Wearables: Portable, Infectious Learning

wearable closeup

How do you know you are addicted to making wearables?

You are standing in a line waiting to get breakfast and you just have to finish a wearable bracelet project you have on the go. Making really is joyful as there is nothing more satisfying than making something with our own hands. I love learning at the intersection of science, math and design. Wearable technology lives at this intersection and provides loads of learning for students. I’m inspired by Reveal by Andrea Palmer, a new wearable device for autism that measures and tracks anxiety to prevent meltdowns. What will our students create in the future?

Teaching basic circuitry comes alive when students create a bracelet that where the snap is the switch to light up a LED. If the LED does not light up, the project becomes an inquiry project about what a circuit is and what we need to do to create one.


Sylvia Martinez from Invent to Learn fame shared this simple wearable project with me and my students at SAIL love it! The moment of joy when the LED lights up provides instant feedback and satisfaction to makers.

I’m prepping for a workshop I’m giving at ISTE this year in Denver with Orwell Kowalyshyn called WWW: The Wonderful World of Wearables and I can’t wait to see what people will create. Something is radically changed in our students’ DNA when they become creators instead of passive consumers. I know how empowered I am when I create and I want all students educators to experience this joy.


Getting Hands on with Soft Circuits: a facilitator’s guide

Wearable Electronics: Design, prototype, and wear your own interactive garments by Kate Hartman

Fashion & Technology: A Guide to Materials and Applications by Aneta Genova & Katerine Moriwaki

Textile Messages: Dispatches fro the World of E-Textiles and Education

Soft Circuits: Crafting e-Fashion with DIY Electronics

Short Circuits: Crafting e-Puppets with DIY Electronics

Sew Electric: A collection of diy projects that combine fabric, electronics, and programming

By Leah Bueuechley & Kanjun Qui (sometimes the book is hard to find but they have a website with some projects)

Conductive Thread Adafruit Created by Becky Stern

How to get what you want: Project ideas E-textiles

Lily Tiny Twinkle Bracelet


Invent to Learn by Sylvia Martinez and Gary Stager

Think about using Lisa Yokana’s Maker Rubric and Editable Maker Rubric to assess making in your classroom.

Unwritten Words


Source: Amanda Woodward Flickr

I’m up to my ears in unwritten words.

– J.D. Salinger

My head is full of partially written blog posts. These “unwritten words” are starting to overwhelm my life so it is time to write, express, confess, and share. I was honoured to work with Sheryl Nussbaum Beach this year and she said many things that have stuck to my mental idea board but one in particular particularly resonated with me. She challenged us in #sd36learn to share our recorded learning in our analog notebooks digitally with others. If we keep our learning only to ourselves, then our collective learning suffers. What would happen to our public education system if we shared our learning with each others? We have seen this happen with our hashtag #sd36learn as we can now see into our colleagues’ thinking and teaching practice. This “learning party” never existed when I first started teaching.

Screenshot 2014-10-08 07.53.38

I love the idea of social media being the virtual water cooler where educators gather to share ideas and strategies for learning. We all are learners, perpetual learners and when we embrace this stance as educators then the learning of new curricula, assessment, and strategies don’t seem too overwhelming.

I had an inspiring Spanish Literature professor Issac Delgado at the University of British Columbia and when people asked him if he was a writer, he would say, “I am not a writer, I just write”. His humility and brilliance as a teacher inspired me to work really hard in his classes and ever since I have been trying to build similar creative learning environments like he did. I believe that we can write ourselves into being and we need to teach this to our students. So here is my challenge, if I can find time amongst all the noise of my day to write some ideas down about learning, then so can you. Public education needs our ideas, dreams and aspirations. Let’s tell our stories….let’s release our unwritten words.

This blog post emerged from the #bcedbloggers challenge from my colleague and friend @tiahenriksen. Thanks for the push Tia!

Homework? Yikes…








The last time I was involved in a chain mail experience, I was wearing culottes in the the 80’s. But enough about my bad fashion choices.

So this is going around #sd36learn started by DeanTia, and I just got an email invite from one of my teacher heroes, Diana, so here I go.

Diana wrote:

So I get this e-mail and tweet from my dear friend Tia and much to my horror, my name appears in the post.  I love Tia and Dean so I am going to suck it up and do it.  Thanks guys.

Here is Dean Shareski’s challenge blog here.

Now it’s YOUR turn!

Come have some fun and accept this challenge invitation to allow others to get to know you a bit better.

