Collaboration is the Key

Some rights reserved by isbes
Photo by Cheryl Terry

While reflecting on how I’m embedding technology in my classroom earlier in the COETAIL course, I realized that I needed to vamp up collaboration to fully transform learning. While we are striving for the transformation level , this continues to be a work in progress (So How Am I Doing?). My current goal is to form closer ties with both my grade level colleagues and other COETAIL teachers to foster collaboration, create authentic tasks and develop a wider audience for student work.

According to the Technology Integration Matrix (TIM), to meet the transformation level collaboration should include these three areas:

  • Some rights reserved by isbes
    Photo credits to Emily Roth

    Students regularly use technology tools for collaboration, to work with peers and experts irrespective of time zone or physical distances.

  • The teacher seeks partnerships outside of the setting to allow students to access experts and peers in other locations, and encourages students to extend the use of collaborative technology tools in higher order learning activities that may not have been possible without the use of technology tools.
  • Technology tools in this setting connect to text, voice, and video chat applications and network access has sufficient bandwidth to support the use of these technologies for all students simultaneously.

Some rights reserved by isbes
Photo by Cheryl Terry

Over the past few months, and during our water inquiry unit (‘Water is Precious’ unit of inquiry), I have strived to build stronger connections with colleagues and global partners. Collaboration has been fostered in the following ways:

* Working on planning an inquiry unit, based on the principles of PYP, with Grade 4 teacher, Mike Jessee.

* Planning inquiry lessons in the ES Hub/library with ES Librarian, Nat Whitman.

* Planning technology lessons on copyright and choosing provocative images with Sarah Fleming, ES Technology Coach.

* Collaborating with Emily Roth’s Grade 4 class at the American Community School of Abu Dhabi via student blogs and comments. An attempt was also made to share Google docs, but firewalls and privacy issues prevented this.

* Skype- connecting with Emily Roth’s Grade 4 class at the American Community School of Abu Dhabi via Skype to learn more about geography, meet our buddies and ask questions related to water use and the cost of water around the world.

* Collaborating with Brad Thies at Seoul Foreign School via student blogs and comments.

* Using Twitter to connect- I have posted tweets for each of my professional blog posts in my Twitter account to continue to create a PLN. As Stacie Melhorn suggested in Twitter Tales, I prefer to use Twitter solely as a professional platform. I am also trialling the use of a class Twitter account. Currently our use of Twitter in class is sporadic. We’re not viewing tweets from other Grade 4/5 classes we’re connected with, but we have created a new ‘Twit’ monitor whose job it is to construct tweets.

* Sharing our learning in technology with parents and administrators via a class share of our Water Inquiry projects.

* Science Fair- Sharing our learning and our ‘Journey as a Scientist’ presentations with Grade 4 peers and parents.

Some rights reserved by isbes
Photo by Cheryl Terry

So far, we’ve come a long way toward developing relationships and collaborating with others. There’s still a long way to go, and using our local community and strengthening partnerships with Grade 4 peers in our own school, IS Bangkok, is the first step toward real collaboration.

All in all, collaboration is the key to success, both between teachers and between students. Starting small seems to ensure success. Developing strong relationships within a class and between classes in a school is the first step towards success.


Water is Precious

Some rights reserved by Cesar R.

Unit of Inquiry: Water is Precious

I’m excited to have an opportunity to create an authentic unit that integrates a number of core subjects and provides opportunities to link to IS Bangkok‘s Definition of Learning. Since we have a good window of time this semester, it will allow us 8 weeks to work on our original science unit, meeting the science standards and concluding with a student-selected scientific project. We will then have time available to extend the unit to meet Technology and Information Literacy (TAIL) and Global Citizenship standards and make the unit more authentic. As technology and global citizenship are both passions of mine, I’m hoping to create a unit that embeds technology meaningfully and authentically, makes our students more aware of global issues and best of all, enhances learning.

I will be discussing the potential of the unit in further detail next week with Chris Tananone, our Global Citizenship coordinator, and Teresa Belisle from the curriculum office, to further develop the links to the TAIL standards and Global Citizenship standards.

Science Unit- Water

Our current science unit focuses on water. The big ideas behind the unit can be expanded to include elements of social studies and technology while still focusing on the key ideas. Here are the main ideas behind the unit:

Transfer goals

**Water is the most important substance on Earth.

**Water dominates the surface of our planet, changes the face of the land, and defines life.

Essential Questions

**How does water change and why?

**Why is it important to learn about water?

**How do we, as scientists, learn about water?

Enduring Understandings

**Earth is a water planet with very little accessible to human consumption.

**Water supply is limited.

**Resources can be extended through recycling and decreased use.

Some rights reserved by ecstaticist

While I believe in IS Bangkok‘s Definition of Learning (DOL), it often seems that due to time crunches and the demands of the curriculum, many of the opportunities to embed the key elements of the DOL are lost. I’m passionate about providing authentic tasks, inquiry based learning and metacognition, therefore focusing on these areas is something I always try to make time for.

