Friday, January 29, 2016

Planning for Effective Technology Integration in the PYP

"Our goals can only be reached through a vehicle of a plan, in which we must fervently believe, and upon which we must vigorously act. There is no other route to success." Pablo Picasso
I've always loved exploring the ways in which we can use emerging technologies to support and enhance student learning and as a PYP teacher I was given considerable freedom to develop units in which to embed these technologies. Through reflection, with the students and with our teaching team, we were able to assess which digital tools had the greatest impact on learning and how we might apply them to other areas of the curriculum. The conversations were always about learning - not the technology - and this shared understanding enabled us to transform our classrooms.

So the question now becomes, how do we plan for this type of transformation across our school? We have developed a technology skills continuum using the ideas from ISTE and the IB. We discuss opportunities for authentic technology integration at our collaborative planning meetings. We are well resourced, with students in Years 5 and 6 having 1:1 Chromebooks, in addition to iPads, mobile Chromebook carts and a technology room with laptops and desktop computers. We have robots and Lego, LittleBits and Makey Makeys. And yet, the actual student experience in many classrooms has not changed - I'm afraid we may have fallen into a trap of what Alan November referred to as 'Spray and Pray': "Spray" on the technology and then "Pray" there is better learning.

So, now what?

It was time for a reality check and to look honestly at where we were with technology integration. I know there are fabulous things happening in many classrooms, and while some of them were being reflected in our curriculum maps, there was no way to tell which strategies and practices were having a positive impact on learning. Last year our professional learning focus was about 'stretching' students, thinking about how differentiation can facilitate the development of higher order thinking for all students. What if we could apply some of these strategies to technology integration? That's when I remembered the SAMR model. Dr. Ruben Puentedura developed this model to help educators effectively integrate technology into their teaching and learning. Kathy Schrock's Guide to Everything has many useful links to explore the model further, but this video by Common Sense Media is one of my favourite introductions.

We decided to develop a reflection tool using the SAMR model to help us better understand how technology was currently being used by teachers in all aspects of their practice. We then want to look at how we might be able to make changes to move up the ladder, from enhancement learning experiences to more transformative ones. In this way we can allow for individual teachers to move at a rate that is accessible for them: From Substitution (or no use) to Augmentation, or Augmentation to Modification. By providing a ladder of development, all of our teachers will be able to reflect on their practice and gain from the framework.

My hope is that this will spark some focused conversations during our collaborative planning that go beyond decisions about what apps or devices might be good to use in a certain unit. I'm hoping we dig deeper and look at our pedagogical practice and ask ourselves how are we transforming teaching and learning experience in our technologically rich environment. And more importantly, how can we plan for this to happen in a sustained and reflective practice across our school?

I would love to know how schools are dealing with this issue. Do you use the SAMR model to help? Another framework? Any suggestions would be most appreciated.

Post Script: I found this amazing post by Krista Moroder after I finished writing this...back to the drawing board?

Readings that informed & inspired this post:
Why Schools Must Move Beyond One-to-One Computing, Alan November
Instructional Coaching: Driving Meaningful Tech Integration, Allison Park on Edutopia

Image Credit: Away-Junction-Direction by Peggy_Marco on Pixabay, CC0 Public Domain

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Magical Minecraft

"If we all could see the world through the eyes of a child, we would see the magic in everything." ~ Chee Vai Tang
It was my daughter who first introduced me to Minecraft. I could hear funny crunching sounds and the occasional tinkling of glass coming from her computer and when I looked over to see what she was doing I was struck by her focus and obvious excitement as she worked. I asked her what she was up to and after waiting for her to 'finish just one more thing' she very happily launched into an explanation of Minecraft and a tour of her creation. While I admit I felt a little queasy after the roller coaster ride through her village, I was intrigued by the virtual space and hugely impressed with what she was doing in it. She invited me into her world and we've been playing Minecraft together ever since.

That was four years ago and at the time I was teaching a Grade 4 class in Hong Kong. When I asked my students how many of them knew about Minecraft, the majority of my students chuckled as they informed me that they played 'all the time.' It didn't take long for me to realise that this type of immersive game would be a wonderful learning platform. Our school already had a Minecraft club for older students and so I was most fortunate to have some knowledgeable colleagues to talk to about the possibility of using Minecraft with my students. We created an initial project aligned to a math investigation, which was a great success and this led to further explorations and an action research project about gaming and student engagement for my SUNY Certificate of Educational Technologies course.

I was a total convert. I would have loved to set up a Minecraft world for my class to use throughout the year - a virtual sandbox to explore ideas, collaborate, play, build, solve problems and compliment the work we undertook in our physical classroom. But, instead, I moved (new country, new role - been there, blogged that) and Minecraft took a back seat while I adjusted to my new context.

Then last year I was chatting with one of our new students in Year 3 and quickly learned of his passion for all things Minecraft. He loved that I knew what Minecraft was and it wasn't long before we were sharing stories about our favourite projects. While on playground duty I learned about his experiments with redstone and when he joined our computer club I learned about his server and his current challenges. When I told him about how my class used Minecraft when I was a class teacher he asked why weren't using Minecraft at our school. Hmm...why not indeed!

With the support of our school administrators we were given the green light to introduce MinecraftEdu as a learning tool in our Primary school. The server was installed in December and we had time to introduce it to the teachers before launching it with the students in January of this year. Being an advocate of Minecraft I was a little nervous as I wanted my colleagues to love it as much as I did. Our initial session was a bit flat, and in fact, one of the teachers felt quick ill from the jerky movements on the screen. There did not seem to be much enthusiasm for the project and I'll admit I felt a stab of panic. Then, a few days after the lackluster session with the teachers, one of them agreed to bring her class in to test it out - just to make sure the server was working when we had everyone online at the same time. That was the golden moment - the "Oh - now I get why teachers like Minecraft!"

There was a range of Minecraft expertise in the class, from students who had used it regularly for a couple of years to others who had never played before. We paired the experts with the novices and in a matter of minutes not only were all of the students in the tutorial world, they were using the chat function to ask questions and teach others how to do things in the space. They were collaborating to solve the challenges, laughing and learning - it was fabulous!

We are now well into our unit using Minecraft as an integral part of the learning and all of the participating teachers are keen to see how we can continue to use it. We are just scratching the surface, but I know this is a pebble that has caused ripples. Teachers who have walked by while the Year 4s are working on Minecraft have stopped, just to watch. Some have come back to ask about using it with their students. We will be introducing a Minecraft club soon and our coding club is planning to experiment with programmable turtles.

I'm so glad to have Minecraft as a part of my teaching and learning world again. There are so many new facets to explore - from ComputerCraft and engineering with redstone to survival mode tactics and crafting. I'm looking forward to learning right along with my students and marvel at the magic of Minecraft.

ps - I'll be sharing our Year 4 projects in a future post.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Learning is in the Journey

"You can't wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club." ~ Jack London
On Friday I had an interesting conversation with a group of Year 4 students about New Year's resolutions and they had some relevant statistics to share. They informed me that around 25% of people break their resolutions in the first week. I felt the need to confess that I fell into that category as I had not been able to keep my resolution to write a blog post every day. I had made this promise to myself to get back into the habit of reflecting on my own practice as a teacher. Composing a blog post helps me to sort out my thinking and it's an important part of my learning process. I had hoped that the blogging challenge would help me form the habit of writing on a regular basis - not just when struck with a sense of inspiration. So why did I let it drop after only six days?

When trying to explain why I had not kept my resolution, I realised that the blogging challenge resolution wasn't really meaningful to me. The reason I write is to reflect - I need to have a reason to compose a post. While the prompts were interesting, I was more focused on what was happening at school, such as the Year 4 unit of inquiry that will integrate Minecraft as a virtual learning space. The students helped me to see that I needed to revamp my resolution - it had to have a purpose. If I am writing to reflect, then that is what I should do. I should stop worrying about writing daily superficial posts, and focus on reflecting on what we are trying to accomplish at school.

I am grateful to the folks at TeachThought who created the Reflective Blogging Challenge. It did help me kickstart my stalled blog. And I vow that should I ever find myself in a state of writer's block I will go back to their prompts and pick one - I will not wait for elusive inspiration.

Thank you 4b - next post...Minecraft related!

Image Credit: Writer's Block by Sharon Drummond on Flickr CC-BY-NC-SA 2.0

Monday, January 11, 2016


"In order to be a mentor, and an effective one, one must care." ~ Maya Angelou in this PSA

Day six of the Reflective Blogging Challenge asks us to consider, "What does a good mentor do?" When I think back over my career I realise how fortunate I have been to have so many good mentors to guide me. Back then, I probably wouldn't have used the term mentor, but rather these people were trusted colleagues and many became friends. I think Maya Angelou's quote sums up why they were effective mentors - they cared. 

Teaching is a challenging profession - it is not the type of job you can go to school to 'learn' and then, voila, you are an amazing teacher. Educational theory and understanding how children learn is important, certainly, but the art of teaching is a craft honed over time. I believe that is why the role of a mentor is so important, though what a good mentor might do would probably look different for different people at different points in their career. 

At times a mentor can be that quiet voice of confidence to let you know that you can do it. A person you can trust and turn to when things don't work out as planned. As a teacher's confidence grows a good mentor might be someone to learn with, to encourage us to try different strategies, to take risks. It might be a colleague who shares their practice with you or plans lessons with you, pushing you just a little farther in your thinking. 

I'm sure I could research and discover the qualities of good mentors and develop an argument about why mentorship needs to be an integral part of teacher induction. However, it is day 6 of the challenge, I've just finished my first day back after the break and I am tired! Before calling it a night however I just want to say thank you - to all of my many mentors... you cared.

Learning Spaces

Day 5: Post a picture of your classroom, and describe what you see–and what you don’t see that you’d like to.
Well it's day five of my blogging challenge and I'm about to cheat a little bit. School starts tomorrow and I have a lot to do after a few weeks off, but you don't want my excuses! This prompt is about a topic close to my heart and I've been doing a lot of reflecting about effective learning spaces over the last year. Instead of rushing through a newly written post, I thought I would 'remix' some of my previous thinking about my journey to explore the learning space I share with my students.

A few years ago I was most fortunate to be able to test out some new furniture in my fourth grade classroom. My students and I had spent a good part of the beginning of the year talking about what an ideal classroom might look like and we used this feedback while putting together the order. The most important thing to them was choice - they did not want to have to work in the same place every day and sometimes they wanted to sit at a desk and at other times they did not. Another key piece of advice was to make it easy to change the room around to suit whatever we were doing - sometimes working in groups, sometimes having individual space and at times, performing and presenting. It was a great success - empowering for the students and quite liberating for me as a teacher. Gone were the days of stressing about how 'I' would set up the room. It became a true collaborative endeavour.

Then I moved to a new school, new country and new role. As a technology integrationist, I found I had inherited a somewhat traditional learning space. A computer lab with desks in a U-shape and a Smart board up at the front. As I got to know the space (and the students and teachers) I found it increasingly difficult to work in this environment. Inspired by the Third Teacher and learning more about the Maker Movement I knew something had to change. I was inspired to write this post in March 2015 and create this presentation to share with our organisation's ICT Think Tank.

With a supportive administration and some open-minded colleagues I have been able to make some significant changes to our learning space. Gone is the old u-shape computer lab - in fact, half of the desktops have been removed to allow for more open, flexible use of space. We supplement with Chromebooks, laptops and iPads. We have introduced Family Fridays where students can come and explore the materials and resources we have invested in with their families. Teachers are now beginning to see the space in a new way - no longer a computer room, but a 'creation station' (we're still testing possible names!). We have groups using Makey-Makeys to explore circuits, students programming with Scratch and WeDo Lego and others testing out possibilities with Thymio robots. We are about to embark on a unit of inquiry using Minecraft as a learning space and will be using the more open space to build physical structures. We've made great progress.

I realise though as I write this that I have not done a very good job in taking pictures to document the transition. A new promise to myself. Oh - the original prompt asked for a photo of our classroom - there is one of the old computer lab in the presentation that was shared. I plan to take a new one tomorrow when I get to school and update this post (I'll do a bit of a 'side-by-side' comparison).

As promised...

Saturday, January 09, 2016

The do-over

Day 4: What do you love most about teaching?

There are so many things I love about teaching it's hard to settle on just one aspect. Most certainly a big part of why I love being a teacher lies with the students. It is a privilege to be part of great 'ah-ha' moments in children's lives. How many other jobs afford people the time to look at the world through the eyes of young people who are trying to figure things out and are happy to wonder and delight in experiences that for most adults have become 'meh - been there done that' moments.

I also love the opportunity to work with like-minded people (and okay - perhaps a few not so like minded people) to discuss our practice and explore ways of doing things better - for students and for ourselves. An opportunity to think deeply about how our education system works and why it is the way it is. Question it and explore ways to make it more relevant and appropriate for our students.

But I think the most honest response to why I love teaching is because it is a profession that provides 'do-overs' on a regular basis. There's the obviously new school year every September, but there are also new terms, new units, new months, new weeks. Each and every one asking, just begging you to reflect on what worked, what didn't and what would you like to try again? Do differently? I love that I am always learning and that I'm never certain what a day will hold. And if what I had planned didn't work - that's okay, tomorrow is a new day.

Friday, January 08, 2016

Day 3 of the Blogging Challenge

"We are what we repeatedly do." ~Will Durant in The Story of Philosophy, 1924

Day three of the Reflective Teaching Blogging Challenge asks us to, "discuss one 'observation' area that you would like to improve on for your teacher evaluation.' After giving this some thought, I realised after moving into a single-subject role some of my practices changed and I lost a bit of what I valued when establishing a classroom culture or learning community. I think that this may have been a result of learning how to work effectively with many other teachers, accommodating their needs and how to best support technology integration within their classes.

When I was a class teacher I spent a great deal of time ensuring that our classroom was a democratic, shared learning space. Where individual differences were acknowledged and valued and students were empowered to decide how the space would best meet their learning needs. It was an environment that was flexible and open, one that provided student voice and choice, with clear learning intensions. I would like to get back to that type of a space. Where students can make choices about what's next for their learning journey and how I can best support them to achieve their goals.

I cannot escape the reality of needing to provide support for technology integration for the teachers, but I can be more thoughtful about providing different learning paths to enable their students to acquire the skills and knowledge they need. I can also promote a technologically literate mind-set when working with the different classes. I know that once my badging system is operational, it will be a good tool to help support students' personalised learning options. In the meantime, I think I need to think about how I can promote student voice, encourage choice and model a growth mindset.

Thursday, January 07, 2016

Hmmm - where to start?

It feels good to be lost in the right direction. ~Unknown

Day 2: Write about one piece of technology that you would like to try this year, and why. You might also write about what you’re hoping to see out of this edtech integration.

I'm finding day two to be a bit of a challenge - day two!! Perhaps it is because of my role. I am the technology for learning coordinator (love the acronym - TLC) for the primary section of our school and so technology integration is sort of my thing. One piece of technology? How could I ever choose?

Personally, I love new things - apps, gadgets, devices. I love testing out new technologies to see what they might be able to do for students (and for teachers). If I had my dithers I'd try every new technology that was available for me to try. But the reality is there is only so much time in the day and money in my budget and so my explorations need to remain a little more focused. A better question for me would be how do I decide what to promote for integration?

I suppose the most important guideline for selecting a piece of technology to integrate would be purpose. Why introduce something new? For newness sake? I remember a former principal saying that any decision we made as a school should be based on how it would impact the students' experience at school. That was fifteen years ago - I agreed with her then and feel it still holds true today. Any technology we introduce should be to support and/or enhance teaching and learning. Why else would we make the investment in devices and training?

That being said, I believe all students should have access to the internet and powerful creation tools. Many of these tools are web-based, so I think it's important that all students have access to some sort of device that connects to the internet. I think these devices should be readily available when needed (i.e. 1:1 scenario or BYOD). I want to have access to tools that will allow students to create - make and build in both the virtual and real worlds.

But I ramble... So what piece of technology do I want to try this year. I think I am most keen to develop the digital badge system for the Primary section aligned to our Google Apps and the PYP. I would love to conduct a small action research project to see if personalising learning and using badges has a positive effect on student engagement and digital literacy skills. What will it look like exactly? Not quite sure yet. I've made a start at mapping out the badges I would like to roll out, but will know more once I begin using them with the students. I would love any feedback!

There - day two not as hard as I thought. Happy to be back in the blogging saddle.

Image Credit: Possibilities by Geralt on Pixabay CC-0 Public Domain

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Third Time's the Charm

Fall down seven times, stand up eight.~Japanese Proverb

Another new year and another chance to start again with forming the blogging habit. I think this might be the third year in a row that I have made this promise to myself. Each year I believe I can do it, but it doesn't take long before I realise six months have gone by and I haven't written a word. In this case it's been ten months since posting and I'm not really sure why. I had set time aside in my schedule, though I quickly would give it up and say I was available to avoid the task of composing a post. I had plenty to write about, between exploring ways to use digital badges, introducing coding and WeDo Lego, using Makey-Makeys and Thymio robots with students in addition to some truly inspiring and exciting professional development opportunities I've experienced this past year, finding content was not the problem. So what is it? Why do I always seem to get stuck?

I hate to admit it, but I think it's insecurity. I wouldn't call myself a perfectionist, but I am a rather harsh critic of anything I write. It's just so permanent. I agonise over word choice and struggle to strike a tone that I am comfortable with sharing. Too personal? Too formal? To much slang? To much #edtech jargon? Every time I write an item for the school newsletter I am stressed - I worry about clarity, spelling, grammar, interest, length... and something that should take ten minutes morphs into an hour long ordeal. So I probably shouldn't be surprised that I've managed to put off writing a blog post for 10 months!

So what's changed (this time)? Nothing, really. Just getting up again. Though, each time I fail at this blog I feel I gain a little insight. This time I am going to try and kick start forming the blogging habit with the help of the Reflective Teaching blogging challenge. The name appealed to me ;-) and I know I need some help. So, here goes for Day 1, my hope is after the 30 days I'll no longer need the crutch.

Day 1: My Goals
The original challenge is for the start of the school year, so I am adapting this somewhat to align to my goals for 2016.
So this is it. 2016 is the year I'm going to conquer my writing fears and commit to this blog. No more feeling guilty when students ask me about my latest post or when I talk to teachers about the importance of sharing practices. No more comparing my musings to other educator's blogs. No more excuses. I am going to write to reflect because I know that this is the only way to move forward and become the person I want to be.

Image Credit: Start by JakeandLindsay on Flickr CC-BY-2.0; Goals created with PixTeller