Friday, October 28, 2011

new blog to watch out for

Sean Frey, performer and designer, has just started a new blog. He's worked with Jumblies Theatre for the last 6 years.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011


I have been thinking a lot about ethics - up to my earballs in research projects as I am, and I decided to take down a lot of the really awesome photos I'd posted of the kids and the work we did together in Inukjuak. I really wanted to share those images with a folks, but more than that I want indigenous children to be in control of images of themselves. We are fed so many types of images, not under our control - by taking these photos down I want to give more control to the kids depicted in those images, and the beautiful work they created. There are still a few up - ones that are general enough that they don't wrest control away from the people appearing.

So much to think about!

nerd out!


well's been a long time.

I've been running for a while now - last year was my third year at Ryerson in the ECE program, and it was deeply rewarding. I found a pretty big love of research, and got to put it to good use.
As I've posted before, I worked with Dr. Jason Nolan (part of our ECE Faculty) as a research assistant at the interdisciplinary research lab he directs, called the EDGE Lab. I did that for all of last year, and then got to run my own research project last summer when I got back from the Arctic, looking into Adaptive Design and the way people learn how to do it.

As the new year scooped it's way around, and I started back up into my classes, I got a nasty surprise. I had carefully set up my fourth year internship in an ACTUAL SCHOOL, to see what that was like - only to have it fall through when my police record check didn't arrive in time. I had to re-evaluate not only my semester, but my whole year, as not being able to do my internship this semester had some pretty major impacts on my academic timing. As you'll soon see, however, it all worked out for the busy busy best.

So - I re-evaluated and decided to do my internship in the spring semester, in a big block. It works better that way in a school setting anyway - since you're with the kids everyday and can build better relationships with that kind of time - but what that means is that I can't go back up to Inukjuak this year. Which will be hard, but Clea will go instead of me, and the continuity will continue in some form.

With no internship this fall, I was looking at having a leisurely academic time - until my profs heard about it, that is, and dangled in front of me some of the most un-pass-up-able carrots in the form of several fascinating research projects. Instead of working at an amazing school with amazing educators and kids, I'm the project manager of a pilot research project about outdoor play in child care centres, helping out as a facilitator and consultant on a project designing a game about privacy WITH CHILDREN AS CO-RESEARCHERS, on top of the ongoing research at the EDGE Lab about Adaptive Design and that sort of stuff. Yikes - but fun.

I got to go to Seattle to present on some of the stuff we've been thinking about and putting together at the EDGE Lab a couple of weeks ago, and got to meet my admitted hero Teacher Tom. My colleague and I spent a great afternoon with Tom, his parent co-teachers and the pre-K class - exploring boxes and scooter and super awesome floral beads that expand in water. It was a really wonderful time - oh, and the conference was pretty good too - although I did cause a bit of confusion for some folks, who were surprised that an undergrad was hanging out and presenting. I used to live in Seattle, many years ago, and got to see some very good friends that I hadn't seen for 10 years. That just made the trip amazing.

When I got back, I had to leap into a whirlwind of activity. I've decided to keep on keepin' on with this ol' academia thang, and am going to do graduate studies - but in keeping with all the re-evaluation that I've been doing this semester, I took a hard look at the plan I've been holding steady on, and threw it to the dogs. What I've realized is that I really like research, and I want to keep doing it. So - that's what I'll do. I'm gonna look into doing research about the things I'm really fascinated by these days - my favourite things that I've learned about during my courses in my undergrad and in doing research at the EDGE Lab. All our exploration about play and learning and learning environments, and autonomy and risk and child rights - they're all coalescing into some fun ideas that I want to keep chasing. Soooooooooo - that's what I'm going to do. I'm kinda thinking about looking into how children learn in informal spaces that they make for themselves - playgrounds and backyards and parks...oh my!

Anyway - more on that soon. I'm Mr. Poster Infrequently, so we'll see what soon actually means. Maybe I'll get back on here and tell some stories of what's going on in my crazy wonderful courses this semester!

Nerd out - :)

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Children and Tech Series - the penultimate post - final exam question

How much meaningful learning can one course have?

The breadth and depth of learning I’ve experienced in this course is kind of astonishing. I feel like I came into the course with an inkling of what the potential for learning using technology might mean, and I’m leaving with a tremendous host of skills and tools to use, not only in early learning contexts but in my own learning as well. This course hasn’t only given me practical tools and examples, but I’ve also been able to explore different ways of thinking and looking at both technology and learning.

Over the course of this class I watched myself loosen up a bit with technology in a way that I haven’t previously. Not only did I begin to game outside of class, but playing around with different media, programs and games in our labs really helped me to see the potential in different gaming environments and virtual worlds. Having been staunchly ambivalent about technology previous to this, I feel like I know have a much better sense of what makes good games, good online worlds, and good media environments. When I say good, I’m referring to virtual and online spaces where people, students and otherwise, can use technology to understand the task and themselves more clearly. This course has really helped me to unpack what kind of things are important to have in situations that foster authentic learning. Spaces where people become engaged with what they are doing and are able to make it their own are “good”. These “good” playful learning spaces are environments that people not only inhabit, customize to their own specifications, and take ownership of, but they also reinforce the transference of those characteristics and behaviours outside of that particular environment to other contexts and activities. Playing World of Goo, getting to know Flickr a bit better, and the truly transformative play that I experienced playing with Scratch – all that playing really helped me understand how to take ownership of virtual spaces, what made a game fun AND something that fostered questioning and learning, and how to think critically about technology and especially educational technology and evaluate it for fun AND learning potential.

Another really important thing I learned in this course is that it’s not as much what (although I will argue in a second that that is also important) but how technology is engaged with in a learning environment that makes the difference. In the first chapter of Jonassen, Howland, Marra & Crismond’s Meaningful Learning with Technology (2008) – ironically the last assigned reading in this course – the authors outline the basic requirements for meaningful learning. I deeply appreciate the clarity with which these characteristics are laid out for us. If the learning is intentional, active, constructive, cooperative and authentic, then it is meaningful (Jonassen et al., 2008). I really love this, because it incorporates some things that are dear to my heart – participation, child-directedness, engagement, reflection – elements that I feel are key to learning. I find myself now applying that criteria to other things, using that criteria to evaluate whether something is meaningful, whether it is technologically involved or not.

