Thursday, 4 December 2014

PERSERVERENCE – My Journey to Google

“The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They’re there to stop the other people.” 

Here I am, in mid-flight, with what I could only describe as challenging and stressful weeks leading up to the flight. In general, I’ve become a very casual traveller with simply throwing what I need in a suitcase the day of the trip jumping on a plane and figuring the rest out upon arrival. Passports, visas, supply plans, etc. can cause bumps along the way. In my case though, I'm pretty sure I hit every bump on this unpaved road on my way to the Google Teacher Academy India 2014.

When I first began working at my current school last year, I was coming from a school with minimal technology. I was put into a classroom with 1-to-1 laptops and began using the Google Apps for Education (GAFE) as part of my everyday practice. Technology became something I tried to weave into my classroom and I took the opportunity to challenge myself in new ways as I explored different strategies, tools and programmes. I became aware of the Google Teacher Academy (GTA) and thought it was something I wanted to strive for but pushed it to the back of my mind as I felt I was nowhere near ‘application ready’ and would maybe apply in a couple years.

This past summer, I decided that I wanted to apply this year even though I was still doubtful of being accepted and was encouraged by a few colleagues to do apply anyways. While I may not have the years of experience using GAFE and technology in the classroom, I decided I had to take it upon myself to help prepare myself for the application process. I began doing the Google Educator courses as well as the YouTube Digital Citizenship course to solidify my baseline learning and knowledge of GAFE.

Then the application schedule for Fall 2014 GTAs came out. First up was #GTASYD. While I managed to write my responses to the questions with ease, it was the video that was a struggle for me as I couldn’t imagine summarising all I wanted to include in a 1-minute video. I did a video, submitted it… and I didn’t get in.

I little bit disappointed I knew I had other opportunities and decided to apply to the next one, #GTASEA. This time I decided to take a different approach to the video but again...not accepted.

I decided to not give up and try 1 last time in the 2014 GTAs with #GTAIndia. Finally, I got the letter that I was accepted into the GTA and thrilled that it would also take me to a country I had not yet had the opportunity to travel to. Once getting over the initial excitement, I quickly realised I needed a new passport before going as I didn’t have enough pages to travel to India and then a friend’s wedding in Vietnam shortly after. It was surprisingly quite a simple process submitting my renewal passport application overseas at the High Commission of Canada. It was due to arrive back in Singapore a week about 12 days before I needed to go to India, plenty of time to get a visa. Unfortunately, it was delayed a day plus a weekend. There was doubt of whether we could get the visa in time as it required 7 days to process it. We had exactly 7 working days from the day I picked it up until the date of my flight (including the day of flight).

As soon as the passport came in, I was at the High Commission picking it up, only to hand it over to begin the application process for the Indian visa the same day. When my paperwork and passport went off to the agency, I found out they needed an additional signature. I spent most of my night there and the issue of needing additional paperwork first surfaced. Handing over every letter I had at the time, I had to write an additional letter stating I was presenting at the ‘conference’ to get the conference visa I was applying for. It seemed to be sufficient and I was told the 7 days included the weekend so I would be able to pick it up the following Monday -2 days before flying.

As Monday came, I tried calling to find out when my passport would be ready to be released to me. Later that night, I received a call asking for even more paperwork.  I immediately was calling the Director of EdTech at my school asking for a favour of drafting a letter that evening to submit and then also forwarding a letter noting I was presenting at the GTA. Thankfully, I work at a school where people go above and beyond to help others out and had all the paperwork sent back to the agency for the visa and was told I would find out in the morning.

Tuesday morning came and went...nothing. I decided to call to find out the status of my application. Currently – denied. Devastated, I was told I needed a more official letter from Google about the ‘conference’. So I did what anyone would do, I used my technology to WhatsApp one of the organisers and emailed as well. Everyone working for the Google Teacher Academy was so helpful, kind and reassuring that I would be able to get the visa. Google legal drafted a letter and we sent it off to the High Commission asking for the process to be expedited.

I also knew if I wanted to get the visa in time I had to go to the High Commission of India in Singapore and go for a visa interview. This meant taking off an entire morning to figure out how to get it. In the interview, I was told they wouldn’t approve my conference visa without a letter of authorization allowing the conference in India and a letter stating that the Google Teacher Academy was indeed a conference. This was after 11am on Wednesday and I was set to fly at 7:30pm that evening. If I could get the letters, the High Commission would approve the visa. I was concerned with the time constraints and asked the interviewing officer if there was any other way of getting a visa. At which point, he informed me I could do a new visa application for an entry visa and it would be approved. 

The time crunch was on. I had to do the application online pay for it 12 noon in order for it to be processed and ready for pickup at 4pm. I jumped on a computer filled it out and paid with 15 minutes to spare. A lucky chance I had a passport picture and the correct amount of money in my wallet. All I had to do was wait for 4pm.

Back at school, I found out my flight ticket had been cancelled because my initial visa had been denied but we were able to get it reissued with minimal issues. Because I had a new passport, I also had to have my employment pass transferred over to it and the paperwork wasn’t finished being processed we found out. The school was able to get me a letter stating it was in the works but I would need my old passport – which was sitting at home.

As class wrapped up for the day, I told my students I wasn’t sure what would happen that night and I may or may not be in tomorrow. We talked about how if you really want something you have to go after it, no matter how many obstacles stand in your way. One of my boys even said to me, "This is so frustrating. You've worked so hard for this. They can't make you wait any longer to go!" (too sweet). With fingers crossed from 16 of my favourite people, I whizzed out the door after school to pick up my new passport, head home to find my old passport and off to the airport.

Check in went smoothly and I was ready to board with 2 hours to wait in the airport, which in my mind meant a safety net for anything else thrown my way.

So many times I really thought it was over and I wasn’t going to be able to go but for every problem, a solution appeared.  It has been a roller coaster ride and I am so thankful to be en route. There were so many people that played a role in making this trip happen who I can’t thank enough. I am so excited for what awaits me tomorrow as I head to the Google Gurgaon building, for the talented educators I with encounter and for the learning experience to begin. 

As a colleague said to me at some point during the chaos, "If it doesn't work out this time, it would make a killer application video for next time showing how badly you wanted to go to the Google Teacher Academy."  Luckily, I won't have to. 

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Going Global - Making Connections

One of the things I never really did last year was reach out to other schools in other countries. As an international teacher with students from around the globe, it's something I feel is important. Students should have an understanding that the world is bigger than they are and that there are others who can help their learning grow outside of just your school community.

In our first unit of inquiry about communication systems, I was talking to my class about how I communicate with my family and friends back home by using Skype and FaceTime even though it was hard with the time differences. So of course, my students wanted to call my family. We set up a time to FaceTime at the start of one of my days and my students fired a ton of questions at my dad, and also my sister and niece who had a guest appearance during the call. Instantly, they loved being able to connect with the other side of the world.

We started mapping our connections we made using Google Maps Engine and plopped down my home onto the map.

Next, I arranged a Mystery Skype call with another school in Thailand. Each class prepared 10 questions to ask the other class. With each question, the class would gather more information and tried to furiously figure out where the other class was from and used their laptops to help them. In the end, we both successfully guessed where the other one was and onto our map went another point.

