Deep Learning in a Digital Age

Yesterday I had the opportunity to attend the YRDSB/Ministry of Education’s Quest conference in York Region.
Alan November was the keynote speaker for the day. Mr. November was an entertaining speaker and brought attention to how technologies in this day and age are impacting us everywhere. However, to my mind, and apparently in the U.S., it doesn’t seem to be impacting classroom practice in the same way.
We are nearly 16 years into the 21st Century and it seems to me that classroom educators are still grappling with the same issues we were 10 years ago. I have to wonder why?
The message I heard yesterday and one I have been hearing for many years is that education has to change. I agree. I also think that education has changed, a lot, since I was a new teacher. I think Ontario teachers are well versed in differentiating learning for all students, they are expert in assessments as, of and for learning and they are adept at using a variety of IT tools that have become mandatory in order to work in the education system. So, I wonder, why does education still look the same?
I have a lot of ideas about why this is the case but I don’t think they would make me very popular, but what I read about reminds me that large systems are just not agile enough to meet the innovation and creativity that is required to meet the needs of today’s learners. We are still working within a pre-existing idea of what learning looks like and shifting this is like pushing rocks uphill!  Donna Fry posted an interesting reflection in her blog about Challenging the Status Quo.


Using technology is only one piece of the puzzle, changing teaching methods, administrative models and the vision of what classrooms and indeed what school looks like has to accompany this vision.
Good teachers have always provided learning experiences that provide “Deep Learning”, Digital Age learning has to take what we know and do well and evolve towards what living and working in a digital age looks like.


How do Maker Spaces connect to deep learning?

I have been learning about Maker Spaces for years.  I have seen presentations about really effective Maker Spaces in public libraries, through maker groups, in Maker Faires and I understand the excitement around this hands on learning experience. I remember when I heard Neil Gershenfeld, from MIT speak about FAB LAB and I was excited! (video below) It connects to my experience in a big way. I come from a family of trades people who learned their trades through apprenticeship developed by trade guilds in the United Kingdom. Here comes the but…

I am having a problem connecting the wow factor of Maker Space activity to deep, embedded learning that is connected to curriculum with explicit learning outcomes.  There I’ve said it.

I am a Teacher Librarian in a Secondary School and I will be honest, it is challenging to get teachers to understand the value of working with me as a co-planner, co-teacher, collaborative teaching and learning partner. Whenever I get the opportunity to work with my colleagues I must ensure that student learning outcomes, connected to curriculum are being addressed. Yes, Maker Space activities do help to differentiate learning for our hands on learners, but good teachers do this in their classroom practice all the time! I have to wonder why are Maker Spaces now being explored with such urgency and excitement?

Those of you who know me that I am a bit of a tech geek and I have always been an early adopter of technology.  I do have some caveats however, the technology must be purposeful and must fulfill a need I have for my own learning, or that of my students. Do Maker Spaces do this?

I would like to say that the idea of Maker Space has been embraced by effective teachers through time.  Beginning with trade Guilds in Europe, evolving to apprenticeship training, for myself, in education through effective hands on learning experiences differentiated to meet the needs of all of my learners. As a Teacher Librarian, I feel that the same rules apply. I worry that Teacher Librarians are looking for ways to appear relevant in a time when school districts and the province are looking for areas to cut corners. So here I go, tech geek that I am, questioning this very cool idea of the Maker Space.

Teacher Librarians and all educators have the ultimate Maker Spaces, they are classrooms. In these spaces we create knowledge and how we do that relies upon the expertise we have to differentiate learning to meet the many and varied needs of our students.

I like the cool tools and ideas suggested in the Maker movement but when connected to the School Library Learning Commons I need to understand how Teachers and Teacher Librarians work together to develop ideas, use the Maker Space to apply the learning and then help the learners embed this learning in their understanding of curricular outcomes. Without this connection to our expertise as educators, are we not just providing an activity centre?

Talking Library at Queen’s Park

It was #libraryday at Queen’s Park today and I was part of it! Today was the first of many annual events to come where library advocates from the Ontario Library Association meet with MPP’s, Ministers, Deputy Ministers, Policy Advisors to share information about the impact of libraries across our province.

#libraryday@ Queens Park

#libraryday@ Queens Park

My team began our day meeting with Deputy Minister of Education George Zegarac and Assistant Deputy Minister Grant Clarke. We had a wonderful conversation talking about the impact of effective school library programs on student literacy, TL’s as leaders in digital literacy, the importance of the  library learning commons as community connectors and safe havens for our students. We also discussed the importance of embedding the role of the Teacher Librarian in pre-service training for teachers, how effective library commons can support the needs of First Nation, Metis and Inuit learners and curriculum. It was a great conversation and the Minister was very interested in learning how the OSLA and Teacher Librarians across the province could support teachers in all of these areas. Our team was very encouraged and look forward to following up on this conversation.

Shortly after we had the opportunity to meet with Katie Williams, the Policy Advisor to Education Minister Liz Sandals, she too was very supportive in our conversation and was eager to learn more about the impact of The Forest of Reading programs on student literacy.  We will be inviting Katie and the Minister to our upcoming Superconference and Forest of Reading Celebration for sure!

I attended question period in the house for the first time in my life! What a ruckus!! It was interesting to see Premier Kathleen Wynne and all the MPP’s in action, but I certainly was left wondering how anything actually gets done! However, seeing this part of the democratic process in action in real time was pretty darn interesting.

Our day was wrapped up by each team member meeting as constituents with our respective MPP’s to share the big picture messages about School Libraries, Public Libraries, First Nations Libraries, and Academic Libraries.  The conversations were rich and focused on our home turf.