First things first, here are 11 Random Facts About Me:

1.  I hate the font Times New Roman. I have no explanations, I just think it is u-g-l-y.

2.  I have blogging guilt from not doing it enough. I have written many in my head…sigh.

3.   I have an analog side (paper/markers, etc) and a digital (laptop, iPad,etc) side of my desk.

4.  I sing silly songs to my daughter to get her up in the morning. She wants this to stop!

5.  Injustice in the world keeps me up at night.

6.  I love the smell of new books.  I love ebooks too but they don’t smell at all.

7.  It is such an honour for me to work supporting teacher librarians and teachers in the Surrey School District.

8.  I’m a polyglot. Google it if it sounds like a medical condition to you.

9.  I collect old suitcases from the 1920s-1950s. My husband wants this to stop.

10.  I have lived and worked all over Latin America in all kinds of living conditions but don’t take good coffee away from me in the morning.

11.  I meditate to keep me grounded. I think I need to go and meditate right now.

Next up, I am to answer the following questions from Diana:

Questions for You:

1.  If you weren’t in education, what would you do instead?

I would probably be a film maker, activist, designer, or a taco truck operator.

2.  Pencil or pen?

Don’t get me started on my love of all things stationary. Pens, pencils, markers, felts, highlighters = all good

3.  Last book you read?

Young Adult Fiction “Backward Glass” by Toronto author David Lomax, time travel, suspense great fun!

4.  Guilty pleasure?

Doritos, all the way. I’ve almost followed trucks filled with them.

5.  Has tech made your life easier or harder?

Easier. I had my last school photo taken with my iPad and I love how students  do transformative learning with technology.

6.  If you could give your younger self some advice, what would it be?

Relax chica it wil all work out in the end.

7.  What is your favourite blog to read?

You want me to choose…ayy! Ok: Buffy Hamilton http://theunquietlibrarian.wordpress.com/

8.  Share something funny.

When I was a kid, my parents promised to give me a quarter for every 5 minutes I would shut up in the car. I never made a single cent.

9.  Would you ever wear orange pants?

No! I believe that fashion trend comes from Saskatchewan.

10.  What is one thing you hope to do in the future?

I want to publish an ebook in the ibook store and manipulate the time/space continum to get more work done.

11.  Favourite thing to do on a Friday night?

Eat sushi with my family, hang out, watch TV and laugh with them.

In the Christmas break Al Smith’s @literateowl decided to give me more homework so here are my answers to his questions: (I hear he is a hard marker)

1. How do you balance time spent on professional and personal life?

Balance is an illusion! Ok, seriously I try to leave work by a certain time each day and I meditate to centre myself.

2. Where do you want to go in the world that you haven’t been yet?

I would really like to go to Brazil and hang out with educators and social activists inspired by Paulo Freire.
3. If you were Mr. Harper, what would your priority legislation be next week?

National daycare program, bring back CIDA to finance real social justice in the world, oh I could go on.

4. What was the last book you read? Did it have a movie adaptation?

I’m reading “Writing on the Wall: Social Media the first 2000 years” by Tom Standage and no there is no movie version, sorry!

5. In what school/position was/is memorable to you? Why?

I loved being a Teacher Librarian at Clayton Heights Secondary. It was such an honour to serve students and staff and a lot of fun.

6. What is a health issue or advocacy you hold sincere?

I have a father who has dementia so I am very concerned about our lack of a provincial/national plan to take care of our seniors. They built this nation and we need to take care of them.

7. What is the source you rely on most for news about what’s going on in the world?

Blogs, cbc.ca, bbc, Twitter.

8. Can you name the 5 CanadaReads titles and/or authors? Have you read any? Check > (http://kssreads.wordpress.com/2013/12/13/canadareads-2014-looks-powerful-join-us/)

I can name them if I have my phone in my hand! Stephen Lewis is my hero so go Stephen go!

9. Why is liberalism a dying political philosophy or is it?

Any philosophy that talks about caring about seniors, children, and other vulnerable people in our society is something worth talking about.

10. If you could advise and/or act on a solution for a more environmental and economically sustainable Canada what would you contribute?

11. If answering these 11 with me, What wine would you select?

A tempranillo from Spain.

Now it’s YOUR turn!


  1. What is your favourite vegetable?
  2. If you could be born in another country, which would it be and why?
  3. What excites you most about education right now?
  4. When you were a kid what was the most trouble you go into for doing something?
  5. What’s your favourite food memory and why?
  6. MAC or PC? Or bi-platform?
  7. What artist (from any age) would you want to do a portrait of you or your family?
  8. Have you ever put together IKEA furniture with your spouse or partner? What ensued?
  9. Do you have an idea for an invention?
  10. What quote sustains you?
  11. What trait of your personality would you like to change?

