Course 5 Stirrings: Breathing Life into A Document

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I’ve had Course 5 Project in the back of my mind for months now. I’ve been thinking about what I want to do, what my school and students need and what inspires me to work on for the next 4 months for my final project for COETAIL.

Here are some ideas that have been floating around in my head:

1. Gamification – maybe digital citizenship, maybe food tech skills, but I’m struggling to make it authentic and get “beyond the badge”.  I do want to look more into this, but I think I will do that outside this course.

2. Digital Citizenship – lately, there have been many issues, specifically in grade 6 & 7 with Digital Citizenship at my school.  There’s been gaming in classes, there’s been sharing of passwords and illegal downloading, even a student misrepresentation himself on the web.

Now, this is not a great snapshot of my school. I work at a great school with great kids.  BUT, this is the reality – they are middle schoolers.   They are making mistakes, and I need to be more proactive.

At our school, we are participating in TLCs (Teacher Learning Communities), most of which focus on parts of John Hattie’s book, Visual Learning for Teachers.  He repeats over and over, “Know Thy Impact“:

The current 7th graders are struggling with their technology.  I know I can make an impact with our kids.  I know them.  I know what they are doing on their computers, I am fairly current with technology.

Last year, Katy, Ju and I created an RUP which is structured to support IB Learners.  I’m very proud of the document we created.  I pushed for it to be accepted at our school and it is now up on our website.  But, I haven’t done a great job of making this come to life.  I did a few activities at the beginning of the year, and I did one this past week on Balance, but I definitely need to do more.

This week, I asked the seventh graders:

Is technology is making you a better or a worse student?

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It really created a rich discussion in my classroom.  I begged for their honesty, even if I didn’t want to hear it or if they were afraid to say their thoughts to a teacher.

I listened.  I felt more like a counselor for that lesson this past week; it was one of the best lessons I’ve done lately.  I need to continue on with this.  I am still (sort of) young and I understand social media and the technology they are interacting with daily.  If I don’t do it, really at my school right now, I don’t know who will.

So, for my project, I’d really like to make our RUP come to life.


I’m definitely going to be fighting with time.  I do see almost all the grade 7s and 8s in my Design class, I can integrate lessons into that class, but I need to make sure that it is being reinforced outside of my class.  I’m going to have to figure out when is best to work with grade 6.  I also want to work with parents and teachers and open communication with our whole community.

I’m not sure how I show that I’ve made an impact or that my students have grown in this area.  Digital Citizenship is tricky to evaluate and assess.  I don’t want to teach it to the kids as “expectations” all the times, but I want them to take ownership of their RUP, and how it promotes to a good community.

I never want to lecture to the kids about digital citizenship It takes time and creativity to design lessons that are engaging and “safe” for discussions and actions to take place.

How can I show that I have made an impact or am successful in the end?

I’d love any suggestions to my project.  I’ll continue to post and get a unit planner designed soon for feedback.

Our headmaster states on occasion, “We create our own culture.”  I believe this statement to be true.

I want my students to be positive ambassadors on their digital devices in their homes, on campus and where ever they may be on the internet.


PBL: Getting Beyond the Semantics

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First. I’m confused.  I’ve just spent quite a long time trying to get clarification on the difference between Project Based Learning and Problem Based Learning.  This article offers a bit of clarification. but as I move from one source to another, it is muddy.

To me, project-based and problem-based seem almost the same and are often referred, collectively as, PBL.   Some say they are different.

In my opinion, they are the same, it just depends on how someone wants to structure it in their school or classroom.

Does it really matter?

Are they the same and I am getting hung up on semantics?  Please help me out on this!

For now,  I’ll just call it PBL and continue…

To me, there are two really important things that seem to sometimes go missing in problem/project based learning classes:


1. The task/problem/opportunity is not authentic or real.  

Let me preface this by saying that I’m a MYP Design teacher.  My students are almost always following the Design Cycle to create a product.

#canacad Student Work: Made by Annika, Grade 9.

I’ve had some decent projects in the past, but then it gets lost on cyberspace or materials end up in the trash.  I think it’s important that the problem, whether guided by the teacher or identified by the student, is REAL and the product has a purpose.  Even this graphic design project above, it has a purpose, to educate students in our community and beyond.


2. There is not always a development of new knowledge and skills.

I work at an MYP school.  It is very easy for “problem projects” to turn into something that already skilled students do well and other students don’t attain a high level of achievement or success on.  It takes pre-assessment, planning, conferring, and formative feedback with the students to make sure students are actually working at an appropriate level for them, are challenged, and are learning new skills.  A few years ago, I found some students in my class, kind of getting by by just doing “Personal Projects”.  They identified a problem, and worked through the design cycle (inquiring and analyzing, developing ideas, creating and evaluating), but I don’t know if they really acquired a lot of new skills that year or were working at a challenging level.

Those considerations being said, I think problem based learning is extremely powerful.  I see students at our school changing our community and even more importantly, engaged and motivated to do well.  They use so many skills across almost all of their classes for these projects (when planned and executed well – by the teacher).

For example, my 7th grade Design class just finished a unit that is considered an interdisciplinary unit.  Students are to design and create a high quality product that can be sold to benefit charity.

In Humanities, they are learning about concepts of Economics and Advsertising.

In Design, they are learning about market research, following the design cycle, prototyping, improving techniques to create (whether it be food, image editing, materials-based products).

In Math, they work on profits and costs.

This is also a service project because all profits are donated to our Thai Kids Education Fund.

The students are really engaged and focused for this unit.  They are motivated because they have choice in their products and in the end, even if things don’t go well, they learn so much.  Some students “fail”.  We have great discussions about designers who “fail”.  They were able to make 82,000¥ (about $800) in a 90 minute marketplace, for scholarships for rural Thai Kids.

The school I previously used to work at started an Innovation Academy this year.  From what it looks like on their website and the student work they share, it seems like they are doing PBL very well.  Their program allows students to follow the IB, if they choose, and also work through projects and internships to gain real life experiences across all disciplines.  My school is currently looking for ways to offer more PBL, especially outside of Design classes.

If any of you have time to share (if you aren’t already on winter holidays ^_^) and has PBL at your schools, I’d love to hear how your school is creating a PBL program.

The Future of Classrooms – An OOC


Photo Credit: marianbeck via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: marianbeck via Compfight cc

Education is changing and luckily, I feel like I’m growing and changing with the times.  While I’ve always felt connected to my students, even without a large presence of technology/social media in my earlier years as a teacher, I have found ways to better connect with my students, even as the age gap broadens between us.

As a teacher, I have continued to learn. That’s why I became a teacher (but it was also in my blood – my parents were both teachers) – I love to learn.  As a teacher, I can always “stay” a student.  (Being on a school-year calendar is an extra perk!)

The past 10 months I have really delved deeper into knowing who I am as a teacher, my strengths (and weaknesses) as a teacher and I’ve gained a better understanding who I am as a learner.  I think I’ve always been fairly reflective as a teacher for the past decade or so, but COETAIL and various people from my PLN inspire me and push me to go beyond what I have done before.

Five, ten, twenty years from now, I think secondary education (the age group I teach), will be a lot like our COETAIL class.  I want it to be a connected learning environment but with obviously more support for younger students – more help and guidance on how to be successful and plan well, more (daily) opportunities to connect face to face.  I don’t think it’d be healthy if kids didn’t physically leave their homes.

So, where do I hope education goes in the future?  Where do I hope I can go as a teacher?  I’m going to structure my answer around the graphic below, breaking down the word MOOC :

Image Credit: MOOC Poster by Mathieu Plourde licensed CC-BY on Flickr


Ick.  That word scares me when coupled with really anything.  For me, it really doesn’t have any good connotations- even if it’s coupled with “chocolate cake”.  It just sounds excessive.  I don’t think the amount of students in any course should be massive.  However, I do like the idea of having a massive pool of students to connect to – if it referred to massive-sized location (Earth), I’d be okay with that.  I have been in large lectures in my undergraduate studies.  At that point in my life, I preferred that type of learning.  I wanted to listen and learn, but I was too timid to interact.  And my learning only went so far.

Even COETAIL is “massive” – sometimes it’s hard to even keep up with my fellow 2013-2014 Online COETAILers.  At the beginning of Course 1, I only connected with classmates who seemed like me on paper – tech teachers, language teachers or middle school teachers because the class seemed to large to listen/interact with everyone.

I have in the past few weeks, found other great people in our course that are elementary and high teachers, but have missed a lot of interactions with them during the first 3 courses.  I’ve also seemed to lose some classmates/connections to busy schedules or whom have seemed to have stopped posting.  So, I hope courses and classes never get too massive, but large enough to find your niche and a tighter learning community for consistent interaction.


I’m not sure what open registration means?  That anyone can come in at any time?  I like that in COETAIL that we are going through the same content at the same time.  It deepens our meaning.  It helps us learn.

Yes, I think it should have open content.

Free would be great, but the reality is good teachers are extremely important and they definitely need to earn a living and the logistics/systems sometimes costs money too!   But, scholarships are essential.  No one should be denied an education (or even have to pay back for 10-20+ years) due to their economic status.


Absolutely.  Working Full time and having a busy home life, I couldn’t learn in a traditional classroom. I would have to make HUGE sacrifices to even try to balance it on on the weekends or during my summer.  I do feel like my experience with COETAIL has deepened by making face to face connections with great COETAILers.  This fall I was able to meet BethCeciCarleneJason at Learning 2.0 and I had a great Google chat about MYP Design (Tech) with Jeff.  I’ve made connections with them, now our conversations have more relevance.  They are educators beyond an avator and witty words.  I hope to teach with them in some place or another, some day.

I think local cohorts and real time interactions definitely strengthens learning, but are not necessary for a good learning environment. We have TLC (Teacher Learning Communities) at our school.  Face to face interactions and being able to be able to observe each other in action and share working spaces (classrooms) is really powerful.


End and Start Dates – Yes!  I need this structure, and I think most other learners need some sort of boundaries/deadlines too.

Self Paced – Again, using COETAIL as a good model, we have assignments/topics for the week.  It’s not the end of the world if you don’t get it done that week, if life is crazy – BUT it does impact learning.  When I am running late (like I was a bit in Course 3) or even if I post on the tail end of the week, I feel like I don’t get as much interaction on my blog as my classmates are starting to move on to the next week’s assignments. I don’t think a course can be totally self-paced or have too many extended deadlines because procrastination can set in and the interactions between peers, I believe, will be less, which again impacts learning.

College Credit/Badges – I’m pretty intrinsically motivated as a learner (this is confirmed by watching Daniel Pink’s presentation on Drive), so grades don’t motivate me that much.  However, I don’t want my hard work/knowledge/skills to go unnoticed, either.  I think some sort of credit/certificate should be awarded for completion.  As adults, I don’t think grades matter much.  In the end, not many people know my grades from my undergraduate and master’s degrees and really, in the end, those numbers don’t matter (at all now).

Teacher – EVERYTHING for me.  And I think it is everything for our students.

This quote from John Hattie’s book, Visible Learning, resonates with me:

“…the greatest effects on student learning occur when the teachers become learners of their own teaching and… when students become their own teachers” [p. 22]

Here is a clip by Hattie talking about effective methods of teaching from his book and it states many of the things a good learning environment should have – in a class, in the clouds or a combination of the two (which I think is the most effective).

I also found this article really interesting when reading up on MOOCs and the future of education this week: In Connectivism, No One Can Hear You Scream: A Guide to Understanding the MOOC Novice.  I feel like in my old age ^_^, I have become more comfortable as a learner, but it is still scary to be a student, especially with classmates and a teacher you don’t know.  I think this is a good read for any online learning instructor or student.

So, in the future, I hope to be teaching an OOC.

Truly, we just find a better acronym to better identify an open, positive, connected, safe, challenging classroom meets online and IRL (in real life) where everyone was a teacher and a learner.  I’m excited to see where education is going to go in the next fifteen to twenty years, then I hope I’m living on a beach somewhere, keeping up with the trends through whatever my PLN looks like at that point.

Dynamic Classrooms Don’t Need to Flip

I think that Flipped Classroom teaching CAN promote good learning and good instructional strategies, such as varied activities, collaboration, regular formative feedback, and can make the class more student-centered.  The Flipped Classroom model CAN provide opportunities for differentiation- different videos/instructional materials can be provided for a variety of students depending on their learning needs.

But flipping the classroom doesn’t mean that all of these wonderful things will happen if you send your kids home  to watch a video for homework, even with the best intentions.

First, I do not believe in homework and as a parent of a child that has just started school, I can tell you that I feel even more strongly about this.  I agree wholeheartedly with what Rebekah and Mary and many others  have stated about homework – kids have so many opportunities  to participate in great activities – sports, the arts, and service.  They should have time with their family.  I know some of my students are up doing work until 11 or 12 pm regularly at night. If there is great learning going on during the school day, they shouldn’t be doing so much at home.

I think that if you provide a classroom that has a range of activities and everyone in the room has the potential to be teachers and learners, than there will be great learning going on.

I read, Flipped Classrooms – A Method for Mastery – I agree more with this form of “flipping”.  This is to me is “flipping the traditional classroom”.  Kids are working independently and are constantly engaged.  The learning seems differentiated and the teacher gives consistent feedback.

I totally agree (and hope I embody) the part from Case Studies and the Flipped Classroom that states:

Educators are forever experimenting and innovating. A central theme in all of this [Flipped classroom] activity is the idea that active learning works best.

Good teachers (which leads to good learning) do what’s best for their kids, make sure learning is active and engaging, step back sometimes in the classroom, and are constant learners themselves.

I think “flipping” is just a method to promote differentiation and a student led classroom.

It also makes me wonder:

Is this sustainable?

In a “Flipped Classroom” – Do teachers truly flip every classroom?

Do those kids watch videos each night for homework? – Yuck!

So, yes, we should flip traditional lecture-style, teacher-led classrooms (right out the window), but not by sending our kids to Khan Academy every night, even if there is good student-student and student-teacher interaction in the classroom the next day.

Can’t we teach content, provide time to practice/master skill and give feedback all in one class period?


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Gamification: Learn as You Play

Photo Credit: Ian Muttoo via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Ian Muttoo via Compfight cc

One of the most common problems parents of my students come to me with is, “My child is playing too many video games.”  They are always looking for quick-fix solutions or for me to show them how to block certain sites or use parental controls on their child’s laptop.  I definitely can understand and sympathize with the technology issues these parents are having with their children; I am often challenged to make decisions and boundaries for our budding six year old techie/gamer.

But, often times, parents don’t like my answer.  It is often this response: “Well, as far as games go, Minecraft is a pretty good game.  They are designing and creating and working with their friends.”  I don’t want them to prevent their kids from playing Minecraft, but I do encourage them to create expectations and boundaries for their family.

Before I go further with this post, let me state that I am not a gamer.  I haven’t sat down to play a video game since we had the first Nintendo system in the late 80s. I sometimes play word games, but I realize that puts me far away from a category of being a “gamer”.  Even so, I realize there is importance in game playing and I encourage students to play games and try to focus more on the balance of their technology usage.

