The Significance of a Student Summit

For the past two years, I’ve worked closely with the EdTech Team to organize Student Summits for the Superior North Catholic District School Board. At the Summits, students learn about Google Apps: Drive, Docs, Slides, Forms, etc. Both Summits have been amazing – each year there is a dynamic buzz in the air at the end of the day. Here is some actual feedback from our student attendees (spelling and grammar errors included…I think they help to express the students’ enthusiasm…haha):

🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! awesome – Grade 6 student

I liked how everybody was helping each other. – Grade 6 student

That was awesome keep it going. I loved all of it you guys are the best keep looking at my post they might just explode your eyes! I went to this last year it was awesome. You guys rock and you da boom!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂  -Grade 5 student

I REALLY loved the summit. I would go there again if there’s another Summit. – Grade 6 student

It is pretty evident that our students enjoyed the Summit. But Student Summits aren’t JUST about our students learning about some cool apps. There is something much larger at play. If you are an Ontario educator, you may recognize this graphic:

IMG_2083*Please note that there are other MSAC graphics that have been created since then, but this one resonates the most with me. I love it so much that for my birthday a few years ago, my friend and colleague @kfilane had a giant one printed for me. As you can see from the above photo, it’s still on display in my office.

It was created by a MSAC (The Minister’s Student Advisory Council) a few years ago. Let me re-phrase: It was created by a graphic designer who listened to the students in MSAC discuss their ideas of what education should be like. At the very heart of the graphic is the idea that STUDENTS ARE PARTNERS IN THEIR EDUCATION.

You’d probably be hard-pressed to find an educator who would disagree with the idea of students being partners in their education. But what’s great about the Student Summit is that it is a tangible example.

A few years ago our board was in a dilemma: We piloted Google Apps in 4 of our classes, and the student feedback was overwhelmingly positive. Great news! However, when we tried to get teachers to learn about GAFE, we had very little enthusiasm. Not such great news…

SIDENOTE: I DO NOT blame teachers for not voluntary jumping into MORE professional learning. This was in the Spring. We all know how it feels to be a classroom teacher in the Spring; the last thing you want to do is to be out of your classroom to learn about something new.

How could we move forward with GAFE (and honour student voice), without waiting for teacher readiness? How was it fair that the majority of our students weren’t accessing these tools simply because the majority of our teachers didn’t want to learn about them? (again, not their fault…they just didn’t know how GAFE had any educational value at the time).

Then I thought, why wait for the teachers to learn the tools? Students are just as capable of learning how to use the apps! One quick email to the EdTech Team and the first-ever Student Summit was a go!

The Summit turned professional learning upside down and inside out: teachers and students attended sessions and learned TOGETHER. When the Summit was over, and they went back to their schools, students were able to say, “Can we try using Google Docs for this?” Their knowledge of the tools no longer depended on their teachers.

At our second Summit this November, some of our students actually facilitated breakout sessions. Let that sink in: Students in Grades 5-8 stood up in front of a bunch of strangers (including people their own age and some adults), and taught others about Google Apps.

Are there still classrooms where Google Apps aren’t being used? Definitely. Are some students still at a disadvantage because of teacher readiness? I’m sure of it. But I can confidently say that we are much further than we ever would have been if we didn’t go this route.

Events like the Student Summits are significant because they convey this message: We are all learners. It doesn’t matter what your “title” is in a school: student, teacher, or even principal – we are partners in education because we learn from one another.

***If you are interested in hosting a Google Summit with the EdTech Team, the person who you should contact is Michelle Armstrong ( – she is AMAZING! If you have any questions about how SNCDSB organized our events, feel free to reach out 🙂



Why I Love GAFE: The Custom Webstore

There are many reasons why I have a love affair with Google Apps for Education. One of them is the ability to control which apps and extensions our students can add to Chrome. We do this in two ways:

  1. We push out certain apps/extensions to all students. These automatically get installed; students don’t need to go to the Webstore. This method is great for the apps/extensions that you want all students to have access to.
  2. We have a custom Chrome Webstore for students. When our students click on the Webstore app, they are brought to a store that has whitelisted apps/extensions (approved by the board). This method is useful for apps/extensions that are beneficial, but not all students need/want.Screen Shot 2015-12-02 at 2.03.19 PM

The apps and extensions that we’ve pushed out and added to the Webstore are the ONLY apps/extensions that students can add. Keep in mind that Superior North Catholic is a K-8 school board, and that we are not BYOD (we provide Chromebooks for all of our Grade 5-8 students). Your board may choose to go a different route with respect to students and the Chrome Webstore.

Our staff, on the other hand, have free range in the Chrome Webstore; we do not limit their access. If a teacher finds an app/extension that they want their students to have access to, we have a process in place for them to make the request: They fill out a Google form (and I’ve set it so that I get email notifications anytime a new response is submitted), and I take a look at the app/extension.* If the reviews are good, then I head over to the Admin panel and add it to our list of approved apps/extensions and also add it to the custom Chrome Webstore. This setup allows us to filter student access to the webstore, while also providing teachers the opportunity to add things to the list.

