PLNs: Learning in Global Communities

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Community is a word I love. I am the kind of person who thrives on coffee and good conversation about the deep and meaningful things of life. Community is in the title of this blog. The only post I wrote that had nothing to do with COETAIL is also entitled Community 

However, a Personal Learning Community has been a totally new experience for me. Before I started this journey, my opportunities for professional development were limited to whatever interactions I had with colleagues who happened to be in close proximity to my classroom. I am thankful that this course has pushed me beyond the walls of my own classroom and into the virtual world where I have been able to discover things I would have never known before and where my ideas could also be heard.

Here are some of the ways that I interacted with my PLN from my small patch here in Hanoi, Vietnam.


I started my twitter account when I knew I would need it for COETAIL. I had heard of twitter but I had no idea of it’s power and potential for professional development. Now I would say this is my number one favorite way of staying connected, following educators that I love and developing my craft.

Through Twitter, I connected with others in COETAIL and some of my favorite educators like @JoyKirr and @ajjuliani and @spencerideas. They have huge followings and thanks to them I was able to share out my ideas to a larger audience.

Twitter helped me begin communicating with others who were interested in collaborating on our toy design challenge. I met Tyson at the Vietnam Ed Tech Conference in HCMC last Spring and since we follow each other on Twitter, it was easy to begin discussions.

Hanoi Ed Tech Group and Vietnam Tech Conference

The monthly Hanoi Ed Tech meetings have been another place for me to build my PLN. Each month educators from schools in Hanoi meet up and share ideas for redefining learning with technology. I was able to share my project at one of my monthly meetings and get input from other members.

My favorite educators to follow in this group are @teachertechpaul and @michellelmatias. They were both a huge source of encouragement along the way. Michelle gave me the idea to use Padlet as a tool for global collaboration. We usually meet in job-alike sessions for part of our time together and that is where I met Adam.. He always seems to have a great idea for me to try. Fellow COETAILer Sitwath Khan was also a part of this group until she recently moved. I was glad to have someone in the COETAIL trenches with me each month.

Every year, I attend the Vietnam Tech Conference. Last year I met My Nguyen who is the Maker Academy Coordinator for Orphan Impact. We have begun discussions about her work and my interest in learning more. 

Google + Communities

This was one way I tried to connect that didn’t really gain any traction but I might try and use it again in the future.

The Concordia Community

I don’t want to neglect the great community that exists within the walls of my school. I am fortunate to work with other passionate teachers. Our grade 3-5 team has been a great source of inspiration as we work on our Makerspace. This was a place where I could share ideas about helping our students develop a design thinking mindset. My principle, Kristin Kappelmann, our former director of technology David Elliot  and of course my 3rd grade partner teacher, Anne Stuart Gunay have all shared their expertise and helped me grow.

And last, I don’t want to neglect to mention the awesome Alexis Snider, who, in spite of her crazy busy life of being a mom of three small girls, comes to work full of new ideas and excitement. It is great to work just two doors down from a fellow COETAILer. While there is great benefit to being connected all around the globe, there is something special about having that synergy that comes from being face to face.

I look forward to continuing to grow my PLN and encouraging others to do the same.

Toymaker’s Challenge: Course 5 Final Project

Here I am at the end of an amazing journey. One year ago when I made the commitment to join Cohort 7, I had the sense that this endeavor was way beyond my capabilities but that is exactly why I knew I had to commit. If I believe and teach my students about growth mindset then I need to model that in my own life. I am so glad that I accepted the challenge.

As a result of this course I have learned to:

  • Use technology for connected and global learning
  • Use the SAMR model to redefine learning tasks and enable students to learn in ways previously inconceivable
  • Blog
  • Empower students through technology agreements
  • Use zen principles for communicating my message clearly
  • Resource and educate parents
  • Connect with a learning community

For my final project I created a unit called “Toymaker’s Challenge” to teach a design thinking framework to my students and give them an opportunity to share their designs with the world.

