Developing my #PLN

I have decided to take a more rudderless approach to community engagement and simply do my best to use social media tools, with a focus on Twitter, to develop my PLN. I also explored using Facebook and Google Hangouts as ways to connect with other teachers. Unfortunately, this has resulted in a meandering post to explain my adventures.

Twitter a la Bangladesh
Twitter Bangladesh Style – Leah Bortolin

I had a few broad goals in mind:

  • to meet more folks who were like-minded in the education field
  • to find ways to find answers to burning questions, particularly regarding certain issues related to standards
  • to learn more about the PYP Asia Pacific region
  • to become accustomed to using social media as a tool for professional development


I devoted most of my energy to Twitter for Course 5. Overall, I’d say that I have had a positive experience and I will continue to use Twitter. Over the course of the Coetail
experience, I have gone from zero people followed and followers to both numbers in the 200s. I’ve made really valuable contacts and have made professional gains as a result of these contacts. However, not all experiences have reaped excellent rewards.

Twitter and PLNs for PLCs (acronym heaven)

Screen Shot 2016-04-13 at 9.12.57 PM
My PLC School Google Site

I started by trying to incorporate using Twitter as a PLN into my professional goals at school. We chose a PLC – professional learning committee – that we focus on throughout the school year. And I chose using Twitter to develop my personal learning network. I was joined by 3 lovely colleagues: Nadine Kitto-Switzer, Kacey Molloy and Lisa Daniels. We established some questions and began to tweet our answers with the hashtag #aisdhakaplc. Here is the link to our #aisdhakaplc storify.

As you can see, we eventually stopped using this hashtag – in part because we’d grown out of it and in part because it was a bit long and cumbersome to add it to all of our tweets.

One of our goals was to encourage hesitant colleagues to try and use Twitter by involving them in conversations and encouraging them to reach out to the Twitter community. We actually did this in order to broaden our own Twitter scope as well.

This is ongoing, and, at this point, I’d say we’re still working toward this. Additionally, I hosted an introductory discussion on using Twitter as a professional tool for teachers at a school PD session. This was well attended and I’m certain we created a good 20 Twitter lurkers. A good start. Also, I tried to encourage teachers to tweet and use our school hashtag. Since they are still mostly lurkers, this hasn’t happened yet. And if I’m honest, I am also looking beyond our school myself and tend to use more global hashtags.

There have been a few disappointments: I tried to help out my friend, Lloyd Curley, who was trying to get his students’ surveys for PYP Final Exhibition out to a broader community.

Screenshot of my Titter feed
Screenshot of my Twitter feed

I was certain that this would take off, but it flopped. After a weekend of waiting, there were only a few responses to each survey. Of course, some of this had to do with one of the surveys not having appropriate permission (grr), but overall, it just seemed that it didn’t get enough attention. Both Lloyd and I were fairly disappointed, and went back to our regular strategy of hassling teachers and students from the school which drummed up more responses.



Twitter and #Chats

My favorite days at school this semester have been the days where I’ve got the time to participate in a slowchat. Here’s one of my favorites at the moment:

#AISQ8chat and #AfricaEd have been constants in my weeks this year. They are both slowchats, happening over a day, which is why I like them. My schedule doesn’t often allow for me to get involved in shorter chats, like the#CoetailChat. I’ve made some interesting contacts via these chats and will continue to pursue this avenue. I’d like to broaden my horizons. If anyone has suggestions, please let me know.

Twitter and #IBPYP

I have been somewhat successful getting to know more about the PYP Asia-Pacific Region and using Twitter to learn more about PYP Final Exhibition journeys in other schools.

#PYPX is a wonderful hashtag that has opened my eyes and introduced me to some excellent PYP practitioners. Strangely, I connected with Kristen Blum on Twitter when she works just down the road. Other prolific Twitterites…please let’s make this is a word because I love it so…are Amanda McCloskey, Jen Friske and Sam Sherratt. It is incredible watching and sharing ideas about the PYP Final Exhibition with these folks.

Further, I decided that I was going to try and tweet my way through the IB Asia Pacific Regional Conference in mid-March, #IBHYD2016. Unfortunately, I wasn’t as prolific as I’d hoped. I made some attempts when it came to certain workshops I really liked, but I had trouble with the internet on my phone – more on this later.

I did actually make a couple of great contacts with people, such as Angela Meikle. This connection led me to be a part of a #ibpyp webinar on #pypinnovations. This was one of the most exciting webinars and tweeting events, if you will, that I’ve had to date. I heard and tweeted about so many exciting innovations and made even more great contacts through this experience!

Twitter Conclusions

Overall, I am sold on Twitter as a PLN, but I have learned a few things that are improving/would improve my endeavors. First, you need a decent phone and I don’t have one. This year I have been suffering along with a phone that has a terrible battery life and a terrible wifi signal. Additionally, carrying my phone is a habit that I really need build in order to get more out of Twitter. The more you share, the more you get out of it.

Second, Twitter on its own does not suffice for me. It is the combination of Twitter and personal interaction that has really helped me begin to build my PLN. I tweet much more with people to whom I have a personal connection, even if I don’t personally know them. Additionally, attending conferences and meeting new people offers new avenues for connecting on Twitter. My experiences with #IBHYD2016 and#pypinnovation have proven this to me. I met Angela at the conference, we got in touch via Twitter, and I was connected to a new network of people and ideas almost immediately.


Facebook has some pretty good PYP groups – strange but true! One of my favorites is PYP Online Collaboration. I have been exposed to a wide variety of articles. One particularly poignant example was when I came across a number of articles written by Christopher Frost. The article that really got me talking to Mr. Frost was “PYP and Readers Writers Workshop: are they compatible“.  As my school is going in this direction, this really sparked my interest. I immediately commented on the blog and went on to email with Chris numerous times in relation to this issue and others related to using AERO standards in a PYP school. His feedback was most helpful, and I have Facebook to thank for getting it started.

