Collaboration is the Key

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Photo by Cheryl Terry

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

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

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    Photo credits to Emily Roth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Photo by Cheryl Terry

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

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


Transforming Our Learning

Water is Precious

An Integrated Inquiry Unit

Our water unit and the COETAIL course are coming to an end. It’s been a busy time, full of success, a little stress and a huge amount of learning. We’ve spent a great deal of time over the last few months focusing on a unit of inquiry which expanded our existing science-focused unit.

Here is an overview and reflection on our ‘Water is Precious’ unit of inquiry:

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In a nutshell, here are the successes, challenges and next steps:

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Photo by Cheryl Terry


  • *Giving a clear message
  • *Mashing together media
  • *Making strong statements
  • *Using contrast
  • *Applying technology tools and using tools previously learned
  • *Using provocative images
  • *Awareness of copyright laws
  • *Working collaboratively


  • *Giving detailed credits (name of artist/photographer; URL)
  • *Giving credit for music used
  • *Reviewing rubrics
  • *Self-evaluation of technology projects
  • *Giving constructive feedback to partners


  • *Providing adequate time for inquiry and metacognition
  • *More time required than a standard unit
  • *Providing adequate time for planning digital projects, as well as editing and peer-editing
  • *Giving time for reflection and sharing at end of unit
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Photo by Cheryl Terry

Next Steps

  • *Greater emphasis of student self-direction
  • *Teacher working in the role as facilitator wherever appropriate
  • *More student choice to foster motivation (Dan Pink, Drive)
  • *Developing stronger collaboration between grade level classes and within our community, as well as building global partnerships
  • *Greater integration of subject areas to facilitate units of inquiry

In conclusion, aiming to transform learning, as shown in the Technology Integration Matrix (TIM), is my goal. We’re well on the way to forming a meaningful learning environment, which is active, constructive, reflective, authentic and collaborative.

For further details about the unit: ‘Water is Precious’ unit of inquiry

Fostering the Spirit of Inquiry

We Are Inquirers!

In our water inquiry unit, we worked on weaving together a number of subjects: reading, writing, science and social studies, as well as embedding technology at the same time.

We started by creating burning questions about water, related to the main theme: ‘Water is Precious’.




We then synthesized and organized our questions to choose one which we wanted to focus on. After that we refined our questions to create three smaller questions which were easier to research.


Our next step was to begin our inquiry. We tried out the Cornell research method to help us gather information, synthesize it and paraphrase information using our own words.

Once we’d answered our three smaller questions, we synthesized the information again to find the main idea. We used this as the main message for a water presentation. In partnerships, we created presentations using provocative images and powerful words. We used everything we had already learned about technology tools to create an attention-grabbing presentation. Students were briefed on their task, but they had free choice in deciding on which tool would be best to create their presentation. Most students used i-movie, PowerPoint or Key Note.

It was amazing to see how well everyone used their information and created attention grabbing questions and statements to hook their viewers. The students had two 45 minute classes to create their presentations, so it really is great to see how well they can apply what they’ve previously learned in technology lessons and writing workshop.

Take a look for yourself and see what you think:

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Was the message in this video clear?

Were the images and words provocative?

Leave a message to let us know what you thought of the efforts of Grade 4 students, given that there was limited time to both research and create their presentations.


Grade 4’s Mash It Up!

So, can Grade 4s mash-it up?

They sure can! OK, the results and skills were varied, but the majority of students met the standards, and some even raised the bar. What the students in my class proved is that Grade 4 students are able to mash-up their ideas and they can produce videos fairly quickly and simply. Of course, their level of skill varies greatly, depending on their experience in creating videos and using imovie.

The successes: Using a variety of media (photos, text, video and music), understanding copyright laws and making attributions.

What we need to work on: Ensuring that music plays on the video (technical issues), giving full attributions, creating effective transitions and elaborating ideas.

What Factors Have Influenced Your Life & Who You Are?

Here are a few examples of mash-ups by my Grade 4 students (ie: 9-10 years old) which often exceeded the grade level expectations. They include specific details or demonstrate skill in weaving together ideas or media:

This showed considerable skill in introducing the theme and weaving ideas together.

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This video uses good transitions and the main ideas are clear.

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A good mash up of media

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Good use of theme, media and attributions.

The main purpose of our mash-up project is stated below. More information can be found in the Let’s Mash It Up blog post.

What Factors Have Influenced Your Life & Who You Are?

There are many factors which influence each of us; our personalities, values, talents and interests.

Your Task:

Use imovie to tell the story of the main influences in your life.

Describe who or what has influenced you to become who you are:

Clearly describe your values and beliefs.
Identify the main influences in your life.
Describe who or what influenced your hobbies, interests, sports or talents.
Describe who or what has influenced your personality and values.
Describe factors that cause you to act the way you do (your personality & choices).

So, what do you think? Can elementary students mash-up ideas?

Do you think this is an appropriate project for 9 and 10 year olds, given that we spent considerable time talking about privacy, online safety and copyright?

(Students had to have signed consent to publish these videos on their blogs, and they are unlisted on YouTube. They have also given their permission to publish their videos on this blog)


Project in Progress: Water is Precious

Unit of Inquiry: Water is Precious

While embedding technology in an authentic way is the main focus of the COETAIL final project, this was an ideal opportunity to create a unit that integrates core subjects and provides opportunities to link to IS Bangkok‘s Definition of Learning. By refining our original science unit, I was able to extend the unit to meet Technology and Information Literacy (TAIL) and Global Citizenship standards and create a more rounded unit of inquiry. My aim is to embed technology meaningfully and authentically, assist students to become more aware of global issues and best of all, create meaningful learning opportunities.

Here is my first attempt at creating a unit based on the fundamentals of PYP, in collaboration with Grade 4 teacher, Mike Jessee, and ES Librarian, Nat Whitman:


Let’s Mash It Up!

Influence Visual Literacy Project

As a final project in our Grade 4 Influence unit, I decided it was time to delve in and try out a mash-up. Although this was something I had hoped to try out with my students at some stage, it could be a big ask for 9 and 10 year olds. Two things convinced me to give it a go. Firstly, the students themselves proved that it could be done. Three students created mash-ups in a ‘Who Am I?’ project presented in November. That’s always the beauty of an open-ended task that gives structure but allows for creativity and interpretation. The second factor that helps me to try new things and take calculated risks in the classroom is the invaluable support of our ES Technology Coach, Sarah Fleming. So here goes! We’re jumping in with both feet!

What Factors Have Influenced Your Life & Who You Are?

There are many factors which influence each of us; our personalities, values, talents and interests.

Your Task:

Use imovie to tell the story of the main influences in your life.

Describe who or what has influenced you to become who you are:

  • Clearly describe your values and beliefs.
  • Identify the main influences in your life.
  • Describe who or what influenced your hobbies, interests, sports or talents.
  • Describe who or what has influenced your personality and values.
  • Describe factors that cause you to act the way you do (your personality & choices).

Standards and Criteria for Success

‘Mash up’ your ideas by using a variety of media.

Use visuals and key words to clearly explain the main influences in your life.

Your video should include:

  • Photos
  • Video
  • Music
  • Text
  • A title slide
  • Transitions
  • A concluding statement
  • Attributions (for any media used)
  • An understanding of copyright laws

Here’s a video which helps you understand fair use and copyright laws:

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Influence Presentation Outline & Rubric

Influence Student Self Reflection

Rubric for Influence ‘Mash-up’ Video


Explanation of influences


Use of Media


Theme is very clear to audience.  Ideas are connected and transitions between ideas are smooth.

Very clear explanation of influences in life.  Gives a detailed story of influences throughout life.

Includes specific examples of influences on personality & interests/talents. Includes people, places and events.

Very creative.

Uses a variety of media.

Gives clear attributions & follows copyright laws.


Clear theme. Ideas are connected.

Includes transitions.

Clear explanation of influences in life.  Tells the story of influences throughout life.

Includes examples of influences on personality & interests/talents. 

Uses a variety of media.

Gives some attributions. Shows an awareness of copyright.


Theme can be worked out. Some ideas are connected.

Few transitions are used.

Some explanation of influences in life but sometimes unclear.  Attempts to tell a story.

Includes some examples of influences on personality & interests/talents.  Could be more detailed or clear.

Uses some media.

Attempts to give attributions, but not in sufficient detail.


Unclear theme. Ideas seem unconnected. No transitions between ideas.

No or very little explanation of influences in life. 

General ideas. Specific examples not given.

One medium used.

No attributions given.
























Water is Precious

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Unit of Inquiry: Water is Precious

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

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

Science Unit- Water

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

Transfer goals

**Water is the most important substance on Earth.

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

Essential Questions

**How does water change and why?

**Why is it important to learn about water?

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

Enduring Understandings

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

**Water supply is limited.

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

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

Definition of Learning (DOL)- International School Bangkok

**Apply our learning to new situations

**Inquire to extend our learning

**Create solutions

**Communicate our learning effectively

**Make connections across our learning

**Reflect critically on our learning

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

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

TAIL Standards

Effective Learners

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

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

Effective Communicators

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

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

Effective Collaborators

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

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

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

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

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

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Global Citizenship Standards

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Laptops- How Can We Manage Them?

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Cheryl Terry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mirror, Mirror…

What is the future of education?

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Who knows what the future will hold? In my short(ish) lifetime so much has changed and yet it seems the world is speeding up. So what will it look like in 25 years? Or even 5 years? 10? That’s what we need to prepare our students for. I don’t know how it will look, but as states in Preparing for the Future, I do know that it will change, and drastically.

How can we prepare our students for the future?

Constructivism is a key focus in my class and in my school, yet now it seems that we must go one step further, towards connectivism. Our students need to be prepared for a continually changing world and have to be ready to deal with all the technology coming at them. With the rise of social networking and technology tools, students need to be armed with filters. They need to become problem solvers, evaluators, collaborators and communicators.

In Connectivism, George Siemens states that ‘Knowledge is growing exponentially’. To deal with this myriad of information, today’s students must not only effectively filter information, but they need to make connections between what they already know and the new information they gather. As Siemens so aptly puts it, ‘Our ability to learn what we need for tomorrow is more important than what we know today. When knowledge, however, is needed, but not known, the ability to plug into sources to meet the requirements becomes a vital skill. As knowledge continues to grow and evolve, access to what is needed is more important than what the learner currently possesses’.

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Now our learners must be prepared for working in a variety of different fields as it’s not likely that they will enter a career that lasts a lifetime. In fact, many people now hold between 7 and 10 jobs in their lifetime. As Siemens states, ‘Connectivism provides insight into learning skills and tasks needed for learners to flourish in a digital era,’ one that is likely to be more chaotic than stagnant. Our learners must be flexible, adaptable and able to synthesize and filter information.

We can prepare the students in our classes for an unpredictable future by arming them with a number of strategies, such as synthesizing and making connections. Those of us who are older, and no longer in elementary, middle or high school can be exposed through a Massive Online Open Course (MOOC)  like COETAIL. A MOOC can help us connect and collaborate in the digital world, participate and network with others, and create authentic networks.

But motivating students and hooking them is still our number one goal as teachers. In order to gain the skills to survive and thrive in the modern world, students have to be engaged and ready to learn. Dan Pink, in Drive, has highlighted three key elements of true motivation—autonomy (self-direction), mastery, and purpose. Pink states, ‘The secret to high performance and satisfaction—at work, at school, and at home—is the deeply human need to direct our own lives, to learn and create new things, and to do better by ourselves and our world’.

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The elements of autonomy, mastery and purpose would encourage creativity, flexibility and challenge in students. But how could this look in the classroom? Karen Robb, in Is this the future of education?,  throws out an interesting idea: ‘Imagine if we allowed children in our class 20% of their school day to work on anything they wish as long as it was educational’.

Will administrators and the average teacher buy into this?

Would teachers be willing to take the risk and shift their thinking to the role of facilitator?

Would teachers feel comfortable shifting the power from the teacher to the student?

Does this resonate with me? Hell yes! I’m committed to developing self-directed learners in my classroom and am a true believer in giving students choice. Encouraging creativity and finding ways to motivate students to challenge themselves and achieve their potential is my ultimate goal. Now is the time to have the big discussion with the powers that be in my school who are currently working on developing International School Bangkok‘s ‘Guiding Principles 2020’. In a nutshell, connectivism, autonomy, mastery and purpose should be a key part of our ‘Guiding Principles 2020‘.

To Flip or Not To Flip?

How would reverse instruction look in my classroom?

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This is a tough question and one I’ve been muddling over for a while. To be completely honest, I’m hesitant to use reverse instruction in my classroom for several reasons:

**Using video does not provide opportunities for interaction, teachable moments, refining lessons in the moment to meet student needs, or working with partners. I just don’t find it as engaging for the students.

**While I can see a place for the flipped classroom in high school or even middle school classes, where students often have 1:1 laptops and are issued these for everyday use, I believe that it is less valuable in the elementary classroom. I am reluctant to assign more homework tasks on a regular basis that demand the use of computers as parents already have a hard enough job limiting screen time.

**Creating vodcasts to set up a flipped classroom takes time. As teachers, we’re already working hard to find balance, and producing videos demands even more time and planning. While I’m excited to embed technology into my classroom, there’s a fine line between what’s necessary and what’s too much. I don’t want my job to take over my life.

**Many vodcasts I have viewed are not appropriate for elementary students. In fact, when searching in the past for support materials, particularly to extend students, I have come across videos I hoped might support student learning, only to find them dry and boring. Personally, I find the videos on Khan Academy really dull. Perhaps I need to explore them more, but from what I’ve seen so far I’m just not motivated to!

Despite my hesitations, I’m willing to explore the idea of reverse instruction and see if it may have a place in my classroom.

So how can this look in an elementary classroom?

“The flipped approach is about empowering students with the skills needed to learn on their own, not empowering teachers with new ways to deliver content.” (Jeff Utecht: Flipped Learning- Going Beyond the Obvious)

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In an inquiry based classroom, students are actively engaged and constructing their own learning. They’re involved in hands-on learning and collaborative problem solving much of the time, which encourages in Reverse Instruction: Dan Pink and Karl’s “Fisch Flip”. I don’t agree with using the flipped classroom as a standard homework protocol. Supporting learning with videos or web links has its place in both the classroom and as homework, but as Jeff states, it shouldn’t be just a new way to deliver content. So ‘Lectures at night, “homework” during the day,’ or the Fisch Flip, as Daniel Pink supports in Think Tank: Flip-thinking – the new buzz word sweeping the US isn’t ideal in the elementary classroom. But student choice, which I’m a firm believer in, can be facilitated with the flipped classroom approach, as the teacher can really only be in one place at a time.

The Flipped Learning Blog helped me make sense of reverse instruction and how it could look in the elementary classroom. In their article Myth: Flipped Learning is All About the Videos, they reinforce that ‘Flipped Learning is NOT about the videos.  It is about the quality learning that will take place during your face-to-face time with your students’. Even more, in Flipping the Elementary Classroom, reverse instruction finally started to make sense. Here’s the key message:

Don’t flip a class:  Flip a lesson.

The Flipped Learning Blog encourages elementary teachers to:

**Think of the flipped class as another technique in your arsenal. 

**Start with a lesson that students struggle with and make a short video.  Ask yourself:  What do I constantly have to repeat or what do kids really need extra help on?

**Rather than assign the video as homework, make it a center in your classroom for students who struggle and/or need extra help.

**Ask yourself–Where should the video go in the instructional cycle?  The place for the video may not be the beginning of learning cycle but rather in the middle.  Flipped videos may be better suited as remediation and practice.

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So last week I trialed flipping a lesson, and decided to try integrating vodcasts into the class. To provide the students with some choice and give them an option to try new and creative math strategies, I created a number of blog posts to introduce multiplication strategies from around the world: Ready for a New Multiplication Strategy? This was just a little taste test for the students, but it helped me to visualize how vodcasts could look in my classroom.

I’m keen to now try vodcasts as a station in math workshop, using resources such as the Vodcasting Network to find appropriate videos for elementary students. I can see this as a great way to extend and enrich students, and also reteach ideas that some students found difficult. As they say, seeing or doing something in a variety of different ways can only help ideas to stick.

I’m now on the hunt for interesting and interactive vodcasts on 2D geometry. I’m happy to discover that there are a few good elementary videos out there, and I’ll be trialing this fractions vodcast to support some of the key ideas of fractions a little later in the year:

Thanks to Kevin Meadows and Flipped Learning Network for sharing their vodcasts. Who knows, perhaps reverse instruction will have a key place in my classroom in the near future.