Course 5 Proposal: How can technology make thinking visible?

Where I am on my COETAIL journey:

  • I am really excited about most of the ideas we have learned about in Courses 1-4.
  • I am looking forward to implementing our course 5 project  next semester.
  • I have an idea for the project, combining tech with one of my professional areas of growth.
  • I have written down lots of possibilities and initial thoughts to bring this project to life.
  • I will need critical feedback from the COETAIL community to make this possible.
  • I am starting to wonder how I will continue such professional growth once I have completed COETAIL course 5.
  • I feel ready to go from ideas to implementation and am looking forward to that adventure.

Below is my UBD planner for the the Course 5 project. My question that has floated to the top is: How can I use technology to make student thinking more visible?

There are obviously still places that need polishing and most likely scrapping and reinventing. But actually that’s exactly the heart of the unit. Tracking how our thinking develops, justifying the changes, and reflecting on the whole process throughout. My students and I will be experiencing the same journey of making our thinking visible.

Why do you think this unit is a good possibility for your Course 5 project?

Screen Shot 2015-05-24 at 9.06.29 PMThere are two main reasons why I want to try this yearlong unit for my Course 5 project:     1. I am really excited about it! I want to know more about how visible thinking works, how I can implement it, and how I can use technology to enhance it.

2. I think my students will be more engaged, will acquire and hone their technology skills, and will develop deeper understandings both about the content and themselves as thinkers.

What are some of your concerns about redesigning this unit?

Screen Shot 2015-05-24 at 9.09.40 PMMy main concern is that I am starting from scratch. I have chosen to create a unit rather than integrate into an already exisiting one. I have also decided that this will be a year long unit rather than having a clear start and end date. On top of that I am selecting technology tools that I have minimal experience with so yeah, I have some concerns. Basically what it all comes down to is: am I biting off more than I can chew or am I making this harder than it needs to be? I sure hope not.


What shifts in pedagogy will this new unit require from you?

Screen Shot 2015-05-24 at 9.11.57 PMThis project will require two major shifts:         1. I will need to challenge myself and my students to consciously think about our thinking. There will now be an added layer to our learning. I will need to design experiences to facilitiate and nurture that metacognition.    2. I will need to work closely with our tech integration specialist to match content lessons with appropriate tech tools. I will need to learn about these tools, play around with them on my own, and then introduce and support my students in their application.

What skills and/or attitudes will this new unit require from your students?

Skills: flexibility, creativity, collaborating, explaining, applying, modifying, comparing, examining, revising, critiquing, justifying, writing, labeling, drawing, explaining, describing, discussing, evaluating, synthesizing, assessing, summarizing, metacognitive, problem-solving, predicting, describing, identifying, matching, sharing, demonstrating, recording, outlining, determinig, selecting, publishing, creating, recognizing, managing time . . .

Attitudes: positive thinker, honest, articulate communicator, reflective, resilient problem-solver, resourceful, active listener, ethical, growth-mindset, passionate, engaged.


So after all that thinking about thinking, these wonderings now float to the surface:

  • What am I not thinking of?
  • How do I teach students to articulate their thinking?
  • What is a feasible balance for 5th graders between thinking and thinking about thinking?
  • Who can I contact/learn from that already has knowledge/experience about this?
  • What can I try/read/look into over the summer to support this project starting in August?
  • and finally . . . What do others think?


5 Steps to Tech Balance

More frequently now I find myself out to dinner with friends and halfway through our meal we notice that the family of four dining nearby have not yet spoken to each other, not even once. They are each consumed by their devices, an entire meal without face-to-face, human interaction. On the other hand, I also know a couple with a five and a two year old and neither child, intentionally, has ever seen an Ipad, tv, or cell phone in action. These are both extremes, but they’re both out there. The obvious answer this week is that we need to find a balance.

But there are some more complicated steps that go along with that easy answer . . .

Step 1: Acknowledge that balance looks different for each of us

Which of these most looks like your balance?

