The Sweet Spot of Learning

Coming in to #the100dayproject, I knew I would be learning. It is one of the reasons I enjoyed the project so much last year and jumped at the chance again. It’s funny how it still catches you off guard. Maybe it is because as educators we are focusing on the learning of others but it is beautiful to be in that moment, the sweet spot of learning, and reflect on how you can help others experience it.

I needed a push, something different and a friend on Instagram suggested I focus my next theme of 10 on minimalism. I have to admit that I went in with a very lose definition of what I actually committed to. I’ve seen it happen in education once or twice before: hear a word, hope we understand what it means and muddle through. After posting the first picture I asked for some feedback and realized I was off track. So I started googling to better define what minimalistic photos had in common (negative space), along the way finding some Minimalism Instagram Greats to follow and be inspired by. As the week went on I could notice myself adjusting photos and looking for the negative space. It was that sweet spot of learning where inspiration, challenge, feedback all hit at the same time.

Then came this latest theme. I had promised myself I would do at least one theme of portraits before the end of the project, originally that was going to be the focus of the whole project. Maybe I got just a little too confident. I love taking pictures of family and friends but I find it stressful to invade their space. How do you walk up to a stranger and ask them to take a photo? Even with friends, how do you boss them around if you can’t guarantee a good photo? Folks were lovely and accommodating but my fears really took over.

As we were reading research reports for a work project last week, a comment stood out to me in Apple’s Classrooms of Tomorrow about gamers. They were speaking of the feedback loop of gamer, how it forces a pause before readjusting their practice.

 Failure simply provides her a quick break before she gets back into the game. 

I realized maybe I had leapt too far outside my comfort zone that I was letting the challenge overwhelm me. It is the only time this project I was 3 days behind at one point. So this was my pause, what was I going to shift to be more successful?

So as I finish up this set of 10 and move in to my next, I don’t want to lessen the challenge but eliminate the excuses. So perhaps it will be 10 self portraits (creatively using the term here). Giving me the chance to play while also lessening a few of my fears that were holding me back.

Funny how a hobby project can surface bigger lessons on the sweet spot of learning, a place with just enough challenge, inspiration and community.

I am still learning.


Taking a Leap – TEDx Talk

I think it was the fall when I first got the email. A colleague I met through OISE was hoping I would do a TED talk at their TEDx event with students all focused around innovation. Sounded cool and as usual my gut reaction was sure.  After I sent the email request to my supervisor, the panic started setting in. Deep down I think I secretly was hoping I wouldn’t be able to get the time off. I got the ok so that didn’t work but it was ages away so the panic could wait. Then the countdown began.

What could I possibly say about innovation to kids, big kids much cooler than me?

The book club definitely got the wheels turning but it wasn’t to the very end that the pieces came together. The experiences from #the100dayproject, our Spark night, a tweet from a colleague. Suddenly I could see the connected web through the individual strings.

To say I wasn’t nervous is an understatement. You can probably see the nerves come through at the beginning of the clip. I did forget a whole section and quote around Relentless Restlessness. Following an engineer who had invented tools that assist doctors with breast cancer added to the nerves slightly.  But standing in front of 100+ faces, mostly high school students I hoped the message added to their understanding of innovation. I hope they left with a sense that innovation is not for a select few, but is available to all of us if we look for the sparks, celebrate the small moments and continue on the journey.

A big thank you to folks that suffered through test versions, last minute freak outs and listening to recorded messages. For the tips, tricks, books and youtube links.

I can’t bring myself to watch it, but if you are at all interested you can check it out below. Thanks for the opportunity Patricia and the TEDxSacredHeart team.

Pedagogy over Tools

Do we need a new battle cry?

It’s not hard to find a post on the need for pedagogy over technology. All wonderful reads pointing to the need not to be caught in the glitz and glam of tech but rather be critical about our choices and our use. I’d be the first to retweet and start the conversation. So you can understand my surprise as I started struggling with the idea reading post after post.

It isn’t that the argument is wrong. The wonderful 6, 16, 26 year olds in our classroom and their learning should always drive instruction. Learners should ALWAYS be the centre of what we do and our decision making. We want to be critical of our choices in the classroom when we are responsible for sparking the learning of others. Pedagogy over tools I can commit to any day but here is my fear:

Is our fixation with repeating the PEDAGOGY OVER TECHNOLOGY mantra holding us back?

