Showcasing Learning through Blogging: UbD Course 1 Final Project

Week 6: Reflections

As one of four EdTech coaches at our medium-sized international school, I had the privilege of co-coordinating a two-day Tech Conference, featuring Jeff Utecht as our Keynote speaker. The research, planning and coordination of this event is what led me to join this COETAIL cohort and a lot of my tensions outlined in my various blog posts highlight my own attempts to shift the learning landscape of our school in my short time here.

Coming from Asia, where I previously taught at 1:1 schools, I was baffled at how traditional my new school was, especially with regards to the use of technology. The first 4 months I related quite a lot to Annie and Claires perspective on our roles as EdTech Coaches. Even after several smaller EdTech PD workshops I was still often referred to as “the Technology Teacher” and was told my role is to “teach technology” to students. Some of this is still the truth, as many students are unfamiliar with how to use iPads in a classroom setting, and re-framing their thinking and teaching them specific skills to use the device has been a large part of my role this year. The fact is, there is a mild fear surrounding the use of these devices, and hence students have very little practice with them. So I made it my goal that this EdTech Conference would be the beginning of the end of Technophobia in our learning environment.

The IT team and I were looking forward to re-shaping our school’s vision of technology. We’d even created a hashtag for our school, which did initially prompt several teachers to join Twitter.

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The title of our conference was Create Innovate Apply, and teachers were given time throughout the two days to meet in teams and reflect on a collaborative Google Presentation how they might ‘Apply’ their learning from the various workshops offered by Jeff and staff at our school.

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The final product was a multi-media reflective piece created using some of the suggested apps in the Tech Playground (a ‘dabble’ space set up with 10 iPads & creation apps):

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Four weeks later, it’s still too early to tell how much of a lasting impact those inspiring two days will have on teachers and their respective opinions about technology in the classroom. The reflective presentations by teachers showed renewed enthusiasm for taking risks with technology as well as many new ideas forming. Some teachers expressed a lack of practical application ideas, and wanted more time to ‘dabble’ in the Tech Playground. Overall, I sense that many teachers would have benefitted from more than just two days of new perspectives on 21st Century Learning (in fact, a COETAIL cohort might just be the answer!) Still, one of the most successful outcomes I experienced from those two days were the result of my 90-minute workshops on Blogging & ePortfolios in the PYP. I’ve decided to use this workshop as my UbD Final Project because I experienced first-hand the shift in teachers’ perspectives about blogs, just over the course of those 90 minutes. Both sessions began with fearful questions about consistency across grade-levels, parents comparing their students and fear of student work being ‘public’. After much discussion about the convenience of hosting students’ digital creations on one platform as well as creating a space that belonged to students (and empowered them to create and share) I saw the fears begin to slip away. The three weeks following the conference had me booked back-to-back with teachers wanting to introduce Easy Blogger Jr to their class and/or setting up blogs in their classroom. It was incredibly rewarding and further proof that teachers at our school were interested in showcasing learning and connecting with other classrooms, they just needed to see how it could be implemented in a purposeful way. I will know this project was successful if by the end of the school year (June 2015), all primary classrooms have at least a class blog, and if half of them have connected beyond our school community. This will create a strong starting point to kick-off even more global collaborative projects come September 2015.


 

Workshop: Showcasing Learning through Blogs & ePortfolios

My 90 minute workshop was broken down into two 45-min halves. The first 15 mins was an open discussion about blogging, what it meant, and allowing participants to voice their fears and concerns around privacy and sharing. I then defined blogging and went in depth about the 3 main kinds of blogs a teacher may have in his/her classroom:

  • Teacher’s Professional Blog
  • Shared Class Blog
  • Individual Student Blogs

I then discussed how blogging can enhance literacy and help promote a positive digital footprint. This was accomplished by referring to George Couros‘ post entitled 5 Reasons Your Students Should BlogI modified the five reasons to suit the audience and their students. I also made references back to a Sylvia Duckworth‘s Visual Notes Image on George Couros’ 8 Things to Look for in Today’s Classrooms, to link back to the point that blogging isn’t a separate task but rather a tool to support and promote 21st Century Skills.

Blogging PD.047

Screenshot of one of my Keynote Slides from my Workshop

The final 40 mins or so allowed teachers to play with the iPad app and set up their own Blogger Accounts for their class. The tutorial I provided (also below) allowed teachers to work on this independently, asking me for support when needed. This allowed me to walk around the room and address teacher questions. I also provided a PDF Handout with hyperlinks to examples of different kinds of blogs and some of the educators referenced throughout the Keynote Presentation.

