Coetail Final Project Ideas

I’ve been mulling over the Final Project since Course 4 started.  I have had a mosaic of ideas rather than one clear direction. I’ve tried approaching my ideas from different angles to see if I can see a clear path but without much luck.  As I am working in a BYOD Grade 4 classroom in a school that promotes and gives full support and resources to the use of technology to enhance student learning, many of my units of inquiry have tech integrated into them both for the process of learning and product.  While they are not perfect and could be reworked, I felt it wouldn’t push me enough outside of my comfort zone, nor allow me to apply many of my new understandings and skills from COETAIL.

One of my main goals is to push myself more into the redefinition stage in some aspect of the curriculum as a lot of my current tech usage supports enhancements (which is not a bad thing – it allows us to be effective learners). For these reasons, I want to choose a unit from core subjects such as reading, writing, math which tend to be more stand alone units.  I think I will choose a literacy focus as the use of technology for literacy has normally come in the shape of an add on at the end (e.g the unit continues as normal and I add on a tech tool at the end for publishing.  Yes – using technology for publishing is great as it gets a more polished product and perhaps a wider audience, but again there could be more value added by using authentically throughout.  Also I was inspired by @snideralexis who showed how technology could be infused throughout a literacy unit and not tagged on.  
In the past year, I’ve participated in my first global collaborative project – If You Learned Here and I saw the benefits of having an expanded audience and witnessed high student engagement.  From that, I felt inspired to be a part of more GCP and perhaps one day create my own.  So my reflective thinking over the past 6 weeks on my own work and the work of other COETAIL members has lead me to this point and below are details of two options for the Course Five final project.  They are very much in the ideation stage and I’m going to spend time thinking over the holidays about which one to choose.  No matter which one I choose I want to be sure to include elements of all for COETAIL courses including aspects on Digital Citizenship, Visual Literacy, Connectivism and Global Collaboration, and Integrated Technology and highlight many of the ISTE Standards for Students.

Idea #1:  Global Collaborative Digital Book Club

In this project, students will be part of a global collaborative book club.  I will find other upper elementary classrooms to partner for this project. As this is my first time to organize a GCP, I will start with only a few school (perhaps 3-4).  Students will read books and have book clubs with children from other schools.  This will allow students to gain awareness that kids have a lot in common, but may also have differences depending on their location in the world and their cultural contexts.

Many COETAIL learning objectives could shine through this project including a chance to connect and collaborate with people from around the world using a variety of tools (Skype, Padlet, Blog, google apps). Also, students could demonstrate digital citizen and bring to life many of our past classroom discussions about digital profile and etiquette within an authentic opportunity.

Every year we set tech goals using the ISTE-Teacher Standards. After reflecting on my use of technology in the past, I realised that of the 5 standards I felt very comfortable on #1, 2, and 3 and could articulate clearly how these were actualized in various units throughout the school year. However, #4 Promote and Model Digital Citizenship and Responsibility was a gap.  There had been no intentionality in addressing this standard.  So it is my goal for this year. In particular 4d – Develop and model cultural understanding and global awareness by engaging with colleagues and students of other cultures using digital-age communication and collaboration tools. This project definitely gets at the heart of this Standard.

I think this project is a good option as the use of technology will be multifaceted and be able to highlight many of the aspects from COETAIL including opportunities to connect with learners in different places of the world (only able with technology).

While I see many positive outcomes from this project, I have a number of concerns about proceeding with this option.  The biggest concern I have is firstly finding teachers/classes to collaborate with and secondly finding the ‘right’ teachers/classes for this project.  I would be looking for classes in different parts of the world to offer diversity and different perspectives, compatible time zones, and willing and able to follow a timeline.  The other area I am thinking about is picking the right books for this project to engage students.  I have some ideas and I have people who I could consult for this area.

This project will create a shift in my pedagogy because I will be relying on my own personal network to get it going.  ‘Have I become a connected educator as a result of this course?’  This was one of my goals.  If I can get this project off the ground by using my social networks developed through this course, I will feel successful.  In addition, I think this project really moves in the direction of redefinition because students will be using technology to do things that they previously could not do.

Students will be challenged by this project and will require them to be open-minded, curious, patient and flexible.  

Idea #2 – Redesign a traditional geometry unit.

