7 articles Tag Course 1

A School Website Created By Students, For Students

As the final project for course 1 of COETAIL, the teachers had to get together into groups and come out with a project. So while at The Networked Educator weekend PD, I had a brainwave. I thought it would be an amazing idea to develop a wiki, maintain and develop by students, for new students, new teachers and in fact anyone in the community to get tips on the best goods and services in Tokyo. For example, the best pizza restaurant, the best bakery, the best supermarket, the best cinemas, the best shrines and so on. We could add a brief history of certain areas of Tokyo, maps, basic Japanese language lessons and so on.

I pitched the idea to the other teachers at my school that are also doing the COETAIL course: Miss Seed (a social studies teacher), Mr. Baker (a history teacher) and Hosoi Sensei (a Japanese teacher) as each of their students could contribute a large part to the wiki. They loved the idea so we started brainstormed the possibilities. As we started talking, the idea evolved into a website maintain by all of the students in the school. And instead of having just recommendations, we decided to develop it into a school website, that is made by the students, for the students and the greater community. It would be less formal than the official website and all of the content would be created and managed by the students, the teachers would have no say (within reason) what goes onto the site because it wouldn’t be theirs, it would be the students.

We thought this would be a great way to empower the students, involve all the students and teachers of the school in the process and develop a closer community not only with the students, but with the wider community as they could see first hand what the students are doing at special events, interesting features of the school, etc.

So we got together and develop the following unit outline:



Open publication – Free publishingMore coetail

We actually wrote up the unit very quickly as we were all thinking along the same line, from chats at COETAIL meetings as well as on the trips down and back from YIS. We are all very excited to start the ball rolling, I have actually started a lesson with one Grade 7 class where we brainstormed the name of the website and will start with the design of the heading/logo. In one of my Grade 6 classes, I plan to do a website design lesson to develop an understanding of the layout of a good website so that we can develop the structure of the website. Once we have the site up and running, we can start inviting other students in other classes and grade to develop the content. Hopefully by the end of the school year, we should have a functional and up and running website that we can share with the world.

Community Building Around Technology

Being inspired with Kim Cofino’s post on ‘engaging the parent community‘, our department decided it would be a good idea to engage our parents. On Thursday September 3rd we will be having a parent information session, loosely based on digital citizenship that we hope can cover a lot of bases including privacy, the students new digital portfolios, 21st century learners and a lot more (if we get the time!). The presentation has been weighing a lot on my thoughts as of last and as I was reading through the NETS for students essential conditions, I realized that we are meeting a lot of them with this information session.


We can help construct a shared vision between our department and the parent community. Hopefully we can both have our opinions heard and begin striving towards excellence in education for the students.



By empowering the parents with knowledge, we can develop effective change.



By giving the students portfolios, they have time to share their ideas with their parents, teachers and other students.



By having the students develop their own reflections to any piece of work they choose, the emphasis is taken away from the front of the room and back to the student and their thoughts.



This one is pretty self explanatory and probably the main goal of the presentation.


I’m really looking forward to spending time with the middle school parents and hearing their opinions, helping them develop their knowledge and expressing our direction. I hope that a lot of parents are able to attend and are as excited as I am!

Education Of The Future

Working in international schools, it’s amazing to have such motivated, driven and focused students. It’s easy to forget that tradition education practices are no longer the best ways to educate these students because they are getting great test scores, they are attentive in class with little to no behavioral problems and they are being accepted to very prestigious universities. But are these students really learning, or are they just doing what’s necessary for them to make it the next step in their life, be it a transition from elementary school to middle school, high school to university or university into the workforce? Basically, are students just using school as a means to an end?


The Factory Model Of Education

Factory Workers from The U.S. National Archives

I believe the tradition education model does not encourage or foster life long learning. I believe it does not adapt well enough to every student in a school. I believe that a lot of students figure out what they have to know, then after they are tested on this knowledge they forget it and figure out what they have to remember next. Remembering is not learning. I think the sooner we acknowledge that the better.