Screen Shot 2016-04-03 at 9.45.44 PM
Thumbnail of Facebook message, with permission from Mary Schiess

I, hanging head in shame, have not been documenting my posts on these groups so I do not really have loads of evidence to share with you. To be honest, I’ve been using this a fair amount, but, for some reason, it didn’t even strike me that this is an option I should mention until a few weeks ago!

One thing that sparked my interest in Facebook was that this seemed much less scary to many of my colleagues. In fact, one of my fellow teachers came across Chris’s blog shortly after I’d been in touch with him.

I think Facebook is a good option because you can write lengthy questions and responses…and I’m lengthy. What I gain most from Facebook are ideas related to PYP units; articles on sustainability, animal rights, digital citizenship and the learner profile abound. I regularly share these with other teachers. And they do the same. On the downside, in certain groups you need to wait for a group administrator to approve your post, and this simply takes away from the spontaneity of social media.


Tracy Blair wrote Amanda McCloskey and myself awhile back and asked if we would like to try using a Google Edu-Hangout to discuss educational issues. Each week we come up with a discussion topic, invite others to join us, and have our edu-hangouts on Wednesday nights. So far, we have had two hangouts with a third pending. First, we discussed social media; second, we explored using standards in a PYP school; third, we will look at how to move forward after Coetail.

We are starting small, with just the 3 of us able to participate, but the discussions have been deeper than what I’ve experienced in a Twitter chat, and they have certainly been more personal. In fact, they were a smaller scale of the IBPYP Webinar I took part in via my Twitter extravaganza, except I got to talk as well. I have thoroughly enjoyed this experience. We need to find a way to spread the word and make this edu-hangout a regular occurrence.


I really enjoy using these various social media tools to develop my PLN and, ultimately, improve my teaching practice and further student learning. And I will continue to do so now that Coetail is coming to a close (sniff sniff).

However, I have to admit that I feel like I can’t keep up with the kids on the fast track! I know this isn’t what I’m supposed to say at the end of Coetail 5, but I feel I need to speak the truth here. Simply following all that is happening is a challenge! Contributing involves being comfortable enough with the various tools, and I do feel comfortable with them now, but sharing out involves being very organized and super plugged in. Between single parenting, trying to get in some exercise and keeping up with my job, I have found it challenging to accurately document my online existence. Simply being online was enough of a challenge!

Having said this, I have come a long way! Coetail has been the catalyst for beginnign to develop my PLN, as puny as it currently is. I have benefited greatly from the ideas shared and the discussions I’ve taken part in. And I intend to carry on tweeting and posting and commenting and blogging and you name it until the cows come home!

Until the Cows Come Home by Mark DalMulder via Flickr CC by 2.0
Until the Cows Come Home by Mark DalMulder via Flickr CC by 2.0


Badges for PYP Final Exhibition: Coetail Final Project

While this is the end of my Coetail Course 5, I feel that my experiences with tech integration with both students and teachers are just beginning. This course (as in Coetail in its entirety) has been an incredibly rewarding experience. It has also been quite challenging for me since I started with fairly limited experience with technology integration. There has been a steep learning curve, but I’ve risen to the challenge and learned so very much!

In addition to the steep learning curve, I have had a move in the midst of Coetail and this has drastically affected the options for my final project. Despite being the PYP/Tech Coordinator, it felt rather presumptuous to suggest changes to units I hadn’t even seen taught once before! However, as we began planning for the PYP Final Exhibition, I found something that I could do without being too cheeky: the Grade 5 teachers had decided that their current mentor system for Final Exhibition wasn’t working. So I suggested using a badge system to replace some of the work typically done by mentors.

Boy Scout Badges via
Boy Scout Badges via PublicDomainPictures

In this pilot project/unit, Badges for Final Exhibition, students gamified the PYP approaches to learning and the technological skills needed to progress through the PYP Final Exhibition process by earning a series of online badges:

As mentioned, this was more of a pilot project than a true unit. Ideally, the badges will be used as a mentor system, where multiple teachers and students will be able to offer badges for various skills to the Grade 5 students before and during their PYP Final Exhibition journey. However, since this was a big project, and I am a lowly PYP/Tech coordinator without a class of my own to use as guinea pigs, I decided to take it on all by myself this year so see how it would work out. And here’s how it went:

While the student work involved in this project is challenging to see in video form because so much of the work was done online, I strongly feel that this was a great way for teachers, particularly those that might not be involved with students on a day-to-day basis, to get to know students. Further, the amount of possible feedback through a badge system like Badgelist is impressive. There is room for lengthy feedback. Often this feedback moved beyond the platform with students showing up in my room to talk about badges and discuss ideas for new badges. In fact, I think this project will continue all year with students literally applying for new badges today.

And the verdict at my school? Overall, Badges for Final Exhibition was a positive experience for all. With tweaks and nudges here and there, the school will definitely adopt the badge system for mentors during PYP Final Exhibition next year. Ideally, this means we can have mentors across the globe. So, if you are interested in offering a badge, let me sign you up!

Before I sign off, I would like to say a giant thank you to my fellow Coetailers for the ride. I have thoroughly enjoyed this experience and look forward to working with you in the future!





Messing around with ASAs

This term I hosted an After School Activity (ASA) called “Messing Around with Tech” for grades 4 and 5 for 6 weeks. Not having my own class, I decided I would really like to see how kids mess around with technology and an ASA seemed the best option. We often ask students to use technology for a learning purpose, so I thought they might like to simply play around without the expectation of creating something by the end of our 6 weeks. I was also curious what they would do without a bunch of teacher guidance. I gave them one casual incentive: I told them that I would post their end results on our ESTV station at school if they wanted, which shows in the hallway at school, but they didn’t have to do this if they didn’t want to. Besides, our time frame was really too short to do anything polished.

