Innovative Learning Grants

[Note: this blog post is cross-posted at Learning on the Job.]

We’ve never suffered from a lack of resources as long as I’ve been here at UNIS Hanoi. We’ve been running a 1:1 TabletPC program for the past 6 years. All students in grades 4 – 12 have their own machines. And in the Middle and High School we’ve been running a (virtually) paperless environment with varying degrees of success.

But. as I’ve said previously, as a school we are becoming cranky teenagers. Instead of accepting what we are given with a “Thank you!” and a smile, we’re beginning to ask “Why?”

Why are we using this machine and not that one?

Why do we have to do that?

Why can’t we do this?


Now, from my perspective, this is a great problem to have. Teachers and students asking “why?” means that they are thinking about the best ways to transform teaching and learning. I’m actually more concerned about the teachers and students who never question what we’re doing! It means they are passively accepting what is being given to them and not showing any critical analysis of our program or of their own learning.

To help spur the question of “Why?”, we’ve introduced Innovative Learning Grants. The central questions that we started with was “What is it that you want to do at but currently can’t?” and “How will this improve student learning and/or teacher pedagogy?”

The idea is that teachers submit a proposal documenting their interest and also noting some of the research that they have done on the topic. Once proposals have been selected to go forward, the teachers are responsible for documenting their work and submitting a written report at the end of their trial period. This report includes feedback on the outcome of the project as well as suggestions for scaling the project up to go beyond their individual trial. From this, decisions can be made about going forward. It is my hope that all of this – all grant proposals and the final reports/recommendations of the ‘winning’ projects – will be published to the entire community as examples of how UNIS is looking at staying on the cutting edge when it comes to learning.

In the first iteration, we received a quite a few grant proposals. I was amazed by the depth and breadth of the proposals that we received. In the end, we selected three to go forward. One is looking at the use of standing desks in the classroom. Another is looking how to adopt mobile technology into PE classes. And the third is looking increasing collaboration and lay through the use of a SMART Table in our Early Childhood classes. All trials will end before June and I’m looking forward to reading and sharing their final reports. [I will ask to see if any of the authors mind if I share their proposals.]

A quick note about the name: it was a very deliberate decision to use the term “Innovative Learning” and not mention “Technology” even though the funds are being put up by the Technology Office. As a school, our focus must continue to be on learning. Our focus on technology is not for the sake of having the shiniest bell or the newest whistle but to improve student learning. 99 times out of 100 Innovative Learning will involve the authentic use of technology, and by using the title “Innovative Learning Grant” we are keeping the emphasis where it belongs.

What is your school doing to encourage innovation in both teaching and learning? Do you think you could apply a similar process at your school?


Videos of My Favorite Subjects

As a father, you can imagine that my most favorite thing to create videos of are my kids!

Here’s one that I made a while back of my youngest daughter when we were left alone together for lunch. I filmed it using our Flip Cam, then used the “Speed Up” effect a few times to make the 20 minutes feeding session only last a few minutes on the video. I also used CC Mixter to find the right music for the background.

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This second one is also filmed with our Flip Cam while we were eating dinner one night. The kids were being hilarious so we grabbed the camera and just let it roll!

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Fallacies are Beautiful

Any TOK teachers in the house?

David McCandless at Information is Beautiful has created these awesome posters that highlight various logical and rhetorical fallacies. These would be great resources for any debating club or for any student taking Theory of  Knowledge!


Making “UNIS Hanoi Connect” Come Alive!

Bride of Frankenstein by Kaptain Kobold

My colleagues and I have decided it is time to create a dedicated help site for the UNIS Hanoi community. The purpose of the site is multi-faceted:

  • Explain the vision and purpose of technology integration at UNIS Hanoi;
  • Act as a repository for policies and procedures;
  • Act as the location that all community members turn to when looking for HOWTO information;
  • Act as a resource for those NOT at our school;
  • Publicize the great work that is going on at school.

I’m sure there are a few other reasons that I’m not even thinking of, but hopefully they’ll come to me!

The problem with this type of site is that it can quickly become a mess. Unless there is a clear vision and road map, the competing ideas of the creators can make the site counter-intuitive and counter-productive.

