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M is for Mindset

Posted by lthomas Nov 28, 2019

There is a lot of talk about mindset in education today, and I agree, it is important; I just think that we put too much emphasis on only one type of mindset and we need to broaden our scope. I see mindset on three levels that are interdependent, picture three concentric circles if you will. In the centre is have, surrounding that is encourage, and surrounding that is support.



This may seem redundant, but it helps me really flesh out how I see mindset.




What mindset do we have as a teacher? As a person? What is our prime focus, our motivation? How deeply do we truly explore our own mindset? Our mindset can't be merely surface-level nods to the appropriate response of "I believe in growth mindset" or whatever the latest trend may be because what we believe deeply will always reveal itself and be reflected no matter how much we like to think we can cover it up. This came to light for me recently when I had the opportunity to co-host with Doug Peterson and Stephen Hurley on the VoicEd podcast This Week in Ontario Edublogs. The program features discussion of various blogs by educators in Ontario. One of the posts was particularly poignant to me. In fact, it was quite disturbing. A Guy Walks into a Bar, from The Beast, a blog co-authored Kelly MacKay and Andrea Kerr, relays the conversation of two people on a date at a bar. This may sound rather mundane, but it is anything but when the conversation dives into the exploration of privilege. The importance of deep self-reflection becomes apparent as seemingly innocuous comments and attitudes reveal an ugliness beneath. A further example of how apparently harmless quips become insidious indoctrination into extremist ideologies is shown in this Twitter feed from Joanna Schroeder about how social media is used to promote white supremacist and racist ideologies by undermining the idea that privilege exists. This post drove home the idea of how easily our personal beliefs, our mindset, is reflected positively or negatively in everything we do and there is no way NOT to have it affect our teaching and our students so we better have a very clear and realistic grasp of our own attitudes, biases, and beliefs.




What mindset we encourage happens in a number of ways. Part of it goes back to HAVE and what we silently reflect, what we model every day. The other part is more explicit in how we teach. What methods are we using? If we teach to the test, the mindset will be one that sees failure as negative and that learning doesn't matter, the mark does. The methodologies we incorporate in our classrooms speak volumes in encouraging a positive student mindset. Kathleen Carroll, in her article from Edsurge, Teenage Brains Are Elastic. That’s a Big Opportunity for Social-Emotional Learning, outlines the importance of mindset and how using methods that encompass social-emotional learning develop a mindset ripe for life-long learning. She says:


"Social-emotional learning, or SEL, encompasses the broad spectrum of skills, attitudes and values that promote success in school and in life, things like managing emotions, setting and achieving goals, persevering through adversity and working in a team. It explicitly acknowledges the importance of mindset and the fundamentally interpersonal project of education, in which knowledge is developed through a series of trusting relationships between teachers, students and peers."

Kathleen Carroll


One technique described in Carroll's article that encourage this type of learning is referenced as "maze moments". Looking at learning as navigating through a maze


"[gives] teenagers a new way to understand and articulate their roles as not-yet-perfect masters in school and in life. Instead of a frustrated “I don’t get it,” students can visualize their position in the maze: what they’ve learned so far, what they don’t yet know, and how they might persist past this current challenge to chart a different path and solve the problem."

Kathleen Carroll


Do the techniques we use every day, whether that be in how we deliver a lesson, or our assessment methods, promote this kind of social-emotional learning? Again, we need to deeply examine what messages are being sent silently in our classrooms that can encourage or discourage positive student mindset.




You may think HAVE and ENCOURAGE covers it, but I think SUPPORT is vital. Examining and adjusting our own mindset and the methods and assessments we utilize in class go a long way in supporting student mindset regarding learning, but we all know that mindset goes much deeper than one area of life. Our daily practice also needs to support the whole child including their personal mindset, in other words, their mental health and wellness. I have talked about mental health and wellness in my blog posts before (see The Long Dark Days of November and H is for Happy), but it is paramount in my opinion that we focus a great deal more on it throughout our curriculum, not just in health class. A person whose mindset is affected by stress, grief, depression, anxiety, etc cannot learn to their full potential. Thus, the first step in being supportive is understanding, in which case people need to be more educated, myths and misconceptions need to be revealed for what they are and the stigma needs to be reduced. Addressing mental health and wellness - because we ALL have mental health - should rank first in supporting healthy, positive mindsets.

My tongue was a different colour every other day for more than two weeks that summer. The day I saw that jawbreaker I knew I had to get it. It was HUGE! Talk about bang for your buck or quarter as the case may be. I was so excited when Mom let me get it. All the way home in the car all you could hear was me gleefully sloppy-slurping that enormous orb. It nearly made my mother lose her mind (she not being a fan of sloppy-slurping or multi-coloured tongue and lips) but not as much as the sticky, sugary mess that was left on my bed-stand every night for two weeks. It must’ve taken every shred of her self control not to go into anti-germ clean freak mode. But she didn’t.


The childhood memory of that gargantuan jawbreaker stays with me even now. Not the taste so much, more the sheer carefree giddy way that circus-coloured ball of candy made me feel. A feeling that the world was thrilling and fascinating and needed to be tasted, seen, explored. For example, it made me want to know how one creates such a monumentally massive globe of mouth-watering perfection.


It creates the feeling that one could laze in a grassy field and pick out cloud animals on Monday, search through beach stones for coloured glass and fossils for hours at a time on Tuesday, build tree forts with mad skills on Wednesday, withhold a siege from the Jabberwock (amongst other spirited, imaginative creatures a la Lewis Carroll, J.R.R. Tolkien et al) from the safety of that same tree house Thursday, and play tag with wild abandon on Friday. Then there was the WEEKEND!

My mom was a pretty high-strung person whose worry and nervousness was never far from the surface ready to leap out at any second, so it is nothing short of a feat that she survived mine and my brother’s childhoods without snapping those tautly pulled strings. As a kid, I didn’t think any of this was a big deal, now, as a parent myself and a teacher, I see the impact of her decisions that allowed us to experience childhood in the way we did even when it made her cringe. She probably did not understand the scientific importance of the exploring, imagining, and romping about my brother and I did on a daily basis, but we do today so I am baffled at how bad we are at letting our children just PLAY.

A 1989 survey taken by the National Association of Elementary School Principals found that 96% of surveyed school systems had at least 1 recess period. Another survey a decade later found that only 70% of even kindergarten classrooms had a recess period.


In an age when we have solid research-based evidence supporting play, school districts have been reducing a child’s number one play time, namely recess. One explanation is the hyper-focus on testing seen in both the USA and Canada. For example, Olga S. Jarrett, in her paper “A Research-Based Case for Recess,” described a new school built with no adjoining playground. By way of explanation, the Atlantic Public School Superintendent, Benjamin O. Canada, stated: “We are intent on improving academic performance. You don’t do that by having kids hanging on the monkey bars.” Jarrett further explains the repercussions that various policies have on students:

No Child Left Behind’s (NCLB) focus on test scores has resulted in cutbacks in both the arts and in physical activity. According to official figures provided by school systems since the enactment of NCLB, 20% of U.S. school systems decreased recess time, averaging recess cuts of 50 minutes per week. In National Center for Educational Statistics data from 173 randomly selected school districts, 5.3% reported increases in recess while 32.3% reported decreases.


It is unfortunate that Mr. Canada was not aware of the overwhelming studies that suggest students are not only more attentive and productive but test scores are improved when students have ample play time via recess. Eric Jensen’s research on the brain bears up this assertion.

Brain research on attention suggests why breaks are needed: (a) the brain cannot maintain attention for long periods of time, requiring contrast (such as a new location or novel stimuli) to regain focus; (b) for information to be processed, down time is needed to recycle chemicals crucial for long-term memory formation; and (c) attention is cyclical, involving 90-110 minute rhythmical patterns throughout the day.


