Course 4 Final Project

A cliche to say, but the COETAIL courses have sped past incredibly quickly and I literally stare at my screen in disbelief that I am now coming to the end of the penultimate course – Course 4. I regard COETAIL as an experience which has been endlessly fascinating and continuously allowed me to adapt and innovate across a wide range of lessons, schemes of work and pedagogical approaches. It has truly been a formative experience to my future years in education, and one that I would heartily recommend to friends and colleagues alike.

Course 5 is a project which I have been aware of and have pondered for some time now, and is something that I am really excited about developing as we move closer to the next academic year. As I wrote about in this blog post, I strongly believe that we should place the key learning skills that are involved at the forefront of our thinking as we plan projects and opportunities for our students, and this is what I have tried to do here.

I have two project ideas in mind for Course 5, which I will now introduce and discuss in this blog post.

Project Option 1: Developing Empathy

Project Description

A fantastic website for resources relating to empathy is

  • Create a safe space. Work in small groups and explore the vocabulary that is useful when talking about yourself or others when being empathetic. Pick a small selection of these words and both try to define them and create real life examples. Once developed offline, to post on a blogging platform such as SeeSaw or Google Classroom. Children to then share their ideas about the definitions of others and add their own thinking/examples. Included in this will be self or peer reflection about how and why we collaborate effectively.
  • After the discussions offline and online, class to vote on the most important words (a Wordle word cloud could be a good visual for this) and develop from this a shared class charter, with values to take forwards throughout the year. Here, Teach Hub explains the importance of shared values when it comes to developing empathetic thinking.
  • Understand yourself. Children to regularly reflect on the blog about their emotions and on how they feel about everyday events, in an emotions diary. To support each other online and in person. Also, to self reflect during this process. Crucial to this will be discussions around what we should share online and the dangers of either oversharing or sharing information that is too personal. But, also the power in having the support of a range of peers and how a closed network is a good way to do this (verses an open network like Social Media). Class teacher to monitor this closely.
  • Understand others. To use stories from resource banks such as Empathy Library and empathise with the events and characters. Communicate this understanding online. Comment on the views of others and reach a shared understanding. Included in this will be a discussion about how we can have different points of view from other people, even those that we like!
  • Extend beyond the school walls. At this stage, the children will then begin to collaborate with children in different schools on shared projects. Through this, they will be able to empathise with those in totally different countries, continents and cultures to them. Exceptional options for this include: thewondermentworldslargestlesson (thank you Carolin for the inspiration with this) or The Pen Pal Project called Schools Around The World (thank you Gene Marie for the inspiration with this).

Who am I? Who is “other”? And how? In what functions and degrees? How do we relate? What do we share? What do they need from me, and I from them? – Terry Heick, Edutopia.

Why Is This A Good Possibility?

As discussed here, I believe that empathy underlies everything, especially when working together in the connected online world. Technology also allows students to receive feedback from a range of ‘experts’, which should make the process so much more enjoyable and meaningful. I also believe that if this project was at the start of the school year, then it would really cement a lasting classroom culture of happiness and collaboration. I previously wrote about the importance of a classroom culture and of shifting to a modern world culture, here.

How Does This Project Reflect The Learning In COETAIL?

Inherent to this project is the use of a closed network blogging platform, which reflects the values of connectivism and collaboration. Within this, the children will be empowered to work together, self reflect and think critically about their and other’s empathetic reasoning. Reflections will also center on what kind of information we share online and how we can create positive digital footprints. During the final projects, students will have the opportunity to change their world for the better.

What skills/attitudes will this require from the students?

The ability to think critically about themselves and others. Clear communication, careful listening and kind collaboration will be crucial to success in this project. Children will need to navigate relationships positively and consider the happiness of others. In terms of the ISTE Standards for Students, the areas that would be most required would be Global Collaborator (7), Creative Communicator (6), Digital Citizen (2) and Empowered Learner (1).

My Goals

Students to develop the core skills that are essential to empathetic understanding and thinking, to then use and develop as the academic year progresses.

Shifts In Pedagogy

The shifting role of the class teacher is the main pedagogical shift that I usually experience when the learning is student led, and the lessons are based around blogging. The challenge of sometimes teaching the children in the conventional sense, and sometimes coaching them with the learning skills at play, will be readily apparent. Finding an appropriate balance is always the key.


The chief concern with most elements in education is the time factor. How will this Unit fit into the wider picture with regards to the Curriculum? Will it allow enough time for the rest of the core content, and vice versa?

Another concern is about enabling the children to develop their abilities in safe sharing. Working on a closed network such as Seesaw will ensure that the children are safe in the conventional sense, but the social ramifications of over-sharing or sharing information that is too personal, is something that could have consequences socially for the children and is something that I am very aware of.

Project Option 2: Developing Collaboration and Student Empowerment

Project Description

This year, I wrote about ‘Genius Hour’ Projects here and the children in my class are currently completing their second round of projects as we speak. They have absolutely adored their self led learning, and their peer taught lessons, and this is something that I could explore further for the Course 5 Project. Options for projects could be as follows…

  • Collaborate with a peer to create a shared presentation on a subject of their choice, on a platform such as Google Slides.
  • Work with a peer to create their own lesson/passion project to teach the rest of the class.
  • Pick a problem and create a project to solve it.
  • Create a game, with which to learn from.

Technology would be utilised in the collaborative planning process particularly, but also in the shared self-led projects themselves.

Why Is This A Good Possibility?

Fun and happiness comes from these types of projects, which really drives the learning of students and their access to a wide range of modern skills, such as collaboration and critical thinking. Student voice is another aspect of education that is developed through Genius Hour Projects, as is the student’s ability to create and think creatively. Technology enables children to push forwards in all of these skills, and truly work together positively to achieve goals of their own making. As in the previous project idea, having this at the start of the year will instill a real culture with which to drive the entire academic year onwards with.

Seeing classmates as bona fide sources of knowledge builds emotional capital and lowers the artificial gate of detachment – Joe Hirsch, Edutopia.

How Does This Project Reflect The Learning In COETAIL?

‘Flipped Classroom’ style projects are great ways to place the students at the center of their learning as active collaborators. This is a good example of the Connectivist models, as covered during Course 1 of COETAIL. I have found that students become so enthusastic about their learning that they begin to do it during play times, lunch times and at home which reflects the article Will Richardson, World Without Walls, as covered during the COETAIL courses. The ideas for different Genius Hour Projects also cover the ideas of Gamification, Problem Based Learning and, of course…Project Based Learning. Finally, as the children gather resources for their projects or lessons, they have ample opportunities to learn about Copyright, Fair Use and the culture of Remix.

What skills/attitudes will this require from the students?

Depending on the project, students develop their speaking and listening skills in various ways. They are required to think both creatively and critically, and both self and peer reflection are crucial. They will need to collaborate, to empathise with others and work as a team. They will develop a sense of wonder as their self-driven projects progress. In terms of the ISTE Standards, the skills most at play are: Knowledge Constructor (3), Innovative Designer (4), Creative Communicator (6) and Empowered Learner (1).

My Goals

Children, throughout their Genius Hour Projects; to teach others, to ask and answer questions, to reflect, to evaluate, to create, to collaborate and to be empowered!

Shifts In Pedagogy

I begun including these projects in the school week this year, so I have already had experience of them. However, as the first project idea, achieving the balance of old fashioned teacher vs learning coach is the key for me. Additionally, I would like both myself and my students to move away from the safety net of Slides to a certain extent. I am intrigued about where the projects could take us if we open out to many more styles of learning (e.g. PBL, PBL, GBL, etc).


As said before, time is always a concerning factor. In addition to this, resourcing is something which I am concerned about. I would not want a lack of resources of availability to resources to limit the creativity of the students and the scope of their projects.