The students wanted to do another one but I had a harder time arranging one within a time zone we could call during school hours. In conjunction with the other teacher in New Zealand, we decided to create videos for the other class to watch. We each created a video with 10 clues and similarly we had to try and guess where the other school was located. These clues were quite tricky actually and really made students use their mapping skills and research skills online to successfully locate the school. It required a lot of collaboration and discussion amongst my students as well. Once we had guessed, the other school sent us more questions they wanted to know about our class, school and Singapore in a Google Document. With the collaborative feature of Google Apps for Education, we were able to respond easily and then generate some more questions about New Zealand and so on. This was really great to get some dialogue going with students and could be done whenever it was convenient in our class, not just a one time Skype call.

Our last connection so far this year was this past week to a school in Malaysia. This time we decided to mix it up a bit and play a math game between students at each school in small groups. We set up Padlets for each group and the students played a type of 'Guess Our Number' game using place and value. This one had some small bumps with lag time when the students posted responses but still was a fun way to connect and we are hoping we can play again with the school in a similar fashion later in the year.

I love the excitement my students get when trying to figure out where the other class is. Our technology allows us to connect students that never would've been able to connect before with as much ease. It's brought up a lot of discussion about different cultures, countries and quite simply geography. We are looking forward to our next global connection in any form it comes in.

We Have A New Addition... Chubby

It's always hard when a student moves away but it is very much the reality of teaching in an international school setting. It's not always the case though that they leave your class a present either that changes the dynamic of the classroom and takes the class community in a whole new direction.

About a month or so ago, I had a few students ask me if we could get a class pet. I didn't say no but I didn't say yes either. I told them to come up with a plan and then we'd talk, which seems to be my go to line. I should also know by now that my particular group of students will always do that though.

It just so happened that one of my other students was leaving our school due to a parent's job relocation and needed to find a home for his pet hamster. In an instant, that proposal and research went into double speed.

First, a survey was created for the type of pet they wanted. Then, the students collaborated in making a Google Presentation for their proposal to the Head of Primary. In addition, an email was drafted to the Head of Primary to invite him to our proposal meeting and a letter was drafted to the parents to ask for volunteers to take the pet home on weekends. Each student researched a different part of the presentation.

When it came time to the proposal day, we again talked about the need to be persuasive and what that meant. We had the Head of Primary listen to our proposal with each student doing a portion of the presentation. Then came the green light to go forward with having a pet! So the only logical thing to do was to put on the Hamster Dance song and celebrate.

On Monday, we received our brand new addition to our class, our hamster Chubby. She is a very cute little hamster who my students have grown to love after only 1 week. We now have a Chubby Chart to split up the responsibilities each day and track who is on weekend duty. My students have also started a Chubby Scrapbook to document her adventures in Year 5.

Already, they have instantly become more responsible and really care about the well-being of our furry friend. They make sure she has enough food and water, clean her cage and let her run around in the ball on the floor during reading and writing time. They love Chubby and it is so sweet to see how the want to care for her and make her new life in our classroom enjoyable.

This is the first weekend Chubby has gone home with a family and even got to attend a sleepover with 4 of my students. I hope she comes back on Monday not too overwhelmed!

When It All Comes Together...

Sometimes when you start out a project, you're not sure of where it will end up. For our personal projects for our inventions unit, this was very much the case. I had an idea of how to go about it. But how it would actually unfold, that was a big question mark.

On Friday, I was a very proud teacher of my students. They showcased their personal projects including their process journals and a variety of ways to present their findings as products to parents, students and administrators.

Before we shared our work with the wider school community, each student had the opportunity to share to their classmates. Was I ever blown away by the level of thought and effort my students had put into their projects. As each student stood up to share their work, there was a very evident sense of pride in their work. They each shared their work with confidence in a way they hadn't done before. They spoke about their research, their findings, their passion for learning.

No two projects were alike, no two students had shared the same learning journey but yet the amount of knowledge and understanding was phenomenal.

I loved seeing the students so excited to share their work with their parents and the parents were just as proud of them as I was. One of my favourite moments of the day was when a mother approached me with teary eyes to tell me how incredible it was to see how much work her daughter had done on the project and how much she had grown through the process. It made my heart warm.

My students are so proud of it that they don't want to stop sharing and we are going to continue to share with our buddy class on Monday.

This project has made me come away with some important lessons:

1. Student choice is a way to get students to buy-in to learning. When students choose what they learn, how they will learn it and how they will present their findings, they often do more and to a higher quality. When they feel the internal want to learn, it doesn't even feel like work. Sometimes simply giving students a framework is all they need. I told them they had to pick a topic, show their learning process and create a product in the end but beyond that, their learning choices were completely in their hands.

2.  Focskills leads to better results. This unit of inquiry, I spent less time focused on content and more time on skills. My students learned about different ways to gather research and the importance of process vs. product. They explored different technology tools and ways of presenting their work. We discussed time management, organization and how others can be critical friends for each others. We looked at making small manageable goals each day and each week rather than taking on the project as a whole. We focused on gathering research questions that drive your learning, rather than just looking at everything.  Through all of these conversations and discussions, not once did I say you have to tell me the past, present and future of your invention or why we need that invention or who invented it or when was it invented. While a lot of those things were discovered through the project, so was a lot of other information.

3. An unknown direction can work. I've always been taught plan with the end in mind. However, this time, I wasn't sure what the end would look like or even what the project would be like week by week or even if it would be a multiple week project. This project became larger than expected and better than expected. It never meant to be an exhibition or a project the students spent hours on. Sometimes its okay to go with the flow and have something evolve as you go. Sometimes I don't have to plan everything (which I feel more comfortable doing) and still know that the final result will work out in the end.

After 5 weeks of learning, it all came together on one day in one room. Everyone left that Friday beaming with pride and excitement. Not every day does what you are doing make sense, but on that day, the final piece of the puzzle as we ended our unit fit perfectly.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Cancel Everything This Afternoon, Let's Just Continue

There's something to be said about students doing what they want to do. When students are engaged their learning is far superior. My Tuesday was all planned out as usual but I wasn't sure if we were going to be able to Skype another class or not so I simply left a question mark on the schedule for the day. Of course when the kids came in that morning, they asked what the question mark was and I said I wasn't sure yet and we could decide later. What I didn't expect was to be greeted with pleas of doing their 'home learning' work for a period. Of course sticking with the attitude I've taken on this year (Go With What The Students Want), I said sure. Little did I know what would transpire.

Let's take it back 3 weeks ago though before I get there. I had gotten back from my trip to Vietnam and inspired to change up my homework from my visit to a friend's classroom at the International School of Ho Chi Minh City, I decided to try this 'home learning' approach but wanted to take it a little slower the first time round to see what would happen.

The first week I gave my students the question "How have inventions changed to impact our lives?". From there, I asked them what they thought about that question and what they already knew. We decided to focus our question a little bit more individually and each of them came up with an overarching question they wanted to explore. Topics included how makeup changed to impact our lives, food colouring and even refrigerators. Then we explored where we could gather our information from using our new MISO Charts. Media - videos, websites, pictures, books, magazines, etc., Interviews - family, friends, teachers, experts. Survey - what survey questions would gather good data. Observations - what could we see and learn about. It was amazing that the students weren't familiar with resources outside of the internet really. So one of the first things we did was take a trip to the library and learn how to find books using the online catalogue and the dewy decimal system. This week we also brainstormed a list of other questions that would help them answer their larger question.

