Edublogs Awards Nominations

It has only been the last few weeks that I have begun to feel as though I am a card-carrying member of the (edu)blogging community. For whatever time I had ceded while I studied French and creative writing, running track in the Deep South and moonlighting as an amateur rock critic, I have since made up in these first few years of teaching, and feel at the center of something larger than myself in the democratization of information. Nothing more than an experiment initially – unsure if I would want to create such a public forum for my daily musings and classroom experiments – this blog has provided a space for professional reflection, growth and contribution to the global whole of educational discourse. Even if only the average dozen or so people are aware of this page on any daily basis, on some days it is over a hundred ranging through every continent – a staggering prospect – and one voice from my corner of the world is lent to this global chorus. I am humbled to be included in the nominations process of these awards, and proudly contribute these candidates to the proceedings:

Best individual blog

Dave Truss’  Pair-a-Dimes for Your Thoughts – I am a big fan of Dave Truss’, and not only because he encouraged my school’s English department to start blogging, and offered this blog its first encouraging comments. But because he writes fantastic pieces like his Remembrance Day Two Wolves post that is based in the philosophy of moral conduct and yet told through a tale of modern travel and warfare, framed in age-old mythology. Of late, Dave’s blog has been a place to gather reports of his family’s adventures abroad as they explore China in jpg’s and even his daughters’ blogging.

Best individual tweeter

Alec Couros – I believe that Alec Couros wears some sort of futuristic eye-patch which allows him to scroll through Tweetdeck columns while engaging in his everyday jobs of (tenured yet?) Professor of educational technology & media at the University of Regina, speaker and consultant who travels (seemingly) constantly, and doting father of three. Seriously: if there is something worth seeing being posted on the Internet, Alec will have posted it within twenty four hours. He is what is meant by online presence though, for more than videos of forklift-drivers demolishing warehouses, as Alec acts as a conduit for those new to Twitter to access the educational community at large, and is a vibrant supporter of student (and teacher) blogging in comments and RT’s.

Best group blog

The Fischbowl – In the past two years I have visited Karl Fisch and Arapahoe High School‘s Fischbowl many times to gather insights on developing technologies, as well as global initiatives and innovative lesson plans and resources like This I BelieveGoes Global, Senior’s Last Lecture Series, and the Did you know videos.  Karl maintains the hub of the Arapahoe community of blogs, and provides a portal into the wonders of a school on the cutting edge.

Best new blog

TeachPaperless – I’m not sure if he counts as a “new” blogger or not, but if I am mistaken in thinking that Shelly Blake Plock has been doing this a while, it is because of his prolific approach to all things technologically-educational. Whether it’s posting every day – as he has done since May – or hosting a weekly ed-chat on Friday mornings, Shelly shares his ideas about education across a variety of channels, including Twitter, and with both high school and university students. Always provocative and a hub of conversation, Shelly and TeachPaperless are on the front lines in establishing a new paradigm in education.

Best class blog

Huzzah! – Neighbors of ours – via Vancouver Island – are the TALONS’ younger contemporaries in Jan Smith’s grade five-six class, who each make daring contributions to a class blog that should be a required model for establishing a globally connected classroom.

Best student blog

TalonsKatie – Admittedly, we have not been at this blogging business very long. But in a short time, Katie has proven herself to be a valued member of our class’ community, both online and within room 204, who is a frequent contributor to her classmates’ comments, and posts, and who has seen success accessing experts on a global scale. With an ability to reflect and innovate in creating both individual and group projects and assignments, Katie shares a vibrant record of her learning via her blog.

Honourable Mention 

My Life as a Foreign Exchange Student – My school’s valedictorian last year has continued her education in Japan, and blogs frequently about her classes, band, and host families, as well as a good deal on various waves of culture shock and appreciation.

Best resource sharing blog

Free Technology for Teachers – Richard Byrne won this award last year, and though I would like to try to and shine light where it hasn’t yet been afforded, no other blog in my RSS feeds come close to offering the (revlevant, ready to use) tools and resources his site does. On the second anniversary of Free Technology for teachers, these statistics tend to agree with me:

Two years ago: no subscribers, no page views. 18 Months ago: 200 subscribers, 10,000 page views/ month. 12 Months ago: 1500 subscribers, 30,000 page views/month. 6 Months ago: 8500 subscribers, 80,000 page views/ month. Today: 14,000+ subscribers, 120,000 page views/ month.

