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. Jessica

is bringing to life the story of a young gymnast-in-the making through Kika the Upside Down Girl and will be launching her interactive C3 Program (Cultivating Curiosity & Creativity) in 2013. Jessica lives in Toronto, Canada and is the proud single mother of a wonderful son.

Are You Curious About Your Curiosity?

Are you still inquisitive and child-like in your discovery of the world or has life got you feeling disengaged and apathetic? In this session on Cultivating Curiosity Through Creativity, educator, entrepreneur and Olympian Jessica Tudos takes us on a journey that highlights the benefits, techniques and pitfalls commonly linked to curiosity.  Although cultivating curiosity in a results-based system such as education can be challenging, Jessica shows us how a deck of cards inclusive of hundreds of creative ideas can foster unbridled curiosity in all of us.

Register to see Jessica speak on November 16th at the YMCA Academy –

Raised in the suburbs of Ontario, Ashley Lewis moved to Toronto to complete her degree. She is a tech savvy, Ryerson New Media grad with a passion for children’s content. Ashley is a hacking, interactive designer with a DIY mentality. With a background in fine art, she also enjoys painting, sculpting and drawing when she isn’t coding. She loves collaborating on creative projects with people of different specializations and is aiding with the launch of Toronto’s first mobile Children’s Museum, inspired by the late great Marshall McLuhan. She has worked and interned for companies like TIFF and CBC and is currently working with Aesthetec and Girls Learning Code. As a lady learning code herself, she is excited at the thought of passing this passion to younger generations.

Register to see Ashley speak on November 16th at the YMCA Academy –

Rita Fundner’s career spans 30 years in both Information Technology and Human Resources and models a combination of business and IT skills.

Prior to joining the Canadian Coalition for Tomorrow’s ICT Skills and CareerMash as Executive Director, she served in management and technical IT roles for provincial and municipal government as well as the financial services sector. She also provided executive coaching and strategic planning services to law schools and medical school programs in Canada and the US through her consulting firm.

Register to see Rita speak on November 16th at the YMCA Academy –


Tinkering is in Andy’s bones. As a child, he was always making things; rockets, a suit of armour, an intercom system, a solar water heating system and a scratch-built database program on his commodore 64 to keep track of his friends birthdays.
Along with his wife Marianne Mader, Andy is the Co-Founder and Chief Instigator of MakerKids, the first MakerSpace for kids in Canada! Started in his garage in 2010 for kids to build their own ideas with real tools, it is now a full-fledged non-profit with a permanent 1200 sq ft space! Kids build submarines, sew monsters, make chocolate molds, build robots, print 3D objects, and more!
Andy has also been the President of Dimentians for 17 years, which is a full service digital communications agency with a staff of 6. Dimentians specializes in non-profits and helping make the world a better place!
Making Makers
In recent years, the Maker movement has grown exponentially. People are making all kinds of interesting things out of wood, metal, electronics, cloth and other crafts in their garages and living rooms.
How do people get involved with this? Tools are expensive, and the know how to use them is declining.
Enter MakerSpaces! These community workshops provide the space, the tools, and the training to become whatever kind of Maker you fancy.
Maker Kids is such a workshop, specializing in young people. Kids come up with their own project ideas, and mentors help them figure out how to build them. Kids creativity is unbounded, and they have built some crazy things!

Kathryn and I met Don Adams, the Head of the YMCA Academy in May. When we were still just talking about what Islands of Excellence could be. Don immediately blew us away with his passion and compassion for his school and students. We have been sharing and shaping the growth of Make Waves and Islands of Excellence with Don along the way. We are so lucky to have Don as a supporter of ours.

You can come hear Don speak on Friday November 16th at the Pecha Kucha.  


Tell me about best or challenging day

Amongst many great days, one stands out in particular. It was my first day at The YMCA Academy, and I was being introduced at an assembly of the school as the new principal. It’s important to understand that many students with learning disabilities do not react well to change — structure is of utmost importance — so my arrival at the school could be fairly disruptive. Understanding that, I was a little nervous about the assembly.

After the introductions, one student approached me with a broad smile, extending her hand in welcome. She said “Don, it’s good to meet you. Please come into our classes — I’d like to get to know you better.” Imagine yourself as a high school student, asking the new principal to join you in her classes!! What a remarkable school!