Do we put other tools through the same scrutiny that technology seems to experience?

Do we ask a pencil to prove it can increase standardized test scores or a book to improve reading levels (ok,  maybe we have done the later)?

Whether it is lines on a board, Monday morning ‘On my weekend I’ recounts  or 20 minutes of reading in silence we probably have all been guilty at some point of not maximizing the potential of a learning tool.

Paper rips, markers dry out, pencils break but we continue to use them.

Maybe there is no harm in the argument, it is a reminder to be critical and that can never be bad but here is my worry:

Is our constant repetition of the pedagogy over technology debate holding us back from accepting these digital tools as a natural element of our learning environments as they are of our everyday environments outside the classroom?

Are we using the pedagogy over technology mantra as an excuse to not move forward?

For the learner that lights up at the mention of Minecraft, the kid that giggles as they work through their code or the student that finds a voice online in their blog they never found in their classroom’s 4 walls, I hope we can find a new focus for our conversations.

Diversity: Seeing the many seen and unseen elements of each wonderfully unique being #peelequity

A photo posted by Tina Zita (@misszita) on

Pedagogy over tools, yes. Learners first, even better. I guess I’m just thirsting for a new conversation, an evolution past pedagogy over technology. Accepting that these tools that we use to order personalized burgers and predict what movies we will like, have a place in the classroom. A shift not to why we need to use the tools but how we are using them to answer the question:

What can we do for this learner, for this learning, at this time?

What are your thoughts? Have I missed a part of the argument? Love to hear from you.

Renlentless Restlessness

The OSSEMOOC Innovator’s Mindset book club ended about two months ago now, but a small idea has been lingering (Pestering is probably a better word). I wanted to blog about it in March and pushed it off. Then other’s blogged about it and I wondered if I had anything to really add. But as conversations, readings and countless posts about innovation pop up I can’t shake the idea of Relentless Restlessness.

It’s funny how you can read things once and pass it by. I was was re-reading Chapter 13 of the Innovator’s Mindset for our last Google Hangout when the words seemed to jump right off the page. The story is of Brad Bird, Pixar director, who would infuse in his organizations a sense of relentless restlessness“that often uncomfortable urge for constant innovation, driven by the nagging feeling that things are never quite good enough.”

If I’m completely honest I probably liked the quote at first because I loved reading uncomfortable. It seemed to perfectly label my feelings for this year. I could see myself in the nagging feeling and the wanting more. I know it seems silly at times, but being a leader sometimes feels a little like being a tortured artist always wanting a little more, a bit more of a push.

The more I thought about it though, the more I could see myself in that picture of innovation. With the countless definitions of innovation, I could see myself in this one. Could innovation be that simple? A burning desire to do better. To not except good as good enough, but constantly look at the possibilities ahead.

Then I started thinking about our learners and what success means. What do I want for the learners I have worked with? Maybe more than just a definition of innovation, a relentless restlessness is what drives our lifelong journeys to learn. Could education be that simple? A nagging feeling to want more, do more, learn more.

How would the conversation about change alter if we looked at it with that urge to continue forward with more possibilities, more opportunities? How would our conversations and experiences with learners change if we saw education as that burning desire for to know more, learn more, want better?

Maybe I’m oversimplifying it. Maybe education and innovation are much more complex. Maybe relentless restlessness is already driving our systems of change. Maybe there’s a danger in always being in that place of relentless restlessness.

I just can’t shake that nagging feeling that there is more.


One Small Spark #the100dayproject

I’ve shared the story before: It was the day after my very last class of my M.Ed. when I saw the post for #the100dayproject. That one single post started a chain reaction of learning for me (which already was a share of a share). Here we are a year later at the first leg of another adventure and I’m reminded once again how much those small individual sparks really can flame in to much more.


I was equal parts excited and terrified when I saw @elleluna’s feed and the announcement of this year’s project. I reposted the image and waited. Waiting is a terrible thing, it’s when the doubts creep in. I learned so much from last year but I still was in that place of uncertainty. What will I create? Who will really want to see it? Will others join in? Slowly but surely folks started joining in and before long we were off learning from each other once again.

