It felt like Wayne felt in this moment.
It wasn’t the big, blinking great salary that convinced me.
That’s the first truth of this story.

I was quite happy, and my family were quite happy, living in the world’s greatest mountain town. My partner and I worked on a variety of client campaigns; launching sites, consulting, and enjoying a work-life balance that we’d barely dreamed we could manage. We were surviving, building our business while connecting back to our health and happiness. Our daughter was thriving with the skiing, skating, and fresh mountain air. Our Toronto house was rented out to a nice family that we trusted. Aside from the cat becoming an eagle’s lunch (or a coyote’s, or a bear’s), all was going very, very well.

And then the connection request from LinkedIn happened, and the next thing I knew I was dealing with a recruiter from a company looking to launch an Android tablet into the education market.

If you know me, you’ll know that education and education technology are my ultimate passions. Coming from a family of committed, talented teachers, I’ve spent the bulk of my career working on the periphery. I taught ESL in Asia, worked in educational publishing, and turned a massive interest in the web and the power of digital into advocacy work, research, and connecting educators to powerful and engaging technologies. I spent the last few years eagerly connecting with experts and teachers through a variety of social networks including Twitter, Facebook, Nings, and conferences. This work is so close to my heart as a parent, a learner, and person who really cares about where all this technology is taking our society, and our kids in particular.

The opportunity was on the table. To become part of a bold start-up vision, and to impact education through a ground-breaking product that could offer choice in an increasingly branded, proprietary market. To engage with classroom professionals and content producers through a unique (and Canadian) initiative. It sounded great. It sounded like just the perfect next step, even though it would mean leaving our blissful mountain town and heading back to the challenges of Toronto life. It would mean we’d have to rent a temporary residence until our tenants’ lease was up. We’d have to pull our daughter out of school, where she was just making her bones, and interrupt her increasingly positive experience. And it would mean a tremendous shift in our business, where we’d developed a good balance of client work between the two of us.

It would mean a lot of fast, hectic, and disruptive change. The opportunity seemed to be worth all of that.

After I met the team and flew through of series of interviews (me interviewing them as much as they were me), I felt confident that I’d be working with a group of dedicated and passionate engineers and a leadership team that truly had a great product and a genuine desire to make a positive impact. I know that several of my former colleagues also felt this way at the outset. The poop had not yet hit the propeller.

Within a few weeks, the voice in my head started to speak up that something wasn’t right. I tried to quiet it. It kept talking. (more…)

These are a few of my favourite things.

The Canadian Education Association (CEA) are running a really cool blog series on innovation in public education. CEA President and CEO Ron Canuel asks a thought-provoking and (it seems) controversial question: why do we need innovation in education?
CEAThe answers come from a variety of contributors, including Andrew Campbell, Bruce Dixon, and yours truly. I was asked to contribute from the parent perspective, and my thoughts are here. Cue Sir Mix-a-lot. 🙂

Writing the post gave me pause for thought as I struggled to say something nice, but to also get the point across that I am frustrated by the lack of innovation in the Canadian public system. To balance it out – since I’m trying to be all about balance these days (I’m sitting on an exercise ball as I write this. Whoops, I fell. Ok, now I’m back on.) – I wanted to quickly point to some edtech action that points to shiny and bright. And awesome. (more…)

This past week has been rather amazing. I attended UnPlug’d12 – a gathering of 40 folks for whom education means more than anything, in one of the most beautiful settings – Northern Edge Algonquin. Over 3 days, we collaborated on a an e-book that will be released in the very near future. You’ll be able to grab it from iTunes as soon as it’s ready – so stay tuned. (more…)

Ahhh… the dog days of summer. Lazy afternoons slurping on Slurpees, following boys around at an air-conditioned mall, and completely forgetting everything you learned during the last three months……

Or not.

Or not even close!

How about a week of cracking the code behind the coolest websites, field trips to Google, and creating games that you probably can’t play at the cottage (unless you have wifi)?