Final Thoughts

I feel that both project ideas would be good additions to the Curriculum, and I would be glad to progress with either. They both have modern learning skills at the heart and, if taught at the beginning of the year, would aid a positive and forward thinking classroom culture which would inform the learning that takes place in the future weeks and months in the school calendar. As it stands, the Empathy Project is a bit more fleshed out, but the Genius Hour Projects are a development of existing ideas that are taking place in my classroom this year.

I will continue to research these projects and put the appropriate planning in place, and I look forward to sharing the results with you all! Until then…

Enjoy Summer!

Posted in COETAIL, Collaboration, Connectivism, Course 4, Critical Thinking, Digital Storytelling, Flipped Classroom, Online 9 | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Fears And Worries In The Era Of ‘Screen Time’

Screen Time

As the video above suggests (despite the cheery soundtrack), many people have a great deal of worry and fear about screen time and the possible negative impact that it has on us. Plus, of course when you are responsible for younger people, those fears are often exacerbated. Much of the concern is related to excessive time spent looking at screens on a daily basis, particularly Smart Phones.

What is certainly true is the obvious growth of screen usage in the modern times. With a cursory glance around a train, bus or underground; you would be hard pressed to avoid witnessing a horde of screen watching passengers. Perhaps then the fears and worries are warranted?

As the debate rages about this subject in newspaper columns and Internet forums, we can identify some specific concerns that repeatedly crop up, especially with regards to our youngsters. One is that children switch off when gazing at their devices or the television, and are spending large amounts of time being inactive. What impact will this have on their brains longer term? What impact will it have on their physical strength and dexterity? Another fear is regarding attention. With so many alerts and pop-ups regularly grabbing our attention, such as on Social Media, will this adversely affect our abilities to concentrate over the long term? A final theme centers around the effect that screen time late in the day can have on our sleep. Our brains have to work quickly to manage the vast array of images and sounds on our screens, which can then result in a poor nights rest. What impact will this have on our kids in terms of health and well-being? There are many more worries around amongst educators and parents alike.

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A Good Parent-Teacher Relationship: Crucial

The relationship that we educators forge with the parents of our students is of critical importance. Though the children spend a large amount of their week in school with us, they also spend a great deal of time at home as well. The best relationships are based on clear communication, in terms of all aspects of the child’s education; whether it is their well-being, next steps for their future progression or their happiness. In the modern world, the use of technology that students have and their relationship to it should be a cornerstone of this burgeoning positive relationship.

I previously wrote on this blog about the importance of the perception that we have for the world around us, here. This is absolutely crucial too for our students, when it comes to how they view devices and how they use them. In their formative years, we can input them with our own fears about subjects such as Screen Time or Internet Safety, or we can help them to develop positive growth mindsets about technology where they see their experiences as an exploration-filled adventure full of learning. This could well govern the success that our kids have longer term, in both technology usage and with their interactions with the modern world around them.

It is imperative that parents and educators work together, then, to help our children in the best way possible. It is imperative that we help our students to manage their relationships with technology, and have wholly positive experiences with it. With regards to screen time, we can work with our kids to manage this factor (so that it is not a factor or a source of negativity at all). But, just how do we go about doing this? What strategies can help both parents and educators with this important aim?

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Screen Time Management At Home And At School

Once again, Common Sense Media has proved to contain a whole host of fabulous resources for technology related subjects. Many of the points here, are from the videos to be found there, some of which I will share in this post. Here are some strategies for helping students, sons and daughters to manage screen time…

  • Reach an initial agreement.

Schools commonly have an Acceptable Usage Agreement, which both the student and parents sign. The very best contracts, though, are formed through a conversation with all involved. As Tech Coordinator Julie Davis says, “Spending the first few days discussing and setting parameters for usage is imperative” – This allows the children to take ownership of their rules and truly understand why they are there. These conversations are crucial and can transfer to the home as well (though you may not need to necessarily write down a list of rules at home!)

…they create their contract. They take ownership of the level of professionalism they want in their online classroom –

  • Have lots of open conversations.

From this point on, the process should involve the children and take place as open conversations. Students need to understand how and why their choices have an effect. They need to be allowed to explore, and make mistakes regularly. This is how they learn after all. Again, if these conversations continue at home, then the kids truly experience a holistic education beyond the classroom walls.

Goleman and Senge say teachers need to scaffold this sort of smart decision making. By learning to recognize a larger system, students build a greater understanding of the implications and consequences of their actions in both the physical and digital worlds – Beth

  • Add to your tool box.

The video below draws attention to three useful tools that can be used in schools and at home, to make the process of managing screen time a little bit easier.

  • Scheduling.

Games, Social Media and technology generally tends to be really addictive for some of our kids; especially when websites or apps rely on a little endorphin boost every now and then to keep them engaged. A clear and strict schedule is one way to guard against excessive usage, and viewing screens at times when it could be harmful.

At home, children should switch off those screens late in the day and do something like reading or having a warm drink. In schools, we promote these healthy choices in our Curricula so the children understand the appropriate actions and consequences. As with all life, a healthy balance is also the key. Again, we should encourage our youngest to take part in a variety of activities and pastimes to help them to develop as rounded individuals. This schedule can adapt over time depending on the age, development and reactions of the children in question. This, of course, is absolutely the same case in school.

Pay attention to how your kids act during and after watching TV, playing video games, or hanging out online –

There is a great deal of research into the importance of breaks, both away from technology, but also towards it. Our brains and eyes benefit from time away from the screen, especially when concentrating hard during lessons or when playing games at home. Interest is also growing in giving a children a break from activities such as study, to check into their technology based worlds. Of course, we can also take alternate breaks…perhaps a spot of yoga, or a run around the park, or a little bit of music.

I always talk about ‘tech breaks’ as a way of compromising and learning to live with our need to connect and our need to check in with our virtual and real social worlds – Larry D. Rosen Ph.D. on

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  • Practice what you preach

So true, isn’t it. Sometimes we ask our youngest to act in ways that we do not necessarily mirror ourselves. If we are to help our children or students to manage technology usage appropriately, then we must also show them how to. In the car? Put the phone down. Having dinner? Have a conversation. Got an instant message? Reply to it later. Tough one, this!

For students to develop the ability to understand the context of their device use, they need to observe positive social behaviors in the adults around them – Beth

When using technology…watch, listen or play together. This way, it can be a family bonding experience, where you are entertained or learn together. You will develop a good knowledge of how they use the technology at their disposal, and you will inevitably end up learning from them. Educators…let the children show you technological tools for educational purposes and add to your tool box.

  • Choose the good stuff

Mentioned in the video above, is this point. As a parent or educator, we should try media first before we introduce it to our young ones to check that is it appropriate and gives them positive experiences. Relating to mobile devices, Beth Holland says on her, “Mobile devices have the potential to provide amazing learning opportunities as well as great distractions.” Let’s strive for this to be the former, as the positive approach that our children and students take towards technology will be so beneficial for them in the long run. What better tools to collaborate, create and learn!

One final video from Common Sense Media, with some final tips about how to manage this issue, so that it becomes a non-issue!


The potential of technology for our children’s benefit is vast and far-reaching, and the proliferation of devices and screens is unstoppable in the modern world. As parents and teachers, it is imperative that we set our youngest up in the right way. We have the possibility to instill positive relationships between our children and their devices, which leads to learning and progress. We can help them to approach each and every new app, game or website with a growth mindset, and grow their brains as a result. If managed appropriately from all sides, the future is theirs to have.

Being a strict disciplinarian regarding technology does not mean that you aren’t a fun or good teacher (or parent). It means the expectations are there –

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Welcome To The Future!

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Many of the discussions about how well educational establishments fit into the modern world, and how best they cater for the needs of learners and their futures – I feel tend to focus unnecessarily on peripheral factors. They tend to consist of speculation about what the classroom should physically look like; about whether students learn best outside or inside; about how many lessons there should be in the day; and about how long the school day should ideally be.

In short…the discussions that often take place (certainly in the mainstream printed media) talk about logistics. I would state that while these arguments add to interesting column inches, they are not an educators’ primary concern, when considering the future of the education system as we know it. Indeed, there is a multitude of different approaches that we can take to effective education, as a site such as The 14 most innovative schools in the world demonstrates.

