Coetail Blog Re-design

I really enjoyed exploring the resources around Visual Literacy this week.  It really made me look at everything (my blog, my presentations in class, other presentations, and the world around me) with a critical eye. I’ve been wanting to do a revamp on my COETAIL blog for a while, so with this new information in hand and design principles (CARP) to lean on, I’m going to give it a go.

Like most of us, I dove into the COETAIL course with great energy, reading, thinking and absorbing many new ideas.  The act of blogging was a great reflective practice and I was quick to get the blog up and running.  Wordpress was a new platform for me, but with the instructors’ videos and transferring other skills, it was quick to set up. With so much thinking around the early concepts, the blog site itself was set up in a functional matter and it hasn’t changed much since those early days.  I was more absorbed with the content of my blog posts, rather than the blog design.

Here’s a screen shot of how it looked:

Screen Shot 2015-09-29 at 10.23.26 pm

Here are some issues I have:

The banner image – As I said, this blog was created quickly at the beginning of course 1.  This image is one of my favorite photos I’ve snapped.  However, it is not at all connected to the purpose or focus of this blog.  It is not a metaphor for teaching or anything smart like this.  It’s just a nice, colorful picture that bring me good memories.  So this was the first thing I want to change.  I wanted an image that reflects the blog content and connects with the blog title – Tracy 2.0.

Density and Whitespace – There was too much white space around the top and top-right hand corner in the original layout.  The theme of the blog was creating this effect, so I explored a variety of the themes to find a better style. In fact, I tried on almost of all of the themes. The ones I liked the most were Storyline, Sixteen, Magazino, and TwentyTen. However, there was at least one small thing about each theme that I would’ve liked to be able to manipulate further.

COLOR & CONTRAST – The blog was lacking in color except for the banner image.  It was very much black on white.  Too much white.  Everything was swimming in white. While I do like simplicity, I think the blog was too bland.  I thought to use more color would liven it up and provide some structure to the page so it didn’t feel like the text was slipping off the side of a snow covered mountain.

ALIGNMENT – This was not a problem on the original blog design as everything was aligned on the left side giving it a sleek and organised feel.

PROXIMITY – Again, too much white space and one scrolling blog meant that connections were hard to find between information and some of features of the blog.

So in the new design, I chose the theme Magazino.  I used Picmonkey to make a Site Logo for the top of the page.  I decided to use pictures of myself since this is a website about my teaching practices and reflective of my philosophies.  I only wish that I could’ve extended the collage across further so there wasn’t so much white space. This was a limitation of the theme. I chose a black background to act as a border and provide some structural feel to the page.  The Social Media Icons were a new addition which I think are important and align with the focus of Course 1 – connected educators and learners.  The new theme gives an image to represent individual blog posts in close proximity which I think helps the reader to connect the information from separate posts and get a sense of the overall theme (visual literacy). Using Proximity to make connections may mean a viewer is more likely to go on and read other posts.

Here is a the new look:

Screen Shot 2015-10-18 at 10.27.35 am

After reading Michael Agger’s article Lazy Eyes, I’m trying to be more conscious of how much text I use, the length of paragraphs, and the use of subtitles, bulleted lists and white space in individual posts.

A last minute alteration to change the background colour to match the blue text of the blog titles and I think I’m done.  Any feedback is most welcome…

Screen Shot 2015-10-18 at 12.24.07 pm




Info Me – Course 3 Final Project

For the final project, I decided to do option 3 “Create an “About Me” page on the COETAIL blog, including an infographic or visual resume.  I chose this option because I feel creating a resume is a highly relevant task for all professionals and especially so for educators working in the international school system where there is constant change and fluidity. Whilst not recruiting for the next school year, it will be something I will do in the near future. Not only that, to create a resume is to really take oneself through a highly reflective process as it is impossible to create any resume without considering some essential questions and filtering what is important and what is not important. I knew it would force me to consider questions such as:

  • Who am I as an educator?
  • Which of my experience, qualifications and skills are most important?
  • What information is no longer relevant?

My last resume was written and used for recruiting in 2010. Here is a link to that resume.   It is a traditional resume in most senses.  Now, there is new content to be added; moreover, things have changed in the international teaching world and the world in general with respect to information literacy which I want to infuse into the new resume.  The elements of the old resume that I liked include the quotes, the use of colour and that it is organised.  Other than this, the resume is pretty conventional and standard in terms of content and layout.