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Related Videos to Support the Blogging Workshop

A tutorial I created for teachers to set up their Blogger Account:

Video Walk-Through of Easy Blogger Jr. (By the EasyAppCompany)

Demonstrating Literacy Links with Blogging in Grade 1:

A condensed version of my Blogging Keynote presentation to Teachers:


 

Teachers in Kindergarten through to Grade 5 have begun to set up their blogs in the four weeks since our edTech Conference. Several specialist teachers have asked to join class blogs so they can also contribute using the Easy Blogger Jr app. This is evident on Grade 1N Blog (the first exemplar blog created by Rebecca Navarro‘s class) where both the teachers and students post their learning.

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Below is a copy of my Final UbD Project. 

(Teacher self-assessment rubric below)

Teacher Self-Assessment Rubric: 

While I don’t plan to introduce the rubric this school year, I will bring it to my IT team and discuss possible ways to introduce it next year should admin agree for all classrooms to host blogs as part of the learning space. I’ve decided to use numbered ‘Phases’ rather than subjective criteria descriptors (Beginning, Developing, Consolidating etc.) that may pigeonhole teachers or cause them to feel inferior if they haven’t attained a specific standard. The Phase system allows teachers to moderate their progression and have ownership of their development as they explore blogs with their classes. Once the staff exhibit more confidence and greater understanding the rubric could be modified (with staff input) to accommodate different language to be assessed against. I envision these rubrics as something for teachers to have in their possession, rather than admin/coaches.

Bridging Global Classrooms

Last week I embarked on a new journey with 4 classroom teachers at my school. We decided to participate in a Global Collaborative eBook Project called If You Learned Here. Based on the book If You Lived Here, students and teachers will connect over several weeks and share what learning looks like in our schools. The end goal is to create an eBook representing learning across the globe.

It’s my first time participating in a global project like this, and also my first time participating in something without having a class of my own! As edTech coach I am helping to coordinate the 4 participating teachers (who are spread across two campuses), and we managed to get our first school video together to post on our cohort’s flipgrid.

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Screenshot from our cohort’s Flipgrid board

Here is our video:

Global Connections

I first found out about the project through Twitter when Kim Cofino posted a tweet advertising this opportunity. Just another perfect example of how Twitter and Blogging inspire each other!

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It immediately peaked my interest as I’m already a huge fan of the Book Creator app, and I tend to jump at any opportunity to encourage teachers & students at my school to engage with tech in unique and meaningful ways. It is also an opportunity for students to connect with students from around the globe, while providing a purpose for teachers to expand their PLNs while learning the concept of a global collaborative project. What I also love about this project is it promotes the use of tech at the top phase of higher-order thinking skills: creation. Each week participating students have the opportunity to create something and contribute to global learning.

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Looking at this project through the lens of SAMR, I definitely see it as operating in the Redefinition phase as the collaborative aspect of this project could not exist without the use of technology. Furthermore, the end goal involves a multi-media eBook drawing on information shared across various platforms, further redefining a new task.

SAMRcoffee

 

Image created by Jonathan Brubaker

I’m also pleased that it encourages participants to try 2 new platforms: Flipgrid and Padlet, both which easily enable collaboration between schools. I see potential for both of these platforms to be used in future projects, whether connecting student blogs or collaborating on UOIs. It will be interesting to survey teachers at the end of this project and see what they think about using these tools again.

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Screenshot from If You Learned Here Padlet Board

Change = Growing Pains

After completing week 0 and week 1 of the project, I’ll admit that being in a coordination role has it’s challenges as the participating teachers have different levels of confidence with tech in general. Keeping the ISTE Coaches Standards in mind, I really wanted to be there as a facilitator and scaffold this opportunity for them, while still putting the classroom teacher in the driver’s seat. I knew it would feel overwhelming for some, but I’m working towards taking the training wheels off for staff at our school, and I want them to begin finding answers for themselves, rather than relying on me to find the answers for them. Initially I had an encouraging 11 respondents. Yet after maintaining my position, and continually guiding them to look and refer to specific areas on the blog for their answers, only 4 teachers decided to commit. Nonetheless, as this is my first year in this role and at this school, I see every new project and challenge as an opportunity to ‘sandbox’ it and follow up with evidence and success stories for the following year.

One of the biggest challenges was coordinating the flipgrid video, as we need 1 video on our school’s behalf, yet not all teachers work on the same campus. For this first week’s task I decided to support teachers and asked each class to submit a few photos or collages answering the questions posed on Week 1 Flipgrid which focused on Our School & Community. A few teachers found this task time-consuming, and at the end of creating the iMovie, I realised I needed to video the video itself in order to upload the final product onto Flipgrid. Whoops…huge learning opportunity for me! I ended up contacting the coordinators of the project (Carolyn Skibba and Mary Morgan Ryan) who suggested sharing the flipgrid across the 4 classes, so each class took turns responding to future weekly questions. I thought it was pretty incredible how responsive they were and how quickly they were able to partner with me in finding a solution for our school. This interaction here further emphasises the importance of communitynetworks and connectivism, in order for authentic learning to happen. Without Twitter and email connections, how could educators and classrooms troubleshoot together?