…we first need to free ourselves from the mental box that limits our thinking about the real meaning and purpose of education – The Classroom Is Obsolete: It’s Time for Something New By Prakash Nair.

We commonly agree that the ‘traditional’ systems of education are not a best fit for either our students today, or for the kids of the future. The old fashioned, instruction based, rote learning systems were designed for a bygone age. This style of educational instruction just does not cut it if we want to teach our pupils most effectively, and in the worst cases, it “squashes motivation,” as the excellent next video suggests.

Effective Education

This video highlights the tenets of effective education, as opposed to the aforementioned outdated models. Mentioned in the video is the following: enhancing motivation, playing with concepts, making learning relevant, collaboration, self-directed study, reading comprehension, searching skills and an ability to believe (in both the world and in yourself).

I agree with these notions and find the video utterly inspiring. I would also suggest that at the heart of the video is that the success of our educational institutions in the present, and when preparing our students for the future, relies on the teaching of specific learning skills. The article 21st Century Skills: The Challenges Ahead by Andrew J. Rotherham and Daniel Willingham explains that, “the skills students need in the 21st century are not new,” but that, “What’s actually new is the extent to which changes in our economy and the world mean that collective and individual success depends on having such skills.”

Therefore, though it is impossible to see what the future will look like exactly (especially when it comes to aspects such as the technology that will be available or what school buildings will tend to look like), it is clear that ’21st century’ learning skills will be essential and will lie as a central concern for the future of the best schools and universities.

In this blog post, I will use examples to highlight the learning skills (commonly described as ’21st century’ learning skills) which I believe are essential for the future of our education system, and for our kids in the future. So, what are these skills and why are they important?

The Skills: Not Just For The 21st Century, But Absolutely Essential

The research and writing based on ’21st Century’ Skills is exceptional. The article What are 21st century skills? highlights many, particularly the ‘Four C’s’ in the picture above. I particularly liked the quote, “students also need to think deeply about issues, solve problems creatively, work in teams, communicate clearly in many media, learn ever-changing technologies, and deal with a flood of information,” which explains the importance of these skills and why they are needed for the future of education.

13 Essential 21st Century Skills for Todays Students draws together the findings of six major educational frameworks to synthesise what the skills are, and The Critical 21st Century Skills Every Student Needs and Why is another great blog post on this topic.

Finally, Microsoft provide free online courses that are relevant to this subject, here, and there is a debate as to the important skills on this site.

But here, I would like to use a modern example to elucidate the importance of these skills for the future of our schools.


Those in the Baby Boom generation entered the workforce with a goal of stability; subsequent generations are more concerned with finding happiness and fulfillment in their work lives – Wikipedia, 21st Century Skills.

Though it has spelling errors (sorry, I am a teacher), the following video highlights what a huge year 2017 was for YouTube and the issues that have recently cropped up (this one is another issue for another blog post at a different time)…

It is blatantly clear that though it may be a ‘transitional period’ for the site, working as a YouTuber or YouTube content creator is now a genuine form of employment. Indeed, it is a highly sought after one at that, and with the rise of streaming services over traditional television, it is truly a boon for creatives and fame-seekers alike.

YouTube probably will not be the medium for our students when they enter employment, as technology progresses. I am also aware that education is not just about getting a route towards the most popular jobs. But, it is a useful example to use when analyzing modern learning skills, and to see if they are applicable here.

  • YouTubers need a good working knowledge of technology.
    Cameras, software, sound equipment, lighting…a myriad of technology is used in the making of content, so a good working knowledge is essential. Prior experience of a wide range of technology in education would certainly help our students for the future.
  • YouTubers need to think analytically.
    Initially, YouTubers should be able to define their audience and the central messages that they want to portray in their videos. Successful artists can analyse trends and understand what is popular, or alternatively be able to spot gaps in the market.
    These are all critical thinking skills.
  • YouTubers need to be able to self reflect.
    As the creators progress, they need to be able to refine their approach to their content and improve upon it. The editing process is essential to the creation of an effective video. Again, critical thinking and an experienced grasp of self reflection is crucial here.
  • YouTubers need to be creative.
    Well, to make a video requires creativity! A history of creative endeavor in education would certainly help here, as would a practiced eye on the creative process in general. For example, the creative planning process.
  • Ideally, YouTubers need to have a good grasp of social awareness.
    In some of the best examples, YouTube content can result in real and lasting positive social change. Below are two examples of that…

The former US President, Barack Obama, via the ‘It Gets Better’ YouTube group…

  • YouTubers need to collaborate.
    As with the majority of the online world, YouTube is thought of as a community. Video makers collaborate over content regularly and give each other advice. Collaboration is a central skill in this modern environment.
  • YouTubers need to empathise with their audience and manage feedback.
    As in all creative endeavors, the artist needs to empathise with the sensibilities of the audience. YouTubers also get active feedback on their creations which they need to effectively communicate with. YouTubers also commonly use other forms of Social Media to engage with their audience. Critical thinking comes into play here, as does resilience, when the videos are unpopular or negative feedback is received.
  • YouTubers need to be adaptable and manage a range of tasks.
    To name just some of the tasks of a YouTuber…script writing, audio editing, logo designing, writing, animating, music creating, data analysing, entertaining, creating…it is a varied and challenging job, which our students would need to be flexible and adaptable with to be successful.

If being a YouTuber is one of the most modern forms of employment and it relies on the use of a vast range of the ’21st learning skills’; then it is a good indication for us that the future of our education systems relies on the teaching of such skills. To set our students up for futures full of happiness, we must strive to imbue them with these skills.

Future Educators

The educational communities that we work within must all pull in the same direction to promote these skills. Our classroom practice must also do the same. Ultimately, we have to place these skills at the heart of everything that we do and cherry pick the very best practice, technology and pedagogical approaches to help all learners equally.

I could sit and type about personalised instruction, the children as the key creators, project based learning and the use of smart phones – all of these are still important – but the most crucial factor in the future of our education institutions is the humans within it and the skills that they take on into their futures. If we are open to change, foster student relationships and are forward thinking in our approach; then in a way it does not matter about the specifics at play. What really matters is the mindsets of both teacher and student, with the learning skills of the students in our care at the core of all that we do.

With this, we push onwards!

Additional Reference:

Teaching Strategies: What a 21st Century Educator Looks Like.

15 Characteristics of a 21st-Century Teacher

With one warning, the teaching of skills should of course not and must not be at the expense of inspiring and interesting content, as is suggested in 21st Century Skills: The Challenges Ahead by Andrew J. Rotherham and Daniel Willingham.

How best to include these skills in our curricula?

What qualities do the teachers of the future need?

Posted in Classroom, COETAIL, Collaboration, Connectivism, Course 4, Critical Thinking, Online 9 | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Game On!

Gamification has the potential to be a disruptive innovation in education… – GLOVER, Ian (2013). Play as you learn: gamification as a technique for motivating learners. Document Link.

Geeky History

As a child and as a teen, I had a substantial interest in game playing. My interest began with a classic Amiga 64, where I had a large selection of floppy disks (remember them?) with nostalgia inducing games, such as: Zool 2Sensible Soccer and Lemmings. This then continued into my late teens with console-based gaming, such as on the Playstation and Playstation 2Metal Gear Solid (the original) was my favourite, in case you were wondering.

I always assumed that this was a different world to that of school, and merely reserved for (albeit rather addictive) activities to be spent during ‘downtime’. It did not occur to me that the puzzles solved could enhance logic and reasoning; or when gaming shifted online, that it could be a source of community or fellowship.

Perhaps the opportunities presented by games can not and should not be missed by educators. First though, an important distinction is to be made.

Game-Based Learning vs. Gamification

This Teach Thought article succinctly summarises the difference between these two concepts. Specifically, Gamification is when we apply the mechanics and benefits from gaming to non-game entities. Game-based learning is when we specifically learn through games.

