Hold On Tight and Let Go!

There are times when collaboration is natural and times where it is prescribed.  During times when it is natural, it often becomes viral and taps into your global PLN.  In times when it is prescribed, I think it becomes more localized to your grade level team, division colleagues and school leaders.  Course 5 came to me at one of these prescribed times, I let it happen, and I didn’t do anything to change it.

When one is caught in such a situation that one group is telling you to INNOVATE, transform your classroom and you don’t have to all have classrooms that are doing the same activities, and another leadership group is telling you that you must be consistent in delivery and student experiences, and then you have your team wanting/needing/expecting to give the same experiences and opportunities for their students, true transformation is slower to develop.

This is the situation that I was caught in this year.  And I didn’t handle it as well as I could have.  Partly due to time factors and family needs taking precedent over the job and partly due to aforementioned circumstances being far beyond my control.

Assuming the team leader role was a great challenge to me this year and took time away from my individual planning and team collaboration.  Guiding a team of colleagues with less tech abilities and more traditional philosophies and approach to their classrooms toward the holy grail of transformation impacted me, the units, and took a toll on my ability to document and curate the evidence I needed for this project.

It was impossible for me to close my door, focus only on my learners, and transform their learning.

I was less good for a while.

To the project…

A little history to put things in perspective on the revision of our social studies units from literature-based thematic units to student-led inquiry.  Four years ago with limited, shared technology, our SS units, Exploration, Migration, and Our Changing World, were all taught from historical perspectives using a literature-based approach in classrooms with +-40 percent EAL students and text levels far above them culminating in a written research project, basically an essay about their chosen historical exploration, migration, or major change to the Earth.  In my first year, I simply went with the established units but made modifications by finding as many videos and books on “tape” at my learners levels.  We formed interest groups and collaborated on research projects.

The second year, our team changed, so we worked hard to revise the units to be more relevant and move toward student-driven inquiries using more online resources especially audio, video and primary sources for them.  We also expanded the formative and summative assessment pieces to be more varied as well as offer student choice of products from picture books, oral presentations, to Powerpoints.  A lot of substitution but a step in the right direction considering our tech limitations.

Two years ago we knew iPads were coming and our team changed again.   We took a big step toward redefinition by changing the perspective of all the units from a historical perspective, that the majority of students could not relate to at all, to an individual’s perspective while using the historical incidents as exemplars and teaching points.  The main revision was a big step toward student-led inquiry.  We were not 1:1 at this point in the year, so we relied on our PC Lab and Netbooks for research and publishing during the Migration unit.  These assessments were an attempt at digital story telling, and I didn’t even know it yet!

For example, our Migration unit, started with each individual and we created a map connecting all of our migrations to Shenzhen.  Learners then wrote interview questions for their parents to find out the details of each migration focusing on the reasons they migrated and the positive and negative impacts. Our EQs, so to speak.  They analyzed their findings together and presented in small groups.

This led to an inquiry within our community, “Why have 16 million people migrate to Shekou?”  We invited community members in to have their migration stories recorded, so learners could analyze it later. This information was then collaboratively published as iMovies or Glogsters.

This unit improved dramatically this year.  Partly due to an earlier rollout of iPads that allowed us to find more learner friendly resources that met their needs.  The same launch from self to community was followed only we told them upfront about their final assessment which was to tell another migration story. During this, learners were exposed to the key vocabulary, concepts and processes of human migration. We then asked students to find out about Shenzhen.  In teams, they watched news reports and videos to learn the history of our city and the migration stories from ayis to to construction workers to CEOs and finally back to us.

At this point, we shared resources and videos of other historical migrations.  Students worked together to find the forces and impacts of these migrations.  We also had two skype conversations with a class in India and surveyed our buddies in Brazil.  We used our walls to record their thinking and make connections and draw conclusions.

