Genius Hour: Being Vulnerable 

Below is a question that was posted to my Discovery Education Network Friends Facebook Group by a colleague in Michigan and my response to her post. There were many responses and pieces of advice from many expert teachers previous to me contributing to the conversation. I love her openness & willingness to ask the question.  

What would you say?  What do you think of my response?

Her post…
Hi DEN Family. I need your help! I am teaching a course (Intro to Computer Science via PLTW) and am being allowed the opportunity to use every Friday as a Genius Hour / 20% Time thing. I am super excited but my kids are STRUGGLING! the majority of them have absolutely no idea what it is they want to learn or even what they’re interested in. Anyone with experience here? I’m trying to guide them, but since it’s my first rodeo, I’m struggling as well. Please share your words of wisdom!

My response…

I am a big believer in having a conversation with a kid to find out what they like to do even when nobody is around. Meaning we all have passions/activities that we would do without any one paying us a cent & forcing us to do. Kids have these activities too. However many kids see their interests as not valued at school. Therefore when they are asked about their passions or wonders they see it in contexts of school & what they perceive the teacher is looking for. Many of them who struggle with coming up with answer to it. Establishing individual trust in these cases is huge. They also don’t see purpose in answering this question… yet. For them it is a risk to let a teacher into their outside of school world. This is why I believe it is important to reaffirm to them your why (maybe share or model something your passionate about from your outside world… Zumba?) for giving them this option and to not tie it to grading but to learning.  By giving them more opportunity in school to explore this is awesome to see because it lifts their perception that what is learned at school has to be different from the things that are learned at home. There is also the possibility of them being the expert on the topic in the class which is great… purpose & autonomy lead to mastery!   It gives you the more options to help them learn because you are the learning expert in the room and they need help from you with how to learn.

What would you say? What do you think of my response?

– Hugh


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Collaboratively Creating Through Making & Coding

Below is my grant proposal for the students in my class.  I have big ambitions for them to create, celebrate, and expose strengths they never knew they had through making and coding.  In turn they will continue to share and model these new found strengths with their classmates, school community, and beyond. Any help you can provide by sharing this post or contributing financially to this this proposal would be most appreciative.  Thank you so much!

I have an active class of grade 6 and grade 7 students that come from a variety of backgrounds and abilities. Many of my students are students who require English Language Learner and personalized learning support in the classroom. My students want authentic learning activities that are engaging and hands on. They are learning to collaborate and communicate effectively with one another and become leaders in their classroom and school community.

Students in my class are learning to work collaboratively to explore new concepts and to show their learning. The goal is to inspire students to become passionate, lifelong, creative thinkers and doers in our class makerspace. My students will need access to state of the art tools that will spark creativity, nurture their curious minds and ignite the inventor inside each of them. I would like to use exciting coding and robotic technologies to empower my students’ digital creativity while they brainstorm, plan, and collaborate together. These coding tools will help them create personalized questions and learning experiences, make observations, and inquiry connections to the real world while providing unique opportunities for them to explain their learning to others in our school and beyond. Learning code will help with essential skills that will serve them for their whole lives.

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10 Reasons You Need To Read The Genius Hour Guidebook

1.  You will learn that authors Denise & Gallit are thoughtful, caring, & knowledgeable educators who are willing share their passion of supporting a student centered classroom of students learning about their passions.  Make sure you read this book!

2.  You will learn what is Genius Hour & why students need it.

3.  You will learn a variety of strategies & ideas on how to introduce Genius Hour to your class.

4.  You will learn the art of diving in, letting go, and watching the magic of students passions driving their learning during Genius Hour.   This the authors outline give you the teacher the opportunity to be the guide on the side & give personalized feedback to students during their inquiries about their passions.

5.  You will learn about how different educators structure Genius Hour presentations in their classroom and why they do it.  You will also understand why some choose to loosen deadlines & let students decide when would be best for them to present.

6.  You will learn strategies to help students make their learning visible in order to find an authentic audience for their authentic learning experience.

7.  You will learn about a variety strategies that outline how to structure self-assessment & feedback in your class so it feeds ongoing learning (Assessment for Learning) for the students and their Genius Hour learning.

8. You will learn about how & why it is important to open our minds and our students minds to doing something big or small that can improve the world we all live in.  

