The Student Name Challenge

download It seems like everywhere you look on social media, there is some sort of a challenge. All you have to do is enter the term ‘Challenge’ on YouTube and you’ll see what I mean. My most recent search came up with the Hot Pepper Challenge, the Jello Bath Challenge, the TZ Anthem Challenge, the Running Man Challenge, and the ever so popular (but every teacher & administrator’s nightmare) Water Bottle Flip Challenge.

After seeing so many of these challenges taking internet by storm, I started to think about some challenges that I could create in my role as a school administrator. I wanted to come up with a challenge that would have a positive outcome for my school. What I came up with was The Student Name Challenge. The challenge is pretty straight forward, learn all 500+ names of the students in my school. Being a new Vice-Principal at my school this year, I’ve really committed to knowing my new students and striving to learn all of their first names by the end of the school year.

In the process of trying to learn all my students’ names, I’ve discovered that my challenge is also contributing to my school board’s first priority  of Positive School Culture and Well-being and it’s goal of all students and staff feel safe, supported, and accepted. As an administrator, the simple act of learning a student’s name can have a positive impact on developing a positive school culture. Learning a student’s name is a good first step in gaining their trust and making them feel safe, supported, and accepted. I’ve made a concerted effort since the first day at my new school to learn my students’ names as quickly as possible and I have seen encouraging results so far. I feel like I have a better connection with the students when greeting them in the morning as they walk into the school, when I’m walking down the hallways and saying hello as they pass by, and when I visit classrooms and speak to them about their learning.

It’s been two months since my first day at my new school and I still have long way to go in my Student Name Challenge. Some of my students know about my challenge and they keep my on my toes when they see me around the school to see if I know their name. I may not reach my goal of learning all of their names by the end of the year but the process has been pretty fun so far. Here are some tips that I’ve picked up along the way that have helped me learn my students’ names:

  • When asking students for their name, follow it up by asking 3 things about themselves (interests, talents, etc.). This helps make personal connections with students while learning their names.
  • When visiting classrooms, look for name tags on their desks or their work, while engaging them about their learning.
  • Every once in a while, use the student photo directory or classlists as a checklist.
  • Set a daily target of learning a handful of students’ names.
  • Ask again and again and again. Some students’ names are harder to remember than others. Don’t be afraid to keep asking for their names until you get it. Sometimes students will turn it into a game and quiz you when you pass them in the hallway or on the playground.

The Student Name Challenge probably won’t go ‘viral’ like the other challenges you will come across online but it’s one that I think is very meaningful and worthwhile to me in my role as a school administrator. Ultimately, I’m hoping that this challenge will help make my students feel a little more safe, supported and accepted.

I’m also interested to see what other types of challenges educators and administrators can come up with to help improve their schools. Feel free to leave a comment and share one of your challenges.



Back to Blogging

It’s been over 2 years since my last blog post….2 years…. That’s quite a break from blogging and I’m not sure why my motivation disappeared. I could use the excuse of not having enough time between work (I’m now in my third year as an elementary Vice-Principal) and spending time with my family (I’m a married father of two daughters….with 2 guinea pigs…and a new puppy). However, as I sit in the waiting room of my daughters’ dance studio on a Saturday afternoon glued to my phone, I realise that I do have time. I’m just not using my time very effectively.

After reading some of my earliest posts from 6 years ago, I’m finding that most of my motivation for blogging was more about writing about topics that other people would find interesting. I would spend days thinking about a topic and countless hours rewriting and editing until I thought my post was good enough for people to read but maybe I need to rethink my purpose for blogging and how I blog. Instead of blogging for others maybe I need to be a little selfish with my blog. So after a 2 year hiatus, I’m going to attempt to reignite the spark that I used to have for blogging. I have changed the URL for my blog from to and I will endeavour to make time to blog but I will keep it short and simple and most importantly meaningful for me.




Engaging Students in Classroom Dialogue

“If an educational goal is to equip students for thinking in adult life, then discourse in school ought progressively to approximate the discourse adults engage in when they are seriously trying to understand something, to reach a decision, to solve a problem, or to produce a design.” Bereiter, 2002, p. 361

I read through a great article about engaging students in a dialogic stance in the classroom where the purpose of conversation is to help students improve their understanding of an idea, topic, or problem and push their thinking forward. However, although students frequently engage in social language exchanges, they do not necessarily have the natural ability to think aloud and share their ideas with others. Therefore, students need to be taught the protocols and guidelines of meaningful dialogue through modelling, teacher facilitation, and opportunities to practice.