As we began week 2, we had some serious discussions about our mountain analogy of needing to help everyone get to the top of the mountain but more importantly, the process of getting to the top was more important than actually being at the top. As we explored the topic of process journals, my students explored our DP students Art Books and added postits in it of ideas and strategies of how we could present the information we found in our process journals. This included things like various charts, labels of pictures, timelines, more than one draft, building lists of ideas etc. Then it was time for them to be like the DP students and begin their own journey through the process. We had some time in class but primarily it was something they could work on at home. To be honest, by the end of the 2nd week when we checked in as a class and reflected on our work, I was a little disappointed my students hadn't gotten into more. I thought for sure if they had chosen their topic they would want to learn more about it. Puzzled by it, I decided to forge on and give them another week of exploring their topic with research. I was curious to understand if it was just because this was the first time we were doing it or if I just wasn't putting the right spin on in.

The third week I tried something a little different. I had more checkins daily. Each day we would check in to see what they had accomplished the night/day before in class. I started sharing more of what some students had produced with the class and sharing more about different strategies they could use. Instantly, I had students coming into school each morning wanting to show me what they had done in school so I could show the class their work. I also had students begging me to give them more time in class to work on it. By the end of the week, I was flipped in my thinking and completely amazed by the depth some students had gone into. The students were learning with their parents too asking them question about the project but more importantly sharing what they were learning and developing that home school connection.

So now we are into our fourth week where students have now turned their process into a product and what an array of assignments that have started to take form! We have PowToons, bulletin boards, books, models, presentations, documents, Wordles, diagrams, iMovie, pictures and so much more. The quality of their work has gone up and the students are really excited to share what they've learnt. It also gave me a lot of opportunity to have discussions with students about the presentation of their work. How does the sizes of their titles impact its effect? What about colour and organization? How fast should the speed of text on a slide be in order for the reader to view the presentation/video?

That question mark on Tuesday that barely found it's way into the schedule that day for a period turned into an entire afternoon. When it was time for break, my students just wanted to keep going. When break ended and I said it was time for our Math Battle, they begged to keep going... and going... and going... right until the end of the day. Who am I to get in the way of their learning? Every child was engaged in 2.5 hours of work that they wanted to do. They are learning more than I could have planned for and will ultimately teach each other more than I could cover. They are inspired to research, take notes and then share their knowledge.

Next week we plan on presenting our findings to the class with our final products. My class would like to hold an exhibition and invite other classes in. Again, not something I had thought of at all but will go with what they want and see where it goes. I am excited to see what the final products turn out to be after 4 weeks of hard work from them.

At the end of the day, cancelling a few lessons for the sake of student choice and voice was just what my kids needed. Perhaps what I need more of is just a few more afternoons of those amazing little question marks.

Monday, 3 November 2014

Connecting Instagram to Blogger to Eportfolios - The Story Continues...

So I can't help myself but be the proudest teacher in the world right now!

The same student who has struggled to process information, sequence events and get thoughts from pen to paper the past few years wrote a story today that pretty much blew me away. We were doing our pre-assessment for our new Writer's Workshop fantasy unit. The task was simple - show me as much as you know about fantasy writing in a small moment story in one period, try your best and let's see what you can come up with.

Well, I wandered the room ensuring my ESL students understood and redirecting another student or two back on task and didn't notice the student writing away. About 15 minutes in, I wandered over to him and he had four lines written on. I gave him a high five and off he kept going. After about 45 minutes it was time to break and I asked if he was done. He said he wasn't but almost and asked if he could finish. I figured he wanted to write and he is allowed the extra time as an accommodation so I was happy to let him finish.

When he handed his work to me that was almost a page long, I was beaming with excitement. He had done it completely independently as well. We exchanged our class secret handshake (which I did wrong, so we had a redo) and I gave him a ton of praise for his hard work and perseverance. This may not seem like a big deal to some, but for our personal narrative pre-assessment, I got a blank page in 45 minutes so this is a major step forward.

Then he reached for the iPod, took a picture of his work and continued to write another sentence about his work before posting his blog. His fiction story was sequenced and had a beginning, middle and end. It had some descriptive language and he even wrote some of his words creatively to help create a feeling for his haunted story.

Is it having the blog that is similar to Instagram that he loves that made things click? Was it sharing the positive feedback about his blog I got from his family with him? Was it the positive encouragement that has finally sunk in? Was it just everything aligning in one go? I'm not sure but I will do whatever I can to keep him on this path.

It's simply a great reminder we really need to be these kids biggest cheerleaders and never give up on them. There is always something that might motivate a child. The student may not have the best progress every day, and likely many setbacks along the way but there is always something else that could work - so don't stop trying.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Connecting Instagram to Blogger to Eportfolios

I have one student in my class who has difficulty processing information. He works incredibly hard but his brain just doesn't allow him to make connections from taking in information to processing the information and doing a task with ease. I have been struggling to get him to write and often produce any form of work. Even with one on one instruction, he could spend an entire period and still only have a few sentences on a page. We have tried a variety of different strategies to help him communicate his ideas in whatever way he can but often, we still come up short... until this past week.

Our E-portfolios our a big part of my class as it promotes self-reflection, showcases their work and can be shared with parents, friends and our community. As you might have imagined, this would be a task that would become difficult for the child mentioned above. In the first unit, all of the pieces he inserted required me sitting next to him talking him through it step by step until he finished. While he is still very tech savvy, the processing all of the steps becomes too much at some point and the task wouldn't get finished.

I had a meeting with the parent and we were just discussing the child's overall ability when he mentioned he had an Instagram account he was always on outside of school. As I walked out of the meeting, I thought to myself "Why not let him do what he enjoys doing? Why not give him the platform that works best for him?"

So off I went barging into the tech office with this idea of using Instagram for his E-portfolio now. Unfortunately, Instagram is blocked on our server I found out but using an alternate program that essentially mimics this idea was our next option - Blogger.

When I talked to the student he was interested in 'trialling' this special idea I had that only he could help me with. So together, we set up a blog and linked it to an iPod. The idea was simple - take pictures as you work throughout the day and write a comment about it. This was to be his modified portfolio. If the idea was to reflect on his work, perhaps this was a way he would be able to connect what he was already doing outside of school with Instagram to what he did inside the classroom.

Instantly we saw results! This past week we had only 3 days of teaching, and he already has 7 posts. Not bad for someone who only had 3 posts total of reflection for the current section of his portfolio. Not only did he capture moments of his work, he made others capture him in action too so he could include that. The boy who had struggle putting together a single sentence on paper now was able to put at least a sentence or two together for each picture he posted.

What else improved? He self image. When he knew he could succeed, he wanted to do more. A single sentence and picture was enough.

So I guess now I ask myself - how are we differentiating our e-portfolios to meet our student's needs? How do we ensure they can reflect on a work that is meaningful to them? I am wondering how other students will feel after a while and if they will want to take on this model as well? I wonder how my student's writing will progress moving forward.

It seems so simple. Taking a picture, posting it to the internet and making a comment but yet to me, this has been one of the biggest successes for me all year. We are trialling this idea for the next month with him and I am so excited to see where he takes it. In three days, he has transformed in the classroom and as a writer both digitally and on paper. I am incredibly proud of his progress and the best part is - he is too!

Choosing How You Grow

This year started off quite rocky for me with many personal and professional challenges. I found myself not being at my best and not feeling inspired in the way I normally am and found things that never before bogged me down doing just that.

I was doing what I had to do each day and doing my best to make the students my focus. Feeling a little lost, I was trudging on hoping to find the internal spark that had dimmed a bit.

