A PLN Learning Journey

The idea of a personal learning network (PLN) was not new to me at the beginning of this course.  However, what was new was the intentional focus on building and contributing to a PLN.  Over the past 18 months, I’ve developed a stronger understanding of the benefits and challenges of PLNs and had some first hand successes. I’ve changed from a passive PLN member to a more active member of my communities. From participating in my first global collaborative project (GCP) to creating my own, I’ve come a long way. I shared how my PLN lead me to a GCP in an earlier blog post and in a later blog post how my PLN was instrumental in getting my own GCP off the ground. The process of reflecting on my PLN has helped me learn more about myself as a learner and as a member of a PLN and importantly what I need to feel satisfied and productive within these networks. Time and space still matter and can still be somewhat of a barrier even with the use of technology.  

flickr photo shared by Matti Mattila under a Creative Commons ( BY ) license

My key learning when reflecting on my PLN, is that it all starts with a real connection and these are the ones that are most likely to result in a sustained relationship.  When analysing all the interactions I’ve had within PLNs I see 2 major kinds of interactions:  Short interactions and sustained interactions.  The short interactions might get you a new idea, a new tool to try, and a new blog to read but the connection generally stops there.  It is what I call a short lasting connection.  There is a place for these as sometimes this is all you need.  The sustained interactions result in back and forth communication over a longer periods of time and are often association with collaborative projects or deeper learning objectives.  

A major light bulb realisation is that there is a mirror between developing connections face to face and online.  This realisation came after reflecting on all my interactions overs the past 18 months and analysed which ones were the most successful and those led to learning or a deeper connection. The most successful and continual experiences were those when a personal connection had already been made and in doing so some level of trust had already been developed.  That meant that any further interaction was most likely to lead to an objective being met.  I realised that this is generally how my in-person interactions happen too: shared experiences – relationship develops – trust is built – more opportunities to work with or learn from that person/group and deeper connections and relationships develop over time.

Here’s my COETAIL example of how this happened:

Back in Course 2 we had to collaborate on a project related to the enduring understandings of the course.   It was challenging to find a group to work with initially, but I finally got connected (with Angela, Leah, Rob) and set a course of action.  It was highly positive process and successful end product.  As a result of this experience, I developed respect and trust for these individuals and maintained contact in some way.  Of all the content that passes my ‘desk’, I’m more likely to stop and read their work because I know them and I’m genuinely interested in what they are writing about and how their Coetail journey has evolved over the time frame of the program since we worked together.  In addition, this early experience set up a spring board for further support which I’ve tapped into at later dates.

Image by author
Image by author

The other area that I’ve devoted more time to is Twitter.  I enjoy Twitter – it’s like a collage.  Even though my Twitter life became more active and I experienced the many benefits including the sharing of resources, projects etc. I was still left feeling like something was missing.  I never seemed to be able to easily construct short responses and I was left with the feeling that not enough depth was created. I found it mostly helpful in providing me with ideas, tools and updates on who is  doing what. It’s like the news headlines.  I wanted Twitter Chats to really work for me as others have had very positive things to say.  However, I found the conversation too disjointed or I couldn’t make the date/time due to differences in time zones.  In true spirit, I decided to create my own platform/opportunity for the conversations I desired with more depth and more choice of topic.  Edu-Hangouts – Right now this is in the prototype phase, but the intent will be to roll it out fully next academic school year.  I am prototyping this with Angela and Leah as we have a lot of overlap as educators – we live in the same region making it logistically easier to connect, we are all working in K-5 in PYP schools, we are all mums of youngish kids (so we get to put the kids to bed and then meet up online).  

The power of an active PLN really really shone through when getting my Course 5 Final Project started.  Connecting with others was essential to find suitable schools to collaborate with for the global book clubs project.   As I needed to find other Grade 4 classes to work with, I created an advertisement using Canva and posted this in the Google + Final Project Community Group.  The project was shared on with Grade 4 teams at the American School of Dhaka and Stonehill International School, Bangalore.  Both of these schools were the schools of the educators whom I collaborated with for the Course 2 project. This connection lead to working with Jill Corbin from ASD for this project after Leah got us connected.  In addition, I reached out to a past teaching partner, Andre De Koker, (also a Coetail graduate) – and he joined in and supported the project.  Of course any GCP requires a lot of logistical communication, so once the projected got started hundreds of emails were exchanged over a period of 6 weeks as well as the many comments on our project planning.