Here are some tips for students provided in the article for engaging in dialogue …

  • Listen with an open mind.
  • Consider partners/group members as sources of information.
  • Ask questions.
  • Don’t interrupt the speaker.
  • Be willing to reconsider your point of view after hearing others speak.
  • Focus on the topic.
  • Offer new ideas and possibilities.
  • Build on what others are saying and offer support.
  • Don’t make it personal when you disagree or challenge a comment.
  • Be willing to clarify and explain your point of view.

Looking At SAMR Through The Window of Blended Learning

The SAMR Model, designed by Dr. Ruben R. Puentedura is used by many teachers, schools, and school boards. If you are unfamiliar with the SAMR model, below is a video segment of Ruben explaining the model that I clipped from a complete video in his channel.

This simple yet power model looks at technology integration in education as a continuum and links how you integrate technology to student outcomes. As Puentedura explains, levels of integration range from substitution which can be useful but has limited impact on student outcomes to redefinition which can transform learning and has high impact on student outcomes.

If you were to do a search for ‘SAMR model’ your results would show many different applications and images of the SAMR model. I came across a blog post by Greg Swanson where he organized apps according to the four levels of substitution, augmentation, modification, and redefinition. There are many other examples of this kind of app organization based on the SAMR model however, I was intrigued with the conversation in the comment section of this post. Here is a screenshot of some of the conversation:

Screenshot taken from
Screenshot taken from

Technology is only as effective as how it is used and the tasks that our students are engaging in. For example, screencasting apps like ScreenChomp or Explain Everything have great potential to redefine and transform learning but impact on student outcomes will be minimal if the app is used in a traditional, teacher centred way (teacher creating screencasts for students to view on the classroom iPad).

We often look at technology integration and and teacher practice in isolation and as separate continuums but what could it look like if we combine the two continuums together? I’m not sure if this combined model already exists (if there is, please let me know so that I can give credit) but I started a four quadrant window model similar to the Johari Window combining the SAMR model and Pedagogy creating a Window of Blended Learning. By combining the two continuums, educators can have a better understanding of where they are at in terms of blended learning with BOTH technology integration AND teaching practice. I have not added anything in the four quadrants because I don’t want to necessarily funnel the thinking of others but here are some questions that I have and I hope you can contribute your thinking:

  • What would you put in the four quadrants?
  • How would you use this Window of Blended Learning in your role?
  • What would you change in this model?

Window of Blended Learning

Update: There was a suggestion to post the Window of Blended Learning model that I created using a Google Presentation for others to add their thinking. So below is an embedded presentation of the model. Just click on “Google Drive” on bottom right corner to add your contributions. After further thought, I’m thinking that educators may want to use the Window in different ways. Perhaps some general descriptions of integrating technology or using it with a specific tool or apps. So instead of many people trying to add their perhaps different thinking to the same Window, I’ve duplicated the Window five times for now and if you have used the Window model at all, feel free to contribute your thinking to one of the slides. As more people share their use of the Window to the Google Presentation, it will show up in the embedded presentation below.

Second Update: Based a comment from Aaron Puley, I’ve added some variations of the Window. I’m curious to know which one you would use.

Think Outside The Lines

When our children colour, we always feel compelled to remind them to colour inside the lines.  My daughter can colour inside the lines very well. In fact, I have proof:

Colouring inside the lines

But what do we do when our children go outside the lines? How do we react to situations where our children deviate from the routinely assigned task? With Ava, I was able to experience this deviation from the norm on a Sunday afternoon when she was colouring with her new Crayola markers. As she was colouring, she discoverd that if she shook the markers hard enough the ink would splatter on the paper. Unfortunately for me, her new discovery ended up all over the floors and wall of my living room. I could have immediately reminded her of how to appropriately colour with markers and stay in the lines (this really was my initial thought) but then I saw what she created with her new discovery:

Ava’s first accidental creation.

I was really impressed with the accidental art that she created and when I asked her about it, she called it “Splatter Splat” art. After we had a learning conversation about appropriate working conditions for this kind of art (i.e. aprons and newspapers), I felt that I needed to provide her with a opportunity to extend her creativity a little further.

Our creative session was amazing. Ava was engaged in a way that hadn’t seen before because the activity was centred around her discovery and she was an active partner in our art session. She’s coloured countless colouring pages where she was constantly reminded by adults to take her time and stay within the lines. However, this time she was the teacher and she taught me how to create the splatter effect technique. This experience made me reflect on the role of students in the classroom and how we respond to unexpected paths in their learning. Do we stay inside the lines of our program and our less plans funnelling back to the task at hand or do we think outside the lines of our program and work with the students and create the conditions for new learning? My art experience with Ava would suggest that thinking outside the lines can bring positive learning experiences for both students and teachers.

