Course 1 Reflections

I created this mind map for another post, but I think it really sums up my learning for this course.

What did I expect to learn and what did I learn?

I took this course because I was reading and learning so many new ideas and I wanted to have a structure to organize all my new learning. I also wanted to learn how to use technology to enhance my students’ learning. In addition, I wanted to have some accountability for actually implementing the things I was learning. This course has provided all that and even more. I guess the best way to sum it up is that I feel more connected. I have always been a lurker and not one to really contribute mostly because I felt like I didn’t really have anything to contribute. It was surprising to me to see the comments, feedback, tweets and retweets. I learned that all of us are learning and teaching simultaneously. We give and receive. We all have areas of expertise and unique experiences that can be shared to benefit the learning community.

What aspects of the course were most helpful for me and why?

Most helpful for me was experiencing self-directed learning for the first time. It was my first time ever blogging. First time to use twitter. First time to set up and use an RSS reader. First time to write a unit using the UbD format. First time to ever think about technology from the perspective of our youth (Living with New Media). First time to try genuis hour and coding. I was excited when others commented on my blog (even though I knew it was a requirement). I was excited when others mentioned my post in their blog post. I was excited when I used the Google + community to get an answer for why my images and videos weren’t showing up in my blog posts. I was excited when I figured out how to embed a tweet into my blog. I know that these things are just normal technological achievements for so many, but for me it has opened up a whole new world and I have experienced first hand the power of self-directed learning in a community. Learning by tinkering. Learning by tapping into the network. This is exactly the type of learning I want my students to experience.

What further knowledge and skills in this general area do I feel I need?

I am most looking forward to learning more about design and becoming more proficient at using digital tools for the right reasons.

How, when and where will I use what I have learned?

I have a great opportunity to use all that I am learning in my third grade class this year. We are a small but innovative school. Our administrators are extremely supportive and encourage experimentation and attempts to think outside the box. We are still a small school, so we don’t have all the fancy gadgets. But I think we are in a good position to be very purposeful about which forms of digital technology we will choose to invest in.

How and with what other school or community members might I share what I have learned?

I am excited to share all my learning with my school community. In my Grade 3-5 team, there is one teacher who has participated in COETAIL so I am definitely planning to connect with her.  This year we opened up our new, beautiful campus so our theme is “celebrate.” I would love for our school to start using the hashtag #cishcelebrate to share out all the great things that we are doing!


Changing the World: Persuasive Speeches Course 1 Final Project

This unit plan that I have redesigned is based on a third grade opinion writing unit called “Changing the World: Persuasive Speeches, Petitions, and Editorials,” by Lucy Calkins (The Teachers College Reading and Writing Project). In the original unit, the students develop ideas of how the world could be different, write several mini persuasive speeches, choose one to develop, revise and edit. They then give their speech to their classmates at the end of the unit.


I actually redesigned and taught this unit last spring before knowing that I would be participating in Coetail. I am sharing this unit because I think it is a good first attempt at redesigning a unit with Web 2.0 and 21st century learning principles in mind. In addition, I wanted to actually write out the unit using the Understanding by Design template since UbD is new for me.

The three things I wanted to impletment based on principles I have learned in Course 1 were:

  • Help my students have a wider and more authentic audience so that they were more motivated to make their communication clear and effective.
  • Experiment with the Do Ink Greek Screen App (I had attended a session on that)
  • Use a website to post authentic student work for others to see and comment on.

I wanted their speeches to reach beyond the walls of our classrooms and I thought a lot about how the students would be motivated to produce great work if they had an authentic audience. So here are some important changes I made to the unit:

