Sunday, 29 November 2015

Building Community, Building Capacity

A strong leader understands that at the heart of any community or organization lies the relationships it is built upon. Nurturing these positive relationships are essential to moving forward. Without people who feel comfortable and confident in a leader's ability, the battle to move forward likely will be short-lived. Building a community where people want to come together and support each other will help not only the students but teachers grow and learn together. As a leader, one of the challenging tasks is remaining positive and optimistic through every incident that occurs. However, positivity breeds more positivity and creating a community where these feelings thrive is essential.

The reason schools exist is the learning for students. A good educational leader must be enthusiastic and share a love of learning themselves. A leader support others in creating a welcoming and safe environment for the students to take risks in their learning and inquire. But the learning must not stop with the students. Every member of the community must see the value in up-skilling themselves and trying new things. Students need to see their teachers as role models who continue to learn as well. Further to this, learning needs to radiate farther to every member of the community as building capacity always for knowledge and growth. A good leader understands that by building capacity in all members of the school community whether parents, teachers, teaching assistant or administration, it promotes life-long learners and a community that values each member and their contributions.

In education, often leaders become restricted to an office, tied down with paperwork and 'putting out fires'. It is important for the educational leaders of our schools to stay true to the reasons they got into education and lead by example in the classroom and around the school. I love seeing administration in the classroom with the students leading learning and learning together. This view is so optimistic for the whole school community, especially our students. It shows our students that everyone is still learning and growing, that students and their learning is the number one priority in the school and that inspiring students through education is the responsibility of every member of the community.

Saturday, 21 November 2015

Digital Native Or Immigrant? Focus on Growth Mindset Instead

Evolution involves adapting to a surrounding to survive over time. In the education profession, it is similar as a teacher in a digital age. According to Marc Prensky (2001), digital immigrants are individuals who have not grown up in a digital age and have needed to adapt and adopt the new 'language' of technology'. Digital Natives are individuals who have grown up using technology. We can't expect the educational world to regress back to times without technology so it is up to both the 'digital immigrant' and 'digital native' to continue to evolve with their environment by embracing education with technology integration.

For me, I believe those labels don't belong. Rather I believe the focus should be more on growth mindset and the willingness to learn. No student or educator will ever know all there is when it comes to technology. It is important to have a growth mindset rather than a fixed mixed as an approach to learning.I felt like the labels are less relevant if we think more about a willingness to be a risk taker to learn and use technology when appropriate.

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A growth mindset as an educator allows you to be open-minded to new ideas and concepts. Educators with a growth mindset enjoy trying to challenge their thinking and push boundaries beyond their current knowledge. An educator with a growth mindset continues to problem solve with resiliency until they are able to come to a suitable solution. 'Not possible' is not the answer, rather an opportunity to try something new.

I believe it is more important to have a willingness to use and explore technology rather than whether or not you grew up using technology as a 'digital native'. When we stop worrying about failing or looking silly for trying, we can allow ourselves the ability to explore a technology to understand it and find deeper and more meaningful uses of it within our classrooms.
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Prensky, M. (2001). Digital natives, digital immigrants part 1. On the Horizon, 9(5), p. 1-6.

When To Use Technology in the Classroom

Some days as a teacher you may use technology in almost all components of your classes, then other days not even touch it. When is too much? When is not enough? In my mind, why are we even asking these questions? If we focus on what is important, then those questions become irrelevant.

In my role as an education technology coach, my role is to support teachers in integrating technology into the classroom. Many would think I would advocate for getting more technology into the classroom but more doesn't mean better.

I always chuckle when I have a teacher that comes to asking for an opinion on an activity that they want to use technology with and I suggest a non-technology approach. To me, using technology should only be done when it makes sense, when it enhances the learning experience for our students and is authentic. We shouldn't force the use of technology in our classes just because we have it.

There are definitely many benefits of being able to use technology in the classroom - access to information, connecting with others, supporting individual needs, motivation, etc. But the most important aspect of teaching should always remain the teaching and learning for student growth.

When I was a homeroom classroom teacher, I always loved assigning a final project with no limit on how it was presented. In doing so, it allowed the students to express themselves using the tools and resources they felt comfortable with. The final products were of higher quality and more diverse. Whether it was a bulletin board, a dramatic presentation, an online presentation of slides, video, art piece, or handwritten essay, the important thing was that the student felt they had ownership in how they chose to demonstrate their learning journey.

If we stop asking when is too much and not enough use of technology and start asking does it make sense to use technology for this learning experience, the technology integration will be more meaningful. In doing so, we are then able to provide our students with just another set of skills to add to their toolkit that they can draw upon when it is most appropriate.

Citizenship in a Digital Age

Digital literacy is about helping our students develop the skills and behaviours to be successful in a digital age. This includes supporting our students in how to find, access, and use information they find online, communicating through various digital medias, collaborating with others and making smart decisions while using technology that demonstrates being a good citizen.

As technology becomes more accessible to the masses, digital tools provide educators and students with an unlimited amount of resources and access to information. Students need to be able to not only access the internet but be critically analyze what they discover, the source of information and its validity.

With Web 2.0, the user experience has gone from just consuming digital content to engaging and interacting with it. The ability to connect and collaborate with someone from across the globe has become easy with the various social media platforms. Through this, students can connect with experts to raise the quality of their work by getting information from the source. In doing so, students need to be aware of how their online communication really should not be that different from their offline communication. Respect, kindness and common sense should continue no matter if you blur the lines of communication to a virtual platform.

Above all, we must continue to educate our students with how to be a good citizen with how to be a good digital citizen simply as an extension of citizenship. Our students should understand that the choices they make online will remain present for all to see in the future. The pictures they post give insight into the type of person they are and their identity that extends offline. As they continue to build their online relationships, they must think about how this impacts their lives on a greater scale.

Perhaps calling referring to as 'digital citizenship' is too narrowing. Being a good person is being a good person. Rather, we are educating our students of how to be a good citizen in an increasingly more digitalized world. As we educate our students for an unknown tomorrow, we must provide them with the appropriate skills and behaviours that allow them to be successful in a digital age - not only online but in every day life as well.

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Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Using Technology to Enhance What We Want for Our Learners

Paul Saettler (1990, p.539 as cited in Roblyer & Doering, 2014, p.30) suggests that "Computer information systems are not just objective recording devices. They also reflect concepts, hopes, beliefs, attitudes." Computers and technology have seen great development over time, which reflects how they are used within an educational setting. Computers in education have evolved from something explored by few in university settings to becoming mobile devices that are accessible to the masses. The importance of computer literacy skills began to evolve in the microcomputer era, suggesting the importance of developing skills and understanding of the technologies being used (Roblyer & Doering, 2014, p. 7). From there, technology became a means of connecting with others through the internet era, while also having a plethora of technological resources available at your fingertips while investigating online for information. As technology further developed into the world of mobile devices, accessibility became more readily available (Roblyer & Doering, 2014, p. 9). Most adolescents now have devices that they can use for educational or personal enjoyment. Because of this, learning could access more resources for learning in the forms of e-books, distance education and social networking. With all of this information and experts so accessible, the student needs to learn how to filter what they are viewing and critically analyses the information in a digital age.

