Author: rjsmith (Page 2 of 4)

The most important things we can teach students.

B.C. curriculum highlights 3 core competencies: COMMUNICATION, THINKING, and PERSONAL & SOCIAL.

These areas are believed to give students all skills needed to be successful humans. These competencies can be seen in every sub-discipline in education and are easy to recognize in any given lesson plan.

However, there are some discussion on which of the 3 are most valuable. I would argue that critical thinking is an integral skill that students need to function in a highly digitized society. Let me explain. Students are constantly bombarded with information, through internet searches, social media and the remarkable invention we call the ‘smart phone’. With all these resources just a swipe or click away, students are at a point where they need to be critical thinkers. Especially when it comes to evaluating sources of information.

Critical Thinking enables students to evaluate, analyze, question and implement ideas into their own understanding. Yes, each of the core competencies are important to having a well-rounded, life-long learner, but critical thinking allows students to develop as individuals.

Now how do we do this? As educators we have the unique opportunity to teach important 21st century skills like critical thinking. So here are a few digital tools and resources that may just help integrate critical thinking into your classroom.









Critical thinking skills influence students’ perspectives and enables them to develop deeper, meaningful understanding. When students are critical of the information they receive, they are better able to form educated thoughts and ideas. Students then become active participants in their learning and can take ownership of their education. Rather than imposing ideas onto students, educators need to teach students the skills for them to create understanding and perspective.



BC’s New Curriculum. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Learning Resources. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Teaching in a Pandemic

If you don’t already know …  we are in a PANDEMIC! That’s right people, a full blown, stock up, quarantine yourself and avoid all physical contact, pandemic.

Now, lets add a few curve balls into the mix:

  1. Entire countries are on lock down to combat the virus.
  2. BC has suspended face-to-face teaching indefinitely.
  3. Everyone has been told to self-isolate to curb the spread of Covid-19.
  4. You can’t find toilet paper, tissues, hand sanitizer or disinfecting wipes in any stores.
  5. Its Spring Break (at least for my district).


Let’s start with a few key issues I have.

  • I’m a little bitter that the announcements of school ‘closures’ (for lack of a better word) have come out at the beginning of my holidays- seriously I don’t want to deal with this right now.
  • There is no point in stockpiling goods- most major grocery stores will deliver to your house if you are quarantined – or here’s a crazy thought – CALL A FRIEND


Covid-19 may be one of the larger pandemics in my lifetime, however it is not the first. In my less than 30 years of life, there have been many viruses that plagued the public, in no particular order:

  • Bird Flu / H1N1
  • Swine Flu
  • Ebola
  • Mad Cow
  • Norwalk
  • SARS
  • Zika

And I’m sure there are many more, but these are the ‘big ones’ I can remember. Fortunately, I was not infected by any of these that I know of, but I do remember being affected by the aftermath. My point is, if we as a global community can make it through these, we can make it through this time as well. IF everyone, takes the recommended precautions.


Okay, rant over – now let’s get to Teaching during a Pandemic.

Currently there are a lot of questions and uncertainty about what ‘school’ will look like after spring break. Unfortunately, we don’t have answers. This isn’t for a lack of trying, but we honestly don’t know at this point. Even moving forward there will be a lot of trial and error. What we do know, is

  • Wash your hands
  • Don’t touch your face
  • Limit your contact with other people

For educators, we are going to have to get creative, in our teaching and our assignment expectations. WE ARE GOING DIGITAL. Some schools (like mine) are in a better situation than most. 60% of my teaching is done online, the other 40%is face to face. Yes, I will have to rethink that 40% and creatively engage my students so they can continue their learning. BUT I am far less than worried than many of my colleagues. Many teachers must digitize their face-to-face classrooms and instructions. This also means that parents and students must engage with their learning at home – with limited support.


Enough with the negative (there is a lot) and let’s look at the positive (not of the virus but society’s reaction)

  1. CREATIVITY: people are getting creative in how they interact with one another, and how they are spending their time.
    For example, Netflix is offering an extension that allows a group of people to stream and converse synchronously while they are in different places.
  2. PROBLEM SOLVING: Teachers/coaches are using different technology to instruct students/players and help those individuals practice and develop skills.
    For example, setting up an exercise competition, using social media to inspire activity, and sending out instructional videos to follow along.
  3. COMMUNITY: Despite social distancing, people are going to aid those in need (while doing so safely). For the most part, individuals are doing their part to help others, while following health recommendations.
  4. OPPORTUNITY: This is an amazing albeit a forced opportunity to integrate new digital technologies into the K-12 educational setting.

