We’ve Come so Far

While cleaning out my work mailbox the other day, I found this email I sent our eLearning (previously known as ‘Tech’) team.  Please read on and I’ll explain why it was so important (although risky) for me to share.

Date: February 8, 2012
Dear Technology Team,
I had some wonderings regarding the decision to block networking sites (i.e. Facebook, Pinterest) from our server during school hours at SIS (Shekou International School).  There was a time when I pushed for such a block, especially when students can access these sites and use them unproductively or even inappropriately during school hours.  However, as we reflect on the use of technology at SIS, I wondered about the disadvantages of blocking such sites.
From a support teacher’s point of view, one that feeds on the creative ideas provided online to continue to enrich the support given to the curriculum (Pinterest is a great example); I wonder if this restriction will have a negative impact in the way I look for inspiration online.  Also, as the Double Happiness Committee representative, I’m currently trying to encourage SIS staff members to ‘Like’ our new DHC page on Facebook (this undertaking was also an inspiration by the PD given by Kim Confino).  This is already a hard sell and the popularity of our page hasn’t taken off the way I would’ve liked; and I wonder if having Facebook blocked on campus has had an effect on the popularity of the page.  How can I ask staff members to ‘like’ us when our own server won’t allow us to visit it?
In my experiences, I’ve seen that any technology brought to the masses can have one of two effects:  impress or intimidate.  I wonder if blocking Facebook or other networking sites that are blocked in China, adds to the intimidation rather than inspiration that such networking can bring.  I’m very well aware that when technology is used inappropriately, the consequences can be brutal.  But if an educational establishment that fosters exploration and inquiry like SIS restricts the use of such websites, I wonder if the message we’re sending is that blocking the sites has a more effective impact than educating and training for their appropriate use.  Therefore if the teaching staff is restricted from using these sites freely, how can we impart our knowledge of the right uses of this technology to our students?  How can we learn to be guides for our students when they’re out there surfing networking sites in this technology heavy world?
And lastly, as a tech person myself, one who not only loves the use of technology but also strives to explore it in all its entirety to improve my practice as an educator; I wondered if I would be writing this email a few years ago.  Like I said, I used to be on the front lines when it came to blocking sites, always with the thought of protecting our students from using them inappropriately.  But that hasn’t made them go away and it certainly hasn’t stopped me, you, our families, our friends, our students, our students’ parents; from using them on a day-to-day basis.  And now I wonder if I want my role as an educator to be to stigmatize those sites, label them as ‘something you do at home’, and support the restrictions imposed on them; or if I would rather be an educator who asks questions about ways to educate everyone in productive, creative and effective ways to use them.
Like you, I want our school to move forward in its use of technology in all its aspects.  And I wonder if these restrictions are a step back as opposed to a step in the direction we want SIS to go.  I don’t want this email to sound like a complaint, it’s not.  It’s simply meant to be a seed that sparks up a real discussion about what this block really means in the long run and whether it’s time to look into other options as to how best to educate others in using these sites, whether it’s at school or at home.  I would love to be part that discussion if it happens 🙂
I’d be lying if I said my first instinct was to share this email.  It’s almost like ‘airing our dirty laundry’, so to speak.  But as I re-read my thoughts and reflections on this topic, I can’t help but emphasize how far we have come.
We as a school.  Shekou International School is now one of the leading tech-integrating international schools in the world.  Our Twitter hashtag #SISRocks is shared, used and ‘trended’ on a daily basis to zoom in on how SIS is transforming learning.  A vast array of media is used to enhance our classrooms and our curriculum.  Our teachers and students have self-managed devices, 1-to-1 iPads starting in grade 4, and MacBooks up to grade 12.  Our Kindergarten students build digital portfolios and tweet their learning every day.  Our community tweets, blogs, and collaborates online using Padlets, Google Docs, Edmodo, Evernote… And this is just the tip of the iceberg.
We as a professional learning community.  Our eCoaches who work tirelessly to provide us with the tools to enhance our teaching practices.  Teachers who are willing to take risks and challenge themselves to try new things as their classrooms are repeatedly ‘disrupted’, principals and directors who learn with us and support us while we explore a new age in education.  Students and parents who have embraced the changes and put their trust in us to lead this transformation.
And I as an educator.  Back in February 2012, as I wrote that email, I could’ve never imagined this.  Flipped classrooms, full transparency, enhanced learning for a generation of digital natives.   A transformation, a paradigm shift, in only 18 months!  Wow.
How far we have come indeed.

Looking for Info Online – Video

A while ago I made a video for students, which explains how to look for information online in different reading levels and for ELLs to search in their L1 (first language).  After sharing it with other teachers and students, I’ve found that a quick video like this can have such  an impact if shared at the right time.  I recently resent it to G5 students to help them in researching for a Social Studies project.

Feel free to share this video with your students and colleagues.  The target audience is grades 4-5, but could be helpful for grades 3-8.


Understanding Ecclesiastes 1:9

“…It has all been done before. Nothing under the sun is truly new.” -Ecclesiastes 1:9, NLT

Yes.  I just cited Scripture, The Bible, The Good Book, The Word of God.  Why? Because when reading Shaping Tech for the Classroom by Marc Prensky of Edutopia, this verse kept swirling around in my head.  Doing old things in old ways, doing old things in new ways, doing new things in new ways… what does all this mean if there truly isn’t anything new under the sun?