Play is so important for children that the United Nations even recognizes its necessity stating in Article 31 that every child has the right to play and rest (UN Convention on the Rights of the Child).

Play isn’t just about fun. It is about overall well-being. Play positively affects not only the physical but the cognitive, social and emotional aspects of a child’s life. We can all appreciate the freedom to run and play games and how that supports necessary physical activity. But that physical activity, in turn, supports optimal cognitive processing. A break like children have at recess supports better cognitive learning after concentrated instruction.

In research with fourth-graders, children were less fidgety and more on-task when they had recess. Also, children with hyperactivity were among those who benefited the most. These results are consistent with the findings of a meta-analysis of nearly 200 studies on the effect of exercise on cognitive functioning that suggest physical activity supports learning. Research indicates children perform better on literacy tests after they have had recess and that children raise their hands more often after recess breaks.


Furthermore, children build necessary social skills during play as it is a time that they can interact with their peers thus learning valuable communication skills: negotiation, cooperation, sharing, and problem-solving to name a few. Additionally, they practice coping skills, such as perseverance and self-control.

Educators and counselors have asserted that in organizing their own games, children learn respect for rules, self-discipline, and control of aggression; develop problem solving and planning strategies; practice leadership, resolve conflicts; and develop and understanding of playing by the rules.


The most significant aspects of play, I feel, are the emotional aspects. One of the most alarming things I have read recently is that the decline in free play may be linked with the rising cases of depression and anxiety in young people. Peter Gray, Ph.D., explores this very notion in his article from Psychology Today, “The Decline of Play and Rise in Children’s Mental Disorders”. Gray postulates on the sharp rise in young people’s depression, anxiety, and other mental disorders evidenced in a recent study by Jean Twenge at San Diego State University. Gray says:

children’s freedom to play and explore on their own, independent of direct adult guidance and direction, has declined greatly in recent decades. Free play and exploration are, historically, the means by which children learn to solve their own problems, control their own lives, develop their own interests, and become competent in pursuit of their own interests. 


Gray points out that anxiety and depression correlate with a person’s sense of control or lack thereof over their own lives.

People who believe they are in charge of their own fate are less likely to become anxious or depressed than those who believe that they are victims of circumstances beyond their control. By depriving children of opportunities to play on their own, away from direct adult supervision and control, we are depriving them of opportunities to learn how to take control of their own lives. 


By far the most sobering information Gray relays is his admonishment:

We may think we are protecting them, but in fact we are diminishing their joy, diminishing their sense of self-control, preventing them from discovering and exploring the endeavors they would most love, and increasing the odds that they will suffer from anxiety, depression, and other disorders.


It makes me so sad to think that our general over-protectiveness is actually diminishing our children’s joy. Bring joy back, break out the jawbreakers, let the Jabberwocks attack, and let children sloppy-suck whilst defending their own tree forts. It’ll be the best thing we ever did.


Bilich, Karin. “The Importance of Play.” Parents, Meredith Corporation, 25 Oct. 2006, Accessed 21 June 2019.

Ginsburg, Kenneth R. “The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bonds.” Pediatrics, American Academy of Pediatrics, 1 Jan. 2007, Accessed 21 June 2019.

Gray, Peter. “The Decline of Play and Rise in Children’s Mental Disorders.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 26 Jan 2010, Accessed 21 June 2019.

Jarrett, Olga S. “A Research-Based Case for Recess.” US Play Coalition, November 2013, Accessed 21 June 2019.

Jensen, Eric. Teaching with the Brain in Mind. 2nd ed., Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 2005.

Murray, Robert and Catherine Ramstetter for Council on School Health. “The Crucial Role of Recess in School.” Pediatrics, American Academy of Pediatrics, 1 Jan. 2013, Accessed 21 June 2019.


I is for Imagine

Posted by lthomas Jun 11, 2019
A humble imitation of Margaret Atwood's reveries on a piece of bread.

Imagine a classroom. You don't have to imagine it, you're in it right now. The colourful poster on the wall with the sparkly starts that says "Shoot for the moon, even if you miss you'll land among the stars" stares back at you as you sit in your bright, clean desk. You pull your notebook and pen out of your backpack as the teacher begins the lesson which she projects onto the SMART board. You listen as you sip on the vanilla latte you bought on the way to school. You grab a computer tablet from the cart in the corner of the room to begin the activity that's been assigned. You could also use your own laptop, but you didn't charge it last night so it's just easier to use the classroom tablet, it's not near as good as yours, but it'll do. You put your earbuds in to listen to music while you work. Teacher says it really doesn't help me concentrate, but whatever.


Imagine an armed conflict. Now imagine a classroom. Both of these things are real but you are only in the same place as one of them. You are now sitting with 60 others on rough wooden benches, others crowd in and are sitting on the floor. The sweat drips down your neck and back as you sit quietly listening to the teacher. You wish you could have a drink of water, but the well is a mile away. The corrugated steel walls block any breeze and the bare concrete floor is dusty and hot on your feet. The single light bulb hanging by a wire from the middle of the ceiling, when it works at all, casts odd shadows across the rickety slate chalkboard on wheels that the teacher is writing on. You'd like to write down the notes, but you used your last piece of paper last week and teacher says there won't be more supplies unless donations come from the UN, so you just try really hard to remember all she is saying by chanting it over and over again to yourself. You miss the school you used to go to with the desks and chairs, but it's gone now. This make-shift classroom might be gone by tomorrow, who really knows?


Imagine a small two-room hut in a rural village. You watch your brothers as they leave your hut to go to school. You wish you could go with them, but girls aren't allowed. Even if they were, your family can barely afford to get uniforms, books and supplies for your brothers, so you stay home and do chores. Your father wants you to learn your household duties well because he's been busy making arrangements for your marriage. You're not sure what to think, but it's better than what happened to your friend. She got sold and was taken to the city to work there and everyone knows when that happens you never come back. Or even worse, you could end up like your neighbour who tried to go to school and had acid thrown in her face. She can never be married now.


There once were two brothers who grew up in a little village. Upon entering adulthood, one brother left the village and struck out to make his way in the world. He sailed the seven seas and made his fortune, eventually settling down by a crystalline lake where he built a home of great beauty with the wealth he had amassed for his wife and children. His riches allowed him to send his children to the best schools and even hire tutors to aid his children when they so desired. The other brother remained in the little village, caring for his parents and toiling long days to eke a living from the drought-ridden land. He also married and had a family, but he worried all the time for them because of the dangers and hardships they had to endure. He tried to ensure his children learned to read, but the school was a great distance away and they needed everyone to help at home or they would starve. One day the poor brother wrote to his rich brother and asked for help. But the rich brother only scolded his poor brother that he should have left the little village like he had then he wouldn't be in this mess. The next day the rebels raided the village, burning the poor man's crops and destroying his home. They all tried to run, but the rebels kidnapped the children and mowed everyone else down.


If I was staying true to Atwood's "Bread", I would tell you this is a fairy-tale. I would then go on to write that I conjured the classrooms, but I haven't.


This is all real. 


UNESCO estimates that there are 110 million children in developing countries not in school. In his article, 10 Barriers to Education Around the World, Phineas Rueckert states lack of funding, no teachers or untrained teachers, no classroom, lack of learning materials, exclusion of children with disabilities, being the 'wrong' gender, conflict and war, distance, hunger and poor nutrition, and expense are the biggest factors keeping children from a basic education. He goes on to explain that increasing access to education can improve the overall health and longevity of a societygrow economies, and even combat climate change.

Phineas Rueckert, 10 Barriers to Education Around the World

Therefore, education is a key way for all of us to move forward with many of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted by all United Nations Member States in 2015, provides a blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet. At its heart are the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are an urgent call for action by all countries - developed and developing - in a global partnership to end poverty, improve health and education, reduce inequality, and spur economic growth – all while tackling climate change and working to preserve our oceans and forests.


