Author Archives: joemcgurran

The Seesaw Project: 66% Engagement

(Taken from here)

I’ve had a good couple of weeks to implement seesaw with my small reading groups. My purpose, at the outset, was to implement Seesaw as a tool to generate enthusiasm and engagement for the big time learning that occurs in L.L.I. (Leveled Literacy Intervention). I am trying to use a social media tool to help me engage and raise enthusiasm with my students, their family, as well as myself!

So, how am I doing on those 3 engagement fronts?

(Taken from here)

Low hanging fruit. The students I have in L.L.I. groups range from grade three and four. For the most part, students I pull into small group, outside the classroom support see it as a monumental honour and want to make sure their friends know they’re coming. A big wave to their friends, an unnecessarily loud announcement to their classroom teacher that they’re going for reading, and a skip down the hall.

That said, when I introduced the concept of using Seesaw, the shining eyes shone a little bit brighter. Over the past sessions, they’ve absolutely loved the idea of being able to document what they’re doing. They ask me to take pictures and videos of them reading, and take photo evidence of the word sorts they puzzle over. While coming to read has always been fun, it’s added an extra feeling of play and pride to what we’re doing.

No surprise me that the interface has basically been intuitive for the students. It’s not that there is anything complicated about it, but it confirms to me that this kind of sharing, through social media, is approaching instinct for these kids. An additional benefit, perhaps, is that this provides them with a positive and productive example of social media use.


(Taken from here)

I’ve repeatedly made reference to my distaste for social media. It’s a predisposition that I’m quite aware of, and more or less accept. While I don’t think I can change my gut reaction to social media, I can work on truly appreciating the potential and power it has to do good.

One element of sparking that appreciation is deliberate introduction of positive experiences. And this implementation of Seesaw is certainly turning into just that. The enthusiasm my students have for this is contagious, and I’m infected! It is fun to quickly capture all kinds of artifacts of student learning. The fact that this is shared, and not teacher driven, is making  it all the more engaging for me. This is quickly turning into something, like the Smart Board, that I will not be able to live without.


(Taken from here)

I’ve got to be honest, I’ve fallen flat here. Parent engagement is where I am really hoping to make a splash. Not to mitigate the importance of my students’ engagement,or mine, but this is where I have had to work hardest over the years. I was hoping that by reaching out through a medium that might be more relevant, I could create a shared celebration of learning amongst my students, their parents, as well as myself.

Now, my sample size is small. Six students. Actually, and sadly, we are down to five now.  In talking to a grade four teacher about this, she was quick to remind me that this is a shared challenge at our school, and she is right. We are part of a community where many families are facing intense day to day challenges that I cannot truly appreciate.

But, there is some hope! In calling a parent on Friday, one of my student’s mother was quite friendly and stated simply that she didn’t get what I was sending home (parent invitation for Seesaw). She liked the idea of being able to see what her daughter was doing in reading, and this didn’t surprise me. She is a reliable support for learning at home and is very consistent in reading take home books with her daughter. I think she will get into this.

There will also be some opportunities for face to face meetings. One parent makes occasional visits  to pick their child up at the end of the day, I’ll just have to keep an eye out during my end of the day supervision.  We also have three-way conferences coming in November.

2/3 – 66%

I am quite happy with how this project is going. Honestly, it doesn’t really feel like a project. Although I was initially tempted to go with some sort of personal learning project (aurora photography), this is proving to be just as engaging for me, as I talked about a moment before. Improving my practice is meaningful, and puts a smile on my face (as well as my students’ faces).

So, a couple weeks in, two out of three isn’t so bad!  The student engagement, as expected, is there. My own engagement is even higher than I expected. Going forward, it is clear where I will be doubling down. Trying to create that engagement for parents is a key to my project and I want to see what I can do!

Thanks for reading!



