Archive | November 2014

TDSB Google Camp 2.0 – my session on STEM and Google Apps for Education

The Teaching and Learning with Technology team put together another AMAZING Google Camp!!!

Keynote by Julie Millan was awesome! It was great hearing from “one of us”. It is nice on occasion to have the celebrity keynote but what is really inspiring is someone in our board who is doing amazing work and someone we can connect with.  Julie’s message was really about how technology has been changing, what learning looks like is changing and that teachers need to embrace that.  She encouraged teachers to #TryOneThing! I found there was way more than one thing to try!

My session links can be found here:

If you missed the camp, you really missed something cool! BUT it isn’t the end of the world.  All the resources are found online and the 80 presenters shared all of their resources!

Click on the names of the session which will open up a presenter profile with all their shared links.

google camp profile

Follow the hashtag #TDSDgafe and #TDSBict for more information and a vast amount of educators to add to your PLN


Literacy with Actively Learn! Not just for English class! #EdTech

Check out Actively Learn: Click here 


Reading is not just for English class!  Actively Learn has a place in all subject areas.  Being a science teacher I strive to have scientifically literate students by teaching the concepts of science but more importantly what is happening in the world around them.

By using Actively Learn, I can assign readings to my students from the curated content to articles I find online and see how my students are understanding.  The content already in the database is high quality with categories and notes already loaded by Actively Learn and other teachers.  A feature I find extremely useful is the ability to add your own text from the internet, Google Doc or PDF.  To prepare students for the Provincial wide literacy standardized test, I can upload practice articles from their database and assign.  I am able to add local or global science issues from new discoveries to interesting articles that hook students into science.

The teacher dashboard is very informative and natural to use.  You can easily assign readings to single or multiple classes.  Class creation in very simple and students join by logging in with a custom code.  Once they are in, students can start completing assignments based on what the teacher has assigned.

The powerful part of this whole site and what separates it from just having students read an article online is the analytics.  You can view a variety of stats once your students start to work.  From reading time, to answers to questions, you can comment and grade the students right from the dashboard.  You can select a particular question and see the class results, give them feedback and rank their answers.  Students can also raise the I don’t understand flag, which will alert you to help a particular student.

I would like to see the ability to remove part of the article from an online source.  For example some articles have ads or extra information that become trapped in the article, the ability to modify the body text of an article would be useful.  Got stuck? The help centre is very informative on how to do all the functions within the site.  From adding students, curating content to importing your own articles there is help for it all!

This program should not be limited to English class! It has value in any subject and any level.  The customization and available content is suitable for any range as you can control that. If you find the reading was too hard you can do an easier one next time.  You could also enrich the article with extra links to challenge students.  This program works very well for my classes and accommodating special education requests.  Some students need to hear the text read to them.  Actively Learn has a built in text to speech feature simply by highlighting and clicking hear it.  I highly recommend this program as it helps students on their literacy and understanding subject content.

Below is a step by step guide on how I added an article in for my grade 9 science class.

A great article I am using to link our ecology unit and space unit is “The Plan to Map Illegal Fishing From Space” from WIRED science.  I think by having students see how these two units cross over they will have a better understanding of science as a whole.

1) The dashboard is very easy to use.  I click on “Add Content”

1 dashboard 

2) From the list you can select the type of content you would like to add.

2 add content

3) For this example I want to use online text, so selected that option3 add online text

4) There are ton of great resources if you click the popular resources button but I already have an article in mind.

4 wired article

5) Paste the link in and follow the next set of steps to fill in further information to categorize your article.

5 edit text

6) I can then add links, notes or questions for students to try. In this article it mentions protected areas, so I linked to the Canadian Government’s website on protected areas in Canada to provide a local context for students.  I don’t think all of them will know the difference between a false positive and false negative so will give them an article to explain. As well I explain why we are linking the two units together as a note.  

 7 add note 8 add link

7) Many of the questions can test for understanding, or in the article I have chosen, allow for students to give their opinion as well.

6 add questions

8)Once complete,  I assign it to my class back at the dashboard page.

