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.

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.



Digital Storytelling and Presentation on Using iMovie and Quicktime

The call rang out in late August.

My school, the International School of Phnom Penh, had volunteered to host this year’s “Tekhin” Educational Technology conference and presenters were needed. Not considering myself a giant of tech innovation by any stretch of the imagination, I cautiously approached our IT director and our Ed Tech Coach with a few ideas for presentations I might be able to give. “Do it!” was their response to all of them.

Ok. I could see they were desperate.

I went home and started to scribble out notes. I initially thought I might give a presentation on how to use the Voicethread app to introduce younger students to online communities or to combine community resources in order to gauge the understanding of beginning English Language Learners. I even went as far as to send out my workshop description and create and share an online registration form with some pre workshop materials.

But then…I don’t know what happened. The introduction to online communities discussion started to feel so…so…so May 2016 while the mother tongue connection with Voicethread was so…so…so SPELTAC-y.

The main themes in Banules-Land this “Fall” have been visual and graphic design centered. At the time of my pre Tekhin brainstorming, I had begun to really dive into the making of very amateur, but fun-to-make educational videos with Quicktime and iMovie.

Slowly, the wheels began to turn.

Why not give a presentation, based on principles of “Presentation Zen”, for beginners on how to use iMovie and Quicktime for the purpose of digital storytelling? And why not start it with a digital story of my own – in the form of a movie?

Creating Digital Documentaries Using iMovie – The Movie (and Presentation)!

The two main guideposts I steered by in the creation of this movie and workshop presentation were blogs: Presentation Zen by Garr Reynolds and Story Concepts by Jason Ohler.

I knew that I had to concentrate on the following criteria, gleaned from “From design to meaning: a whole new way of presenting?” ,while creating my movie:

  1. design – as suggested by Reynolds, I would spend time designing this movie and presentation, preferably on paper. This design would extend to the oral narrative and the conception of visual components of the movie. I would think about my objectives, to teach beginners how to both conceive digital stories and use available apps to visualise these stories. I would think about my messages: “You too can do this!” “Use, reuse, attribute, and share!” “Create your own curriculum materials!”. I would consider my audience and how I could possibly affect them and get them fired up for this workshop. I then wanted to plan a brief outline of story steps, followed by writing a draft of a script to be read as a voiceover. I would then, using an approach favoured by Reynolds, draft scenes of images I wanted to create or use on sticky notes. I would then place these sticky notes at appropriate places in my script. For the presentation, I wanted to see how much I could create slides that followed design principles of colour, font usage, image, and the rule of thirds.
  2. story – My movie was going to tell the story of how I came to embrace movie making as a teacher. As such, I was going to plan this story using many of the ideas from Jason Ohler. Mainly, I wanted to start by developing a story core consisting of a problem, transformation, and solution. I knew what my problem would be, how to teach English language learners deep concepts. I knew my transformation in my movie would be a creative one, moving from a more traditional way of teaching based around preexisting teaching materials, to one in which I used my own educational materials that I would design specifically for my students. I wanted the movie to touch upon aspects of my overall presentation and workshop, to serve as a sort of primer. I wanted the movie to model principles of digital storytelling. Most of all, I wanted this beginning to give workshop participants a thirst for creating their own (better) movies in the workshop that would follow.
  3. symphony – I wanted this film to be a synthesis of all the steps of movie making and a treatise on why making movies could be important for teachers rather than a simple analysis and expose of how to use iMovie. As such, I also wanted workshop participants to experience iMovie in the context of creating a real piece of digital storytelling. Too often, we divorce learning of an application with real world uses.
  4. empathy – I hoped the movie and presentations would demonstrate this criteria in its relevance for teachers. I would also try to keep the movie under six minutes. In addition, I would try to balance my presentation, making sure to demonstrate concepts related to story planning, movie editing, and screen casting for brief amounts of time before actually having participants practice. I would also make very useful presentation notes that participants could access later when trying to make their own movies. I knew I had to be very empathetic with my audience as we would all be teachers giving up our Saturdays for this training.
  5. play – I took this very, er, seriously and wanted to try to introduce humour into my film and presentation with word plays, anecdotes, and music that would convey a light hearted sense of exploration. I also wanted to encourage participants to be critical of my movie, but with an open minded approach in order to present the idea that we are all learners here.

