Primary Preoccupation

A grade one teacher inviting the world into her classroom

Primary Preoccupation - A grade one teacher inviting the world into  her classroom

The Use and Abuse of Technology in the Classroom

This article was also posted on the kinderchat blog.

More and more primary teachers now have access to technology in their classroom. Whether it is an iPad or an iPod touch, a desktop or a laptop, a growing number of teachers are either being given access to this technology by their school boards or bringing their own devices to class to help students to learn. Because of the multitude of choices and opportunities that technology enables, this is a positive development.

I have been concerned, though, by some of the ways that I see technology being used. Technology should not just allow us to do things in a more engaging way; it should allow us to do new things that we thought were not possible. It is those new things that are the real value technology provides.  It is not enough to USE technology. You must use it well.

Having access to books does not mean that the students in my classroom will learn to read. I need to make careful pedagogical choices and use those books in a way that will gently and purposefully help those children to become independent readers. Very few children can make this leap themselves. Most need a thoughtful teacher to guide them.

In the same way, having technology in my classroom does not mean that my students will discover how to use it as a learning tool. I have to carefully select and structure what it is used for so that it becomes truly educational. As with reading books, should not our goal be to develop independent learners? Here are my personal abuse and use lists for the handling of devices in the classroom.

Technology Abuses

Technology should not be used as simply a digital worksheet. There are many apps and Internet sites available that are simply a technological version of a paper task, forcing students to practice over and over a skill that they may already have mastered.  Don’t get me wrong. Skills do need to be practiced. I just happen to think that students should spend most of their time using technology for more creative purposes.

Technology should not be used as a way to keep students occupied.  A small number of computers or devices in a classroom can be an inviting center, whether it is an assigned or a self-chosen one.  If you use technology in this way, choose wisely when you decide what the students will do with the technology. There are many, many creative options available. It should not be just to keep students busy while you work with small groups of children. (They’re working on mouse skills? Really?)

Technology should not be used to do what can be done without it.  Drawing a picture on an app or a computer program and labeling it is a worthwhile activity, but why bother if that activity is an end in itself? It may as well have been done on paper. Technology should allow you to do something new with that picture, such as sharing/publishing it in some way.

The good news is that there are other, better options for using technology. My heart does a happy dance when I see these.

Technology Uses

Technology should be for accessing what was inaccessible. In the past, my teaching materials were limited to what was in my classroom and in the school’s library. Now there are a plethora of materials available online to fill any teaching need I have, limited only by my online search skills. From classroom-ready videos such as those of Mercer Mayer and Dr. Jean to sharing and learning with other teachers on Pinterest or Twitter to accessing the creative commons photos of thousands of photographers—well, let’s just say there is no longer an excuse for not having appropriate resources.

Technology should be for doing good things in better ways
. For example, hearing books being read aloud is an important part of primary literacy.  Long ago, listening to books on a cassette tape became listening to books on a CD. Now, there are online books and apps that do a much better job of this, highlighting the words as they are read aloud.

Technology should be for sharing with the world.  The environment that our students are growing up in is wired for sharing. The hardware and the software that is available make it easier every day for children to share what they are learning with the world. Even young children can share their learning using drawings, images, blogs, video and digital portfolios. By sharing their artifacts digitally, students invite the involvement and support of their parents, grandparents and anyone who sees their work.

Technology should be for connecting. Before the advent of the Internet, classrooms were forced to be isolated learning hives.   Now, those hives can all be interconnected as classrooms can easily link with other classrooms and experts to ask questions, compare experiences and learn together. Tools such as Skype, Twitter and blogs make connecting and collaborating with classrooms from anywhere a possibility.

Technology should give choices.  We are blessed to have a lot of technology in my classroom and my favourite part of that is the choice it gives my students in both their learning style and in sharing what they have learned. When allowed to choose, some students prefer to read on iPads or computers. Others choose paper books.  I think choice is important as we accommodate the variety of needs our learners have.

Technology should not just allow us to do traditional in a different way; it should allow us to do things that we thought were not possible.


Unplug’d 2012–It’s International!

Last summer I had the privilege of participating in Unplugd11, an experience unlike any other I have had.   Unplugd11 was an opportunity for educators from across Canada to meet, to reflect and to write together, but it was more than that.

It was the people. Never before had I been in a place where every one of the people present were so passionate about education.  Participants gave up their time and paid their own way, flying as far as 4300 km (2700 miles) to get there.