Many of the poorest countries can't afford to finance their own education systems and rely on foreign aid to fill the gap. Unfortunately, there is still a $39 billion shortfall. In addition to funding problems, many countries struggle with not having enough trained teachers. UN estimates show a need of 69 million new teachers to achieve universal primary and secondary education by 2030. Right now, in 1 out of 3 countries, less than 75% of teachers are trained to national standards. Case in point, primary-schoolers in Mali have a 50/50 chance that their teacher is trained to teach. Even if the teacher has the appropriate training, often there is a lack of basic supplies.


In Tanzania, for example, only 3.5% of all grade 6 pupils had sole use of a reading textbook. In Cameroon, there are 11 primary school students for every reading textbook and 13 for every mathematics textbook in grade 2.

Phineas Rueckert, 10 Barriers to Education Around the World

More alarming is the fact that many lack a classroom altogether.

Teacher Mahajera Armani and her class of girls pose for a picture at their study open area, founded by Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC), outside Jalalabad city, Afghanistan September 19, 2015. (Reuters)

Teacher Mahajera Armani and her class of girls pose for a picture at their study open area, founded by Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC), outside Jalalabad city, Afghanistan September 19, 2015. (Reuters)


A lack of walls is not the only problem to create a viable learning environment,

in Malawi, for example, there are an average of 130 children per classroom in grade 1. It’s not just a lack of classrooms that’s the problem, but also all the basic facilities you would expect a school to have — like running water and toilets.

Phineas Rueckert, 10 Barriers to Education Around the World

Koen Timmers, an awarded educator, lecturer, researcher, author and speaker, and project coordinator for the Kakuma Project and Innovation Lab Schools recognized these problems. In relaying how he started the Kakuma Project in 2015, he highlights an impactful Skype call with an outreach officer in the refugee camp that then prompted him to ship his personal laptop to them. This began his work to help increase the level of education in the camp by offering free Skype lessons to the refugee students. Timmers recruited other teachers to give lessons via Skype and also began a crowdfunding campaign that allowed him to ship a solar suitcase, another 20 laptops and bolster internet infrastructure in the camp. To date, there are 324 educators from 70 countries offering free education via Skype to the Kakuma refugee camp which is based in Kenya and houses 200,000 refugees and 30 schools.


Average class size is 250 students crammed into an average size classroom and solar suitcase which allows teachers to charge laptops

Right: We Care Solar solar suitcase which allows the teachers to charge laptops.
Left: The average class size is 250 students (crammed into an average size classroom).


Timmers' work did not end there. He is currently working with Jane Goodall and other partners including Goodall's Roots and Shoots, Microsoft, Lego Education, Global Teacher Prize, Participate, Edukans, Dyade, Empatico, i3 Technologies, PXL University of Applied Sciences, and Cross Trade OBL to bring learning to students in rural Africa and all over the world. The Innovation Lab Schools opened their first location in the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya. The next stage includes the development of more Innovation Lab Schools. To date, schools have been opened in Pugu and Gombe, Tanzania; Tchimpounga, Congo; Rhino Refugee camp, Uganda; Lagos, Umanagbor Ihitte, and Ezinihitte Mbaise, Nigeria; with more schools planned for Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Morocco; Bragado, Argentina; Chimp Eden Sanctuary, South Africa; and Australia.


NIGERIA | UMANAGBOR IHITTE, EZINIHITTE MBAISE Project Lead: Marie-Christine Ghanbari Jahrami

NIGERIA | UMANAGBOR IHITTE, EZINIHITTE MBAISE, #Project Lead: Marie-Christine Ghanbari Jahrami


Timmers' work offers hope to the desperate situation of many, but armed conflict and natural disasters continue to destroy education systems for scores of children around the world. In fact,

nearly 250 million children are living in countries affected by conflicts. Around 61 million children are currently out of school because they live in conflict and disaster zones, with young girls 90% more likely to be out of secondary school in conflict areas than elsewhere, according to UNESCO.

Phineas Rueckert, 10 Barriers to Education Around the World

As if conflict and other disasters weren't enough to hamper the educational prospects of children, there are still many countries where gender decides your educational fate.


There are well over 20 prominent nations, which continue to discriminate against females by preventing them from learning. In these countries, gender inequality in education not only stifles the development of women, but also their sense of self-worth.

Laura Argintar, You Won't Believe How Many Countries Still Won't Allow Women The Right To Education


A staggering 60% of the children not in classrooms right now are girls. The plights recounted in the earlier paragraphs of this blog echo real situations that young girls have to face everyday. In Nepal, for example, many young women are sold into bonded servitude. In Chad, a country that boasts the highest rate of underage marriages in the world, education is not a priority for girls. Nine out of ten women in Afghanistan are illiterate and face death threats and acid attacks for going to school, making it one of the most difficult places in the world to be a girl. A close second would likely be Pakistan, infamous now for the Taliban attack on Malala Yousafzai, who was shot in the head for pursuing her right to learn.


Imagine a classroom. You don't have to imagine it, you're in it right now. The colorful poster on the wall with the sparkly starts that says "Shoot for the moon, even if you miss you'll land among the stars" stares back at you as you sit in your bright, clean desk. It's telling you something. It's telling you that you can shoot for the stars by working to make a difference in education across the world. You can support efforts like Koen's or the many others going on as we speak, Camfed, UNICEF, UNESCO, Global Partnership for Education, and Save the Children to name just a few. Get actively involved. For example, Nine, a former student of Timmers' and avid supporter of the Innovation Lab Schools, is  Climbing for Kakuma where she will ride the Cannibalette, a ride of 131 km with four climbs including 2x Mont Ventoux. There are no limits to what you can do. And along the way, you’ll be able to imagine better scenarios for learning and appreciate yours all the more.




The diverse world of blackboards, chalk and duster around the world.


Argintar, Laura. “You Won't Believe How Many Countries Still Won't Allow Women The Right To Education.” Elite Daily, Elite Daily, 7 May 2019,

Atwood, Margaret. “Bread.” This Magazine, Feb. 1981.

Coughlan, Sean. “10 Toughest Places for Girls to Go to School.” BBC News, BBC, 11 Oct. 2017,

O'Neill, Jennifer. “Worst Places for Education Around The World.” Global Citizen, Global Poverty Project, 3 Aug. 2016,

Rueckert, Phineas. “10 Barriers to Education Around the World.” Global Citizen, Global Poverty Project, 24 Jan. 2019,


H is for Happy

Posted by lthomas May 30, 2019

Happy makes the learning happen


As parents we all voice the same sentiment for our children: "I just want them to be happy." But do we actively practice that sentiment? Do we teach the frames of mind that would ensure happiness in our children? Do we really know what being happy actually means?


Much research has been done of late that has clarified a great deal about "happy". Turns out, it has far more to offer than a sunny disposition and feeling contented. Parents are right to want happiness in their children albeit it is unlikely they know the science of why.


Rebecca Alder, consulting editor of Edutopia, outlines the research of Dr. David Rock, co-founder of the NeuroLeadership Institute, in her article How Are Happiness and Learning Connected? Rock intones "There is a large and growing body of research which indicates that people experiencing positive emotions perceive more options when trying to solve problems, solve more non-linear problems that require insight, [and they] collaborate better and generally perform better overall." In short, happy people learn better.




Scientifically speaking, happiness produces chemicals, specifically dopamine and serotonin, in the brain. When these substances are released it has positive effects on our memory as well as our brain’s ability to learn. Essentially our capacity to make connections, be creative and problem solve are all enhanced just by being happy.




Christina Hinton, Ed.D.’12 and lecturer from Harvard Graduate School of Education, examined the interplay of happiness, motivation, and success to find out just how important happiness is in learning.




Hinton used surveys to collect data on students’ happiness and motivation; collected qualitative data on happiness and motivation; and further data on students’ grade point averages all of which was then analyzed to explore the relationships among happiness, motivation, and academic achievement.




