Let’s start by saying that Matt Broughton, the Elementary Librarian Viki Radford and myself collaborated on this research lesson. The need for this lesson arose after noticing that a lot of students ask Siri or Alexa questions connected to their inquiries and we wanted to value this as a research tool, but also help them learn about the effectiveness of it. We thought that this lesson could expand into more of a unit after we teach the first hour-long lesson and reflect on how it worked. Our main hope for the lesson was that students would have a better understanding of some of the tools they can use to research and learn the tool that is the best fit for their query and to begin to evaluate the information they get from their search.

One big takeaway from this course is that information and access to information is in a constant state of flux, and as teachers, we have to help our students navigate to find what they want so they can continue to pursue their inquiries. Matt and I chose the ISTE standards we wanted to teach and help the students recognize that they are responsible for evaluating the sources they find and the tools they use as it usually a personal inquiry they want to find out. As a father of a 5-year-old watching as she picks up a device and asks it the weather, or to open an application, and as a teacher who has watched students ask some research questions, we thought we need to value how students are interacting with technology, what interface they choose the most, and how it can help us in our inquiries. Many younger students prefer using their voice to interface with technology for a variety of reasons be it fluency with writing and spelling, being newer to a language, or being clunky with a keyboard. Asking a computer something can be much faster sometimes.

Our Unit Plan:  (Links to lessons and supplemental resources in Stage 3) 

I think that there are some good possibilities to extend this lesson into a unit. We could bring it into higher elementary grades through discussions about how Siri works compared to a search engine, and as students develop proficiency with identifying keywords in their questions and the permutations they can use when asking them, maybe they would realize what search terms they could type, or what they could simply ask. Planning this unit was a little bit different for me. I haven’t used a Backwards by Design type planner for a since moving from the MYP to PYP nine years ago. I have been sucked into the world of the PYP planner and as that is changing, though I would try using something different to work with teachers in different departments and this planner helped me to visualize the goals before developing the instruction. Planning the tech-integration was quite seamless due to the nature of the topic and how we use reflections at our school with online learning journals.  I am going to implement this lesson in our next unit about Where We are in Place and time as we look into migration.

One more thing, for this post I had to learn some HTML code to embed the Google doc to the size I wanted to. With a few quick searches and refinement of my search terms, messing around with some height and width numbers I think I got it the way I wanted. The instructions for the teacher and the actual facilitation instructions for the lesson are in Stage 3, and any supplemental resources are also attached as separate Google Docs.


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Environments past, present, and future

                Photo by Andreas Wagner on Unsplash

This week I was exposed to ideas about the nature of learning, knowledge, and reality that challenged a lot of what I know already about how students learn. Last year I spent my professional learning time on learning about primordial spaces in the classroom, the idea of the cave, the watering hole, and the fire pit being essential to the construction of knowledge in individual, small, and large group situations. I find that there is lots of value in varied learning environments and students need different spaces to access and create different types of knowledge. The question the article on connectivism brings up for my own practice is how can I incorporate these primordial learning spaces with modern tools to facilitate student interaction in changing environments. Is the cave basically working offline, is the fire pit a place where you have a small network and is the watering hole a group of large connections?

                  Photo by Ming Jun Tan on Unsplash

“Decisions are based on rapidly altering foundations.” from Seimens leads me to the thought of how hard it can be to change somebody’s foundations and world views.  David Ropiek writes about how hard it can be to change someone’s mind, or yours. How do we have conversations with the administration, school boards, parents, and other teachers about the changing nature of knowledge, even students can sometimes have difficulty changing their world view if they have a solid ontology, to begin with. In a traditional school setting these connections between the teacher are broken each year, even among classmates they are also broken. What kinds of systems can we develop to facilitate and maintain these connections, how can we use architects in designing new spaces that encourage connectivism?

A big takeaway for me is the idea that understanding changes, and that what we know to be right now may be wrong later on. How do we prepare young minds to be flexible to accept new ideas that can sometimes be shattering to their world view?  Another idea that comes to mind is the idea of flexible learning and self-organization, and how this connects to the IB program and the teaching of the Approaches to Learning, and how important these mix of interpersonal, communication and research skills are. How can we as educators continue to embed these in our teaching and reflection on learning to promote the life-long learning and flexibility that connectivism dictate?

                Photo by Dennis Kummer on Unsplash

As mentioned by Seimens “The ability to draw distinctions between important and unimportant information is vital”, then as teachers and learners we have to find new ways to help ourselves and students navigate the information they seek, decide on its relevance, and apply it to their own questions. I also wonder about knowledge flow, and how we can for lack of a better metaphor, help students control the tap, so it is not overwhelming. How can we manage this, through curation activities, applications of specific topic based resources? During research activities, my students naturally navigate (despite the many lessons about not doing this) to typing a question into Google as the first way to find out.

Nurturing and maintaining connections, how would this look in a traditional school setting where students move along each year in groups, and leave teachers behind, how can schools set up systems to nurture connections made between units, across school years, vertically and horizontally?

So moving forward, how do I get from the campfire to the holodeck? Thornburg’s ideas on primordial spaces, like connectivism, mentions the idea of learning for the future, not our past and also that there is another primordial space, life. Perhaps that is a good place to start, by learning in the real world, making connections with the community through authentic experiences that connect students with each other and those around them. Also, take them outside to observe, bring along some tech to document, share and reflect on what they learned, and think about how they can use the tech to solve problems or enhance their ideas or put them in touch with someone who can.

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The relevance of messing around

My school has a process each year called the PGP (Professional Growth Plan) where teachers work in groups or individually to inquire into something they want to learn that will help student learning. This year for my PGP I have chosen to investigate and create ways to help integrate computational thinking into math lessons, and possibly other subject areas. This is with the hope of engaging students in a multidisciplinary experience that will also help lead to collaboration skills. I have to think about and improve at designing tech-rich lessons. I have been using the SAMR model to help me plan some of these lessons from substituting a numbers spreadsheet for a table when measuring the mass of objects, to coding Spheros to help learn about drawing and measuring angles. So far I have had some success and am continuing to search and think of creative ways to incorporate tech-rich lessons into different strands of mathematics.

One aspect of this week’s resources that made me think was the article by Cofino about Transforming learning in my classroom and how I connect tech-rich lessons to student’s daily lives so that they can see the relevance in what they are doing and also think about how they can use their knowledge and skills to take action. In a recent Drone Rescue mission I made to help students learn about coordinate geometry I introduced the lesson by showing the students an article about a drone being used by a lifeguard, as this unit connects to science, during the reflection stage we had a conversation about how scientists could use this knowledge, how farmers could use it, and this created some neat ideas for further learning. Sometimes we get so caught up in teaching the tech and the knowledge that we forget about bringing it back to the real-world applications and escaping the bubble of the classroom to think about why and how the skills we are learning could be important in everyday life.

Living with New Media raised some questions for me, and how students mess around with tech in class. Play is such an important part of learning and we need to honor students and their need to play with things. How much time do you give your students to just play around with the tech (or any hands-on learning) before you start teaching it?  How much time can we afford to just mess around, and how much learning takes place during this phase?  I think it is a valuable part of learning as though the messing around stage the students will discover new ways to use an application/device and find ways short cuts to complete different tasks. Recently I started uses Epic Books in the classroom, it is a great way to curate book collections about a genre or topic and share them with your students to aid in research or just the joy of reading.  Of course, when any 10 years old develop an online profile there is going to be the avatar creation and messing around. At first I use to fight this, tell them to do it on their own time, but lately, I have begun seeing the value in it.  Through playing around with their avatar allows students to create an emotional investment and connection to the program, they familiarize themselves with the ins and outs of the application and feel some ownership over their learning.

Thinking ahead I want to focus on these two ideas for planning tech-rich lessons; how I give time to mess around with the tools when introducing them, and also to make time for discussions and reflections about how the skills, concepts, and technology they are using connect to the world around them.  Any feedback on the attached lessons would be appreciated.