It was now their turn to inquire.  The final project/assessment was to simply tell another migration story including the key vocabulary, concepts and processes that we now know about.  They could choose another individual or group of individuals to interview, research other historical migrations, research their ancestors’ migration and tell one story, or come up with their own idea.  Motivation throughout this unit was high as more relevance was seen as to how this all affects them as individuals.

I have tried to follow a similar revision strategy for all of our units including science and math.

My final project is about another social studies unit and my desire to harness the power of MineCraft and relate it to the real world.  As mentioned earlier, documentation isn’t up to my expectations.  As well it was the last unit of the year and did not get the attention or time it deserves.  Apologies for not fitting the schedule, especially for the lack of global collaboration and giving feedback to the cohort.

So it goes…

Posted in Change, Collaboration, Course 5, Final Project, Minecraft | 2 Comments

Cold Turkey is Never a Good Way to Go

Whether it’s a good habit or a bad habit, quitting something full stop or going cold turkey quittingquotealways has consequences.  If the intention is good in giving up a bad habit that is great, but our minds and bodies will protest.  When it is quitting something that is good and needed due to whatever reasons, our minds and bodies will protest.

 The factors for going cold turkey with blogging and COETAIL 5 were many, and so were the effects on mind and body.  While I was still connected with my learners, my school PLN, the network we have built up, and our global collaboration projects, the emotions of not being a part of the cohort and the greater mass of quality people that are in and around the COETAIL PLN became heavy and I was guilt ridden.  Now, I know that this is somewhat the same effect that great procrastinators get around crunch time, but for me it felt like I had failed and thusly was a failure.  The longer without a post or work on the final project, the worse it got.  Even to the point of me not exercising, which compounded things and getting lost in books again as an escape.  A great escape, but not productively helpful.

So here, my body and mind took over and began to rationalize it by pouring everything I classsroom2.18could into my classroom.  We had a great January and February.  Here’s a condensed version of a post I wrote then, but didn’t publish.  I don’t even know why other than maybe not having the time to put the videos or images together.


March flew into April, and that’s when I received my wake up call.  My wife and I attended Jabiz, Keri-Lee and Paula’s workshop: Cultivating a Connected Learning Environment: Equitable, Social, and Participatory.  They took risks, modeled the skills and used processes for making learning and thinking visual and differentiated for all learners.  The weekend showed me that besides mastering the classroom skills and processes of teaching 2.0, blogging and sharing and creating and remixing are all a part of the teacher 2.0.  The only option we have is how far out we want our circle of influence and connectivity reach.


So whether your divisions or teams are doing this work on a more local scale and are influencing your learners, parents, administration and community, or you are spiraling out to the rest of the world, don’t go cold turkey.  Minds and bodies will protest.


Posted in Course 5, On Blogging | 1 Comment

It’s a good thing I have such a big mouth…

…because I always bite off more than I can chew.  Working your way through the SAMR model everyday with 9 and 10 year olds trying to transform from old school to new is challenging, often overwhelming, and a messy business.

Every time I approach a unit redesign or project in the room I try to focus on our Expected Student Learner Results as my overarching guide towards being relevant.

Expected Student Learning Results (ESLRs)
SIS learners are nurtured to become:

Communicators who…

  • Listen, read, write, and speak effectively
  • Express needs, knowledge, desires, and opinions appropriately
  • Initiate reflective and meaningful conversations

Independent Learners who…

  • Exhibit confidence, initiative, and personal management
  • Apply appropriate strategies for producing and retaining information
  • Develop habits that maintain responsibility along with mental and physical health

Collaborators who…

  • Foster positive relationships in diverse settings
  • Establish and accomplish goals within groups
  • Ask questions for clarification and understanding

Complex Thinkers who…

  • Evaluate the significance of diverse concepts
  • Analyze, synthesize, and evaluate information
  • Engage in a reflective process for continual improvement

Global Citizens who…

  • Contribute to their immediate and extended communities
  • Promote an ethos of care and empathy
  • Model compassion for fellow human beings

One project that has started since starting joining COETAIL is redesigning the physical space that is available for my learners.  I realize that this doesn’t quite fit the “unit redesign”, but it is part of the transformation that has to happen to promote the 4C’s: creativitycritical thinkingcommunication, and collaboration in a personalized manner.  I have an odd-shaped room with a convex exterior wall. I also have access to a funky L-shaped storage area with a pretty major accumulation of junk that could be used.  Standard desks and plastic chairs need to go.  Last year, I ordered fitness seat cushions and ball chairs for every learner.