Key to Hinton's findings were associations that show how we can optimize students’ learning experiences. Namely:




Happiness is positively associated with intrinsic motivation (a personal drive to learn) for all students, and also with extrinsic motivation (outside sources like rewards, praise, or avoiding punishment) for students in grades K–3.

Happiness is also positively associated with GPA for students in grades 4–12.

Happiness and standardized test scores did not seem to be related, but further research is needed to confirm this.

Happiness is predicted by students’ satisfaction with school culture and relationships with teachers and peers.

Because I’m Happy by Victoria Jones


Further to Hinton's research, other benefits that have been shown by IWEN happiness lessons are:


Improved problem-solving abilities
Broadened horizons and expanded thinking
Building physical, intellectual, and social skills
Counteracted negative emotions
Protected mental health
Reduction in aggression in class
Improvement in school performance

So now we can appreciate how vitally important being happy is, not only for children's well being but also their learning and future success. But how does that happen? How can we support happiness?

There are many researchers who focus on happiness today; Sonja Lyubomirsky, Barbara Fredrickson, Ed Diener, Martin Seligman, Mihály Csíkszentmihályi to name but a few, and they all agree on one thing: happiness can be learned.


Martin Seligman is a psychologist and university professor and director of the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania. His work ranges from positive psychology to the study of helplessness, depression, optimism and pessimism, and flexibility. Seligman has come up with a formula for wellbeing he refers to with the acronym PERMA. PERMA stands for:

  1. Positive emotions: in essence, being optimistic. Having a positive outlook is necessary because it helps our relationships, sparks creativity, and allows us to see possibilities. It also strengthens us when we hit tough times because we can see which way steer to make things better.
  2. Engagement: being fully engaged in activities allows us to build creativity, reduce stress, and feel fulfilled and satisfied.
  3. Relationships: humans are social beings, so relationships are essential. Positive, supportive relationships are a key part of being happy and spreading happiness.
  4. Meaning: eventually we all realize the meaning of life is not money or popularity, rather it is something deeper. 
  5. Accomplishments: the sense of satisfaction as a result of our work towards our goals. Accomplishments give meaning to all performed tasks and are essential in achieving happiness.

Having happiness broken down in such a way is one example of how it can be taught.


There are a number of learning programs and apps that support the sort of learning Seligman espouses. Happiness Lessons, out of Hungary and based on the work of Martin Seligman and Prof. Sonja Lyubomirsky, aims to provide methodological support to develop the ability to nurture happiness in children through their scientifically approved curriculum. Launched in 2014, the program now boasts more than 3700 teachers providing the instruction to 60,000+ students. Another learning program, this one out of Australia, is Smiling MindThe not-for-profit organization works to make mindfulness accessible to all. You may wonder "Why mindfulness?" Mindfulness is about focusing attention on the here and now, rather than thinking about the past or worrying about the future, both things that we know are generally unproductive and do not promote well being and happiness. Being mindful can aid students in being more aware of their mindset and thus lead them to be more positive and optimistic. Mindfulness also plays an important role in your mental & physical wellbeing and can play a role in helping to:

  • Reduce the physical wear and tear on the body

  • Increase your immune system

  • Switch off excessive inflammation in the body

  • Relieve cardiovascular stress

  • Switch down cortisol and damage to your bones


There are many other apps and programs that promote learning happiness. Happy Feed is a daily gratitude journal whose aim is to promote positive thinking and optimism by helping people focus on the good things in their life. Happify takes you on a journey to better well being using evidence-based interventions in the form of games and activities. Based in the fields of positive psychology, mindfulness, and cognitive behavioral therapy, the goal is to re-frame negativity thus forming meaningful improvement in life satisfaction. Another game based strategy, SuperBetter, aims to build resilience, an important factor in happiness as it allows people to stay strong, motivated and optimistic even in the face of change and difficult challenges. Jane McGonigal, an award-winning game designer, powered SuperBetter with a framework that activates the psychological strengths of game-play to build resilience in real life. The Dalai Lama has weighed in on happiness saying that "Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions". And in that spirit, Action for Happiness works to help people take action to create a happier, more caring world. The end goal is a happier world, reduced mental health problems, and ultimately more well-rounded, happy, functioning people who help not only themselves but others as well. The movement embraces the spirit of community-mindedness which works to improve relationships and positivity at the same time. Community is important in supporting happiness as it helps build positive relationships, helps people feel supported and gives them a sense of belonging. The Happy Community Project works to do all those things and more. The project aims to "provide a process by which any community can increase its capacity for wellbeing and resiliency in an era of disruption." Similar to Seligman, the Happy Community Project determined factors that create long term happiness.

  • Belonging
  • Meaning
  • Sufficiency
  • Security
  • Fairness

Building a strong, happy community promotes strong social connections and fosters a sense of belonging, members develop a sense of responsibility toward other members of the community, reciprocal supportive relationships occur and promote peace and security, and ultimately give all a soul-nurturing experience.



I'm sure there are countless other programs, apps, and curriculum that support the idea of improving happiness. The bottom line is, happiness should be seen as a fundamental, integrated part of the school system. Science shows that the results are win-win. The child wins because they lead a more successful, fulfilling, happy life and society wins on numerous levels. First, it actually reduces cost burdens on society at large. Happy people are healthier, have a stronger immune system and fewer mental health problems. Just given those factors, health care costs and strain on an over-burdened health-care system are lessened. Secondly, we gain more caring, community-minded people to build a better world. What could be better than that?



G is for Galileo

Posted by lthomas May 30, 2019

Galileo experimented, pondered, and tested theories thereby laying the foundations of what we now know as the scientific method. He was also a keen observer, inventer and thought deeply on almost everything - definitely a Renaissance man. It's an understatement to say he was very clever, and he was very clever at many different things, so clever in fact that he is considered one of the central figures of the scientific revolution and is still touted as the hero of modern science. Astronomer, physicist, mathematician, inventor, and philosopher, Galileo appears to have been a very busy man with a very curious nature and isn't this what we love to see in our students?


If Galileo were alive today, what model of learning would he champion? Project-based learning? Interdisciplinary? Personalized? Makerspace?


You cannot teach a man anything; you can only help him find it within himself.



First of all, project-based learning would have been right up Galileo's alley. Maybe it's even his forgotten discovery! In truth, I jest, but you can see it right? Project-based learning is SO Galileoesque! Project Based Learning is a teaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to an authentic, engaging, and complex question, problem, or challenge. Given the experimental nature of much of Galileo's work, exploring a problem or complex question definitely fits his pattern. For example, after hearing about the invention of a 'spyglass', he went about constructing his own and improving the design in the process. The original spy glasses could only magnify about 3 times, whereas Galileo managed to magnify to 20 times. This became the basis for the telescope and how he was subsequently able to look at the moon, discover four of Jupiter's satellites, observe a supernova, establish the phases of Venus and discover sunspots, all of which allowed him to verify that the planets revolve around the sun (the Copernican system), not the earth (the geocentric system).  


His other accomplishments can be considered investigations of authentic, engaging challenges through experimenting and observation. His biography shows time and time again his inquisitive nature and his pursuit to answer problems. He definitely believed in using your mind:  


"I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use."


Galileo continually challenged himself, that's for sure. He also didn't look at failure as an end to his learning journey - he didn't graduate university, but that didn't stop him! When one avenue didn't work, he pursued another. This is one aspect that I particularly admire. Galileo did not see himself as any one type of learner or specialist, rather, he had a very interdisciplinary approach to learning enjoying mathematics, the sciences, and engineering, but he didn't ignore the arts! He was a very capable artist, writer, and philosopher as well.
He wrote prolifically on his findings, and published several treatises and books and included many drawings of his observations. Truly, we should consider him a STEM specialist with a large dose of creativity and the humanities on the side.