Definition of Learning (DOL)- International School Bangkok

**Apply our learning to new situations

**Inquire to extend our learning

**Create solutions

**Communicate our learning effectively

**Make connections across our learning

**Reflect critically on our learning

To extend the unit, my intention is to link the key ideas of our science unit on Water to our current social studies or global citizenship units on Influence and Is it Fair? As the influence unit focuses on how we can be a positive influence on others, I’d like the students to gain a greater awareness of how we personally use water and how we could conserve water in our everyday lives. The Is it Fair? unit focuses on social justice, and could be naturally extended to include inequitable access to water and connect to water facts such as how much fresh water is available on Earth. The TAIL standards could be embedded through an inquiry based research component, focusing on student-selected burning questions based on the idea of ‘Water is Precious.’ Students would be encouraged to use the cycle of inquiry and safe search engines to find information related to their question. This is a good chance to build on learning from earlier in the year and evaluate both research tools and products. Students could be encouraged to reflect on what worked well and what could be improved in the inquiry process and in their presentations.

Here are the Technology and Information Literacy standards which can be embedded in the unit of inquiry:

TAIL Standards

Effective Learners

Research self-selected burning questions related to ‘Water is Precious’

I aim to collaborate with our ES librarian, Nat Whitman, on the inquiry focus and research component. Identifies the inquiry focus and possible information sources. LEARNING TARGETS: a. Determine a research question. b. Identify information required to answer question. c. Brainstorm possible resources. Plans, conducts and manages structured searches for data and information. LEARNING TARGETS: a. Compare and contrast available search engines. b. Bookmark URL’s and manage bookmarks. Scans, evaluates, analyzes and organizes information from a variety of sources, (including text, visual, audio & video) attributing information source appropriately. LEARNING TARGETS: a. Determine if information answers research question. b. Evaluate information for credibility (believability) and accuracy (up-to-date). c. Organize information by title, author and publication date. Reflects on how and why the tools used have assisted the inquiry. LEARNING TARGET: a. Explain in what ways the tools used were helpful, not helpful.

Effective Communicators

Create a digital story demonstrating how water is precious. Students could show scientific ideas (facts), introduce global water issues and explain what we can do as global citizens. They would also be encouraged to show what action they would take to make a difference for others. The digital stories could be created using an appropriate tool such as PowerPoint, KeyNote, PhotoPeach, VoiceThread, Prezi or imovie.

YouTube Preview Image

I aim to collaborate with our ES Technology Coach, Sarah Fleming, on how best to create a digital story to encompass all the key ideas stated above. Clearly articulates main ideas to be communicated. LEARNING TARGETS: a. Determine main ideas. b. Select interesting details to support main ideas. c. Decide and justify order to communicate main ideas. Identifies clear purpose, specific audience, and the appropriate media for communication. LEARNING TARGETS: a. Determine purpose for communicating ideas. b. Select and justify intended audience. c. Select and justify tools. Presents ideas, understandings and information clearly, using effective design and layout. LEARNING TARGETS: a. Determine and justify layout to help the audience understand main ideas and why. b. Select and justify visuals to best represent main ideas. c. Select audio to help convey main ideas and explain why. Reflects, analyses and identifies ways to improve the effectiveness of digital communication. LEARNING TARGETS: a. Explain what worked well and why. b. Summarize what was learned. c. Determine what would be done differently next time and explain why.

Effective Collaborators

I aim to collaborate with our Grade 4 team, as well as other classes such as Emily Roth at the American Community School of Abu Dhabi, to share ideas and explore global connections. I also hope to collaborate with Kenya Voluntary & Community Development Project (KVCDP) in Kenya to build further connections with Wagusu village in Western Kenya.

Students could connect with other grade 4 classes, and also try to connect with another class around the world, to explore how they use water and discover what issues they may face with water in their country of residence. They could also be encouraged to improve lives of others by conserving water and taking action to help the people of Wagusu village in Kenya who do not have access to clean, safe drinking water. They could also research, with help from experts, how water distillation works to provide safe, clean drinking water from salt water or dirty water.

YouTube Preview Image Collaborates with others, locally and globally, to contribute to the learning of others, using a variety of media. LEARNING TARGETS: a. Determine what we can teach others. b. Plan who we will collaborate with and why. c. Determine the best way to teach others and explain why. Contributes ideas when collaborating with others, locally and globally, to improve the lives of others, using a variety of media. LEARNING TARGETS: a. Explain in what ways we could improve the lives of others. b. Determine who needs this kind of help and explain why. c. Determine the best way to help others in this area and explain why. Connects with others, locally and globally, to develop desired skills and/or understandings using a variety of media. LEARNING TARGETS: a. State what you are trying to learn. b. Determine where we can go to find experts and how to connect with them. c. Explain how to find out what you need to know.