Collage created using PicMonkey using Author's media
Collage created using PicMonkey using Author’s media


My next steps are to:

  • explore the use of Twitter more for making connections with experts in the areas connected with our units of studies.  
  • Finish the Edu-hangouts prototype and consider any changes in format/style/logistics for next year and look for ways to expand participants (contact me if you are intested @tracy_a_blair, blairt@asbindia.org)
  • Use my PLN to support future global collaborative projects initiatives

Global Book Clubs – Redefinition

Just as we use student data to inform our instruction in the classroom, the same is true for our own learning journey.  The last five years have been a steep learning curve with respect to the use of technology in the classroom.  I’ve moved to a more transformative and thoughtful practice because I’ve had time to explore its application and follow the results in the classroom.

Photo Credit: ASB
Photo Credit: ASB

Increasing the use of technology in the classroom to enhance teaching and learning has gone hand in hand with a shift in my own education philosophies and a shift in my role in the learning environments. The growth of accessibility to and diversity of tools and connections has led to an increase in the acquisition of information available to both students and teachers. Therefore, my role as a teacher has changed to a co-constructor and co-connector of student learning.

What’s been helpful throughout this time is the implementation of structures to support the intentional and appropriate use of technology to enhance learning.  For example, for the past four years my school has been auditing technology usage in the classroom primarily around the ISTE Standards for Students and also later Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy.  Data collected and analyzed with the support of tech coaches has allowed me to see the areas where I use technology the most and the areas that were missed.  For example, the data showed that students had many opportunities to conduct research for projects, create content, and to communicate and collaborate with peers in their class. However, application to a global community was lacking and there was no intentionality about digital citizenship.  This lead to the formation of goals in subsequent school years and I was able to ensure there was more balance to my program.  It also led me to seek out appropriate professional development to support me in my goals and that’s when I enrolled in COETAIL.  Goal setting in response to data and personal reflection has been key in leading change in my practice as an educator.  It helps in all areas of my practice, but was very instrumental with respect to a focus on the use of technology for learning.

This intentional look at technology usage to enhance student learning also helped me to choose a direction for my COETAIL final project.  I took an aspect of the reading workshop (Book Clubs) and a writing unit (Student Blogging) and transformed it with my new understandings of technology integration. I wanted to redefine Book Clubs in a way that could layer in multiple areas that I’d previously identified as my goals (global collaboration and digital citizenship) as well as enable me to apply what I’ve learned about  Visual Literacy, Connectivism, and Integrated Technology whilst hitting many of the ISTE Standards for Students.

Back in Course 2, I wrote about participating in Global Collaboration Project and that I’d like to organize my own.  Well I did just that with this project – on a small scale – but powerful none the less. Here’s the UbD plan which has all the planning documents linked in and any subsequent lesson plans that were developed along the way to support my learners.  


The Global Book Club project is officially done; however, the experience still lives on in the classroom. The biggest transformation has been the level of student engagement. It was like everyone sat up straight and rolled up their sleeves.  It came at the perfect time in the year as we, as a class, were very comfortable with our small group of peers. The new audience heightened everyone’s focus.  That is the power of audience. Here’s the final video which documents the main parts of the project:

There was lots of hidden challenges (hence learning) along the way that is not evident in the video. There was a huge amount of communication in getting it set up and maintaining the project.  Working around time zones, and different school schedules meant that skyping happened at weird times of the day.  Ideally, book club discussions using SKYPE would’ve happened during the Reading Workshop, but our schedules and times did not line up.  Students in China were heading home as we were beginning our Reading Workshop.  A great degree of flexibility was required by everyone involved.  Even the kids didn’t mind when they had to come in during a recess break to have their Skype discussion.  Everyone made it happen.

As well as feedback from students, teachers also provided feedback along the way and at the end.