Reflecting on our readings and lab explorations helped advance my understanding regarding how the shapes of things influences how we learn. By shape, I’m referring to the expectations, hidden curricula, implied attitudes and assumptions that go into the environment and very architecture of the various games, online spaces, institutions and relationships that we engage with every day. Grimes’ Prezi presentation Playing By (and With) the Rules (2010) helped extend my thinking on commercial entities creating commercialized spaces to create commercialized children. Nolan and Bakan’s article Social technologies for young children: Cultural Play with (in press) about using the Web 2.0 user/producer phenomenon to engage children and educators back into the production of their own musical culture helped me think about how users can be incited to produce their own material by exploring the content of online environments and applications. Sharples, Davison, Thomas & Rudman’s excellent and thought-provoking Children as photographers: an analysis of children’s photographic behaviour and intentions at three age levels (2003) helped me think about how the limitations and affordances built into the structures of the tools we use influence our experience with those tools. To be honest, however, it was experimenting with Scratch that really got me going, though.

It seems to me that every element that went into the designing of both the Scratch program and the Scratch online community was thought through to bring about the most empowerment, the most community-building, the most collaboration, the most exploration and experimentation, and the most meaningful learning possible. From the intuitive construction aspect of the programming language, where creators can build programs using blocks of commands, to the sharing and downloading capabilities that the online community site affords, every aspect of Scratch reinforces the collaborative nature of it’s mix/remix approach to cultural production, learning and fun. The more I played with it, the more impressed I was with how democratic the whole thing was. I loved that I learned the basics by watching tutorials made by and with kids. I was entranced with how easy it was to incorporate new self-generated material into the already existing matrix. Most powerfully of all, the ability to download other peoples games to see how they put them together and apply that knowledge or those very codes to your own work, reminded me very viscerally of my own explorations as a child of two mechanics. My parents would hand me a broken object (I most remember an old fashioned wind-up brass alarm clock) hand me some tools, and I would take thinks apart to see how they worked. In the climate of advanced electronics we live in today here in North America, I find it fascinating that that kind of tinkering exploration has transferred in a way INTO the technology we can no longer take apart, without a lot of know-how. Scratch, and programs like it, create a bridge to take that physical tinkering into the virtual world. It was crucial for me to learn that that was possible, and how it was possible.

I could go on and on. The emphasis on meaningful learning in this course, and what that means, has seeped into many other aspects in my life. I think in new ways, about new things because of this course. I’m excited about blogging, and exploring blogging with young and preliterate children. I’m interested in how learning can make us more generous, and how technology and the shapes of things can promote generosity in people, and children in particular. I’m entranced by the idea of combining democracy and fun in play and learning, and overwhelmed by the potential for meaningful learning through technology. I feel like I’ve only really begun to learn, and that’s great. Thanks, Jason.

Words: 1140


Grimes, S. (2010) Playing By (and With) the Rules. Accessed at

Jonassen, D., Howland, J., Marra, R., & Crismond, D. (2008) Meaningful Learning with Technology. New Jersey, Pearson Education, Inc.

Nolan, J. & Bakan, D. (In press). Social technologies for young children: Cultural Play with Accessed at

Sharples, M., Davison, L., Thomas, G. & Rudman, P. (2003) Children as photographers: an analysis of children’s photographic behaviour and intentions at three age levels. Sage Publications 2(3). Accessed at

Children and Tech Series - Post #12

community building through technology

In my previous career, I prided myself on my ability to help build community. As a community artist, working with students in schools, kids in afterschool programs, and community members of all ages in drop-in situations and other venues, I thought a lot about using different artistic tools and media as bridges to bring diverse people together. My background in this work has biased me towards a collaborative form of working and learning, towards a certain openess and tendency to share. All that experience has been incredibly valuable in early learning contexts and the other educational contexts that my new field of early childhood education has put me in. It has also deeply informed my engagement with interpersonal dynamics.

However, it wasn’t really until I started studying my new field that I began to use technology as a means really build community, to look at technology in a critical and thoughtful way and choose to use it as another community building tool. I began a blog called the people garden in my first year of ECE here at Ryerson, and that’s where things changed for me.

I had kept blogs before, but they had been primarily archival and documentary in nature – a holding place for my work as an artist. While I was building the people garden, I set out one day to see if there were any other blogs out in the blogosphere that were by and about men working in early learning contexts. I was lucky, and found two key blogs that began a process of what’s now become a global community building project for me. I found Look at My Happy Rainbow, the blog of a male teacher reflecting on his surviving and enjoying his first year as a kindergarten teacher. His stories were warm and funny and interesting, and made me very excited to be a guy working with kids. I also found Teacher Tom’s blog – and felt like I fell down a rabbit hole. Teacher Tom’s writing about his work in a lab school in Seattle was a revelatory find, and I wrote him and told him so.

He responded, and we kept a loose dialogue going on each others blogs and via personal email messages. The more I read, and as I developed as an educator, I realized that Tom had become a mentor – a cyber-mentor – to me, and has inspired me on a continuous basis to be the best educator I can be.

Through Tom’s blog, I have connected with other bloggers working in our discipline, all over the world. I now am connected, professionally and personally, to educators in Australia, the US and Canada, to a Canadian teaching in Belgium for a year, and a host of others. I have been able to weave a virtual community, not dependent on geography or space, but instead on interest and passion and inspiration.

The profoundly transformative potential for community building using technology happened, and is still happening, to me. Before it did, I never even considered it as a possibility, and I’m pretty grateful for it.

Children and Tech Series - Post #11

making meaningful music – return of the authentic voice and

Music, and culture, was something people created in their communities everyday. With the commodification of culture as consumer product, children are growing up learning that culture and music is something created by people for money and purchased by the rest of society., a project emerging from the Faculty of Early Childhood Education at Ryerson University, has as one of it’s goals a working towards the reversal of this trend. By using the democratic mix/remix cultural tools of Web 2.0 (folk-production), the aim of is to help people, and in particular children, create their own music and culture again.

