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.

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.