  • During the first lesson, using a Google Doc, the students collaborated on one whole class persuasive speech. Small groups worked on different parts of the speech at the same time.
  • Students were given some time to research and search for images using kid friendly search engines and google images.
  • I invited our 7-8 grade class (we are a smaller school so we only have one 7-8 grade class of 20 students) to be writing partners. I paired them up with my students during the revising stage for conferring. Each of my students met with an older student, shared their ideas and received feedback and more ideas they could include. I worked with the 7-8 grade teacher to prep her students ahead of time. These students are familiar with reading and writing workshop so they know how conferring works.
  • The students wrote their speeches in a Google Doc that they shared with the teacher, their 7-8 grade buddy and their writing partner. They shared their speeches and received comments to help them revise their piece.
  • green-screenI videotaped them with my iPhone or iPad which had the Green Screen App.
  • The students used the app to add images to their background. Some students added only one image and others changed the image to correspond with the points they were making in their speech.
  • The speeches were published to my YouTube channel and a google site I created called Changing the World: How Small Actions can Make Big Changes.
  • The students listened to each other’s speeches, commented and responded to comments.
  • We shared the google site with the whole school and specifically asked for comments from our 7-8 grade buddies and the parents.

This unit teaches the students that their voice can have influence that extends beyond the walls of our own classroom and even our school.

Here are some changes I will make next time I teach this unit:

    • Collaborate with another school.
    • Use my PLN as a way to get the site out to more people.
    • Find a way to have more devices available. The videotaping took too long.
    • Students can videotape each other.
    • Use a tripod. The video quality was poor and jumpy.
    • Teach the students about Creative Commons and choosing images that have the right permissions.
    • Have the students audio, video or write a reflection piece in which they talk about what they learned through this process.

Let me know if you have any questions or comments!

Genius Hour and Global Learning Projects

Brain. Is. Full

My brain is full. How can I consolidate and effectively reflect on all that I have been learning these past 5 weeks? How about a mind map?


The readings for this week about collaborative learning and global learning projects are a great way to culminate our learning for this course.

We started with the “personal” and are ending with “community.” From Personal Learning Networks to Global Learning Projects.

I was really struck by what Andrew Marcinek said in his article in Edutopia:

Simply connecting a student to another classroom via skype, a blog, or a wikispace is not groundbreaking classroom practice. We get it, the classroom is flat and there is no excuse for connectivity, but what are we doing to promote critical thinking, questioning, and constructive criticism during these lessons?

What will I be doing to promote critical thinking, questioning and constructive criticism as I attempt to connect my students with the world outside our walls? How will I make sure that the new technology I introduce into my lessons actually enhances and deepens my students’ understanding? Those are such daunting questions. I find it easy to get distracted with the techie and “impressive” side of technology without actually evaluating how it is really enhancing the learning of my students.

I know it can be done, but I need to go into it all very purposefully, understanding and communicating the WHY of everything we are doing.

The NMC-CoSN Horizon Report mentions a recent study by SMART Technologies in which they found that:

Collaborative learning strategies, paired well with technology, result in the greatest improvement in social and emotional skill development.

The Horizon Report also found that:

Successful collaborative learning strategies encourage increased student achievement, discussion, confidence, and active learning.

The key is increased student achievement. I will know my collaborative strategies and use of technology are effective if they increase student achievement.

Thanks to some great tips from ISTE’s 7 Steps for Starting a Global Collaboration Project Here are my initial plans for incorporating globally collaborative projects into my classroom:

  1. Connect with my fellow coetailers who may also want to share their students’ Genius Hour projects.

2. Join the Global Day of Design and introduce the design challenges provided by A.J. Juliani to my students during our Genius Hour. Prepare my students for the Global Day of Design in Spring 2017.

3. Sign my class up for the Global Genius Hour Project so my students will have a place to share their projects with the rest of the world.

4. Get my students involved with the Global Codeathon mentioned by Dan Slaughter. Dan and his wife Mindy are a part of the Hanoi Ed Tech Community and co-founders of the Global Codeathon held every year at the United Nations International School in Hanoi.

5. Get my students blogging to show their thinking and learning as we participate in these global projects. This is an important step to show they are questioning and thinking critically along the way.

6. Sitwat’s blog last week reminded me that I shouldn’t neglect to connect with my local colleagues. I need to share and invite others from my school to get involved as well.

That’s a lot! Here’s to a great start!

Let me know if you have any comments or suggestions. I’d love to hear how you are getting your students involved in global learning projects.





