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Posts tagged ‘postaweek2011’


YMCA Academy’s Guiding Principles for Working with Youth

I am taking the liberty of sharing some of the philosophical underpinnings of an independent secondary school in Toronto. I was fortunate to be part of the creation of this school that was started by the YMCA of Greater Toronto in 2003.

A few words about the YMCA of Greater Toronto first because YMCA’s all over the world are quite different from one another!  This YMCA is secular and stands on the principles of diversity and social inclusion. ‘YMCA’ is not an acronym as it is in many parts of the world. The YMCA is a charity. Read much more on their website.

The following is from their website but is so relevant to many of the discussions we have about education. I want to share this now because I want to discuss some it in future posts – especially the more controversial aspects such as the ‘trans-theoretical model of change’ and ‘harm reduction’. Many can accept these at face value, but when you try to implement it in class or schools, you need to be prepared for some soul searching and flexibility. For example, how are you going to cope with students who are regularly late or absent? How will you handle incomplete assignments? What about ‘inappropriate’ dress? Or other issues where schools normally have ‘rules’ and/or a ‘zero tolerance’ policy?


The Academy’s approach to working with youth is based on a series of frameworks inherent in all YMCA youth programming:

Guiding Principles for Working with Youth

Youth Engagement, Competence, Belonging and Identity are nurtured and supported through the following frameworks:

I. YMCA VALUES: we embrace the six core values of the YMCA of Greater Toronto:

Respect – we recognize and protect the inherent worth of every person, including oneself

Responsibility – we are dependable and accountable for choices, actions and commitments

Inclusiveness – we appreciate diversity, strive to be open to all, and seek to understand differences and find common ground

Caring – we act with compassion and concern for the well-being of others

Health – we are committed to physical, social, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual development

Honesty – we demonstrate integrity and trustworthiness


The framework of Developmental Assets is grounded in extensive research on what adolescents need to succeed. Upon admission to the Academy students are asked to list those assets which are strongly rooted in their lives. Our programming assists students in developing the skills to increase the number of their developmental assets.

To see the complete list of 40 Developmental Assets click here.


The Academy understands that change is not a single action but a complex process of awareness, reflecting, planning, doing and sustaining behaviors. With this paradigm we can more readily work with students at their present stage of change. When we do this we can offer the appropriate supports that will help them achieve their goals and minimize resistance or sabotaging of their own efforts.


We recognized that health is not merely the absence of disease but emerges from a complex interaction of many factors, including: socio-economic status, physical environment, genetics and biology, education and literacy, employment and working conditions, social environments and support networks,  personal health practices and coping strategies.


The adolescent brain is in a very delicate stage of growth. The pre-frontal cortex, where higher level thinking and judgment are developed, is incomplete and does not finish growing until the age of 24. The Academy supports the development of these capabilities in students, creating opportunities for them to explore and take risks but not to endanger their well being. It is also proven that young people’s sleep needs are different from children and from adults. For this reason The Academy starts its day at 9:30 and has a full-time counselor present to assist in asset building.


Respect is at the root of the Harm Reduction philosophy; respecting the right of another human being to make choices is its goal. This philosophy assumes willingness to understand all human behavior as having a positive intent, however maladaptive it may appear to the observer. This philosophy allows staff to assist students to make smarter, healthier, safer choices in their lives regardless of their stage of change.

*source: YMCA of Greater Toronto “Teen Strategy” October 2006 p20-21


Intentional Serendipity


For some ten to fifteen years, I have called my computer ‘Intentional Serendipity’. I did this somewhat flippantly at the time because I had recognized how many wonderful events seemed to serendipitously occur in my professional and personal life. (In fact, my spouse has suggested that I have a well-placed horseshoe that brings me good luck!)

Whether it was in my teaching, or researching, writing, holidays, or adventures- I always seemed to have ‘good luck’ with the ways things unfolded and turned out. Of course, I knew it wasn’t really luck.


