Monday, 5 December 2016

Breaking Ice and Facing the Tough Stuff: Day 1 of Big Ideas Fest 2016

Challenged by my friend, Chris Stengel, I will be sharing my learning at Big Ideas Fest 2016 everyday on my (woefully neglected) blog. Chris has remarkably been blogging EVERY SINGLE DAY for 2522 days in a row. I think I can handle four days in a row.

Lesson 1.1: Do work you love. Create a safe space. Build a community for yourself and others.

One of my favourite phrases of all time is, "Be the person you needed when you were younger." Today, I met some remarkable people living that mantra.

I ate brunch in a Yelp-recommended restaurant, The Red Door. Reviews said that it was not only an incredible gustatory experience, but a unique atmosphere as well. I was worried that eating alone might make me uncomfortable. I was totally wrong. When I arrived, the owner, chef and server, Ahmed welcomed me to an empty restaurant. I was surprised. The reviews described it as incredibly busy, often with a long wait.

Soon, I learned Ahmed's philosophy. The restaurant is HIS place. He expresses himself through the space, the food and his service. It feels like a wonderfully quirky home. Because he sees his customers as guests in his home, he has rules. He told me he had turned everyone else away that morning, but had a good feeling about me. This may seem like a strange business model, but he's run a successful restaurant for seven years with this philosophy. While I enjoyed his incredible, playful food, he welcomed other guests and it was not quite a dinner party, not quite a meal at a restaurant. It was a totally unique experience, where we all quickly felt like longtime friends.

Ahmed has created a remarkable little world that I was thrilled to enter for a long, leisurely Sunday brunch, all alone in an unfamiliar city.

I also met one of the featured speakers for Big Ideas Fest, Lavender Courage, a Twitch streamer. She shares her passions for video games and crafters with her "Courage Warriors" in 25 hours of live streaming on Twitch every week. Like Ahmed, she has created a safe space for herself and a community has formed around her. Also like Ahmed, she has clearly stated rules to welcome people into her "home."

 Tomorrow, she'll be sharing more of her story with Big Ideas Fest on a panel sponsored by Hack Harassment and talk about inclusion and identity in her online work.

Lesson 1.2: Education conferences are SO MUCH BETTER with youth participating

I couldn't believe it last year when I attended a huge education conference as a writer that I was told that students were "not welcome" to attend.

Last month, at the last minute, I brought an 11-year old former student as co-presenter to an education conference. She was the only student I saw as a participant. There were some groups who came to entertain the adult participants.

From minute one of Big Ideas Fest, the many youth in attendance have participated side-by-side with the less youthful participants.

Why do we gather to talk about youth without them present? If we are really "doing everything for the kids," how come we don't create professional development that includes them?

I have had some great conversations already with high school students at Big Ideas Fest. One of the opening activities was led by young men in the Ever Forward Club.

In the evenings, there is a Youth Zone, a cozy room set up with snacks, for youth participants (of all ages, we've been promised).

Lesson 1.3: An icebreaker does not have to be all fun

The opening session for Big Ideas Fest had all of the participants standing and sitting around the perimeter of what I think is a small ballroom (or a hallway leading to a ballroom, I'm still not quite sure). Led by Ashanti Branch and his Ever Forward Club members, we experienced a remarkably emotional process exploring the masks we live in.

Somehow, within the first hour of locking eyes on a room full of strangers, people were authentically sharing their vulnerabilities and empathizing with one another. A sense of community like this takes months to build up in a classroom (as my former students will remember from our "Crying Circles"), and Ashanti has created a set of exercises that fast forwards this.

We experienced, with rawness, that everyone is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Just by looking at someone and the "mask" they project to the world, you miss that is really going on.

I felt extremely grateful for the gift in my hand. Someone's mask and the truths hidden behind it.
We drew, wrote, had a "snowball fight," listened and shared, "You can't tell by looking at me, but..." The ice was shattered. There was laughter and movement, but the incredibly purposeful directions and thoughtful exercises were infinitely more powerful than any opening session or ice breaker I've ever participated in.

Ashanti has led more than 8000 people through this exercise. When he asked us at the beginning to understand that what we started with wouldn't make sense right away, but to trust that it would come together in the end, we did. He told us to trust that he wanted the best results. He got them.

Lesson 1.4: Students need our love.

"If you care more about the subject you are teaching than the subjects you are teaching, you are going to have a disconnect." - Ashanti Branch

"Students need to guide their own learning and be adored by adults." - Bill Ayers

Ashanti started teaching and watched smart kids fail. It is through creating a safe atmosphere and by being a teacher who loves them that he reaches them. He contradicted the conventional advice to teachers where we are told to leave our own problems, emotions, worries and anxieties in the glove box of our cars before entering school. Our students appreciate seeing that we are human and, in fact, it creates a safe space for them to be human, too.

