Islands of Excellence – Part I

Islands of Excellence – Part I:
Pecha Kucha : Friday Night at The Academy!
(My apologies in advance for the number of cuts/copies/pastes below – all have been referenced.)

This past November, I was fortunate enough to have been invited by “Make Waves” to attend “Islands of Excellence 2012, an exceptional unconference-style event that …celebrat(ed) and buil(t) a community of excellence in a way that can change the world.
The focus of IOE2012  (was) to build tools for the future of education, today. ”

The theme of the event that night was “Education Innovation”. Several individuals were invited to share their stories, projects, proposals and visions for both today and tomorrow.

One of the really exciting things about this conference – about this evening – was that it brought together not only educators, but individuals from “the outside world” … What I mean by this, is that as a Grade 5 teacher I spend the vast majority of my time in my own room with my own students – therefore, the opportunity to connect with others and across such a vast spectrum was a true gift!

On this amazing night the speakers were *powered by Pecha Kucha (which means chit chat in Japanese), and each one presented 20 slides x 20 seconds. It was fast and furious and fabulous!

The presenters – these Islands of Excellence – these catalysts for change – included the follows individuals:

  1. Don Adams, YMCA Academy
  2. Rita Fundner, CCICT & CareerMash,
  3. Mandy Wintink, UExperience, Center for Applied Neuroscience Coaching
  4. Adil Dhalla, My City Lives
  5. Julian Diego, SKETCH
  6. Ashley Lewis, Aesthetec Studio Inc, Girls Learning Code, Mobile Children’s Museum
  7. Andy Forest, Maker Kids
  8. Jessica Tudos, kika creative

(Note: All of the above information was cut/copied from & You can also read more about the individual speakers and the unconference at those sites.)

So, over the course of Friday evening I had the opportunity not only to listen to fantastic speakers, but also to connect with other professionals in a much more informal way.

I was lucky enough to be seated at the same round table as the always engaging Heidi Siwak.  Heidi “is an award winning teacher whose innovative work is creating new models of learning. She has been recognized by the Globe and Mail as one of Canada’s innovative teachers. Her students undertake original projects that include designing an App for the iPhone and hosting the world’s first student-led global twitter chat on Hana’s Suitcase. Heidi and her students have recently been recognized with the Ken Spencer Award for innovation in education and the Mind Share Learning Award. This blog is now being carried by CBC’s new digital media service in Hamilton.” (from: ) You can follow – and be ever inspired by – Heidi on Twitter @HeidiSiwak .

Following the engaging presentations, we had an opportunity to mill about. At this time I chatted with a number of fantastic people who I found to be interesting, inspiring and entertaining! I probably spent the most time speaking with the following individuals.
Here is a little about each of them!

1. Don Adams:
Don Adams is the Head of School at The YMCA Academy. He had so much to share, and patiently answered my seemingly endless litany of questions regarding his school’s mandate, programmes, student body, etc. I was so interested in and impressed by what I learned about this school!
The Academy is truly a gift – a school devoted to meeting the individual needs of a diverse population of students:
“Inspired and supported by the YMCA of Greater Toronto, The Academy is a small, innovative secondary school flourishing in downtown Toronto. Created to respond to unique learning needs, the school integrates the Ontario Ministry of Education’s secondary school curriculum with practical life skills. Our personal differentiated approach, specialized programs and individualized use of assistive technology are ideally suited to those students with mild learning disabilities or learning style differences.The Academy embodies perfectly the vision of the YMCA of Greater Toronto.”

2. Andy Forest:
Andy Forest is the Co-founder & Cheif Instigator of Maker Kids. He is a tue creative … an innovator who makes things happen! I loved chatting with him about his organization and vision.  “Maker Kids is a non-profit organization that enables kids to build their ideas with real tools and materials. (Their) goal is to inspire and empower kids to think, design, experiment and create. (They) offer workshops, seminars, and afterschool programs at (their) Makerspace in Roncesvalles village, and participate in events in Toronto and the area. Kids get involved in electronics, woodworking, sewing, crafting, cooking, programming, 3D printing, hacking, tinkering and making of all kinds!” (from:
Encouraging and providing multiple opportunities for hands-on activities and creative thinking both in and outside the classroom is essential … and this type of programme does just that!

3. Lindsay Redman:
I had a wonderful chat with Lindsay Redman, the Curriculum Coordinator of High Park Day School. It was so cool to learn about this school’s mission and approach to education! How inspiring! Their philosophy is as follows:
“We believe in every child’s potential to be a motivated learner. We provide students with the skills they need for self-guided learning and personal growth. Our personalized programs are supported by qualified, creative teachers in classes of no more than 12 students. Students are given the freedom to pursue their own interests within a curriculum created to answer their questions! Confidence-building is our first goal. With confidence, students can become passionate and reflective lifelong learners.” (from:
You can learn more about this wonderful school at:

4. Jessica Tudos:
“Jessica Tudos is an educator, entrepreneur, and Olympian. As the founding director of Kika Creative. Jessica facilitates and leads innovative experiential initiatives in education, culture and community engagement. Drawing from her Olympic gymnastics experience and diverse international educational career in over 40 countries, Jessica is known for her ability to “get things done” through collaboration and innovation, while maintaining a high level of enthusiasm, pragmatism, and authenticity along the way. As a motivational speaker and member of Clean Air Champions and Motivate Canada, Jessica encourages individuals, groups and organizations to engage in lifelong learning, healthy active living and creative expression that leads to positive social change.” (

5. Kathryn Meisner and Jennifer Chan:
Last, but certainly not least, I had a chance to chat with – and was totally inspired by – the “Make Waves” creative brains behind this un-conference! “Make Waves was founded in May 2012 by Kathryn Meisner and Jennifer Chan. Kathryn and Jenn bring together their unique experiences to this education innovation catalyst. We believe in bringing together people, ideas and learning opportunities to make waves.”
You can find Jenn on Twitter @jennzia
You can fin Kathyrn on Twitter @KathrynMeisner

A very special thanks to Jenn & Kathyrn for making this happen and for bringing in to my attention.
Another big shout out to Microsoft for sponsoring me so that I could attend the event. I teach in a creative, inquiry-based, technology-embedded classroom. I am passionate about providing authentic learning experiences for all students through the integration of technology in the curriculum, and am eager to share this understanding and enthusiasm with others. In my classroom technology is seamlessly intertwined into daily activities, and in doing so students learn to evaluate information and construct and communicate knowledge effectively. Microsoft products that I use include as follows: Word, PowerPoint & Excel.

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