Web Design by Google

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For our course 5 final project, my partner, Lindsay and I decided to revamp our unit on the graphic novel, Persepolis. We updated the presentation of the content by switching from the old print media with images to the snazzy new Google Sites. Pretty pleased with the results, I decided to try out Google Sites with my 10th grade English classes. Stay tuned for those results…

21st Century Skills

In reflecting on this project, I think the best part about the revamp was Google Sites. I just had no idea that creating a website could be so easy, and at the same time, look so professional and polished. The judges, Alexis and Andrew, were both effusive in their praise of all of the Sites. Alexis noted that the project measured two very different skills: one, the ability to deliver content in a clear, concise and easily understandable way and two, the ability to organize and design the content with the aesthetic in mind. One of the students I interviewed added to this sentiment, saying that she felt this assessment felt more like something she would do at a real job, as opposed to, say, writing a 5-paragraph essay on a book. (Note: as an English teacher, I felt it was my duty to try and convince her of the life-long benefits that learning how to write an essay can provide. I think I was successful. 😉

Authentic Tasks


My other favorite part about the revamp was the fact that we had two outside judges as the audience for the task. It seems simple (and it is, really), but the effect this knowledge had on my students was striking. It added an impetus to their work that I have not seen from many second semester seniors and appeared almost to give them a second wind. It would seem then, that adding that component of authenticity does in fact make a task more meaningful and therefore engaging. As soon as my students knew the votes were in, they were dying to know which class’s Google Site had been chosen by the judges. It was refreshing and fun to see the students so excited about something that seemed, at first, to be so insignificant.



One of the challenges that we faced and I mention in the video is that of source citation, specifically images and videos. For some reason, students of all ages and sizes have an aversion to citing images (maybe because it seems so convoluted?), so this was a great time to refine that skill. Luckily, here at AIS-R, we are blessed with the best librarian in the world. After creating a LibGuide for our students, Kelly hosted a workshop on how to properly cite images and videos.  With her help, students were able to produce complete and accurate lists of the sources they used, including those oh-so-challenging images and videos.

Final Thoughts

As I think back over the last two years, I am struck with how much I have learned to actually DO, and then transferred that new knowledge to my students and asked them to also DO. From blogging, to elements of design, to properly citing images, the skills I have learned are really invaluable in this new age of technology. The final task, using iMovie (gasp!), was one of my greatest feats and I am quite proud of what I was able to create. And so, without further adieu, my final project…


*All images are my own.

Community Engagement a la Twitter

“You should totally Tweet that!” one of my colleagues excitedly exclaimed. Daunted with the prospect and, to be honest, not even sure what that entailed, I asked, “Well, how would I go about doing that? And, more importantly, why?”

The “why” has always been my biggest question with Tweeting.I know that Twitter is the newest iteration of Facebook (for adults, at least) and that anyone who’s anyone is Tweeting (including our very own POTUS…several hundred times a day, in fact). I know that Twitter is one of the best ways to engage in edu-networking and that most of our strongest voices in education are all over this app. So, I knew it was important for me to get on board…or at least figure out how to make a Tweet. I kept going back to my initial question though: with a 140 character limit, how can anyone truly express or share anything of worth? According to one social media analyst:

Twitter has always been what it initially claimed to be – a microblogging platform. And far from holding it back, the 140 character limit has been the driving force that defined how users engage with the platform – with quick, short statements conducive to live, in the moment commentary. While Facebook is defined by its algorithm, Twitter is defined by being completely unfiltered.”

Take One

The idea for Twitter then, is to pack a punch with “quick, short statement” for “in the moment commentary”. So that was my mission. I began in December of 2016 with my first “attendance” to a NESA Twitter Chat session, #NESACHAT.


Okay, so my first mission was more of a test-run. I felt so confined by the 140 character limit and the quick pace of the conversation that it was all I could do to follow the conversation, let alone add my own thoughtful contribution to the flow. So, first run was one Tweet. A Tweeter has to start somewhere!

Take Two

My second attempt at joining the conversation was three times as successful, meaning that instead of one Tweet, I managed three! I call that a success! This was during one of our AIS-R ThinkTank Sessions, where teachers get together to chat about issues in education. I felt more at ease during this session and thought about Tweets that I could come back to as a reminder of the key moments of the discussion.








Take Three

And finally, my most recent and most successful session yet, the latest AIS-R ThinkTank, with a whopping 5 tweets! I seem to be getting the hang of it, as evidenced by some of my Tweets which have been “loved” or “shared”.