My three main goals for this project were:

  1. Teach design thinking (purpose, process) to elementary students
  2. Collaborate with other teachers in our 3-5 team
  3. Collaborate with other classes outside of our school

Here is my final video:

If you are a part of Cohort 7, I would appreciate your feedback here

I learned many things but one thing I want to highlight is that it is totally worth taking the time to explicitly teach design thinking to elementary students. I learned how important it is to balance the chaos of letting kids figure things out and do their own thing with structure and framework. My hope is that now my students will use this way of thinking to come up with solutions to the challenges they see around them and that they will see the value of sharing their ideas with the world
If you would like to try this design thinking challenge, I recommend that you first get a copy of the book LAUNCH by AJ Juliani and John Spencer and then connect with me on twitter (@michellehanoi) and I’ll share all my resources with you.

I would like to acknowledge and thank the following individuals who encouraged me along the way:

My husband, Mike, for encouraging me to join COETAIL and always being a great conversationalist as I processed the new information I was learning.

My partner teacher, Anne Stuart-Gunay, for being willing to pilot the unit at the beginning of the school year even though it was crazy at times. I am thankful for her enthusiasm and encouragement.

My colleague, Alexis Snider, for jumping back into COETAIL and finishing her final project with our cohort. I always had someone right next door to process with.

My principal, Kristin Kappelmann for allowing me to make adjustments to my schedule and for seeing the value in teaching design thinking to our students.

AJ Juliani and John Spencer, for their book LAUNCH.

Joy Kirr,, for sharing out my tweets with her genius hour community

If you’re interested in teaching this unit, here is the plan and resources I used:


Taking Stock and Getting Back on Track

This week seems like a good time to pause, breathe and take stock of where things are at with our design thinking unit. It’s a good time to remind myself of my goals for my Course 5 final project: Design Thinking for Elementary Students

The goals of my project are:

  • Teach elementary students about design thinking and the steps in the design process
  • Collaborate with other classes in my school to inspire a culture of design thinking across grade levels and curricular areas
  • Collaborate with other schools, our community and share our product with the world

I also want to remind myself of the WHY of what I am doing. It’s always good to step back and think about the big picture and ask WHY am I doing what I am doing. I started thinking more this way after watching this TED talk by Simon Sinek. Every great endeavor has a clear WHY behind it’s existence.

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WHY do I care about teaching design thinking to elementary students? Simply put:

I want my students to understand that life is full of challenges and obstacles. We can either be defeated by these challenges or we can see them as opportunities to grow. Design thinking is a mindset for all of life. The design process is a tangible plan for creating solutions.

That’s the WHY. It’s important and worthy work.

We have been working on our project for one hour each Friday for the past 10 weeks. Each week until now we focused on one step in the design process as the students made their plan for their toy. Currently they are in the creation phase. We will be spending two more sessions creating and iterating and one session creating our presentation. We plan to launch our designs on Nov. 14 at Play! Cafe.

What has been going well? 

  • The students have engaged well in each step of the design process and demonstrated understanding.
  • There has been fantastic collaboration between my class and another third grade class.
  • The students are creating some cool toy designs.
  • Some parents have gotten involved in the process.
  • The director of Play! Cafe is enthusiastic to support our toy exhibition.

What are some current challenges and what can I do to address these?

Challenge 1: The students’ enthusiasm for their toy creation is waning.

When we started this challenge 10 weeks ago, the students were full of excitement but unfortunately just as we got to the creation phase, we had two Fridays in a row off and when the students came back, it was like they had forgotten what they were working on.

What can I do? I need to rally the students to see the vision again. I just confirmed the date and time at the venue for our toy exhibition so I can share that with the students and explain more in detail what they can expect as they display their products and talk about their toy with our audience (parents and community members). Hopefully envisioning themselves on that day with a real audience will motivate them to make their best creation. I can also take some time this week and have students reflect and document some of their work to this point. I plan to share this and encourage my students to add their own reflections/photos of different phases in their design journey.

Made with Padlet

Challenge 2: Global collaboration is not happening at this point. 

Even though I’ve made a few serious attempts to find others beyond our school/city to collaborate with on this project, I have not been successful. I shared the opportunity several times on twitter using various hashtags, pitched it to our Hanoi Ed Tech group, shared it on Google +, and even wrote an email to Mr. Arvind Gupta, an inventor/scientist/educator who teaches design thinking to 8,000 schools in India using recycled items. I just haven’t had any success.