Nolan and Bakan’s (In Press) article Social technologies for young children: Cultural Play with outlines the reasons why Songchild is coming into existence, and it’s goals and aims as a cross-cultural multilingual tool for emancipatory democratic cultural folk-production. That last sentence is so dense – what I mean by it is that the article talks about how wants to be a virtual place where kids of all languages and backgrounds can make their own music and meaning, and play with the concepts of autonomy, production, culture and democracy.

The voice of children is notably lacking in our day to day society, both culturally speaking in a broad sense and in online Web 2.0 spaces. This has to do with the skill levels required to access extant cultural production interfaces and a real lack of online spaces that are unmediated by commercial intent, but mostly have to do with a prevalent societal attitude that discounts children’s voices as valid and important, that does not recognize children as people or citizens, and that relegates children’s voices to a limbo of immaturity and inexperience.

Another really important issue is addressed in the article as well – the fact that teachers are products of “the commercialization of experience and institutionalization of learning” (Nolan & Bakan, p.8), and have a hard time seeing outside of that paradigm to the importance beyond product, goal, achievement and purchase. Educators are given packaged curriculum and standardized testing, and the very cognitive shapes of the institutions of public education can make it extremely difficult for teachers to create change and emancipatory spaces in their classrooms. That is why the democratizing elements of the thoughtful use of technology are so important. And, likewise, the democratizing elements of making meaningful music.

The participatory nature of, the cultural production work it could foster, the leveling of the playing field of musical creation, and most especially the “haven for the authentic voice of childhood” (Nolan & Bakan, p.10) it could provide make it a wonderful example of the potential for virtual spaces to be excellent learning spaces for young children, where they can develop the skills to be engaged citizens reclaiming their voices.

Children and Tech Series - Post #10

feedback, assessment, authority, control and meaningful learning…oh, and a bit of Scratch

Chapter 10 and the Epilogue of Jonassen et al.’s Meaningful Learning with Technology articulates some interesting ideas about how technology, and using technology as a learning tool, can/will influence and change how learning happens.

I’ve posted before about my interest in reflective learning, and these readings really generated a lot more thinking. Since the midterm exam, I’ve been thinking about how digital technology and blogging could be used as a tool for reflection, documentation and communication in an early learning context. In my imagination, I see the ideas in Chapter 10 and in the Epilogue really fitting in with that thinking.

We know that standardized assessment doesn’t address the actual learning that students do, and that performance or authentic assessment which looks at the processes that students undertake over long periods of time gets far closer. Using technology – say something like a blog – as a portfolio, communication tool and archive in a classroom would be a great way to promote self-reflection, encourage autonomous learning and decision-making, provide a venue for constructive multidirectional feedback, and create an easy record for assessment use. Having it be a collaborative effort among all students and educators, who would choose to post examples of work, photos of classroom activities and other classroom artifacts together would further enhance the engagement and democratic elements of the technology as a learning tool.

In a constructivist/constructionist learning environment, where students are engaged in their own learning by getting involved in process that are meaningful to themselves, teachers have to give up some of the authority they traditionally hold. If the teacher no longer dictates what the students will learn, but holds a space open for students to create their own meaning, then the learning environment has become a very different place than what is usually seen in typical classrooms everyday. An educator engaging with learning in this way becomes “…not an arbiter of knowledge but rather a coach who helps students engage in a larger community of scholars.” (Jonassen et al., 2009, p.242) Technology, when worked with and engaged with critically and thoughtfully, can help carve out that kind of democratic space, create places for authentic feedback and assessment to occur, and build classrooms that are fun and interesting places where children learn.

To bring it back to Scratch – so interesting to contrast the ideas inherent in it with these ones. Scratch is so open source – the fact that you can download and upload so easily provides an amazing venue for feedback and peer-to-peer assessment. The Scratch community organized around the Scratch website where all that sharing is taking place engages in very democratic, anti-authoritarian process JUST BY PLAYING WITH SCRATCH. The very shape of the programming language and program itself lends itself to meaningful learning. That’s what’s really exciting about the convergence of all of this for me – the fact that the very shapes of things help us grow more into the kinds of learners, and people, that we want to be.

Children and Tech Series - Post #9

scratch, generousity and learning by taking things apart

Interesting things are brewing in my head as I play with Scratch. At first bewildering, the lego-like programming language of Scratch has become increasingly intuitive – which is crazy. Is this the way code-monkeys begin to think, once they’ve mastered more complicated programming languages. It feels like I’m just fitting pieces together to make a well tuned machine hum to life.

It’s pretty amazing how much is available in Scratch – and how generous the project is. Generousity is something that I’ve been thinking a bit about in terms of technology, and the ideas we’re visiting in this class. Technology, while being a consumer product and accessible only to those who can afford it, has the remarkable potential for built-in democracy and generousity. I think about the Facebook phenomenon of oversharing, and how we could reframe it as a human response mirroring the information overload provided by the Internet. Don’t we reflect our environments? The Scratch social networking site – where people upload the projects they’ve made with Scratch and publish the scripts that run it for everyone to see – is also an incredibly generous space. Learning by sifting through other peoples code is a really amazing way to figure out how to work the initially confusing array of things you can do with Scratchtasticness.

For me, it was a game called Egypt Pyramid, done by a kid somewhere and uploaded to the MIT Lifelong Kindergarten Scratch site for all the world to see. I downloaded Egypt Pyramid, not because it was a similar game to what we wanted to build, but because there were a lot of script and I wanted to learn how it had been done. It was really amazing.

By looking at someone else’s work, shared through a generous understanding that we often learn by what could in one way be looked at as copying or stealing, and in another way be seen as standing on the shoulders of giants, I felt like I gained some seriously deep understanding of how to work with Scratch. The rules became intuitive, the movements fluid, and it was after taking apart Egypt Pyramid and another game called Lemonade Stand that I felt strong enough in my understanding to start building our own. It was a powerful feeling – and also an interesting take on collaboration, copying and learning by doing.