See a great Gamification infographic, here: Created by Knewton and Column Five Media.

Prior Application To My Classroom, Analysed Using SAMR

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I would suggest that I apply game-based learning on a minimal basis in my classroom. My students use games for Mathematics, through websites and apps such as: SumDog and games on Interactive Resources. They also play games practically, which again usually happens in Maths (board games, etc). We use GoNoodle a few times a week, which has some game play elements (though it is not strictly a game really) and I used to use Class Dojo (my school does not want us to now, which I won’t discuss here as could be a blog post in itself).

Under the SAMR model, I would suggest that there is functional improvement in the task design, and in the best cases the games allow for this to be significant. However, on the whole my use of game-based learning would probably fit into the second rung of the SAMR ladder (or latte if you wish – delicious).

The concept of Gamification, conversely, is an entirely different matter. I would say that the mechanics and benefits of gaming methodology are inherent to my classroom practice. The children have specific challenges based on their existing knowledge, with incremental progress clear and rewarded. They often work in teams, and have the chance to be the leader in that team. Some challenges require them to work against each other in a competition, whilst others see them work together collaboratively. We tell fictional stories together, which are underpinned by characters and groups of characters. They involve (sometimes intense) emotions and the children experience surprises in this narrative as they work through a Unit of Study. On the whole, perhaps this would be the third step in the SAMR model – caramel macchiato.

Yet, though similar tropes can be seen in my classroom and in gaming, these are only strands that run through my practice. I, like many, do not yet run the practice (or certain subjects) through a thematic and involving gaming-style experience, where all of the above strands flow through an imagined gaming-style Universe (think Game of Thrones or Star Wars). I see this as such an exciting pedagogical approach to bring into the learning environment (for me as well as the students) and one that could have so much educational benefit for those in my care. So, it is this kind of approach that I would like to bring into certain subjects in my classroom (plus, it is also my mission to research more game-based learning to include as well, such as the wondrous Minecraft). I see it as a perfect vehicle to bring to life specific areas of the curriculum, and to reinvigorate learning as a result. In other words, to take the use of Gamification concepts within my learning environment to the final step of the SAMR model – always the aim (not sure about pumpkin spice though)!

But with the former, just where do I start when creating a game based environment within the classroom, or within certain subjects?

The How

My research has led me to consider certain facets of Gamification, which should be embedded in such a gaming-based approach to education. I hope that this will also help you, if you are beginning your Gamification journey as I am…

Game Dynamics

  • Create a fictional world. Many of the best games out there (and TV series/films for that matter), exist within an imagined Universe. This world may have groups of people, played by groups of your students. Will they need to work together/towards a shared aim? For some alternate fictional elements in your classroom, see: kqed.
  • The story. Perhaps there is an aim to the game. Will your children be required to make their own choices? How will those choices play out in the story? There may be an imagined order at play, or specific rules that exist within the world.
  • Surprises. Any good story has plot twists along the way. What surprises will you plant for later lessons?
  • An emotional hook. Critical to plug your students into both the game dynamics and their learning.

To see a specific example of some of these ideas, see a Google Hangout with Michael Matera here.

Game Mechanics

  • The rules of your world. Specific, well understood and geared to enable equal access to the game for all.
  • Leveling up. Tasks should be individualized, be a challenge which is accurately matched to prior knowledge and lead to incremental progress. Both students and adults should be able to track this progress, and be motivated by it.

Games take care of providing students with incremental progress recognition that results in the dopamine-pleasure response that motivates perseverance and sustains engagement – Judy Willis on

  • Rewards and leader-boards. In games, you usually get badges, points, items to collect, additional skills and potentially see themselves on some kind of leader-board. What will your students get? Working as a team/guild/group is crucial for this step, as is the following quote from Ian Glover:

…making competition internal rather than external, such as by having learners completely against their personal best… – Document Link.

  • Gifting and group leadership. As with flipped learning, a culture of collaboration exists in the modern gaming world and is a really important consideration when setting up an effective gaming world in the classroom.

After the initial set up, and subsequent challenges, it is then crucial to keep them engaged!

On To The Why

Throughout this blog post, I have suggested some reasons for why we would put in the effort to set up such a Gamification-style Universe in our classroom. It is clear that I see the benefits for our students here, but here are a few more (in case you needed further persuasion!) suggests that when playing games, children’s “retention is improved.” In the quest for making learning more memorable, this is something that we could do within an exciting game-like environment. Students will also potentially spot patterns easier, have opportunities for recognition among other game players, and certainly experience an increase in motivation if this approach is delivered well.

…it (Gamification) should serve primarily to make something that is already rewarding more rewarding – perhaps by encouraging learners to invest more time than they otherwise would – Ian Glover, link above.

Lastly, please watch the humorous and inspiring talk from Jane McGonigal. I particularly like her breakdown of the benefits of gaming, where she suggests that when playing children are: urgent optimists, have a social fabric, blissfully productive and forge epic meanings in a series of epic wins.

It is time to get some epic wins in our classrooms through Gamified approaches to teaching!


I can’t wait to try this specific approach in my classroom environment, though I will be starting small at first.

Do you have any ideas for how to take the first steps into Gamification of the classroom, or certain subjects?

Posted in Course 4, Games-based learning, Gamification, Online 9, SAMR | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Problem Based Blogging (PBB)

“How do you engage students? You present them with a real challenge they care about” – Cator quoted by

Traditional Approaches,_1837_Wellcome_L0039146.jpg

We have probably all witnessed many lessons delivered in the ‘traditional’ mode of instruction. Normally, this would take the guise of the classic ‘three part lesson’; where there is direct talk from the teacher, a task which the students work on in small groups or independently, and then a plenary to wrap it all up.

In some instances, this approach still remains a decent option. However, it is often used to the detriment of both the children’s enjoyment and in how much they learn. In the worst cases, it is chosen as a safety net for the overworked teacher. It requires the teacher to be in control, and tends to rely heavily on the transmitting of information directly from the brain of the adult to the pupils, via spoken information and instructions. This style of teaching is deemed to be easier to deliver and simpler to measure in terms of assessment. Core skills are normally repeatedly practiced and at the forefront.

But, this is not the only pedagogical option available to us. This week, the focus of our studies are approaches that, if used successfully, would help our students more. They have the possibility of retaining longer lasting and meaningful lessons, which are more enjoyable and fun.

PBL (Project Based Learning) contrasts with paper-based, rote memorization, or teacher-led instruction that presents established facts or portrays a smooth path to knowledge by instead posing questions, problems or scenarios – – Project based learning.


One is Project Based Learning, whereby students work for extended periods of time on a complex challenge, problem or question. The approach requires them to share responsibility, take control of the process and to experiment, explore and express themselves to a greater extent.

“Within this framework, students pursue solutions to nontrivial problems by asking and refining questions, debating ideas, making predictions, designing plans and/or experiments, collecting and analyzing data, drawing conclusions, communicating their ideas and findings to others, asking new questions, and creating artifacts” – Blumenfeld et al 1991, Educational Psychologist, via the Wikipedia link above.

The paper adds further meat to the bone of this pedagogical approach. Particularly, “outstanding projects recognise student’s inherent drive to learn…and encourage collaboration.”

Problem Based Learning shares similar characteristics to this approach, but usually specifically focuses on solving real world issues or problems, that are meaningful as often chosen by the children.

Challenge Based Learning is again linked closely to those above. It was set out by Apple Inc. in 2008, and as this link suggests, “When faced with a Challenge, successful groups and individuals leverage experience, harness internal and external resources, develop a plan and push forward to find the best solution.” Inherent to this approach is that students have a specific role to play and a need to know. Though based in High Schools, the following video drew my attention to the value of these approaches, and is particularly inspiring.

Problems Of Our Own

So, what is stopping educators from the creation of fascinating projects that connect their students with the community around them? Why would teachers, in an ever changing world, falter at the sight of greater enjoyment and learning for their pupils? If the traditional approaches are our safety blanket, then perhaps we have some problems of our own to solve. In the rest of this blog post, I wish to draw attention to problems that people may have with PBL, CBL and ahem, PBL; and hopefully shed a more positive light (or even solutions) to these issues.

The Teacher’s Role

Undeniably, the role of the teacher changes when we adopt alternate approaches in the classroom. As the EdSurge article mentioned above says, “…center on so called ‘active learning’, where students, not their teachers, drive much of what they do in class.” They also quote Larmer and suggest:

Teachers need to know it’s a shift. They might need to give up some control.

For me, I would not belittle that this is a change of mindset for educators, but it is one that with practice can come quickly and easily. Teachers begin to take on the role of coaches in these different approaches, allowing the children more time to explore for themselves and make mistakes.

Yet, teachers are still crucial as they will inevitably need to coach students with their learning habits, teamwork skills and potential misconceptions (and much more along the way). If we weigh up our traditional educational safety net versus children actually enjoying all of the hours that they spend in school, and gaining a great deal more out of it as a result, then this feels like a ‘no brainer’ for those that care about the profession and kids in general.

My Passion Or Their Passion?

In a predetermined curriculum, we try and think about what will engage our students as much as possible, and the best educators have an outstanding working knowledge of the kids that sit in front of them. Yet, can we ever know what they are really passionate about? Can we keep up with them as their interests change with each new life experience? Perhaps it would be better to (again) hand over to the students. I accept that this is again a shift in mindset, but it is time to let them take charge!

Here is another video that inspired me with this thinking. I particularly like the following quote from Prof. Seymour Papert in the video: “Education has very little to do with instruction. It has to do with engagement, with falling in love with the material.”

A Different Direction

It’s true. Under these approaches, the lessons may veer off in a different direction than is expected. As students make new discoveries, under their own initiative, they can excitedly go off course. Teachers can prepare themselves by being aware of this, and prepare their reactions as they study the learning as it unfolds. They can then decide whether it is appropriate to allow the change as a positive twist, or to gently redirect the children. You never know, the kids may well just do this themselves.

Today’s society requires creativity and critical thinking skills, perhaps the evolving nature of a lesson where the students are free to explore and innovate is perfect to set them up for this.

Lack of Time

Working in schools is a perennially busy profession, with no sign of the overwork abating. A concern is that these different approaches will take time to set up, as new lesson plans and resources will need to be created. Indeed, a longer amount of time will be needed if we are to link with problems to solve in the community or create challenges for our pupils.

Within lessons, our week’s are already full with lessons, so how will we fit anything else in? How will we find time for teaching core skills?

To answer this, these approaches mean that children can do more for themselves, in a “culture of shared responsibility” – – Project based learning. There will be a far reduced need for our classic worksheets and slides, because the children will decide their direction and focus.

Also, there may be a need to put more work in initially, but for a huge benefit in the long run.

The bie document mentioned above sums this problem up nicely, with, “…though projects take time to plan, teachers have more time to work with students once a project is under way” and “…it is helpful not to think of PBL as taking time away from the regular curriculum.” Rather, it is a different way of delivering it…and more effectively.

They will inevitably be affected by bell schedules, the time of year, ‘assessment weeks’, and so on; but this is always a factor in the life of a school.

Are My Students Ready?

Maybe not. Yet.

Students may lack the critical thinking skills at this point in time. They may find it difficult to work as a team. They may give up easily if a challenge is hard. But, all of these are factors to teach and overcome.

We have to ensure that the project is not the end in and of itself. We do not work in a production line. The students and their learning is our end point, and our focus. With this in mind, if we identify gaps that make these pedagogical approaches difficult, then we can help the students to gain them. What better than to teach our pupils such 21st Century Skills. They could even teach each other!

This Edutopia article gives some excellent ideas for how to create a culture in your classroom, ready for effective Project Based Learning. I particularly like the ideas around aiding inquiry mindsets, the build up of an exciting ‘buzz’ around the projects and helping pupils with confidence, such as when speaking publicly.

The AP courses video above also mentions the idea of ‘looping’, whereby a teacher actively allows the students to link back to previous stages of the process. This is crucial in allowing the children to reflect and to learn for themselves.

Just Semantics

The problems above are certainly ones to be aware of, so I hope that I allowed for this in this blog post, but also shared ways in which they can be overcome.

Many of the solutions are for us as educators to rethink the approach and methodology that takes place in our classrooms, and to take ourselves out of our comfort zones. We want our students to have problems to solve, so why not us? I believe that if our students are at the center of everything that we do, then we should always choose the pedagogical approaches that are best for them.

Different teaching styles aside, this is just semantics really and what’s important is the humans that bound (or traipse) into our classrooms each morning.

Giving our students a project, problem or challenge to solve is a great way to bring their experiences to life. They can connect with their communities, support them in building their 21st Century Skills and help them hone their passions.

We should make their time in education fun, because they learn so much more when they are enjoying themselves!

So, the semantics aren’t worth worrying about, at least not for very long – John Larmer, Edutopia.

You will also find that good projects in classrooms encourage changes in the culture and structure of schools – Suzie Boss, Edutopia.

Posted in Classroom, COETAIL, Collaboration, Course 4, Critical Thinking, Online 9, Pedagogy Change | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

HBTITM? – How Best To Inspire The Most?

Who Is Technology For?

Though I would regard myself as a reflective practitioner, who has always striven to change practice for the better, learning this week about the SAMR and TIM models offer me really effective frameworks with which to analyse my use of technology in my classroom.

NOTE: Teachers really love an acronym, though don’t we?!

Or rather, as you will see in this blog post, not MY or ME at all in either respect. Our aim should be to move towards the latter end of both technological models offered in the frameworks, with our students as the continuing focal point of everything that we do. It is THEIR classroom, THEIR technology and as a result…both THEIR enjoyment and quality of THEIR education which should be enhanced when technology is used in the best ways (by THEM).

So, how are both frameworks set out?


This visual can be found on:

The SAMR model, first set out by Dr. Ruben Puentedura, elicits that there are observable phases with how technology is used in the classroom. Moving towards the end of the scale (at the top of the picture), technology significantly changes the task at hand and allows our students to achieve and experience previously inconceivable learning (in a previously inconceivable world). Transformation should be our ultimate aim.


Image via

The Technology Integration Matrix (TIM) too builds towards the use of technology as transformative, with the infusion stage one step behind. It breaks this up into different types or styles of learning, to help educators analyse further.

HDIPUT? (How Did I Previously Use Technology?)

I trained as a teacher in 2010, so as a result I was lucky to begin teaching at a time when technology was more than readily available. Nonetheless, use of technology at this stage would largely fall into the entry or adoption level of the TIM model, and substitution or augmentation in the SAMR model.

The Interactive Whiteboard was a tried and trusted ever present in my repertoire, and was either used to convey information or to lead the ‘whole class teaching’ (cue script, 1…2…3…go!) I was also fortunate to use a visualiser from the start, which allowed a little more ‘real time’ whole class modeling, but also was a great way to display work to allow for peer and self reflection. As in a British mainstream school, I also taught ‘ICT’ lessons, which at the time largely centered around the classics – Microsoft WordPowerpoint, etc.

Though at the bottom end of the scale, my personal interest in technology did lead me to ‘dabble’ a little further up the framework, even at these early stages. The children typed short stories for the 100 Word Challenge and added their writing to a Primary Blogger site. As this allowed for collaboration with their peers, and was released to a wider audience (with comments coming in from around the world), this practice moved into the augmentation or modification stages of SAMR. Under the TIM model, it would be firmly in the adaptation stage, due to the fact that it was teacher led and did not spill outside the classroom for the students.

DICWIMTT? (Did It Change When I Moved To Tokyo?)

What if we truly acted like technology was just part of us, part of education, part of educating students today. What if we start embedding it and stopped integrating it? – thethinkingstick.

The main difference, technology-wise, when I moved to Tokyo and began teaching Year 1 was that we had iPads at our disposal. As a team, it is fair to reflect that we included apps too much. In the fervor of excitement about new devices, we fell into the trap of including technology merely as a substitute for our existing practice (the worst example I can think of is using a dice app instead of using actual dice – *shudder*).

Nevertheless, the team that I worked with excellently began to include usage which empowered the students to enter the top of the augmentation stage of the SAMR model, or even modification. In TIM terms, I would say it was adaptation or infusion.

Examples of this were when the children were shown how to use certain apps; but were then free to explore, create and try to solve problems independently. Students used Book Creator and Puppet Pals to retell and create their own stories. They used Google Earth to learn about Geography and the world around them. They dabbled with coding, in the form of ongoing projects that ran for a number of weeks.

Obviously, the children in this year group are young (see link above). But, the learning enabled by technology at this stage was chosen by the teacher, but then directed by the students, with an increasingly flexible approach. This is why it begins to threaten the infusion stage in TIM and the augmentation stage in SAMR.

Image courtesy of, all rights reserved.

WAN? (What About Now?)

…the education system must be linked dynamically to self-driven learning of the students themselves – Steve Denning on

A few years on, it is fair to say that I have not thrown out all of the previous examples from my classroom environment. Many of them still excite the children and allow them to learn a great deal (if that learning is thought about first, not with the use of a fancy gadget as the sole aim). But this year in particular has been the one (with the help of COETAIL, of course) where I have truly sought to inspire the children to take their learning well beyond the classroom walls, to collaborate with each other in a host of positive ways and to be in charge of their own education.

In the best cases, technology usage among my pupils is trickling into the transformation stage of the TIM model and the redefinition stage of the SAMR framework. I would suggest that the majority of practice still lies a step behind that, but we are all certainly pushing in the right direction. I really like the cyclical nature of the below visual, which summarises the process which is taking place in my classroom, on a continuous basis.

SAMR Circle

Sometimes, to get the most out of the short time slots that we have available, we do have to direct learning just a little.

Most students will still need a guide to help them use digital tools effectively for learning and collaboration – Edutopia, How To Integrate Technology.

But, as this website states, “the teacher will no longer be the center of attention.” I am moving on a daily basis, more towards being a learning coach; as opposed to the ‘sage on the stage’. As is suggested in the guide description link, we have to have a “willingness to embrace change,” especially with technology.

Examples include how last week, the children researched the Guru Granth Sahib and the Gurdwara as part of their learning about Sikhism in Religious Studies (see my Final Project for Course 1). They did so using a choice of videos on Blendspace. They worked in pairs to communicate this information in their own words using the Camera app on iPads, then uploaded their videos onto their collaborative SeeSaw blog. The interesting part of this, is that once completed, they independently saw the potential of commenting and liking each others posts, after watching. I was then able to review the process (as you have to verify all new posts) and coach them with helpful blog comments and misconceptions that arose over the topic matter.

Though I chose the tools on this occasion, the children then utilised them to their full potential independently. The cumulative nature of learning in this scenario meant that the students learnt so much more than if they had just written it silently into their books. Collaboration, self-directed study and a real culture of creativity was evident. The students were certainly acting well within the infusion stage of the TIM model in this example, and perhaps the redefinition stage of the SAMR framework.

A second example is a Movie Making Club that I run once a week. The children have become really adept at using iMotion to create their own Stop Motion Animation mini-movies. I modeled the use of this tool initially, but through the weeks, the children have independently directed their own scenes, transitions and framing. The short films that they have made are really unique, and again the level of collaboration and creativity that they have shown is remarkable. The most exiting and rewarding stages for the pupils is in the editing, where they have shown real skill in using iMovie to create soundtracks, intro and outro sequences, and more transitions.

Again, though teacher led initially, these projects have really grown as the children have worked together more. I would suggest that again this example has shifted towards the end of both TIM and SAMR models.

AG! (Absolutely Genius!)

I leave you today with a few examples of Google Slides presentations made collaboratively in my class. The children, I can see online, are currently working away on them voluntarily at home – a sure fire sign that learning is spilling beyond the classroom walls. The details of the set up can be found here: Genius Hour Blog Post, which is the only direct teacher led input. Namely, the students are entirely in charge of what they do and what they learn, and they will need to present their Slides in a couple of weeks time. Beyond a 10 minute introduction, I merely coached them with their initial choice of projects and with small aspects of the Slides and information thereafter.

The quality of the presentations is exceptional, with the only negative being that the children have not yet thought to take their projects beyond the slides themselves. I would say that these projects are moving swiftly towards the transformative stages of both frameworks listed, but perhaps to truly cement this we would look for the pupils to begin including different forms of media, e.g. videos embedded about their chosen projects, perhaps shot by the children themselves. Always good to have a next step, and absolutely something that I will share with them for future projects.

That said, these projects are further proof that if students are given the opportunity to be creative and excited about their learning, then what they experience and what they learn can be truly transformative. As independence and collaboration grows, so will their brains.

…the role of the teacher (and parents) becomes one of enabling and inspiring the students to learn, so as to spark their energies and talents – Steve Denning on

Posted in Classroom, COETAIL, Course 4, Online 9, SAMR, TIM | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Course 3 Final Project

Readers gravitate toward resumes with eye catching fonts and structure. They also lean toward resources with ample white space throughout the document – Sharlyn Lauby on

Zero Experience

Of infographics, not in teaching or in life generally, otherwise choosing ‘Option 3’ for the Course 3 Final Project would have proven pretty tough! Option 3 of Course 3 asks COETAILers to add an infographic or visual resume to their ‘About Me’ page and is the option that I chose on this occasion.

Infographics, for me, are often seen but never created. That was until this particular course of the COETAIL journey, where I really enjoyed spending some time looking into the possibilities that such visuals can offer for creators and audiences alike. Previously, I had also never considered the idea of making an infographic or visual based resume, but the challenge certainly appealed to me after seeing all that good designs can do.

Like, Subscribe and Share…oft repeated modern cliches!

It strikes me that if we make our CVs more visually appealing, then this can only be a good thing to stand out in highly competitive jobs market (especially for jobs in international schools these days). I feel that a good design would demonstrate that the creator is motivated, cares deeply about what they do and is…well, creative.

Even if you are not looking for a new job, such an infographic is still useful. I have added a copy of my resume (see below in this post as well) to the ‘About Me’ page of this blog, if people want to know more about me (I did carefully edit my personal information though, call me Mr Safety First). I would also be inclined to make this visual available to the parents of my students and also my fellow colleagues, if they are interested.

Plan to Succeed

I began the design process by looking through hosts of examples of digital resumes, primarily with a quick ‘Google’. You can quickly see examples which suit your tastes and ones which do not so much. You can also see which resumes follow the learning of this particular COETAIL course (more on this later), and again which do not.

The infographic resume which inspired me the most was this one by Sonya Terborg. I love the way that she simplified her ideas during this process and I also like her lively colour scheme as well. Additionally; the personal picture, use of timeline, QR code and icons really bring the information to life. It was with these ideas, plus a few from some other visual CVs, that I embarked on my design!

The following video also set me up well for the design process. Though I personally do not like the example that they gave, it has many of the elements which I attempted to include and I also like the advice about looking at examples first, etc.

The Design

There is a vast array of websites which you can use to design infographics with. Creativebloq and the Mashable link above are great places to start when you are considering which tool to use. Despite using Canva for my previous infographic, this time I went for Piktochart. I was so pleased with this decision. The whole website is so easy to use and is so intuitive. I found the template designs to be extremely helpful and the selection of icons and text boxes to be more than enough for the resume that I had in mind.

I then drew out my idea in ‘analogue’ and noted down what each of the constituent parts should contain (with my old school Microsoft Word CV to hand, of course). This type of planning process is something that I think is essential for effective designs and is something that is advocated on Presentation Zen. So, without further ado, here is the infographic resume which I created…

I am really pleased with this design. I feel that it tells the story of my career so far and is balanced well between ‘CV basics’ and a notion of my philosophy as an educator. I find the colour scheme and text theme to be exciting and add to information that I wanted to communicate.

I added the visuals such as icons and charts to try and support the information and add to the reader’s understanding in the small space that is available. I used colour contrast to try to make the design stand out and appeal to the eyes of the audience. I also utilised size contrast to attempt to demonstrate relative importance of information and I used both alignment and proximity to try and communicate how some information is related.

I was very aware about the effectiveness of including white space, and though I found it difficult to do this in such a small space, I hope that there is just enough.

Finally, the maps and the QR code created on qr-code-generator is something that I find genuinely exciting. This may just be me though!


Hopefully, this is effective in communicating the main information that a CV normally holds, and more. It was a process that I really enjoyed and is certainly much more appealing to my eyes than a load of text in Times New Roman font in Microsoft Word! The main challenge with this sort of design is always, 1) whittling down the most important information due to the space available, and 2) the perception of a ‘modern’ resume, as opposed to the more ‘traditional’.

What do you think of my new resume design?

How might it be improved?

Posted in COETAIL, Course 3, Online 9 | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

Doodled Visuals

The usual format of my note taking, this page for the reading and videos this week.


In teacher training or meetings you usually find that teachers fall into different categories. One is the active participant – the teacher that constantly has their hand up with a point to add. Then there is the tech wizard – the colleague who is tapping away at their iPad in the corner. You usually have a joker – someone who is ready with a quirky one-liner to lighten the mood. Finally, you have the note taker. That’s me – and I may be addicted to it.

I find it really helps my memory when I note take. It ensures that I am actively considering the points that are being made, and being able to re-read what has been said is really useful for my learning style. Abbreviating or annotating the important words or phrases really cements them in my permanent memory, whereas without note taking my memory of the session is far more limited.

As you can see above, my notes usually are scribbled sentences in a colour that brings them to life. I write short sentences, sometimes with a numbered or bullet pointed hierarchy. I also connect or link ideas on a continuous basis. I have piles of pages of notes (sorry environment), which I do occasionally revisit. In class, my students note take in lessons every now and then, though I can imagine that it is certainly not as frequent as with older students, especially in high schools.

I have taught my students to note take in a similar style. They know how to abbreviate certain words or phrases, they know how to link connected notions, and they also know to only write the important details.

I have not yet considered a more visual form of note taking, for my pupils and for myself, and this week’s readings/videos have given me a host of ideas for how to diversify styles of note taking for all of us. The readings also drew my attention to how and why we should use info-graphics more in our teaching to help our students to remember what they learn about to a greater extent. But why is this useful?

Visual Notetaking

Why use visuals in note taking?

The University of Waterloo conducted a study into the use of pictures when trying to remember information, detailed on this site, and they found that we remember things twice as much when we commit them to paper as pictures as opposed to words in lists. Jeffrey Wammes, PhD candidate in the Department of Psychology, stated that: “We believe that the benefit arises because drawing helps to create a more cohesive memory trace that better integrates visual, motor and semantic information.”

The video Sketcho Frenzy: The Basics of Visual Note-Taking, expands upon this idea with the notion that utilising sketching as a part of our note taking leads to further benefits. It explains that we have better understanding of the concepts, can add a hierarchy, give certain elements distinction or emphasis, we can show trends using charts or graphs, and we can quite simply do things our way! Here is the video:

Graham Shaw, in this talk at TEDxVienna, also elucidates how useful drawings are in helping us remember things. Finally, the following quote sums up the usefulness of sketching nicely:

…transforming ideas into visual communication; structuring thoughts and giving hierarchy to concepts… – Sketchnotes 101: The Basics of Visual Note-taking by Craighton Berman.

This is also so true for how we can utilize info-graphics in our classroom. But, it is note taking that I will primarily focus on here. What methods might be most effective in our educational settings?

Helping ourselves help ourselves

The style of notes that we take is really down to the individual. If we are to order information and help ourselves remember the central content, then we need to experiment a see what works for our brains the best. Yet, there are certain strategies which really aid those synapse connections and visualization of the concepts at hand.

Abbreviations and lists making certainly make the process quicker, and a faster job of re-reading when you need to. Using flash cards is another way to go, so that you are forced to summarise points in order to simply fit the writing into a smaller space. Charts and graphs are another way to quickly draw the information at hand, and to aid the interpretation of data particularly.

Doug Neil, in his brilliantly created bank of resources about sketch notes, draws attention to how we can use mind maps in this video:

This is certainly a good way to synthesize the information that we are reading or listening to, and is an obvious way to categorize or link data. I am a particular fan of a more ‘branching’ style of mind map (especially with colour) as I think that it is a really effective visual, such as:

Image courtesy of All rights reserved.

Yet, it is the Cornell Method that I would like to teach my students and to use myself, with many elements of the sketch note style that the aforementioned Doug Neil teaches us about. In the following video he marries these two approaches, which is something has really inspired me to do the same in my classroom and own practice:

Getting Started

…sketchnoting is a journey – Sketchnotes 101 by Sonya terBorg.

The above video nicely summarises a range of simple techniques which we can use to note take visually (as well as clearly explaining the Cornell method). I like the idea of using icons regularly, stick figures for verbs, faces for emotions, speech for quotations and thought bubbles for thoughts. It is clear that we have to keep our pictures simplistic but clear, and a good way to do this is to follow a pattern or make adjustments to a similar ‘formula’ of icons as you draw.

Graham Shaw in this video shows us how we can all draw and how our pictures can follow an extremely simple set of shapes and patterns. He says, “…drawing is more to do with beliefs than talent or ability…how many beliefs and limiting thoughts do we carry with ourselves every day?” He, and I, would argue that this is the same for drawing. Give it a go!

On a practical basis, this Haiku Deck presentation lists some basics for what to include when note taking with visuals, and the previously quoted Core77 website gives us lots of ideas for what we need and how we can get started with this practice. I will be taking many of these ideas on board in my own classroom.


Practice, practice, practice

In my Course 1 Final Project, the RE Unit that I redesigned used independent research as a focal point. These lessons are now being taught across the department in my school, so it is a perfect time to pair sketchnote techniques within the Cornell method, to further aid my students in their studies and understanding of the Sikh faith. As ever, we have further exceptional videos from Doug Neil to help us with this. This video explains how to structure a sketchbook practice session and this video details fun games with which to improve further.

I look forward to showing my class how to sketchnote within the Cornell method and hope that it will help them to learn so much more with their learning. Below is an info-graphic which I designed to get them going with these new concepts, designed on Canva:

Note Taking With Pictures by Rory Bell

More Visual Resources

The Noun Project – Sketchy Icons.

itsallaboutart – Infographics.

Kathy Schrock – Infographics as Creative Assessment.

Visuals Periodic Table.

Posted in Classroom, COETAIL, Course 3, Online 9, Visual Literacy | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Story Of Human Connection, Whether Digital Or Not


In my spare time, I am reading the book below, ‘Sapiens’ by Yuval Noah Harari. The first part of this book is about ‘The Cognitive Revolution’, which is specifically based on the advancement of humankind during what we usually term as ‘The Stone Age’.

Book for sale on:
Image is also courtesy of

The theory (because we can only really have theories about humans at this time, based on the artifacts that archaeologists find) communicated by Harari in this part of the book that is particularly enlightening for me is about storytelling.

We have evidence to suggest that humankind may have moved around the Earth during the Stone Age, most likely in small family-based groups, or tribes. Human beings were, most likely, afraid of the world that they found themselves in. They were at the middle of the food chain, and could be hunted on a daily basis (as much as they hunted prey themselves). Many groups would have relied on gathering a largely herbivorous diet to survive, in a habitat where they were still discovering which plants were actually nutritious and harmless.

Gossip, storytelling and the general passing on of information, therefore, could have been absolutely crucial to the survival of our species. Without this, we would not have built up an understanding of which plants to eat, which animals to hunt, how to design tools to accomplish different tasks, new discoveries such as fire and how to use it, and so on. It was also critical to establish and maintain the close family or tribal ties that would have been essential for survival on an inhospitable planet.

