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About Sarah Fleming

I am currently a Grade 5 teacher at the International School of Bangkok. Next year, I'll be embarking on a new learning journey as the Technology Learning Coach in the elementary school. While I love to travel the world, I am still a Canadian at heart. I am passionate about building relationships and always curious to explore new and exciting communities to support both our own and our students learning.

Dwelling in Possibilities

My job is like a Choose Your Own Adventure Novel. There are so many possibilities, and I never know exactly where my day will end up. While many of my coaching cycles are planned, I never know what will happen when I walk into a planning meeting. Plus, so many unexpected collaboration opportunities and problems that need to be solved come up every single day.

I want to choose something current for my final project. I have 3 big projects on my mind right now, so I’ll probably stick with those. While not all of them are units in the traditional sense, I think they fit the goals of the project. Because truly, the possibilities are endless: I could choose any Grade level from PK to 5 and any content area. Exciting, but overwhelming!

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Possibility #1: Metacognition & Technology

Why do you think this unit is a good possibility for your Course 5 project?
I have been sitting on the metacognition learning evidence team for two year now. Metacognition is a big part of our mission, vision, and definition of learning. One of our big struggles, though, is how to make metacognition visible. While we use many of Harvard’s Thinking Routines, I have a hunch that the integration of technology to support the development of metacognition will help teachers to monitor its growth over time. Since this is a big picture idea at the moment, I would have to zoom in on a particular grade level. At the moment, we are testing a metacognition continuum so I could see this as a natural pairing.

What are some of your concerns about redesigning this unit?
Metacognition will eventually be meant to be naturally embedded in all of our units at ISB. It is However, teachers are often feeling the pressure of time. To develop the skills and strategies to direct, monitor and evaluate their thinking takes explicit instruction and reflection. It worries me that this would be a huge undertaking. However, I have a third grade teacher who would be willing to collaborate with me to essentially test our continuum (in a particular unit of her choice). Technology integration would hopefully be a natural pairing, and facilitate the process. Since we don’t yet have standards and benchmarks for metacognition, this would be another hurdle to overcome.

What shifts in pedagogy will this new unit require from you?
The regular, mindful inclusion of metacognition in the classroom requires shifts from everyone. It changes the nature of classroom conversation, of thinking prompts, of blogging, and it even raises the level of professional conversation and reflection. Additionally, BOTH the technology and the metacognition would have to feel naturally embedded, not taught in isolation. I am always thinking about how to leverage the power of technology to move student learning forward, and in this case, it would be no different. It needs to be about the thinking and learning skills, not the tool.

What skills and/or attitudes will this new unit require from your students?
This is the big one. Our students generally see technology as another way that we share and develop our learning. However, the metacognition continuum requires students to articulate and make visible many attitudes and habits that they may not have explicitly considered before. The merge with technology would require students to be critically reflective, problem solvers, and independent thinkers.

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Possibility #3: Student-Driven Digital Portfolios in Grade 1, 4 or 5

Why do you think this unit is a good possibility for your Course 5 project?
Once again, this is on my mind because I am sitting on another Learning Evidence Team who is developing and testing student-driven digital portfolios. As well, we have student-led conferences are coming up and many teachers that I work with are tired of the traditional model. We have strong beliefs about what a digital portfolio should be: that it should involved student choice, that it should capture our student’s learning journey and that it should reflect the learning we value. Technology is a natural marriage here and I already have several teachers who would be interested in partnering on this.

What are some of your concerns about redesigning this unit?
My concerns are similar: since this is not a traditional unit, I am not starting from traditional standards and benchmarks. However, I can easily incorporate the TAIL standards, and develop essential questions and learning outcomes. Since this is a

What shifts in pedagogy will this new unit require from you?
Instead of looking at digital portfolios through the lens of products, we will look at it through the lens of challenges, changes, celebrations and contributions. This will be very different for many teachers, who usually create teacher-driven portfolios where students share one writing piece, one math assessment etc. It will not be a collection of artifacts.

What skills and/or attitudes will this new unit require from your students?
The element of choice will be a big shift here. Student will need to make decisions about what to put in their portfolios and they will need to be able to express or show their reasons for their choices. They will need to be creative, have initiative and become more aware of themselves as learners. They will need to become comfortable with what learning is difficult for them, and what learning is hard for them.

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Since neither of these are units in the traditional sense, I need to dig deeper and figure out how to focus my thinking. I tend to take on projects that are rather large, and I don’t want to do that to myself here. However, I do want to do my final project on something that is timely and current in my working life.

I’d love to hear questions, ideas or thoughts!

Insights from an iPad Newbie

We are piloting iPads in our elementary campus this year, in groups of 5 per classroom. We offered the chance for our e-Learning leaders to apply for the opportunity, and almost all of them jumped at the chance. It has been an exciting and steep learning curve for us so far. Since I had never used them in the classroom myself, it has been a year of networking, learning, researching, reflecting and collaborating. It has been incredible watching the iPads literally transform the learning environment in the classroom. In addition, we also have a hub of 20 iPads in the library that can be signed out as a class set. In no particular order, here are some insights and reflections from our pilot:

iPaddr

10. Logistics are what frustrates teachers the most, and also what is the most difficult to manage. Since iPads are actually not designed to be shared devices, we have run into several problems with accounts and sharing. Figure out consistent systems for buying apps, managing the plethora of iTunes accounts, and common agreements for charging, management and organization of the devices.

9. Have an iPad PLC. Our team of e-Learning leaders meets about once a month to reflect on the experience, share ideas, and problem solve. This has been invaluable. As we move forward and continue to roll out iPads to the rest of the classrooms next year, we need leverage the power of our e-Learning leaders and offer more opportunities for iPad PLCs.

8. Mess around. The teachers that have been most successfully integrating the iPads into their classrooms have been willing to try new ideas, have collaborated, and been very comfortable with the unknown. You don’t need to be remotely tech savvy to be successful!

7. Buy the right accessories. Our first cases were terrible, and did more damage than good. We didn’t have ‘dongles’ to connect them to our projectors or docking systems for charging. If you are going to go for it, do it right!

6. Focus on creation apps, not content specific apps. This is where kids are enhancing their learning, and developing their higher order thinking skills. Using the iPad for edutainment is not in our game plan.

5. In your Professional Development sessions, actually show teachers examples of student work or the possibilities with different apps. Run the PD as an informal symposium where teachers can showcase or explain how they managed a particular learning task. We got the most positive feedback from these sessions.

4. Don’t reinvent the wheel. So many schools and so many people have done this work before you. Get on Twitter, e-mail your friends, ask around. On so many occasions we found out that other schools had been struggling with the exact same challenges.

3. Make a plan. But don’t be afraid to change it.

2. You do not need to be an expert on an app in order to introduce it to your class. So many times, we have discovered features of an app together. Our students feel proud to be testing the apps, increasing their sense of ownership and even writing app reviews on the blogs.

1. Keep yourself grounded in student learning. When people ask what my job is, I tell them it is to move student learning forward. I just happen to be a Technology Coach. Technological bells and whistles should never distract from meaningful and authentic learning.

What other insights would you add to this list?

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My Life in Pictures

Me: I was born in 1982. I want to be in school leadership when I grow up. Here’s what I imagine the photo album timeline of my life might look like:

1985-2001: I attended school. It looked a lot like this. I did pretty well in because I behaved well, paid attention and did my homework. I learned teachers liked me because I did not cause any trouble.

市川学園旧校舎

2001-2005: I went to University. I was a number, not a name. I got lost in the shuffle, failed out of third year. I learned highly intelligent people don’t necessarily make the best teachers.

26-100

2005-2006: I buried myself in my studies. My classes got smaller. I redeemed the failure from my undergrad. I learned from my mistakes, and committed to being the kind of teacher who encouraged students to make their own.

Jacob und Wilhelm Grimm Centrum / HU Berlin

2006-2010: I started teaching. We had little access to technology. I still used a DVD player and an overhead projector. I learned that there is nothing more rewarding than watching children have their light bulb moments.

First grade reading - small group breakout

2010-2013: Technology integration became a central part of my teaching and learning experience. I began to develop my own professional learning network, left the classroom to be a learning coach, and have pursued my interest in learning leadership. I learned that many people are uncomfortable with change.

Why iPad (and tablets in general) will succeed

2013-2015: The tools for education will be new for us, but the skills will be familiar. I will learn more from my students than they will learn from me.

Isabelle

2015-2020: The physical nature of schools will change dramatically. There will be schools in the cloud, schools entirely without walls (physically and metaphorically), and schools without teachers. I will learn that I will protect the human element of education at all costs.

Colours

2020 and Beyond: The world will be wireless, and learning will be possible anytime, anywhere and with anything. Knowledge will be irrelevant but having the skills to find information will predict success after school. We will become nostalgic for the past, attempting to blend what we know to be important and true about learning with the ever-changing progress of time and technology. I will learn to find balance, and lead teachers and students to become comfortable with their changing identities while still rooted in learning.

a connection between past and future

What will come next?

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Why I’m Not a Fan of Back Flips

I’ve never liked doing flips. I would go to the end of the dock at the cottage, get all set up, and then freak out. I was afraid of hitting my head. I was afraid of somehow coming up under the dock. I was afraid of not getting all the way around. While I am usually very open to new things, I still have an aversion to back flips. If only it really looked as beautiful and elegant as this during execution:

Open waters

I know that the flipped classroom has a lot of research to back it up. And I am sure that there are many teachers who successfully implement it. But, if I’m being honest, this is one area of technology integration that I have serious questions about, particularly in the elementary setting. I am not ignoring all the positive aspects, but my hesitations are numerous, and in my opinion, have far reaching implications for education, teaching and learning.

If teachers truly understand learning and are really designing lessons that are brain-friendly, then there is no reason to have a long lecture for content delivery. We know that ten minutes is the natural attention span of human beings, and that we don’t pay attention to boring things. John Medina has said, “If keeping people’s attention in a lecture was a business, it would have an 80% failure rate.” So unless these videos are dynamic, engaging, visual and short, then students won’t even have absorbed the content they need for the classroom “homework” anyway.

They say that reading an article in preparation for a University seminar was the original “flipped” classroom. I do see the benefit in being prepared for digging in to discussion, project-based learning or other innovative activities, but I do not see as many applications for our younger students.

Bad teaching is bad teaching. Simple as that. My concern is that teachers will continue to justify lecture as the sole method of content delivery, by convincing themselves that because they ‘flipped’ their classroom, they are on the cutting edge of education. Filming and posting a lesson doesn’t inherently make effective teaching. I know from my reading that flipped classrooms are not all about the video. However; it is still a very important component. What if a student is not a visual learner? Watching a video alone at home does not allow for any peer processing, or participatory engagement. Knowing how I learn, I can tell you that this would not be the most ideal learning environment for myself. I prefer to learn in a workshop type model, with short and varying methods of content delivery (a mix of oral mini lesson, visual, reading and physical activity), followed by active engagement and verbal or written processing time.

As I re-read this post, I realize it is much more negative than I had originally intended. I think I would ‘buy in’ more if the students were involved in the creation of tutorials or videos, or perhaps having observed a truly successful flipped model for ES.

While I’m not a fan of back flips, I am open to convincing. I would love to hear some success stories!

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Recipe for Redefinition

After years of being satisfied on appetizers such as Substitution, Augmentation and Modification, this year, I’ve tasted a few hearty meals of Redefinition and my taste buds are forever changed. If you are tired of dull flavour combinations, undercooked sides and over-processed desserts, follow this newly discovered recipe and you’ll change your cooking habits forever.

Hubble, Bubble, Toil and... (make that 'Boil and...')

Serves: Any educator with a growth mindset
Yield: Copious amount of students ready for the future

Ingredients

    • Appropriate technological tool to match the intended outcome
    • 1 problem or question
    • Creation tool(s) to taste
    • A group of students, of any age
    • Stirred collaboration, preferably global
    • Strong and potent Professional Learning Network
    • 1 heaping cup of Intended learning (a mix of essential questions, standards, benchmarks and learning targets)
    • A tablespoon of problem solving
    • A teaspoon of critical thinking
    • A dash of reflection

Method

1. Find an unstructured block of time. Lay out your problem or question.
2. Collect the ingredients and mix them fiercely. Do not allow insecurity allow you to remove any of them. Be comfortable with the unknown combination that may emerge.
3. Be prepared to be flexible, and throw this method entirely out the window. Students may take the learning in an unpredictable direction.
4. Turn up the heat, and let the ingredients rise and work their magic. If transformation is successfully you will not recognize the result. Taste the new, previously inconceivable flavours.
5. Share with the world!