Tell me about something when you surprised yourself

I like to push personal boundaries, so “surprising” myself isn’t that uncommon. I once set a goal of building myself a car — a real car — from scratch. I worked on that for six years! I’ve been driving it every summer now for the last four years. I had no real mechanical or engineering experience or expertise, so the idea was a bit audacious. But I did it, and it’s a great car!

What do you see are the benefits of having multidisciplinary or different perspectives in education

As a group educators are the most other-focussed people in the world. Each is concerned with bettering the life chances of his or her students. Each, being individual, has his or her own ideas and methods on how to best do that. So, connecting with other educators broadens my repertoire of available methods and ideas, and makes me a better teacher and administrator.

Tell me a story of an IOE that you know

I just found out about a really marvelous mentoring program for youth between the ages of 15 and 23 — Called StepStones. It is for youth entering early adulthood with minimal levels of support in their lives — aging out of foster care, formerly homeless and runaway youth, youth with active mental health/substance abuse problems, delinquent youth estranged from their birth or adoptive parents etc. In this program, youth are connected with long term mentors, for a minimal period of one year, to work on goals and essential life skills related to then critical domains: Permanence, Identity, Self Care & Health, Housing, Education, Job & Career, Finances & Money, Transportation, Life Skills, and Community, Culture, Social Life.

A lifetime educator, Dr. Don Adams came to the YMCA of Greater Toronto in November 2009 as Head of School for The YMCA Academy. He brings to the Y his knowledge of the independent school environment in Canada and abroad, along with his management skills honed as Assistant Head of School at Appleby College in Oakville. Don specializes in teacher professional development and curriculum design.

Educating at the Y

Einstein once said “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” What does school look like when you take such a message to heart? I think it looks like The Academy.


Register to see Don speak on November 16th at the YMCA Academy –

Mandy Wintink earned a PhD in Neuroscience and Psychology (2005) and worked as an NSERC Post-Doctoral Fellow after graduation. She has been highly involved in the University since she began her undergraduate degree in 1993. She has taught and served as teaching and laboratory assistants for over 20 university courses, served as departmental student representatives, co-chaired student organizations, been involved in many different research projects, and served many mentorship roles at the university. Currently, she is advocating for education innovation and recently launched UExperience, a unique learning community that focusses on mentorship, experiential learning, and personalized curriculum to help students of all sorts develop meaningful and impactful careers and lives. She has spoken about this model at a recent conference in Halifax and will serve as a keynote speaker at the New Brunswick’s Teachers Association meeting in May 2013. Her 6min40sec Pecha Kucha is merely the icing on the cake. Connect with her further should this topic interest you.

What’s Happening To Our University Education?
Our university system is being talked about incessantly as of lately. It is being criticized for not doing its job of preparing students for careers yet, at the same time it is being criticized for for even trying with people saying it is not the academy’s responsibility to train for careers. What is the job of the university? It is to create creatives, intellectuals, thinkers, innovators, skilled laborers? These are all good questions and there are lots of people, organizations, and universities trying figure out the answer to this important question. This short talk will highlight some of ideas floating around 21st-Century university education.
While working in rural Tanzania introducing mobile technology solutions to farmers and students to improve standards of living, Adil Dhalla identified a gap in how we were collectively learning about spaces and place.  The experience helped shape the vision for My City Lives (, an application Adil Co-founded in 2009, which aims to organize the world’s information by location.  Today, his role at My City Lives is an extension of his passion of building meaningful connections with people and leading community development.  Adil is a passionate advocate of entrepreneurship and a new player of the ukulele. His goal is to eventually intersect the two.

Entrepreneuring Education

Short Description: Adil has become an “accidental educator” through his work with several youth who he has been helping develop storytelling and digital skills. The experience has invoked a series of insights and experiments for how we can better educate and engage today’s youth. His talk will revolve around his idea of “Entrepreneuring Education”, which refers to his approach of viewing each youth as he would a business problem and the systematic steps he’s taken to create solutions for their current education-related challenges.