Bill Ayers, education theorist, activist and author, spoke to us about how to move forward and how to help us move our students forward. He said that, "Education is about sorting people into winners and losers. None of you went into teaching thinking, 'I'm gonna sort those little bastards.'" Helping students become the people they never knew they could be is exponentially more important than judging them.

Just a lovely human man, that Bill Ayers.

Lesson 1.5: Don't shy away from the tough stuff.

I'm pleasantly surprised and relieved that people, participants and presenters alike, are not avoiding acknowledging what a dumpster fire 2016 has been. Instead of whining, they are identifying that there is a hard road ahead (read: Trump and his baskets), but that, particularly as educators, we are needed more than ever.

Bill encouraged us to, "Make it [our] business to talk to people [we] don't agree with." "Listen with the possibility of being changed. Speak with the possibility of being heard."

Monday, 9 May 2016

Enroll at EPSOT Today - Ally Positions Available

I recieved this delightful email tonight and got permission to share it with you. The author is Magno (or Camden) a Superhero Learner in the Passionate Learner Experiment and sent his Ally request is a far more elegant and entertaining way than I did!

May 08, 2016

Dear Ally or Acquaintance,

My name is Camden, though many around here call me Magno, and my purpose is to support others. I do it for the feeling of society and personality, as well as the joy of making someone else happy. Whether that support is helping them with work, or taking care of something while they're busy, it creates a pocket of time for those people to feel collected, and successfully accomplish the task at hand. Enough about me, at this point in time I plan on making this note sound as “Cheesy Organization Campaign Flyer” as possible.

I am honored to select you as a candidate for an “Ally” position in the currently Beta-staged EPSOT Program. EPSOT is the Experimental Prototype School Of Tomorrow, a small group of learning activists, hoping to change the world in 24 hours.

I have chosen you because I believe you are a good fit into our group. As an Ally, you can choose to contribute your own updates into the roster, or simply support our current members. Support does not involve money, and never will, though you can donate to our PayPal if you feel so inclined. (Just kidding) Support only means that you provide encouragement, easily by comment on our blogs, or constructive criticism to build our progress in learning.

I hope for you to share your ideas and support as the group and I do, and enjoy your time with us.


Member of EPSOT
Base64: aHR0cDovL3BuZ2ltZy5jb20vdXBsb2FkL21hbmdvX1BORzkxNjgucG5n

Sunday, 8 May 2016

We Need YOU to Be Our Ally!

I am working with a group of eleven 10-32 year old Superhero Learners to discover how we can change the world in 24 hours.
They are doing amazing things and I want to share with you what they're up to. Right now, they've been exploring their learning styles, strengths, areas of needs and interest. They are discovering their passions and will be designing Passion Projects soon.
I am distributing Missions and Quest to the Superhero Learners and check in on them regularly as their Q (Quartermaster). They have great allies on their side. Their parents and friends are supporting them. We can always use more people looking in on us and cheering us on. 
If you can spare a few minutes and visit one of (or a few of) these blogs and leave comments, please please please do so.
All of us are better when we work together. Your ideas, comments, questions and input will help elevate our learning.
Feel free to share these links far and wide!
Check out the Superhero Learner's Digital HQs (also linked on the right-hand side of this blog):
Abby a.k.a. Positive Pinky
Camden a.k.a. Magno
Edan a.k.a. Outrider
Gabby a.k.a. Justice
Gracie a.k.a. Triple M Master
Hari a.k.a. Brainy Bovine
Hudson a.k.a.Wolf
Hunter a.k.a. The Amazing Meme Man
Jen a.k.a. JemBot

Monday, 25 April 2016

If It Weren't For You

If It Weren't For You

If it weren't for you
I wouldn't have had a poster of Justin Bieber up in my classroom for a whole year
I wouldn't have spilled butter chicken all over the floor at CHEO
I wouldn't have been celebrated with flowers

If it weren't for you
Matt and Jeff wouldn't have had crowns to wear at a concert
I wouldn't have had a fight with a doctor the first time I met your parents
I wouldn't have understood unicorns

If it weren't for you
I wouldn't have gotten to be a Fairy Godmother

If it weren't for you
I wouldn't have known how proud someone could be to weigh more than 10 lbs at birth
Our conversation about "Kick a Ginger Day" wouldn't have been so meaningful
I wouldn't have been able to describe the smell and taste of the softest, ashiest cheese

If it weren't for you
Matt would have had to eat grown up food, instead of chicken fingers
We would have all shaved our heads

If it weren't for you
I wouldn't have made two of my most incredible friends in your parents
I wouldn't have known the kindness of strangers who made a beautiful dream come true
I would have felt guilty about how many Golden Palace egg rolls I can eat in one sitting

There are things that you think
And there are things that you know
If it weren't for you
I wouldn't have known that the worst thing about cancer was not scoring guys
I wouldn't have known how much strength could be in one person
I wouldn't have known the compassion that can be shown by children to their friend
I wouldn't have known the healing power of a horse

You used the word "irony" as liberally as Alanis Morisette
Loved Hallowe'en as much as I do
Refused any extra attention
And put a sign on your door that said
"If you can't treat me like Molly,
Go away."

