21st Century communication networking technology integration

Enhancing Goal Setting Through Technology: COETAIL Final Project

I chose to focus my final project on student goal setting in my fifth grade classroom.

I observed that students did not have any understanding or knowledge of the school’s expectations. Often the student’s goals for themselves and school’s goals for the students did not align well, it all. While I certainly wanted to fan the flames of their personal passions and encourage them in their pursuits outside of the classroom, one goal I had was to support students in being more invested and involved in their education within the classroom. Another goal I had with this project was to involve others (primarily their peers and parents) more directly in the efforts toward achieving these goals. Here’s what happened:

YouTube Preview Image

Next year I will..

1  …begin the process in the fall, giving the students much more time to work on these goals.

2  …work harder to encourage them to embed not only testimonials from friends and parents as evidence of mastery of their goals but also samples of work and links to ePortfolio entries. Only a few students did this and it was a powerful way for them to show their progress/mastery.

3  …require parental input weekly for the first few months to get this habit started at home.

4  …remember not to film myself from the side, pretending I’m being interviewed by some pretend person!


If you have a moment, please check out the students’ My Goals tabs on their blogs (head here and then look for the names to the right) and leave them a comment on their goal setting! Thanks for reading.

21st Century connectivism curiosity networking

Presenting in India, In Seoul

My friend Scot and I have long wanted to share the good news about curiosity and inquiry far and wide. We’ve felt all along that this idea (that inquiry should not just remain in a school’s mission statement but actually be central in a child’s educational experience) needed to be shared.  Recently, Scot was interviewed by Suzie Boss for an Edutopia article that helped get this going. Random teachers and administrators around the world were suddenly contacting us to connect around this idea. We’ve always dreamed of presenting this topic together at a conference but never found ourselves in the same spot at the same time. Then Scot had an idea.

Last Friday night, I jumped on a Google Hangout with Scot and we co-presented at ASB Unplugged in Mumbai. It was Scot, a colleague of his, a friend of ours in Vancouver, WA and myself. The time difference meant our friend was up at 2am but we all pulled together and made it happen. He projected us to the audience in the gymnasium and we talked about our passion for inquiry, fielding questions and offering support.

It was not perfect. The sound needed tweaking and we could only see a sliver of the audience. Presenting like this will take some getting used to. But I loved how it made something that not that long ago would have been unthinkable, possible. With this first virtual presentation under my belt, I now look forward to collaborating and sharing with educators around the world more often. What a wonderfully connected world we live in.

21st Century teaching

Step One: Rewriting Essential Competencies

The first step in my final project for COETAIL was to have my students make the Essential Competencies real for them. I divided these up and had them work collaboratively on a Google Doc to rewrite them in words they understood more clearly. I was impressed with what they came up with.



Tweet, Tweet: Growing my PLN

I clearly see the value of Twitter now. I just need to more effectively utilize it. Because I have only followed colleagues (many of whom also happen to be friends), my Twitter account has become a purely professional, rather than social, network for me. This means it is a place I can go for professional support, inspiration


I still am struggling however, with working this constant, often overwhelming flood of ideas, into my daily meal of media. I feel full already with other spaces I need to check in on daily. I have challenged myself to try to contribute an idea or thought to Twitter each week. Hasn’t always worked as I hesitate to tweet just for the sake of tweeting. Also I feel I need to work at filtering out all the irrelevant or more social (“Can you believe the 5th ring didn’t light on the opening ceremonies?!!”) tweets and boiling it down to what is helpful for me.

So, at this point I continue to dip my feet in the water, using documents like this one to help guide me. All of my best ideas as a teacher have stemmed from (or been directly stolen from) teachers I’ve been in contact with. I look forward to harnessing this tool to greatly expand that network.

Why Twitter?
Complete Guide to Twitter Hashtags for Eduction
Who in Education to Follow

21st Century curiosity

Curiosity Projects: Pass it On

I am excited to share an article from Edutopia on a project I have been working on with educator Scot Hoffman for years. In it he articulates the power of providing significant space in our student’s school-lives for exploration of what turns on learning and fuels curiosity.

Not sure how this will happen, but I hope this is step toward making this type of inquiry the centerpiece of our curriculum rather than something we fit in when we have time. It supports and scaffolds so many of the skills our children will need to thrive in the 21st century.

Nice work Scot!

21st Century Uncategorized

Final COETAIL Project Preview: Grand Plans

I had grand plans. I was going to change the way we report on a child’s progress. I would create report cards that were directly linked to our standards, that were constantly updated in real-time and available to parents whenever they wanted to check in on their child’s progress. Parents could leave comments, kids could link work illustrating their progress toward mastery, teachers would no longer have to do report cards three times a year and unicorns would be real.


Only problem was that I had not really thought through how I would pull this off.  I had a vague plan but as I pulled it together I became discouraged. No wonder nobody’s done this yet. It is hard to let go of an idea you feel strongly about but this one quickly turned from one that gave me great energy to one the began to completely stress me out.