This summer, the luminaries behind Toronto’s Ladies Learning Code will run a series of summer camps for girls aged 9 – 13. Ladies Learning Code works to empower everyone to feel comfortable learning beginner-friendly technical skills in a social, collaborative way. Toronto parents are spoiled for choice when it comes to camping options, with options ranging from high art to high performance sports. New to the mix is Girls Learning Code, which immerses keen young females in the technology arts through mentorship, hands on learning, and building skills that tranfer to all manners of self-expression. (more…)

Conference booth
I can hardly wait for your free lanyard.
My, how things have changed. I attended my first education conference in 2004 as a sales representative with a big publishing company. It was my job to cajole teachers to stop at our booth (or lure them in with a big bowl of chocolate bars), and give them a 5 minute elevator pitch on some groundbreaking yadayadayada, then invite them to enter a draw for which they’d only be selected winner if deemed influential enough.

These, my friends, were the days before random winner generators, online entries, and the power of quiet influencers with more followers than the Pied Piper using social tools to share their expertise. Biggest school in Ontario? Pssssssshhhhh. How about the elementary teacher from Armpit, SK, who has built a digital program for her students that gives them reach for their ideas that they’ll benefit from for years to come, and tweets her experience to 5000 like-minded followers? I’d rather learn about the platform that makes that notion of global collaboration possible for kids, as opposed to who’s bought (and wasted the most money on) the biggest gargantua of a conference booth (check out the eco footprint too, yo).

But at SXSWedu, there was no vendor showcase. Companies had to be sneaky and infuse their sessions with clever product pitches, sessionbomb by planting product-focused operatives during question time, or be not so sneaky and incur the deserved wrath (Hi, I’m a #conferencehashtag. People use me.) Teachers are getting much better about standing up to the disruption of their learning. They pay out of pocket to come to these things. It’s not cheap. Don’t invite them to a session about innovations in critical thinking applications and pitch your app.
Amway called. They want their strategy back. Ugh. (more…)

Photo courtesy of
Without further ado – a little of what we’d really like to see in schools for 2012. And kudos to the teachers who’ve experimented and grown in their savviness this year!

1. Getting connected – networked schools need wireless access so that teachers can effectively use the technologies available to them, engage in professional development “on the fly”, and access digital content beyond the confines of the library lab. Then they can test all the work-arounds that beat the firewalls still in place in many schools and use HDMI to share the world within the classroom environment.

2. Classroom management applications in a one to one environment. Several companies (SMART Sync, LanSchool) have launched products enabling a teacher to control student devices from an application, push content, and enable collaborative groups. They can block certain sites, and reduce distraction by steering students toward content and applications relevant to coursework and learning objectives.

3. Bring Your Own Device. Although concerns about equity and access persist, BYOD can allow teachers to work with the tools kids are already bringing to school. Typically seen in High Schools (who’ve realized that if you can’t beat ‘em, you might as well join ‘em), expect this trend to trickle down to the middle and intermediate level as cash-strapped schools and boards offset the cost of major hardware purchases to parents.

4. VoiceThread type collaborative applications that incorporate multimedia and encourage participation. Students can respond to any type of content, like a photo, a video, or a text using their mobile devices. Apps like this encourage critical thinking, sharing, and let kids practice using a number of formats to build their digital profiles.

5. Use of cameras on devices for capturing student work, thought processes etc, particularly as Full Day Kindergarten takes hold in provinces like Ontario. Teachers looking for enhanced assessment can video students in action as they engage in early learning activities, providing a visual running record of progress. (more…)

And like that, the SpaceRace blog is back. The act of not updating it was starting to weigh heavily on my mind as we’ve become really, really busy during our third year of bizness. We’ve grown. We have people. Yay! And yet the art of balance seems to be the hardest thing to nail down. The longer I’m a grown up, the less I seem to be able to strike that sweet spot of synergy between all the goings on and things that need to be done, and things that need to be read, and plans that need to be created, and lunches that need to be packed, and appointments/meetings/tuckings in at bedtime/sleep. But the great thing about the busy-ness of this kind of small business is the opportunity to write as an outlet, and to document my thinking for myself (in case I’m struck by lightning and can’t remember what I do or who I am) and my awesome readers. I kinda forgot to do that for a few jam-packed months. The editorial calendar of blog topics that I maintain got longer and longer….some expired like 7-11 cheese, and some are there just blinking like a Las Vegas wedding chapel sign. (not sure where that image came from)

So here’s one that’s been stuck in my craw (not sure where that came from either) for a while, but has bubbled up with my recent election to our local school’s Parent Council, Curriculum Night, and some inspiring client research.