Ethical Citizens Routinely identifies owner/creator of information/media by attributing sources correctly. LEARNING TARGETS: a. Identify who “owns” the media/information. b. Recognize if the media/information can be used and explain how we know. c. Attribute media/information to its owner.

Here are the Global Citizenship standards which can be embedded in the unit of inquiry:

Some rights reserved by Cayusa

Global Citizenship Standards

Explore global access to clean, safe drinking water. Focus on global water issues and explain what we can do as global citizens to help others in the world with limited access to safe water. Create a digital story demonstrating how water is precious.

I aim to collaborate with Chris Tananone, our Global Citizenship coordinator, to further develop the ideas of social justice, interdependence and sustainability.

Social Justice Understand not all groups within society are treated fairly. Understand there are basic human rights, but not everyone has them. Belief that things can be better and that individuals can make a difference. Take appropriate action to address injustice and/or inequality in their community .

Globalization and Interdependence Empathy towards others locally and globally. Make choices that will affect people and the local environment in positive ways.

Sustainability Understand some of the earth’s resources are finite. Identify finite resources and ways to conserve them. Explain reasons for resource conservation. Sense of responsibility for the environment and the use of resources.

I’m excited about the potential of this unit and how it could motivate students and enhance learning. My only concerns are being able to convince others in my team to trial it as well, in order to maintain consistency at our grade level. Time is always an issue, as both the process and creation of products can take significantly longer than expected.

Personally, the extension of this unit does not require a great deal of shifting in my pedagogy. I am a firm believer in scaffolding learning, inquiry based learning, metacognition and the creation of authentic tasks. I am also trying to incorporate the ideas of autonomy, mastery, and purpose to foster motivation, as recommended by Dan Pink in Drive. It is, however, always challenging to incorporate all of these areas effectively at the same time. While metacognition is a passion of mine, our reflection on the inquiry process and products created will most likely be fairly basic at this point. It will be a stepping stone for our final units, where we can build a greater depth of reflection. The unit will also provide an opportunity to focus on Bloom’s Taxonomy and the higher levels of thinking and creation.

Creating a whole unit of inquiry which fosters inquiry, reflection, creativity and motivation can only lead to success and enhance learning!

Laptops- How Can We Manage Them?

Some rights reserved by geerlingguy

Laptops and using technology in the classroom are all the rage. But how can we effectively manage our technological devices ?

Creating an effective classroom climate where students feel safe and act respectfully and responsibly is the key to an effective classroom, and that’s no different when we use technology.  Clear routines are important for a classroom to run smoothly, and it’s even more important when we’re using expensive pieces of equipment. Classroom management doesn’t happen without forethought and a highly skilled teacher, therefore management of technology, and the implications that a connection to a global network brings to a classroom, also needs careful thought. I agree with Julie Bredy in Managing Laptops, that we can’t be too regimented and guard computers like prison guards. Respect and responsibility are the key to students internalizing how we treat others, as well as materials, in the classroom.

Setting up routines, especially when using technology, needs explicit instruction. At beginning of this school year, before first using laptops, we discussed both laptop etiquette and our school Acceptable Use Policy (AUP). We discussed the respectful, responsible and safe use of technology in considerable detail. Since then, my students have shown the utmost respect for our school technology devices, with small lapses from time to time over safely carrying the laptops and plugging them in to charge. Working with elementary students, I don’t appear to have the same problems middle or high school teachers face. As the students don’t have their ‘own’ computer which they take home, there are seldom problems with downloading or changing things on the laptops. They are able to personalize their blogs, rather than their laptops, and none have gone crazy with widgets so far. Later in the year we’ll focus on the effect of widgets on their blogs so students can choose appropriate widgets for their home page. My students have also been responsible about using only the websites they’re directed to in lessons. They feel comfortable suggesting other websites if they know of other appropriate sites and I’m happy to check these out with them. What+Does+Our+Acceptable+Use+Policy+Say%3F by cherylt

At the beginning of the year, students learn to ‘fist’ computers, closing the lid most of the way so that their attention is directed back to the lesson. They’re shown how to hold the laptops with two hands, and I am consistent in enforcing this rule, as suggested in What is the Most Important Thing? Monitoring student use of computers by moving around the room is a simple classroom management strategy, which should not be new to teachers. My students are also assigned computer numbers, so they know to always take same number, no matter which cart. This saves time logging in as each laptop registers the user and starts up more quickly.

In a respectful classroom, our classroom agreements apply to everyone and everything we do in the class, including the use of technology. That way, it’s clear that what’s said online is the same as saying it face to face. Online safety is emphasized regularly, referring back to the idea of YAPPY, and not sharing personal information. We discuss this throughout the year as new things occur, and I’m open with the students about the dilemna of what to share online. In the same way as I often model during reading or writing workshop, I often ‘think aloud’ about whether it’s appropriate to post certain information on our blogs. This was a recent topic of conversation when we considered publishing our ‘Who Am I?’ projects online. I explained to the students that although I was extremely impressed by the quality of the projects and would love to publish them, I’m afraid that the personal information (names of family members, interests, hobbies, favorite things) shared in the presentations will put their safety at risk. I’ve been frank with my students and let them know that I’m trying to find a solution and am talking to the technology coach and others with more expertise than me. In the meantime, they can share the YouTube codes with trusted friends but I have asked them not to share them on their personal blogs to protect their safety. Students may later be given the option of publishing them on their personal blogs with parental permission, but this is still an option I’m mulling over.

Photo by Cheryl Terry

Other management tools which have worked well in the classroom are sticking labels for regularly used websites (URLs, log in and password) in student agendas. I have created class accounts for PhotoPeach, VoiceThread, YouTube and other digital tools, and students have access to them, with the user name and password displayed in the class and in their agendas. I make it clear that while students have access to the class YouTube account and other class websites, and can embed videos in their blogs, they must have my permission to upload any videos to the account. Whenever we make videos on imovie in the class, for recording presentations, lessons, groupwork, plays or discussions, they are uploaded to YouTube. Wherever possible the students are given control of filming the presentations and sharing them via imovie on YouTube. The importance of protecting our safety is emphasized, by making it clear that the videos should be unlisted and shared only with those we trust.

When using the internet for research, I have been purposeful this year in facilitating with our ES librarian and showing the students safe search engines. As mentioned in a previous blog post, Mirror, Mirror, students need to learn to filter information and connect it to their prior knowledge. They need to be explicitly taught the skills to deal with the barrage of information in the modern world, as well as having opportunities for practicing autonomy, mastery, and purpose as recommended by Dan Pink in Drive. Explicitly teaching effective strategies to filter and synthesize information will help empower the students to research ideas and questions they’re interested in.

Using the inquiry model helps to facilitate student learning and foster motivation, as does providing choice in how to present a product (What is the Most Important Thing?, Drive). As Dean Groom suggests in 23 Things about Classroom Laptops creating a remix is a perfect way to motivate students and foster creativity. By making learning fun and authentic, student interest is intrinsic and therefore students are less likely to be tempted by the distractions luring all of us.

Some rights reserved by

I make use of the resources available in the school as much as possible, enlisting the support of our technology coach, Sarah Fleming, to help to teach important ideas. I also make use of tech experts in the class to help others, using the ‘Ask 3 before me’ motto. I could now make the tech expert roles more explicit by posting the names of tech experts for certain tech tools or processes. This is often only possible a few months into the school year, once students have been exposed to a number of tools and their expertise becomes clear. The role of the computer monitor also needs to be reinforced, ensuring that computers are plugged in to charge, other laptop carts are returned on time and carts are plugged in when move from room to room.

Explicitly structuring lessons on how to write quality blog posts and quality comments makes blogging purposeful. This is again more powerful with support from our technology coach, and is often restricted by time and access to computer carts. Setting up an agreed schedule with a grade level colleague has helped ensure that I have access to 2 laptop carts at certain times of the day. As I am then without access to computers at other times, I have had to be flexible and creative in juggling my schedule. As I begin to use laptops more and more in lessons and for workshop rotations as the year goes on, flexibility will be key. Management routines will also need to be clearer and tighter when using laptops in workshop stations to help transitions to work more effectively. Keeping the computers logged on and making the expectations clear that students should simply log out or close the window they’re working on will help ease time lapses. To assist the quick set up and shut down of laptops, the tip from Classroom Management of Laptops to time the setting up of computers will help students to aim for a fast, safe and efficient start up and transition time. While I usually give a five minute and then a 1-2 minute warning of time remaining in the lesson or workshop station, Rock Hudson, gave a useful tip to encourage students to be on the carpet ready to begin the next lesson with a 5 minute countdown.

While my students each have their own headphones and USB, management of these devices still requires some tightening. Students are aware that they should use their headphones when accessing a game or website with sound effects, but are often lax at returning the headsets to the basket appropriately. While my students are now in the habit of saving work on their USBs, they need more explicit instruction on effective use of USBs. At the beginning of next year, I will ensure that students are explicitly taught to drag files from their USB onto the desktop, rather than working directly off USBs, to avoid contamination issues. They require a clearer time check and more reminders in the last part of a lesson to get ready for the final save on their USB. Students also need to clear their desktop and get into the habit of deleting items from the desktop as they save them on their USB.