It was the location.  We first met at a hotel in downtown Toronto and then travelled by train to a solar-powered experience at Northern Edge Algonquin. This retreat center is on a lake and surrounded by forest. Time seems to stand still there.

It was the fact that we all HAD to unplug. At the Edge, there is no internet access. No cell phone service. No contact with the outside world. There were only rich conversations.

It was the task. Going to Unplugd meant that you had to bring a piece of writing with you. Once there, we were divided into groups that worked on editing and bringing together all of the varied pieces of writing in a collaborative authorship experience.

And yes, it was the food. Mealtimes were a time of relaxed conversation and sharing over delicious organic and locally raised food.

This year, Unplugd is not just for Canadians. Unplugd12 will bring together people from around the world in an international education summit.

The best part is that I GET TO GO BACK! More meaningful conversations, more unspoiled wilderness, more writing and more great food.

If you are passionate about education and want to see change, apply to attend. I hope I see you there.

Pancakes and Boos

This week, on Shrove Tuesday, the primary classes at my school celebrated Pancake Day.  Because we made the pancakes together, this was another chance for me to check on the students’ ability to recall and retell a sequence of events.  I decided to use Audioboo to record the students describing the process.  I had seen references to this tool in a lot of places, but it was Chris Harbeck who really convinced me of its worth.

So, while the students were busy representing their learning with a picture, I took the students aside one by one and had them describe the process in their own words.  Audioboo takes a while to load the first time you record something, but the sound quality is quite good and the site is uncluttered and easy to use.

In the past, I have used Vocaroo to do this, but because of this site’s increased popularity, recordings now expire after 5-6 months if you are logged in and after 1-2 months if you record anonymously.   I’m hoping that the Audioboo recordings will be longer lasting.

The best part of making a “boo” (their word, not mine) is that an embed code is provided.  The next day, each of the students copied and pasted the html from their boo into an article on their blog. The students are thrilled to again have their voice on their blog.  Their parents have a chance to hear their child describe what went on in the classroom.  And I have another resource as part of the student’s online portfolio to showcase during our parent/student/teacher conferences later this month.

Below is a screenshot from one of the students’ blogs, showing both the embedded Audioboo and her drawing of our activity.

We have also begun using Audioboo to record our reading fluency.

The real power of this tool may be with its use for students who have a disability of some kind and are not able to show what they know in a coherent way through text, but are able to clearly enunciate their learning orally.  Audioboo gives them a way to do this.

What’s In a .com Name?

I guess the answer to that question depends on what your name is.

I began thinking about the whole .com thing a couple of years ago.

There are other people named Kathy Cassidy.  I know this because I occasionally get emails from pre-teen girls asking me for autographed pictures.  I have yet to oblige them and send one, but I’m sure the author Cathy Cassidy is glad to do it. Since I wanted to be the one to control the digital footprint of my name, I decided to take the plunge and buy a domain name.

At that time, had been purchased by someone, so I bought (.ca stands for Canada, not California) and just parked it, meaning to get around to doing something about it eventually.  The problem was that I was not sure which of my online spaces I wanted the url to point to.  I began thinking about it again this spring when my two years of payment were coming to an end, and I was getting renewal reminders.

By this time, was available again, so with the encouragement of Dean Shareski, I bought it for about $13.00/year from  I decided it should be a portal to many of my online spaces.  Some advice from Gail Lovely on Twitter led to my making the site on Yola, and then I used the 10Dollar site forwarding (which was free of charge).

So now I have a place to collect my digital identity with my own domain name. I’m not positive what I will do with it, other than point people to it who ask about what I do online.  It’s a work in progress.  I’m not totally happy with my site, but I’m learning as I go. Suggestions are always welcome.

That’s what’s in MY .com name.  What’s in yours?

Are You an Innovative Canadian Teacher?

Last spring, I blogged about the Microsoft Innovative Teacher program and the application to be a part of it.  Nathan Toft saw my tweet, read the post and entered the contest. He was one of the winners and got to go to Brazil to participate in the Microsoft Innovative Education Forum. (yay!)

This year the conference is being held in Cape Town, South Africa.  I hope someone sees this post, enters and goes this year.  It is a fabulous experience.

Canadian Microsoft Innovative Teacher Information

Are You a Winner?

Are you an innovative teacher?  Would you like to have a chance to talk to and learn with other innovative teachers from around the world?  Are you a Canadian teacher?  Did you answer “yes” to all three of those questions?  Have I got an opportunity for you!