2013-08-28 22.00.14

Beginning the Year

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When I started this year, I had the students draw up their ideas for arranging our classroom furniture.  Before they started, we brainstormed what everyone needed.  Their ideas included creative corners, reflection spaces, secret spaces, building spaces, storage for projects and supplies, and a library.  Thanks to Sophia, a student, we began redesigning our room by adding a Secret Space from a pink mosquito netting she donated and setting rules for using the storage area.

I’ve talked with our IT Director @jOhnburns, fallen down many a rabbit hole, and read Make Space.  I’ve been listing potential furniture, wall treatment, and lighting needs.  I am testing prototypes for movable workspace.  I met with a friend who is a professional designer to get his thoughts.  I have ideas to free up what little useable wall space I have, so I can use them as visible thinking collection spaces.

Since I have now been disrupted by 1:1 and COETAIL type thinking and learning for one full year now, every big unit, well even some of the smaller ones like math, that I approach is looked at and planned with a forward-thinking problem/project based approach that is learner centered.  Thusly, the title of this post.

Our current unit in social studies is Migration.  Due to our forced time and reporting constraints, our focus is restricted to the causes and effects of human migration.  Beginning with themselves, researching their family history and telling their stories, learners listen, record, and analyze migration stories of members of our community to find connections and draw conclusions.  We will then go to a commercial area and interview visitors and workers.  We are hoping to get the stories to SoundCloud or VoiceThread and invite our Brazil buddies and hopefully our New Delhi connection to comment, question and share their stories.  End product will be a presentation of one of their favorite stories that they have chosen to dive deeper into.

My other big idea that is being brainstormed and planned by the class is the gamification of 4A with the purpose of increasing inclusion, collaboration and motivation.  I’m normally opposed to extrinsic motivation, but I can’t fight it anymore.  A list of ideas of we could use XPs (experience points) have been generated.  Next week, we focus on how we could earn XPs.  Ways to form teams and alliances that include rather than exclude are needed as well.  We’ve been thinking about the management not being totally on me as well.

I presented this idea to the class a while back.  The more I read about this, the more I think that it could promote collaboration with learners outside of their comfort zone and across genders depending on how we weight the points.  I fed them with ideas like points for individuals who demonstrate understanding of a benchmark and more points for a whole team doing it or helping someone else learn it.

I’m still struggling to naturally build in blogging to our normal daily routine.  Kids have a great start, have family traffic, but need time to evaluate and improve the quality of their posts as well as increase appropriate traffic to them.

Otherwise, we’ve got digitizing the reading and writing workshop, a science unit on earth science (Foss’ Solid Earth) and another Magnetism and Electricity, and our last social studies unit Changing Our World that we slightly Mincrafted last year.

I know I’m over doing things here.  I need to narrow things down and get focused.

No wonder my days and weeks are flying by!

Posted in Course 4, Course 5 | 4 Comments

Flipped Out, Flipped Over, or Flipped On


Flipped Out by Mick

Flipped Out by Mick

I started to write my normal prose diatribe and flipped out.  So, here is a more Bali worthy version (in my opinion), and the prose unlinked follows.