In the first Scratch game I made, I used images and sounds provided by the program to see what I could do based on what they had. I used what I learned from my colleagues – the designers of Egypt Pyramid and Lemonade Stand – but not their specific codes. It was easy to see how to do what I wanted, which wasn’t anything like what they offered up in their own programming, after taking their games apart to see how they worked. It felt like I was tinkering in the best sense of Gever Tulley and Teacher Tom.

That’s my idea of meaningful learning. Well, one of them.

Children and Tech Series - Post #8

flickr – communicating with images

Continuing my exploration with Flickr was a pretty interesting experience. I took some photos, and uploaded other photos of mine that I thought captured a little of what we were after – a child’s perspective and a child’s sense of why and how we capture images.
In reading Sharples article – I found it profoundly interesting that children were discovered to have completely different values around images, image making, and authentic photography. This quote from the article talks about how, like in drawing and writing “…children develop their own distinctive content and styles of representation that are not simply immature adult forms, but are signs of their abilities, interests, concerns and perspectives…” also in photography (Sharples, p2). Over and over again, it is clear that we short-change children’s understanding and like to believe that they are far less sophisticated and complex thinkers than they actually are.

I vaguely remembered reading on an ece blog about children taking photographs, and having a particular perspective. I was able to dig back and find it on Allie’s blog Bakers and Astronauts – After that blog post, she began to post kids photos regularly, and their visualizing was always really incredible. Examples – here, here, and here , and then Allie led me to this site – where a four year old (well, now she’s seven) named Adie is documenting herself with her Polaroid camera.

Really thought provoking stuff. How does documenting your experience change that experience? Having gone through times in my own life where I needed to document my work or experience because of archiving needs or artistic vision, I have thought a little bit about what looking through a lens at the world, or even just thinking about looking through a lens at the world, does for reflection/self-reflection/overthinking. I think I captured the whole spectrum there in that last bit! With photos, we can reflect images back at the world; reflect on our own vision, mind, thoughts; and we can get stuck in a place of too much reflection, where we are too critical and pick it all apart.

The apparent flexibility of digital media helps with all of this – upload, edit, change, archive, archive editability…the mutability of documentation, where we used to RECORD events for permanent perpetuity. I say apparent flexibility, because I’m unsure about that flexibility. I have a nagging suspicion that once you upload something to the Internet it’s there forever, whether you change it or not…archiving gone wild. The communicating/community building aspects, however, are really interesting. Flickr allowing you to connect with contacts to see their photos and ‘stories’ and ‘lives’ is an amazing feature.

I am so fascinated by the idea of using digital media to promote self-reflection in young children. And this leads me to my last thought for this post – a response to Jason’s suggested thinkings. How early is too early for children to interact with these kinds of technology? A googlesearch on the topic calls down an avalanche of conflicting opinions …don’t expose your kids to computers, get them in early, introduce them along with other tools of expression like pencils and paper and crayons…there doesn’t seem to be a definitive answer. I myself feel like at least limiting screen time for at least the first two years might be a good idea…

Children and Tech Series - Post #7

design and visualizing with tech

From my work in art, I have a lot of experience communicating with images. It often felt like a form of telepathy – taking an image from your vision and directly transmitting them to someone else. It’s a whole other way of talking – without language getting in the way.

By incorporating digital technologies into the mix, technologies like digital cameras and the Internet, you get a whole new way of communicating quickly and simply across language and space. Chapters 8 and 9 in our text talk about design as a new literacy, as the literacy of the 21st century. To contextualize learning in a constructivist/constructionist framework means seeing learning as a design process. My own background as a designer biases me towards seeing that all around me, and my thinking is already skewed in that direction. It’s actually pretty exciting to think about.

In doing these readings I worked hard to try to keep the issues I mentioned above in mind. Why do we visualize? What are the tools traditionally used, and what are we using now? Our text has different examples of digital and online tools used to visualize object before they are built (programs like Pro/Desktop and SketchUp), create music with composition software (programs like Impromtu and Musical Sketch Pad), and new media design creating animated “microworlds” to learn programming and organizing skills (programs like Scratch). My own experience and bias, however, lead me to use pencil and paper, or even just the materials that I’m using themselves (cardboard, etc.) to create mock-ups or test objects – securing me more fully in my ‘digital immigrant’ status.
It’s just easier for me to use the tools or material that I’m familiar with and have years of experience using to visualize and create models with. So, while digital tech may make it easier to communicate my ideas across language and space, the tools that I prefer to use to work out those ideas aren’t digital. I have to go to other tools, like cameras or video, to take that next step, and to access the bridging effect that digital media can provide.

Which is a good lead in to my beginning attempts at Flickr exploration, and images on the Internet. It has become incredibly simple (and common) to use the Internet as a virtual storehouse of images and ideas. I can easily search something that I’d like to look at, can’t visualize, or don’t understand – and get a visual image (or a lot of them) to help me understand more. Flickr comes with a community aspect to it as well, which is really interesting, blending visualizing tech with sociable tech in a way that holds a lot of promise. Good thing we had two weeks to explore it!

Children and Tech Series - Post #6

google – part 1
Sunday, February 13th, 2011

Here is my first post on Google. I’m delighted that we’re exploring it for two weeks, and am really curious to see what comes up for people.

As a precursor to this post, I put up a video I found on Youtube about the potential for a Google conspiracy. I posted it for all the groups in the class, and am very curious to see the responses. Some folks have already responded, which is great. We’ll see what others think.

My own take on it, and with most conspiracy theories is this – if someone is going to take the time to track my every move on Google-related internet interfaces, and target me with advertising or map my genome, let them. I am not that interesting, or important, a person for it to be worth the effort to do so. I am a little surprised by the whole idea, actually. It makes me really wonder about how much privacy risk I am really under.

If someone targets me with advertising media, I am going to apply my critical-thinking superpowers to the situation and do what I normally do, which is ignore the ad anyways. If someone wants to map my genome – go for it. What for? And why would they?

To be honest – I regret posting the video the way I did – without any critical preamble saying “do you believe this?” or “take this with a grain of salt” or “for more fear mongering, watch this”. There is a danger on the internet, and it’s in taking everything we find there as truth and NOT applying our superpowers to them.

