September Newsletter

September 2010

The original link to this newsletter is

Welcome to the 2010-2011 school year. It is always hard to believe that two months can pass as quickly as July and August seem to, but here we are rejuvenated and ready to begin another year of learning and adventure.

Welcome also to the first “Technology in the Classroom” newsletter of this school year. Other than the new layout, the most obvious change to this monthly communication is the author. Since February 1998 teachers in our board have received a monthly online newsletter. This will be the first one that has not been written, at least in part, by Doug Peterson. I would like to take this chance, on behalf of every teacher and student directly or indirectly impacted by his work, to thank Doug for everything he has done to support and develop the use of technology in our board and to wish him every happiness in his retirement.

With a farewell taken care of, I suppose an introduction is now necessary! For those I have yet to meet, I am Chris Knight and I am honoured to have assumed Doug’s portfolio with the program department. I began my career in my home country of England as an elementary teacher. I spent time as a consultant for the integration of interactive whiteboards and the development of curriculum to support technology in literacy and numeracy. Since moving to Canada I have worked for the board firstly as an elementary teacher and most recently as an instructional coach. I am excited by this new opportunity and am looking forward to continuing the work Doug began by increasing the opportunities for us to integrate the effective use of technology into our classrooms.


You will notice on the left hand side of this page that the links take you to our Student Portal pages. Over the coming months I am hoping to update these links and include others which link to the curriculum and can be used effectively in the classroom. These links should be the most current and effective web resources we are using in our classrooms. There is no way any one teacher can know every link, so with a little collaboration I am sure we can create a collection of current and dynamic resources to support everyone. Please feel free to suggest a link by sending an email to with the subject of “suggested link”, or read the Twitter section below and ‘tweet’ the link with the hashtag of #gecdsblinks

Using Twitter for Professional Development

My relationship with Twitter has been a bumpy one. I started off with a very positive attitude towards it, and found a few people I wanted to ‘follow’. My enthusiasm soon waned as I tired of hearing such inane details as what they had for breakfast that day. The relationship crumbled.

I discussed this situation with a friend who was a regular user of Twitter. She told me that the blame for the end of this relationship rested firmly on my shoulders. I was initially surprised and asked for an explanation. I came to learn a very valuable lesson that transformed the way I use this site.

The lesson was simple. To get anything from Twitter, you must have a purpose and a focus. I had never approached it with that mindset and vowed to give it another shot.

From that day on, Twitter has become a valuable part of my professional development. When you go to it with a specific focus, in my case joining a community of educators wanting to share knowledge and experiences, the learning is incredible. It is a PLC in the truest sense, with educators worldwide collaborating and sharing, discussing and problem solving. Even just with the intent of harvesting resources and lesson ideas, Twitter is an unmatched community of educators.

The next step in this relationship was looking at ways I could use Twitter effectively in the classroom. An opportunity quickly arose: a group of students were having trouble writing summaries. Their summaries were in some cases longer than the text they were summarizing. The “Somebody/Wanted/But/So/Then” strategy only got this class so far. They needed something more. That is when the idea of Twitter struck. Each posting on Twitter can only be 140 characters long. What are the chances they could fit a summary in there? Well, we signed up to Twitter as a class and tried it out. Not only was the quality of each summary improved, the students could now also read and respond to the summaries of others in the class. We all know the value of collaboration and technology to 21st century learners, and the progress of this class is a great example.

Twitter is becoming increasingly prevalent in all that we do. Did you notice that Vision to Practice had a Twitter page this year? Kudos to Eastwood Public School Principal James Cowper for advancing this medium in our board.

You will notice many of the posts contained what is termed a “hashtag”. Very simply, this is a word or phrase, withnospaces, preceded by a ‘#’. Using hashtags will cause that tweet to be displayed alongside any other tweet containing that hashtag.

There are many uses for this function both inside and outside the classroom. For example, students working together on a collaborative project can tweet the link to information followed by the hashtag they and their partner chose and they now have an area to store and view all of their resources. Professional Learning Communities can also use this function well. For example, imagine your staff is looking to learn more about differentiated instruction. Simply ‘tweet’ every article or online source you find with a hashtag of ‘#ruthvenplc’, or whatever your school name is.

Many Twitter hashtags are already commonly used by the wider community. This link will take you to a collection of the most commonly used tags, which you can look through to uncover some great resources and thought-provoking discussion. I would strongly recommend #edchat as a tag to follow.

