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 http://EdAppHack.com

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: https://storify.com/brandonzoras/edapphack

Checkout the Tumblr here: http://edapphack.tumblr.com/ 

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 http://youtu.be/A2wjzVs_3to

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, Chalk.com, 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: http://edapphack.com/resource

Our interview on MindShare Learning with Robert Martellacci http://mindsharelearning.ca/2014/11/05/exclusive-interview-with-joseph-romano-and-brandon-zoras/

Social Media can be found here:

Website http://edapphack.com
Twitter https://twitter.com/edapphack
Facebook https://www.facebook.com/EdAppHack
Tumblr http://edapphack.tumblr.com
Instagram http://instagram.com/edapphack
YouTube http://youtube.com/user/EdAppHack 


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 https://www.nextlesson.org/

Fig 1: Browse by 21st Century Skill

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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

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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

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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 https://www.nextlesson.org/

#EdAppHack Educational Hackathon at MaRS

Supported by the MaRS Discovery District, #EdAppHack is a 2-day Education-focused Hackathon that aims to unite Students, Teachers and Community App Developers through the theme of STEM. As an experiential and inquiry-based learning opportunity based on the Hackathon Model, the goal of the weekend event is to empower Student Voice in the creation of original Apps that support learning needs identified by Student participants. Teachers and App Developers will support each other and collaborate in teams with Students as they imagine, prototype, build and pitch their App ideas!

Saturday, October 25, 2014 &
Sunday, October 26, 2014

9:00AM – 5:00PM

MaRS Discovery District

101 College Street, Toronto, Ontario, M5G 1L7

check it out here!


Top BYOD App Recommendations by Teachers for Teachers #BYOD

Thank you for all the great teachers who submitted their top BYOD apps!  Here is the link to the list!  Please share!

Google Doc: http://bit.ly/BYODtopapps

If you missed the survey and have an app to add please add it here:  http://bit.ly/BYODapps

Thanks @HTheijsmeijer @msjackson2015 @patgrew @RomanoJ @Jason_To @mrstamegna for contributing!


Hip Hop Education comes to OISE #HipHopEd #Digitalstorytelling

Today I had the pleasure to present and run a breakout session at OISE as part of the Rhymes to Re-Education session.

Conference: OISE Educating for Peace and Justice: Action for Safe & Equitable Classrooms, Schools & Communities

With an amazing group of individuals we went through a lesson involving graffiti, spoken work / rap and digital storytelling.  In a super short 25 minutes the groups were able to make awesome videos that included graffiti brainstorm on peace and justice with selecting music that goes to their theme.  Although we didn’t have time to add our rap / spoken word to the piece they turned out great.  To use this example in your class download the handout below (or here Rhymes to Reeducation handout)

Gr0up 1:

video by: Ina, Sam and Daniella
Music – instrumental Juicy – Notorious BIG


Gr0up 2:

video by: TBA (group email me your names!)
Music – It Was A Good Day – Ice Cube

See Handout for the lesson below:

Rhymes to Reeducation handout

Below is my sample that I shared with the group.  I find if you want students to do a task you need to model it and step outside of your comfort zone.  My piece below is a spoken word and photos of my subway ride to school.  If we think of the journey our students make to school what are they thinking?  As a teacher I often get caught up in the content of school, so I may have 30 students enter and I am thinking all 30 are ready to learn science that morning.  But are they ready? are they focused on their next meal? A fight at home? an issue in the community? My piece reflects the thoughts I had going to school Friday and the recent murders of Abshir Hassan, a teacher trying to make the community better and Hamid Aminzada, killed at school trying to better himself with an education.  Heartbreaking and senseless.


For more resources follow:







BYOD App Library!

UPDATE! Here are the results!!!! Please feel free to submit others as the list will grow!



Hello Friends!

I want to compile a resource of BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) apps that teachers are actually using!  There are a lot of great lists out there of apps but this list will be based on teachers top recommendations based on what they are actually using! They can be web based or OS specific apps for any grade or subject.  Pass on the link to the survey to friends http://bit.ly/BYODapps

Please complete the following survey or use the embedded form below:   CLICK HERE FOR SURVEY 

Once the enough results are posted I will place the resource back here in this post!  Please share the survey amongst your teacher friends as well!



