Category: Course 5

Redeveloping technology expression in the PYPx

Photo by Andrea Leopardi on Unsplash

At the beginning of this semester I was on track to create a final project for COETAIL relating to my teaching of a redefined empowered use agreement for YIS. However, COVID-19 had different plans. As I scrambled to adjust my COETAIL final project to better adapt for distance learning, I sat down to think about how my teaching has changed as a result of learning from home. Coaching was looking different and I felt one step away from the students – more so than my ‘normal’ coaching. Thankfully, one aspect of my role was staying the same – I was still set to work with a group of students in the PYPx that aimed to express their inquiries using computational thinking or digital design. 

I ran with it and was happy I did. 

I didn’t completely reconstruct the PYPx unit of inquiry – I’ll leave that up to the grade 5 teachers (who are awesome, I might add), but I did completely reconstruct how I worked with my expression group. This learning engagement spanned 4 weeks and consisted of bi-weekly Zoom synchronous sessions along with a-synchronous learning facilitated through a Padlet we created. 


I developed a few different goals for the students and for myself for this project. 

  1. Support students’ specific goals. This is the PYPx where agency plays a big role, so I needed to be flexible and work within the goals that they set. 
  2. Build a solid communication platform that worked well in the distance learning environment. 
  3. Support students to culminate their PYP learning
  4. Focus on purpose and audience

Moving towards redefinition 

Image by DasMonster on Pixabay

I was very specific in this unit to get away from the idea of just using the technology because we are passionate about it. Primarily, I’m talking about Minecraft. I love Minecraft and our students love Minecraft, but I didn’t want to see a Minecraft project just because it was something that the students thought was fun. I wanted to see Minecraft because it’s creative and it gives a grade five student the ability to create and present something that might have otherwise been challenging without an architecture degree. 

A also worked with a student who created an entire app prototype (check out Her goal was to create a Buzzfeed-like survey that gauged how eco-friendly you were and provided recommendations at the end. What impressed me the most was how she worked with variables within her prototype so that her audience was given a specific paragraph and image based on their input in the survey – I wanted to share it with all my friends on Facebook. 

The tech

Copyright Adobe Premiere Pro

I’m far from an expert in film making and I really enjoyed stretching my abilities to create this video. I’m very familiar with iMovie, but I really wanted to work with Premiere Pro on this project. I wanted to have the flexibility that Premiere Pro offered (at the cost of a much steeper learning curve). Thankfully, YouTube tutorials can get you through almost any challenge these days. 

For music, titles, the opener and a small piece of stock footage I used AudioJungle and Videohive. These two sites, part of the larger Envato Market, sell various royalty free files for uses in a variety of media projects. I appreciate the professional look while ensuring everything is licensed correctly. 

Hopefully this is just the start of my productions in Premiere Pro. 

My video


Developing a community

As my initial COETAIL journey comes to a close, I’ve spent some time recently reflecting on the journey and the COETAIL community as a whole. I’d like to share three ways in which I’ve engaged with my PLN regarding themes related to COETAIL. 

Photo by Kari Shea on Unsplash

Online 11 COVID-19 Zoom Chat

In late March, just as those of us in Japan were starting to realize that OVID-19 was going to cause sustained disruptions to schools, I sent out a request to the Online 11 COETAIL cohort looking for others to join in a discussion on distance learning where we can share successes and challenges each of us has faced so far. 

Email sent to the COETAIL Online 11 cohort

Surprisingly, almost the entire cohort was keen to join the conversation as our first time to actually have a ‘live’ conversation as a cohort. I went in with quite a few questions and prompts that led to a great discussion about distance learning including some great take-aways. 

Screen grab of the Zoom meeting. Images used with permission.

I liked the idea of a Zoom chat as it allowed for a back and forth discussion that really supports growth. The group was small enough so that everyone had a chance to speak, while being big enough to hear multiple perspectives. 

Presenting at Seesaw’s PD in your PJs

A few months ago, along with a few of my colleagues, I was asked to present a Seesaw PD webinar. These webinars, terms PD in your PJs, are a great way for those looking to learn more about Seesaw and to enhance student learning through Seesaw. 

We were lucky that Seesaw gave us the agency to really promote a learning focus that we felt was important before just talking about how the tool of Seesaw can support distance learning. 

If you are keen to learn more, check out my post that shares many of the points we discussed in the webinar: Continuous Learning 101: Top Tips.

Collaborating regularly with the YIS COETAIL team

Our team might be small (it’s just Flynn and me), but being small enabled us to chat regularly about the COETAIL journey, share ideas and get feedback. Pre-COVID-19, Flynn and I met weekly during lunch to discuss the week’s readings and our thoughts for the post we were planning to write. 

Once we started working and learning from home, Flynn and I caught up regularly via email and with the occasional Zoom call. 

I was lucky to have another member from YIS in the same cohort – I had a bit of a heads-up that this was a good idea as I was teaching at the International School of Luxembourg when they had a large group go through COETAIL – so I was keen to get others involved when I decided to signup. 

I look forward to continuing to develop this community, even as I transition to a COETAIL alum. 


The Art of the Screencast

Screencasts have played an important part of my day to day coaching and teaching during our continuous learning program. They save me from writing long, detailed emails and are very helpful when working with a wide range of learners from kindergarten students to teachers. 

I try to make my screencasts fit the following expectations I created:

  • Precise, yet addresses the learning outcome, question or objective
  • Familiar by using the device the majority of my audience will be using 
  • Visually appealing (cropped appropriately, simple titles, mouse cursor to highlight if appropriate)
  • Clear audio (easy to understand for English language learners)
  • Quick to create

I’ve compiled my top 4 tips for making beautiful, yet easy screencasts. These are tech tips, but don’t let the tech overpower your screencasts. Take the time to think about the objective of each screencast and invest the amount of time that is right for your objective. The tips I’ve created below help learners (from young to a bit older) follow along with easy.

Photo by Jackson Hayes on Unsplash

Find the right screencasting tools

I work with three screencasting tools – the built in iOS screencasting tool, Screencastify and Loom. Each has their advantages and it depends on my purpose on which I chose. 

iOS screencasting tool – it’s easy and built in to iPadOS/iOS. Check out how to get it working on this video:

Screencastify – I love that it saves directly to Google Drive. For quick Mac screencasts, it’s my go-to. 

Copyright Screencastify

Loom – I tend to use Loom for more polished/professional Mac screencasts. I like how when it adds your webcam to the screencast it puts you in a nice circle. Very aesthetically pleasing! Check out my Creating safe class meetings using Zoom post as an example of what Zoom recordings look like. 

Copyright Loom

Use a mouse with the iPad

Yes, you read that right. My first few screencasts with the iPad were very time-consuming because I was creating boxes and arrows in post-processing to show users where to tap – it was a disaster and not worth it. Thankfully, Aaron, our database manager, recommended connecting a bluetooth mouse to the iPad. When you do that via accessibility option you give a perfect circle cursor that your learners can follow on the screen. While I’m sure Apple would prefer we use the Magic Mouse, an inexpensive Logitech bluetooth mouse works perfectly. 

Check out how to configure and connect your iPad and mouse in this video:

Use a microphone

Photo by Gene Jeter on Unsplash

Built-in laptop microphones aren’t the best for screencasts. They work in a pinch, but if you want clear sound without your audience hearing everything in the background, an external microphone is the way to go. 

My microphone of choice recently has been a Shure SM58 with an MVi Digital Audio Interface. For the price point, I find it quite clean and clear. I’d love to give the SM7B a try, but 400 USD is a bit of a stretch for some screencasts. 

However, while you can easily spend a small fortune on a great external microphone, I’ve actually had very good luck with the wired Apple EarPods. They are cheap and sound quite good. 

Find an editing workflow

After recording my screencast using iOS’s bult in screen recorder I do some very light editing. Convenience is key for me, so instead of moving the video file over to my laptop, I do everything directly on the iPad. iMovie is an option, and great for being free, but I’ve decided to upgrade to LumaFusion – a video editing app for iOS that offers a few more features than iMovie. My LumaFusion workflow looks a bit like this:

  1. Create a new project and title is correctly
  2. Import the video of the screen recording from the iOS Camera Roll
  3. Do any necessary cropping (taking out the first and last seconds, removing any long pauses, etc)
  4. Add a title that I created and saved as a preset
  5. Export the video file directly to Google Drive (and then share it from the Google Drive app or my laptop)

As you can see, it’s fast and easy. LumaFusion helps a lot as it allows me to save a custom title and export directly to Google Drive – something that would take a few extra clicks in iMovie. 

The final project

As an example, here is what a typical screencast looks like:

What are your top tips? What workflows work best for you? I’d be keen to hear your thoughts in the comments below!


Virtual Sports Day

A special thanks to Jay and Asako for putting this initiative together!

After a few weeks of Continuous Learning (our term for distance learning) we realized that our students are resilient and having great success in navigating this challenge, but also that it’s likely that this is going to stick around for a bit longer than we first anticipated. We started looking ahead in our school calendar and our annual Sports Day caught our attention. Jay and Asako, our fantastic ES PE teachers, along with our ES administration asked me to come on board to explore opportunities for a virtual Sports Day.

Photo by Juan Encalada on Unsplash

The Challenge

Taking our Sports Day virtually presented a few challenges. Our usual on-campus Sports Day has been polished over a number of years and included a rotation of activities, a DJ, a group of keen middle schoolers to help out – but now all of this couldn’t happen. We also faced these virtual challenges:


Technology has enabled us to provide the Continuous Learning program that we are offering, but it also means that students are spending a lot of time with their iPads. We wanted Sports Day to promote a balanced use of technology and give our students opportunities to be active with the support of technology. 

Different environments

Some of our students are allowed to go to the park and run around, but others are confined to their homes or general area. We need to respect family decisions regarding the pandemic and provide activities that can work in a variety of settings. 

Similarly, we can’t rely on every student having the same sports equipment. Activities need to be able to work with ‘normal’ household items and have flexibility. 

Easy for our youngest learners

Whatever we present to the students, we need to make sure our youngest learners can access it. The technology that will support the program should be easy to use and straightforward. I really needed to step back in the planning a few times and think ‘is this going to work for a kindergartener?’

Generating a sense of community

Our on-campus Sports Day is a community even with classes dressing up in fun themes and family members coming along for the fun. We wanted to port this idea over in a way that made sense for distance learning.

Our plan

300+ member Zoom meeting

Yes, you read that right, we are planning on getting our entire elementary school in one Zoom meeting. We’ve taken extra precautions for security (see my recent vlog on Zoom settings) and will get the entire elementary school in together for an introduction at 9:00am. Asako and Jay will take control of the introduction while I’m on ‘crowd control’ duty (primary goal, mute everyone on entry and don’t allow them to unmute themselves). 

Their intro will look a bit like this:

  • Good morning and welcome
  • A short time for each grade level to show off their special themes (each class has decided to come up with a special theme for Sports Day – could be a special color or item of clothing – their choice!)
  • Virtual, full body rock-paper scissors (check out Asako’s directions below)

Sports Day Bingo

Asako presented the idea of having a Sports Day Bingo card for the students to complete. It was the perfect way to get students motivated, while also providing a range of activities. Students could pick to complete just a line (vertical, horizontal or diagonal), or complete the entire card. This gave the students flexibility of picking activities that they had the space/equipment for while also encouraging them to do as much as they could. 

The individual activities on each Bingo ‘square’ were easy to complete and each one included a video or image with directions, all of which linked back to their PE classes. 

Check it out and click around (and join in the fun):

The techy bits

I went in a few circles deciding how to ‘host’ the Bingo card. It needed to be shareable via Seesaw, somewhat interactive and able to have multiple videos embedded, yet it needed to be easy to navigate. 

Google Slides was my first option, but I quickly became frustrated when I shared the usual ‘view’ link via Seesaw. On the student’s iPads it would automatically open the Google Slides app, which made it a challenge to click the links to navigate to the ‘video’ slides. However, this little trick helped with this:

Sharing the link directly to present mode was perfect – it would open in Safari directly from the iPad (a new feature in Seesaw – make sure you update). It was easy for the students to navigate – they stay on the same Safari page and just click the embedded links to see the videos with directions and then another button to head back to the Bingo card. 

There were only two small challenges that I faced with using a Google slideshow like this. First, the Google Slides toolbar appears each time a student clicks the screen on the iPad.

To keep this from blocking an important part of the Bingo card or slides, I just moved the title down to the bottom and moved any other content away from that area of the screen. 

Second, Slides isn’t very helpful when you want to move through the presentation in a non-linear fashion. Usually, if you click any area of the slide it will advance you to the next slide 0 I didn’t want that. The workaround is to create a background shape that is linked to the current slide and to link all elements on a page to the current slide (unless you need to link it to a different slide). Check out this blog post on how that works. However, even with all these small hacks, students could still advance to the next slide by clicking the black bars surrounding the slideshow or clicking the ‘next slide’ arrow. I’m willing to just live with that. 

How did it go?

Well, I can’t share that quite yet as it will be released tomorrow – stay tuned! Has anyone else out their run a virtual Sports Day? I’d love to hear your experiences!


Continuous Learning 101: Top Tips

Much of the content from today’s post was collaboratively constructed with some of our early years team. Zoe, Esther and Nelle are wonderful to work with as they are passionate about pedagogy and always enjoy a nice laugh!

A few weeks ago the YIS Early Years team and I lead a Seesaw webinar session centered around our experience in Japan from our Continuous Learning program. This PD in your PJs had an audience of mostly American teachers who hadn’t yet started distance learning, but were quickly realizing that it was a real possibility. Zoe, our ELC team leader, was approached by Seesaw on Twitter when she shared out a document that give an overview of how we approached distance learning, or what we call Continuous Learning. 

We used this slideshow to guide our discussion:

Home Learning 101 Presentation

A bit of background

Our context: At the time of this workshop, YIS had only been experiencing a temporary, two week closure. The Japanese government had recommended schools close for March and, for us, that only meant two weeks as the last two weeks of March is our spring break. We are sharing what worked for us during those two weeks.

Our language: We’ve been very specific about the language we use regarding our time off campus. We decided to call our program Continuous Learning as it creates a better understanding of what the learning looks like when we are off campus. We moved away from eLearning as we really want to focus on balance learning and not only learning through technology. 

Our initial approach: We started our campus closure with two days of professional development for teachers. This allowed us to share our draft plan for continuous learning and collect teacher input. It also allowed for collaborative team planning and a bit of tech-upskilling. 

Care to learn more about YIS’s approach? Check out our Continuous Learning site

Four things that have worked

Stay true to your pedagogy

Be who you are as an educator. While things will need to look different in a continuous learning environment, we agreed that now is not the time to completely reinvent the way you teach. Your teaching won’t exactly look the same, but it should feel the same. It should feel like you, your class, and your school. 

Technology will be incredibly helpful in reaching your students, but focus on technology tools that have worked for you and tools that your students are familiar with. Yes, you might need to introduce a couple new tools due to the circumstances, but not isn’t the time to try every new tool you find. 


A calm, consistent and clear message communicated to your entire school community will help develop a successful continuous learning program. As a school, we had school-wide messages coming from our senior leadership team, and as teachers we followed up on those messages with a consistent message calmly reinforcing what the program is going to look like in our classes. 

As an early years team, we thought it was important also to communicate with our students the idea of a big change. We were lucky enough to have a day’s warning before closure so we took that time to talk to our students about the change and what their learning will look like. If you have the opportunity to talk to your students now because your campus is still open we encourage you to start having those conversations with your students. How would the learning look the same? How will it be different? 

We provided the parents with a weekly overview so they could help plan the week of learning with their children. Check out some of the communications sent home by our kindergarten team here. 

Lastly, in regards to communication, look after yourself and your team. We found it crucial that we stuck to school hours in our communications with students and parents. We didn’t want to set an expectation that we were available around the clock and we wanted to ensure that our teacher balance their time away from campus as well. 


An ELC student’s schedule

Schedules and routines were crucial for young learners to be successful in the continuous learning environment. However, we didn’t dictate the schedule and daily routine to our students, instead we gave the students the agency to create their own schedules at home. We conveyed the importance of a well balanced routine and we asked parents to help us develop that. 

In relationship to schedule, we also found it was important to plan less and do less with our learners. As a teacher it’s easy for us to plan five or six hours of learning to take place at home, but instead we worked to develop about 1 to 1.5 hours of learning to happen each day. This, in turn, didn’t overwhelm both our students and families and allowed the continuous learning to be manageable for everyone. 

On the first day of continuous learning our students were tasked with the idea of creating their own learning space at home.

Parents as partners

First, check in on parents. They are likely dealing with the challenges of working from home at this time as well and need our support. Some of our teams have sent videos directly to parents to let them know that we appreciate them and are here to help. 

Second, encourage your parents to set their own schedules with their children. We had one father who used a shared parent/child schedule with his daughter to help them both accomplish their ‘work’ goals for the day. 

This is what worked well for us, but we understand every situation might be a little different. If you want to know more about our approach, check out Zoe’s comprehensive document or reach out to me on Twitter