The way we use technology in our schools now can vary from school to school, from country to country depending on the resources and philosophies of teaching. In my experience, technology is used as part of the teaching and learning process and should not be thought of as a separate component from it. Students now have the opportunity with Web 2.0 to not only read but also write and create what is online. Thus, technology provides students with a means to showcase their individual creativity as they differentiate how they express their learning.

I believe technology is used in the classroom as a way to develop transdisciplinary skills that will last beyond the classroom and into the real world. The Internationale Baccalaureate suggests there are six ICT skills that should be included in the written, taught and assessed curriculum (ICT in the PYP, p.2). These include investigating, organizing, creating, communicating, collaborating and becoming a digital citizen. No longer is the focus on specific content but rather, how the content is obtained, used and manipulated to demonstrate, challenge and extend the learning of the students. Through the development of these skills, students develop their creative and critical thinking, allowing them to take their understanding of concepts to a greater depth. Technology should be used in a purposeful and meaningful way to help students make connections, see things from different perspectives and be used as a means of reflection on their learning journey.


Roblyer, M., & Doering, A. (2014). Integrating Educational Technology into Teaching: International Edition, 6th Edition, Pearson.

The role of ICT in PYP. (2011). International Baccalaureate. UK: IB. 

Get Excited Over Small Ideas

Today I was sitting at my desk trying to come up with a concept for a video and feeling 'writer's block'. After watching a few videos, reading some past reflections and student work on the topic, the idea hit me. It got me so excited for a video I had no direction in before and I had to tell someone. Even though the other person may have not shared the same level of excitement with me I was re-energized and ready to push forward full steam with enthusiasm once again.

It doesn't really matter what the idea was, but it's important to take away the fact that our students will have these moments too and we have a choice to make: we either embrace it and let them run with it or we stick to our plan. If we choose to squash the enthusiasm, you often squash the learning that follows. Small ideas and excitement may not always turn out the way planned but you can guarantee if a student is inspired and empowered to live out the ideas, the results are well worth the time and energy it takes to see them transpire into something great. 

Monday, 16 November 2015

Technology: One of Many Tools

As part of a podcast with Future Tense (Funnell, 2012), Greg Whitby suggests that you can't just focus on the technology when it comes to education. There is an abundance of technology within our reach with new advances and releases, such as the iPad Pro, becoming available to consumers each day. Our students have more access to technology than every before and they can choose to interact with it even outside of school. Therefore, focusing on getting technology into the hands of the students isn't enough any more - the novelty of 'using technology in classrooms' has worn off. Beyond that, just teaching students how to use a particular technology tool doesn't promote the type of learning environments our students deserve to have. Rather, as educators, we need to be more cognisant of creating meaningful uses of technology integration to enhance the learning process. 

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As an educator, one aspect of my role is to focus on the providing the best teaching and learning to my students. As Bill Gates once said, "Technology is just a tool. In terms of getting kids working together and motivating them, the teacher is the most important." If they don't have a teacher who is able to use best practice in integrating that tool effectively into the curriculum and teaching then, the tool is not meaningful. Teachers continue to upskill their own technology abilities with the purpose of utilizing it within the curriculum when approach. Teachers need to not only be able to use and integrate technology but decipher when it is best to actually use technology and when another strategy or tool is more effective to achieve a specific learning outcome or experience. Teachers continue to write curriculum, teach content and assess their students choosing the right tools for each learning experience to provide students with a quality education. 

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I would argue, that while technology is a tool, it is a powerful tool. It is a tool that can connect classes from across the globe to contrast and compare lifestyle, schooling and interests. It is a tool that can help students access information from various sources in a click of a button. It is a tool that can enhance the learning experience by allowing for experiences that were not possible in reality such as travelling to the bottom of the ocean to explore wildlife. It is a tool that can help students organize their lives through notes and calendars. It is a tool to communicate in a multitude of ways. It can be a tool to document learning and reflect on their educational experiences. Utilizing technology can help engage students while also developing social, self management, thinking, and communicating skills. Students can create, collaborate, and curate as they develop transdisciplinary skills that can be drawn upon at any time to use. 

In a 21st century classroom, technology still does not replace the teacher, hands-on learning, visual thinking and planning on paper or face-to-face interactions. But what it does achieve is creating an endless supply of learning opportunities for students to engage and experience if integrated in an appropriate manner.  


Funnell, A. (2012, Aug 19). 21st century education. Future Tense [Audio podcast]. Retrieved from: 

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Continuous Challenges

This past year  was ... well... there's a lot of words I could use to fill the blank. It was a year of growth and exploration and I was lucky to have the class that I had who were always up for whatever challenge I wanted to tackle next.

As a relatively new teacher, I still have a lot to learn and I'm doing it the only way I know how - trial and error. The good thing about my class this past year is that with every risk I take, they jumped in and took risks too, pushing me beyond my comfort zone. About midway through the year, I found out I was transitioning into a new role which will take me out of the role as classroom teacher. It quickly began to dawn on me that if there were things that I wanted to try, I better do them while I had the chance.

It's been a little like standing at the edge of a cliff this year wondering if I'd finally slip off when things I tried didn't quite work, but luckily I seem to have good balance  (or a class of students holding the rope to keep me from misstepping).

6 Units, 6 Things

1. Podcasting with audio effects

2. Home learning inquiry projects

3. Games Based Learning

4. Online Courses

5. Choose Your Own Adventure

6. Photography and Film

Each unit brought new challenges for both me and the students but it kept the learning fun and exciting. Amongst each unit there were always smaller challenges embedded but the overarching theme of presented consistent interest, motivation and growth. We were always having a lot of conversations about the learning and reflecting on where we had been and where we needed to take our learning.

When  you are out of the classroom, it is sometimes harder to have those ongoing, consistent experiences when you don't see the same students every day. The challenge then becomes finding the challenge that keeps you excited to try something new when you may not be part of the entire process of learning or see how the students are reacting, developing the idea and pushing it further.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Taking Time for Personal Projects as Teachers

Teaching is a busy job. With so many different responsibilities packed into a few short hours everyday, it is hard to imagine squeezing anything else in...especially something you do just for yourself.

In my new role this year as education technology coach, I have the flexibility to make my own schedule. Originally I thought this would mean that perhaps I might just have a few more minutes to slow down and breathe at any point in the day but in fact learnt quickly that the job meant quite the opposite and my calendar was filled. Busier than I had ever expected or in previous years, I also found myself teaching more. Most days a week I was teaching in some capacity a minimum of five out of six classes with at least an activity or meeting or professional development session or two to lead at lunch, before school or after school. In trying to find the balance, I was finding that I was becoming more off tilter. I was finding it more difficult to complete the other portions of my job while still wanting to be in the classroom as much as I could.

After a week or so of trying to find the root cause and a few discussions later, one of the steps forward I decided to make was to take time each week for myself during the work day. It still boggles my mind that I'm actually doing it but the level of productivity that has evolved from it the rest of the week makes it well worth the dedicated time slot in my schedule.

Just to clarify, time for myself doesn't mean kicking back and relaxing. Rather, blocking out a regular amount of time each week to work on the projects or ideas that inspire me. They may be tasks I just have to get done or something else completely differentI want to explore. Think of it as my 20% time like Google, iTime, Personal Projects, or Genius Hour but for teachers. Time to simply focus on things that inspire a passion and drive even when it gets busy.

