A teacher used the internet with his students. What happened next will leave you speachless.

Actually, there will be nothing amazing here, and I am 100% certain that you will retain your ability to speak if you choose to finish reading this.

I have always liked the analogy that the internet is like a big city . In cities and the internet, there are places to shop, places play,  and there places for entertainment. They both have spots where you definitely wouldn’t take your children, and ones where that are just right for the whole family. There are many people in both a city and the internet, some of them can be trusted, some of them you can’t. If someone is telling you they have a great deal for you on high end electronics in the back of their van, the alarm bells should be going off in your head. When a website shares a link to 25 “never before seen pictures”, the same bells should be ringing. The point is we have choices to make. There are as many distractions on the internet as there are in the real world, and it is up to each user to manage that.

The following is how I have the Internet gets broken down in my world.

Twitter, for me, used to be a relatively quiet place. When I followed less than 150 people or so, my twitter feed was pretty tame and easy to keep track of. Now that I follow close to 1000 people, its like the classroom where nobody raises their hand and everybody has something to say. Twitter can be chaotic at times…but it certainly isn’t boring.

Reddit, is my quiet zone. I can pick and choose what I want to concentrate on. Whether its music on vinyl,  whisky, or hockey, I know I can spend time exploring the topic. (There is even a Reddit for edtech). Reddit is a form of organized chaos.

Facebook is for family and friends. Enough said…

Google is serious business. Its where I go for work, or school, or for directions! (Google is also helpful for fantasy football, but I digress) Google Plus has some very nice, quiet, communities. I can see myself spending more time there once I have finished my masters degree.

YouTube is for learning skills. I can’t even begin to list the things I learned by watching YouTube videos. I think building a cigarbox guitar was the most fun, and reading the diagnostic codes on an old Jeep was the most practical.

So, is it fair to ask if the Internet is a productivity tool or merely an endless series of distractions? The answer to that is up to each individual because where you go and what you do when you get there is up to you.

Learning for the Next 100 years


Michael Fullen writes in his book Coherence (2016) that technology and digital devices in the classroom can be used to accelerate learning in order to get really deep into the content. Fullen argues, though, in order to achieve this depth of knowledge, new pedagogies are required. In other words using edtech to support outdated teaching practices does not improve student learning. John Hattie might agree as Hattie’s Table of Effect Size shows that computer aided instruction and instructional media have a below average effect on improving student learning.  Fullen  suggests that the structure of teaching  needs to change so that the use of technology in classrooms can act as a conduit to deep learning and greater understanding by students. I think this is a key point that can’t be understated. The old way is for students to become masters of the content, and good teachers are able to convey the content using various direct teaching methods to help students with the mastery. The new way is for students to master the process of learning.

I wonder how bored students get when they are tasked with making yet another Powerpoint or Word document in order to regurgitate some information found using Google about a topic. When this is as deep as we go with the use of technology, we are not even scratching the surface of what our students need. In a world with disappearing borders and global issues that will affect everyone living on earth, our students are going to be faced with future problems we can’t even begin to imagine. Our students will be at a disadvantage unless they learn using methods that are appropriate for 21st Century learners. piaget

My feeling is that it doesn’t much matter which specific technology you choose to use with your students, what matters is how the technologies are used with students. Fullen identifies 6 skills that students need for the future;  Collaboration, Creativity, Critical Thinking, Citizenship, Character, and Communication. If the technology we use in schools can address these 6 skills, our students will be further ahead and will be better prepared for whatever the future throws at them.




A post from deep left field….

I just finished watching a documentary on Netflix called 20 Feet from Stardom. If you are not familiar, the movie is about the life of several background singers and the impact they have made on popular music. I had no idea who Darlene Love  or Merry Clayton were prior to watching, but I recognized their voices. It’s a remarkable film that I highly recommend because of the great story it tells.  There is also an important lesson to be learned about different perspective. Everyone knows that Sting is a superstar, but he says it’s Lisa Fischer who is the star. I guess its all matter of perspective, and perspective is a key part of learning. Let me explain.