As the old adage goes, practice really does make perfect, or at least makes it easier and more effective. I’m still not 100% convinced that I will stay on the Twitter bandwagon, but after participating in multiple online conversations, I have a better sense for the power of the Tweet. I can see that, especially during a live conversation, it’s a good way to sort of “take notes” on the learning. It’s also a good way to share with the wider community larger takeaways and “a-ha” moments. I also like that, unlike my Facebook feed, my Twitter community is stacked with like-minded educators who appreciate when I share educational links and resources. I finally have a place to post all the cool edu-articles that I find! 🙂


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Introduction to Final Project

via Superbond1
via Superbond1

For my COETAIL FINAL project, I’ve decided to redesign a culminating task for my senior IB Language and Literature course. Working alongside Lindsay Lyon, my colleague and fellow COETAIL’er, we’re asking our students to explore a tech tool that is new to them – Google Sites. What makes the site so great is that the technology is very intuitive and so it requires very little instructional time in terms of teaching students how to manipulate and create.  According to tech blogger, Daniel Nations, one of Google Sites’ best features is its design ease and the fact that you can be a web designer “without having to know how to code it yourself.” Google sites also “falls under the Collaborative category in Google’s Apps for Work,…which is what makes it so powerful and such a valuable tool for teams.” In other words, Google Sites fits our criteria for a presentation platform: digital, simple, collaborative and dynamic. And off we go!

The Plan

In revisiting our unit on the graphic novel, Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi, we decided that the previous culimating project, where we asked students to create a simple “One-Pager” presentation of their background assignment was not inline with our own new tech-savvy, courtesy of COETAIL. Lindsay had the brilliant idea of using Google Sites to revamp the project and voila, we were ready to go!

All rights reserved via Bookaholic
All rights reserved via Bookaholic

The Goal

Our goal with this new and improved project is to move the content of the presentation away from the straight-forward presentation of facts in a linear fashion and more towards an integrative and dynamic platform of presentation. We are creating a Site for each of our classes and assigning them the position of curator and designer. Each pair of students will have their own tab (subtopic) where they are responsible for compiling graphic data, facts, images, videos and helpful information for their classmates as they build on their contextual knowledge of the novel, Persepolis. They will then embed a quiz (in the form of a Google Form) for students to demonstrate their learning from the site.

via bulls eye DSC_3491 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

The Hopes and Dreams

As we move through this process, I hope to see students authentically and enthusiastically engaging with this task. Okay, enthusiasm might be asking too much of my second semester seniors at this point in time, but I am hoping that with the relative ease and aesthetic that Google Sites offers, students will show a genuine interest in the subject matter. I also dream that the knowledge my students gain from this assignment will be enough to propel them all to 6’s and 7’s on their IB Paper 2 Exam. A teacher can dream…

This I Believe

For this “free choice” blog post, I’ve decided to share my own personal “This I Believe” essay on what it means to be an ideal teacher. You might recall in a previous post, where I talked about how my 10th graders used this essay assignment as a basis for their multimedia presentations of what they “believe”. That project, as it turned out, was one of my students’ favorites of the year. As I move into that COETAIL-inspired project again this year with my students, I thought it fitting to write my own. And so…

“This I Believe”

I believe that an ideal teacher is an active learner, a person who takes initiative, cares to understand and is open to change.  An ideal teacher is a thinker, someone who reflects and sets goals regularly.  This person aims to strike a fine balance – to be both supportive and challenging of herself and of others.

My own personal choice to become an educator stemmed from a sincere, albeit cliche, desire to “make a difference” in the lives of others and with a little luck, the wider world. Before I made the jump to the classroom, a question kept popping into my mind: what will my life’s story be if and when my grandchildren ask?  Will my story be that I spent my life working a job that did not challenge or inspire me? Or, will my story be that I worked to affect positive change in young people, and in the process, explored the world in a way that most  only dream of?

To inspire and light the way

One of the influential figures in my life, especially in terms of my choice to become an educator and in my working philosophy that learning is a lifelong endeavour: Grandma Ruth. An elementary school teacher, Grandma Ruth grew up in small town America – Big Sandy, Montana, to be precise – as a wife and mother to 7 children. After her husband died and the last little one was off to college, she made the courageous decision to go back to college herself and get her teaching degree. Even more inspiring? Not only did she become a teacher in her 50’s, she became an international school teacher, landing her first job thousands of miles from her home. Her first post, much to the chagrin of her 7 grown children (and 22 grandchildren!), was in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia where she taught elementary school for 7 years. She moved on to Israel and finally to San Salvador, El Salvador. Although she taught for fewer than 20 years (a drop in the bucket for many educators), her legacy remains. For me, Grandma Ruth is one version of the ideal teacher.