Moving my Bubble

There is no debate that social media has changed and continues to change the world we live in. Industry, education, communication, government, industry, and the list goes on. Where the debate rages is whether or no social media is a force for good, or a force for evil. I have already discussed my own predisposition to see the negative potential of the Internet and social media in previous blog posts here, and here,

 (taken from here)

This week’s EC&I 831 lecture didn’t do a whole lot to dislodge me from my  preconceptions. I’m not sure I would be able to have the same sense of humour if anything like this happened to me. Intellectually, however, I know that social media is a tool. As with any tool, it can be used to positive, or negative ends. I already know, and have experienced some of the negative outcomes social media can have for kids, individuals, or the public at large.

I also realize the Internet and social media is only going to become prominent in my students’ lives, and therefore more prominent in my own life at school. I’m not trying to completely bust out of my bubble. I believe that a healthy amount of skepticism and suspicion will go a long way in keeping my own on-line activities safe, as well as allow me to be a cautionary influence for my own students as they explore social media. That said, I also want to wholeheartedly embrace social media and its power to transform how my students learn at school.

I need to move my bubble a bit, and truly appreciate the positive role social media can have, is currently having, and already has had to change the world. I can’t think of any better way to move my bubble than to inundate myself with some stories of positive change created or abetted by social media. So let’s get to it:

Ice Bucket Challenge!

(Taken from here)

Who doesn’t remember the ice bucket challenge? In 2014, a challenge to dump oneself with ice cold water went viral and resulted in 115 million dollars being raised for Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis research, over 8 weeks …

Batkid Saves San Francisco!

Over 10 000 volunteers signed up through a social media campaign headed by the Make-a wish foundation to make a boys wish to become batman and save San Francisco come true.

Charity Swearbox

I love this one. Charity Swearbox turns one of the things that bugs me the most about twitter into a positive. Every time you swear into twitter, it turns into a donation to a charity of your choosing.

Child’s Play

 (taken from here)

Facebook and Twitter have helped Child’s Play raise millions of dollars for kids that are confined to hospital.

Crisis Mapping in Disasters

(Taken from here)

Volunteers collaborate to build maps showing the needs of communities hit by disasters to help guide purposeful and effective intervention. In the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, a map built by the collaboration of volunteers ended up being used by the US Marine corps to help them direct efforts., and helped to save lives.

These are just a few examples of the many I could find with a very basic search on  the impact of social media. Meaningful instances of the real good social media can play definitely helps me to temper more entrenched predispositions to distrust social media, and I believe will entice me to make genuine efforts to better incorporate social media in the classrooms I support.

The Seesaw Project LAFOIPed?!?

(photocredit: Planet Nutshell)

I am not the first one in our class community to post on LAFOIP. (Local Authority Freedom OInformation and Protection of Privacy Act: full act here) Chris posted a good summary of the Act and how it may impacts us. This was also brought up at our staff meeting on Friday, and my mind started racing in circles.

Vindicated! In all seriousness, it is comforting to know that my concerns over student safety and security through Internet use are shared by others, and is actually already reflected in legislation. I had no idea. LAFOIP is not new, but as mentioned by Chris, the implications for us and our current practice with student use of technology are just now starting to take shape.

Google! The potential for various Google tools to facilitate powerful student learning, as well as powerful teacher collaboration, is limitless. What could possible be wrong with that, right? Well, the thinking is that since the student information being input is personally identifiable, and being stored on third party servers (Google’s), that this can lead to breaches of privacy. And you know what, I get it! Consider this (143 million social security numbers compromised), and this (100 million Google accounts compromised)

Another consideration brought up at our staff meeting was that every single piece of software or application we use has an individual contract agreement that lays out how they may use information collected through use of their product. Student data, or meta data, could be used for interests driven by profit. Ok, so this is why our school board is centralizing control over what software and applications we can use.

How about widely used apps like classdojo and … *gasp* SEESAW. Have I unwittingly put my students’ information at risk for nefarious activity by registering with Seesaw?!? (dramatization) As luck would have it, no. Seesaw, being as heavily used as it is, was approached over the summer by our school board and asked to amend their agreement with regards to how student information is collected and used by Regina Public Schools specifically.