Reading through the posts about web design and visual hierarchies, I got to thinking about how these principles can be applied to UNIS Hanoi Connect. What can we do to make this site user-friendly and useful? How can we harness what we know about reading and writing on the web to keep those long, procedural posts engaging?

If you have any great examples of sites like this that are being used by school communities, I would greatly appreciate it!


Final Project Course 1 – Student Instructional Videos

As the technology facilitator, I do not have my own classes to use as my labsite. However, one issue that has been raised across the community is how we prepare new students (and parents) for a radically different learning environment. There is a certain learning curve that must be addressed before new students are able to be fully functioning. We use Microsoft OneNote extensively ,which is not commonly used; we are essentially paperless in the MSHS; we use a specific student information system; etc.

One of the solutions to this issue that we (the MS Counselor and I) have discussed on campus is the development of student ambassadors to act as guides and mentors for new students in all facets of student life. As part of the ambassador duties, we envision students creating videos to help introduce and guide new students. These videos can begin by focusing on the use of technology at school but can grow to encompass other areas of transition: using the lockers, how the lunch line works, what should you do if you have to sign out of school… the list is endless!


Social Media, Empowerment, Advocacy

I just watched KONY 2012. There is a lot in that documentary, but one section towards the end really highlighted the power of technology and social media, not just in terms of education and learning but also in terms of advocacy and empowerment.


“The Death of Education, The Dawn of Learning”

I’m not usually one to give out spoilers, but that is a quote by Stephen Hepell at the end of this video:

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Dan Brown (no, not THAT one) makes the same argument in a more controversial and tongue-in-cheek sort of way:

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Education, as an institution, is in decline. People are no longer reliant on institutions as the dispensers of knowledge. With access to the internet, the cost of knowledge is now essentially $0.00! Because of that, it has never been a better time to be a learner. Interested in mathematics? Take some courses from MIT. Want to find out how to use photoshop? YouTube has you covered.

Knowledge, of course, is only one aspect of learning. As Punya Mishra said in his keynote at #21clhk, “Go to Google for knowledge. Come to me for wisdom.” It is through connecting, collaborating, constructing and conversating that we find wisdom. This is where the transformative powers of technology really come in to play. We, as learners, now have the ability to connect, collaborate, converse and construct meaning with groups of people around interested in the same topics. (This COETAIL cohort is a great example of this!)

From a practical teaching point of view, getting involved in collaborative projects, whether global or just around the corner, requires a different level of preparedness. Teachers must be willing to be flexible, both in terms of time in the classroom with students (to deal with inevitable technical difficulties) and in terms of course pacing and objectives. I’ve talked with teacher who have balked at the idea of global projects because the are ‘messy’. I’m not sure how to change the minds of those teachers other than to point out that life is messy. Things rarely, if ever, work out perfectly and there is a certain amount of negotiation has to take place “in the real world.” But aren’t these the types of lessons that we want to guide our students through? Aren’t these the skills that will best serve our students in the future? Isn’t this the learning that we want to see and be a part of?


This New Path Called Life

Living and Learning with New Media just keeps on giving…

In my role as technology facilitator, I find myself in conversations with adults in the school community (parents and teachers) about the online behaviors of our students. I find that, often times, I am the most liberal, laid-back voice in the conversation and that I’m in the position of advocating for the students rather than the adults.

This really jumped out at me:

Adults who stand on the other side of a generation gap can see these new [media] practices as mystifying and, at times, threatening to existing social norms and educational standards. (p.35)

And later:

If parents can trust that their own values are being transmitted through their ongoing communication with their children, then new media practices can be sites of shared focus rather than anxiety and tension. (p. 37)

These two quotes are definitely making it into my presentation on Digital Parenting!

When I was in jr. high school, the cool thing to do was go and hang out at the mall. To older generations, the mall was a place to go for the purpose of shopping. Why would you go to the mall if you were 12 years old and had no money? But for us, it was a symbol of independence and the cool thing to do! To others, the fabric of society was threatening to unravel because of mob of teenagers wanted to loiter and shoplift at the mall. In reality, we just wanted to sit by the fountain and eat really bad foodcourt nachos!

