Category: Module 1

Course 1 Final Project: Hey Siri

This year we changed our device allocation in the elementary school to 1-to-1 iPads from kindergarten to grade 5. With that came Siri!

A couple of weeks ago one of our grade 1 teachers asked me about the role of voice assistants (primarily Siri and Alexa) in research. Her grade 1 students, while just learning the basics of research with PebbleGo, are experts in asking Siri and Alexa questions. However, theses experts had a few misconceptions – there was a consensus among the class that either Siri and Alexa were “real” or they just “knew everything”. So, I teamed up with Flynn and our elementary librarian to design and deliver a lesson to investigate Siri and Alexa as research tools. We have two primary goals:

  • Students will reflect on the effectiveness of their searching techniques when using Siri, Alexa, and Google.
  • Students will reflect on the usefulness of information gained when using Siri, Alexa, and Google.

We didn’t want to discount Siri and Alexa completely, but instead we want the students themselves to draw some conclusions on their effectiveness.

Last week our elementary librarian and I delivered the lesson to one of the grade 1 classes. It wasn’t perfect, but it led to some great discussion with the class and they drew some wonderful conclusions:

  • Siri and Alexa are good for things like facts and information
  • Siri is good at opening websites
  • Siri and Alexia are good at finding out about animals and leaves

Thankfully, our grade 1 students are currently inquiring into our new school campus and that led to some fantastic questions and answers (including Alexa defining the word ‘new’ when asked about our new school campus), and helped us develop a list of what Siri and Alexa are not ideal for.

Flynn and I reflected on the lesson and made a few changes. Primarily, we wanted to further develop the assessment and reflection. We found value in the class discussion and it worked well with grade 1, but we wanted a more substantial assessment and reflection for older grades – thus the addition of a Seesaw post with reflective questions directly related to our goals.

I look forward to teaching it again with an upper elementary grade after our spring holiday.

Our unit planner

Our lesson plan

Siri image by iphonedigital on Flickr

I used Google Doc Publisher to make my Google Docs looks a bit better when embedded on WordPress. 


Connectivism in context

I was very interested in the articles this week on connectivism – the “theory of learning in a digital age that emphasizes the role of social and cultural context in how and where learning occurs”. It’s 2019 and 55.1% of the world’s population has internet access and here in Japan the number is over 90%. The expanse of internet access in the digital age has changed the way individuals and groups grow, develop and learn.

Now in 2019, one of the best illustrations of connectivism are Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). MOOCs are online courses available to anyone and originally free-of-charge. They are amazing examples of interest-driven communities mentioned in Living with New Media. In the computational thinking/computer science world I keep heard about the MOOC CS50’s Introduction to Computer Science, available on edX and provided by Harvard University. It’s an amazing introduction into computer science and the art of programming – the on-campus vision is Harvard’s largest course. I haven’t worked through the entire course yet, but I’d love to facilitate an interest-driven community with some of our high school students passionate about CS.

I use this clip from a CS50 lecture all the time when introducing the idea of computational thinking.

What does connectivism look like at YIS?

While we aren’t yet taking advantage of MOOCs at YIS, there are numerous examples of connectivism impacting learning at YIS. One I am particular fond of is an interest-driven community of scuba divers that form our YIS Underwater Explorers service group.

YIS student attaching a secchi disk to measure visibility

Side note, for those that don’t know me quite yet, I’m very passionate about diving, especially diving education, exploration and conservation (I’m a GUE dive instructor).

Our young explorers aim to understand and improve the aquatic environment in Japan. We will serve our community by working with the organization Project Baseline to check and record the ocean conditions and share them with local governments and educational institutions. Project Baseline, while not a MOOC, it is a connected online network of divers from around the world working towards the same purpose – observe and record change within the world’s aquatic environments. The connectedness of the internet has brought what was previously only available to researchers and universities to anyone – including 15 high school student in Japan.

The students geek-out as they collect data on a handful of abiotic and biotic factors. They’ve worked with passionate adults (both our science teachers and some diving conservation experts) to investigating and collecting this data in Japan’s aquatic environment:

The connectedness of the internet has made these experiences real to our students and their passion is amazing.

Finally, I found a connection to diving for a COETAIL post! 😉

How are your students learning and sharing information across the web and among themselves? Do your students have opportunities to participate in MOOCs?


Geeking out with eBooks

The grade 6 students at YIS are writing with a purpose with a unit on developing a picture book for an authentic audience, our kindergarten students.

A few years ago we attempted a very low-tech, yet high design-thinking approach to this unit. We abandoned computers completely, stocked up on bags full of Daiso* supplies and worked through the design cycle with the students. Our goal was to create a physical book that addressed the kindergarteners kinetic approach to learning. While the kinder students enjoyed reading the books with their grade 6 peers, the books were quickly tossed aside as they fell apart (it turns out Daiso materials might not be the best choice for book creation). However, more importantly, the grade 6 teachers and I doubted the actual impact to learning.

This year we decided to change direction for this unit. Our primary goals were to address these shortcomings in how we did it in the past:

  • Our grade 6 students were less concerned with the content of the book and were spending a vast majority of the time on the design (this was especially concerning as this was an English unit)
  • Our kindergarten students are just learning to read and most student could not read our books independently, which meant their use was further limited.

The change was also supported due to our change in device allocation in the elementary school. We went from having a mixture of ‘hand-me-down’ MacBook Air’s and iPad Mini’s to every student in elementary having their own full-size iPad (the specifics of this would require a completely new blog post). So, now our kindergarten students have access to their very own iPad that they use for learning as is authentic in their classes.

With the device allocation change and our shortcomings from the past in mind, we decided to investigate creating an eBook instead of a physical book. We explored using iBooks Author on the grade 6 laptops for creation and the iBooks app on the kinder iPads for reading, but the tools could be different based on the tech situation.

eBooks offered these advantages:

  • They are easy to create – while none of our grade 6 students had experience with iBooks Author, we build on their prior learning and conceptual learning and had them running with it in 20 minutes.
  • Illustrations for the books built on the student’s digital design unit from MYP Design class. Most our students worked with Wacom tablets and Mischief, but we were easily able to adjust the illustrations due to ability and desire. We has some students using Storybird and others using help from AutoDraw.
  • We could distribute all our grade 6 eBooks to every kindergarten student using the iBooks app.
  • Our grade 6 students could narrate their books due to the multimedia ability of eBooks. Each student placed a MP3 of them reading each page

Copyright David Lee (@davidleeedtech)

We structured the learning experience for the students using input from Stanford’s and some amazing Design Thinking resources from David Lee. We developed an essential question that helped drive our students thinking and design ideas. We empathized with our audience by visiting kindergarten, reading with this and studying children’s books. We defined our goal by creating problem statements unique to each student’s goal and passion. We ideated and then prototyped on paper then with digital tools. And finally, we will test our products with the kindergarten students next week.

The grade 6 teachers are amazed with the focus on learning and how the technology has contributed to its authentic success. I look forward with sharing a few of the books next week when they are published.

* Daiso is a 100 Yen store – a Japanese dollar store, yet so much more. If you haven’t visited one yet, it’s a must on your next visit to Japan.


Creating an AR Sandbox

Here at YIS our grade 4 students are inquiring: “scientific investigations about the Earth are changing how humans understand it.” One of the lines of inquiry is “how Earth has changed and is continuing to change”. The unit is very hands on and includes a detailed look at how landforms are being created & changed due to weathering & erosion.

Thankfully we have amazing grade 4 teachers who really value authentic links to technology and are always innovating in their classrooms. One of those teachers introduced me to the UC Davis’ Augmented Reality Sandbox:


My first thought was what an awesome link to some of their related concepts of geology, erosion, weathering and a great way to allow students to have hands-on experiences with these concepts. My second thought, after reading all the extensive information online and promising my our grade 4 teacher to investigate further was that I just might be bitting off more than I can chew! The hardware and software requirements are extensive and require a moderate understanding of Linux and working with command line (something I’m lacking).

