It All Takes Work

What’s a PLN you ask? Well, a Personal Learning Network is an essential part of being an educator these days, in my opinion. I can’t imagine how I would have survived the last 5.5 years without one. PLN’s allow you to connect with other educators in your field or just other like-minded educators. They are not always in similar jobs but generally have similar styles. My PLN journey started out small. A few contacts I had made through professional development (PD) that I would regularly email and ask questions. It began to grow when a Google Trainer told me this story about how to use Twitter. This started a journey that is continually developing as I wrote about in my post “It’s all about the PLN

One of my goals in that post was to become less of a lurker and participate more. I can’t say that I have made huge progress with that but I did try to make more effort during this course.

Staying involved in my PLN is what helped me complete my Course 5 project though. Without my PLN I would not have been able to move the project into Redefinition. It all started with this tweet to my PLN. This tweet resulted in two teachers working with me to help complete my project.

Another place that I am active in my PLN is Facebook. At first, Facebook was only for personal stuff. But now there are some very good PLN groups on Facebook and I find myself engaging with them more and more. For example, this one for Book Creator. Instead of traditional twitter chats, they have their chats online in a book. So instead of answering questions in posts, you answer questions by making pages in the book. Now with their new collaboration tool, it is even easier! I wasn’t going to be awake during this online discussion so I snuck in and added my answers to the book the morning before they held the chat!


I also try to share my expertise when I can through my PLN. I try helping out teachers who have questions when I can. My one caveat is that I make sure that I read the comments to see if my answer has already been stated. I hate nothing more than repeating what someone else has already said! That is what the “like” button is for!

Here are a few more examples of how I have participated in the Book Creator Facebook group.



My PLN is also a place for me to grow and develop. I learn new things every time I engage with my PLN. I am constantly forwarding myself posts to reread and review. I use Pocket to help collect articles to review at a later date or just collect ones that I may want to reference in the future.

My inbox in my school mail is full of articles that I want to re-read or share with my teachers. Sharing information with my teachers is actually one of the main reasons that I stay on top of latest changes. If I can give teachers information that will help make their lives easier than that is one of my goals!

One way that my teaching partner and I have been doing that is through interactive Google Drawings. I totally stole this idea from one of my PLN Peep Carrie Zimmer who creates Tech Tidbits. My teaching partner and I started creating our own. Here is one example, if you click on the link underneath you will be redirected to the interactive image (click around, though the cursor doesn’t change pretty much every image is a link).













Another way that I have begun to help my teachers develop their PLN skills is to create an in-house Seesaw Chat group. It is starting out with a few select teachers as a place that they can go and help themselves if needed by asking each other questions. It will also be a place where I share Seesaw information that I think they may want to see from my other sources. I think this has a lot of potential, but I will need to see where it goes in the future to see if it fully develops!

When the Going Gets Tough!

I recorded this podcast about a week after our Rigorous PBL training. Since then I have had more time to explore using the idea of Surface, Deep, and Transfer in actual planning. One of the things that I have noticed is that just like trying to get to the R in SAMR is difficult, trying to get to the Transfer level is also difficult. This makes me wonder if this is why teachers struggle so much to get to these levels? Is it because it is one more difficult element in a long list of difficult elements that make up education?

Is it similar to why some parents, even though they know better, do things to make their lives easier, like letting their phone be a babysitter? Michael mentions John Hattie’s Meta-Analysis and that basically having any teacher in a classroom is on some level effective. I wonder if this isn’t why education has become so stagnate. We just keep doing what we have always done because it isn’t ineffective. I think this is part of the reason why I have stayed overseas. Other than the lifestyle and travel which are personal reasons. The professional reasons are that I am not interested in spending my time in a school that is just doing the minimal effective techniques to teach students.

I do know that I don’t have to go internationally to be able to be a part of the change that I think education needs, but I do know that international schools do play a role in leading some changes. I also know that there are many international schools out there that are doing just the minimal to get students education like any other school system.

