17 Ways to Promote a Culturally Aware Classroom

All Classrooms can benefit from strategies that promote equity and diversity. Educators can promote cultural awareness in their classrooms by embedding effective strategies into their planning and programming.

For instance, the First Nations, Metis & Inuit peoples are THE fastest growing populations in Canada! This has many implications for our Education systems. The FNMI peoples are also incredibly diverse, both linguistically and culturally. There are literally hundreds of different First Nations and Aboriginal populations, therefore, we as Educators are faced with many challenges with regards to how we can adequately include and preserve these cultures in our classrooms.

In our Western world, standardized, results-based practices, measurement, and same aged groupings learning the same thing at the same time prevails. Education systems within Canada not only supports these perspectives, but has also created a foundational basis that will be passed along from generation to generation.

The following strategies provide insights into how Educators can promote a more Culturally aware classroom.

17 Strategies to Promote Cultural Awareness in the Classroom:

  1. Start where you are at in terms of your own knowledge, then look toward your closest communities FNMI to learn more.
  2. Access Websites, Online Newspapers including Windspeaker,
  3. Research books in Cultural Publishing Companies Online, including Goodminds, and Ningwakwe Press
  4. Join in a cultural event
  5. Visit your local band office or Friendship Center to obtain information
  6. Ask to meet with a Traditional Teacher or Elder
  7. Meet with a Traditional Teacher on Skype or Adobe Connect to bring them to your classroom.
  8. Do some reading.  Most communities have websites.
  9. Use 21st technologies to connect with other communities, such as wikis, blogs,
  10. Connect with other Education agencies that run through Band offices and Friendship Centres. Communicate with them over Twitter.
  11. Read local news.  There may be many current issues involving local communities
  12. Use Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development (Government of Canada) weblinks.
  13. Differentiate your classroom programming and curriculum based on the aspects and respect for the FN/Metis/Inuit territory that is closest to you.
  14. Use Technologies for Students to share about their culture, ie., Animoto, Prezi. Take pictures with iPhone or iPod, and upload to Sliderocket, or create an iMovie to share culture with the rest of the class.
  15. Understand the needs of your Community.
  16. Strive to reach and engage the students from that community in meaningful ways.
  17. Do your own homework. What backgrounds and cultures exist in your classroom? Have any community strategies worked in the past, for example, cultural programming, building of community structures and other strategies to engage and motivate youth. Communicate with parents! This goes beyond the odd group email once in a while. Really strive to engage with the families.

As Educators, we can start with the knowledge we already have, and the resources that are available to us, including eLearning and blended learning platforms. From there, we can continue to focus on the similarities that exist between Aboriginal cultures. Many of the similarities have arisen from the impacts of European views and colonialization over the past few hundred years. This has created shared histories for FNMI peoples, but unfortunately, has also undermined and left many diversities forgotten.

As Educators, this presents a very large difficult task in terms of not just meeting the expectations of the curriculum, but also respecting the diversity within each and every classroom.

Whether we consciously acknowledge this or not, one of the tasks of the Education system is to look toward ways of restoring and renewing Indigenous relationships in Education, and reconciling Indigenous and Western viewpoints within our Educational practices. Only then, can we improve the quality of life for all FNMI people, our environment, Country, and the future for everyone.

Education can offer great tools to help deepen knowledge and understanding, and reconciling differences between cultures.

According to Indigenous perspectives, communities and Elders, and family were always very important in transmitting knowledge. Learning always took place when the student was ready. Teachers brought in at the ‘right’ times.

If students are not ‘ready’ for eLearning platforms, then this aspect can wait.  Technology should always enhance learning and cultural diversity.

Deborah McCallum

© Deborah McCallum and Big Ideas in Education, 2012-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Deborah McCallum and Big Ideas in Education with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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6 Key Principles for Managing an Online Course


Online courses can be tailored for students from primary through to higher education. Whether creating a shell for primary students, college students, or colleagues, the main principles remain the same, however different features need to be focused on depending upon the age group.

