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.


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.