What can I do? Last week at our Hanoi Ed Tech monthly meeting I got two pieces of great advice from my ed tech guru, Michelle Mathias. She suggested creating a padlet for easy collaborative sharing. she also mentioned that sometimes it’s better to message certain key people personally and ask them to participate or share with others who might be interested. So that is my plan. I created the padlet above and I plan to share it with a few educators I know who are either using the LAUNCH design framework or enthusiastic about genius hour. Hopefully their students can also add their own photos and reflections about their design process.

If you know any elementary educators who might be interested in having their students post their design thinking reflections on our padlet, please share this link with them:

Only a month to go! Here’s to hoping it all comes together.




Design Thinking for Elementary Students: Toymaker’s Challenge

Introducing the Toymaker’s Challenge! What kid doesn’t love toys? What better way to teach design thinking to third graders than to engage them in the challenge to create a toy using everyday materials. The challenge? The toy must be fun, innovative, environmentally friendly and shared with the world. This design thinking project is inspired by the book LAUNCH by AJ Juliani and John Spencer..

The goals of my project are:

  • Teach third graders about design thinking and the steps in the design process
  • Collaborate with other classes in my school to inspire a culture of design thinking across grade levels and curricular areas
  • Collaborate with other schools, our community and share our product with the world

I prepared the following presentation to guide the students through our unit:

What have we done so far?

Design Thinking in 5 Days

The first week of school was the perfect opportunity to walk the students through the design thinking steps to Design a Superhero City (course and unit plan available through

 Check out our Grade 3 website to see a video (courtesy of my teaching partner Anne Stuart Gunay)  and more photos (courtesy of Lia Garcia Harpin). I wanted my students to experience all the steps of the design process in a short time and pique their curiosity for our Toy Challenge.

Partners in the community: Play! Cafe

The first few steps in the design process are all about students gathering as many ideas as possible and researching potential product ideas. For inspiration and to consider our client (ie other children who might play with our toys) we visited Play! Cafe, which is a special place for parents and children to play and learn together. The director of Play! Cafe shared with us their process for designing the space and the choices they made in toy designs. It was very cool! Play! Cafe has offered to host our final toy exhibition when the students will share their toys with the community and donate their toys to the cafe.

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Authentic Audience

Designers create products for a real audience. When they share their ideas and process with a wider audience, there is opportunity for collaboration and feedback. Throughout the design challenge, the students will be documenting and sharing their process in our class blog in Seesaw.

What needs to happen now

  • We want to find a few other classes outside of our school who would like to try this challenge and share their results with us.
  • I am trying to connect with other toy designers who might be willing to Skype with my class. I have contacted Arvind Gupta an educator in India who started a STEM program in over 8,000 schools in India. Check out his video below to see how he turns simple everyday materials into toys. His website has been a great starting point for students to research how to make toys from simple materials.




My hope is that in the end my students will embrace the design process as a way of life. They will understand that to create any type of product or solve any problem requires A LOT of time, iteration, and willingness to make mistakes. They will also experience first hand how technology and digital tools can help us connect with people and ideas beyond the walls of our small classroom here in Hanoi.

Toymaker Challenge: Course 4 Final Project


I am excited to FINALLY present my idea for my Course 5 project. I narrowed it down from the following three project ideas:

  • Small Moment Stories (using technology to redefine a narrative writing unit)
  • Digital Portfolios for Elementary Students
  • Genius Hour Unit: Teaching Design Thinking to Elementary Students

After talking with my friend and  colleague Alexis (@AlexisSnider15) and my amazing principal, it became clear that I should choose the third option. My principal really wanted  me to focus on developing a shared language for design thinking at the elementary level. We are in the planning stages for our future makerspace and she thought it would be good to pilot a design thinking unit that could be shared with our elementary staff. So, the Toymaker Design Challenge it is!

Why do you think this unit is a good possibility for your Course 5 project?

This unit brings so many things I have learned about in COETAIL together. It teaches students about design thinking and the design thinking process. There are many design process frameworks but the one that fits my situation  best is found in a book called LAUNCH by John Spencer and AJ Juliani. Their blogs have inspired me in my quest to figure out how to implement Genius Hour in my class. This will set the tone and framework for the our second Genuis Hour unit in Semester 2,  in which students will identify real problems in our community and create solutions. It is a form of project based/challenge based learning. This unit is a great way to introduce young students to digital tools and digital citizenship. There is potential for global collaboration.