When using a Learning Management system for grade 3 for instance, it is most helpful if it is visually based with lots of icons. I have also found that just using the main ‘Announcements’ page to showcase student work has helped until students learn new features – which could take most of a school year depending on how often you have access to devices. Often, it is very difficult for primary students to navigate and understand. It requires abstract thought. However, it is also beneficial and the D2L has made great strides in the last year or so with ‘Carousel’ and visual icons from OSAPAC for students to use.

On the other hand, online courses for higher education tend to be more textual based. We assume that this works best for adults, but the truth is that we still need to differentiate for our fellow colleagues just as much as we need to with our students! I have worked with Learning Management systems for years, and am still learning. I have a long way to go still to understanding the best pedagogical elements that need to be implemented to for different needs. However, I have picked up some great learning along the way, and I also know now that makes you a good instructor in the classroom – does not necessarily translate to good pedagogy in an online learning environment. 

With that in mind, I have outlined 6 key principles that I have found to be important in creating an effective elearning environment:

1. Curation and addition of my own resources. I spend a lot of time reading, researching, and getting involved with other educators in online Professional Learning Networks. I pair this with my own experiences in my educational environments and curate and write information to support the curriculum that I am instructing.

For instance, embedding a twitter account tailored to the courses I teach, whether AQ, OntarioLearn or elementary students. Other resources include tailor made platforms that support learning specifically to what I am involved with in an eLearning course:

















Just to name a few!

2. Supplementing text-heavy environments with other types of resources. I am still getting there, but I have used Tellagami, Voki, audio and YouTube within courses, and in my own resources as well. I do not yet use them regularly enough, but I will continue to use them and embed them at more regular junction points. Further, other multimedia including live chats can help move beyond the structured discussion threads to real-time dialogue and sharing. It also promotes innovative ideas and the integration of past experiences and knowledge.

3. Encouragement of participation. I use this with a blend of strategies including starting the course with modelling, clear information posted in different sections, ongoing formative feedback through discussion posts, emails, summative feedback. I have a wiki that explains this in further detail that helps to set the stage at the beginning of the courses. Better questions, and additional resources and addition of new ideas help candidates add critical thinking skills to their posts beyond the basics.

4. Gradual Release Model of Responsibility. The course begins with me modelling and connecting with all candidates on a regular basis. As the course continues the hope is that participants have created a culture within the individual class that supports higher order thinking and a supportive environment amongst each other with relationships that continue to support participation and deeper learning within the course.

5. Summaries of key learning strategies shared. I believe it is important for participants to see their key strategies and ideas shared and have them reinforced. This promotes deeper learning.

6. Assessment: I keep a running google doc of each participant where I record important information that I need to effectively assess the learning that is going on.

Like everyone else, I am also on a journey of discovery and learning to find the best pedagogical practices. There are many areas I can improve on, and each course, and group of people are different. Differentiation is always key, and being respectful of the different cultures, experiences, and ideas that each person brings to the class.

In the future I want to explore how Googledocs can be effectively used and embedded within my Learning Management Systems. I use them frequently in my practice, and can see the benefits of candidates using them as well across assignments and discussions for various purposes.

 What strategies work well for you in your eLearning courses?


Deborah McCallum

© Deborah McCallum and Big Ideas in Education, 2012-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Deborah McCallum and Big Ideas in Education with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


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Reflections on Growth Mindsets, Positive Psychology, FNMI cultures, Edtech


A Growth Mindset is a philosophy promoted by Dr. Carol Dweck. With a growth mindset, we each have the ability to achieve success beyond our innate abilities. We also have the option to move forward in the face of adversity, and become successful in our own right.

To me, growth mindsets bear certain resemblances to some of the positive thinking paradigms that swept through the 20th century. But this is much better, because it does not solely promote the idea of positive thinking to achieve your own success, but rather working through challenges and striving for your personal best regardless of what situation you are in. With a Growth Mindset, success is not pre-determined by someone else, it is your own resilience and goal setting that determines your own success.

I also see similarities to Dr. Martin Seligman‘s Positive Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. The basic belief is that people want to live fulfilling lives, cultivate the best within themselves, and enhance experiences of love, work & Play. 

