Reflecting on my PLN

In many ways, contribution to, cultivation and use of a Personal Learning Network (PLN)  has become so ingrained in my ongoing reading habits and professional development throughout the COETAIL program that I don’t know how much detail to go into or where to begin. I think will try to discuss my engagement in the online educational universe by focusing on my contributions to it, how I used tools to steer information I want to myself, and positive interactions I have had within this professional realm.



I see my main contributions to my PLN in the form of my three blogs:

Mr. Jon’s ISPP EAL Blog

Tuning in Chaos

The Language Acquisition Depot


Through these blogs I have also had at times sustained interactions through comments. In addition I have commented on the blogs of others in my COETAIL and SPELTAC courses.


I have also added to a number of Google+ communities. For example, I created a community that I shared with members of my school community about approaches to spelling instruction. It has however failed to attract too much discussion, despite having 11 members.

When I was granted funding to attend the 2017 EARCOS Teachers’ Conference, I also added information about the conference and my blog posts regarding it to our ISPP Staff – Whole School Exchange Google + Community.



My use of Twitter has increased tremendously over the course of my COETAIL experience. When I began the course back in February 2016, I had made a total of about ten Tweets, mostly concerning the band that I was performing in. I had used Twitter to market our events.

A year later, I have made about 360 Tweets, most of which share information about an interesting article I have read, interesting reTweets from people I follow, tech tips, recommendations about podcasts, or information that I personally have to share.

I have also tried to Tweet about topics that I know my colleagues would be interested in. For example, when I attended the EARCOS conference, I made daily Tweets about the courses I attended and the keynote speakers.

I have also gained 183 followers and am following 213 people. Many of these people are people I have encountered as a result of my COETAIL experience, but I have made contact with others through a variety of manners.



To get the most out of Twitter, I use Tweetdeck. I have organised my Twitter feed into the following columns: Home (for all Tweets), COETAIL Online 6 (for all members of my Cohort 6), (for all COETAIL facilitators and students), Likes (to find easily Tweets that I have liked – for easy access and remembrance), Cambodian News (to keep track of frequently volatile and under-reported Cambodian current events), Followers (to keep track of what people who follow me Tweet), and Messages (to keep track of direct messages between me and other Tweeters). In my time off this summer, I want to refine this list and create a few more columns perhaps based around more exact lists. For example, I would like to create a list of Tweeters I follow who discuss Virtual Reality, as this an area of burgeoning interest for me. I would also like to create lists and columns that deal in particular with how to maximise use of Google Apps for Education.


I have also cultivated my online interests using netvibes. I have diversified much more in this app where I have created dashboards for COETAIL blogs AND COETAIL comments (this helped me make sure to give even coverage to my reading and responding to different bloggers), Minecraft related blogs, Music and Ed Tech blogs, SPELTAC blogs and comments, and all my favourite podcasts.

I plan to spend some time this summer culling some of the content from my Netvibes (as I am constantly requested to do Spring cleaning by the app itself). I will cut out the content sources that do not post regularly.

Jeff Utecht’s Nuzzle Newsletter

Another useful tool I have found for getting the kind of content I am interested in passed to me is Jeff Utecht’s Nuzzle Newsletter. This newsletter, and its advice to “Take time to read one article a day and you’ll be a better teacher because of it,” has really helped me as the amount of work due this year has been ratcheted up. Subscribing to the newsletter and having it appear in my email has helped me at least read one or two articles that directly affect my teaching by giving me ideas and new outlooks.


At this point I have had so many positive interactions as a result of my PLN. However, by and far my most extensive collaborations with other teachers have involved work I have done with Ms.Tara Barth.  Although I have detailed the first time we and our classes collaborated in this blog post, our communication first started on Twitter.

As a result of all these Twitter chats, we worked together on a series of shared Voicethreads related to some online communities our first graders were inquiring into.

This year Tara and I also had “Mystery Skype” sessions using that platform between our classes in Cambodia and Columbia.

In the future I want to continue to explore the possibility of connecting with other educators over Skype in the Classroom for further collaborations.

I also want to try and interact more within and beyond my PLNs. I focused on lurking and contributing during this year and a half of my COETAIL learning, but I need to get more personalised and reach out to many of the experts I have been learning from.

COETAIL Cohort 6, the Final Project…

Well here we are. The Course 5 journey has been long, exhausting and informative.

It started out with me designing this unit plan that would add some technology to a unit focusing on how the world works in terms of simple machines.

The Plan

In this introductory post about my project I had outlined where I planned to try to navigate a few heady concepts with my Grade 2 mostly English Language Learner students.

Here is a quick summary of what my objectives for learning were (which were actually quite scaled back from some previously planned coding objectives):

  1. Students would gain more insight into how to create, cultivate, and add to a personal learning network;
  2. Students would make individual practical choices about which types of technology/apps to use for various purposes;
  3. Students would understand and make use of the fact that computers and apps on iPads help us engage in valuable simulations of real world forces and how these relate to simple and complex machines;
  4. Students, in discussing simulations, would also build up their use of academic vocabulary. I hoped that simulations would help students discuss variables using explicit vocabulary. For example, I wanted students to use a simulation of a catapult and describe how moving the <fulcrum> <further / nearer> to the <load> would affect the <distance> the load would move.

How it all went…

What I quickly noticed while trying to teach this unit was that I was just not going to have as much time and access to my students (almost a third of the Grade 2 year group who had placed into our school’s EAL program) as I needed with them to meet all my objectives.

Unfortunately what this meant for my teaching was that I was not going to be able to offer students many opportunities to choose appropriate tech tools for a variety of tasks (beyond an initial decision on whether to use Google Web Search, Google Translate, or Google Images search when trying to understand unit vocabulary). As it turned out, I had to teach students some aspects of Google Slides, Google Forms, Tinybop Simple Machines, and Padlet, as they were learning to use these apps for the first time. Therefore, students did not make choices about tech use beyond whether to create videos or type responses on Padlets. We did discuss in end of unit interviews which apps they felt helped them learn more and why, but I did compel them to use all of the tools I set out to introduce.

I also did not have much of a chance to help students cultivate a personal learning network beyond searching my blog for curated research links and class products. I tried to set up some links between other schools who might be studying simple machines, but to no avail.

