All posts by joshr

Attending the BLC in Boston… My First Conference

This July I was fortunate enough to have participated in the 2019 BLC (Building Learning Communities) education conference put on by Alan November himself.  Our team of five (4 teachers and our head of schools) flew to Boston and experienced the passion for learning and desire to innovate teaching practices first hand.

While I assumed that the learning from amazing leaders such as November, Tolisano, Kirr, and Krause, to name a few, was a given… I was most surprised by the strength of our own #Fab 5 team that I was a part of. It was our head of school, Jon Mitzmacher, who shared that we ourselves should be both validated by how far we have come as professionals and inspired by the talks we were engaging in.  Some of the most meaningful takeaways from the conference came from our ongoing hilarious group chat, the sharing of information from seminars, quality of thought and discussion, comradery, and the organized way in which we divided up our seminar attendance to bring back the most to our school. We were not just flies on the wall, or overwhelmed by the topics and materials discussed… we questioned, supported, and very much engaged in conversations amongst ourselves, teachers from around the world, and presenters alike. We made real connections with a variety of educators and took on leadership roles when the opportunity was presented. I can confidently say that OJCS represented itself very well, and I am proud to have been a part of that team.

That’s me, reading an excerpt in the voice of J. Peterman, as part of Caitlin Krause’s seminar on storytelling and mindfulness. Definitely out of my comfort zone and in the learning zone but made easier by the awesome support of my colleague Brian Kom.

A main idea that I will be thinking about when teaching and learning this year is how we should be having students build on their skills as problem designers instead of just problem solvers and finders. I love this idea, and it seems like a perfect fit for the direction I am moving my Science classes towards. It is true that as teachers, we are becoming curriculum designers ourselves as we navigate the inclusion of technology into our pedagogy without a clear outline from anywhere really. The creativity and level of thought required to interweave meaningful, fun and 21st century learning is a skill that teachers are developing through experience and should be transferred to students as early as possible.

I also love the idea of positioning failure as a positive. We learn from our failures, and it is the blueprint for any success. There are so many examples of this, but failure is hard, especially for students and the idea to build it into learning activities and as a mind shift for future generations makes too much sense for me to avoid. I will definitely be designing projects that build up student resilience through failure. The Polyup app that was created by a 19 year old gifted mathematician, who admitted that even he had a difficult time with failure growing up, is a perfect example of why learning from failure is such a powerful tool for any learner and promotes the creative risk taking we are trying to instil in our students.

Needless to say, I wholeheartedly believe that schools should be sending teams, not just individuals, to quality conferences like the November learning BLC that I attended last week. I hope the OJCS continues this tradition so my colleagues can experience the same inspiration and validation that our cohort experienced. We are better for it individually, which means, our school and our students will also gain from it.

Another First… This Time it’s Sketchnoting

When I was in grade 2 I remember trying to draw a business man during an indoor recess. It was at that moment in time that I came to an honest conclusion about myself… I did not have an inherent talent for drawing. Fast forward 30 years later and I am still reminded of that day as I begin another new challenge and risk from our Documentor’s P.D. Time to take on doodling, and sketchnoting to document for learning. Ready, set, (whatever you do, don’t make the briefcase too big this time, Josh) draw.

My attempt: using the App, “Paper” by WeTransfer…

Looking back at my creation I notice a few things. I tried to tap into as many different fonts that I had used in my life, but sadly after block letters (a favourite of mine as growing up, my ‘go to’ for titles in fact), the well ran dry in a hurry. The grid format that I used, without giving it any thought at the time, is not shocking to me either, since I find that logic and organizing material into steps works for me. This is probably the reason I teach Science and Math, and struggled as a learner in the Arts, most specifically English classes.

What I enjoyed most about this process, was the freedom to combine creativity inside a fixed task. I could see myself using this as a brainstorming technique for learners in my class, and even for use it myself to get ideas down in any way I see it, when my next ‘Aha moment’ occurs.

The last point I want to make, is that I was very much aware of how much brain power I was using to create this sketchnote. I was noticeably fatigued, needed a break, and had that foggy feeling by the end of it, but at the same time I was calm and focused. It reminded me of the similar feel I get when playing around on a guitar. I felt relaxed, reset, and with either more practice or some mini breaks in between, refocused.

I highly recommend sketchnoting for all educators, learners, or anyone interested in creatively looking to document to give it a try. At the very least, it’s another tool in my increasing tool belt, or dossier to add to my over-sized briefcase.

Diving Deeper by Creating

A buzzword often heard around schools these days is ‘maker’. Our school is looking at the transformation of a traditional science lab to a new age ‘Maker Space’. But why?

George Courus, author of the book The Innovator’s Mindset states in his book that “The ability to innovate, to create something new and better, is a skill that organizations worldwide are looking for today.”

If the highest level of understanding, according to Bloom’s Taxonomy, is creating and designing original work, why as educators are we not striving to make this the norm in classrooms? I won’t go on, but needless to say, the research is pointing towards a culture of creation over consumption. Today I got a first hand look at what this concept means to grade 3 students here at The Ottawa Jewish School.

Students were tasked with showing their thinking of how they would solve math word problems. I was not only looking to see if they could do it, but was the concept of creating, designing, and solving their own problems helpful for their understanding. Of course, using pictures, numbers, and words to help create their solutions was an engaging activity for the entire class… I mean, who doesn’t like to doodle with markers.

What I found out after observing, documenting, and interviewing students was a 100% buy in, and if not a deeper understanding of the material, a deeper engagement to the details and processes of multiplication, as well as their own metacognition. I was amazed to see and hear how creating; the doodling, drawing, writing, storytelling, and explanations of their solutions used so much of their attention. To see their brain firing on so many levels and creating new pathways was impressive.

Would I want to be a learner in this classroom? Without a doubt the overwhelming response is yes, because as one student so beautifully put it… when you get to create “It’s just more fun!”

3 Reasons Why All OJCS Teachers should be on Twitter

Today I had an amazing day at work… How many of us get to say that? I, along with six other colleagues, had the absolute privilege of training to be an educator that prepares students for the 21st, sorry the 22nd century, with Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano.

Our task was to  have a 20 minute skype conversation with Jocelyn Blumgart, with a caveat… the six of us all had roles to play documenting our learning. My role was to document the call on twitter. It seemed simple enough, I was excited and up for the challenge.

  1. It was within the first 5 seconds of the skype call that I entered into the “learning zone“. My heart started beating faster, I was no longer comfortable, and I stared at my phone wondering what to write while my principal sidled up beside me and snapped a photo of me and my empty twitter screen… 
  2. Quickly realizing that this was no easy task for a first-timer, the photographers of our group started airdropping pictures and videos to my phone. Ideas began to pop into my head, and I had a starting point to go from. The buzz words, quotes, and conversations that we had already discussed began to make sense and connect with the pictures that were being sent to me at a faster rate now and my first tweet was beginning to materialize. It was at this point that I also realized I hadn’t processed anything Jocelyn and our two brave hot seat volunteers (Nice job Keren and Shira!) had said. I took 2 seconds to laugh at myself and reflect “I hope no one notices that I’m not listening, this is harder than it looks, I am such a beginner, but this is so much fun” (Someone documented this exact moment in time. Nice work photography team!)                                                 
  3. I was muddling my way through the documenting, editing, hashtagging, while making a Kurt Russel executive decision to accept all 23 videos/photos that were sent to me and not dismiss any of them, even though I got pretty much the exact same picture of Jocelyn 6 times.


I finished with 3 tweets, felt like I had just skied down a hill for the first time, and began growing my digital network. It was amazing, and I can’t wait to see what lies ahead for me, my six group members, and our school.

I have been riding the wave of excitement all night, checking my feed, ready to grow my network, to show others how to do the same, thinking of how this is going to transform my practice as a teacher, how the kids will benefit, reliving the crazy 20 mins that got me out of my comfort zone, while having fun learning a new skill, and instantly growing my global connections. Both Jocelyn and Silvia now follow me!

I apologize for not really talking about the process much, other group member contributions that made the call seamless and were actually able to not let the documenting get in the way, but like I mentioned earlier, I wasn’t listening…

Media literacy is on my mind…

I am getting so many ideas that I need to make sure I document and don’t forget them. I can’t wait to upgrade my grade 7 Ecosystems Junk Raiders project with a media literacy angle.  I want to reduce the amount of busy work and increase student documentation to amplify the learning.

What tools will I use and how will I incorporate them are questions that usually come to me when I am relaxed by the fireplace on weekends. I am also challenging myself to set realistic goals and create 1 new project/upgrade an existing practice to be my most exciting yet this winter.