Positive psychology is also applied to education where schools can help students to be happy as his website says: 

I am all for success, literacy, perseverance, and discipline, but I want you to imagine that schools could, without compromising either, teach both the skills of well-being and the skills of achievement. I want you to imagine positive education.

This ties in quite nicely with Dr. Dweck’s belief that our passions and our perseverance in life is what predicts success, not just innate talent. This is important for us to impart on our Students!

I also connect Growth Mindset in certain ways with values from FNMI cultures.

First, my experiences, research and learning has taught me important perspectives surrounding FNMI people. The Medicine Wheel provides an example of the physical, spiritual, mental and intellectual domains. The balance between all 4 domains is important to be the best you can be in life. Problems occur when there are imbalances among the domains. This causes us to stray from the ‘good path’. The path that which we are born to follow in life.

I also think that the ‘seven grandfather teachings‘ is an excellent example of a growth mindset. This can foster a sense of spirituality, and a roadmap to the ‘good life’. It will in turn create a growth mindset for others. This in turn can help our students to follow the ‘good path’ in life. Or find their ‘inner totem’, according to the book: I am Raven, by David Bouchard.

However, I also have concerns with how Growth Mindset truly fits in our education system in terms of a) the decolonization of education and b) standardized testing.

Dr. Marie Battiste effectively describes what the decolonizing of education means for our schools in Canada, and for incorporating FNMI knowledge, cultures, and values in education on equal footing with Eurocentric values. She describes this beautifully in her most recent book: Decolonizing Education: Nourishing the Learning Spirit.

However, ‘Grit’ is a term that is frequently used when discussing a growth mindset, and I cannot help but wonder who’s values are being promoted. Upon critical reflection of the term ‘grit’, I consider the Eurocentric values embedded within. These Eurocentric values are unconscious to many of us, because it has become the privileged norm. Yet, they often serve as colonizing entities in the education system. To me, ‘Grit’ brings about visions of that strong ‘Protestant work ethic’. Goals and success are not achieved without hard, painstaking work. But it is important to be aware of how we may be colonizing the education system for our own gains and beliefs. Who’s growth mindset are we willing to promote?

Good ideas, when used in colonizing ways, will create the opposite effect of what we are trying to achieve. A growth mindset precludes the conscious thinking about our own biases and cultural teachings. This includes FNMI populations, and exceptional students.

We can replace colonizing practices and terms in education.

Next, colonizing practices that go against growth mindset also include standardized tests. Educators need to be able to differentiate and encourage students to reach their full potential. This growth mindset is also important for students with exceptional learning abilities. Yet, standardized tests dictate a fixed mindset for students. They force compliance and proficiency across curriculum areas, whereby students much achieve the same provincial standards, within similar time frames, with the same tasks, and in the same formats. As a result, both students and teachers have developed a fear to perform and meet expectations set out by the test alone.

A growth mindset thrives on creativity, inquiry, and honouring the unique path of each individual. But standardized tests create a fixed mindset where cheating and teaching to the test becomes ‘normalized’ and acceptable. This is demonstrated during daily training of how to write and pass standardized tests. This also fosters a fixed mindset because teachers must test students according to their grade level, not their actual academic abilities.

We need teachers with a growth mindset. This is essential to be able to confront the challenges that our schools, and students, are facing in the 21st Century. With the rapid development of technology we are about to be introduced to a world with Google Glass and other ‘wearable’ devices. Appliances in our kitchen will talk back with our computers, and someday in the not too distant future, robots with artificial intelligence will apparently come to know us better than we know ourselves – with Google being able to answer our questions before we even ask them. We are grappling to understand this technological iceberg that exists now, and the metaphorical iceberg is about to get bigger. We need growth mindsets.

With a growth mindset, the educator will be enabled to use a variety of programs and strategies to add significant value to the lives of all learners. We will help students to be ‘happier’ in school and in life. Further we are helping students to find their ‘Inner totem’: their purpose, the ‘good life’. Every student can achieve this, regardless of age, culture, ability, socioeconomic status. But we need growth mindsets to foster this.