The Seesaw Project lives on!

“Expiration date on my carton of knowledge”

Evolving Learning = Evolving Concerns

This week, as I read, watch and think about how learning has changed in so short a period, even from my own schooling in the 1990s, my personal concerns with social media and its impact on learning begin to shift. Yes, a concern for privacy and safety remains, and I doubt that will change. How I view that concern over privacy and safety is moving as I draw parallels to the dangers of many commonly used tools. But a different concern also emerges, a concern over my role in preparing students for the kind of learning and employment they will later engage in. This is not a new concern, and has been the main driver of my own professional development right from the beginning of my teaching career six years ago. But the readings of the past week help me better articulate my concern.

My Responsibility

I have always seen my role as central in preparing students for later life. The impact of a teacher is not always immediately felt, nor can it be easily quantified, but there are very few who would argue against the influence a teacher can have in our youths’ development and later life outcomes. Working in a community school where I see the disadvantages some students are pushing against, I know how critical school can be in a child’s life. Supporting students, who are most vulnerable, in their classrooms is a defining characteristic of my position as a Learning Resource Teacher.

The Concern

           “Few of us today will have a fixed, single career; instead, we are likely to follow a trajectory that encompasses multiple careers.” (Wesch, 2010)

“65% of elementary school students will have jobs that don’t exist today.”    (Arora, 2014)

These facts are not very surprising when I consider how much the internet has changed since my own childhood. Things are moving quickly. But it can be intimidating to think that we are trying to prepare students for employment that does not yet even exist today. When they grow up, they will be trying to gain employment in fields that I cannot even fathom today.

Learning, Not Knowledge

The starting point for me must be a persistent self-reminder that learning is not at all the same as it was in my own childhood classroom. As Pevan Aurora says, “the value of knowledge is dropping.” The mass of human knowledge is exponentially increasing at an ever-increasing rate, and trying to keep up, as an education system, is impossible, and to be honest, ridiculous.

As knowledge continues to expand, it is also becoming more and more accessible. It is here where schools must be playing an active role. Trying to impart a fixed pool of information that may, or may not be relevant a year from now is not going to prepare my young learners for the jobs of today, much less jobs of the future.

Expiry Date on my Carton of Knowledge

(credit: theMolisticView CC by-nc-sa 3.0, at here)

Knowing that it is how students learn, and refining their ability to direct their own learning, that needs to be my focus, I can begin with myself. I believe I can give myself some credit here and say, with confidence, that I have continually been refining my practice. I know that things that I learn will probably not remain best practice for long. Alternative strategies, understandings and technologies are continually being developed.

For now, this means that I need to immerse myself in the potential for social media to enhance student learning. I am trying to implement Seesaw with my small reading groups in a bid to connect with both my students and their families in a way that is relevant. Five years from now … who knows? But one thing is abundantly clear, I cannot let concerns over potential safety issues with the Internet stop me from teaching my students how to use the tools they will absolutely need to participate in later schooling and employment.


Arora, P. [Tedx Talks]. (2014, May 29). Knowledge is obsolote, so now what? 
     [Video file]. Retrieved from
Wesch, M. [Tedx Talks]. (2010, October 12). Fro knowledgeable to Knowledge-Able 
     [Video file]. Retrieved from

Project Seesaw

A desire to overcome some of my hesitation with using social media is both a personal and professional endeavor, and this desire is at the crux of my decision to enroll in EC&I 831. I know that students will be getting involved with social media platforms, if they aren’t already. As such, I strongly feel that I must become more comfortable using social media so that I can be a source of guidance and teaching. As stated in my recent post on online learning, and several of my peers blogs, online social media can be both a source for good and evil. For my own learning, I would like to learn a specific platform and integrate it  in some part of my duties as a Learning Resource Teacher.

Problem Identified

As an LRT, part of my day is delivering small group, intensive literacy support. The students will come in groups of three or four most days of the week. An ongoing challenge for me has been to implement home reading on a consistent basis. I know that the more students read, the more they will grow in literacy. This is close to being a universal truth that can apply to just about any learning circumstance.