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Effective Questioning Video Series

Questioning enables teachers to explore students’ thinking while they are learning, so that we can respond to their needs in a timely way. Effective questioning makes students’ thinking visible so that we can find out what they know, and what they still need to learn.

The following link will take you to a series of great videos focusing on effective questioning.

There is a viewing guide that helps facilitate your learning about learning goals and success criteria shown in the videos and provides support for trying new practices. The viewing guide is divided into segments for each video and I highly encourage you to use the guide as it can really help you focus as you watch and help you extend your learning. However, before you watch any of the videos, it may be a good idea to use the self-reflection tool, Appendix A: My Questioning Practices to identify what you are already doing well, and an area of questioning practice that you would like to implement or improve.

Please watch the first video using the viewing guide of this series and afterwards, you can choose other videos that may help you progress with your learning goal.

Demonstration of the ‘Explain A Website’ App for the iPad

I came across a fantastic screencasting iPad app in the App Store called Explain A Website. Most of the screencasting apps out there are very similar to each other in that they allow you to record on a whiteboard that you can annotate and add photos to. However, Explain A Website has a embedded web browser that allows users to record screencasts while navigating and interacting with websites.  Below is my first attempt at a screencast using the app explaining HWDSB’s website/database of iOS apps for education that was recently launched this past June (

So When, Where, Why and How Does the Technology Fit In?

I’ve read many articles and blogs and I’ve heard many discussions debating the role and place that technology has in the classroom. Some argue that classrooms should reflect the 21st century world that our students live in which means allowing them to learn with 21st century tools and media. Others argue that these 21st century tools and media serve as distractions in the classrooms and take away from the learning. I thought I would join the conversation and offer my thoughts.

I think it is important to differentiate between right drivers and wrong drivers and where that leaves technology. In Michael Fullan’s article titled, Choosing The Wrong Drivers For Whole System Reform, he states, “A ‘wrong driver’ is a deliberate policy force that has little chance of achieving the desired result, while a ‘right driver’ is one that ends up achieving better measurable results for students”. He argues that focusing on technology as a driver will not achieve the desired goal which according to Fullan is “the moral imperative of raising the bar (for all students) and closing the gap (for lower performing groups) relative to higher order skills and competencies required to be successful world citizens”. Therefore, the right driver should always be good pedagogy and in Ontario, I believe we are focusing on the right driver.

The School Effectiveness Framework (SEF) is a K-12 support document that is aimed to help Ontario educators with school improvement planning with the focus on students achieving success. The SEF highlights six components of effective schools with indicators and evidence that help schools build coherence in their improvement plans. On page 9 of the SEF document, there is a diagram that explains how the province, district, and school support the instructional core. At the classroom level, the instructional core is represented by the triangle in the diagram below. This idea of the instructional core originates from a book titled, Instructional Rounds in Education by Elizabeth A. City, Richard F. Elmore, Sarah E. Fiarman, and Lee Teitel where the instructional core is described as the important relationship that exists between the teacher, the student and the content. The instructional core allows educators to focus on improving student learning by creating rich instructional tasks. However, in order to create rich learning tasks that foster higher order thinking and student engagement, all three vertices of the instructional core (teacher knowledge and skills, the role of the student in the learning, and the curriculum) must be considered. The instructional core is the focus in many schools and classrooms (as it should be) but what is often left out are the conditions that can enable this learning to occur and this is ultimately where technology is often left out of the learning conversation.

So when, where, why and how does technology fit in? Many educators view technology as a great option for the end product, the culminating task that provides students with new and engaging media to create and showcase their learning. However, solely focusing on using technology for culminating tasks is a very narrow application of it and therefore technology is only used and viewed as another medium for assessment of student learning. Technology is bey0nd just a medium for culminating tasks. Technology is part of the conditions for learning in a classroom and a great option for developing 21st century learning skills. Educators need to start thinking about how technology can be effectively blended to the classroom to enhance the learning conditions for students in the following ways:

  • make thinking visible
  • increase reflection and metacognition
  • allow for synchronous and asynchronous participation anytime and anywhere
  • increase collaboration and co-learning
  • differentiate the communication of ideas
  • provide descriptive feedback
  • promote on-going learning

If technology is focused on developing 21st century learning skills and the process of learning then it becomes more than just another medium, it becomes an important part of the learning conditions needed for students in today’s classroom. The diagram below illustrates some key components that make up the learning conditions (blended learning, 21st century learning skills, and technology). However, there is often a disconnection between the instructional core/rich learning tasks and technology.