Steve Denningbelieves that this is attributed to the factory model of education, where everything is arranged for the scalability and efficiency of “the system”, to which the students, the teachers, the parents and the administrators have to adjust. “The system” grinds forward, at ever increasing cost and declining efficiency, dispiriting students, teachers and parents alike. It rewards test scores as opposed to learning or development of knowledge. Standardized test scores are the way that students are evaluated. For the few students that can learn the content of their course in preparation for a test, can they actually adapt that knowledge? Can they analyze the information and recruit higher order thinking skills to apply the knowledge? Like Will Richardson so eloquently puts it, “high test scores do not equal learning“.


Defining Education

If we shift our thinking to change what we define success in education as, then we can redefine what education is. Prakash Nair believes we should instead define education as “developing skills to navigate a fast-changing world“. So then education should be: Teaching students how to learn.

Despite it seeming like such a daunting task to undertake, the Finnish education systems seems to be shifting in the right direction. While reading an article on Smithsonian.com about why Finnish students perform so well on standardized tests, I found what Pasi Sahlberg, a former math and physics teacher who is now in Finland’s Ministry of Education and Culture said really hit the nail on the head for me.

“We prepare children to learn how to learn,
not how to take a test.”

He goes on to say that he is not bothered by the test scores and that the education of the students is what’s most important. This is what we should be aiming for. This is where successful school will shine. This is where successful students will graduate. This is the education of the future.


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IWB – New Technology In Old Ways?

The weekend before last I attended an amazing professional development seminar by a very switched on educator Chris Betcha who is an ICT support teacher in Sydney, Australia. Before Chris presented I quickly Googled him and found his website. One of the most recent posts on his blogs was about Interactive White Board’s (IWB’s). Here is the slide for you to go over yourself.


I have very strong opinions about IWB’s and I was quite surprised that Chris took a very balanced stance. Most people either love them or hate them but it seemed Chris weighed it up very concisely in his ‘Why IWB’ presentation.

What really resonated with me about Chris’s slideshow was the idea of using new technology to do old things. I believe that is what the majority of IWB’s are used for in schools, basically a digital chalkboard. I believe that the technology rarely gets into the hands of the students and the same thing could just as easily be done on a whiteboard or even a set of whiteboards for each student, at least each student would get to use it if they had one each (which is what Frank Noschese’s was trying to get at with the $2 IWB idea.)
The other problem I see is the cost. If you are going to spend thousands on a technology tool and use it just like a blackboard, then you are wasting a LOT of money on technology for the sake of technology. Let’s assume that it costs US$3000 for an IWB. If we compare that to what could be purchased as an equivalent, then that could stock one classroom with 3 Macbooks. Or 6 iPads. Or 15 iPod Touch’s, which is a class set in a lot of the classes I teach. Then if there are IWB’s being installed in multiple classrooms, which is usually the case, then four IWB’s would buy more than 1 class set of iPads. Six IWB’s could buy almost a full set of laptops. When you compare the benefits of an IWB against the benefits of technology in the hands of EVERY students, then I don’t think there is even a close comparison. Bill Ferriter, a 6th Grade teacher in Carolina, who was named regional teacher of the year in 2006-2007 sums this point up beautifully in his blog The Tempered Radical. He speaks a lot about why he dislike IWB’s, I encourage you to have a read of his thoughts.
The next gripe I have with IWB’s is that it encourages ‘chalk and talk’ style teaching where teachers stand at the front of the room and deliver. There is no guided discovery, no collaborative learning and very little Connectivism. This is the furthest from 21st century education that I can think of.
In Marc Prensky article in Edutopia named Shaping Tech for the Classroom, he talks a lot about doing old things in old ways, doing old things in new ways and doing new things in new ways. I think we as teachers, should be striving to provide 21st century education to our 21st century students. And by standing out the front of the room, not even facing the students to control an IWB, I think we are deluding ourselves if we think this is 21st century education or anything new at all.
Marking The Roll

One ray of hope is that teachers change their teaching styles and get away from the front of the classroom. Maybe, just maybe, then IWB’s could be a decent tool for the classroom. Just like this example, which I saw in a kindergarten class just the other day. This idea that Mrs. Peacock was using is a great example of how best to utilize the IWB as a tool and get the technology into the students hands. The students were clicking and draging their name from the ‘At Home’ section to the ‘At School’ section. Students do this as they walk in for the day, taking the technology out of the hands of the teacher and into the hands of the students.

I hope I see more great ideas like this that could help me change my mind about IWB’s and give me a more balanced view of them. So here is my challenge, change my mind by showing me ideas on how we can get this very expensive technology out of the hands of teachers and utilize it in a way that fosters 21st century education. Do you have any ideas?

My Big Goal For The 2011-2012 School Year

Being an ICT teacher, I am using technology in every one of my class. I love teaching children how to use technology and I get a real kick when I see students creating meaningful products that not only benefits them and helps them develop the skills used to create the product, but can also assist others either through passing on motivation or developing their knowledge. There are a range of projects I did last year with my students that would fit into this category but my top three favourite would be Grade 2’s water cycle animations, Grade 4’s video school tour and the book trailers I did with Grades 5 and 6.

Photo by Flikr user ekkebus

However, being a new year with new goals and motivations, I decided to challenge myself once again and facilitate the creation of digital portfolios for all of my students starting in Grade 3 all the way up to Grade 7. In the past, pieces of work that students created digitally had no real place we stored them or view them in an easily manageable way. With the introduction of a public digital portfolios I believe that this will help teachers display the amazing projects they are already doing with technology in their classrooms and in turn motivate others in the school and around the world to try similar projects. For teachers, it can be a bank of ideas for others and for students, a place to proudly display their work to an authentic audience. I hope to get all teachers contributing work towards each students portfolio as a way of motivating technology within all curriculum areas. I believe that this is a very authentic way to use technology, as students and teachers have a real audience, outside of the classroom. I really hope once the students realize this, that the quality of their work will also increase.

So this is my goal for the year, to create an authentic audience for my students, to motivate other teachers at my school to display the amazing lessons involving technology in their classroom, no matter what subject they are teaching and to collect all of a students work in one place, a place they can be proud of. I have already taken steps towards achieving my goals and have hit a few speed humps, but if I remain determined and I am certain I can achieve my goals for the year.

This post should be interesting at the end of the school year to look back on and reflect on.

Connectivism and 21st Century Education

This week for my COETAIL course I was reading an article about an interesting learning theory coined ‘Connectivism‘. Basically it is theory that works much the same way the internet works, with knowledge not in one central location, but more of a network with information being shared by a collection of ‘nodes’. Nodes could be people, institutions, organizations, etc. Therefore to develop knowledge, you must develop your network. I found it interesting that this is the same basic theory of how the internet works. A collection of knowledge that no one entity owns, rather it is a range of nodes (servers) which store collective knowledge. As a user, one must develop the skills needed to find the information they are looking for. The is the same for learners, they must be able to find what they need as they have no way of knowing everything that is available in every node. This is very much the situation for the 21st century learner. Students can not possibly know it all and with information so readily available, the most important skill is working out how to access the information they need. The Wikipedia page on Connectivism explains it like this:

This network metaphor allows for a notion of “know-where” (the understanding of where to find the knowledge when it is needed) to supplement to the ones of “know-how” and “know-what” that make the cornerstones of many theories of learning.

This is something that we as teachers must come to terms with. We need to be motivating students, helping them develop their network of knowledge and resources and modelling to them how we access the information we desire. This also very much links to my week one COETAIL reflection “Experts At Your Fingertips” where I mentioned that we have a range of knowledge and expertise available to use, we just need to be able to find it and access it.*

The Connectivism theory should also make us consider the idea of quizzes and tests that assess knowledge rather than higher order thinking skills like application and analysis of knowledge. For example, instead of a test with simple recall questions, educators need to start designing test that have students access the information and synthesize it or use it to create their own products. In other words, assess how well a students can learn as opposed to how much students know. Not unlike Google’s amazing website www.agoogleaday.com which tests very specific skills and lateral thinking as opposed to recall of information. On this site the user must work out how they will find the information to answer a question and follow a range of steps and searches to find their answer. For me, I believe this is 21st century learning, not just assessing knowledge but assessing how we access knowledge.

*I find it rather ironic that I’ve made the connection between my week 1 work and my week 2 work! Was this meant to happen?

Experts At Your Fingertips

The last two weeks have been enormous for me. After a world tour, visiting three continents and seven countries on summer vacation, I was dropped back into the world of education with a thud. Not only did I now have to move house, I had to move my office. I also had to adjust to a new and enthusiastic Head Of Department (HOD) that has a lot of great ideas for the future of our school. On top of all of this, I started my Certificate Of Educational Technology And Information Literacy (COETAIL) at Yokohama International School. After having many motivating conversations about the state of technology in education and long terms plans and directions with my new HOD, we were made to read the article “World Without Walls: Learning Well with Others” by Will Richardson which was published in Edutopia.org in our first COETAIL class. I found the article extremely motivating and reassuring because it outlined the exact feeling that I was trying to convey to my new HOD. So many great point of views and ideas come up in this article, but the main thought line I liked the most was that of collaboration and searching out the ‘teachers’ that are most relevant to your interests.

This idea resonated with me because that was what I have been doing for myself recently. For over a year now, I have been really finding an interest in nutrition and have been educating myself on the topic. I read some books, but time and time again, when I would Google questions I that had arose from reading the books, I found more current and relevant information online in blog posts, Twitter feeds and message boards. In the World Without Walls article, Richardson wrote:


“For educators and the schools in which they teach, the challenges of this moment are significant. Our ability to learn whatever we want, whenever we want, from whomever we want is rendering the linear, age-grouped, teacher-guided curriculum less and less relevant.

Experts are at our fingertips, through our keyboards or cell phones, if we know how to find and connect to them. Content and information are everywhere, not just in textbooks.”

And this was exactly what I was doing myself, finding my own content that I had an interest in. 20 years ago, to learn the very specific area of nutrition I had an interest in I would of had to have read text after text along with scientific studies by the bucket load. Now, highly educated experts sift through this information, collate it, curate it and present the findings for the world to see, readily available and free. A great example of this type of curator is Kurt Harris, a M.D. who produces the blog www.archevore.com by finding relevant, scientific studies to his nutritional and lifestyle area of interests and posts about them with his own reflection and adaption to the real world. As Will Richardson said:


“We must find our own teachers, and they must find us.”

This is exactly what has happened for me through the use of blogs and Twitter, where these experts have found their voice and know people are listening to them. Another great example of this is iTunes U. The best explanation of iTunes U is on this short video:

This system makes experts available to anyone in the world with internet access, no matter what their socioeconomic background or geographical location.

I think this should be how students should be learning in our classes. Not necissarily through Kahn Academy style videos of a chalk and talk lesson, but through seeking out the experts and sources we see as most relevant to us. As teachers, we must model to them how we go about making our own connection, how we find the content that interests us and empower them to do the same. Students would quickly realize how little the teacher sitting before them really knows and how much expert information is available to them, right at their fingertips. But to accomplish this we need a dramatic change in the culture of education and the current schooling model. I believe that schools and teachers are not ready for this, not now, but hopefully teachers and institutions can see the impact it can have on their students and learning in general. A world where student at school learn about what interests them, what they want to learn, from a range of experts is one so exciting and empowering it has me dreaming of possibilities everyday. Once again, to quote Will Richardson:


“We as educators need to reconsider our roles in students’ lives, to think of ourselves as connectors first and content experts second.”