Photo Credit: Heiko Brinkmann via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Heiko Brinkmann via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: sanjayausta via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: sanjayausta via Compfight cc

8092034018 (1)





Step 2: Reflect on your own needs for balance  

Ask yourself the following questions to determine what you need to create balance:

  • When is it necessary for you to be looking at a screen?
  • What are some examples of times when you use screens now and you could do without?
  • After lots of screentime, what refuels you?
  • How will you determine when to power down for the day?
  • How will you determine when to power up for the day?
  • List some times during the week when you unplug/turn off your phone completely?
  • How much time would you estimate you spend/want to spend on a device per day/week?
  • What are some other possible ways you could get information without being on a screen?
  • How long would you like to be away from your phone without feeling the need to check it?
  • Would tech breaks help you to focus?
  • What else do I need to ask myself to determine my own balance?

Step 3: Design your own plan for achieving your balance

Based on your responses to the questions in Step 2 (and any others you may think of), draft a daily/weekly balance plan. Set small goals like no screens during dinner or turn my phone off by 9pm every night. Give yourself permission to use technology when you need it but also remind yourself to put it away when you don’t need it. Really look at your patterns of use and consciously design a plan that will be attainable and meet your needs, remembering it looks different for each of us.

Step 4: Practice and maintain your balance

Like with anything, we will all have our good days and our not so good days. Balance isn’t something that you ever check off as achieved. Give it a go, live out what balance looks like to you and then pause, reflect, adjust, and try again. Just like anything we are trying to improve in our lives, there will need to be changes as the process unfolds. It is a work in progress. Be kind to yourself and be aware of how your balance or imbalance affects your life.

Step 5: Guide your students through a similar process

CommonSense Media’s first tip in 5 Ways to Find a Healthy Balance of Media and Technology is “Be a role model. When kids are around, set an example by using media the way you want them to use it.” Once you have gone through the process of determining your own balance, making a plan to achieve it, and struggled through actually living it out, you are better equipped to be a role model for students and dialogue with them about the importance of taking such action.

These steps are not necessarily sequential. You can have solid answers on what you need and don’t need in step two and then find yourself having to recalculate those answers when you attempt step four. Or if you’re like me, you can return to step one where I have to remind myself at dinner that balance looks different for everyone.

No matter where we each are on this continuum of seeking balance, I hope we can all agree that we want technology to enhance our lives, no replace them.

Could the ICR model be the future of education?

MOOCS, badges, Problem Based Learning, flipped classrooms, play, Connectivisim, Vodcasting, Gaming, Project Based Learning, TPACK model, Flat Classrooms, Challenge Based Learning, SAMR model, tech embedding vs. tech intergrating . . . phew, there are a lot of educational terms and trends to consider in this course!

Taking them in one at a time, I can envision the impact each has on how we teach and how we learn. Up close, I can identify, analyze, and project how the face of education is changing with each of these approaches. It is when I step back and try to view them collectively, when I try to envision a cohesive future horizon of education, that I struggle to find how all of these nuanced ideas come together to create the future classroom, which I recently learned, is maybe not even a classroom.

Maybe the voices of these education innovators will help . . .

Following Sugata Mitra’s lead, I have distilled what I believe is needed to prepare our students of today for an unknown world. (disclaimer: this is subject to change at any point in time)

1. Individualized learning  – I believe students learn best when they are surrounded by opportunities to discover, develop, and express their unique selves. The future of education looks as differnetiated as each of our students. As Prakash Nair says in The Classroom is Obsolete, “Because of this, the research demands a personalized education model to maximize individual student achievement.”

2. Making connections – I believe students learn best when they feel connected to their learning community, when they can use technology to connect with people, and when they make connections between, across, and within what they are learning. As Sugata Mitra says in the above video, “Children can teach themselves almost anything if given the internet, given the permission to interact with each other, and given the absence of the teacher.”

3. Relevant meaning – I believe students learn best when what they are learning, how they are learning, and why they are learning holds meaning in their own lives. There should be a reason, a necessity, a natural curiosity to what students learn. As Susan Blum comments in  Learmers Are People, Not Isolated Test-Taking Brains, “Humans are and must be both embodied and enmeshed in social networks. . . If our ultimate goal is to educate human beings, then we must focus not only on knowledge and information, discipline and surveillance as measured by tests, but also on non-academic pleasures, motivations, skills, and the full array of human engagement that sustains attention and meaning.”