I also want to be aware of the world around me, so that I am not just implementing a ‘growth mindset’ for myself, but also open to promoting a growth mindset for each learner.

Deborah McCallum

© Deborah McCallum and Big Ideas in Education, 2012-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Deborah McCallum and Big Ideas in Education with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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Twitter in Education


Twitter is a social media platform that can be both safe and effective for learning and communicating, when used appropriately.

Twitter is intended for two-way, open communication. However, when using it for class projects or classroom communication, teachers should consider adjusting the privacy settings on the account. Here are some suggestions:


First, it should be noted that there is a rule that users must be age 13 or older in order to have a personal Twitter account. Often teachers have their own classroom accounts, where students can share learning with other classrooms around the globe.

In terms of safety, Twitter has privacy features that enable accounts to be able to accept or reject potential followers. Privacy settings can be set such that ‘tweets’ do not have to be publicly available. In fact, Twitter accounts can be set to be completely private.

Actively embedding digital citizenship into the daily lives of our children is also important, whether we are parents or teachers.

Tips to maintain privacy for your classroom account

  • Keep usernames (aka Twitter handle) completely private
  • Don’t including your full name in your twitter handle or profile. Anyone who is following you can see this information. If you are using it for communication for learning, it is not essential for strangers to know your identity
  • Allow users to request follows from you. This way, you can monitor who you want to follow you and who you do not.
  • Setting your private settings ensure that even your followers cannot retweet your posts.
  • Benefits of using Twitter as part of school programming
  • Ability to send meaningful and timely feedback – to teachers too!
  • Assess students Formatively, and Summatively, peer feedback
  • Promote options for all students to be able to have a voice in the classroom
  • Cultivate engagement from students
  • Provide opportunities for more sharing opportunities
  • Create opportunities to learn about digital citizenship and effective communication methods with social media
  • Help students to summarize their ideas for short tweets
  • Share blogs, presentations and projects with other classrooms in the community, school board, province, country and world
  • Creates learning opportunities that take place outside of the classroom.
  • Document student thinking
  • Encourage knowledge building between students.

It is also important to note, that hashtags are used in Twitter. When you attach a hashtag to your tweet, you are grouping your tweet with tweets from others who are using the same hashtag. For instance, for the Forest of Reading program this year students can use the #forestofreading hashtag, or even hashtags of the names of the books they are reading. That way they can read the reflections and ideas of other students from other classes who are sharing blog posts and comments about the books. What a great way to build knowledge and collaborate with others outside of the four walls of our classrooms!

How have you used twitter to support learning?


Deborah McCallum


© Deborah McCallum and Big Ideas in Education, 2012-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Deborah McCallum and Big Ideas in Education with appropriate and specific direction to the original content


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Knowledge, Technology, the Commons – Evolution of new Paradigms

Internet_map_1024Some of my learning from CBC ‘Ideas in the Afternoon’ on Feb 3, 2014. Can be found on the following website:

Ideas in the Afternoon

On my way back from Toronto the other day, a colleague had tweeted me about a great show on CBC radio. I had the opportunity to listen to a program from CBC ideas in the afternoon that was focusing on technology and learning, I believe it was called social is a killer app.

From when I picked up listening to the show they were talking about how everything is a commons: the information commons, the Wikipedia Commons etc., because were all coming together for common purposes. We are re-examining the rules and rediscovering new ways to do things and including using virtual spaces for the sharing of ideas.

We in this western world have the luxury of being able to engage in this kind of sharing.

Along with that comes the responsibility to be able to control ourselves.

Top down approaches actually stop things from happening because it is impossible to anticipate all needs.

The structures we have are older than the problems that we are facing. The structures are misaligned with our systems. We have begun a 30 to 40 year transformation. Innovators often come from the outside. Often the innovators look weird they don’t fit, but where innovation is going and the new flow of information there are new systems of information growing.

We have many people straining to return to the old and familiar ways and on the other end of the spectrum we have people gropings forward trying to find their way in a new world that we don’t yet know.