On my day off (due to public holiday), I sent the better part of my morning designing a e-Portfolio for my Masters of Education that would be long lasting throughout my entire programme. Each class seemed to ask you to set up an e-portfolio/blog to document your learning in the course but having 8 different e-Portfolios in the end didn't make sense to me. Thus, figuring out a way to map out a design and create what I had envisioned had me captivated and channeling my inner nerd without even realizing I was doing work. This was a project that stemmed internally but was rewarding to know I was setting myself up for success for the next few terms of study. In addition, it got me thinking about how we do portfolios at our school and how they transition between years without one central portfolio to house all e-Portfolios each year. Thus, generate even more learning outcomes than I had initially targeted for.

The first two periods coming into work today were scheduled as office work and administrative tasks that needed to be completed. In that time, I felt more accomplished, productive and motivated than I had the last few weeks during the time in the office.  I felt momentum continuing to flow from one day of independent work into other projects and started to make serious headway with them that I got so caught up in doing them, I almost didn't realize it was time to head to class.

This got me thinking. We want our kids to inquire into projects that interest them. We want them to ask questions and find the answers. We give them the time, the tools, the resources, and the support to explore their passions through learning. But how often during the work day do we do this for ourselves? There is always another assessment, report card, meeting, lesson to plan, the list goes on. A teacher's to do list is never complete.  But what if you blocked out time during the work day to do exactly what you wanted to explore. Why is it that what we ask of our students we don't always model ourselves?

To be honest, when I schedule the time from now on during the work day, it will almost always be work related independent projects. But because I reframe the work in my mind as time to work on whatever I wanted, I chose the work I felt I wanted to do, not just because they had to get done. Ownership over work truly promotes internal motivation. When mindset changes, so do the outcomes.

I'm looking forward to seeing how 'my time' evolves but it's not coming off my calendar any time soon. I wonder how many other educators actually dedicate time to individual learning in a schedule of chaos. I wonder what opportunities lie ahead in my time. My time is time for my learning, my exploration and my growth.

Saturday, 5 September 2015

Reflecting on Reflection

As I read the article by Hume (2009), I thought about how I have my own students reflect on their work. I agree with Humes that a more structured format with guidelines is often needed in order for reflection to have depth. This makes me think of my Year 5 class and their e-portfolios. For their e-portfolios, each student needs to choose a number of pieces (I ask them to choose a minimum of 8) to include in their e-portfolios for each unit of inquiry.

Similarly to Hume, when I first began teaching Year 5, I just had students reflect and I was getting very surface level reflections such as “I chose it because I did well and I had fun.” After the first unit, we talked about making our answers like big juicy hamburgers rather than skinny grilled cheese sandwiches in order to get some meat into our work and show our thinking. It was amazing to see how the visual comparison of the sandwiches really helped the students as well as the discussion of questions that should be answered. We created a sample reflection example together as a class for an activity we had done as a class as an exemplar as well. For every piece they reflected on, they would have to answer the following questions:

- What was the piece of work you chose?
- What were you trying to achieve/learn?
- What did you learn?
- Why did you choose to include it? (challenge, growth, best work, etc)
- What transdisciplinary skills did you develop/use?
- What attitudes did you demonstrate and how?
- What learner profile attributes did you demonstrate and how? (We are a PYP international baccalaureate school (IB)
- Can you connect this learning to something else from the past? How will this help you moving forward?

The other thing that also motivated students about their reflections was when they knew their reflections were going to be read. In the beginning, it was just me (their teacher) reading their reflections but I also spent a fair bit of time commenting back to them. My goal was to help to extend their thinking by asking at least one question back to them to make them think about what they had learnt. From there we started to get the parents involved in the reflection process. At the end of every 6-week transdisciplinary unit, the students were required to share their e-portfolio with their parents and the parents were required to comment on a minimum of 5 pieces. This opened the dialogue at home about what was happening at school and often would lead to more conversations and inquiry about the unit itself. The students always wanted to show their parents quality work so it helped them maintain a higher standard knowing their parents would see their work whether it was finished or not. Lastly, we started to share the e-portfolios with peers. This was a more challenging task as not only did you have to have students reflect on their work but you were asking students to reflect on the reflection and work of someone else. This was also a skill that had to be modelled through examples and repetition. By creating a diverse authentic audience, the student placed more pride in reflecting more thoughtfully. From there, it was all about feedback. When students showed me their reflections, I would ask if their reflection was a juicy hamburger or grilled cheese? If it was a grilled cheese, they knew they needed to spend some more time on it. My students were allocated time in class to do the reflections at least once a week plus often when they finished a task they would add it directly to their e-portfolio. This allowed them the ability to succeed as suggested in Humes article.

One of the things I appreciated about the journal article by Hume is that she was essentially doing what she had asked of her students. She was reflecting on her learning and thus providing everyone who reads the article an exemplar of a reflective journal entry. I believe it is important for teachers to model what we are expecting our students to do as teachers. About a year ago, I began blogging online and reflecting on some of my teaching practice. When I began having conversations about reflection with my students in my second year of teaching Year 5, it had more meaning for me as well. Seeing as I was doing frequent reflections, I could talk about my own experiences of reflecting, the challenges I would face and why it was something I chose to do on my own accord. I even showed my students a blog post or two giving them examples of when they would use their reflective skills outside of the classroom. By giving reflecting a ‘real world’ setting, it helped many of the students continue to push their reflections further. It was evident Hume had reflected regularly throughout the process and changed her thinking and action plan accordingly to best fit the needs of her students - a sign of a good teacher.


Hume, A. (2009). Promoting higher levels of reflective writing in student journals. Higher Education Research &Amp; Development, 28(3), 247–260.

No Man's Land of Teaching: No Class of Your Own

I'm not a Primary, Middle or High School Teacher. I'm not a homeroom teacher, but also not a single subject teacher. I attend planning meetings, staff meetings but yet teach no specific classes to call my own. I am an EdTech Coach.

I never expected to be in a role such as this (though enjoying every second of it). It has been a whirlwind of excitement, challenges and fun the first month back in action. But after a day of professional development dedicated to inquiry in the primary classroom, it does get me thinking in a way I haven't before and I'm stumped.

I've sat all day in a workshop with ideas filling my mind of things I could do slightly differently with students in my classroom, how I could try different strategies to make my lessons more inquiry-based. Then it dawned on me... I don't exactly have a class of my own to try things out on like I have in the past.

I've always come back from professional development excited to test my ideas on my guinea pig students. I'd jump in Monday morning with new tricks, strategies and projects to try. My students would work through things alongside me and figure out how to make them work in our given environment. Usually, my students would build on my ideas and make them better than my original ones and off we went flying.

Now I've got ideas. But no class of my own to try them out on. It's a lot easier to try an idea on a large scale in your own class and be okay with whatever direction it takes (even if it is not the most favourable and you have to find a way to redirect it). It is a lot riskier to do the same thing in someone else's class when at the end of the day someone else is accountable for documenting the student's growth and process.

Professional development has to change for me now. How can I take my learning and use it to support the teachers in their classroom and planning? How can I take my learning and use it to change the way I facilitate professional development? How do I still use these ideas that I develop at professional development sessions and still be able to try them in a classroom that is not my own? Change is good and sometimes it just takes time to wrap your head around how to best go about new situations. It's not that it's not possible - just thinking about how to best make the connections from learning to application in different avenues.

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

EdTech BootCamp for Year 3 Students

Year 3 is a unique year group at our school. It is the time when students transition from the early years programme to the junior years programme in the PYP. But to our students, it also means the transition from using iMacs and iPads to laptops.

The introduction to MacBooks can be challenging at any age group but there is no lack of enthusiasm amongst this group of 7 and 8 year olds.  Students in Year 3 share a laptop cart amongst the three classes, thus, it is simply a teaching tool like any other resource in the classroom.

After sitting down with the year group teaching team, it was clear we needed a plan in place to help our students transform this teaching tool into a functional part of the classroom.

We've created Year 3 EdTech Boot Camp for the entire year where students will develop technical skills to be applied in class and instruction on a regular basis. The lessons will be linked to the units of inquiry throughout the year wherever possible with the goal of moving towards a full one-to-one laptop programme in Year 4. It is exciting to have a regularly scheduled lesson with each of the year three classes every week and to be able to see their progress.

We started by reviewing the Acceptable Use Policy as a class and how we could demonstrate role model behaviour through our interactions with the laptops. This is something that is to be also reviewed by parents with the child before signing and returning. It was no surprise that the forms were back in quickly as they forms had to be returned before the laptops came out of the cart.

And then today happened...the students finally got their laptops. Beaming with excitement, they eagerly found their way over to the laptop cart and retrieved their numbered laptop hugging it with two hands and showing it love all the way back to their desks. As they patiently waited, there was chatter amongst the students until I finally gave the magic word to open the laptop and turn on the laptop.

It's been a few years since teaching the younger year groups and it was evident that quick thinking to have hands behind the back, or on the head as an instruction was key. The students first learnt how to '1/2 way down and turn them around' with their laptops (and yes, there is a new dance move that goes with that). The eagerness was oozing from the students.  As a class, we established a secret word that would replace 'go' and instantly students were more patient about waiting for the instructions.

First thing we did was find the spotlight search and then have a little fun finding PhotoBooth to take a picture or two. It was important to start off with something that not only the students would have success doing but also would be fun. By allowing them the chance, we were able to also talk about some necessary skills such as searching for apps and how to close apps when we were finished. We then wanted the students to be able to become familiar with some of the terminology such as launchpad, dashboard, and home screen. The students also had fun figuring out how to move between application screens on their MacBooks.

I also wanted to them to be able to have tools they could use immediately in their classrooms so I targeted two applications: the dictionary for language and the calculator for mathematics. It may seem simple but if students are able to locate and use these functions regularly, we will be able to easily build off these. First we looked up the word role model using the dictionary. We had a great question with one student unsure of what one of the words meant in the definition and we had a discussion and trial of how we could further expand our vocabulary by double clicking on the word and defining it as well.

Then we moved over to calculator. I asked my students to use the calculator to find the solution of 25x25 (a mathematical equation not easily solved by the average Year 3 student). Students began figuring out some of the symbols on the calculator and patiently waited to whisper the answer.

The session passed in a split second and it was time to head home. I asked the students in small groups to return the laptops to the cart. I was impressed to see they hadn't yet forgotten about hugging their laptop with two hands as they carefully placed their laptop on the shelf and charger plugged in. One thing I did realize doing this lesson was that it takes time to put the laptops away. Again, it seems silly to think about but it takes a long time to get the students to go from shutting down to closure and finally to their laptop cart.

I walked out with a smile and riding the high of their excitement. I may not have covered everything I had wanted to but what I did do was feel confident in the students' introduction to MacBooks and laptops.

I can't wait to see them next week to see how much information was retained as well as how we can continue our learning as we log into our emails for the first time.

How Quickly We Forget...

How quickly we forget when we get our degrees, diplomas and certificates what it really feels likes to be a student.

How quickly we forget that time management is always a challenge as a student as you balance homework, life and other responsibilities and sometimes have an all-nighter to finish whatever is due the next day.

How quickly we forget what it feels like on that first day of school, unsure of what's ahead with excitement, nerves and a little fear all wrapped into one.

How quickly we forget what's it like to have to take notes, review, and apply what you have learnt.

Even when you become a teacher and you are helping your students build the skills they need to be successful you often forget what it is like to be the one who is learning.... until you find your way back to being a student.

As I begin my masters, I realize how long I've really been out of the academic world. Learning at the graduate level is so different but so much the same as learning with my Year 5 students. It is not necessarily about the content but the skills you use to help you to be successful. It is not about the grade you receive but the challenges you overcome as you work through it. It is not about the outcomes but rather the choices you've made along the way. It's not about the perfect score but rather what you learnt from the mistakes along the way.

Most importantly, you learn a lot more if you have fun along the way.

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Professional Development - 24/7/365

While the title of this post may be a bit inflated, this is how I am looking at my professional development this year. Each and every day I have something to learn. Last year, I spent a lot of time focusing my learning outside of our school by attending various workshops and conferences. Yet, this year I would like to focus my learning more internally. Sometimes we forget just how much the members of our teaching community have to offer when we are busy with assignments, report cards and the daily responsibilities of teaching.

After my first day in a new role as Education Technology Coach, I realize I definitely still have lots to learn. To be honest, one of the biggest draws towards this role when I was considering applying to this role was that it would be an opportunity to have professional development every single day. I am one of the few people at my school who will be able to see what is happening in each and every classroom, each planning meeting and work with the administrators in a larger capacity. As I think about it, each and every day will be full of unexpected areas to learn and grow.

We have an incredibly talented group of teachers at our school who I am blessed to work with. I am looking forward to seeing how different teachers approach things in different ways (using technology and even without). I know these teachers will push me to expand my own learning as they ask questions about technology tools and resources forcing me to do self-directed professional development in order to provide them with the high-quality support they deserve.

As a teacher who has taught the International Baccalaureate  Primary Years Programme (PYP) for the last few years, I am excited to be a part of all the planning teams within primary. I feel very fortunate that I will be able to contribute to all year groups and support teachers in using best practice with educational technology. This will help me gain a better scope of the entire Primary department and the needs of students throughout the year levels. I am interested to see how the skills develop with technology throughout the years and figure out how to best help students to explore their interests through inquiry and the units.

As I begin a new path outside of work in studying educational leadership, I will be able to have a new lens as a coach leading professional development and supporting teams while also being able to learn from my mentors who empower and foster their teams to grow together. Leadership roles are not easy tasks and I am thankful I have role models who set an example of what a true leader should be.

One of my favourite parts about education is that no day is ever the same. Whether it is something small or large, educators are always learning, growing and moving forward. When you walk away at the end of the day from school, think about your students' parents asking them 'what they learnt at school today'... What will be your answer today?