As mentioned above, to encourage the use of Twitter and begin to develop a hashtag approach to collating links, if you know of a web-based resource you would like to share with others, tweet it along with the hashtag of #gecdsblinks. I have added a couple to get us underway.

If you are new to Twitter you will be wondering who to “follow”. Try these people out – I have already learned a lot from each of them:






I don’t want to ruin all the fun of finding people, so I will recommend more every month. Also next month – how Twitter and RSS feeds can make your internet time more productive.

Naxos Music Library

Beginning September 1st, 2010, teachers and students in Ontario are licensed to use more than 600,000 songs held on the Naxos library. The url for this site is A generic username and password for our board is available from your CIESC.

There are a number of ways this resource can be used effectively. Music teachers may be interested in the OSAPAC listing for this license, which outlines all curriculum areas that can be impacted by use of this resource.

These compositions can also be used to accompany multimedia presentations and public performances. One of the more creative uses of music I have seen was as part of an art lesson on mood and visualization, which obviously linked to a current theme in language. The teacher selected a classical composition and asked the students to close their eyes. The picture they saw in their mind when listening to the music was the one they were to draw. They then had to write a paragraph explaining their picture. The pieces of work produced were remarkable and the explanations from the students were so deep and perceptive. I am also assured that this is the day that they ‘got’ visualization as a reading comprehension strategy!

Vision to Practice

During Vision to Practice I was fortunate to have the opportunity to work alongside the members of the Early Literacy Technology Integration Project (ELTIP) team presenting the workshop “Embedding Smartboard in Your Daily Routine”. These teachers (Margo Sanger, Krista Rickeard, Lise Fellbaum, Colin James, Janice Cuckovic, Joan Ostrom and Debbie Demers-Hewitt) have worked tirelessly over the past few years to create and promote many of the smartboard activities circulating within our board. A collection of the resources presented by the group during Vision to Practice can be found here.

Our student portal also provides links to many activities appropriate for use with the Smartboard.

Within the ‘Public Conference’ folder on First Class, you will find a “Computers in Education” icon.

Once you are in this folder you will see a wide variety of technology related resources and discussion areas. It is my sincere wish that as we continue to develop and integrate technology within our programs, this community will continue to grow and become an area of great collaboration and professional learning for all.

Inside this folder you will notice an icon named “Smart Notebook Sharing”.

It is inside here that many of the notebook resources developed by the ELTIP team, as well as many other teachers within our board, are posted. If you ever develop a notebook you are proud of, this is the place to send it. If you stumble across a notebook resource you find valuable, this can go here also.

I know some people are reluctant to post, as they prefer anonymity within the system. If this is the case, feel free to send resources to me and I will post them. As Geoffrey Canada shared with us so eloquently, the students in our system should belong to all of us, and we have a duty to them to provide everything we can to help their journey. Simply sharing a notebook may seem like such a small token, but the ripple effect of this type of community can be beyond our comprehension.

Apps for Education

Increasing numbers of teachers and students are using iPods, iPads and iPhones to enhance their learning experience. The question keeps coming back to which ‘apps’ can be used effectively to support learning in the classroom.

A brief look in the iTunes App Store allows us to see the current top 25 educational apps. It is worth remembering that Apple uses the term ‘education’ here to mean a place where anyone can learn, rather than being specific to school and curriculum expectations, so check for allignment with the Ontario Curriculum before using any of those suggested.

On this list, three apps stood out for me as being particularly useful or interesting. The first one was the “Louvre App”. Just as you would guess, this is an app which allows us visual access to many great pieces of art housed in the Musee de Louvre in Paris. It is easy to navigate and will allow teachers and students alike to search by artist or art form to show examples of classic pieces of art.

‘MyHomework’ is an app which students can use to organize their classes and assignments. It is basically a digital agenda book. As the world moves to an increasingly digitized state, these types of apps and organizers are valuable tools to begin to show students how technology can be used to their benefit in all facets of life.

The third app I was drawn to was named “210 Human Body Facts”. Very simply, 210 facts about the human body will be randomly displayed. Some are fascinating, some disturbing, but I have no doubt that all will support grade 5 students in their study of the human body.