Come have some fun and accept this challenge invitation to allow others to get to know you a bit better.

Kevin Amboe

Shelagh Lim

Martha Cameron

Anna Crosland

Michelle Hall

Angela Monk

Joe Tong

Jessica Pelat

Chris Walton

Valerie Lees

Sarah Garr

11b. You. (this includes all the people I didn’t name because I figured they thought  they were too cool to do this as well as those I never even thought, which could be you. Either way, I’ll read what you write) (Thanks Dean, I stole that off your blog)

Here’s how it works:

  1. Acknowledge the nominating blogger.
  2. Share 11 random facts about yourself.
  3. Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you.
  4. List 11 bloggers.
  5. Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate to answer, and let all the bloggers know they have been nominated. Don’t nominate a blogger who has nominated you.

Post back here with a link after you write this. Go on, you have homework to do.

You can thank me later.


Break Bread Together

philwirks bread cycleWhen I was coordinating an international youth exchange program in Ecuador for Canada World Youth in the Ecuadorian Andes in the early 1990s, my boss Martin Dickler from Montreal came to visit me. We did a world wind tour of communities visiting Canadian young people who were embedded into small villages doing small-scale development projects with Indigenous peoples and villagers. We did one thing in every house and small development office in each site: we broke bread together. Rural campesinos would scrap together a modest meal of quinoa potato soup with a gristly meat chunk, boiled potatoes with a fried egg, and/or spaghetti with a bit of tomato and onion and a bun to top off this carbohydrate feast. In just one day, visiting projects north of Otovalo, we ate six meals. It was epic! At the end of the day, the old jeep put in charge to haul us back up the Andean mountain to the highlands after our last visit to La Concepcion in the Chota Valley could barely make it up the hill.

What is it about breaking bread together? This intimate act of sharing food prepared by another binds us together as humans. It is the most important thing we do everyday to survive. I am reminded of this every time I attend one of the Digital Dinner Series in SD36. The kernel of this idea originated with Sharon Cohen our recently retired Assistant Superintendent who thought it would be great to deepen the ideas of innovation in our district in 2011 with an intimate dinner series of 40-60 educators and a speaker to spark ideas and discussion. This idea was brought to the Information Media Literacy (IML) team of Helping Teachers by our Director of Instruction and innovation flame thrower Elisa Carlson and off we went to find 5 speakers: Chris Kennedy, Joe Morelock, David Warlick, David Vanderguten and Audrey Van Alstyne.

When this intimate dinner series quickly morphed into a room of 23 tables with 220 educators, I nicknamed it the “Dinner Series that Ate New York”. We are now into our second year of the Digital Learner Dinner Series and the room has grown to 290+ with a wait list of 150 educators clamouring to get in. Why? Well, to quote David Weinberger, “the smartest person in the room is the room” and this is a room filled with smarty-pants. I am so in awe of this room, I reverently address it as “The Room”.  Everybody wants to be at this Learning Shindig! This year, I have had the fortune to break bread with Dean Shareski, Shelley Wright (virtually as I was recovering from surgery), Bill Ferretier and recently Chris Lehmann. Orwell Kowalyshyn Helping Teacher on the IML team just released the iTunesU Engaging the Digital Learner: Going Deeper channel that includes our podcast of Chris Lehmann’s presentation. Subscribe and you can listen for free! Before addressing this room, the Twitterati, our invited speakers, talk about “The Room” before hand and honour others who have come before them. No pressure but we expect to be inspired!

tweet the room



This year some of the best learning for me comes from presentations from #sd36learn educators who present on what they are learning right now with their students. They highlight in a 20-minute presentation before our invited speakers how their teaching practice has evolved and how this impacts student achievement. This last February, I listened to Marc Gagnon talk about how he uses digital portfolios for formative and summative assessment. He went from hauling hundreds of binders home on the weekend for marking marathons, ignoring the pleas of his family for human contact, to digital portfolios. The transformative use of technology for teaching and learning is where I want us all to be at but we did not emerge from our mothers’ wombs running! The #geniushour part of the Dinner Series is that we sit at tables in our school teams, listen, get inspired and then return to our schools and do stuff. Wow that was specific, do stuff! Our team here at Clayton Heights has deepened ideas like more collaboration between departments and subjects resulting in the planned September 2013 instatement of a Humanities program for our grade 8s and future professional development workshops on Assessment for Learning, Inquiry Learning and the transformative use of technology to just name a few.