In this project, I would redesign a geometry unit which focuses on the learning the names and attributes of 2D and 3D shapes. I’m thinking this would be the perfect unit to try out a PBL approach. Traditionally students have learned a bunch of geometric terms and their attributes.  Even though my intent was to give them an authentic application, in the past we’ve run out of time and felt rushed to move on to the next unit.  This was partially due because the application part was not planned out in advance.  I think redesigning the whole unit and focusing on an application from the start will be more engaging and authentic for students. One idea for the project is for students to use geometric concepts to design either a piece of jewelry or a logo.  

I think that this unit redesign highlights my growth as an educator from the handing over more responsibility and ownership to the students.  Letting go of some control is needed in a project or problem based unit.  I think the COETAIL experience has given me the confidence to do this.

I hope this unit would lead to higher student engagement of all learners and I think it is a good option for the Course 5 project because

My primary concern for redesigning this unit are the timings for the unit. This unit is scheduled for April which is later than I would like. Secondly, I’d have to decide whether to do this unit alone if the other grade 4 teachers did not want to try it. 

I think this unit will allow students to use technology to acquire content which I think will allow students to work at different paces. There is always a high variability of students’ skill/knowledge/understanding level.  The flexibility of the project could allow some students to more – Also, teachers could be free to support those students needing additional support with content.  It could be a good opportunity to have some flipped lessons so content is readily accessible and can be revisited as needed.  Again, this allows students to be independent learners.

I’d hope that my students would be flexible and patient as their teacher tries something new.  I see many opportunities for students to be in position of peer teachers in this unit and show empathy for each other’s learning situations.

Technology in the Classroom

I’m currently living my dream job. The American School of Bombay embraces innovation and preparing our students for the future: “The future is now at ASB – Technology is an integral part of ASB to support creativity and innovation, so that students actively participate in shaping the future.”  

ASB is a mission driven school, We inspire all of our students to continuous inquiry, empowering them with the skills, courage, optimism, and integrity to pursue their dreams and enhance the lives of others.”, and technology plays an important role in actualising this mission.  We are surrounded by human resources to help make this happen.  Our tech team support us by being a part of our planning and teaching and providing professional development through various avenues: blogs, online learning platforms (ASB Academy), and, on-site conferences (ASBUnplugged). We have tech support on each floor that support us minute by minute to ensure a smooth flow throughout the day. There is also an onsite research and development team who are constantly innovating and exploring new technologies. I’m literally surrounded with technology and it’s so much a part of our everyday lives that I hadn’t realised how infused it is – it’s in my DNA.  Technology is an important part of who we are and supports us in our endeavors to live the school mission.

This is the big picture.  So what does it look like in my classroom?

Students use their laptop throughout the day for a variety of purposes.  Read more about my thoughts on technology integration.  I would say that technology is used at various points of the SAMR model. It is used to substitute many school related activities/tasks which often makes us more efficient at what we do.  For example, students might use an online dictionary to find word meanings rather than traditional dictionaries.  The print dictionaries are still there, but not often utilized as they find it faster on their laptop. Laptops are used for skill practice (e.g. IXL), research (online databases), reading (a suite of online reading resources are available).  But for all these uses, we still do them in other ways too.  For example, we do math skill practice through simple games, we do research using informational books, we read self-selected literature from our school libraries.  Technology is used to do not only enhance learning in these ways, but to transform learning and create new tasks – previously inconceivable.  For example, students have opportunities to create their own media (images, videos, digital stories), contribute to global projects (e.g. If You Lived Here, Hour of Code), and have an authentic and global audience for their work (blogs). 

Photo by ASB
Photo by ASB

I like the categories that @amandashaw used to describe tech usage:  Research, Collaboration, Publishing, Communication. Technology is used for all of these purposes in my classroom.  See where they fit when I describe a typical day using technology:

Students arrive to school and follow some routines including taking their laptop from their bag and putting in the laptop storage shelves. They’ve learned to manage their laptop by bringing it to school charged, and know how to take care of their device. Later that morning, a group of students are investigating words with particular latin/greek derivatives and use online dictionaries to search word meanings. During math workshop, an independent math group may use IXL to review content while another group is using iPads to explore tessellation using an application like Amaziograph.  While involved in a provocation exploring the central idea connected to the unit of inquiry students use a backchannel such as TodaysMeet to record questions, observations, wonderings. Later in self directed independent work on their projects students are using our online research hub to find suitable resources for their research topic while others are finding images to support their digital photostory using VoiceThread.  During the reading workshop, some students may blog about their reading on the class blog. There may be some students publishing their written work during writing workshop using google apps.  Later on, students reflect on a recent field trip to see a musical event and do so by relistening to parts of the performance on their computers and write a response on their e-Portfolio (google site). And just like that, our busy day is done. Students go home and may continue working on some of their projects at home.

