The MakerSpace: Building Empathy, Equity and Inclusion


There’s something about a two week holiday that really allows a person time to reflect, digest, process and plan.  This holiday has allowed me to drift in and out around my thinking on Maker Education and how, when driven with a deliberate conscience, will embed opportunities for empathy in action, inclusion, equality and character development. The #MakerSpace movement has been a trending topic in 2016 and I am proud of our staff effort to embrace this culture of learning.


It wasn’t until October of this past year that we were ready to launch our space within our large elementary school.  We strategically chose Global Maker Day 2016 as they day that we would ‘open’ – however, the truth was, we were open all along.

knexYou see, the Maker Movement isn’t about a space that is launched, but rather about a school culture that embraces collaboration, creativity, design thinking and innovation. 

With this Global Maker Day launch and public acclamation that we were “Getting this Train Moving“, we raised some awareness in our community that we are a school that values innovation and the 21st Century Competencies.  The school culture is the key element, however, the space does allow us to have a large central location where classes can collaborate, materials can be shared easily and ownership can fall to everyone.  It is a space we can all be proud of, all participate in, and all feel included and equal in. This is the beauty of the physical space.

We still have some work to do in the area of best practice for material storage and for sharing the learning taking place in the space. Ideas are welcome! Here’s hoping that 2017 will give us new opportunities to learn, new community and global partners to learn with, and like-minded schools to connect with and share our passions. What I do know is that 2017 will allow us to continue to highlight this physical space as a place of inclusion, equality and character development while harnessing the collective ideas of our students.

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Get this Train Moving! ~The Journey of the MakerSpace

I’ve been sitting on a few ideas now for a couple of years.  In the area of the Maker Movement, I’ve researched, I’ve listened, and I’ve learned a lot from various sources of knowledgeable and inspiring networks – but I’ve really done nothing about it.  I’ve watched other Districts pick it up and take off with it.  But for me, there are always excuses; timing, opportunity, obligations & priorities, fear – a number of stumbling blocks that hold me back.  It’s not a great feeling.


My vision for all educational facilities is to have a Maker model approach to learning  – a place to support,  facilitate & celebrate inquiry, design and innovation through STEAM opportunities, while simultaneously fostering a culture of citizenship, perseverance and grit.  A place where teachers and students can share their passions by creating and innovating along side one another in a culture that celebrates risk taking, and where professional development can be embedded into the school day. The vision is for all students with unique learning needs – those who are curious, creative, disengaged, or gifted – find a place that allows them to bring STEAM principles to the forefront.  As said by Seymour Papert, “Children learn best when they are actively engaged in constructing something that has personal meaning to them – be it a poem, a robot, a sandcastle or a computer program”. Providing opportunities that highlight the 21st Century Competencies will help our students gain confidence and skills while solving authentic and meaningful problems.  The goal is to go bigger than a ‘thinking classroom’ but to foster a “thinking school”.


About a month ago, I was working with a group of Vice-Principal colleagues who shared with me some of the same visions that I had, as well as a few of their own.  It was invigorating to hear their ideas and we quickly began to cook up a collaborative project that would benefit students in four school communities.  We outlined our goals and objectives, considered all of our stakeholders in each unique site, planned for student voice and teacher leadership teams, considered current resources as well as those needed, partnerships, physical space, sustainability, and money.  We got this train moving!  We are currently using a collaborative OneNote book to document our learning and share our ideas, resources, photos and journey.

Some key questions we considered in planning:

  • What is the experience we are trying to create?
  • Who will lead the experiences?
  • How will learning be shared?
  • How will experts, partners, mentors be utilized in learning?
  • What funding is available to us? What other sources can we seek out?
  • How will we ensure this is a student owned space (student voice?)
  • How can this tie to curriculum expectations and deep learning experiences?
  • How can we promote STEAM principals?
  • How can we best create a culture of risk taking, respect, inclusivity, and pride?
  • How can we ensure this becomes a hub for deep learning?

I have always known that collaboration is the key to learning and am so thankful for my colleagues who will be with me on this MakerSpace journey.  Stay tuned as the learning unfolds! Because really, “What good is an idea if it remains an idea? Try. Experiment. Iterate. Fail. Try again. Change the world.” ~Simon Sinek

#KidsDeserveIt     #MakerSpace       #Makered           #OneNote     #LDSB



The Learning Tornado

Thank you Twitter for connecting me to inspirational educators, that I would not otherwise have ‘met’, who continue to inspire and challenge me.  Much of the buzz these days is on virtual professional development, allowing us all to learn the content that we require, at a time that works for our busy schedules and at a pace that suits us best.  In this digital world, we are learning how to learn.  And really, isn’t this exactly what we want for our students?