“We had a fantastic time doing this project. I can not believe how much my kids and I learned in such a short period of time. The lesson ideas were great. I also noticed that the engagement was so much more authentic!. The students wanted to be prepared for the other groups. They experienced what it is like to have a responsibility to others. They were motivated to think deeper and create high level questions and responses. They really liked the Skyping piece. I was surprised how shy they seemed at first. However, they never mentioned being nervous, only excited. When we discussed the Skyping, they all wished they had had more Skype sessions. Maybe a Skype session at the very beginning would help with making group connections (I know scheduling is tough and the Padlet is a great alternative).”

The desired accomplishments of this unit were met in ways I didn’t imagine.  Students communicated their ideas using a variety of media.  In addition, the depth of their writing increased. Student blog posts are evidence of writers who can construct and organise blog posts about their reading and thinking whilst incorporating features of blog writing (e.g. hyperlinking) and showing digital citizenship (appropriate register of writing and correct attribution of image).  This blog post shows a reader who is going beyond the text with their thinking and supporting evidence.

Word Cloud
Created with Tagul.com with text collected from student feedback

This project created an environment in the classroom which grew student agency as a result of the authentic audience and through the use of technology.

Technology Explosion

The last two months have swirled by on a sea of technology-enriched learning experiences.  Technology usage and integration has exploded in my classroom and this blog post documents some of the tools and experiences that students have been engaging with.

Book Creator for Math Reflections
Students at the American School of Bombay are expected to keep a digital portfolio  “The purpose of the ES ePortfolio is to provide tangible evidence of student growth, understanding and reflection. The ePortfolio provides ownership for students’ learning and the direction for establishing new goals.”  I was noticing that students were tiring of creating the same kind of reflective posts within their ePortfolio so I was looking for a different way that they could document their learning journey for a multiplication unit.  I decided to use Book Creator and was happy with the result as it:

  • allowed students to tell a learnng story,
  • focused on process over product; and
  • allowed the integration and practice of other skills (fluency, visual literacy, digital citizenship)

I had worked with Book Creator in the past with students creating narrative stories and on reflection I thought that their learning is also a story to be told so why not create it in a book format.  Here’s a finished product:
How have you used Book Creator in a different way?

To really maximise the experience, my students need more opportunities to work with this tool so they can enhance their own skill level.  As you can see from the example, there are areas that I could coach into with this student regarding layout/placement of images and other tips and tricks of Book Creator. 

However, my goal is to build student Tech Toolbox.  I want students to know that this tool is now in their tech tool box and they can continue to build their expertise by using it for other purposes.  When needed, they can make an informed choice of what tool to use to suit their objectives.  I want to student to ask themselves, “What tool would best suit the situation?”  In a busy school year, I often find students are often taught to use a tool once in a particular unit and move onto the next without getting more opportunities for using the tool.  

Image by author
Image by author

Applying Our Coding Skills
Last year, my students participated in the Hour of Code and I saw how engaging and challenging this was for my class.  I wanted to build on this and use their developing coding skills to investigate patterns of the multiplication tables.  Students had previously created Spirolaterals of the times table (2-9) by hand and looked for patterns across different tables.  

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

This was challenging as students had to follow a sequence of steps and repeat (kind of like a code right?).  They were kind of coding themselves to make a pattern by doing a series of steps repeatedly.

Image by author
Image by author

This gave me the idea that they might be able to write a code using Turtle Art to create the spirolateral.  Some students found it easier to do it by hand, others found it easier to do using Turtle Art and this was an interesting class discussion in itself.  More about Spirolaterals for times tables.

Image of student work by author


Global Book Clubs
Students have also been using technology to participate in Global Book Clubs which is my Course 5 project.  Full details to come in a later post, but just as an update, the project has been very successful.  There was a visible increase in alertness in the classroom as they interacted with students from other international schools.  Audience matters as was evident in their efforts to produce blog posts and conduct discussions with depth and precision.  There has been a lot of blogging and commenting going on the last few weeks keeping me very busy as I’ve myself been captivated by what students are saying about their books.  There were also opportunities for students to skype with their groups.  

