PLNs: Learning in Global Communities

CCO Pixabay Images

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.

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!





Image: Joining the Community by Susanne Nilsson CC BY-SA 2.0 Flickr

We’ve been on a school break but on Monday I get to step into my international classroom and do what I do everyday: train little hearts and minds to be proactive, positive, wise and compassionate human being. Most days I take these things for granted but now more than ever I’m realizing how important these skills are.

Here are the things we work on in third grade every single day:

  • Listen when someone else is speaking and ask clarifying questions when you don’t understand.
  • Be assertive when you perceive that you or someone else has been wronged and use words to solve your problem.
  • Remember empathy towards those who are different or need help. Empathy is trying to understand the other person’s perspective by asking questions, putting yourself in their shoes and choosing to lift them up rather than tear them down.
  • THINK before you speak (or write…or comment)
    • T-is it True?
    • H-is it Helpful?
    • I-is it Inspiring?
    • N-is it Necessary?
    • K-is it Kind?
  •  Admit when you are wrong and ask forgiveness.
  • Forgive those who have wronged you.
  • When you are angry, take a time out to breathe, calm down and then come back to solve the problem.
  • Stay focused and on task!

These are reminders for myself.





Copyright, Creative Commons and Elementary Teaching


Creative Commons

Photo “Creative Commons” by Christina Alexanderson is licensed under CC BY 2.0

I teach third grade.

I don’t usually concern myself with the debates surrounding a teacher’s right to fair use or whether or not I can play my iTunes music for my class or show a movie without obtaining a public showing license. I honestly haven’t given it much thought until now. So this week is the week to think about some big ideas…

The right to protect intellectual property in order to profit from that property

The freedom of information that stimulates innovation

Fair use that allows for works to be used for the purpose of teaching and learning

The introduction of new technologies resulting in the rapid production and spreading of digital works

These issues have implications for our classrooms. As an educator I want to model ethical decision making for my students so I am careful to teach my students about plagiarism and copyright infringement. I want them to learn how to give attribution to works. I want them to know that they can’t just take something that someone else created and say that they created it. But with the rapid changes happening everyday in the digital landscape and new technologies, I find myself confused.  Here are some tools and things I learned about this week to help me more forward.

Creative Commons, a non-profit organization founded in 2001 by Lawrence Lessig, was started as a response to the increasing protective nature of copyright law in order to encourage more contribution of works into the public domain. Simply put, Creative Commons gives creators the ability to share their works more freely, while choosing some level of control in how the information is shared. Lessig, in his Ted Talk Re-examining the Remix, passionately defends the need for a new way to respect creators while at the same time, limiting regulation for the purpose of stimulating our collective creativity as we share works and build upon each others works.

Some educators who blog about copyright issues helped me formulate my own thinking.

Doug Johnson, wrote a four part series called Changing How We Teach Copyright. He says that we should change the focus of copyright instruction from what is forbidden to what is permitted.

Educators need to know the “outer limits,” not just the “safe harbors” of the use of copyrighted materials – and allow their students to explore those outer limits as well.

This means to me that as long as I’m not robbing someone of their livelihood, I have freedom as a teacher to to use creative works for the purpose of teaching and learning.

I also have great responsibility. Sylvia Rosenthal Tolisano  writes extensively on this issue. She calls for educators to take responsibility for teaching our students about copyright laws and the use of Creative Commons. It’s never too early to start teaching them that something created by someone belongs to them and it should never be taken and used without their permission or without giving credit.

How will I introduce these ideas to my third grade class?

Introduce students to the idea of plagiarism.

Common Sense Media “Who’s Is it Anyways” Lesson

Encourage my students to take their own photos and make their works available for others to remix. Be producers not only consumers!

Teach my students how to cite and hyperlink their sources. Sylvia Rosenthal Tolisano has some very helpful tips.

How to Cite Images in Your Blog

Citing an Image is Not Enough!

So You Want (Have) to Create Something?

Best Practices for Attribution-Creative Commons

Common Sense Media “How to Cite a Site” Lesson

There are many different ways to cite an image. Here is a resource I created to teach my students how to cite images that they embed. I might update it later to fit the Creative Commons suggestions for best practices, but for now I think it’s enough for third grade. Let me know if this resource is helpful to you or you have any suggestions for how to improve it. Thanks!