As I was going on my nightly ‘learning journey’ via Twitter, one of the blogs that jumped out at me was Peter Cameron’s SharesEase where he was taking up a challenge put out by Colleen Rose on her blog post called Draw a Line for Me. This post challenges educators to draw one line that reflects their personal learning journey in education. Sounds easy enough, right? What I thought would take 20 minutes of my time, turned into a day long reflection on where I’ve been and where I’m going. I considered what and who my greatest influences have been, reasons why my learning became stagnant at certain points and what helped to accelerate my passion for learning and teaching.


What I noticed from this exercise is that in the beginning of my career (and for the next 14 years), the majority of my learning was done on someone else’s time. Usually this meant content and initiatives that were mandated from the Ministry, our board, or our school and were completed at staff meetings, after school workshops or professional development days. Like most teachers, I did take occasional courses throughout the school year or in the summer but these were a ‘once a year’ thing due to cost. Informal collaborative learning with my wonderful colleagues was probably my most rewarding learning at the time (and still continues to be a large influence in my learning).

My learning curve increased in 2009 when I made a grade switch from Intermediate to Kindergarten, just to shake things up. A grade change will always bring a fresh perspective and a new enthusiasm for learning and teaching! With a new grade, I turned to the internet for resources and ideas and hooked into Facebook as my first social media platform. Over the next two years, online learning became a huge influence in my teaching and I harnessed the idea of 6 C’s as a pillar for my philosophy of education. I began to see the importance of digital literacy and the urgent need to teach these skills to our students.

In September of 2012 a family relocation forced me out of my ‘comfort zone’ called Norfolk County. And then the flood gates opened. I had to establish myself in a new Board of Education, and took this time to follow my interest around digital learning. I began my M.Ed., put myself into the world of Twitter, and began a Ministry TLLP project, all of which allowed me to connect, learn and grow from other like-minded educators. By putting myself ‘out there’ and taking risks in my own learning, I realized the importance of being open to new challenges. I did not have all the answers, nor did I know all the best solutions but I did believe that hard work, a positive attitude and a genuine passion for learning would work to my advantage.   This mindset opened many doors for me. In the past year, I have worked as our system K-12 Connected Technology Teacher, become an Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert, consulted with and presented to school boards throughout Canada, been a guest lecturer numerous times at Queen’s Faculty of Education and St. Lawrence College, and become a Vice-Principal of a large elementary school. Every new experience is an opportunity to learn something new. Talk about a learning curve!

The learning I have done over the past few years is largely in part to my ability to connect with others at anytime and from anyplace via social media. The digital world has changed the way that I learn and has caused my learning line to become a bit of a learning tornado. I have never felt so invigorated and passionate about education and the opportunities that are available to us, should we decide to grab on.  My hope is to instill this same love of learning in my own children, and the children I work with on a daily basis, and help them see that anything is possible.

Join my PLN @JBorgesEdu and learn along with me!


From First Steps to First Tweets

Traditionally, we have celebrated the milestone ‘firsts’ in the lives of our children. First tooth, first step, first day of school, first time driving, first date. These milestones have a significant impact in the development of our children’s physical, social,  and emotional well-being. In today’s fast paced world, I wonder if we’ve slowed down enough to consider the ‘new’ milestone?

As I reflect on my week, I realize that as a parent it is my job to pause and celebrate, what I feel to be, one of the most impactful milestones my child will reach – entering the world of social media.

This was a big week at our house. My 9 year old son brought home a letter from his teachers indicating that they would be using Twitter for learning purposes in their grade 4/5 classroom. As a Twitter user myself, I know the power of learning, sharing, connecting and networking this tool can have and I was excited to work with my son to have him create his own account.  This invitation by his teachers opened an opportunity to embrace social media with a clear purpose for my child – to enhance his learning and create a positive digital portfolio.

I feel confident that the age of 9 (almost 10 if you ask him) is the perfect time to introduce my child to social media. The platform itself is not the focus – SnapChat, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter – it really doesn’t matter.  The idea is that this is a journey that we will do together at home, allowing us to talk about his day through his posts. It gives him an opportunity to think critically about what he has captured on his device and what is worth sharing out as he creates his digital identity. I look forward to supporting him in becoming digitally literate with the platform, opening up conversations on appropriate uses for social media, watching him create a positive digital footprint, and as he states, “do great things”.

In anticipation of most childhood milestones, parents plan for they day when they finally occur. We hold their hands, we put on training wheels, we teach them to cross the street, we sign them up for driving lessons – social media is no different. I’m excited to go through this learning stage with my son and get him ready for the day when he’ll go confidently and wisely into the online world, by himself – but for now I’ll hold his hand and guide him along the way.
imageA special thank you to my son’s teachers (and all teachers like them) for realizing the importance of embedding digital citizenship into our children’s learning day, for giving students opportunities for an authentic audience, for trusting that they will make good choices and supporting them when they don’t, and for providing relevant learning experiences that capture their interests.  The impact you have on our children is remarkable.
FullSizeRender-2A second shout out goes to George Couros, who was my son’s third follower on Twitter (after his dad and I).  George worked with students in our district last month and from this learning day, Noah came home excited about the world of social media and the power of creating his own positive digital identity.  He made a promise to George in his second tweet that he would “do great things” – and I have no doubt that he will.