So, back to the drawing board.

I still feel that I need to get my students more invested in their progress toward important goals: both the school’s and theirs. I’m not sure the standards/benchmarks are where I want to start this. I’m not a huge fan of them necessarily and often align myself with thinking like this. But, I’m a big fan of our school’s Essential Competencies. They are what is currently giving me energy and what I would like my students to focus on.

So here’s my plan, in it’s infancy:

My students have been working hard on their ePortfolios this year: collecting work, occasionally reflecting on it, commenting on each other’s posts and creating a really nice portfolio of much of what they do each day in fifth grade. But, if I stay the course, they will simply have a collection of work with nothing really holding it all together or giving it direction. Their work needs to be both linked much more strongly to meaningful goal setting aligned with the expectations our school sets for them. That’s where the Essential Competencies come in.

I will be working in the days to come on a plan to integrate these competencies into their portfolios and reflections. We will likely begin with lessons on writing these in 5th-grade-friendly terms. Students will the form their goal setting around these. They will then begin to look at the work they have posted or will post on their ePortfolio through the lens of the goal setting they have done for themselves.

For example, if a child decides to work on this first one…

SFS students think creatively to find innovative solutions when solving problems.

…they might use an example of a unique way they solved a problem in math and link their evidence to their ePortfolio, reflecting on the piece and what they feel it shows. They would then label this post with something like “Learning and Innovation Skills” to begin to organize their reflections and progress.

When a child has reached what they feel is mastery on any of these, and shown this with evidence, they would move on to new ones, continuing the process.

As you can see from my ramblings this idea is being formed as I type. If any of you have actually read this far and are looking to fan the flames of your PLN, please leave me comments with your thoughts on this. I’d appreciate outside feedback in this early stage.

21st Century teaching technology integration

What’s Your Problem?

From this week’s overview of Problem Based Learning, PBL is basically:

Student-centered, teacher-facilitated learning in small groups using authentic problems to uncover prior knowledge or misunderstandings which are overcome by self-directed learning opportunities.

There is so much here, in this definition, that it is no wonder not many teachers or schools do this well. The two things that I held on to as entry-points for me were: “Student-Centered” and “Authentic Problems“.

Student Centered

During our readings on constructivism from last week, it is obvious that one of greatest challenges to our 150-year-old teaching methodologies is removing the teacher from front and center. We no longer hold all the knowledge and must find ways to disseminate it to our students in as efficient and effective a way as possible. We need to step aside and allow our students to create; Create problems, solutions, strategies we’ve never thought of. Of course, all this needs to be with the skilled guidance of the facilitator (called “teacher” in the olden days).

Technology is not only something we can harness to help us with this (connecting kids to experts who are not us, allowing them to go at their own pace and explore in new directions more easily and offering them numerous presentation possibilities for example) but it is largely technology that has created the need for PBL now more than ever. With the internet came a knowledge explosion and the fact is that many kids now know more about this than we do. We need to step aside and show them how to learn quickly and efficiently and, most importantly, love the learning along the way.

Authentic Problems

I am at my absolute happiest when my students are sinking their teeth into real problems that matter to them. It is the reason we do our Curiosity Projects or Genius Hour. If I have them write persuasive essays on whether cats or dogs are better, they’ll do it. If I have them try to convince me that desks are better than tables for fifth grade (a problem they brought up because they don’t like the tables I rolled in this year) they dive in and don’t notice they are 5 minutes into recess already. I don’t think you need to jump to the huge problems of the world (world peace, global warming), like John Hunter has his fourth graders do. In fact, I’d argue these are less important or authentic to a kid than the tables vs. desks issue or how to choose fair teams in soccer so we don’t waste precious recess time. What is important here is that kids collaborate, persevere, learn to think through the solving of real problems that they care about and then share what they discovered with others.


This is all about empowering the learner. The first thing us facilitators must do is to redefine the classroom space as an active problem-solving think-tank, not a place where they will come not be be passive consumers of knowledge. Sounds so good to me when type it but I imagine it will be hard. It is not only my goal but really my responsibility I think. To begin, I will look for ways to incorporate this idea in big and small ways into each unit. We are presently beginning a unit on ecosystems. A student was very upset by oil she found in a pond during an ecosystems field trip we took a week or so ago. She worried about how this would effect the ecosystem. I’m embarrassed to say I did not jump on this like a good PBL facilitator would have. Looks like I found my first authentic problem for next week.

21st Century connectivism teaching

Sense-Making in the 21st Century

I am still trying to wrap my mind around this concept of connectivism. As I was searching online for some clarity I came across George Siemens who apparently is the originator of the term. In the video I watched, he was speaking in a florescent-lit conference room to a small group of uninterested-looking folks and I almost stopped watching. The video looked exactly like the kind of videos we were told NOT to make if we ever flipped our lessons. Also, he was using big words and I could tell listening to him would take some thought and I still had remnants of that drug you get from turkey (the bird, not the country) in me.

George Siemens

But as I started listening more carefully, I found myself pausing the video to write down quotes that were really speaking to me:

Students must be allowed to …purpose (the content) in ways that they find important to their context.

It is ultimately about relevance and interest.

[Teachers] are the arbiters of connections.

So, if you have open social environments, students have the ability to adapt, to adjust, to inject new information into the ecosystem. And as a byproduct of injecting that information the system itself changes.

A (traditional) class is just a series of connections made by the teacher for the learner. What we need to do is to allow the learner to make their own connections within their context.

All this is crucial right now because of the recent, rapid change and complexity of information, connections and learning in the 21st Century. Do we need to change the way we teach because of that? Absolutely. The old model must be replaced. But who has the courage to do that? You might lose kids to competing schools with more familiar curricula.

CourageAs Parker Palmer, in his book The Courage to Teach says in a quote I have always loved but am now looking at differently:

[Good Teachers] are able to weave a complex web of connections between themselves, their subjects, and their students, so that students can learn to weave a world for themselves. The methods used by these weavers vary widely: lectures, Socratic dialogues, laboratory experiments, collaborative problem-solving, creative chaos. The connections made by good teachers are held not in their methods but in their hearts meaning heart in its ancient sense, the place where intellect and emotion and spirit and will converge in the human


These past couple of weeks have really gotten me thinking that more and more the teacher needs to slowly remove themselves; not from the classroom entirely but from the center of it certainly.  Not as a lesson in humility but in order to allow a new kind of independent learning to flourish. A learning where the impetus to take risks, solve problems and build this powerful web of connections falls squarely on each child in that room. As Mr. Siemens said, “It isn’t learning. It’s sense-making.”

balance communication

Just a Thought: Are we “on call”?

I was talking with a non-teacher friend of mine and I was some of the ways I use technology to communicate with my students. Everything in my life is so connected now, that I can be out with my family and get a notification on my phone that a child has replied to a comment I left on their final essay on the American Revolution. I can then, in seconds, reply back that I got it and appreciated her revision.


“Sounds like teachers are on call now,” my friend suggested.

Made me think. Yeah, we really are. Or I should say we can be. I certainly could turn that feature off. But, call me crazy, I actually like this connection with my students. If they have questions about homework or need clarification on when our field trip leaves or want to share that they are proud of a problem they just solved – I like to be in touch with them.

We are in the business of relationships in eduction. It just seems like we are may only be pretending they are relationships when we constrain them to M-F, 8:00am to 3:00pm.

21st Century Flipping the Classroom teaching

From Flippin’ Skeptic to Flippin’ Excited

Some quick snippets from our readings this weekend made me skeptical of the flipped classroom method for me:

  • So when students walked into my biology and honors biology class last week I told them they would be watching the lecture at home online. “So I have to be bored at home” one said. “Yep” I responded, “but it is only for 15 min.Adam Taylor
  • If kids can get the lectures, can get the content delivery and skill modeling as well (or often better) by computer lecture than in person, why do we have use precious class-time for this purpose? – Jonathan Martin
  • When you do a standard lecture in class, and then the students go home to do the problems, some of them are lost. They spend a whole lot of time being frustrated and, even worse, doing it wrong.  The idea behind the videos was to flip [the lecture]. – Karl Fisch interviewed by Daniel Pink

What if:

  • lecture is not your main mode of delivery?
  • class time is spent, let’s say, in collaborative groups, with hands-on materials, followed by discussions – monitoring and adjusting as you see needs unfold?
  • you do not have experience in making videos and yours turn out like this? (This guy is obviously an excellent teacher and has won awards to prove it, but this video would not hook many of my kids I don’t think….and I’m not sure I could make a better one!)
  • work at home is spent practicing skills that (ideally) should be independent skills anyhow.

Then I read this. I have always appreciated Alan November’s ideas and perspective and he addressed my main worry right away (as well as ones I did not know I had). He suggests:

To begin, do not replace an hour-long classroom lecture with an hour-long video. Audio and video should be used in short, five- to 10-minute segments, and there should be opportunities for students to interact with the information in these videos in a variety of ways.

That sounded better. In this blog post Julie Schell explains that the idea of flipping has been around for a long time and is done differently by everyone who tries it with the central component being taking the focus off the instructor and putting it “squarely on the student.” Love that.

So, here’s some of what I’ve learned that is getting me flippin’ excited:

Flipping is NOT: 

  • an easier way to teach. It takes great planning and time to do it well
  • a way to move the boring parts of teaching, home
  • teaching at home and homework at school

Flipping IS a/an

  • way to provide different modes of instruction for different learning styles
  • way teachers can concentrate their time with kids in class
  • opportunity to provide greater choice/autonomy for your students in how they learn
  • a chance to gather important information to inform differentiation before the lesson in class begins.
Page 1 of 41234