Liberating “Liberating Genius”

Angela Maiers and Mark E. Moran have written a fantastic guide for implementing Genius Hour in the classroom. The guide walks you through the first 20 days of exploration, plotting out in an easy to follow guide, how best to prepare students to think deeply, explore their passions, and launch into what will be a passion-based project. It is required reading for teachers looking to add this component into their classroom, which should be the majority of us. If you have a OneDrive account (think:,, you can hit up this link to get your own copy.

The problem emerges if you only have a OneDrive for Business Account (which is everyone at HWDSB, along with any other educational institution that subscribes to Office 365 as their email provider).

<Nerdy_Aside>: OneDrive and OneDrive for Business are two completely separate services. Unlike Google — which shares infrastructure between their commercial Gmail/Google Drive offering and Google Apps for Edu — Microsoft’s commercial and business tools don’t play nicely together. In some apps, you can identify which service you are looking to use, but in others, you are forced to a Microsoft Account login page, where your organizational account will fail: it’s like trying to sign into Twitter with your Facebook credentials. This is the case for the Liberating Genius book at the above link</Nerdy_Aside>

I have an email address, so I could access the document; but when I started thinking about how to distribute the guide out to teachers within the board, asking them to sign up for an @outlook account when they already have a board-provisioned O365 account that can open OneNote (the software used to access the file in OneDrive (confused yet?)) seemed like a roadblock.

I thought perhaps the solution was to upload the file to my board OneDrive for Business account, and share it in that way, as a link. Getting the file into my Board OneDrive was an adventure that required a Windows machine (not my customary axe), an exported OneNote.onepkg file (a kind of proprietary zip), the OneDrive for Business Desktop Sync tool, and a few other hurdles between network drives that I’m still not sure I could navigate with much more aplomb a second time around. I won’t bore you with the gory details other than to say I lost count of the number of times I muttered something about how much more seamless this would be if I was working in Google Drive. Remember all I’m trying to do is create a read-only document so that you can create a copy.

I put the notebook up into my OneDrive for business folder and then created a shared link:

If you click on that link, you should be taken to OneNote Online, to a read-only version of the file. If you just want to read the book, then you could stop here; but the app is so superior to the online experience, you really should pull this into your own OneNote app.

In the top corner you should see an Open in OneNote link to open the document in the OneNote app. From this point forward I’m plotting out instructions on how to get this document on an iPad. It’s probably easier if you are living in an MS-centric world, although even on a Surface, I struggle between the disparate accounts.

When you are creating the template so you have your own copy, the section headings are as follows:

  • Liberating Genius
  • Days 1-7 Accepting Your Genius
  • Days 8-13 Accelerating Your Genius
  • Days 14-20 Acting Through Collective Genius
  • Genius Hour

Why go to the trouble of creating your own editable copy? According to @lbayne out on Twitter — who was incredibly helpful in getting this sorted out — the whole point of putting the document is OneNote is so you can mark it up, add sections, delete sections, and make it your own. I think that is awesome, and would love to explore using OneNote to create PD materials in a similar way (once distribution isn’t such a headache) .

At this point you are probably wondering if it’s just easier to create a new email account, which perhaps it is. I know that the last thing I need in my life is an additional email account, so I hope this process is helpful to some of you.

Google Slideshow Templates on iOS

Google has come out with some snappy new templates that you can use in the different tools within Google Drive. The problem is that they are quite difficult to get at from an iOS device. On a laptop, in a browser, they pop up as an option when you create a new slideshow, but in the app, you are stuck with the blank, boring default template.

I trust that soon this will be rectified with a Google Slides app update, but in the meantime, I’ve been playing with a workaround:

  • I created a copy of each one of the templates and put them in a Google Drive folder called Google Slide Templates (creative, eh?)
  • I made that folder Available so anyone on the internet can VIEW those templates. This will allow you look through the templates to decide which one you like
  • I created a separate document in that folder called Make a Copy and listed all the theme names with their share link
  • I changed the end of the URL provided by Google Drive from Edit to Copy. This will automatically create a copy of the presentation in your Google Slides folder

The one functionality I was hoping for was the ability to force that copy open in the app, rather than in the browser. Once you create a copy of the template you want, you need to close the browser and go into the Google Slides app to edit the presentation. I had hoped that changing the https:// to googleslides:// would pull this off, but it seems I can’t force open the app, and force create a copy at the same time.