See Mandy and Adil speak on November 16th at the YMCA Academy –

I initially met Andrew Campbell on twitter and invited him to the Islands of Excellence Hack Jam in July. Since then, Andrew has been one of our greatest supporters and inspirations for IOE. Outside of the classroom, Andrew is running a few education initiatives including Staffroom Radio, Beautiful Learning Spaces blog and a campaign to get iPads for his school, so far raising over $13,000! Andrew and I have been working on the Beautiful Learning Spaces blog since mid-September after a series of conversations about how we could start re-designing schools that were destinations on people’s travels as are the fountains in Rome.

Andrew is a grade 4/5 teacher at Major Ballachey Public School.


What is an Island of Excellence?

Umm hmm. Well I think we talked about this before. I think calling it an island of excellence is always problematic. Because people don’t see themselves in terms of excellence you know. I think that is just the way we are. We are pre-programmed to see the faults and the cracks. Not what you are doing. So I struggle with that part of the excellence part. I was trying to think about how this would apply to me. And I think that this idea of island of being isolated as being that sort of something that is on a higher ground surrounded by stuff that is not like it. Right? There is difference around it and I think that the thing that helps me with that is the idea that the island is isolated but technology, social media that kind of stuff, provides connection between the islands and allows there to be bridges built between the islands so you can communicate back and forth between the islands and generally just fill it in.

Describe your best or most challenge day.

I get to choose which one? I immediately went to teaching. I think that for me the best days are the days when you come in with sort of like no expectations but are pleasantly surprised with what happens. That you suddenly go “Oh”, I thought it was going to this way. Like, going back to what we were talking about before about letting the kids lead. I love those moments when suddenly you think you are going this way and something happens and you go Oh, that’s way more interesting to go that way, which I wasn’t expecting. And you do it. And you suddenly go, Wow. A good example would be last year the board decided they wanted to engage students more? So they decided what they will do is that they will have a conference. Where they would invite representatives from all the high schools to come in to the conference and they would meet and talk about all this stuff. At the start of the day I told my students that this was going on and they expressed disappointment that it was just high school students. Like why are they the only one that get voices. And I thought about it, and I said you’re absolutely right. And so I checked it out and sure enough there was a twitter feed. So we tweeted about it. And we worked out so that my kids were able to say “ok what are the focus questions” they got the focus questions.. And they tweeted their responses in to the conference. And they showed up on the screen to all the delegates. And this was something completely unplanned and I had no idea this was going to happen at the start of the day. And it was amazing. And that to me, that kind of stuff is what I would say is the best day. And then if I had to flip it the other way, like a bad day would be a day when it is just crushingly boring, you know, when nothing cool happens. It’s just kind of just going through the routine, there’s no creativity, there’s no spark of energy. I mean there are, in all of our lives there are days when there’s just stuff you have to do.

When did you do something that surprised yourself?

When I surprised myself? Umm, I think I surprise myself a lot. I think that is something that happens pretty frequently with me. I think I tend to have a low opinion with myself and abilities [snicker]. So what I try to do is I try to set myself up to do stuff that I don’t really think I can do. And then I am surprised when it works out as well as it does, you know? I was thinking of actually when I started off teaching and not the first school, but 2 years after. I went to a school that was the first network schools in TDSB. And my principal came to me and said “You’re a new a teacher, we have this thing called a computer network. I don’t know what it is. Do something with it”. I kind of went “ok” and umm and i was able to pull it off and do some really cool stuff with it. I had no idea going into it that was what was going to happen. I guess it sort of happened this year as well. In this past school year, where I went to my principal and went, “look, we really need more technology in our school. Our students don’t have very much money. I would really like to try and raise some how can we do that? “and he said ” I don’t know see what you can do” and so now suddenly we have a fundraising campaign, and we have 13000 in the bank towards new technology in our school. The fact that that stuff kind of happens and it’s not because of forethought or good planning or intelligence in anyway; it’s just because people throw themselves at it, and let’s see what happens you know. It’s like one of my favourite quotes, from one of my favourite books the “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”. In that book Arthur is taught how to fly. And he is told that the way you learn is that you throw yourself to the ground and miss. I always think that is such a good metaphor for taking risks and learning you know? Cause that is essentially what we do right? We kind of go “alright we’re going to go, boom!” and when you miss, you fly. I think that’s really cool

What are the benefits of connecting educators from different fields and industries?