Drawings of the moon from Galileo's notebook

The fact that he invented or improved so many things (the telescope, the hydrostatic balance, the forerunner to the thermometer, the military compass - find more at 10 Major Accomplishments of Galileo) is testament to his prowess in a variety of fields, but also his love of designing and making. Today's maker culture would be very appealing to Galileo I would think.


Galileo exemplifies many of the practices that we know are successful methods for students to not only be engaged but to be immersed in their learning. Approaching learning for authentic reasons, for example utilizing the UN's sustainable development goals to solve real-world issues, then using experimentation and observation in order to solve those problems, and recording those observations and experiments through visually and in writing allows students to really practice an interdisciplinary approach for authentic reasons. Addressing the "big picture" by discussing the reasons behind the problems that are being addressed completes the picture as it adds the 'human' side (the humanities) and supports students in determining their own values and philosophy.


Overall, the most important lesson we can learn from Galileo is, as John Hattie so aptly outlines, that the best learning occurs when "students become their own teachers" and Galileo did that in spades (Hattie 18).


Hattie, John. Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning. New York: Routledge, 2012.

In considering education and how it should evolve to best prepare the class of 2030, we should look at it like we look at Frankenstein. Remember? That cautionary tale warning of the evils of science? Well, not really, it is more the tale of a scientist who longed for things in the past and, using science, worked to alter the future with little consideration for the impact on the present. Education can be a little like that.

They are common phrases: "it worked fine for me" or "I learned that way and I turned out alright". They reflect a longing for the past and resistance to change and the unknown. We implement change within the structures of the past and very often don't consider how it will actually affect the present. The problem is not the change or lack of change, it is the focus. Changing for the sake of change is unnecessary and dangerous because repercussions are all too often not considered. For example, we live in an age of tech, so, with no focus, the change that is implemented is "use tech in school" because that will prepare the child for the future. This is not so. Using tech just for the sake of using tech does nothing mostly because it is not focused on what is necessary - how a child learns and what will best support the child. Tech does not improve learning by itself, just like the typewriter did not improve writing. It made it more efficient, faster, but that doesn't mean it was good writing. The same goes for tech. Tech shouldn't be the focus: it is a tool, just like the typewriter.

This may be sounding like I am anti-tech, but this can't be further from the truth. I think tech can be a wonderful addition to education when embedded thoughtfully with a purpose. Using tech does not make a student ready for the future. A solid educational foundation that encourages critical thinking, creativity and collaboration does. Can tech enhance the learning of these skills? Certainly. Just thinking about the collaboration we have due to programs like Skype, translator apps, or Microsoft OneNote and Microsoft Teams where people can work simultaneously on a single project is stunning. Using tech to enhance learning in these ways will help make them future ready. Just replacing one way of doing something with tech will not.

In Ontario, there is a new push to require e-learning as a graduation requirement to complete high school. The reasoning that this is being done is to make students future ready. While the premise of helping students become more future ready is laudable, the method is flawed. It is a little like the Frankenstein problem: the consideration of the impact on the present is missing and that impact is far-reaching and multi-faceted.

First: Internet Capabilities.

Below is a map produced by the CRTC highlighting internet service available in Ontario.

map of internet service

Purple = Cable; Blue = DSL/Fibre; Green = Fixed Wireless; Yellow = LTE; Deep Red, Red, Orange, and Pink all represent unserved and underserved populations

This second map from Connected North, shows more distinctly the unserved and underserved population in just a portion of Ontario.



The expectation of completing a 4-credit e-learning requirement to graduate high school effectively marginalizes rural and Northern students solely due to unavailable and poor internet service.

Second: Scale

Right now there are approximately 50 000 students across Ontario registered in an e-learning course. There are 628 032 secondary school students in Ontario, if we divide that number by 4 we get an approximation of how many students there are per grade in high school, or 157 008 (Ministry of Education, 2017-2018). So, by just adding one grade taking one course each into the e-learning system, we have an influx triple+ the size of those currently enrolled. Scaling to that level creates its own issues and we will be scaling to over 600 000!

At present, the existing e-learning program is of high quality (i.e., several consortiums report a 90%+ pass rate).  In order to maintain this success, the Government will need to ensure that teachers have the initial teacher education – as well as the on-going professional development – to be able to design, deliver, and support high quality e-learning.  The Government will also need to make sure that the level of technical assistance that is provided to the students, teachers, schools, and school boards is increased at an appropriate level.  If e-learning is no longer a choice for students, the Government will also need to ensure that students have equal access to their e-learning outside of the traditional school building and school hours, as well as providing a much higher level of technical support to parents and the home.  These factors are all issues that need to be planned for with such a significant increase in the number of e-learning students, to ensure that the existing high quality program is scalable to the degree that the Government has indicated in this announcement.

CANeLearn: Ontario: e-Learning Graduation Requirement – Scalability

Third: Focus

The other problem is the focus. Brian Aspinall, in his new book Block Breaker, deftly states:

“All the technology in the world won’t make our classrooms 21st century ready. Redefining our roles as educators will.”

Block Breaker by Brian Aspinall

Requiring e-learning won't make students future-ready, just as using a typewriter doesn't make better writers. Focusing on the skills that will make students future ready; critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity, is necessary and taking e-learning doesn't guarantee any of those skills.

Victor Frankenstein sought to create life, but did not consider the repercussions of his actions; he accomplished that goal, but with disastrous consequences. In reimagining our education system to prepare our students for the future, let us not be like Victor Frankenstein. Let us instead carefully consider what it is we require, how to get there and what the consequences will be.

The excitement was palpable as we entered the conference area. There was an electric atmosphere that accentuated the enthusiasm of every individual and amplified it. I marveled at the apparent effect and afterward, I was in awe of the depth and breadth of learning I experienced.

I am talking about Microsoft's Global Education Exchange in Paris, France which I had the opportunity to attend this year from April 1st to 5th. I am convinced it should be renamed E3 - Educator Extravaganza Extraordinaire! While it is difficult to put into words, after a week of digesting everything that I learned and experienced, I'd like to attempt to relay to you some of my significant takeaways which I encapsulate in more "Es" - engagement, establishing relationships, and efficacy.


There was no doubt that every person there was engaged in what was going on from the keynote addresses to the educator challenge to the breakout sessions and the learning marketplace. The dynamic atmosphere underscored the deep learning opportunities offered. The conference was multi-faceted in its approach thus offering something for everyone taking into account subject area, level of students taught, teacher expertise, and individual teacher learning style. The array was truly mind-boggling.


Both day's keynotes were varied in topic, yet all highly engaging and informative. Day one opened with welcomes from Jean-Phillipe Courtois, EVP and President, Microsoft Global Sales, Marketing & Operations followed by Anthony Salcito, Vice President of Worldwide Education at Microsoft, who shared his views on the future of education, AI and how Microsoft wants to support teachers. A true stand out for me was Brianna Gopaul, a 15-year-old student from Toronto, Canada, who eloquently and confidently expressed how she is learning to solve complex problems through quantum computing. It was truly gratifying to hear the enthusiasm and curiosity of this young lady talking about her passion. Microsoft Innovative Educator Experts Vineeta Garg of India, Michael Fleischhacker of Austria, and Steve Crapnell of Australia gave informative demos in the power of VR/MR, Paint 3D, Microsoft Forms, and Immersive Reader in the classroom. I was rapt listening to each of them as they explained and showed how they were using the various tools to accomplish amazing experiences in the classroom. I was particularly fascinated with Garg's use of Paint 3D to make learning difficult mathematical concepts visual for her students and the myriad of possibilities for Forms and the Immersive Reader explained by Crapnell and Fleischhacker. Karey Killian, another MIE Expert and Teacher-Librarian from Pennsylvania, passionately shared her student's enthusiasm for connecting with others around the globe via Skype in the Classroom and Flipgrid. She also relayed how her library suffered a devastating loss of their books due to mold. Her story re-affirmed to me the commitment of Microsoft to support educators not only via technology but in more concrete ways when they subsequently announced that they were at that moment sending books to her school to refill the shelves to replace the books that were lost.