Over the past few years, I have had mixed results. Some families eagerly take on the home reading with gusto and energy. The payoff can be tremendous with a feeling of shared elation and celebration between families and school as their child improves (sometimes drastically in a short period of time). At other time, I have found it difficult to establish contact and feedback with families of students who I have in reading groups.

Problem: How can I better engage families that are not immediately responsive  to my initial outreach?

Enter Seesaw

I first ran into Seesaw at an edcamp two years ago. It was presented well by a peer from another school who wanted to share her successes in sharing online portfolios for her kindergarten class. I loved seeing the artifacts, and could see how families were engaging with her and their child’s learning. Seesaw seemed like a modern, relevant way to send home student work. I did not immediately see utility for myself as a Learning Resource Teacher, but tucked it into my back pocket.

A few weeks ago, freshly transferred to a new school, I have started to support a classroom that is using Seesaw. (conveniently right around the time where I started this course!) This seems like the perfect tool for me to begin an adventure with social media.

I can clearly picture myself, and students in my reading groups, using this to show off their improving reading skills to their parents. Hopefully, this can lead to a more energized engagement and perhaps an increase in home reading!


It’s a start. I’ve spent some time watching explanatory videos and reading descriptions of the application on the company website. I’ve also created my account and added students. From here, I plan to first meet with the teacher I have seen using it and look at the various features together, and discuss how she has found it most useful for her own classroom practice.

That’s all for now! A nice beginning!

Online Learning: The Good, the Bad, and the Reality

 (Photo credit: Alex Castro, The Verge)

The idea of students learning in the open, out on the Internet, is not new. But it remains a practice that I am not entirely comfortable with. As an individual, I value my privacy and take it seriously. As I mentioned in my introductory post last week, I do not particularly like the idea of being search-able online. Stories of security breaches, such as this one, where millions of people’s identities are being stolen, resonate deeply with me.

(Photo Credit: Mike Norton)

The Bad

I once had my own identity compromised, on a small scale, and a credit card was used fraudulently. To this day, I have no idea how the information was procured. Although my contact with the credit card company was relatively painless, with an insurance claim processed over the phone and transactions instantaneously rolled back, a queasiness remains to this day.

I think it’s only natural that my own personal experiences will greatly influence my views and how I engage with student learning in online spaces. Bad things can happen on the internet. There have been many high profile stories, such as this , this, and this, of serious cyberbullying and harassment even leading to death.


The Good

Although  my own predisposition makes it easy to dwell on the risks and dangers of having an online presence, the benefits of engaging in online learning are certainly not unknown to me. Elizabeth Goold (2015) summarizes key benefits well in her article Student Blogging Matters. For one, by engaging with learning online, the relationship expands beyond a one to one student-teacher interaction. The audience becomes more authentic, involving peers, parents and potentially the wider public. A second benefit is that it teaches students how to create a positive digital footprint by providing structured interactions that are overseen by the teacher. Another benefit is that the opportunity to write online can be very engaging to students who struggle to engage with paper and pencil tasks. Finally, by blogging, or using other online learning platforms, parents can more easily and meaningfully engage with their student’s learning.


The Reality

In the end, I believe I must simply reconcile that students learning online is a fact. There are benefits, and dangers, but this can be said for just about anything. But learning online, and using the Internet socially, is going to happen, so I really have no choice but to be a positive force in shaping student’s online behaviour, and this can start in early grades. Ben Gary summarizes my position well in his article A Scary Reality (2011): “Yes, bad things happen on the Internet, but we can address them in a way that doesn’t keep students from using on of the most powerful tools in history.”

Like any tool, the internet can be used for in any manner of positive or negative ways. Students will be accessing the internet with or without support from schools. As a teacher, it is therefore my responsibility to have the skills needed to guide students in responsible use. That doesn’t necessarily mean that I have to  be an expert on every social media platform that students use. But I can certainly model responsible use of what I do know as I promote digital citizenship, and by providing students with opportunities to learn and share learning online, it can give me the platform to teach responsible behaviour.

