideas and inspiration from blogs I read, I figure that I really need to commit to writing one.

One of the challenges from Todd was to reflect on our teaching practices. I do this all the time, in Twitter chats, with amazing friends and colleagues and, most importantly, with my students. I have very little record of my reflections and am unable to share them with others except in quick 140 character bursts! Maintaining this blog will let me do that.

I could add some profound idea about how my life is like a puzzle - fitting all the pieces together. But, instead, I'll brag - we completed this puzzle, all 1000 pieces in mostly bad lighting - even the super tricky part that is open and blank in this shot.
The past week, I was at my in-laws' cottage on Lake Champlain in upstate New York. Being in a cabin in the woods gave me a lot of quiet, reflective time. Even though I had my laptop, phone and Kindle with me, they spent a lot of time tucked away, unlike at home, where my devices and I are joined at the hip (or lap). I slept well, swam, boated, read (for fun and PD), watched 4 fireworks shows over the lake (one of which had more than 10 people firing off fireworks at the same time - awesome!), participated in only a few Twitter chats, and, with the help of my husband (Captain Handsome) and mother-in-law, completed a 1000 piece puzzle. Going out on the boat gave me reflective time, as it's too loud to have a chat and difficult to multi-task. Like when I am in the shower or the car, I had time to just think.
Not a bad place for sitting and thinking.
There are a lot of things I am doing in my classroom that I am loving. In fact, there are very few things I don't love. That's the problem I'm having. A huge topic of discussion in my life right now is Work-Life Balance and because I am passionate about my work, it's often hard to do anything else. Almost everything I see, read, do or hear gives me an idea for the classroom. A goal for next year, which is reflected in my family and friends' feedback, as well as the feedback I received from my students and their parents, is to scale back. Pick a few things and really focus on those. That will be really hard for me, especially when I hear about the incredible things that are going on in classrooms around the world. I hope that regularly reflecting here will help me. By sharing more of what I'm doing and really taking the time to explain the reasons I'm doing it, I hope that I'll slow down my thinking a little bit.

This has very little to do with this post. It's
just my favourite pic from the week at the cottage.
I am very grateful to Todd for his innovative and inclusive #summerLS and look forward to sharing more about what I learn while completing them.