Classroom Connection: Common Craft

Sep 4, 2012 by     No Comments    Posted under: Classroom, Collaborate

So what is the perfect professional development experience? Is it a conference with a fantastic guest speaker, a small working group focusing on a specific topic or a visit to another school?

I have been part of many different professional development experiences but still the most powerful experience I have had is visiting the classrooms of my fellow teachers at the schools I have worked in.

In this series of posts I am going to highlight some of the amazing teaching and learning strategies I have had the chance to be the part of.

cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by niznoz

Classroom Connection 1 – The Research Assignment

From the looks of it this class was completing a pretty standard activity – researching a topic and then presenting their findings. But as I got involved I began to realise it went much deeper.

In this class, students were asked to take on the perspective of a historical figure and prove that a certain theory was correct. They needed to provide evidence that supported their case. To make things more interesting students were given a variety of options of how they would present their findings – essay, comic book, storyboard, “Common Craft” style video or Go Animate animation.

So obviously the students were engaged but this wasn’t what really set this experience apart. Here were the things that I took away:

  • A clear task which was effectively presented and shared with students
  • A thorough explanation of the assessment rubric as the task was introduced (and regular refocusing throughout the assignment)
  • Individual conferencing with students during the assignment to check in with how they were going
  • Accessing support teachers to lend assistance to students.

I really looked forward to working with this class on this assignment because they were actively engaged whilst also having an effective structure of support to help assist them throughout the process.

cc licensed ( BY NC ) flickr photo shared by Marina – Canon broke,no new photos till it’s fixed

Launch Day

Aug 16, 2012 by     No Comments    Posted under: Classroom

Finally the day arrived when we got to launch our new “Digital Connections” course. It has been in the works for so long I was beginning to wonder if it was actually going to work – what would the students think? Well thankfully the reception was fantastic.

I opened up with a short game to help sort them into groups and then we started to unpack what this course was about – developing their technological knowledge, awareness and skills. It seems as if the idea of a passport was concrete enough for students, as they picked up on how things would work very quickly.

With that out of the way the students completed their first activity. I started out getting them all to do them same activity (designing an avatar) so as to ensure they pick up the mechanics of how things will work. The kids really got into the task and by the end of the lesson all had completed it. Phew!

don custion

It seems like this idea might just work. Can’t wait to see how the next few sessions go.

Is This Creativity?

Jul 9, 2012 by     1 Comment     Posted under: Classroom

Creativity is one of the aspects of teaching that I enjoy the most. If I thought about the traditional definitions of “creativity” there would be no way I would include myself in that definition but if you look at it through another lens then I can see why I like it so much. I simply love the challenge of thinking of solutions to challenges. Looking at all aspects of a challenge and coming up with what seem like ridiculous (creative) solutions. These are the things that I look forward to.

The other day when I was reflecting on my year 9 “Digital Connections” course that wave of creativity (or ridiculousness) hit me. Why don’t we just try something totally different next time? What we did this year was good but I am sure it always could be better.

Like all ridiculous ideas you need to have a sound board and luckily I work in a great team and I was able to “nut out” the idea with Ivan (who also teaches the other half of the students in the course).

So what was so ridiculous? Well our course is a non-assessed course based around “digital” issues. We have a lot of flexibility with what we cover but at times we haven’t got all our students won over. Don’t get me wrong they enjoy coming along but at times it has felt a bit forced. So the challenge Ivan and I were facing is how can we offer a course which is engaging, relevant and challenging whilst also ensuring our student’s learning needs are met.

cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by Diego Dalmaso

We discussed Cathy Davidson’s graduate program where students basically lead the course and are fully peer assessed, ISB’s Google Ninja training and a range of instructional approaches. We also looked at integration and curriculum models from ISTE and Common Sense Media. They gave us a huge range of ideas and in the end I think we have settled on something of a hybrid of all of these.

Here is how things stand at the moment:

  • ATLs – IB Approaches to Learning (ATLs) will be the framework we use for our learning experiences
  • Strands – We are designing a range of learning experiences for each strand of the ATLs.
  • Grouping – In class students can work alone, in pairs or in small groups
  • Self Directed – students will have choice over which activities they complete
  • Badges – student will work towards earning badges (based loosely around the Mozilla Badge system). They will need to complete a set number of experiences in order to earn a badge – e.g. after completing 4 experiences from the Communication strand they will receive their “Communicator” badge
  • Assessment – learning experiences are peer assessed against a class developed rubric.
  • Requirements – to earn a badge in a strand the student will need to give a presentation or run a tutorial for the class. They will also need to design an original learning experience for each strand.
We are only at the early stages of planning things out but I think we have a solid framework from which we can make this “ridiculous” idea  a reality. Once again I have been reminded why I enjoy teaching so much – the creativity

cc licensed ( BY NC ND ) flickr photo shared by scottwills


Jun 30, 2012 by     No Comments    Posted under: Classroom

This year was the year that I truly stepped out of my comfort zone. After many years of working in the elementary school I took the jump across to the secondary school. I had always thought it was going to be different but I didn’t realise how different things would be. It has been a great experience and I have been lucky enough to work with a group of amazing educators who have supported me as I found my feet. Here are the biggest highlights of the school year:

Different World

The move to secondary school was driven by a desire to find out what it was really like to work with middle and high school students and teachers. It really been an amazing experience. I have learned so much but still realize that there is so much more to know.

I have worked in primary/elementary schools since leaving university and have developed a pretty sound understanding of how things work – break times, student interaction, concepts taught, professional dialogue and curriculum. When I had thought about how things would be in secondary school I realized things would be different. But it wasn’t till I a made the move that I realized how different things are. This was both a challenging and an inspiring realization. It challenged my preconceived notions about how student’s learn and how schools function.

Things like student groupings, how the 3 IB programmes fit together (PYP-MYP-DP), the DP itself, department structures and collaborating with teachers that teacher multiple year levels (and subjects) have kept me on my toes throughout the year. I have had to rethink how I provide support to both students and teachers. As a ICT department we have playing around with various structures of support and while we haven’t got the perfect blend just yet I think we are getting close.

cc licensed ( BY NC ND ) flickr photo shared by spdorsey

Digital Connections

I love the art of teaching. It has all the elements of life – human interaction, growth, drama and creativity. I was lucky enough to be able to teach a new course for our year 9 students – Digital Connections. Between Ivan and myself we lead this course for all students in the year level.

The aim of this course was to develop the student’s awareness of digital issues whilst also ensuring they had a solid base of digital skills. Being a new course the students we not sure what to expect, the course isn’t graded, but as the year progressed they really got involved in the issues that we addressed. It was those moments when the students were truly engaged by the concepts (e.g. mulitasking & the floods in Thailand) we were addressing which stand out as the highlight of my year.

cc licensed ( BY SA ) flickr photo shared by Sir_Iwan


It never ceases to amaze me the quality of work students can produce. This has especially been the case this year as I have been working with secondary students. The depth of understanding and the creativity they display is amazing. It is a pleasure simply to be part of these experiences – creating tours of cities of the world, finding out how rivers work, investigating the impact of tourism on Thailand and many more. I probably get even more excited when I am not even part of the experience and then see what they students are creating in their own time – some of their work is phenomenal.

When reflecting back on this year I realise that this has probably been one of the most productive years of my career. It was like being a new teacher again – finding out how things work, making connections with a new group of teachers and students, and trying new strategies and techniques to meet the needs of the people that I work with.

cc licensed ( BY NC ND ) flickr photo shared by pierofix

Highlighting Learning

May 24, 2012 by     2 Comments    Posted under: Classroom

“The grass is always greener on the other side” is a phrase which applies to so many things in life. People have an amazing ability to see how things could be. We all have been in this camp at some time in our lives – “If only we had this, then…”

During my career I have had the opportunity to visit and talk to educators from across the globe. During every discussion I see an element (sometimes many) of the place we are talking about which I wish my current workplace would have. But, as I am sure we are all aware, what works in one place doesn’t always work the same way in the next. Every situation, schools in this case, is different and needs a different approach. But there must be some common elements to help create an effective learning environment.

This is something I have been thinking about for a while. It is something that has dominated much of my discussions with my PLN of late (thanks to @becline@jay_priebe@interpidteacher@amichetti & @mscofino for helping me on this journey). I think it is time that I stop looking at the “green grass” and share my thoughts on what common elements schools could have to promote effective learning:

Learning at the Centre

There is broad agreement in education that learning should be at the centre of learning but what does “effective learning” look like? Answering this question is extremely difficult but I think it is a discussion that every school needs to have. Teachers, students, administrators and parents need to come to a common agreement on what effective learning looks like in their school.

In order to ensure the whole school is working towards the same goal, there would need to be a set of overarching concepts which span the whole school (like the IB Learning Profile or Approaches to Learning) but the articulation of what learning looks like at different age levels would be broken down under these statements (sample articulation in the MYP – work in progress).

The process of articulating what effective learning looks like would require the involvement of all stakeholders. Having a common agreement would provide a common language through which we could discuss student learning. The description of what effective learning looks like would form the basis of the culture of the school – prospective teachers and families would gain an understanding of what the school believes, students would be given an insight into how their learning may progress and teachers will have a guide for explicitly guiding students through the process of learning – “learning to learn”.

cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by eliotreeves

Integrated Curriculum

When planning curriculum experiences teachers would use this articulation of “effective learning” to help focus their experiences. These skills would be explicitly taught through all subject areas. The curriculum would be mapped with the use of a curriculum mapping system to help identify the types of experiences being offer to students


The school would provide teachers, students and parents with exemplars of what “effective learning” looks like across the school. These exemplars would be structured around the articulation of “effective learning”. Teachers could uses this bank of exemplars as a guide to help them explicitly teach the concept of “learning to learn”.

cc licensed ( BY SA ) flickr photo shared by lovelihood


Like all initiatives there is a need to see if they are effective. One strategy to do this could be to focus walk-throughs around “effective learning”. A template could be made with which administration and colleagues could use to evaluate learning experiences. The school’s common understanding of what effective learning looks like would form that basis for discussion about professional practice.

Professional Development

Using the information collected from the curriculum mapping system, feedback and evaluation, professional development experiences would be tailored in order address the needs to the individual staff members and the school. This would help ensure that these experiences are focused on improving student learning

cc licensed ( BY NC ND ) flickr photo shared by rachel_titiriga

This is what my “greener grass” looks like. I am lucky to work in a school which is heading in the same direction and it is time I step up and help in the process of guiding us across to these “greener pastures”

The Perfect Blend

May 14, 2012 by     No Comments    Posted under: Classroom

Life is an amazing thing. While many things stay the same, so much of our life is in a constant state of change. For me this is one of the joys of life – seeing things change around me and thinking about how it will affect me. This reality is something that educators have constantly discussed, addressed and experimented with. How can we help support students in this constantly evolving world?

Whilst I have been out of the classroom for a number of years (ICT coach), I like to think I still have a grasp on the range of challenges classroom teachers face. Finding the balance between pastoral care, curriculum demands, classroom administration and constantly evaluating the changes that are occurring around themselves and their students.  It is a juggling act.

In my role as a ICT coach I continually grapple with how to best support students and teachers. I have lost count of the number of strategies and models I have toyed around with in search of the perfect blend of support, dialogue and progress when working with teachers and students. I think I know the ingredients of the recipe but I haven’t found that perfect blend.

Is there a perfect blend? I really don’t know but it doesn’t stop me trying to search for it.

cc licensed ( BY NC ) flickr photo shared by 96dpi

After chatting with Kim Cofino a while back we got talking about this issue. She raised the idea of the “embedded teacher” – sort of like the embed reporter style that journalists have used for decades (pretty sure Jeff Plaman had something to do with this discussion). From the outset I loved the idea – a chance to get my “hands dirty”. The focus of this model wouldn’t be on technology but instead on effective instructional practices and student learning. The embedded teacher would work intensively with a classroom teacher and would take part in all teaching and learning experiences. They would be there to offer an extra pair of hands whilst also be there to discuss classroom and curriculum practice.

With these ideas in my mind I realised that it is time tweak that blend again and see how things go. Here are my ingredients, let’s see if I can get the combination right.

  • Individualized Support – work intensively with individual teachers from a department for approx 4 weeks (2 cycles of our schedule)
  • Individualized Goals – set individual goals with teachers.
  • Class Time – participate in as many classes as possible during this time
  • Professional Dialogue – discuss how things are going in class – student learning, instructional practice, curriculum

I would love to hear what blend you are working on at the moment

cc licensed ( BY NC ND ) flickr photo shared by colin_n

The Power of Images

Nov 29, 2011 by     No Comments    Posted under: Classroom, Communicate

We all know the line “A picture is worth a thousand words” but are all pictures created equal? Are all pictures worth a thousand words or are some worth more than others?

I am a very visual learner and I realised early on the importance of being able to “read” pictures (images). I feel it is a skill that students need to be explicitly taught. I am aware we are all able to gain meaning from images but very few of us have the natural ability to interpret the message of an images. It is something we have to learn.

In one of my classes we were learning about various contagious diseases and as part of this we developed an essential vocabulary list. Instead of asking the student to find the definitions of these words I asked them if they could locate an image which represented what the word meant to them. This was a new challenge for the students. Most of them had never been explicitly taught about how to find and reference images.

To kick things off I gave students a couple of minutes to select a word and find an image that represents the meaning. “Too easy” said most of the student and all of them came back with a picture well within the time limit. But when we looked at the collection of images we realised that a number of students had picked exactly the same image. After a short chat the kids realised that the reason for this is because they all used Google Images. We moved the discussion on to if they knew whether they were allowed to use their picture in a presentation. After some humerous responses we realised that none of us knew if we had “permission”. This lead perfectly to a video I had prepared:

After watching the video we chatted about how we could find Creative Commons licensed work. I gave a short demonstration of how Creative Commons Search and Compfight worked, how to reference photos and told them they needed to develop a presentation with 10 definitions.

As I walked around the room I was amazing at how quickly the students picked up how to find and reference “powerful” images. It was almost a logical step for them. They already knew images were a powerful way to convey meaning, all they were missing was a little extra guidance. Hopefully the students will be able to take some of these skills away and apply them in other areas of their life. Fingers crossed.

Surrounded by Floods

Nov 23, 2011 by     27 Comments    Posted under: Classroom, Communicate, Create

As most of you already know Thailand was hit by serious flooding this year. The flood water inundated cities with up to 3 metres of water and came very close to flooding all of Bangkok – only a small section of the city remained dry. While the area around our school remained dry, our school closed for a number of days and a large section of the school population was directly affected by the flooding.

During this time year 7 students were inquiring into how river systems worked. The events that were taking place around the school provide a great learning opportunity for the students. I was lucky enough to get the chance to work with Teresa Tung and her class for this unit. Here is a brief overview of how the inquiry developed:

The Water is Coming

The floods spread rapidly throughout the country as the water moved towards the sea. Our challenge was to stay up to date with the information. Students realised that the newspapers and their websites were not up dated regularly. So we turned our attention to Twitter and explored the various “hashtags” that were developing. There were two major ones – “thaiflood” (which had tweets in Thai) and “thaifloodeng” (which had tweets in English). Through this research we explored reliability of information, the importance of video and pictures in conveying messages and much more. Following the information really highlighted how quickly the situation was developing and also how many people were affected.

Where Did the Water Come From

After many days of uncertainty about whether our area of Bangkok would flood, the signs started to improve. The school community really rallied together to offer support to those in need – check out a video here. In class discussions started to focus on how this situation developed in the first place. It was time to find out where all the water came from. We decided to look at how rivers worked and chose the Ping River and the Chao Phraya River as the focus for this. We turned to our trusty friend Google Earth and after some playing around built a tour which followed the river from the source to the sea. Whilst watching this we focused on the cities it passed through, the features of the rivers (meanders, tributaries, river mouth, etc) and also the various man made obstructions that affected the flow of the river. I would have to say the Google Earth tour was one of the most powerful uses of technology that I have ever seen. Below is a quick video of the tour – sorry for the low quality. If you would like the Google Earth file just let me know.

Did The Students Get It?

So while the disaster that has struck Thailand provided our students with a range of fantastic resources and learning opportunities, did the students actually pick up an understanding of how rivers work? To see if they did we asked them to develop “In Plain English” style videos of how rivers work. We have already used this style of video (developed by the people at Common Craft) before so the students got into the project very quickly and as you will see below did a fantastic job.

Reflecting on this unit I am so glad that I get to support teachers and students in their inquiries. The technology tools that we used really helped to provide a unique insight into the situation in Thailand and helped students draw a connection between this and the learning they were doing in class. It is times like these I love to be a teacher.

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