On day two, Stéphane Cloâtre, French MIE Expert and Global Minecraft Mentor, completely wowed me with how his students are using Minecraft: Education Edition to study cultural heritage through architecture. I was mindblown by his use of Minecraft to look at heritage buildings and plan future buildings incorporating SDGs and even print the builds with 3D printers. And finally, Carrie Patterson, Chief Operations Director at WE Charity, revealed how schools have been inspired to action through service learning through, a focus close to my heart as a #Teach SDGs Ambassador.

Breakout Sessions

The engagement continued through the Breakout Sessions that were offered over the course of the conference. Attendees could dive into learning more about OneNote; Flipgrid; Minecraft; Skype in the classroom; Global learning; Twitter; Coding with Micro:bit, Minecraft or Arcade; Virtual Reality; Service learning with WE schools. The specific sessions I participated in packed with valuable learning and discussion and lead by extremely knowledgeable, passionate people. The only downfall was not being able to attend them all!

Learning Marketplace

The Learning Marketplace was a treasure trove of amazing people and ideas. If you are unfamiliar with the concept, each educator participant (300 in this case!) came prepared to set up a display and talk about a lesson they do in their classes. The pure array of lesson designs was staggering ranging every age group and subject area. Some encompassed specific tools and approaches while others focused more on learning objectives, regardless they all communicated the unique focus of each educator to support their students in innovative ways.

[caption id="attachment_790" align="alignnone" width="4032"]20190403_181435 At the Learning Marketplace with Anthony Salcito[/caption]

Establishing relationships

Educator Challenge

My favourite part of the week was the Educator Challenge. First and foremost, for the relationships that I was able to develop with amazing people from across the globe. Each educator was put into a group of 5-6 including one MIE Fellow to act as a mentor to the group. We were then given a challenge to collaboratively create a lesson that would immerse students in Paris and would be judged in four major categories - inclusivity, creativity, collaboration, and student voice. Then they sent all of us out on buses and we hit the streets of Paris. We'd known each other for all of 20 minutes max and many had significant language barriers to overcome. This is where the real fun began. The bus tour of Paris was not only an icebreaker but part of the challenge as we had a Fliphunt to complete! Fliphunts are a fun activity similar to a scavenger hunt where you complete tasks, collect pictures and videos, then upload them to a Flipgrid. It offered lots of fun for our team and provided a great base to get to know each other.

[caption id="attachment_787" align="alignnone" width="1280"]IMG-20190403-WA0034 My team having a blast on the Fliphunt bus tour of Paris. From left, Piia Martikainen, Konstantine Drakopoulou, Chandni Agarwal, Patrick Bonnereau, myself, Ma Yu Juan, and Nathalie Mathieu[/caption]

The tour also served as first-hand idea collection in preparation for creating our collaborative lesson. Upon return to the conference centre, our team went straight to work putting together our ideas and trying to make them into a unified whole. The Microsoft Translator app was absolutely amazing in assisting us in communicating since not everyone in the group was fluent in English. I have to say I felt like I was in a Star Trek episode as we used this amazing tool. I was in awe of the speed of translation and its accuracy. We continued working on our challenge lesson the next morning and things got pretty tense in trying to bring everything together by the time deadline. That too taught me a lot. Living through a stressful experience brings you closer together - a bit like a group catharsis. Our team rose to the test and successfully completed uploading everything with 30 seconds to spare! Hard work pays off because my team also won first-runner up in the inclusivity category.

The challenge really reminded me to look at the lessons and activities that I design for my student through the eyes of my students. This week and especially during this challenge, I became the student experiencing some of the stress and anxiety that surrounds working with people you may not know very well in an unfamiliar environment. We had a lot of fun, but it also made me cognizant of how students may feel in similar working circumstances when they might not have the confidence, maturity, and expertise to deal with the situation.

In addition to building strong relationships with my challenge team, I built great relationships with my Canadian team.

[caption id="attachment_791" align="alignnone" width="1024"]IMG-20190404-WA0006.jpg The E2 2019 Canadian Team of Educators and School Leaders along with our intrepid Canadian Microsoft Leads Lia DeCicco and Mario Asta. Back Row: Jordan Tinney, Camille Rutherford, Michael Owen, Dave Sands, Stephen Whiffin, Christian Michalik, Clarke Hagan; Middle Row: Lia DeCicco, myself, Patricia Gartland, Colleen Horzelenberg, Joe Archer; Front Row: Mario Asta, Yves LaLiberté[/caption]

And I was thrilled to solidify relationships with educators I have known and admired via social media by meeting face to face. I was able to connect with so many people, this collage serves as only a small selection.

[caption id="attachment_793" align="alignnone" width="2896"]20190412_2059039101577946732592747.jpg EDU Heroes clockwise from top left: Angéls Soriano, Koen Timmers, Stephen Eustace, Mike Tholfsen, Marjolein Hoekstra, and "ETwinz" Alberto and Mario Herraez[/caption]

The big lesson learned is that it is all about relationships. Relationships build a better you and a learning network of passionate people who teach you, support you, and cheer for you is a game changer.


Efficacy: the power to produce an effect.

John Hattie, in his book Visible Learning for Teachers, admonishes "Know thy impact." In describing a key premise of his findings, Hattie asserts that a teacher's role is critical and it is their specific mind frame that most greatly affects a student's learning. That mind frame incorporates a myriad of beliefs including the teacher seeing themselves as an evaluator, as one who seeks feedback, involved in dialogue more than monologue, as someone who enjoys challenges, welcomes error, has high expectations for all, is passionate in promoting the language of learning, and finally as someone who sees themselves as a change agent.

The beauty of E2 and other conferences like it and why these sorts of learning opportunities are important as we look at the Class of 2030, is how their design and activities support and aid in helping an educator flourish in these mind frames. The focus throughout was on improving and seeking feedback to accomplish that end; collaborating and communicating in a learning dialogue; trying new things, failing and trying again. The conference exemplified the passionate promotion of the language of learning and challenged everyone there to be a change maker. These are the goals to strive for in order to give the class of now, 2030, and beyond what they need to succeed.

For me, it was a deeply gratifying experience to be involved and to come a few steps closer to being the kind of teacher that Hattie describes.

For more information on becoming a Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert and earning an opportunity to attend a future E2: Education Exchange, visit the Microsoft Educator's Community.

Hattie, John. Visible Learning for Teachers & Students: Maximizing Impact on Learning. Routledge, 2012.

D is for Debate

Posted by lthomas May 30, 2019

This house believes...

“It is better to debate a question without settling it than to settle a question without debating it.”
― Joseph Joubert

Debate is the cornerstone of freedom and democracy and without healthy debate, we lose. Noam Chomsky outlines the dangers of not having truly free debate: “The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum — even encourage the more critical and dissident views. That gives people the sense that there's free thinking going on, while all the time the presuppositions of the system are being reinforced by the limits put on the range of the debate.”

Unfortunately, social media and the internet have encouraged the sort of non-debate that Chomsky alludes to. A healthy debate is difficult when people vilify their opponent to a pariah state as so often happens the minute someone suggests an alternate view. Attack is not debate. How do we learn, if not from discussion and debate, even when we are passionate about the subject matter?

Furthermore, as Carl Sagan notes in Dragons of Eden: Speculations on the Evolution of Human Intelligence, “Those at too great a distance may, I am well aware, mistake ignorance for perspective.” People seem to like weighing in, thinking they have perspective, but in reality, they don't have all the details at all. Think of pictures and posts where people comment viciously, yet they don't know the whole story? No one seems to wait to hear both sides and weigh the fats judiciously. It's all about siding with the "right" answer - which is not to say always right, but merely popular.

We have come to a point where we must question: “Is there any point in public debate in a society where hardly anyone has been taught how to think, while millions have been taught what to think?” as Peter Hitchens so pointedly queried. The crux of the question is have we actually been taught to think? I think for a great many, yes we have, but unfortunately, there are those who jump on the bandwagon with little thought clinging fiercely to the 'what to think' beliefs they hold as sacrosanct. 

In this light, it becomes ever more important to ensure we protect education and teaching how to think, for thinking is the basis of all learning. We need to include the activities that offer experience and encourage reflection. As John Dewey states: “We do not learn from experience... we learn from reflecting on experience.” Better yet, give students problems to solve, and I don't mean just a math problem, I mean real-world problems. Dewey also weighed in on this idea: “give the pupils something to do, not something to learn; and the doing is of such a nature as to demand thinking; learning naturally results” because he continues,  “we only think when confronted with a problem.”


C is for Crayons

Posted by lthomas May 30, 2019

The third in a series discussing the Class of 2030.

I remember one Christmas getting the SUPER large box of Crayola Crayons. One hundred undulating colours of possibility. I was absolutely giddy with excitement. Imagine all the beautiful things I could draw! Astronauts or ballet dancers, camels or dragons, elephants or fairies, anything I could think of! The thought was staggering and thrilling and


Was it really the crayons that elicited all this fervour? No. You know what it was?

The exhilarating prospect of creation.

Few things have the capability of bestowing so much satisfaction but creating certainly does. More than satisfaction though, creation - the result of creativity - is necessary for our children to succeed in life. In the summary report The Class of 2030 and Life Ready Learning: The Technology Imperative, the result of research collaboration between Microsoft and McKinsey & Company's Education Practice, a dominant theme emerged: students need to explore, unlock their curiosity, and develop their creative potential. Specifically, "the class of 2030 will need deeper cognitive skills in priority areas such as creativity and problem-solving, social-emotional skills such as relationship building, self-awareness, and self-recognition will be increasingly important since they not only support academic learning but also promote well-being."

I would suggest that creativity is really at the center of all the other priority areas which may seem ironic given that many people automatically think of the Arts when they think of creativity, and deem it unimportant in relation to core subject areas like science and math. It's a right-brain/left-brain thing, right? No, it isn't. Creativity runs through ALL subject areas. Scott Barry Kaufman, in his blog “The Real Neuroscience of Creativity” on the Scientific American Blog Network, reveals that many

thoughtful cognitive neuroscientists ... are on the forefront of investigating what actually happens in the brain during the creative process. And their findings are overturning conventional and overly simplistic notions surrounding the neuroscience of creativity.

In fact, their findings suggest that

Creativity does not involve a single brain region or single side of the brain.

Instead, the entire creative process– from preparation to incubation to illumination to verification-- consists of many interacting cognitive processes (both conscious and unconscious) and emotions. Depending on the stage of the creative process, and what you’re actually attempting to create, different brain regions are recruited to handle the task.

Importantly, many of these brain regions work as a team to get the job done, and many recruit structures from both the left and right side of the brain.

So really, creativity encourages higher cognitive functioning like problem-solving. In fact, Nancy C. Andreasen, a leading neuroscientist who has spent decades studying creativity, has found that creative people have "stronger activations" and the "pattern has held true for both the artists and the scientists." Andreasen concludes that

the arts and the sciences are seen as separate tracks, and students are encouraged to specialize in one or the other. If we wish to nurture creative students, this may be a serious error.

While creativity can be seen to have strong ties to developing stronger cognitive functions, it also supports social-emotional growth. There are many studies that testify to the significant impact that creativity and the act of creating something has on emotional well-being. Painting, woodworking, knitting, and countless other pastimes that involve making something have all been shown to reduce stress which supports not only better physical health but mental wellbeing. Perhaps the boom in maker spaces attests to the recognition that making things is good for you. The Economist Intelligence Unit's research, Emotion and Cognition in the Age of AI, states that

Emotional well-being is a predictor of academic and employment success, and emotional literacy is crucial for self-awareness and navigating through life. As artificial intelligence transforms the labor market, the importance of human skills like creativity, interpersonal understanding, and empathy become more valuable.

So creativity and creation are strongly tied not only to improved cognitive skills but social-emotional well-being, and even success in life.

I'm convinced, let's break out the crayons everybody!


Andreasen, Nancy C. “Secrets of the Creative Brain.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 14 Feb. 2018, Accessed 1 Mar. 2019.
Holzapfel, Barbara. “Emotion and Cognition in the Age of AI: New Research from Microsoft Education and The Economist Intelligence Unit |.” Microsoft EDU, Microsoft Education, 20 Feb. 2019, Accessed 1 Mar. 2019.
Kaufman, Scott Barry. “The Real Neuroscience of Creativity.” Scientific American Blog Network, Scientific American, A Division of Springer Nature America, Inc., 19 Aug. 2013, Accessed 1 Mar. 2019.

Hello Ontario Teachers,


A team of educators committed to the preventative and proactive approach of building positive community and incorporating Social and Emotional Learning into the school day are creating a website to assist educators in achieving this goal.


The site, called SELspace, is in early phases and is very much under construction, but we would very much like to get some feedback from teachers. Suggestions, feedback, things you'd like to see within the site are all helpful insights to make this the best resource possible for educators. 


Please have a look and let us know your thoughts. The site is not ready to be released and we would ask that you not share it at this stage unless it's with someone who will also provide feedback. We are hoping to release SELspace by late Summer, early Fall 2019.




We do have a facebook page; feel free to join as we have been posting a lot of great articles, lessons, and inspiration.


Thank you in advance,

the SELspace team


The second in a series discussing the Class of 2030.

When I was young I loved watching the TV show The Bionic Woman. I particularly loved how Lindsay Wagner was portrayed. She was smart, she helped people, she was pretty, and she didn't wear clothes my mother would ground me for life for wearing! This was a woman I could aspire to.

It's been a long time since the Bionic Woman saved the day, but we still haven't quite got role models for girls figured out. There is still a focus on outward appearance - make-up, hair, fashion. Thankfully, more and more we are hearing about role models who break that old mold - bright, young women who are making a difference in the world.

Take Emma Yang, for instance. She developed Timeless an app she developed to help her grandmother, who suffers from Alzheimer's disease.

Or how about the Three Irish Teens, Sophie Healy-Thow, Émer Hickey, and Ciara Judge, who won Google's Science Fair using bacteria to grow food? Their experiment uses seeds treated with microbes that speed growth and increase yields by as much as 70%.

Anna Stork and Andrea Sreshta wanted to help earthquake victims in Haiti and came up with Luminaid, an inflatable solar light that can pack flat, to help alleviate dangerous night-time conditions like the safety hazards candles.

Likewise, Ann Makosinski, a Google Science Fair 2013 Award Winner, developed a human-powered flashlight to help the 1.4 billion people in the world without electricity who live in "light poverty".

What do all these exemplary women have in common? They saw a need and were bold enough to think they could do something about it! They used their brains to create a way to help others - and not just people they know, they helped people in meaningful ways all over the planet.

These young women exemplify what I hope is a trend that will keep growing - a trend to inspire the Class of 2030. A trend where being brainy isn't shunned, where it's okay to be bold enough to follow your dreams, and where people aren't afraid to put brainy and bold together to help others. That would be beautiful.


We Can All be Superheroes

Posted by noproblem Sep 17, 2018

This blog originally appeared here: We Can All Be Superheroes – emileferlisi

For the most part, these creative artists have figured out what makes people great. Comic writers have taken these truths and wrapped them up in beautiful contexts, back stories, settings and problems to be solved. They’ve also had popular actors portray them on screen. But what makes superheroes great? What components of their greatness can we harness and apply to our own lives?

Superheroes know what their gifts are. They’ve learned what their super power is and they’ve figured out how to apply their power to make the world a better place. Now, we’re not going to battle super villains, but to be great we’ll have to find exactly what skill or skills we can offer the world to make it a better place.

Superheroes work on perfecting the use of their power(s). Whether it’s been through deliberate practice or iteration as they’ve applied themselves to defeating their enemies, superheroes have put in the work, they’ve mastered experiential learning by reflecting on their experiences and applying their new learning – if they didn’t, they’d never get past the scene where they’re defeated or nearly defeated. If we want to be great, we’re going to have to apply our special talents, a lot. We’re going to have to use our skills, fail, reflect, apply the new learning, rinse and repeat. Call it grit, growth mindset or sticktoitiveness. Whatever you call it (experiential learning fits in here too) we’re going to have to do it.

Superheroes become their purpose; they commit their being to it. Now the work-life balance people won’t like hearing this, but it’s how real greatness is achieved. I won’t be a hypocrite, I’m a dad and I like to say that I’m a father first. But the reality is that greatness is only achieved through commitment. Superheroes don’t max out their sick days, cut corners, ask for frivolous extensions or show up chronically late. The line between self and purpose is blurred for superheroes because they’re committed to their purpose, they’re committed to being great. When you’re sharing your gifts with the world, when you’re living your purpose, there is a blurred line, if any, between who you are and what you do. If that sounds crazy to you perhaps it’s only because you haven’t been able to find your super power, YET.

Superheroes spend time with other superheroes or those who support their purpose. They also choose no company over bad company. Being realistic, we don’t want to be snobs, we don’t want to be perceived as arrogant; we can’t live as if we don’t need others. But the lesson from our made-up mentors is simple: choose your friends wisely. Superheroes are reclusive if and when necessary. When they are not alone, they surround themselves with those who can support their purpose (think of Batman’s Alfred) or others with a similar purpose who they can make a difference with, learn from and develop with (think of the Justice League or Avengers). It’s pretty straightforward: if we want to be great, we have to choose great company, whenever possible, just like superheroes do.


There may never be a comic or movie about you, but you can still apply the habits and mindsets that make superheroes great to your own life. And maybe that means we can all be superheroes, sorta’.



Posted by kathy Jun 19, 2018

Sunshine, blue skies, fledgling birds calling, and children laughing.  Well... some children are laughing.  The children who are looking forward to being with their families for July and August are excited and happy and enjoying all the end of the year celebrations, trips, and culminating activities.  I want to write today about the group of children who are not laughing, the children who are perhaps screaming, growling, stomping their feet, or simply have gone silent.


Transition times are a time of stress as change is stressful.  Please know I don't think all stress is bad!  Stress is a part of life and learning to deal with stress in healthy ways is a powerful skill to learn.  Many students can do this with the supports they already have in place in their lives. Others, just like some adults, are more sensitive to stress, endure intense levels of stress, have mental health challenges, physical health challenges, social challenges, and/or family challenges.  For these children, summer coming means a sudden and significant break from their support network and the structure and routines they have grown with over the year.  Imagine FEELING the message from the adults you trust, " We care about you, we are here for you BUT we are leaving you for two months."


How do we support these children throughout June so they are set up for a successful transition into July?  I believe in the direct teaching of resiliency skills, teaching how to build positive mindsets, and utilization ofmindfulness strategies. June needs to be a time for reinforcing and practicing these skills. Direct teaching of metacognition.  Set them up for success.


Please contact me or comment if you would like to discuss specific ideas for teaching these skills.

Connecting with the students you teach helps them learn.  Why do I say that?  A sense of belonging helps us feel safe and part of the whole. It is important to take a moment to mindfully connect.  This could be just stopping to listen to their story, complimenting a new hair cut or a shirt they like, or making sure the have food today.


Simple, mindful connections do enhance student learning as they build a child's sense of being cared for, valued, and safe.

Originally posted by Emile Ferlisi in Balanced Math: Supporting Differentiated Instruction With a Focus on Guided Math on May 3, 2018 2:39:29 PM


There are a lot of elements that go into a balanced mathematics program. Beyond a deep understanding of modeled, shared, guided and independent mathematics, teachers need to have a clear understanding of: setting conditions for learning, building classroom community and the effective use of assessment.


It's completely fair to say that implementing an effective, balanced mathematics program is impossible without these foundational understandings. Perhaps in much of our sharing as educators, we gloss over some of the steps along the way, assuming that our colleagues and even leaders 'know what we mean' or are completely aware of the work that goes into effective programming. I open with this sentiment because I feel that anyone unfamiliar with the aforementioned concepts and practices should start their journey by exploring these building blocks.


As we continue to work through this project, Katarina and I have deepened our understanding of how to effectively use assessment for learning to guide instruction. This isn't something new for Katarina, but the level of intentionality that this project asked for allowed her to refine her thinking. I had the pleasure of learning along with her, co-planning at times and providing an "outside looking in" perspective whenever needed.


While all of the parts slowly came together, Katarina continued to find it difficult to really get the guided portion of the program built into the classroom routine - we touched on that in our previous post. On April 24th we met to discuss what Katarina called her most effective and most comfortable implementation of guided practice so far:


"It all starts with an assessment for learning, a diagnostic, I did about eight weeks ago" Katarina started our discussion. "I found out that my students, as a whole class, really didn't know how to use place value to read numbers to the right of a decimal; they struggled with tenths and hundredths. The assessment for learning also helped me to find students who hadn't consolidated place value for whole numbers. I knew exactly where I wanted to start my whole group discussion".

Katarina explained to me that her whole group instruction aimed to help students understand 'how digits after the decimal work' with a special focus on the fact that decimals represents parts of a whole and, as such, are fractions. The class discussion branched further into how to read decimal numbers with place value (eg: saying five tenths when we see 0.5) and ended off with questions and discussion around recognizing when zero is used as a place holder versus when a zero is actually denoting a value (eg: 0.5 is the same as 0.50 BUT it's not the same as 0.05)






"My favorite part was all of the a-ha moments students were having around the connections between decimals and fractions!" Katarina explained to me.







Katarina formed groups using data from her assessment and observations she made as she circulated to conference and support groups of students as they worked collaboratively to respond to her prompts (we have a nice picture of Katarina's notes, but they include student names so we hope you'll take our word for it!).



"I found that I could make appropriate groupings because I know them; I thought about the depth of student responses, and what they demonstrated orally, not just what was being recorded on their pages. Conversations mattered when making my groups." Some other factors Katarina considered when making her groups included the leadership characteristics of group members and their individual work habits.





Katarina explained to me that the groupings she made were to be used during mathematics instruction over the next few days. She edited and scaffolded EQAO questions for three of her groups, she had guided instruction and conferencing with a fourth group while a fifth group worked on a number sense mission she had set up in Knowledgehook. Students would only be directed to Knowledgehook once they'd had a chance to participate in guided instruction as these missions were meant to check for student understanding (and could be used to further guide "circling back" in instruction).



Katarina summed up her learning to this point as we ended our chat: “I have learned about different ways to approach teaching mathematics and I have been able to move my teaching through involvement in the project. I found ways to take the theories and concepts and apply them in ways that were effective for my students and for my teaching. I've also noticed that students have improved in the processes of reasoning and proving as well as communicating" (we'll aim to be more specific about this quote in our next post!).


As a next step, and thanks to an idea I picked up at our most recent TLLP team meeting, I suggested that Katarina consider adding a 'today I learned' component to her mathematics instruction. The idea would be for students to use screencastify to record a response to the very open prompt: 'What did you learn today'. Student responses could be recorded in this manner on a rotating schedule, similar to the way guided instruction is set to work. These recordings could very easily be the content for a dedicated 'topic' in google classroom, but here I am getting ahead of myself, adding more to our "to implement" list!


As we come closer and closer to the end of our project we're developing a comfort with balanced mathematics that, admittedly, has been a long time coming. I've also found that our "to try" list continues to grow and is far longer than the school year will allow, which is probably exactly as it should be.