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Diving deeper


Most mornings I begin the class by projecting an image of an artwork. I have been doing this to facilitate communication skills, building ideas off of each other and ultimately appreciating the beauty of art and how it helps to understand the world around us. I normally do this through thinking routines and guided discussions and have had some success. But I think my students have plateaued in their thinking and I want to push it further. I need to learn more to teach them effectively and begin building some more philosophical discussions. In our time of mass information, and a lot of misinformation, students require the skills necessary to value their own ideas, the ideas of others, and to ask questions about the world around them. I took some philosophy courses during my undergrad but have never formally taught any before. Recently, I started learning how to play the ukelele but that is a journey to continue with my five-year-old. Had I been closer to my workshop in Canada I may have chosen wood lathing or building my own forge but as that is an ocean away I wanted to learn something to impact my students in what I see as some immediate needs.

What I want to learn in the action plan are some ways to effectively teach some beginner philosophy. I was inspired by the Sandwich article which I would highly recommend, and try with your friends. While it may be a little hefty for Grade Fours, it is a great jumping off point to try an adapted structure in my class. I have also started using Structured Word Inquiry in the classroom and would like to incorporate that into a lesson as we unpack the word philosophy itself.

My action plan so far:

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Some questions and ideas I have:

  1. How do I use language as an effective teaching tool considering Ron Ritchhart’s cultural forces?
  2. How do I promote considerate behaviour and responses to other ideas that they may not agree with, possibly looking up accountable talk?
  3. How do I search Twitter effectively for posts related to this?
  4. Will the learning be too big, how far should I go?

One of the readings I connected to was Learning that Connects as it made me think about how I have a responsibility to learn things on my own that I notice as immediate needs of my students. The First 20 Hours and the four steps to learning something reminded me firstly about my own life with a young child and even as a teacher where time is always a premium, and secondly it reminded me about the inquiry cycle and how our students learn best by tuning in, finding out, sorting out, and going further.

No, I won’t be an expert in teaching philosophy or playing the ukelele, but hopefully, I can find a few hours to practice and help my students and my child (yay for four chords). How will this help me empathize with my students? Understanding the time it takes to learn different skills from how to identify rocks to plotting latitude and longitude to find remainders in a division question or crafting a well thought out learning journal post will help me further develop the patience to help them through their first 20 hours and the understanding of what it takes to learn a new skill.

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Just hanging out

When I think about my own learning and how I find information, I connected to the first part of Diana Laufenberg’s Ted Talk.  I completed my first degree at the very beginning of the internet so I also had to go to school to get the information. I researched using journals, microfiche, and the stacks and spent many hours in the library searching for something to inspire and justify my ideas. My second schooling was in naval training and this again was delivered to me only by the teacher, there was nowhere else to go to find the information you needed to calculate courses, weight distribution, and how to navigate a chart. There were experts you had to interact with to get information. Fast forward to 2008 when I changed to teaching and the internet was much more established, I found my digital searching skills far behind those of my younger cohort members. I had to fail a lot in order to learn how to find information that would allow me to succeed in my teaching degree. How I would have loved to have had Google Scholar back then.  Now I can find out how to fix my car, rewire the toaster, or learn about facilitating Socratic discussions with just a few clicks.

This module helped me to think about how information is right there for the picking, but how does that translate to my students’ abilities and experiences. Reading Living with New Media made me think about the social world that my students experience online through Hanging out. Every day before at the bell as students are getting bags from their lockers they are planning their times to go online to chat, play games, and this week they went to a virtual concert in Fortnight. A real-life DJ Marshmello dropped some new tracks in a virtual environment and half my class hung out and made their characters dance.  As much as I didn’t want to have my class flossing etc.. I thought it would be important to validate their social experiences and started a conversation about it the next day. They all said they had a lot of fun and enjoyed the opportunity to hang out together online, but they also brought up that if they had the means, they would rather go to a real concert. This concept of students hanging out in digital spaces makes it critical that adults recognize and value how children socialize but also gives us an added responsibility to nurture positive online relationships, have discussions, and teach ways to do this in a safe and respectful way through digital citizenship units.