Mark P. said it best “For the digital age, we need new curricula, new organization, new architecture, new teaching, new student assessments, new parental connections, new administration procedures, and many other elements.” Period.  We need new.

For the past few days, I’ve been looking at how I’m using technology and how our students are adapting to the use of their devices.  I decided to write my reflection based on my observations, although I’m not sure I’ve categorized them properly.  I welcome your feedback in comments section!

Old Things in Old Ways (or as I call it, An Oldie can be a Goodie)
While conferring on a writing piece, I asked a high needs ELL (English Language Learner) to revise his word choice by looking at synonyms for some words in his writing (i.e. What’s a stronger word for ‘happy’?).  I also asked him to to figure out a strategy to look for synonyms without using his iPad.  He put his iPad down and didn’t even flinch.  He went over to the shelf where all the classroom thesauri are gathering dust located, and searched for synonyms.  I later gave him some app suggestions where he can do the same (Dictionary.com & Merriam Webster are pretty good, and free!) on his device.  

Here’s a picture of how our ELLs are juggling the old and the new.
**Disclaimer: This picture was taken by Rosana Walsh, G4  teacher with whom I collaborate, and this is not the student I refer to in my example, rather a representation of my experience**

Old Things in New Ways (or, as I call it, My Everyday Teaching Life) 
Everyday, myself and the teachers I work with try old things in new ways.  We have to! Disruption has become our teaching philosophy.  From the moment our G4-5 students started using 1:1 self managed iPads, we’ve had to learn right beside them.  Because ‘for true technological advance to occur, the [devices] must be personal to each learner’, students are making individual choices about how to do old things in new ways.  For instance, they now use Evernote instead of paper notebooks, they make Glogsters to make poster projects, blogs to write daily learning reflections, and ShowMe to show their understanding of big concepts.  All of their learning, like mine, is now condensed into one device.

New Things in New Ways (or as I call it, The Next Step)
This year, I have been exploring how to best support my ELLs within the Reading & Writing Workshop, especially when they are beginners to English.  Classroom teachers make anchor charts about their teaching points, and I wondered how I could make differentiated anchor charts for ELLs without interrupting the teacher’s mini-lesson.  I want ELLs to use what they can do to meet the standard of a writing piece.  So today, I conferred with a student about her ‘Migration Story’, how she came to be here in China from her home in South Korea.  After the teacher’s mini-lesson, I conferred with the student and used InkFlow to create a differentiated anchor chart for her to revise her pre-write.  We built it together and we focused on the grammar she needed to use to tell her story.  We also determined which details might help her tell the story better, and listed which apps might help her in her writing (Korean-English Translator, Pages & a Dictionary app to help with her word choice).  So how is this a new thing in a new way? Well, it was certainly a new way of thinking for me! Personalizing anchor charts, building them together one on one based on what the student can do and how she thinks she can grow as a writer, and of course, sending it to her digitally (InkFlow allows attachments as PDFs or JPGs), so she can build an anchor chart bank in her iPad.  Here’s a picture of our work I tweeted earlier today:

Experimentation is a good thing.  I have found that all of these experiences, both successful and others less so, have empowered me as an educator and my students as learners.  Is the learning taking place different than it was before? Of course!  Is it still valuable, authentic and relevant? ABSOLUTELY.  So maybe that’s what is meant by ‘nothing new under the sun’… learning will always be.  It’s just that over time, it has gone from being a fish, to having legs, and maybe someday in the 22nd century, wings.


iCollaborate – An interactive wall

Here’s a WMC (Weapon of Mass Collaboration, loving this term!).  I created an interactive wall for “messing around” 🙂  I used Padlet (aka Wallwisher).   Give it try! Let me know if there are any bugs. While you’re using it, think of many ways you could use this to collaborate, learn & share with others.  How can you use this tool in a team meeting? How about your classroom?

Too small for you to type? Click here for the direct link to the wall.

Weapons of Mass Collaboration..?

That’s the first time I hear this term.  And I love it.  I’m currently on holiday, on a remote little island in the Philippines, sitting by the ocean, feeling the breeze, hearing the waves, and using a collaboration tool where readers from different parts of the globe will (hopefully) read this post.  This is a perfect example of how learning, sharing & collaboration has evolved in the past few years.  We are indeed in the Collaboration Age.

As I reflect on Will Richardson’s ‘World Without Walls: Learning Well with Others’, I think of the role I’m partaking in this age of collaboration.  As an educator, it’s imperative that I  not only think about it, but that I adapt to it.  How can I become a better ‘connector’ for my students? How can I “model my own editorial skills” while still stick to ‘what should be taught’?  It is all about willingness to share, as Will points out, but it’s seen so rarely.  How can I start? And how can I serve as a model to others?

I’ll start with this:  I will take risks and allow myself to make mistakes.  I will share with others what I’ve experienced, and hope my experiences guide others to achieve their goals.  I will think of my peers and students as collaborators to my learning.  I will use these ‘weapons’ in my favor and see where it takes me.