So now that I have taken a step back to identify the threads of what I believe is needed in the future classroom, the question floats: how do I create an individualized, connected, relevant context (ICR model perhaps:) for students of the world yet to be? MOOCS, badges, Problem Based Learning, flipped classrooms, play, Connectivisim, Vodcasting, Gaming, Project Based Learning, TPACK model, Flat Classrooms, Challenge Based Learning, SAMR model, tech embedding vs. tech intergrating . . .




Aging Play

“I don’t think education is about centralized instruction anymore; rather, it is the process establishing oneself as a node in a broad network of distributed creativity . . . Play is about exploring the possible. In times of rapid change, exploring the possible becomes an essential skill. We don’t have maps for the territory of tomorrow. As a result, all citizens must become explorers of this emerging world. The best way to prepare for the emergence of the future is to learn how to be comfortable with uncertainty. To be comfortable with uncertainty, one must remain fluid, receptive and creative — in a word: playful.”  Joichi Ito in The Power of Play in Learning

Both what Joichi Ito says and what Takaharu Tezuka’s does make me wonder how do you scale play according to age? and that question leads me to another question that maybe I should be asking first: should we even scale play based on age? why or why not?

This week I spent some time in our early childhood area of campus, simply watching kids do just what we are reading about. I saw kids problem solving, collaborating, inventing, imagining, compromising, socializing, struggling, planning, exploring, analyzing, adapting, rethinking, observing, processing, verbalizing, failing, experimenting, and persevering to name a few. I was in awe of how these skills were second nature to these four and five year olds and how they practiced them with such enjoyment.

And so as a teacher of grade 5, I walked back to the upper elementary section of our campus and thought of my students who will be entering the world of middle school in a few short months, and I couldn’t help but mourn the loss of that unstructured exploration. Our students in the upper elementary play, but their play is structured. Structured by curriculum, by teachers, by assessments, by peers, by after school activities . . .

And so once we are aware of this shift in how we allow kids to play as they grow up, then do we redefine play as Bud Hunt does? He says, “Play, then, is finding freedom in the face of constraint.” Is that how play changes as we age? Is that true for us as adults? Do we play by pursuing and enjoying freedoms within certain constraints? If so, why is that? Should it be that way? If it shouldn’t be that way, then how do we reverse that shift marked by aging and return to the unstructured play of Takaharu Tezuka’s kindergarten as adults, as college students, as high schoolers, as middle schoolers, as 5th graders? Maybe a clue lies in Joichi Itos’ original statement: “one must remain fluid, receptive and creative — in a word: playful.”


So what floats to the surface for me, amongst many wonderings, is: how can we lead classrooms to “remain fluid, receptive, and creative” places of learning as students progress through the grades?



Isn’t This Just Great Teaching?

This week my wondering floated directly to the surface: Project Based Learning, Problem Based Learning, Challenge Based Learning . . . aren’t these all just synonyms for great teaching?
  • “At its best, PBL can help you as a teacher create a high-performing classroom in which you and your students form a powerful learning community focused on achievement, self-mastery, and contribution to the community. It allows you to focus on central ideas and salient issues in your curriculum, create engaging and challenging activities in the classroom, and support self-directed learning among your students.” – Introduction to Problem Based Learning
  • “PBL requires that teachers facilitate and manage the process of learning. Rather than rely on the model of the child as an empty vessel to be filled, PBL teachers must create tasks and conditions under which student thinking can be revealed—a cocreative process that involves inquiry, dialogue, and skill building as the project proceeds.” – Introduction to Problem Based Learning
  • “What if we focused our energy not on test scores and rankings but on engaging students in their work? What if their work was more than facts and formulas as presented in books, but relevant to the world they see? What if rather than trying to teach them problem solving, we actually encouraged them to take on problems that needed solving? . . .and the evidence from this pilot shows that when given the room and flexibility to tackle things they see as not only relevant, but critical to their lives, they are not only engaged, but they bring the learning to themselves” – NMC Report
  •  “What’s essential, she says, “is establishing the learning atmosphere, how the class feels.” Instead of generating rules with her students, she invites them to “generate tendencies, [and] positive ways to be together.” – Connie Weber
  • “to get a new sense of themselves as learners — that learning is something valuable,”        –Seymour Papert