It is with this legacy in mind that I approach my classroom – as a place to make discoveries, explore new perspectives and take risks in order to create new connections. The way I see it, the teaching profession is evolutionary and revolutionary. Evolutionary in the sense that, in order to fight the monster of obsoletion, we must adapt. We must do everything we can to insure that we are staying current in our own practice, both pedagogically and technologically. Revolutionary in that we must overthrow the “old ways” of the classroom and replace them with current, research-based strategies that bring meaning and relevancy to content.

One could argue that the teacher’s role has become even more crucial – we are now tasked with teaching students the skills and savvy to negotiate, interpret and analyze the information they access. Ultimately, I believe that the ideal teacher must offer a classroom experience that encourages students to take risks, to think independently and critically and to respond with an open mind to the world around them.


Photo credit: Luke Elsasser via flickr All rights reserved



Course 4 Final Project

As I pondered which course and unit I wanted to revamp for this final project (it took me a while…), I knew that I wanted to choose a unit that would lend itself to 1. a revamp and 2. a summative task that would be well-suited to a digital format. The natural fit is my next unit of study with my IB SL English Language and Literature seniors – the graphic novel Persepolis. 

Persepolis Marjane Satrapi

The WHy.

The focus of the last semester of this course is on texts and their contexts, specifically on the way in which the social, political and historical backgrounds of a novel are important in creating and shaping meaning. In fact, one of the key questions that the IB poses to students is: “How might the contexts of the authors have influenced their portrayal of these social groups?” With an emphasis on background knowledge, this unit is perfect for redesign with a technology slant for the summative.


Honestly, I don’t have many concerns in the redesign of this unit because it already lends itself so well to the incorporation of technology. AND, working with my teaching buddy and fellow COETAIL’er, Lindsay Lyon, will be a major boon for the planning – two brains are most certainly better than one!


After Lindsay and I recently attended a tech PD session hosted by our school, we decided we wanted to step out of our (and our students’) iMovie/Prezi/Blog comfort zone and give a new presentation format a try. At the PD session, one of our middle school Humanities teachers presented on Adobe Spark. It’s relatively simple and intuitive to use, but the product is really quite impressive. Before we begin this unit, we’ll definitely need to create our own Adobe Spark presentations to work out the kinks.


Although most of us want to believe that because our students have come of age in the digital era, this automatically means that they are intuitively skilled at navigating all forms of technology. This, as I have learned too many times, is simply not true. They may be able to tweet, snapchat and Instagram their little hearts out, but when it comes to learning new tech tools, they require direct instruction. It’s kind of nice that they still rely on us…or at least that’s what they let us believe.

And so, without further adieu, the proposed Unit Plan for Persepolis:Texts and Contexts.

The New & Improved Trapper Keeper

Brian Schlosser via Flickr All Rights Reserved
Brian Schlosser via Flickr
All Rights Reserved

The Laptop. Once upon a time, it was only for the rich kids or those whose parents were somehow connected to the tech industry. I remember back in college, one of my housemates had a laptop. It was huge, clunky and HEAVY, but still. It was a stand-alone, portable, bring-you-anywhere-I-want computing, interneting machine. We envied her, despite the fact that her laptop was so heavy, she often drove up the hill to class.

Turn the page a few years (ok, a decade or so) and it has now become the Age of the Laptop. Their ubiquity has created a generation of techies, where the laptop has become the Trapper Keeper of the modern teenager.

I work at a school that has a one-to-one policy, beginning in grade 4, and so I am lucky enough as a teacher to be able to rely on the fact that I can plan lessons around technology. I take for granted that each of my students will have their own personal device with access to the internet, 24-7.

The power of the Laptop is such that it has the almighty ability to “close the gap between students from low income backgrounds and their wealthier counterparts by equitably providing access to information” (Dwyer 2011).  The power of the Laptop = closing the achievement gap. Pretty awesome.

For a variety of reasons, including research that taking notes by hand can lead to greater retention of content, I try very hard to maintain a balance between the old world and the new world, i.e. paper/pencil and google docs.

The students who were taking longhand notes in our studies were forced to be more selective — because you can’t write as fast as you can type. And that extra processing of the material that they were doing benefited them.” (Doubek, 2016)

Despite my attempts to limit laptop usage time during class, there is no getting around the the transformative power of having the world at one’s fingertips. And, recent research has suggested that rather than asking students to put away their cell phones, why not use them as learning tools? I’ve tried this out with a variety of different web-based tools, including Socrative, Kahoot, and Poll Everywhere, all to great success. When you engage students with something that is relevant and fun, the understanding is bound to follow.