It appeared to be related to my willingness to be open and flexible to opportunities as they arose. Although I might have made plans to pursue things in a certain way, those plans were rarely etched in stone. I was on the lookout for chance events, signals, ideas that might lead us in a better direction. I believe we should maintain an opportunistic vigilance.

…maintain an opportunistic vigilance.

So often, if our plans are made in a top-down fashion, we are bound and determined to follow them. Not me. For most things. I see planning as important – but, I view the ability to change those plans rapidly as circumstances dictate, to be even more important.

The Power of “Why?”

The trick, I think, is to know ‘why’ you are making the plans. Understand the ‘why’ deeply to your core. The plans are actually the ‘how’ and ‘what’. The ‘why’ becomes your ‘intention’. The ‘how’ and ‘what’ are the ways in which your intentions are achieved. These can be flexible…and you should always keep your eyes open to changing them to better achieve your intentions.

We, leaders at the YMCA of Greater Toronto, have been asked by our CEO, Medhat Mahdy, to always start with “Why” when we are developing a new project or initiative. It is a request I honour and respect.

The Power of Pull

So after all of this time believing in the intentionality of serendipitous occurrences, whose book do I pick up but John Seely Brown‘s “The Power of Pull”1.

John Seely Brown

Image via Wikipedia

Interestingly, I have been reading J.S. Brown’s work since the eighties because he is a cognitive scientist who worked at Xerox PARC. In fact, JSB was the “Chief Scientist of Xerox Corporation and the director of its Palo Alto Research Center (PARC)—a position he held for nearly two decades. While head of PARC, Brown expanded the role of corporate research to include such topics as organizational learning, knowledge management, complex adaptive systems, and nano/mems technologies. He was a cofounder of the Institute for Research on Learning (IRL). His personal research interests include the management of radical innovation, digital youth culture, digital media, and new forms of communication and learning.2” So as a teacher and student of ‘learning’, I worked with his extended family of colleagues at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (now OISE/UT) – including Marlene Scardamalia and Carl Bereiter.

The Power of Pull is worth the read. One of the points the authors emphasize is the role of serendipity in moving organizations to capitalize on the connections across the organization. They speak of how we can ‘shape’ serendipitous encounters; how we can organize environments so that beneficial communications and connections are more likely to occur; how we can ‘pull’ information, resources and ideas from the ‘edge’ to the ‘core’.

…we must accommodate the rapidity of ‘knowledge flows’ that stream over us.

So I believe in ‘intentional serendipity’. It is not luck. It is a way of being in the world that suggests we must accommodate the rapidity of

Cover of

Cover via Amazon

‘knowledge flows’ that stream over us.

After all, it was rather serendipitous that I discovered The Power of Pull. I had shaped the possibility that it would be discovered by me – through Twitter, blogs, conversation, and, yes, Amazon bots!

1Actually, the Power of Pull is authored by John Seely Brown, Lang Davidson and John Hagel III


Why do we think what we think?

I have recently been exploring, and struggling with, lots of issues related to if, and how, the internet changes the way we think.

For the most part, at this point, I believe it does.  I have said so in relation to Nicholas Carr‘s “The Shallows“.

I am also fascinated by our ignorance in how we come to know.

I am also fascinated by our ignorance in how we come to know.  I have yakked, maybe even preached, about metacognition and the importance of helping our students to develop metacognitive awareness and skills. However, our minds do not reveal the whole truth – even when we try hard! Check this ‘tables’ illusion and the implications for teaching these skills.

…our minds do not reveal the whole truth – even when we try hard!

I have been reading An Impenetrable Machine by Emily Pronin, an associate professor of psychology at Princeton University. This has given me more to ponder in this regard.

She describes a subject in a psychology experiment who stands in a room where a couple of cords are hanging from the ceiling and there are various objects lying around. The subject’s task is to tie the two cords together, but, alas, they are too far apart to grab them both at the same time. Various strategies are tried but fail.