“High-performing”, “learning community,” “self-mastery,” “engaging,” “process of learning,” “cocreative,” “skill building,” “relevant,” “valuable,” do I need to go on? What teacher doesn’t strive to have their classroom live and breathe these characteristics. No matter what you call it, engaging students in learning that is both important to them and empowering for their lives is one of the central reasons why we are educators.

Our students hold immense potential for the betterment of our future. It is therefore our responsiblity, as educators, to provide learning experiences in which they can practice and problem-solve that task of leading the future. In her TED talk, Jane talks about capitalizing on the potential of gamers to solve some of the looming world problems. Her full talk is embedded here, however she presents three specific examples of games that she has developed to help practice solving real world problems starting at 15:32. Enjoy!

No matter how we go about it or what we call it, we need to provide learning opportunities that are relevant, challenging, multi-faceted, connected, involve current technology, require collaboration, encourage action, and hold meaning for our students and their futures. If we aim for anything less than this, we are doing our students a disservice.

Yes, but how?

I have so much to learn! I figure that just like the kids it is helpful to have a baseline to know where I am growing from, so here is what I know to be true for myself today:


  • Mary Beth Hertz writes in What Does Technology Integration Mean?, “To me, the term means that technology is not taught as a separate class, but integrated into the classroom.” I agree. 

    Photo Credit: GrungeTextures via Compfight cc
    Photo Credit: GrungeTextures via Compfight cc
  • In Overcoming Technology Barriers, Susie Boss writes, “‘Most important is a supportive environment,’ says Knee, “You won’t know about a technology until you start using it. Just go and do it.” Fortunately such exploration is supported at my school.
  • Edutopia’s Why Integrate Technology into the Curriculum states, “In particular, it must support four key components of learning: active engagement, participation in groups, frequent interaction and feedback, and connection to real-world experts.” I agree. 

I have the essential ingredients for effective technology intergration to be possible. 

Room to Grow:

  • Mary Beth Hertz comments in What Does Technology Integration Mean?, “Therefore, technology integration may not look the way we want it to until our students move beyond familiarity with tools and into being able to choose the correct tool for the job.” My students remain in the familiarity phase, as do I. We need to challenge each other to move into the selection phase. 

    Photo Credit: snlsn via Compfight cc
    Photo Credit: snlsn via Compfight cc
  • Edutopia’s post What is Successful Technology Integration? states, “Successful technology integration is achieved when the use of technology is: Routine and transparent, accessible and readily available for the task at hand, supporting the curricular goals, and helping the students to effectively reach their goals.” We are solid with the first two pieces but have room to improve on the second two going forward.
  • According to Mary Beth Hertz’s Levels of Technology Integration, I would say my students and I are resting atComfortable: Technology is used in the classroom on a fairly regular basis. Students are comfortable with a variety of tools and often use these tools to create projects that show understanding of content.”
  • Punya Mishra and Matthew Koehler write in Using the TPACK Framework, “Such repurposing is possible only when the teacher knows the rules of the game and is fluent enough to know which rules to bend, which to break, and which to leave alone.” This is where I would like to be someday, able to repurpose. 
  • In Jeff Utech’s blogpost, he wonders, “What if we truly acted like technology was just a part of us, part of education, part of educating students today? What if we start embedding it and stop integrating it?” This is succinctly my reality. Technology is a part of my students, I see it as a part of education, and I want it to be an embedded part of educating my students every day. 

I need/want to expand my knowledge of technology resources in order to enable my students to choose the most appropriate tool to show their learning. 

By this point, are you thinking what I am thinking . . . How do I do this? How do I sharpen my own skills and knowledge enough so I can become that repurposer for my students?