On a whim, I decided I needed to get away from Singapore and the life it encompasses and travels on mid-break somewhere different than I was experiencing. I booked a ticket to Vietnam to visit some past colleagues and dear friends and wasn't really sure what I was in for. I had no plans, barely had a Visa in time and had thrown a few things in a backpack on the morning of my flight. Little did I know, what an eye-opening and inspiring trip it would be for me personally, and professionally. 

Ho Chi Minh City itself was such an adventure and reminded me so much of my experience in China where culture swirled around you and everything became a challenge. I began to realise how much I crave and thrive in situations where I am challenged. It became very apparent to myself that if I am not being challenged, I am not learning to my fullest potential. An interesting thought as a teacher, where my job is to challenge and support students in these challenges every day. It made me reflect in thinking - who is doing this for me? Am I  doing this for myself? Am I waiting for others to challenge me? Do I need others to be the one challenging me? I'd say I'm often pretty self motivated but at times I need someone there as well. As I'm still new to teaching, often I'm just doing what I 'think' is right and not necessarily the best way of doing it. I need others to challenge my thinking. 

I visited the International School of Ho Chi Minh City where some of my friends worked and was truly inspired by the teachers and work environment. In addition, they also had a visiting math consultant which I was able to learn from for the day and a half I was there. It was such an eye-opener to see how other educators do things in other schools.  I spent most of my time just watching, trying to take it all in and learn from others. I furiously would scribble down notes as I went and just tried to soak up the experience for what it was. I came away with so many ideas that I instantly wanted to implement in my own classroom such as the bubblecatchers and the way they view home learning. I know that when I take my learning into my own hands, I get a much richer learning experience. Interesting enough - isn't that what we want our kids to do too? 

One of the biggest things I took away was the power of observation. So much of our time we spend worrying about getting paperwork done, marking or a variety of other things that have to get done that we don't make time for the things we should be doing. This year alone, I know I have not been into enough other classrooms to see what they are doing. Yet, I went to another school and that's all I wanted to do. We all have so many amazing things that we are doing but unfortunately they don't always get shared. I went to Vietnam and was so inspired by the way others looked and acted towards education in a way that was similar to how I feel about my job. 

I also recently found out I was accepted into the Google Teacher Academy (GTA)- another professional development opportunity I have taken into my own hands. Last year I was introduced to Google Apps for Education and the GTA and instantly thought it was something I would like to work towards. My first year was all about developing the skills to use them and then I felt this year should really be able using them more effectively before I apply for the GTA the following year. However, something in the summer kickstarted my want to learn more and try for this year. So this past summer, I did all of the online courses that I could with Google and became a Google Educator by doing 5 Google Apps courses and exams and also did the Youtube Digital Citizenship course. From there, I decided I needed to develop my professional learning network through Twitter and began connecting with other educators and sharing what I do in my class. And then tried for Google Teacher Academy. I didn't get in the first time.... or the second time... but with perseverance, the third time did the trick. This is something I wanted to do, learn about and be able to apply into my teaching - not something someone is telling me I have to do.

There is something about having agency over your own professional development that truly adds to the learning itself. When you are choosing to learn, the learning seems to be richer and the excitement and inspiration seems to flow. The question then becomes, how do we best transfer this knowledge into the classes we teach? 

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Games We Play - Part 1

About a month ago, our Year 5 team was approached with a new idea of how to engage students. Games. We all love games - there’s a sense of competition, challenge and a goal that you ultimately want to achieve by the end of it.  The idea of challenges or quests allows students to feel like they are working towards something larger and with each quest they have accomplished something.

We decided this games based approach to learning might work best with our space and shape unit that was a stand-alone mathematics unit. The concept seemed like the students would love it but still, there were lots of questions and even more logistics to iron out as we went.

The concept: Class against class against class as they took over various locations of the school. While it started as a general and vague concept we were able to narrow down much of the details. The week of the game beginning was where a lot of the decisions actually came into play. There are 7 locations to gain possession of, each with a different topic, specific tasks and challenges associated with it. In order to gain possession, the class has to accumulate the most points.

We created a website as the point of interaction for students. Our homepage has a general outline of the game and each class has a google presentation learning journal that they can create/add to as we go. We also have the game map. Each week as a new level is introduced, we add a picture of the new takeover area as well as a graph comparing the 3 different teams points for that weeks topic. The graph updates in real time as the points change and are logged by the teacher.

Our first week was to introduce students to the game, build a team mentality and develop an understanding of symmetry. We had all of the Year 5s join in one classroom for our official launch where we introduced the game concept and showed them the first video which introduced the 7 locations, game expectations and also the first topic they would be learning. For our ‘initiation’ task, students had to work as a team to come up with a name with 2 lines of symmetry, create a team cheer and develop a secret handshake. They also had to create a small flag with 2 lines of symmetry. Those that completed the tasks received points. It was an instant motivator knowing that the students in the room next door could not come out victorious. While I would have liked a bit more time to smooth out some of the rough edges of the game before launching, we went ahead and had a successful launch that had the Year 5 students on board with the idea.

The next day we introduced our students (each class individually) to the tasks for symmetry. Students needed to demonstrate they knew how to draw lines of symmetry and create symmetrical figures/drawings. Once those 2 tasks were complete, they were to show the teacher and receive a 1 (complete with errors), 2 (complete with minimal errors) or a 3 (complete). If they received a 1 or a 2, the student could go back and correct their thinking and be reassessed to upgrade their marks. As a Year group, we had to work out a few kinks to make marking consistent especially with the bonus challenges where we debated having double points or just extra points (which is what we went with). We also had to discuss whether the challenge tasks could be completed before the mandatory tasks at each level. It is something to discuss more if we were to do it again and also consider having weighted activities and points based on difficulty or length of challenges.

The students loved this sense of competition and constantly were setting goals of how many points they thought they could receive as a class by the end of the lesson. It was a big achievement when we overtook another class and broke the 200 point mark. It was really interesting doing a math lesson at the same time as another class on Friday as the students could see us neck in neck and continued to push themselves to complete tasks.

We are tracking student data in Google Sheets and from there pulling the data to create graphs that we embed onto our site. The challenge with this is constantly updating it in real time when students complete a task. The first 2 days of tasks I was finding I was spending more time marking/updating the spreadsheet than working with individual students who needed help. It was great that I was able to have a lot of constructive feedback through conferencing with students as they came to get their work assessed. I was able to show them where they went wrong and question their thinking so they could go back and fix their mistakes. However, students who were quite low I felt I didn’t have the same amount of time I would normal work with them for. This is something I am going to work on managing better as we enter into week 2.

In my class, my students write weekly emails to me and they also created their own class weekly reflection journal in Google presentation. From what the students are writing in these 2 spots they love it. It is clear they are motivated to learn and they are excited about playing a massive ongoing game in mathematics. I even have students taking home their books to work on the challenges and tasks at night and on their long weekend. I even received a parent email telling me how excited her son was to do extra math work at home so he could gain more points for his class - not bad for a kid who I was told struggled with math at the start.
The students are really coming together as a team and supporting each other in order to propel the whole class forward in the game.

