Day 16 (of 185) ah, homework

Day 16 (of 185) ah, homework

I came home and my youngest was very proud of herself….she was asked to do 5 angles for homework….and she did 15 and wanted me to give her an angle to figure out.



I do like it when homework makes a connection to learning….and even more so when it is student initiated….



But I also get nervous when homework is used to do something that it shouldn’t…..something I got an example of today via a For Better or For Worse comic:


Screen Shot 2016-09-27 at 8.41.57 AM.png


added: and 20 minutes after I posted this I saw a tweet/blog from @stevebarkley :


When homework is assigned to “teach something other than what it is designed for”….I worry we are hoping for too much. In my opinion, homework needs to have purpose and meaning. Memorizing vocabulary/terms isn’t the same as “budgeting your time”… many cases the fallacy of “X minutes per grade” isn’t even appropriate – I’ve always been a pretty fast reader and can cover a lot of information in 15 mins….but my cursive script always slowed me down (until typing became the great equalizer!)



Homework can widen the gap between students, and we have to acknowledge that. Assigning “marks” to it won’t help. Those that can/have the time and ability to get it done independently will always benefit compared to those who have “extra responsibilities” from co/extra curricular activities in arts and sports to “family responsibilities” which can vary widely from person to person and year to year.



Now, I love it when students ask/tell me that they are doing work on their own to extend their learning…..but I focus on descriptive feedback rather than scores /10, so the extra work benefits themselves without creating a “grade gap” between students…taking their learning deeper based on interest and motivation.



I still hope to encourage nightly reading (15 mins) and writing (as I still try to do – though the time does vary) and even some math (though I like using games: ) and will make exceptions for regular practice for musical instruments ….. but mainly because there is usually some passion connected to the instrument (even the recorder….playing the theme from Frozen…)



But… “as time allows”…  I hear about (and see) the stress that ensues when “extra work” gets assigned…and even more so when the task is not as clear as it may have been four hours earlier.  I’ve never (?) been upset when life interrupted planned “work at home” (there have been some projects that need out-of-school work/learning – esp involving assignments around family) but I try to never have “absolute deadlines”…..and I’ve always encouraged families that if it becomes frustrating (even the 15 mins of reading) to leave the work alone and instead take a break and ask good questions the next day.



I do enjoy discussions around homework and love some of the thinkings around it:


and I could go on about the “blackmarket” of homework “sharing”…..but that may be for another time (don’t want to give away all the secrets of my youth)


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Day 15 (of 185) Empathy for Anxiety at @tedxwestvancouvered 

Day 15 (of 185) Empathy for Anxiety at @tedxwestvancouvered 

After a bout with my own anxiousness, I did what I do best: deviate from an intended plan. My actual talk will be aired & shared soon – and I’m looking forward to it because I’m not 💯% how close to my intention I stayed, but here is the long draft of kinda what I intended to say:

You wouldn’t say to a throat cancer survivor – I know how you feel…I had a sore throat once. Yet that’s what we do to people – especially students- working with mental wellness issues like generalized anxiety. 

Sound harsh? It is. Untreated and unsupported, mental wellness can be a death sentence as it leads to suicide…..but we’re not talking about that. Because we hope: maybe it’s not that bad. It’s definitely easier to think about self-regulation when your calm. I know that me being sad isn’t depression and the butterflies in my stomach if late for school will go away and this helped me as an educator. 

I took pride in believing I was able to see both sides of the social emotional iceberg. I saw what was visible and knew there was more below the surface that I needed to better understand because that is where anxiety likes to hide. For years I’ve been asked to share what it is that I do….what do I know about working with anxiety….

But really, what I have learned I don’t have the right amount of empathy. 

Here’s What I forgot: icebergs flip. And sometimes while dealing with that ‘hidden part” I hadn’t paid enough attention to the fact that while the iceberg had flipped and revealed something new…there was still part hidden from sight. Because anxiety hides and distracts really well. And my students and recently my son, continue to help me know better.

Took son for a walk. Dog barked. His Anxiety struck. I took advantage of the situation because this is the boy that when He designed an ideal school in minecraft for admission into a project based learning program he put a therapy dog into it… it wasn’t about the dog. 