After almost 15 years of work experience the teaching experience (work history) section is starting to get lengthy. As is the core competencies and professional development sections.  I have been privileged to work at school that offer many onsite professional development as well as had opportunities to attend PD through various conferences, institutes and specialized programs; however, I felt that I need to find a way to consolidate all of this information and represent it visually.

My main goal with creating an infographic style resume would be to synthesize this information and present it in a more visually appealing way. However, I fear that some information (specific details which I think are important) would be lost in the process. That is why I’d also accompany the infographic with a full traditional resume. I’m proud of both my work history and the time I’ve invested in professional development over the years and am conscious that this could be lost.

I decided to take a similar approach to what @jutecht.  recommends from week 3 on creating visual presentations which is to start in analog. So to do this I considered elements of my resume that I valued and put each one on an index card in some visual form. I played around with the placement of the index card keeping in mind the principles of layout (CARP).  See below my design process:


One big change that I wanted to include in my new resume was some interactive components to step away from a flat document style resume.  I thought this would also be a solution to not being able to include all information in a one-pager infographic. Therefore, I want to include one component that is a link to a video showing a typical teaching scenario in my classroom and places were more information could be found through links and pop-ups.

So after considering all these components I was fairly happy with my vision. However, I quickly realized that I didn’t have the tech skills to make it happen. That’s a real blow when you realize your abilities do not meet your vision. Although I could see how I could create some of the components using various tools, I did not know how to stitch the pieces together in a beautiful and professional-looking way. One of the benefits of Piktochart and other such software is the ready made designs and themes. But on the other hand, it doesn’t give as much control to the user and I knew that it would not give me the flexibility I needed.  So I found the most basic theme that looked easiest to modify to put in my elements.  It doesn’t at all match what I want my Infographic Resume to look and function like, but it is a start and a good practice applying various skills.

To represent all the professional development section of my resume, I decided to do a word art visual representation. Here are a couple of different versions. While I’m happy with the visual elements, I do not think it truly represents the extensive professional development that I’ve been a part of over the years.  Therefore I would somehow link this back to the traditional resume.


To represent my teaching experience, I wanted to include a map which when you roll over the places I’ve taught a box pops up with the school name, years taught, roles held. I could not make this and had to settle for a simple map created using MapChart.  I made a simple graph using Excel.  In addition, I selected a video I created last year showcasing Math Workshop.

I also tried some of the other resume generating web-based tools including:

These do give a clean look and they take much of the design principle decisions out of the users hands to produce a clean and organized product.  However, the final product is a little bit predictable.  Any potential recruiter will recognise that this is a plug in your information type tool.  It does not show what the user can do in terms of applying design principles or creating own content.

In addition to the infographic Resume, I also wanted to rework my About Me page.  So far, I haven’t spent much time on it.  I have only really just added information as a placeholder until I had more time.  On the About Me page, I want to include the Infographic Resume, the traditional resume and a more detailed narrative about myself as an educator.
To end, I’m not at all happy with the final product.  It is not professional or polished.  It certainly does not match the infographic that I haven’t painted in my mind.  However, in my opinion… Process trumps Product.  So in terms of a learning experience this project definitely fulfilled my goals.  I’ll continue to develop my skills so as to be able to turn this into something useable come recruiting time.  I may have to ask for some help from an expert but I definitely know what a want.

Including Infographics

As a kid, I grew up on a steady diet of posters.  Posters were the go-to product at the end of units of work or when presenting data.  Right up to and including university we were making posters (that’s showing my age).  I loved making posters – choosing colors, what to go where, layout, styles, fonts etc.  I didn’t realise at the time, I was being exposed to and learning essential design principles.  To this day, I love to use visuals to organize my thinking by sketching, creating flowcharts etc.  While posters are out of fashion these days, as there are many way cooler ways to display information, there are still many of the same metacognitive skills to apply. Out with posters, in with Infographics.  Infographics are being used for many purposes including:

They have many educational uses as students can consume infographics (read, intepret, and discuss) or create their own.

Currently in class, we are just starting a new unit (Sharing the Planet) which focuses on biomes of the world and their threats.  We are using mangroves as a case study as it is a big local issue where I am currently located (Mumbai, India).  To learn about global threats through mangroves we use sources such as:

But I’d like to include an additional source of information as a result of the focus of this week’s course.  In this unit the purpose of including an infographic would be to learn more about our subject area and to focus on the key skills of <how to read and interpret> an infographic.  I found an infographic that supports our learning objectives at the United Nations University Institute for Water, Environment, and Health website.
Infographic From United Nations University Institute for Water, Environment, and Health

At the same time, we would be inquiring into ‘How this text compares to our other sources of information’ through these key concepts:

  • What makes an infographic an infographic?  Form
  • How does it work?  Function
  • Why is it like this?  Causation

What I’m really trying to do is set up a foundation for future units when students could have an opportunity to create an infographic.  A lot of groundwork is already laid.  They would already know what infographics are like and when is it best to use it as opposed to other forms of text.

When thinking about infographics I immediately thought of Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano who has written a lot of blog posts about the use of infographics as well as creating infographics herself for a variety of purposes for example this infographic on copyright.  She has some fantastic resources to help teachers use infographics in the classroom.  

A spanner:

When I was ready to push publish on this blog post, I came across one last article that I could have done without reading at this point in time.  But once read, I can’t hit the undo button in my brain.  Essentially, it is discussing the difference between an infographic and digital posters.  It’s possible that there are many digial posters disguised as infographics if you were to get technical on some of the features or even the purpose of an infographic.  So, I am going to have to rethink some of my work.  

  • Am I using an infographic or a digital poster?
  • Are students creating an infographic or digital poster?
  • Does it matter?  

I’m interested in your thoughts.  For now, I’ve got a plan and I’ll implement and reflect and modify for next time.  Teaching is like that.  You make decisions based on what you know at that point in time, and it is likely that you’ll acquire more information and experience and change.  If I think back 15 years ago when I started teaching, there are many things I cringe at (think tri-fold brochure – really popular back then).  

Well… “The times they are a-changin’ ” – says Bob Dylan… constantly…







Telling a story

When considering how I could use digital storying telling in the classroom, many ideas popped into my head.  As outlined in the article by Educase, digital storytelling can be  instructional, persuasive, historical, or reflective.  Therefore, across the year, I can think of multiple connections in various units and various subject areas:

  • digital storytelling for the migration unit (Where we are in place and time) – historical
  • beginning of the year narrative writing unit
  • informational writing unit – (Sharing the Planet) – instructional
  • student learning journeys across the year (reflective) for showcasing at Student Led Conferences
  • opinion writing unit – personal and persuasive essay writing
  • tracking the steps in a human-design centered project currently underway in partnership with two NGOs.

With so many opportunities, it sounds easy, right?  I started to think this through a little further to focus in on one of these possibilities. The most natural choice went to incorporating digital storytelling into the narrative writing unit currently ongoing in my class.  In fact, this unit is in its last few weeks where students have chosen one piece of writing to take through the writing process and will publish their small moment story in class.  But something just keeps buzzing around in my head (and it’s not the drilling coming from the apartment three floors down which is under renovation).

flickr photo shared by Samuel M. Livingston under a Creative Commons ( BY ) license

And that is, the why?    I’m asking myself:
Is this just an add on?’
What reasons do I have for doing this?’
Does it transform learning rather than enhance the learning and how?
Is it worth the extra time?
The curriculum map says I should be starting the informational writing unit.  What does this mean for my pacing for the rest of the year?
Should I have thought of this at the beginning and woven it in? Is it too late?
Do the benefits out way any negatives?

Reading through David Jakes Towards a Framework for Visual Literacy Learning did help answer most of my questions.  It settled the confusion and validated my thinking around the importance of digital storytelling opportunities in the classroom.  Further reading confirmed the benefits further due to the multitude of skills that are involved including 21st Century Skills. The readings helped me to understand that it is not just about telling a story using digital tools, but it is about the act of telling and sharing a story.

One point of hesitancy and this in itself is how I drew the conclusion that this is not an add on, is the multitude of potential teaching points that might need to be included when making a digital story.  This is not a case of extending my unit by a week to have them record in digital format because there are many other facets that need to be included.  Here are some possible learning points:

  • crafting a script from a personal narrative
  • narration and fluency
  • sourcing still images
  • creating own images and video
  • video filming techniques and shot types
  • green screening
  • understanding creative commons and copyright
  • using the hardware and software for digital storytelling
  • uploading and sharing products

So the potential for integration and the incorporation of benchmarks across multiple disciplines, means that digital story telling can be your friend to save time in the ever packed school year.  However, for that to happen, it is important to be strategic and plan for this across the year and across school (e.g. K- 5) as not everything can be taught in a year but should be built up in layers.  You can then leverage students background knowledge and experiences so the digital story telling project is not so overwhelming.