It is this line of thinking that has led me to enroll in EC&I 831.


Grey, B. (2011, March). A scary reality. Technology & Learning, 31(8), 58. Retrieved from

Goold, Elizabeth. “Student BLOGGING Matters.” Momentum, vol. 46, no. 4, 2015, pp. 16–17,12.

Joeffice Launched!

This is it!

For me, this post marks a timid move into  unfamiliar territory. Don’t get me wrong, I am very familiar with technology and integrating technology with the classroom. I have a great deal of experience using certain platforms to enhance student learning, mainly by catering to their predominantly visual learning style. The Smartboard (or equivalent lower cost devices) has been a mainstay in my mathematics and Language Arts teaching for years. Collaborating with students through google documents (slides, sheets) to provide immediate and continuous feedback has also been invaluable.

But then I come to social media, my Achilles’ heel. While I am certainly not new to social media, my presence has been low and subdued. I occasionally use Facebook to keep in touch and share media with close family and friends, but keep a very low profile. I have definitely enjoyed using twitter to follow chats on saskedchat, but I rarely use my own handle to tweet anything. The idea of tweeting the moments of my day is foreign, and to me, a little ridiculous. Coupled with my general distaste for social media is a deep seeded distrust for the dangers that may linger. I do not particularly like the idea of being searchable online, and I do not like particularly the idea of my thinking being searchable online.

(US Air Force Graphic, James Branch)

(US Army Graphic)

For me, this post is kind of a big deal! I look forward to tiptoeing into social media through this blog, using the relative safety of our close educational community to experience sharing my thinking online.


A little but of myself is as good a place to start as any:

#Teacher: Yes, I teach! I am a Learning Resource Teacher with Arcola Community School.

#Travel: I love to travel. Very fond memories in South Korea, Australia and New Zealand.

#Senators: I am very attached to the hockey team of my hometown. Watching Ottawa Senators hockey is a part of my  life.

I would like to add a  hashtag that captures a big part of who I am: #History

I have always enjoyed learning about history. History and historical history have been my genres of choice for as long as I can remember. This has recently turned into an interest in uncovering my own roots. Although my  family comes from Eastern Canada, mainly Ottawa, we have roots in Saskatchewan. Ancestors came from Armagh, Ireland and settled in western Canada with generous title grants from the government of Canada. This summer, with help from a growing online database of information with the government of Canada, my brother and I were able to pinpoint where their land was. Ironically, a relatively short drive from Regina, the city I moved to as an adult almost by chance.

Once in Nokomis, we were able to get help from a couple of residents who run a local museum. We were able to find the land that my great, great grandfather, Thomas McGurran, settled! It was kind of eerie to walk land that was built up by ancestors:

The Project: Seesaw!

I will turn to briefly discussing what I would like to do for my own big learning project through this Fall. While the idea of learning a skill and documenting my growth is very appealing, I am drawn to trying to target a skill that will benefit my professional practice. As an LRT, I do not manage a classroom of my own. I do not have a charge of students who look to me as their primary adult for six hours of the day. However, I do work with many students across all grades in a variety of settings.

I have been intrigued by the idea of students managing their own online portfolios that can be shared with parents. For me, this would certainly be a meaningful foray into social media. Specifically, teaching small reading groups is a part of my day, and engaging home support has been an ongoing challenge. This challenge is all the more pressing knowing that the students I am working with are already vulnerable to further struggling with literacy. The more they read, the better!

I would like to use seesaw as a tool for students to engage their families and friends with the learning they are doing in Leveled Learning Intervention (L.L.I.) groups, and build enthusiasm. I see how some teachers use the tool, and I can easily imagine students I work with posting images of books they read, samples of word work activities, or even videos of themselves reading (before and after!)

I hope that the idea makes sense, and look forward to your feedback!

Thanks for reading!