Great Opportunities through #TLLP

In February, a colleague and I went to Toronto to the Teacher Learning and Leadership Program 2016 Summit supported through the Ministry of Education.  It is here that we were able to celebrate the end of a learning journey that began in October of 2013 . As it turns out, we realized that it was just the beginning.

Our project, Technology in Kindergarten: Empowering Young Learners through Purposeful Play, was one project among 240 Ontario Educator exhibitors who, like us, had a passion for directing their own learning.  The Summit allowed us to learn from colleagues around the province, share our own journey, make connections and network with other #onted learning leaders.

The creativity, dedication and knowledge demonstrated in these ‘Projects of Passion’ from our Ontario colleagues at this event, left me feeling proud, humbled and ignited all at the same time.  Hearing and seeing evidence of stories of success in student learning, success in teacher capacity building and growth in a shift in Mindsets towards a more innovative approach to learning in schools made me realize that this journey was not over.  In fact, it had just begun!  There is still so much to learn, to create, to challenge ourselves with and I look forward to the opportunity to extend the learning my group has started through the Provincial Knowledge Exchange.

The moral of this anecdote is that if you have an idea and you believe in it, cultivate it, share it and stick with it! As Julia Child said, “Find something you are passionate about and stay tremendously interested in it.” This project of ours started out as a vision of empowering our littlest learners; the path morphed, the platform altered, the team evolved, but the vision remained constant.  Applying for a Teacher Learning and Leadership Program grant gave my team the means to get results through action research, personal learning, collaborative innovation, and knowledge sharing for staff. This, in turn, means better opportunities for kids.

I used SWAY , one of my favourite Microsoft tools, to capture some of the moments from the TLLP Summit day.  Check it out HERE.  Thank you #TLLP2016 and to the staff and students at Lancaster Drive Public School – you are amazing!


Digital Citizenship in Kindergarten: The First Steps

A powerful question came up the other night at a community evening that has left me thinking. We were discussing digital leadership, digital citizenship, and the importance of a positive online presence with George Couros I know, pretty awesome.   When the floor was opened for questioning, one audience member asked “How do you start teaching digital citizenship in kindergarten?  What does it look like?”

This is something that I have thought about, researched and tried to support teachers with through classroom visits, video tutorials and my iTunesU course.  I believe that at such a young age, we need to start with the mobile camera.  Digital citizenship is really about respecting yourself and others while online.  Teaching little people to respect themselves and those around them through the lens of a camera means putting into practice some very basic rules when using portable device cameras in the classroom, or at home:

  1. Always ask someone before taking their picture.
  2. Show the picture to the person who you took it of, and ask if they are OK with it.
  3. Always take pictures of others ‘at their best’.
  4. And my favourite…the portable device camera can go anywhere – but the bathroom.

As adults, we need to model what appropriate camera use looks like and sounds like (by asking these same questions ourselves – even to our four year olds!)

Ask before we take their photo.

Ask before we share it out.

Capture moments of ourselves or others at our best.

Like all lessons to be learned by young children, taking the time to explicitly teach them how to use the camera (how to focus, crop, zoom, brighten, delete), will empower them to take quality photos that are meaningful, and that will become good conversation starters.  Use the camera roll as an opportunity to sit down with the child and do authentic retells and together, decide if anything should be shared or posted out.  This leads to modelling good practice of social media as the things we share out should reflect our best selves and a positive message.

These are very basic concepts that lay the foundation for positive citizenship, both online and offline.

I hope this helps, in a small way, to answer her question.



It’s All Good…or is it? Lessons Learned as a New Vice Principal

On January 4th of this year, I started a career learning journey as the newly appointed Vice Principal of a very large elementary school. I began this new role with mixed feelings of excitement and nerves. I am now a ‘one-month veteran’ and have learned some lessons in leadership worth sharing over the past 30 days.