Students did on the other hand get a lot more experience with contributing to information online and collaborating with others on digital learning products. Students all added to class Padlets about simple machines. Students filled out Google Forms and then reviewed data contributed by students in other classes. Students created Google Slides presentations, some with videos, that showed the process of their scientific explorations of simple machines.

Students did meet the other objectives on the whole, however. Students realised the utility of computer simulations as can be seen in some of the end of unit interviews in my video. They understood how computer simulations allowed us to use materials that might be impossible to use in real life, allowed us to be more creative, and allowed us to perform a greater number of tests.

In addition, use of computer simulations very much prompted students to push their use of language, especially when simulations used labels to reinforce vocabulary that I taught them as an EAL / Language Acquisition teacher.

The Final Project Video

The main challenge of this course was the creation of my video. I wrote to Ben Sheridan, our Cohort facilitator, earlier this month that I was obsessed with this movie. I have to say that the process of documenting, conceiving, scripting, storyboarding, filming, editing, soundtrack recording, and compressing a movie, not to mention learning about various technology you need to do this, was engrossing to say the least.

First Steps…

The first step of making my video involved checking out a tripod and what I thought would be a great camera to use because various teachers had mentioned how good the microphone was from my school’s library. (The camera later turned out to be a bit obsolete when compared to the HD video recording capability of my iPad and iPhone but had much better optical zoom capability – which I have to add I did not really use as I did not have a film person.) I then began to blanket record every teaching session that had a clear connection to the unit. Most of this footage was unused in my film, but was still great to see in order to process how the teaching and learning went.

The Script…

After the unit finished in early April, I began to view the footage to help myself think of a clear narrative for the film. I decided to go with a sequential narrative based on the timeline of planning and teaching the unit. I then drafted a script in written form while sitting at many coffee shops in my blue project notebook. I used the dictation feature of my Mac to turn this into text one morning, finding that the script ran to almost eight pages. I copied this into an invaluable app called Teleprompter Lite and read it out as it scrolled. Realising after nearly twenty minutes of reading that I had way too much detail in the script, I set about making drastic cuts consciously thinking about the differences between what sounds good when reading text, versus what sounds good when that text is spoken. What I found is that I write in a very different way from how I speak. The script sounded way too technical and expository. I began to really think how I could represent a lot of my ideas in visual form.

The Storyboard

Here the fun began. I began to think how to make my rather dry script into a video that was at least visually interesting in some way. I began to draft my storyboard with ideas for shots at a local coffee shop. (Big shout out to the friendly folk at Deja Cafe, Phnom Penh.)


After conceiving about 50 shots and shot sequences, I began the long work of filming, creating animations, recording an audio soundtrack, and editing my existing footage using a Samson CO1U Pro mic, Garageband, and iMovie. I did all of this in my music studio that I removed a keyboard from. I knew early on that in order to have the animations I wanted, I would need a green screen of some sort. I walked around the garment/textile district that is Orrussey Market in Phnom Penh, settling on a metal clothes stand up hanger, some green plastic sheeting, and green felt. I hoped these materials would allow me to achieve decent green screen effects. (In the end…they were not really enough; I also need to purchase real lighting at some point to counteract the darkness that is my long apartment.) Realising finally that the best green screen I could create would be a green felt one meter wide strip hanging from the curtain rod in my studio, I set about setting up camera, tripod, teleprompter, and microphone alongside my computer in the studio.

The green felt screen is directly behind the small stool to the left.
The green felt screen is directly behind the small stool to the left. The computer is out in the “other” office. Not much manoeuvre room for the cameraman.

After filming and recording myself a few times going through the script, each time willing myself to be more of an actor, I had acceptable footage and a soundtrack with minimal errors in reading from the teleprompter.


I then began the three week long process of editing video and photographic footage I had shot in my classes, finding images and video that were free to reuse online, and creating animated titles and clips that I could use for green screen sequences. I spent days shaving seconds off of clips, making sure that audio tracks were free from pops, and creating amateurish, but workable animations using Explain Everything and iMovie.

The result is below. Please enjoy and thank you for any feedback you can offer.

Insights on Mathematical Writing at EARCOS Teacher’s Conference 2017


Blackboard Classroom Symbols Lesson Pie Chart Math
Blackboard Classroom Symbols Lesson Pie Chart Math From Maxpixel CC0 1.0

Writing and Common Core: a Math Made in Heaven?

There are some people who might still argue that mathematics has little to do with writing and that both manners of thinking should be taught as separate disciplines.

These people are most likely not mathematics teachers teaching in schools that follow the Common Core Standards for math. (Based on this article by a physicist-father of two young Common Core math learners/writers, they may not be scientists in the fields that require the most amount of math understanding either.)

A person has only to see the types of word problems that grade 2 students are learning to understand and solve to realise a distinct connection between math and language learning. There is therefore a need to teach math IN CONJUNCTION with language, keeping in mind the functions language must serve in mathematical discourse. For example, in order to effectively EXPLAIN their thinking when discussing math, students need to use cognitive academic language to infer, describe cause and effect, evaluate, and sequence.

As language teachers, a job that especially teachers in international schools must embrace, we try to integrate speaking, listening, reading, writing and presenting as much as possible. We believe that language develops best when these strands are taught in tandem. As such, it is logical that if we want students to skilfully use language to explain their mathematical thinking, they need to have opportunities to write in the course of studying mathematics as well.

Writing in Mathematics: It Can Be Done! at EARCOS Teacher’s Conference 2017

I had the good fortune to attend a session at the EARCOS Teacher’s Conference this year entitled “Writing in Mathematics: It Can Be Done!” led by two proponents of teaching students to learn and write for math, Jessica Balli and Dr. Patrick Callahan of Callahan Consulting, an organisation dedicated to helping schools make solid bridges between math and communication.


The session leaders began with some surprising information about student perceptions of why we as teachers ask them to show and explain their math work; most students in interviews confessed that they believed teachers wanted them to prove they had not simply copied someone else’s answers.

Next they threw some shocking Common Core statistics out:

  • Only 37% of students produce written explanations of math work that show grade level understandings (based on exemplars provided with various CC based scope and sequences like New York Engage);
  • By 8th Grade, in one study, fewer than 4% of students could write a grade level mathematical explanation of an algebraic problem.

Writing for Mathematics as a Genre of Writing

We then began to discuss mathematical writing as a genre unto itself, which immediately perked my attention as I have been thinking along these lines for a few months now since I have begun teaching grade 2 EAL students strategies for comprehending math word problems. Colleagues and I have been developing lessons in which students learn to visualise both the information offered by word problems AND the question(s) they ask us to answer. Questions we have raised in this development are:

  • Why do we present especially younger students with levelled texts during reading instruction, but then expect students to decode and comprehend math word problems that are usually written at a higher level? It seems in order for students to understand math word problems, we have to intensify or modify our reading instruction.
  • Why do we teach students to draw a picture or diagram as a problem solving strategy without making explicit links to the reading comprehension strategy of visualisation?
  • How are pictures that students draw to help them solve a problem different from pictures they might draw to show they understand the information, numerical and otherwise, presented in the problem and the essential question the problem begs us to answer?

Ms. Balli laid out that math writing as a genre should include features and characteristics such as:

  1. precision of language and definitions;
  2. clarity and logic;
  3. the statement of assumptions;
  4. vivid description of quantities;
  5. accurate and logical comparisons.

In hearing this, I thought of how these features combine many language purposes: identifying, sequencing, comparing, explaining, hypothesizing, inquiry/seeking information (when it comes to understanding the question part of the problem), analyzing, and evaluating. One school district in the USA has even described an academic language function for problem solving (p.12) that incorporates many of these language functions.

In order to effectively describe math thinking in written form, students need to be aware of these language functions and they need have practiced listening, speaking, and writing for these purposes. As I listened to Ms. Balli and Dr. Callahan, it seemed to me that I had to keep this goal in mind as I planned instruction for my grade 1 and 2 EAL students. I felt that students also needed to be made aware of how to tie all these language purposes together when writing for mathematics.

Big job…but it is good to see the big picture.

A realisation hit me…at least some part of math class needs to look more like writing class (or vice versa)!

Practical Teaching and Learning Strategies for Mathematical Writing

Ms. Balli then led us through a series of activities she uses in her classes to encourage the development of mathematical writing through analysis, writing about, and discussing of Bongard problems.

(A Bongard problem (examples here) is a type of puzzle, named after the inventor of such puzzles – M.M. Bongard, in which the inquirer tries to identify rules that three pairs of figures on the left side of the puzzle follow by comparing them with three pairs of figures on the right side of the puzzle that do not follow the rule.)

Balli’s students analyze Bongard problems using a template she has devised and write out solutions to them in which thinking is described. She stresses that:

  • these Bongard puzzles do not need to explicitly connect to content being studied in math (remember the objective is for students to gain proficiency with writing about mathematical thinking);
  • the puzzle element of these problems are engaging for students;
  • writing about such problems, which may have more than one solution, is a low stakes activity for her students, a fact that she highlights throughout her lessons. Students have opportunities to go back and revise initial hypotheses about solutions using the template, much as they would revise any piece of writing to increase clarity and logic. This encourages students to be risk-takers in their writing and explanations. She also allows for variations in thinking and teaches students to tolerate and appreciate ideas that are different from their own.

(For more on using Bongard problems to teach math reasoning and writing, check out Jessica Balli’s blog!)

Beyond Bongard…

While Bongard problems may provide these classes with a low stakes introduction and practice of mathematical writing, Balli also has students solve and write about content based problems as well using another template she created that is meant to be used as part of a peer feedback exercise. You can see an example of problems on this template here. Again, in this situation, a problem is posed. Students write about their reasoning behind their solution. Students then share these written solutions with peers, who offer feedback based on a set of discussed criteria and using key sentence frames.

Guidelines for good feedback on math writing include:

  • Be specific;
  • Avoid opinions;
  • Think about what feedback you would find helpful;
  • Giving feedback does not equal being mean;
  • Good feedback pushes our peers to clarify their logic, language, and meaning;
  • Giving good feedback takes practice.

Sentence frames that Balli encourages students to use while writing peer feedback include:

  • I don’t understand…
  • How did you know _____ ?
  • I agree with ______ but…
  • What if you tried…?

Then, as a final step, students use this feedback to revise their initial written reflections.

Final Thoughts

I loved in this session how Callahan and Balli really helped clarify the connection between writing and mathematics. In particular, I think it is useful for teachers to understand that just as good writing instruction involves drafting, peer editing/reviewing, feedback and revision, so should writing instruction in terms of learning to express mathematical understanding. If the purpose of expository writing is to express understanding about a topic clearly, so is the purpose of mathematical writing to express understanding of math concepts and information found in problems and solutions in a way that allows a reader to understand the writer’s train of thought.

The main challenge, like usual, is where to fit everything in? It seems that sometimes the best way, as is often the case, is through integrating and blurring the lines between subjects. Again, we can devote some of our writing time to math writing. We can devote some of our math time to writing.

Lastly, having already discussed Bongard problems with lower Elementary teachers, I think that these problems may be slightly advanced to begin working on with younger students. Perhaps simple math analogies such as can be found in this series might be more appropriate to have students express their understanding through writing.


Google Virtual Reality Academy at EARCOS 2017 (Part 2 – Google Expeditions)

Sketchnotes of Google Virtual Reality Academy with Jay Atwood of EdTechTeam.

This is part 2 of a two part blog entry about my foray into the Google Virtual Reality Academy with Jay Atwood of the EdTechTeam at the EARCOS 2017 Teacher’s Conference here in Kota Kinabalu, Borneo, East Malaysia.

In part 1, I discussed how to assemble a Google Cardboard VR viewer and my initial exploration of the app necessary to use it. In this part, I will discuss how Google Expeditions works with the Google Cardboard apparatus. I’m also going to give my basic conclusions about what I loved about this app, potential places for development, possible ways to use the technology in classrooms now, and questions I have!

Google Expeditions – The Set Up

Using the Google Expeditions app, teachers and students can go on a virtual journey of visual discovery. In our VR session, in which Jay was the leader, we saw both aspects of various “Expeditions” currently available on the app: a guide (teacher) view and an explorer (student) view (although there is no reason why, for example, a student couldn’t be a guide as part of perhaps a summative assessment).