Using the LAUNCH framework,  students will be challenged to design something eco friendly, inexpensive, educational and fun for children.

Whereas many genius hour type projects are more open-ended, this one is a bit more structured because I think that it will help my young students narrow down their ideas. Plus, what kid doesn’t love trying to make toys and games?

What are some of your concerns about redesigning this unit?

  • Next year will be our first year to have two Grade 3 classes. Will the other Grade 3 teacher be interested in partnering on this or will I be doing it on my own? I will be meeting her soon and look forward to discussing this unit with her.
  • This project needs to be done early in the year and I am worried that my future students will not have had much exposure to using technology.
  • Getting parents onboard and involved
  • We don’t have any tech coaches/integrationists at our school so I’m on my own to teach my students the tech elements.
  • We have no makerspace or digital lab so it’s up to me to provide the space and materials my students will need.
  • Time constraints
  • Global collaboration piece. I still need to figure out how I want my student to collaborate with others outside of our classroom. 

What shifts in pedagogy will this new unit require from you?

  • Releasing some control to the students and embracing some chaos
  • Student-centered/driven vs. teacher driven
  • I need to go through the design cycle myself this summer to create something brand new. 
  • Collaborating outside of my classroom/school
  • Working closer with parents
  • Using social media to crowdsource and share
  • Embracing transparency with my colleagues and allowing them inside to see the failures as well as the successes.

What skills and/or attitudes will this new unit require from your students?

  • Digital citizenship skills
  • Knowledge of certain digital tools
  •  Teamwork skills
  • Presentation skills
  • Inquiry skills
  • Growth mindset and the freedom to fail and learn from their mistakes.

Here’s the unit. There are still a few holes that I need to fill in before next Fall, but I am pleased with what I have so far and look forward to building on it.  Please let me know if you have any suggestions or want to collaborate in any way.  Also, please share this with anyone you think might want to collaborate. Cheers and have a great summer!

Technology in my Classroom

What devices do we have?

This past year we had 1-1 laptops. They were 5 year old HP computers. Next year we get new Touch Chromebooks so I’m very excited.

Touch Chromebook Flip

I will definitely need to take time this summer and check it out.

We don’t have any iPads or android tablets, but sometimes the kids are allowed to bring their own devices if we need them and the parents give permission. I let them bring them on Friday when we have Genius Hour.

My assistant teacher and I often use our iPhones for taking photos and videos.

I have one iPad that I rarely use.

When do we typically use technology?

My students use their computers everyday throughout the day depending on the activity. They use them in our classroom and often take them to their music class or modern language class.

Sometimes it looks like this:



But this is their favorite way to work together:


What they usually do?


This year I have a large group of boys who love to write. I have found that boys are more motivated to write when they can talk through their ideas with other boys and collaborate on stories together.  Their favorite way to write their stories is on Google Slides because they can add images and use the comment function. I cracked down on pointless and hurtful comments early on by teaching my students the THINK acronym. They often share their stories with me,  giving me opportunities to give feedback.  Students also often publish their best work using Google Docs or Google Slides which can be converted to PDFs.

Next year I want to introduce the students to Storybird which has beautiful artwork to inspire writing. It also allows for the writers to share their writing and receive feedback along the way.


Our reading workshop time is for reading. After a 15 minute mini-lesson, students spend 45 minutes reading books of their own choice, at their independent reading level.  In addition to reading their real books,  they read books and articles in Raz Kids, Newsela, and Epic.


  • Students have access to many  approved websites. I let students request curation of websites that they think will be helpful.
  • I curate videos and create playlists of videos for them to watch.
  • We have a BrainPop account that students are allowed to access.

Project-Based Learning

Usually these projects are related to our science and social studies units of study or their Genius Hour projects.

Practice Basic Skills 

We use online programs like Spelling City, IXL, and Front Row Math to practice basic skills. We do this for 15-20 minutes each day depending on the skills we are working on.

Digital Citizenship in our Classroom

I spend a lot of time at the beginning of the year helping my students understand that a good digital citizen is someone who responsibly and safely uses technology to create, collaborate, learn, and share. We use the Common Sense K-12 Digital Citizenship Curriculum. When issues come up during the year, I reteach and model my expectations. The students know which websites they are allowed to use. The expectation is for them to stay on task and always be able to articulate why they are doing what they are doing.  Most students stay within the boundaries (and those that don’t learn quickly)

What I want to try next school year:

My big goal for next year is to have my students document and share their work through creating digital portfolios.

I want to teaching students to self-assess through the use of digital portfolios. I will use Google Sites as a platform. These are some artifacts that could be included:

  • Pre and post on-demand writing assessments
  • Reading notebook samples
  • Speeches
  • Recordings of their reading (beginning, middle, end of the year)
  • Samples of mathematical thinking
  • Whatever else the students choose to include
  • Student reflections on each piece

Thank you to Avra Robinson for some great ideas on how to use GAFE for creating digital portfolios.

And thanks to Kathy Cassidy for ideas on how to give students choice in what they post.

I also want to thank fellow COETAILer Andrew Grover for his post “E-portfolios in Your Classroom: Results and Analysis” It was very insightful to read the results of his research and get a feel for how digital portfolios are being used in the classroom.

I am thinking of making this my COETAIL final project. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated!




Learning Hubs and Placemaking

Learning in Local and Global Communities

What would it look like if our schools were learning hubs situated in healthy communities?

What would it be like if these hubs had open doors to the local community with opportunities to serve the community and be served by the community?

What if while these hubs were strongly tied to their local community, they had all the technology to seamlessly access the global community as well?

What if the students in these hubs were equipped to recognize problems and design solutions?

What if there were strong relational ties among diverse peers, between teachers and students, and across generational gaps within the community?

A few trends I see now that make me think this is possible.

1. Building Healthy Communities through Placemaking

PPSLogo_Blue_2014The Project for Public Spaces defines Placemaking as the collective process of reimagining public places in urban areas for the purpose of strengthening the connections between people and the places they share.

With community-based participation at its center, an effective Placemaking process capitalizes on a local community’s assets, inspiration, and potential. It results in quality public spaces that contribute to everyone’s health, happiness, and well being.

Sociologists and activists in the previous three decades have shaped this idea of “placemaking” (see Placemakers Profiles). They believe that healthy local neighborhoods make healthy individuals. As a teacher interested in community development, I am familiar with the work of Ray Oldenburg who wrote The Great Good Place (1991). He developed the idea of third places. Oldenburg suggests that healthy communities and individuals are involved in their home, work place, and some kind of third place. This third place, like a pub or cafe is local, cheap and offers a neutral place for anyone to belong. Think of the TV show Cheers, “Where everybody knows your name.” This third place is where we socialize, have a sense of place, disagree and solve problems. He suggests that the decline of these third places has led to the decline of our tight sense of community. 

What if our schools had that “third place” vibe? What if they were a place that students would want to be at to socialize and have fun, as well as a place to discuss issues in their community and find solutions. And what if the community invited their input? How cool would that be!

This is already happening in some places. Public Workshop  (a non-profit organization) is dedicated to creating opportunities for youth to shape and design their community. You can check out their link to see inspiring community projects.

Another trend I see is the wake-up call by educators to reimagine education. 

2. Reimagine Education or Become Irrelevant

We know that the factory model classroom where students are conditioned to spit out information spoon-fed to them by their teacher is no longer relevant in this day and age. 

Great educators are calling for a new way of doing school. 

George Couros, author of The Innovator’s Mindset, in his blog post “8 Things to Look for in Today’s Classroom,” talks about making classrooms learner focused. I would also add that learners need to be relationship and community focused. He says that classrooms should be characterized by:

  • Student voice
  • Student choice
  • Time for reflection
  • Opportunities for innovation
  • Critical thinkers
  • Problem Solvers/Finders (see this amazing TedTalk by Ewan McIntosh about students becoming problem finders)
  • Self assessment
  • Connected learning

It is also worth reading  “10 Principles for Schools of Modern Learning,” and Change School  formed by Will Richardson and Bruce Dixon  to equip educators with the tools to reimagine education. 