  1. Ditch the high heels. Although they look fantastic, they are not practical when moving around a building with 3 flights of stairs. Not only are they really not comfortable, they make an awful lot of noise and distract students from their learning. Go for the sensible, yet stylish, flats. This leads me to number 2…
  2. Be visible. Walk the halls, visit the library, shoot a few baskets in the gym with students, get into classrooms, talk to students, listen to students/staff and really hear what they have to stay. And do it all in quiet shoes.
  3. Less paper, more digital. So much paper can come across an administrator’s desk and to be honest, piles of paper make me uncomfortable. Find a system that allows all of this to be digital. I use Microsoft OneNote which allows me to have all of my documents on any device I’m using and also accessible from any location – ubiquitous over time and space, that’s the way I like it. Share these notebooks with colleagues to create a collaborative culture where we’re all on the same page – literally.
  4. Lunch may be a 9:05am. That’s just the way it is.
  5. Choose words wisely. Using phrases with staff members such as “it’s all good” and “don’t worry about it” can be hurtful. Although not meant with harm intended, they indicate that perhaps the staff member should be worried about the situation OR, on the other end of the continuum, they can minimalize the stress that they are feeling. Something may not be good at all, and by telling them it is, you’re dismissing the pressure that they may be feeling, and not recognizing the hard work it took them to get to the ‘all good’ stage.
  6. Genuinely appreciate the hard work that people put into things. Thank them. It means a lot.
  7. Expect the best – the students, the community and the staff are worth it.
  8. Use the power of social media to your full advantage. Use the school Twitter to not only share school information but to build a positive digital footprint for your school. Start a school hashtag to celebrate classroom learning, share school wide events and build community ensuring all stakeholders have a voice. Learn, network, connect, and share your own work and the work of others with your PLN.
  9. Demonstrate risk taking – I have become very comfortable with being uncomfortable. I have stepped out of my comfort zone on many occasions to share ideas or work, knowing that not everyone will always be buying what I’m selling. That’s OK – by modelling a growth mindset we empower our teachers to do the same, and that in turn empowers students.
  10. Be innovative – don’t be afraid to challenge the status quo. If the end goal is to enhance student achievement and success, it can’t be wrong.

From all of this comes Lesson #11 – Balance.  Although I am deeply passionate about education, I am also deeply passionate about my family, including my own two kids.  Finding the balance is always an ongoing struggle, but is my One Word for 2016.

I know that I have much to learn in this role but  I am so thankful for the support of other administrators and teachers who work hard everyday to do what’s best for kids.


Promoting Digital Fluency in the Elementary Classroom

digital fluencyPart 1: I say Part 1 because this topic has so many facets to it – but let’s chunk it – starting with internet searching.

Digital literacy, digital fluency, digital leadership. These terms get thrown around a lot lately with the hope (and subtle expectation) that teachers are teaching digital skills to their students. This can be a daunting task for many educators who may be very literate, and even fluent, in personal use of digital technology, but are still trying to wrap their head around how technology tools can be used – and managed – to deepen learning experiences in the classroom.

But first, let’s outline what is meant by digital literacy and what is meant by digital fluency. Digital literacy is the ability to know what to do when online, and how to do it. It is knowing the language, symbols, visual representation and flow of technology use. A digitally literate person is very capable of using technology as a tool, but how effectively will they use these tools to disseminate, evaluate or manage information? Digital fluency is the ability to know why a tool is being used, and even when to use it. In the elementary classroom, this can begin to take shape in the form of internet searching that needs to be explicitly taught to students.

I often use the analogy of crossing the street – as parents and teachers we would never send a small child out into the world without teaching them the safety rules first, and being confident that they had internalized them. The internet is the big, wide world. Why would we ever send a child ‘out there’ without giving them strategies and going ‘with them’, multiple times, before letting them go independently? By using with our class age appropriate search engines, such as KidRex or Kiddle in the primary grades or Safe Search Kids for junior levels (and modelling for them time and time again how to manage searches) we are demonstrating to students why this tool is being used, when to use it, and how to develop metacognition, higher order thinking skills, problem solving skills and online etiquette.

Check out my YouTube channel for these videos on how to upload kid-friendly engines to the face of classroom iPads for safe searching: make these engines a habit in your classroom!


Safe Search Kids

In the words of Will Richardson, we need to teach kids how to network and find information. We need to teach kids HOW to learn, not WHAT to learn.

Let the Journey Begin!

FullSizeRender-1The New Year always brings ideas of change, hope, promises and goals. As I reflect back on resolutions that I have made in the past, it seems the only ones that I have actually kept are the goals that I have written down. So with that, I am determined to be accountable for my big ideas and begin my blogging journey. I’ve been all talk for the last few months – time for action.

Inspiration from some of whom I deem to be Canadian education’s best bloggers (as they have inspired me to get to this point), George Couros, Brian Aspinall, Kristen Wideen, and Peter Cameron’s ShareEase have helped to shape my ideas, challenge my thinking, and confirm best practices. These leaders continue to give me insight, and be valuable members of my professional learning network on social media (and even in person!). A sincere ‘thank you’ to Brian Aspinall for keeping me in check and encouraging me on this journey.

So this is the year. This is the year I put all of my research, field experience, creativity, collaborative projects, presentations and my personal learning journey out there for all. After all, isn’t being a risk taker one of the Principal of Change’s 8 Characteristics for an Innovative Leader?

Here’s to an Innovative New Year!