With these criteria very much on my mind, I set out to plan my movie that would serve as my story.

I then searched for free stock footage and images using a variety of web sites and searches including: UnsplashCreative Commons SearchIgnite Motion, and Beachfront B-Roll.

After loading these clips into iMovie, I recorded my first voiceovers. Later, I took notes on sections where the images did not match with the script. I then sped those clips up. or trimmed them, or slowed the clips down. In certain places I rerecorded my voiceovers after modifying the script. I filmed extra footage and added it. I then added titles before recording a music track in Garageband with my keyboard while watching the video clips. The resulting movie can be seen below.

My introductory story done, I refocused on the presentation that I would use to present the iMovie workshop. I created some slides and looked at them in Photoshop with a grid overlaid to make sure I was adhering for the most part to the rule of thirds. I kept to the rule of thirds mainly in my placement of text, as I gathered my images preformed from free to reuse searches of Unsplash or Creative Commons Flickr Search.

Imposing a grid over slides with photoshop to check rule of thirds. Here the text fits into the lower third of the slide. GOOD!













I also tried to make sure for instance that whenever I used serif fonts and wanted a second font on the slide, that I used a sans font from the same family. In most cases this turned out to be a combination of Droid Serif and Droid Sans. I also played with the Word Art function in Google slides, using fonts and colours that matched with the colour scheme of my images or provided a message in terms of colour. Most of the time, the best choices for my font colours were yellow or white in order to to be easily read. Usually, to increase the readability, however, I would also outline the word art in a contrasting colour, especially if the image background was light coloured.

The final presentation is below.

I also provided workshop participants with an invitation to join a document I had put together with many notes related to the presentation. I plan to offer this training again for teachers in my school, so it will be handy to have all of these resources already made.

Participants planning their movies with stickies and storyboards.

img_7431 img_7432

Fear Off…Power ON!

About two years ago, my school quickly but thoughtfully put together a technology Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) for our elementary students. It was a very good call. A case of suspected password theft and near cyberbullying had arisen, and our administration and Tech Coach realised that we had to have school community members read and sign a document immediately that could begin to shape the online behaviour of our students.

In reviewing this document a few weeks ago, ISPP Tech Coach Matthew Dolmont, Grade 2 Teacher Shane Gower, and I noticed that some aspects of this AUP seem to reflect fears about students’ use of internet and how this usage can put them in touch with predatory strangers. In hindsight, it also is clear that this document was written in response to the two previously mentioned issues of password theft and cyberbullying. It is therefore a bit negative and a bit authoritarian with some “thou shalt not” sort of commanding language. Additionally, the tone of the document is rather official and is likely challenging for students and parents to understand, especially those for whom English is an additional language.

In light of studies that suggest fears surrounding students’ internet usage may be slightly unfounded, and wanting to encourage students to use technology to its maximum potential, we set out to create a more motivational document, one that could inspire younger students. As we all teach in International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme (IBPYP) schools, we decided to draft an AUP based on the IB Learner Profile with a smattering of PYP Attitudes.

We also wanted to make sure that technology standards and ideals were incorporated in the document so we inquired into the PLAY (Participatory Learning and You) wiki guide to new media literacies, the ISTE standards for students, and many of the core ideas behind the Common Sense Digital Citizenship curriculum. We also wanted ideas from current principals and tech directors, so Shane Gower interviewed his head, while Matt Dolmont interviewed the ISPP Technology Director, Chelsea Woods. We wanted what Jeff Utecht has referred to as an “EUP – Empowered Use Policy”. We wanted a usage policy that would imply digital citizenship (or be explicit about it at times) but would also give kids a road map about how to use technology to make connections, learn whatever they desired, and be creative. Matt was also able to use his experience as an Educational Technology Coach to add great insights into what the kids needed to understand as good digital citizens. We also wanted to incorporate an acronym already in use at both schools. RESPECT, but modified it to be more in line with our philosophy of empowering our students.