Some of the students less inclined to play around were initially apprehensive. To alleviate their concerns, I shared some things that I thought were super cool and fun. At that moment in time, I had been exploring different choices for creating videos to support a couple of classes. Here are a few of the things I shared with the students:


Interestingly, very few of the students in this ASA were interested in trying something completely new. I suppose they were much more into the geeking out aspect that Mizuko Ito outlines in her work. Some of the students had been working with Nadine Kitto-Switzer, aka @MrsKittoSwitzer, in a stop-motion animation ASA the previous semester. Most of the students that had been in her ASA wanted to carry on with stop motion, trying different kinds of stop motion they possibly hadn’t previously explored and attempting to master some of the simpler elements. Some younger, inexperienced students watched what the older students were doing and followed their lead and made some pretty sweet, if not technically incredible, little pieces:

[youtube width=”325″ height=”244″][/youtube]

As already mentioned, my biggest takeaway was that a lot of them wanted to mess around but not on new things; they wanted to work on things they already knew. Also, they wanted to try things out rather than make one polished piece and would move from one little thing to another not really perfecting anything. So I suppose this could be geeking out, but it isn’t really how I would geek out, but this isn’t about me.

For those students that were in classes where technology is not used at length, the options of what they could mess around or geek out on were quite limited. I was surprised at how many students wanted to create presentations on Keynote! But this is what they’d been using extensively for portfolios for the past few years (we’re changing that my friends), so it makes sense on some levels. And for some students, this is the extent of their tech experience.

[youtube width=”300″ height=”244″][/youtube]

Also, they all said that they wanted their short videos, of questionable quality I might add, on the ESTV; despite the fact that they weren’t anywhere near complete. They also gave me permission to share a few of them in this blog. I am curious and somewhat concerned that they feel these are publishable. In regular teacher mode, I would not have posted these, but they were happy so I let it go. I did put them on ESTV and they were completely chuffed!

[youtube width=”325″ height=”244″][/youtube]

We, being we Coetailers, have been known to say that kids know so much more about tech than we do, but I’m not sure that’s always true in the elementary years. I give a lot of presentations to parents, and many of them have shared with me that they do not allow their children that much access to computers and technology; when they do give in their children tend to use their limited time for video games. In my experience, parents would far rather their children get involved in ASAs and get some exercise or play outside (and so I frustrate them by having a tech ASA, snort). So, what these youngsters are exposed to in class is a good part of what they are getting at my particular school. If one of our goals is to prepare students for tech in the future, then this puts a lot of the responsibility on the teachers’ shoulders in the elementary years.

Further, I really wanted to give students space to play around and to not feel like a teacher was breathing down their necks, so I didn’t offer much support. Rather, I asked them what they were doing. And they were always eager to share with me. In the last couple of weeks, the teacher in me couldn’t help but start to show them things that would help them. And after a month hiatus from feedback, they were eager to hear it! At this point part of me felt like I did the students a disservice by not teaching them more about tech during our ASA. And that is likely right in part. However, on the last day all of the students commented on how I hadn’t pushed them to perform or complete anything and they really appreciated that. Besides, they all felt that they had learned a lot. I wonder if they were more willing to hear my suggestions after time to play around on their own. Again, not really a revelation, but certainly a strong reminder that students still need teachers to provide feedback. (Phew!) And they need to us to know how to support them. Again the pressure is on teachers!

This means that teachers need to be on their technological games and this also means that we need opportunities to mess around and geek out ourselves. Otherwise, how will we support out students? And in order to ensure that teachers have this time, administrators need to give this time to teachers built into the schedule. For next year, I am going to strongly suggest some PD time be devoted to technology with a few people prepared to share their personal geeking out. Any ideas you have are most welcome!

[youtube width=”325″ height=”244″][/youtube]



Breathing into a paper bag

by Windell Oskay via Flickr CC by 2.0

I knew that this badge project was going to be a challenge for me, but I didn’t think the challenges would be this overwhelming before the project had even begun! I’ve come across myriad problems with creating an organized system that does what I want it to do. In fact, this has been so challenging I have actually begun baking cookies to avoid solving the problems. I.Do.Not.Bake.

In a nutshell, I want students to explore elements related to the ISTEs and to other areas of a PYP Final Exhibition, such as group dynamics and time management via a badge system. All three classes of Grade 5 will work on these badges, sharing their accomplishments on their Final Exhibition Google Sites and providing students in the other classes with positive reinforcement and offering badge recommendations.

The Grade 5 team has been super excited about the badges as they will, in theory, take some of the load off of the teachers by supporting students on common issues. They should also encourage independent learning in those kids that typically struggle to work on Final Exhibition outside of the class.

Right, so back to my moan session…

Why isn’t there ONE system out there that will do everything I want?! I have explored a number of options and none of them allow me to do all the things I want/need. Sob.

The issues:

  • age restrictions: As with many kinds of social media, many badge programmes also have a restriction of 13 or over.
  • posting badges: Being able to download badges or embed them onto a Google site is proving challenging. I may need to create my own badges and then share the jpegs with students so they can add them to their Google sites. Growl.
  • listing badges available: Not all programs are set up so that students can see all the badges on offer. To be honest, this astonishes me.
  • gathering evidence: Few programs are set up as a complete system, so finding a program where students can post evidence is a challenge.
  • time: this is taking forever! And the time it’s going to take to review evidence and award badges is daunting.
  • organization: Because of the time factor, I’m nervous about being able to keep all the balls in the air.

The contenders:

CC0 Public Domain
CC0 Public Domain

OpenBadges by Mozilla looked pretty great. You can earn badges, issue badges and display badges within their platform, but you have to over 13!

Schoology and Edmodo look great, but they are so much more than a badge system. I am not the primary teacher of any of these students. Introducing them to a system like one of these seems like too much work on everyone’s part. Sigh.

Credly…oh how I had such high hopes for you. Credly is pretty awesome actually. The interface is super easy to use. The badges are easy to set up and you can provide links to information and assignments. This is hugely helpful. I was having some trouble finding a way to offer students a list of badges. Further, uploading or linking badges to a Google Site was proving difficult. However, the folks at Credly were determined to support me with these problems. Yet again, you need to be over 13 or pay a shocking amount to set up an account for young students. This discovery was heartbreaking.

While exploring Credly, I was also trying out Alice Keeler’s incredible step-by-step instructions on how to set up your own badge system via Google Sheets. Unfortunately, I struggled with some technical glitches that couldn’t be resolved. Honestly, I think creating your own system using GAFE is likely the best answer, but, Google Sheets appears to have some glitches that I just couldn’t work through. The time to make this work was getting to be too much. I did learn that were I more code savvy I could create my own Application Programming Interface to get everything I wanted. I’m just not ready for that right now. However, I did learn how to create a spreadsheet to house all of the data from the Google Forms for all the badges by changing the response destination of each form. This way I can keep all of the badge information in one document.

Enter Classbadges. This is a nifty system that can be used with younger folks. In fact, this program is designed for working with students. You can create classes and award badges to students, to groups of students or to entire classes. You can design gorgeous looking badges and add links to assignments. However, this program does not allow students to hand in assignments (not the end of the world if you use Google Sheets and Google Forms). Unfortunately, displaying the badges is also troublesome. The image is a certificate rather than just a simple badge, which didn’t work for sharing badges on a Google Site. It didn’t look pretty anyway. Further, I could not figure out a way to display the badges on offer for students in my classes.

And finally, Badgelist (thank you Michael Boll). For a very low cost you can create a closed group for kids under 13 that can be managed in groups, much like classes. You can show the badges you have on offer. You are able, in theory, to upload badges to a site, although I’m still working with the lovely folks at badgelist on this one: Ideally, we will be able to embed a page like Hank Thompson’s, the founder of badgelist. While you can add assignments and ask students to submit evidence, you cannot turn a word or phrase into a hyperlink, which is annoying but it’s better than not being able to hyperlink at all. It isn’t pretty, but it works.

Screenshot of Badgelist badges
Screenshot of my Badgelist badges

The plan

So for now here is the plan. Be warned: it’s not super straightforward:

I’m using a combination of Badgelist and Google Apps.

  1. The badges will be accessed through Badgelist. I invite students to belong to the group and they can see the badges on offer and start to work through them. I can see who is working on which badges when I log into my account.
  2. I have created a Flipped Learning Google Doc for each badge that offers links to videos, websites and information I’ve amalgamated for students. Each Google Doc has a link to a Google Form, which students need to complete in order to earn the badge. Sometimes they also need to submit other evidence, which is then uploaded onto Badgelist. Students can find the links to these Google Docs in Badgelist, but I’m thinking about creating another Google Doc with a list of the links just to be safe.
  3. For each badge, the response to the Google Form or other evidence is submitted to Badgelist. However, as mentioned above, I have also linked all of the Google Forms for the different badges to one Google Sheet. This way I can see who has submitted a Google Form.
  4. Every morning with my coffee, I will go through and see who has applied for a badge. I will do this by checking Badgelist – In theory I should get an email every time a student claims to have completed the badge and has submitted evidence.

For students this will look quite simple since they will do everything through Badgelist. It’s the back end that is going to be rather complicated.


As a result of this convoluted system, there are some impressive complications. There are 60 students involved in the Final Exhibition. So the potential volume of material to look through is incredibly high. While I am taking the pressure off the classroom teachers and providing them with a means of organization, I am potentially setting myself up for a huge workload. Before the students have even started, simply creating the flipped learning and related assignments is taking forever. And not knowing exactly how I’m going to make this work hasn’t helped my productivity!

Finally, will the students even like this system? I am presenting it to all of the students in about 10 days time. We are going to make it SOUND exciting, but who knows if they will bite. Gasp, horror, breathe into paper bag!

I jest! Sort of. I think the students are going to love the badges. I also have high hopes that this will encourage them to work on areas that they might not otherwise take interest. It will illustrate what sort of skills we teachers think are an important part of the Final Exhibition as well.

Brownie and Cub compare badges via Flickr CC by 3.0

Finally, I’ve decided to add another layer to the badge system where students will take time, possibly each week, to look at the badges other students in Grade 5 are working on. They will then play TAG: Tell one thing they like, Ask a question, Give a suggestion of a badge. I really like the idea of encouraging students to share badge experiences with one another, offering positive comments about badges and making badge recommendations.

But, holy smokes it’s going to be a lot of work! Any sage words of wisdom or suggestions are most welcome!

Biting off more than I can chew?

Obnoxious. I apologize ahead of time because I am going to be obnoxious and combine Options 1 and 2. I’m quite keen on Option 1 but am scared I might be biting off more than I can chew…

By hellendor via Flickr CC-by-NC-SA 2.0

As the PYP /Technology coordinator, I do not have a class of my own. I am often in and out of classes and rarely work with one group of students across an entire unit of study. However, in my position there is one special occasion where I work very closely with Grade 5: PYP Final Exhibition. This has its own challenges that I’m certain will be part of my final Course 5 reflection: I still don’t have my own class and I won’t work with one class. Rather I will work with three Grade 5 classes for the entirety of the Final Exhibition. As a result, I cannot tweak the unit for the purposes of my Course Final Project without affecting the Grade 5 Classroom Teachers. Further, they are already using technology in interesting ways, such as using Google Sites to record the learning journey. And, while they are being incredibly open-minded, I would not want to step on their toes and change any of their existing work.

As I explained in a previous post, the PYP Final Exhibition is a culminating project which provides students with the opportunity to use the essential elements they’ve learned throughout their PYP journeys. They share their learning with the community and take action on what they have learned in a variety of ways. Students work in small collaborative groups on a student-directed inquiry. For the most part, they do this on their own, but they have the support of their classroom teachers. In some schools mentors also work with students throughout the inquiry process. At my current school, student groups have the support of their classroom teacher, however, they do not currently have mentors. This has arisen for a variety of valid reasons; one of the primary reasons being that other teachers struggle to find the time to mentor effectively. However, it places a lot of pressure on the classroom teachers to ensure that students have all the necessary skills to complete the inquiry project.

Option 1

As mentioned above, it can be really challenging to keep track of student progress, particularly without mentors. Enter my Option 1 Final Project idea! Perhaps a badge system, where students work toward badges on a variety of skills sets, would take some of the pressure off of the classroom teachers. To keep things simple, these badges would be based on a small set of digital research skills and digital presentation tools such as iMovie or Prezi. Many of these badges would initially be created by me ahead of time (the part that scares me), but I already have a few teachers interested in offering badges as well. The badge system would 1) reinforce digital skills related to research and presentation for students and 2) involve other members of the community, making the Final Exhibition a true celebration of learning at the elementary school.


My initial concern is that this is a huge project to take on. Ideally this would have been started earlier in the year so that students are more accustomed to the idea of badges. To compensate, we will introduce the badge system through genius hour in January, nearly two months before the Final Exhibition officially starts. I need to figure out a system for students to let me know they have completed criteria for various badges. As I am still exploring badging systems I would like to find a learning management system that will award these badges automatically when students submit their evidence of learning (does anyone have any recommendations?).

I like this project for a variety of reasons. First, this project will encourage collaboration on a different level at the school, encouraging digital participation by both students and teachers (and both are my responsibility). Second, this serves as differentiation allowing students to use only the information related directly to their own projects. Third, students are encouraged to think for themselves and plan ahead, knowing what sort of learning they will need. And this is a huge part of the PYP philosophy. This will put more responsibility on the students, which is a shift needed at many schools.

But is this biting off more than I can chew, particularly since this is my first Final Exhibition at this school? I have never used badges and neither has anyone else at the school. At the same time, this would certainly be my own initiative, supported by my colleagues, but entirely my own piece of the exhibition. I’m always up for a challenge and I would truly be putting my Coetail learning to use and trying brand new things, continually stretching my own learning. It also provides me with another way to interact with students. Were this project successful, we could potentially extend the badges concept down to grades 3 and 4 in future years. And then, ideally,  Final Exhibition badges would be a true mentor program offered by teachers and students from across the school.

Just in case I am being naive and really don’t get what an incredible undertaking this will be, I’ve started to think of another possibility.

Option 2

As you will have seen in the planner presented above, students create an art installation. Students could share the process and meaning behind their art projects via QR codes. We could then share a QR reader, placed on all of the school devices, with parents and other members of the school community. Final Exhibition students could also share these installations via twitter and blogs to gain feedback from other members of their community. Participants could then provide feedback via QRed Google Forms. To move beyond our school, we could share these through blogs and twitter to get feedback from people across the globe.

In many examples of the Final Exhibition, students get feedback from adults throughout the process, but it is more challenging to create situations for peer feedback. Students would need to develop the Google Form in order to get appropriate feedback. Having the feedback from peers at their school and from other schools would be invaluable for the Final Exhibition students.

This project would need further development, but would be valuable in that students could really explore how other people view their work. The challenge would be to ensure that the students can use the feedback in some positive and constructive way. And I believe that for this to happen, we would need to involve the students in the entire process. This would mean that the time in January and February planned for badges would be devoted to exploring the purpose of feedback in the inquiry process and procedures for gaining effective feedback within the community and online. The timeline would also have to be adjusted to ensure that the students can use the feedback for their final presentation. And this would be challenging because it would affect the Grade 5 teachers’ timelines as well.


In both of these possibilities, I would be involved in the Final Exhibition in a new and exciting way. Also, both options involve asking others to try new things, which I feel like I do a lot (sorry guys). Option 1 would be a huge undertaking, but would 1) encourage students to become responsible for their learning and 2) involve more members of the community in the Final Exhibition journey. In fact, while it would be a huge amount of work up front, I think it would be more straightforward for the other teachers involved. Option 2 would put a new spin on the Final Exhibition, encouraging students to think about their work and how others perceive it. Usually I explore conceptual understanding and encourage students to think big picture. However, both of these angles enable me to get more involved with the inquiry process in some way. Either would really help me combine my dual roles of PYP and technology.


It takes a village

by Black Zack via Flickr CC by NC SA 2.0
Photo by Black Zack via Flickr CC by NC SA 2.0

In trying to answer how to manage digital devices in the classroom, I initially felt like I’d hit a stumbling block. While I am in classes with students, I am a guest in another teacher’s classroom and feel that it isn’t my place, unless asked, to get involved in classroom management. And then, I got to thinking that it takes a village: we can all benefit from learning what other people do when it comes to managing devices in the classroom. So, I decided to poll teachers (feel free to add your own ideas to this – I’ve made a copy so I can keep the answers from my school separate).

The results were spectacular! I have built on their responses to create the advice below on keeping students focused and managing technology devices in the elementary classroom. To sum up, they largely don’t use specific classroom management techniques – they just plan solid lessons!

Use devices regularly

My favorite analogy for devise use is binge drinking. What on Earth? Here is the logic: Drinking establishments in many countries provide access to alcohol until the wee hours. Further, in some of these countries people have access to alcohol from an early age, particularly at home on special occasions. More often than not, people with easy access to alcohol tend to drink more moderately. In contrast, countries like the U.K. only offer access to alcohol until rather early in the evening. As a result, people buy loads of drinks and throw them back quickly because they are going to be sent onto the streets.

The same goes for devise usage: if we offer regular unhindered access to devices, students become accustomed to using technology. If the opportunities are few and far between, in my experience, they get over-excited and struggle to stay on task.

And while this analysis of alcohol consumption might not be entirely valid and a bit over the top, it makes for a fun analogy.

Plan engaging lessons

If students are engaged, they will be less likely to goof around. And nothing is more engaging than exploring or working to solve a real world issue or problemRobert Pinks’ Drive explains that when people are working on tasks that encourage challenge or make a contribution they will likely become more motivated. Further, tasks need to be specific enough to prevent students from developing the desire to wander. If a task is fairly large, it would be wise to break it down to ensure that students are clear on goals.

"Click Here. No, Here" by Ken Banks from Los Altos, USA - Click Here. No, Here: 23/09/06. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Commons -,_Here.jpg#/media/File:Click_Here._No,_Here.jpg
Click Here. No, Here” by Ken Banks CC by 2.0

Particularly with the super wee ones, if you want to offer choices, limit them to two or three at a time. This enables the teacher to moderate what is happening on various devices. It also keeps students focused. And this can be extended to upper elementary: for example, when students are researching, provide them a number of search engines to use rather then just letting them have at the internet. Even better, you can encourage students to make a plan of their own and then follow through with that plan.

Make students accountable

by Wesley Fryer via Flickr CC by 2.0
by Wesley Fryer via Flickr CC by 2.0

If students are expected to produce results in a given time frame, this will encourage them to stay on task. Expectations are teachers’ friends. Even better, as you integrate technology, expect results in ways that will provide you with formative feedback: not only will this keep students on track but it will inform teachers of next steps. This idea of making students accountable also jives well with Drive, as it related to education, in that we are giving students a sense of purpose.

Respecting student work will further keep students on task. Encouraging students to share their work on the projector as they are moving through a process shows that teachers are taking student work seriously. However, we need to make sure that this doesn’t turn into a “carrot and stick situation” by asking students thoughtful questions about their work and respecting their possible wish not to share.

Give students tech breaks

It’s tough to stay on task for long periods of time. I take tech breaks and check Facebook to clear my head now and then. It makes me more productive in the long run. Why shouldn’t students have the same opportunity? Allowing the time to take a break and look at something personally interesting may also prevent students from trying to multitask, which isn’t a great skill when it comes to technology. It’s best to plan these breaks into the day and let students know when that time will occur. Of course, keep in mind that breaks from technology can also help clear the head and refocus. And showing students how to regularly unplug develops balanced life habits.

Have consequences

When kids mess up, let them know and follow up with the consequences you have outlined ahead of time. And, goodness gracious, follow through! Ideally, students are being motivated by engaging projects and solid lessons, and, while not ideal, this is a last resort. Many teachers at school explained that they had consequences in place, but almost rarely had to use them. In fact, all of the teachers who responded to the survey reported that their students stay on task nearly all the time when using digital devices!

Give kudos

Share when students are doing something valuable. Nearly everyone likes to be acknowledged for their contributions.And on that note, I would like to thank the AISD teachers that shared their knowledge and experience to create these words of advice. The contents of this blog will serve as the advice offered on our school wiki, although I may need to take our the part about booze!

Thanks to (more than this, but some didn’t want to be mentioned):


Bring on the Badges

8488348265_26be88bea3_kSo, I haven’t read a single article on badges (I’ve added the link after writing this paragraph), but, confession time…I was a Girl Guide and I was totally in it for the badges. My sash was COVERED in badges for first aid, sewing, making a fire, tying knots (oh yeah) and navigation. I could survive in the woods because I wanted badges. Let’s be clear – badges aren’t new! I wanted to earn badges when I was 10 and I’m no spring chicken. But I love this new take on badges.

Flash forward 30 years to my next exposure to badges, which occurred when I started to look into Maker Spaces (great slideshow). Students are able to use different tools independently once they have earned the badge. This system makes a lot of sense when you think about it. And it makes sense to extend it beyond design tech:

Badges can also be used when it comes to skills in the classroom. Programs like Edmodo offer badges that teachers can give to students who have gone above and beyond in an assignment as well. While I like this idea, I think there are more benefits when students decide what badges to try and obtain. This puts the responsibility on the learner to decide what he wants / feels he needs to learn more about to move forward. Further, it provides students with the opportunity to repeatedly try to develop skills in a certain area.

As a PYP Coordinator, I am always thinking about ways to improve upon Final Exhibition. I am going to be doing Final X with a new set of teachers and students this year and I am totally excited about it. They have so many innovations that I’m really keen to try out. They are also eager (phew) for me to bring something new to the mix. I recently learned that they haven’t really had teachers mentoring student groups, which means that the classroom teachers have a lot of responsibility for supporting the 5 or 6 collaborative groups in their class through an in-depth inquiry.

Badges_of_honorThis has been quietly eating at me in the Final Exhibition slideshow that is constantly running in my head. I saw the word badges and yelped with excitement! Really I did. Mentors can offer badges of honor to students on a host of things related to Final Exhibition: digital tools such as video, coding, even online surveys; art tools such as working with clay or graphic design; and research tools such as interview techniques, taking notes and referencing. We could also have digital badges for areas without person to person support: a version of flipping the classroom. Once a student has earned a badge, the student can use that tool independently, be it digital, research, or art related. Perhaps other members of the community could offer badges in their areas of expertise that would support student inquiry.

This takes some of the pressure off the classroom teacher to support so many of these skills and provides other teachers with a window into Final Exhibition. Even high school teachers can get involved and it becomes a whole school celebration. I recently participated in a DP Extended Essay panel and found it rewarding to see where our wee PYPers end up. And I would like to have high school teachers experience something similar.

Now it’s time to delve deeper and figure out the systems needed to make this idea happen. Final project? Mayhaps!


Image Credits:

Girl Guides of Canada via Flickr CC by 2.0

Badges of Honor by Noah Webster [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


Flipping Out Over Flipped Classrooms

In Coetail Course 4, I am definitely revisiting a lot of ideas that were explored earlier in the Coetail program. And my thoughts run deeper (phew!), but I have to admit that I am still oscillating on some of these innovations. This week, I find myself doubting a particular approach and then slowly coming around to ways I think it can be used. The flipped classroom is one of these approaches.

Flipped Classroom:

Pros: The flipped classroom is a big time saver, where students can watch or interact with material at home in order to go deeper with learning within the classroom. Further, teachers can differentiate learning to meet individual student needs. It also gives students access to people they might not normally encounter in class. Ideally, the teacher could include the students in the flipped learning and have them create some flipped lessons. It’s a fantastic pre-teaching approach and it’s fun.

Cons: But it’s only fun if you can access the material at home. When you can’t or don’t, it affects the students who missed out and the entire class because some students need to be filled in. Further, it is challenging to keep flipped learning interactive; best practice encourages student centred active based learning and lectures aren’t high on the list!

Also, at the elementary level in particular, I sort of….kick the dirt and look a bit shy…have a problem with giving homework. Yes to reading at home and yes to making learning connections between home and school.  However, more and more studies are suggesting that homework has little effect at the elementary level. These studies also suggest that homework should focus on quality over quantity, and many flipped classrooms could be considered quality homework. Still, I struggle with this: the little people should be outside playing with friends. It’s my personal belief. Life needs to be balanced and by giving kids regular homework I don’t think we are teaching them that balance.


To be honest, I have been sitting here thinking this and not saying a word whenever flipping learning comes up. When I saw the reading for this week, I thought – oh man, I’m going to have to admit how I feel about this or about gaming (don’t get me started). But then I started looking around and thought I might be ok if we used the flipped classroom model in the classroom:

And then, as I was thinking about how much I disliked the idea of flipping a classroom, I realized that this model could be a game changer for me in my current situation. I am responsible for working with 7 grades (3 classes of each) and 5 specialist subjects teams that vary in size. I need to help teachers use best practices in a PYP setting, focusing on a conceptual inquiry-driven classroom that integrates technology seamlessly! And both the entire curriculum and tech integration are my charge. Easy peasy, right? Well, not for me. I have really been struggling with how to meet the needs of all these people who have incredible different schedules and needs, who also share the same two hours of free time each week on early release Tuesdays. (Big breath in.) To whom do I give my time? Angela Langland asked a great question that, I have to admit, was a bitter pill to swallow. However, it was the right question and it really got me thinking about how to move forward.

If I use the flipped classroom model for the more straightforward issues with teachers, I can ensure that more of time can be spent in the classroom. I can create more protocols and video models for teachers. This, in theory, will then give me more time to get into classrooms. I can create provocations and sets of instructions for meetings that I am not able to attend.

screenshot of my new channel on youtube
screenshot of my new channel on youtube

Here is a tiny and, I apologize, very boring example. Instead of spending time showing teachers how to accomplish a tedious yet necessary task of adding standards to a variety of documents, I can simply make a video to show them how to do it and then use my time for something else. Moreover, I can differentiate for teachers. In fact, I have already started to create a list of videos to help teachers solve the most common problems they have with their blogs and with Google Drive. For some I won’t have to reinvent the wheel, but others will be more school specific. Additionally, this is a good opportunity for tech savvy teachers to share their expertise as well. They can help create this bank of videos.

I wish I had more to share with you at this point, but I’m at the beginning of the process. Any thoughts or suggestions you have for me would be most appreciated.

And now it’s time to start flipping so that I can get into classrooms more often:

The Granddaddy of Project-Based Learning

Students creating math game for younger children
Students creating math game for younger children

What do project based learning, problem based learning and challenge based learning have in common? They are all student centred, active styles of learning that provide students with authentic contexts for learning. Students explore open-ended issues where there can be more than one answer: in fact getting it right is all about exploring the process of learning rather than the product of learning. It’s about learning how to learn. They are about going for depth rather than breadth and accepting that you will not necessarily ‘cover’ as much as you would in a traditional approach.

Having pointed out all this ooey gooey goodness, it is still important to have learning objectives and expectations within these models. And there is still need for a teacher to scaffold learning and metacognition and help students ask the right questions. Also, being an open-minded educator allows students to help YOU discover other important things to learn that you may not have previously uncovered.

Initially, I started to look at all of the teachers currently using these models in their classrooms and I have uncovered some gems that I can continue to support. So, this has been an interesting avenue into asking teachers about different classroom adventures and learning experiences. It is also a great way to explore ways to support student learning through technology with these teachers. And I intend to pursue learning more about student learning at my new school through this lens. However, I feel like these experiences won’t happen in time to share them in this blog post.

And I wondered, so now what? Then it struck me: the granddaddy of project-based learning occurs in every PYP school: the PYP Final Exhibition (also see this).

For those of you unfamiliar with “Final X” or #pypx, students collaboratively choose an area of interest, ask a variety of deep, conceptual questions related to their issue and find the answers as best they can by interviewing people in related fields, doing research and synthesizing this information to further their understanding. This is a culminating project which provides students with the opportunity to use the essential elements they’ve learned throughout their PYP journeys. These include transdisciplinary skills (aka approaches to learning): research skills, thinking skills, social skills, communication skills,  and self-management skills, which help them find the answers to their questions. They share their learning with the community in a variety of ways which can range from an art project, to a written report, to an informative video, to a play or a rap, among others. The sky is the limit. They also take action on what they have learned by teaching other people about what they have learned in the community or by helping others by raising money (Grade 5 kids love to save the world one bake sale at a time despite all of our best efforts) or volunteering their time for something related to their cause.

Strictly speaking, this might be project-based for some students and problem-based for others. Ideally it’s passion-based for everyone, but this isn’t the case at every school. The very specific definition is irrelevant. The Final Exhibition encourages student-centered active learning.

 by Intersection Consulting CC by NCC
Drowning in Freedom by Intersection Consulting CC by NC 2.0

And nearly every Final X I’ve experienced has students using technology to support student learning and, especially, to share their learning with the community. These students ignore every book in the library in favour of doing online research. They copy and paste what they have “learned” like no one’s business into Google Sites and Google Docs that reproduce like bunnies, often not even reading what they have gathered until their teachers duct tape them to chairs and force them to read it (ok I wrote that for dramatic flair…it doesn’t really happen quite that way). Once they feel they have learned enough about their issue (never mind what their teachers and mentors feel), they eagerly create slideshows, videos and games to illustrate their learning. These too populate the desktops of many a classroom laptop. Often, students disregard the actual content and go for glory, trying to outdo one another with cooler and cooler ‘tech stuff’. I like to call it ‘binge teching’: kids just use computers because they can. This tech obsession tends to support the end-product rather than the process of Final Exhibition.

Exhibition madness
Exhibition madness by Sarah Watson (permission to use)

More often than not, students are using technology, but I’m not sure it is as beneficial as we like to think. I would like to see more redefinition uses in PYPX. First, technology can help students communicate with others to learn more about their chosen issue. Students can conduct more primary research – interviewing people and working with other schools to reflect on their learning process. Face-to-face interviews are no longer restricted by proximity! Further, students can gather their own data using online surveys. Students’ enthusiasm for the Google Doc can be use for good. I would love to see students use those transdisciplinary skills to organize their learning into a sensible system of Google Docs, ideally on an easy-to-navigate Google Site. These Google Docs could then be used as sources of learning and collaborating, where students and teachers reflect on the research gathered and students work together to synthesize their findings.