9. You will learn that the Genius Hour community of educators are a collaborative bunch & a lot of their willingness to share their ideas that worked and didn’t work in their classrooms have made made it possible for this movement to spread to classrooms around the world.

10.  You will learn a lot by paying attention to the Appendix sections in The Genius Hour Guidebook.  It will help answer some of the specific questions you might still have, give you resources and lesson plans, and a reading list of must read books & blogs.

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Dear Students…I’m Sorry

Vendramin's Views

“Never let the competition define you.
Instead, you have to define yourself based
on a point of view you care deeply about.”

-Tom Chappel

img314_2 Me with my four sisters. I’m the one sharply dressed in blue!

Before becoming a Vice-Principal then Principal, I had the honour and pleasure to teach for 12 years. I loved my work in the classroom and was always guided but what I thought was best for students at the time. But, it’s true what they say about time and how it has a way of making you look at things from a different perspective.

We are in an exciting time in Surrey Schools because much of what we have held to be true for so long is now open for discussion and improvement. Of particular interest to me are the changes to B.C.’s Curriculum and the discussion around how we can better communicate student learning…

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Focussing on Happy Moments

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I’ve struggled to write this post for a long time.  I was going to sit down and write it as I approached each century mark, and I couldn’t bring myself to write because I didn’t know how to clearly share with people why I decided to do it participate in the challenge and why I continued to extend it.  It all started with a challenge from my friend Shawn Davids to start the  100 Happy Days Challenge which asked you to post 100 pictures of happy moments for 100 days on a social media platform of your choosing.  It encouraged others to think about the happy moments in their life.  He stopped and I & continued long after to where now I am approaching almost 600 days.

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After my fathers passing in 2011 I struggled with focusing on the things/people that made me happy.  I tried to fill my life with many personal and professional events that I enjoy participating in.  During this time I had many professional breakthroughs and new opportunities from those breakthroughs.  Managing my happiness with these breakthroughs while inwardly struggling with the personal challenges presented by my father’s passing was confusing for me, and I struggled to make sense of it and enjoy the happy moments that were all around me.

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The 100 Happy Days Challenge has helped me reflect about each day & help me see that even with a difficult or disappointing day I can find something that makes me happy.  However I know with the hashtag #100happydays #200happydays #300happydays, etc… that I have indirectly given some people the impression that I am always happy or that I am always trying to put on a act of being happy or that I was attempting to be someone I am not.   This was never my intention and still it is not.  It is all in how one perceives things.  Ones perception is not always reality.  Am I trying to “sell” this post and my instagram photos as someone who is always filled with happy moments?  My simple answer is no.  I am however using the photos as a way to reflect personally on moments that make me happy and put the focus on those moments rather on the difficult ones that have consumed my thinking and drained the joy from my happy moments previously.  Do thoughts of my Dad and challenges pop into my mind still?  Yes they do… but finding a happy moment in those days helps me through those days and gives me a lot to look forward to in the future.

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Moments that now pop up on my memory wall on Facebook and spark a flood of emotions and awesome conversations with my kids, family, and at times my teaching colleagues.  I couldn’t stop this project after 100 days.  I was enjoying capturing these moments, sharing them and it was helping me with perspective and putting some focus back on the happy moments in my life.  Many of the quick captured moments were of my kids experiencing life and sharing their joy with my wife and I.

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Did I capture something every day?  The answer is… almost.   I have doubled up on some days.  This was due to me not taking the time to get my camera out to capture the moment and sometimes due to me falling asleep before I could take the time to post it.   Are all of my days filled with only happy moments.  The simple answer is no.  However many of days there were many big moments to choose from while other days there were singular moments that stood out and a few days that I was still searching for a moment late into the evening… important to note… I did find one.  It is about Mindset and what you choose to focus on.  I am learning to focus on things that make me happy.  What makes you happy?

Hugh McDonald


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5 TakeAways from #DENsi2015 – Day 2

Today was a day of connection and reflection.  We got to connect with new and old Discovery Education friends through experiencing the historical city of Washington, DC together.  Nothing like remembering, honouring, (yes I spelled it with a “u”… I am Canadian. :)) and reflecting on the past while forging relationships with awesome people.   People who are so willing to give of themselves and share their personalities and wealth of knowledge and experience.  He goes…

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1.  I stood silently and in awe for a few minutes where Martin Luther King looked out from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and gave his powerful “I Have A Dream” speech to hundreds of thousands of people calling for the end of Racism.  It is a speech I present to my students yearly.  We discuss it, analyze it, and celebrate the person who gave so passionately of himself in calling for equality for all.

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2.  I learned Franklin D. Roosevelt was a man of the people, the only president to be elected to 4 terms of office, and was confined to a wheelchair because he had polio.  I was also awestruck by his words that were etched in stone, as I meandered through his (FDR memorial).  He words celebrated his fellow person and honoured the people who elected him.  I also loved the tribute to Eleanor Roosevelt as well.


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3.  I took a quiet reflective walk by myself through the Vietnam War Memorial.  It is humbling to walk the path that honours those who died or went missing during this difficult time in American History.  I am Canadian, and to be honest seeing the almost 60, 000 names listed on a beautiful reflective wall beside the path made me feel lucky I have never had to go to war and feel enormous amounts of respect and honour for those who did for a greater cause… their country and their fellow person.  Whether you agree with war or not… reflecting on someone’s purpose can help you understand your own in deeper manner than before.

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4.  After a morning of Memorials being able to walk through the Smithsonian Museum of Natural history with my friend/colleague Robyn and my new friend from Nova Scotia, Erica.  It truly was an impressive walk through this collection of historical artifacts and stories from early man, sea life, to the dinosaurs.  Seeing the Dinosaur exhibit with Triceratops, T-Rex, and the archaeologists working was a definite highlight of this visit for.  I wish I had more energy to continue on to other museums, but by 4 pm I was in need of a much needed nap.  In the future I would love to see the Holocaust Museum and the Air and Space Museum.

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5.  After the bus ride back to American University I took a much needed nap, grabbed a quick bite at the cafeteria and then took off with some cool new friends to ride the metro and see the White House.  It didn’t disappoint.  I even loved catching a little video of the fireflies that danced on the grass as we approached the White House.  I also loved being able to see the Washington Monument from any spot I stood in the city.  Amazing!

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I am amazed by the sheer number of monuments and historical places there are in Washington, DC.  It is the perfect place to reflect, connect, and learn.  I am extremely thankful to my district Surrey and Discovery Education who made this experience possible.

I think it is awesome that American’s honour their history in such a way.  I can’t help but reflect on my need to visit Ottawa with my kids and take them across our country in telling the story of the country they call home.

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6 Takeaways From #DENsi2015 – Day 3

Today was the first full day of sessions from DENsi 2015 and I couldn’t pick just 5 takeaways so you get 6 memorable moments from the sessions today.  It was chalk full of rich learning opportunities.  We had our opening morning session as well as 2 morning and 2 afternoon session that we were free to choose from.  These presenters are teachers and DENstars from around North America and England.

** (I recognize this is finished a little later, but I needed time to synthesize the learning I experienced).

1.  SOS Call for Digital Integration Session with Jannita Demian

Learning with Jannita Demian was a treat.  We discussed how not all technology is created equally and not all lessons are created equally.  Jannita discussed how our profession is to bridge the gap between pedagogy and technology.  I couldn’t agree more.  If you make the conversation about learning you connect us all.  However if you make it just about the “tech” or start with tech first then you risk losing the people you want to engage.

What I loved about this session was how Discovery Education has created a Spotlight On Strategies created by teachers.  They are accepting of more strategies and are adding and revamping this section constantly.  These strategies are flexible and able to be used across subject areas.  The strategies are searchable within Discovery Education and is accessible with your account that your district has.    Each strategy gives you examples of how to use it in your classroom.  They will also be sortable/searchable according to your purpose.  You can even save your favourite (I am Canadian) and come back to it another time. 😀

Some Strategies discussed and shared at the session are:

Fakebook – Imagine a Facebook Profile that is editable within Discovery… or print one off and have your students fill out.

– AEIOU strategy

– Table – Top Texting

– Interactive Journals (draw something and then write out on other side)

– 3 Truths and 1 Lie

– Take images from discovery education and populate your screen savers

– 25 Things they didn’t know strategy … create their own boards using board builder or poster boards.

– SOUND CHECK is a Strategy Using ambient sound (have access to audio files)

Reading (or listening!) Between the Lines

Update their own Instagram Picture

SOS: Tweet Tweet!