The people you really let in got to see so many sides
Your complex, multilayered personality
Wickedly funny
Brilliantly smart
Always surprising
A twinkle in your eye
The knowing look
That spoke of wisdom well beyond your years

If it weren't for you
I wouldn't have laughed till I cried and
Cried till I laughed

If it weren't for you
I wouldn't have the mask that was hand-painted
With a unicorn 
And a neon rainbow
That took a private taxi ride
From an artist's house
To the hospital
Where it kept your head in place

If it weren't for you
I wouldn't have understood that bravery means
Saying "no" incredibly forcefully 
To the people who love you
In their misguided attempts to support you

If it weren't for you
I wouldn't have known that courage
Is when you look out for others
Even when you're hurting

It it weren't for you
I wouldn't have seen an incredible side of my baby brother
And my husband
Or known that I could say thank you
And good-bye

If it weren't for you
More kids would be sick


In Molly's lifetime and memory, more than $150 000 has been raised to support the life-enhancing and life-saving treatments offered at CHEO. 

Please donate to Team Molly


I have learned a lot of lessons from a lot of kids. I suspect that some of them may even read this. Lest they think that I don't have similar stories about them I want to remind them that once you're mine you're always one of mine.

The time is right for me to share some of my cherished memories of Molly.

Thursday, 21 April 2016

Life 101 with Prince

This post has jumped the queue because of the sad news of Prince's death today. 

Life 101 is a series of blog posts in which I document what I have learned from some of my favourite teachers, most of whom I have never met. Using their own words, I reflect on the lessons I learned from them about life. 

Welcome to Life 101 with our guest teacher, Prince.
"The Little Prince" by Sean Miller

1. Don't talk down to your audience (your students)

"When you don't talk down to your audience, then they can grow with you. I give them a lot of credit to be able to hang with me this long, because I've gone through a lot of changes, but they've allowed me to grow, and thus we can tackle some serious subjects and just try to be better human beings, all of us." - Prince

Prince looked at his entertainment in a way that beautifully parallels the way great teachers look at teaching.

Don't talk down to your students, believe that they'll grow and change along with you. Don't shy away from tough or serious subjects. Challenge your students, and you will all become better people. 

2. Don't be afraid to change if it's what works for you.

"I don't really care so much what people say about me, because it usually is a reflection of who they are. For example, if people wish I would sound like I used to sound, then it says more about them than it does me." - Prince

Know yourself. Know what you believe in. Live it. Don't worry what doubters or detractors have to say. If you're living and working how you want to, others' complaints won't matter to you.

Don't let yourself be defined by how others perceive you.

3. People are people are people. Be confident in your own skin.

"Cool means being able to hang with yourself. All you have to ask yourself is, 'Is there anybody I am afraid of? Is there anybody who, if I walked into a room and saw, I'd get nervous.' If not, then you're cool."

(Author's note: I will never EVER be "cool," in Prince's definition. I am WAY too excited to meet way too many people.) 

4. Invest in the future.

"Sometimes it takes years for a person to become an overnight success." - Prince

Successful people put in work. A lot of work. A lot of work that no one else sees. If you look at someone else's success and it seems instant, it's probably not. They probably worked their tail off to get there. 

Realize that if you want to be successful in your chosen endeavours, you will have to do a lot of work. Often behind the scenes. Work that may never be seen or understood by anyone else. 

Just because it is the product that is celebrated, don't let yourself forget about the importance of the process. Value the work that you do working towards making your dreams come true. Other people will appear and celebrate you once you've "gotten there," but you need to remember that it takes a lot of blood, sweat and tears to make great things happen.

5. Declare your own identity with pride.

Names and titles are incredibly powerful things. 

If you're lucky enough to have parents who are prescient and name you, at birth, "Prince Rogers Nelson," go ahead and drop the middle and surname and call yourself "Prince". Declare who you are, loudly and proudly.

If your name, your title or your position isn't working for you anymore, change it. Create a symbol that represents you. Combine aspects of your identity in it. 

If the binary of male and female doesn't work for you, reject it.

Why not ask your students to create a symbol that represents their identity? Call the project, "The Students Formerly Known As" and create a bulletin board to honour Prince's memory.