An expedition is, at this time, a Google-recognised and sanctioned “trip” through a slideshow of 360 degree photos, some of which might contain embedded sound recordings as well, seen in a seemingly 3D manner with a Google VR viewer of some sort, Cardboard or otherwise. (I say “Google-recognised” because at this time, normal users cannot simply create and post an Expedition. *We should all keep pestering Google, however, as Google, according to Jay Atwood, listens to user feedback.)

When users open the downloaded and installed Expedition app, they are first asked whether they would like to be guides or leaders; again, in most early cases, a teacher will be the guide while students will be explorers. Once a “role” has been chosen, Google offers some recent expedition suggestions, or you can search for a topic of your choosing. At this point, Jay pointed out a technical issue: it is best to download expeditions you want your students to explore onto ALL devices that will be involved – this includes the teacher’s phone, and all the phones (or iPads, more on this in a bit) that students will use in the course of this immersive, interactive experience.

(Note: Explorers and Guides need to connect to the same wifi router. While most schools will probably not allow these sorts of connections to be made on a school wide network, I got around this by making my iPhone an available wifi hotspot, linked my iPad and an Oppo phone to it and led an expedition using that technology set up. Otherwise, you can buy a small portable wifi router for connecting.)

Quick Procedure with Images for How to Set Up and Run an Expedition

Materials Needed:

  • Mobile phones and Google Cardboards for each student OR iPads/tablets to be shared between two students. Each device needs to have the Expeditions app downloaded.
  • iPad or tablet for teacher with Expeditions app downloaded (possibly with Personal Hotspot enabled).
  • If Personal Hotspotting is not a possibility, then you need a portable wifi router
Mifi 4g
Portable Wifi Router


  1. Teacher needs to log into the same wifi router that students will be using with the guide device, and/or enable a Personal Hotspot on the iPad.
  2. Teacher needs to open Expeditions app on the guide device, choose to Guide/lead, search for an Expedition topic of interest for students, and preferably download that collection of 360° degree photos.
  3. Students need to open Expeditions on their devices, choose to be Explorers/followers on an available Expedition (which by default will be the one available on the guide’s device if all parties are logged into the same router/hotspot). *If school does not have phones and Cardboard, students can go on an Expedition with a teacher/guide by hitting the “expansion” square towards the bottom right of the screen. If students have phones, they can insert phones into Cardboard now.
  4. Teacher waits to see the smiling faces of all his/her followers pop up.

    In this image, from the Guide view, you can see there are no followers yet by looking at the people icon in the top right corner.
  5. When all faces appear, teacher can rotate image and click on certain items. Students will see arrows pointing them where they need to go.

    In this image, in the Guide view again, you can see a follower in the form of a happy face. This happy face indicates where that follower is currently looking. The target is where the Guide has clicked on his/her screen as an area of focus for the followers.
  6. When all smiling faces of explorers are around an area of the image for discussion, teacher begins discussion.

What I appreciate about Google Expeditions (especially when combined with Google Cardboard):

Google Expeditions is a wonderful new way to engage in visual discovery with students. With carefully chosen Expeditions that connect to units of study, teachers can truly provide a much more immersive experience of many topics related to science, research, geography, history, and art. (A complete list in spreadsheet form can be found here. At this point, due to my relative inexperience with virtual reality, I find it truly amazing to put on the Cardboard apparatus. I’m sure this will be the same with students young and younger.

Google Expeditions could also be a fabulous tool, when in the research or “Finding Out” stage of inquiry, for students to describe the form of objects, or places they encounter while exploring. For example, my grade 1 students are currently inquiring into how the oceans are a resource that we have a responsibility to conserve. On the whole, through preassessments, I realised that most students have never experienced a coral reef through snorkelling. As coral reefs are such vital aspects of our oceans, I want students to have some experience in describing their characteristics and residents as a prelude to further learning. After a quick search of Google Expeditions, I found what seemed to be a perfect experience for my students to go on entitled “Preserved Oceans”. If we have the chance, I’m sure students would love to examine different corals and fauna in famous reefs from around the world.

What might be developed further:

As users, we cannot currently CREATE Google Expeditions that are fine tuned for our students. Likewise, students cannot create Expeditions to show their learning. I can think of possible reasons for this. Perhaps Google wants to keep the quality of Expeditions fairly high at this point in order to keep interest rising. To make a high quality near 360+°, you have to have a somewhat specialised camera rig up (which Google is allowing users to make 3D movies with that can be viewed online with Cardboard and YouTube – to be discussed in a further blog entry).

Still, I can see amazing possibilities in the future for students to demonstrate understanding of any variety of concepts through creation of VR videos and Expedition like experiences.

Also, the amount of technology necessary for students to fully engage in VR experiences through Google Expeditions can be prohibitive for many schools, despite the fact that you can get the viewers for a variety of prices (evidently for as low as $1.00 from some Chinese based manufacturers). For the best experience, a teacher would ideally have a class set of mobile phones and a class set of Google Cardboards. This can be gotten around somewhat if there is a half a class set of iPads or tablets with Expeditions, as I detailed above. However, the VR experience is much reduced in this case.

It would, in addition, be great if the quality of images presented to the eyes through Google Expeditions and Cardboard were slightly less pixelated. I realise that images must have begun as massive files that need to be compressed to go up onto the cloud in useful form, however it would be great to see a bit more clarity in the future and the potential for an explorer to zoom in while wearing Cardboard.

Another teacher at this conference mentioned that even for grade 7 students and after multiple uses of VR in class, it has been difficult to push students past the “wow!” factor of using apps like Google Expeditions into more calm usage that allows students to study some of the images presented through the app.

This might best show the need to use this type of experience even more, to get students and ourselves used to seeing the learning potential of Expeditions.

Stay tuned for further parts of this post in which I will discuss other apps related to Google Cardboard and Virtual Reality such as Cardboard, Cardboard Camera, and how to use Cardboard with other apps such as Within, Panoform, and YouTube.

Of course, I must explore further first.

A happy Monday morning reality, virtual or not, to all of you!

The author learning how to take hot air balloons into space.
The author learning how to take hot air balloons into space.

Blown Away by EARCOS 2017 Teacher’s Conference Keynote Speakers

Ms. Kim Phuc and her refashioned image to express what her life has become, a beacon of love and peace.
Ms. Kim Phuc and her refashioned image that expresses what her life has become, a beacon of love and peace.

EARCOS Executive Director Dick Krajczar and his team pulled together an incredible group of keynote speakers this year at the Teachers Conference in Kota Kinabalu.

We were left speechless at the Thursday morning opening of the conference with Kim Phuc’s presentation on her heart wrenching and ultimately transformative life experience.

The world learned of Kim Phuc after she became the victim of a horrendous napalm strafing of a South Vietnamese village in 1972. A Vietnamese reporter, Nick Ut, captured the image and helped get Kim medical attention as she fled the attack. Terribly burned but miraculously surviving this bombing, she recuperated for years going in and out of hospitals for reconstructive surgery. After Vietnamese unification, she led a strictly monitored life as a national icon and living memorial of the war before she defected to Canada in the mid 1980s.

Today, Kim Phuc has established a nongovernmental organisation, the Kim Foundation, dedicated to improving the lives of children from war zones around the world through projects that create schools, hospitals, and rehabilitation programs.
Révolutions Françaises - Christophe Galfard (22083202364)
On Friday, Dr. Christophe Galfard left us all gobstruck again with his frank and down-to-Earth discussion of astrophysics. Galfard gave educators a quick tour of his book, The Universe in Your Hand, simultaneously inspiring all of us to cultivate a love of mathematics and science in our students young and younger!

Not to let us down gradually, the EARCOS team had saved the dynamic duo, Aaron and Kaitlin Tate for Saturday’s last morning meeting in the Pacific Sutera Grand Ballroom. These two educators, entrepreneurs, entrepreneur enablers, superhuman humanists (can I say – SUPERHEROES?) wove an enthralling, horrifying, redeeming, and simply awesome tale with a message of how to save the world through finding and empowering local leaders.

(PS: Note to self…NEVER complain about a “rough” day at school again…)

If you have the means, get to next year’s EARCOS Teacher’s Conference, if only to be inspired for the rest of your professional life by the stories of people like these!

Important Websites to Check Out


Education Changemakers

Kim Foundation

Christophe Galfard’s Website




Google Virtual Reality Academy at EARCOS 2017 (Part 1)

Greetings from Sutera Harbour, Kota Kinabalu, and the EARCOS 2017 Teacher's Conference!
Greetings from Sutera Harbour, Kota Kinabalu, and the EARCOS 2017 Teacher’s Conference!

What began as a relatively subdued morning of training that included interesting but expected icebreakers soon turned into a day in which our eyes were popping out of our skulls here in friendly Kota Kinabalu, Malaysian Borneo at the EARCOS 2017 Teacher’s Conference.

Welcome to the Google Virtual Reality Academy with Jay Atwood from the EdTechTeam!

Atwood primed the educator-laced hall with a sequence of Four Corners discussions aimed at gauging our preexisting perceptions of virtual reality, then raced through the history of this long developing technology, from it’s relatively primitive beginnings in military and NASA simulators, to the Oculus Rift and Google Cardboard of today.

Then came the foray into the unknown for many of us.

It all began with a box…a little CARDBOARD box…

IMG_9449 (1)
Such an innocent box.

Once the Cardboard was out of the BOX, we popped our smart phones in and started to explore, and the pro-tips from some of the more experienced teachers began to drop.

*Note: At the behest of Atwood, we had all loaded the following apps already onto our phones: Google Expeditions, Google Cardboard, Google Streetview, YouTube, and Google Cardboard Camera.

Richard from Jakarta "Intercultural" School gave some fantastic advice for how to strengthen and adolescent-proof these humble Cardboards...
One teacher gave some fantastic advice for how to strengthen and adolescent-proof these humble Cardboards…with popsicle sticks and clear plastic “grease guards”! Also, fall risk (phone may fall out – if you have not yet realised the purpose of the rubber band.)
Putting the virtual reality into Cardboard.

When I loaded up the Google Cardboard app, slipped my iPhone 5 into the flap, and put the head set on…this was the scene I initially saw that Google has created as a demo, albeit 3D due to the split lenses.

*Spoiler alert!?!?

False alarm…I have not given away any of the best details of this first demo virtual reality ride. Check it out yourself!

Being teachers, we did not just “tinker” with this tech…we recorded our findings in a tinkering Google Doc!

Sketchnotes of this half of the Google VR Academy Session

Check in later today for part 2 of this post in which I will discuss how Google Expeditions, Google Cardboard Camera, and other apps work with the Google Cardboard apparatus. I’m also going to give my basic conclusions about what I loved about Google Virtual Reality, potential places for development, possible ways to use the technology in classrooms now, and questions I have!

EARCOS (East Asian Regional Conference of Schools) 2017 Conference Blog Updates Coming

Just a note to all my readers. I will be attending this year’s EARCOS Conference, “Connecting Global Minds”, in Kota Kinabulu, Malaysia from March 29 to April 1, 2017.

Possible meetings I (plan) to attend are as follows:

  • ETC Google Virtual Reality Academy with Jay Atwood
  • Writing and Mathematics – It Can Be Done with Jessica Balli and Patrick Callahan
  • Step Into the Lab: Gamification, Differentiation, and Documentation, Oh, My!Supporting Teachers from a Positive Discipline Perspective withEric Schoonard and Mark Crowell
  • Drumming Activities as Metaphors in Math and Science with Martin Robinson
  • Priming the Brain for Learning with Julian Thornbury
  • Learning Vocabulary Through Drama and Games with Hamorn Lau
  • Forest School Supporting the Development of Social Skills with Karen Killeen 
  • Redesigning the Learning Experience (Design Process) with Wesley Przybylski
  • Making Time to Create with Kim Cofino
  • Failing Well – Cultivating Growth Mindset, Self Directed Learners and Self Paced Learning with Yojin Chung
  • Engaging Young Writers – Strategies That Work with Alis Gorcea and Emily Bevington
  • The Neurobiology of Learning withRhonda Wildeman and Darrell Sharp
  • Moods Before Mindsets with Jacob Humes

As part of my PD agreement with my school, I will be trying to blog about a few of these meetings, particularly ones that involve a tech element. Please check the blog on those days for updates!


COETAIL Final Project – Simple Machines Introduction

Shout it loud!
It should be so simple to get back into blogging…

Well it has been awhile.

The blog machine takes a few weeks to come back online but I’m there now.