Back to Googleland – which I enjoy, regardless whether or not they are trying to map my genome to make a huge artificial intelligence or not (a whole other story – Singularity, anyone?). Having recently switched over to gmail so that I don’t have check 18 different emails at once (slight exaggeration), I have been exploring and been shown some of the truly amazing things Google has developed. After trying to figure out what PageRank was about for 45 minutes straight, and still not really getting it, I’ve decided to concentrate on the things I do get.

Google Docs are wonderful things, designed to allow for instantaneous knowledge sharing and creation. They are great collaborative tools to, as you can simultaneously work on one with a group of people (frustrating and/or inspiring – depending on how much of your work gets scrapped or changed i guess). Learning about Boolean searches and Google Scholar have been a real boon too, for school stuff. But the most exciting Google product so far that I’m using are the awesome email alerts.

I’m in placement at the Ontario Coalition for Better Child Care, which is an advocacy group working to make child care actually supported by the government in Ontario. Part of my work there is to know what folks are saying about child care all over the province. Google offers this search thingy that will email you directly to your gmail account email alerts about specific search terms. So I signed up for one that searches “child care” and “ontario” and have gotten A LOT of great articles from all over the province about peoples thoughts, ideas, feelings and responses to the child care situation in Ontario – SO AMAZING.

If that helps Google map my genome – oh well.

Children and Tech Series - Post #5

Hacking and making your own safety
Monday, February 7th, 2011

The video Hacking Human featuring Michelle Levesque is really really great. And so is the Stranger Danger article. They intersect for me in thinking about the policing of thinking, and cultural policing in general. We all buy into the dominant culture to a certain extent and work within it’s restrictions to get that thing called life done, and so to a certain extent participate in a form of cultural policing – this is cool, that is not, this is popular now, I make my decisions based on these ideas that I heard about…it’s kind of the way that cultural cohesiveness is maintained.

However, what we don’t want is our tools policed in a non-transparent way. I really like the emphasis Levesque put on transparency in her lecture. If we are going to have institutions creating structures within which we construct our meaning (and we are, there just isn’t much of an escape from that) we need to make sure that those structures are built right, with as open and honest policy as possible. We need to know what is being blocked/censored/monitored for us, and we need to agree to it. Transparency is key.

Thinking about transparency on a larger scale makes, in terms of large cultural systems of value and information sharing and education and political ideologies etc etc etc gets me thinking about transparency on a more personal scale – parents and kids and families. I’m doing a lot of reading and thinking about safety for my Major Research Project, and so I see how all this stuff applies. The more we box things in for our kids, and for ourselves – the more restrictions we build into our systems – the less empowered we are to make our own decisions, or have conversations with our children, or do things and our thinking for ourselves.

Which then brings me to hacking culture, and forgive me for rambling all over the map with this one but the goal is to tie it all up together by the end – when we feel empowered to do things for ourselves, and learn the skills we need to know to be able to do what we want, we are participating in the broadly defined hacking culture that Levesque spoke about in her lecture, and that Nolan, Raines-Goldie and McBride (2011) talk about in their paper. When we have a conversation with our children about how to take care of themselves when navigating the Internet sea in their awesome little submarines (it’s back!), we aren’t only helping them to learn and empower themselves and encourage them to stand on their own two feet and live their own lives, but we are also deflating the ideas that skulk around in the shadows of culture that tell us that it’s just so unsafe out there.

The statistics are down. The climate has changed. Things are actually way more safe than even when I was a kid, not so long ago but longer than for a lot of my cohort participating in this blog. Yet, our cultural policing, and those shadowy fearful ideas are constantly whispering to us that there is danger everywhere, that our kids are at risk and incapable, and that we need to protect and be vigilant and relay on others to create our own safety.

When instead we should be working to make our own culture of safety, ourselves

Children and Tech Series - Post #4

WORLD . OF . GOO !!!…and can you speak-ah the lingo?
Monday, January 31st, 2011

Oh my goo-d. I can’t believe how much fun World of Goo has been.

I have to limit myself folks – seriously. I could play on and on and on…I have to admit that I had so much fun that I went on to purchase the rest of the game, so that I could take a look at what the rest of the world looked like.

That is a big component of games for me – exploring the world. I was talking to a novelist friend yesterday who was telling me about how writing a novel can be like holding something very large and alive, something with a lot of surface tension and viscosity and solidity, and I started thinking about games in the same way. The way the creators make a whole world, and then release it to the masses. And this is some of the important discourse happening around games right now (and probably always) – the made worlds’ confines as opposed the the open-source, co-created worlds’ diffuseness. The container of the made world allows for only certain things to happen – like not being able to scale certain terrain, steer certain things but not others, or interacting in prescriptive ways (hello drop down menu!). However, on the other side we have the intimidatingly openness of co-creative projects that sometimes seem like they have no limits, and things just get lost in the Twisting Nether. I don’t have any answers about this by the way, just observations and wondering.

But it leads me to think about communication, and communication through technology. The fears society has eloquently and excitingly (and hilariously, gorily) expressed in Terminator films and Technozombie cults of Borg may be a bit overwrought. I have faith in the body, in the hand, and I think we may be experiencing the rush of excitement that ALWAYS happens when something novel enters society. Technology may not be replacing face-to-face. It may only be changing it for a bit.

Communication in the 21st century looks like it’s going to be about literacy, and a broadening of that term (and of the term language) to encompass a lot more than we may be able to express right now. What if novels become multi-sensory collages of written text, holographic adventure, audio-video clips and visual material? What if letters shift from written to a mix of written, recorded, transmitted and visual snapshots or vid clips?Are we on the cusp of something giant and new, or are we expanding with the surface of the bubble of novelty til it pops?

There is no question that technology has changed communication – I can now skype with my parents in Nova Scotia every day, for free if I want to. However, I love what the text said about illiteracy in the 21st century – being not about not being able to read and write, but about learning, unlearning and relearning (Toffler, as cited in Jonassen, Howland, Marra & Crismond, 2008).