Home-School Communication
Lastly, with all the awesome work happening in the classroom I was feeling thankful that I was a part of a wonderful group of kids and getting to see their learning in action. I really wanted parents to see inside the classroom a bit more and see what I see. They get the weekly newsletter from me which gives a lot of detail of the learning that is planned for the week.  I decided to create a Closed Facebook group in order to post images and videos to bring the learning alive.  This has allowed for better communication with parents of the day to day learning moments.

Screenshot by author
Screenshot by author

Last Thoughts
Our school hosted a conference in February (ASBUnplugged) and I caught up with an old colleague.  I was telling him about the Global Book Club project that was getting started in the classroom.  He asked a very good question and that is:  “How do you make these kind of experiences part of the curriculum so that it doesn’t leave when the teacher leaves?”  This question or idea has been playing over in my mind since we talked.  It’s a valid and relevant question and at the time I didn’t have an answer.

My COETAIL course 5 project aims to weave technology integration, digital citizenship, global collaboration, visual literacy, English Language Arts standards and redefine practice; Then shouldn’t it (or something like it) be happening in all the fourth grade classes each and every year?

I’m wondering how our new approaches garnered through our professional development experiences are sustained and not left to become a once off.  I’d like to get some good discussion going on this point as I think it is probably relevant for all of us taking COETAIL course.  You may be thinking of this already and have plans to how you can take your new learnings, skills and understanding to a level beyond your own classroom and I’d love to hear how you plan to do this.


Course 5 – Getting Started

I started Course 5 green with envy of the people who had made a decision for their final project last year and written the unit plan at that time.  I’ve spent the last few weeks constructing the unit plan for the project idea that I wrote about last year.  Deep down when I was writing up the blog post for the Course 4 final project, I knew that I really wanted to go for idea #1 and here I am now planning that unit.  In hindsight, I should’ve gone with my gut feeling and committed to this idea last year and been ready to start with a plan in my hand. Since fleshing out this idea in the unit planner, I’m really excited to get started and see how the students respond.  

This unit is all about fostering global connections for my Grade 4 students while infusing many of the core ideas and skills targeted from Courses 1-4 including elements of Digital Citizenship, Visual Literacy, Connectivism and Global Collaboration, and Integrated Technology whilst hitting many of the ISTE Standards for Students.  Students will be embarking on global book clubs.  Some elements of running traditional book clubs will remain; however, in this redefined book club unit, students will be collaborating with kids from different countries.  I hope that by changing the audience my students will engage at a deeper and higher level than ever before. As I’ve got a small class this year (only 13), I think this will bring in new energy and greater connections to their work.

Here’s the UbD planner which documents the specific details of the project including goals and understandings and a tentative learning plan (this is still to be fleshed out). The plan is to form global book club groups (6-10 kids per group).  Each group will have a different book to read but the books will be connected to a main theme.  Groups will meet via Skype to discuss their books as well as blog about their reading and thinking and respond to their peers with comments.

Image by author
Image by author

For this to work and to even get off the ground, I will need to use my personal learning networks (PLNs), and connections I’ve made over the years to find suitable classes to connect with.  So far I’ve got one class on board.  I posted this ad on the Course 5 Final Project Google+ Community Group and got responses from teachers who I’d collaborated with for the Course 2 final project.  Thanks for your support  Angela, Leah.

I know I could put this out on Twitter too, but since I’m only looking for another two classes I am worried it would be sending it out to a too wide of an audience. I’ve also connected with past international colleagues who might want to join me.  Hopefully, I’ll have 3 confirmed classes by the end of the week.  Contact me if you are interested.

Next steps:

Once I’ve got confirmed classes, things will get busy and I will work with teachers to make balanced and appropriate book club groups. Building enthusiasm and excitement is important and I’m looking for ways for students from the different schools to get to know each before meeting in book clubs. Students will be involved with some of the planning aspects like how to allocate the reading across weeks and what makes a good prompt etc.

Tune in again in a few weeks and the book clubs should be up and running.  I’ll send news and anecdotes from the classroom.




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.

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.