As a SpaceRacer, I like to wax about marketing, technology, and digitalisms. Since we work closely with educators and education companies, much of the great content and resources I come across are related to teaching and learning, or what some call 21st Century Learning. Every publisher out there has tried to coin it/own it/co-opt it/market it, but the joke is on them. Because you can’t buy it. It isn’t for sale, and it doesn’t come packaged in an app, an e-book, or (grr) a “digitized” PDF.

What is true about 21st Century Learning is that it is an approach that either lives within the heart of a teacher or a school, or it doesn’t. It took 100 years to get here, and it isn’t supposed to look the same as what passed for education 12 years ago. Beyond that, it’s awfully hard to define. Today I came across what I consider to be one of the most authentic “definitions”, if you want to call it that. (more…)

Bitstrips for SchoolsIn the tiny mountain town where the SpaceRacers temporarily reside, it’s easy to get things done. It’s easy to get from one end of town to another. It’s easy to buy groceries without waiting in line for 45 minutes. It’s easy to get an appointment at the bank. It’s easy to find a decent, honest mechanic.  And it’s easy to make a difference.

We were concerned that our wee SpaceRacer wasn’t getting enough access to technology in school. In fact, she’s getting none. The transition to 21st Century Learning is happening v-e-r-y slooooooowwwwly in most places in Canadian schools, and she’s been unlucky thus far to have teachers who’ve been mostly uninterested, unmotivated, and unaware of the potential for digital tools in the classroom. But before I rant on (because this really riles me up), I’d like to share a sliver of silver lining.

Upon expressing my frustrations to the school principal, we devised a plan to incorporate a little technology into the lives of the digitally deprived students.  A weekly one hour session with a new educational technology tool. Project focused, and related to something happening within the school community. And it was as easy as being able to give up an hour of my time (with a few to prep, of course). Within a day or 2 of proposing the idea, the principal had forwarded me a list of 41 keen kiddies. 41!  She’d made arrangements for us to meet in the library, in order to use the school’s smartboards and laptops for the activity. No red tape. No cumbersome permission forms:  if you’re interested, just come and learn.

Today is the first day of SpaceRace Technology Club, and I am so very excited to facilitate a Bitstrips project with 41 Grade 3 and 4 students.  If you haven’t heard of it, Bitstrips is an online comic strip creator.  The educational arm of the service, Bitstrips for Schools, is a teaching tool that “engages students using a medium they love – Comics!”  It’s 100% web-based, and includes tons of curriculum-connected activities designed by a huge network of educators. It’s fun and social – a great way to get students working collaboratively to share stories using technology. Our topic is “Kindness”, and I can hardly wait to see the madness that ensues.

I’m very excited about today. It’s the start of something really cool – I can just feel it!

Anita Reynolds MacArthur
Anita chose not to wear her space helmet for this interview.
At SpaceRace, we are cosmically fortunate to work with some amazing authors, including Anita Reynolds MacArthur, creator of the award-winning MacCheeky series. Anita pulls inspiration from her own family for these engaging children’s books, which are delightfully funny and beautifully illustrated. We Skyped Anita from Mission Control for a wee chat about her successful use of social media tools, her inspirations, and her predictions for the future. Enjoy!

(the audio version of this interview is not available due to interference from a nearby alien craft)

A Royal Little Pest1. Hi Anita. Is that a new space helmet?

Hi Aerin. Yes, my space helmet is brand new. It’s not too big, is it? There are so many different styles to choose from!

2. Self-publishing is a very entrepreneurial initiative! What prompted you to publish your own stories?

After 15 years editing other people’s words, I felt it was time to write some words of my own. Self-publishing was the easy part–it’s spreading the word to the public about the MacCheeky picture book series that’s challenging.

3. You use technology a lot in spreading the message about your books. How have social media channels helped you?

Getting the word out via the web is quick and easy, can be done from practically any location, and best of all, it doesn’t cost anything. People all over the world are learning about my picture books every day. It’s very exciting.

4. What is your favourite 2.0 technology tool?

I’d have to say Twitter is my choice 2.0 techie tool. The possibilities are endless.

5. What are your recommendations for other authors with access to the web?

Build a website, start a blog, open a Facebook page, and create as much Twitter buzz as possible.