SONY DSC via Flickr All Rights Reserved

In one brave moment, I asked students to share their favorite “youtuber” with the class (as long as it was school-appropriate). To my delight and surprise, their shares were thoughtful, meaningful and even relevant to our class discussions. Allowing students the room to be creative and thoughtful with how they would like to use their own devices gives them a sense of autonomy, which, as any high school teacher would confirm, is really all a teenager wants. Freedom…or at least the illusion of it. 😉


Future’s So Bright…


“When outstanding becomes so easily available, average is over.” – Thomas Friedman

What a great line to begin a post on looking ahead. Friedman’s comment is, not surprisingly, in reference to the “new” educational rage of MOOCs, or Massive Open Online Courses. In his 2013 New York Times Op-Ed piece, ‘The Professor’s Big Stage”, Friedman recounts how he learned the answer to the question “How can colleges charge $50,000 a year if my kid can learn it all free from massive open online courses?” 

And what a question, indeed. If students can learn whenever, wherever and for FREE, are our jobs as educators doomed? Let’s look into the future…

JD Hancock via Flickr Some rights reserved
JD Hancock via Flickr Some rights reserved


In five years, teachers will be in the classroom, alongside their students, functioning in relatively the same way that we function now. That is, teaching for understanding through a variety of techniques, strategies, activities and modes. Teachers will use technology, but they will also lecture and encourage students to discuss, debate and struggle to find meaning.


It’s hard to say what sort of advances in technology will have come about. Will we finally get those flying cars, a la Marty McFly? Will we be closer to curing cancer? Poverty? The Wage Gap? Will teachers finally become, as many doomsdayers have said, obsolete? I don’t think so. I think, as Jahana Hayes (2016 Teacher of the Year) observes, education will have teemed up with “ industries that can afford to keep up with technology”. We will work alongside industries of technology to augment and innovate our classrooms to reflect the trappings of the “new world.”

Teaching does not look like what it did five years ago. I can take my kids on a tour of the Smithsonian from my classroom; I can Skype into another educator’s classroom.”

Jahana Hayes, 2016 Teacher of the Year


I’ll be officially old. Or, with all the advancements in technology, healthcare and nutrition, I’ll be back to my youthful 20’s! A person can dream, and that is what the future is all about, after all. Dreams of what our reality can be. In the classroom, my vision is one where students are still coming together in some capacity, be it in a room with a view or in a Starbucks lounge. They are still grappling with the age-old questions of existence and purpose. They are still striving to make connections with one another. They are still struggling to find their own identity and meaning in life. And teachers? We’ll still be there, guiding them on that journey. It might be a virtual experience, but it will be personal. Of that I’m sure.


A New Frontier?

The Flipped Classroom. An education revolution out of small town Colorado. Jonathan Bergman and Aaron Sams are probably still reeling from the impact of their collaboration. Fast forward a few years to Central America. Panama, to be precise. I first heard the term “Flipped Classroom” in 2010, teaching 7th grade English at the International School of Panama. I was trying to figure out a way to make A Day No Pigs Would Die more relevant to my mostly Latin American students, hoping that in some way, they would be able to empathize with the trials and tribulations of a turn-of-the-century, 13-year-old Quaker boy cum farmer named Rob. I knew the students were struggling with the language of the text, particularly the colloquialisms and idioms that are more easily understood when heard, rather than read. And of course that, on the surface, they had nothing in common with this boy who reared pigs.

David Clow Some rights reserved

My solution? Read alouds! BUT (a big “BUT” in literature signifies a shift or conflict), who has the time in today’s manically paced classroom to read an entire novel out loud? Solution #2 – make a recording of me reading the book (in my faux southern accent) and assign reading/listening for homework. (Side note – I also added music, for effect.) The result? Surprising. The students LOVED it. They ate it up! Our class discussions became lively, robust and analytical. They begged for more! It literally transformed their experience of this novel. I was sold.

Almost 10 years after the birth of the Flipped Classroom, reverse instruction has erupted into a educational movement. The Khan Academy has transformed the model of online learning, offering more than 2,000 video tutorials. Many of my students, in fact, claim that the Khan videos (and other similar youtube options) have helped them enormously, specifically with their math and science courses.

good teaching must de-emphasize lecture and emphasize active problem-solving,” Carl Wieman

Despite my success with bringing Rob and his pig Pinky to life, I am not completely sold on the Flip. I struggle with the idea of broadcasting my lessons online, not because I am reluctant to watch myself on the big screen (ok, maybe a little bit of that), but mostly because I don’t really lecture. In my experience, long, extended “talks” on Mersault’s existential crisis or the tormented heroine of Sylvia Plath’s “Lady Lazarus” don’t usually garner the interactive, highly collaborative, analytical experience that Socratic Seminars can bring about. And according to The Economist, “lectures, whether online or in the flesh, play only a limited role in education. Research shows that the human brain accepts new concepts largely through constant recall while interacting socially.

Key words – “interacting socially.” That last bit is what motivates most of them to set their alarms every day. I really do believe that without the opportunity to interact, true understanding and growth cannot occur. Education, in this new realm of technology, must find the equilibrium between independence and collaboration. 

Motivating Students to “Do the Work” of Learning

Edu-speak is a language in which I am building my fluency. When I initially looked at this week’s reading, I thought: “ah, this will be a good review. I already know all about Project Based Learning and…yea, those other two.” Turns out, I am not as fluent in this particular dialect of Edu-speak as I thought that I was.

Project based learning or, the idea of offering learners the opportunity to become active participants in the process, is not a new concept, but gained momentum with the Montessori preschool movement in the early 20th century.  Founded by Maria Montessori, she believed that children learn “not by listening to words but by experiences upon the environment.”

Image Credit: Zulama

This idea about getting students to essentially do the work, i.e. conduct research, meet deadlines and altogether just be super great self-directed learners is really, to me, the ideal educational setting. In my own classroom, I remind my students that they should be working “much harder” than me. And in the now classic Edu-speak idiom, I remind them that I am not the “sage on the stage” but rather their “guide on the side”.

But what about when students (particularly in the secondary classroom) show reluctance to this approach, asking for more lecture so that they can again be passive in their learning? Because after all, PBL is a lot more work than taking notes while the teacher talks at you. I like what George Mayo did to energize his students about their projects. By creating a film festival in his community where students showcase – and vote – on the short films they made for his class, he recognizes that students need (and like) to have an authentic audience to showcase their work. I think I might just try this in my own community of learners with my English 10 “This I Believe” videos.

As for Problem and Challenge based learning, these are the two that are relatively new to me in name, but not necessarily in content. Similar to PBL, these two approaches ask students to again, be at the center of their own learning. The goal, according to David Gijbels, is to:

educate students to be able to understand and solve complex problems in a changing world”

I like the qualifier “in a changing world” because it addresses the reality of education in the 21st century: technology provides students the access to just about anything they can dream up. And so, the teacher is no longer the “deliverer of knowledge”. Now, one could argue, the teacher’s role is even more important – we are now tasked with teaching students the skills and savvy to negotiate, interpret and analyze the information they access. And what a ride it will be.

From Enhancement to Transformation

While this is the first exposure that I have had to SAMR and TPACK, I feel like there is an intrinsic knowledge of these frameworks that most educators (in the 21st century, at least) already possess. It’s the identification and purposeful practice and reflection these frameworks offer that is most appealing to me as I forge ahead as a tech-savvy educator.

In looking more closely at the SAMR Model, I like that the framework makes room for a growth mindset – you can use technology and be rewarded from the benefits, but the SAMR model encourages us to to move beyond the idea of technology for the sake of technology. The idea of using technology to create something that was “previously inconceivable” is exciting, if a bit daunting.

Image Credit: Ruben R. Puentedura’s Weblog


So, in looking at how I could use the SAMR Model to evaluate my own practice of technology integration, I would say that I fall somewhere between Augmentation and Modification. While I have significantly increased my purposeful use of technology in my lessons, I still wonder how much a blog, for instance, is still just a fancy substitute for a journal. But when I think about that difference, I am reminded of the capabilities of a blog as opposed to a notebook. And one HUGE difference stands out to me – a blog allows a writer to share their thoughts with the whole world (if they choose), whereas an in-class notebook is only accessible to the classmates and the teacher. That in itself is powerful and moves that particular tech tool from Substitution all the way up to Redefinition.

Redefinition: Tech allows for the creation of new tasks, previously inconceivable” 

Looking back through my posts last year, I’m reminded just how much I did strive to make sure my use of technology in the classroom was purposeful and focused on Modification and Redefinition. Our grade 10 unit on Digital Storytelling was hugely successful and the students were the most engaged I’ve seen them…BUT, it was a LOT of work in both the planning and evaluating. Maybe as we continue to grow with technology, it will become more second nature to us as we move from Enhancement to Transformation.