10 assigning 11 assigning 2

More on customizing can be found here on their FAQ/Help Section

Want to give it a try? Click here to get started!

EdAppHack: Educational Hackathon at MaRS Discovery District #EdAppHack

Its been two weeks since EdAppHack and been meaning to write a blog about the day but its been very busy at school. So a 5 am wake up and were we go!

Check out

The event couldn’t have gone off any better (ok maybe there could have been a few improvements)! It was all the dedicated people that made this completely free youth driven, educational hackathon a success! So thank you to all the planning members, sponsors, teachers, mentors, Humber students and most importantly the high school students for making this event awesome.

There were way too many photos to choose from, instead of making this post massive here are the links to our social media summaries!

Checkout the Storify here:

Checkout the Tumblr here: 

Joseph Romano and I welcomed everyone in and thanked the group. The main message we wanted to let them know is we are flipping the model of app development. The students are the bosses and will be working with mentors and developers to have their ideas heard. They were to identify gaps and put forth a solution that would help other youth.

We got to hear from Carla Kisko, associate director of TDSB welcoming the students to the day. Our major sponsor Humber College, was a huge part of the day. They acted as mentors and developers which were critical to the success of the apps made. Heather Lowry the associate dean of School of Media Studies & information Technology, gave a great opening of which programs can take if interested in programming and app development.

To open the day we had an amazing keynote speaker Robleh Jama from Tiny Hearts, a Toronto app company, give his background and motivation for the day. His presentation can be found here:

Joe Wilson, Senior Strategist, Educational Technology at MaRS Discovery District inspired the room and got the students thinking of the many roles that go into a successful app. He explained each group needs a hacker, a hustler and a designer. That proved to be very true from our winning team as they were able to strike a perfect balance of the three. He got them up and creating all-star teams.

After an amazing lunch provided by the youth food program at Central Technical School, we broke off into scrums. Scrums accepted 1-2 students from each team over to a side section where they were able to learn about a concept and brining it back to the group.

Scrum 1: Storyboarding/Designing an App by Sticker UI Book – Killer Inc

I reached out to this Kickstarter that was going through the funding process just as our hackathon was going on. I saw they had a great UI (user interface) idea for apps and asked if they could make a custom sheet for our hackathon. They gratefully provided us with an awesome UI design sheet for a variety of devices and storyboarding. Students came up with some awesome interfaces and turned to the Humber students and mentors to help them.

Scrum 2: Prototyping with AppSeed

Ariel, a Humber College Student led the scrum. He did an amazing job showcasing this awesome app he worked on with Greg Goralski. Students were able to draw on a prototype paper and use AppSeed to scan in the pages and make a working prototype in minutes. Click here for their Kickstarter!

Scrum 3: Mozilla App Maker – Hatch Canada 

Hatch Canada ran the Mozilla Appmaker scrum. Appmaker is an amazing tool that allows you to make a functioning web app in minutes, while teaching the basics of coding at the same time.

The rest of the day was left to the youth hacking along! They developed awesome logos, twitter accounts, surveyed potential customers and got to work on promotional videos and their pitch.

Day 2 started off with the same energy that was buzzing in the room the day before. The 3 pm pitch deadline was looming and the groups were eager to get back to work. Gen Ling Chang the associate director of TDSB gave a great welcome back to get the students started. She spoke about embracing this as a model for learning and the importance of being innovative.

Marc Saltzman had a great video message for the group, sharing what makes a good app.  He was very enthusiastic and the students really loved the inspiration. Getting to hear from Robleh the day before and Marc now, they really got some good advice to tweak their app.

Marc’s Video

Scrum 4: How to Pitch – Joe Wilson of MaRS.

Joe gave a whole group talk on how to pitch to the judges. He talked about the importance of a short elevator pitch that gets the most important details across so that it would leave a lasting impression.

Scrum 5: Teachers Only – How to use this process in your class. Ryan Burwell from MaRS / Twenty One Toys.

Ryan got a big discussion of what was happening over the weekend and what that would like in schools. Unfortunately I didn’t get to attend this scrum as I was prepping for the pitches but would love a teacher to comment on the session!

Right before the pitches one of the judges, Darin Graham, CEO of Orion, gave an incredible talk to the students. He was extremely real, motivating and got the students thinking of the future. Orion also was a major sponsor and had a film crew to document the innovation that is happening on their network. Look out soon for that!

The judges took their seats and the pitch order was randomized. Judges for this weekend were

Peter Singh, Chief Technology Officer, Toronto District School Board

Heather Lowry, Associate Dean, School of Media Studies & Information Technology,

Humber College

Darin Graham, President & CEO, ORION

All three judges brought a wealth of experience and we thank them so much.

Pitches: Why tell you when you can see them all here:

The Winners!

1) Switch On – Kipling C.I. and Vaughn Road Academy

2) One Mark – Woburn Collegiate

3) Time4Life – Birchmount Collegiate

4) Time Line – Hardbord Collegiate

All teams made amazing apps. The other teams did amazing and had such great apps as well. The top 4 listed above were able to come up with a great app and win the hearts of the judges with a clear and quick pitch.

Thank you, co- facilitators Joe Romano and Joe Wilson. We couldn’t have done it without Peter Singh, Gen Ling Chang, Carla Kisko, Heather Lowry and Humber College, Cathy Bogaart and Darin Graham of Orion, Ontario College of Teachers, Sesame,, Nuvango and Leader PM / Quality Plating . Thank you to all the mentors and Humber students as well as the volunteers from Monarch Park documenting the day!

For the handouts for the event see:

Our interview on MindShare Learning with Robert Martellacci

Social Media can be found here:



Joseph Romano, Brandon Zoras and Joe Wilson

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NextLesson – Engaging. Relevant. Real World


NextLesson is a great site that is focused on performance tasks, problem based learning, critical thinking and rank and reason activities.  The lessons are hands on, engaging and prepare students for 21st century problems. Check out NextLesson at

Fig 1: Browse by 21st Century Skill

Screen Shot 2014-10-28 at 10.35.49 PM

The site is simple to search by grade, subject and common core standard.  Being from Toronto, Canada, I found many of the lessons fit in nicely to the Ministry of Ontario’s Curriculum as well.  There is a lot of free content and premium content at affordable prices that can be downloaded, modified and shared online.  The lesson tool bar allows for many options for your lessons from ranking and discussion to printing and adding your own content.  You can even duplicate a lesson and add challenges for those students in one class or change the overall lesson for another class.

Screen Shot 2014-10-28 at 10.23.53 PMFig 2: Lesson Tool Bar: 

The lessons are loaded with docs, PDFs, downloads, embedded videos, and links to online content.  What I really like is the ability to copy the lesson and edit and add as much or as little to it as I want.  The problem I often encounter when using other people’s lessons is that I can’t just use them as is.  I need to change things to suit my classroom and students’ needs. With NextLesson you can have that customization and add your personal flare to the lesson.  You can then make notes and share this lesson with students so they have all the notes. The lessons also implement technology such as Minecraft, QR codes, coding,  simulations and many other technologies.

Fig 3: Ease of Sharing With Class Codes

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Fig 4: QR Codes with Cell Structures

Screen Shot 2014-10-28 at 10.21.40 PM

After exploring and testing the lessons in my class, the students were engaged and saw the practical applications.  Students had to use a variety of skills that they don’t normally think belong in science.  In high school especially, we often compartmentalized subjects and students often take off their math hat and pop on their science hat once they enter to the next class.

Fig 5: Building a Lunar Lander Lesson

Screen Shot 2014-10-28 at 10.15.51 PM

One lesson I liked that fit into the Space unit for grade 9 science in the Ontario Curriculum was the Build a Lunar Lander.  The lesson comes packed with instructions, handouts, and video clips of the moon landing.  I like the ease at which all the materials is found in one place.  To do this lesson without NextLesson, would take a lot of prep work by finding and organizing the content.  I was able to quickly access what was in the database and then add my own things found on the internet.  The students liked exploring the additional content that I added as well.  I was able to add the Google Maps Moon site to the lesson for my students to explore.

Check out NextLesson at