6. Empower youth.

"Ownership, that's what you give your kids. That's your legacy." - Prince

Teachers invest in the future by investing their time and energy in kids. We are so lucky to have the opportunity to have a remarkable legacy. Empower children to be the people they never knew they could be. That is the greatest gift we can give them.

7. Mentors and guides make us believe in ourselves, even through tough times.

"There's something about having people around you giving you support that is - it's motivating, and once I got that support from people, I believed I could do anything." - Prince

As a teacher, you can be the person who believes in students, even before they believe in themselves. Guide and mentor them. 

Appreciate and thank your mentors and supporters. Reflect on who you can turn to, not only to share the good stuff, but who you can come to with doubts, problems and tears. Reach out to them during a calm time and tell them how much it's meant to you.

Be the person you needed when you were younger. Offer up your support, expertise, and a listening ear to new teachers. Instead of paying back what you were provided, pay it forward. Formally and informally support and mentor students and professionals.

From Wikipedia
8. Get in your own groove, your zone, your flow.

"You can always tell when the groove is working or not." - Prince

Do things that you love greatly with great passion. Give yourself the space and time to get into a flow. When you are doing or making something that works, you can feel so connected and engaged that you completely lose track of time.

When you are in the groove in the classroom, you can tell. Real-world connections come easily, students are sharing their ideas, the "A-ha" moments are coming fast and furious. If you have a few of those days a year, you are a lucky teacher. 

If you lose your groove, you can get it back. (see this post)

9. Make your own rules based on what you believe in.

"A strong spirit transcends rules." - Prince

If the status quo doesn't work for you, challenge it. If you know yourself and you know what is best for you and your students, you can push the boundaries. You need to push the boundaries. Change is not made when everyone does the same thing the same way.

From the Montreal Gazette
10. Customize your performance (or your teaching) to your users. 

"Every audience is different." - Prince

Acknowledge that no matter how great your ideas or plans are, your users are the most important part of any performance, including those in the classroom. Every audience is different. Every class is different. Like Prince, be responsive to that. Give your students what they need. If you can't figure it out on your own, ask them!

From The Muppets
11. Demonstrate empathy.

"As human beings, we suffer from an innate tendency to jump to conclusions; to judge people too quickly and to pronounce them failures or heroes without due consideration." - Prince

Don't just put *yourself* in someone else's shoes. True empathy occurs when you can take yourself out of the equation all together and listen to someone else without judgement. Listen empty to hear what they're really sharing. 

A wonderful gift to give to anyone is an ready ear, an open heart and validation. Don't always jump to conclusions or offer solutions. 

Each of us can be a hero or a failure, depending on who is naming us. Don't reduce any person to one simple word. Understand that we are all complicated, multilayered human onions and value the diversity that exists within each and every one of us.

12. Let go of grudges.

"I ain't mad at anybody. I don't have any enemies." - Prince

In the Passionate Learner Experiment, my Superhero Learners have declared their Signature Strengths and Kryptonite. My Kryptonite (one of my weaker areas I am trying to fight off) is forgiveness. I hold onto grudges like they are indoor cats trying to escape from an open door. Prince could have called many people enemies, but let go of bad feelings. 2/2 Prince and Buddha's agree: holding onto grudges does nothing good.

13. Be passionate. Share your gifts. Have fun while doing it.

"As long as I do not take myself too seriously, I should not be too badly off." - Prince

Play. Laugh. Imagine. Dream. Build. Laugh at yourself. Repeat.

14. It costs you nothing to be kind to others. The impact you can make is limitless.

"Compassion is an action word with no boundaries." - Prince

Compassion is not just an noun. It's not a thing that lives on its own. Compassion can be a verb. It can be something that we do every day. You don't know what impact a kind word, a smile, a thoughtful question and a bit of attention can make. Don't limit the amount of compassion you show. 

15. Create safe and supportive places for children. 

"No child is bad from the beginning, they just imitate their atmosphere." - Prince

Create an atmosphere that brings out the good in everyone.

16. Believe in innovation and reinvention. Live it.

"I try not to repeat myself. It's the hardest thing in the world to do -- there are only so many notes one human being can master." - Prince

If a lesson works, that's great. If you can iterate on it and make it better, that's greater. Don't be a "one-note" musician, "one-trick" pony, or "one-idea" teacher. Challenge yourself. When you've achieved your goals, set new ones. 

17. Hold on to your inner child

"I'm still very much a kid inside myself." - Prince

Three year olds have it right. They are filled with questions, laughter, quick tears that let out the sad, fearlessness, wonder and endless curiosity. 

Keep your inner three year old well-nourished and do the same for your students, whatever their age. Give them space and permission to play, laugh, cry, explore, build, take risks and fail.

18. Make a thing. Then make another. Then keep going.

"Do you know how many hits I have? I can go on all night!" - Prince (at one of my all-time favourite live shows in Ottawa)

Put many things out into the world. Leave a mark.

2007 Superbowl Halftime Show (Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images)
19. Anticipate the good, even while you're in the bad.

"There's always a rainbow at the end of every rain." - Prince
("Can you make it rain harder?" - Prince. You MUST watch this video!)

While this is not factually true, it's awesome. Rainbows are basically the best thing ever. They're nature reminding us of beauty and magic and hope.

20. Enjoy the time you have.

"But life is just a party, and parties weren't meant to last." - Prince

Goodnight sweet Prince, thanks for letting us in on your party.

What lessons did you learn from Prince's life? 

Is there someone else you would like to read about in a Life 101 post?

Disclaimer: I totally and thoroughly acknowledge that any quote can be taken out of context and interpreted in any number of ways. Above is a list of my own interpretations of messages from the guest teacher in this Life 101 lesson.

Monday, 28 March 2016

The Passionate Learner Experiment Begins!

My Microschool's inaugural course, "The Passionate Learner Project" is underway.  Tn incredible Superhero Learners (who are currently in grades 4-12) and their Parent Allies have taken a risk with me, as we experiment with a new way of learning!
Superhero Learners are using digital literacy skills to answer the question: how might we change the world in one day? They will complete 24 hours of work in the next 10 weeks. Together, we are creating a game that will guide their highly personalized and passion-based learning.

They are working their way through the several quests in Mission 1: You Are a Superhero. They are exploring what kind of teacher they need and what kind of learner they are.

Learners work their way through the Mission Dossiers I send to them at their own pace, in their own way.
In the coming days, each learner will launch a Digital HQ where they will document their learning. I hope you'll follow along and add to the conversation! We need allies to cheer on the learners, challenge their thinking and add their influence. We are so happy to welcome Lisa Paterson as a Yoga coach to the Superheroes in Mission 2. If you want to be a part of The Passionate Learner Experiment as an ally, let me know!
To whet your appetite, I have to share one learner's approach to Quest 1.1  
We have space for a couple more learners to come on board if you know anyone who would like to play and learn with us!

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

40 Ways to Teach About Global Education and Empower Globally Competent Youth

In our increasingly connected world and global economy, it is more important than ever to equip and empower youth with the skills and knowledge to be globally competent. They need to be taught how to learn about, communicate with and take part in their local, national and global communities.

Successful high school graduates should be able to demonstrate excellent communication skills, empathy, critical media literacy, cultural sensitivity and collaboration. They should have an understanding of the history of their own cultures and the world. They should know how to effectively use maps, charts and graphs to learn information about geography. They should be eager to share their stories and learn the stories of others, with open hearts and minds.

How can you empower youth with global competencies?

Share Enlightening, Inspiring Content

Connect Your Class With Other Classes
  • One of the most powerful ways for kids to learn is from other kids. If you can, connect your students with students from around the world.
  • Skype in the Classroom helps you connect with other classes, experts and virtual field trips. If you haven't tried a Mystery Skype yet, you have to sign up!
  • The Global Read Aloud, run by my incredible friend, Pernille, unites classrooms around the world, as they read the same book (there are choices based on student age) every fall. 
  • Connect with Pen Pals. Start with reading the book Same Same But Different and brainstorm ways you and your students can find Pen Pals (Snail Mail or digital)

Participate in Global Initiatives
  • In October, Stand Up for Girls. Learn about why so many girls around the world are not given an opportunity to have an education, and demonstrate your support for them by literally standing up for girls.

Learn About the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child
  • Share and post the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, in child friendly language, in your classroom. 
  • Illustrate and write about what each of the rights mean to you and your students. Years ago, I did a project where I collected drawings depicting the rights here in Canada and then had students in Lesotho, Africa, draw their representations as well. 
  • If You Could Wear My Sneakers - funny poems based on the articles in the UN Convention
  • For Every Child - beautifully illustrated depictions of the Rights
  • I Have the Right to Be a Child - simple, colourful book exploring all childrens' rights. 

Learn About Micro Loans
  • Read the book One Hen: How One Small Loan Made a Big Difference
  • Fundraise $25 (or $50 or $100...) and, as a class, invest in a real person. Visit and start a lending profile. You will be able to relend your loan over and over and over! My students and I have put under $175 into our account and that has allowed us to lend over $1000! 

Read Amazing Stories in Picture Books 
There are many incredible picture books that help tell the story of children around the world. Here are just a few that I love:
  • Iqbal and Malala - The stories of an Indian boy and a Pakistani girl who demanded education and faced incredible violence from adults as a response. These stories open a students' eyes to how differently education is valued around the world.
  • It's Back to School We Go: First Day Stories
  • Malala Yousafzai: Warrior with Words - by now, you surely know about Malala, the youngest every recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. This book is, "a testament to the power of education to change the world for boys and girls everywhere."
  • Nasreen's Secret School 
    • "Young Nasreen has not spoken a word to anyone since her parents disappeared. In despair, her grandmother risks everyone to enroll Nasreen in a secret school for girls. Will a devoted teacher, a new friend and the worlds she discovers in books be enough to draw Nasreen out of her shell of sadness?"
    • There is a video of this book being read available on Youtube
  • Rain School - I was introduced to this story by one of my Bachelor of Education students who created a whole day plan based on this beautiful book. (Video here)
    • "It's the first day of school in Chad, Africa. Children are filling the road. 'Will they give us a notebook?' Thomas asks. 'Will they give us a pencil? Will I learn to read?' But when he and the other children arrive at the schoolyard, they find no classroom, no desks. Just a teacher. 'We will build our school,' she says. 'This is our first lesson.'"
  • Waiting for the Biblioburro
    • "Ana loves stories. She often makes them up to help her little brother fall asleep. But in her small village, there are only a few books and she has read them all. One morning, Ana wakes up to the clip-clop of hooves, and there before her, is the most wonderful sight; a travelling library resting on the backs of two burros (donkeys) - all the books a little girl could dream of, with enough stories to encourage her to create one of her own."

Learn About the Lives of Children Around the World Through Gorgeous Photographye
Again, this is by no means an exhaustive list. Here are just a few that I love:

Share Your Stories
  • On your class blog, share what a day in life of your students looks like - use pictures, videos and/or writing.
  • Share your learning, projects and adventures on a class Twitter account.
  • Make videos and have a class Youtube channel to tell your learning stories.
  • Respond to people's comments, visit their projects and learn together.

Show Your Students That They Can Make an Impact
From Amy Poehler's Smart Girls
  • Share stories of kids changing the world (including this list from 2012 and these projects by awesome young humans) 
  • Fill some free time in the classroom by practicing your vocabulary or times tables (or a number of other topics) and, for every correct answer, the World Food Program gets rice to give to people in need. Play FreeRice!
  • Set up a class account on We Give Books. For every book your your students read online (extra awesomeness for reading with younger or older Reading Buddies!), Penguin donates books to children who need them!
  • Ask your students what problems they want to solve and be a Collaborative Curator to support them. Curate great information and collaborate with them to make a plan!

How do you empower your students and help them become globally competent? Share your ideas below!

This post was inspired by this tweet:
Thanks for spurring me into action, Sylvia! 

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Dear Grade 4-12 Student, How Can You Change the World in One Day?

Dear Grade 4-12 student,

 Do you want a chance to be a part of a brand new learning experiment and be a model of how we can disrupt and design education in a way that REALLY works for learners?

 You can be one of the first students at the Experimental Prototype School of Tomorrow (EPSOT) starting on March 22nd, 2016. There are four spaces left in the first cohort!

 In 24 hours of online work, you will explore the question, “As a digitally literate person, what can I make in one day?” You will pick your own path to explore this question and can do the 24 hours of work at any rate you choose.

 Your teacher, Shauna Pollock, will be your guide and collaborative curator, working alongside you to learn and practice new skills, discover new tools and apply your learning to a self-selected project. Your classmates in this first cohort will be on parallel learning journeys of their own and you will learn how to collaborate and communicate with them online.

 This is a chance to hack your learning and help shape what education can look like in 2016. We will use digital literacy skills to help you uncover and explore your passion. You will be empowered to pursue a self-selected project and share it with a real audience.

 Are you ready to take your learning to the next level? Email Shauna Pollock at for more information on how to become part of “The Passionate Learner Experiment.”


Monday, 14 March 2016

Want to Join The Passionate Learner Experiment?

Developing Digital Literacy to Make an Impact
Where do ideas come from? Reading. Writing. Thinking. Those moments when I am not multitasking and have to focus on showering or driving. Conversations with amazing people. A need that has to be filled. Watching TV. Sometimes the ideas all merge and meld together and a truly beautiful one emerges.

For the past several months, I have gotten to live in a world of my ideas more than ever before and it has been incredible. I have spent many hours alone, moulding my ideas, memories and stories into my book. I have gotten to talk to fascinating people who are following their dreams, innovating and making the world a better place. My ideas have gotten bigger and better through conversations with them.

I have started a business that is dedicated to making learning experiences more magical. I empower learners to understand themselves, make discoveries and solve problems. I have been working with teachers, business owners, entrepreneurs and innovative thinkers. The group I love the most and miss the most is students.

I have a dream to open a grade 4-12 physical school that takes everything I’ve learned through research and experience and apply it, creating a whole new educational model - a prototype that others can learn from and follow.

For a long time, I’ve been saying that’s my “Ten Year Plan” to open a school. Suddenly, I wondered, “Why wait?” Nothing happens overnight, but the first iteration of an Experimental Prototype School of Tomorrow (EPSOT) is formed in my mind and in files all over my computer. Why not bring it to life with a small group of motivated learners who can experiment with me?

The First Iteration of EPSOT - The Passionate Learner Experiment

This is where you come in. My latest idea of how to make EPSOT come true right now might be my greatest one. This is an invitation for you and your child to join me on an exciting journey. On March 22nd, 2016 the families of the inaugural EPSOT class will meet and kick off a blended learning course answering the question: “As a digitally literate person, what can you make in one day?”

Over the next several weeks, students in the course will choose their own learning adventures and be expected to spend twenty-four hours working on their projects.

I will guide them through this experience, collaborating with them, curating information and learning with them through online media (such as email, Google Drive, Google Hangouts, Twitter, individual blogs, texting and/or phone calls). We will also have at least one virtual visit as a group to check up on progress and one in person event in Ottawa, Canada to celebrate and share our learning.

What I am offering is an individualized online learning experience for your child (grade 6-12) where they learn about Digital Literacy. They will learn important lessons through online learning modules that will require them to spend a total of twenty-four hours online, working independently (reading, watching videos, writing), responding to others’ work, collaborating (live and asynchronously) and sharing their discoveries. They will use their newly acquired knowledge of Digital Literacy to complete a self-selected Passion Project answering a guiding question that they will self-select.

This course will be highly dynamic and collaborative. I will create a framework for it and, together, the participating students and I will shape it to fit their needs and interests.

My hope is that this experiment will teach us all a lot. I hope that we will find that we can effectively use online tools to learn more than we’d ever imagined. I plan to use our discoveries and deliver this program to many more learners.

I need for you, as a parent or guardian, to be willing to jump into this experiment with me and support your child's learning. I need the learners’ commitment to participate in fun, interactive learning modules.

The course will be highly responsive to students' needs and can be completed at their own pace and will be shaped by their own ideas. They will explore and make discoveries about Digital Literacy. They will apply that to their self-selected project and create digital content to demonstrate their learning.

This course starts on March 22nd, 2016. If you know of a learner who would be perfect for this Passionate Learner Experiment, there are a few spaces in the inaugural cohort that are still available (as of March 15th, 2016).

You can contact me via this blog or email at to get more information (including cost) and an online registration package.

Sunday, 13 March 2016

The Emotional Rollercoaster of Following Your Dreams

This post originally appeared on the MapleSyrupEdu blog

I used to really, really love roller coasters. I was one of those kids and teens who would hop off of a ride, only to run back into line, ready to ride it again. Some of my happiest days were those at theme parks, when the crowd was so small that the line was non-existent and I could twirl my finger around in a little circle to the ride operator, and they would send me through the coaster again.

In LA last fall, I rode a Universal Studios roller coaster four times in a row, just like this. I can’t believe I used to be able to ride all day. It took me hours to lose the dizziness I gained in four minutes of joy.

The last year of my life has been a real-life roller coaster, of the emotional variety. It’s been a roller coaster in the best possible way. It’s the emotional roller coaster of following my dreams.

You’re going to join me on a walkthrough of my ride, and the emotional ups and downs I’ve experienced. This is possible with the power of imagination, which I’m going to ask you to use for the next few minutes.

My ride started much like many roller coasters do. I had to slowly, laboriously walk up to the top, then trust the ride vehicle to take me safely up and down hills and through spirals and loop-de-loops. For twenty-two years, I walked towards the line-up for this rollercoaster. Along the way, I passed through schools and relationships. Then, I got in line for the ride. The line took me ten years. In those ten years, I passed through more schools, more relationships and got to bring hundreds of students with me on the journey up those stairs. I found a steady job, bought a house, got married, could explain my job in one word: “teacher” and felt pretty comfy.

Then I got to the front of the line. A few things happened to change my momentum completely. I got a book deal and my husband got a new job. The book deal took hold of the operating controls of the rollercoaster and sped up all my dreams. Captain Handsome’s new job was in a new city. I took a 100% pay cut and undexpectedly, found myself in the seat of a ride vehicle without a seatbelt. The ride I thought I knew was history. Getting to the front of the line, I realized the ride I’d planned to take many years down the road was now was the one I was about to embark on, but at a much faster speed and without the security measures I’d expected. I’d always wanted to write a book. I like new challenges and new adventures. I was ready to see where this ride took me.

My husband had already started his ride and, taking a deep breath, I followed.

The ride has taken me ten months so far. The first drop was stomach churning and heart wrenching. I had to leave my amazing grade ¾ students, The Gladiator Snails, two months before the school year ended.

