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…)

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…)

"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.


May the 4th be with you.

It’s a big day for Ning. Since announcing the end of free networks, Creators and community managers have waited in limbo for a new pricing structure. Educators and non-profits too. Free Nings ushered in a proliferation of new world networks, connected people, and made a lot of really cool stuff possible. For one particularly inspiring example, check out Ontario teacher Danika Barker’s use of the platform in her high school English Literature program.
In the weeks since the announcement, the Twittersphere and other portals of wired warriors have been abuzz with speculation, disappointment, and debate. It seems that while few begrudge Ning the necessity of a business model, many feel that the demise of free networks is a step away from a purposeful social venture. Ning had a chance to be something really, really good. Good for the causes, good for the kids, and good for the world. And then, Ning made everyone wait for several weeks in order to find out what it would mean for them. Meanwhile, other community platforms have sprouted into awareness. Group.LY (who sent us an interesting personal email). Spruz. BuddyPress for WordPress. Most recently, I’ve seen one particularly successful migration as the Canada Mom Blog Network embraced their inner Spruz and became MomNation. For members, the migration seems seamless. The network creators ensured that the functionality their members were trained for would remain consistent in the new platform. They’ve done a good job. Ning, who?

And then came today. Creators received a cryptic note in their inboxes. TechCrunch attempted to sum it up. The New York Times covered it. And you know what? The sky is not falling.

But for the networks hanging most precariously in the balance – teachers and non-profits – the disappointment at NingMini is palpable. No groups. No file uploads. 150 member limit. A $200 yearly cost (I won’t mention here that my daughter’s teacher recently shared her photocopying costs with me. She shuddered. I shuddered. Whoops, I mentioned it.).

And then, the cherry on the cupcake. Again, cryptically, in the typical fashion of their recent announcements, Ning announced that a major educational company would be sponsoring networks for K-12 educators. Speculation is rife. Will said educational company now own teachers’ network content and information (the only logical reason Ning wouldn’t sponsor this themselves)? Will networks be subjected to marketing beyond the margin ads we’ve all learned to ignore? Membership has it’s privileges?

It’s a fascinating discussion, to be sure. Ning should hurry up and share the truth. Now that the peanut gallery IS the PR, they aren’t winning any fans.


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