2.  Another take away was listening to Lori McFarling – Chief Marketing Officer of Discovery Education speak at the beginning of the day.

One of the virtual field trips she outlined was Auschwitz 70 The Past is Present.  It was created from Shoah Foundation in connection with Discovery Education.  They shared the survivor stories from survivors around the world in their own words with the students in our classroom.  By getting these stories out there and connecting them to real life places for students you are giving them greater opportunity to build empathy and put the focus on the stories of the survivors rather than the ideologies of Hitler.  Bringing families of survivors with the survivors to Auschwitz.  Bottom of …. lots of content available.  I know knew I want to attend the Echoes and Reflection session tomorrow.

3.  One thing that I found very cool was the 3M Young Scientist Challenge who with Discovery Education pair a young scientist up with 3M Innovator.  The winner ended up on Ellen in 2013.  This challenge was introduced to me by Kyle Schutt of Discovery Education.

4.  David Fisher – DEN Speaks

Meeting and learning from David was a treat for me this week.  He presented his DEN Legacy project by inspiring others to spend speaking 5 minutes on something they are passionate about in front of the 150 DENsi audience.  David’s premise was we have all kinds of students in our classrooms.  Let students who struggle do the same thing as everyone else.  Everyone is on their own journey and some just need more building blocks (teacher support) to continue on the journey.  It requires a lot of effort but the home run is worth it if your non communicable student walks up to you and says, “You taught me gravity.”  I was impressed by his perspective during our conversations and in sessions I attended.

5.  Creativity in the Classroom by Emily Murn

link to presentation:

Thank you Neene for compiling the notes below from this jam packed with ideas session.  I have added some of my thoughts below to her notes.  I loved the many ideas Emily brought to this session.  Some of these were new to me while others had me thinking… oh ya… I could have them show their learning this way.

What is Creativity?

The ability to transcend traditional ideas and create meaningful new ideas – a process that ebbs and flows

  1. Cognitive Abilities
  2. Behaviors
  3. Attitude – ability to have thought about the world around us
  4. Skills – combination of other three ways – ability to share out with the world

Are students re-creating or creating?

Devices can help our students be creative. Glitter and Glue and Scissors can now be even more sparkly with Digital Tools

Creativity is not new. It has always been around. It is just taking a greater step to the front.

It is now about thinking creative-ly in our classrooms.

Sir Ken Robinson – Creativity now is as important as literacy, and we should treat it.

Think Creatively.

Create new and worthwhile ideas

Padlet – virtual sticky notes and can be used as a virtual word wall or collaborative space.  I love this idea on how to be collaborative outside and inside of the walls of a classroom.  In order to work as a team you need to be prepared to ask your own questions

Working in a group through kinesthetic learning.  Movement to songs such as Lodge McCammon – and through (search term “lodge” will bring up many).  Including music into my teaching practice is something I have done sparingly over the years.  I learned Lodge has many interesting songs about a lot of learning topics.  One of the ideas is pick one of his songs, pass on a verses to groups of students, have them think of ways they are going to act out the lyrics, start the video camera, and then have the groups roll through the screen acting out and dancing to their verse until it is done and then the next group jumps in.

Implement Creative Ideas

        Board Builder within Discovery Education is one tool that could be used. It was originally created with students in mind. They can add own text, video, and resources. Now group boards are available. Multiple students can edit the same Discovery Education Board Builder board.  It is a secure site and only viewable by other Discovery Education users. Teacher moderates the sharing to the Discovery Community. I feel fortunate that our district (Surrey) is a Discovery district.  I look forward to making sure my class is set up with their usernames and passwords near the beginning of the year, so we can take advantage of this tool.