So now I’m home and I’m thinking about the day, the impact we may or may not have made and about our next steps. I am encouraged that so many of our elected officials are interested in hearing our stories and learning about how libraries curate the culture, support communities, engage all learners and are so very relevant in a digital age.

Thinking about Inquiry

T4L Inquiry copy

From Together for Learning, OLA, 2010

I spent last weekend working with a roomful of very clever people.  We were discussing Inquiry Based Learning in the Social Sciences, Social Studies and History & Geography Curricula in Ontario and how challenging many people are finding this shift in pedagogy.

As a Teacher Librarian, I am familiar with the Inquiry Process and I’m absolutely thrilled that we are now being explicitly encouraged to embed the process in our teaching practice with these revised curricula.  This is such a wonderful convergence of the work of the TL and the classroom teacher! It supports the ideas of co-planning, co-teaching, co-assessment, and co-reflection and encourages classroom teachers to collaborate with the TL in the Library Learning Commons.

The key to this process is helping our learners develop good questions that will encourage them to engage directly with meaningful learning.  The TL can support and guide students with digital and traditional resources, searching strategies, lessons about bias and fair use of information, support in the use of a variety of technologies and more. Both the classroom teacher and TL have to take on the role of guide and allow students the time (the four letter word) to explore and think.

I think the biggest challenge will be convincing my colleagues that inquiry does not have to be the massive ISU assignment but can be broken down into smaller, relevant experiences that will help guide our learners deeper into the Inquiry Process. It’s an interesting journey.  One that is supported by the OSLA Document Together for Learning and one that I can’t wait to begin!

eBooks and School Library Collections

This year we decided to begin develop a collection of eBooks for our student collection.  This is an interesting activity since vendors are very interested in the school library sector. It appears that in this day and age publishers are still struggling with a vision of what reading looks like and how to monetize what we interpret as “book”.Ebook

I came to e-reading reluctantly.  I purchased a Kindle device about five years ago, fully expecting to hate it.  Imagine my surprise when I discovered how much I truly loved reading on this thing!  Not only could I carry my library with me, I could add to it whenever I wanted and I increase the font for my aging eyes. Gone were the days when I the most important packing for travel was the selection of books I would need for the length of my holiday.  Additionally, I could create my personal wish list online and purchase as I see fit.

Now in the context of a library collection I am doing the same thing. What I find challenging is selecting titles that give me the best bang for the buck in my ever decreasing library budget, while trying to balance multiple access titles with the traditional metaphor of “book” i.e. one to one lending. I understand that costs around the actual artistic creation of a book cannot change, but we do need to re-think the pricing of the digital content and some of strange ideas some publishing houses have about limits and pricing of content.

My question now is how to bring our schools into this century as we add digital assets to our collections and expect our students to understand them? There seems to be a general acknowledgment that our learners do learn differently in a digital age, their connectivity is something that is a given these days.  What we need to consider is how we increase the depth and breadth of their understanding of the digital resources we have to offer them and engage them in thinking critically about digital content? Especially when their teachers are equally as unfamiliar with these types of resources as their students?

I am working on a five year plan with these resources, investing annually in e-books, promoting them with students, teachers and administrators with the intent that at the end of that time frame they become an expected and highly utilized part of our collection.  I’m hoping to see a convergence of technologies to search and support our library collections to help us along the way. Hopefully, in five years I’ll be writing about our success!

Image courtesy of Randy Rogers licensed Creative Commons

Advocating for Teacher Librarianship

This year I am Vice President of the Ontario School Library Association. Part of this three year commitment is that I attend the quarterly meetings of the Ontario Library Association Board and take part in interesting & challenging discussions with some of the smartest people in the field of Libraries, Knowledge and Technology.

Yesterday our activities were focused on planning forward for the OLA as a whole and specifically on the importance of advocating for the importance of Teacher Librarians in schools across the province of Ontario.

Advocacy is a big hairy monster of a discussion that is not for the feint of heart. It is also necessary to ensure that today’s learners, educators and administrators understand the important role we have in every publicly funded school in our province. Understanding our key role in the school community is imperative in order to advocate for the appropriate supports in our education system to ensure the Teacher Librarian and effective School Library programs continue to be part of every school.

So my question to Teacher Librarians in Ontario and beyond…..can you  effectively and succinctly describe your role to colleagues, administrators and the greater school community? Does your description align with the vision of literate graduates in the 21st Century? With this in place I think our path forward becomes clear.


Creative Commons License
This work by Mia MacMeekin is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.

Visible Leadership

Friday was a good day.  I got to connect with my PLPeeps and I got to learn. Spending time with Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach and Lisa Neale is good time spent.411485153_35d2543d02_o

I have returned to a school after being centrally assigned for four years.  It’s good to be in a school, it’s good to work with students, it’s good to connect with staff and admin but sometimes you just have to feed your soul. Sometimes you just need to connect with like minded folks and remember why you became an educator. Sometimes you need to connect and learn with folk that “get it”.

Friday was one of those days. I was reminded of why I became an educator, I was reinforced in my beliefs as to what I should do as an educator and I was able to connect with folks that “get it”.

In today’s political parlance, I am an oldster. I am someone who is not in the know. But I know better, I am connected, I am a learner and I believe in public education. Take all of our political nonsense away and we have educators who understand what must be done and how we have to do it to ensure that students are connected to learning that is relevant and meaningful for this century.

How cool was it that two wonderful women, grandmothers for that matter, were leading this group through the learning experience that demonstrated how important public education and how important education for the now generation is. I came away feeling rejuvinated, and happy to know that Canadian educators in Ontario just might “get it” and just might be ready to effect the change we need to see now.

Thanks Sheryl and Lisa, I needed this 🙂  PS I found a picture of @snbeach that is awesome 🙂