Like any decision I make in the classroom, I want to ensure that there has been a thoughtful process.  To help me make the decision to digital story tell or not, I’ve asked myself this:

Does it allow students opportunities to consume, construct and connect?  And the short answer is YES and on multiple levels.

Inspiration is all around.  Stories are everywhere and screaming to be told as attested by the success of the Humans of New York series.  I’ve been so deeply inspired by what I read and viewed this week including this last item:



“Tell your story,  Take the data of your life and turn it into real people doing real things”…”change the world through storytelling”.

Presentation Upgrade

The beginning of the school year seems a bit of a distant memory as we have just finished week 7.  However, the early weeks were formative in setting up many systems and building relationships that have lasting impact throughout the year.  One particular important beginning of the year event was the Open House session (Back to School Night for some) where parents came to school to meet the teacher and learned more about their child’s upcoming year.  At our school, we conduct this during the school day.  We start with a whole grade level presentation to parents.  It is this presentation that I would like to re-examine as I’ve struggled with the presentation that I’ve used in the past.  Feeling overwhelmed with the amount of information needed to share, the presentation became a sit and get for parents.  Here’s the presentation:

As you can see, this presentation does not align with many of the principles of presentation design that experts write about.  It is far from being simple and balanced.  It doesn’t tell a story or revolve around a central idea.  There is too much text on some slides and much of the information could be accessed by parents before or after the open house through handouts or additional information sessions hosted by the school (e.g. technology, assessment, EAL).

I would really like to rethink this presentation and incorporate best practices from presentation zen which includes going back to the very beginning and reviewing purpose.  Instead of sharing so much school logistical information I’d really like this Open House session to convey some big ideas and themes around the year.  I started to think deeper about the purpose of the session and what my personal goals were (What I hope parents would walk away knowing or understanding).  This got me thinking critically about what kind of information is best shared in person and what information is best accessed through handouts.  Here is a list of the ideas that I brainstormed that are important to me (not in any particular order at this stage):

  • Who are we as a group of educators working with your child every day?
  • What are our fundamental beliefs about learning (especially for this age group)?
  • What are some features of this particular grade (that sets in apart from other grade levels)?
  • What is the learning environment like and how does this support student learning?
  • What do we believe about home-school connections and partnerships?
  • What is the role of technology in learning?

My next step was to find powerful images that represent these ideas and would help me to convey a message.  After a quick search I realised that finding the perfect image is hard work and on reflection perhaps the best way to get the ‘just right’ photo would be to use some my own images.  If I’m talking about the idea of creativity in the curriculum would it be better to have the word creativity on the slide or an image of students being creative?

For example:

flickr photo shared by Sean MacEntee under a Creative Commons ( BY ) license


Image by author, photos by ASB
Image by author, photos by ASB

In this presentation I definitely want parents to know that I believe that learning is a social activity and that students have an opportunity to learn in many different ways including partnerships, groups, and independent practice. It’s important to me that I convey that the learning environment is dynamic and interactive.  An image would serve well to represent what I could talk about in an authentic way to the audience.

Photo by author
Photo by author

I want the overall feel of the presentation to reflect simplicity both in individual slides and the presentation as a whole.  For this reason, I connected with the Kawasaki Method (10 slides – 10 major ideas).  This seems a reasonable number – anymore and I’ve probably tried to include too many ideas in the presentation and may be veering from my initial goals. 10 slides seems to be a good fit for this audience, purpose and time limit (15 minutes).  With respect to including text, I want to ensure that powerful words (perhaps quotes) are used as this will help create a balance between text and images.  I envision a mashup of the Lessig Method and Kawasaki method while at the same time applying some of the other great points I read about this week.

I’m really liking the direction that this new presentation is going and the vision that I am creating in my mind.  I am considering using this for the final course project.  While I don’t see myself adopting one particular presentation style, I do see many elements coming together to form my own style.  Which brings me to this quote which is one that resonates with me throughout the whole COETAIL journey as I am presented with new ideas and choosing what and how much to let into my life.

“You are, in fact, a mashup of what you choose to let into your life.”
Austin Kleon, Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative


Visuals in the classroom

Thinking about the amount of information that students are exposed to day after day in the their school setting plus the additional information out of school makes me feel like I am competing for their brain space.  What are they really going to remember about a particular lesson on any particular day?  Often I ask my son how his day was, what did you learn?  The most common answer is good or blank stare.  I worry about what’s really sticking or resonating inside of him.  

For this I know teachers have to work hard at capturing and maintaining students’ attention and we have become creative at how we can stimulate and captivate our students.  For me personally, using visuals is one very important way to support student learning – to engage, to inspire, to remember, to highlight, to conclude, to represent, and to analyse.  There are many reasons why visuals can enhance learning including those described by Karla Gutierrez.  If you need more information about this in a visual way this infographic gives 13 reasons.  This is why I am a big believer and user of charts in the elementary classroom.  I believe it helps students to anchor their thinking and create memories around learning.  it’s also a valuable resource that they can return to in order to build their own independence as a learner.  That being said, some of my charts are better than others and it would be fun to analyse them with some of the design principles in mind.  Do I have text and images balanced right?  Bulleted list of information or longer pieces of text?

I’m planning ahead of how I can use more images in the classroom to foster thinking and promote communication.  I found a powerful image of a local river near our school and I plan to use this for a morning meeting activity as a provocation for the beginning of a unit of inquiry about to start – Sharing the Planet.  In this activity, I plan to have student looks at the image using the Visible Thinking routine ‘Think …. Puzzle…. Explore….’  

flickr photo shared by ravi khemka under a Creative Commons ( BY ) license

I’m also planning to use this image in class.  

Photo by author
Photo by author

This idea came from my 10 year old son.  I was trying to hurry him up to get out the door to leave for school.  He was meant to be brushing his teeth.  I found him staring out my bedroom window with his toothbrush in his mouth and my patience was slowly slipping away.  After ditching the toothbrush, he told me that he was looking at an ant trail and a bunch of ants carrying a worm.  Sure enough, there was a busy line of ants hauling the worm/caterpillar away at quite a great speed.  I rushed to get my phone to take a photo and with no prompting at all he gave me a good suggestion of how to use this image in the classroom.  He suggested that students should try to connect this image to our How We Organize Ourselves unit all about working together as  a team – brilliant idea.  And a good reminder to me to look out the window more often.  Yes, we are surrounded by images, but when used intentionally and explicitly in the classroom a deeper level of thinking and  learning can occur.


3 Cs – Collaboration, Citizenship, & Copyright

Citizenship is a core part of education.  With our changing learning landscape digital citizenship has taken its own place on the stage and warrants its own space in the curriculum.  It is one of the 6 ISTE Standards for Students and is the heart of COETAIL course 2.  The use of technology to enhance learning has become an ever increasing focus in my practice and COETAIL has really encouraged a reflective look at my practice.  One realisation is that I’ve spent considerable time thinking about the use of technology to promote creativity and innovation, as a vehicle to facilitate communication and collaboration, and as a research tool, but I have not given the same attention to aspects of Standard 5 – Digital Citizenship – Students understand human, cultural, and societal issues related to technology and practice legal and ethical behaviour.  And as this realisation has bubbled over the last 7 weeks of the course, I’ve seen others grapple with similar issues of recognising its importance but wondering how to be explicit in its integration into the curriculum.  This is in part how this final project started for me as a need to change my mindset to teaching aspects of digital citizenship proactively rather than reactively.  I began to realise that I was not arming my students with the information, skills, attitudes and mindset to live the life of a model digital citizen. One aspect of digital citizenship is the safe and legal practice of information.  It’s been my experience (and those I worked with on the final project) that many students reach the end of primary school without a proper understanding of copyright or citation and it was this commonality that drew us together.  For the final project, I teamed up with Angela, Leah, Rob on a project that stemmed from our personal experiences in our day to day teaching lives regarding the teaching of copyright.

Image by author
Image by author

And as the seeds were planted our project grew.   The core aim of our collaborative project was to inspire a whole school/primary school initiative to create guidelines and resources for age appropriate citation (including books websites, blogs, photos, youtube, tweets) and resources to support this aspect of digital citizenship in the classroom.  This project is all about setting teachers and students up for success.  As resources started to be created we realised we needed a place to document and share everything.  We created a website for both students and teachers to access and utilise.

Screen Shot 2015-05-09 at 12.53.18 PM

The resources created included posters to be accessed in the classroom by teachers and students.  They are in both printable and digital formats.  In addition, we thought it was important to support these resources with frameworks.  We created two UbD plans to support the use of the guidelines and resources.  Our initial UbD plan documents the thinking behind the project itself and the process we went through.  It can be used by other teachers/tech coaches/coordinators when implementing a school wide approach to copyright and citation.