  1. Teaching Creatively
    1. Go beyond identifying a word. Perhaps substitute another word. Be engaged, demonstrate understanding.
    2. Emily is presenting a list of verbs to bring our own teacher vocabulary up a notch – slide 30 from presentation –
    3. Consider writing an original poem that is inspired by the original but shares their own creativity
    4. Rather than just creating shapes, arrange shapes to create a new image/shape
    5. Spotlight on Strategies – SOS from Discovery Education offer many ideas for how to be creative in the classroom. There are over 70 strategies currently available. And more will be coming soon. []
    6. Lively lessons series –
    7. Virtual Field trips can spark engagement on interesting topics: inside the white house, egg farm
    8. Webinars for teachers, administrators, and more ex: 5 Ways to Use Discovery Education webinar series.
    9. Join us on DENFriends group in Facebook – comment/post questions

2. Teaching for Creativity

See slide 43 – : offer students choice, empowerment, scaffolding/coaching, be safe

Some quick ways to spark creativity in daily activities

  • Brainstorming – model is appropriately in daily activities Ex: create a quick list of things with one category hot? old? sour? animals that exist in the rainforest? Students will be able to go from the mundane to the instructional when the thought process has been modelled
  • Caption images – goal: help students think concisely and go beyond. Ex an image presented and look for caption that would summarize it. Consider exploring the “6 Word Story” SOS to integrate this concept in your classroom
  • Forced Associations – example How is a Window is like a pair of glasses? Teacher is like a dictionary? How is a number like a letter? Students may share things that need revisiting or further exploration
  • Brain Break Ideas: board games, drawing starters, moving
  • Get Moving – Go Noodle Brain Breaks – (I signed up for an account today and had fun dancing with my kids at home today.
  • Brandon Wislocki shared with Emily how his students use paper and crayons and a camera to “present” their ideas and knowledge. Emily shared the video with the crowd.
  • Use songs as the backgrounds to student videos to interact, create, and share their learning
  • Heidi Morgan shared with Emily that no one app or tool did what they really wanted. So they started App Smashing to combine tools to create something closer to what they would like to really be sharing to demonstrating their learning
  • Karie Huttner’s blogs / Karie shares many resources and ideas through both her own blog and the DENblogs.
  • Creative writing with smartphones,
  •  – what makes an image something you like looking at
  • Think about careers –
  • Additional Resources will be forthcoming
  • Quote: “You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.” the more you are creative with students the more creativity will bubble up.
  • Follow @EmMurn to continue the conversation

6.  Hall Davidson spoke next prior to our sessions today.  He is a bundle full of energy and hard to keep up with.  However his energy is contagious and I love his passion for what he talks about.  In thinking about his presentation I think he talks with others in much the same way I do.  He speaks in tangents in an excited voice that you can’t help be energized by.  Besides his motto of the smartest person in the room is the room is something I’ve believed in for a while now and is a big reason to why Genius Hour is something I am passionate about.  Students bring their passions and knowledge to the classroom daily and share it with each other.  Often I find myself referring students to other students when they are needing help with something.  I am a big believer of the smartest person in the room is the room.  Hall is an engaging personality that goes off on quick and passionate tangents throughout his presentation.

He talked about many different tools to help students and teachers to ask questions make sense of their own learning.  Some of these ideas included:


Jet Propulsion Laborotory

– HyperDuino

Leap Motion

Google Cardboard

Osmo – Masterpiece

Download Quiver and draw in Osmo



Building Lessons using Pinterest

We all have the ability to use Powerpoint  and save them as pictures and airdrop them into ipad and use a lot of different applications on ipad to manipulate content in meaningful ways to learners.  Some ways he suggested were:

Puppet Pals

Puppet Pals 2

Kahoot – Game Based Learning in the Classroom – Goal to create questions that make you think. Answer the questions

Think Before You Link in School

Young Scientist Challenge – Mentored by 3M Scientists as mentioned above.

A link to the Discovery Education Virtual Field Trips


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5 Takeaways from #DENSI2015 – DAY 1

Shared by Lance Rougeux

Shared by Lance Rougeux

I feel extremely excited to be here in Washington, DC for Discovery Education Network’s (DEN) Summer Institute. DENsi2015 (DEN – ES – Eye). As a newbie I was welcomed into the DEN family with an inspiring and welcoming first day. I am going to attempt to document 5 of my takeaways each day for each of the next 5 days. Here goes!

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1. Getting the finger is a good thing. It is given to honour those who go above and beyond and inspire us all. We then cheer and wave our #1 finger in the air and woooooooo. Thank you to DEN team and the Leadership Council Volunteers who got us organized and helped this newbie and many others make their way through the day.

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2. RJ Stangherlin is inspiring and she had us in tears. She shared her story of conquering rare cancers and the loving support she received from her husband and she credits the DEN community who helped her beat them. The DEN is a wonderful place full of caring people and the common theme through the evening is that trust is built through experiences and support comes from your family. The DEN is a family, and I am honoured to be part of it.