The next two months will be pretty intense…trying to really facilitate new learning in a unit that has already been very technologically enhanced by Mr. Matt, our innovative Ed Tech coach. I’m wondering if I shouldn’t have really done this with the Grade 1 students as I have more sway in those classes…however, I’ve got my grade 2 students at least three more extra periods a week during EAL / Foreign Language time.

I originally had wanted to use a simple machines unit as a base from which to have students explore the utility of codes and the scientific process of testing lines of code using game-like training systems offered by sites such as and Code Monkey. However, I realised that such a course of instruction was probably going to be too involved for an already jam packed unit that is full of engaging hands on activities already .

What I decided to instead focus on, technologically speaking, was how apps can allow us to simulate real world conditions of force, simple machines, and work. I also want students to realise even more how they can find information they would like to use online, and how online platforms allow us share our knowledge and discoveries with others.

What do I want to achieve in this final project in terms of tech integration?

Personal Learning Networks

I would like to gain proficiency with teaching students to use online resources that act as an embryonic personal learning network. I also want them to begin to see online social media apps like Twitter as providing another “search” option in addition to using online search engines like Google and Kid Rex.

I want my students to develop these understandings that technology can help us:

  • quickly get information that we want;
  • find experts who can give us more information;
  • discuss information with other learners;
  • and add our own information to what is known about a topic.


How will we reach these understandings? As in any inquiry, I will ask students what questions they are having as we do hands on activities with various simple machines or try to perform “work” in an easier way. As students create and record these questions, we will discuss possible ways to find answers. At some point I will point students to resources such as Neo K – 12, a multifaceted website about simple machines with links to videos and elsewhere. As we find answers, we will discuss purposes for sharing our new understandings and possible forums for sharing with other classes and the world. It is my hope that students can independently begin to suggest these forums such as: blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, blog comments, etc.

I’m also hoping that students make practical choices about which applications they will use to present their findings. This year alone students have practiced using Explain Everything, blogs, Book Creator, Padlets, Google Slides, Piktochart, Bitsboard, and iPad cameras to record their understandings. Rather than forcing students to use one form of presentation software over another, I would like them to make educated choices about which ones to use based on their knowledge and comfort levels.

Technology as a simulation tool

I want to be able to teach students to use technological simulation tools in a methodical manner. I want students at each stage of learning to use simulation tools to think about and compare possible test scenarios. Can they come up with “impossible” test scenarios of various simple machines that can only be simulated rather than actually experienced? Can students vocalise why simulations are as worthwhile or more valuable than using concrete tests?

Students will use these apps and websites for simulating situations where a simple machine is necessary.

Simultaneously students will be testing out actual simple machines in our piazza. I will ask students to spend one session trying to accomplish work with the real simple machines using real objects and pulleys, inclined planes, screws, levers, wheel and axles, and wedges. I will then ask students to reflect on their learning of how these machines work.

On a consecutive day, I will ask students to use the same simple machines in a virtual environment, such as on Tiny Bop. Students will then think about and compare these experiences, reflecting on which experience, real or virtual, allowed them to test and learn from more situations.

We will then also predict what might be some situations where people actually make use of computer simulations before engaging in the real experience.

I hope, if we have time in the unit, to also make connections to what I learn in the 2017 EARCOS ETC Google Virtual Reality Academy in this unit. I am sure that using virtual reality in a simulation would have tremendous educational value.

Exploring Virtual Reality

How will I know (if they really get it)?

I will know students are making connections to the utility of computer simulations if I observe them asking questions and making hypotheses about simple machines and forces, and racing to test these on computer simulation apps in which they can add pulleys, change fulcrum locations, alter the length of levers, change the rotation of screws, and apply different amounts of force to different sized wedges. Students should also be able to observe the results of their tests, change variables, and discuss why they are doing so.

Stay tuned for how the project goes.


Encouraging Technology and Science Connections in Grade 2

Computer Science Technology Program

Photo from Vanier College via Flickr

As I redesigned a Grade 2 unit on simple machines in the past few weeks I tried to really think about how I could improve it beyond what it already was with technology. This was going to be challenging because at my school I currently teach English as an additional language, which means my time with ALL the grade 2 students is limited.

I also had to keep in mind that this was a fantastic unit already. When I first looked at the unit, I noticed it had lots of hands-on-minds-on activities that teach grade 2 students what simple machines are and what they can do. Also, these experiments all give students a thorough introduction to the nature of forces.

Feeling that science learning can never go too deep, I initially focused more on the science related desired learning results. However, instead of concentrating directly on the science content of simple machines and forces which had already been enhanced by previous tech integration efforts, I decided to see if I could promote the development of science process skills in some manner with some additions. In my schools’ curriculum, these skills were expressed under four stages (all of which echo the design cycle we follow):

  • Investigate (hypothesise),
  • Plan (design),
  • Process,
  • Evaluate (conclude).

Underneath these stages could be found the process skills of:

  • identifying or generating a question or problem to be explored;
  • making and testing predictions;
  • planning and carrying out systemic investigations, manipulating variables as necessary;
  • observing carefully to gather data;
  • using a variety of instruments and tools to measure data accurately;
  • using scientific vocabulary to explain observations and experiences;
  • interpreting and evaluating data gathered in order to draw conclusions;
  • and considering scientific models and applications of these models (including their limitations).

I began to think about how when I troubleshoot technology issues, I naturally use these skills. I thought about how to encourage these scientific/troubleshooting strategies, behaviours, and habits in my own students. Knowing that students were not as interested in troubleshooting issues around Google apps, transferring videos from various apps to the cloud, or embedding and sharing images and documents into blog posts as I am, I came up with the idea of coding in an effort to create little games that might in some way be related to app based games that students liked to play. In my admittedly limited experience with game-based coding using websites such as Codemonkey, I remembered that I had practiced this troubleshooting and experimenting in a fun and engaging way along with my grade 4 and 5 students at the time. Perhaps game-based coding could also be useful in teaching the science process skills, if clear links were made between the kind of thinking students would be doing and those skills?

With this idea in mind and after taking another look at the 2014 ISTE Standards for Students, I decided I wanted to integrate more technology into this this unit to foster: 1) the development of scientific thinking and practices through experimenting with coding and game development; 2) understanding of the ideas that technology and games can help us simulate the real word of forces and machines.

In essence, I wanted students to know that technology allows us to experiment and understand the world even if we cannot physically experience it.