Online Safety Tips for Parents of Young Children

Last week in my blog post I mentioned that I wanted to have a conversation with my parents about digital citizenship during our Back to School Night.

First, I shared some tips and links:

  • Get ideas from the Google Safety Center for how to enable safe settings on their devices.
  • Make a family technology agreement. Here is an example from Common Sense Media
  • Guide students to use kid friendly search engines such as KidRex and Kiddle
  • Have a look at the digital citizenship lessons we are learning in class. Common Sense Media
  • Provide supervision and support when students need to use their devices at home.

After I shared these ideas, I had the parents open their child’s Chromebook to access their child’s google account. I wanted to make sure that each parent knew how to log on using their child’s password.

After successfully logging on, the parents were able to locate the google drive and a slide show that their child had created just for them. For many of my students, this was the first google presentation they had ever created. They had fun writing sweet notes and inserting funny cat pictures for their parents.

Then, I showed the parents how they could comment on their child’s slides. I was actually surprised how many of my parents were unfamiliar with google apps. Their eyes lit up as they as they understood the collaborative nature of these apps. Of course the next morning, my students were also elated to find personalized comments from their parents. I think most parents left feeling more confident about supporting their child’s use of devices at home.


The Dark Side of Living with New Media

Backlit keyboard Backlit keyboard.jpg

Genius Hour happened for the second time this week. Last week I gave three options for students. This week I added one more: coding. They explored basic coding using, a free online tutorial for children.

We are fortunate to have 1 to 1 Chromebooks in our class.  We currently use the Chromebooks for programs like Spelling City, IXL, and Raz Kids.  But, Friday was the first day I allowed students to do research and exploration on them. While I am using the Common Sense Media lessons for teaching digital citizenship, this is new territory for them. I want to give my students access, but also feel responsible to keep them safe under my watch.

One student asked, “Mrs. Beard, can I use google to look for the answers to the questions that we are creating for our game?” Though I’ve enabled all the safe search controls, I found myself feeling hesitant. What if she stumbles on something?

I recently heard of two second graders in another international school, who were found looking at porn during class time. This is at a prestigious school where they have a large technology department and extensive education for the teachers and students.

I know many children who are, sadly, exposed to porn by the time they are in third grade. I recently read a statistic that 70% of 8-18 year olds stumble on porn while doing their homework.

As we help our students navigate these waters and contribute to our world in a meaningful way via technology, we need to also keep in mind that there is a dark side to the internet and our students are vulnerable.

A few years ago, in our quest to help our own teenage boys navigate the digital landscape, my husband and I came across psychologist, Philip Zimbardo, author of the book The Demise of Guys. In his TED talk, he explains how boys are falling behind in many areas and links it to the addiction to porn and violent video games. He calls these addictions “fake love” and “fake war.” He warns of what can happen when kids are left unchecked and unbalanced and also offers some great suggestions for parents and educators.

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I recently read this article “And Everyone Saw It. The seventh graders sext was meant to impress him. Then he shared it. It nearly destroyed her.” in the Washington Post. It follows the story of one girl, who took photos of herself for a boy at school. The most alarming part of the article to me was how caught off guard the parents, teachers and school administrators were once they realized it wasn’t an isolated incident, but a common activity among youth.

In the conclusion of Living with New Media, Mimi Ito states that “Although public institutions do not necessarily need to play a role in instructing or monitoring kids’ use of social media, they can be important sites for enabling participation in these activities and enhancing their scope.” I think that we teachers DO need to play a role in how kids are using social media so that things like sexting and cyberbullying are not given a place in our schools.

I don’t think that parents have what Mimi Ito calls “a lack of appreciation for youth participation in popular culture.” Rather, they lack knowledge and proficiency and they fear what screens are doing to their child. As a parent, I totally get that. I know that the answer is not to block everything, keep them from using devices, or spy on them. We need appropriate safeguards for each child’s developmental stage. When they are young, they need more safeguards. As they grow, we need to loosen the reigns allowing them to become responsible and balanced adults.

