Course 4 Final Project – Still Tinkering!

‘Re-design a unit from the ground up, to embed technology meaningfully and authentically as a means to enhancing learning “.  Coetail 4 – Final Project. Wow. This is an area that I have constantly revisited as I have blogged my way through my Coetail experience. I have agreed, disagreed, wondered and all the rest, through the different courses and kept coming back to agreeing with the tech part, with this very line that Coetail is now asking me to come good at. So this is my chance to deliver I suppose what I keep talking about should happen. And now I am a little scared to say the least! Coetail has taken me on a journey of learning in a world I was stepping in and out of when it suited me. So now I need to actually put into practice what I have kept blogging about, find a unit and ensure it has a balance of instruction that will engage and reach out to all learners, whilst ensure the learning is engaging, authentic and deeper.  At this point, the completion of the post below has now given me a clearer idea of what perhaps my students would benefit more from at this point, but still, the jury is still out on my final decision. Watch this space!

Option 1 – Genius Hour

Genius Hour Brainstorming - courtesy of Cheryl Harrington

Genius Hour Brainstorming – courtesy of Cheryl Harrington

1. Describe the project: What will your students do? Students will work will be guided through the Genius Hour Unit. This is an approach to learning where students are guided by their own passions, interests, background knowledge, and curiosity to learn. They will have opportunities to think about their own passions and interests. Students will watch videos and discuss the importance of thinking deeply, and beyond the initial topic of interest. They will be asked to have a question that relates to something they are curious to learn more about, which will drive the inquiry project, take time and deep thought to answer. Students will then embark on the research aspect of this project using a variety of resources to answer their question. Finally they will decide how they wish to share their project with their peers, and with the wider community as well as a time for viewing their peer’s projects, and a reflection process.

2. How does this project reflect your learning from COETAIL? Coetail asks us to ‘re-designing a unit from the ground up, to embed technology meaningfully and authentically as a means to enhancing learning “. Genius Hour is currently something that teachers in my school, are encouraged to include in their schedule, but it is not an expectation, and indeed for many teachers not something that is on their radar. This is something that I do do in my class, but more when I see I can make it ‘fit’ with the time I have available. It runs more according to how each lesson plays out, and in what direction the student’s inquiry goes. Therefore I would be creating a unit from scratch which I believe would have more direction and ‘meat’ to the instruction element, instruction which would reflect my COETAIL learning.

3. What goals do you hope to achieve with this project? Coetail has covered a range of learning options that are relevant to our students thinking and their future. Areas such as visual literacy, flipped classrooms, project based learning, gaming…. , all of these learning opportunities encourage creativity and options for students to think ‘outside of the box’. As does Genius Hour. By committing to building and implementing this unit, it would be a great opportunity to embed and or revisit skills in technology, without fear of it infringing on core curriculum instructional time – which is a constant issue. Both I and the

Genius Presentation - Courtesy of Cheryl Harrington

Genius Presentation – Courtesy of Cheryl Harrington

students would truly be able to ‘tinker’ with ideas and some new technology tools. Many of the ideas we have covered through Coetail such as digital citizenship, could be covered authentically and meaningfully. When I implemented Genius Hour before, technology has been only covered through the use of presenting resources from either mine or the students end. Now, I feel I could factor in more engagement, collaboration and learning opportunities, into a unit that has so much to offer.

4. Why do you think this unit is a good possibility for your Course 5 project? This unit, whilst requires students to produce an independent project, has various opportunities for students to collaborate, and be exposed to a variety of different apps and digital tools. For me personally, I am able to include opportunities for students to experience these learning tools that are not constrained by the requirements of meeting standards or connected to a formal assessment or reporting requirement.

5. What are some of your concerns about redesigning this unit? I am hopeful that as I am giving the students a broad theme to inquire from, there is plenty of scope for freedom of choice. I plan to revisit Genius Hour three times this academic year, and in this first unit plan to give the students some boundaries with their choice areas of research. This is based on previous experience of running this unit, when (whilst the majority of my students will be able to cope with the independence needed to create a project) my weaker students struggled to make choices that were beyond a basic research project. I am also concerned that they chose technology as their ‘go to’ for the presentation aspect, with no thought as to why this tool would be the best choice. Additionally,  if technology is the best choice, no thought is given to what options of apps are there for this project, instead choosing the one app they are familiar with. I want the children to be comfortable with their learning, but at the same time LEARN from this opportunity, which may require them to come out of their comfort zone.

6. What shifts in pedagogy will this new unit require from you? As a teacher I am always looking for ways to extend the students learning in an area that they are interested in, and love it when there are opportunities for students to share with others something they are passionate about. Allowing students to have this choice & freedom also means as a teacher I need to ‘let go’, and (whilst conference, encourage, model and suggest), I must allow the students to ultimately make the choices themselves it I wish for them to take on their learning and learn from their choices (successful or otherwise). I do find it difficult to guide when a child is using an aspect of technology that I am unfamiliar with, as I feel out of my depth and not always able to push them/challenge/advise them etc and this is something that I want to figure out a way of doing better at.

7. What skills and/or attitudes will this new unit require from your students?

  • Creativity
  • Collaboration
  • Listening Skills
  • Ability to work independently & self direction
  • Ability to set (realistic) goals & time frames to complete work
  • Organisational skills – ensure resources are available.
  • Reflective
Photo Courtesy of Creative Commons

Reading the Book – Photo Courtesy of PEXELS c/o Creative Commons

OPTION 2 – Embed technology into a Gr. 5 Reader’s Workshop Unit.

  1. Describe the Project :

Embed elements of technology into an existing Gr. 5 Reader’s Workshop Unit  (Interpretation Book Clubs: Analyzing Themes)  that currently has no technology. The intention will be to deepen the students learning regarding their reading skills, as well as give opportunities for students to be made aware of and have exposure to alternative tools (digital) of learning.

  1. How does this project reflect your learning from COETAIL?

This project reflects my learning from COETAIL because it is taking a unit that currently exists with no aspect of technology whatsoever (other than delivering teacher information to students) and redefining it to ensure that technology is embedded into the newly improved unit.  My post titled ‘ Apps that Make a Difference & Impact the Learning in My Classroom’  talked about using ipad apps that gave students opportunities to be collaborative, creative and deepen the learning. I feel this reading unit gives several great possibilities in which we can do this and ensure that these digital tools are enhancing the learning of the students.

  1. What goals do you hope to achieve with this project?

4, Why do you think this unit is a good possibility for your Course 5 project?

I think this unit is a good possibility for my Course 5 project because it is currently dry of any technological tool. I do not think this is because someone has decided that the lessons and options of learning are better off without the embedding of any tech, I think it just that the unit is now dated and therefore, as with any good practice, it is ideal to take another look at the lessons, reflect on them, rethink/tweak/change/ add too and, move forwards. This is a great unit to home in on some direct instruction for as well as the opportunity to revisit and or improve on the knowledge of specific apps revisited in the past. In this way, the technology will not take chunks of time away from the learning, and it will allow students to be shown alternative options on how to present their knowledge. Technology is now another tool that should be considered as we plan our units, and this unit is in need of some love with regards to this!

  1. What are some of your concerns about redesigning this unit?

As I have mentioned, this unit currently has no tech embedded into it. Therefore I feel even one change involving technology, would be an improvement if only to reach out to all learning styles. As many of us recognise, technology does engage kids and what better way to reach out to those reluctant readers! Having said that, the reading standards, assessment requirements and a desire to encourage a love for reading in my students has to be the main goals of this unit. I am concerned what I may perceive as ‘great tech choices’ for this unit, will not be the case, and I will find students missing the opportunity to develop their reading skills, focusing more on the opportunity to ‘tinker’ on an ipad….

  1. What shifts in pedagogy will this new unit require from you?

If I am to be successful with my methods and instruction related to embedding technology in this unit, I am going to have to truly put to bed that ‘fixed mindset’ and talk back to it with a ‘growth mindset’! It’s easy to talk the talk, but I need to walk the walk as I develop and put this newly revised unit into play. And be ok if it doesn’t quite how I envisaged. I need to take a breath!

  1. What skills and/or attitudes will this new unit require from your students.
  1. Ensure that the knowledge asked for, is demonstrated in final products of learning.
  2. Ability to follow directions and meet deadlines.
  3. Problem solver.
  4. Collaboration
  5. Risktakers
  6. Creativity
Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Apps that make a DIFFERENCE & IMPACT the LEARNING in my classroom.

As each year has gone by, with hands on practice, PD from colleagues, personal research and ‘tinkering’, as well as learning ‘on the front line’ from my students, my growth in utilizing a variety of devices with students in the learning environment has been pretty good! I have gained knowledge and acted on implementing ideas into the classroom, I have integrated it into my curriculum (blogging netiquette post & project),  I am able to see how much guiding, modeling, hands off or hand holding approach is needed to ensure the knowledge part of the experience is not lost and, I also feel I am at the point of being able to say no, we don’t need an ipad for this learning experience, the alternative options offer a much deeper and effective opportunity for my students. This last one is often the hardest one to do when working in an environment where integrating technology is the big push.

I found my colleague Bettina’s post titled ‘I’d be Lost Without My Devices’ an interesting read. She had posted about how, after making a list of her weekly tech integration, the realization of how heavily she relied upon the use of a device and the internet in her classroom had hit home. The post gave me food for thought as to what apps do I tend to use that I consider truly effective in the learning environment of the students. And here are my top 5 tech busters!

ClassDojo - Photo Credit Android Apps on Google Play

ClassDojo – Photo Credit Android Apps on Google Play

Starting off the list – Number 5 would be ClassDojo. This class management app I found worked well with Grade 2 students. It is an engaging tool for managing behaviour which is a huge part of being an effective teacher, and ensuring there is more time for quality instruction. Students are given specific, positive instant feedback, as are parents which keep them informed and can therefore act on and support their child to find a more positive way to behave. The aim of ClassDojo is to develop an intrinsic motivation over time, and I have found this to be the case for the majority of my students.


Photo credit – Cheryl Harrington

Number 4 would be good old Google Slides! This app is a great quick go to for me as well as my students. It is easy to use, with little training required, great for new students who have little technology background. It helps students organise their work, and allows for collaboration. Due to the fact it is fully integrated with google drive, it allows me to be mindful of where students are with their work. Ideas for usage are endless. I often use it for students to create short formative projects that inform me of where they are with their learning, as well as a means to show case learning. Due to the ease of this app, one of its brightest light for me is it allows both myself and the students to focus on the teaching & learning and not on all the bells and whistles that students gravitate to when asked to make a ‘tech’ presentation. HUGE bonus! 

Cheryl Harrington

Cheryl Harrington

Coming in at number 3 is pic collage. A great app for students to create visuals on any content. Using images or words students are able to share ideas and thoughts on anything such as their own passions a blog post without writing on the weekend’s activities to a poster advertising a healthy snack. It’s easy to manipulate, encourages creativity and can be created reasonably quickly.


Number 2 would be Explain Everything. This app is a screen casting and interactive white board that gives students a wealth of options as they ‘create’. Annotate, animate, narrate, import and export to and from most things. It is a great app for students to show their learning. Students in my class frequently pick this app (along with Haiku deck) as their favourite go to when asked to present work. I have had students create some wonderful math tutorials that we have then uploaded into a u tube of ideas for other students to refer to as a learning tool

Photo Credit - Cheryl Harrington

Photo Credit – Cheryl Harrington

Number 1 – Padlet. This app is wonderful as there are so many options for great collaborative learning opportunities, and more! Ideas such as brainstorming ideas, collating research on a topic, to gauge understanding of a topic, to give feedback or for reflective purposes, to share information with others…collaboration. I love that the information is stored in a central place, and accessible as a reference tool. The ability to not only scribe, but drag in videos and images allows greater scope for students to use it for individual or class projects, alone or collaboratively.

All of the above apps feature regularly in my plans. I have several other favourites such as SeeSaw (a student-driven digital portfolio for students to independently document their learning), Kahoot (free game- based learning platform to create, play and share learning games). Finally iMovie is a great option for students to create videos, reports, presentations, even digital storytelling, and created both collaboratively or independently.

There are so many apps out there to utilize, and old ones are constantly being updated. Am I effective with the utilization of them? Whilst my power points are visually HUGELY improved, effective with the apps? I am getting there! I’d like to think I, like my students, make smart choices with and when to use them. As with all that is new to teaching in education, my aim is to continue to learn and apply what is best practice to my classroom, and now featuring – the new and improved tech component!


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Citizens of our Future

When I think back to my own learning experiences,  it really does not compare to the learning that awaits students on the amazing campus I walk onto everyday. The wealth of experienced teachers, the learning tools, which include technology that I am able to utilize in my teaching are far from what I experienced as a student. Yet at the same time I was so lucky. It was a fee paying school, situated in one of the cultural capitals of the world. How could it not be amazing? Yet the classrooms I sat in did not have walls that displayed great learning, no manipulative to help me along with the math concept, and certainly no tables grouped to allow for collaboration. Nice straight lines,  ‘listen to me’ or ‘”everyone turn to page 47’’ were the norm. I am not even sure if differentiation was even a word then. The computer lab was there, it had probably 20 computers, but I couldn’t tell you what we did with them. Certainly no learning there has had any bearing on the technological advances I have made since. Yet I still remember many of the teachers, and a couple that I would say truly inspired me to better myself in something that was meaningful to me. I loved school and learning.

This is my 22nd year as an educator, and every day and year, I have continued to evolve as a teacher within this ever changing education system. Listen to, advocate for, pull my face at new (and old) ideas. I am for sure a better teacher today than I was all those years ago. Technology is now one of the tools that whilst barely on the radar back in the day, now plays a part in my daily instruction, and from articles read on the future of education, we can be sure it will play a huge part. But there are some who seem to think that we will no longer have to hold candles to those amazing teachers, as they will no longer be needed. Instead, technology will take over the role.

According to much of what is being written about education in the future, the very existence of a teacher is being questioned, so apparently I might be out of a job. Online courses are being considered as one of my strong competitors. Due to the internet and global advances in technology, access to knowledge is at our fingertips. The article, In the Future, The Cost of Education Will Be Zero by Josh Cantone, refers to online learning like Flat World Knowledge and OpenCourseWare giving people access to education for marginal costs ‘because the nature of information is such that it can be created once at cost and distributed and consumed over and over again for free.’  For instance, The Wikibooks Project is a site that is contributed to, and contains over 38,000 pages of free text books. Whilst not all of the information is complete, it is accessible, and free. The website Bigfuture, discusses the drastically lowering costs of education due to on line access and availability of knowledge. Aside from the attraction of lower tuition, online courses offer a wealth of benefits such as convenience, self paced scheduling, and they can often be completed faster than attending a traditional course. These course are not just being offered for adults, the website ‘Understood’ offers advice on online courses as alternatives to traditional schools for kids K-12.

There is a stack of evidence out there which is leading to the question of ‘Will technology make teachers obsolete?”. Online learning platforms are revolutionizing access to education. In a recent study by The New York Time Bits Blog, a report concluded that “on average, students in online learning conditions performed better than those receiving face-to-face instruction” Yet the author also talks about how these outcomes were not necessarily a fair comparison. “Often conditions such as time spent, age groups, the curriculum and the pedagogy provided the online student with greater advantages.” Surely also the learning styles of the learner must have some bearing. I have thought often of myself as I read through the pros and cons of this form of learning, as of course through this very course – Coetail, I am living it! Online, I too am discussing and learning collaboratively but the question is, do I and will I, continue to apply this learning in my classroom? I have learnt over time that my brain does better when the learning is visual, authentic, and there is an opportunity for active engagement. This course is offering me tools as I offer my students in my daily instruction. I, like they, need to apply them. I personally find it easier to do when someone is stood in front of me, encouraging, checking in, giving immediate feedback and next steps. This, as opposed to being in front of a computer screen which I can choose to even walk away from.

Technology in the future? Yes, I think we are all in agreement, it’s here to stay. But surely there are other things that we need to give our students that technology cannot give. This week our school had a guest speaker Ron Ritchhart the Principles Investigator for the Cultures of Thinking Project. We had some wonderful PD in which we participated in, and were encouraged to use thinking routines and more effective questioning to create a culture of thinking in our classroom. We watched videos in which students were inquiring, discussing, listening and questioning. In all of these videos students were led and guided by a teacher, someone who could ignite engagement, curiosity and learning. Teachers are the ‘tool’ to do this and more, now and in the future. Unicef states that “The most important element in the learning environment is invisible. It is made up of the values, attitudes, and actions that we and our classes take part in every day.”  My colleague Lindsey writes about a balance in the future of education. This is something that I too have blogged about in the past. Education is not just about giving students access to knowledge but it’s about what to do with the knowledge, and raising well rounded individuals.
So education, and where and how will I be with it in the future? I am hoping I will find it in that ‘perfect school’ we all talk about working in, yet all have a slightly different version of! For me, it would be one that offers everything you consider ‘great’ about education for the students, alongside everything that is ‘great’ for the teacher. From students that love to learn, and are culturally aware, resources at my fingertips and a balanced curriculum, to a schedule that allows sufficient planning time and opportunities to grow professionally. Whatever it looks like, like it or not,  technology will be a part of it! Technology gives me a wealth of resources and tools that can enhance my student’s understanding. I need to continue to make sure that I consider the true purpose of using these tools, and be sure that the learning of my students is deeper because of it. Teaching now and in the future, my end goal is not just about how to deliver the content of the curriculum, it’s to support the development of my students everyday. My aim is to help build  ‘good’ people, who are global citizens that will work, learn and live alongside each other, who will try to make sure this future is a safe and a secure one for us all. Global citizens of the future need teachers to take them there.

Check out this TedX given by the Philadelphia high school junior Nikki Adeli advocating for the value and purpose of schools is to grow a citizen.

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Jack of All Trades, Master of None?

When I think of an elementary student going home after a busy day at school, full of endless learning (and not just the academics), playing is exactly what I hope they have an opportunity to do. Ride their bikes, kick a ball, make loom bands or just sit on the kerb and stroke the neighbours dog. Clean out the hamster cage,  have a play date and talk about their favourite colour  with a friend.  Or maybe nothing. Whatever appeals to them in that moment.  The idea of them having to sit down and watch some videos (and make sure they actually get something from it), so they are ready to roll the next day seems an extension of school to me, just happening now at home.  Lucky parents trying to facilitate that with one child, let alone if they have three needing some screen time.

Many schools are now going down the road of ‘no homework policy’ (my school included). Megan Zander writes about how schools in California are just some of the many who have followed suit on this idea. A  second grade teacher from Texas’s  decision for no homework in her class  went viral when her note was posted on facebook. Author of The Learning Habit & The Narcissistic Family Family Therapist, Public Speaker, and Education Expert Stephanie Donaldson writes that  “data shows that homework is not only not, beneficial to children’s grades or GPA, but there’s really a plethora of evidence that it’s detrimental to their attitude about school, their grades, their self-confidence, their social skills and their quality of life.”

The flipped classroom that is referred to in many of this week’s recommended articles would struggle to work with the philosophy of those above. Working in a K-12 school, with a husband who teaches IB Biology, the flipped classroom is a term that is used and implemented in many of his own classes. My husband was quick to agree with the pros of such a method – students working at their own pace, that it scaffolds on their learning and understanding, teacher time is ‘freed up’ due to less time spent on instruction, and allows more time for personalised student attention. Whilst researching the flipped classroom much of what has been written refers to middle and high school scenarios. Elementary schools not so much. Probably for good reasons. Many of the skills that are learnt with our young learners are foundational and necessary for the scaffolding of skills to continue on successfully as they move through the years. The examples I did find, had teachers taking the idea of the video tutorial shown at home, and using it in their classroom as more of a station .  Jennifer Gonzalez writes about modifying the flipped classroom to make the ‘In-Class’ Version.  The video watched at home becomes a station in the class. Yet I feel this is not a new idea, but an instructional method that is used by many teachers already within the elementary classroom. Perhaps I am just lucky enough to work with people who take a resource and apply it to fit the needs to the students in the class without having to write about it, or give it a name. In our science and social studies classes we often have students watching videos to scaffold their knowledge, whilst other students are working in groups on a given task related to the topic. My colleague Tara posted how she had created technique tutorials to use in her art classroom for her Early Year students. It benefited the students learning for many reasons such as improved classroom management, they enabled all students to see what she was doing, a resource for absent students, and was then available as a station, for students to review rather than taking time from her, enabling her to work with the other students. From my experience with young learners, they are quickly engaged by a video, and questions are immediate. As a teacher, you want to be there for that moment not at home,so you can hear and maybe answer those questions, to guide them, and to ensure the initial understanding is not misunderstood. You don’t want to wait until the next day to talk about it and nor do they. This is the moment that as teachers we want to be there for, to hook them in and take them to the next level.

Bergmann and Sams, who began flipping their classrooms in 2007, say “every teacher who has chosen to flip does so differently.” Bergmann states, “You see, there is no ONE way to flip a class and in this lies one of the great strengths of this methodology.” At least in elementary I think the flipped classroom needs too, and should look very different to the what we are seeing with our older students.

When I read the articles and ideas of ‘Play’ happening in the classroom, unlike last week with Project Based Learning, these I was not excited about. Bud Hunt asksWhat does play look like in a digital environment? How can we create playful spaces around serious topics?” Along with Gaming, these seem to be ideas that whilst are working out for some,  I feel are something I would need to invest time in before implementing to  ensure it was meaningful, and not just another tick on the ‘what’s in’, in education these days.  I feel I consistently demonstrate the willingness to learn and implement new ideas in my classroom, especially those which are related to technology, but I also like to take  time  to research the benefits of new tools if they are to be a meaningful experience for my students.  My students are signed up to the online ‘game’ prodigy math . As well as being a resource for them to use out of school, it is an alternative to a worksheet that will hopefully engage those   reluctant learners, or those who do need to put in some extra practice. Prodigy uses math games that integrates Common Core into a role playing game, using Pokemon-style wizardry theme. Online reading resources such as Raz Kids have added the ‘game’ aspect. My 5 year old son is totally buying into the read for points to make a robot. Great idea, love it. These are resources that can be used to extend students learning. Wonderful but please not all consuming. Whilst ‘play’ linked to the digital world is the new buzz, I hope we are brave enough to ask our students and own children to go ‘play’ on something else and ensure our digital learning choices truly lead to deeper understanding.

I think best practice can and should look different depending on the wide variety of factors that schools are faced with. Too name a few – the student body, school philosophy, and culture before the obvious of availability of resources, technology,  and community needs. The most successful classrooms I have seen in elementary and the most inspiring, are those teachers who use a range of the approaches to teaching. Thus ensuring engagement remains high as all learning styles are being addressed in a variety of ways and forms, and  authentically within the curriculum.  Project Based Learning, Play, Flipped Classroom, Gaming – these are all tools that are now out there for teachers to consider applying. Education continues to evolve, it’s an exciting time for teachers and students! Lots of great resources at our fingertips. Perhaps however the phrase, ‘Jack of all trades, master of none’ is not the road I wish to travel down as I move forwards on this learning journey.

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Change it up? Maybe!

My heart starts to beat a little too rapidly when I hear the words ‘Project Based Learning’ in my school. Not necessarily for bad reasons! As I read the articles on Project, Challenge and Problem Based Learning, I felt my brain buzzing, linking possible ideas to learning in my classroom. I am currently lucky enough to teach in a school where many of our students can live and learn in a secure and safe environment. Many have drivers and nannies, others need only to walk to the rec centre on the compound where they can busy themselves with sport activities and meet up with friends. Compound life is a bit of a ‘bubble’. ‘Real Life’ scenarios look very different here for the majority of the student body compared to much of the outside world. The opportunities that both project and challenge based learning can bring to the curriculum looks to be a great way of opening up opportunities and situations for students who are very sheltered to life outside of ‘our’ four walls, let alone on a global platform..

The article from Buck Institute for Education on the Introduction to Project Based Learning (PBL) and Challenge Based Learning Classroom Guide (CBL) gave clearly laid out and detailed explanations as to the what’s and the why’s of PBL and CBL. I also liked how they did not shy away from mentioning the challenges that can be faced with such learning styles, but also gave ideas of how to take such challenges on, and still make the learning happen.The opportunity for students to work collaboratively on engaging and challenging projects, in which a range of their skills will be tested, is a powerful tool for students learning to be fostered. In an elementary classroom, teachers are constantly looking for a range of activities that allow their students to not just hear about content but to engage and ‘do’. Dr. Seymour Papert’s advice to schools wanting to better accommodate project – based learning, is for schools to “Give up the idea of curriculum. Curriculum meaning you have to learn this on a given day. Replace it by a system where you learn this where you need it.” Whilst I can’t see that happening where I work, I do think there are some ways these styles of learning could be ‘fitted’ into a curriculum. A previous school I worked in followed the Primary Years Program. I see similarities in all of these teaching methods with regards to projects that transpire from the emphasis on a driving question and real life problems, whilst incorporating local and global issues into the curriculum. I believe allowing teachers to plan collaboratively across the curriculum areas, enables opportunities for projects to happen and be revisited on a more frequent basis. Therefore they become more meaningful to the students and I would hope, the knowledge of understanding is deeper.

My school is standards based across all areas of the curriculum, with a class schedule that adheres to specific time allocation per subject on a daily basis. There are frequent requirements related to assessment and reporting, and planning cross curricula is rarely explored. Hence for any of these learning styles to be integrated into my current teaching, it would have to be tweaked (a lot!). One place I have had some students dabble in both challenge and project based learning consistently is when I have had students working in Math Strategy Groups. Many of the math project based learning opportunities have printable guides to help guide me as a teacher, and students to organise and make sense of their planning and work. Performing in Education refers to these guides as ‘the bones of the project’. Teacher involvement is key. The guide is just one component of the overall project’s emphasis on discussions, collaboration, teaching and creativity as well as opportunities for links to technology.The Buck Institute for Education gives numerous ideas for projects on how to implement a project rather than designing one, allowing you as a teacher to be sure the Essential Elements of Project Based Learning are covered. The blog Performing in Education gives some great classroom management tips to consider.  Learning in Hand suggests apps for Project Based Learning.  Some may call these resources too prescriptive. I call it smart teaching, when I as a teacher, am the new kid on the block. This gives me something to start with, and with time, as will my students, hopefully I too will grow, learn and develop in confidence and in my teaching.

Despite reading the articles, and knowing the ‘obstacles’ I feel I am faced with, I am left screen-shot-2016-10-03-at-10-34-54-pmhaving to answer the questions –  Does it have a place in my classroom? Absolutely. Is it feasible in the environment that I currently work with? Can I find moments to make this possible? I think so. I currently use Genius Hour as an opportunity for students to inquire, research and explore areas that interest them. Whilst the students are given guidelines and structure, and a time limit to produce a project, there is still very definite student autonomy. I feel it is developmentally appropriate and lends itself well to my student populations learning style. Whilst it is their project, Genius Hour allowsscreen-shot-2016-10-03-at-10-35-38-pm me to give the students time to scaffold content, model through direct instruction and guidance, as well as have opportunities to screen-shot-2016-10-03-at-10-35-14-pmreflect, discuss and possibly rethink before moving forwards. This is vital in a classroom where students are still learning social graces such as sharing, taking turns, how to manage materials and even the importance of safety.  

I will try hard to keep in mind the paragraph in Buck Institute’s Guide “it is helpful not to think of PBL as taking time away from the regular curriculum. Instead, consider a standards-focused project as a central method of teaching and learning that replaces conventional instruction for a portion of your course. Standards-focused projects teach students the same essential information you might teach them through lecture and discussion.’ I need to be be prepared to continue this journey of finding ways in which to implement technology meaningfully in my class, and perhaps these are the areas of learning styles I need to look to more closely.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

To tech or not to tech?

Wow, how far I have come! Tomorrow I have planned to ask students to share their thinking on character traits, based on details from the book Wonder. My first idea on how to do this was by having students work on their ipads, and respond using the app ‘Padlet’. A great way for the students to show and share their thinking collaboratively. Those trusty post it notes that before would be my go to, will be saved for another day! This tech thinking is not new. As I enter my third year of teaching in a 5th grade class, at a school that has a1:1 Program in Upper Elementary, my current planning consistently reflects students learning through the use of technology. Our recent writer’s workshop was a Blogging Unit, Google Maps features in our Social Studies lesson on Absolute & Relative Location, the app pic collage was a tool for showcasing global citizenship and, student created math tutorials regularly feature in my math planning rotations. Last year I participated in the iLearning initiative in my elementary school. This gave me a wealth of opportunities to tinker with apps, and look for ways to integrate them in the classroom. So yes, I think I am doing a pretty job of promoting and encouraging the use of technology in my classroom!

Yet despite all of the above, does it mean I am  actually any good at it?! I often find myself asking the question ‘Am I even using the technology effectively?’, or, “Does this tool ensure the students are gaining the knowledge with deeper understanding?” There are days where I am giving myself quiet pats on the back, and others, where I am searching out those students who are seriously in the tech ‘know’, and can mentor the students (and me!) who may be struggling with a tech issue. My colleague Disha, in her recent Coetail post titled ‘Where Do I Stand‘, referred to an Edutopia article entitled, What is Successful Technology Integration? Effective technology integration, “ is achieved when students are able to select technology tools to help them obtain information in a timely manner, analyze and synthesize the information, and present it professionally. The technology should become an integral part of how the classroom functions — as accessible as all other classroom tools.”  I am in agreement with her opinion. The video on SAMR – A Model for Instructional Technology Use, gives detailed definitions and examples of their definition of technology related to education. From watching this, I feel I am clearly ‘nesting’ in the Modification stage, with ‘flashes’ of both Refection and Augmentation occurring in my classroom

Image :  Wikimedia Commons

screen-shot-2016-09-28-at-7-59-46-pmSo I am left thinking not only about what the best approach to integrating technology is, but how I can move on wards and upwards in the SAMR Model. What can I do about it in my classroom?  KEEP GOING I think has to be the answer! The easiest mindset and approach to integrating meaningful technology in my classroom, is to view it as just another teaching tool, that I will value and use where and when I see it best fits my students and their learning. Looking to include it as I would include a hands on activity for science, ensuring it remains meaningful. If it doesn’t happen that day, well shouldn’t that be ok? As teachers, our commitment is to our students and their learning styles, which can be very different. A range of learning experiences need to be regularly included and revisited, to ensure all learners are benefiting.  My colleague Frank posted that ‘Technology integration is using technology to apply knowledge in new ways’, a statement I find myself nodding in agreement with. Tech is another, be it great, teaching tool.

According to Edutopia article, the SAMR Model of integration states that successful techtechnology integration is achieved at its best, when a child or a teacher doesn’t stop to think that he or she is using a technology tool — it is second nature. In order to get to this stage we need to recognise that this process will take time. The end goal of ensuring technology is integrated should be one that has demonstrates many components – great content with students who demonstrate deeper understanding on the subject matter, and fingers crossed, with some great tech!                                                                    Photo credit :

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments


I have to say I really enjoyed this final project! Having worked through the various stages of Course 3, it was empowering to take one of my own presentations (which was an obvious candidate for some serious overhaul) and now, feel I have one which I feel I can, and will use that is actually meaningful,  relevant and one I can speak with true belief on. Weirdly, I find that my own presentation has made me ‘buy’ into what I was meant to be already a believer of if that make any sense? It seems the impact of visual literacy and design is very powerful indeed.

My Back to School Night Presentation that we currently use to inform parents about our the Elementary Grade 5 program was crying out for some serious attention. My previous presentation has a lot of ‘white space’, it has several images on one slide, and I feel generally came across as ‘busy’   Second time round, I feel I have done a better job of taking on advice from Garr Reynold’s ideas on Presentation Zen.  Advice from my Coetail Instructor Chrissy Hellyer was to take the plunge and put the whole image on a slide, to not be tempted to ‘squish it’.  Additionally I have tried hard to keep only keywords on each slide. As I watch through the final product, I do believe the pictures are more meaningful and engaging whilst ensuring the main messages are clearly portrayed therefore more beneficial to them. Whilst I have many slides, the key is that they act as a prompt in reminding me what it is I need to share with the parents, with no need to refer to notes/read from slides should mean that I can present confidently and effectively. I have also created a handout for parents to take home. This contains information that was up on my previous presentation for the parents to refer back too. It was interesting to see how many of my colleagues have recognised the need to modify the same presentation as I. My ELL colleague Disha has done a wonderful job of upgrading her presentation Likewise Jason Krugler modified his with equal success.

The hardest aspect of this project was knowing when to stop, and be content with the changes. In one of my previous posts “Present and Engaged” I discussed some of the points raised in Presentation Zen An Overview by Matt Helmke. He refers to the author Garr Reynolds advice on what to do next, when you believe you have completed the presentation. Which was to go back and to edit. Then go back again, edit some more, then again. And again. So that is what I have been doing for the last couple of days. And now I need to stop! However, I know that when the time comes to roll this out to the parents, I am sure I will have a few more ‘tweaking’ moments. This I see as only a good thing. I will be keen to ensure the presentation is current.

My final thoughts again come from both Coetail Instructor Chrissy Hellyer and Matt Helmke. Both spoke of how the presentation was there to support me, because for what I had to say, there was no replacement. This short 25 minutes window is my opportunity to reach out and ensure parents leave the room with a feeling that their child is; in safe hands, that he or she will be given a variety of opportunities to learn through different experiences, and that they as parents are informed of the vital components that will help their child achieve greater success as they navigate the path of 5th grade. Finally they will leave knowing that as their child learns they will witness them enjoy their learning, and be guided as they do so in a bid to be the responsible, productive and ethical world citizens our school believes in. For that reason, as I speak to the audience using both visuals and words,  I do need to be ‘completely there, to tell my story and keep my audience engaged” (Garr Reynolds). I am keen to try it out.

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments


The author of the blog Thinking Tradgtally simply state the obvious for so many of our visual, and kinetic learners – that ‘the combination of words and images helps me to learn and retain things so much more easily. Indeed asking students to consider creating an infographic as an alternative way of organising their thoughts gives them whilst still lending itself to the opportunity of sharing their ideas with others.

When I started to think about what knowledge I felt my students would benefit from an infographic I got a little carried away in the process. I found so many great ideas for our students to both present and receive information – an “All About Me’ for the beginning of the year for me to connect with students and each other. I believe this would be a a great way to engage students interest and then a total buy in for students to showcase and learn about each other. There was a fabulous non fiction infographic as an alternative essay report and a wonderful persuasive creation on reasons to bike. Social studies examples made me start to think about how students could create one for the causes and effects of WW2.  student reading examples. Too much choice!

Finally I came to the decision that it would be the area of digital citizenship that made the most sense to tackle. With everything I have learnt to date through Coetail, and my time as a classroom teacher in a 1-1 Grade 5 classroom, this is the point I need to start at to make sure all the other truly techtastic learning and understanding connects to the students with meaning and longevity and that they make smart, safe decisions when using technology.  Infographics from the little experience I have of them, are easy to follow visuals and this would be an ideal way of introducing them at an early, non threatening stage in the academic year before reintroducing it at a later date, when the focus will be more heavily on the content.  

The example I have found through use of Creative Commons is an eye catching one. Initially I found it a little pretty busy to look at. However, as I looked closer, I felt that the words were clear and to the point. I liked the use of small icons next to each point and the simple use of colours allows the reader to easily find their way around. Moving forwards with my students, my idea would be to incorporate this when I teach our Digital Citizenship curriculum next year. Common Sense provide a free digital citizen poster which I think is more of the type of infographic I would prefer them to create. The issues surrounding digital citizenship are challenging ones (cyberbullying, appropriate usage at school and home, copyright laws, privacy and digital footprint).  My aim is that my students will walk away from this learning experience with a deeper understanding of the footprint and impact technology has on their lives. Safe and responsible and be safe and responsible students of 21st century learning.

I found a great site  that I am looking forward to investigating further, in order to create my own infographic. Their website states that their mission is ‘To allow users to create and share visual ideas online’. Many of the great infographic that I found were made by people who had used this site. It offers great instruction on guiding users on how to create infographics for specific curriculum content such as the butterfly metamorphoses, persuasion and lesson ideas to explain or teach the american elections. The other website that Coetail suggests is Edudemic with its article ‘10 Fun Tools to make Infographics’ – including Piktochart, which looks ideal for students to create an eye catching visual to possibly compare and contrast an individual or an event in our social studies or reading unit.  I am looking forward to investigating further when I come to create these infographics. Finally my colleague Noura has posted on her recent Coetail blog a great find in the site Kids Discover. This has several free infographics covering a wide range of social studies and science concepts such as the one below, which would fit well with our Science Unit on Digestion. Lots of examples of knowledge-enhancing infographics at their best. 

Infographics are an alternative way of incorporating aspects of data visualization in a creative and informative way. Our visual and kinetic learners in particular will be immediately engaged in their learning – conveying their thoughts, ideas, knowledge or a message. It’s a tool that I think I too will be engaged by.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

What’s Your Digital Story?

Last summer my son was given an i-Pad. He is 8 years old and attends a school which is Screen Shot 2016-03-15 at 9.41.17 PMone-to-one. He was ecstatic and wanted to charge it up and get going straight away. He also loves to write. He told me he wanted to write about his family, make videos and take photos so he could show his friends and teachers back in Saudi. And he did. I suggested trying Book Creator  and off he went. An authentic digital story communicating his thoughts and ideas was made.  A year later we have watched his creation several times. His shaky video footage showing the rooms of the house we stayed in, his voice full of emotion and pride as he reels off names, photos of his extended family, and his written words which add further description and detail. He loves it, I love it. How amazing that this digital story went hand in hand with his desire to write, and that it will be there for us to look at years from now, when those times have long gone and our memories are not so sharp. How can this digital tool not be a bonus? The art or form of storytelling is taking another twist as we move into this new age of technology and it’s one that we need to take note of.

As an elementary teacher who has taught a range of age groups, writing is the subject area in which each year, I find myself faced with a few reluctant writers. No matter what trick I pull from the bag, be it a — to inspire, a true tale of my own or even the idea of partner writing, it’s never quite enough to convince them that writing is the smart choice. Currently in my fifth grade class, some of these students are still to be found. I do not believe in using tech as the carrot to dangle in front of all my students – I feel it is my job (however hard and not always successful) to engage them in the art of writing, to make them become excited about the content of their writing, and then, move on to the excitement of how they would then showcase this. Yet it does have a place for those students where tech is that carrot I need to use. I am then faced with the challenge of still ensuring they ‘plan’  their story out, but I know it is the end tech component that drives their motivation.

This year my colleague Noura suggested we have students use their iPads to create a digital storytelling presentation as a way to celebrate their learning. Along with our tech integrationist we had a couple of lessons in which we gave students the scaffolding to move forwards independently and create their own digital version of their completed personal narratives. They were given storyboards to plan from, which helped guide those students who were ready to just grab the ipad and start recording, give more thought to their project. They planned, scripted, and created their own story using digital media that demonstrated the content area. 

The end result was interesting. The tech savy kids and those who love to learn, were focused and produced some fabulous results. My weaker writers and my little friends who struggle with focus, whilst all produced something, still needed a lot of input and checking in with to ensure they were on task. The motivation was there because of the lure of the ipad, but behaviour management and struggles did not disappear completely. As a teacher, this was my learning curve. Students who were struggling with a tech issue reached out to their peers who were able to guide their friends to success. Again, when this happened to one of my less able students, they were quick to give up rather than take initiative and ask for help.

Buddying students up to be ‘tech coaches’ would be one way of solving this next time round. The final celebration was a great success. Students did a ‘gallery walk’ of stories, and were asked to leave a comment that referred to something they enjoyed – the story, the visuals, the app used… The students then reflected on what they would do better themselves next time they made a digital story. It was a great self reflective learning curve without that teacher voice in their ear.

We have since made google slide presentations which tell the story of the students nonfiction research essays. We have used ThingLink to tell the story of digestion and imovie to create fall break digital story blog posts. Time is something that is needed when these projects are taken on, hence for now I prefer to use these projects as ways to celebrate a unit rather than distract from the learning leading up to it. Jason Ohler writes about why writing is important in digital – ‘ Because while writing may not be the final product of a digital story, it is the pathway students must take to create it. ‘ I feel this is the pathway to follow for our young learners to first be writers, if we wish for them then to be able to use digital storytelling as an effective way to deliver a message or knowledge to a wider audience. Lisa Johnson’s article asks you to ask yourself several questions when you consider taking the digital story approach, including this one – “Is there more I can do to elevate and transform the analog craft projects and 
assignments to provide opportunities for deeper learning?” If your answer is yes, then allow your students to make and share their stories with visuals so their voices become even more powerful.

As a novice to digital storytelling I have found lots of tools to take advantage of which, will make this process easier. A video on How to Make Stop Animation is a great kid friendly one to share with kids. Multimedia Tools for Creativity had a huge list of digital storytelling examples PreK – 8th Grade. This video about the seven elements of digital stories would be a good, short link for the students to watch before they embark on their own stories. I loved the website shared by Coetail. It offers up everything you would need to know about digital storytelling, a fabulous ‘How to Get Started’ section, examples of stories which cover a range of subject matters and even lesson plans for Gr 4 – 10!

I watched some inspiring storytelling videos as I researched this unit. 4 Generations : The Water Buffalo Movie was full of  powerful images,  music and a great subject – hooking me in hence demonstrating how powerful this form of storytelling was. The use of critical thinking with regards to the audio and visuals ensured my engagement was instant. I Think I’m Turning Japanese was a great example shared with the students when I introduced the idea, as was ‘Baseball’. My colleague Francois McCurdy had students create some great math and science middle school presentations.  All of which have my brain 116460988_d1f9120b5c_obuzzing on how I can once again integrate this tool meaningfully before the year is out. Most kids are able, and love to talk or write best about themselves. Perhaps a digital story of their time in elementary before they leave for the unknown of Middle School… Watch this space!

Thanks toWesley Fryer for the flickr image.

AND TO IMAN & CALEB for sharing their work.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment


So in one of my last blog posts I wrote about how I wanted to go and crawl under a rock and hide, due to the poor effort I had made on the appearance of my COETAIL blog. I am feeling the need to find that rock once more, having found a pretty appalling effort of a presentation I had made and used for my fifth grade class all about the New Year. Appalling is still almost too kind of a word to use. Effectively communicate a message – I don’t think so, take a look for yourself. 
As I watched a Ted Ed presentation on ‘Death by Powerpoint’ I was  ashamed (several times) at how little effort I had truly made with it. Many of the suggestions that were pointed out made total sense – limit the amount of text you use, think of the size of the text, signaling colours, use images but not too many, make it engaging…..  I even know some of these. Yet I had, as is sometimes the life of a busy teacher, just busted it out as I needed to just get it done! I realise that I have fallen into the trap of what so many bad presentations do – which was to forget that this is just a visual aid – I am still the most important aspect of this presentation. It is there to enhance my teaching, not do it for me. Otherwise I should have just sent the students a link to the powerpoint to read at home.

I had a therapeutic couple of minutes as I watched the images on Presentation Zen : An Overview, I found myself laughing and nodding in agreement as I listed to Don McMillian’s presentation on ‘Death by Powerpoint’ and really enjoyed, and found endless great tips from a wonderful TEDxStockholm titled ‘How to avoid death by Powerpoint – David JP Phillips. An article on The Working Memory written by Connie Malamed discusses how the working memory has a very small capacity , and ‘because learning experiences typically involve new information, the capacity of working memory makes it difficult for many people to assimilate more than around four to five bits of information simultaneously.’ This highlights Phillips comments on how important it is to limit the amount of images in a presentation if we want our audience to have any hope of retaining the information.

I liked how Jeff Utecht demonstrated his thinking when creating a presentation first in the notebook form sketching out his initial ideas. This is a step that I hear many of my colleagues struggling with as they encourage their students to use tech to make a presentation. The kids are so keen to get their hands on the ipads, add the wizzes and bangs, that the planning and therefore the content goes out the window. It was refreshing to see a thumbs up for creating ‘off-line’ (which some may refer to as ‘old school style’) before moving the creations to the next step.

Take a look at the changes I have made so far. I feel this presentation will engage my students not only visually but also inform them, and initiate discussion, thinking and questioning. I now have more slides due to the fewer images/text on them, yet I feel my messages are now being truly heard. My images are all uploaded from creative commons, I have changed the background of the slides, and have used contrasting colours for my text. Slides have text or images to encourage students to initially think rather than as before, just told. My hope is that the simplicity of the slides reaches out to them, and allows me to inform and instruct further.

In the Presentation Zen An Overview, the presenter Matt Hilky refers to the author Garr Reynolds. He talks about how the presenters job is ‘to be completely there’ – to be knowledgeable, to tell the story of your presentation and to keep your audience engaged. The best take away I left with was, when I considered my presentation to be done, to go back and edit. Then go back again and edit some more, and then some more. His point of leaving the audience with wanting more is what I hope my students are left with, wanting to learn and ask and inquire more. As an elementary teacher teaching through a presentation is not something that I do on a regular basis. Yet it is a tool that lends itself well to specific subject matters, and I need to get better at it if I wish to communicate my message to my audience effectively.

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments