Inspiration is Everywhere

A few weeks ago, as a grade level, we had the opportunity to Skype with author Pamela S. Turner about her book Samurai Rising.

I should give you some background information first. As a middle school, every year, we participate in a competition called The Battle of the Books.  Our librarian and students selected books that we all try to read within a 3-month time frame.  After the students read the books they submit questions that start with ..In which be collected to create a database of questions.  At the end of the time period, teams are made and the questions that the students created are posed to each team.  The team that gets the most questions correct, wins.  There are also weekly challenges for the students to participate in that have them interact in a variety of ways with any book they are reading.

Battle of the Books- AIS-R
Battle of the Books- AIS-R


Back to the author Skype with Pamela S. Turner-

One of the books we included in our Battle of the Books was Samurai Rising.  Through some lucky connections, our librarian was able to set up a time where we could learn about how Turner researched and wrote her book. We had just finished a historical fiction unit so we were primed! The students who had read the book created questions that they wanted to ask.  It was really a great experience for the students to interact with a REAL author.  Turner shared her inspiration behind the book and how she did her research to make sure that she was true to the history.

By Dustin Gaffke via Flickr
By Dustin Gaffke via Flickr


This got me thinking about the real interactions that can happen between students and the outside world.  Being in Saudi Arabia, I didn’t think these types of experiences were possible.  How silly!  Of course, with technology, we can connect with the world! Over the summer, I am going to try and set up interactions with authors for each unit that will hopefully inspire and inform our students.  Do you have any ideas? I am open to any suggestions!

Exploring the World Beyond Coetail


My introduction to PLN commmunities began as a session I took during a professional learning course offered at my school.  It was led by a fellow teacher and focused on the importance of expanding our networks to include the vast amount of profesionals around us.


by Jurgon Appelo via Flickr
by Jurgon Appelo via Flick

I had read blogs, followed and created boards on Pinterest, and regularly looked through Teachers Pay Teachers to find inspiration. What I hadn’t done was to become part of a community that had a true dialogue until I found Google+ communities.


When I first discovered Google+ communities, I joined several (too many) groups.  Soon my email was inundated with updates and information.  I was quickly overwhelmed.  My work email was looking more like my spam email and I couldn’t sort through all the valuable information I was receiving.  I was in overload!

I stayed in that overload position for too long. It was well over a year.  Finally, I realized I had to do something about it.  I wasn’t even reading the posts anymore.  I was deleting a large amount just to keep my head above water in my email. I realized I needed to pare back in order to have a successful relationship with my Google+ communities.  So, sadly, I unsubscribed to most that I had joined.

By Bogda via pixabay
By Bogda via pixabay

I cleaned out my email and went back to Google + to see what was the most useful for me.  What did I find inspiring? What could I best contribute to as a teacher? I decided that my goal was to stay under 5 communities to start.  I had a few communities through my own school with peers and that only left room for two more communities.  I chose Connected Classrooms Workshop and Google for Education.  I mostly keep up with the Connected Classrooms Workshop as it has such a wide variety of information that I find useful.  I can connect with other teachers and discuss ideas with classrooms all over the world.  Sometimes I still peruse other communities, but I am very thoughtful about who I will add.

My Google+
My Google+

Today my Google + page looks like this.

My Google+

I plan to continue to be a part of the communities I have enjoyed and, as needed, will join others.  Having a PLN community is important for me because it not only sustains me, it makes me feel like I am a part of a larger team, the worldwide team of educators who continue to strive for more.


…my final project!

I have decided that using what I have learned in Coetail, my standards, pacing guide, and resources that the best idea for my final project is to have students share what they have learned about our unit on humans and ideas through the creation of an infographic.  Initially, I shared this idea on my COURSE 4 FINAL PROJECT post.

I am hoping to modify and redefine the current unit using the end product, infographics, as a new way for the students to communicate their learning.

Because I am new to grade 7 and have not taught this unit before, I am a little nervous.  I do not know what possible roadblocks there may be.


© Copyright Colin Smith
© Copyright Colin Smith


In order to prepare myself, I am creating an infographic to be able to help problem solve with my students if need be.  I am hoping to see the students learning through their manipulation of the information they are learning.  Some questions I have are-

Will they see that we are vastly overusing certain economies?

Will they recognize that the location of factories is a very large piece of the equation?

Will they feel the power of that information when represented through graphs, maps, and visually undeniable statistics?

I also want them to be a

Creative Communicator and a Global Collaborator.

Is that too ambitious?

What I have learned as an educator and a learner is that there truly is no end to what we can accomplish.  We just may have to hop over a couple of fences along the way.



By Nicholas Canup via Flickr
By Nicholas Canup via Flickr

PBL, Horses, and Water

I love the idea of using problem-based learning in the classroom.  It would provide the opportunity for the students (and me!) to learn more about the world around us, real world application of skills, and the much-needed skill of working as a team.  How do I apply problem-based learning in a Humanities class you ask? I’m not sure.  In some ways, I think I do bits of the problem-based learning model.  When something comes up that we don’t know, I pause the lesson and we try to figure it out.  Now, I love these teachable moments when they arise but they can derail my lesson plan schedule!  I think that I could use the PBL methodology to continue these types of real world learning with focus and a better timeline.

Our school has adopted the C3 Framework for Social Studies standards to start next school year.  The driving force is the inquiry arc which defined by The College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies State Standards: Guidance for Enhancing the Rigor of K-12 Civics, Economics, Geography, and History is “—a set of interlocking and mutually supportive ideas that frame the ways students learn social studies content.”  I think that using these new standards with a PBL approach could go well together.

The inquiry arc is made up of four dimensions-

1 Developing questions and planning inquiries

2 Applying disciplinary concepts and tools

3 Evaluating sources and using evidence

4 Communicating conclusions and taking informed action.

Sunny Ripert via Flickr
Sunny Ripert via Flickr


While I see there are many benefits to PBL I also have some reservations.  One concern I have is of social loafing. It is a real issue and creates stress for the other members of the group.  It makes me think of the saying- You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.  There will always be students (and adults) who don’t do their fair share.  Figuring out how to create an equal balance of responsibilities and input will definitely be challenging. In the blog post, How to Prevent Social Loafing During Group Work, Tiffany Ford offers helpful suggestions that can help reduce the amount of social loafing during group work.

I’m not sure of the answers to all my questions yet.  It looks like I have my own problem based learning to figure out over the summer!




Tech Life

In my classroom, we use our devices almost every day.  Some students have Macbooks but the majority use iPads.  Having devices in the classroom make many things possible.  Largely what we do is collaborate with each other working on one device or the students are working in a shared document.  Some of the platforms we utilize are Google Docs, Padlet, IXL, EdPuzzle, Moodle, and Google Slides.  The students are well versed in problem-solving and in each class, we have our “Genious Bar” students that help students if a tech problem arises.  We research for projects and also for any question that might arise during class.  Having tech accessible offers a wealth of resources to the classroom.

In reading the Good article, Could Checking Facebook in Class Help Students Focus?, I wondered if I should be offering a tech break.  Would the students benefit from time to check-in or check out?  Sometimes, if a student is distracted by their phone, I have them put it on my desk for the duration of the class.  Because of that, I have seen the notifications of my 12-year-old students as they flash on their screen.  They already are connected.  The WhatsApp messages, Tweets, emails, and various social media updates are constant.  These students are not taking a break.  Likewise, when I am on a break and check my phone, I have many notifications as well.  Personally, I wouldn’t want to see those notifications while in class because they would distract me.  They stockpile and when I have time to myself I can go through them and decide if they are something that needs to be handled.  An email from the school counselor about a student who is struggling versus my Grandma posting to my timeline on Facebook.

Photo by Tsahi Levent-Levi via Flickr
Photo by Tsahi Levent-Levi via Flickr


Teaching students to manage their tech connections to the world is an important task and one that I am still learning how to manage myself.  I am not sure of the right solution to help students manage.  Sounds like an idea for discussion in my class this week.

Tool Belts

What is the future of education?

I don’t know the answer to that question.  But here is what I have seen while teaching a variety of grade levels; we learn from each other.  I learn from my students, my peers, educational blogs, professional development, etc..  More often than not, I need to discuss and unpack ideas with others around me.  My husband, also an educator, and I have shared our experiences and made suggestions for each other based on what we thought could work.  Some have been successful, some have not.  And if they were not, we came back together and talked about why.  This to me is like the classroom.  Where we learn, we try, we fail, we discuss, we try again. On repeat. I am not an

 I am not an island of information for my students to visit.  I am educated in pedagogy, ideas, and in life experiences.  I share those with my students as we disseminate the curriculum to try and understand it together. Very early in my education classes, I had a professor who told me- You never want to be the sage on the stage, be the guide on the side.   I took that sentiment to heart and try to live and teach by it.

Yes, I think MOOCS are wonderful and helpful, at times.  I do not think they can replace the wealth of learning that happens from discussion, debate, and experience.  This year I have been trying Socratic seminars in my class and I have loved being able to step off the center stage and throw questions to the students to discuss.  And then, to pose another question that sends them further into the topic.  I guide them from the sidelines and let them lead.  While this method isn’t what I use every day, it is one of my tools.  Standing and lecturing every day is not enough.  I have to be able to reach into my tool belt and pull out activities like seminar when neccessary.  In the article,LEARNERS ARE PEOPLE, NOT ISOLATED TEST-TAKING BRAINS: WHY MOOCS BOTH WORK AND FAIL, I could really relate to the author, Susan D. Blum‘s perspective.  There is a time and a place where MOOCS can work.  There is also a time when another tool needs to be pulled from the tool belt. 

 There is also a time when another tool needs to be pulled from the tool belt. 

Blue Diamond Photography Some Rights Reserved
Blue Diamond Photography Some Rights Reserved

I’m Definitely Still Learning

I first heard of the flipped classroom about 4 years ago. (I was a little late to the party)  In the school I taught at before, most families didn’t have access to the internet or a device that their child could use.  I struggled with things like basic care, hunger, emotional support, and family support.  I could use Khan Academy and LearnZillion in the classroom but then I felt I was just having someone else teach my lesson.

Fast forward to 2014 when I was teaching an entire class of grade 4 student that brought their own device to school each day.  The possibilities seemed endless.  In began researching different ways to teach using iPads and discovered the flipped classroom.  Then I discovered the wealth of information and videos online that I could use to get started.  Initially, I began in math.  I was nervous to do a video myself and borrowed other teachers’ videos to utilize with my class.  It worked wonders!  We were able to spend more time working together and problem-solving without my lesson at the beginning.  I would still pull small groups to reteach and support but my mid and high-level students were soaring.

Now I teach grade 7 humanities and my new younger teammate introduced me to Edpuzzle.  It has been great in many ways.  The next step I see is becoming the video maker myself, which I have to say, is quite intimidating.  I read Miriam’s blog COETAILGATE. LEARNING EXPOSED. titled A NEW FRONTIER? regarding flipped classrooms and learned that she read a book that her students could access online.  Wow!  What a great idea!!

Because I was so used to the idea of flipped classroom in a math setting, I hadn’t thought of it as something I could use in the same way in Humanities.  My students love the read aloud’s that we read and I feel bad when a book takes so long to finish because we simply run out of time.  I think that I could use this model and make a sort of podcast to share with the students and jump right into the discussion the next day.

I’m grateful for colleagues and the professional community for the wealth of ideas and information that they share with me!

Denise Krebs some rights reserved
Denise Krebs some rights reserved

Course 5 Final Project

My final project taught me many things.  First, never underestimate the length of time a video or big project will take to complete!!  I have a new respect for the “quick” videos I ask my students to do.  Especially when they contain many moving parts.  I will provide more time for my students in the future with check-ins along the way so that they do not leave it until the last minute.  Second, we did an amazing project!  As I was grading and going through all of the students’ videos it was a bit overwhelming.  It takes quite a bit of time to watch and assess 60+ student infographics and videos.  But it was very rewarding to see the final outcome.  I loved learning about the products the students picked and how their understanding of global issues developed.



My video walks you through the process the students went through to create their infographics and includes their reflections regarding what they still wonder and two big things that they learned about.  It was good to reflect after the project was over because I was able to really dig through what we accomplished without worrying about grading or marks.



If you are interested in doing a project like this, please feel free to comment on this post or to utilize any of the documents that I used for this lesson. Also, if you have any feedback or ideas on how I could improve this project, I’d love to hear from you!

Industrial Revolution Kahoot Game

Industry Slideshow

Project Guiding Questions and Rubric

Game to Review Rubric Expectations

Slideshow for Rubric Game

Product Project Tips and Tricks

Thinking Slideshow

Course 4 Final Project

My final project for course 5 will be student created infographics.  The students will be learning about how to evaluate and extract relevant information from a variety of sources. They will also have to synthesize and organize the information they discover to present knowledge and ideas.  The final product will be a visually pleasing, articulate, well-researched infographic about a product of their choice.  

The students cerate an infographic that includes the global supply and demand of their product, why their product is made in the place that it is, graphs, facts, statistics, images, and/or maps on their infographic to show where their product is distributed, what the product is made of (raw materials) and where these materials come from using graphics, statistics, maps, and/or explanations.

I think this unit is a good possibility for my course 5 project because it will meet the standards I am teaching as well as add a new technology piece that the students haven’t been exposed to before.  They love infographics for the information they provide with a wide variety of graphics to represent information. I look forward to working out the issues that may arise as they utilize maps, graphs, images and visual representations to get their data to make sense.

Some of my concerns about redesigning this unit are dealing with the unknown, perhaps struggling with internet capability, and teaching them the importance of creating a visually balanced infographic.  I have tried to make an infographic before and know all too well how easy it is to get buried in the design element.  I am hoping that in this generation of tech-savvy that the students will have better visual design strength than I do.

At this time, I don’t think this new unit will require shifts in my personal pedagogy.  I think it will be a fun and creative way for students to share what they have learned while using technology to create an infographic that can be shared globally. Before, this unit was largely focused on making a product from the Industrial Revolution partially so that the students could see the simplicity of tools that changed the way the global marketplace functioned.  While I think it is helpful for the students to have a hands-on experience in creating a product, I think that this new unit will still have them creating but in a way that shares what they have learned.

This new unit will require the students to problem solve and depict information in a way that their audience will be able to understand.  Sometimes using new technology can be overwhelming because there is a learning curve.  As technology is constantly evolving, I want my students to feel empowered to learn new platforms to share their knowledge.



Total. Game. Changer.

How would I evaluate my own practice of technology integration?

I am grateful that this question was posed this week.  Before reading any of the suggested readings this week I initially thought of myself as ok, nothing great but getting by.


Then I read the article WHY INTEGRATE TECHNOLOGY INTO THE CURRICULUM?: THE REASONS ARE MANY where the Edutopia team states that-

“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.”

And I thought, “WOW! I do all of that!”

Looking back 2 years ago when I was teaching at a lower income public school in the states, I was unaware of what was possible in regards to technology in the classroom.  I wasn’t completely in the dark.  I knew about apps that could help students and I often downloaded things to my personal iPhone that I would then let students use one at a time.  Eventually, I collected old phones from friends and family members that I would use as a small group set.

Then, I moved to teach internationally.  Total. Game. Changer.  The school I now teach at is 1:1 with their devices. There was definitely a learning curve as I tried to use the devices for more than just substitution.


by BarbaraLN (CC)
by BarbaraLN (CC)


Throughout my first year I sought out “techie” people at my school to help me as I tried to integrate technology into my teaching.  What a gift it has been!  I am no longer the main trusted source of knowledge in my classroom.  The students all actively use the internet’s wealth of information to inform themselves.

Reading about TPACK (Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge) and the SAMR (Substitution, Augmentation, Modification, Redefinition) model, I gained vocabulary for something I was already applying in my classroom.  It was thought provoking for me to critically think about how I am using technology.  So much of what I do has just become part of my teaching bag of tricks. I’ve realized that technology in the classroom has changed the way I teach and my expectations of what the students are capable of.  What a gift,