Cooking Note: This is not always a successful recipe the first time. In fact, many chefs need attempt this redefinition recipe several times before achieving the desired result. Don’t give up! It will be worth the effort.

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Embed is Dead?

I remember when I was in school, and we were learning about writing, my teacher told me that we overused the word said when writing stories. “Said, is dead!”, she would pronounce in front of the class. I used to stress to think of other, more creative words such as hollered, exclaimed, replied.

Old Jewish Cemetery in Prague

Word choice matters.

In the elementary school at ISB, there are a few words which we have started to throw around, perhaps even overuse. They have become a part of our daily vernacular, and as such, may have lost a bit of the meaning that they originally intended. Words such as journey, body of evidence, common understanding, and embed.

When we say: “We are on a learning/curriculum/assessment journey….”
What we mean: “We aren’t where we need to be yet.”

When we say: “We need to consider the whole body of evidence…”
What we mean: “Don’t freak out about that one assessment that didn’t go so well.”

When we say: “We need to build common understanding…”
What we mean: “Let’s get on the same page people.”

When we say: “We need to authentically embed Word Study/Technology Integration/Grammar…”
What we mean: “There isn’t enough instructional time, but be creative.”

I personally am a huge fan of the word and the concept of embedding. True learning should not happen in isolation. Word Study does need to be naturally embedded into literacy instruction. Technology integration is not about tools, so it should be tied to the intended learning, seamlessly moving student learning forward.

However. There seems to be teacher revolt against the word embed. Many feel that the word is vague, that it doesn’t give the structure necessary to fit everything in. We hear all the time, “Even if we embed, it still takes time!” Teachers are desperate for a clear vision for how to successfully fit everything in, so they can check off all their boxes and feel that they are doing everything that they perceive is expected of them.

At ISB our Technology and Information Literacy (TAIL) Standards have been adapted in house from the NETS-S and AASL standards to create grade level standards. A significant amount of work has been done by previous ES Technology and Learning Coaches to embed these standards into our literacy/math/science units, but in truth – we still have a lot of work left to do. I have made it my mission this year to work with teachers to support the implementation of these standards and I feel I have only scratched the tip of the iceberg.

So, who is responsible for teaching the standards? Everyone. Coaches, librarians, the curriculum office, and administrators all need to partner with teachers to support this process. We need to more effectively embed the standards into units, we need to work with teams during launching of units, we need to have coaching cycles, and we need to model building assessments that hit content and TAIL standards. Not a simple job. Not a quick job. Not an easy answer.

Embedding can’t be dead. It needs to continue to flourish. Teachers need to become more comfortable with ambiguity, with professional judgement and with collaborating to make it happen. It is the only way to ensure a truly integrated approach.

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Hand-Me-Downs

“We believe that creativity is a combinatorial force – it happens when existing pieces of knowledge, ideas, memories and inspiration coalesce into incredible new formations. And in order to make a concept (or product, or idea, or argument) fully congeal in your head, you have to first understand all the little pieces that surround it – pieces across art, design, music, science, technology, philosophy, cultural history, politics, psychology, sociology, ecology, anthropology, you-name-itology. Pieces that build your mental pool of resources, which you then combine into original concepts that are stronger, smarter, richer, deeper, and more impactful – the foundation of creativity.” – Brain Pickings

Do we have an allergy to originality? Or is originality simply a myth?

I saw the following ‘Op-Doc’ awhile back, and remember thinking how “meta” it was that they were talking about plagiarizing by plagiarizing.

One of my friends in University had the best wardrobe. She looked trendy and funky. My generic GAP clothes just didn’t compare. I would ask her where she got outfits, and she would always tell me that she had picked them up at the local thrift store. How was she able to put together better, more original, outfits than I was by re-using clothes? Half of the shirts would have been tacky if I had worn them, but the way she paired patterns and style was innovative and unexpected. She was essentially using the elements of remix and creativity: copy, combine and transform. Combinatorial creativity.

Everyone seems to be talking about this idea, or semblances of it. Maria Popova on combinatorial creativity. Austin Kleon encouraging everyone to steal like an artist. Kirby Ferguson’s TED talk and series entitled Everything is a Remix. The Girl Talk controversy. The Internet term “Meme” even comes from the Greek work “mimema”, which means something imitated.

As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, we definitely have a great divide at our school. We have a few teachers that are completely loyal to copyright and fair use. They would never, ever consider allowing their students to create a mash-up of other people’s music, and think that Google is practically akin to the devil incarnate. We have others, on the other end of the spectrum, who believe the Internet was built for combinatorial creativity and want to incorporate these ideas into their teaching. As Technology Coach, it becomes my job, through conversation, planning meetings and professional development to support both sides, and help everyone move forward.

Standing on the shoulders of giants is something we need to encourage our students to do. We need to teach them to recombine, modify but in respectful ways that honours attribution and the original work. Teachers need to see that it is not scary, and that remixing actually adds value to the original while encouraging students to be working in very high levels of thinking.

Here are some ideas that I’ve got, or some ideas that I’ve tried to build this kind of thinking into the learning culture at our school:

Grade 5: Using the program Scratch, students will explore the sample projects, beginning with the coding from a template. They will then work in partners to elevate the project to a new level.

Grade 4: I collaborated with Grade 4 teacher Cheryl Terry on this Influence Mash-Up project. Awesome experience!

Music Class: Model Girl Talk’s mash-ups, and have the students create their own short tracks. Creativity from without and from within!

Literacy: Launching a Poetry unit with “Found Poetry”, where students use existing book titles, or lines from songs, reorganize them and create their own poems.

Everyone believes in hand-me-down clothes. We just need to help them see the value in hand-me-down ideas!

I Am Not a Storyteller

“We tell ourselves stories in order to live.” – Joan Didion

I don’t consider myself a good storyteller. I am envious of those people. I am an ideas person. I am a question person. But not a story person. Its not that I don’t have them to tell. I think I do. I just haven’t yet mastered that art of storytelling that makes it magical: the timing, the comedy, the build up, the element of surprise, the improvisation.

However, I am deeply affected by good storytelling. It moves me, tugs at my emotions and has even led me to fall in love. When I think about leaders that I admire, or speakers that inspire, the common denominator is their ability to tell great stories:

“Over the years I have become convinced that we learn best – and change – from hearing stories that strike a chord within us… Those in leadership positions who fail to grasp or use the power of stories risk failure for their companies and for themselves.” – John Kotter

Digital storytelling is a game changer for me. While it is still incredibly intimidating, I know this is an area in which I can build my confidence, and find my storytelling voice. Ironically, I have been teaching digital storytelling for quite some time. We have experimented with various iPad apps, created Public Service Announcements in iMovie, and designed innovative ways to tell our own stories of learning, growing and changing. Take a look at the TED talk below. It reminds us that while the elements of storytelling have remained virtually unchanged since the beginning of time, but the way in which we tell stories has evolved with consistent novelty. There is certainly a joy in recombining old things in new ways!

And now I need to share one of my own first Digital Stories. Considering I have been asking my students to do it for years, I am pretty embarrassed. At our school, we have an International Week assembly and this year, the group of teachers who organized it asked that we have a “flash mob”. I was asked to record it and then put together a digital story of the experience, with the underlying theme of family. I was up to the challenge. I knew my audience, my purpose, and had a sense of the evolving narrative. Until. I watched the footage. Honestly. I was freaking out. Since the flash mob had only lasted a few minutes, and I could not be everywhere at once, I had relied on others collecting the footage. And it was not good. Not only that, but the kids did not dance! With the assembly a day or two a way, I had to problem solve. In the end – I am not sure that it really tells the story I had intended. Is it a video montage? Or a true Digital Story or our International Week and Flash Mob? Either way, it was important for me to take this leap and get my feet wet.

To be continued…

Embracing Simplicity

About a month ago, I was reading one of my favorite blogs Langwitches. She wrote a post about embedding visuals into teaching and learning, highlighting the free presentation app Haiku Deck. My mind immediately started racing with possibilities. I felt like I finally had the right tool to create a presentation as effective as the Ted Talks that I want to watch every night.

Around the same time, a beautiful Oscar-nominated film was released online called Paperman. I thought it was beautiful and moving, and shared it on social media. It was not until I visited the Presentation Zen blog and saw that Garr Reynolds had posted about that I realized the connection. Paperman is the perfect example of the power of visuals to convey a message and tell a story. There was not a single spoken word in the film, yet it dripped with emotion, anticipation and expression.

In my job, I often run parent technology trainings. I have tried many different models over the course of the year, and while all my presentations had gone fine, I didn’t feel that I had yet to have a workshop that resonated. I had visions of dynamic discussion, thoughtful questions, meaningful thinking routines, but in the end, it was me imparting knowledge. Through the lens of Presentation Zen, Paperman and even my obsession with TED Talks, I looked back at my last few presentations for parents. I immediately noticed the following:

*While I did have some images on the slides, they were not the focal point.
*Words, words, words. I had text (and sometimes lots of it) on every slide.
*The structure of my session tell a story or facilitate dialogue or processing time.
*What was my big idea? I certainly didn’t know. My presentation evolved from slide to slide as I wrote it, it wasn’t purposefully designed.

As I designed my parent training last week, I approached it entirely differently. I started with the big central idea, and moved to the details in the plan. I tried to choose images that were striking, that elicited discussion, and were not always the most obvious. I tried to craft messages that were more “sticky” by sticking with simplicity, appealing to my audiences emotion, and asking unexpected questions. For the first time, my entire speech was not on the slides. I was fearful before I presented. I was worried I would feel lost and naked.

I could not have been more wrong. I finally got the workshop I had been waiting for. Parents left buzzing, with positive energy, questions, and requests for future workshops. I had created a learning community with the parents. I love how the app forces you to choose your words with precision, and how the images are all Creative Commons sited automatically. Now, as I share the presentation below, I realize it is far from perfect. Some of my images are a bit more obvious than I would like, and I still think I am far from maturing as a presenter, but this was a positive step forward.

Created with Haiku Deck, the free presentation app for iPad

Try Haiku Deck for yourself (its free!) on your iPad and embrace simplicity. I would love to hear your feedback.

#Infographic Fail

This year, I’ve had to run my first staff PD. This course is helping me to rethink the workshops I’ve run so far, but it has also been a good opportunity to reflect on what has gone well.

This year, I have shared two infographics at staff PD. One was successful. The other bombed. In fact, the second was an epic infographic fail. I wonder if there is a #hashtag for that! I imagined everyone laughing, but all I could hear was the sound of crickets in the room.

Let’s start with the good news first.

I ran a session on Creation Tools, and to introduce the concept of infographics, I shared the following:

What is an infographic?

It went perfectly. It was clear, concise, and the participants were able to make meaning out of it quickly. It led to interesting discussions, and made the concept accessible for the elementary school context. After the session I had loads of questions about how to use infographics to support units and content. I left feeling inspired, and thought pretty good about myself.

Then….

We have an e-mail problem at our school. I find myself beating my head against the wall screaming about e-mail misuse and etiquette issues. I was running a Simplify My Mac session, and I thought I would start the discussion by sharing the following infographic:

Should You Send That Email? Here�s A Flowchart For Deciding

Nothing about it worked.  It took too long for the participants to read through.  The witty voice felt contrived when it was up on the screen.  The joke fell completely flat, and the message was lost.  The session as a whole was not a bust, but I certainly left wanting to reflect about what went wrong.  I realized that the infographic was too text heavy to be used as a hook or an icebreaker.  I had not considered my audience.  I had not allowed time for processing or discussion.  I had not considered the social and cultural context of my school and staff.

Moving forward, I will certainly continue to use infographics in my teaching and workshops; however, I will be more mindful and reflective beforehand to ensure they communicate the message I am intending.