Reflecting further on genres of participation, I thought about the connections between geeking out and inquiry. When students have the passion for a subject and we help them to navigate sources and find the information, we have helped them to inquire. How do we inquire online and find a source with the right expert and expertise to answer our questions? Just now, looking at a thesaurus I came across an article on experts which talked about whether or not the word has lost its meaning in 2019. It went on to discuss the idea of “armchair experts” and the problems and the great responsibility that arise with massive platforms of information and misinformation. Information can be a path to a better life as outlined in the Unicef article, unfortunately, it can also lead to a lot of harm. I thought about my Fourth Graders and how they are so desperate to inquire into their areas of interest and I wonder how can I help them to navigate safely and effectively. A couple of months ago I taught a lesson about the tree octopus website to try and take APART a source. I believe the lesson really made the students more critical of their sources as I watched them further apply their skills when looking for information on ecosystems.

It is really exciting to think about effective ways to improve as a researcher myself through advanced search techniques on Google and also how I can continue to foster effective inquiry through research in the classroom.

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Beyond Lurking

When I first read the word “lurker” I had a somewhat adverse reaction. I am quite familiar with the term from being a long time lurker on Reddit. When I did try to connect and contribute to the community there was some very unnecessary and negative feedback. It was actually quite shocking, and without going into too much detail I simply suggested a book as one of my top five only to be called a very derogatory terms. This was also when I learned about trolls. Anyways, I still stood by my opinion thatThe Master and Margarita” by Mikhail Bulgakov is one of the most fantastic books I have ever read and brushed it off.

I suppose one thing that has stopped me from contributing more frequently to digital media could be that fear of rejection, negativity, confrontation, not being accepted, and the list of issues I am discovering about myself goes on. When thinking about our students, how many of them could be afraid of contributing to online discussions because of similar reasons or experiences, and in the context of the classroom how this can affect learning? We want our students to be creators, not consumers and I see these two terms as almost one and the same with a connector and lurker. As a learner, I need to overcome those trepidations and begin contributing more frequently to help me not only get feedback from others but also reflect and learn about my own practice. We know that so much learning takes place during the reflective process.  How can I find the time and right platform to take a quick step back and think about my practice and share ideas with others?

Has the one percent grown or shrank since 2013? Reading Utecht’s article had me think first about how I disconnect, and also connected to my own practice of how I encourage my students and even daughter how to create on the digital tools we use together. I disconnect as much as I can, from leaving my phone in my coat at home to not even bringing it on vacation (except sometimes for music). I think I am on the right track in my own teaching practice, but as a creator that remains a goal.

When I think about the research in Online Personas a question that came to mind is don’t we all want our students to be connectors in their digital world? Don’t we want them to bring the world together, to seek out ways to find information and connect that information with others who need it? Mavens are also awesome. I had a student find a resource and a technique in the classroom today and immediately airdropped it to the class. All of a sudden students started sharing all sorts of tips and tricks, they love to be the expert. Just some small glimpses of actions on the level of a nine-year-old inspired me to think about how I can take baby steps to move away from lurking. We wouldn’t expect our students to just be consumers so it is time to move out of the comfort zone. 


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Goals for COETAIL

When thinking about my goals I first looked at the student standards as they are the ones who will be directly affected by how and what I learn during my COETAIL journey. After that, I looked at the educator standards to think about which ones will impact my students in the most positive way keeping in mind the learning needs of upper elementary students in the past few years in regards to digital literacy.  I chose the following goals as I think these will best shape my classroom practice. All the goals I chose are under the ISTE Standards for Educators. I will be doing the COETAIL certificate non-credit.

Citizen 3b
Establish a learning culture that promotes curiosity and critical examination of online resources and fosters digital literacy and media fluency.
Learning Goal
My classes always have a curiosity, and I think that a challenge of promoting research with digital literacy is to allow students to continue to curiously examine resources without getting frustrated because they can’t find appropriate sources to satisfy their needs. In the past we have worked closely with the librarians to used the model of “Take it APART” to analyze digital sources, we have found some success with this and students enjoy examining sites to see if they are reliable and appropriate. I would like to find new methods to do this more seamlessly and try new ways to help develop fluency, literacy, and examination to become more of the classroom culture as current world issues demand a sharp eye when viewing resources. The students have so much that they want to learn about and I want to help them the navigate information in a safe, responsible, and efficient way

Designer 5b
Design authentic learning activities that align with content area standards and use digital tools and resources to maximize active deep learning.
Learning Goal
At the last Learning 2 in Tokyo, I attended a workshop (thanks Tanya) into the idea of student curation and how it can develop deeper connections. I tried a couple of times after returning and it was a great way to get students thinking and making connections. Making connections is what develops the deeper learning and my goal is to continue building authentic learning experiences that are connected to different strands of the curriculum that allow students to use technology and resources that help them dive deeper into content, ideas, and concepts. At the same time, it can be so much work to curate these resources for students. I want to find a better workflow that helps me design activities and platforms that can help students to develop their own agency and discover connections.

Facilitator 6c
Create learning opportunities that challenge students to use a design process and computational thinking to innovate and solve problems.
Learning Goal
In the PYP the inquiry cycle is so similar to the design cycle, but in my practice, I think I can do better incorporating language into more areas of learning.  I am trying to do it now with planning for service learning and started using computational thinking to help with teaching math concepts. I want to continue thinking of creative ways to integrate computational thinking and design thinking into lesson planning in a variety of subjects so students learn a systematic way to solve problems and be creative doing it. By working closely with the tech coach at the school along with my grade level team I hope to accomplish this.

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My Learning Communities

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When thinking about connectivism learning theory the first thing that came to mind is the students in the classroom and how they use their online learning journals as well as the countless prep periods and class time we have spent contributing to the feedback loop with the goal of enhancing learning. I suppose when we use blogs/learning journals like this can be a very effective way to learn as information is visited, added to, then revisited again.

I am fortunate to work in a school community that values peer feedback and has a constant cycle of listening and sharing ideas and then providing insight and support with colleagues. We spend a lot of afternoons together in groups across divisions thinking and implementing experiences to improve on student learning in a very structured way (joining COETAIL actually came out of one of these meetings).  This is always done face-to-face.

I don’t have a strong digital presence. After quitting Facebook over a year ago I felt a bit disconnected from other teachers I had met at previous workshops, and one of my goals in COETAIL is to improve those connections. I am looking forward to joining this community of learners.

I think that my family has to be included in this. Coming from a family of teachers and having a spouse who is also a colleague creates an opportunity for lively dinner table discussions about pedagogy.  This made me think about a question; where is the line between a social and professional learning community?

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A bit about Flynn

Hey everyone, my name is Flynn McCreath and I hail from Gabriola Island, a little place off the west coast of Canada. I am currently teaching Grade Four at Yokohama International School in Japan.  I love the enthusiasm for learning and curiosity that students bring in this age group. I have a confession to make, I just created a Twitter account and have yet to use it, but I am not ashamed. Before teaching I worked in the marine industry towing barges and logs, driving yachts, and carrying passengers on fun little ferries.

I thought it was time for COETAIL after participating in Learning 2 and leading a teacher workshop there.  I am always looking for new ways to connect students with the world around them responsibly, helping students to think about media use and visual literacy, and developing the skills, attitudes and conceptual understanding in all disciplines through technology whether it be iPads, drones, or duct tape.

My current professional development plan at school is about using computational thinking and technology to improve collaboration and explore mathematical concepts. I thought that COETAIL would be a rewarding way to learn about why I am doing this plan, and where I will go with it next year.  I look forward to learning with you all.


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