I like to think of myself as someone who is motivated to be a part of the change in education. I am actively participating in my school’s research and development teams. I am actively staying on top of trending changes in my field. Do I do this because I am a single subject teacher and I have more time? Do I do this because as part of any technology job you have to stay on top of the tech and it changes so often? Do I do this because I am self-motivated and this is just my personality? I really think that it is a combination of all of the above and I hope that the drive never changes. I do know that the drive has become more developed with the development of my digital PLN. Until I started developing my PLN through social media, I was only able to stay on top of things through face to face PD and information from other teachers. Now I am getting information nearly as soon as it happens and am part of discussions sometimes from the very beginning.

I also feel that a huge part of doing this effectively is being collaborative. Working with others either in your field, school, grade level, whoever. Find someone who can help you and work with them to bat ideas around. When I was trying to come up with how to move projects that were apart of my Course 5 project along the SAMR model it too me and my teaching partner both batting around ideas before we could figure out how to move things along. One of us was not enough, doing things in isolation for me is not enough, I need to bounce ideas around with another person so that I can think through them more thoroughly and work out all of the elements needed. That is one thing I like about the international schools that I have worked in. I have been very lucky to have always had colleagues who are willing to collaborate with me!

I think that this is a great time to be in education because of the rate of information sharing and the speed at which change can happen, there is no excuse for not being a part of change if you want to be. You only have to take the leap and challenge yourself to do the hard things. Like, try to figure out how to take lessons involving technology to Redefinition and how to move your students into a place were Transferring their knowledge is normal and just part of what they do.

Is it hard? Yes! Should we do it anyway? Absolutely!


Hong Kong Day 3/4 – The Conference

Day 3 & 4 were workshop/conference days. This is a pretty typical conference with a variety of workshops. Much of my takeaways are resources to spend more time learning about.

My first 5 takeaways are from Ewan McIntosh’s session on collaborative planning.

  1. Trying to plan units with teachers in short blocks of time increased the amount of planning time overall that it takes to get the work completed, by 50%. Having longer blocks 1 ½ or 2 hour blocks of time could give your teachers up to 18 hours a semester back.
    1. I agree with this completely and think that it might actually be slightly longer if other elements are needed, for example, single subject integration.
    2. We have seen this in our school with our new schedule not allowing for the long block of time to effectively plan units.
  2. I need to consider whether I say “I” or “We” when I am presenting about my work since I almost never work in isolation.
  3. Could we take a suggestion from the restaurant Wagamama in the UK, about feedback? When a waiter stops you to ask if your meal is okay they put an X on your placemat. This tells the other waiters that you have been asked so that you can eat in peace.
    1. What if we were to develop similar systems with students. Even possibly ones independent of the teacher?
    2. I have tried this in the past with red and green cups or something similar, but I realize that one of the things that I had not done before was teach my students how to work independently in the first place.
  4. Ewan introduces ideas where he wants to receive feedback from colleagues by saying “this is a 30% idea”. He has found that this tells colleagues that it is an idea still in progress and that they can openly and freely give their thoughts on it, because they don’t feel that he is attached to it yet.
  5. Instead of always frying your steak, try making tapas or something small that makes you say “Ah”.
    1. He was making the connection that while there are probably hundreds of ways to cook steak, most people buy it, take it home and fry it.
    2. Why not try something new. It might work. It might not.
    3. Also, why not try little things like the way tapas allow you to try new dishes without too much commitment because they are small.

The following takeaways are from the rest of the conference.

  1. I need to look into change leadership PD.
  2. To test parent presentations on a small group of parents first. You may find that what you think that they want to learn about and what they really want to know about don’t match!
  3. Studies show that a teacher’s personal and professional personas are the closest of any profession.
  4. Identify teacher’s fears about change so that you can address them. In addition to that identify your own fears and share them with the teachers.
  5. Add Makers and Innovators to your school’s Artists in Residence lists.
  6. Meet with your facilities team. They are a valuable but generally overlooked resource.
  7. Find out more about the OECD

Always admit to your students and parents that you do not know something sometimes and it will be fun to find out. Teachers are human just like they are and they are also always learning. They did not come out knowing everything.