Then the experimenter casually bumps into one of the cords which then swings to and fro. An idea suddenly comes to the subject. Tie a weight to one of the cords and swing it like a pendulum. Then grab the one cord and the swinging one will come to you.

Here’s the fascinating part.

“Most of the subjects fail to recognize the experimenter’s role in leading them to this new idea. They believe that the thought of swinging the cord just dawned on them, or resulted from systematic analysis…” and so on.

There is much research like this that indicates that people are often extremely unaware of the actual causes of their thoughts and ideas.  “We know what we think, but we don’t know why we think it.”

So does the internet change how we think?  Like Emily, it is hard to accept that I don’t know what goes on in my own head. It is troubling to accept that our own mental processes are sometimes impenetrable. Yet, if I am really honest with myself, I have always known this. It is rather arrogant of us to think we do. Yet, it is something that human creatures are always striving to understand. From Plato to Freud and more, we struggle to rationalize and understand. The onslaught of new brain science research is also spawning a new breed of ‘knowers’ whose research is being misunderstood, understood shallowly, or misapplied. However, I digress. 🙂

Complete neuron cell diagram. Neurons (also kn...

Image via Wikipedia

As stated in the article, it should be no surprise that we are unaware of the causes of our thoughts. Can you imagine the enormous complexity of all the biochemical processes and firing of neurons that give birth to thoughts? Each neuron has thousands of synaptic connections to other neurons.

Emily Pronin goes on to suggest that the ‘obscurity of Google’s inner workings…makes its potential effect on my thoughts somewhat unnerving. My thinking may be influenced by unexpected search hits and extraneous words and images derived via a process beyond my comprehension and control. So although I have the feeling that it’s me driving the machine, perhaps it’s more the machine driving me’.

I love this analysis. My thoughts about the internet’s effects on my thinking have been more related to ‘knowledge flows’, distractibility, focus, ‘multi-tasking’, ‘connectivism’, and the ‘reading’ of a greater variety of media forms which cause us to understand differently than a ‘traditional’ text stream.

This perspective is also in line with the most known of McLuhan’s points – ‘the medium is the message’. My interpretation of which is that we get messages and meanings as a result of the media within which we are immersed (in addition to the intended content).

I think I need to read more about these ideas!  Thank you Emily.

How about other folks. What are you noticing about your thinking these days as a result of your excessive online lives?  🙂


Why Should Students Collaborate?

Hey all, I am cross posting this here. It is currently posted at the Cooperative Catalyst site where I occasionally write. I felt I needed to post it here as well because the Connectivism course has the rss feed to this site.


So I just started taking the Connectivism and Connected Learning course – and I shall struggle to see how it differentiates itself as a ‘learning theory’.  George Siemens is developing this theory along with Stephen Downes. George outlines it here in Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age.

The first analysis I wish to make is how it speaks to the construct of ‘collaboration’ – one of the essential elements of ‘social constructivism’ – and George and Stephen, in no uncertain terms, distinguish connectivism from constructivism. In fact, they, like others, suggest that constructivism is not a learning theory but is rather a philosophy. Two of the principles of ‘connectivism’ are:

  • Learning and knowledge rests in diversity of opinions.
  • Nurturing and maintaining connections is needed to facilitate continual learning.

…constructivism is not a learning theory…

Although these are explicitly stated, on quick glance through the course materials, the references I see to collaboration are more ‘quantitative’ in nature – such things as ‘social network analysis‘ and so on.  The nature and quality of the collaboration doesn’t jump out at me at first blush. I may be wrong and will be interested in reading the rest of the articles, videos and presentations.

Let me take us on a somewhat retro look at some of the literature on collaboration in education.

Read the rest here…


Overwhelmed – A Maze of Cognitive Turbulence

Poster Designed for Logo Conference in Toronto 1986

I love learning. And I expect confusion. I thrive on dissonance. But, this morning, as I write this, I am curiously unsettled.