Here’s the Google Doc with the copy links:

Props to @hdoyle0483 for the inspiration to find a solution.

New School Year – New PD Plan

If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.

Henry Ford

Professional development strategies should always be in a constant state of refinement. Just as we are called as teachers to follow the child, and differentiate our strategies to meet their needs — regularly checking in to gauge understanding and plot next steps — professional development should be in a similar state of revision.

Last year, very early in the year, I wrote a post over on the HWDSB 21st Century Learning team blog entitled Components of a Transformed Learning Environment.

This post spelled out some key thematic elements that we saw as being crucial in our strategy to transform the learning environments within HWDSB. What we realized quite quickly, is that although initial themes like Classrooms Norms and Digital Citizenship could be applied to all grade levels and teaching situations (and should be revisited throughout the year), once we branched out into ideas like establishing a Digital Wing of the Classroom, the options opened up quite substantially. Depending on the goals of the teacher, and the lessons they were attempting to “accelerate with technology”, this meant that for some this resulted in a the usage of a new web 2.0 tool (Mindomo for mind mapping, as an example), while for others this represented a new blog, a new Twitter account, or a deeper understanding of the HUB. Because of these divergences, there was no way we could deliver any of this in large groups, and still meet the varied needs of our learners. We took the remaining components and brought the learning to the school division and department teams.

What we also found was that these sessions had a tendency to initially focus on the How-To of a given tool. Paul Hatala has written a post on that same department blog explaining the route these How-To sessions can take to become more. It’s a shift we look for in all our interactions, and one I would like to explore in greater detail this year:

Inquiry had been a single component within this first model; but we also recognized that it was referenced in every session we offered throughout the year. Along with Student Inquiry being at the centre of everything we were doing, we also realized that the character-building ideals we were promoting through the push to be responsible citizens in a digital world, meant that we would need to constantly revisit the themes in the 21st Century Learning and Technology Policy: which we had based on the work of the Good Play Project, and specifically the Our Space Materials. Thus the components were revised again.

These themes still resonate, but the ideas that Paul plots out in his post invite us to explore some of the ideas around “the tools” vs “the pedagogy” and how we can explore the opportunities that exists when we blend learning, to change our practice. It isn’t about one or the other, but how they are intertwined that should be of tantamount importance in our work. I write about this in more detail in a post entitled It is About the Technology.

So how do we measure success, and how do we approach PD planning for  our third year exploring TLE. For this, I think that the TPCKTPACK-new model might provide a measure for us to ensure that we aren’t only learning a tool, or only learning more about a specific content area, or only learning about a pedagogical model. These items don’t exist in a vacuum, so we should be presenting sessions in which the interplay between these three forms of knowledge are explored. Although the immediate need may be expressed as a desire to learn more about one facet of these three areas, if we want to move beyond a surface understanding of inquiry, accelerated by technology, we need to ensure that we are always pushing towards the centre of this graphic (click on the graphic to learn more about TPCK).

It should be noted that an understanding of each component is required in order to move towards that centre, so although what we might consider “basic” training in all three areas is still required, we can use our learning time more effectively when we find ways to draw in all three knowledge areas (Technological, Pedagogical, and Content).

We should always look for opportunities to introduce these overlapping ideas, particularly as members of the Leadership and Learning team working in schools. Our work as an interdisciplinary team should result in the agility necessary to wear these many hats, and to confidently explore learning opportunities where, content, pedagogy, and technological knowledge converge.

The other element we have consistently seen is that changes in practice happen when teachers learn in small groups. It happens when a learning culture begins to emerge in the school so that learning continues beyond the half-day session with an Instructional Coach or Consultant. It happens when trust exists within the school, such that a lesson-study model of learning becomes part of the cycle; and teachers get into each others’ classrooms and learn from one another. In situations where large groups are necessary (e.g. keynote speaker opportunities), we should find ways to still honour the experiences of those in attendance: not everyone is at the same place, or needs the same things. Just as we differentiate for our students, our PD should leverage the concepts behind emerging models like ed-camp, to provide choice and differentiation within the larger collective group.

All of this is just a collection of my thinking at this moment, bound to change as we continue to work with innovative teachers who push us to think deeply about how we can better meet their needs. As support staff in a system that has pledged to move towards a different model of instruction, I am renewed — as September is prone to do — and excited about our next moves.