We need to stop referring to communities that are online/digital as something different; they are completely indistinguishable from “real” communities for the students that we teach and for a growing number of adults. Just as my family taught me to not lie, cheat or steal while at the mall, I hope to teach my own children to not lie, cheat or steal while participating in those communities that are “just digital”. If I’m concerned that his friends (online or IRL) are leading him astray, then I will talk to him about his choice in friends.

In the end, while the technology affords us many new and transformative opportunities, it is ultimately up to us to decide how we will use that technology. And it is up to us to guide our students (as teachers) and our children (as parents) along this new path called… life.

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Nina Matthews Photography


The Power of Connections

I missed last week’s deadline because I was busy attending one of the most amazing conferences on the planet: ASB Unplugged.

While in Mumbai, a friend remarked that this was probably the most international conference she had ever attended (over 500 teachers from every continent). It was also probably the conference where I already knew the most people!

These two statements demonstrate the power of connected learning. Because of my twitter network in particular, there were already tons of people that I already “knew” even if I hadn’t met them face-to-face yet. As somebody else said, twitter is the ultimate icebreaker: by already connecting with people over social networks, it allows you to maximize your time with them and to feel a level of comfort because you are already familiar with them and what it is that they are doing.

It was great to put a face to so many twitter names this past weekend. I even got a chance to meet one of my fellow online cohort members Marcello!

As for this week’s (last week’s?) prompt, one method to authentically embed technology into curricular areas is to give students authentic problems to solve! Give a student a problem that requires her to think like an historian and she will have to use research skills to find, analyze and verify information. Give a student a problem that requires him to think like a mathematician and he will have to generate and analyze data. Give a student a problem that requires her to think like an author and she will have to write, edit and publish her work. All of these things are done ‘in the real world’ using authentic technology tools. Yes, we as teachers need to provide appropriate scaffolding based on age and ability, but there is no need to over-complicate the question or over-simplify the process: just get out of the way and let them figure it out!


‘Messing Around’ More

Over the weekend, a lot of my tweeps were at 21c Learning Hong Kong. If I were going, one of the main reasons I would have done so would have been to see Punya Mishra from MSU. He is a driving force behind TPACK. During Mishra’s keynote, Jabiz tweeted:

We get there through playful process! @punyamishra #21clhk

This immediately reminded me of Messing Around. In their whitepaper, authors boyd, Ito, et al. write the following:

When messing around, young people teachers begin to take an interest in and focus on the workings and content of the technology and media themselves, tinkering, exploring, and extending their understanding. [p. 20]


It is important to recognize, however, that this more exploratory mode of messing around is an important space of experimental forms of learning that open up new possibilities and engagements. [p. 23]


we see [messing around] as a necessary part of self-directed exploration in order to experiment with something that might eventually become a longer-term, abiding interest in creative production. One side effect of this exploration is that youth teachers also learn computer skills they might not have developed otherwise. [p. 25]

(Obviously, the strikethroughs are my edits!)

In my role as technology facilitator, I spend a lot of time with teachers, either in a one-on-one, small group, or workshop setting.  While there is an obvious willingness to learn something new, that desire to ‘mess around’ is usually missing from the teachers. There’s a huge list of legitimate reasons why this is the case: lack of time, too much marking, planning, other  meetings, to name a few. I get that. But as teachers, we must be willing to the behaviors that we want to see most in our students: curiosity, self-reliance, inquiry, stick-to-it-tiveness. To me, that is what ‘messing around’ is all about.

As teachers, we all have expertise. We know our content areas (Content Knowledge) and have been trained (or have learned on the job!) in teaching pedagogy (Pedagogical Knowledge). Historically, the best teachers have been the ones who lived inside the intersection of those two realms of knowledge.

With the increased pervasiveness, ubiquity and infusion of technology, there is a third realm that defines the best teachers: Technological Knowledge. The TPACK model of technology integration helps teachers think about the intersection of these the knowledge areas when developing and delivering meaningful learning experiences for students. I believe that it is only through ‘messing around’ and discovering new possibilities within the context of one’s own Content and Pedagogical Knowledge can teachers begin to truly harness the transformative power of technology in learning.

How much ‘messing around’ do you do? When do you find the time? What keeps you from doing it more?

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