I guess, I got to ask a question, so by multidisciplinary or different perspectives we’re talking about people outside the traditional education sphere? Is that the idea? Or do you want me to answer it how I think?

<What do you think it means?>

I think that one of the mistakes that we have made in education. And i think every discipline kind of does that. We’ve gotten caught up in wanting to be experts in everything we do. We’ve gotten caught up in thinking that we know what we are doing. And that has its strengths because we take pride in what we do and it pushes us professionally. But the problem with it is that education is not just for educators it’s for everyone, you know. And in our efforts to wall off what we do and make it for us, we shut other people out and other people become disconnected from all of education. I was thinking about this on the weekend, we have kind of missed the point of public education. We have made the mistake that public education is about educating this child and we’ve missed the fact that public education or any education is an investment in our society and we’ve missed that you know. The only way that we get back to getting people to understand that public education is really about making this a better place to live for everyone forever and not just about educating this one particular individual child. That’s the only way we’re ever going to move forward. We’re only going to get that if we include other people and like breaking down all the walls and inviting people into the process and taking the process out to other people

Tell us a story about an Island of Excellence who you know

I think my, the one that sprung to my mind, is actually one of my favourite sort of people doing excellent things story. I went to a TLCP meeting last year and this was a TLCP meeting with 3 other schools. TLCP is teaching and learning through critical pathways. It’s sort of a process of teaching. So you’re grouped by grades. So I sat at a table with a guy that is teaching the same grade as me from a different school and I didn’t really know him. And we started talking about what we are doing in different programs. And what I found out that he was doing a 1 to 1 program that nobody knows about. He has over time through people donating things, through going out and begging things collected a class set of laptops. And he has them, and his kids do everything on laptops. And nobody knows about it and nobody talks about it. He is the only one doing it. He doesn’t go out and tell people how to do it. He doesn’t share it. He just does it. Because he thinks that’s the right thing to do. And it’s not like he’s possessive about it. He just doesn’t thinks it’s anything nothing special. It’s just more of sort of an expression of him doing what he thinks is right. And he kind of thinks that everybody should do what they think is right. And it was just such a surprising thing to find out that somebody was doing something that they didn’t, I was just like “wow”, and you are doing that, you just so far ahead of everyone else in doing that sort of stuff. And he just didn’t think it was a big deal. He was very unassuming about it. And doing it, like in a school where everyone thought it was insane. So he was doing something very excellent, and he was surrounded by differences or indifferences?

I met Stephen Young on Twitter. I was at a conference and saw an awesome picture of Former Mayor David Miller doing a rock star pose with a guitar and had to reach out to him on Twitter. In my search for David Miller’s twitter handle, I found Stephen tweeting him to ask him to speak at his upcoming Civics Education Network conference. I knew that I had to reach out and find out more. After a 2 hour coffee meeting, Stephen agreed to do the Islands of Excellence interview.

Stephen Young is a high school teacher at Rosedale Heights and the Founder of Civics Education Network.


What is an Island of Excellence?

I don’t like the term islands. It feels disconnected from everything else. I go into my head and think – ok, Island of Excellence. We have been playing with trying to think of ourselves as a Centre of Excellence, for CEN anyway. We provide, we develop resources and excellence for civic education. If you want to teach someone about civic education, we are going to have the top quality of everything you would need, at least of what we can provide. We are going to bring people together, who will help develop that together, to help you and you will contribute back to be a perpetuating network of civic education. So, I don’t know how Islands fit into that. What is connecting the pieces? So maybe more like a hill of excellence?

Other organizations are not like us, we are connecting to practitioners. We are connecting to the people in the classrooms and the students who are connected to the people. There are other organizations like Civics and Student Vote, they aren’t exactly like us. But there are the politicians and the activists, there is a massive community of civic engagement and civic society, the whole concept is: let’s connect to civic society and the knowledge they have to the educators who know what they are doing and those who don’t. We aren’t connecting to other organizations; we are connecting the people who need the support with the people who can provide that support. I have picture of a railroad or a round house, or a web of sorts. That is so overused. More as a centre of connections.

Describe your best or most challenge day.