It has been said that history is the story of the conquerer. We rarely hear the stories from the side that has been defeated.
Case in point #1: I grew up and went to school in the 1970’s and 80’s which means I had classmates who were part of the 60’s scoop, and during a time that Residential schools were still operating in the Province. I had no idea at the time as these issues were certainly never written about in the local newspaper, nor talked about at the kitchen table. I don’t even know if the adults in my life were even aware of the these issues at the time.  I had no idea until well into my adult life.
Case in point #2: Has anyone ever wondered why so many people from Scotland emigrated to Canada in the 1800’s? Anyone? Have you heard about the Highland Clearances? I hadn’t until a couple of years ago when I had a chance to visit with Ewan McIntosh (no relation).  He told me about how the ruling classes (the British) decided to drive thousands upon thousands of Scots off their farming properties, sometimes following vicious battles, into small fishing towns on the coast or completely out of the country . The British felt the land was more profitable for sheep farming than it was for a collection of small mixed farms. Is it a coincidence that at the same time the British had colonies in Canada and Australia that needed to be populated with experienced farmers and other labour? I think not. It’s a perspective doesn’t jive with the official one that says they came to Canada on a promise of cheap land and a bright future in a new world. The word is that my ancestors fought like hell to NOT have to leave their home.
Case in point #3: Textbooks are reflective of the dominant culture. In the State of Texas, textbooks are reviewed and approved by a committee of interested individuals appointed by politicians. So, when recent text books referred to African Slaves as ‘workers’ and that Moses was an important influence on the Founding Fathers of the United states, we know that there is a bias in the content.  We think that nothing like that would ever happen here, but I recently saw an Economics 101 textbook for sale that was subtitled  A Customized Publication for Saskatchewan Polytechnic. I wonder who customized it and if there was any bias in the publication?

I had never before considered the perspective of the background singers and I learned a lot by listening to their stories. I didn’t know about the clearances until my conversation with Ewan and I was able to put one and one together about emmigration to Canada. I didn’t think about bias in teaching resources until I read a post on Reddit about the Texas textbook controversy. In each case, I needed multiple perspectives to make the picture a little bit clearer.

The questions I pose are; do we give our students opportunities to see multiple perspectives on topics and how is that achieved? Are we giving students real opportunities to create their own knowledge and opinions based on facts,  knowledge, and experiences or are we perpetuating the old ones because “that’s the way we think it or should be” or because “that is what is in the resource”? How important are critical thinking skills in this?

As always, I would appreciate your perspective on this! Let me know what you think.

That one time I hate technology…

It started at a meeting of school division in school administrators when my laptop needed to do an update. Everything was fine until the computer completed the restart, and then absolutely everything was gone from my computer. When I say everything, I mean everything. Unfortunately, I am not that diligent at backing up my computer, but fortunately the IT department was able to recover just south of 90% of the files. They put 754 word files, pdf’s, spreadsheets, and pictures all in one file folder.   I got interested in this computer stuff because it was supposed to make my life easier, and for the most part it has. Just not this week…

Getting Lost with a GPS

I just got home from a family wedding in Calgary, a city that I am vaguely familiar with when driving.  I can usually find the airport and downtown with ease, and my wife knows how to get to a couple of shopping areas. But for this event, we needed to find locations buried in residential areas and in sections of the city I didn’t know existed. In short, we relied on GPS to get to where we needed to be.

Flash-back to 2004. GPS systems were mainly a military application and not widely available to the general population. That summer my wife and I loaded the mini-van with 3 kids, a bunch of luggage, and a small pile of maps for a 17 day road trip to Disneyland and southern California. We only got lost once. With the exception of that short period of time of aimless driving in San Diego, I always felt like I knew where I was, and where I was going because I had studied maps every night, paid attention to landmarks as I drove, and worked as a team with my wife as found our way around. We always had a plan on how to get where we were going, and it was (almost) always successful.  We learned how to get around in unfamiliar territory!

Flash-forward to my weekend in Calgary, and the travel plan was simply to punch in addresses into the Navigation system and then do as I was told by the voice commands. I always got to the exact spot I needed to, but I never felt like I knew where I was. In fact I often felt lost as a certain amount of context was missing. If you ask, I can’t tell you how I got from the hotel to the Bride’s house to deliver the flowers. I can’t tell you how I got to the ceremony or to where the reception was held. If something had gone awry with the GPS system, I would have been screwed because I wasn’t prepared beyond relying on the Navigation System.

So here is the tradeoff; Right now, I give myself a 70% chance that I can drive to Disneyland from here without a GPS.  I give myself a 10% chance I can get back to my nephews house in Calgary without one.