In terms of planning and collaborating, we used a shared Google Doc and the comments features to add revisions, make notes, and have lasting conversations at any time of day and night that we could reflect back upon. This allowed us to collaborate in and out of school and across countries.  We also used Twitter direct replies to communicate in quick bursts…often to alert the others that we had just posted an email or edited a document. Matt then took all the information we planned together and whipped up a very professional looking Piktochart graphic.

What might we have done differently? In the future, perhaps we need to get the input of students on this document. Perhaps we might create a new document with the students every year.

Where do we have to go now? We need to develop lessons related to different segments of our EUP and connect them to units of inquiry throughout our program of inquiry at our schools. We want to look at assignments and design an assessment tool for how to measure whether kids are really taking on these Empowered Use principles. Perhaps we just need a checklist…every time we witness students demonstrating one of these behaviours or understandings we make a tally mark. We can look back on this tally sheet every couple of months and decide what we need to explicitly teach. At some point too, after students have learned each attribute of the EUP, we need to have an Empowered Use document they can sign like our old AUP…or perhaps we can have them develop Digital Citizenship portfolios that include evidence of how they have demonstrated, in their own opinion, each of these attributes.


Reflecting on Grade 1 Communities Unit (part 2-Comments)

This is the second in a series of blog posts about how I and a team of homeroom teachers and a Tech Ed coach at the International School of Phnom Penh are teaching Grade 1 students to participate in and contribute to learning on internet learning communities. In part 1 of this post, I detailed how my experiences in COETAIL Cohort 6 have led me to believe I should offer my students the opportunity to connect to other learners beyond their own classroom in order to share knowledge of topics they are mutually interested in. Communities in the internet sense provide learners with perfect forums for this sharing.

Also in the previous post, I discussed how my team and I decided to start this foray into online communities in analog form to match the literacy and typing development of our students. At this point in our unit and a week and a half into our analog communities, students have begun to comment on posts and comments made by teachers and their peers using a comment cheat sheet as a guide. Homeroom teachers have begun to model making various types of comments: evaluative comments that express positive feelings about or agreement with posts; knowledgeable comments that add factual information to comments and posts; connective comments that connect posts or comments to the life and experiences of the commenter; and inquiring comments that ask questions of community members. Students are monitoring posts and comments, using the cheat sheets at the analog boards to help write their own comments, and checking their comments against a comment checklist. A few students have replied to comments from teachers. In the examples below, you can see some interesting dialogues beginning, sometimes between posters (teachers) and students, but more excitingly, between students and students!

I had a surprise chat while on duty in our school’s “contemplative garden” this morning with one of our Grade 2 teachers, Ms. Anita Mathur, a pioneer of our school’s use of Twitter and blogging. She expressed a good deal of interest in our Grade 1 communities project, and especially the commenting aspect of it! Later she sent me a wonderful resource exploring ways to teach this skill to elementary students and we are making plans to have the Grade 2 students, who already have school Gmail accounts, join our Grade 1 VoiceThread communities to give all our combined students more appreciation of how such internet resources allow us to connect with other learners beyond the classroom. We both envision the Grade 2 students mentoring the Grade 1s in their commenting, as the older students have already used some social media throughout this school year. It’s exciting to think that this little project is growing more meaningful and reflective of the central idea of this PYP unit: Effective communication systems allow people to connect locally and globally.

Just a little note on technology concerns for this unit…I had a little flirtation with Padlet this afternoon, and momentarily considered using this aesthetically pleasing little app instead of VoiceThread thinking it might be easier to use. However, upon further use, I found that videos made on iPads do not seem to upload to the app and there is no option to record only audio. Too bad as Padlet is great for posting links to videos, documents, images, and audio files and commenting textually…perhaps better for the older and more literate students. Recommitting to my original choice of app, I discovered that I can share my VoiceThreads as embed objects on one of my blogs, or, for more security, I can share them as links in an email to each of the three class Gmail accounts that all the iPads in Grade 1 are signed in as. I thought back to the 2014 Horizon Report which identified the problem of keeping data safe as a significant impediment to technology adaptation in education and decided to opt for the second option. If Grade 2 classes wanted to jump into our Communities, I would send their teachers the links and they could distribute and share these based on student interest.

The next post will describe what happens when students take more control over these analog communities and start posting their own content!