Hong Kong Day 2 – Making

Day 2 was a day spent with the co author of Invent to Learn, Sylvia Martinez. The day was a combination of listening and doing. Many of the teachers in this workshop were in schools with or looking to make Makerspaces.

My takeaways were:

  1. Design for Agency

    1. This is a word that came onto my radar in Munich in 2015, but that I really like. The idea that you are going to teach kids to do something like they are are a scientist, doctor, engineer, physicist. I think this makes you think about planning differently as a teacher which is a challenge but good practice.
  2. Use tools with a “low floor”, meaning that they don’t require a lot of instruction. This allows the kids to get working faster.
  3. Constructivism and the idea of answering the student’s questions when they ask not before, but in the moment. I do this pretty regularly but I want to be more conscious of when I can do it more.
  4. That I need to shorten my explanations which will give more time for kids to work.
  5. Doing interesting things first. Then explain what they were doing, then let them ask questions.
    1. For example, don’t explain how circuits work or how to make one, ask them to make one. Then afterward explain what was happening and let them ask questions.
  6. That I want to start up my Geek Squad again, though I think I will change the name for this school setting.
  7. That design prompts should be brief, ambiguous, and immure to assessment.
    1. Brief allows for lots of ideas to be “correct”
    2. Ambiguous also allows for any idea and any solution
    3. Immune to assessment because the projects themselves are self-assessing.
      1. Did it work? No. Then you didn’t do it right, try again!
      2. You as a teacher don’t need to tell them this, the project will tell them.
  8. Don’t choose the groupings, let the students do that.

Hong Kong Day 1 – Schools Tour

We arrived in Hong Kong to attend the 21st Century learning pre-conference school Maker Tour. The plan for the day had us visiting five schools who had Maker programs. Our school sent our R&D leaders for research for our flexible spaces team. Our hope was to collect more information to use during our development process. We were very lucky that this was a perfect pre conference to help with this.

Our first school was the Kau Yan School, a local Chinese curriculum school that has committed to having every student participate in Maker lessons. One of the things that worked well at this school was that they asked local parents and specialists to come in and help them teach. For example, a parent who is an Engineer came in to teach engineering concepts to the students. Another element that I liked was that they had specific skill development lessons outside of projects. That allowed students to develop skills and knowledge to use during their projects.

The Harbour School was our next stop. The schools “Foundry” was only in its second year. This school also had made a commitment to every student having a full week of intensive Maker experience. The full week begins in grade three with grade two and below having half day lessons scattered throughout the year focused on skill development. They also have some interesting community connections beginning. For example a group of students building a hydroponic garden in which they will grow items to sell in the local market while educating the locals in the benefits of local organic produce.

The West Island School showed us their design space which is only slightly smaller than my nephew’s University Engineering Lab! One of the aspects of their program that stuck with me was their upcycling abilities. They went beyond using old/used items by just cutting them up or using them as is. They had systems in place where they could shred plastic then remelt and press it into sheets which would allow them to then use the plastic sheets in other projects. I also loved their idea of having students create Kickstarter like videos to promote their projects. Their Repair Club is one of the programs that they started which has given their Maker and CAD club students a way to help their community by repairing items while learning about them.

Canadian International School was a school that I looked forward to visiting because they are a PYP. I was curious to see how they were developing their program within their programme of inquiry. One of the elements of their program that I thought was a good idea is that they have set aside a ½ day per grade level for their teachers, as a team, to work as Makers in order to develop their Making skills. They also had me asking myself questions after seeing their 1:1 robotics rial group. This got me thinking about ways to better embed coding into our curriculum. I also liked that they had parent days with their Maker program where their students taught the parents how to work in the Maker program.