Our tables have transformed into learning communities of teachers, administration, leadership team, Information Media Services (IMS), and district staff. In the end we are all educators since our end goal is to improve student achievement by any means. What happens at the dinner really is magical and I don’t use that term lightly. Front line teachers get the chance to partake in district dream discussions that before social media and district initiatives from the last 2 years, we never even had a ticket to the room. In January, I talked to Mike McKay our Superintendent about our evolving “messy” Learning Commons at Clayton Heights Secondary and he said to me, “I love messes. Invite me to come and visit please”. During the recent press conference at Clayton Heights to announce 4 new schools for our district, Mike left a conversation and bounded across our office to ask me for a tour of our Learning Commons.  While he talked to my iLibrary students Chloe and Harleen about their learning, press and invited guests awaited on one side of the Learning Commons for the arrival of the BC Minister of Education and the Mayor of Surrey.  On the other side, Marc England, Socials teacher extraordinaire and Student Leadership guru was showing his grade 8 Socials class a YouTube clip about Hannah Taylor and her Ladybug Foundation on his iPad and the Learning Commons Apple TV. This class was talking about how to make a difference in their local and global communities. I thought my Teacher Librarian brain was going to explode with happiness. In this one morning, our Learning Commons had proven yet again to be a flexible, synergetic space for teaching and learning that is shared with the world.

At the end of the evening at this school year’s first Dinner Series in September, Elisa Carlson threw down the challenge gauntlet at the end of the evening when she rallied us to join her radical social movement to improve and sustain public education in BC. Me join a radical social movement? Heck yah! Do we get a t-shirt? If she can so honestly rally the troupes in a public way from the sidelines as a part of our #sd36learn Leadership Team and our Director of Instruction, I better be playing my A game on the field with my colleagues and students.

So get out there and break bread with someone in your school or district. Invite the colleague that drives you crazy and find some common educational ground over a coffee and a muffin. It might challenge and change your practice. One conversation, I had with one of my students Patrick Macht radically changed me as an educator. More about that in another post!

Enjoy your bread! ¡Buen provecho!



Making it Up As We Go

Photo: Lisa Domeier de Suarez

Most of the time as educators, we try to act like we have it all together. Well, this is so tiring. Also saying “fake it until you make it” is deceptive as well. If we model this state of “everything is fine”, students and colleagues never see how messy and beautiful learning really is. I’ve been reading and thinking a great deal about innovation this past year and to be innovative is to be perceived by others as a bit loony. You have to envision what is not yet there. This takes courage as others will critique what you are doing as it is easier to sit on the educational side lines and heckle.

Courage is tiny pieces of fear all glued together. ~Terri Guillemets

I’m sitting at my kitchen on this early, cold February morning re-editing this post that I started last October. What happened? Life! Part of being a dreamer is the necessity to put my feet back on this earth to complete tasks. So here we go..

Since September 2012 at Clayton Heights Secondary, we have been continuing the evolution of our library space into a Learning Commons. The idea of the library as an open, welcoming space for learning is nothing new but the idea of open access and digital production is. I have to fight my Teacher Librarian (TL) tendency to “serve & protect” the collection as the very idea of the collection has been transformed.  I can’t repair the binding on a Wikipedia page as it doesn’t exist. I have gone back to our Learning Commons after more than a year away working as a Helping Teacher for Library and Information Media Literacy (IML) in #sd36learn and I’m enjoying being back in our learning libratory where learning can be loud, unrehearsed, and innovative. I can dream up all kinds of ideas for the space but what is much more interesting is how our staff, administration and students are envisioning changes. Some days it seems like a morass of half done projects but when you peer under the surface a creative chaos shaped by many notions of design, creation, and whimsy emerges.

Since last fall, I’ve been re-working the Library Science courses with Surrey Teacher Librarians (TLs) Martha Cameron and Heather Bramhill into an iTunesU course called iLibrary.  At our first working session, we started talking about now we are working more on connection development rather than just collection development. How can we become more of a place where we all collaborate and create knowledge together? We already have a great library at Clayton but the sky really is the limit. Perhaps our Learning Commons can become more a space where we experiment together instead of playing it safe. How can we demand this of our students if we are not willing to do the same? So here’s to making it up as we go. Just jump in and then figure it out.