Children and Tech Series - Post #3

Continuing on with the posts (ages later) from my Children and Technology" Course. Want to get it all up before school starts!

Internet submarines and coherence in writing
Monday, January 24th, 2011

Chapters 2 and 4 of Meaningful Learning with Technology by Jonassen, Howland, Marra & Crismond (2008) focused on the issues of information literacy and production. Technology offers us many ways to amass and interact with information, and also to produce works that are hopefully informed, creative and relevant.

The Internet is a vast sea of information, and you really have to be intentional about how you navigate it’s waters. An image of some kind of exploratory vessel, like an amazing submarine kept coming to mind as I read through Chapter 2, which is basically about learning effective ways of exploring the Internet and how to use it as a learning tool. Key to this is the basic premise of having clear ideas of what you’re looking for, why you are looking for it, and how you’ll use it to create deeper understanding for yourself and others. This demands real critical thinking, a hot topic these days and for a very good reason. Critical thinking is a learned skill that we aren’t really helping children learn – and Chapter 2 highlights why critical thinking and engaged learning are critical issues that need to be supported starting as early as possible.

While the Internet can provide an amazing and interesting arena for critical thinking and engaged learning to happen, it takes some pretty involved and skillful scaffolding on the part of teachers and educators to make sure that learners develop the basic tools so that they can make their own submarines to help them navigate their way through the endless Internet soup. I wonder about what shapes this could take in early learning environments – with and without computers – and I’m excited to think more about this and hear what people have to say.

Chapter 4 is really about writing, and how technology can support developing good writing. I believe that it can, but again it’s something that necessarily requires skillful scaffolding on the part of the educator to help hone learners skills and get the rules of good writing down into practice. The ease with which online web publishing makes it for people to get their writing out there for an audience (myself included) doesn’t guarantee that good writing is a given. Quantity is not quality, and practice doesn’t make perfect – you could just be practicing bad writing over and over again.

The great thing about web publishing, and the chapter talks about this, is the ease with which writers can now share with peers. This is awesome, as it allows writers to work in a collaborative way not really experienced before in history. Writing has been predominantly seen as a solitary craft – but sharing your work on the web for intentional collaborative editing is an amazing opportunity to draw the author out of their silo and hopefully find a supportive community with which to develop their work. This relies on the quality of the interactions with peers, and is again something that needs skillful facilitation.

I need to research Poetry Forge more, cuz it kinda scares me.

Friday, August 12, 2011

oh wow!!!

2 kids and a nanny review every park in Manhattan - this is so wonderful - want to do it in Toronto!!!! yippee!

Check out NYC Park Hopper - so great!!

Plus - here comes school again - with the hope of slightly less sporadic blogging. Will finish the things I started.

soon again - nerd out!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Children and Tech series - Post # 2

a brief history of tech and noah

Monday, January 17th, 2011

My own experiences with technology began early – when I was little I wanted to be a “scientist”. Not that I actually had a good handle on what a scientist did, but I was informed by cartoons, Star Wars and comic books – where “scientists” used technology to save the world multiple times on a daily basis. I wanted to go into space, meet aliens and fly around with robots.

My dad worked as an aircraft technician for Air Canada for 27 years, and was a carpenter and builder in his spare time. Technology as tools, and as something you work with were present through him throughout my childhood. My mother went back to school and also entered a technological field by the time my sister and I were in middle school. She studied robotics at a local technical college, and became one of Ontario’s first women industrial robotics technicians. They would have conversations at the dinner table that would totally mystify my sister and I.

Computers were a bit different. I was in Grade 5 when the first PCs were introduced to schools – we had two boxy Macintoshes in the school library, that got used for games and “educational purposes” but were mostly ignored. Friends had Atari systems, and we would play with them sometimes. My real introduction to the home computer happened through my grandfather, who gave me his old Commodore 64 when he upgraded to something else, and now I could write things, play arcade games and most awesomely print things out at home. I played a few games for a while, but found that I mostly got overstimulated from them and pretty well stopped playing them.

Even though my parents were technological at work, my sister and I could program the VCR far better than them. We were adolescents and teenagers in the time before cellphones, but we would’ve been ahead of them on that curve as well. It’s funny how the tech generation gap was so present, even in my very technological family.

In middle school, I realized that the more interesting aliens were here on planet earth – namely other people – and became less focused on being a “scientist” and started seeing art as the outlet for my creativity. In high school, I specialized in theatre, and learned a battery of technology specific to that discipline. A lot of what we had in school was dinosaur material (even at that time) and we were well aware that we were learning techniques on machines that were obsolete in the field.

Before I came to Ryerson, I worked as a professional artist for 14 years. Technology was even more important, as a means of documentation through photos, video and audio data; word processing and editing for grant writing, archiving and evaluation; flexible ways to save and present previous work and projects in progress; networking and collaborating with artists in other places – and a gazillion more. Technology just keeps on growing into my life. I bought my first computer (a Mac) and won’t look back.

Children and Tech series - Post # 1

Learning like knitting – blogging, self-reflection and making meaning together

Saturday, January 15th, 2011

In reading Alex Halavais’ (2006) article assigned to us this week, several wonderful things jumped out at me. In clear, readable prose, Halavais outlines the development of online publishing and weblogging, and the potential blogging has to create flexible learning spaces.

Now, this is really exciting. I have maintained blogs for several years – mostly to keep records and to reach out to others about the work that I’d been doing. My latest blog has mostly been a way to document my development as an early childhood educator. It has also become a place of learning as I connected with other early childhood educators blogging all over the world. Not that I’ve actually updated it in a while…What Halavais is talking about in much of his paper is a much more immediate version of this – students expanding and enhancing their learning through the use of open, online publishing as part of coursework they share.