To Flip, or Not to Flip, that is a hot topic
Methinks tis nobler to be relevant

Is it better to extend the day
by providing short, high-quality, alternatives to lectures

Or inspire learning by the mere
proximity of your brilliance

By the sounds of your voice
from lectern, your pulpit

Day after day
ad nauseum

Tis a wise practice to flip, if thoughtful
and done diligently

Mindful to avoid piling-on pupils
causing overload from fellow flippers

Methinks this practice is better suited
for middle and high school

I am pondering the potential in
programs of prescribed curriculum like IB

In a standards based system it
seems entirely doable

Profitable even
for all parties involved

However, for the wee ones who
desire time to simply be

I say free them of the shackles
of homework forever

Allow them to play, to
discover their passions

Allow them to have time
unstructured to learn, to self regulate

Elementary teachers need to master
the content, the processes, to compact

What’s in a name? That which we call a flip
By any other name would be as sweet

Differentiation perhaps
where learning is personalized

So, days and nights are tailored to
individuals needs

Both in the affective
and the cognitive realms

Such that all learners are motivated
to flip their own learning

Where inquiry is sought after by all
and carries on when teachers are absent

To flip, or not to flip, is not the question
Tis nobler to be relevant

That is solid pedagogy

Flipped Over by Mick

Flipped Over by Mick

This was my original diatribe sans links:

Original Thoughts of Title:  Flipping an Elementary Classroom Doesn’t Do Much For Me

It’s funny that one of our reads in this unit was from my alma mater the University of Northern Colorado.  It was there, that  I was saved by George Betts, Pete Denzin, and my cohort.  We were all searching for ways to allow our students to survive and thrive while we were teaching in the regular classroom.  I know your tired of hearing this, but I knew nothing about the real classroom when I came out of the University of Colorado, Boulder and walked into Fort Lupton Middle School to teach 5th grade to the gamut of abilities in two languages.  My savior was an unreal sixth-grade teacher, Patti Nell.  What I already new was that there is no one-size-fits-all curriculum, that there are learners out on both ends of the spectrum that require radical differentiation, affectively and cognitively, both inside and outside the classroom, that technology and project-based learning can help ease students pain, and that I cannot impose myself as a teacher into places where I’m not welcomed.

As an elementary facilitator of learning, the idea of a flipped classroom doesn’t really meld and needs to take on some different twists.  First, as a parent, reader, musician of sorts, creator, learner, and person who needs to play, I do not want any teacher intruding on a child’s time to connect with family, have unscheduled play time, nap, or do whatever they need to do.  Homework is already a four-letter word for me.

If there is a flipping in the true sense from our reading materials, then I would advocate that it totally fits within the confines of our mandatory homework time.  In grade four, it’s forty minutes.  Then, I would still worry about the times when kids have recital practice, or Mandarin lessons, or Korean school, extra parent homework, or badminton league, and they don’t have time for the “flipped” lessons.

How would I deal with some learners, viewing the flipped lesson and some not.  Probably the same way I deal with kids not doing homework.  They do it in class and individualization takes place with flexible grouping strategies.  If all teachers simply allow these learners to complete the flipped activities with no consequences, I could be all in.  As well, we have to also deal with connectivity issues from home and some might be without home devices.  It becomes a little more complicated trying a strategy across the spectrum from elementary to university.

From my perspective, at our level, it’s all about individualizing for the whole child and getting them hooked on learning for learning’s sake. In our first class, at UNC, on the nature and needs of gifted and talented students, we learned to be sure to keep the whole child in mind when planning any programming for them.  So, my first priorities at the start of the year are to get to know the kids, the families, their schedules, and any major issues that might affect their learning   From here, I work to build a true community of acceptance of individuality and collaboration in order to support everyone’s achievement to take them as far as possible from day 1 to day 180.

After the community of learners is set, it’s all about teaching individual goal setting and curriculum compacting rather than flipping for me.  We learn how to write SMART goals, reflect daily and track them.  Knowing your content and standards is vital as you integrate, plan for pre-assessments, and use this data to drive instructional planning.  Once you know your kids strengths and weaknesses, we model how to write daily goals that would help the areas for growth.  After conferences regarding their pre-assessments, we develop longer four-week goals directly targeting areas for growth.  This becomes a part of the individualized homework.  Math is easiest.  Some will be practicing to master automaticity with basic facts while others are working on pre-algebra concepts, logic, or projects going into depth around the current concepts.