6. What is your favourite science fiction movie?

Hmmm, I’m going to mention two movies, if I may. My favourite new sci-fi movie is Avatar, and my favourite old sci-fi movie is Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

7. What considerations went into the development of your most excellent website?

My most excellent website? Wow! Thank you for the compliment. Ease of navigation for the user was first and foremost on my mind. A lot of thought went into creating the home page. It had to be inviting, capture as much information as possible without being too wordy, and it had to hold a person’s attention in order to keep them on the site for as long as possible.

8. What are your predictions for the digital future of educational publishing?

Digital learning tools in the classroom will take over sooner than we think. Students today live, eat, and breath technology outside the classroom. I predict that cumbersome hardcover Student Books will soon become a thing of the past as student e-books and SmartBoards become mainstream learning tools.

Learn more about the adventures of the MacCheeky characters and read Anita’s blog at
Like it on Facebook.
Follow ’em on Twitter.
Watch ’em on Vimeo.

"Is that a Twisted Sister pin on your school uniform?"

A recent study conducted by Latitude Research, featured on Read Write Web, looks at what kids want from technology. The results are surprising and somewhat counter-intuitive, with the recent media reports about the effects of excessive screen time and the debate over gaming as an effective learning method. The researchers found that imaginative creation, connectivity, and artistic design were important, valued, and desired when children described their ideal interactions with technology.

I have a confession. We’re a wired family. We’re three laptops on the couch. Sometimes at the kitchen table. We email each other when we’re in different rooms. We all gather round and watch YouTube videos. Sometimes they’re of cats playing soccer. Sometimes they’re of old British children’s programs (or Pee Wee’s Playhouse, in my case) that we don’t want our daughter to miss by virtue of being born in 2002. Sometimes they’re Twisted Sister videos (her current favourite).

But mostly, we’re trying to take a balanced approach to our daughters exposure to media. All media. We lead a relatively active lifestyle, even having given up our car over a year ago. We bike, we play baseball, we swim, we hike. We rarely watch TV. We’re rabid board game enthusiasts, and even host our own Tofurkey Cup championship at Thanksgiving. But we do believe that incorporating technology into our child’s life serves a few very crucial purposes:

  • rigorously tested and reviewed education software, like the kind provided by DreamBox Learning K-3 Math provides a more customized and adaptive math learning environment than the classroom can currently hope to offer. The data it provides us is invaluable, and far more comprehensive than the one-liners in a thrice yearly report card. It assesses skill level and understanding, and then serves up a customized curriculum with activities that will move math learning and understanding forward.  (Disclosure: SpaceRace handles the PR and marketing for DreamBox in Canada. But we wouldn’t if we didn’t believe it was awesome.)
  • creative expression can be augmented and encouraged through the use of online tools such as Picnik, a free photo editing software. Our daughter isn’t particularly “handy” with pencil crayons or a paintbrush, but the digital art and “remixes” she creates are, to her, a chance to represent the world as she sees it.
  • when journalling is practiced in the classroom, it’s often done in a blank notebook and at a scheduled time. Providing our daughter with a secure, private blogging platform means she can record her thoughts and inspirations whenever she needs to. She can add multimedia, like photos she’s taken with our digital camera, images she’s discovered on Flickr, and her own artwork. She can share these precious posts with Nana in Saskatchewan, and looks forward eagerly to the comments from the people she loves.

Of course, there are others. She recently collaborated on a Voicethread for one of her favourite stories with 3 other friends. And she handed in a project, a PowerPoint presentation on Costa Rica, on her own memory stick.

And yet, upon finishing Grade 2, the afore-mentioned Nana from Saskatchewan sent her a copy of Superfudge. A print copy. She devoured it in 3 days.

Balance is important. But if creation and design are key motivators for kids using technology, as the Latitude study claims, then it’s our job as parents to provide the tools to make it happen. Tools that will prepare our daughter to survive and thrive in an interconnected world.

We’ve been encouraged by the recent debate, and the slow, small steps that seem to be happening to make our education system reflect the innovation that exists outside the classroom.

And yes, we will have a lemonade stand outside our house this weekend. And then we’ll all go on Canada Helps to figure out where to donate the proceeds. Because we can.


The full report is ready for download. So are other local government action resources.