The project also has a fantastic twitter feed to under #ifyoulearnedhere and I’ve already exponentially expanded my PLN just from following participants in this feed. I just love how this project promotes natural integration of social media and collaboration tools!

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Changing Learning Landscapes

Without question, this project illustrates how educational landscapes are changing and expanding. No longer are we confined to the walls of our classroom.. for sharing learning globally is both encouraged and expected in many schools already. No longer is learning separated by its discipline, we can connect all disciplines through project-based learning opportunities. No longer does communication and showcasing exist solely in writing and images..we have opportunities for live video-feed and engaging with classrooms in real-time. No longer do we need to refer to a guide book to find answers…we can contact the creators themselves! I think this project is a fantastic opportunity to showcase the kind of learning that can happen, both for teachers at my own school and beyond. I was inspired by Kim Cofino’s related blog post that outlines Step by Step  how to set up a global collaboration. At the moment, I feel I’m playing catch up on a few of those steps as I troubleshoot and find the best way to support teachers in my coordination role, but overall I am thrilled to be participating in this unique opportunity for students & teachers and can’t wait to see where our learning stands in 6 weeks when it’s all finished.

Device Blaming & App Shaming

“We banned Minecraft in our house because my child was addicted to it, so I don’t think it has a place in the classroom.”

“Kids already use iPads at home, why should they use it during school?”

“Where can I fit actual teaching in if all they’re doing is learning technology?”

Sound familiar? I must have conversations like this at least once a week. I’ll admit that 4 years ago, I wasn’t so clear myself on the role of technology in the classroom, especially when working in a 1:1 environment. But through my own dabbling and expanding my PLN, I was inspired and motivated to bring my classroom up to par with 21st Century Schools. So while I empathise with teachers, admin and parents who consider themselves digital immigrantsit is up to the individual to (as this Coetailer put it)  Grow Smart or Go Home (Coetail Blog).

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Image from: Technapex

Going Back to Basics

It’s hard to believe the article Shaping Tech for the Classroom, written nearly a decade ago, still rings true in many classrooms today. As I mentioned in my previous post, Back to the Future Syndrome, it’s frightening how far into the 21st Century we are, with many of the same initial resistance to shifting educational paradigms.

While researching this Tech Evolution image above (which I initially saw and retweeted on Twitter a few months ago), I came across a pertinent article that describes how educators can shift teaching today to meet the needs of learning for tomorrow. Sam Gliksman details how we need to adjust learning in the classroom to reflect the 8 Pillars of 21st Century Learning listed below. I’d like to consider looking at these 8 pillars through an EdTech lens, to better illustrate how tech as a tool can promote these outcomes in students of all ages:

1. Play: Problem-solving as a skill can only be learned through exploring and experimenting. Could giving students ‘dabble time’ on iPads, coding programs and offline tech (such as BlueBots, Raspberry Pi) promote this pillar while also addressing transdisciplinary skills?

2. Create: What will students be expected to create 5 years from now? 10 years from now? What will university and job applications look like? How could digital creativity transfer to analogue creativity?

3. Socialize: According to Mimi Ito  students are already socializing in digital spaces. They have ‘friendship-driven participation’ and ‘Geeking-Out participation’..what is our role in educating appropriate behaviours in these spaces? What opportunities for digital citizenship practice exist by embracing these changing social norms?

4. Discover: Teachers are no longer the experts. How can technology promote curiosity and drive students to take initiative and become experts themselves? How can we dissolve classroom walls so students become life-long learners?

5. Experience: Building on from the importance of discovery, what opportunities are there for students to gain experience in certain areas of learning through a variety of modes and using a variety of tools (analogue and digital)? How can experience foster Growth Mindsets?

6. Express: What are the different forms of literacy students are exposed to and how are we teaching them to ‘read’ these literacies? What opportunities are there for students to practice expressing different forms of literacy using different media?

7. Move: How can we merge outdoor learning with indoor learning? What role does mobile-technology play in bringing real-world experience to student’s learning?

8. Relate: What is most relevant to students now? Do skills like handwriting and long division play a significant role in children’s day to day life experience? What are they curious about and how can we support their understanding of technology, as something they encounter every day?

When I look at these 8 goals, I cannot envision a classroom without devices and apps to support each individual pillar. I see not just a change in the tools we use, but a full-on revolution in what education should look like in 21st Century Schools.

Device Blaming

Education has been evolving for centuries now, yet for some reason we are hung up on digital technology not fitting in with this ‘natural’ evolution and change. This Edudemic article details the different forms of technology teachers have had to adopt over time, and how each proved a necessary step to prepare students for the future. By continually resisting changes such as 1:1 mobile devices and virtual learning environments, how are we harming our students?