It makes me wonder if bringing new technologies and digital devices into the classroom is being done for solid pedagogical purposes.  Is the use of technology with students really advancing learning, or are students just able to find information and other “stuff” quicker and easier like my ability to find a location in Calgary without much thinking?  I believe the key to good learning is in making sure our student are thinking about the context of their learning, and in knowing how the tools being used are meant to help them. As I write this, it seems like a pretty basic idea, but I am not sure it always happens…


Teaching on a Hutterite Colony F.A.Q

I get a lot of funny looks and comments when people find out I am the Teacher / Principal at a Hutterite Colony School, and I get a lot of questions. To save you the time, I have assembled all the most popular questions (and comments) here, with my response to each.

  1. How big is the school? This year there are 18 students in the school – kindergarten (5), grade one (4), grade two (2) grade three (2) grade four (2) grade six (1), grade seven (1), grade 9 (1). The school building is brand new – we moved in last March –  and there are two large classrooms, plus washrooms, a staffroom, a teacher work room, and an office. 
  2. No grade 10 – 12? Not at my colony. Formal education for Hutterite children ends at the age of 15 at which point they enter one year of vocational training for their future life on the Colony. (some colony schools DO go to grade 12)
  3. Do you follow the same curriculum? Yes and no. The Hutterite Bretheren Church has an agreement with the Ministry of Education that exempts Hutterite Children from participating in any type of sex education, and in discussions surrounding the theory of evolution. Other than that….
  4. Are you the only teacher? No. I have a part time teacher who works at the school 30% of the time (3 mornings per week). The rest of the time it is just me.
  5. How do you teach all those grades at the same time? I’m not really sure…
  6. Are you part of the regular school system? Yes. The Prairie South School Division has four Hutterite Schools. According to the Saskatchewan Hutterian Education Association, there are 70 Hutterite Colony Schools in the Province.
  7. How did you end up teaching there? Two years ago I applied for some Vice-Principal positions that were open in Moose Jaw.  The HR department pitched the idea of me applying for the Principalship at the Colony school instead. The rest is history
  8. Do you like it? Yes.
  9. I bet the kids are well behaved: Kids are kids. A little mischief every now and then makes the day interesting! 
  10. So, what about the technology and the internet? The agreement with the ministry clearly states that Hutterite children are not to be exposed to technology in the school as it may present a future challenge to their “status quo” within society. In other words, they like the way things were. My colony strictly adheres to this policy, as there isn’t even an overhead projector in the school. (not all colonies are as strict…) 
  11. What are the challenges? There are many things within the Hutterian culture that I don’t understand, but it seems to work for them. They expect school to be a very strict, traditional, experience for the students (not my style). When I first arrived, the student desks were literally bolted to the floor in straight rows, boys on one side or the room and girls on the other. The lack of technology has forced me to think differently – no more “hey let’s watch a cool youtube video about the topic”, or “why don’t you just google it?” statements.  I bought a brand new set of Encyclopedia’s for the class last year, but the Colony Elders censor out the parts that go against their beliefs – so stuff like that is like taking a hard stab to the neck with a dull fork. Also, the students really  have a long day, so I have to take that into consideration when students are struggling to stay focused. (Students start each day with German School that runs from 7:30 – 8:30 each morning, and then again from 3:30 – 5:00 every afternoon. Basically, German School consists of learning Bible verses by writing, reciting and memorizing them.) Another challenge is that they are all E.A.L students as German is the language of the colony. They don’t speak English until they start kindergarten. I don’t speak any german…
  12. What are the good parts? They treat me like gold.  I can’t say enough good things about the overall character of the people and the generosity displayed by the Hutterites I have come to know.  Another great thing is that due to the children’s limited experience with the “english world”, they are extremely curious about everything!  Another great thing is the way they sing. They don’t have musical instruments other than their voice, and they sing all the time, boys and girls, men and women, old and young. It is a very pure sound. (example of an adult Hutterite Choir ) Also, because I am “an outsider”  they prefer it if I am not at school  much before 8:30 in the morning and be gone by 3:30 or so. 
  13. Do they feed you?  I get a lot of food from the colony. Monday is fresh bread. Wednesday I get pie, Friday is fresh buns.  I get fresh eggs for $1.00 per dozen (usually huge double-yoke eggs) and I also get fresh cream, chickens the size of small turkeys, and vegetables at various times of the year. It’s a pretty good deal!

So, there it is. If you have any more questions feel free to leave me a comment!

Girls watching the construction of the new school building (2015)
Girls watching the construction of the new school building (2015)