Photo by ASB
Photo by ASB

My goals is to support and facilitate students’ learning and help kids acquire tools and attitudes to be successful in an ever increasing complex and technology-rich world. The best place to do this is school as they can experiment, build confidence, and take risks with a safety net.

A technology rich classroom is like cooking.  There are many ingredients, you need to balance all the ingredients, the quality of the ingredients matter, and they all impact the end result.  Also, like cooking you have to keep testing and modifying to keep the perfect balance.

flickr photo shared by NicoleAbalde under a Creative Commons ( BY-ND ) license

May your classroom be blended perfectly for optimal student learning and engagement.

The Elusive Future

The future bamboozles me. It is abstract and elusive. The future can be quite unsatisfying to me because it is unknown, it is grey (not black or white) and it is forever changing its shades.  Some changes are foreseen and predictable and some not.  My nature is to ‘always be prepared’.  Yes – I was heavily influenced by Girl Guides and Scouts growing up.  So how can I be prepared when I don’t know what to be prepared for.  While we can make predictions or projections about the future, absolute certainty is never quite there.  In some ways this keeps me current, alert, on my toes so to speak – but that is only if I have a healthy balance.  Caring about the future and staying current is important. But over focusing on the future does not leave me fulfilled. 

I began teaching in 2001.  Therefore I have a sample size of n = 15 years teaching experience (give or take). I’ve been successful – kids have learned, thrived, and since grown into successful young adults and for me too – I’ve thrived and been successful. Therefore the data shows that I am adaptable since kids learning, thriving and becoming successful continues to happen even though there has been changes to other variables such as teaching practices and tools over the time. And let’s face it, there has been some significant changes in teaching over the last 15 years.  I would never have thought my vocabulary would include MOOC, badges, cloud-based, when referring to education. But here I am today reading, discussing and blogging about exactly topics like this.

A quick recap of the last 15 years to illustrate the change and adaptions: In my first teaching experience, I taught English to Korean students aged 4 – 18 in a Hagwon in Seoul in a small room with chairs around the perimeter and no technology in the room! A couple years later in my 4th grade classroom at an international school, I had one desktop computer for the class of 23 students.  Back then I did whole class novels and themey units, and visited the library and computer lab once a week.  I’m now teaching in a 1-1 BYOD classroom/school with open learning areas, and an iCommons adjacent to my space and extending across the floor with most learning happening through workshop approach with flexible small groups and 1-1 conferencing.  Kids are still learning and thriving.  

So after much soul searching, a lot of angst thinking about the future, I came to the realisation that my energy was best spent not worrying about what was the future and getting ready for it, but turning my focus on to the disposition and practices of myself – the teacher – the thing that I am in control of.  After all, the work of Hattie suggests that it is the teacher that makes the difference and impacts learning in the classroom over many other variables.
flickr photo shared by cybrarian77 under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC ) license

“It is what teachers know, do, and care about which is very powerful in this learning equation.” (Hattie, 2003)

So I don’t plan to spend the next 15 years of my teaching career chasing ‘The Future’, I’m trying to retrain my thinking to be in the now and be the best now with some long lasting qualities that will serve well know matter what the future holds.  There will be changes and new practices and tools, and I will adapt as I have in the past.  So my key dispositions and practices to focus on are:

  1. Getting/Staying connected – be a connected educator (essential for #2)
  2. Developing Professional Learning Communities (PLNs)
  3. Staying current – Read, read, read – articles, blogs, books and act or respond on what is read (connected to both #1 and #2).
  4. Growth Mindset – Develop a growth mindset in myself and my students (but being wary of mindset misconceptions)  
  5. Common sense – well I think this is a universal need in all professions, but serves especially well in education

Curriculum, teaching practices, technology, learning environments will change for sure, but my adaptability will continue. So whatever happens in teaching and education, I will be ready.  If you are reading this and wondering how to be an educator like this there is partly a simple answer:  COETAIL! #1 – #3 are very much taken up in COETAIL so sign up for the next cohort starting in February.  As for #4 and #5 – much of this comes from my life experience especially my life growing up in New Zealand during the 70s and 80s, barefoot freedom, with learning happening just as much inside as outside of a classroom.  For that I am grateful because it is already in my DNA.  I just have to grow it.