Monday, 27 April 2015

Going Beyond #beyondlaptops

When I got back got from #beyondlaptops conference on Monday at school, a close colleague of mine asked me if I learned a ton of new things at the conference. My answer even surprised me, "No I didn't learn a ton of new things. But it was one of the best conferences I've been a part of in a long time."
Japanese Cherry Blossoms in April 
I think the key thing to note in that statement is 'been a part of'. Not often do you feel like you are a part of the conference. Even though I helped with some of the planning, I really felt like during the conference I was always actively involved as the participant.

Each day was full of conversations that really pushed my thinking and made me question my own practice. I realised I usually walked away each day with was more questions than answers but only because the conversations I was having made me want to find out more. As I flip through my notes now to reflect on my time there, there aren't many. More than anything it's full of"Contact ____ to chat about ____" or a few pictures drawn out of ideas. I spent so much time listening, reflecting and sharing there often wasn't time for taking notes on my computer or notebook or even 'tweet' as the day went on. I found my laptop had more than half its battery full by the end of one day (not a normal thing by any means). It's not often that you have the luxury of focusing only on discussing educational practice without other distractions or responsibilities. These types of discussions are so powerful but often fall to the side when you mix in report cards, parents, paperwork and planning during your prep time.

One of my favourite parts of this conference is getting so many unique perspectives from such a small group of participants (approximately 50). With each school limited to bring 4 participants, the group often consisted of administrators, education technology coaches, EdTech directors and teachers of various subjects, allowing to hear the viewpoints from every side on every given topic. Thus, it forced me to think about teaching and learning in new ways. This helped me to understand the bridge I will soon be walking from teacher to technology coach. By hearing the different perspectives, it provided me insight into the role I soon will be stepping into, but still understanding the role I am currently. Challenges and successes will always be seen differently depending

I believe the idea of travelling with a team from your school is a powerful concept at a conference. Often I have veered off on my own path this year to various conferences because I wanted to continue learning from others. This time was different - we went as a team, with a goal as a team and hopefully now can come back to our school and plan to implement positive a team. The growth of a school doesn't happen because of one person, rather a team of people who want to move the school forward. By having a team from your school, you can discuss challenges from multiple perspectives to move towards creating a solution. Through discussions, it was valuable to see my own school through 4 different lenses, 3 of which were foreign to me, but together helped gain a more whole picture of our school.

Technology seemed only secondary to the power of face to face communication and collaboration at #beyondlaptops. Technology is often the resource to communicate and collaborate but not the only way. What is more important is having conversations that have an impact, creating connections between and within schools and pushing your thinking beyond your comfort.

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Taking the Learning Out of the Classroom

This year our Year 5 class seems to be out of the classroom a lot more than last year. And I will be the first to admit that when we agree to a '2 in 1 trip form' that I have my doubts. It's not due to the extra paperwork by any means but rather I think of the time we spend travelling back and forth from the school to our destinations and back and how that is eliminating time for learning.

But does that matter? Is the learning the students gain in shorter amounts of time through experiencing something just as valuable (if not more) than the daily teaching in the classroom? What is really does, is bring the learning that happens inside the classroom to life.
We have been studying buildings and structures in our class for the last 4 weeks. Our field trip consisted of taking a bumboat ride beginning in the Clarke Quay area of Singapore followed by touring the Urban Redevelopment Authority.
We lucked out with beautiful weather (which always makes a boat ride better, especially compared to last year's attempt to do this trip). The bumboat ride not only had audio to provide the history of Singapore and the buildings we were seeing but also allowed for students to really make their own connections between Singapore past and present. It always amazes me when I hear my students talking to each other in a way they wouldn't have done just a few weeks before. The students engaged in conversations about aesthetics, materials, the balance of natural vs. manmade, structural design principles - all things we had inquired into while in the classroom. The difference was now they were putting it into a real-life context.

After lunch in the park, the students went to the Urban Redevelopment Authority where they were able to see miniature models of the entire country and the buildings right before their eyes. They were able to interact with the displays and learn about balancing the needs of the people when constructing a city. They saw blueprints and multiple models of buildings. These are all things they were being asked to do in their summative task and they had some of the best examples that were real-life examples that they could learn from.
And so even though I will always have a small bought of hesitation going out for yet another trip, it quickly fades knowing the real-life experiences we can provide our students are often more powerful than the lessons within 4 walls. Thank goodness for this... because we have another trip on Thursday and we're off to camp for 3 days next week.

Monday, 20 April 2015

Holding On When the Countdown Is On

We’ve got 10 weeks left of school right now. For some teachers, that means counting down until summer, trying to get reports done and easing into 2 months of summer. While I’ve never been a fan of the countdown and the effect it has on the students. This year is a little bit different and I’m very much aware of the countdown, but for different reasons.

Next year I am moving into the role of Technology Coach at my school and I couldn’t be more excited about the opportunity and the year ahead. I will have the pleasure of working with talented teachers and passionate students at all year levels. But in the transition, I’m going to be leaving behind a part of the job that I have grown to love more than anything - my own class of kiddos.

Being a homeroom teacher is an experience that has been so rewarding over the past few years. I absolutely love seeing the faces of my kids each morning and just wondering what’s going to happen that day. The relationships we have built in our classroom are truly special and I am so grateful for how much they teach me each and every day. They let me throw anything at them and they take it in stride. Together, they create an environment that is challenging, exciting and enjoyable to work in each and every day. They tell me when I’m wrong and shower me in their affection. Together, they build on each other's ideas and have taken learning to a level I had never imagined. They have taken over the class, designed our classroom, taught lessons, developed courses, and been a constant source of inspiration.

I am away for 3 days from them right now due to a conference and I feel a bit like a crazy parent worried about them and if they’re managing without me. I was sent off at the end of the day before I left with hugs and assurance they would manage just fine with the supply teacher. But in reality, it’s more me managing without them that should be the concern,  knowing that our days together are numbered.

It’s going to be hard not having a class to call my own next year. It’s dawning on me more and more as the last day of school draws nearer of the drastic change I’m about to jump into. I have no idea of what my career holds and am unsure if I will ever end up back in the classroom again as a homeroom teacher now that I’m transitioning out. So as some countdown to the number of days before summer, I’m trying to hold on to every day that’s left with my students, trying to enjoy each day and make it a memorable last few weeks.

Friday, 17 April 2015

The Hurricane: Teaching In the Eye of the Storm

I have to say this was one of the most unsuspected and unplanned learning engagement I have done with my students, but was definitely was one of the most fun ones. Last week, my students were watching a few videos about buildings, structures and environmental factors architects needed to consider when planning and building in various locations around the world. One of the videos featured Hurricane Sandy and showed the effects it had on various buildings. One of my kiddos asked, “What makes a building ‘hurricane proof’? What makes a building not get destroyed in a hurricane?” Of course, when a student has an inquiry, we usually go about investigating so this was just another one of those days. At that point it was made known, the hurricane would be here in 3 days.

First the students broke into teams of 5. I am still amazed at how well my 9-year-olds can make groups. Ever since our design thinking and inventions unit at the start of the year, they see the value in creating diverse groups. WIthout teacher support, they make sure there is varying abilities, boys and girls, and unique perspectives. They choose not to work with their best friends and understand that by making these decisions they can make the best teams that can solve any problems.

Once the teams were established, they started to do their research. They brainstormed questions that would be necessary for the investigation such as what happens during a hurricane, what materials are best for structures in hurricanes, etc. and documented them in a shared Google Doc. From there, they began their research. Each student in the group was responsible for different questions as well as keeping a list of references they used to solve their answers. Some groups even colour coded who did what to help them self-monitor if they were each contributing equally to the gathering of research notes.

From there, they pulled the keywords out from their research that would need to be included in their design before creating blueprints that they drew by hand. One group even drew their building from 5 perspectives so they could have a well thought out plan. When they had finished their sketch, they had to meet with me briefly to explain some of their design decisions in the sketch. I was amazed by the thought and detail they went into for their structures. One group thought about being inspired by the Gherkin with a rounded building so the wind would curve around it, Another group had the building on stilts in case there was flooding. The final group created a basement for safety with reinforced walls in the basement with lining to prevent water from seeping in. There were inclined planes for water to run away from the building, multiple exits for if there was something blocking it and a variety of different materials used that they felt would be best to minimize damage.

Then they got to the building process. The students were allowed to use any materials they wanted to construct their buildings. We used recycled materials primarily as well as other resources that were found around the classroom. I loved watching them as they talked through their disagreements in designs, working collaboratively and inclusive of all group members.

Finally, it was hurricane day. I walked into class still unsure of how it was going to play out and no real plan on how to make it happen but sometimes creativity strikes and you roll with it. We had a video with sound effects on the projector as a visual and hurricane sirens as a warning for the members of the community. It was time to see if these buildings would hold. Every student played a role in creating the hurricane. Some students were the storm chasers who used iPods to video document what was happening and finding different angles to capture the storm. Other students were the fierce winds with large sheets of cardboard or boards used to create the wind. Finally, we had students who were the rainstorm who would toss water at the buildings. Hurricane Mac was intense. As the hurricane progressed, debris (in the form of pencil crayons) began to be thrown about and hitting the buildings.

When the storm had passed, we looked at our buildings to see how they had stood up against the storm. Luckily they were all pretty much intact. We had a lot of discussion about why some were better than others, how some materials had been more durable than others, etc. First the teams debriefed individually and then they shared with the whole class. To wrap it up, the students created a written report about the experience from beginning to end including all of their reflections, photographs and experiences.

It was the absolute best way to begin our Monday morning (even with the bit of mess we created). The experience brought about so many questions and inquiries. The students worked collaboratively to investigate and create an experience that was memorable. I honestly think they are still shocked of  how we did the simulation in the end. But the smiles on their faces was completely worth every second.

Sometimes teaching can’t be all planned out. Sometimes you just have to jump into the storm, get a little bit messy and be ready for whatever is thrown your way.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

NEW Pinyin Tones Add-On for Google Docs

About a month ago, I was speaking to one of the Primary Mandarin teachers at our school and she was sharing with me that Google Docs was limiting in some of the features required to make her work easier when typing in pinyin for the students. I began to ask around to a few people and couldn't find quite what we were looking for in terms of a solution.

Then as luck would have it, I was investigating all the awesome add-ons in Google Docs to try to figure out which ones are most beneficial for teaching when I re-stumbled upon a goodie - Easy Accents. As someone who unfortunately only speaks English fluently, I hadn't had the need to use this add-on personally but as I read about it, I wondered if this was the answer but there were no pinyin tone feature yet.

With a 'Why not?' attitude, I emailed Dan Baker (Network Administrator, Ursuline Academy) on the chance that maybe something was in the works for the future. I cannot say enough good things about Dan. He was so helpful and quick to respond as we both tried to talk about a language we were not familiar with. After consulting with one of our Mandarin teachers, Ei Lin Tan, who created a video to help explain our needs and clarified the tones, Dan came back to us with the Pinyin Tone Easy-Accent Add-On in no time.

Check out our video for a quick overview of how to use
 the Pinyin Tone Easy Add-On for Google Docs!

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

7 Schools, 7 Lessons: Things I Learnt As a Workshop Facilitator

Over my two-week summer break, I had the pleasure of travelling to the New Delhi region in India. This was my second time in India and I had previously only been there for 2 days for the Google Teacher Academy in December. I knew I absolutely loved the food, the culture and adventure that India had to offer, but hadn't realised how much I would be accepted with open arms and such amazing hospitality by the educators I would encounter when I returned. Over my holiday, I was blessed to be welcomed into 7 schools for 7 days of workshops to do some outreach support in local public schools that focused on introducing the Google Apps for Educations tools to teachers and how they could integrate them into their classroom to support their current teaching and learning practices.

As I prepared myself to transition into a technology coach position at my current school next year, I began to realise how different my role would be. Every session was unique, even though a lot of days I was facilitating workshops with the same products. No day was the same and each had its own unique challenges. I very quickly learnt that working with adult learners is a very different experience than working with my nine-year-old students, but yet some core factors stayed the same. The more I facilitated workshops, the more I began to explore how adults want to be supported in their learning journey.

Throughout my time, I constantly was reflecting on my experience and came away from the experience with valuable lessons.

1. Embrace questions. - Sometimes teachers fear the unknown. You can have a lesson planned out one way and a student asks a question that makes the lesson shoot off in a completely different direction - I love that. You begin to learn after a day or two of workshops what questions teachers have, how to reduce the fear of uncertainty for those participating in a workshop but also embrace the fact that you never are quite sure what you will be doing when facilitating workshops. No question is a bad question. When you take the time to listen to someone and walk someone through how they can be successful, you are able to spark more curiosity to learn. Often more questions will come from solving one query - those are my favourite. To see teachers continuously become more excited about what they were doing as they learn each piece of the puzzle is truly a treat to experience. I loved when teachers engaged in asking questions and it made my job easier than trying to guess what they wanted to learn by knowing I was actually helping them meet the needs of their inquiries. I'm so thankful that the educators felt comfortable asking the questions so I could support them. I also loved that the learning hasn't stopped since I left their schools and that the conversations and questions are continuing even though we are now separated by distance.

2.  The Internet is not always reliable. - I am very privileged to work in an international school in Singapore where I don't have to think twice about having a consistent internet in my classroom. I know that I can plan a lesson using the computer and I can execute it without the concern of having the internet drop out. But that isn't the case in all schools in India. The internet would drop out at times or even be very limited in some cases. For me, it definitely kept things interesting and forced me to be ready for anything. If the internet did drop, I was constantly forced to evaluate how I could keep the audience engaged and learning without becoming frustrated and give up. I also learnt how valuable it is to have a backup plan. For me, this was having a Google Slides presentation for the various apps that could help walk teachers through the tools at the moment but could also act as a resource beyond my time at their school. I am empathetic towards teachers who work through these challenges every day and yet continue to inspire their students and embrace a world of technology.

3.  Repeat the instructions - often.  - I've always thought students are better students than teachers. But the level of excitement and engagement for teachers and students can always be high if you go about it the right way. Teachers seem to like to listen and do at the same time, rather than watch, then do. Therefore, a one time demo isn't always sufficient. Just like students, instructions need to be repeated verbally, demonstrated and also have time for teachers to 'do' what they are being shown. When you walk around and support teachers, you have to be ready to repeat, repeat, repeat what you've said again and again while also not making them feel small that they didn't understand the instructions the first time or two or three. Learning is a process. We all learn at a different rate and in different ways. It's our job as facilitators to help find the best way to help our students discover how to be successful in their learning and support them with the resources and means necessary.

4. Patience is a must. - I wouldn't consider myself a patient person, especially outside of my classroom. I like efficiency in my personal life and have always said I use up all my patience each day with my students. However, I found this sense of calm working with teachers that I hadn't experienced before as I walked teachers through different features of an app step by step and having them do it, rather than me. It was almost a very zen experience. Not once did I feel overwhelmed, frustrated or rushed. We just took our time and explored as necessary and flowed onto the next application when we were ready. Some days we focused on one app for an hour and the next day it only took twenty minutes and worked through challenges as they presented themselves. As a facilitator, I learnt that in the face of any challenge you have to stay calm as your 'students' are looking to you for that sense of security and insurance.

5. Stay positive. - The moment you become negative, you will lose your audience - so don't. When you are positive in a room, the energy and excitement levels will go through the roof. Creating a safe environment to learn in allows teachers to the fullest and feel safe making mistakes and growing. Technology isn't meant to be something that is a pain for teachers, even though there is a learning curve. By having a smile on the face and showing teachers you are learning together helps break down their defensive walls against technology. No obstacle can't be overcome and it's important to help teachers develop their growth mindset mentality.

6. Be flexible. - I never really knew what type of school I are was walking into each day, the technology and comfort levels of the teachers or how often the teachers were even using the tools. I very quickly learned that building relationships and engaging in conversations before a workshop began was a sure way to begin to figure those things out. I loved hearing about where teachers were at in their technology integration and how much they wanted to do this, but sometimes just weren't sure how to go about it yet. I became very aware of how to read the audience to know when they were struggling with a concept or when teachers felt like they accomplished a task. I noticed the small things that made a big difference to how I would adjust to my teaching environment. I knew that I had to be open-minded when the direction of the workshop would change without planning and two seconds later I'd be showing a different application I hadn't planned to share that day. I really felt like I had be a chameleon adapting to it's surroundings to meet the needs of the teachers.

7. Have fun - Every one of those 7 workshops were unique. Nothing ever went the same or fully as 'planned'.  The only consistency was making it fun for both the workshop participants and myself. I was on spring break after all. But learning should be fun. It shouldn't be stuffy and a lecture from the front of the room for hours and hours - that's not real learning. Students need to be getting their hands messy and trying things. As they make mistakes, they ask questions and problem solve. I learnt to not take things so seriously and when I was faced with my own uncertainty with a question we figured it out together. Technology can be daunting for some teachers but when you create a learning environment that can minimise that fear, teachers actually get motivated to develop their skills. We laughed, we smiled, we had fun, we experienced, we grew - that to me is learning.

By the end of the two weeks, I began to look at the role of a workshop facilitator and technology coach with a new perspective and even more excitement. The experience forced me to think about how educators learn best and reflect on how I learn best too. It also helped me think critically about what I need from others to feel supported and successful in my new role and how I could take that thinking and translate it to help better support other educators. The amount of personal growth in such a short time seemed tremendous to me and I am so thankful for the opportunity to work with over 200 educators from around the Delhi region. This experienced filled me with excitement and has motivated me to continue to push myself further as an educator with a new perspective of teaching and learning. I can't wait to see where my journey takes me next and look forward to learning from every opportunity that continues to unfold.

Monday, 23 March 2015

Asking the Kids For Advice

We have had a lot of success in my classroom with students constructing their own learning by creating online courses, doing each other's courses, assessing each other through the courses and also assessing themselves. Giving the students this much ownership in their own learning was really empowering for them and allowed them to explore their understanding of the topics in ways that made the most sense to them.

We were wrapping up the online courses one day and the students were completing their self-reflection. A few students had already finished and were working on some independent inquiries of their own off in one corner of the room. As sauntered over to see what they were doing, which then became about a half hour discussion with us on the floor and more students joining as they finished to brainstorm ideas for our next unit about buildings and structures.

All it takes is a simple question. What would you like to do?

From there, we started to brainstorm different ideas for how we might build, hands-on activities and online programmes. I had one student who had been learning SketchUp quite a bit at home in his personal time and offers to lead some lessons about how to use it. By the following day, I had a full Google presentation sent to me with the lessons he had prepared.

My students even created what they thought would be a good summative task. They wanted to have to build a structure or building given a specific region with certain conditions they would have to adapt for. As they built, they wanted the opportunity to show their thinking and document the process. Finally, they wanted to share their building and provide a rationale for each of the components of their structure. This was essentially what I was planning on having them do themselves at the end of the unit but one thing changed that I wouldn’t have been able to give them - Student Ownership.

The students were empowered to create a summative that was their own, something they wanted to do. They are more likely to be engaged in this assessment and produce quality work because it was something they created. What I have learnt this year is that when I allow my students to guide our classroom, they always lead me down the path that will extend their learning most.

Monday, 16 March 2015

They Will Figure It Out!

I used to want to always set my students up for success. If a graphic organiser or two was needed to push them in the right direction, I would. If they needed to review, review, review, we would. If we needed specific tools to do an activity successfully one way, I had what we needed ready. It's not that I've stopped supporting them where they need it but now it's what they want, when they need it and how they want it.

What my students like to remind me every day, they (collectively) outsmart me any day of the week. So when I give them a task without a lot of parameters, they find a way to make it happen. Just like they did when they took over my class site or took it upon themselves to build class lessons or how they built their courses or support each other through their obstacles.

Today was no other. First thing on a Monday morning I told my students they needed to figure out a way to brainstorm different building materials for buildings and structures around the world. They could sort, write, create this brainstorm however they wanted but I was not going to be involved and they had to do it as a whole group activity. More than anything, it was a way for them to come together as a class to start the week but of course, they didn't know that.

We have worked really hard as a class to develop our abilities to work as a team, create diverse teams and try out different roles. We have talked about not always working with your friends, highlighting each other's strengths and supporting each others' areas of growth. We've talked about planning, process and final products. Most importantly we've talked about how their voice as students matter.

So today when I said go. I had one student tell me they needed time to discuss and brainstorm a strategy before they could begin. I asked how long they needed and got a response for 2 minutes. They discussed as a class of 15 different strategies to achieve the results building on each others' ideas. At the end of the 2 minutes, they had lined themselves up in numbered order, markers in hand and asking for 15 minutes to complete the task. In succession, they each wrote one idea on the paper and also shouted it out so others could hear before the next person took their turn. Fairness was a top priority for them and each student had 3 turns. In the last 2-3 minutes, they then asked for any other additional ideas that had not already been shared.

I could have led that discussion. I could've facilitated who was able to share their ideas and in what order. I could've asked them to write their ideas on a post-it or just raise their hand to share. But I didn't have to. It was fascinating to step back and watch them work.

It was certainly not the way I would've done it but what I've come to find is that they will figure it out. Whether I'm there or not, they will find a way to get through the challenge - independently or collectively. Sometimes you need to just trust your students, let there be tension, friction, moments of chaos and blurred lines. The clouds will clear and what you are left with is a result that was created by the students, that they are invested in and they can walk away from knowing they had a part in constructing their own learning.

The Educator Three Way Conference

One thing I wanted to really focus on doing this year was reflecting on my work more and documenting the process. The last few weeks, unfortunately, that hasn't been the case. It's not that I haven't thought about blogging and writing it down. In fact, I've actually created a list of blogs I wanted to write. But quite frankly it's just been a little bit crazy - but in a good way.

With co-organising our school fair, completing multiple applications, creating presentations for conferences, going to conferences, report writing, starting new projects with my students and trying to actually teach my students, writing sort of just feel to the side.

So it's time to start making time again. We make our students document and reflect on their learning through their e-portfolios, journals, self-assessments and peer assessments. We focus on the learning journey -- the process over product at times. It is more important about how you get there, the obstacles you overcome and the skills you develop that defines you as a learner. And yet as teachers, sometimes we forget the power of reflection it has on our own teaching and learning.  Reflecting on this blog has made me reevaluate a lot of what I have done this year. It has made me question how I do things and how I could go about improving what I have done. I make myself look at the same problem from a new angle. It's been a way to actual acknowledge how far my students have grown but even more so, me. By documenting my thinking, it forces me to actually think critically about my work. It's been a way to showcase successes and action plan for growth. I acknowledge the strengths my students bring to the classroom to make it what it is, while also seeing how far I still have to grow as a teacher. It's still

So as I think about sitting down tomorrow to do parent-teacher-student conferences at school, I can't help to think by this is my 3-way conference as an educator.  It is me as a student who is learning, changing, growing each day. It is me as a teacher who is creating resources, sharing ideas and reflecting on teaching in the classroom. Finally, the third member of my conference is my education community who allows me to share, provides feedback, support and suggestions just as a parent would. And when the end of the day comes, I know I can be proud of my students and their accomplishments, continue to push myself further and know that the support and inspiration of others never too far away.

Monday, 23 February 2015

What Happens When the PD is Over?

We've all been to the most amazing professional development workshops, conferences, weekends, you name it. The ones that just inspire you when you needed it most, gets you thinking about your classroom in a whole new way and excited to start implementing the many new ideas first thing Monday morning at 9am.

Then reality hits - paperwork, attendance, marking, planning, meetings, field trips, after school activities, did I miss anything? As much as we intend to try out all of our new tricks and share them with the rest of our school community, how often does that really happen when you are faced with all of the normal time consuming components of your job?

What I've learnt about all of those ideas that you get beyond excited about don't usually ever happen. I'm as guilty as anyone and I'm the girl who loves learning new things all the time. While I am learning them, I don't always get the chance to apply them.

So here's my suggestion:

1. Choose a couple of ideas. Just 2 or 3 ideas really that you think you can implement within the next week. They don't even have to be big. When I attended the EdTechTeam Summit in Thailand, I focused on learning what I could about creating websites. It was something I was currently working on for my own personal site so I figured I could build on that. I bookmarked a few resources for selecting colours and creating patterns. I also knew my students would be creating their own sites in about a week's time so it would be something I could show them to do to.

2. Actually do it. In an hour workshop, you don't always get enough time to figure it all out the first time. So spend a little bit of time on your own walking yourself through the steps. Trial and error is a beautiful thing and I find it's when I work best really. I wanted to become better at creating my own colour palettes using some of the website resources I had used in the workshop and also how to create my own patterns from those colour palettes using Colour Lovers. Some steps you remember from doing it in the workshop, others you have to piece together from when you were trying to listen and do at the same time. Eventually, you figure it out.

3. Do it again. Repeating something or trying a different way of doing the same thing really helps to solidify the new skill. I played around and probably created about half a dozen or so of colour palettes and then more than a dozen patterns just for fun. Learning happens through exploration.

4. Go back to that list of 2-3 items you wanted to try and try another one. What else did you love from your workshop? I also liked playing with Google's MyMaps. I had used it before but sometimes you need a friendly reminder of a certain tool before you figure out it's a perfect fit for what's coming next in your unit. For me, that was using it to document different ecosystem imbalances around the world, having students include pictures and

5. Share what you've learnt...even with one person. Knowledge for the sake of your own personal gain is one thing but being able to share with others is just as important. For me, I shared the website design tools with my students immediately. The first time around, I only had them choose a colour palette with 2-3 colours and then create their website banners using those colours. From there, they could customise whatever they could find in the settings.

6. Then share it again. Using what you learnt in a professional development session makes you feel like it was worthwhile. After my students had made their websites for their online courses, I pulled 2 students aside for a project for our Head of Primary. He needed to spruce up a website for a workshop he was running. I had the students create a colour palette and make a banner with the colour palette. After that, I introduced them to how to make a pattern for the background of the site and let them have a go at it.

It didn't stop there though. About another week or so later, I met up with a few of the Year 6 students who were working on their exhibition projects and wanted to make a website as part of their action portion. I walked them through all of the same steps from start to finish but along the way added in how you could change the look by using images as a background or creating colour palettes from an image. In addition, I provided them with more websites and options to customise their sites.

By taking one small focused idea from a professional development workshop, I was able to turn the idea into action through practice and practical application with my students. I am still seeing the aftereffects in my classroom of the workshops I attended a month later. This to me is making meaningful connections and creating an ongoing learning opportunity long after the workshop facilitators are gone.

It's not worth overwhelming yourself and setting yourself up for failure when you say you will do 43 new things by the end of the month based on what you might have learnt in an afternoon, day or weekend. What I've learnt is that you really have to make your professional development experiences work for you.

Sunday, 22 February 2015

One Strategy for Research Notes

When I went to elementary school, I learnt how to write research notes. There was all this bibliography stuff you had to write down for each book you took your notes from, you weren't allowed to copy the words directly from the book and you had to rewrite it all in your own words. My notes would be on multiple pieces of paper and I never could really find the piece of paper I wanted when it came to writing my reports. None of that has really changed, just where we keep track of our notes.

For most, it's no surprise we first turn to Google for our research. With all of the scholarly articles online, websites and ebooks, there isn't as much need to go into a library, dust off an old encyclopaedia and crack it open to the page you are looking for. Where we look for our materials has changed and so has how we record our notes.

For our current unit about ecosystems, where essentially my students were doing a massive research project to gather the information they needed to successfully create an online course for other students, it was evident from the start that research notes was most definitely going to be an important skill to teach.

After we had decided on lesson topics, the students brainstormed all of the questions they could think of initially in one Google Document.

From there, they created and linked a separate Google Doc for each topic. This would help them go back and build their levels based on the different topics selected. The students pasted their questions into the document. As they found information that fit a particular question, they were able to make notes on the topic. Often they chose to research by theme but at times students could jump from one page to the next easily without losing any of their notes. 

For their bibliography, they pasted the links into the bottom of each page. We talked a lot about what plagiarism was and how to avoid it by changing it into their own word right from the moment they create their research notes. As Year 5 students, I didn't have them create full bibliographies as they took down their research notes just yet but it was a start in the right direction. 
This of course is just one strategy that could help students organise their notes when researching for a project but by no means the only way. I had different groups record their notes using different methods but it was another tool to add to their repertoire.