Some rights reserved by Kathy Cassidy

I often use the Smartboard to make expectations clear and to help students stay on task. I also model what effective use of technology looks like by using the Smartboard to create blog posts, embed Youtube videos and insert photos using creative commons with attributions. At this time of the year, after reasonable exposure to different technological tools and devices, the students are given an explicit overview of grade level expectations (What is the Most Important Thing?) and what they should have completed by the end of the lesson.

Google docs can be a tricky tool to manage, but guiding the use of the docs in the first lesson or two saves a lot of misunderstandings. Demonstrating the most efficient ways to log in, share work with the teacher (creating a folder which is then shared) and share docs with their writing partner or peer-editor helps to set up systems which will continue throughout the year. Restricting the number of people they share their docs with is a good first step, which can then be expanded as the year goes on. I’d now love my class to share their writing with a wider audience, including their grade level peers and global connections. I’ll also make the expectation clear that if a piece of work is shared with you, you should then comment on it. As we’re still in the beginning stages of using Google docs effectively, we’ll need to focus on making constructive comments and giving positive feedback. While my students are now skilled at giving specific oral feedback, they need more explicit instruction on giving specific and useful written feedback to their peers. Out of respect for their partners, my students will then be responsible for reading their comments and taking note of their advice. While it is ultimately their choice whether or not to make changes, many students require explicit instruction on how to proof read their work and make improvements to their writing, and they should be aware that this process is important to become an effective writer.

Students should be taught to be flexible and smart when using technology, and be aware that the school network can be slow or unreliable at times. We generally have a backup plan and many students will take out books if their computer is slow to start up or connect to the network. Students should also be aware of backing up their work, saving often. We all learn the hard way if we lose work. Hester’s idea of giving a warmup problem or reviewing homework while computers are starting up would also help us to use time more efficiently (You got to move it move it). What’s important is always to have an alternate plan, rather than solely relying on technology. Planning work before using the computer, such as using a graphic organizer or storyboard, can help us all make better use of our time and create a more effective product, as encouraged by Jeff Utecht when designing a movie or presentation.

Using technology isn’t easy, and it’s not foolproof, but guiding students on how to use it safely, responsibly and respectfully is a great way to ensure that students can get the best out of the technological devices at their fingertips.

NETS- Whose Job Is It?

Whose job is it?

Whose responsibility is it to teach the NETs standards to students?

Some rights reserved by karlaredor

My idea of how to teach technology and how it should be integrated into the classroom have evolved over the nine years I’ve worked in international schools. At first, like in many schools, I relied on the expertize of technology experts who taught technology, not quite in isolation, but within the confines of a computer lab. Those days are long gone, and after dabbling with 1:1 tablets and laptop carts, I’m beginning to get a feel for how the true model of embedding standards and integrating technology should look. I’ve still got a long way to go, but I’m well on the way to teaching technology standards, not just tools. In an ever-changing world, we have to prepare our students for what’s yet to come in the 21st century. That means they have to learn the process, not simply a bunch of tools.

I’m still a learner, so though I can navigate my way around a number of tools and am able to embed technology into my programs, I rely on a number of resources. Embedding technology and targeting information literacy standards takes collaboration, so I am a true believer in teaming up with everyone who can lend a hand, including students. As Rock Hudson states in The NET Standards for Students, teachers, administrators, parents and students need to work together and take responsibility for teaching the NETs standards. For that reason, I make use of all the skill sets I have access to: Sarah Fleming, our ES Technology coach and Nat Whitman, our ES librarian, among them.

Some rights reserved by superkimbo

Visual literacy is all around us and is taking on an important role in the world today. For our learners to be successful, we have to arm them with the skills they need to survive in the digital world. As the American Association of School Librarian’s Standards for the 21st Century Learner (AASL) states, ‘To become independent learners, students must gain not only the skills but also the disposition to use those skills, along with an understanding of their own responsibilities and self-assessment strategies’. The NET Standards for Students builds on this, ‘Simply being able to use technology is no longer enough. Today’s students need to be able to use technology to analyze, learn, and explore’. In today’s classrooms, our role as teachers is to help students develop the traits of self-directed learners, as well as gain skills in high-level thinking and metacognition. Therefore, the NETS-S and AASL standards are merely asking us to continue developing the skills we focus on everyday in our classrooms, just embedding them in the digital world.