Sparks have taken so many different paths. Sometimes it is inspiration from creators in the greater community, sometimes from friends that are trying something new, sometimes they come just from taking the time to create. Some times the sparks are just for my own learning, other times I can see them working in the classroom like Jim’s mystery project and Sharon’s illustrated vocabulary.

It’s amazing to stand back and see how something as simple as creating daily and sharing with a hashtag can turn a spark into a passionate flame.

Why not be inspired by one of our #peel21st and beyond #the100dayproject projects:

Did I miss yours? Let me know.

Want to start? It’s not too late. Join in any time. We had some friends jump in just today.

My Design Moment

This is our April blog hop where educators all post to their blog the same night at the same time around the same topic. Inspired by the Ontario Ministry of Education’s  21st Century Competencies Discussion Document and the Global Day of Design, we thought we would put the challenge out there to actually engage in the design process (individually or with our learners) and then reflect on the experience. Please check out the links below my post to hop on over to their blogs and read/view their stories. We would love to hear your thoughts and comments too!


I mentioned in passing that I needed some LEGO and on Sunday my nephews sent me home with two big tote bins. Sunday I slowly started sorting through by colours and tones like we did for the Uniac Pop Up Makerspaces. So when it was time to create my daily #flatlay for #the100dayproject on Monday I thought why not use LEGO. Seemed simple enough. It’s funny how time can stand still when you are creating and designing. How you can see the feedback loop we so often reference in PD in action as you tweak your design through out the process. The thrill that comes from completing the task and then the ideas that start stirring the minute you step back. I sat on my floor for over an hour just moving LEGO around. That may seem a little crazy (it probably is a little) but it got me thinking. How often do we give our learning community that time to create? How often do we let learners of all ages play, play with physical tools, play with concepts. Do we give folks the time to go through the design process, whether individually or collaboratively, and that feedback loop to adapt and change?

As I stumbled upon John Spencer’s blog post this morning, I was reminded that we don’t need a space, but rather the time and vision to see the design and creation capabilities all around us.


What did you create/design lately? Hop on over to Jim, Jay and Amit‘s blog to read their stories or share your own experience in the comments below or on your blog.


Embarking on another 100 Day Journey

It was last year this time that I was finishing up my M.Ed. and stumbled upon #the100dayproject on Instagram. Somehow I was terrified of not having a project, a course to keep me learning that I leaped at the opportunity. A few friends were kind enough to jump on board, with a support group ready I embarked on creating for 100 days finally using those manual settings on my camera. 100 days later I looked back and realized the many take aways (I shared them here) from a chance to pause, to sharing with a community, to the support that is needed to make it through a project of this length (peer pressure can be good sometimes) but most importantly the energy and recharge that came from creating just to create. I am lucky to have the opportunity to create daily in my day to day job whether it is a quote to share or an event to be designed, a lesson or an activity, but sometimes the busyness of if all means this is the only type of creation that happens. Taking the time last year to pause and practice really reminded me how therapeutic creating could be. There were no strings attached. No procedures or end goals to keep in mind. It was creating just to create. So when I saw this year’s announcement on @elleluna‘s feed I may have done a little happy dance. 

At first I was thinking of the possibilities: I should learn guitar or how to paint. Then I caught myself. This is more about play and practice then learning a new skill, getting into the habit of creating. It needed to be something I could stick with. So photography it is. What type of photography is still up for debate!  Last year I explored the various settings on my camera but I feel I want to focus a little more this time around. So I’m considering the following:

  • #100daysoflookingclosely taking a close up picture each day whether it is composed or just an everyday project. I could push myself to get outside a little more with this one.
  • #100daysofblackandwhite playing with the settings, exploring what makes a great black and white photo could be cool.
  • #100daysoffoodphoto would make me eat better and have more food around but afraid it will become an issue moving forward.
  • #100portraits: This is where I wanted to start but I keep second guessing myself. I don’t know if I have time to hit someone up each day. More than anything I’m fearful of asking folks to take their picture.

So are you ready for a challenge? Will you join our #the100dayproject support group? Maybe the 100 day challenge isn’t for you but this spring is full of so many opportunities to create from the design challenge, to scratch day and global maker dayWhat will you create? Hope you share your journey!