TECHnically speaking…

On reflection, I can look back on my time in university and say I probably took the wrong undergraduate courses. I studied English Language, Politics, and Drama and Theatre Arts at A-level so, naturally, when I applied to university I decided I wanted a BA in Media Production. I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to be when I “grew up,” and Media Production seemed as good a choice as anything else. Much of the theory I found pretty dry, however, I loved using the tech to produce sound and edit film. My friends and I spent our free time messing around in the editing suite and this proved to be a formative learning experience. Now, as an educator, I love getting tech into the hands of students at every available opportunity and giving them the opportunity to become creators.

After working at a private ESOL school in Japan, I quickly fell in love with teaching and pursued a career in Education. Even when teaching adult language classes, I tried to incorporate technology whenever possible. One of my favorite lessons came from a book called Sprint 6 and involved making telephone conversations. I would have my students call a teacher from a neighboring school to practice making authentic phone calls. It was fun to set students up to roleplay conversations in a safe environment. It was an important step in building students’ confidence and developing skills that were relevant to their jobs and for travel. As Kim Cofino mentions in her blog post 3 Steps to Transforming Learning in Your Classroom “Once you know what you want students to know and be able to do, then you can start thinking about how students can demonstrate their understanding.” By taking this approach to teaching, we can help increase motivation and enthusiasm for learning.

Photo by Kushagra Kevat on Unsplash

Lights, Camera, Action!

My first job as a qualified teacher was working in a Special Education resource room. I mainly worked with students in Fifth and Sixth Grade who received pull out and push in services for reading support. Many of these students were aware that they found reading significantly more difficult than their peers and, as a result, developed many avoidance tactics. I was struggling to motivate my students to practice reading outside of school. That is until a student, I will refer to as “J,” hit upon an idea that would incorporate technology. J had a younger brother who lived in a different state, who he didn’t get to see that often. One day, J mentioned that his brother enjoyed reading, but he didn’t live near a library. I asked J how he felt about recording a video of him reading to his brother and sharing the video. There was an immediate change in his motivation and desire to practice. Suddenly reading was relevant to him and had a purpose other than being something he was told was important.

Soon after I started recording and editing J’s read alouds, I asked other students if they would be interested in creating videos too. For many of them, reading to an Ipad reduced much of their anxiety and increased their motivation to practice reading fluency skills. I also hadn’t anticipated the high level of student interest in video editing. They wanted to know how to add cutaways, titles, music and sound effects in Imovie. My school had just started to incorporate the ISTE standards and it was great to see kids who struggled with reading start to become creative communicators.

Going Viral

As we approach week six of E-learning here in China, it is hard not to think about various ways we are using technology to enrich the learning experiences we offer to students. After considering the 15 Questions To Ask About Tech Integration In Your Classroom, right now we are constantly asking ourselves, “Will all students be able to access and leverage this tech?” Access is a huge issue when we are sharing video lessons and resources, particularly within China. We are currently relying on Microsoft office 365 platforms for much of our resource sharing, however, we have students who are scattered all around the world. For those students in China, we post videos on the Chinese video-sharing platform YouKu. For students outside China, the download speeds from SharePoint and slow buffering of videos from YouKu become barriers of access for some students. To help assuage this, I have started also uploading files to Google Drive and this seems to be helping. This requires me to be more organized and persistent. I am constantly searching for new ways we can share materials with students.

The biggest frustration for me is still the nagging question: Am I meeting my students’ needs? After listening to Sal Khan’s TED Talk, I believe I am finding some success.

I am spending a long time producing videos that, I hope, students are finding interesting. I think it is incredibly beneficial for them to see demonstrations as I explain and hear my voice so that they know we are still connected. They are able to pause videos and rewind when they need to clarify what has been said. I am still working on ways to support all students. I am concerned that language learners are struggling and I would welcome any ideas of how best to support them. I am also trying to figure out how I can do checks for understanding before students attempt a task I have set.

I have been holding meetings with students throughout the day. These video conferences have proven to be very successful by not only allowing students to ask face-to-face questions, but also giving students the opportunity to talk to each other. I have been really impressed with how polite my class has been, taking turns to talk to one another and asking if it’s okay to speak to one person directly. I believe the most important thing about these meetings is that it reminds students that they are still part of a learning community with peers who care about them.

King of the who?

When I told my girlfriend about the skill I want to work on for the next few weeks the eye roll I received was audible. As she walked away laughing I could have sworn she asked me why I had to be such a nerd. Now, I don’t mind this as I embrace my geeky side, as those of you who have read my blog posts have probably already guessed, however, it did make me second guess what my action plan was going to revolve around. I also started to think about what it would be like to receive this feedback if I were a student and how it would have affected my confidence.

As we move into our fifth week of e-learning Mimi Ito’s video really struck a chord with me. I received a message from a concerned parent last week that some students had started their own chat group on Microsoft Teams. Her worry was that this group would distract her daughter from her studies and prevent her from making progress. It was interesting to hear someone confirm my feelings that these online interactions were important, even more so currently as students have no other way of hanging out at the moment. Ito’s comment on how “kids are not really welcoming of adults in the friendship driven space” really rang true. A lot of students are having a tough time at home as they don’t have their regular friendship driven spaces where they can let of steam. Instead, they are sat in front of a screen all-day feeling, ironically, disconnected. They need to have a place to meet up with their friends and let off steam away from teachers and parents or, at the very least, a place where what they say isn’t being scrutinized.

Photo by Austin Distel on Unsplash

Providing a space for geeking out

One of the benefits e-learning is having is that it is forcing my students to incorporate more tech into their daily routines. I was shocked when, during our unit of inquiry into online responsibilities, students completed a journal tracking their use of new media. Man7 of the students in my class informed me that they had strict limitations of what they used and how often. That seems fairly reasonable for a group of Fourth Grade students, however, what shocked me was the revelation of just how few students had regular access to a computer or even a tablet. This was eyeopening for me and it gave me the motivation to give students a crash course in how to use a few different pieces of software.

One of the applications I taught the students how to use was Microsoft Teams. As a provocation students had to work collaboratively with students from another class to create a PowerPoint. The catch was, however, they could only use Teams to communicate as our classrooms were on opposite sides of the school. The students are now using Teams every day to communicate with me and each other and I feel fortunate that I had the opportunity to give my students the time to get comfortable with some facets of online communication before it was forced upon them.

Connected Learning an agenda for research and design talks about the ” tremendous potential of new media for advancing learning.” In many ways, we are seeing this in action right now. It is not necessarily how I would prefer to be having the students experience new media, however, I have been impressed with their adaptability and willingness to give it their all. My hope, once we return to normality, is that my students, and their parents, start to take note of the benefits of their new media literacy skills. It will be interesting to hear their reflections once we get back into the classroom and I am looking forward to the opportunity to share some of my own.

Finding a balance

Despite many of the benefits I feel that e-learning is having one thing I am currently struggling with is finding an appropriate balance. I have students who come online throughout the day in a staggered fashion due to many still being outside China. This is tough because I want to make myself available for them to help answer questions they may have, however, the reality is that this means I am spending upwards of 12 hours a day in front of my computer. I am finding it difficult to hold meetings online, answer emails, provide feedback, plan, prep, and find time for myself. I would welcome any other educator’s approaches or advice they have about finding that balance. Talking to my teaching team it seems as though we are all in the same boat and, while we are working collaboratively to plan and prepare lessons, we are finding it difficult to maintain the appropriate balance. If you are teaching through e-learning, what are you doing to maintain a healthy balance for you and your students?

A sea of plastic

In the interest of maintaining my sanity during this time I recently chose to research hobbies that would give me a break from staring at a screen. I started talking to a friend of mine from the UK about hobbies we had as kids and we started geeking out over Games Workshop. I remembered the small plastic Eldar army that I collected and painted when I was younger. Sadly, however, I had the artistic talent of a damp towel so my miniatures looked pretty sad when they took up position on a tabletop. I am 25 years older though now and, after a few clicks on the internet, I discovered it would be very easy to jump back into the hobby. Would I do it though?

Feet First

My order of tiny plastic components JUST arrived in time for this blog post. I am feeling slightly overwhelmed looking at all of the different components on the sprue so I have decided to create an action plan on learning how to paint this collection of Space Marines. I have done some prior research on what the steps are when I paint these but I haven’t tried any model painting since I was about 12 years old.

March 2nd – March 5th I will assemble the 20 odd assortment of “The Emperors Finest” and glue them together.

March 6th – March 8th I will start priming and undercoating my miniatures which, as I am lead to believe, is a very important step in making the models look their best.

March 9th – March 12th I will apply the base coat to the models.

March 13th – March 16th I will be applying oils and washes to the models to help build shadows and brings out detail in recesses.

March 17th – March 20th I will be adding highlights and drybrushing the models to brings out texture details.

Seeing dates and a timeline in front of me makes this endeavor feel very manageable. Kaufman talked about the 20-hour rule in his Ted-X speech The first 20 hours — how to learn anything and I feel that I definitely have the opportunity to learn some new skills as I wade through this box of diminutive Star Warriors (I love Chinese translations) and start trying to build my painting prowess. I will not be alone on this journey, however. I have already started to research “How to” guides on YouTube and I am starting to look up different hobbyists on Twitter with a plan to post some pictures and get some feedback. I will be posting updates as we move through the next few weeks and, hopefully, showing how some of my skills are developing.

Doing this has made me appreciate how students must feel when given a Summative assessment. Just breaking down the steps and seeing the timeline in front of me, however, made me feel immediately more relaxed and confident that this is something I can do. I sometimes feel that this blog is making me out to be King of the Nerds. I’m not sure I am quite there yet, however, I suppose it’s something to aspire to.

Still Searching…

Photo by Drew Graham on Unsplash

Kids are smart. They are also curious. This allows us, as educators, to tap into their imagination and present problems that they will enjoy solving. It also means that they will ask one another questions and learn from each other becoming some of the best resources that they will ever need. There are times, however, when that curiosity can get the better of a student and lead them down a dangerous path. I refer, of course, to Omeglegate 2016.

Omegle is an online chat service where the tagline is, “Chat with strangers online.” I think you can see where this is heading. Our students’ enthusiasm got the better of them and they were soon hanging out on this platform. Students researched, independently, how to clear their web browsing history, how to enter incognito mode, and how to use multi-touch gestures on their Mac Books. As it turns out they were hanging out on this platform during class times, sometimes with each other and sometimes with strangers. Things came to a head when a student approached our tech director and said that someone had been sending them “strange messages” meant for another student. It soon came to light that students had been sharing tips with one another on how to access this site, how to make sure teachers wouldn’t notice, and how to hang out virtually instead of doing work. To cut a long story short the students were all unharmed but this presented a serious problem to the faculty. How had this happened and what did we need to do to ensure it did not happen again?

What do I want my students to know?

I want my students to be able to access the internet safely and know how to get to what they are looking for. As Unicef’s Children in a Digital World notes we need to be aware of what students are able to access online.

“Even as ICT has made it easier to share
knowledge and collaborate, so, too, has it
made it easier to produce, distribute and
share sexually explicit material and other
illegal content that exploits and abuses
children. “

We had no idea that students were using the technology provided by the school to put themselves in a potentially dangerous situation. This was eyeopening to me that I needed to start my own research into what I wanted students to know. I couldn’t wait for research to just come to me, I needed to get out and find information for myself.

I am lucky, I am going to digress briefly, in that I have always been a nerd. From playing tabletop games of Warhammer 40,000 to hanging out in MMORPGs such as WOW (I was there when vanilla WOW was just WOW). I have needed to use the internet as a research tool. When I don’t know how to do something, I Google it. In the past week alone I have learned how to add a timer to an Imovie project, how to print selected pages from a PDF document, and how to compress video files using handbrake. I love having the opportunity to geek out as part of my job.

I couldn’t be passive about letting information come to me because I needed to start implementing changes immediately. One of the first websites my research led to was Common Sense Media and I have found their resources on digital citizenship to be invaluable. This was my second year using their resources to help build a unit of inquiry into how to be a responsible digital citizen. A huge part of this unit centers around how to stay safe online and how to evaluate web resources for reliability. Common sense media is also a great tool to recommend to parents as they can conduct their own research into the movies, games, and books that their children are interested in.

One thing that really came out of Omeglegate was that I realized that students know a lot more about social media than I do. As I confessed in my last post I am somewhat of a lurker (soon to be reformed.) I now know that I need to keep up on the latest digital trends and apps so that I am aware of how students are using technology. As technology continues to evolve it feels as there is no end to the number of different methods of communication we have available to us. Many of my students enjoy hanging out on Roblox. I had never heard of this game until last year but there are 178 million accounts on it and I class myself as a “gamer.”

As the Living with New Media article points out “hanging out together in a game is important when friends are spread across time and space.” Right now there are many of my students who are waiting to come home to China due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Games are one place that allows them to stay in contact with one another especially if they do not have access to other forms of social media. In his Ted Talk, Herman Narula talks about video games and the power they have in connecting people.

Keeping it (Dis)organized

One area I need to work on now is keeping all of my research in one place. In the past, I sent myself emails. A lot of emails. When I found a resource online I would put the topic into the subject line and then send the link to myself. Then when I needed to find the materials I would search through my inbox and voila, they would appear. Sometimes though I’d like to play tricks on myself. I’d send emails to myself with subject lines such as, “Random Stuff.” I do this for the same reason I write “Misc” on every box when I move house, I think I’ll just remember what was in it when I see it. This is one area I need to work on, I had not thought of using Padlet as an organization tool so starting there seems like a good idea. I promise to try and give it a more inspiring name than “Research” though.

What we do in the shadows

I have a nickname in my family. It was given to me by my niece who, at the time, was 3 years old. My nickname is “Lurker.” The reason behind the nickname is simple. One summer day, my niece got back from Trader Joes, turned to her grandmother and said, “I’m going to go and find Simon. He’s usually lurking around here somewhere.” Lucky me, the nickname stuck. Now I’m not sure if she had my Twitter handle, or if she looked up my Reddit ID and realized I have made a grand total of zero posts since joining. She had me pegged though, my name is Simon Dobson and I am a lurker.

My excuse has always been one of caution, “I’ll just wait until I understand how to use this newfangled doohickey and then I, oh yes I will, be unstoppable in my posts. I shall become a posting machine churning out enthralling comments that shall make the masses laugh and weep in equal measure.” This reality is yet to materialize, perhaps if I stepped out of the shadows and actually became a contributor, or even a creator, I would stand a chance.

After reading, What does it mean to disconnect? (Utecht) I realized I currently spend all of my time online consuming media. I’ve always been proud to part of the 99% up until this moment. Now I am left questioning who I am online. If only 1% of people who view content on the internet are actually creating it then it stands to reason that we are incredibly limited in our digital consumption. I really appreciate what Utecht says about the importance of “Creating creators” in our students. It’s a principle I strongly believe in and a keystone of my personal pedagogy. This article, however, has made me think about how I need to lead my students by example. They all have the confidence to share their creations with me, their peers, and their families so why don’t I? I am quickly coming to the realization that it’s time to step out of the shadows and become part of the 1%.

The 80/20 rule or Pareto Principle mentioned by Utecht is an interesting concept. I had the chance to witness this first-hand in my computer programming class. The students were working with Microbits and Sam Labs tools. They began by following the directions given to them each week to learn the basics of coding. Quickly though there was a splinter group formed of roughly 20% of the students. They started to “Geek out” over what we were learning. They began to ask if they could spend more time working on their own creations and trying to figure out as a team how to create things such as a coffee machine. As the Living with New Media (John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation) article suggested these interactions were “highly social.” They did research online, asked teachers for help, and worked with one another to share their knowledge quickly becoming experts amongst their peers. These young creators could not wait to share their learning with others. I was reminded of Sugata Mitra’s TED talk on children teaching themselves.

Our students have the motivation to work with and teach one another skills they learn both digitally and offline. They are proud to demonstrate their learning and their creations with each other in ways that they can take charge of. It is time for me to do the same. I am looking forward to emerging from the shadows and sharing my creations with the COETAIL community and others. My first step came a few weeks ago with my first blog post shared on Twitter. This is my second step and my pledge, I promise to stop just lurking and to become a contributor and creator. I might need some help along the way but it seems as though I have already have some folks I can look to for guidance.

One step into the beyond

I have started this blog post a few times and each time I’ve started there has been a slight feeling of anxiety that has stopped me. I think it’s because this time, for the first time, I will be sharing this blog post online and so I want to get it right. That feeling of wanting to get something “right” has been with me throughout my teaching career and it’s something that I am learning to let go. I don’t know if I’ll ever get something “right” however I am consistently working on trying to be better for my students and provide them with rich learning opportunities. This is one of the reasons why I decided to enroll in COETAIL and why I enjoy teaching so much. I enjoy the challenge of striving to help students meet their goals with engaging, student centered activities that are also fun. With that in mind here are the ISTE standards that I want to focus on during my COETAIL journey.

Standards to focus on:

4a

Dedicate planning time to collaborate with colleagues to create authentic learning experiences that leverage technology.

4b

Collaborate and co-learn with students to discover and use new digital resources and diagnose and troubleshoot technology issues.

4c

Use collaborative tools to expand students’ authentic, real-world learning experiences by engaging virtually with experts, teams and students, locally and globally.

4d

Demonstrate cultural competency when communicating with students, parents and colleagues and interact with them as co-collaborators in student learning.

From –  https://www.iste.org/standards/for-educators

My area of focus is going to be the standards under collaborator. I chose these standards as my area of focus as they align with my school’s vision as well as my own practice. As a teacher at a PYP school my team meets daily to share ideas for collaboration as part of a grade level team as well as with specialists. An area that we need to improve is incorporating technology and digital resources into our plans. I love putting technology into the hands of students and empowering them to take control of how to show their understanding. Living in China I sometimes feel restricted by what is available for students to use. A personal goal for me, however, is to change this mindset and embrace what we have as opposed to what we do not have access to.

As a Fourth-Grade teacher I am sometimes surprised by the lack of exposure students have had to basic software such as Microsoft word and PowerPoint. They also lack some fundamental skills such as downloading images, copying and pasting text, and sending emails. I want students to learn to use each other as resources and share the skills they have with one another. My students are willing to be risk takers every day in the classroom, that is until they have a computer in front of them. I hope to build their confidence in digital literacy and work collaboratively to diagnose and solve problems.

I am looking forward to collaborating with a number of people throughout my journey. At a school level I have my grade level team, our technology director, and administrators to use as resources. I feel lucky to work with such an enthusiastic group of educators who truly put student learning first. I am also excited to start working with the educators in my cohort, I realize already that I need to begin being more confident in building an online presence. I have a twitter account, but I think I can count the number of tweets I have made on one hand. For the last two years we have participated in the Global Read Aloud. I gained a wealth of ideas to put into my classroom, but I felt shy about sharing back in case my ideas weren’t deemed to be “right” by other, more experienced educators. As I mentioned at the start of this post I have to learn to let this go as, during team meetings, I have no problem sharing ideas. The idea of posting something online just seems a little daunting still.

Originally, I wanted to apply for the COETAIL and Heritage certificate. After some reflection, however, I feel as though the COETAIL & Get might be the better option for me. I feel that having the integrated Google trainer content and the option for 2nd stackable certificate might align more with my professional goals and help in continuing to collaborate with other educators. I am excited for the journey to start and I am looking forward to learning along the way.

Connection Reflection

I began by thinking just how few communities I felt I was part of. The most important for me is, of course, my classroom. I love to try new ideas that I feel will support students and creating a dynamic community where ideas feel free to be shared.

Last year we participated in the Global Read Aloud for the first time, this gave students the opportunity to share their thoughts and ideas with others around the world. This experience also helped me meet other educators through Twitter and has given me further opportunity to communicate and share ideas online.

I have found the TES website invaluable since I began teaching. Resources are easy to find, however, there is also a very active community in the forum sharing ideas. I have found that being able to ask for advice from other teachers from around the world has been helpful in adding to my own practice.

Finally, I am lucky to remain in contact with a number of educators I have previously worked with. The mediums such as Facebook I am able to keep in touch with them and continue to share and see ideas that we have used in the classroom. I am not, perhaps, as active in these communities as many of my friends so this is an area that I feel I could work on.

Hello World!

I’m Simon Dobson and I am originally from the UK. I am currently teaching Fourth Grade in China at Hangzhou International School. I have just started to use twitter and you can find me @Dobson_Simon_A.

I left the UK about 12 years ago to start teaching overseas, I started out teaching ESOL at GEOS language school Imabari, Japan. This was my first step into working in education and I have been teaching in one way or another since then.

A friend of mine recommended COETAIL to me a little over a year ago and I just missed out on the deadline to join cohort 11. Since then I’ve been waiting for the opportunity to sign up for COETAIL and I am really excited to start!