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.