These new technologies and ways of communicating are here to stay. So, we need to be prepared. It’s awesome that we have so much access and connectivity. But, I think it’s important to remember there is often a dark side to many good things. How will we help our students navigate that? What can I do to prepare my third graders?

This week I will be meeting parents at Back to School Night. Spring-boarding from this Washington Post article and the Common Sense Media guide for parents, I am planning to create a guide to help parents keep their child safe and balanced. If anyone has any suggestions, I welcome them. I’ll let you know what I come up with.


Genius Hour: Where Our Passions Intersect with the Needs of the World

The COETAIL Course 1 readings this week provoked a lot of thinking.

First, the ISTE standards for teachers blew my mind with many opportunities for growth. I know I can’t tackle them all at once, so here’s what I will focus on first:

1.a Promote, support, and model creative and innovative thinking and inventiveness.

1.b Engage students in exploring real world issues and solving authentic problems using digital tools and resources

2b. Develop technology-enriched learning environments that enable all students to pursue their individual curiosities, and become active participants in setting their own educational goals, managing their own learning, and assessing their own progress.

The study Living with New Media also gave me much to think about. I am convinced that “new media” has changed the way youth socialize and learn. I know that my students need time to tinker, explore and make connections with an authentic audience outside of the walls of our classroom. I am also aware that my students need to become responsible digital citizens.

My brain is full of the endless possibilities for learning.  So, last weekend I spent some time reflecting on the question: What is one small change in my class that could make a big difference? I kept coming back to the idea of giving my students time to explore their own interests and passions. This led me to researching 20% time and Genius Hour. Interestingly, I discovered that fellow coetailer, Jackie Raseman also blogged about implementing Genius Hour in her third grade class. She included many useful links to help me get started.

Genius Hour originates from companies like Google that give their employees 20% time to develop their passions and talents in a way that will further the goals of the company, increase innovation, and enhance productivity. It is based on the principle that we all have interests and passions that can make the world a better place. Recent research in education has shown that when students are given free time to work on projects of their choice, they are more engaged and learn new things in a deeper way. Here’s how it works according to Chris Kesler:

  • Students develop a question they want to answer.
  • They research and design a project that answers their question.
  • They present their findings in some way.       
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I am passionate about community development and helping my students believe they can make a difference in their world.  So, I want to guide them toward what I call their “sweet spot.” I want to help them discover the place where their passions intersect with the needs of the world. Other educators like Oliver Schinkten are also using Genius Hour this way.

So here’s what I’ve done this past week to implement Genius Hour: 

  • Received my administrator’s approval. She allowed me to fit a Genius Hour block into my timetable every Friday.

  • Built up interest by telling my students that we were going to have a special time on Friday called “Genius Hour.”  I didn’t give many details but just told them that it would be fun.

  • Decided to organize three centers for the initial weeks to give the students some structure and ideas of how they could use their time. This week was a lego center, an arts and craft center and an “invention” center (which was mostly just tape and cardboard). Each week I will introduce another new center or idea.

  • Wrote a letter to the parents.
  • On Friday, I showed the students a Kid President video and told them that I want them to think of things they could make or do that would help make the world a better place.

  • Then I turned them loose.
Constructing mini-homes for insects
A Game Idea

I was amazed at how quickly they settled into different projects.

Some students went straight for the legos to start building. Two girls started working on a game they called, “We Treat Others,” (not sure what that will be about but we’ll see). And, one small group worked on making houses for the insects and worms they had been collecting all week. 

Next steps for me include:

  • Introduce a few new ideas weekly. (electronics, coding, websites with project ideas, design challenges, etc.)

  • Keep an eye out for students who are lacking focus or not engaged.
  • Lead students through a process of thinking up a question they have or a problem they want to solve.
  • Introduce age appropriate research strategies and tools.

I’d love to hear from others who have tried this successfully!




Crossing the Digital Culture Divide


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This week as I read through Blooms Revised Digital Taxonomy,  I stumbled upon unfamiliar words that didn’t compute. Words like Boolean searching, reverse-engineering, mashing, wiki-ing. What do they mean?  I am not native to this digital language and culture and as an outsider trying to come in, it feels stressful.