*The Google form to request an app/extension exists in a managed bookmarks folder that gets pushed out to all staff members. Expect a post about managed bookmarks coming soon!

Here is a list of approved apps and extensions at SNCDSB.


It Is Just No Longer An Option.

This blog post originated as a reply to Kim Figliomeni’s blog. Needless to say, I realized that I had too much to share and decided the length of my “reply” was more appropriate for a dedicated post. Kim has asked other educators to join her in spending 10 minutes a day to connect with others. She is following OSSEMOOC’s Ten Minutes of Connecting Challenge that Donna Fry (@Fryed) created.

Here is my take away from OSSEMOOC’s Day 1 post:

I love the quote:

“Using technology is no longer an option for us. We must support our students to succeed in our physical and digital world.”

In my role as the Technology Enabled Learning and Teaching Contact for SNCDSB, I sometimes hear:
“I’m no good at that technology stuff.”
“I just don’t do computers.”
“I’m not a computer person.” ****
A colleague of mine (@WallwinS) often asks the question: How would we respond if an educator said something like that about Math? In Ontario, we have worked so hard to improve teacher efficacy with respect to Mathematics. In fact, it is absolutely taboo for an educator to say: “I don’t do Math.” Why? Simply put: We want our students to feel confident that they are all capable of learning new Math concepts, so we have to model that growth mindset for them.

Why should we approach technology enabled learning any differently? The Khan Academy video that is shared in the OSSEMOOC post is correct – you can learn anything. I remember thinking that html code was perplexing. To me, people who could code were magicians. Now that I’ve been forced to use it a bit, I see that once you understand the “language,” it is not such a scary and mysterious thing.

The second video shared in the OSSEMOOC post, Learning to Change – Changing to Learn really emphasized that as educators it is our duty to take ownership over technology’s role in education.  We need to use technology in our classrooms – to borrow a quote from our Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau – because it’s 2015. And we aren’t using technology for the sake of using technology; we need to use it to provide some new and innovative learning opportunities for our students (but this is another blog post in and of itself)!


****FYI: These teachers usually know way more than they give themselves credit for.

Model What you Seek.

“Model what you seek.”

Those are the words I needed to hear. And those are the words that have been simultaneously stressing me out and encouraging me ever since George Couros spoke to me about blogging at SeLNO (Thunder Bay’s regional conference on technology-enabled learning).

George: Katie, do you blog?

Me: No

George: You should. Model what you seek.

Between you and me, I didn’t like hearing those 4 words: Model what you seek. I didn’t like them because they were what I knew deep down to be true. It’s not as though I’ve never thought about blogging before. Last Spring, I made up my mind that I was going to start sharing my thoughts in a digital space. Here I am – ONE YEAR LATER – finally doing it.

So, what took so long? I can chalk it up to 4 questions:

  1. What if no one thinks that what I have to share is worthwhile?
  2. Is it going to make me look like a know-it-all?
  3. How can I fit it into my schedule?
  4. What if people see me working on a blog post during the work day? Will it look bad?

I was afraid – afraid of the vulnerability, afraid of the time commitment, and afraid of how it would make me “look.” But, then there were those 4 words: Model what you seek. I decided to take myself out of the equation and think about how I would answer those questions if a teacher in my school board came to me with them.

1. What if no one thinks that what I have to share is worthwhile?

Of course what you have to share is worthwhile! As an educator, we spend our entire career encouraging our students to share what they’ve learned with others – that’s how we grow as people; we learn from one another.

2. Is it going to make me look like a know-it-all?

Think about the people who you know who have blogs. How do you feel about them? You likely don’t think that they believe they have all of the answers. Bloggers are just eager to share their thinking to a large audience. Part of what they are doing is  looking for a conversation with others, so that they themselves can become better educators.

3. How can I fit it into my schedule?

You need to make it part of your work day. If you read through the Ontario College of Teachers’ Standard of Practice, you’ll see that Reflection is part of your job. Writing to an audience will help you gather your thoughts, encourage you to question, and give you a venue to get others’ opinions. All of this is worth the time it takes, because it will make you a better teacher.

4. What if people see me working on a blog post during the work day? Will it look bad? 

This question has less to do with you, and more to do with the people who are assuming that you are doing something that isn’t related to student learning. If anyone questions you, take it as an opportunity to show them the value of having a professional learning network who you connect with online.

So, my beliefs obviously didn’t match my actions. Why in the world could I encourage another person to blog when I was afraid of doing it? It’s simple: this is a risk for me that takes me out of my comfort zone. But, as the contact for technology-enabled learning for my school board, how can I be asking teachers to blog when I’m not willing to take that risk? Am I scared? Heck yes! But, in my role, I’m often asking people to try new things. And this blog is “my next”  (Mark Carbone). Model what you seek. Thanks George.