The self-reflective aspect of blogs is I think enhanced by the fact that you’re writing for an audience – you write for yourself, but/and you become part of that audience. That is a really interesting notion – that in your self-reflection you take yourself out of yourself to watch what you’re doing. Now, some may argue that this is a less authentic experience, but I think as long as it’s articulated and conscious (the way it is and is formalized through the structure of blogging) it avoids becoming navel-gazing, especially when open to an audience. That constant integration, back-and-forthing over your ideas, behaviours and practices moves away from the “disposability” of our school-type learning – it’s gone after the exam and no longer relevant to our lives. When that self-reflection gets shared, especially in visually documented formats such as online web publishing, the potential for discussion and self-reflection is even greater and learning is bound to increase exponentially.

The immersive, engaged vision of learning presented by Halavais in using blogging as a collaborative tool is really great. As he states in his paper “…to learn by becoming a member of that community rather than by learning about that community.” (p. 8) reminds me of debates in Research Methodology class about compete participant and participant-as-observer methods of data collection. The difference here is the transparency, and how exciting is it to watch the development of your own mind, growing with others.

Halavais also raises an interesting point about the mentor/apprenticeship form of learning. I really like thinking about learning about anything as learning a craft – coming from my arts background this isn’t so surprising. But the way that we argue about the “dehumanizing” aspects of technology could be reframed using a “crafting” lens. Looking at using technology as a collaborative learning tool as a craft could reintroduce a “done by hand” aspect to our technologically mediated education. Equally interesting would be a reframing of ECE as a craft – how cool would that be?!

lax lax lax!!

I have been so bad at posting - even tho I really wanted to get the bloggyblog up and rolling again.

I took a really interesting course last semester that sucked up some of my blogging juices because we had to post to a class blog. The course was Children and Technology and opened my eyes and brain and was a great, thought-provoking learning. I'm going to transfer those posts on to this one, and that way will transfer some of that thinking into a more public sphere.

My colleague at the EDGE Lab also suggested that I blog about the great books and things that I've been reading - such a great idea so I'm going to try to do that too.

Here goes - back at it.

Nerd out!

Friday, May 20, 2011

a few more photos from Inukjuak - masks!

Because the storage building was frozen shut when I went to get our plaster face forms to make masks, I needed to improvise. I picked up some cardboard at the Co-Op and some spare boxes that were around the school and built a whack of mask 'frames' for the kids to choose from and build on. These are the documented results. woot!

mask frames

making them

this is how they'll go.

The May long weekend fast approacheth, leaving us less and less time to get ready. Last night we hammered out the ending of the story. Today we'll begin rehearsals, and we'll work on the set over the weekend. More photos to come about the process but I'll leave you with this one.

nerd out!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

some more photos from Inukjuak

Hi folks

I wanted to post some photos of the insanity happening up here the last while.


More to come on the masks we've been working on the past couple of days. The show is fast approaching, and even though things can be brutally depressing in the world today, I've somehow made it back to a place where I'm feeling that the imagination of young people is the only thing that'll get us out of the mess we're in. And that makes this project really valuable indeed...

nerd out.

Monday, May 9, 2011

well HELLO there, winter!

Let me just get this over with - this was what it looked like yesterday when I went on my walk.

Ummmmm. Brisk, yes. Springtime - not recognizably so.

I have been here for a week, and what a week it's been. Unbelievable full and busy, lots of organizing and getting my feet on the ground. The program is popular again this year - with a bunch of kids returning and bringing along some new kids too. On friday we had 29 kids - which is one less than we had all month last year. That feels pretty great.
We worked on paper plate masks, played some theatre games, got used to working together as a group and taught the new folks what kinds of things might happen and are expected. Here are some snapshots of those processes.

Ahhhh, paper plate masks. So versatile, so fun, such a good way to ease into puppets and masks. We worked on simple interactions as our mask characters, and laughed a lot.

And now - no post about the North would be complete without gratuitous snaps of tundra life. Here you go.

While it is really amazing to be up here, and I feel lucky that I'm familiar with some of the aspects of life in the North, being up here is pretty challenging. I'm staying with a teacher at the school, and am friendly with many of the teachers up here, and run the program in the school (this year I'm sharing the classroom with the Survival teacher, who takes kids out onto the tundra on excursions and teaches them both modern and traditional techniques of hunting, fishing and living on the tundra in all seasons. He is amazing and taught me about caribou matresses last week) I get to see a lot of how the school system works here in Inukjuak. Having been immersed up to my eyeballs in educational theory and the critique of educational systems in particular this year, I am really struggling with the way things are implemented in the school here. It's hugely complicated and involves historical, cultural, political and educational dynamics that I'm not equipped to plot out clearly in a itty-bitty blog post today, but suffice it to say the school system is limited and doesn't really even attempt to work with the kids it is supposedly serving. Teachers do the best that they can, but are working against a dizzying array of extrinsic and intrinsic obstacles - and when I think about it too much I wanna throw up. So maybe I'll stop.

There are some great aspects to the school here - the fact that from Kindergarten to Grade 3 classes are taught entirely in Inuktittut to help preserve and promote the language, and the way special programs like ours are supported and welcomed in. However, with the weight of history, oppression and exploitation leaning heavily on a system that's not that responsive to the needs of the kids and community, the school up here is kinds of a majorly depressing place. Thank god for the kids, is all I can say --- they do the best the can and are often smiling and happy to engage with our art and goofiness.

I feel pretty lucky to be up here, all in all. People are welcoming and there are a number of teachers here from last year, so we get to reconnect and reknew friendships. The tundra is as captivating and breathtaking as always, the air scouringly clean and chilly, the sky either opaque with glowing clouds that do funny things to perspective or startlingly luminous blue. The sun is HOT and somehow feels closer, amidst all these fields of snow and rock.

Tonight we're going to start making rod puppets - I think that these will be our main form this year - and I'll let you know how that progresses. If you want to, you can also follow our goings on on facebook at Nunavik Theatre Arts Program

This is where I'll leave it today - struggling with my overactive brain. Hope you're all well and enjoying the sunshine wherever you are!!

Nerd out!

Saturday, April 30, 2011


Spring is sproinging all around me, and last night I packed up my parka, big insulated rubber boots and other snow gear cuz I'm flying up the Arctic!!! Tomorrow!!
Today I take the train from Toronto to's all a bit surreal.
Here we go! I'll keep you all posted as to the goings on, like last year.
Nerd out - noah

Saturday, April 23, 2011

oh my, life is certainly spinning by...