Microsoft Canada has announced the 2009 Microsoft Canada Innovative Teacher Awards.  I was part of this in program in 2006; fabulous is the only word to describe the experience I had.  As one of the innovative teachers, I was flown to Philadelphia and Siam Riep, Cambodia where I stayed in five star hotels (who knew there were hotels where people came in and turned down your bed for you in the evening).  While there, I had the opportunity to network with other teachers from all areas of the world.  It was truly the trip of a lifetime.

This year, interested teachers have until May 8, 2009 to submit their application for a project using MARVIN, Zune, OneNote or Learning Essentials.  Eight Canadian projects will be chosen by May 15, and provided with access to the tool they have chosen to use for their project.  These teachers will then have until October 1st, 2009 to develop their project and use it with their students. Four of these teachers will be chosen to compete in the Microsoft Worldwide Innovative Teachers Forum in Salvador, Brazil, November 3-6, 2009.

Don’t just think about it, do it!  There is no website available with information about this, but as a former winner, I HAVE THE INFORMATION.  If you, or someone know, is interested in participating in this tremendous opportunity, just email me, ( and I will forward the email I received to you.

Good luck.  I can’t wait to hear what innovative things teachers have done.

7 Things You Probably Don’t Know About Me

449947823_7282782dbe_m1No one has tagged me for this meme, for which I am grateful.  I have been tagged a couple of times for other things, but I have never posted them because I always felt that I would then have to tag others at the end, and that feels too much like a chain letter for me to feel comfortable with it.  I decided to break all the rules and do this meme anyway.  The good part of deciding to do it myself is that I don’t have to tag others.  I enjoy it immensely when other people post their seven things, so here are mine.


1.    I grew up in a VERY small town. There were eight students in my graduating class.  Despite there being some very accepting people who lived in the area, I always knew we didn’t really belong because my parents had only moved there when they got married, and not always been residents.


2.    I can speak, read and write Thai. (Well, the reading and writing are pretty rusty.)  I lived in Thailand for four years while my husband was teaching in a college, and I was having babies. While I was there, a lovely Thai tutor (Khru Sujitra) came to our home to teach me. I wrote and did well on the “grade six” exam for foreigners.


3.    When I was young, Bobby Hull, the hockey player, had supper in my parents’ home. My father brought him home from a cattle sale.   My mother fed him steak. We raised beef cattle, so this was not as ostentatious as it sounds. I’m not much of a hockey fan, but understood that this was a big deal.


4.    In a former teaching life, I was a primary music consultant in Regina.


5.    I’d like a chance to do my first year of teaching over again. Oh to go back with the knowledge and experience that I have now!


6.    I was raised in a veterinarian’s home. It was a common experience for me to watch dogs and cats spayed, to help pull calves who were not coming out when they were supposed to or rub down the bleary-eyed calves that were born by C-section. Despite this, I am really not an animal lover.


7.    I like to watch old episodes of Star Trek.


If you read this, and haven’t done your own seven things, please do.  I won’t tag you, but I’d love to read them.  C’mon.  Break the rules with me.


What Would You Tell Her?

2006 Innovative Teachers in CambodiaMore thoughts from the Microsoft Innovative Teacher’s Conference


The attendees at the conference included innovative teachers from Manitoba and teachers from across Canada who have been chosen as one of Canada’s Innovative Teachers in past years.  The Innovative Teacher Award is a great experience!  Jacinthe Robichaud, who is the director of Partners in Learning in Canada, has chosen, as a prize, to give the experience of a lifetime to the teachers who win this award.  I was fortunate to be chosen in 2006, and was sent, all expenses paid, to a World-wide Innovative Teacher’s Conference in Philadelphia, and to the Asia Regional Innovative Teacher’s Conference in Cambodia.  Indeed the experience of a lifetime.  The opportunity to talk to and work with teachers from around the world still impacts my practice today. 


Jacinthe hosted one of the sessions that I attended at the conference in Winnipeg, and she spoke of her desire to create an “innovative student” award as well.  She asked for feedback about what criteria she should use to chose, what would be an appropriate award and even what to do about primary students and students with special needs. 


The obvious award from a company involved in the development of technology is a computer, but Jacinthe spoke of her desire to instead give the students an experience they will remember for a lifetime, just as the teachers are. 


I think that this is a great proposal.  What would you suggest to her?  Criteria?  A suitable award?  Primary students and students with special needs?

Photo:  2006 Innovative Teachers in Cambodia


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