I decided to do some modelling and asked what he was thinking – by saying when a dog startles me I wonder if it’s going to attack, stay where it is or if I need to run – you know: fight freeze flee …… 

He looked at me and said “no dad. More than that”

So I asked, like a dozen thoughts?

He said I still didn’t get it. 

So I pushed: what, like a thousand?

Yeah – he paused – that’s more like it. 

And we created an image that represented what he saw in his mind – not just when the dog barked but almost at every decision. It was equally possible for a best case scenario and worst case scenario aka face ripped off when it came to the labradoodle puppy on the other side of the fence – because as he said: you never know

But what I now know is the thoughts keep coming….and which one is real?

Not long after we were talking about his school work and we had another aha moment – based on the videos we were watching from thinkers like Sir Ken and Will Richardson, he realized that “they get it”. He was continuing to help me understand. 

In the traditional classroom, a question is asked (or many of them posed on a worksheet) and he can think of multiple answers for each one, but the answer to “why can’t you just give an answer” was that he could never sort which “one” the teacher would want. He saw that sometimes it didn’t matter what the answer was – why you have your answer can be by far more important.  

Anxiety strikes when the brain is overloaded trying to sort out the “one” response….but when there is no one best response…’s a great way to use distractions as a tool.  

So many times I’ve thought I “got it” – heck I was one of the first classrooms to pilot the Friends for life program in the province…..And even though I should know better, I’ll get distracted by the forest of distracting behaviours and forget about staying focused on the key issue (the learner as an individual tree). Mental wellness conditions work hard to distract but we need to stay focused on the root cause!

But where to start? These are the first of my rules: Get them in the school. Every single day. I don’t care about the classroom. Whether it’s grade 3 or 10. Get them in. Then work on the classroom. And even then forget the ‘same work as everyone else’. Have them form a relationship knowing they will frustrate you beyond belief. Knowing they might even try to get suspended. Knowing that they may even become your favourites (not that we have any favourites)…and what works for them will benefit all other learners. 

This isn’t easy. There will be the challenges. I’ve often heard mental wellness issues described as a square peg being fit into a round hole. And questions asked about “what is better for the rest of the class/students” – honestly those kids will be fine whether you are there or not. But that one…or four others that hold it together while in school…..for now…..or don’t….they need more….so let’s stay focused on the needs of those individual students….they want and need you to do whatever is necessary to clear paths to reach those unique trees and help them understand they belong in our learning forests.

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Day 14 (of 185) nerves? No excuses? Not always perfect 

Day 14 (of 185) nerves? No excuses? Not always perfect 
I’ve done many presentations. But nothing like TEDx – and I don’t think I’ve ever had a “rehearsal” go so bad as the day before @tedxwestvancouver  – total brain freeze and no way to get on track. 

Maybe because I just finished driving to the coast (sure……)
Could be because of some changes I’ve made to my script in last days to make the flow feel better (more realistic…)
Could be that it’s because it I’m using a script (so much better with bullet points) to keep within the 4 minute parameter. (New format….)

Really glad I got to see the venue though. That will help with refocusing. Also glad I had practice the day before. 

I also appreciate the support from my family and the +ve mentions on social media. And that I do have a backup plan in case I blank out on stage…..
Now to practice what I preach to my students and staff about risk taking. To trust the process….know we are supported…..and get ready to do the best job we can!
There will be a bonus blog based on ‘the day’…..

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Day 13 (of 185) if only we started eportfolioing a week earlier…!

Day 13 (of 185) if only we started eportfolioing a week earlier…!

One of my teachers came in thrilled that she had just had an eportfolio moment….but our tools haven’t been ordered yet….

Earlier this week my new staff agreed to experiment with some eportfolio-ing. So obviously their brains have been thinking about what/how to document using an eportfolio. Sure we’ve talked about key additions like reading writing and numeracy samples and rubrics. Also those special moments. 

But….what do they look like?

Well, while she was able to get some photos, she wished she could’ve video-ed:

The class exploring how to make paper shapes that would support great weights. There had been some pre-thinking going on. Some small tests. Some who felt they would be the leaders of this STEM challenge were doing okay……

But not as well as an emerging leader – a girl who hadn’t always been successful at school. But as book after book was added to her paper support…..and it continued to hold…..long after most others gave in to the gravitational pressures. 

And with each book, her excitement grew! She started dancing and exclaimed this was her “best day of school ever”. 

The story is great….but archived in an eportfolio…..kinda wish we could have started the eportfolio planning a week or two earlier so we coulda been ready. 

But the nice part is that with the excitement of the student that was infectious throughout the class and especially to the adults….we want to chase more “best days ever”. 

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Day 12 (of 185) technology in-service reflection

Day 12 (of 185) technology in-service reflection

I had the chance to spend a Monday pro-d morning with another staff that just received iPad minis for the teachers. I was brought in to give them some of my pointers. So here’s what I said: 

1. I love the iPad mini. Great sized device that students in particular feel comfortable moving around with (iPad 2 etc tended to be used, but placed on a flat surface first). 

2. Gotta play with them. One asked “can we take them home” – I always encourage taking devices home as you need to get comfortable with the.  Tablets can be shared, but always work better with a level of personalization (even if it’s just a digital file w specific apps)

3. Rule #1 identify (and talk about) “tool or toy”. Tools help learning, toys distract – and admit sometimes kids will need the ‘toy’ to help them self regulate – don’t care which as much as I want to know how it is being used. 
4. It is a powerful tool that can act like many other devices. A music maker, camera, recording studio and more. Even a common “soft” technology distuptor like a document camera (often a soft-disruptor that lets student work be shared in real time) but one that is much more mobile and can move to where the student work is rather than them bringing it to where the camera is

5. The keyboard may be “smallish” but I’m a larger fellow and even my thumbs hit the right keys….and for those doubters there is always peripheral keyboards that work very well. But if you need one, get a quality one…..

6. There are some amazing ways for students to consume info (YouTube web browsers, apps galore)

7. There are even better ways to create content (YouTube blogs iMovies GarageBand iPhoto – the iLife suite is unparalleled)

8. It has proven to be a great tool for eportfolios – the portability and mobility allows great real-time communication of learning (with the right app)

But really….the best part of bringing the right technology tool into the discussion around Learbing was the evolution of who was leading the session. While I had a framework (on keynote of course wirelessly connected to the projector thanks to AppleTV Bluetooth) to guide the discussion and highlight some key “starting points” – it was neat to see leaders emerge from around the room. The principal was encouraging using iMessage so they could be in touch with each other (not everyone felt comfortable having their phone on them – something I still encourage my staff to do: text me when you need me.)

But I spoke less and less as others shared ideas. And discoveries. And ideas on what could be done. And questions around limitations of one tool/room. 

Powerful conversations and ongoing ownership over how to best use the tool to enhance learning – what I’ve called “technologization”. 

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Day 11 (of 185) guest blog from @Coop_swim “The art of teaching your child how to drive a standard car”

Our director is instruction Carl Cooper shared this reflection in our weekly newsletter. Had to share as it’s a. I’ve reflection on the role of formative descriptive feedback as part of a reflective feedback loop:
The Art of Teaching Your Child How to Drive a Standard Car (and formatively assessing as you go) . . . 

“I have a couple of confessions to make before writing about teaching my daughter how to drive a standard this past weekend,” confesses Director of Instruction Carl Cooper. 

“First off, I have always been a ‘fan’ of letter grades, and of percentages when it comes to assessment and espe- cially reporting. It worked for me.” 

“Second, because Reporting and Assessment are such large tasks for our district this coming year, I dedicated much of my summer reading to assessment books and articles (for example Transforming Schools and Systems Using Assessment, How Children Succeed, Formative Assessment: Improving Learning in Secondary Classrooms, and The Secret of Effective Feedback).” 

“So as is often the case when we ‘read’ or start learning something, it always seems to connect to our real world, our brains seem to nd ways to apply what we have learned. Thus this all converged for me this past weekend when my daughter asked me to teach her how to drive a standard car.” 

“As we got in the car I started with what I knew best, my own experience of being a new driver. I can still hear the ever increasingly loud and repeated instructions from my step-father as I continued to bunny hop, stall, and over rev the car. I both demonstrated for my daughter and then gave my daughter the instructions: push the clutch in, press the gas until you can hear it rev (I demonstrated the right amount of gas and what it sounded like), slowly release the clutch until you feel the car catch and want to pull forward, and then, even slower on the clutch until you are moving.” 

“Simple! Right? Or so I had been told 40 years ago. “ 

“I used almost the exact same words my step-father had used. I mean after all that’s how I learned to drive a stan- dard, and I know how to drive a standard.” 

However, he said, it became clear very quickly after some minimal success on his daughter’s part, that he needed to rethink his ‘teaching’ and his ongoing feedback to her.
“I recalled as a 16-year-old being ‘stuck’ on a hill for about an hour as my increasingly frustrated step-father re- peated the instructions about releasing the clutch slowly, etc. I also recall that eventually I asked my mom to take the car to a school parking lot and I basically taught myself (through trial and error, and probably at the cost of one clutch).” 

“So first off I re-evaluated my teaching and got behind the wheel and realized that actually I was missing a step. When the clutch starts to engage, I very subtly ‘increased’ the gas. This instruction had never been given to me. It made a difference. I noted the observation and my daughter added that into her somewhat overwhelming list of things to learn. At this point I came to a self-revelation, the improved instructions were now complete, but for her the real learning was now starting.” 

“I, and the car, began giving immediate and descriptive feedback. The car gave feedback by stalling, hopping or ‘going’. I could have used a performance standard metric and evaluated each effort with a 1,1,2,3,2,3,2,1,3,2, etc. Instead, I started using phrases like ‘can you feel it catch’, what does that feel like, can you hear the sound, slower on the release of the clutch, gently press on the gas, etc. etc.“ 

“I didn’t evaluate with a number, percentage or letter grade. I did not say that clutch release was a ‘2’ or a C-. In- stead I used descriptive language (gently, slower, feel it catch, hear the engine, etc. etc.). The progress was remark- able and the improvement immediate if not smooth. She would get it for 3 or 4 times and then suddenly lose the skill, she was competent and then not, driving and changing gears one moment, stalling the next.” 

“Yet over time there was clear improvement even to the point of us adding ‘starting up a hill from a standstill’. Now, today, I could if need be, do a summative assessment and give her a letter grade (a 2 for minimally meets, and a C-) not because I kept track of the 100 plus gear changes that she did, but because it is clear that in this skill she is an emerging learner who has the minimal understanding and skill. She cannot always demonstrate the skill, but she can ‘most of the time’. “ 

“I then thought of the many athletes I have coached in various sports and in particular swimming. In a sport which is as empirical as you can get (‘what was your time?’) I realized that in teaching and helping my swimmers improve that I have always used ‘descriptive feedback’. “Your arm pull is too wide’, drop your chin, or focus your eyes on the pool bottom. I could easily evaluate each of my swimmers with a number or letter grade, but when I am trying to get them to improve – to learn – I describe to them how they can improve. That’s why we call it coach- ing! As I have come to understand more and more, so is teaching. Teaching is coaching our students to be better. It’s what we try and do every day.” 

“I had to laugh when I shared parts of my revelations with Jim Howie our Music Supervisor. He laughed and said it’s not just coaching in sports –what do you think music teachers do every day. Music teachers constantly use descriptive language to teach our students how to play instruments. We are all coaches – math coaches, reading coaches, socials coaches, personal responsibility coaches, etc.” 

“So while there may (or may not) always be a need or place for percentages, letter grades, and numbers at the end of a course or school year, the real teaching and learning comes every day in the feedback we give our students, how we describe what they are doing well and what they need to change or try differently. Perhaps ‘descriptive feedback’ should be the standard feedback,” he concluded. 

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Day 10 (of 185) Lynn Miller Anxiety in #83learns

Day 10 (of 185) Lynn Miller Anxiety in #83learns

Love her opening about not assuming people are aware of what mental wellness issues look like and act like. 
So far? We are doing a poor job helping the general public understand mental illness


Of 1200 PVPs surveyed, 94% confirm mental health and well being an important factor to their academic life. It’s called Social Emotional Learning in schools. 

Did you know: Grade 3 comments are great predictors on G8 success just focusing on pro-social behaviours… aware of this stat

And…..Any kind of SEL program leads to higher academics, better attendance, like school more! #1 encourage friendships. 

Children’s Competencies:

Problem solving methods (forgot lunch or didn’t study – don’t rescue kids)

Ability to initiate, maintain and end friendships appropriately

Strong interpersonal skills

Adaptability/flexibility (cope in realistic manner – avoidant aggressive or assertive)

Stress management (ability to work well under pressure to resist/delay an impulse) <– this is the main reason why students drop out of universities – they can’t manage independently. 

Key child & adolescent mental disorders

Anxiety disorders 13%

Disruptive Behavioural (adhd odd cd) 10.3%

Mood 6.2%

Substance 2%

Any disorders. 20.9%
In other words – 1 in 5 at school. 
Autism? 1/2 of 1% so doesn’t even make this list….
Even eating disorders don’t quite make this list – but becomes more impactful for older years. 

Key growth for anxiety – age 5/6 – entry to school. And the pressure to do well at school begins…..

Esp when kids read anxiety of parent who suddenly has doubts…

Next age: 9. Math gets hard…brain develops from concrete applications to abstract thinking. Then puberty….

But anxiety is normal. Keeps you alive. Best viewed on continuum of low to high. 

Symptoms of anxiety:



Physical symptoms


–> you don’t get any correction to your thinking and it takes you to worse case scenarios. 

Anxiety is Normal:

Survival system (avoid separation from adults; aware of predators) – the smoke alarm of the body

Some kids over-sensitive. Certain preferences (esp for food clothing & tactile things)

Leads to fight-flight-freeze response

Anxiety is physical:

Arousal: heart rate, breathing, shaky, dizzy

Abdominal: nausea, stomachaches etc

Tension: headaches, muscle aches, fatigue

Sleep: insomnia & avoidance

Anxiety is developmental

Infant/toddlers: separation, novel

Preschool: Animals, dark, separation

School: adaptations, performance, family

Preadolescent: mortality, health

Adolescence: social, existential, future

Safety behaviours include:


Escape from situation


Reassurance seeking

Resistance to change

Self meds: nicotine and alcohol are typical suppressants. Shift more to marijuana – but has so many possible end effects (esp w paranoia a common side/after effect)

Common associated features

Depressed/irritable, cries easy

Fidgety, nervous habits (eg nail biting)

Headaches, upset stomach, pains

Overly dependent (clingy)

Perseverance, difficulty shifting tasks, resistance to change, inflexibility

Easily overwhelmed; gives up easily, low frustration tolerance

Difficulty demonstrating knowledge on tests or during classroom participation

Trouble coming to school or entering school/classroom 
GOTTA ASK: what are you thinking?
Frequently overlooked symptoms:

Angry outbursts

Oppositional and refusal behaviours

Temper tantrums

Attention seeking behaviours

Hyperactivity and difficulty sitting still

Attention and concentration problems

Scholastic underachievement or excessive resistance to doing work

Frequent visits to school office or physician

High number of missed school days

Difficulties with social or group activities 

General Overview:

 Most common mental health problem

12-20% affected

Impact and morbidity not widely recognized

Girls often have more fears than boys

Number and types of fears across cultures fairly consistent

Presence of one anxiety disorder increases risk of developing additional anxiety disorders 

Children and youth with anxiety disorders rarely receive appropriate or effective interventions

Types of anxiety disorders

Specific phobias

Separation anxiety disorder

Obsessive compulsive disorder

Generalized anxiety disorder

Social anxiety disorder (first in adolescence most prevalent)

Panic disorder w/o agoraphobia

PTSD (treatment: talk about it talk about it talk about it)

Cause of anxiety: ?????
Some causes: genetics, life experiences, personality, cognitive style, family environment….
What MAINTAINS anxiety:

Avoidance, avoidance, AVOIDANCE

Anxious self-talk

Mistaken beliefs

Lack of assertiveness

Lack of self calming skills

Life stressors

Excessive reassurance seeking

Complications of untreated anxiety
Diminished educational and vocational achievement (drop out)

Bullied more than peers

Impaired social relationships

Subsequent depression, alcohol abuse, cigarette smoking

Greatest predictor of youth suicide

“Growing out of it is a myth”. 

Fundamentals (cognitive behaviour therapy)

1. Teach about anxiety

2. Relaxation tools

3. Helpful thinking

4. Facing fears

5. Relapse prevention 

“Friends” programs are designed for this.

Summary of night:
Anxiety disorders are highly prevalent, usually get worse without treatment, but are probably the MOST treatable of all mental health concerns. 

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