At International School Bangkok, our Technology and Information Literacy (TAIL) standards have been adapted from NETS-S and AASL to produce grade level standards (Grade 4 TAIL standards). While, ultimately, it’s our role as teachers to focus on the TAIL standards, there are a number of factors which would help the implementation of the standards. The most important is familiarization with the documents, as well as time to understand and plan as a team. I believe that schools and administrators have the responsibility to provide time to analyze and synthesize the standards in order to enable us to create units with authentic tasks which embed technology. Pulling in the resources available in the school, including coaches, librarians and technology resources, and familiarizing ourselves with what’s at our fingertips, will also help us aim for producing our ideal student:

  • An effective learner
  • An effective communicator
  • An effective creator
  • An effective collaborator
  • An ethical citizen

Preparing our students for the future is a team effort!

The Power of Visual Literacy

What I love about the COETAIL course is that the content is so relevant to what I’m doing everyday in the classroom. In the past month it was made all the easier when I was able to focus on an idea which has been nagging me for the last month. How can I make my class blog more aesthetically appealing to readers and more efficient to navigate for both students and parents?

While I’m not a fan of using the class blog to post homework, it’s a great medium for class updates, posting links to often used sites and modeling what good blog posts look like to help students to create their own effective posts. But with so many links and so many great widgets available, I am constantly reflecting on what should be placed where and how to make links more user-friendly.

I’m aware of the power of images and video in blog posts, but I am often at a loss to work out the wrapping tools and find the most effective theme without losing all the widgets I’ve carefully placed. While I try to wrap pictures, and feel that captions can enhance a page, they sometimes look terrible in a post. How frustrating it is when previews look different to how the post actually appears, and what’s more, it’s difficult to change them later to improve the visual appeal.

So, do I change the theme? Should I try using stronger colors? The white space on a page certainly doesn’t represent me, so what theme should I choose? A colleague uses a black background. That helps captions to stand out well against the background, but black certainly doesn’t fit with my philosophy. So do I go for red or strong colors, as I do in my classroom? The grey space at the side of my blog is far from ideal. believes that bold, contrasting colors will demand attention and, when used as a personality tool, color can bring emotional appeal to a page (Understanding Visual Hierarchy in Web Design). I’ll continue to investigate the best way to select a bright background which will better represent the climate of my classroom and help captions to stand out.

Lately, I’ve realized that I need to try to post on class blog weekly, even if that means a short post with a few photos and captions. So far, so good. After 8 weeks of school, I’ve created 26 blog posts! My aim was for one decent post each week, displaying photos and a short discussion of learning, except the posts always end up far too long. While I’m hoping to continue to post regularly, my latest aim is to embrace hypertext and limit large blocks of text, in line with Jakob Nielsen and ‘s theory of succinct, linked posts. As Nielsen states, eye-tracking studies show that online readers tend to skip large blocks of text (Lazy Eyes), therefore my posts need to be short and sweet (unfortunately that’s far too hard when I’m reflecting on this blog!)

In a nutshell, I’ve tried to make the class blog more aesthetically appealing and easier to navigate.  As James Daly states in Life on the Screen: Visual Literacy in Education, ‘If you don’t change, you don’t improve, and you go out of business’. I don’t want to one of those in the education world who thrives on stability and refuses to change. As a result, using what I’d learned about design, I made some much needed changes to my class blog. I inserted a search function and changed the categories to a drop down box to save space in the sidebar. I carefully considered the importance of the items in the sidebar and changed the order accordingly, moving the Flickr photos and student blog links to the top. I synthesized and downsized some of the links, especially those in the ISB links section. The changes, though small, have made a significant impact.

The power of media literacy is clear and we have to embrace it. This year, I’ve made consistent use of Youblisher, You Tube and Flickr to create more stimulating posts. My latest discovery is just how easy it is to produce a slideshow of class photos using FlickrSLiDR. I’ve also been playing around with the placement and orientation of photos, in keeping with the ideas of .

As reinforces, ‘Always keep in mind how you want your audience to feel, set the mood by choosing the direction of your design, then enforce this by choosing the correct content layout and image selection’ (Visual Direction in Web Design). ‘If people’s faces look inward it will help the viewer look towards the center of the page.’ This has given me a greater awareness of the photos I choose and how to position them on the page.

Of course, this is just the beginning of my understanding of visual literacy. Being realistic, I’ll need to make changes slowly and continually refine my blog. My next step: update the header so it reflects our classroom climate and the learning that goes on. I’m hoping the presentation zen ideas may help me create a powerful image that hits the nail on the head.





Staying Safe Online- Whose Responsibility is it?

Whose responsibility is it to teach students to be safe online?

As educators, it’s our role to promote and model digital etiquette and responsible social interactions. Students need to be aware that their behavior and actions online have an impact on others, so we should guide them to make appropriate choices. Much of the online activity that students participate in takes place at home, however, so it’s important for parents to be informed as well. Together we must help both students and parents gain an awareness of the good, the bad and the ugly of the digital world.

Some rights reserved by FunnyBiz

Where is the first place I go for help on online safety and cyberbullying? No other than our fantastic Technology Coach, Chrissy Hellyer. At International School Bangkok, our Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) is clear. There is No Room For Tolerance. But detecting cyberbullying is no always easy, so it’s necessary to educate students on how bullying looks online and how they can deal with it.

In conjunction with the counselors, our technology coach helps students to understand online safety. In particular, Chrissy Hellyer likes to talk about YAPPY and SMART rules. This helps students understand what information is safe to share online and what we should keep private to protect ourselves. Professor Garfield seems to be a particularly fun character to help introduce the idea of cyberbullying.

Understanding and eradicating cyberbullying, however is not as simple as it seems. As Danah Boyd states in “Bullying” Has Little Resonance with Teenagers, “If we want to combat bullying, we need to start by understanding the underlying dynamics.” That’s where counselors need to be part of the process. Teens often desperately seek attention and enjoy drama. As Boyd continues, “Girls ostracize one another either because of personal collisions or in support of their friends’ dramas. They make each other miserable by spreading rumors or gossiping behind their back. Technology is employed in efforts to humiliate, deprecate, or isolate. The end result for girls tends to be verbal and emotional torment.” While boys interact in other ways, they too need to be aware of the power of their words.

Some rights reserved by AVG Technologies

While cyberbullying is a complicated issue to tackle, Boyd seems to hit the nail on the head. “Combating bullying is not going to be easy, but it’s definitely not going to happen if we don’t dive deep in the mess that underpins it and surrounds it. We need interventions that focus on building empathy, identifying escalation, and techniques for stopping the cycles of abuse. We need to create environments where young people don’t get validated for negative attention and where they don’t see relationship drama as part of normal adult life.” (“Bullying” Has Little Resonance with Teenagers)

Digital citizenship should be actively taught, alongside online safety, but we should be building up students’ self esteem, and helping them to gain a sense of personal identity at the same time. Creating a positive digital footprint is an important part in this process, as is focusing on personal virtues. If students have a strong sense of right and wrong, and how to treat others in a positive way, then cyberbullying should only occur as isolated incidents.

As John Merrow states in Teaching kids to be ‘digital citizens’ (not just ‘digital natives’), “Because (students) are using technology to create and are enjoying the fruits of their labor, they will be, I believe, less likely to use technology’s power negatively. Strong in their own sense of self, they are less likely to feel the need to bully and cyber-bully others.”




Privacy Online- An Unrealistic Dream?

Is there such a thing as privacy online?

Watching What FACEBOOK and GOOGLE are Hiding from world opened my eyes to the manipulation of searches and information online. Who would’ve known that search results on Google are different from person to person, based on a few clicks of the computer? Not only is information often personalized, down to the news available to us on well-known news sites, but we are not in control of what we get to see and don’t get to see. As Eli Parisher states, people need to see things that are challenging and uncomfortable to expose them to different points of view. Controlling what we view, based on algorithms that classify us into boxes, takes away our rights to choose what we see and discern for ourselves what is happening in the world around us.

YouTube Preview Image

Parisher talks of filter bubbles, or tailored searches, which control what users should view. So we don’t decide what gets in or, more importantly, what gets left out. In a world where the news media is so tightly controlled by a small number of people in power, it’s even more disconcerting that our online activity and searches are also manipulated. Is this the age of information junkfood where we find no balance in what we view online?

Some rights reserved by DonkeyHotey

Users not only need to develop a sense civil responsibility, but also an awareness of privacy settings and manipulation of the Internet. A few years ago I discovered the need to make my Facebook page and other social networking sites private. Now only my friends have access to my personal details and private photos. I am even more careful about who I grant ‘friend’ privileges too. Of course, it is possible to sort friends into categories and give them varying degrees of access to your personal information as well. I also became aware that adding apps to my Facebook page often gave others access to my private information, therefore I changed my privacy settings through the use of https://.

As students are building their digital profiles, they also need to be aware that what they post is available to the world and can be viewed by others around the globe. In today’s world,          Privacy= Responsible use of images and personal details online.

We are therefore responsible for educating students on how to use online tools responsibly, to protect both themselves and others. Effectively informing students so they are able to create a Positive Digital Footprint and keep themselves and others safe should be our goal, hard as it may be.

For our school, International School Bangkok, that means utilizing the skills of Technology Coaches and others who are well-informed on technology issues. Chrissy Hellyer, our Elementary School Technology Coach, speaks often of YAPPY when discussing online safety. Our school year begins with a focus on online safety, with the help of Professor Garfield or Jennifer and Shannon.

There are many other tools available online for teaching online safety and creating positive digital footprints, including Digital footprints, Being Smart OnlineCybersmart and Cybersmart teaching resources.

Some rights reserved by ElectronicFrontierFoundation

Privacy issues continue to become more complicated, however, as we introduce more advanced tools. Use of Google docs introduces both email and chat functions to students. This opens up another bag of worms. How much limitation should be placed on email and chat forums? Students need to learn how to use these tools responsibly and effectively as they will be exposed to them throughout their lives. We all know that, even as adults, we are tempted by chat forums, Skype, Facebook and email. Our attention can be easily diverted through these features available to us. They also open up many more issues about online safety and who you should chat with or email.

Currently, the biggest tool used by students around the world is Facebook. While it offers many opportunities for students to connect, build social networks and create a positive digital footprint through joining groups that matter to them, students need to be aware that their personal information may be shared as a result of their online activity. Although Facebook has a minimum age of 13, many students in Grades 4 and 5 have Facebook accounts. I don’t believe that parents often understand the implications of online tools and are aware of the issues involved in online privacy. While we don’t want to be scaremongerers, Grade 4 and 5 students often lack the maturity necessary to evaluate images and consider the consequences of their posts.

Online privacy and safety are both the biggest concerns today and the hardest to address. How do we inform students without scaring them? I believe that making students aware of how information is used and who can access their personal information is a good place to start. Teachers don’t always need all the answers, but we do need to question and instil curiosity in our students. So, keep asking questions and discussing the big issues in your classroom. As a class, try to create rules and guidelines to help keep each other safe. Model the way you use online tools and how you keep yourself safe, and talk about questions you’re thinking about and new information you’ve discovered.

Our job is to empower students and get them ready for the future. The future is ever-changing and so is technology, so prepare students to delve into issues, question and most importantly, be aware. With more and more control over information, awareness is the key to digger deeper, discovering what is really happening and keeping ourselves both safe and informed.



Quality Blogging

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve come to realize that I have to actively teach blogging in the classroom if we want our blogs to be a quality tool to showcase and track our learning. Over the last two weeks, we have been talking about quality blog posts and making great comments in our class. Chrissy Hellyer has really helped us think about what makes a great post or comment by showing us examples of real student blog posts and comments. Surprisingly, my students were harsh critics and came up with a great list of criteria for making great comments and creating quality posts. So now is the time to put it all into practice. Over the next few weeks we’ll be refining our blogging skills, creating our own blogging rubrics and looking at other students’ blogs. It’s amazing how others can inspire us and teach us how we can improve our own blogs.

Some rights reserved by Kristina

More than anything, I have realized that I need to model great quality blog posts for my students to understand how to raise the quality of their own blogs. I’ve now posted an article on my class blog about Quality Comments and I’ve been inspired to post not once, but seven times in this past week! Thanks to Chrissy Hellyer I’ve upped my game and I’m hoping that the spin off will be magnetic. In fact the students are loving to create blog posts and are now really focused on making great comments. Chrissy has made me aware that writing blog posts and making comments is a skill that doesn’t come naturally. We all have to think carefully about the posts we make and it’s important that students consider the posts as a form of writing, rather than just a quick note or simply ‘spewing’ out their thoughts. How can we expect to attract readers if our blog posts don’t make sense? Would you want to read a post that is full of spelling and grammar errors? What about a ton of writing with no images?

I was also inspired while reading one of the blogs I follow. Silvia Tolisano is an expert blogger and I’ve learned a lot from her Langwitches blog as I improve my own blogging skills. Her latest post: Quality Commenting- Student Guest Post by Zoe M shows some great tips from a fourth grader at Martin J. Gottlieb Day School. Zoe’s post on How to Make A Quality Comment shows just what fourth graders are capable of.

Some rights reserved by Scott Beale

So, what does Zoe have to say about making quality comments? Here’s the tips from her blog post: How to Make A Quality Comment.

When you comment on my blog, I want your comments to be memorable. I want them to represent you, so even if I don’t know you, I will feel as if I do. When you comment on a blog you want it to be unique. To make it a quality comment it has to have fancy words such as, instead of writing, “That is a pretty butterfly.” Which is what 1st graders could do, write, ” What a lovely butterfly! I love how its wings are all sparkly. I would enjoy it if you could teach me how. Did you know that a butterfly’s wing is its most fragile part?” That already is a better comment. To make a comment better, add on to the post, writing a new bit of information, makes it a quality comment. Also, links help. If you find a website that has something to do with the topic someone is blogging about, put the link. Here is how you put a link on your blog:

<a href=”link”>words you want to be the link</a>

That is how you make a quality comment.

I’ve also realized the importance of writing a comment or question at the end of the post to

inspire my students or readers of our class blog to respond to the post.

So what are your thoughts on modelling quality blog posts and great comments in the classroom?

How could you use these ideas in your own classroom?