As we begin Week 2, I am interested to see how the interest and engagement level keeps up. I have not assigned any math homework to my kids other than to complete any of their tasks (not challenges). I would love to see how much students do at home. As we introduce the topic of transformations, I would also be interested in seeing how many students go back to our symmetry level to try to upgrade and stay ahead of the other classes. I wonder how this would be different if we weren’t in the lead. Would students focus more on symmetry to regain a lead? Will they now not worry too much about symmetry because they are in the lead or will they want to further their lead? One class is close to us and could potentially take over the pool house if they continue to gain more points. Once all students complete the mandatory tasks, will they feel the need to continue to do the challenges? At what point will they feel ‘safe’ in the lead of one school location? I’m interested to see how the possession of locations on campus fluctuate between classes as the game progresses and how the students decide to try to regain an area or perhaps focus their attention on only specific locations. The other thing the students must remember is that the game can change at any time and new obstacles and challenges can come into the game. How can we the teachers create new ideas into the game that the students didn’t foresee that further pushes them to explore all parts of the game?

This game is definitely something that we have been adapting and changing since the start and I know we will continue to. The concept of developing this game as we go has been a challenge for me as I feels more comfortable for me to see the whole picture before beginning something. However, now that a lot of the bigger items (assessment, website, task general layouts) have been ticked of things to figure out, I am sure a lot of smaller questions/concerns can be worked out more easily. There are constantly questions I have that pop up about how students are going to track their progress, what will intrinsically motivate them further, how can we get the best quality work out of our students instead of just having them rush to get a point or two and many more.   I am excited to see where it goes and how it continues to take shape as we develop it week by week.

Monday, 29 September 2014

Holding On Only to Let Go

This past Friday, our class had a pretty big deadline. We had to finish our personal narratives, to turn them into audio books, then create and lead assembly followed by a parent share time in our classroom.

No pressure at all.

By the Monday, we had all finished our final copies of our personal narratives but most students were still on the creating of the audio recordings. It became a bit more complicated than expected when we decided to record in iMovie first. This would allow us to reduce the background noise. Then we had to save it as a file, open it in QuickTime and save audio only before importing into Garageband. From there, students were able to edit and add effects to their recordings. Some students chose to record directly into Garageband, however, it created its only problems when students forgot to unselect the metronome and had clicking sounds going throughout the entire recording.

On Tuesday, it was time to look at the assembly, even though some were not done yet. Our class brainstormed a hefty list of ideas they wanted to do, as they always do which included:
- news report about how to make a personal narrative
- commercial advertising their stories
- original music for their news report
- flyer

One thing to remember is that the news report and commercial had every person in it (as per their request). The students broke into teams and started on their plan. The editors started setting up in iMovie and the videographers got into position with their ipods to record. Due to the time crunch, I wanted to have all the recording for the commercial done by the end of the day. Maybe not the most realistic but still. I found myself slowly creeping into the driver's seat as I tried to move from having one group record in front of the green screen after the next. With limited time, it's easy sometimes to slip back into old habits of guiding the situation more than you should or really need to. Sometimes it's easier to lead because you can get to the same teaching point faster and have the same outcome as your students.

At some point I realised this and put a student in charge of getting the rest of the recording done. Therefore it wasn't coming from me any more with directions. Of course, it continued in the same manner. I really hadn't made the process any more efficient. It is more powerful for them to have more ownership of their work.

I hadn't seen the commercial in 2 days and so I wandered over to the child who was working on it. I was completely blown away. I had no idea he had the tech skills to do what he did - without my help at that.

Then we started brainstorming for our parent visit. They were so thoughtful of their parents and really wanted to make coming to the classroom an 'experience' for them. They carefully planned games, chose songs to dance to and decided how to set up the room. They created a welcome banner and also organised a presentation to explain the events of the afternoon.

I again would have liked more time to see where the students could have pushed themselves farther but sometimes you don't have those extra few minutes. While they executed their plan well, I would've liked to give them more time to practice before their parents came.

Sometimes holding on to what you think you (and your students) need is what you don't need. Be willing to take a risk with your students and see where they lead you. Because chances are, what they'll do on  their own, will be far more than you expected of them.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Taking a Turn as a Student, While My Students Teach

A couple of weeks ago a group of 5 girls in my class were outside drawing at lunch. I wandered over to them to see what they were up to. "Ms. Mac, we are drawing unipigs and we want to have a unipig day!" Puzzled on what a unipig was, I inquired further - a pig and a unicorn all in one. I asked the girls if this 'day' was going to happen at home or at school.

"Can it happen at school?" was what I heard in response with the 5 innocent faces looking back at me. For a moment I paused and pondered before replying with, "Sure...But there has to be an educational component to it." From there it just took off!

That night the girls went home and by 5pm, they were on a Google presentation collaborating, commenting and coming up with how they were going to make this day happen. Within 30 minutes, they had already planned 2 lessons and created a Google presentation to use for their lesson. The document was shared with me by the time I got home from work and I sat there amazed at what had just happened.

The next day the first question I got from them was when was this going to happen. Putting the breaks on for just a second, I suggested that we meet to go over what they had planned and then we could discuss a date. At the break, we gathered in the conference room the 5 of them on one side me the other and they began talking me through their plans.

First up was a math lesson. They were going to create a menu of all the different cupcakes, cakes and beverages offered at the Decimal Dessert. Students would solve problems based on the open and closed word problem questions the girls had come up with. For the second lesson, the girls were going to have everyone design a cupcake in their writing books. Then, everyone would have to write a story incorporating the cupcake with the focus on developing their senses with taste, touch, smell, sight and sound. It sounded reasonable to me and we planned for the following Wednesday to be the day.

The excitement continued to build as the girls created more drawing for the day and modified their menu up until the last moment.

On the day, it was a very different experience for me as I stepped into the student role and actually did their lessons. I was incredibly proud of the girls and the way they conducted the lesson from start to finish. When students' hands went up, they were right there for support and even marked as they went. I loved that one when one student raised his hand and said excuse me and our PYP coordinator went to see if he could help, the student said he was actually wanting to ask the 'teachers' a question which gave me a good chuckle.

The biggest challenge for the girls was their excitement. They were all so excited by the event that they sometimes would talk over each other when giving the lesson. But how can you fault enthusiasm really?

It was a very reflective experience for me as well. As I did the lessons as a student, it reminded me of the little things that are helpful for the student to understand the instructions and tasks better. It was also interesting to see the girls modelling what I would normally do as well - the way they got the classes' attention, how they addressed students, approaches to questions. I saw the classroom truly through the eyes of my students.

Beyond this afternoon, I have had more students wanting to take risks and share. Two days after, I had a boy come in with a presentation about some action outside of the classroom that he created and wanted to share and I received an email from another student asking if she could present something she designed on the weekend. Perhaps sometimes it just takes one small step sideways to begin leaping forward.

I am glad I let go of the class for the afternoon and handed it over to the girls. It meant so much to them and they were so proud of what they accomplished individually and together. They developed their presentation skills, reflected on their work, communicated their ideas to others and challenged their peers academically. And the fact the girls also organised to each bring a few cupcakes in for the celebration to end the lesson was just the icing on the cake.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Failure is a Challenge Still Left to Overcome

We tell our students it's okay to fail. We tell them it's okay to make mistakes as long as you grow from them. We tell them not to worry and that it'll all work out. We tell them you learn more from doing something wrong than doing something right. We smile at our students and tell them to persevere, bounce back and  to work through it. We tell them  We tell them this when they get a bad grade, don't make the school team, or don't get into the college they want. But what about us as teachers? What about when you go after something just like our students do and you do quite reach what you want?

I make mistakes on a daily basis. There is no surprise there and it's something I really do embrace, usually with a good laugh at that. But sometimes you give something your all and you have those 'oh I really want this' moments and still it is just out of your reach.

This is exactly what happened to me this week. I had applied to Google Teacher Academy in Southeast Asia and, of course, was waiting patiently for a response on the status of my application. I had made a video, answered the questions,  shared my resume and was pretty happy with my application overall. Was it perfect? No, there were things I wished I had fixed or changed or added in the end but that's always the case when it comes to the learning process. Then I got the email that informed me this time wasn't my time to be accepted into the programme.

Of course, I was a bit bummed at first. I had that sinking feeling that takes me back to my Grade 7 year when I didn't make the co-ed baseball team at school. It was an opportunity I really wanted to be a part of and felt I could learn a lot from. But  I believe everything happens for a reason and it just wasn't meant to be right now.

Sometimes when you want something, you seem to forget about what you already have. If I stop for a second, I see how much I have accomplished already. When I look back over my teaching career, it's amazing to see where I am already and I am so thankful for each opportunity that I've been given. As I begin only my third year of teaching, I've had the pleasure of living in 2 countries, developed my technology skills tremendously and been guided and inspired by fantastic international educators. I've had the opportunity to take PYP workshops, present at a conference,  lead training within my school and recently moved into a Year Group Coordinator position. I get to work with students who inspire me each and every day and who bring so much laughter and joy into my life. Never did I think I would have a career that lets me create digital products, foster leadership in others, share my own love of learning and also get to play dodgeball and dance all in the few hours of a workday.

I've really only been using GAFE in my 1 to 1 classroom for a year now and I can't believe the transformation I've had as an educator because of it. Just like I tell my students to do, I'll try again next round. Each time I'll have more experience under my belt, more knowledge of GAFE, and in general, will hopefully be better a teacher than I was before. I am presented with the challenge of using GAFE  in my classroom and trying to become more knowledgeable with the tools I use on a daily basis. I will continue to develop innovative ways to learn with my students.  I do hope in my professional future that I do have the opportunity to be a part of the Google Teacher Academy and other professional opportunities that lie ahead. An obstacle only lights the determination within more as I continue to focus on making my classroom a positive and engaging learning environment for my students.

No one is ever going to be told yes every time. No one is going to get 100% every single time. No one is truly perfect. Mistakes matter. Mistakes make people develop character, resiliency and a different outlook on life. So failure isn't really anything but finding a new approach to the same problem, a new way of looking at things and just one of many ways that don't work. Failure is just a way of saying a you've still got a challenge to overcome.

Monday, 8 September 2014

You want me to speak? In front of people?!

It's hard to believe only a year ago I truly took my first steps in the world of EdTech. I'm blessed that my learning curve has been steep and fast and I've had the opportunity to interact with some amazing educators here in Singapore and throughout Asia. I have a lot of things I want to achieve in my educational journey. I'm only in the beginning steps of that path but I just managed to check another wish off my list but it came at the cost of the case of some serious nerves.

This past weekend I attended the EdTechTeam Singapore Summit featuring Google Apps. I had attended the conference last year as a complete rookie to the EdTech world where I soaked up every once I could and quite frankly my brain was fried by Sunday at 5pm.

But this year was different, this year I was co-presenting one of the workshops with a colleague of mine. As a new educator, I have so much to learn from those who came into this profession beforehand. So taking the stage to share my own experiences completely terrified me. I am no better than anyone else and in my mind not doing anything remarkably noteworthy compared to the other educators who simply care about their students and want to make a difference for their kiddos. From that standpoint, I never thought I would be at the point where I had something anyone would ever want to hear.

Yet, when one day as I was in the tech office trying to solve a completely unrelated problem, I struck up a conversation with our Primary EdTech Coach about the conference. He told me he was presenting and for whatever reason, I asked if they were still looking for presenters. Somehow we got to the point where he suggested I present with him our e-portfolios. Bam - hooked in and too late to back out. (In hindsight, awesome choice!)

Preparing the presentation itself came pretty easy to me when I knew what I was talking about was just everyday practice to me and my students. Perhaps my time management on the actual prep work could be adjusted in the future to eliminate some nerves but the fact is it was ready for action when it needed to be. We had many successes and challenges with the portfolios last year and all I really had to do when it came down to it was to be honest and speak from the heart.

On the day of my presentation, my colleagues asked if I was going to be okay. I clearly looked like I was going to be doing the scariest thing in my life as I entered the school cafeteria for morning coffee. But somehow I managed to get it together. I am so appreciative of all of my colleagues who were the most supportive group of individuals I could have asked for during this event for me. Many asked if I wanted them in the audience cheering me on. While thoughtful, sweet and super caring, no I did not want them there. Having anyone from our school sitting there smiling back at me was not what I wanted or needed.  I would only get more nervous in front of the people I work with every day, presenting the work we all do in our classrooms. In my mind, presenting in front of complete strangers was the best method - even though my colleagues promised loud cheers, banners and signs if I let them come. They did make sure to congratulate me and make me feel so special afterwards too. It's a wonderful feeling to know that if you stumble in your school you've got people to help you back up. I even had one friend make sure I got something special to have in my class to remember the occasion by. This also excited my students this morning and they told me I was a real risk-taker and asked if they could give teachers merits too.

I stood up at the front of the room about 15 minutes before it started with my co-presenter and looked out. 3 people there so far - well, at least I wouldn't mess up and embarrass myself in front of too many people. Unfortunately, we had a bigger crowd than that with each passing minute until it was time to start and there was a good size audience in the room. My co-presenter started off the presentation with the philosophy of the e-portfolios and I just stood there waiting my turn, jittery, and trying to remember to smile.

"And now I'll turn it over to my colleague, Emily." Darn! That's my cue. Okay, breathe, smile, breathe again, say something. And so it began. Honestly, for not really practising what I wanted to say, the words for the most part just rolled off the tongue. It's easy for me to talk about my students and what we do together in our classroom. I ooze pride when I talk about my kiddos - they change the way I think and make me a better teacher and person every day.

One of my favourite parts was just being able to have questions and answers with individuals in the audience. Like I said, I'm no expert, so sharing ideas and experiences allows us to grow together

An interesting thing I took away from the weekend that was unintended learning was my attention to detail about how others constructed their workshops and keynotes. I found myself analysing the presenters thinking why did this work and why do I feel that part could be done differently (nothing against any presenters). I found myself viewing the presentations less about content and more about structure, flow and connection. Perhaps I did not take away as much EdTech learning as I did last year (though still many new ideas) because of this unintended focus, I still feel like the knowledge I gained will help me propel myself forward.

Secretly (or not so secretly), this was a huge day for me. My first real conference and one featuring Google Apps for Education in a country where EdTech is top notch? I mean, come on, excitement over this accomplishment doesn't even begin to describe how I felt. I kind of felt like I kid again when I Skyped my dad the next day sharing the experience and hearing how proud he was of me.

Would I do it again? Yes. Will it always bring out my nerves? Absolutely. I've already had a friend at another school make a pact to both do a presentation in October (thankfully this one can be much much shorter!)  But I guess I realised was that I actually do have a voice in the education world. We all do. Teachers want to hear what other teachers are doing. It's okay that your voice is quiet and maybe not being heard by many but just like with my students, if I can make a difference to one, then that's a great thing I've done.

"Worst Monday Start Ever...Again"

So today I was greeted by one of my dear students at about 8:45am as I was wandering out to the playground. I simply smiled and said good morning and asked how he was doing today. 

"Ms. Mac, this is the worst start to Monday morning ever...again! Last week it was a bad start to the morning before I got to school and today is too." 

My response to the student, "Well I certainly hope we can change that before our Monday time together is over. We did last week once we got into class. Don't you remember we did our inquiry investigations and place value rap? What will make it better today?"

As he rubbed his head and thought very intensely about his answer he responded, "Ya... you're right. We had fun that day. But today is going to be different I can feel it. I don't know what will make it better. Well... you're going to say no. I know you're going to say no if I say this. It's not going to happen." 

Curious of what I was 'so sure to say no to' was as I have basically jumped on board every idea a student has suggested this year (something I'm trying to do more of - letting the students guide the learning), I said, " Give it a try - what would make your day better?"

"Free time?"

I took a second and thought to myself for a second and said, "Yes!" 

I'm pretty sure my student just looked at me in disbelief. He had asked for free time and I had agreed to it. It was clear it was not a common thing for him. "We will make sure you have a designated time for free time if that's what will make your day better." 

To be honest, I had the best Monday morning of the year with my students. Maybe it was coming off the EdTech Team Singapore Summit conference this weekend or maybe it was me just savouring every moment with my kids but to me, it was a great morning too. 

First thing, I ditched my chair and we just sat in a circle talking. It was a different vibe being on the same level as them as we discussed our weekends in connection to our learning from the past week. Last year I would always ask my kids about their weekends and hear all kinds of wild tales but this year by just changing the question slightly, I feel my students are enhancing the connections they make from in class learning to everyday experience. 

Then I literally gathered every book from our classroom and put them in the middle of our circle (with some help from the students of course). I received a few looks of being a bit crazy as I completely disassembled our class library. 

"We need to figure out a better way to sort the books. I was going off what we used last year but I think you all could find a better system that works for you." 

I have never seen kids so excited to sort books! I turned my back for a second to grab my camera and by the time I turned back, each child had a pile of books trying to figure out which one went together. I saw students creating lists of categories on the board, scratching out ones that could be combined and renaming others. Students began questioning which category a book would fall into - it was non-fiction but could go into science and habitats - which was better? Or why a book would fall under poetry if it was written as a picture book with a storyline. The discussions were amazing, the teamwork and collaboration was so evident and me... I was standing on the sidelines. I kind of just stood there watching for a few minutes before I jumped back into action and started to join in the fun asking questions to challenge their thinking. Don't get me wrong, there were a few kiddos that would wander into another mind space and need to be redirected back with specific jobs they could achieve but for the most part they were running themselves.  A successful class library was created. Is it the way I would sort them? Not completely but that doesn't matter. The fact they were able to do that together was most important. And of course when I asked what they thought of their new library, "It's much better our way Ms. Mac" was all I needed to hear for a chuckle. 

Our next challenge - how to get the books out of the classroom and into homes. We decided as a class by brainstorming and combining our ideas on how we would make our book sign out procedures most effective. Each student created a page in a book for their individual sign in/out log but then we also had a wish list page so students could wish to receive books others already had out. Seemed simple enough but let's see how this works in practice. 

Then the good stuff, presents! Over the summer a friend and I had created some book bags for the back of chairs. Students are going to use these to store up to 5 books they want to read at any one time. This will give them no excuse when it's time to read. My kids were so excited by their presents. 
" Did you really make them just for us?" they questioned as their little eyes looked up at me. 

My favourite email of my day (one from a student doing their writing homework for the week) said, 
"Today was really fun. I really like to read. I have one question did you make the present you gave us? I really like the idea because I'm a bit lazy so  I don't need to walk to get a book now." Laughter again - my kids crack me up constantly. 

Now that little boy who had 'the worst Monday morning start...again" was doing some independent reading and I said to him he was free to do whatever he wanted until break (about 10 minutes) as I had promised that time. To my shock, he just shook his head. 

"Actually Ms Mac, I think I'd just like to keep reading."

"You sure? This can be your free time and you really can do anything."

"Ms. Mac, I was hoping when I woke up we would get to read today, so I just want to do this."

Speechless. It's incredible how often my students do that to me these days. By the end of the day, I had done nothing different in my classroom for this one student as he chose to do what we had already decided to do. But yet, he thanked me as he ran off at night. Sometimes it's not the academics that make the difference it's your attitudes towards the students. Showing the slightest bit of compassion towards them can make a bad day turn upsidedown. 

I can't wait until next Monday morning at 8:45am...wondering what my next worst start to a Monday morning challenge will look like next. 

Sunday, 31 August 2014

Where There's An Up, There's a Down - The Technology Rollercoaster

I absolutely love using technology within my classroom with my students. It is part of our daily routines and practice and a wonderful way to engage students. There are so many different ways to use technology and so many I still am yet to explore.


There are times when technology fails you. It can make using technology frustrating, difficult and quite frankly at times want to give it up all together.

This week we had a few hiccups with our technology. The first was our interactive whiteboard that decided to act up periodically. For whatever reason, it stopped being interactive at random times. It can make a lesson that was headed for greatness to fall smack down face first. Luckily, the lesson we were doing was about what hinders communication. So there we go great way to lead us into the discussion about how technology can make communication break down and how it can be frustrating at times.

Then there was the issue of my students collaborating on a Prezi. First of all, there have been some changes to signing up for Prezis for education since last year when I did it which was a bigger process than expected. Then we had the issue of all of us trying to collaborate on a single Prezi. Trying to have 16 students on one Prezi at once slowed down the entire process as it began to lag. Eventually we had to rethink our idea and only had 3 students on the Prezi at one time. This seemed to work but took longer than I had wanted it to.

Being able to roll with the punches is so important because in the classroom full of students, your going to have a few days like that. Technology can enhance teaching and learning in so many ways. But it is important that as teachers we remember it is only one of many available tools.

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Creating a Class Website Part 3- The Students Take Charge!

Finally, done (ish). Or so I thought. In my mind, my website was ready to show my students and we could begin using it as a resource for learning and sharing within our classroom and with the greater community.

We have been studying communication for the past week so I did a lesson about how visuals, colours and logos can communicate certain ideas and feelings. I then showed my students our new site and said, "What do you think?" Their reaction - it was good but parts of it were boring because it didn't show them as a class. Secretly as a teacher I was thrilled about this response and had even hoped for it. So I simply asked, "What do you like? What do you want to change?" and that is when the real magic began.

My students told me that this website should have more of 'them' throughout it. So they split into teams and each took on a part of the website. A few students started to create a new banner for the class site. It was important to them that they identified us as 5EM and include our school crest. This was who they were and conveying that on the homepage was important to them.

Also on the homepage, they wanted to have a class picture. So of course what else would we be but have a class photo shoot? It was great to see their personalities shine.

One of the best things I felt they did was create an introduction video for our homepage using iPods to record the video and iMovie to create the video. The video was inclusive of every student where each student said hello. The team in charge of the video wanted to celebrate the different languages spoken within our class. Any student who could speak another language said hello in their language. I felt that showed the diversity of our class and our identity as a real community coming together from various backgrounds. As part of this video, another team created an original piece of music using GarageBand. The students tried to included different instruments and think about what message the music could convey. Together, the two groups merged their products and the music was added to their iMovie project. 

We used a number of pictures the students had taken on their digital scavenger hunt the week before to be part of the banners on each of the other pages. They wanted to see their faces on every page and I couldn't agree more! I love having the students be the photographer in my class and seeing the class through their eyes. 

There is a section where I(the teacher) am supposed to update my students' parents on what is happening in our class and what is coming up next. I told my students this spot should probably stay. But of course, my students asked where they could share their thoughts of the week. Good question! So I threw it back at them - How did they want to share with their parents and friends? The word collaboration was key to them - everyone needed access to it and everyone needed to be able to help each other easily within it. A Google Document was one option but it would be a little messy some students thought. So another student suggested Google Presentation. Bingo! The solution to our problem. The students asked that I create a template where each student got 1 slide to decorate, create and comment on. This is how the weekly 5EM Files was born. It is now going to be an optional activity for the students that can be done as part of their weekly homework or if they finish their work and have some free time. All of this was their idea and it was a little shocking they all agreed to doing more work. Who would've thought that something that was dreamed up by my students late Thursday afternoon would blossom into a full class participation activity by Friday afternoon? Is it perfect? No. Is the spelling all correct? No. Is the grammar all correct? No. Punctuation? No. BUT... those are conversations that can be had in the future. Those are conversations that students can have with each other. Those are conversations that can foster teamwork and further collaboration in the future. Students will be able to learn the need for peer review before publishing a piece of work. It is more about the process than the product in my classroom. 

The final piece of the students took ownership over when the icons that linked students to the different resource page. All of the icons originally looked like the PYP UOI icon below until my students said they wanted to make their own. In design teams again, they decided what image could convey the specific subject. Using iPods, they took the photos and then imported to their Macbooks. In Preview, the students cropped the images to become circle images and I was able to add them to our sites. They each link to a separate page full of different resources for that subject. 

I love that my class was so engaged in this process and focused on making what they wanted a reality. Our website is now a place that is just as much theirs as mine. They are proud of the work they created and are excited to bring their parents to the site over the weekend. What I am most proud of my class for is not just creating their website, rather, working together as a class community in an inclusive manner to create something that they feel they have ownership of, that they were able to use their skills and prior knowledge in a meaningful way and that they realised that everyone in our class has something to offer. 

Creating a Class Website Part 2 - Training the Teachers

I was asked to take on the role of a 'trainer' to help my fellow colleagues build their class websites from the template we created. First of all, this terrified me. Having never been in the trainer position before, I wasn't sure how I would be teaching adults, specifically ones I know, respect and work with on a daily basis. Then of course I wasn't sure how people would even respond to our new design and having to relearn a way of doing something they were already doing.

I spent hours learning the ins and outs of the website and creating my own Google Site from our template to ensure I understood how and why things work. It was important that I felt comfortable working within the template provided so that I could communicate to others how to successfully build from the template and help them problem solve when necessary. One of the biggest things I was able to do was to tweak the template as I went so that all teachers didn't have to redo the little formatting changes I found along the way.

The one thing that began to fascinate me as I built my own site was coding. Never before had I really understood the need to code. I simply thought it was something that more 'techy' people than myself used and understood. And yet, there I was trying to change code to make table properties disappear or centre objects, embed gadgets or adding in other features. I became fascinated on how the slightest modification to the coding could make the biggest change to a site. I found ways to do things that I was told weren't possible with some research and determination and was able to tweak my site to make it more functional for myself.  It made sense to me why some people can spend hours coding, creating and problem solving.

Then it was time for the teachers. A little nervous and lack of sleep (due to nerves) didn't seem to bother me as the first group of teachers joined me for the 'beginner' session. We were able to get them set up using the template and  changing the email, editing site layouts, creating their homepage and learning how to add links, images and videos. With patience, a smile and an open forum to ask any questions, together we began building sites for our new classes. I knew that if I could remain positive and calm that my target audience would have a better chance of reciprocating it. I was amazed how the whole session seemed to flow and how teachers were helping teachers next to them. A sigh of relief came over me when the last teacher had left that night knowing that I had succeeded in helping move teachers forward in this process.

The 'advanced' group of teachers was even easier than the first training session as many were familiar with site building. Many similar questions arose as we constructed the sites again from our templates but I was more relaxed this time round and even learned some neat ideas from my colleagues.  There was sharing of what had been used successfully in the past in an informal manner within the table groups. That's the beauty of working in a collaborative environment - you don't always have to know all the answers but you need to be open and willing to listen to the ideas around you.

As we went on to the third group with our 'specialist' training session, it became apparent that some individual specialist teachers required different needs than others. Here lies the beauty of flexibility. We were able to help them adapt to their needs while still maintaining the basic outline of expectations and maintaining consistency between sites. Their site template was quite different than their previous one and therefore more support was going to be needed moving forward. But again, overall the positive attitude towards the sites really helped make it a good session for teachers to learn.

I felt overall it went relatively smoothly.  There are always things that could be improved upon in the future both on the sites and training but feel a bit more confident taking on other challenges in similar roles in the future. It is a starting point but will continue to be a process.  No one was really frustrated with the technology or gave up. Everyone was positive about creating their sites. One of the biggest goals of leading the training was showing people how to do it for themselves and not 'doing' it for them. It's important that teachers (and students) are doing it step by step by themselves and 'the trainer' only guides and supports them through the process. In other words, the only person who touches the computer is the person that owns it. It's one of the biggest things I've learned by watching others lead training sessions about technology and one of the best ways to empower others.

Standing up in front of your colleagues to speak has never been an easy thing for me but I appreciate how supportive and receptive they were to what I had to share. I'm also really appreciative of having a school that is willing to put their faith in me for a project such as this and allowing me such opportunities. At the end of the day, it really is a team effort within a school and we are all there to support each other for the betterment of our students.

Creating a Class Website Part 1 - Developing a Template

At the end of last year, I was asked to work with another colleague from the East Campus and an early years teacher on a new website design for classroom teachers by our education technology department. Little did I know at the time how this would have the impact that it did.

Off we went in a Google Document writing about what was working, what went well and what could be changed. The ability to collaborate across the city without having to meet in person constantly really allowed us to maximize our time and focus on the task at hand. It was very easy to see trends across and within campus but also places where what we wanted as teachers were different.

While my opinion of what I wanted to see in a website was able to shared, I felt that my site impacted a lot more people than just me. It was important that I asked others who would be using the site for their thoughts as well. I created a Google Form and sent it to both the parents and students from my class to get their feedback. Ultimately, everyone said it was most important for it to be simple, user-friendly and updated regularly. There were things like a calendar tab that parents didn't use but yet knowing the dates of events was still important. My students felt the class resource section was the best part of their site so they could refer to it often. This information became very valuable in tweaking the sites as we progressed.

Our team of three decided to sit down and draw up what we felt would be the best design and easiest for parents, students and teachers. We decided to keep the tabs to a minimum and focus on teachers regularly doing a few things really well than many things on a site in a mediocre manner.

We met with the education technology team who would bring it to life. Of course there were a few things that weren't possible but for the most part, the design became what we wanted. The layout started to take form. We focused on having pages for home, important information, media, classroom resources and homework. My favourite part is and has always been the classroom resource section as it provides students with the support they need both in and out of the classroom in a fun and enjoyable way.

It's hard to find a one fit model to meet the needs of all teachers, students and parents. However, providing a framework of expectations allows teachers to know what to focus on and then those teachers who want to adapt to fit their needs can do so. Just like we can't teach every child the same, we can't expect every teacher to use the same template in the same way. But it is a starting point which allows for consistency and helps those that are not sure where to begin.