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3. The power of connection, and conversation with new friends who seek to understand and appreciate your why as a teacher. Being a newbie to the DEN community I’ve learned the power of these relationships through the inspiring stories shared by RJ Stangherlin and Lance Rougeux. Lance talked about the power of family and support the DEN gave him during some difficult times in his life and the endless support the DEN gives to his passion project The Purple Feet Project and to the great lengths the DEN has gone to support him and his family personally. I am learning that the DEN is an amazing and supportive place.

Relationships and community first and learning about all the cool tech tools to support teaching and learning 2nd.  Without the first the second means little.  We want to do the best work of our lives.  This is why we are here… to learn about these from new trusting friends who we have connected with, and they share how they’ve used them with students and colleagues in their districts and schools.

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4. Trace Dominguez is a super inspiring guy who and creates content for DNews on youtube.  In a little over 2 1/2 years they have over 1.3 million subscribers (at least one more after I clicked the button) and well over 7 million views on their many entertaining videos they create each day. I learned I need to watch more of the videos him and his team create about a variety of questions and introduce them to the kids in my class and have them soak in what he has to say and engage in conversations about them with them.  Trace also mentioned the 3 question principle which is getting kids to ask the 3rd question about a topic before you ask it of them. Ask the first question, find the answer, then ask a question about what you learned, find answer, ask a question about the second thing your learned, and find answer. I’ve always believed in this form of inquiry, but I didn’t hear it stated as simply as Trace did today. The odds are if they get to the 3rd question they will go much further themselves on the question they were initially asking themselves on but on countless topics inside and outside of school. Trace is a learner and inspires others to be a learner too. Think of the modern day Bill Nye the Science Guy and that is who he is.

5. Lance Rougeux said amazing teachers don’t see what they do everyday as anything different than what other teachers do and don’t understand what they can offer to others by sharing. It reminded me of the Derek Sivers video above. “Obvious to You. Amazing to Others”.  I learned the power of the DEN is sharing learning stories and connecting on a deeper level with your colleagues. We all have something that is obvious about what we do but when we share and connect we have the ability to spark amazing in others together as a community and as a family. All this and it is only the first day.

I’m looking forward to Day 2!

Hugh McDonald


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Transformation is Not About Technology but About Being Able to Tell A Story

This post started out as a Facebook post and morphed into something a little bigger as I was pecking away in my car before heading to a workshop this morning.

I got home last night from our Ignite Dinner Series Event that was being hosted by our Superintendent in Surrey Jordan Tinney and our district’s critical friend George Couros.  I was greeted by my 5 year-old who excitedly mentioned to me that I got home just in time for Story time. It was wonderful to hear the joy in his voice as we took turns reading the pages in his chosen book.  After his story I thought we were going to do our usual hug, kiss, goodnight routine when he asks,

“Can I sing a song to you about earth day?” He starts to sing, & gets nervous and is stumbling over the words.  He then asks, Can I have your camera to film me singing, so you ca see me sing it. He said, “remember just like I did with Grandma.”

I remember that day like yesterday. He was excited to read for Grandma but then he got nervous right at that moment when it was time to read. It was obvious that having multiple people watching him read to his Grandma made him anxious.

Understanding that I knew he would like to still share his reading with his Grandma I asked him if he would like to make a movie of himself reading in his room and then bring it down for her to watch in the living room. He was over the moon with excitement at this possibility.  He ran upstairs and I followed behind.  I could hear him saying, “I know where we can set up the camera to show me reading.”  I helped him set up the camera and was excited to see him in action as he filmed himself reading.  Two seconds later he asked me to leave too.  I guess he is getting an early start on his directing career.  Afterwards he wanted to write on his video and put applause in like Daddy’s student did in his video… so we did.  Here is his video of him reading to his Grandma:



He did this again last night only this time he sang this beauty after he again asked me to leave the room.  He ran over to our room when he was done, so he could excitedly share.  I gave him a little feedback that I loved how he moved to the music in that song, but I was having difficulty hearing him.  He ran back to his room, set up the camera and came back with the clip below you.  Happy Earth Day!



Happy Earth Day everybody!