We’ve certainly come a long way but some things seem hauntingly similar to many years ago. For example, Thomas Edison said in 1925 that “books will soon be obsolete in schools. Scholars will soon be instructed through the eye.” I’m pretty sure this is exactly what people are saying these days about the iPad. (The Evolution of Classroom Technology, Edudemic)

Is the device (tool) to blame? Or our resistance to it? Are we ‘teaching technology’ or teaching skills? Why are we still having these discussions 15 years into the 21st Century?

Kevin Makice

Image Kevin Makice

App Shaming

One of my greatest challenges as an EdTech coach are those conversations (debates, at times) of certain apps used in the classroom. While there are a wide range of fabulous creation-based apps available, many teachers expect the app to ‘be the teacher’, leaving children alone with the iPad and expecting meaningful learning to result. While many creation apps can be self-taught by students, after the initial dabble and experimentation time, isn’t it up to the teachers to ensure it is used appropriately? Similarly, we wouldn’t just give students a stack of paper and a pair of scissors day after day and expect them to produce something in line with classroom outcomes. There is a time and place for creativity, exploration and a time and place for scaffolded instruction. Initially, the free inquiry might be exhilarating and productive. However, over time, plunking students in front of the same tools (or app) may not result in meaningful creations, thus causing the teacher to resort to the old argument that the app is a waste of time.

I also think many of the misconceptions of app-use in the classroom stems from a general lack of understanding for the Prosumer environment we are trying to cultivate.  Of course there are hundreds of apps whose general purpose is consumption. However, it is up to educators, coaches and admin to promote a culture of creating, where the majority of apps bring students through Blooms Taxonomy of Higher Order Thinking Skills. It’s been interesting to work with students who have iPads at home and, when provided one at school, watch them race to find the games and youtube videos. We need to differentiate iPad and app use in classrooms from iPad and app use at home. As educators we have the responsibility to set expectations for device-use; just as classroom social behaviours may differ from at-home behaviours, we should teach prosumer behaviours, even if it’s a consumer behaviour at home.

Mike Licht Schulkanab mit iPad, after Albert Anker

 

Image by Mike Licht

Moving towards 22nd Century Learning

The question shouldn’t be What’s right for right now? but rather What’s right for tomorrow? Many teachers and parents are stuck thinking that the way they learned is what’s best for their child today. However, if we’d learned the way our parents had (in my case, the 1950s and 1960s) how would any of us have been prepared for the digital age?

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Image: First Computer Wikipedia

I think we also forget that many of the students in our classrooms couldn’t fathom a world without iPhones, Skype and wifi. This entertaining clip from The Ellen DeGenres Show highlights just how foreign certain (familiar) objects are for young students of the 21st Century.

As most revolutions go, it’s the peaceful ones that truly promote lasting change. We can’t fight the resistance but we can model the potential. Ultimately it’s not about getting the world to love technology, but about having the world see how learning is enhanced through the use of technology. As Bob Dylan once sang, The times they are a changin’…and so must we.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e7qQ6_RV4VQ[/youtube]

2015: Back to the Future Syndrome

It’s 2015: Is the future finally here?

Rewind to 1992: Picture two Canadian kids (ages 8 & 10), sitting in pyjamas, watching Back to Future II (on VHS, naturally) and the moment it’s over, rushing to the family garage to craft our very own Hoverboards from old boxes.

I know I’m not the only 80s kid who’s been impatiently anticipating 2015…and now that it’s finally here, feeling pangs of nostalgia and disappointment that most of what Universal Pictures promised did not actually materialise into every day life.

Ok, well maybe some things did materialise but how accessible are these new technologies, and do they exist because of an actual need …or simply because an imaginative screen-writer made it up? Gawker explores the 14 things Back to the Future actually did get right, which does give me hope that one day every child will cruise around on their very own Hoverboard (thank you Hendersons!)

Let’s take a look at another video produced from around that same year:

Were Apple’s predictions as outrageous as a Hollywood script writer’s? To what extent can we anticipate changes that are predicted before their time?

The first time I saw this video was at the Apple Distinguished Educator’s Global Conference this past July 2014. And my reaction was complete disbelief at how spot-on Apple was in predicting the changes education would see at the turn of the century: video conferencing, collaborating ‘online’, mobile touch-screen devices, project-based learning, inquiry & design cycles..and the growing need to connect and network outside classroom walls. I’m sure those watching this video back then were unconvinced that it was anything more than an idealistic pipe dream, like much of the technology envisioned by screen-writer, Bob Galefor Back to the Future II.

When I think about predictions for education, such as those outlined in 21 Things That Will Be Obsolete in 2020 (written 5 years ago) I find myself experiencing a mix of excitement, anticipation, and pending disappointment. I mean, how often does what’s predicted truly materialise? Why are we stuck anticipating the future when it’s actually already here?

CC Nati Devalle flickr.com
CC Nati Devalle flickr.com

 Cardboard Hoverboards vs. The Real Thing

There was something real about the cardboard Hoverboards my brother and I used to play on. In our minds, they were flying. They took us anywhere and everywhere we wanted…without even having to leave the backyard. We truly believed we would grow up in a world where everyone had a Hoverboard, and it wasn’t a question of how, but when. Had we not seen the film, explored the possibility of a flying skateboard, could we (and other children) have ever embarked on this imaginative journey, which is now being realised by a kickstarter campaign?

Since the turn of the century (already 15 years ago) there’s been a lot of talk about 21st Century Skills, Classrooms,  Learners, Schools. Yet despite the research and projections, many schools seem to think these are ‘for the future’ and not right now. Why is this? What is the difference between a Hollywood film predicting the future, Apple predicting advancements in tech, and credible educators, researchers and experts predicting the changes in education as whole? According to Shelley Blake-Plock, some of the ’21 obsolete things for 2020′ include the following:

  • Desks: The 21st century does not fit neatly into rows. Neither should your students. Allow the network-based concepts of flow, collaboration, and dynamism help you rearrange your room for authentic 21st century learning.
  • Differentiated Instruction as a sign of a distinguished teacher: The 21st century is customizable. In ten years, the teacher who hasn’t yet figured out how to use tech to personalize learning will be the teacher out of a job. Differentiation won’t make you ‘distinguished’; it’ll just be a natural part of your work.
  • Fear of Wikipedia: Wikipedia is the greatest democratizing force in the world right now. If you are afraid of letting your students peruse it, it’s time you get over yourself.
  • Paper: In ten years’ time, schools will decrease their paper consumption by no less than 90%. And the printing industry and the copier industry and the paper industry itself will either adjust or perish.

While I’m sure the article was meant to provoke educators (and did it ever, if you scroll to the comments section) I couldn’t help reading it, smiling, and thinking…could all this really happen in 5 years time? My gut says no, but the creative cardboard-hoverboard-maker inside me thinks What’s stopping us from trying?

In 2008, Sir Ken Robinson delivered  an infamous lecture on the need for Changes in Education Paradigms . RSA modified this lecture into a conceptual visual-note style film:

If these ideas have been around for 3/4 of a decade, why haven’t more schools changed their focus and embraced these changing paradigms? If experts have been researching, advocating and predicting the need for these changes, why haven’t all schools adopted a standard set of 21st Century Skills, such as those so clearly laid out by ISTE?

My experience in four IB international schools (in four countries) since 2007 has shown me that more than ever schools need resources and support to create a cohesive program for digital citizenship education, throughout the school. The ISTE standards already offer this, and are a comprehensive collection of outcomes schools can adopt. These “are the standards for learning, teaching and leading in the digital age and are widely recognized and adopted worldwide. The family of ISTE Standards work together to transform education” (ISTEMost impressively, they support development for all levels of an educational institution, not just for students but for all stake-holders in a child’s education…including teachers, coaches and administrators.

Just look at ISTEs Standards for school leadership:

  • Visionary LeadershipEducational Administrators inspire and lead
    development and implementation of a shared
    vision for comprehensive integration of technology
    to promote excellence and support transformation
    throughout the organization.
  • Digital Age Learning Culture: Educational Administrators create, promote, and sustain a dynamic, digital-age learning culture
    that provides a rigorous, relevant, and engaging
    education for all students.
  • Excellence in Professional Practice: Educational Administrators promote an environment of professional learning and
    innovation that empowers educators to enhance
    student learning through the infusion of
    contemporary technologies and digital resources.
  • Systemic Improvement: Educational Administrators provide digital age
    leadership and management to continuously
    improve the organization through the effective
    use of information and technology resources. 
  • Digital Citizenship: Educational Administrators model and facilitate
    understanding of social, ethical and legal issues
    and responsibilities related to an evolving digital
    culture

How many more years of 21st Century research, projections, lectures until society as a whole demand these expectations of a school community and leadership team? We’re 15 years in already.

While researching links to include in this blog post it was incredibly encouraging to learn about schools that have been embracing these shifting paradigms. International schools like UWCSEA & Shekou International School (who both were winners of 21 Century School-of-the-Year) are paving the way forward both from a technological perspective and overall philosophy for what the future of learning looks like. It’s evident looking at these examples from UWCSEA and SIS  that they value a lot of the ideas outlined in both ISTE and Blake-Plock’s article.

Over 2 years ago, George Couros, wrote a concise post about 8 Things to Look for in Today’s ClassroomIt has since been synthesised as a visual note-taking masterpiece:

george-couros-8-classroom-look-fors

Image by Sylvia Duckworth from Balancing Act

Not one of these principles for a learner-focused classroom mentions technology or devices explicitly. Rather, this visual depicts the very skills practice we could be facilitating through the use of technology.

If I were to link these 8 indicators with tech exemplars it may look something like this:

Voice: Blogs, Join an online network, Twitter, Sign a petition for change

Choice: Multiple platforms/apps for publishing, multiple devices, visual/audio/text creation

Reflection Time: Blogging, ePortfolios, Tell About This App,

Opportunities for Innovation: Documenting learning and creating a film/stop-motion to show the process; turning a simple retell/summary into something innovative 

Critical Thinkers: Comment on blogs/articles; create an opinion-based multimedia piece in response to something students learnt/read/watched

Problem Solvers: Student tech ambassadors, helping with trouble-shooting; Students have ‘dabble time’ with a new app and learn how to use it without any direct guidance

Self-Assessment: Students look at exemplars and establish criteria for a multi-media eBook; Create criteria for blog posts & commenting; Peer-peer feedback;

Connected Learning: Using Twitter as a way to connect with other schools & students; sharing learning via blogs; joining collaborative projects like #ifyoulearnedhere

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Cardboard Prototypes Are Better Than NO Prototype

So what is it about education that makes the majority so hesitant to move beyond what we all grew up with? Are we getting ahead of ourselves and anticipating a future in education that only exists somewhere like Universal Studios? Will all schools ever fully embrace the need to change or only those willing to build a model from cardboard scraps first?

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I think the real change in education lies with the individuals who follow through with the projected ideas. The ones who jump at the opportunity to try out the weird, new gadgets, connect with other schools & teachers, and take risks in their own classrooms. While we wait for the decision-makers to adopt comprehensive standards like ISTE, for the self-proclaimed tech-dinosaurs to pick up an iPad and dabble, nothing is happening but the passing of time. The fast approach of the future. So, while we wait, there really is nothing stopping you or me from implementing these principles into practice. We can take ownership of our current learning spaces and ~ through inspiration, trial and error ~ create a ‘rough draft’ (or cardboard cut-out) of what it could look like one day in all classrooms globally. Taking advantage of professional learning networks like Coetail and Twitter empowers all of us to maintain the idealistic standards for a digitally innovative classroom, even if it seems far-fetched at the moment. Seeking out opportunities for connecting and collaborating with schools and teachers who are already implementing 21st Century ideals, even if our immediate community hasn’t fully adopted them, brings our classroom and the education paradigm one step closer to it’s next shift. For how can anyone truly envision the change without seeing it first as a prototype?

Twitter & Blogging : Happily Married

“You can’t have one without the other…” Frank Sinatra Love & Marriage

The Courting Phase: Getting to know each other

I remember the moment I realised the important…no…crucial relationship between Twitter and blogging. It was waaaay back…in 2012. I’d recently started a job at a new school in Indonesia that fostered a culture of blogging, yet I had no idea what this culture looked like or its purpose. We’d had valuable workshops to support our learning but I lacked understanding in the role of blogging. Connectivism wasn’t even in my vocabulary yet.

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I did what I thought I should for my first blog post: I documented the learning, posted some photos, added some captions, a few paragraphs…and waited. After a few days of dead silence, I thought to myself, What does an educator have to do to get noticed?

[Enter: Twitter]

I’d heard about Twitter, had been signed up for a year already at that point, but didn’t have the courage to actually create my own tweets (I’d merely dabbled in a re-tweet or two). After sharing my first post with my partner (and then Tech Coach) Tricia Friedman, she encouraged me to tweet my blog using a few relevant hashtags #pypchat #ibpyp and #ellchat.

What happened next changed my relationship with social media forever.

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My interpretation of how twitter and blogging nurture each other. Image from a PD I delivered in Nov 2013


Dinner for 2: Sparks Fly

Shortly after Tweeting my blog post, my eye caught a related article under #pypchat. I realised immediately it would be a perfect connection for our Unit of Inquiry. And so the dance began. I retweeted the post and followed the Tweeter. The Tweeter followed me in return, and favourited my post. Finally, I was connecting, and finally a relationship was forming. I had an audience to share my lesson ideas with and a community to learn from. Suddenly I was blogging like crazy! I documented as many lessons and activities as I could using my iPhone, then took time after school to reflect on the lessons on my blog. It was as much for my own professional development as it was to share the great things my G5 EAL students were doing.

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Evolution of my blogs over past 2.5 years

Once the PYP Exhibition hit, I was able to connect with several other PYP educators through twitter and share examples of how we were integrating technology with EAL students who needed support understanding key concepts and vocabulary. My posts even appeared a few times in various paper.li’s which continued to inspire me to craft my posts for a specific audience: PYP educators & tech enthusiasts.

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All that said, the biggest ‘Ah-Ha’ moment for me was when the connections went beyond retweets and sporadic appearances in paper.li’s. It happened when an educator from a school I had no connections with found my blog on twitter and left a comment. We began communicating over Twitter and email, feeding each other with inspiring ideas, articles and connecting our classrooms. Shannon is now the PYP Principal at BISS and although we’ve never met in person, our pedagogy and philosophy on constructivism in the classroom continues to drive our professional relationship through twitter and email.

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Shannon’s first comment on our class blog that detailed our Grade 4 maths inquiry  “How much is 1000?” in Aug 2013.


Sharing the Love

As we embark on our journey through Course 1 of Coetail I’m guessing there are a few Coetailers out there who are exactly where I began my relationship with Blogs & Twitter…that awkward first date. I guess my advice would be similar to anyone starting a new relationship…Don’t let first impressions turn you off. Yes I felt vulnerable writing to a global audience, and I stuttered and bumbled along  (still do) with a few awkward silences mixed in. But the reflective practice of blogging does in fact address higher order thinking skills all the way up to Analysing & Evaluation…and in fact even Creation itself (depending on the quality and content included in the post).

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This chart taken from Public Schools of North Carolina shows how Blogging allows students to operate at the top level of higher-order thinking skills.

We recently had the privilege of hosting Jeff Utecht at my current school in Switzerland and his Keynote presentations addressed the conflicting message of the traditional Revised Bloom’s Taxonomy diagram. His related blog post from Nov 2012 further unpacks this and he presents an reversed representation of Bloom’s Taxonomy where Creativity is at the bottom, thus illustrating that the most amount of time should be spent in that phase of higher order thinking. During his Keynote last week at our school, he showed us a third diagram, which actually inverses the triangle so it both visually represents ascending up through the phases of higher-order thinking skills, and accurately represents how much time should be spent in each phase. I scoured the internet and google images looking for an accurate model but have been unsuccessful. Thus, I’ve re-created the image Jeff showed us and give him full credit for this idea, as I’ve simply replicated what he showed us:

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Getting Comfortable and Settling into Relationship Norms

Now that I’ve been blogging and tweeting for over 2 years, I couldn’t think of any other way of teaching and learning. Twitter & Blogging have exponentially expanded my PLN and literally changed my life and the way I teach. Now that this dynamic is obvious to me, the real challenge is sharing this knowledge with other educators and, more importantly, students. Returning to the idea of Prosumers (Reach p.2-6), it’s essential that we model and facilitate an atmosphere of connectivism both in schools and in our classrooms.  I really needed to dive into blogging myself to understand the benefits professionally before I could get my students on board with the idea. As I mentioned earlier, my previous school had a blogging culture, but only a small percent truly understood the opportunities blogs provided. For many teachers, blogs were considered a useful platform for documenting learning, creating a bank of resources and connecting within the classroom, but the real magic happened once teachers took risks left themselves vulnerable for the world to get a peek into their classroom.

My grade 4 students learned a lot from their connections online through their student blogs and as a classroom teacher I relied on twitter connections to collaborate with other schools. One successful connection we had for a time was a Grade 5 Teacher at ZIS. This teacher had a fantastic class blog (no longer available) and presented open-ended math problems for any student to solve. My students really enjoyed the opportunity to participate in another class’ learning environment and it motivated them to write to a specific audience.

In my current role as Tech Integration Coach, I am constantly seeking those willing to push beyond their comfort zones. Blogging and Twitter are the pair I rely on to get teachers engaged in digital PLN’s. This article on Connected Educators emphasised the importance of bringing ideas to teachers, and focusing on those who want to sandbox and grow ideas into best practice. Hopefully, with a little time and courage, more educators will reap the benefits of this special marriage between Twitter & Blogs.

Ultimately, I think Diana Ross says it best: It’s a game of give and take…

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xlVxEAUqWU0[/youtube]

Becoming e-Literate with new literacies

Screen Shot 2015-02-05 at 15.35.43Photo: A grade 1 student types a title for her first Easy Blogger Jr post on her class blog. (J.Sutherland 2014)

Q: Is she practicing literacy, digital literacy, network literacy skills….Or all three?


New Media & 21st Century Literacy

What can teachers and schools do to properly integrate new media into taught curriculums? Should digital literacy skills be linked with existing literacy outcomes, or should they be taught separately?  Is it necessary to connect and network in order to practice digital citizenship? These are just a few of the tensions I have after the beginning chapters of Jeff Utecht’s Reach.

According to Utecht there is a definite but slight difference between digital and network literacies. In short he summarised it as: Networked Literacy is about understanding connections.(Reach p 30).

I love the succinctness of this, but I’m left feeling more baffled than ever before. This was actually the first time I’d ever heard of the term ‘network literacy’. Up until now, I’ve always grouped so-called ‘network literacy’ skills under the umbrella term of ‘digital literacy’, or ‘digital citizenship’. Now I see that the two (or three) terms might need to be taught, practiced and assessed separately.

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Photo: Grade 4 students learning about Creative Commons Search for their collaborative eBook on Google Slides. Network, Digital or Both? (J.Sutherland 2014)

Thankfully, contrary to 5 years ago when Reach was published, this term has now been defined by several sources. Wikipedia has defined Network Literacy as:...the basic knowledge and skills required for citizens to participate in the networked society. (Wikipedia)

To me, this seems a very general definition that still overlaps with definitions of digital literacy, for example Cornell University defines it as:…the ability to find, evaluate, utilize, share, and create content using information technologies and the Internet. (Cornell U)

I appreciated how Terry Heick of Te@chThought recognised this overlap and addressed it in his blog post whereby he further defined Digital Literacy as:…the ability to interpret and design nuanced communication across fluid digital forms (TeachThought)

Between these 3 related, yet separate definitions, my head is spinning. While recognised, online definitions provide subtle clarity, perhaps the greatest tension for me is: What does this look like in every day classrooms…and how should we modify existing literacy curriculums?


Theory vs. Practice

If, according to Yancey (Reach p. 28) we have “moved beyond a pyramid-like, sequential model of literacy development”, then how exactly do curriculums need to change in order to ensure all elements of network and digital literacy are modelled and practiced in todays classrooms? Utecht’s related post about The Age of Composition explores these evolving ideas around network literacy. This post raised important points about  the ‘backwards’ nature of writing in today’s world:

We need to start by looking at how writing has changed in our daily lives. Where do we go to read, how do we write, what do we write, and who do we write to? Once we know this we can build a model that meets the needs of how to teach writing. (TheThinkingStick)

As both a classroom teacher and technology coach I identify with these shifting priorities in writing. The Done Manifesto is an excellent example of the value of putting ideas first, and perfection second. As a society, we are beginning to value creativity, spontaneity and personal voice over regimented standards and predictable writing patterns. According to an article in The Guardianreaders want more ‘instant gratification’. New norms are being established as new forms of writing reveal themselves; emails, blogs, comments…are defining their unique organisational structure. Could these be taught much the same way traditional text types like reports and persuasive essays are structured? Evaluating changing literacy habits is important and needs to be unpacked by curriculum leaders in schools so that we can implement changes sooner and properly prepare students for the written world of today.


Practicing Digital Citizenship in the Classroom

When I’ve integrated and promoted the use of blogs as a classroom teacher, I’ve relied on my own understanding of digital and network literacy and created links with the school’s literacy standards. While this never felt like an efficient or effective way to bridge the gap between digital literacies and school outcomes, I felt it was necessary to ensure my students left Grade 4 more digitally literate than when they started. I wonder how many other classroom teachers feel this way?

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Photo: Fatimah’s blog receives comments from other G4s. Publishing to the blog and giving feedback were common practices in our classroom. Is this evidence of addressing network and digital literacy skills? (J.Sutherland 2013)

 From my experience, the best way to expose students to necessary digital and network literacy skills is to have them experience and practice them first hand. In my G4 classroom, students were responsible for keeping track of posts and assignments on our class blog and each student created their own publishing space through their own student blogs. We often revisited our blog and compared it with other blogs and classes we were following to see where everyone could improve. Throughout the year, we naturally addressed different elements of digital citizenship: from appropriate and valuable commenting, to page layout, to making global connections with other schools, to what kinds of ideas students should share publicly.

At the time, our school had not adopted any specific digital literacy outcomes as listed, for example, on ISTEs Student Standards. Nonetheless, I was able to make several links with the current literacy outcomes which actually addressed existing literacy outcomes in the Reading, Writing and Viewing strands. For example, blogs provided students a new platform for publishing and reading a variety of relevant text types. Comments promoted peer-peer feedback and empowered students to express themselves in writing. Students learned the organisational features of blogs, as well as comments. Design elements were naturally considered and incorporated into different posts.  It was through this digital platform that I realised how rich the blogging experience could be for students as it truly was a transdisciplinary approach to practicing and assessing key literacy skills.


Final Thoughts: COETAIL Week 1 

I anticipated this first post to be easy as I have been keeping my own personal, class and professional blogs for several years now. However, unpacking these new ideas about network vs. digital literacy left me with more questions than answers and I find myself ‘stuck’ for the moment on these tensions.

One point I keep coming back to in Reach is this: If we are to teach our students to become prosumers of information in today’s connected digital world, then we need to understand and become prosumers ourselves. (Reach p.6)

The definitions for digital literacy are continually changing and evolving, and new terms seem to be emerging each year. What can teachers do to keep up with the evolution of literacy, while still helping students achieve expected outcomes? Perhaps getting online ourselves, and learning and changing with our students is the best way to serve them…for now.


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Photo: Grade 1 respond using Easy Blogger Jr. to a Kindergarten class inquiring about ‘how to start blogging‘ (J.Sutherland 2014)