Best teacher blog

Andrew B. Watt’s Blog – As a fellow classroom teacher who makes frequent practice in sharing his lessons, musings and conversations with the blogosphere, I have drawn great inspiration and energy from Andrew since having been introduced to his blog via – as you might have suspected – another candidate mentioned in this post:

Watt is the Jon Krakauer of the new paradigm in education. He’s a writer who sees both the beauty and the danger inherent in our expedition into the digital mountain ranges. He’s honest and and critical and he writes about this stuff with a poet’s knack for succinct detail. Strongly recommended.

Best educational wiki

Universal Designs for Learning Tech Tool Kit – New to Wikis myself, I have gathered a great deal of practical knowledge and resources from the UDL toolkit (not to mention some great ideas for design and layout!).

Notable Photables

It has become nearly a running joke in our class that, if we are to undertake an adventurous outing or major presentation, one of my sisters will surely be along to photograph & otherwise document the procedings. Last spring my youngest sister Lindsay joined us on the TALONS adventure trip and, fresh from her documentary film program at Capilano College, produced a professional ten-minute ode (complete with cycling montages and confessional-style interviews with each member of the class) to five days we spent roughing it on the southern tip of Vancouver Island (and once I figure out how to get it off the DVD onto a blog post, you may see it here one day). And just this fall, while I recovered from a very pro-painful (ba-dump-ching) August, my younger (but not youngest) sister, Melissa, accompanied the TALONS on our September retreat, bringing with her a digital SLR with a new telephoto lens which provided many a poster-worthy action or candid shot over the course of the weekend (many of which I will upload to Flickr in the near future).

Melissa was also on hand last Wednesday night to capture the performances of the grade tens at Night of the Notables. Even these glimpses make clear the conviction in each of their performances, and deep connection between many of the students and their studied characters.

Eminent Person Wrap Up & Student Examples

As the final week of our class’ Eminent Person Study draws to a close, my RSS feed from our blogs has filled with reports on interviews, summaries of learning centers, reflections on the Night of the Notables itself, and the students’ work continues to astound. Though the grade tens in the class are busy at work drafting a letter to future participants in the project (on how to best tackle the intrinsic curriculum in such endeavors), I am taking this opportunity to share the collected triumphs of our students’ work. If the grade tens’ letter will cover the intangible, I propose that this post serves as a collection of the tangible results of this year’s project.


Learning Centers

We say that it’s “not your average poster,” when we talk about learning centers. But even when the traditional posterboard comes into play, the results are seldom conventional. Students’ centers are set up during forty-five minutes of gallery viewing on Night of the Notables, and their authors are encouraged to engage their audience in conversation – about their learning journey, about their eminent person’s life and works – or activities – building parachutes with materials available to Leonardo DaVinci, posing for Rolling Stone cover photographs, or walking a mile in the shoes of a blind librarian.

Some excellent examples reported on thus far:

  • Kiko’s Les Paul-itoriumWith the excellent added-touch of an authentic blacktop Les Paul.
  • Andrea’s “Secret Room”To represent the compartment in her Eminent Person’s Dutch home which sheltered escaping Jews from the Nazis, Andrea had guests squeeze into a similarly shaped (and scaled) hideaway and endure the cramped space, too many arms, legs and strangers’ breathing (not to mention audio recordings of shouting Gestapo officers.



It has been mentioned on this blog the momentum the class’ grade nines gave to the proceedings on Night of the Notables. As well, the grade tens’ dedication to helping one another form compelling, vivid speeches – and having drafts of their own work available almost a week before Wednesday evening’s presentations – brought an element of teamwork and unity to the proceedings that contributed to master turns of rhetoric and oratory as students took on the following notable personalities:

There is no shortage of other great pieces of student work on the class’ efforts to obtain interviews, construct learning centers, and otherwise reflect upon the rigors of the project to be found on the Shared Feed of the class’ blogs (especially as the examples here merely represent the early-submissions and work will continue to be added to the RSS feed throughout the weekend). I am still planning to post a collection of interview summaries once they are completed, but this could – in the interest of time – be left to the EminentPerson tag on my Delicious Account, where I have been compiling student examples throughout the course of the project.

Once the grade tens letter is posted, we will ultimately have bid adieu to the Eminent Person Study for this year, and the watershed occasion it has marked, and embark upon – as Andrea so eloquently put it – “the next project:”

Representing Democracy: an Introduction to Revolution, Confederation & Collaborative Research, Writing and Performance.