As I stated earlier, technology is often viewed as a distraction to schools focusing on the instructional core and that a rich learning task is engaging enough for students but in my opinion, technology as a learning condition cannot and should not be ignored. Michael Fullan best explains the relationship that should exist between technology and pedagogy, “The essential idea is to get the right learning embedded in the technology”. I made an addition to Elmore’s instructional core diagram below to illustrate that when you combine the learning conditions of technology, 21st century skills, and blended learning with the instructional core, you can increase, enhance, and bump UP any rich learning task.


City, E. A., Elmore, R. F., Fiarman, S. E., & Teitel, L. (2009). Instructional rounds in education: A network approach to       improving teaching and learning. Cambridge: Harvard Education Press.

Education, Ontario. Ministry of. School Effectiveness Framework K-12: A support for school improvement and student success. 2010. (

Fullan, M. (2011). Choosing the wrong drivers for whole system reform. Centre for strategic education, Retrieved from

Russian Doll Towers

The other day, Ava grabbed her Russian dolls from the toy cupboard that she hadn’t played with in months. I guess the novelty of fitting the smaller dolls in the larger ones wore off and there was nothing else to learn about them. However, this time she decided to do something different with the dolls and she wanted to build a Russian doll tower using all of the pieces. Initially, she attempted to balance some of the flat bottom pieces on the rounded top pieces. This resulted in a lot crashing of pieces and failed attempts at building the tower, which led to a lot frustration. I left Ava to her own devices to figure things out and persevere with her self-directed activity. Thirty minutes later, I had a very proud daughter with her very own Russian doll tower (using all the pieces). Of course, I had to document this learning accomplishment and whipped out my iPhone to record. However, as I tried to get Ava to orally communicate her strategy, I found it very difficult not to explain it for her. Therefore in the video, you’ll hear me struggle with my questioning because I wanted Ava to explain her strategy without me giving her the words.

I could’ve immediately praised Ava for turning the bottom pieces upside down to create a more stable and flat surface however, I wanted to her to make the connection and verbalize it. After watching the video, I wonder if I funnelled her to what I wanted her to say or if I worked with her as she explained. I would love to hear some feedback on this.

I also didn’t expect Ava to ask me if I wanted her to make a different tower. This reminded me as a parent/educator to always set high expectations for our children and students and look for opportunities to extend their thinking. I was fully satisfied with Ava making one tower and didn’t even think to ask if she could build it in a different way (something I always encourage math teachers to ask their students).

Here’s what Ava produced afterwards:

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Benefits of Screencasting with iPads

I have always been a huge fan of using technology and digital tools to capture student thinking and help students communicate their great ideas. I previously wrote a post titled, Do Screencasts Have a Place in the Math Classroom? where I pointed out that many teachers seem to like the idea of screencasting but I haven’t really seen it fully implemented in classroom to the extent where students create their own screencasts. I also asked the question Why? Why isn’t screencasting being implemented in the math classroom? Is it too difficult? Too time-consuming? Well today I was able to have some of my questions answered when I worked with a grade 5 teacher that was able to able easily create screencasts with her students using tablet technology.

The students were given a multiplication problem to solve collaboratively in groups and once they solved the problem in more than one way, they were asked to create a screencast of their solution using the Screenchomp app on an iPad.

Here are some of the screencasts that were produced from that lesson:

After my conversation with the teacher and viewing the student created screencasts, I thought about the implementation issue that I previously raised and realized the benefits of the all-in-one capability and the immediacy that tablets bring to the table.

Creating a screencast that can be shared on-line can be a multi-step process that would turn many teachers away considering the business of day to day classroom learning. Just the step of taking pictures with a digital camera and uploading them to a computer to create screencasts can be annoying. However, the iPad allows students to quickly take pictures of their work with the camera app, easily import the picture into the Screenchomp app, record their explanation and share in a matter of minutes. Rather interrupting their thinking and learning process by going over to the classroom computer or waiting to go to the computer lab to create a screencast, the iPad allows the creation of the screencast to become naturally integrated into the learning process because everything the students need is right at their fingertips on one device.

If you have similar experiences with the integration of table technology in your classroom, I would love to hear about it.