Wait a minute….I can!

I had a meeting today where a colleague in a different grade level, said they needed someone to teach Digital Citizenship. It took me a moment, but then I realized I CAN!!!!

I didn’t know what to expect when I decided to join COETAIL, but I am very happy for the sense of empowerment I feel for having completed it.

Admittedly, COETAIL at times has been frustrating and tedious, but to be sure many things worth doing are not easy. Staying the course, remaining open to learning new things and changing my approaches to my lessons have all enhanced my teaching practice. I now look for ways to engage my students more, and not necessarily always with technology.

I began COETAIL with the idea that I would get better at integrating technology in my class. COETAIL has given me so much more than that. Its empowered me, forced me to take risks, and given me the confidence to say yes I can!

My final project may seem simple for some, but with the young students I have, it seemed a good introduction into how we can use technology in our classroom. My students really enjoyed it, and seeing how engaged and enthused they were, makes me want to find other ways to engage them with technology.

I can safely say that this project is just the beginning, and I am so glad for the sense of empowerment I feel to be able to do more!

Here is one of the videos a group of my students created:

Being Engaging

So, this one was a toughie for me.

I am, on a personal level, scaling back on my social media activities. I have deleted Snapchat and Facebook from my phone and the only social media I consume with any regularity is Instagram. Imagine my consternation when I had to find ways to be more engaging in an effort to build my PLN. I do appreciate the why though, and so I tried to approach it with an open mind.

Enter Facebook. I began by joining a couple of different teacher groups here in Qatar. It quickly became clear that the groups were not necessarily about sharing ideas, but rather as a means for teachers to find jobs in Qatar. I remember thinking this is going to be harder than I thought.

I then remembered that I had a Twitter handle, and thought perhaps that would be a good way to engage with other teachers, and build my PLN. Twitter was also a casualty during my spate of cleaning up my phone. So re-download I did. I must admit to finding Twitter quite daunting. I quickly realized that many of my friends and former colleagues were quite active on Twitter, and maybe they would be a good place to start! So I began by liking and commenting on some of their tweets. 

I was also fortunate enough to attend a weekend workshop with Kath Murdoch. Ms. Murdoch is active on Twitter and one of the things she suggested was to tweet out during the workshop anything we found interesting. So of course I didn’t waste that opportunity to build my PLN!

Another opportunity to engage my PLN came when I was trying to find ways to show my students how climate change is affecting different parts of the world. What better way than to put my PLN to good use! I created a Padlet and Tweeted about it. I had a few teachers respond and our Padlet managed to get some responses from Singapore and Tanzania! (Thank you Diana for the awesome idea!)

There exists on Twitter, a whole community of like minded teachers who are pushing themselves and their students to become more globally minded. I have even seen some of my friends participate in Twitter chats where they engage with other teachers in their region. I am glad that I have resumed using Twitter because it is has opened me up to more opportunities to engage with other like minded teachers beyond the four walls of my school!

Progress Report

We are almost at the end of this final project and my students have been working hard on making their videos for their second unit Sharing the Planet. Indeed, we are editing the videos and polishing them up. Nearing the end of the unit, we began thinking of ideas we wanted to share in our videos. My students began by making mind maps and putting their ideas on paper. This was an important step because it taught them that they had to really focus on what message they wanted to send through their videos. There were a few moments when I had to stop and recalibrate. Our initial idea was to produce 5 different videos on each biome. However, it became clear early on that it would be better if I mixed up my groups to allow for some differentiation and also because I needed to have some stronger students take the lead. This lead us to create two videos with each of my students taking part in the process at different stages.

I am also trying very hard to give them the freedom to be creative and make some mistakes. I would like to be able to look back at the videos and reflect on them as a class. My hope is that we can make more videos and use our reflections to improve on them.

Stay tuned.

Being Flexible

So our motto at school this year is “be flexible”. You see, after a long wait (years!) we have finally moved into our new purpose built school. Well, wait, we have all crammed ourselves into HALF the school while the other half is still being “finished”. This is Qatar after all, and we learn to roll with it.

In any case, to say I have had a rough start to this school year would be an understatement. Our tech integration person has been seconded to another section, leaving us in PYP kind of stranded. This meant that we have had little to no support in terms of technology and indeed we are still waiting for our full complement of iPads. Insert *banging head on wall* right here.

OK, I promise I am done complaining, but man did it feel good to type it all out.

In my 3rd grade classroom, our current unit of study is Sharing the Planet. We are specifically looking at the effects of human choices on different biomes. One of the things that I have taken to heart in my COETAIL journey so far is to help my students become creators of content and not just consumers. To that end, as a class we have decided to make a video showing the effects of pollution and climate change on the biomes that they are each studying about. One of our schools initiatives each spring is a Waste Free Picnic. My students are hoping to show the videos to the whole school as we launch the Waste Free Picnic as part of their Taking Action initiative.

Just as we use a process for writing, we will use storyboarding to help with planning for our videos. This will help my students synthesize their ideas and also collate visuals to include in their videos. We plan on using Adobe Sparkvideo in order to create our videos.

As much as the video itself is important, I also want to emphasize the planning process with my students. We will use graphic organizers to map out our research and also to collect information, which will then help us to create the content needed for our videos.

Course 4 Final Project

How We Express Ourselves is by far one of my favourite units I have taught this year. It is engaging and interesting because my students and I get to learn about different cultures and how they express themselves through the arts. For this unit we learn about dance, visual art and music but we also integrate literature such as fables, folktales and fairytales.

We will use apps such as piccolage in order to document some of our learning during the provocation. We will then look at various collages in order to find out what students are interested in and want to know more about.

For the first time we will be using Storyjumper in order to collaborate on a “Qatari” folktale that my students will create. For their summative assessment I will be encouraging my students to either create an iMovie or slideshow using Google Slides in order to show their understanding of how different cultures express themselves through the Arts.



Technology Management

Having previously worked in a school with nary an iPad in sight, I feel bad for somewhat complaining about not having 1:1 devices in my current classroom. To be honest at least once or twice a week I can have access to all 20 iPads, that I share with 7 other teachers.

Karen Kane’s article,  Tips and Tricks for the 1:1 Classroom, has wonderful suggestions for how to use devices in a classroom that is fortunate enough to have a 1:1 ratio. I particularly liked her suggestions for reorganizing classroom space. She suggests, “wide-open spaces and small-group configurations foster movement and creativity in the classroom”. In this, I am limited by the fact that I have a smallish classroom, that I also share with 3 other teachers. So classroom design for me needs to serve the needs of all the teachers who use my room. I do have small group configurations, but I long for a classroom where there are comfy spaces for my students to hang out.

One of the issues we faced this year as a 3rd grade team, was related to the acceptable use of iPads. Students were changing backgrounds and downloading apps that were not sanctioned by the school. While we do manage behaviour in terms of how to hold the iPad, and to treat it carefully, we failed to understand that our little “digital natives” needed more guidance. As the year progressed we  also had to establish expectations regarding acceptable websites and apps. As well, I found myself talking to my students about acceptable use of images and copyright.

If I had 1:1 devices in my classroom I imagine that I would be better at establishing routines. As yet, we use the iPads mostly as consumers and not creators of content. This I think is the major benefit of  a 1:1 classroom. This enables students to work daily and diligently on creating and innovating rather than just gathering data and consuming information. I am led to believe that we will be getting Chromebooks soon, and I look forward to being able to use Google Classroom to become a more paperless classroom and also to have more digital interactions with my students, and also for my students to have more digital interactions with each other.

Nonetheless, any classroom and particularly a 1:1 classroom would greatly benefit from establishing expectations of technology use so that students can get the most benefit from it.

The Future of Education is Guidance

In the brief six years that I have been teaching I can already see how education is evolving. Perhaps it has always been this way. The way I deliver lessons has changed completely, I have moved from being in an environment where I was the “sage on the stage” to one where I am trying my best to be more of a guide. I taught in a school that used an American curriculum, where an immense pressure was put on how well students performed on tests. I am now in a school that is in its nascent stages of PYP, and my expectations are different. I am encouraged to take chances and making mistakes is part of the process. I am learning a new way of teaching, and as such my students are learning in new ways as well. Technology is partly responsible I think, for this paradigm shift in education. The fact is, that there is nothing my students can’t get answers to on the internet.

In his article, 9 Things That Will Shape The Future of Education, Christiaan Henny posits that students will have a significant role in designing their own education. He says, “Maintaining a curriculum that is contemporary, up-to-date and useful is only realistic when professionals as well as ‘youngsters’ are involved”. Henny makes the point that, despite technology allowing for “flipped classrooms”, and independent research, education will always have a place. The form of education will change however and as teachers we need to be adaptable.

In my own classroom, it is imperative to design learning experiences that engage my students, allow for creativity and collaboration and teach them how to solve problems. My role as an educator is no longer as the resource for information, but rather as a guiding force to show them how to become independent thinkers, researchers, creators and innovators.

On Gaming, Flipping and Playing

One line in Aran Levasseur’s article The Power of Play in Learning, really resonated with me. He says so simply, “we don’t have maps for the territory of tomorrow”. Increasingly, we are beginning to realize the importance of “soft skills” such as communication and problem solving. The World Economic Forum recently published an article ranking the countries that are best at preparing students for the jobs of the future. Whatever they may be. According to the WEF, by 2020, creativity will be one of the top 3 skills that workers will need. How do we teach creativity? Perhaps by learning through play. Levasseur goes on to suggest that “Playfulness amplifies our capacity to innovate and to adapt to changing circumstances”. Through play, children make mistakes and must find ways to solve problems creatively. The teacher assumes the role of coach and students learn how to be more self reliant. I am unsure yet how this would look in my classroom, because I tend to assume play with students who are in kindergarten. Designing a lesson that includes play for my students seems incredibly challenging to me.

According to the article Gamification in Education: 4 ways to bring games into your classroom, gamification is the “use of game design and mechanics to enhance non game contexts by increasing participation, engagement, loyalty and competition”. Gamification is something that my students are already somewhat familiar with, given how much they love playing Minecraft and Roblox. I have yet to use these games in my lessons, but they are being used during choice time, and I can see the benefits of the collaborative nature of some of the games. Perhaps the best part of gaming in the classroom is that student engagement is really high. Here, is an incredible opportunity as a teacher, to engage them in something that will also help them become problem solvers, and collaborators.

The final approach to learning in this weeks readings is the idea of the “flipped classroom”. The idea of students learning theory at home through videos, is interesting. In my school this year we had essentially a no homework policy. I wonder if it would have extended to watching videos as well. I have personally used sites like Khan Academy and found them to be very useful for myself as a teacher and I can see how they would be useful for students in upper grades. I know that they are not suitable for my students because the instructional level of the videos is higher. For this approach, I would have to make my own videos for students to view at home. This seems time consuming for something I am not sure they would really watch. Furthermore in an ELL setting, I like to be able to pause when I know that students are not following me, or when I think they need further clarification on new vocabulary or comprehension.

Of the three approaches, I think I am more ready to try Learning through Play. I think I may need to spend more time in the design of my lesson, to be able to see students actually learning how to problem solve or collaborate with one another. However, all three approaches are highly engaging, collaborative, allow for creativity and encourage problem solving.


Project Based Learning

As a 3rd grade teacher in a PYP classroom, it is an inevitability that much of the work in our classroom revolves around a project of some kind. During our last unit of inquiry we inquired into community services and how they are designed to meet peoples needs. More specifically we looked at the different types of community services that people around the world use and need. In the beginning of the unit my students were keen to tell me how services in Qatar have changed since their parents and grandparents were their age. Much has changed since the discovery of oil and as a result Qatar enjoys many services found in other fully developed countries. However, as we soon discovered, many countries have access to services not readily available or simply not found in Qatar.

For their final project my students needed to design a community and anticipate what a future community might need. In order to do this they needed to use 21 c. skills such as collaboration and critical thinking. Working in a group, they asked challenging questions such as what problems might communities living near water have to face? Or how is our community going to tackle the problem of waste management?

This weeks readings got me thinking of this particular unit. I think that although it was largely a project based unit, we enhanced it by looking at current and potential problems communities face. Unbeknownst to us we incorporated a major feature of CBL (Challenge Based Learning) , which is learning while trying to solve real world challenges. We challenged the students to design a  community to tackle those problems.

Certainly the three approaches to learning, Project Based Learning, Problem Based Learning and Challenge Based learning all have their merits. All approaches require students to delve deeper into their inquiry, collaborate and think critically. While I think that Project Based learning is probably more suitable for my students, who for the moment are showing their understanding by producing an artifacts. I think it is important to incorporate some aspects of PBL (Problem) and CBL in order to further enhance their depth of understanding.

As Suzie Boss so rightly points out, plans can go awry when students get into the picture and as much as I envision a project turning out, I also have to learn to give my students space in which to make their own enhancements, and also make their own mistakes. One thing that I imagine is true for all three approaches is the need for actually spending time teaching skills needed in order to collaborate with others, self management and questioning.  All three approaches have their merit and I think in my 3rd grade classroom it is ok to borrow from each of them to enhance my students learning.

Moving beyond enhancement…

Reflecting on my use of technology in the classroom this year has been a really good and useful exercise. First off, let me say that I am relatively new to the frameworks mentioned in this weeks readings. SAMR, TPACK and the T3 model are newish acronyms in my vocabulary.

The SAMR model developed by Dr. Ruben Puentedura seems to be the one that is easiest to wrap my head around. I also found this really nice video which helped me understand it a bit more:

I would say that the tasks that have involved technology in our classroom are in the enhancement stage of the SAMR model. Many of the tasks that my students have used technology for would be considered substitution. For example, instead of traditional cutting and pasting to make posters for their 3rd grade projects, many of them used apps like Piccollage in order to do pretty much the same thing. This time with cuter fonts and backgrounds.

The primary use of technology in our classroom is for research purposes. This would also fall under substitution since they are simply using the internet instead of researching at the school library.

However, there have been attempts at moving toward augmentation especially using the Seesaw app. At the end of each unit of inquiry my students write a reflection on what they learned throughout the unit. Using Seesaw my students are able to record their reflections using the voice recorder, or even make a video reflection. We have added videos of all their summative assessments, and some of the students have chosen to comment on each others work and “like” them as well. Many of them have reflected on their own work from the beginning of the year.

This year we used Google tools such as Slides in order to present some of our work, as well as Google Chrome for research purposes. However as I think about how to move toward redefinition, I am thinking of ways my students can use Google groups in order to collaborate with each other and perhaps even students around the world.

The SAMR model to me is a good way for me to assess where I am now in terms of my own technology integration, and where I can still grow. It is an easy to understand model and I think can work in any discipline.