But, there is hope because just as I have been able to navigate living in different cultures over the past 20 years, I know that if I employ some of the same cross cultural strategies I have learned, I will be able to become more like the digital natives.

I grew up in the metropolitan city of Los Angeles. I lived for over ten years in a rural town in southern Krygyzstan, down the street from a mosque, speaking Russian with my Uzbek neighbors. I’ve navigated the the densely populated, urban sprawl of Hanoi by motorbike, struggling to communicate in a language where mạ, má, mà, mã, ma, and mả, all have different meanings. But because I was willing to put in the hard work, I was able to learn the language, make relationships and navigate those cultures effectively. Here’s what I know about crossing cultures.

Culture and the iceberg principle: 


Edward T. Hall in his book Beyond Culture explains culture in terms of an iceberg. 10% of the culture are things that we as outsiders can observe on the surface, such as food, dress, language, and behavior. However below the surface is the 90% that we can’t see immediately (values, beliefs, attitudes) and require much time, effort and immersion.

The same principal is probably true as I try to navigate the waters of the digital culture. The following are four practical ways that I can take steps to become digitally literate:



Make an effort to understand the language of digital natives

While knowing and using the technology lingo is only a small part of becoming digitally literate, it is important. When I come across terms and phrases that make no sense, I have the opportunity to do what I tell my students to do: go look it up or talk to someone who knows about it. It’s a learning opportunity. So this week, I need to figure out what mashing and reverse-engineering are and what implications, if any, they have in the third grade classroom.

Make an effort to understand the mindset of digital natives

This is the 90% that is below the surface. Mimi Ito and her team of researchers in Living with New Media, decided to get into the mindset of youth and understand the digital culture from their perspective. She discovered that while we as educators and parents largely view kids’ “messing around” and “geeking out” as wasting time, these areas actually have the potential for intellectual development, civic engagement, and personal development. Without getting into the minds of the youth, we would not know that. This week I need to interview my students and talk with them about their digital lives. I must find out what they are interested in learning and how they are going about learning what they want to learn.

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Find some cultural insiders to guide you

A cultural insider is anyone who is is a native to that culture who is willing to help you understand the 90% that is below the surface. This is where my PLN becomes an important asset to me. When I don’t understand, I need to swallow my pride and ask people who know more than I do. I can also take time to talk more purposely with my own children (aged 21, 20, 18, and 16) about how technology has shaped their learning. I have seen them use their computers to learn guitar, piano, yo-yoing and drawing. According to George Siemens and his collectivism theory of learning, we derive our competency from forming collections. We collect friends to collect knowledge. This means that even more important than learning content, is my ability to know what I need to learn and form relationships with others who are experts.

Use common sense and discernment

Of course all of this must be done in a context of the big picture and with common sense. The big picture is enhancement of student learning. I need to remember “why” I am trying to learn this culture. As I delve deep into the digital culture I need balance, wisdom and discernment. Is it worth my time and energy? Will it improve student learning? Does it develop my students as whole people?











The Internet as Content or Connection?

750 German schoolchildren free associate what “The Internet” means to them.

 The Internet

While originally the internet was created as a platform for researchers and scientists to share information, the internet has evolved into a complex network of information, accessible to anyone who has a computer device and access to the wifi. For the first time in history, the internet has given humans the unconstrained ability to connect and share this information with anyone around the world at anytime.

In my readings this week, I have been thinking about how I use the internet for learning. It was helpful to break it down and think about how I use the internet to access information and make social connections.

The internet as a mass of content

Here are a few of the ways that I use the internet to access new information:

  • Google searches
  • news websites
  • education blogs
  • online curriculum guides
  • YouTube
  • Pinterest
  • Twitter

Basically anytime I want to learn something new I can go online and find what I need. This information is available to me 24/7 no matter where I am and this is also true for my students. When I was in college (back in the late 80’s), I was comfortable and secure knowing that the information in my textbooks and delivered by my professors was carefully  produced in a way that Dave Cormier refers to as a nonrhizomatic model, in which “individual experts translate information into knowledge through the application of checks and balances involving peer review and rigorous assessment against a preexisting body of knowledge.” That meant that the information was carefully vetted and could be trusted. However, the internet has given us access to endless amounts of unfiltered information.  I find myself often reminding my students, “Don’t believe everything you see on the internet!” But instead of approaching the “big bad world” of the internet as an entity to be feared, the challenge for me as an educator is to learn to evaluate the information I am consuming. This is where I believe the connectivity aspect of the internet is a powerful force.  According to Will Richardson, the connection with others helps me to make sense of the information I am learning.

The internet as a mass of connections

While the internet gives us unlimited access to information, it also provides us a platform for making connections. Some of the ways I use the internet to connect with others are:

  • Facebook
  • Skype
  • Twitter
  • Email
  • Instagram
  • Google+

For me, making meaningful online connections means staying in touch with family and friends and sharing information with colleagues. I almost never interact with someone I have not met face to face. It feels uncomfortable and even creepy for me to chat with someone I don’t know. The reading by Jeff Utecht pushed me to think differently about connecting with people. Sometimes I worry that if I invest more time connecting with others “out there,” I will neglect to focus on the colleague who is right in front of me. But I have come to realize that a lot of reluctance to “put myself out there,” is rooted in a fear of what others will think of me and having my ideas criticized. On the contrary, developing a Personal Learning Network is a great way for me to begin to dialogue about the content I am learning. My PLN is where, in the context of a community, I can make sense of the mass of content that I am consuming. This community also gives me a place to share my thinking and have it sharpened.

Rhizome plant
Posidonia Rhizome Plant by Arnaud Abadi www. CC

I love how Dave Cormier uses the metaphor of a rhizome plant to represent learning communities. A rhizome plant, like the one pictured, doesn’t just have one central point of growth. It has multiple autonomous nodes that need each other but can individually grow and flourish on their own.  It is the idea that knowledge and ideas are fluid and grow as we interact with them together in community.



The Internet as both Content AND Connection

Ultimately it’s the synergy of the internet’s content and connectivity, that enables us to create new ways of thinking and doing. We need both.  As I continue on in this course, I look forward to taking some risks to discuss my learning with other learners in hopes of growing my ideas. I would love to hear from you. What are some ways that you use your PLN to grow your ideas? Please comment below.




Stepping Out into the Unknown


Photo by Minh Nguyen Jr.

Last Spring I attended the Vietnam Ed Tech conference. At that conference I heard COETAIL co-founder, Kim Cofino speak. I remember her asking the audience if we were consumers or producers of the digital messages that are saturating our society. What about my students? Were they consumers or producers? My eyes were opened to a new way of thinking about learning and how the digital landscape of the 21st century is changing how we learn. I came away from that time with more questions than answers but decided to take steps to implement what I could from that conference.

I first stepped into a classroom almost 25 years ago when there were no computers in my class, no email, no internet…only me, the students, some books and an overhead projector. After teaching for some years, I left the classroom, started a family, and moved to Kyrgyzstan, where my husband and I lived and worked for 10 years. Fast forward to six years ago when I stepped back into the classroom. I honestly felt so out of it. I didn’t even know how to make a powerpoint. That began my first journey of self-directed learning. The quickest way for me to learn the new technologies and get up to speed on best practices in education was to ask for help from my young, tech savvy colleagues, watch YouTube videos and read everything I could on the internet. I came across blogs like Cult of Pedagogy (Jennifer Gonzalez) and Edutopia and began to learn all I could.

So here I am ready to dive into this course. I am nervous and see this as something way beyond my capabilities but I want to step out and take a risk. I want to add some structure to what I am already trying to learn on my own. I know that I need a community to encourage me and keep me accountable. I look forward to growing my professional learning network (had no idea what a PLN was until just a few months ago).

I have given a lot of thought to the title of my blog which includes the words: LEARNING, GLOBAL, and COMMUNITY. Each of these words is close to my heart so I hope to unpack them in another blog. Until then…cheers to everyone in COTAIL Online Cohort7. I look forward to connecting and growing with you.