Thinking back to my school days had I been faced with the same challenge my son faced I don’t know what I would have done.  I definitely didn’t have that strategy in my tool box when I was 5.  I probably wouldn’t have read and my Grandma might not have been able to experience the excitement and pride in my voice as I read to her.

I have learned through my kids and from voices like George Couros that technology can be transformational in the ways we tell stories and how learning can be shown in a multitude of ways.  If it is all about the technology then we lose out on the stories because students/teachers/parents feel intimidated that they may not know enough.  They will shut down and the conversation amongst stakeholders is over.  If it is just about the stories without technology then that story may become lost without any opportunity for others to learn from it.

I was reminded again today by George about the powerful words of Steven Johnson, “Chance Favours the Connected Learner”.  Technology has the power to connect us to ideas that are not technology focussed.  We are all tinkering with things and that little tidbit one person shares can/might have a profound impact on their learning and their life.  Technology has the power to connect our ideas, improve our practice, and show people that they do know how to sing the song “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle”.

It is always & should always be about the empowering learning & telling the stories that celebrate the learning in our classrooms and providing opportunities for our learners to make choices in their learning, so they feel success.

Hugh McDonald


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Learning to Code Using Hopscotch – Engaging, Purposeful, & Challenging Learning

What is coding?

I didn’t know much about it either prior to December of 2014.  I learned that it is another language and knowing how it works will open up a lot of possibilities for my students and our classroom.  I saw Tom, a colleague at my school doing creative integrated Science/Math projects with a coding app called Hopscotch.  As soon as I saw his kids engaged in conversations without teacher prompting about how to make their projects/demonstrations/games better I asked Tom if his kids could do a brief mentoring of my students.  I thought what they were doing was innovative, yet I had no idea on how to start because I had no experience with coding myself.

Luckily for me expertise runs deep if you’re willing to release control and let play and experimentation into your room.  Soon after we participated in the Hour of Code and my students we hooked on creating games rather than consumed with playing them.  When we ran into a problem we couldn’t answer we searched youtube and the expertise of some students in Tom’s Class.  A few of my students have started Genius Hour projects that have them creating games and some have plans of creating Youtube tutorials for other students.  I connected a couple of my students with another class in Surrey and via skype they were able to give a couple quick tutorial sessions on how to use Hopscotch to code.  If you know of a few students who would like to learn about coding via Hopscotch I know of some keen grade 6 students who would be willing to share their learning.

Below is an account from one of my students on their experience with coding.  I encourage you to let go of control and see where the world of coding will take you and your students.  I am excited to see where the journey will take us next.


Hugh McDonald

Coding is like a language that tells something to do something if something happens. For example in flappy bird I know to jump and move forward when the iPad is tapped and the tubes know to send the flappy bird back to its start and say game over.  All of these things were programmed to do something.  Even every block in piano tiles were programmed to have sounds, be tapped or not to be tapped and to move faster or slower.  Coding is easy if you know how but apps or websites like Hopscotch makes everything simple for anyone to do.

Screen Shot 2015-04-08 at 3.39.56 PM

We started by using the Hopscotch tutorial to help us with the coding challenges ahead. After we tried to see what you could do by adding random things and seeing what happens when you tap or shake or even tilt the iPad.  After I learned the basics of Hopscotch I attempted to make a flappy bird game, but I struggled.  It was my first ever game that I tried to make, so I tried again and it got way better.  The game I created had scores and it was hard to win, so  finally I tried again but in a different way.  It had a blue background and when you didn’t tap the screen it said tap to start and when you tapped it would disappear and the bird would start flying.

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One of the best things about Hopscotch is that you can see what other people have made and see the codes that they have used.  This helps you with ideas when you are making your own.  When you are about to make a game, picture, or whatever then you can pick blank or one of these other games.  If you click one of the other games it brings you to the blank game screen but there is a video telling you that you have to make the game that you have chose. You can make any game you want if you just find code off the internet and the copy it into the game.  You can then change it to make it what you want.

Another helpful way to learn how to code is   It tells you every step of the way and it even try to see if you were paying attention and it gives you challenges and it says what do you think you need next to finish it off.  Coding is a fun way to tinker, learn, and challenge yourself to create something using language to get a computer to get what you want it to do.


Grade 6 Student

Posted in Differentiated Instruction, Genius Hour, Personal Growth, Student Work, Technology | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments