Creativity in the classroom

I am finishing up my Masters right now and one of my courses is CRS501 with Dr. Kara Schwabel, a course dedicated to creativity in the classroom and in schools. What a meaningful and transferrable course this has been. We have had meaningful discussions, I have had a chance to re-connect with #coetail-ers and have been learning from and alongside my classmates.

This last project brings us through the Torrence Incubation Model which essentially strengthens your teaching by paying particular attention to the use of creativity in your learning experiences. To understand more of the general overview of TIM this one page reference sheet breaks the big ideas down and this overview by Matthew Worwood explains in more details how to implement lesson planning using TIM.

I want to share out my Business Unit which, with my colleagues in Dhaka, we worked on every year to improve and little did I know, we were using the Torrence Incubation Model to heighten expectations, deepen expectations and extend the learning. This is a breakdown of four of the big lessons, reflection on what improved and feedback from participants in the unit.

Colleagues’ evaluation:

At the end of our inquiry units, we sit as a team and review, celebrate and plan out any changes that need to occur for next time. The biggest problem we have come to, which we all agreed on, is that the businesses seem to be repetitive from year to year and we want to encourage students to come up with original ideas. This means we need to re-evaluate the purpose of the businesses. Originally, the purpose of the businesses were to raise money for our Grade 5 action but now we have enough funds to help our local staff with tuition payments for many years. It is not as urgent as it once was. This means, we could take it as an opportunity to change the purpose to creative business building instead of solely focused on raising money (in which we see more ‘bakeries’ pop up which are the least creative business!).

The content is strong throughout the unit and it all comes together once students start working on their businesses, there could be more focus on example businesses but then we are pressed for time to allow students to work on their own businesses.

In all, we feel it is a strong unit that we will next year, work on specifically being more ‘creative business ideas’ than money-making businesses.

Students’ feedback:

Students feedback to the business unit is strong, positive and motivating! Students love this unit because they get to be hands-on with their learning, they get to put their understanding into action and make sense of it all. One group even reflected that “even though we hardly made any money, we feel like we learned so much because we know what we would do differently next time”. This reflection is genuine learning in action which shows us students are thinking of “what next”… we didn’t even have to push for it!

Personal reflection: 

Here is my personal reflection using the TIM Evaluation form to go through the steps and reflect on the execution of the unit plan.

This unit is such a great, fun learning journey for all involved. Any time you open the creative doors to students you can never be sure what the results will be which is always the best part- the process is always more interesting than the product.

Thanks Coetail- and PLN- and PLC- and Twitter….

Just a short month ago I felt like I would never make any progress and basically, that there was little hope! The future was bleak.

Then, I sat down and figured out a strategy and prepared myself.

Figuring out how to move forward and understand that I had to take a step back was the hugest challenge. I just wanted to keep progressing in my own personal journey, but I had to stop and realize that it is not really about my own journey if I don’t have the kids on board too. Now, we can move forward together!

My idea was not a new one, get kids reflecting on their blogs, have students in a different school revise and start using the blog as a reflective space for student work. However- it was what was needed to be introduced and I discuss this in the video.

Things I did not discuss in my video:

The Standards (ICT Standards):

  1. Communication & Collaboration: Students use digital media and environments to communicate and work collaboratively,including at a distance, to support individual learning and contribute to the learning of others

A Interact, collaborate, and publish with peers, experts, or others employing a variety of digital environments and media to gather and share information.

B Communicate information and ideas effectively to multiple audiences using a variety of media formats.

C Develop cultural understanding and global awareness by engaging with learners of other cultures.

The ripple effect:

  1. By talking to my teaching partner, Charo, about the reflections on the blog she too was excited to use it in Science and Math. Already the students have added poems onto their blogs about their cell learning.
  2. My students want to go onto their blogs and add work in different stages- draft, revision or published. They already understand that putting something up is not enough, there needs to be an element of reflection or explanation for the audience.
  3. Students are commenting on each others’ blogs on their own and finding books their “readers” have suggested!

The challenges: 

  1. Having my friend onboard was a huge plus- it is easy to collaborate with her, we both are easy-going and we could catch up at the same time. The biggest challenge was that her district blocks Blogger which is exactly the domain my students share their work on. Quick- create a new plan. Google docs and commenting permissions was a great alternative.
  2. We have not yet Skyped as per my plan- but I now know I don’t have to rush everything just to get it done, I’m excited to do the Skype in the next couple of weeks right before winter holidays 😉

The connections:

    1. Doing the final project got me back online to Twitter and meeting up with fellow colleagues; old and new. Being all over the world, it is the perfect professional sharing resource so I can see what is happening outside the world of Lower School.
    2. I met a fellow Coetail’er, @pgjaltman, who arrived in the same newbie teachers as me to Brazil. We are actually neighbours and good friends now! I also met @megankuemmerlin who works in SP but in a different school. We have set up an indefinite time to meet up and Coetail chat 😉
    3. Creating my project led me to sit down with @mister_vb, our Teaching & Learning Coach and get to understand more about the school and meet a new friend and colleague.
    And now… without further ado… my video. Enjoy.



Work it out with your PLN


So … who do I hang out with online..?!

I’ve been all over the map with this one. Asking on Twitter, stalking people’s COETAIL blogs and even putting in some time on Facebook to reach out to people I know that don’t have Twitter!

Most recently, who got me out of my rut without even realizing it, I connected with @dlonganetti on her blog. I found it immediately easy to connect with her; we both are in transition year, I just moved out of the PYP and she is moving into the PYP and finally, I love what she is doing with her iPad project which she describes in her post “Yalla…Overwhelmed?“.

This blog actually sparked in me what it is that I wanted to get started in and just jump over the barriers I’m dealing with. Well, actually first I have to deal with the challenges in order to succeed.

My first challenge, is that I have never worked in a 1:1 setting and what is throwing me are two things 1. students have assigned laptops just to them and 2. they’re all chromebooks.

The thing that is really messing with my head is to get over the fact that these are their laptops and not to take them out and set up stations.. but instead I should totally be doing that and using them and playing around with it to move past challenge #2 that they are chromebooks. I’m just not used to them!

Screenshot. MrsKittoSwitzer Twitter feed.
Screenshot. MrsKittoSwitzer Twitter feed

Getting to Danieal’s blog was getting myself back onto Twitter and seeing what is happening in #coetail world. Twitter is amazing at reaching out to people all over the world, but I find I’m not very good at checking regularly. It has to be part of my routine for me to be using it effectively so I’m really trying hard to again. Even in class this week, we finished Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate and my students and I were sobbing. We all wanted it to continue and reached out to the author on Twitter begging for a part two!

I reached out to help @wenfor after reading her Tweet looking for help with badges. Last year working with @leahbortolin I learned that first, she is a maniac and educator guru but secondly, that she has crazy stamina for working on badges, so I put them in contact with each other. I’m not sure how that developed but it could…!

I’m trying with Twitter to get some momentum with my colleagues using it as well, but also to reach out to others looking to collaborate with the portfolios. I knew I needed to get reach out- the only thing is I’m having problems figuring out which #hashtags to include so that people will see I’m looking to collaborate! So I feel bad for @jocelynsutherland, @kacey_molloy and @GarethJacobson who I keep tagging in my tweets!

I started thinking bigger and tagging author’s in my tweets with my students’ book clubs- we got an answer back from Katherine Applegate when we shared earlier when we started the book. I connected with @megankuemmerlin who is actually also in Sao Paolo, Brazil! Maybe we can meet up and talk COETAIL 😉

Also, working on Facebook connected me to a good friend from Dhaka who is now teaching Grade 5 as well. Together, we’re hoping to get our students collaborating and giving peer feedback. It would be redefining peer review for me as I’ve never gone to this lengths and am excited to plan this out for later in the year. Soon we will do a trial run and maybe get our kids just leaving a comment on each others’ blogs, once I get the blog up and running again! Step by step, right?!

Screen shot. Facebook messaging.
Screen shot. Facebook messaging.


Screen shot Facebook messaging.








I’m even (procrastinating!) on Pinterest and finding hot ideas to add to my “techspiration” board. I love it all! I have collaborators on this board who send me ideas and we exchange thoughts and development into the classroom.


Last year it was all about learning about Twitter, getting followers, figuring out WHO to follow and which hashtags are trending in the education world. I even based my Professional Learning Community on Twitter and how it can be used as professional development.


Getting my final project going I took to Twitter mania and pulled out anyone and everyone I knew or knew through others- the joy of Twitter. Not only did I re-connect with people but also received some great feedback and built new ideas off of those! Thank you all!

Screen Shot Google Slide, NKittoSwitzer
Screen Shot Google Slide, NKittoSwitzer

Now I just need to maintain. The key to the PLN is not to abandon it! Like all relationships, friendships, marriages, partnerships- you have to work on them. My PLN is not going to stay strong if I don’t find a balance between give and take. It’s a work in progress but I definitely feel on a high right now!


This is it. This is the plan.

Here we go…

All my planning, thinking and collaborating has been narrowed down into the UbD template for our course 5 final project. How exciting and nerve-wrecking!

I am really interested in getting feedback. I think I’ve hit a wall of exhaustion so I would really appreciate any feedback and suggestions of blogs to check-in with who have done something similar.

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

Much thinking and time has gone into this final project and I have nothing to show for it.

How does one document your thinking when I can’t make sense of it?!

Flickr image credit: Thomas Hawk, Some Rights Reserved
Flickr image credit: Thomas Hawk, Some Rights Reserved

Is there a light at the end of the tunnel?

Well, it finally came to a close this week when I sat down with Graded’s Lower School’s Teaching and Learning Coach, Aaron Van Borek (Twitter: @mister_vb) I sat with him to discuss my COETAIL final project and get his feedback on what actually would be helpful and in the direction that Graded wants to take with technology integration.

I was all over the place; I could do global book discussions, online portfolios, creating digital agreements etc. and I was also completely lost. Transitioning to a new school is so important to feel as an International teacher as it really challenges you with what you think or thought you believed in. Technology integration is one of them…

Last year after the COETAIL courses I knew I wanted to take my time and really unpack the responsibility of having 1:1 in the classroom, expectations and creating classroom agreements for technology-use. I even hesitated to let the students take a laptop from the cart of 24 (!!) chromebooks in my classroom. However, the year got started and in a whirl of flurry chromebooks were being distributed, assumptions were being made and I was crossing my fingers behind my back that things would be okay.

Obviously that turned out well. <insert laugh track here>

Making sense of what a final project means

Flickr Image Credit: Kris Greenwell All Rights Reserved.
Flickr Image Credit: Kris Greenwell All Rights Reserved.

Instead, I was embarrassed and confused as to how to stop the madness of technology in the classroom. Everything I was doing was Substituting in the SAMR model and I knew better. I feel like having the title of “COETAIL” even associated to my name means great responsibility for setting up my students to become aware and thoughtful digital citizens and here I was doing the exact opposite! I was throwing them in the deep end!

I needed to get a grip and get started on my COETAIL final project in order to organize, align and focus my own beliefs in technology integration. Aaron helped me re-focus and brought my attention to something. He said (paraphrased) “It sounds like you did lots of great technology integration in meaningful ways but we almost need to see, if you want to align it to Graded’s technology goals, if we can take a step back in order to move forward.”

<slow down>

I discussed with Aaron about using the student digital portfolios (Blogger) as a reflection tool. Aaron told me how this was a priority of Graded’s to implement school-wide blog portfolios that would follow the child up from K-12. I love it but I was wondering how they were being used since I had not even opened one up until our sit down together. He repeated to me how the online portfolios were not meant to be just a home to dump things into, it was meant to be a reflective learning of the students’ growth.

So, in order to move forward with modifying or redefining my integration, I am taking a step back to augmentation. I am going to get the students back into their online portfolios and using reflections as a source for discussion with classmates and as a start-off point to global collaboration. I have been dragging my colleagues into my project as well! A lot of my colleagues from the American International School of Dhaka did not return because of the security issues and so are also transitioning in new schools and “figuring it all out” as well. Not only will our students get to collaborate and connect to each other but this also is a bit of a selfless connection too! I mean, PLC’s do involve friends at some point! 🙂

I keep telling myself, I won’t fail COETAIL because the whole point of this is to get us reflecting and learning about how we use technology meaningfully and if it means that I have to take a step back to move forward, I think @rebekahm will be proud of me for taking those steps. I hope?! Am I on the right track @jutecht?!

Talk the talk, Walk the walk- is that a saying?!

Once we get started into our online portfolios I can dig into the lesson I created with @dgadhia on Digital Citizenship and Copyright responsibilities. I plan on collaborating with my friend Marie who now lives in the States and teaches Grade 5. Our students are going to start to comment on each others’ reflections, meet each other over Skype, and start to peer review work! So in order for these things to happen, let’s start with the basics.

Flickr image credit: simpleinsomnia Some Rights Reserved
Flickr image credit: simpleinsomnia Some Rights Reserved

Why do we have an online portfolio?

Aaron shared with me the history of the student online portfolio and that a few years ago it was “the big push” at Graded. Get everyone involved, have a student blog that follows the student up and use the blog as a reflective learning space. However, as every school, the focus became most recently on reading & writing workshops and less on blogs and so did the amount of time teachers started devoting to it. I get it- there is always a lot to “fit in” in the day and this is why I think if I take my time to introduce the student online portfolios in the capacity of a collaboration and global-learning lens, kids will be motivated to reflect on their learning and share their work independently!

He shared with me the student portfolio guidelines created a couple years ago which answers the questions;

What is a student portfolio? A digital space for students to document and reflect on their learning.

What is the purpose of a student portfolio? Provide students the opportunity to publicly share and reflect on their learning. Make growth over time visible as the portfolio stays with students as they progress through the years.

This helps me to guide my vision and development into introducing them <again> to students. I want to make sure my vision is in-line with Graded’s!

Aaron also shared with me some lessons he led with the Grade 4’s a couple years back (so unfortunately my current students did not receive), focusing on teaching students what a portfolio is used for, how to write a reflective blog post and basically how to start a new blog post as well.

All of this information and data helps me to see what has been implemented, what is lost and what direction we are headed.

I finally feel excited for this and I am starting this week! I’m putting a bit of a deadline on myself to get this going because we have Student Led Conferences coming up and I would like my students to have their reflection uploaded and commented on before Friday.

Flickr image credit: licornenoir Some Rights Reserved.
Flickr image credit: licornenoir Some Rights Reserved.

Pros to setting a deadline- it gets done. It forces me to start and just jump into it. No more hesitations!

Cons- I’m already a little overwhelmed with everything going on. We have report cards due Monday, SLC’s coming up which we have to plan rotations for parents, parent meetings and I am also doing other courses right now.

It doesn’t matter- I’m doing it!

Do you think I’m on the right track? I know it doesn’t seem like much but my intentions are bigger and long term. Any feedback would be helpful and gratefully appreciated. 


{screen shot} Mrs.KittoSwitzer tweets
{screen shot} Mrs.KittoSwitzer tweets

Well, it’s been a while since I blogged. It’s been a while since I was on Twitter. It’s been a while since I connected with my PLN. But- getting that email from @rebekahm kind of made me jump into action! In one night I’ve tweeted three times…!

I’m not going to lie- the end of my year last year was rough. We left Dhaka, Bangladesh where we had been for 6 years. Those of us in the International scene know that 6 years is actually quite impressive to be at once school for that long however, my husband and I had definitely reached a point where we knew change was near. Neither of us knew how soon change would hit though. At the beginning of the year there were terrorist attacks literally close to our home in Dhaka and it changed everything. It changed the school’s close community feel, it changed our freedoms of walking around and going to the parks with our boys and it changed our desire to stay in Dhaka. Not everyone felt that uneasiness but having lived in Bangladesh for 6 years we knew what we had arrived to; safe, friendly and easy-going Bangladeshis were now just as worried as we were for what was happening to their country. We quickly decided that this was not for us anymore and ended up finding jobs in Brazil.

Fast forward through the summer where we horrifically lost three Graduate students from AISD to terror attacks at a local bakery which was minutes walking from our apartment, and we know the world has changed forever but also we too have changed. That night, July 1, when the attacks were taking place my husband and I were in Canada coming back from a wonderful cottage week when suddenly we starting receiving Facebook updates of real time updates, then Facetime calls from friends and students’ families calling us, then online to news sites to try to get as much information as possible and even Twitter to follow what was happening. We changed at this moment.

Neither my husband or I slept that night. As many International teachers know your support group is everywhere. We had each other to talk to and support but our colleagues and friends were all over the world. Literally. To try to find out who was in the bakery, what was happening and follow the story we had to use all means possible to get instant updates.


I’ve never felt so insane in my life. We were instantly overtaken with horror, anger, complete despair, fear and tears. My husband and I tried to keep it together so our little boys wouldn’t know the tragedy that just struck but we were constantly taking our phones out and reading anything we could.

Eventually, I had to step in and monitor myself. I had to tell myself to stop reading every article, stop checking Twitter’s #prayforbangladesh hashtag, stop going onto FB message boards to follow, read and try to understand the attack on innocent lives. There is no understanding this. I had to stop. I had to disconnect from everything for my sanity and for my boys as reading an article would have me crippled with terror and awake at night wondering how three Graduates, just starting their adult lives were stopped by madness. There IS nothing to understand, but one thing is clear is that being connected was sucking the life out of me and making me a depressed and anxious mother of two little boys.

Change is hard.

I feel we have hardly had time to mourn or pause and process our summer and quick departure from Dhaka.

I’ve been disconnected.



I promise my posts won’t all be depressing. I think I needed to post something to get back into this mindset, a healthy change and reconnecting with the world.

The learning cycle

Some rights reserved Denise Krebs

Like international teaching, learning about technology is quite the whirlwind adventure. Once you get started, there really is no going back- you just need to take the plunge ’cause you’re in it for life!

Joining #coetail has pushed me this year and it’s been wonderful. I remember at the beginning of the year sharing with a friend that I just needed something different and I wasn’t really sure what I was doing or what my focus was anymore- I just felt like I needed a big change. I’d contemplated becoming a PYP workshop leader but then thought that might limit me and my colleague suggested starting my Masters and so I got involved in #coetail (which sadly did not work out as smoothly as I’d hoped towards my Masters, but nonetheless has been great pushing my professional development).

I have really taken my technology integration up a notch this year, my lessons I feel have been more engaging for both students and myself as I have a vested interest in blogging about them! I hope that doesn’t change, as we enter Course 5 next year I hope I can keep up with blogging because the reflection process has been very valuable for me.

{Personal pic} My boys 4 & 2 years

Next year, although unplanned, we are moving to a new school. We have been at our current school for 6 years now. We came as just my husband and I after three greats years in Ukraine and now we will be leaving Dhaka, Bangladesh with two little boys as a family. Big changes ahead- I’m no longer teaching at a PYP school and instead moving into the common core at an American School. We are moving to South America where the ease of having at-home help is not a reality, we will have to learn a new language since most of the population speak Portuguese and we will be leaving the colleagues, friends and community we have been with for 6 years. I’m freaking out.

There is no way I can focus on one project when there are so many changes coming up; I luckily will be teaching Grade 5 again but even that role is changing as I’ll be a “humanities” teacher focusing mostly on Lucy Calkins reading & writing workshops as well as Social Studies. It will be very different…

I have at least narrowed it down; I am interested in Global Book Groups, I’m interested in online portfolios and I’m interested in some kind of global collaboration or student PLN….


Global Book Groups

  1. Describe the project: What will your students do? My students would participate in a collaboration with another school and share book discussions with each other.
  2. How does this project reflect your learning from COETAIL? This project reflects my learning from COETAIL by introducing myself and my students to a global project, to new technology and giving my students opportunities for technology integrated into their lives and in my teaching.
  3. What goals do you hope to achieve with this project? I hope to extend my students’ participation and engagement in their book discussions. Currently my students discuss in small groups within the classroom and choose their books based on personal interest but discussions sometimes fall flat if their in groups which do not ‘inspire’ them. 😉
  4. Why do you think this unit is a good possibility for your Course 5 project? I think this could work well for me because 1. I already do book discussion currently at my school 2. I think it could be the least intimidating project to take on at the beginning of the year at a new school 3. It could make me look like a superstar if it works… or I could look like a total spazz if it doesn’t!
  5. What are some of your concerns about redesigning this unit? I’m worried about the students’ current engagement to book discussions at our school, how it would work with Lucy Calkins’ reading workshops and if my teaching partner would be interested in collaborating on it as well. I really cannot predict the outcome of this one compared to planning it out if I were staying at the same school.
  6. What shifts in pedagogy will this new unit require from you? When I was teaching in Ukraine I spent a lot of my ‘free’ time developing my book discussion groups based on Laura Robb’s Differentiating Reading Instruction and Lisa Donohue’s Independent Reading Inside the Box  but since then I have not really pushed myself to further re-visit my current practice. I always shy away too from group projects and this would push everything I currently do.
  7. What skills and/or attitudes will this new unit require from your students? My students would need to be able to access online tools such as Skype, document their work in an online venue (possible Drive?), and keep notes online. I will have to look into more tools and apps. My Grade 4 colleague participated in someone’s #Coetail Project 5 final project so I should probably meet with her before leaving if this is what I follow. Look into quadblogging?

Online Portfolios

  1. Describe the project: What will your students do? In this project students would use their online portfolios to reflect on their work, to share their work with a bigger audience than just their parents and they would be able to use it as a jumping point to collaboration.
  2. How does this project reflect your learning from COETAIL? I see that my online portfolios are just a substitution for a paper version. I know I can do more with them and would be interested in having that chance and focus to develop them further.
  3. What goals do you hope to achieve with this project? Ha- well I kind of want to redefine portfolios and not just in the SAMR way… I would love to involve my students in something bigger that they can take on with them, not just a grade-level portfolio but more of a community that was created with #coetail.
  4. Why do you think this unit is a good possibility for your Course 5 project? I think this is a good possibility because there are always portfolios at every school and it seems like every year teacher are trying to discover new ways of sharing student work. It would also not directly affect my core curriculum teaching- but maybe it would merge into it as well.
  5. What are some of your concerns about redesigning this unit? I don’t really know what my new school expects for online portfolios- or if they even do online portfolios. I’m not sure if that will really be my focus arriving at the new school, how to engage global collaboration through portfolios…?!
  6. What shifts in pedagogy will this new unit require from you? Thinking that portfolios can be more than just a sharing tool with parents.
  7. What skills and/or attitudes will this new unit require from your students? Students need to be sold on the idea of sharing their portfolio with a greater community, they need to be invested in it and open-minded.

Student PLN

  1. Describe the project: What will your students do? Students will look into their own influences and connections with social media and around the world. We will look at making connections and how we can share our knowledge outside of the school.
  2. How does this project reflect your learning from COETAIL? The project gets the students and I involved in global collaboration, in moving from the “lurker” to a contributor and possibly creator depending on the students’ interest and my leadership.
  3. What goals do you hope to achieve with this project?  I hope that students see a new world where they can share their knowledge and ideas; that the material they are learning in school is for something greater, that there are people who are like-minded they can connect with; that there are projects we can involve ourselves with even though they are far away.
  4. Why do you think this unit is a good possibility for your Course 5 project? Coming into the new school this could fit seamlessly with no matter what the curriculum is; creating and building a PLN benefits everyone- even me! it could be a good way to involve the classroom in using the school Twitter account, in using Snapchat and sharing what’s happening at the school.
  5. What are some of your concerns about redesigning this unit? I have never done anything like this- how much ‘newness’ should I add onto my plate at once?!
  6. What shifts in pedagogy will this new unit require from you? It’s kind of an unstructured project which is what we encourage our students to involve themselves in- talk about PBL!!
  7. What skills and/or attitudes will this new unit require from your students? I feel like it would really encourage students to being global thinkers, being empathetic and open-minded to different perspectives.

Do you have ideas you think I could tackle as a Course 5 final project starting at a new school?! Which do you think would be the easiest for me to tackle without feeling totally overwhelmed…? 

Just like sugar, technology is everywhere

Personal pic
(Personal pic) Using create-a-graph to record their data

I have been really paying attention to when I use technology and when my students are engaged with ipads or laptops or using the doc cam, and it is all over the place. Actually even today students were on laptops working on the MAP testing which was interesting because even that testing has changed over the years; now you can actually drag punctuation marks into sentences where they seem appropriate.

In any case, in my class recently we have been focusing on nutrition, emotional changes, physical changes and social changes. It’s a big “growing up” unit which I always love and is really embarrassing and appropriate for the kids. One of my provocations at the beginning of the unit is to ease into it with healthy eating and exercise. We watched a documentary on Sugar (see my blog post about it here), and they had to keep track of a food diary on one day of their weekend so we could get an idea into what they’re eating and focus on how to make healthier choices.

One of my provocations last week was to pair up and count how many jumping jacks each partner could do in a minute. Then, they had to share their results with two other groups and retrieve their results thus creating a sample data to which they had to display and analyze. The funny part was making the graph was not a problem- analyzing the graph and explaining what it meant was! The technology part they just figured out, in fact I had just given them the create-a-graph website that day and they all figured it out together!

Another learning engagement to really send the message home about hidden sugars was; each student brought in some packaged product from their home; Tabasco sauce, cereal bars, cereal boxes, peanut butter, crackers etc. In order to use my time efficiently with the resources we have I split the class up into small groups (2-3 students) and then divided the class into two. This way, each student has a ‘buddy’ or a partner to help them with the work and to discuss the new ideas with but also I could better manage everything happening.

Personal pic
(Personal pic) Measuring sugar & recording on iPads

On one side of the room students were simply engaged in watching the short BrainPOP video on nutrition and did a feedback quiz which allows you to see if your answers are correct or not right away. The direct feedback got the small groups discussing and reviewing the vocabulary and concepts right away. They also at this station had to find definitions for nutrition words using the online dictionary or one in the back of our class. Finally, they had to discuss any changes they think they needed to make to their personal diets after sharing their food journal with their partner and write a comment on the classroom blog. This held them accountable to the discussions, the thinking and the reference back to the materials they’d just gone over. This station was really meant to be informational and kind of like “mini lessons” – without me leading it.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the class I was guiding students through measuring the sugar in their products they’d brought from home and using electric scales and recording their findings on Explain Everything. I know I’ve used Explain Everything before and I really did try to use something different just to change it up- but it was such a perfect choice at this particular time because

1. students already know how to use it

2. it was faster than any other time using it

3. I didn’t want to make it more complicated than it needed to be.

The idea of them recording their findings was simply to give them a voice and have a chance to consolidate their findings through discussion and justification.

I guess I really make an effort for kids to be interacting with technology in the classroom and not just on a task “just to fill time”…. I usually have them accountable for that time using technology. I often encourage the kids to work together when working on anything really, but even ore so with technology so if they run into problems they can help each other out and they are being encouraged to figure things out on their own and talking it through.

At this point in #coetail, I’m feeling a little nervous. I’m leaving my school at the end of this year which was not our original plan when I started this course but “c’est la vie”. If I were staying on next year at the same school I feel like I could tackle a bigger global collaboration such as the Global Book Talks but I’m really nervous because I don’t know what the new school will be like. There is supposed to be loads of technology but who knows what the students are like with it, or how the curriculum will flow with it and biggest of all- I’m moving from a PYP school to an American Common Core school. Wah! I’ve taught the PYP for ten years…!

I’m sure it’ll be okay- I know it will, but that doesn’t mean I know what I’m doing as a final project. Any ideas for projects and moving to a new school? Help! 

Teaching…the Amazing Race?

Teaching and education really is an amazing race… I mean even

“Driscoll (2000) defines learning as “a persisting change in human performance or performance potential…[which] must come about as a result of the learner’s experience and interaction with the world” (p.11). This definition encompasses many of the attributes commonly associated with behaviorism, cognitivism, and constructivism – namely, learning as a lasting changed state (emotional, mental, physiological (i.e. skills)) brought about as a result of experiences and interactions with content or other people.

If you watch Amazing Race then you could see the analogy, however if you have never seen it (shocker!) The Amazing Race is a reality show that has its participants working in pairs to race around the world finding clues, participating in challenges and collaborating on last minute tasks that really challenge your ability. Just like George Siemens defines for us in his Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age 

Learning needs and theories that describe learning principles and processes, should be reflective of underlying social environments. Vaill emphasizes that “learning must be a way of being – an ongoing set of attitudes and actions by individuals and groups that they employ to try to keep abreast o the surprising, novel, messy, obtrusive, recurring events…” (1996, p.42).

CC0 Kartoffel07
CC0 Kartoffel07

This really stuck with me- the idea that learning is a way of being because currently on the Amazing Race Season 28 I was taken aback at how disconnected I feel with who the current ‘stars’ are on the show- they are all youtube or vine self-made celebrities. First of all, I didn’t even know what Vine is… was… and then when I started looking up these ‘celebrities’ I saw they have thousands of milliions of followers. Some of them didn’t even go to college because they wanted to play with the possibilities in social media. Talk about “learning must be a way of being”… This is a new world people! ROAD BLOCK!

Check out one of the players on Amazing Race Season 28; Zack King (@FinalCutKing) who never made it to filming school <speed bump>, to follow his dream of working with Spielberg but instead created his own studio in his basement and creates amazing ‘magic’ with the apps and programs available to all of us- the difference is he created this learning based off his passion! Check out his cool TEDXPortland talk The Storyteller in All of Us.

How are we supposed to teach people who create their own learning away from school? Did you guys watch that one video about game-based learning where she said that gamers are spending almost equal amounts of time outside of school learning about the ‘gaming world’- how can we compete with that engagement?!

I am not one of those people who thinks teachers will become obsolete but I do recognize we need to step-up our game and even more-so our administrators need to step-up our PD so that we can keep up and push ourselves out of our comfort zone to keep our students engaged and relevant for their own future.

The article “The Classroom is Obsolete: It’s Time for Something New” gives “a fairly universal list of education design principles for tomorrow’s schools, though it would be tailored to the needs of particular communities: (1) personalized; (2) safe and secure; (3) inquiry-based; (4) student-directed; (5) collaborative; (6) interdisciplinary; (7) rigorous and hands-on; (8) embodying a culture of excellence and high expectations; (9) environmentally conscious

Creative Commons Wikimedia

; (10) offering strong connections to the local community and business; (11) globally networked; and (12) setting the stage for lifelong learning.” I would recommend administrators take a look and tailor PD sessions for whole-school, divisional, by grade-level or individual so we can design education for tomorrow’s leaders.

Don’t get me wrong- I’m not passing the buck here by saying admin should take the lead in this however I do recognize that in my staff alone teachers choose PD on location (I mean… who doesn’t want to go to Bali for PD!!??!) and we need leaders to help direct us. With that direction then yes, we as educators need to make a jump into global collaboration, create and participate in a PLN and be open to not knowing. Too bad we couldn’t get an Express Pass to just bring us to where we need to be…!


When it Feels Good

I don’t really remember what year it was or what sparked the idea but I just remember thinking that Math could be so much more fun if we could play games – and I do specifically remember reflecting to myself that I wasn’t really sure if parents would be ‘game’ (oh yes… I had to!) with me teaching math through games but that I could see a difference in the students’ motivation, understanding, grit and collaboration. I couldn’t believe the first time I introduced games into my classroom how much time I had to set aside in the lesson to go over cooperation, social skills and how to play fairly! It really is as my sister Maxine says “that’s a good topic… cooperation under guidelines that children can agree upon”

{personal photo} Math game: decimals in between
{personal photo} Math game: decimals in between

Little did I know that what felt so good was actually quite good for the students! Of course I always added a bit of a reflective piece to the centers so that it gave me backup if I was challenged on the usefulness of the Math Centers but also so I could check-in on my students’ learning and engagement during centers. You can get a glimpse into my Math Centers with a blog post I did a couple years ago on my class blog, here:

When I organize Math centers, before Khan Academy or awesome math apps like Mathamateer or Motion Math Zoom , I would plan accordingly:

  • think of the students’ motivation and energy levels and plan accordingly the groups of students (loud games, thinking center and how students work with their group)
  • Math centers always had to be in a big block of time so that they could actually have a chance to figure out the game, so I could do a mini lesson if they were with me and so that they could think! My running time was usually about 20 minutes & 4 stations
  • mixed ability groups so they could support each other.
  • skills to think about: review concept game, new concept with teacher, number sense game (like the card game 101) and problem solving
  • if I had my act together I managed to have parent volunteers come in to be with some groups that might need an extra adult to help explain, review or sometimes if I had a TA I could ask them to do a quick formative evaluation.
  • organize all the materials & manipulatives; fraction & decimal games need dice, laminated 300 chart for number puzzles, deck of cards with instructions and the list can go on!
  • look at the classroom environment and re-arrange to fit the gaming areas to allow students to get into their thinking, without realizing it 😉

With technology it doesn’t really change my planning but it does add an extra element. I can have stations that allow students to engage really at their own level independently… for example all my students this year for the fist time have Khan Academy accounts after I realized how little interest they showed in IXL. I’m not sure if it is the group or if it’s the age but they just never went to IXL but were super pumped when I suggested and we tested out as a group, Khan Academy. As the Ms Cadwell in The Economist article shares

“She can view information for the entire class or any individual pupil. Just then she sees two fields, representing modules, turning from green to red, one for Andrea, the other for Asia. Ms Cadwell sees that Andrea is struggling with exponents, Asia with fractions. “Instead of having to guess where my students have gaps, I can see it…

All rights reserved. Kultur.

I am really intrigued by Andrew Miller’s articleGet Your Game On: How to Build Curriculum Units Using the Video Game Model’ in which he outlines tricks to plan out a game-based unit. If I were staying at my current school next year I would totally bring this up with my team and suggest it for a unit, or part of a unit… but soon I’ll be at a new school and I don’t think I could handle it… at least not at the beginning of the year 😉 The idea of designing a quest makes me think of @leahbortolin’s Course 5 final project on Badges. The idea being that each (the quests or the badges) are essentially small learning experiences students need to finish before moving on to the next stage of the game.

What I would love to do is create a game-based book discussion! How fun would that be?! If the learning target fit in with our last unit, Circle of Life (which focuses on the emotional, social & physical changes that happen during puberty), it could look at Unpacking the author’s purpose; growing up. Students could create board games based on their understanding of the book, they could create scenarios that get others inferring, find parallels between the protagonists’ problem and their own challenges coming into puberty. I mean, @jutecht is the one who asked in his post;

“So how do kids learn the “stuff”? We don’t need to deliver content, we need to inspire students to go out and find it for themselves.

This unit we do is always so intimidating for the kids because they feel like they need to act embarrassed but really they ALL can connect to the information (wearing deodorant, not wanting to hang out with their parents anymore, having up and down emotions etc), creating a game-based unit with all these heavy-duty topics would lighten it and really get them thinking.

Oh yes. I think I’m onto something….!