Our last stop was at Hong Kong International School to see their new lower elementary (PK-G2) Maker space. One thing that I took away from them was that the Tech Coach does things like put a stack of iPad boxes and the start of a domino run on the floor outside the lab, which is also across from the library. He does this just to see what the kids will do. They also had some great furniture and room layout ideas that I liked.


After seeing all five of these schools my main takeaways were actually common to most, if not all of them.

  1. Embed coding in math and/or writing. I had been mainly thinking writing as a replacement for instructional writing.
  2. Sustainability is a key element.
    1. As in using recycled products, using products that can still be recycled after, and actually recycling products into new materials that you can then use.
  3. Kids are pretty good at Problem Solving but not at Problem Finding.
  4. Everyone is Learning – teachers, students, parents, the admin
  5. Failure is the goal, a process and how the learning happens
  6. Class teachers are hands on as learners or as leaders of the learning, not dropping the students off and leaving them.
  7. You need a Design Cycle.
  8. Maker is a Mindset not a space.
  9. We must use explicit language not kid speak.
  10. Teachers need tinker and training time

G2 Explores their Digital Agency through Paperless Homework

For my Course 5 project I have developed a unit to work with a grade 2 class and their teacher. The goal of the unit is for the students to explore and develop their digital agency by responding to set tasks with a variety of digital tools. The aims of the unit will be to help students develop their independence to transfer their digital literacy skills independently when they are at home completing tasks for homework.

One of the reasons that we choose homework is because we wanted a safe environment for the students to be able to explore and develop in. By safe, we mean a place where the stresses of needing to complete a task for a formal assessment are not an element. Many times I am called in to help a teacher use technology only just as they are about to start a summative assessment task. I was thankful when this teacher, Beth, asked me to help her create a unit around building her student’s digital literacy without the stress of an assessment looming in the background for either the teacher or the students.

It also gives me a chance to develop her student’s digital literacy in line with the digital needs of the school. Our school is 1:1 BYOD in Grade 5, 1:1 Chromebooks in Grades 3 & 4. Beth is one of the two pilot classes in Grade 2 with 1:1 iPads. She is a teacher who has consistently looked for ways to improve both her own digital knowledge and that of her students.

The development of this unit also allows me to work closely with my new teammate. Ryan is new to the role of Tech Integrationist. By going through the process of planning, creating a unit and creating the resources allows us to get on the same page with how we work with teachers. This also gives us a chance to research and develop our digital skills to find the best tools and resources to use with the students.

I am looking forward to working closely with this teacher to develop and teach this unit with her.

To answer the questions for this week:

  1. Why do you think this unit is a good possibility for your Course 5 project?
    1. I think that this is a good possibility for Course 5 because this unit will allow me to help a variety of students move their digital knowledge from Substitution to Augmentation and Modification.
    2. The development of this unit will also allow the teacher to move her skills further. For many of the tasks she has moved into Augmentation, but helping her see the possibilities for moving her practice and her student’s skills into Modification in the areas that she is ready is something I am looking forward to helping her with.
  2. What are some of your concerns about redesigning this unit?
    1. Some of my concerns is that the step to paperless digital home learning will be too much too soon for many of the students and even more of the parents.
    2. I am also concerned that we will have parents who reject this change before their child has the chance to actually truly “live” it to find out if it will work.
    3. I have to manage my desire to go “all tech, all the time”. After all, they are still in 2nd grade and need to do fine motor work!
  3. What shifts in pedagogy will this new unit require from you?
    1. This does not require a major pedagogical shift for me personally. I think the largest shift will be for the parents. Seeing new ways that their children complete homework will give them yet another “eye” into their child’s classroom life.
  4. What skills and/or attitudes will this new unit require from your students?
    1. Digital Agency
    2. Self-Directed Learning
    3. Resilience
    4. Systems Thinking