Big breath in as I finish my rant. I’ve started to do a bit of research to inspire, as I feel a Coetail Final Project brewing. Here is some of what I’ve found thus far:

  • I like how some teachers use blogs to communicate with parents and the world to share the process. Aaron Delane has a great blog – I saw this blog and then realized I went to school with him after I read it! Small world.
  • UNIS Hanoi uses tech to share the process in a clear and well organized manner
  • Other folks, like Erika can Vogt,  are thinking about SAMRizing Final Exhibition.
  • Students take action by creating videos and other presentations
  • Sonya Terborg’s incredible PYP Website has so many gems. You just need to check it out.

And this is just a teensy drop in the ocean of information out there! Oh dear, how will I ever narrow this down to something doable? If any of you readers have come upon or put together great ways to use technology in PYPX, please share!










The Iceberg Approach

My take on technology integration includes what I see to be beneficial for myself and to support the teachers that I work with, particularly in my role as PYP Coordinator / technology facilitator. My primary role is as a coach but with a twist: in my position I focus on supporting best practices and curriculum development across the board, where technology integration is interwoven across the curriculum rather than being a discreet subject taught by teachers. I firmly believe that technology should be used to further student understanding and for that purpose only. In doing this students learn how to use various technology applications within the greater purpose of understanding concepts and knowledge unrelated to technology.

After considerable reflection, I believe there is merit in a variety of frameworks and we should draw on each of them for their strengths. However, as I will explain below, we do not necessarily need to make all of these explicit to teachers. As with all learners, teachers need to build on what they know. So, if a teacher is comfortable with one particular model of tech integration, then it is my responsibility to use that model to help that teacher further her tech integration practices. Ideally, teachers take on that responsibility of deciding how they want to build technology integration into their teaching practice.

Here are a few of the models I have explored so far:


SAMR, developed by Ruben Puentedura, stands for Substitution, Augmentation, Modification, and Redefinition. This is clearly explained in the video below:

Immediately, I am drawn to the SAMR model because, in my experience, when teachers first see this model, they automatically reflect on their own practices (at least I did) and decide where their experiences with integration lie. Moreover, it gives teachers room to grow: it’s a developmental continuum of tech integration. As a PYP Coordinator, this suits me to a tee.

Some examples can be found at the links below:

I like this model even more when it is coupled with Bloom’s taxonomy because it gives more of a context for why one might want to proceed to the next level of SAMR. This reminds us that we don’t always need to be operating at redefinition if our purpose is more basic. Interestingly, my initial thoughts in Course 1 were similar; liking SAMR when linked to Bloom’s taxonomy. However, I like to think that my ideas are a bit more sophisticated a few courses in!

I think this model is a great starting point for conversations with teachers. However, when we really get down to it, we might need a bit more substance to help us consider how the technology supports what we want students to learn and how we want them to learn it.


Reproduced by permission of the publisher, © 2012 by”
Reproduced by permission of the publisher, © 2012 by

The TPACK model explores the overlap between technology, content and knowledge (in PYP I would change this C to concepts and knowledge if I had my way) and pedagogy. The basic aim within this model is to hit the sweet spot where we use the right technology to teach our content / concepts within a given pedagogical model. In my context, I would translate this as using the right technology to help students inquire about various conceptual understandings. What I like about this model is that it incorporates the pedagogy or the ‘how we teach’, which is essential in a PYP school.

Additionally, the TPACK model supports teacher collaboration: in discussing how to integrate technology, we must also agree upon the concepts or content students should learn and a shared pedagogy. This deepens student learning and our teaching practice.

Here are some examples of TPACK in action:

Technology Integration Matrix (TIM)

TIM intersects the degree of tech integration into the curriculum (entry, adoption, adaptation, infusion, and transformation) with characteristics of the learning environment (active, collaborative, constructive, authentic, goal directed). TIM was a bit of an overload for me, but it might be helpful for teachers who are extremely detail oriented. It also might be helpful to demonstrate to certain teachers how they might be repeatedly using technology in the same way. The website provides a lot of examples of how technology can be integrated into various subjects. There are also teacher and student indicators for each cell in the matrix, which could provide a school with common language revolving around tech integration.

I can see how I might use some of these materials to inform how I support teachers and provide ideas for how to integrate technology into specific subjects. However, overall I think this matrix would scare the living daylights out of teachers. It seems overly complicated in my opinion.

The Iceberg Approach

To refresh your memory, if a teacher is keen on one of these models and wants to collaborate using any of the above, then I will follow her lead.

However, if teachers are unfamiliar with any of the models, then I will work from my own philosophy: After some reflection, I believe that I draw on all of the above models, some being more obvious on the surface and others guiding planning and collaborating with teachers. I think I will call my particular approach ‘the iceberg approach’. If you think I am being silly, you are partly right.

In this very scientific approach (tee hee), I see SAMR as the tip of the iceberg, with the TPACK framework and, possibly TIM, hiding beneath the surface. By this I mean that most teachers will likely be aware of the SAMR framework and use this vocabulary in our discussions. At the same time, as I help teachers break down their goals and the details of their lessons, we will draw on TPACK (and TIM in contexts where examples work) to ensure that our tech practices match our intended conceptual understandings and pedagogy.

I can draw on these models to support teachers without overwhelming them with the additional jargon and visuals. Please do not take this to mean that I think teachers aren’t capable of understanding these other models. This is not at all the case. Rather, teachers have a lot on their plates and, in my experience, feel burdened by additional theory and unfamiliar jargon.


At this stage in my current role, I see myself using my Iceberg Approach (snort) with teachers in the planning stages of various units to help integrate technology into the curriculum. I also recognize that we all learn from one another and expect that this approach will grow with time and experience.

Having said all of this, I believe that teachers use what they see being done by others. In addition to purposefully planning to integrate technology, we need to share success stories, share learning from mistakes and model what we hope to see across the school.