I wanted students to understand and make connections between the design cycle and the scientific process. I also wanted students to know that thinking like a computer scientist is very similar to thinking like a conventional scientist. I also wanted the technology to help me create opportunities for learning and demonstrating knowledge of vocabulary related to the unit. I thought about how using technology could increase the comprehensible input of my lessons by providing labeled visuals that students could view, watch, and tinker with as they grew in their understandings. I also thought that technology could give students opportunities to create products that would demonstrate their understanding orally, with images, videos, and possibly with mother tongue terms that were related. I wanted technology to help students collaborate like scientists and provide a central depot for students to post all of their burgeoning understandings to and read the understandings of others from.

I passed the first draft of my unit plan on to our tech ed coach just to see how possible he thought it might be to cram all this into one unit.

He liked the idea of the unit but summed it up with one word: “ambitious” which in teacher code means: “There’s a bit too much in that unit plan there fella.”

Taking another look at it, I agreed, especially since I was not even a homeroom teacher! I decided to go back and look at the previous unit plans for this unit, as well as the EAL learning engagements shared with me by my EAL teaching colleague who had taught the unit last year in tandem with the three grade 1 homeroom teachers.

Yes…some things in my draft unit were going to have to be chopped. The real tangent factor was my final project of developing a game…this summative diverged too much from the central idea of the unit. To make connections between this project and the central idea would be most likely beyond a grade 2 student’s capacity. The main sticking point was that I would simply not have enough time with students to work out this segment of the unit and would have to rely too much on our already maxed out tech ed coach to teach a chunk of the unit.

Also, successful teaching of this unit would hinge upon the three homeroom teachers I teach with deciding to teach a technology-heavy unit that they had not had a hand in designing. It would be difficult for me to support all of them at each stage of the process due to scheduling issues.

Finally…the real clincher…I know very little about game design and coding!!! While leading a potentially confusing unit that I would not really have time to teach my Grade 2 students (as I am in fact an EAL teacher) I would be having to learn, understand, and explain a lot to other teachers.

In essence I decided that such an involved technoloy based unit was unrealistic and not really possible. I therefore decided to go back to the drawing board.

I removed the game design element of the unit and focused more on the technology goals that: “students use models and simulations to explore complex systems and issues”. I now wanted students to understand and use computers and devices to simulate experiments. I also wanted them to share findings collaboratively using some sort of forum. I also wanted to students to learn and practice a few new technology platforms for creating and storing knowledge for future use by themselves and others. Finally, I wanted students using technology, if they chose, to present their new understandings of machines and forces in tandem with their summative assessments.

The unit plan is not finished yet; I’m still coming up with learning engagements so watch this space.



How I Use Devices in Language Acquisition Classes with Young Students

Photo by Oliur Rahman ᔥ
Photo by Oliur Rahman


How do I use devices when working with Grade 1 and 2 students who are acquiring English?

Beyond using my iPhone and iPad as incredibly versatile data collection and learning documentation machines, the answer can be summed up with two words: Babel Fish*. In the strange burlesque universe of Douglas Adams and his The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Universe this slimy fish allows those who insert them somewhere between their audio receptors and cerebral cortexes (in the case of humans – the ear) to understand any and all languages in the galaxy.

At this moment, devices combined with internet access are the greatest instruments for language acquisition around. They not only provide manifold paths to increase the comprehensible input of lessons through access to visuals, translation apps, and modified levels of text, but devices also give students multitudinous opportunities to practice reading, writing, listening to, speaking, and presenting language being acquired with various creative apps.

Combining iPads, reading, and writing.
Combining iPads, reading, and writing.

Common Sense Media’s “How much screen time is ok for my kids?” describes screen time as generally involving one or a combination of these purposeful uses:

  • Passive consumption: what we might think of as simply consuming the media we can access with a device (listening, reading, watching);
  • Interactive consumption: actually beginning to use the device and media in more active ways (browsing, playing computer games);
  • Communication: using the device to actually connect with others over social media or communication apps;
  • ​Content creation: using the device to create content, such as with blogging apps, visual arts apps, video production apps, or photography apps.

The way I see it, my young students learn nothing from passive consumption; however, I do find our class iPads allow me to curate essential media for learning that I often store on my professional blog in the form of unit-based (static) pages (as opposed to the actual blog page). As I only see my students for 45 minutes at a time, I find it useful to collect videos, infographics, and other online media on these pages. I then install a home screen icon using Safari for my blog on all the iPads in Grade 2 and Grade 1 classrooms with the help of teaching assistants. Finally, I teach students how to “search” my blog for this media, which we always access in combination with more interactive activities.

For example, yesterday, in responding to some questions from a Skype Mystery Location classroom run by Ms.Tara Barth, I knew my students would need to understand the word “hemisphere”. After introducing them to the Skype Mystery questions from Tara’s class, I sent them to my blog to find out what combination of Northern, Southern, Eastern, and Western hemispheres our city could be found in. Students, with a partner, had to be ready, after 15 minutes, to describe the location of our city, Phnom Penh, in terms of hemispheres in a short video message back to Tara’s class.

In looking at this task, I could also claim that I often have students use devices to communicate with others across the globe as well. However, in Grade 1 and 2, this communication and use of any social media platforms such as Skype, Twitter, or in the case of an introduction to online communities project-VoiceThread, is heavily scaffolded by me the teacher.

By and large, my biggest use of devices in the classroom centers around interactive consumption, largely related to my comprehensible input goals for my lessons. Students use Google Translate to make mother tongue / English connections and Google Images searches to create visual connections to new vocabulary. Students might use these images to help them create their own symbols for vocabulary words on grids or cards. I also work with students during research on refining search terms when using current kid friendly search engines like Kid Rex. In terms of using devices to have students practice using language we are learning, I am beginning to use more game based applications, as I mentioned in a previous post on where I see the game and play based teaching/learning strategies fitting into my young EAL class. I’m always hunting especially for apps and games that help students make the sound-text-visual connection. One such app that really promotes this memory enhancing, connection making is Bitsboard.

I am also trying to plan more opportunities for creation of content in my classrooms. Right now this is primarily linked to posting of videos in various “cork board” type apps like Padlet to document thinking, as my young learners sometimes have troubimg_7764le writing their thoughts in detail. However, as my students gain more proficiency with blogging using Easyblog and creating videos using Explain Everything, I would like them to start producing more mashups of their own thoughts, be they written or oral/video, and media sources they find to back up their thinking. I also would like to have them create Bitsboard “boards” that combine images of vocabulary they have found, their mother tongue scripts (if they can read them) using Google Translate, and oral readings of new vocabulary in both English and their mother tongues.