Here I am, studying for my final exams of my SIXTH semester into this adventure, and I can't really believe it. How did I get here - so fast?
This year has been ridiculously busy, and isn't going to stop being so for a little while. While the school year is winding down, with two exams this week, I head back up to Nunavik next weekend. Not much rest time for me! It's ultimately good, no great - and the tundra will be incredibly restful, and it'll be fantastic to actually work with kids again, which isn't something I've done much of this year...but it also would've been nice to have a leeeettle bit of a break.
I gotta quit whining tho - come on!! I get to go back here!!!

How can I complain?

So so so so so so much to think about - my courses this year covered a pretty wide continuum of subjects, from assessment for programming to various methods and applications of research to health promotion and community and development. I took a course with Jason, the prof I'm working for as a research assistant, and got some excellent thinking done as well as some quality playing with things like Scratch from MIT's Lifelong Kindergarten project and the open-ended environmental/anticonsumerism game of World of Goo.
All this to say - I've got a lot to think and write about while negotiating my elongated winter up North, and I can't wait to share it!
Nerd Out, more soon

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Girl with the Brown Crayon makes an eye in the storm

I have written about Vivian Gussin Paley before, here and here. I even already quoted the passage that I came to the blog today to quote, but I'm going to do it anyways-
"I too require passion in the classroom. I need the intense preoccupation of a group of children and teachers inventing new worlds as they learn to know each others dreams. To invent is to come alive. Even more than the unexamined classroom, I resist the uninvented classroom." p 50 in The Girl with the Brown Crayon.
I finished The Girl with the Brown Crayon (for the something like fourth time) this morning on the streetcar on the way here. What is remarkable, and inspires and excites me to keep at school so that I can GET MY OWN CLASSROOM, FINALLY is the intense and profound things that happen in Kindergarten. So much learning, so much discovery, so much thoughtfulness documented in Vivian Gussin Paley's writing. Her self-reflection is a balm.
In the hurly-burly of this semester, with research projects and work and IEPs and working here at the Ontario Coalition for Better Child Care, reading this stuff is really good tonic - the long perspective Vivian Paley brings to her writing helps calm me down.

Friday, March 11, 2011

very smart - Hara Estroff Marano on over-invested parents and brittle kids

Hara Estroff Marano is the Editor-at-Large of Psychology Today in the US, and in this fantastic interview talks with Australian broadcaster Richard Fidler.
 Lots of great stuff talked about - letting kids have a childhood is now a revolutionary idea.
She talks about the importance of play, contemporary interest in learning, helicopter parenting and children building resilience through bumps and bruises, scrapes, mistakes and failure.
She's pretty awesome!

Nerd Out!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

inching towards readiness

The past bunch of months have been busy ones. I have been snowed under with, starting last semester:
  • big, giant assignments in each of my courses
  • and then exams
  • and then ridiculously busy holidays
  • and then the start of school all over again for the new semester
I was barely able to get a breath in there, but things are now coasting in a way where I can reflect and research again, and that feels great. But whoops! Did the bottom ever fall out of this blog for a while.

So, this semester is also busy. I am taking the second half of our research class, and doing a wonderful project on perceptions of safety and how they affect kids' outdoor play, with some stellar group-mates. There is the assessment course where we are focusing on authentic assessment, tools, and critiquing "standardized" testing - it's awesome. I start the week off with a 3 hour class on children and learning with technology, very fun and very profound - with the prof that I'm working on the research project(s) with (thank you Jason), where we are writing our own blog with all the whole class of 40-odd ECE students. It isn't public (yet) but there is some REALLY interesting thinking coming out of there.

I got kicked out of a class due to timetable conflicts (not rabble-rousing) on children in society, and the only class that worked was a class about health promotion and community development on Mondays at 6.30pm, making that day super-long. I was dreading that class a bit, but then it turns out to be absolutely dynamic, interesting and thought provoking filled with great people and a great prof. SURPRISE!

And last but certainly not least - its placement time. I am spending two days a week this semester at the Ontario Coalition for Better Child Care - an advocacy group working to secure real, necessary funding for child care in  the province. It is REALLY CRAZY AWESOME, and I harken back to my activisty days in Montreal and Seattle etc. I'm 4 weeks in to placement and have already written a Student Outreach and info guide, edited a booklet on greening child care centres, presented to other ECE students about the role of advocacy, taken on the organizations publications, and helped a bit with coordinating the province wide community forum tour that the OCBCC is conducting to get people revved up - it's a provincial election year, and we need to make sure that the government starts REALLY funding child care. It's just ridiculous, the state we're in. More on that maybe later - ELP, the new Early Learning Program that gets all 4-5 year olds in the province into kindergarten (sweet!) is gutting child care, as a lot of those kids used to be in child care centres, and without the support of their fees centres are freaking out. It's pretty nuts.

Back at school, I have a seminar once a week for that too. On Mondays. It's silly.

Work at the lab is also fun, but I'm not going to write about that now, because this is already long enough and no pictures. That's too bad.

Here's one of Conan, that I used in my post on our class blog about children, the internet, hacking and safety.
protect us, conan

So...that's what's been keeping me busy. It feels really great to put words up here again. Hope all is well with anyone who might read this - best to all those awesome friends I made oh so long ago when I was posting more regularly! Hooray for blogging!

Nerd out!

Friday, February 4, 2011

oooohhhh - like a little sleeping bunny buried under an enormous pile of research notes, schoolwork and readings


It has been several, several months since I last tuned in to this part of my life, the documenting part.
Well - never fear, I am returning. Not like you've been waiting...but I have been gently asked by a couple of friends when I was going to post next. I appreciate the helpful nudge folks, so I am on my way back to the blogosphere with o so many tales to tell.

But not this second, as I am at my community research/policy year placement at the Ontario Coalition for Better Child Care stealing time while I write this excuse. So I ought to get back to it. Never fear, I will return soon with pithy observations about my adventures in school, learning, education, play and small developing humans and all that goes with them.

see you soon!
really, I promise.

Nerd out...ooooof!