Several months of the ride were incredibly boring to anyone watching from the ground, expecting screams of terror or joy. My rollercoaster was quiet, passing through coffee shops, libraries and cafes. I rode, laptop burning a hole in my lap, fingers flying over the keyboard as I poured my heart into 115 000 words of my first book. Days, weeks and months on the coaster were quiet.

There were bumps and turns as deadlines loomed, editors gave feedback and my Alpha and Beta reader teams dissected my words. Despite what looked so dull from the outside, my screams came. Some of them were silent. Some were witnessed by my most trusted friends and family. I screamed with frustration. I screamed with self doubt. I screamed with relief.

Some days, the coaster brought me high into the sky. I’d always wanted to share my stories and ideas, and my students’ stories and ideas with a larger audience. Getting to write a book allowed me to do that. Those days, all I could see what the big, blue sky.

My roller coaster has taken several long, low dips. I have had my breath literally taken away with really bad viruses that slowed down the speed of the ride and dragged me very low.

Some days, my stomach was in my throat, as I freefell. I questioned everything I did and everything I thought and everything I wrote.

Some days I dreaded having to face my computer and my thoughts. Some days I just wanted to get off the ride.

Some days, the tracks were heading upwards, yet I felt like I was being pulled downwards. I got mad at myself for not being grateful for the ride I was lucky enough to be on.

For months, my ride was intensely private, almost as if the tracks of my rollercoaster took me through dark, lonely buildings. I felt quiet and invisible. Sometimes I forgot the world. Sometimes, it felt like the world forgot me.

Then, the coaster would surprise me and I’d flip over, seeing the world in a new way. I realized that the coaster tracks were ones I’d built over the years and that, even though it felt unsafe and scary at times, that there were things guiding me on a strong path. I realized that the highest parts of my track were supported by people who love me and believe in me. I could see my former students and their families holding up the track. My husband was there to push my ride vehicle back up the tracks when it dipped and slowed. He could even lift it back onto the tracks when one wheel, or all of them, came off. My family and friends were there to build new supports as unexpected turns appeared. There were people there to believe in me, even when I didn’t believe in myself.

Suddenly, the roller coaster stopped. My manuscript was finished, but not yet a book. The writing process was over. I had time to steer the rollercoaster in a new direction. I reconnected with people and with the world. I got outside more. I went on a trip. I worked to build other people’s rollercoasters and cheer them on as they rode.

A few days before I expected it to, the rollercoaster abruptly started again. My book was released. People who I hadn’t heard from in years started to stand alongside the rollercoaster tracks and cheer me on.

After the months of a quiet, solitary routine, I was riding through a bright, noisy world. It was the scariest part of the ride. People could see me now. They could even see into my head and heart through the words in my book. My track was being built faster than I could comprehend and I couldn’t come to terms with the new ride fast enough. I felt like I was watching someone else on the ride.

Trusted family and friends stepped in and slowed down the ride. They hopped into the ride vehicle next to me and rode with me. Through their eyes, I began to see more clearly where I had come from and what I had accomplished. They pointed out incredible directions that my ride could take next. I started to feel some of the pride they felt for me for myself. I began to breathe more easily.

I was launched into the sky when I got the first photos of people reading my book. People shared what they were learning from my words. My students were excited to see themselves in the pages. Suddenly, I couldn’t describe my job in one word anymore. Now, I was an educator (out of the classroom) and an author.

The book finished, I was no longer actively authoring and I was happy to stick my hands in the air and be taken on a ride, celebrating what I had accomplished. Even though I was feeling more relaxed, there was no end to the ride in sight.

I had to start building a new track. I had to steer my rollercoaster to somewhere new. The first, defined ride of writing a book had finished, but my journey had not. Once again, I found myself facing a huge drop into the unknown.

Even though the first part of the ride had its ups and downs, I feel so grateful to have had the chance to get on. I feel so lucky that I got to the front of the line. I feel brave for having taken the risk of getting on a new ride.

Right now, I’ve taken the fast-track once again. My ten-year goal of opening a school feels to far away. I don’t want to stay on the same ride for ten whole years. Instead, I’ve skipped over the track I thought I’d ride and am creating a new one. Looking past the dip to the track of my new ride, I can only see a fuzzy picture of it. I know that there are lots of dips and bumps, spins and flips. I like the future I see ahead.

My job, once again, has become harder to describe. I’m becoming an alphabetical list of roles. I am now an author, a blue sky thinker, a consultant, a designer and an educator.

After a deep breath, the coaster starts again and I fly past the huge dip, stomach threatening to come out my mouth. Right now, I am riding directly up, looking into a big blue sky, seeing dreams begin to materialize in the clouds above me. I don’t know what will come next, but I can’t wait to see.