As I mentioned, these were just three of the first apps I stumbled upon. As of September 1st, there were in excess of 250,000 apps available for these devices. Clearly it is impossible for anyone to keep up with all that is available. If you find an app you like or use with the students, I would like to make a monthly list of them here to share with our system. Email them to me with the subject “app”


As of September 1st the Ministry have licensed the use of ‘Turnitin WriteCycle and Turnitin 2‘ for grades 7-12. Details of this licensing agreement can be found at the OSAPAC registry, along with a selection of curriculum objectives linked to use of this software.

At the most basic level, Turnitin is a piece of anti-plagarism software. A student submits work and the program will check it against a huge catalogue of items for potential plagiarism. The word ‘potential’ is key here, as Turnitin does not check citations. Work which is properly cited will still appear as potentially plagiarised.

The good news is Turnitin goes far beyond just checking work for plagirism. In fact, Turnitin WriteCycle is an integration of three valuable tools. Firstly, the anti-plagiarism (or “originality check”) software mentioned above. Additionally, Turnitin WriteCycle contains a “PeerMark” peer review system. In essence this allows the teacher to set the system up so that students can give feedback to fellow students. The third tool is the “GradeMark” paperless grading system. This is a system that allows the teacher to provide marks and feedback to work submitted online without printing. The original work can be annotated with teacher feedback, and links can be made to the assignment rubric.

Beginning in October, after-school workshops will be offered to those teachers wanting to learn how to use the system. In the meantime, Turnitin themselves offer a variety of online tours and supports. Click here to view tutorials and user guides. They also offer a live walk-through of the product ten times per week. Click here to see the schedule.

Report Card

Elementary teachers will by now be aware that there have been changes made to our assessment and evaluation procedures, as outlined in the Ministry’s “Growing Success” document.

Superintendent John Howitt released the following system announcement outlining how these changes will alter the way we complete our report cards:

In May of this year, the Ontario Ministry of Education released the Growing Success document finalizing revisions to the content and structure of elementary and secondary assessment practices, including report cards. The revisions are to be implemented beginning September 2010. A noticeable change for the elementary panel is the reporting process and the report card/progress report templates. Rather than students receiving three report cards over the course of the year, the first report card of the year will be replaced by a progress report card, with the focus being on the assessment of learning skills and work habits.

This announcement had implications for the software GECDSB elementary teachers used to create elementary report cards. Media-X, developers of eTeacher, decided that they would no longer support report cards written on a Filemaker Pro platform, meaning that our current desktop solution, eTeacher 4, could no longer be used to support the creation of the provincial report card. In the Spring, a review of other software options available to complete Ontario report cards occurred and included the MX-Web solution from Media-X.

MX-Web is the web-based version of eTeacher 4. It offers a similar interface to eTeacher 4, reducing the level of retraining that would be required for a brand new software package. It allows for the creation of comment libraries and offers several enhancements not available in eTeacher 4. A web-based reporting solution such as this allows teachers to work on their report cards, on any computer with an Internet connection, without the need to import, export, save or back up data files. It also eliminates the need for school secretaries to import/export and merge class files. (Note: this is the only change for school secretaries who have already been using MX-Web for a number of years.) School MX-Web allows report cards to be completed and edited on multiple computers without importing or exporting files and also allows multiple teachers teaching the same students to work on a report simultaneously. While the user interface will look very similar to our previous version, eTeacher 4, the most significant difference between MX-Web and eTeacher 4 is that the user must be connected to the Internet as they develop their comment bank and/or work on their reports.

In addition to MX-Web, Media-X developed a completely new desktop solution that would allow for offline completion of the provincial report card. In June 2010, a group of teachers from GECDSB spent time testing the new Media-X desktop reporting software. Feedback received from this group indicated that the desktop solution would not meet the needs of GECDSB teachers.

Beginning with the first reporting period of the 2010-2011 school year, GECDSB teachers will use MX-Web to create reports for elementary students. Further details of the supports to be provided to facilitate this software change will be shared as part of the Growing Success implementation process beginning in September.

As mentioned, look out for details of the opportunities open to you to support these changes. In the meantime here are a couple of screenshots of the new report interface. You will notice that it is similar to eTeacher 4, although some of the functions have been moved to make them more intuitive and accessible. Any pink boxes are there to cover identifying information.

Posted on March 7, 2011, in GECDSB Newsletter. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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