As we progressed through history, storytelling remained at the heart of the central pillars or human society. Whether this be the passing on of stories within religions, stories about philosophy or stories about society itself. Myths and legends were tales that helped us to understand the mysteries of our planet, such as natural disasters.

Incidentally, a brilliant site to show your students different myths and legends is: e2bn.

Classroom Context

As educators, storytelling has of course always been a crucial tool with which to build communities, teach important lessons and transmit knowledge. In modern times, we have swathes of technology at our disposal, which has afforded us further devices with which to tell each other our stories.

Digital storytelling, then, is defined on elearningindustry by Tiziana Saponaro as a combination of spoken narrative and visuals which are supplied to the audience using digital tools. Saponaro suggests that this may include a soundtrack and the user can then use technology to subsequently edit. The following quote on digital storytelling is on the 50ways Wikispace:

…multi-segment narrative that usesmore than one type of media (images + text, audio + images, etc) that are assembled on the web, and can be presented on the web or embedded into other web sites – 50ways.

Possible types of digital storytelling.
Image via

Also see Creative Educator for six more ways to implement digital storytelling in your classroom.


So, if we have told stories to each other through our entire history, then is digital storytelling actually any different to the more traditional versions?

Again Tiziana Saponaro on elearningindustry makes some prescient points here. She explains that the process of creating digital stories aids students with skills in research, resource selection, script writing, voice overs, technological skills, collaboration, presentation and expressions of creativity. The scope for children to practice each skill is to a much greater degree than either spoken or verbal versions of tale telling. Indeed, as a process it is simply more complicated, with a far larger amount of elements involved, so pupils therefore have to be more flexible and adaptable to each stage of the process.

Anna Warfield, a guest author on, also provides some ways in which story telling is advanced when it is communicated digitally. She highlights that collaboration is far easier, and shared stories can be created in person or from afar. She also explains that teachers can assess the understanding of their students with an immediacy which is sometimes lost with verbal renditions of tales. In addition to this, she says:

Digital storytelling is also very audience-driven because of the necessity to help your audience understand your story through various media. By taking part in various digital storytelling activities, students can reflect on their own projects and on those of their peers – Getting Smart.

Indeed, if we are creating tomorrow’s leaders, then knowing about an audience or being part of an audience is crucial if our students are to be successful leaders of the future.


Yet, the image above is a perfect example. That visual could just as easily be applied to ‘analogue’ storytelling as much as it could be ‘digital’. No advanced technology can replace a good storyteller. No fancy gadget can replace a well thought out tale. So, what should we and our students keep in mind, as we create stories digitally, verbally or in writing?

Kids have meaningful things to say, so challenge them to produce visual content with purpose and with pride – strengthofweakties.

The very best stories have emotion at the heart. If we can learn how to convey messages emotionally, where we show that emotion rather than just telling it, then our stories will hit the spot. Our audience may well have experienced such similar emotions and may well empathise with our characters or with the events at play. If our stories utilise a myriad of images, videos and sounds, yet lack emotional resonance, then they will not be enjoyable tales for our audience (no matter how clever they are).

Good storytelling is a journey for every author who is digging deep into the meaning of their stories for themselves and others…connects the humanity in all of us – Creative Educator, The Art of Digital Storytelling.

A good story is a good story, no matter what tools are used to convey it. If an author communicates a personal message and it is done with a knowledgeable grasp of humanity, then it is likely to strike the heart of the people watching or listening. An effective storyteller has a message to pass on or a deeper meaning to communicate, and if they connect the dots with events in the world or with the issues to matter to us, then even better.

So, digital storytelling is a wonderful way to bring tale telling to life (particularly in writing, though this subject could be another blog post/essay in itself). But, please please please…remember that human connection lies at the beating heart of any decent story and without it, a story in any medium will fall flat and lifeless.

We and our students should always strive for this connection, whether in the digital world or ‘analogue’.

Posted in COETAIL, Course 3, Digital Storytelling, Fair Use, Online 9, Visual Literacy, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Hour of the Genius

Wikimedia Commons License.

Looking Back

In this Course 1 blog post, I discussed the use of Flipped Classroom Pedagogy in Elementary Schools (feel free to click on those links to read up on a collection of wonderful ideas and examples). Since then, I have taken every opportunity to integrate a ‘child led’ philosophy in order to empower the students in my care, and giving my lessons an investigative focus – as opposed to simply providing information to a passive audience. Digital tools have helped immensely with this, such as: BlendspacePreziHaiku DeckPadletPopplet, video making and Show Me.

Genius Hour

These edits to my teaching practice have proved to be successful throughout the year, even though the challenge as a teacher is always finding the balance between allowing the children enough space to explore, but also assisting them with misconceptions and learning skills generally. Yet, the children have seemed to be really engaged by these types of lessons and have gained a great deal from their experiences.

This fantastic blog post from former COETAILer, Philip Arneill, has brought Genius Hour into my thinking as another strategy to enable pupils to further take control of their learning. He quite rightly says:

What matters is that they learn the transferable skills to adapt to and utilize whatever platform is currently in vogue, and to deliver that in a way that will truly impact an audience.

Indeed. Once again, though this is an exciting idea, we must always put the children’s learning at the forefront of our thought. Jackie Raseman, another COETAILer, details in this blog post exactly what ‘Genius Hour’ is and how it links to different learning attributes (particularly from the ISTE Standards for Students). She explains:

I want them (her students) to discover their passions, and then make a plan to create content that connects to their passion and other people who like it.

Me too! In my classroom, I would like to integrate some ‘Genius Hour’ sessions into the working week, which would be centered on the creation of Google Slides presentations. Therefore, this strategy would also provide a way for the children to develop their skills when presenting information. So, what should we keep in mind when we present our ‘Genius Hour’ projects to our peers?

Powerful Presentations

…embracing simplicity of design and striving for the greatest clarity possible must still be the objective – Presentation Zen, What is good Presentation design?

Below is a detail of the key points that we can gain from the readings and videos this week, so all in my class can keep this guidance in mind as we share, create and discover in this exciting new set of projects.

This video explains how repeated information via text and speech simultaneously results in redundant information for the audience. It also elicits that our working memory is limited to four pieces of new information and that images are an incredibly powerful way to transmit new learning, and to make it ‘stick’ for longer.

The key points for me in this video summary is that our ideas should be simple and effective when presenting. It details a process for how we can achieve this, such as: planning in ‘analogue’, adding images to support the overall ‘story’, utilising handouts for extra information and restraining from adding too much information in general.

JD Phillips, in his TEDxStockholmSalon talk, details a host of brilliant ideas for how to avoid bore-filled and ineffectual Powerpoint Presentations. He explains that we should have 1 idea per slide, with a maximum of 6 objects within this. He draws attention to how we can enlarge the information that we want to give importance to, how we can use dark backgrounds to relax the eye, and how we can use contrast to differentiate between different objects.

It’s during the preparation stage that you slow down and stop your busy mind so that you may consider your topic and your objectives, your key messages, and your audience – Presentation Zen, From design to meaning: a whole new way of presenting?

Implementation in the Classroom

So, how to use this superb guidance in the implementation of a ‘Genius Hour’ model? My plan is to model an effective presentation to the children first, in order to explain to the children exactly what ‘Genius Hour’ is and why they should be excited about it! Later, I will make a new presentation to teach them about the process of presentation design, as detailed above. This will culminate on a design success criteria, provided as a handout, in order to further guide the pupils in their projects.

Below is the opening presentation, made by yours truly (please see this Haiku Deck, which inspired me greatly with my Slides), to introduce ‘Genius Hour’ to my students, and to hopefully exemplify the learning from this week of COETAIL. Enjoy!

Posted in Classroom, COETAIL, Collaboration, Connectivism, Course 3, Creative Commons, Flipped Classroom, Online 9, Visual Literacy | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment