Course 5 Final Project – Blogging in Grade 3

Well, here it is! Our final video for Course 5 is ready.

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Janette Haggith and I decided to work together on our final project: transactional writing through blogging in my grade 3 class. You can read more about the initial ideas for the project here and here.

The central idea for the unit was: Plants provide many of the resources our planet needs to thrive.

Key Concepts:
  • Function
  • Connection
  • Responsibility
Related Concepts:
  • Resources; Responsibility
Inquiry Into:
  • What plant life needs to survive.
  • Why the planet needs plants to thrive.
  • Our responsibility towards plant life.
Teacher Questions:
  • How do plants grow and survive?
  • Why does the planet need plants to thrive?
  • What is our responsibility to plant life in the environment?
Learner Profile:
  • Balanced
  • Caring
  • Principled
  • Commitment
  • Integrity
  • Respect
  • Research Skills
  • Self-Management Skills

We wanted to focus on incorporating the central idea of our unit with transactional writing through blogging.  We chose to use the kidblog platform and focused on the following NETS-Students.

Communication and Collaboration: Students use digital media and environments to communicate and work collaboratively, including at a distance, to support individual learning and contribute to the learning of others. 

a. Interact, collaborate, and publish with peers, experts, or others employing a variety of digital environments and media

b. Communicate information and ideas effectively to multiple audiences using a variety of media and formats, and;

Digital Citizenship: Students understand human, cultural, and societal issues related to technology and practice legal and ethical behavior. 

a. Advocate and practice safe, legal, and responsible use of information and technology

b. Exhibit a positive attitude toward using technology that supports collaboration, learning, and productivity

c. Demonstrate personal responsibility for lifelong learning

d. Exhibit leadership for digital citizenship

The video sums up the process and the reaction that students had to blogging.

Our blogging project was well received by the students and their parents and a great entry into authentically using technology in the classroom. We chose a closed blogging project which was accessible only to our own class’s students.  In the future I would like to open up the project to a larger community, first the other grade 3 classes at our school and then to a wider audience through international collaboration. We are well on our way to redefinition but maybe not quite there yet!

What a great experience COETAIL has been. I think back to the very beginning of Course 1 and I am amazed by all that I have learned and I am continually inspired by knowing that the ideas I have can be put into action in my classroom. I know that there are people out there trying and succeeding at some of the same projects  I am interested in and now I have ways of contacting them, learning from their ideas and maybe being able to give them some feedback on their projects. Before COETAIL, I really had never realized the power of connecting with colleagues through the internet.  Now I fell as though I have more confidence to try new things and authentically integrate technology into my classroom. Thanks COETAIL!

QR Codes in Grade 3

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It’s a long story with lots of background but let’s cut to the chase and say that I have been very leery of allowing my grade 3 students to do research on the internet. Given the limited amount of time we have had using technology in our class this year, I don’t feel as though I have given enough attention to teaching my students to search responsibly and analyze the veracity of the search results. I do know, however, that on the internet there is a lot of really good information about ancient civilizations specifically geared towards elementary students that I would like to them to explore.  

So, how do I access what I know is the quality content on the internet without risking my students “accidentally” stumbling upon extraneous information? 

I decided to introduce QR codes to my students as a way of allowing them to visit certain selected websites without having them waste time finding relevant sites or getting sidetracked with irrelevant ones.

It was a pretty easy introduction actually; this was a nice surprise.  Some of them had seen them before; all of them made the connection between scanning a barcode at the grocery store to find the price and scanning a QR code to access the information behind the code.

The afternoon before the lesson I posted several QR codes (generated with a free app from the Google Chrome Web Store) with a subtitle “What in the world is this?” Students were engaged and intrigued by these posters and some of them went home and inquired into their use.

The following morning we used the scan app on our iPads to access the link.  The common craft video it linked to explained the basics of QR codes and we were off to the races!

I had prepared a research exercise where students were able to practice scanning and this novel way of accessing information kind of took the edge off of having to read a text for information retrieval. Score one for sneaking in some learning without your students even knowing it.

My students were able to think of some ways of using these codes in our classroom and we hope to incorporate them into our unit of inquiry summative where students will create a museum artifact from the ancient civilization of their choice.

So much has happened…

After being away from my COETAIL blog for awhile I have come back to report on what I have been doing since Course 5 began. Even though I have been away from blogging, I have been busier than ever integrating technology into my classroom and learning, learning, learning. It seems as though I have been living what I have been learning about over the last four courses.

Janette and I are preparing our video to summarize what we have been doing for our final project for Course 5.  In the meantime I have been keeping busy with another technology course.  At the end of January, I enrolled in Jeff Utecht’s Google Apps For Education (GAFE) Course.  Over the last two months I have been learning how to use the Google suite of Apps both personally and professionally to enhance my teaching and improve my students’ use of technology. 

As with COETAIL courses, the GAFE class requires a final project to be completed and I chose to create a classroom google site to show some of the things that I learned during this course.

I thought that I would post my reflection video here for you to look at and provide the link to my Google site.

Let me know what you think  – but be gentle; I am still a novice :)

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Update Circa: Early February

After an absence, I came back to make a new post andI found this draft that I had never published. I’m going to publish it now and then reflect on what I thought was happening at the time and what actually happened since the project has been completed.

Well, we’ve committed to a project!  Since my last post Janette (my friend, fellow COETAILer and PYP Coordinator) and I have had several meetings with one of the tech coaches at our school, Matt, to talk about our course and the blogging project we have decided on.  He has been as excited as we are and he is keen on helping us; yeah collaboration!!

So far we have created a class at and entered all 21 of my grade 3 students.  (As Janette doesn’t have a classroom, we are working to plan and deliver our Course 5 project together.)  Matt visited our class on Thursday to introduce the project.  He had developed a great keynote presentation to introduce blogging, password creation and the importance of keeping your personal information private.   Then, as a class, we checked out the website’s home page and used our critical thinking skills to determine why this particular platform was chosen.  The kids were pretty excited!

Matt will continue to work with us on providing some lessons on issues such as digital citizenship and creating avatars, and will provide tech support when the students are using the kidblog platform to upload videos and pictures from the web and from our media library.

Some of the discussions we have had so far include:

  • How we will deal with using pictures and videos of students and their work  knowing that we will be creating a video for our final project
  • Whether or not to use YouTube to upload videos so that we can embed them from a URL and not from the media library (file size issues)
  • Parental involvement (should we include parents as viewers)

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The writing skill we will be focusing on for this unit is transactional writing.  This includes letter writing, sending emails or ‘snail mail’ and blogging; basically any kind of writing where the author is anticipating a response.  We will try to teach the students to blog with this in mind so that their posts are thought-provoking, and their responses thoughtful and constructive.

Here is hoping for some smooth sailing during this project (but anticipating some rough water, too!)

Karen and Janette’s Course 5 Ideas 2.0

So Course 5 has arrived and the pressure is on to create a final project for COETAIL that will do justice to all the learning that has happened so far!

Janette (the PYP coordinator) and I have been talking COETAIL final project for awhile but we really need to get something started.  So we met with our school’s tech coaches last week to brainstorm some thoughts and to present the ideas we had planned.

After a great session we have come to some conclusions:

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1. We will be very short on time if we try to work within the time allowed for the unit we had planned to rework (March 10 – April 25).

2. We have decided to work on the unit that starts next week.

3. We had better get cracking!

So we met again today and here is a summation of our ideas (they may still change though!).

We will now focus on the unit for Sharing the Planet – An inquiry into rights and responsibilities in the struggle to share finite resources with other people and with other living things; communities and the relationships within and between them; access to equal opportunities; peace and conflict resolution.

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This unit will run from  February 3 – March 14, which should allow us less time to plan out what we want to do before the unit begins but more time to reflect upon how it went and create our video for Course 5.