The next few weeks (possibly months) of teaching in a pandemic will have its challenges. But as a community of educators, we can collaborate and implement various teaching strategies to address learning during a pandemic. What I DO know is LEARNING CAN BE DONE ANYWHERE!

Digital Literacy Framework

Reflecting on my teaching pedagogy and practices, I believe I have vastly overlooked digital literacy as a teachable subject. Or maybe, its more that I have taken it for granted.

I have assumed that students’ either already know these things, or that it is being taught by another teacher. Primarily I teach physical and health education and social studies. And since my passion area is physical education, I (unfortunately) rarely think past developing physical literacy. (Which let me tell you is a desperate need in the student population that I see.)

However, this does not excuse my lack of attention to extremely important digital literacies. Moreover, I need to take more of a responsibility teaching these skills to my students and integrate digital skills into both social studies and physical and health education.

Looking specifically at BC’s digital literacy framework, I believe it brings up many important points in key aspects of digital education. However, I think something that could be added would be practical and effective integration into different curriculum. Especially, for teachers like me, who need help integrating these skills into the everyday classroom. Additionally, integrating digital literacies with the intention and purpose of teaching skills.

Another area that I think could be improved in the digital literacy framework is making it applicable for students outside the realm of education. In my experience, skills and ideas taught in school, don’t always transfer to students’ real life. If we want students to become quality digital citizens, then we need to teach them with examples from their life outside the classroom. Specifically, I am thinking around social media, and creating a digital footprint that they won’t be embarrassed of when they are adults.

Digital Literacy is an important set of skills that students will need. However, as a teacher I feel like I need additional support in integrating these skills into my courses and more importantly making them relevant for students.


B.C.’s Digital Literacy Framework

Digital Story Telling

Digital story telling is commonplace at this point in time. Socializing, friendships, relationships and even professional encounters take place on a digital platform. Not to say that face to face communication isn’t involved in these areas, but digital communication is becoming more and more “the norm”.

This can be seen in the increased use and development of various social media platforms, as well as the attempted integration of technology in the educational system. Once again, education is behind the curve of social change. However, this is a very exciting time to be a teacher. Not only do I have a vast array of digital tools at my disposal, I am also encouraged to take chances and implement them into my classroom. Moreover, it is almost expected that I educate my self on how to effectively use these tools.


This leads to how teachers, students and the larger class can communicate their thoughts and ideas through digital story telling. Instead of listing the multiple resources available, let me demonstrate using one of my favourites, Powtoon.

Powtoon allows students to create a video, without having to film themselves. I find this very useful for students who are hesitant to record themselves or their voice for an assignment. Check out this link, to my powtoon.

Digital storytelling allows students to be creative and develop connections with the material in order to display their knowledge and understanding. Digital story telling is an amazing tool, and the sooner educators get on board the better.

Sharing is Caring

The beautiful thing about talking with a group of teachers is the amount of sharing that goes on. You share the wins and the struggles. You share your ideas, and your goals. Most importantly, you share your wildest dreams you could see in an ideal classroom.


As I look towards building my masters project, it is great to share ideas and goals with colleagues. Specifically, which areas are being researched for literature reviews.


The challenge is that it brings up too many great ideas to pursue. Some spoke of how to integrate First Nations principles into their classroom, and others are looking into how artificial intelligence can engage students to be active learners.

Personally, my ideas for literature have shifted with every conversation I have had with a colleague. My big idea is to examine how to actively engage students in an online learning environment. However, I have branched into blended learning, engagement strategies, flipped classrooms and the influence of technology. Now I want to pursue multiple intelligence and see how valuing and evaluating multiple intelligence can engage a variety of students.

Its challenging to stick with one idea for research when there are so many interesting avenues to pursue. Thankfully, there is plenty of opportunity to collaborate and discuss ideas with classmates and colleagues.

Sharing ideas is one of the greatest aspects of being both a teacher and a masters student.

Collaboration is KEY!!!

As an educator I find that there is nothing more important than collaboration. Firstly, I have learned more from talking with other teachers, than I did in any course or class I have been in. Not to say there is not a place or time for course work, as there are important academic elements and theories that educators need to know. However, for the practical implementation and pedagogical development, I have found COLLABORATION IS KEY.