It is a different culture taking place in the commons and we’re starting to see big business versus government playing larger roles in these cultures. We have the opportunity to make this what we want versus choosing to have nostalgie about the old ways. It is about experimentation. What inspires you to learn? Using the Socratic dialogue, making learning community-based, doing what is important to us because it facilitates conversations in our social circles.

The worry is that the online spaces will be occupied by large companies, and the evolution of the Internet will ultimately be in favor of consumption versus mass collaboration and creation.

There’s a lot of catching up with the complexities of today. Knowledge is dynamic.

For instance Wikipedia will never be finished it is always changing and as it changes and grows it will just become more complex so the problems become how do we handle this complexity?

I am very passionate about knowledge building with technology. I love the idea that we need to create ever-changing movements as opposed to ‘institutions’ that are static. We now can consider fluid paradigms of knowledge and technology and flexibly apply to the unique education needs of our students.

Deborah McCallum

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Useful iPad Apps for Educators

The following pictures are of categories of iPad apps that I have experimented with and have found useful in my education practice.

Research, Curation, Communication, Collaboration, Creation, Sharing & Presenting are some of the most important things we can do with our learners to prepare them for now, and the future.

Deborah McCallum

Presenting App ListPresenting App List 2Podcasting App ListPhotography App ListCoding AppsiWork App ListGoogle App ListMy Productivity App ListFNMI StoriesCloud Based App List


Useful iPad Apps for Educators

Pictures of useful iPad Apps for Educators organized by category

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Cultivating Knowledge in Virtual Spaces


In our age of information, there exists a large amount of ‘blank’ spaces in virtual spaces, that will eventually be filled with knowledges of the world. But who’s knowledge will have the privilege of being promoted? With all the information that we have existing in the world and all of the space that we have available in cyberspace to cultivate, what knowledges will be predominant in our cyber spaces?

The blank spaces on the internet are still yet to be claimed, written on, cultivated and claimed. These vast, barren and desolate wastelands on the internet have the potential to embody multiple and diverse knowledges, worldviews, cultures, norms and values. But, who will have the opportunities to ‘stake out’ claims to these new spaces, to build and grow knowledge?

There is no question, we will continue to see the same struggles among Euro-centric society including struggles of resources, money power, and colonialism. However, no matter what information we are given, we must help our children learn to question and acknowledge that which is not being shared. Question that knowledge which is hidden. Question that knowledge which we are prevented from seeing.  

We can help our students to gain skills to navigate this world, and gain critical thinking skills. However, we also need to provide students with the rich histories of our country, and the rich knowledge of those who lived on this land since time immemorial. Without this knowledge of our history, we have no hope of understanding how knowledge can be any different than what we are told.

Just what will this mean for all communities, populations and people who simply do not have the money, the skills or resources to clean up these spaces, imprint the unique and important knowledges, and cultivate new online communities?


More Questions for Critical Consideration:

What will this mean? How will we arm ourselves against indoctrination? Who will get to decide which knowledge is the most important?

How can we use cyberspace to promote equity versus power differentials?

Who’s knowledge will have the farthest reach?

How will this knowledge be used and sold?

Is this any different than land claims we have been trying to settle for many years?

Will the knowledge in cyberspace be able to represent the voices of all people?

Will Aboriginal or First Nations, Metis & Inuit (FNMI) voices and knowledge be available?

Is this going to further disenfranchise those who do not have the skills, resources, money etc.,

The virtual world is vast, interconnected, and deep. The critical thinking, understanding of personal bias, worldview, and cultural diversity in our physical and print based world is even more essential to apply within the virtual world. An enormous job for educators and Librarians alike.

What is real knowledge? Truth? How will we research it? Curate it? Share it? Present it?

This is perhaps the most important consideration in our information age. 

Deborah McCallum

© Deborah McCallum and Big Ideas in Education, 2012-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Deborah McCallum and Big Ideas in Education with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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Critical Reflections on Digital Media and Edtech

ImageFirst, I will start off by stating that I embrace the use of Digital Media. I also believe that Digital Literacy is important in our quest for knowledge. I believe in the use of ed-tech, when used appropriately. A whole world of possibilities is open to us. But I also enjoy thinking critically about digital media in education, and the following includes some of my thoughts about it.

Three important considerations that I will discuss:

1. Digital media and edtech in and of themselves do not consider the realities of race relations. That is why we cannot use them in and of themselves.

2. Digital media, edtech and computer sciences, cognitive science, brain science etc., should not become the only framework or paradigm that we use to teach students how to learn and build knowledge.

3. We can harness digital media to give real voice to different cultural backgrounds and cultural learning, including First Nations, Metis, & Inuit Students. But it takes awareness of what paradigms we are operating from when we integrate edtech into our learning environments.

Thoughts, ideas, inquiry

The use of digital media in the classroom has the ability to facilitate the knowledge building process, but how often do we stop to consider how it is also providing a framework for how people think and how their memories evolve?

The fact is, until we learn to effectively recognize our paradigms surrounding edtech, and how those paradigms are affecting how we teach and learn, and what we believe about the world based on the edtech, there is the very real possibility that we will limit our learners in in very serious ways. We need to attend to student voice, and not just use strategies to give them a voice, but also allow for those voices to shape how they learn, how they think, and what they believe about how the world works. Not our modern day trends of seeing learning as based on computers, cognitive science, & neuroscience. First Nations, Metis & Inuit voices also view the world as needing to have balance between all domains, including physical, spiritual, intellectual, and emotional. When we are out of balance, this is when problems crop up. If we are focussed too much on the intellectual domain, we are forgetting that there truly are other ways of knowing and being in the world.

Software and hardware frameworks have drastically shaped how we think about how we learn. There are real trends towards using computers, the brain, and cognitive science as the roadmaps for how we learn. But there is danger in promoting these paradigms if they are not balanced with other ways of knowing in our world.

It also is shaping how we come to the creation of knowledge. This takes real skill, focus, and critical thought

It is important to look beyond the edtech, and have a design plan of where we are headed, or want our learners to go. There are real downsides when education with digital media does not address fundamental issues including knowledge building. It is also a concern if we are forgetting to include and incorporate indigenous populations and other underrepresented groups. Many youth still grappling with identity issues especially with regards to their identities at home and in their communities versus those at school. Particularly Aboriginal youth.

Therefore, I want to know how we can incorporate new edtech initiatives to potentially offer new spaces of learning for students. This is so much harder than it sounds. I don’t believe that we cannot blindly integrate digital media without careful consideration of what we are doing with it and how we are integrating it into our pedagogy.

Culture is not digital media.

The mind is not solely understood in terms of computers, neuroscience and cognitive science.

We need to foster and promote First Nations, Metis, & Inuit knowledge building for all students.

What does this look like in an age that is very screen-centric? What types of power differentials does digital media really represent and bring to the forefront?

We are entrenched in a new digital culture that frames the internet as a medium of unparalleled freedom. However, it is essential that we focus attention on the serious issues including how digital media can amplify social inequity, and the exploitative and exclusionary possibilities that lie with it. If we are not actively considering these issues, then who is thinking of these issues, and how is this filtering down to help our teachers and learners use digital media effectively? 

Holism is still important. We need to think beyond the brain and intelligence not being limited to individual minds. How are we all interconnected and how is our intelligence distributed across our brains, emotions, spirits, bodies, and yes, globally?

While it is important to learn to code and gain computer science skills to help this generation fill the void of a lack of computer science jobs that currently exists, and that will grow exponentially in the future. We do need to ensure that languages do not directly translate into knowledge. There are far more complex interactions that also take place that we do not ‘see’. The concept of coding can become central to how we frame learning and knowledge building. There must be room for social and cultural aspects, for instance, Aboriginal cultural elements. 

I am currently striving to engage in my own inquiry into how Aboriginal knowledges, and Euro-centric knowledges, are intertwined with digital media. How does this play out in our learning environments?

Deborah McCallum

© Deborah McCallum and Big Ideas in Education, 2012-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Deborah McCallum and Big Ideas in Education with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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