The central idea for the unit is: Plants provide many of the resources our planet needs to thrive.

Key Concepts:
  • Function
  • Connection
  • Responsibility
Related Concepts:
  • Resources; Responsibility
Inquiry Into:
  • What plant life needs to survive.
  • Why the planet needs plants to thrive.
  • Our responsibility towards plant life.
Teacher Questions:
  • How do plants grow and survive?
  • Why does the planet need plants to thrive?
  • What is our responsibility to plant life in the environment?
Learner Profile:
  • Balanced
  • Caring
  • Principled
  • Commitment
  • Integrity
  • Respect
  • Research Skills
  • Self-Management Skills

When wanted to make sure our ideas for the technology component considered the S.A.M.R. model, specifically focusing on achieving Redefinition – the computer allows for the creation of new tasks that would otherwise be inconceivable without the technology. Ideally, we would like to start doing new things in new ways.

So, what exactly will we do?

Well, we have a few NEW ideas.

  • We are thinking of blogging to document our thinking and learning  throughout the unit (Transactional Writing is our focus this unit).
  • Students could use digital cameras and iPads to take pictures and video to upload to their blogs.
  • We know there will be a need to address Digital Citizenship.
  • If the project is working well, we may try to connect with other classrooms in our grade team.

We have had concerns about the availability and access our students have to technology.  While we are not a ‘bring your own device’ school, we will ask for exception during this unit to allow our students to bring in their laptops or iPads.

There is so much to think about such as which platform we would like to use to host our blogs but now that we are underway it is very exciting!  I am so glad I have a great team to work with on this project.

Gearing up for Course 5

International Baccalaureate

For Course 5, I have decided to team up with my colleague and fellow COETAILer, Janette Haggith.  Janette is the Primary Years Program Coordinator (PYP Coordinator) at the IBO World School where I teach grade 3.  As a result, we work closely together with our grade 3 team to create, develop and reflect upon the units of inquiry we deliver.

So, it is both fortuitous and logical that Janette and I work on a plan for Course 5.  We have had a great deal of discussion on ideas for revamping units of study and so far we have come up with the following.
We know that we would like to work on the unit for Where We Are In Place And Time – an inquiry into orientation in place and time; personal histories; homes and journeys; the discoveries, explorations and migrations of humankind; the relationships between and the interconnectedness of individuals and civilizations, from local and global perspectives.
This unit will run from March 10 – April 25 which should allow us time to plan out what we want to do before the unit begins and still have a bit of time after to reflect upon how it went.
The central idea for the unit is currently: Exploring ancient civilizations broadens our understanding of their impact on our world.
Key Concepts: Function, Form & Connection
Related Concepts: Impact, Civilizations & Exploration
Inquiry Into:
  • The characteristics of a civilization
  • The evidence of ancient civilizations still present today
  • How ancient civilizations have impacted our lives
Teacher Questions:
  • How is a civilization structured?
  • What evidence from ancient civilizations is still present today?
  • How have ancient civilizations impacted our lives?
Learner Profile: Open-minded & Knowledgeable
Attitudes: Appreciation, Enthusiasm & Empathy
Skills: Research & Social

We think this unit will be a good fit for Course 5 not only because of the timing but because it may be a chance to incorporate some international mindedness with the content.  This is a goal we have to incorporate some of the ideals of the PYP.  We are also trying to integrate the use of more technology into our units of inquiry and currently this unit does not have a technology component so that makes it a good fit, too.

When we were thinking of ideas for the technology component we keep referring back to the S.A.M.R. model and we are trying to focus on achieving Redefinition – the computer allows for the creation of new tasks that would otherwise be inconceivable without the technology. Ideally, we would like to start doing new things in new ways.

So, what exactly will we do?

Well, we have a few ideas.

  • We could use technology to document our thinking and learning  throughout the unit.  Sort of a learning journey scrapbook using apps like Explain Everything, Voice Thread or a sketching app.  Students could use digital cameras to take pictures and video.
  • We could try to connect with other classrooms in the countries whose ancient civilizations we are studying (Ancient China, Egypt, Mesopotamia, Aztec, Rome and Greece) by means of digital handshakes and Skype interviews. We could develop some questions to ask them about what kinds of evidence from ancient civilizations is still present in their country today and how have ancient civilizations have impacted their lives.
  • Students could create a digital story about their imagined visit to an ancient civilization or about a fictional character from the time period (our writing genre is narrative).
  • Students could create a virtual museum of artifacts for a particular civilization using images collected responsibly on the internet (searching safely and citing sources).
Some of the concerns we have about redesigning this unit include the availability and access our students have to technology.  While we are not a ‘bring your own device’ school, we may ask for exception during this unit to allow our students to bring in their laptops or iPads.  We would also like to be mindful of integrating technology authentically throughout the unit and not just as an add-on at the end of the unit where students take their learning and create a PowerPoint or take pictures of what they have done and make a movie slideshow.  We would like to get some deeper thinking and reflection documented.
We have so many ideas and thoughts at this point and there is a great temptation to try to do everything.  So, we will need to ensure we focus on doing less better and shift away from theme based activities during the unit. Another aim for me, professionally, is to document reflections about my personal practice along the journey.  In our busy lives reflection is something that often goes by the wayside and this will keep it fore front in my mind and on my To Do list.  I think that by being accountable to a course design and blogging about my progress it will keep me reflecting on regular basis.  This can only result in deeper reflection and research into best practices.
The skills that have been identified for this unit are research and social and our attitudes are appreciation, enthusiasm, and empathy.  In addition to researching ancient civilizations and developing skills associated with increased participation in group work, we may incorporate developing social skills on a international level via electronic communications; recording students’ reflections about their learning journey; and the acquisition of technology skills in the use of specific apps.  While students, have been enthusiastic about this unit in the past, we are hoping that we can generate enthusiasm by using technology as well. Reflection can be difficult for students and we hope that their enthusiasm can be channeled and will help us ride out some of the difficulty students will have in the challenges of processing exactly what the teacher wants them to do.
It is exciting to be planning this unit and we are looking forward to Course 5.  We feel fortunate to be able to work together on this project (and hopefully with our grade 3 team, literacy coach and the technology coaches at our school) as collaboration is something Janette and I both feel strongly about.
As we have been planning together, we have been referring back to all four of the courses we have taken so far and we really believe this will be a culmination of a bit of learning from each of them.  I guess our COETAIL instructors had that planned all along!

Ready. Fire. …. Aim?

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My school is in an interesting and unforeseen position.  Good intentions of creating a 1:1 program have hit myriad unanticipated roadblocks and now we have some students in classrooms with school-issued iPads while the majority do not have them. Bringing your own device is not an option for day-to-day use. In addition, construction delays have prevented the opening of the computer lab associated with the library.

So now we are dealing with bigger management issues such as:  What do you do when 6 out of 22 students have iPads? Are students allowed to share them? What does instruction look like for the students who have iPads? What are the other students doing while the students who have iPads are receiving instruction? What kind of instruction in technology are students without iPads receiving?

As we iron out the wrinkles these developments have presented to both administration, tech coaches and teachers, it is obvious that well thought out, practical plans for the use of iPads and, in fact, all technology will need to be amended.

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Every teacher runs their classroom differently and I am very grateful for our  administration allowing us to have that autonomy in our classrooms.  Having said that, there are as many tips for classroom management as there are classroom teachers.  With respect to strategies for the day-to-day use of devices in the classroom, it is imperative that teachers have a well-aimed plan.  Remember back to all those detailed lesson plans we were asked to create in our pre-service education?  Yep, the ones where you needed to consider everything that could possibly go wrong and have a plan B just in case.  Plans like that are important to have until routines can be established.

There are plenty of helpful articles and blog posts where teachers can read up on strategies and interact with colleagues to glean some helpful hints.  I do think, though, that when it comes to using devices in the classroom the best way to find what works for you is to start using the devices. Every classroom will be different. Every school will have its own set of rules for its own set of equipment.  Issues of how devices will be charged, stored, maintained and cared for will vary tremendously.

In my opinion, the most important thing to factor in would be flexibility. Teachers may have thought of plans for how classroom materials are stored, managed and used safely and still problems may arise.  I am thinking of all the best laid plans for the use of scissors in the classroom. No matter where I had planned for them to be stored or my thoughts on how easily they were accessed, I had not factored in that this year (in grade 3 no less!) I would have a student cut her hair! What actually happens may deviate from what was intended.

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So, planning, flexibility and a good sense of humour thrown into the mix should serve you well. After all, it’s nothing we teachers can’t handle!

Is this the future of education?

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Motivation.  In this video, Daniel Pink talks about three key factors in motivating people: autonomy, mastery and purpose.  He also mentions a trend in the corporate world in which companies have allowed their employees 20% of their work time to work on any project they wish; ultimately resulting in stunning outcomes. offers the following definitions.

autonomy: independence or freedom, as of the will or one’s actions

mastery: command or grasp, as of a subject

purpose: 1. the reason for which something exists or is done, made,used, etc.; and 2. an intended or desired result; end; aim; goal

Wouldn’t it seem to make sense then, that if we could connect our students with a reason for why something exists, or a desired result, and then allow them the freedom or independence to gain a command or grasp of this content in 20% of their school day, we could motivate them to a higher level of learning?


Imagine if we allowed children in our class 20% of their school day to work on anything they wish as long as it was educational.  What would be the outcome?  Would it result in chaos or inquiry?  Is this the future of education?

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While reading about connectivism this week I revisited some insight regarding a ‘significant’ trend in learning I had blogged about before.

Know-how and know-what is being supplemented with know-where.

With the half-life of knowledge changing rapidly, empowering students with the skills they need to learn on their own, or teaching them where to find the knowledge (I would even suggest who to ask about the knowledge), results in the teaching of content becoming very much a secondary focus in instruction.

Ultimately, if we subscribe to the theory of connectivism, as defined by Wikipedia as a theory of learning based on the premise that knowledge exists in the world rather than in the head of an individual, then we must allow our students time to access the people in who’s head knowledge exists.

In a previous post I talked about the four key components that are critical to learning.

  • active engagement;
  • participation in groups;
  • frequent interaction and feedback; and,
  • connection to real-world experts.
Four key components to learning.
The skills they need to learn on their own.

My ticket out the door

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I’ve got my big idea for the week thanks to Jeff Utecht; a thought that I hope to embed in my personal teaching guide book.  For me, it really sums up what I am taking away about flipped classrooms or reverse instruction.

“The flipped approach is about empowering students with the skills needed to learn on their own, not empowering teachers with new ways to deliver content.” 

I struggled this week with the idea of reverse instruction in teaching grade 3.  Much of the information I have read has a lot of merit for the upper grades but when I tried to make sense of what that would look like in my classroom, I had a big disconnect.

Reverse instruction, as in having students use technology at home to watch or listen to “lecture” style presentations about content, is not really in line with my school’s homework policy posted on our school’s blog.

“No new learning should occur in homework.  The work set by the teacher should be: completion of class work; the reinforcement of concepts through reading and activities; practice of skills that have already been taught; and, an extension of research taught and begun in the classroom”

(Yikes!  That first statement should really be amended.)
In addition, I’m not a big fan of homework at all. I have my own children and I have sat through the trials and tribulations of homework in the elementary grades.  One of the (only?) benefits of homework, in my opinion, is that parents can see what the expectations of the students are and whether or not their student is able to meet those expectations. However, I have watched my children toil through hours of homework only to have it never returned or returned without any comment on how it was completed.  How does that help when there is no feedback?
What is the purpose of homework?
Up until now I find that some of the children in my class have been able to get away with “I don’t know” and “can you do it for me” responses to challenge.  This includes everything from motor skills (like stapling their own pages together and cutting the tricky parts in a scissors activity), to critical thinking (such as reading a differently phrased question on their assignments), to responsibility (remembering where they left their classroom materials).  I have a big problem with these default responses. One of my biggest day-to-day struggles is:
How do we teach skills such as risk-taking, perseverance, motivation, initiative and determination?
If I had to sum it up in one word, it would be “inquiry”.  Children who are truly inquiring into a topic will be engaged, motivated, inquisitive, determined and they will persevere against the odds of challenge and struggle.  If they can find something that personally interests them about their learning they will find a way to learn the skills necessary to inquire into that topic.
So, flipping the classroom, to me, is not about teachers finding new ways to deliver content by recording videos and linking them to their classroom blog but by making connections between the learning that is going on in the classroom and the day to day happenings in the real world we call LIFE.

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I think my “ticket out the door” regarding flipping my classroom will be my continued effort to move the ownership for learning away from me and more towards the students by empowering my students with the skills they need to learn on their own.

Progress Report: Developing

Way back in Course 1 we looked at integrating technology in our classrooms by doing new things in new ways.  Mark Prensky’s article about Shaping Tech for the Classroom talks about the typical four-step process of integrating technology:

  • Dabbling.
  • Doing old things in old ways.
  • Doing old things in new ways.
  • Doing new things in new ways.

These four steps can be compared to the four levels of the SAMR model:

  • Substitution: the computer stands in for another technological tool without a significant change in the tool’s function.
  • Augmentation: the computer replaces another technological tool, with significant functionality increase.
  • Modification: the computer enables the redesign of significant portions of a task.
  • Redefinition: the computer allows for the creation of new tasks that would otherwise be inconceivable without the technology.

Furthermore, this week I read this article in EDUTOPIA which states that there are four key components to learning technology.

  • active engagement;
  • participation in groups;
  • frequent interaction and feedback; and,
  • connection to real-world experts.

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This collection of ideas is percolating as I am developing an idea of how I view technology use in the classroom.  Call it integration, embedding or whatever you will, I think the ideal in technology integration is to let the curriculum drive how technology is used in the classroom.  Best practices seem to indicate that if teachers allow children to choose what they think is the best means of technology to deepen their understanding of a particular concept and give them time to consolidate their learning through the use of that technology, we can maximize student participation in their personal learning journey and, hopefully, increase their enduring understanding.

“Effective technology integration is achieved when the use of technology is routine and transparent and when technology supports curricular goals.

So, the ISTE NETs – T standard that we are looking at this week is a lofty goal:

2.b: Develop technology-enriched learning environments that enable all students to pursue their individual curiosities and become active participants in setting their own educational goals, managing their own learning, and assessing their own progress.

How does my classroom (and ultimately, my school) live up to that standard?

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Not very well, it seems.  This year our school has embarked on the first stages of a 1:1 iPad initiative but the implementation of this plan has encountered MANY speed bumps.  The bottom line is that we are not 1:1 and iPad use, so far, has been sporadic.  In addition, we have lost our elementary tech teacher and computer lab and in return have been given three K-12 tech coaches. Unfortunately, classroom teachers are not too sure how to optimize these individuals. Being the optimist that I am, though, I have faith that these hurdles will be overcome and that more good than bad will come out in the end.

If I consider the four key components to learning technology from above, I can see how our school might increase our odds;  just as we would students, we need to actively engage teachers, continue allowing them time to frequently participate in group discussions on technology with their peers and connect them to real-world experts for their personal development.

These COETAIL courses are helping me to see that while the first two levels/steps of technology integration are a logical progress into 21st century learning, I need to shift my thinking to the latter two stages and modify or redefine how I am using and teaching technology in my classroom.  I hope to keep this forefront in my thinking when I am redesigning a unit of study for Course 5.