I am very fortunate to share an office space with my colleagues. This leads to many impromptu meetings and collaboration sessions. And more importantly the rambling brain work of creating amazing things that could be done in our school. Not only does collaboration give you the space to develop ideas and be creative, it is also a great sounding board and provides a committee for problem solving. I have spent many a lunch hour proposing issues and getting incredible feedback and ideas for solutions. I have found that the community of teachers/colleagues you surround yourself with is EXTREMELY IMPORTANT to becoming an effective educator.

Now although I benefit from a supportive group in the building, there are many ways to develop a collaborative community outside of your school building. For example, participating in social media with fellow professionals, or building relationships through educational endeavors.

This week in class, we participated in an Ed Camp – where we were able to meet in small groups and discuss topics of interest. I spent the time in a group discussing blended learning and online learning environments. From this discussion we elaborated on how the U-Connect program works and some of the challenges and barriers we face.

The recurring theme was the idea that students don’t have the skills to navigate online education when they enter school and that success rates in online learning could be better. After some discussion, the U-Connect teachers came up with an idea to create a 2 credit course that teachers all the practical skills required to be successful in an online education program. If we had not had the opportunity to collaborate and discuss blended learning with a larger group of teachers, we would have never developed the idea to prepare students for online education in an independent course.

COLLABORATION IS KEY. Period. The end. It allows educators an opportunity to become better professionals and better educators. It also allows programs to change and adapt for the needs of their students.

Images retrieved from the public domain Pixabay.

THAT’S GREAT … BUT ________?

After all of the articles that I have read so far, I keep coming to the same conclusion:


Now let me explain a little bit, I have found that academic articles analyze and critique the educational system that we currently have (which is great) and then they propose solutions or ideal situations where all of our wildest dreams come true. (and yes, as an educator I do dream about my classroom and courses.)  Then reality hits me square in the face and I think (or shout in my head), how the heck am I going to implement that idea? Or even worse, that would be great … but what would (students, school district, parents, etc.) say.


SERIOUSLY? I know this seems like a small barrier to face as an educator, but I am finding that this is my first thought to why I could or could not use a certain technology in the classroom.


For example, Future Technology Infrastructures for Learning, the authors discuss the transition of educational technology. Specifically, there are 4 generations of educational technology:

  • CONTROL = basic technology use
  • INTEGRATION = enterprise systems
  • OWNERSHIP = fragmentation and diversification
  • STRUCTURE = distributed and digitally shaped technology

They continue to discuss the steps and struggles educators face as they start to shift their pedagogical practices.  Siemins, Gasevic and Dawson state that “knowledge revolution is rapidly transitioning into a learning revolution.” (p. 203) Traditionally learning has been controlled by teachers, and now we are attempting to provide learning opportunities where students have more influence.  This isn’t a bad thing, it just means that educators need to be given the TIME, RESOURCES & SUPPORT to implement these ideals.


To summarize, I don’t disagree with the aspirations to revolutionize education and learning, however I just think the timeline is a little unrealistic. It’s GREAT to want students to take ownership their education BUT what about students who are not motivated/don’t care about school?   It’s GREAT that there are so many digital technologies available BUT do teachers and students have the skills to use them effectively? Or will the school district support the use of those technologies. It’s GREAT to educate student teachers on new and innovative digital platforms and pedagogies BUT will their school have the resources to integrate them in the classroom?



Siemens, G., Gašević, D., & Dawson, S. (2015). Preparing for the Digital University: A Review of the History and Current State of Distance, Blended, and Online Learning. Retrieved from Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation website:

Data Privacy & Awareness

The digital world is everywhere and there is little student or teacher can do to avoid engaging in it.

I read about new and amazing ways to engage students through digital medias and watch as other teachers integrate programs and technology flawlessly. Then I decided to start a Masters program in Educational technology in the hopes that my skill set would grow and I would feel more comfortable and able to integrate technology in my own classroom.


Now to back track a bit, I rely heavily on digital technologies because I would at a distance learning school, where students attend part time (Mondays and Tuesdays) and work online for the remainder of the week.  My courses are entirely on an online platform, so students can access content, activities and assignments. That all sounds good on paper, but I continue to struggle with integrated digital technology use beyond an online textbook and typed written assignment.

So, when I see other educators using technology in creative ways, or I find a new app or program I always think of how I could use it in my own classroom.


Just when I think I have figured it all out, BAM! Data privacy issues.

Part of me wants to say “Who cares” students have already given access to so much of their personal information through social media platforms and other online things I don’t fully understand.


Then the other more practical and reasonable voice in my head speaks up and tells me that data privacy does matter.  Students seem to be so engaged with the digital world, but I can’t assume that they okay with using certain programs and technology just because I think it will fit perfectly into my lesson.

Our school and district make sure that they use programs whose information is stored on Canadian servers. (I think I said that right, but please don’t quote me). Either way – student and teacher’s private information is safe. But there are so many things out there that would be perfect to use for education.


Caines and Glass found that “if students want to participate in standard educational activities, they often have little opportunity for real choice or consent around what data is collected.” And it got me thinking, how often do I give students an opportunity to “opt out” of educational activities? Or even more importantly, how often do I consider the privacy of students’ data before planning a lesson?

So, where does that leave me? First, I could offer students to opt out, but not really honor their decision. (Which I don’t think will work in my favor.) Second, I could give students choice in how they participate in learning. (Which the stubborn part of me does not want to have to make a back up plan. It sounds like more work.) Or third, I could become more educated on data privacy issues, and teach my students to be more aware of why data protection is important and applicable to them.


When students become more educated on how their data is collected and used, they are more able to protect themselves. Their increased digital literacy can only help them in the future.

Caines, A., & Glass, E. (2019, Fall). Education before Regulation: Empowering Students to Question Their Data Privacy. EDUCAUSE Review, 54(4). Retrieved from

Open Educational Resources, just one of the things I didn’t know.

Open educational resources sound fantastic. So why are there not more widely available? 

Evidently, there are many open resources out in the academic world, I just have never known where or how to look for them. (Until I was shown in post-secondary classes). And to be perfectly honest, I’m not sure I am an expert yet. When reading about these vast resources available to academics and educators I was expecting to see sites that I already use. However, that was not the case – so apparently, I have been doing this whole thing wrong for a while.  

But this revelation, got me thinking … what about high school students? I know that I teach my students to properly cite any sources that they use. And I expect them to give at the very least a list of sources where they found their information. But I don’t know if I have spent any time showing students where to find and how to use open resources.  

Despite these resources being widely available, I feel they are still restricted (unintentionally) to the academic world. Even the articles I looked at this week are all directed at post-secondary education, academics and individuals inquiring about specific information.  

Not to say there is not a place for open educational resources for the everyday, I just haven’t seen it in practice. (That could just be my ignorance to the use of open educational resources, and not a true reflection of their use in the average life of a teacher).  

Maybe the bigger question is why hadn’t I heard of open educational resources outside of the academic world? Or taking a step further and asking how we can make these resources well known and commonly used.  The first thing to look at would be what barriers are in place and how we can remove them.  (Which I’m sorry to say I do not have an answer for.) The second would be to promote the use of open educational resources in K-12 education. The more students are informed about the information that is out there, the more likely they are to use it.   

The more open educational resources are used, the more efficient and effective they will become. Or at least that is the trend I have noticed in the educational world. Take social media for an example, what started as a neat idea to implement in the academic world, has grown to be a highly used and effective source of professional development.  

Maybe it will just take some time to spread the use of open educational resources. Or maybe it’s just me, an out of touch educator who will now begin to learn the use of open education resources in the classroom.  

The Struggles of Innovation

In any group of teachers, you are bound to see some differences. But are there really?

If you take a closer look, I feel like you would see far more similarities. Generally speaking, teachers value education. They are organized (even if the way they organize is different), they have a goal for learning and a clear path to achieve that goal. A+B=C


I have seen a strong shift over the last decade or so, where teachers use creative and innovative methods for teaching and learning.  However, there is still an end goal and a clear path (created by the teacher) of how to get there.


Creative and innovative education does not come easily. It takes a lot of time, resources and effort by individual teachers to implement. Often, I find that I myself fall short of the glorious advances that could be happening in the classroom. Despite great intentions to transform education, teachers have been successful in a traditional classroom setting and therefore can find themselves slipping into a more traditional delivery method. But then where’s the interactive engagement students are so desperately seeking.  Maybe this is our biggest flaw.


Not that reinvigorating educational pedagogies is a lost cause; I just think that some oversimplify the changes that educators are struggling to make.  Even though researchers want to map or outline this process I would say it’s near impossible. Teaching is messy and unclear, there is no straight line of A+B=C. There are too many factors that contribute to the failure and success of any given pedagogical practice. I feel that sometimes research puts additional pressure on teachers to make changes to their class before they are prepared to do so. And research doesn’t account for the uncontrollable environmental factors that influence the success of educational pedagogies.

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