While watching, Jane McGonigal’s Ted Talk: Gaming Can Make a Better World and reading Raising Engagement in e-learning Through Gamification by Christina Muntean, I took  a few pages of notes and really started reflecting on my own practice.

Jane McGonigal’s Ted Talk was inspiring and engaging, but the whole time I kept thinking, how would this look in my classroom?  How can I do this without creating my own game, specific for my course or a unit?  (I don’t have the coding skills or time for that.) 

Christina Muntean states that there are three types of games used in education: edu-tech games, games developed by students themselves and gamified courses.  This gave me a starting point to evaluate my own instruction and classes.  I would say that the area I have most successfully integrated gaming is assigning or encouraging students create their own games.  I have given students opportunities to use Scratch and to create basic iPhone apps and games with xCode.   I have used a few games to encourage learning, such as TinkerBox so students can play around with putting together simple machines, because they have to create a lifting machine in my Design Class for a Science Unit of simple machines, but this is another area I can work on in my classroom.

What I have not done, really at all, is gamification of my course or a unit.  I am intrigued by this idea.  I am now thinking about it a lot and what this may look like in my classroom and/or at my school.

At this point, I’m actually considering this for my Course 5 Project.  A few things I am considering are:

1. (Smallest Scale Gamification) – Use DIY in my classes

Require students to collect at least “x amount” of badges in a semester.  They have a lot of FANTASTIC challenges using many different materials, digital and non.  Why re-create the wheel?  Kids can create their own accounts and they will be able to display their badges on DIY, and perhaps link that to their school blogs to show off their badge beauty.

Image Credit:

2. Create a badge system for my MYP Design course.

I already started brainstorming badges, such as: game maker, song writer, performer, baker, storyteller, animator, blogger…  This would really be a great addition to my course and allow for more differentiation.  All students will probably earn some badges as we finish projects, but other students can go above and beyond and gather more badges that they are interested in.  I would need to create & post challenges for students and how they need to submit their work (maybe just post a video or somehow show it on their blog).  An issue I’d need to figure out are how to create/share/display badges.  Should they be digital?  Stickers for their laptops?  Patches for their backpacks?  The creation of badges alone could be a lot of time – but worth it for more engagement and interest for all students.

3. Create a badge system for our middle school.

This could include badges such as blogging, community and service, and different sports & clubs in our school, such as: Eco-Club, Thai Village Children’s Fund, etc.  This could include other citizenship-type awards as well to promote a positive culture at our school.

The more I write this down, the more excited I get about it.  I do need to figure out some logistics of the gamification – and incorporate more game mechanics and aesthetics to this idea.  I want to encourage the social aspect and collaborative nature of gaming, so I’d need to figure that out and even have collaborative challenges.

I don’t want it to just be a glorified sticker chart on a wall in which kids think is not cool and it actually ends up discouraging them from being active or extending themselves in class or in the middle school.

I’d love any suggestions anyone has or if anyone has done anything like this in their schools.


SAMR Evaluation of Student Blogs

Teaching MYP (Design) Technology, I always try to embed technology into learning and teaching in my classroom. While I feel that most of my units and lessons are in the modification and redefinition areas of technology integration, there is always room for improvement.  Every year groups of students are different, technology is constantly changing, and I am trying to improve the learning that goes on in my classes, so my technology integration and teaching changes constantly.

While I don’t have time this week to go through all of my units and really analyze them using the SAMR Model, I definitely think I will pull out the graphic when I am writing new curriculum and when I am reflecting on my units to see how I’m using my technology and how I can transform my instruction.

One important part of my MS Tech Coordinator job (and one of my favorites) is “managing” the student blogs (which they also use as a digital portfolios).  When I started my position three years ago, the school was just starting to use digital portfolios in the middle school.  I have had a lot of input on our handbook (which we are currently re-evaluating) and the implementation of the portfolios in our middle school.

At first, the blogs were just substituting the large folders students would use to present their work at their student-led conferences in May.  That first year, students were just posting work as guided by their teachers in classes and they ticked categories of the Learner Profile and our mission statement because it was required.  Very quickly, I learned that this was just a chore for students and it really wasn’t promoting or encouraging any more learning, communication or connections.

Photo Credit: giulia.forsythe via Compfight cc

Last year, I started planning lessons for advisory teachers to help students create portfolios that “celebrated their work, showed growth and demonstrate progress towards fulfilling our schools’ mission statement”.   I have encouraged parents to read their child’s blogs and comment.  I have created a Blog Round-Up (inspired by Paula and Jabiz) to showcase great blog posts to our community.  This has encouraged students to write good posts and they have been able to connect with people all over the world in their posts, which inspires them to post more.

The students blogs are a way for students to publish their best work, but it is also a place for them to connect with others.  This is an area that I need to continue to work on, especially with other teachers.  I have blogged for over six years for both work and our family.  I read a lot of blogs.  Many of my colleagues don’t.  I need to help them assign more interactive assignments and allow kids to use their blogs as a way to share their thoughts and learning.

The student blogs at my school are improving year by year, but we can continue to do better.  I’m curious to hear what anyone else does out there with their student blogs or online publishing that supports more effective tech integration.  I really enjoyed the Edutopia article: Why Integrate Technology into the Curriculum?: The Reasons Are Many.  What really resonated with me was the part that stated, ” to effectively integrate technology it must deepen and enhance the learning process through: active engagement, participation in groups, frequent interaction and feedback and connection to real-world experts.”

What do you do at your schools?

What has been successful with your school blogs/digital portfolios?


Evaluating Technology in my Classroom… and the Rest of our School

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The past two years I have been luckily enough to attend the Learning 2.0 Conference.  I always leave with great ideas… and I’m always inspired.  While I have some great colleagues, I feel like I am among “my people” in my PLN, COETAIL courses and at the Learning 2.0 Conference.  After listening to Jeff’s presentation, I thought about my moonshot for a while.  I am always creating goals for myself, but I don’t often verbalize them outside of sharing it with my husband.

It’s scary to share this with others – what if I fail?  What if I don’t reach my moonshot?  Is this even a moonshot?  It’s not a super big moonshot, but it would improve our school/student learning? What if I’m reaching too far and I don’t know what I’m doing?  This isn’t a world changing moonshot, but I do believe it is an issue at my school and it will take a lot of hard work and radical ideas to improve the technology integration in the secondary school.

Luckily, COETAIL has made me braver.  Writing on this blog and being supported by so many amazing educators, has made be bolder.  So, here it is…

My moonshot ties in beautifully with this week’s COETAIL assignment on Evaluating Technology Integration in the Classroom.  I have been a part or full time technology teacher of some sort or another for about five years.  I think I’ve moved up the SAMR Model of Technology Integration and I have modified and refined my lessons and units to “introduce, reinforce, extend, enrich, assess, and ‘differentiate'” (Definition of Technology Integration by Stratford Board of Education).

And this is where I find myself…  doing great things in my classroom insularly and in a few interdisciplinary projects with other colleagues, but there are a lot of other classrooms in my middle school that are just doing substitution -type activities with our students.

Photo Credit: tim.klapdor via Compfight cc

So my moonshot…

I went to my headmaster and proposed my job for next year.  I want to be the Secondary Technology Coordinator at our school.  (I currently teach an almost full load and am the MS Technology coordinator, but unfortunately due to many outside factors, that coordinator job is shrinking, while the need is more.)

I want to help other teachers use technology more effectively in their teaching and learning.  I ultimately want to help our students.  Many of our students stay at our school for the duration of their education.  If they are 1:1 from grades 3-12, they really should have some amazing technology skills and they definitely should be lifelong learners with technology.

I made the first step with my meeting.  Next week, I have a follow up meeting.  Unfortunately, no promises are being made, but I think the administration agrees with me.