Course 5 Final Project – A Tech-less Reading Unit to Techtastic!

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Reading Workshop photo courtesy of Cheryl Harrington

Reading workshop has always been one of my favourite areas of the curriculum to teach. An opportunity to read a range of books, open students minds to genres and books they would not necessarily reach for, and a chance to facilitate discussions, questions and ideas that come about from the rich learning that takes place. My goal for this project was to take my learnings from the Coetail course, and find ways to integrate technology into an existing tech-less reading unit. This would then give them the tools they need to communicate, collaborate and create at a global level, also in line with my school’s missions of ‘Signifying the real-world connections that this access to technology will bring’.

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BaiBoard 3 Student Learning photo courtesy of Cheryl Harrington

I pushed myself to introduce a few new learning tools to the class, such as Baiboard 3, and made time to collaborate with the tech integrationist to ensure the digital aspect was sound, yet allowed me to be an integral part of the planning and execution process. When I look back at myself before I began this Coetail Journey, tech was a teaching tool that I felt was there, but just beyond my reach, and one that I was not even grabbing out for unless someone led my hand, and basically did it for me. Today I am actively looking for areas in the curriculum where I think it might be a more effective strategy to use to better the learning of my students, as regularly as I used other teaching tools. Coetail has pushed me to think more deeply about the options that whilst I knew were out there, was not ready to jump into. For this project I took a unit, planned, collaborated and implemented tech throughout – all because I wanted too! This is a revelation!

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PSA GR.5 Celebration Photo Courtesy of Cheryl Harrington

The project was without doubt a success in that this unit went from zero tech to at least 2 – 3 opportunities for students to communicate, collaborate and or create on a weekly schedule. There are I believe a couple of reasons for these success. The first was the student’s response. The idea that using technology as a tool to learn engages students more was highlighted throughout this unit, as even my less able readers were quicker to engage in the task when they were asked to show their learning digitally. Secondly, I picked apps that the majority of students had already had some experience with, therefore we were not caught up in the actually ‘teach’ part of the tech, this part was secondary so the students were able to keep the end goal I had asked regarding showing their knowledge and thinking, in sight. Additionally, I was forced to take on the mind set that Coetail has pushed me to read about, that I have blogged about, and tried to move in the direction of, as I have moved forwards with the course, and my thinking. I let students make decisions for themselves on how they tackled the projects, allowed them to problem solve when they hit the wall, encouraged them to ‘try it out’, and looked for other students to model ideas and give tech tips. This was and continues to be, challenging for me. As teachers we always want to give our students the opportunity to develop and learn, and when the question goes something like ‘How do I embed google slides to….?’ I am not always ready with the answer, and not sure how to get there other than give the stock answer – “Ask a friend!!!” It’s a learning curve for sure and one I need to keep going with.

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Gr.5 PSA example photo courtesy of Cheryl Harrington

As we moved through the unit, I was very keen for the students to be aware, that it was the knowledge that they were showcasing they should keep at the front of their minds when finding ways to demonstrate their thinking. Likewise, I wanted to ensure that the apps were not replacing an already successful and meaningful activity, but instead raising the level of learning. I felt apps such as Padlet, BaiBoard 3 and Today’s Meet were seamless in their integration to the lessons, and from the student’s response and work – effective and engaging. The other apps such as ThingLink and Popplet, whilst effective, did take from that precious reading time we have, but, at the same time, the responses I had, gave me a great resource to check in with their learning, and guide my instruction. This was most evident as we moved into the final celebration projects of an imovie book trailer and a Public Service Announcement (PSA) on a social issue – linked to a social issues. I tried my best to press this point, whilst guiding them in ways they could use the digital tools effectively, so that they highlighted their knowledge and learning, and not just focused on a bunch of, as my father would say, “bells & whistles”.

I am looking forward to revisiting this unit next year and making some tweaks and modifications to it. I hope too that some of my grade level colleagues will look at this unit with fresh eyes when they come to it, and want to take that risk and give the ideas a try for themselves. I know I will.

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So I will admit to have been putting writing this blog post off – for a while! When I read the subject matter for this post, my heart sunk. Indeed, the last 2 years of Coetail have been a wonderful opportunity for me to be part of a learning community. It has allowed me to learn and reflect on my teaching practices, with as the website states ‘provides input and feedback from a community of participants on a global level.’ I have learnt, pushed my thinking, been introduced to new ideas and experimented in my own teaching, all in online learning engagements that I had considered myself lacking in. This journey has been a long one, and as I read through my previous blog posts, much has been achieved. But when it comes to discussing how much my PLN has actually grown, here I continue in the eyes of many, to stumble.

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AIS-R ESPLN BLOG PAGE – Photo courtesy of Cheryl Harrington

As a teacher I believe that it is part of my job to constantly reflect on my teaching, and look for ways to build upon, and improve my instruction and the students learning, on a daily basis. For these reasons, I constantly look for resources on line,  read articles about a math idea or look for strategies on small group reading sessions. I download resources offered up on elementary blogs (Wild About Fifth Grade)  that I follow, and love the resources and ideas that they share. Even my own school has a great professional learning blog on which weekly, posts & shares ideas that my colleagues are using just down the hall, but I might not get to see or know about. Here videos can be found on a range of educational issues, including technology that I can refer back to, ask questions about and learn from.

Yep – I am a taker. Life is busy, and I am a homeroom teacher with a life outside of school that also requires attention! Research & reading all takes time. Blogging with fellow Coetailers has been an excellent opportunity to have my world opened up to a wealth of ideas and resources that would never have come about had I not been a member of this community. I too, have ideas and activities that I use in my class, but do not necessarily feel people would be interested in seeing or hearing about. I am not sure why. Am I just sharing for the sake of it? Am I just reinventing the wheel by using a different coloured paper in the activity I have chosen to share? Is it in fact, just the same idea as what is already out there? I am just not ready for that step on this staircase to the global platform.

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5B Instagram account – Photo courtesy of Cheryl Harrington

So what am I doing with regards to my PLN? I believe it is important that during this process, parents and the wider community are aware of the learning that it is taking place. Instagram is my major player in how I share on a content sharing platform, make personal connections with the students and their families within the immediate community, and globally. This social media, an article by Forbes states, enables ‘an in-the-moment experience’ , its simple and a visual that makes the connection immediate. With 52 followers, I do feel like I am ‘sharing’ by using this form of social media.

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Follower on Pinterest – Photo courtesy of Cheryl Harrington

I read my colleague Bettina Meyers post on her PLN journey, and she spoke to how she regarded Pinterest as being part of her PLN. I would agree with this. This is a platform that I too use on a regular basis, in order to provide me with my own personalized learning and sharing platform. As is the case of Bettina, I have followers, and follow others. This site is a hidden gem for me with regards to connecting with ideas that are current, authentic, engaging, appropriate and for the most part, tried and tested by teachers who are in the trenches. Yet was it not for its very existence, I would not be able to connect with.

Where do I go next, I wonder? What is it that I see as truly meaningful and useful on a regular basis? I have considered having a Twitter account several times over these last few years, but always come full circle on it – back to the answer of no. I look around at my colleagues in elementary and the only ones who are using it on a regular basis, are the coaches. I get it, it makes sense – their job is to work one-on-one and in small groups with teachers, provide guidance, training, and other resources as needed. Twitter is a great way for them to connect with others on a global platform and share the ideas that they see working for us. In the meantime, I am looking for and finding resources in other areas that work for me and that I need now. And I am ok with that. I am still at that beginning stage of my PLN, but the difference is, due to Coetail – I now know what’s out there, or at least who to reach out too. Due to my school’s involvement in Coetail, I am aware of opportunities that will help me build my PLN. My school facilitates monthly NESA CHAT (using tweetdeck) that I can be part of. A PLN plan is no longer something that sounds ‘alien’ to me.

My colleague Lindsay Lyons blogs about the ‘Importance of giving back and participating in a community of sharing’. Wikipedia refers to the Leap of Faith as the act of believing in accepting something that is intangible or unprovable. The thing is, I am surrounded by great people who can and have proven that building a PLN through sites such as Twitter, Crowdfire and Google+ is possible and is useful. I don’t want to be that person who joins something for the sake of it, because it ticks the box, or it sounds good. Coetail has taught me to think carefully about what my objective is, to look closely at what options and what benefits are being offered, and to remember – it’s going to take time. And I know, I really need to take that leap of faith.

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And the Winner is…… Social Issues!

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Photo Courtesy of Creative Commons

This week my principal sent out the guidelines for up and coming report cards, Trimester 2. Yep, it’s that time already, which means soon my Grade 5 students will be in their ‘final fling/push’ of learning with me in elementary before they take that jump into the unknown – Middle School! This email also signaled my attention on another note – Coetail! I have not been so diligent in my attention to the time frame of blog posts, but in my defense, I will say in my mind, and my day to day instruction, I have already well and truly started on my final course project.

At the end of the last module blog post, I was back and forth with two ideas for the Module 5 Final Project. I was looking at how to integrate technology more meaningfully and seamlessly, into two existing units –  a stand alone Genius Hour Trimester Block Project, or a 5 week Grade 5 Reader’s Workshop Unit on Social Issues. Both units I love, and both I felt would benefit from an overhaul of ideas in how to present and empower student learning. The decision as to which to choose has really come about naturally. I had previously blogged that my main concern with the Genius Hour unit was time. This hour is something that is not built into my current schedule, so it is something I have to make time for by (magically) finding some natural gaps in the curriculum. Along with regular school wide events that break up the calendar, just getting through the curriculum requirements can often be challenging, if I am also expected to meet reporting deadlines. Hence, whilst my students are currently undertaking this project, the time frame and deadlines are constantly changing, which does therefore not meet my Coetail deadline.

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Photo Courtesy of Cheryl Harrington

But that’s ok! Why? Because I am also loving my Social Issues Reading Unit which we are currently well into the swing of! The students have been reading and learning, I have been redefining the unit by integrating and embedding the technology where I felt their learning would most benefit, and their understanding be deepened.

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Photo Courtesy of Cheryl Harrington

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Photo Courtesy of Cheryl Harrington

A huge plus has been that our Elementary Tech Integration Sean Walmsley was keen to continue to be involved on a project we had tried to work in last year, but time had not been on our side. After attending one of our grade level planning meetings, he has planned a wonderful culminating project for this unit, in which is all students create a PSA on a social theme of their choice. This will reflect the student’s reading & learning of social issues, whilst asking them to think about the technological components of the broadcast (such as visuals, music, images and the choice of apps) as they smash the app and video to create the PSA. I feel that I will need to ensure students have received adequate scaffolding and time to prepare for the project with regards to planning out the knowledge and learning that the student wishes to share, and Sean is able to then take this and guide students into the direction of showcasing this information at a superior level, with me working alongside him.

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Photo Courtesy of Cheryl Harrington

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Photo Courtesy of Cheryl Harrington

We still have a few more weeks to go before the culmination of the unit. As always, I have been documenting learning, as well as being aware of ensuring these new routines are not taking away from the knowledge I wish my students to gain. My main goals of completing Coetail was to become a more confident teacher when it came to technology, where I would look to technology as an option for a tool to reach out and benefit my students, as naturally as I do when it comes to using other instructional tools. As I plan and teach this unit I do believe I am there. Whilst the jury is still out on whether I am fabulous at it, I figure that is ok. I am doing what I ask my students to do every day – which is take a risk, get out of your comfort zone, push your thinking and continue to ask questions.

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The Power of Blogging

At the beginning of the year, during my ‘Back to School Night’ presentation,  I referred to my class blog at least 8 times. I make the point that it was a key point of reference for parents looking to be in the loop of what was going on in their child’s class and school. Be it curriculum, the lunch menu, the colour we need to wear for UN Day or the instagram photos that show their child in action during the school day – this was something that should be on every parent’s radar. I even take a few minutes and ask parents to take out their phones, and sign up directly to my blog by using Blogtrotter –  which feeds directly to their email account in real time, for free!

I would like to say all of the parents do this. Apparently not. We are way into 2017 now, and the end of Trimester 2 is fast approaching. Yet weekly, I  answer emails with the line “If you refer to my class blog post titled……  (always linked to be on safe side that all paths are there for the parent to take, if they were to decide to go with that next click). I live in a country where due to the culture, socio economic factors, security and dynamics of the landscape, transport to and from home is for the most part linked to drivers, nannies or buses, even for our very youngest learners. The culture of a quick chat at the school gate it is not. And for that reason I tell the parents, it is even MORE important that this blog is your go too. Here they can find a wealth of resources and stay connected with their child’s learning. In my weekly blog posts I give parents and students a heads up of what’s coming, and this I point out, can invite conversations at the dining room table, they can then refer to the learning environment their child has spent the best part of 7 hours in that day. For the many fathers that travel outside of the country for days/weeks at at time, I see the blog as a great online connection to their child’s daily lives. Additional to my class blog, each student in my class, has their own blog. These are all listed on my home page, Dad or Mum can read what their child is thinking, feeling, and doing – all with a few clicks! Finally, it is a frequent occurrence that some of our students leave early for a winter break, or take an absence from school due to a family matter in the middle of the trimester. The blog allows them to keep abreast of the learning in class, be it for one specific subject area if that is what is needed and parents are made aware of what is being missed.

When I first started in my school, class blogs were not on the agenda, and I will admit to being a little irritated when it was suggested not only were we going to all have to have one, but that there would be a minimum criteria that we should follow with regards to weekly updates, and information that should be available. Surely this was not necessary. Then I saw it through the eyes of a parent, to my son who was then only 5 years old. My    phone would ping as I got the Instagram message that allowed me to see images of my son learning, playing or just ‘being’ at school. As my son has passed through the grade levels, I have found myself learning as an educator from my colleagues blogs, that I would subscribe to yearly. I have learnt several ways to make my blog more user friendly and relevant, as well as blogs in which I have thought, nope, that does not seem to be so effective. I try to use these opportunities as a ‘window” for me to develop professionally from people who I work alongside and often have ideas that I can benefit from in my bid to be more tech savvy.

And I know my blog is working. My school asks parents to complete a survey for their child’s homeroom teacher. Questions cover topics such as ‘I am aware of what is happening in my child’s classroom’ and ‘ I am able to access resources to support my child’. Feedback has been very positive, and this is not because I am sending personal emails on all of these subject areas, but instead ensuring my blog is current, informative, meaningful, and both student and parent friendly, as well as being a digital forum celebrate and showcase student learning.

Blogging for Coetail has reaffirmed the usefulness of this communication tool with regards to learning, sharing and questioning information and ideas not just from my colleagues, but also on a global platform. For sure, not all schools are looking to blogs as the form of communication with regards to home – school, and I feel this is just one important element of that. I love a printed copy of the monthly lunch menu for my fridge like everyone else. But do I think it has a place in the learning environment, why not I say. What harm can it do?

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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
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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!


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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 :

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