*I am not the first person to make the analogy between the Babel Fish and artificial intelligence translation applications. See



It’s the End of the Class as We Know It…(and I feel fine…)


Vincenzo di Giorgi via
Vincenzo di Giorgi via


Motivating Grade 2 Students to Acquire English as an Additional Language

I was struck this week by Dan Pink’s RSA talk about motivation and drive, especially how he emphasised that studies showed rewards worked for motivating people to complete repetitive physical tasks, but not cognitively challenging tasks. In addition his discussion of how management was a technological advance designed to keep workers on task in factories where work required these repetitive physical tasks made me wonder about my own teaching.

How much do I just try to manage children?

I found it so interesting how studies found that if there was any thinking required, people underperformed if there was an offer of a sizeable reward. Instead, his meta research found that in study after study, workers were more motivated when they were were given some autonomy to control what they worked on, allowed to have experiences and space to achieve mastery of skills they were interested in, and were aware of a sense of purpose.


Engagement flows with greater autonomy. People want to become good at something. There needs to be a transcendent purpose in any organisation’s work. These are of course pillars behind setting up a good community of learners.

I thought about how I might, in the future, be able to apply these findings to my younger classrooms in order to motivate students in their language acquisition learning.

To increase a sense of autonomy amongst these students, I thought I might be able to introduce more choice into the curriculum, perhaps not in terms of what activities students are required to do, but rather the order in which they can do them. I also would like to help students become more reflective so they can see how their efforts cause their learning to increase. Perhaps I need to create more self reflecting tasks. I think I can bring technology into this as well by allowing students a choice of reflecting in writing, typing or dictating responses into a Google form, creating an Explain Everything movie, or perhaps using Padlet on iPads.

To give students the chance to achieve and perceive this achievement of mastery, I need to create opportunities for students to share what they have learned and also make sure they understand that mistakes are natural. I took some advice from this guide to encouraging mastery in the classroom. Encouraging mastery connects very much to fostering a growth mindset in all students. For example, if students have trouble producing the oral language I want them to, I can talk to them about and model how they might use provided word banks and sentence starters as a scaffold to get talking. I also need to get better at helping students chunk work into achievable goals, perhaps following the SMART model. I must help students develop their own senses of self efficacy.

The Growth Mindset

To increase students’ sense of purpose, I will try to discuss with children how what we learn in our EAL classroom connects to “real life” of their homeroom, the playground, the school, and when they travel beyond its borders. The Playfield Institute has also produced this guide on how to increase children’s perception of purpose. I think the key may be taking more time to set up a community of learners, and prompting each student to think about his or her own purpose, or function.

Avoiding the Obsolete Classroom

I also took a lot of inspiration from Prakash Nair’s blogpost on how the classroom has become obsolete.

I thought about Nair’s assertions that the schools of tomorrow need to be:

1) Personalised;
2) Safe and secure;
3) Inquiry based;
4) Student directed;
5) Collaborative;
6) Interdisciplinary;
7) Rigorous and hands on;
8) Embodying a culture of excellence and high expectations;
9) Environmentally conscious;
10) Making strong connections to local community and business;
11) Globally networked; and
12) Setting the stage for lifelong learning.

I was pleasantly surprised to realise that in many ways, the school that I currently teach at could be seen as meeting or approaching most of these criteria. We need to work a bit more on personalisation of learning perhaps, and making strong connections to the local community and business but we are well on our way for the others.

I also found this quote by Nair in particular to be quite illustrative. After reading each of them, I paused to consider what such conclusions could mean for my class and/or school.

We may conclude that it makes no sense to break down the school day into fixed “periods,” and that state standards can be better met via interdisciplinary and real-world projects.

I could see this coming into reality in a few ways at my school. I could definitely see project based learning and challenge based learning becoming embedded teaching and learning strategies at some point. Perhaps simply by rearranging our units of inquiry so they do not begin with a central idea, but rather a central challenge/question. Or perhaps they could start with a single topic, for which students develop questions during and after provocations and tuning in. I could then see arranging instruction times based on the availability of experts who might be able to give students insight into how to answer their questions or add components to their meeting of the challenges.

A question I might have about standards, however, is this: What if the questions that students come up with do not really align with standards?

Another quote that struck me was this:

Yes, we will need enclosed spaces for direct instruction, but perhaps these could be adjacent to a visible and supervisable common space for teamwork, independent study, and Internet-based research…limited classroom space can be significantly expanded by utilizing adjacent open areas while simultaneously improving daylight, access to fresh air, and connections to nature.

When I read this, I started thinking about a current change I’m trialling in my own EAL classroom. I have a large class this year, and the noise level is not quite optimal for the language development of especially students who are new to English. However, our school has many breakout spaces and outside pods. I’m going to trial explaining basic tasks as a whole class, but will then split the class into three sections to actually complete what is usually quite interactive work. I would also like to utilise the pods in the outside passageways and the space underneath our school’s knowledge center for different learning tasks and group or individual research. As my school has internet coverage everywhere, this is totally possible if we utilise class sets of iPads. I know I for one find it difficult to work in my office nowadays and relish our school’s out door shaded places for such purposes.

My Declaration of Independence from Universities

I am embarking on an endless learning journey…


I’m pretty sure that this learning will never ever take place in a proper classroom, university, or lecture hall again.

Rather my “schools” will be my kitchen, a cafe on the riverside, a hammock in my wife’s island village, or a breezy table beneath my school’s knowledge centre. My classmates shall sit at their own beaches, cafes, kitchens, and living rooms around the world.

Due to the availability of the information available on line this week from online course conglomerates such as Khan AcademyCourseraUniversity of the PeopleSkillshareiTunes U, and edX, I’m proud to state that I think I shall never sit at a desk…in a learn…again..(so help me Internet.)

And look out “higher education”! It is also my goal to get my students to this stage of learning about 30 years quicker than I did. They are going to know how to learn and have their own strong ideas about what they want to learn, and no four walls of a classroom, unit plans, or adult designed curriculums are going to hold them back!