It has been the first week of the Connectivism course and I have not been able to attend to the readings and the webinars as deeply as I had hoped. One of those weeks, I guess.

I have generally described myself as a constructivist, indeed constructionist, over the years. However, I have always had a distinct distaste for packaged descriptions and formulae and indeed theories propagated and, often marketed by gurus as if there it is a ‘truth’ delivered from the heavens.

George Siemens at TEDxNYED.

Image via Wikipedia

I have always found myself in discord with any proponent of any theory because there is often a rigidity in their thinking or a flippant dismissal of other aspects of self or other domains that may bring the chosen theory into question.

Now I see George Siemens and Stephen Downes differently because of the value systems I see inherent in their behaviours and actions. The openness and richness of diverse voice is welcomed, and indeed encouraged.

Now I don’t intend to get into hero worship here either. Also, not my style.

However, I am continuing my struggle to gain deeper understandings.

Canadian sociologist Derrick de Kerckhove

Canadian sociologist Derrick de Kerckhove - Image via Wikipedia

Right now, my brain is turbulent. This week’s readings and webinars have unleashed noises and visions that won’t settle – everything from my discussions with Derrick de Kerckhove and his work on connected intelligence in the 1990’s to the newer research into neuroplasticity to the nightmarish classifications of our western medical models which define, and advise on, ADHD and learning disabilities.

Ok, no really intelligent thoughts today.

I just need to become one with the messiness of my mind.


We Make Mistakes and Don’t Even Know It

We go through the world observing and interpreting, making decisions based on what we see and experience. But many of those observations and interpretations are wrong. Plain and simple. Wrong. But we carry on as if we are right. In fact, we don’t even know we are wrong. So we aren’t aware that we have misread something. Is this a problem?

…we don’t even know we are wrong.

I have been reading Why We Make Mistakes by Joseph T. Hallinan. He has made me think about this some more and to ponder the implications for our students/youth in particular. How might we address these issues with students to increase their awareness, their mindfulness. Hallinan gives the classic example of the ‘table top’ illusion.

These table tops are identical. Don’t believe me? Measure it. Print it out and cut it up. Or, take them to PhotoShop and play around.

“Turning the Tables” was created by Stanford professor, Roger N. Shepard. It demonstrates “not only that our perceptual machinery is deeply entrenched in our nervous system but that its operation is totally automatic”.  So we can’t even choose to see it for what it is – a bunch of lines in ‘flatworld’* – but we automatically impose our meaning from the real 3D world on it. Our brain circuitry is triggered to see the tables in three dimensions. Hallinan also suggests that even worse, we don’t even know we’ve been tricked. We’ve made an error – but we don’t know we’ve made one.

…we can’t even choose to see it for what it is.

Should kids know about this? I sure think so. How can kids ‘be in charge of their own learning’ if they are not aware of automatic and hidden errors. This looks to me like another reason to focus on helping kids to learn to be mindful – to be aware of their brains and how they work.

Thoughts appreciated.


* Any Big Bang Theory fans out there?



More Regular Posting

For a long time now, I have been wishing to write much more – but I find every excuse in the book.  @dougpete has given some reasons in his post of today entitled Regular Blogging. One of my challenges is that I am a bit of a perfectionist – in some things – not all, by any stretch! But, that’s ok. The personal adventure involves determining which things deserve a perfectionist approach and which don’t. And, of course, it’s not either/or, but rather a continuum. So, to learn to behave accordingly is a personal goal.

I am also not one to make New Year’s resolutions. I hate disappointing myself.  Anyone else feel like that? Ummmm yeah.

At any rate, ‘the reader writes the story’, so I hope that any writings posted here allow you to author some stories that enlighten, inspire, and entertain you. Better yet, if the story you understand from what I write strengthens your practice and ‘way of being’ in the world, then how could I not be a happy guy.

Thx to WordPress