To find your own way…

“To find your own way is to follow your bliss.” Joseph CampbellUnique Beauty

This past week I have had the supreme pleasure of witnessing a parade of grade nine eminent person speeches, each of which utilized a unique perspective and inspiration of creation that is the mark of a supportive cohort of learners and has set a remarkable tone for the grade ten’s presentations next Wednesday evening. As the grade nines are challenged to speak about the life of their chosen person from the perspective of a someone who would have known their eminent their subject, a crucial brainstorming decision each of them faces is finding the most compelling perspective of narration. This year has been especially exciting as we have witnessed the following:

  • A fevered argument between the Dukes of Florence and Lion who each argued opposing sides of Niccolo Machiavelli’s legacy and legitimacy.
  • Florence Nightingale‘s mother discussing the various means of disappointment her daughter’s career choice of nursing brought her.
  • Testimony on the tumultuous, but always respectful relationship FDR shared with Winston Churchill.
  • A touching biography of Annie Leibovitz narrated by the lens of the camera that captured John Lennon’s final afternoon, and sold millions of Rolling Stones.
  • A vivid narration of escape as related by a slave freed alongside Harriet Tubman on the Underground Railroad.
  • A young girl’s dying words in the arms of Mother Theresa.
  • The story of Craig Kielburger’s first visit to an African village, as told by a young boy (or girl?) in the village.
  • A seething business-biography of Walt Disney narrated by his former partner (and creator of Mickey Mouse).
  • Mohammad Ali’s childhood friend casually relating his often-interrupted lifelong friendship with Cassius Clay.
  • Isaac Newton’s greatest exploits described from the perspective of the apple which hit him that fateful day.
  • A telling of Jules Verne’s feisty childhood through the eyes of his father, who never quite accepted his son’s career choice.
  • A heartfelt letter from Princess Zhara to her father, spiritual leader Aga Khan.
  • An argument between a teacher giving a lesson about Hellen Keller to the constant interruptions of a blind student lamenting who resents her connection to her historical counterpart.
  • And a tale rich in sibling-rivalry related by Greek poetess Sappho’s brother.

Tree ringsIt was great to see so many of the grade nines taking risks with 8 – 10 minute speeches (a daunting prospect in itself to many people much older than 14) in so many different ways. At the conclusion of each address, the class would discuss the speaker’s successes and ways they could improve in future speeches. Many of the grade tens were able to offer personal connections in their constructive criticism, and at the end of speeches today, once all fifteen grade nines had completed this most formal of the program’s rights of passage, the class recognized the camaraderie such feats establish in a learning environment. As the grade nine’s have completed this dry run at the project’s speech, the grade tens look ahead at a journey that began roughly this time last year, sitting in the same chairs in room 204.

Over the Remembrance Day holiday many of the grade tens posted drafts of their speeches on their blogs, and with co-operation forged Canadian Scottish Marchpastunder the weight of being faced with the same daunting task, the responses were thoughtful, gracious and constructive. Next Wednesday evening, one senses, each of them will not be addressing the library from behind a podium on their own, but with the support of their classmates, parents, teachers and alumni who each share in the celebration of their achievement.

So while I wish the grade tens well on their final weekend of preparation, I congratulate the grade nines on the week they have produced. Each of you has achieved something of which you can be proud, and laid the groundwork for not only this year’s Night of the Notables, but next.

If a student asks a question in a classroom, how many people hear it?

Lone Backlit TreeAfter a busy weekend I finally have a minute to share an experience with the sheer logistical aid offered by social networks – chiefly blogs and Twitter – during one student’s journey in writing her eminent person speech on Margret Rey, author of the Curious George books.

During our conference last week concerning her plans for both Night of the Notables address, as well as her ideas for a learning centre on Margaret Rey, Katie expressed an interest in using her speech to focus on a particular aspect of Rey’s life. After discussing ways to frame both the evening’s performance aspects and learning center, Katie set out to brainstorm ideas for each, and blogged a modest request to aid in the writing of her speech:

What people don’t know is that Margret Rey was Jewish and born in Germany in the early 1900’s. By the late 1930’s she was living and producing books in Paris with her husband. In 1941, Paris was proclaimed an open city, just waiting for German invasion. Margret and H.A Rey needed to get out of France fast.

They set out on what would became the biggest adventure of their life, carrying only some food, clothes, money, and the manuscripts for their books. Riding a couple of used bikes, the two rode South through France, eventually getting on a train to Lisbon, Portugal, then boarding a steamship across the Atlantic to Rio, Brazil. After four long months of travel, they reached New York where they began getting their childrens’ stories published.

I want to zero in on the moment when the couple realized they had to leave their home in France and journey to New York with their few possessions. I am looking for input on what this moment would be like. Escaping the Nazis, pedaling into the distance, not sure what you will find… I live in Vancouver and have no idea what it would be like to realize that you have to flee your home to escape war.

That same afternoon I sent a link to Katie’s post out to my Twitter followers, asking that they retweet the message to anyone who might help (in all fairness, I zeroed in on three particular Twitterers I believed to live and work in Germany, and sent the request specifically to them (again asking that the message be retweeted)).

Now, I have approximately 230 Twitter followers, which is perhaps above average for teachers new to Twitter, but the result of being an active member of a community of educators that encircles the globe.  I RT content from the people I follow, comment on their blogs, and link to them in my own blogging; if their classes are involved in projects, I “point” to them on Twitter or the blog. In short, I try to Pay It Forward, in some small way, every day. So when I come to ask, on behalf of a student like Katie, as I did last week, for people to help send a message to aid in someone’s learning, a few people do. In fact, three people do.

Out of more than 200, maybe not so impressive. But to add in the prospective audience of those four people brings another 4000 eyes into the fold.

And in the end, Ms. Anne Hodgson was able to join our class’ discussion (as were a few others), and lend a personal touch to Katie’s research of the Holocaust:

My mom was born In Germany in 1922, my dad, an American, came over in 1945. My (anti-Nazi) German family went into what is called “inner immigration” during the Nazi era, an option simply not open to the Reys and the millions and millions of Jews throughout Europe.

I don’t think we can really imagine what it means to have your entire life pulled from under you as the country that was your only home slowly but surely turns into a hostile environment. At first you know who is out to get you, those men and women in uniform with a clear directive. But later it all becomes very precarious, as people get “infected” by the apathy or opportunism that a totalitarian regime causes in those not strong enough to take a stand.

The timeline on this development was less than twenty four hours, involved five people doing something that took each of them a matter of minutes – once Katie had written the original post – and carried a message which introduced a student in Coquitlam, British Columbia with a personal connection to World War Two and the research of a children’s author in Munich, Germany.

Thanks to Anne for adding to our classroom last week, and to Karenne SylvesterDaniel Eisenmenger for helping to spread the Word!

Grade Nine Eminent Person Speeches: Day I

Paris from the Eiffel TowerToday our class began presentations of the grade nines’ Eminent Person speeches. We were treated to diverse and captivating presentations by Liam, Meghan and Nick on Niccolo Machiavelli, Florence Nightingale and Winston Churchill respectively. As the nines are challenged to deliver 8 – 10 minute addresses from the perspective of someone who would have known their eminent person, we heard from:

  • Two widely differing perspectives on Machiavelli (performed in different accents, with dissimilar mannerisms, and to wildly opposing effects by the solitary Liam) issued by the Dukes of Lion and Florence.
  • Florence Nightingale’s mother, written by Meghan as deliriously deliriously disappointed in her daughter for choosing “the Devil’s profession,” nursing, as her life’s work.
  • And FDR speaking of his tumultuous, yet always respectful wartime relationship with Nick’s eminent person, Winston Churchill.

The rest of the week – Rememberance Day Wednesday notwithstanding – will see the remaining grade nines present their epic speeches, and raise the bar for their grade ten classmates who will present three-to-four minute speeches as their eminent people at next week’s Night of the Notables. It never fails to amaze me that faced with eight minutes of speech to deliver to older peers and new teachers at the end of the year’s first term, our grade nines’ ability to swing for the fence in tackling this first of the class’ major projects. In setting out to create original, challenging and risktaking works of research, writing and performance, the younger members of our class create a tone for the remainder of the project that is one of a trusting community that enables across the board individual achievement.

Thank you to the three of you who volunteered to get the ball rolling today, and to those of you who will help set the tone throughout the week. It is an awe-inspiring experience to be an observer during such feats, and one I am truly grateful to share in.

The Ethic of the Link

Hyperlinked writing is the most powerful form of writing.

So begins Wesley Fryer’s excellent (linked) post in defense of the importance of learning to write using hyperlinks. Citing Shelly Blake-Plock’s hosting of the talk by Jay Rosen, entitled The Ethic of the Link.

Check it out:

When I first started using Wikis in my classes two years ago, I stressed repeatedly the density of text created with hyperlinks – especially as a means of  ‘pointing’ to supporting evidence or details (even to humourous effect). I agreed – and agree still – with Rosen, when he says that good blogging means “giving you more than you expect, every single time you visit my blog. More knowledge than you expected. More links than you bargained for. More nuance. More depth. More education.” Loaded words.

At the time – long before I came upon this video, or read this New York Times article, brimming with linked supporting detail – I even went so far as to produce this essay rife with linked details and post it on my class’ SharePoint site:

“Through music the passions enjoy themselves.” Frederick Nietzsche

Every so often it seems that culture converges, or coalesces out of its myriad pieces into movements which are capable of shaping history. One need look no further than the progression of modern pop music to appreciate that the will of the masses is able to correct the derivations of the few with regularity.

When rhythm and blues invaded nineteen fifties white America, the influence was not to be denied — despite television producers not showing Elvis beneath the waist — and the commercial jingles of the day were replaced with the birth of rock and roll, in Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash, to name a few.

The fifties though, were still dominated by the conservative parentage that had seen the world at war, and perhaps the Great Depression, and there was wide distrust of this Rock and Roll, which seemed to make their children crazy. The hysteria spread across the continent, and the Atlantic to England where was born the decade of the Beatles, Rolling Stones and Who (also Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, and always, out there on the margin, Bob Dylan). What followed was a decade in which culture converged around an idea (whether opposition to the war in Vietnam, or ideas of free love and an eternal now), and a new generation had asserted its will to change the (music) world.

These upwellings in culture are irrevocably followed by periods under which, now that the passion of the movement has died down, the diverse motivations of people displaces the harmony of events which led the series of changes in the first place. During the seventies – after the Beatles broke up – rock and roll became the deluxe, glossy likes of the Bee Gees, and the Eagles. This is not meant in any disrespect to the many accomplishments of Don Henley and the Brothers Gibb; it merely cannot be said that the seventies were noticeably shaken by the wizardry of Hotel California. This distinction, that of culture overtaking the system which precedes it, belongs to the birth of punk rock. Patti Smith, the Ramones, Sex Pistols and the Clash managed what the blues had managed two decades earlier: to give voice to those who did not feel represented in the dominant culture, those who always outnumber the few at the helm in times when culture seems to sleep, waiting to wake in revolution.

The seventies succumbed to the gloss and pop of the eighties, when Michael Jackson reigned – no, really, he did once – alongside Motley Crue, and Poison (though it can be said that Guns and Roses remained reasonably faithful to the mold cast of the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin) in the arena of rock. When it seemed that radio-friendly had finally ruined the prospect of music ever even being good again, in the eyes of many purists, Nirvana and Seattle exploded with grunge, and the modern apostles of rock in Chris Cornell, Eddie Vedder and the late Kurt Cobain. Only recently, indie rock, building on the permeation of the Internet as familiar language and environment among youth culture, has “rescued” music from the likes of N’Sync, the Backstreet Boys and Spice Girls.

Even at this very moment, as major record labels find themselves consolidating and merging with one another like victims of a shipwreck clinging to the warmth of others, the collective will of the music-loving masses, in the wealthy populism of the Hype Machine, Limewire, BitTorrents and a host of other peer-to-peer music sharing websites, stand on the steps of the Bastille, beginning to write the opening salvos in the New Music. And the precursor this revolution in technology has given music carries more weight in the exponentially shrinking world young citizens will grow to inherit. Those who will thrive in the new world will be those who are able to assimilate the divergent voices amidst the vastness of the present’s static: The Guru of Google?

The Long Way Home


As a means of solidifying many photographs and words written long ago (2002), I will be posting subsequent chapters to this initial endeavor here.

The summer I graduated from University, my younger sister and I worked at a Boy Scout summer camp in the Ozark Mountains, where I had interned the previous year. With the stowed paychecks of six weeks work in our backpacks, we went to Toronto and bought a car, took the train to Montreal, and visited Niagara Falls’ misty fury before heading west. Having taken root in the heart of the South for five years, the trip across our country was a fitting homecoming and definitive personal culmination of many things. This is the record of that voyage, and what I thought it meant at the time.