Personally, I would have to say my best day was my wedding day. My wife would kill me if I didn’t say that. *laughing* It is fresh in my mind. We did it all ourselves.

Yesterday, I confirmed Michael Ignatieff as a keynote for the conference. I don’t know what he will say, but Hey! He will draw the numbers.

(pause for more thought)

September 4th. Yes, the start of school. It is both best and challenging. You don’t know what you are going to get. There is a whole group of kids in front of you, some of them you know, some of them you don’t. They are very different. The 9’s are scared witless. The 12’s are thinking about getting into university. The 10’s and 11’s are thinking “I gotta be here, so I am going to cause sh*t all year.” They are very different and very challenging to figure out. But by the same token, I just spent a week redoing my classes and I am excited to put them in front of them and inspire them.

When did you do something that surprised yourself?

This isn’t really a specific moment. I am surprised that this organization is functioning. CEN started 7 years ago; about 5 years ago we got off the ground. I went into City Hall, after being involved with other organizations that had used the city chambers. So, I proposed the idea of having a mock city hall to Kyle Rae. I had a chat with Kyle Rae, he says “great idea”. He says come by during the next council meeting and tap me on the shoulder. So the next week I come back, he hands me a copy of the procedures book. I spent a week simplifying and compressing it and then we brought 3 classes down. We spent the day playing the roles of mayor, councillors  city staff, and the whole she-bang  We sat in the council chambers, they gave us access to the voting procedures and the voice system, and they could turn the mics on and off. That led me to the idea that this could be a program. We could do this with teachers who were interested. But that idea flopped, the city had no interest or money. The teachers didn’t have enough time. So it fell apart. I try again and got a bunch of OISE people. So, we got to an organic place where we do conferences and inviting councillors and activists into the school. And things keep growing. Now we are talking about doing a councillor shadow program. We are working with an intern to see what might happen. It is sitting on a back burner now.

What are the benefits of connecting educators from different fields and industries?

Schools can function in two different ways. They can function as islands. They are little specks on the landscape and they do their own thing and then that’s it. High schools are more likely to be like that than elementary schools. Elementary schools have more parental connections and connections to the neighbourhood. There are a lot more of them, they are hyper local. High schools are larger. There are islands within the building. The departments are islands; you hang out with your department. In our building, there are 3 distinct floors. Our top floor is academic, our 2nd is has some academic, our basement is our arts.

You have to try and bring schools into the community. Schools are trying to do this more and more. It is challenging. It is a challenge of how you do it too. The easy root is to do the Terry Fox run. Let’s raise some money and give it to a charity. The TDSB really promotes this too. These are all really good; they all connect to the community in some way. But I think schools could do better. I think schools could connect better, taking the kids and actually saying “How can we improve our community?” It doesn’t just mean giving money. “How can we reach further into the community and truly become part of it?” You know, help build outside and around; more than giving money and walking away. “How do we knit it into the fabric?” For some schools this is easier than for others, it depends on what community the school connects to. Is it the local community or some other community; like our school connects to the arts community because our kids come from all over the city. The universities are better at this. They weave themselves into the city better. They can make a small change to the campus, but it is a massive change to the city.

Tell us a story about an Island of Excellence who you know

There’s Taylor Gunn, who runs Student Vote. Bringing mock elections into school and giving students the chance to experience democratic process. I believe in 16 year old voting. I think if that was the first time they were voting, then it would keep them voting.

There’s Jayme Turney from Toronto Public Space Initiative, he is quickly becoming a power or knowledge in that particular field so we’ll see where that goes.

Today, we went back to where it all started. In May, Kathryn and I attended our first event together, TEDx YMCA Academy titled “The Heart and Soul of Learning Disabilities” and today we went for “Machines and Minds”. These two events really encapsulate the kind of school the YMCA Academy is, a school of inspiration, experimentation, taking risks and putting themselves out into the public to share.

The TEDx talks were each inspirational in their own way, speakers ranged from entrepreneurs who are designing for education or have had unique education paths of their own to a brain scientist. I admired each speaker for their courage to share their stories. I especially liked the personal accounts of learning practices and differences.

The YMCA Academy expresses vision and passion for learning differences and we are so excited to be hosting Islands Of Excellence 2012 in the school.

Make Waves,