Banning Cell Phones at School?

I really can’t see the merit in that…unless the school is giving each student a laptop or tablet to replace it in their school day to learn with. Having the world at their fingertips is clearly something that can pedagogically benefit students when incorporated into a lesson. As teachers, we would love to say we know every fact but we really don’t. Textbooks go outdated the minute they are printed and subjects like science, that is rapidly changing, I want my students to access what is new and cool going on in the world. I want my students to shift from content consumers and stop just taking in information but to leverage their own learning and knowledge to create content. Being a content creator is very simple with a smart phone and it empowers students. During today’s lesson 95% of the students had a smartphone or tablet with them without even knowing we were using them today. The other 5% are able to use two of my class iPads to research, message, tweet, vine, skype, post…etc..

I know what some of you are thinking, they are going to be “on the Facebook” instead of learning. Yes, students may send a text to their friend or fire off a Snapchap message during class time but…have students ever whispered to one another when a teacher was talking or passed a note down a line of students?  As educators we need to create a culture in the classroom. The benefits outweigh all consequences I can think of. If we don’t allow phones into the class, who will teach them how to use them respectfully? for professional purposes? I know cyber bullying happens through phones but bullying happens in person too, so we can’t take away personal interactions due to a those incidents. We can’t take away phones for that same reason. There is no course on how to use cell phones, etiquette and manners online. It is through meaningful in-class relationships that we build those relationships and teach life skills along with our course content.

I use my phone all the time for personal and professional uses. I update the students class calendar on my class website right from my phone. Parents and students can log in instantly to see what’s due from a computer or their own phones. I tweet (@mrzorasstudent) out solutions from class, cool facts and things to benefit my students. More importantly I let the students curate the content as well and produce amazing ideas that are shared with the world. Learning chemical bonding can sometimes be boring, I admit it, but by having students produce a video from their cell phone explaining bonding and publishing it, they are having fun and learning the content as well. We use programs like Nearpod, which allows students to follow along and do quizzes from their phone so I can assess their learning. We grew space tomatoes as part of the Canadian Space Agency Tomato Sphere Project and heard back from them through Twitter. We make QR codes with information about science and place them around the school and have others do a scavenger hunt scanning them to learn. How about learning about electroplating and FaceTiming my Dad from my phone to give us a virtual tour. That is the tip of the iceberg as there are so many educational apps I encourage my students to use. and things we do in class.

I feel that students need to learn how to use their cell phones appropriately and I need to prepare them for the future. Using cellphones as an educational tool and in my class is important. I feel good that they are interacting safer in online spaces and are ready for the many jobs that will require them to work with cell phones as well.

Thanks for reading this blog post that was published entirely from my cell phone! 🙂


Video with my Dad on electroplating



Tweeting to the Canadian Space Agency about our tomato growth

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The class Twitter account: @mrzorasstudent

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Making videos on bonding

photo 3


The class calendar

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Updating the calendar from my own phone

photo 1

My reflection of my first 5 years of teaching!

With many years out of teachers college I thought it was time to administer a reflection task (if I didn’t get enough of those in teachers college) 🙂 5 years flew by and on the plane ride over to China to teach I had 14 hours to think and here it is: 

This school year ended like a whirlwind. It was also a significant milestone in my teaching career. This June marked my 5 year milestone in teaching. I have always known I love science but teaching is my true passion. My mom is also a teacher and is someone I look up to in my career. All the students at her school would look up to her and when we were in the neighbourhood many kids and then adults came to say hello to her.  From working parks and rec since I was 16, teaching art classes and summer camp, it was teaching and working with youth that made my day. After graduating from the inner city education cohort at OISE and have gotten a taste of inner city issues and equity, I knew this was my calling. With amazing instructors that are still mentors to this day I learned so much.  I heard that the teaching opportunities were slim but I was on the eligible to hire list with TDSB. I wanted to learn more though and I applied to the masters of urban education program at OISE. I continued it for the next 3 years learning with great profs and equally amazing colleagues with interests in urban education.

It was just 5 years ago I was 23 and teaching 21-65 year olds at SCAS, an adult day school, teaching math and English. It was there I was given a shot by a great admin team to take over 2 English classes and then a math class of my own. Teaching 60 adults from such a diverse background of experiences was very rewarding. I knew though, in my heart it was teenagers I wanted to work with, where I can prevent them from dropping (being pushed) out. The adults were amazing but they realized it was time to go back to school and were back on track to graduate.  A great mentor and principal of the school knew this as well and let me know a nearby high school would be hiring.  There, I fell in love with the school and the amazing staff who not only gave me chances that I couldn’t imagine but truly respected me. So much so that they let me know how young I was by informing me I doubled in age in one semester and my use of cell phones and technology sounded like slot machines dinging :). Unfortunately I was only 0.5 contract and had no placement for September so I went on some interviews. It was over to Eastern Commerce where at first was reluctant to go, I again, found a great place with amazing mentors and really great students.  From credit recovery in almost any subject I ever imagined, to civics / careers and being the sole grade 11/12 chemistry teacher I did it all. It was my first try at coaching with assisting an amazing coach on the football team to running the jr. boys b basketball team. The kids were what kept me going with 6 preps and coaching. Again I had the support of 3 amazing admin who gave me opportunity after opportunity and believed in me to excel. Unfortunately with declining enrolment I was surplus again from a school. At the good bye assembly kids were in tears, booing, and swearing as many of their favourite teachers walked across the stage.

As luck would have it I was placed back at Cedarbrae and it was like I never left. I brought back new ideas and ways of doing things. It was in my masters I was hearing and learning about the big picture in education from teachers, admin, central staff, community workers and instructors. I was again given opportunities to work on curriculum, start on textbook consulting, and work with a team to present ideas and lessons for the Africentric school. This year was great as I presented at many conferences and got to host exploration classrooms where teachers got to watch me teach. To the shock of many they walked in and saw a new/young teacher and seemed sceptical but by the end of the day I had a new found respect from them and I for them. I was lucky to be kept there despite the few scares of being moved again. I wanted to keep on making change so applied to be assistant curriculum leader (department head). I got to be the curriculum leader for the school year. I got to see the bigger picture of how the school works and ways to put in my ideas. I had a lot of support and have made friends and mentors that will last my entire career. I also had challenges thrown at me by colleagues that saw me as making them look bad because of the great work I do. It is sad that you leave high school as a student and enter as a teacher and some teachers gang up and bully others still. The momentum though was continuing and many great opportunities were coming my way. I was working with many community groups both in Regent Park and Scarborough. Pathways to Education was something great integrating in our schools. I got to work with a dedicated team of youth outreach workers who are miracle workers in school and the community.  I also started taking in associate teachers (student teachers) which was an amazing two way learning experience.

Again though I was surplus and sent to Monarch Park.  I again met another great set of admin and staff that have a school culture like no other.  I got to see another new way of teaching and learning with an all star science department.  Teaching International Baccalaureate (IB) for grade 9 science and grade 12 chemistry has been a learning experience for me and has opened my eyes to a different set of students in the school. I look forward to another year at Monarch and building on the foundation of last year.

I am grateful to all the amazing mentors and teachers I have gotten to work with from real life and the Twitterverse.  I think a lot of my PD and teacher resources are coming from digital sources and on-line connections.  You don’t just open a binder any more and let a new teacher copy it.  I am thankful for all those teacher, admin and central staff that have given me the numerous opportunities these past 5 years and the projects I have been a part of from hip hop curriculum, conference presentations, committees at the school, family of schools and board level, numerous EdTech companies, professional development, to this year running our own hackathon.  I am looking forward to another great year and working on new projects, committees and conferences.

Thanks for reading!    

ESL and BitStrips Digital Lesson on Conflict

ESL and BitStrips Digital Lesson on Conflict

Testing something out for the summer! Would love people’s feedback and for people to use this lesson!


Filmon Bereket: My Young Black Child

Amazing work by a student at my school!