What disposition or practice would you focus on to be successful in the future?


Flipped Classroom – Past, Present or Future?

“We need to be thoughtful about our use of a flipped classroom.” David Truss, 2011

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

The Flipped Classroom was first developed so students who missed classes could still receive the lesson information.  Since then, teachers have found many ways to use Flipped Classroom techniques to enhance learning.  

Our COETAIL discussions on educational practices of the past, present, and future is some what circular as it is all relative to the teacher using it.  What is ‘past’ for some teachers, may be another teacher’s ‘present‘ or even something they will use in the ‘future‘.  And I don’t think there is any ‘right’ in this equation.  

John Hattie’s research and conclusions suggests that structure of schools and classes, student attributes, deep programs (e.g. PBL, individualized learning etc) or technology do not have a significant impact on student achievement.  Out of the many different variables that he analyszed for effect on student acheivement, he found what really matters is the expertise of the teacher, teachers working together collectively and collaboratively to understand their impact, and teachers who want to understand their impact.


If this research is valid then I believe it doesn’t matter if the instructional technique you choose is from the past, present, or future.  I think it is more important to choose and use techniques that suit the your style, your bunch of kids in your charge, and your school’s resources and context.  But whatever style you choose, do it with passion and confidence and continue to reflect on the choices you make as a teacher.

What role does it play in my classroom?

I’ve experimented a bit with flipped classroom; however, I think my motivation to try it was due to time constraints in a content heavy science unit. I generally use it more in the second half of the school year as we’ve had chances to develop skills and attitudes to working online together. What I did find from having students interact with content at home was that we had more time for collaborative work at school.

In this science unit, students were working in groups to produce science videos about space. The storyboarding, scripting, videoing, and editing could only be done at school so by having some of the content explored at home, it freed up time for the kids to collaborate and for me to take on the role of a coach/mentor for their projects.  Here’s an example of the work completed at home,

I want to continue to use Flipped Classroom in upcoming units, but I want to make a few changes to how I do it.  I want to:

  • make the content more interactive by using tools such as Zaption
  • make the learning students do at home count by holding students accountable for using the new knowledge
  • gather students’ and possibly parents’ feedback about doing this kind of work at home

Back to David Truss’s quote: “We need to be thoughtful about our use of a Flipped Classroom.”

I’d suggest altering David Truss’s quote to:  “We need to be thoughtful about our use of X.”

Where X can be any instructional technique (such as Flipped Classroom, Game-based Learning, Problem-based Learning, inquiry).

No matter what your X is, past, present or future, do it and use it thoughtfully.


What problem?

Project based learning and/or problem based learning has many benefits.  In my experience, PBL is definitely better than lecture style or content curriculum coverage that sucks the life out of the classroom.  However, I personally have found it hard to find authentic problems and projects that are meaningful to 9 & 10 year olds.  Is it appropriate to expose our adult real-world problems on young children? While I don’t want to shelter them from the real world (Syrian crisis, global warming etc), I think it is better that they solve problems that they are currently facing in order to build the skills of a problem solver now and in the future.  It’s not the problem itself so much as the processes and skills students can learn by tackling them.  

So I’ve come to learn that to find the most authentic real world problems for 9-10 year olds to tackle is to get THEM to identify the problems.  To do this I ask my students to reflect on their daily lives and ask questions such as:

  • When do they get stuck?
  • What are the hard parts of the day?
  • When do you get frustrated?’   

Through this process, I’ve found that this leads to uncovering some problems and potential projects that students can tackle, find solutions, and effect change in their daily lives.

My class went through this process at the beginning of the school year in our first unit of inquiry under the theme ‘How we organize ourselves’.  Grade 4 students brainstormed a list of problems and with discussion we focused in on the problem that seemed the most important to address (in their opinion).  It was also a problem that we felt we had some direct control over.  Students felt like a lot of time was being wasted in their school day lining up to go to places (specialist classes, lunch, recess etc). It was causing them stress and negativity towards each other.  With probing they articulated the problem further:  different people need different amounts of time to transition, it’s not a good use of a students time to stand in line for five minutes silently while waiting for peers to get into line.  With the number of transitions per day, the lining up time was creeping up to 30 minutes a day.  I began to see their point of view.  

So this formed the basis of their work and a group of students set about solving this problem by going through a design cycle.  Through this, they came up with a new system called the ‘Pack and Go’ system.  Instead of lining up to transition, when the class wrapped up, students packed up their supplies and headed off to wherever they needed to go without lining up.  They collected data and experimented with their procedure before making final decisions and teaching the new routine to the rest of the class.  The sense of pride was immense and they felt a great sense of responsibility in being in charge of decision making.

So problem based learning for elementary students?   Yes – but let them find the problems, teach them a process to work within so they learn how to solve problems not just how to solve that particular problem.  The key role of the teacher is to mentor students in the process and build in plenty of opportunities to reflect on their decisions. They need to learn the skills associated with problem solving so they can continue to identify and solve problems.  Ewan McIntosh refers to this in his talk about the importance of developing divergent thinkers and problem finders and importance of developing a problem finding curriculum.


What problems have your students been solving this year?  I’d love to hear examples from a variety of ages.

Tech Integration

There is much out there describing tech integration – what it is and what it isn’t – and the shape that technology is taking in the classroom.  Some key words you’ll come across include:  routine, transparent, daily, ongoing, continuous.  Definitions abound including that of wikipedia.  Here is one of my best fit definitions:   

Seamless integration is when students are not only using technology daily, but have access to a variety of tools that match the task at hand and provide them the opportunity to build a deeper understanding of content.“ Edutopia, 2007 

As an educator, I’ve spent significant time overthinking the definition in an attempt to figure out if I am really doing IT <tech integration>.  I’ve spent many hours thinking about it and wondering ‘Am I integrating?’ thinking to myself that there would be some magical moment that I would suddenly feel like… I was NOW integrating.

I would beat myself up thinking I was not doing enough, not planned enough, not current enough and failed to see that all this time I’ve been on an integration continuum.  There is not a discrete point in time (from yesterday to today) that I will be able to say that yesterday I was not integrating but today I am, because it really is too fluid and multi-faceted to think one act or characteristic of integration would be enough.

What I can say is that it will keep changing as what satisfies me today will not be enough tomorrow; that the goal post will keep moving – again it is not a discrete point in time.  Going back to the definition, I gravitate towards this one as it is vague enough and open to interpretation and focuses on deeper understanding – which is the goal with or without technology.

But to satisfy myself, I’ve created my own self assessment around tech integration and I think these points will stay true even though other things may change (like the tools I use, the planning of the use of technology etc).  If these six things are happening I know that I have the foundations in place for technology usage which enhances learning.  These are my key indicators…

  • Technology usage happens on a routine basis.  It is not on the schedule.
  • I am the primary technology teacher.
  • The use of technology in my classroom supports the school mission and our student-generated classroom goals.
  • Students don’t ask ‘Can I do this on my computer?’
  • Students are creators and consumers and connectors.
  • Students use a variety of tools to investigate, organize, collaborate, communicate, create their knowledge, skills, and understandings.

Other tools that are helpful to evaluate technology integration are the SAMR model, and the TPACK Framework.  The SAMR model is my preferred choice due to its four levels.  But it wasn’t enough until I started to look at it with concrete examples in mind. I struggled  to think of my own examples of redefinition and therefore this level was put way out of my reach.  This was until I read of lessons transformed through SAMR and practical examples on the difference between transformation vs enhancement  that I could see that I was already well on the way.

The power of technology integration lies really in the hands of the users – that is the teachers and students.  It is going to look different in every single classroom, in every single school as it is the sum of the philosophies of the teacher, the school vision and values, and the current context.  

What does technology integration look like in my classroom?

  • Students in charge of establishing agreements for tech usage
  • Students choosing from a variety of tools to learn
  • Students choosing from a variety of tools to share their learning
  • Students learning from each other

What are my next steps

  • students using technology to connect with a global audience
  • look for new ways to redefine old lessons and units
  • students continue to build their tech toolbox
Photo by author.
Image by author.


Edutopia. (2007, November 5).  What is Successful Technology Integration.:  George Lucas Educational Foundation.  Retrieved from