Brainstorming with Padlet

This week with my middle school gifted class (grades six to eight) we did a brainstorming session using Padlet (previously Wall Wisher).  We have done some brainstorming sessions already this year, usually set up with small groups brainstorming and with one person as recorder writing the group’s ideas down on paper.  There are benefits to brainstorming that way, but some drawbacks are:

  • some group members are more vocal than others
  • it can be hard to get all of the ideas down on paper as they can come fast and furious
  • even though I always stress the DOVE principle (Defer judgement, Oddball and outrageous ideas, Vast quantity, and Expand and elaborate) it is hard for people to defer judgement, which ends up in silencing some members
So with this class I wanted to use an online tool to provide a different setting.  Part of the challenge was finding a tool that did not require all participants to have an account or an e-mail address.  I did a search and there are some interesting mind mapping and brainstorming tools out there, but most did not meet my e-mail / account requirement.  Then I remembered Wall Wisher.  I had used it once in an online course that in which I participated.  I wasn’t enamoured with it then when we used it as an asynchronous tool, but thought that it might serve my purposes this time.

Wall Wisher is now called Padlet.  To set up an account I had to login with my Google credentials.  Then I set up my ‘walls’.  For each wall I can determine the look and feel as well as the security settings.  For yesterday’s brainstorming session I had a ‘hidden link’ (public link, but hidden from Google and the public area of Padlet) and anyone could write on it.

A screenshot of our invention brainstorm on Padlet.

It was a neat process!  You see what a student is typing on the wall right away.  Sometimes just seeing part of a person’s idea gives you a new idea to post.  Students commented out loud to each other when they liked someone’s idea or asked for more information.  We spent a lot more time on it than we would have the way we had brainstormed in the past just because it was clear that people’s ideas just kept flowing.  The whole process felt less chaotic than a ‘typical’ brainstorm session.  We also have a digital copy of our brainstorming to refer back to!

When we were nearing the end of the session I asked students how they liked brainstorming this way.  The response was overwhelmingly positive!

Some caveats:
  • I had a small group yesterday; with a larger group I could see creating a number of Padlet walls and assigning students to different walls.  
  • My students were very well behaved, I could see this going sideways if some students started posting silly or hurtful things.  I was on my computer monitoring the wall the whole time–deleting posts if necessary (usually just blank notes that were taking up space) and sometimes just giving a gentle verbal reminder to particular students if something inappropriate was posted.  
  • Students are essentially anonymous when they post.  There is no way to really track who said what.  There is a spot to put your name, but students could put in someone else’s name or a nonsense name.  

Overall, I was really pleased with how this went.

Do you have a favourite method for brainstorming with your students?  I’d love to hear your tips and trick in the comments.


Childhood Objects

This week in the Learning Creative Learning (LCL) course one of the tasks is to “Read Seymour Papert’s essay on the Gears of My Childhood and write about an object from your childhood that interested and influenced you”.  I have been struggling for awhile to come up with something to write about.  As a child I played with Lego and I had a wonderful furnished house for my Barbie dolls but neither of these objects affected me in the profound way that Seymour Papert’s gears did.  Then, as I sat down to write this post I realized that what I needed to write about was my Tickle Trunk.

Mr. Dressup

Google Canada Doodle honouring what would have been Ernie Coombs' aka Mr. Dressup's 85th birthday.

If you are a Canadian of a certain age, then you know what a Tickle Trunk is.  Mr. Dressup, a television show for young children, featured Mr. Dressup and his Tickle Trunk.  In the Tickle Trunk were all manner of dress up clothes and props.

When I was a kid my sister and I had a trunk full of dress up clothes, we didn’t actually call it our Tickle Trunk, but that is what it was.  We would get dressed up and play make believe games.  A lot of times we would hang some of the dress up clothing along the edge of a table making fabric walls for our newly created forts.  We spent a lot of time creating and imagining.  I can’t say that the experience helped me to understand mathematical concepts as Papert’s gears did, but I think that it allowed me to practice problem solving.  The role playing also allowed me to become more empathetic; I find myself often trying to view things from another person’s perspective.  But it wasn’t just the items in the Tickle Trunk that were important, it was having another imaginative child–my sister–to play and create with too.

Is there an object from your childhood that strongly interested or influenced you?  Let me know in the comments!

Another MOOC?

In addition to #ETMOOC, I’ve also registered for the Learning Creative Learning course from MIT Media Lab and P2PU.  Call me crazy, but I just couldn’t pass up this opportunity!

Lately I have been heavily influenced by the blog posts of Gary Stager and Clarence Fisher.  Both write about getting students to create using technology especially in regards to having students program using tools like Scratch.  I’ve also recently started using MaKey MaKey kits with my students.  The Learning Creative Learning (LCL) course promises to allow me to explore these ideas and tools more.  From the LCL website; “[the course] introduces ideas and strategies for designing technologies to support creative learning.”  Some of the topics to be explored are;

  • interest based learning
  • constructivism and making 
  • open learning
  • social creativity

Some of the tools we’ll be asked to use / try out are Scratch and MaKey MaKeys.  There are also a number of assigned readings, the first one being Gears of My Childhood by Seymour Papert.  Clarence Fisher and Gary Stager (who was a student with Papert) both refer to Papert quite a bit in their posts and I am keen to exposed to more of his ideas.

Since one of the main foci of the gifted program, where I now teach, is creativity this course seems like a great fit!  As an added bonus I convinced one of my colleagues, Barry Loewen, to sign up for the course too.  We’ve already gotten together once to discuss the course and I look forward to more discussions, both online and in person, in the weeks to come.  I hope to be blogging more about the LCL course in the weeks ahead.

Cheers, and thanks for reading!

Digital Storytelling

Hey, I didn’t realize I was a digital story teller!

The past two weeks in #ETMOOC the focus has been digital storytelling.  Soon after starting this topic I realized that I have done a little more digital storytelling that I had at first realized.  Here are a few examples:

A successful and an unsuccessful attempt

During the past two weeks I didn’t make as many digital stories as I had hoped.  I had an idea that I wanted to try out with Popcorn Maker involving making a Pop Up Video for the theme song to The Fresh Prince of Bel Air (I was inspired by this video where the lyrics to the song were put through all of the languages in Google Translate).  To make a long story short, I didn’t end up creating the video (I encountered browser issues and couldn’t find a good quality video that Popcorn Maker would allow me to use.)  I do definitely want to have another go at using Popcorn Maker though–I think it has a lot of potential.
I did try out the #etmooc 5 Card Flickr.  I really like this activity and would like to try it out with students.  At the end of this post is one of my attempts called ‘Bad News’.

“Digital is not the difficult part in digital storytelling. Storytelling is.”

The above quotes comes from one of the readings for this part of the #ETMOOC course; Digital storytelling: How to Tell a story that stands out in the digital age by Jasper Visser.  I think this is where my focus needs to shift, away from the digital and towards the art of storytelling.

The Wrap Up

Do you use digital storytelling, either just yourself or with students?  If so, what lessons have you learned?  What makes a good digital story?  What have you found to be successful in getting students to create good digital stories?
And now for my Five Card Flickr Story:

Five Card Story: Bad News

a #etmooc story created by @clthompson

flickr photo by cogdogblog

flickr photo by cogdogblog

flickr photo by cogdogblog

flickr photo by cogdogblog

flickr photo by cogdogblog

It may look like I’m just hanging out, but really I’m fretting about picking a time to give my husband the bad news. You see I was out driving the pink ’6T’ Camaro today. I was stopped on the Parkway at Green Mountain Road when Marge pulled up beside me in her ’65 fastback. She looked at me, I looked at her and then the light went green. Well I floored it and so did she! Unfortunately a group of kayakers were jaywalking and I had to swerve to avoid them. Really, if you’re walking around carrying kayaks over your head you ought to be a little more careful! Anyway, I’m hoping the double Ceasar I’ve got ready and waiting for hubby will soften the blow of hearing that I’ve totalled his baby.

Creativity: A Short Aside

I haven’t blogged much about my switch this year from teaching gr 8 – 10 in the distributed learning program (online learning) to teaching gr K – 8 in the Gifted Program.  I will get to that sometime soon.  For now I just wanted to say that this change in teaching assignment has really opened my eyes to creativity.  How it is fostered, and how it is present in so many things that I just didn’t see before.  It is not just a change in my teaching assignment that has opened my eyes.  I have also been influenced by Lawrence Lessig’s ideas (I’m currently reading Free Culture) and the ideas presented in the movie Rip! A Remix Manifesto (for a great post on this movie see Carolyn Durley’s reflection here).  I am also seeing how easily and cavalierly we quash creativity in our children as we get older.

There’s a bigger blog post in here, and I hope to write it soon :-)  For now I’ll leave you with a question.  How do you foster creativity in your classroom and in your life?   

On Rhizomatic Learning


Rhyzomagic Award by guilia.forsythe CC-BY-NC-SA 2.0

Today I attended Dave Cormier’s (@davecormier) #ETMOOC session on ‘Rhizomes, MOOCs and Making Sense of Complexity’ (hopefully the recording should show up here soon).  It was an interesting session and I found myself. and others judging from the chat, wondering how this might work in K – 12 education.

Cormier defines rhyzomatic learning as follows:

“The rhizome is [the] stem of plant, like hops, ginger or japanese bamboo, that helps the plant spread and reproduce. It responds and grows according to its environment, not straight upwards like a tree, but in a haphazard networked fashion. As a story for learning, it is messy, unstable and uncertain. It is also, as anyone who has ever had one in the garden will tell you, extremely resilient. As with the rhizome the rhizomatic learning experience is multiple, has no set beginning or end, – “a rhizome creates through the act of experimentation.”

I understand this way of learning because this is how most of my own informal learning occurs.  But when Cormier started to talk about an ‘Open Syllabus’ whereby the teacher and students agree on what they will learn I wondered how that would work in K – 12.  Cormier did explicitly say that this type of learning is not meant for all contexts.  For example, if students need to learn 10 specific concepts, rhizomatic learning is not the way to go.

Then things started to click for me.  Until this year I have always taught courses where there was a major focus on covering lots and lots of prescribed learning outcomes.  This year though, I do not have a long list of prescribed learning outcomes.  I can construct the curriculum with my students.  In fact, one of my students has expressed dissatisfaction as he felt that things were too teacher driven and he wanted more input.  So now I’m excited!  I have no idea how to achieve rhizomatic learning with my students, but I know that I want to give it a try.

How about you?  Are there areas of your curriculum that are amenable to rhyzomatic learning?  Can you see this working with students in the K – 12 system?  Or, do you have any tips on how to successfully do this in a K – 12 context?  I’d love to hear from you.

How Important Is Connected Learning?

How important is connected learning?  This is one of the questions participants in #ETMOOC are being asked to consider right now.  Connected learning is incredibly important for me.  Part of that has to do with the type of work that I have been engaged in for the past 7 years.  Part of it stems from my desire to always be learning.

From 2006 – 2012 I worked as a distributed learning (online) teacher.  When I started there were only 3 of us in my district.  In order to learn how to improve my craft I absolutely needed to connect with others.  The yearly conference in my province geared towards distributed learning was an incredible way to connect with other distributed learning teachers.  But it happens only once a year for a few days and then it is over.  I needed more.  I got more by:

  • attending week long online courses on specific topics (KnowWeeks and later CEET Moodle Meets)
  • subscribing to blogs
  • blogging — writing my own posts helped connect me to others, but commenting on other people’s posts was how I was really able to connect to more people.     
  • tweeting — engaging in conversations, sending out links I thought were useful, promoting the posts of others, acting as a mentor
  • presenting at conferences
  • facilitating online professional development
  • building my personal learning network (PLN) and becoming a connected learner!
Being a connected learner was especially important to me this year.  That is because I took on a new position; I am one of two people teaching students in my district’s gifted program.  Gifted education is a new field for me.  My colleague has been wonderful with sharing ideas and suggestions, but if I wasn’t a connected learner with an extensive PLN I think that the past 5 months would have been so.  much.  more. challenging.  If I wasn’t a connected learner I wouldn’t have:
  • watched The Story of Stuff and used it as a conversation starter with my middle school students
  • heard about The Marshmallow Challenge and tried it with my grade 1 – 8 students (blogged about here)
  • found out about The 21st Century Fluency Project and been able to access their lesson plans on invention (the theme for my classes this year)
  • heard about MaKey MaKey’s, which I have used with great success with my grade 2 – 8 students.  It really is amazing how much students love these devices!
  • been inspired to learn how to use JS Timeline (blogged about here)
  • encouraged to check out  and use Google’s lesson plans on conducting effective searches with my students (blogged about here)
  • started taking a Code Academy course on HTML and CSS.
  • signed up for #ETMOOC
All of the things in the list above I found out about or felt encouraged to try because I am a connected learner.  Yes, I still just search for things online.  But by far the most valuable resources and ideas I have come across are via other people with whom I am connected, even if that connection is rather tenuous.

I can’t imagine going back to the limited connections I had before I was blogging, tweeting, and subscribing to blogs.   How about you?  Do you consider yourself a connected learner?  How does being a connected learner influence your practice?

Sharing Online As A Requirement

Tonight I attended the #etmooc live session with Dean Shareski entitled ‘Sharing is Accountability’.  It was in my early days of blogging about 5 years ago that I first encountered Dean and his message of sharing and it is in large part due to his influence that I do share as much as I do. In today’s session Dean put up the following quote by Ewan McIntosh (from this post):

Sharing, and sharing online specifically, is not in addition to the work of being an educator. It is the work.

I don’t know if McIntosh was frustrated when he wrote this or if he was just trying to be provocative, but I think that the part “and sharing online specifically” goes a bit too far.  I couldn’t agree more that if we want to improve as educators, sharing what we do is essential.  It is through sharing that we influence others and that they influence us with their questions, suggestions, or improvements on what we’ve shared.   I was reminded by Carolyn Durley (@okmbio) in her comment here that of course it is not just in online spaces that we share what we do.  We share when we present at conferences or staff meetings and mostly when we’re just kibitzing in the staff room.

Definitely online tools make it easier to share anytime, anywhere.  Will I push to get more of my colleagues sharing online?  You bet!  But should it be a requirement of teaching?  I’m not so sure.  What do you think?

Finding and Building Community in #ETMOOC

Ben Wilkoff posted a great video blog called #ETMOOC Is Overwhelming.  So, Let’s Make Some Meaning.  It really resonated with me.  Ben talks about the fact that MOOCs can be very overwhelming, and that to be successful you can’t read every tweet, blog post and Google+ comment.  You need to find people with whom you connect and create a smaller community to learn with and from.  Benjamin’s post ties in nicely with this post from Stephen Downes; What Makes a MOOC Massive?  What I took away from Downes was that for a MOOC to be considered massive there must be enough active participants that sub-communities form.  

I guess the question that I have with after reading Downes’ post and watching Benjamin’s video is how do I find my sub-community in ETMOOC?  A start for me would be to identify just what it is that I would like to focus on in ETMOOC.  At this point it would have to be fairly general, as I still don’t have a good sense of what this course is all about.  Then I need to be posting about what my focus is and reflecting on how I’m doing in the hopes of starting conversations with others.  I’ll also be finding conversations that interest me on the ETMOOC Blog HUB, Google+ Community, and #etmooc Twitter stream and leaving comments.  The ETMOOC sub-community that I’m envisioning will probably be fluid and perhaps could be better termed a network.  The people with whom I connect at the beginning, middle and end of ETMOOC will no doubt change.

So far what I’ve described isn’t terribly focussed and relies a lot on serendipity.  In fact, it sounds a lot like how I’ve been developing my PLN (personal learning network).  Because this is a course though, with a beginning and an end, I feel like I need to be more intentional.  Perhaps I should also be putting a call out and organizing a chat, or a online place to meet?  For example; “All ETMOOCers interested in topic ______ please join our twitter chat / Google Hangout / wiki / … “

What do you think?  How are you finding and building your #ETMOOC sub-community or network? 

Making My Learning Visible

Part of the emphasis of the Educational Technology & Media course that I’m taking right now (ETMOOC) is to make your learning visible.  Lately I have not been reflecting here on my learning, despite the fact I’ve been learning a lot in my new position this school year.  I’m going to have to change that.  What I have done though, is create a blog to highlight the work of students and to update their parents on what we have been doing in class.  The blog is called TWIG, short for This Week In Gifted and is located here.  The TWIG blog it is intended more as a weekly update for parents and is not a place where I reflect.  What I have done is attempted to provide links to the resources I’ve used, or that have inspired a lesson.  If you are a grade 1 – 5 teacher you may find this aspect of the blog useful.

Thanks for reading this.  If you have a moment, perhaps you could share how you are making your learning visible.