The second UbD plan was developed to help teachers or a team of teachers integrate the use of the resources into a unit.

A big focus was making the content accessible to K-5 students.  Much of what we’d seen used
was too complex or text dense.  As I’ve been informing myself about copyright issues I realised how complicated it was.  I spent a long time studying the copyright flowchart created by Meryl Zeidenberg and Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano.  It is a great resource for teachers but overwhelming for young students.  This inspired us to create a flowchart suitable for elementary students.  And hence just another example of how one idea sparks others as we all share our content and ideas online.

Copyright Flowchart2 2
Image by Tracy Blair, Rob Langlands, Amanda McCloskey, Leah Bortolin

It was also important for us to connect our work to a wider focus which is overall citizenship by making connections to the IB PYP Learner Profile.  We added further resources to support the unit such as Visible Thinking routines and student and teacher assessment tools.  As well as using this website and resources ourselves, we hope that others will find it useful and provide us feedback. We are sure it can continue to grow and we really had to force ourselves to stop so we could wrap up our project.

This project was as much about being part of a professional learning network and global collaboration as it was about the content of our work (copyright and responsible use of information).  It was challenging to find a group initially as the steps I took to connect with others resulted in dead ends.  It reminded me of my childhood  PE days waiting to be picked by the two students selected as captain by the coach.  This first hand experience has developed my own skill set for finding connections and sparking collaboration.  The collaboration aspect was very rewarding. As well as needing tools to facilitate global collaboration, I’ve learned it’s important to have structures or systems in place to facilitate the work (like group agreements, agendas collaborative planning documents) just as I would in a school collaborative situation. Reflecting on the process has allowed me to think about what really worked and things I would do differently next time.

The benefits were immediate as we could use our different strengths. I found that we generated a lot of ideas; and new ideas arose as a result.  In fact we never stopped coming up with new ideas.  A strength of the group was the division of tasks, following time lines, replying promptly to comments and emails and being flexible with each others’ schedules.  What was challenging was working on our project at different times.  Sometimes I wanted to ask a quick question or seek feedback on work but had to wait.  It was good practice in patience, being organised and working ahead of schedules to leave plenty of time for discussions and reviewing our work. We used a variety of mediums to collaborate – email, collaborate planning document which had a lot of commenting during all stages of the project, and google hangout for face to face discussions.

Next time I would structure the shared planning document in a better way to record our ideas.  Here’s a short video of us using Google Hangout to plan and organise our work and shows us pulling our ideas together.  This was my first experience using Google Hangout.  Next time, I would use it more as I always felt more informed after the face to face conversations as ideas could be clarified right on the spot.




Empowering Our Students

Empowering Our Students

The internet is a powerful medium with vast potential.  Students have at their fingertips all they need to share their voice, ideas, projects, and work.  It’s a powerful tool because of its capacity to connect with many and varied people in a short period of time.  It’s more powerful than other mediums because of its two-way nature.  It also gives students a way to make an impact and spread global awareness.

As educators, I believe we have an important job in guiding and empowering students so they can take advantage of this tool.  If we want our students to make a positive impact in their world using technology (and without), we should be asking ourselves ‘What skills, attitudes, knowledge and understandings do students need to acquire in order to be able to do that?’ and then work towards providing an environment that supports those critical things needed. This question is no different if we were working towards a different end goal.  And the answer could be described by a school’s mission, values, and the curriculum. So essentially what I’m saying is that it is the child’s education (day to day, month to month, year to year) that empowers them to make a positive impact in their world.  That being the case, what we do in our classroom and how we spend our time with kids is critical.

Taking action and empowerment is not about technology, but technology certainly gives students a tool to accomplish change, take action and/or take charge.  How many of your students felt compelled to help our neighbours in Nepal this week?  Did they send emails asking others to support charities?, Ask to do a fundraiser, or Make a poster to create awareness? They have an innate desire to take action on matters that are important to them.

What is essential for this to happen is a learning environment where student can take ownership of what and how they learn, where through modelling and practice they become self directed learners who have multiple experiences of learning through authentic performance task.  Through their units of study, students can be exposed to multiple technological tools that can support students in sharing their learning in appropriate and authentic way.  When the time comes, they will have a toolbox to reach in to and find which tool best fits their goal.

flickr photo shared by jrhode under a  Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license

Stand back and look at the year and list all the tools that students have used and which students could then go on and use for other purposes when the need is there.  Are the tools they’ve been using varied, relevant and can be used for a range of purposes?  Go ahead and make a list.

Photo by author.
Photo by author.

I know I have hit the right mark in my class when kids come to school asking if they can share something they’ve made at home after being exposed or taught something at school, or when they start using tools for different purposes.  This happened last week after we’d had a couple of sessions using TurtleArt to explore the concept of angles in regular polygons.  Through these two sessions students learned how to program the turtle to make a polygon and figure out the relationship between the number of sides of a polygon and the angle needed to turn the turtle. TurtleArt was introduced to me last year by Gary Stager who was visiting our school.  He ran this session with the support of our Tech Coach.  This year I felt confident to use it in my geometry unit myself.  I got an email that night from my student asking if she could share a project she created that night at home.  The next day she came to school excited to share.

Screenshot by author.
Screenshot by author.

She had taken the skills and knowledge from class and applied it to a totally new project and created a piece of art.  Of course, the ripple effect was the fascinating to watch as others started to think about what they could do with the tool.  It’s a mindset or natural curiosity really and we want to promote that in our classrooms.  We want students to wonder to themselves ‘I wonder how else I could use these skills I have.’  It’s only a matter of time that they start applying the skills to things that matter to them – friendship, social issues, solving problems.

Also, last month, a couple of my students had been working together on an independent project in their spare time, staying in for recess, using 5 minutes here and there.  I didn’t pay it much attention, I just new it was busy and exciting work for them and they always went into a small closed room off our learning space so as not to disturb others (I work in an open learning environment).  A few days later, they were ready and asked if they could share during the morning meeting.  It was to my surprise and delight that they’d created a musical instrument out of various materials and constructed a piece of music with it.  They’d planned and rehearsed their performance and then delivered it in such a way that audience participation was encouraged.  So as well as having tools to work with, another essential item is time.  Kids need time to explore their new skills, knowledge, understandings and follow their passions.

Photo by author.
Photo by author.

This week ask your kids this question:  ‘What do you want to do with your computer?’  And listen to what they say.  Do they say, I want to make a presentation, play a game, write a report, make an infographic.  Behind all of these tools or software I bet there is a deeper desire.  Kids may be conscious or unconscious of this and you can help uncover their real desire to use their computer.  Then ask them, ‘What do you really want to do?’  Probe deeper for the underlying desire they have.  Do they want to connect with like minded kids, spread their work to a larger audience, or document their thinking  This image created by Bill Ferriter really resonated with me when I came across it.  It made me stop and think about some of the conversations I have with my students about the use of technology.

flickr photo shared by William M Ferriter under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC ) license

We know there is a lot of things kids can do with technology, but let’s make sure the learning environments that they spend their time in empowers, promotes, supports the potential of technology.  Read Svitak Adora’s article for ideas around supporting students: Five Ways to Empower Students.



Svitak, Adora. “Five Ways to Empower Students.” Edutopia, 8 Feb. 2012. Web. 2 May 2015.


Creating a Spotlight on Digital Citizenship

Creating a Spotlight on Digital Citizenship

I feel out of the 6 ISTE standards #5 Digital Citizenship does not get the ‘spotlight’ or the same amount of ‘air time’ compared to the others. There may be an underlying assumption that we are all doing it in through conversations in our class on an as needed basis. But I’m beginning to believe that this is not enough, not by a long shot.  Like other areas we teach, it deserves intentional, proactive planning. Of course there is always opportunities for on the spot learning moments.  Should digital citizenship get equal recognition as the standards such as creativity and innovation?  Or perhaps it is not important to compare, but at least ensure all standards get the attention they need.

Photo Source

 As I was reading around the topic of Digital Citizenship a couple of points kept resonating with me. Firstly, the question  “Do we have a common language?”   and secondly empathy. We know that having a common language in other areas of school can have an impact on student learning.  For example, when a school adopts a common language around reading we see a higher level of articulation of the topic.  Same with writing.  Building a metalanguage helps us to have deeper conversation with our writers. I do agree that at the heart of Digital Citizenship lies empathy as many of the issues that arise connected to Digital Citizenship can be addressed through the lens of empathy.  For example:  How would the owner feel if I used his work? How would student X feel if I spread her secret?

In “Bullying” Has Little Resonance with TeenagersDanah Boyd describes a case study on bullying and after uncovering the layers she finds empathy to be at the heart of it.  One of the most powerful points she makes is

 “We need interventions that focus on building empathy, identifying escalation, and techniques for stopping the cycles of abuse. We need to create environments where young people don’t get validated for negative attention and where they don’t see relationship drama as part of normal adult life.” by Danah Boyd

I’d like to make digital citizenship a part of our school culture and embed it within existing structures.  For example, I work in a PYP school.  Within that framework are the Learner Profiles and Attitudes.  These are the key attributes that we aspire to for our students.  That’s a great foundation to build on.  One of these attitudes is Empathy.  Students already have a good understanding of what that is as they’ve been exposed to it over the years.  It is part of our common language. I’m ready to jump right in and what’s great is there are plenty of resources online to use as a starting point especially from commonsense media and creative commons. In fact, there is so much it is a little overwhelming.  What’s the best way? Which is the best resource?  Given it is April and I have 8 weeks left with these kiddos I’m going with the mindset that whatever we do over the next 8 weeks will be a start.  I’ll develop a more systematic and integrated plan for next year.  Also, these next weeks will be great to try out the resources available and get feedback from the kids.  I’m going to start exploring what’s out there. I’ve just found that Brainpop has some resources too which may be appealing to elementary aged students.  But for tomorrow, I plan to start with this little gem.  I think this will be great to engage my 9-10 years old.

As I send these kids into the summer holidays, no doubt some of which will be online, and into fifth grade, I think I can add some tools to their tool box and get them thinking about their digital life.  If nothing else, we can start getting to the heart of our digital life through exploring and maintaining an open dialogue about empathy and building a  common language.

What’s your favorite resource that you’ve used recently to address an aspect of digital citizenship? 

Copyright – Arming our students with the right information

I’ve spent the last two days in a conference.  The keynote speakers spoke well about their areas of expertise and had well designed presentations using visuals creatively to support their messages.  But I did not see one photo credit.  While I could tell some photos were probably their own, many were not. This got me thinking, are the adults in the lives of our students providing the models and support needed in this changing landscape of copyright usage?

Part of being a responsible citizen is not taking from others.  Students learn this value from a very young age.  They follow their parents around the shops, watching them make purchases and making payments for the things they buy – a range of products:  books, food, petrol.  They might start to see their parents also shopping online including digital books and music.  This is where it starts to merge into digital citizenship because it is now a digital platform; however, the idea is the same.  We should purchase the things that others make and we want.

Infographic created by Meryl Zeidenberg and Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano

Generally, kids easily internalize this aspect of being a responsible citizen.  But now the lines are blurry as online content is very accessible.  It may not be obvious that at the other end there was a creator and therefore a owner to the product (image, ideas, words).  Therefore I believe we have an important job to do from the moment kids walk into our classrooms and school to model authentically how we go about using, or if needed, purchasing content, products, services, and ideas.  It should be as transparent as a child walking into the supermarket with a parent, selecting some items and making the purchase. However, it’s clear from the length of the flowchart created by the folks of LangWitches about the use of material that it is not that simple.

Students need to be armed with the right type and amount of information so they continue to be innovative and creative and not too heavily restricted.  To help balance the copyright dilemma I like to reflect on the words of Austin Kleon in his talk ‘Steal Like an Artist’ and his book titled Steal Like an Artist.  I think it provides a balancing perspective to the Copyright issue.


A feature of elementary teaching is to look at the work of others for inspiration and ideas.  In art lessons, kids have been studying Eric Carle and his art work and stories for years and subsequently creating their own Eric Carle inspired pieces.  Similarly, students in my class get inspired to write poetry from reading the works of others, mimicking their style.  Students enjoy creating their own poem based on the work of Margaret Wise Brown’s book titled The Important Book.   We are always sure to give credit to the author letting others know our work has been inspired by hers.

I was also encouraged to read the website ‘Teaching Copyright’ which advocates for teaching about copyright issues in a balanced way.  To only present one side is doing a disservice to students.  Just as we arm ourselves with information to make decisions about using content, we too must help students.

“This misinformation is harmful, because it discourages kids and teens from following their natural inclination to be innovative and inquisitive. The innovators, artists and voters of tomorrow need to know that copyright law restricts many activities but also permits many others” state the folks from the Teaching Copyright website.  I agree that the need accurate and balanced information that will allow them to work confidently when using and creating content.