Learning hubs with strong ties to healthy local communities will have the opportunities: for innovation; to be problem finders; and to practice connected learning as they network and apprentice within their local community. 

The third trend is the use of technology as a tool that will allow our local learning communities to be connected globally.

3. Technology and Global Connectivity

New technologies will allow students to stay informed and connected with the global community. They will be able to Think Globally and Act Locally. Technology allows students to access information and collaborate beyond the walls of the classroom.  As they learn about global issues, they will be able to apply their knowledge in their local context. 

Sahir Agawal shares about mobilizing college students to connect and empower students infected with HIV in Swaziland though the use of technology and the mantra “Think Globally, Act Locally”

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That is how I imagine education in 10-20 years.

I imagine learning hubs within local communities that actively serve their community. I imagine these learning hubs and the local community working synergistically together for the flourishing of local and global communities.

Let me know what you think.  Do you have examples of these types of schools?









Flipped and Fun Learning in the Elementary Classroom


The Flipped Classroom

Telling doesn’t work very well. Doing is the secret. (Case studies and the Flipped Classroom)

With the advent of new technologies making it easier for educators to produce quality educational videos, came the idea that teachers no longer needed to use class time to deliver content, but could give students access to their lectures via videos or podcasts, freeing up time in class for students to work on work on collaborative projects, research and collaborate with peers, tackle solutions to real world problems, and perform lab experiments. In 2007, Woodland Park High chemistry teachers Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams, were some of the first teachers to experiment with flipped learning. They recorded their lectures on video so their students could watch the content for homework and used class time to work on labs and projects. Here are some advantages and limitations to the flipped model.


  • Student-centered learning
  • Allows for more class time to explore topics in greater depth
  • Content delivery can take place in multiple forms (video, podcast, online discussion, etc)
  • More personal teacher-student interaction
  • More peer-to-peer interactions and collaboration


  • Not all students may have access to necessary technologies at home
  • Students who struggle with taking responsibility in a self-directed learning environment might fall behind
  • Parents might not want their child using the computer for prolonged periods of time
  • A lecture is still a lecture
  • The teacher might not have the time and skills to create high quality videos

Regardless, of these challenges many educators are finding success using the flipped model in their classroom.

This week I wondered how flipped learning looks in the elementary classroom. I, again, ran across Jon Bergmann writing about  Five Reasons Why Elementary Teachers Should Flip Math First. He suggests that in the elementary classroom, the easiest and most practical way for teachers to experiment with the flipped model is to start by flipping just one lesson. It can be a lesson that many struggle to get the first time. Once this lesson is recorded, it can be shared with students so that they can access it any time.

Another educator, 4th grade teacher Sally Osborne from Teaching Redefined (see her YouTube channel for many great examples) gives some great tips that will help me as I think through if, how and when I should try this in third grade:

  • Decide where you will get your videos. You can make your own video with a screencasting app like Doceri or Explain Everything or use videos that are already online (You tube, Khan Academy)
  • Decide how students will watch the videos. Will they watch at home or in class?
  • Post videos as a resource on a class site for easy access.
  • Hold kids accountable by using something like PlayPosit to have students pause and answer questions.
  • Supplement with guided instruction.

Jennifer Gonzalez in this Edutopia article suggests trying the “in-class” flip with younger students. Instead of expecting younger students to watch videos at home, the teacher can produce screencasts of difficult lessons and have them available at stations or for parents to access on the class website.

Here is one lesson I quickly made about number bonds using Explain Everything on my iPad and PlayPosit. PlayPosit allows for the teacher to embed questions throughout the video to check for understanding.

Another great idea comes from this podcast. Some teachers are even flipping their Back-to-School Night Presentations and sending them to parents ahead of the evening so that they can spend most of the evening connecting with the parents in a less formal setting. I really want to try that. 


Games have always been a part of the elementary classroom, however “gamification” was a new idea for me and my mind was spinning after all the readings. I look forward to thinking more about how student learning can be improved or enhanced in my classroom through gamifying my lessons, but for now I’ll leave you with this very inspiring video by Jane McGonigal. I love so much of what she is trying to do.

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