By continually have big inquiries going going on or Global Collaboration projects most learners become hooked on learning for learning’s sake before mid year.  Continuing to work on transforming your classroom with their help will spark curiosity and break down the walls that contain learning within the classroom.

Discovering their personalities and passions, bringing these interests into their learning as much as possible, and setting up opportunities that spark their emotions and leads them into self-directed inquiry that carries into and out of the classroom voluntarily is my idea of flipping the elementary classroom.


And on unrelated note, I still haven’t been able to learn the code for keeping all links the same color in a WP post.  Any help would be greatly appreciated.

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Double Dipping

by Mick @Villa Tatiapi

by Mick @Villa Tatiapi

Having an INC on COETAIL Course 4 hanging over me while on holiday is not a good thing.  Having perfectionistic tendencies that don’t allow me to post less-good stuff from my perspective is never a good thing.  Having Bali rainstorms postpone excursions in the afternoons allowing me to only miss a little game time with the family in order to get caught up is a consolation of sorts.  I suppose.

However, I must resort to double dipping in order to allow me to not lose too much family and disconnect time.  I have tried to teach this strategy to my daughter, a senior and IB learner, but she hasn’t seen the value of taking the risk of integrating such as combining English and TOK assignments that loosely fit together to create one product.  Perhaps one day, she will see the light.

I actually can thank Rebekah’s comment on my comments for the idea.  One of my comments on Scott McLeod’s blog about a post from George Couros netted me an email from Scott and had me wondering what the COETAIL community would think.  So, here is my comment as a post.




George Couros says:

If we got rid of a library in a school, people would be outraged that [we were] taking away information away from students, yet kids often hold the biggest library in the world in their pocket[s] and schools ban them from using it in the classroom.

via https://georgecouros.ca/blog/archives/4278

They can use it at home but, hey, let’s just ignore that. Blocking is always better than educating, right?

This is still so hard to comprehend.

I am very fortunate to be working in a school with a forward thinking eLearning guru, @jOhburns and a gifted PLN, while plodding along on a very relevant journey through COETAIL. I’ve always been one who erred on the side of zero censorship and 100% support for learners in their quest for information. Of course, this required us all to trust one another and be totally open and honest just in case we had those instances where we clicked on whitehouse.com instead of whitehouse.gov! It’s going to happen, and it’s all about the new citizenship. Deal with it.

In my schooling, the Catholic schools tried to censor or beat it out of us. Although, even though they pulled the Sport’s Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, we all knew which National Geographic was the best! I’m pretty sure that the same holds true today on one way or another.

Surprisingly, I have not found this open mindset prevalent in new teachers entering the classroom over the last couple of decades. In fact, most are well prepared to carry on the “Fordian”-assembly line, font-of-knowledge approach to teaching.

I don’t get it. I would have though that at least the majority of university grads would be well versed and able to guide learning in an open-source, blended learning environment, but the opposite appears true. They are well versed in the latest pre-packaged curriculum, most recent set of standards and test-prep materials, and they treat them like bibles without any regard to the uniqueness of their learners’ needs or the relevance of their mission.

I am tired of waiting. Maybe we need to start from the lower grades and train students well enough to not accept and sit passively in situations that don’t meet their needs. Perhaps when high school students turn down the high-profile universities because the learning environment and professors aren’t up to their standards enough to meet their needs, change will happen.

My students are managing their own iPad and are learning to use it whenever the person sitting next to them can’t help them pass any road block in their learning day. No more closed book tests. No more, “I don’t knows” because the new ask 3 before me include Siri and Google! They are learning that it is primarily a learning tool with infinite power, provided they know how to maximize its potential and minimize the temptations to multitask in passive play. They know they have choice in how they find, synthesize, present, and attribute information in order to demonstrate their learning. They are becoming aware that everything they create is adding to the “biggest library in the world,” and they’d better be mindful about it!

I guess, I could be a lot worse off!

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