What does innovation mean to me?

Innovation. You can’t read an article about education, hear a politician speak, or even watch a car commercial without hearing “innovation” dropped at least once or twice.

IMG_9451So, what does innovation mean to me? Well, what I know for certain is that is does not equate to technology use. At least that’s how I feel today. And to be honest, if you asked me 5 years ago I may not have felt the same.

More recently I believe I have reached what I call “peak technology” in my classroom. In fact, I may have actually scaled back on my, and student, use of technology. It started recently after attending two memorable professional learning workshops with two different organizations. At each workshop I arrived early, got my MacBook and iPad out, got WiFi set up on both devices, and settled in for a day of learning. In both sessions I was not provided with an opportunity to use my technology. At all. Ever. My devices just sat there all day.

Was I upset? Surprisingly, no.

Instead I worked with others in small groups to uncover a real problem, understand and appreciate the complexity of the problem, propose feasible (and not so feasible) solutions, realize constraints, iterate, rework, discuss, argue, compromise, make pitches and presentations, and receive feedback. The work was meaningful and in short, it was “innovative”. And yes, although a new technology (or the use of technology) may have been the end result of the process it didn’t drive the innovation.

Innovation is a mindset, an attitude, a way of thinking, and definitely not stuff. We need to empower our students to solve complex problems, to use technology (yes technology) to create content and share their learning, and provide them with the skills and tools necessary to innovate.

What does innovation mean to you?

Check out how some of my fellow innovators answered this question:

Lynn Filliter 

Michelle Hollingsworth

Graham Whisen

Jason Richea


Classroom Podcast Studio

For those who had questions about the setup for my podcasting studio (#Studio203)… this post is for you! The “studio” is a small windowed conference/storage room at the back of my classroom that I cleaned out a few years ago to create the studio.

The Technology

Computer: Apple iMac 21.5-inch. Why an iMac? As a department we have 40 iPads that we use regularly in our classrooms. It only made sense to get an iMac to complement the iPads. Students can record with the iPads (audio and video) and easily move the content to the iMac for editing and final processing.

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iMac 21.5″, Mixer, Microphones, and Headphones

Mixer: Behringer Xenyx Q1202USB. This is an amazingly easy mixer to use. Just plug into your iMac with the included USB cable, select it as your microphone input in your settings, and away you go. Allows for four XLR microphone inputs as well as a few other inputs. We use one of the additional inputs to allow for students to connect their own devices for including music, Facetime/Skype calls, audio from YouTube videos, and whatever else they may want to include. There is also a headphone jack which we have connected to a headphone jack splitter, allowing each podcaster to monitor the recording or broadcast in real time through their own headphones.

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Behringer Xenyx Q1202USB Mixer

Microphones: We use four Shure PGA48 XLR microphones that are a good compromise between cost and quality. The nice thing about these microphones is that they come with a nice long XLR cable. We have coupled these microphones with four Yorkville Sound Desktop Mic Stands – heavy enough to keep the microphones from moving around without breaking the bank.

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Shure PGA48 XLR & Yorkville Sound Desktop Mic Stand

We also have really inexpensive headphones for students to use to monitor the recording or broadcast. Quite often students will swap these out for their own earbuds or headphones (better quality than what we provide).

Software: GarageBand is our go to for recording podcasts. It is incredibly easy to use and learn – you can do everything from the most basic (click and record), right up to creating multi-track recordings with music, effects, and whatever other audio you would want to include.

When going live to the internet we use Spreaker (we also use this to host our recorded podcasts). Spreaker has a free account that allows you to record 30 minute broadcasts and store up to 10 hours of audio. We have an “on air talent” account which allows for 45 minute broadcasts and 100 hours of storage for less than $50 a year.

What has it enabled us to do?

The podcast studio has been an excellent addition to the classroom as it enables us to take a different approach to assessment. We now have a greater ability to include conversations as part of our triangulation of evidence (I also have a a long audio cable that connects to headphones outside of the studio so that I can monitor the recording process).

In addition, allowing the students to “go public” with their learning serves to improve the quality, and purpose, of the projects that they produce. Students have been empowered to become creators of content rather than passive consumers.

Yes – classroom furniture matters!

Over the past three years I have been slowly making changes to my classroom. Thanks to some very supportive principals, who had faith in me when I told them the classroom of old had to go, I have been able to make the move away from a “traditional” highschool classroom setup to one that is much more relaxed and conducive to collaboration, project based learning, and a 21st century approach.

The first thing to go was the teacher desk. This was, by far, the most transformative change in my classroom. When you don’t have a desk to sit at you have two choices as a teacher: walk around and see what your students are doing OR have a seat with your students and talk to them about what they are doing. With no where else to sit I have become one of the learners in my classroom.

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Teacher/Student workstation where the teacher desk once was.

The next to go were the individual student desks – you know the ones, grey, rectangular, with a nice ledge for textbooks and garbage. In their place, hexagonal tables, in a nice maple finish, that could be split into two trapezoidal tables. Perfect size for groups of 4 students, and space for 6 students when needed.


Hexagonal tables that divide into two trapezoidal tables.

Why these tables instead of round tables? Simple. The trapezoidal tables can be re-arranged into many different configurations aside from a hexagon: long rows for debates, large groupings for meetings, tables for two for tests, boardroom style, and whatever crazy arrangement you and your students can think of.

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This was my classroom setup for nearly two years. I cannot begin to tell you how it transformed the learning environment. It changed the dynamic in my classroom, making it a lively and engaging place to learn. Students talked more, they shared more, and I know they learned more. But I would be lying if I said the transition was seamless. Seamless enough for my Grade 9 students who, having just left similar environments in middle school, didn’t seem to notice that my classroom was different. But the Grade 12 students – they were not impressed, at least not at first. But once they got used to the tables they would regularly share how they wished all of their classes had the same arrangement.

Most importantly, however, the tables took the focus of the classroom away from the “front” of the room and the teacher and placed it on the students and the conversations they shared.

This year I was fortunate enough to add two additional table styles to my classroom. By the windows I added two cafe tables and towards the back of my classroom two stand-up cafe tables. Like the hexagonal tables these were received with some trepidation by my students – but after a couple of weeks they see regular use. The desks are utilized most often by students who are looking for a quiet place to work on their own, or by students (in the case of the stand-up tables) who need to move around during a very lengthy 75 minute period.

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What I have learned since changing my classroom seating is that classroom furniture absolutely matters. I notice it when I teach in classrooms that still have the old student desks – the focus is in one direction, the front of the room. In my classroom the learning environment has changed, the focus has changed. Yes, furniture helped make it less teacher focussed.

There is discussion and debate where there was once quiet contemplation. There is sharing and collaboration where there was once individual effort. There is an energy in the classroom that was once missing. Yes – classroom furniture matters.