What I lack in Linux and command line understand, I make up for with willingness to research and ability to follow YouTube tutorials (which there are many)! I have a plan, and a bit of a deadline, so I’m motivated to make this happen.

My Action Plan

  1. Gather the required materials
  2. Install Linux on a spare computer
  3. Work through the calibration process
  4. Find a way to mount the projector and Kinect
  5. Build the sandbox and source the sand
  6. Develop a learning experience for the students to interact with the sandbox

Thankfully, I’ve already started this week and have made it through points 1 to 3 and am keen to make progress on the next few this coming week. I’m looking forward to getting my hands dirty in both the soft skills of learning some of the necessary programming and the hard skills of constructing a sandbox and mount. We have a great IT team here at YIS who are also keen to help out and provide some guidance – along with a lot of great information from Twitter and YouTube.

I look forward to sharing how the project develops – stay tuned!


Striving for balance

The potential impact of ICTs on children’s health and happiness is a matter of growing public concern – and an area that is ripe for further research and data.

– Children in a Digital World (UNICEF)

Copyright Activision, obtained from Wikipedia: Call of Duty 2.

My first year of university I spent countless hours playing Call of Duty online with a group of friends. I didn’t know their faces, but I did know their voices and we spend most evenings every week reenacting all the famous WWII battles. As you might imagine, spending hours online playing Call of Duty wasn’t overly helpful in my studies that first year (unfortunately, I wasn’t taking any classes featuring WWII history as portrayed in 2005 video games), so as I entered my second year I quit, cold turkey. I never really figured out how to balance my school life with my gaming life and my grades suffered as a result. I had no guidance on how to find this balance and that showed.

Now, as a technology learning coach, I’m constantly having conversations with parents about gaming and screen time. Every week I hear questions like: my child is addicted to their iPhone – what should I do? or how much time should I let my child game every day? or how can I get my child off their computer at home?

None of those questions are easy to answer – every parent and child are different and every approach should be catered for them. However, I usually try to reiterate the idea of balance. The UNICEF Children in a Digital World report mentioned “the ‘Goldilocks’ approach to children’s screen time – not too much, not too little” – something I haven’t heard yet, but sounded intriguing. My Google Scholar research lead me to an article from the journal Psychological Science titled “A Large-Scale Test of the Goldilocks Hypothesis: Quantifying the Relations Between Digital-Screen Use and the Mental Well-Being of Adolescents,” by Andrew K. Przybylski and Netta Weinstein (PDF link for those interested). Przybylski and Weinstein obtained evidence that the links between digital-screen time and mental well-being are described by quadratic functions.

Scientific American summarized and graphed their findings quite nicely:

How do we teach this?

To be honest, I’m still trying to figure that part out. Teaching digital citizenship isn’t something too new – Common Sense Media’s K-12 Digital Literacy and Citizenship Curriculum has been around for almost 10 years now and is my go to for digital citizenship ideas and inspiration. However, it isn’t perfect and it doesn’t fit every school’s context all the time.

At YIS we are currently rethinking our approach to digital citizenship. Over the past few months we’ve been meeting with grade level teams to discuss what digital citizenship (and just citizenship) looks like in their classes and what’s missing so we can help construct our next steps. Our conversations are based on three guiding statements that we constructed (based on the ISTE Digital Citizen indicators from the Standards for Students):

  • Students cultivate and manage their identity and reputation and are aware of the permanence of their actions in the interconnected world.
  • Students engage in positive, safe, legal and ethical behavior with an awareness of how they affect communities locally and globally
  • Students demonstrate an understanding of and respect for the rights and obligations of using and sharing intellectual property.

So far, the conversations have been insightful as our teachers describe how their students develop as global citizens – I work with amazing teachers and it’s wonderful to hear them share how they are shaping young people.

I’m sure I’ll share how things are progressing later in my COETAIL journey – stay tuned!


Stepping out of my comfort zone: Transitioning from a lurker to connector

If you managed to read my post last week about my learning communities you would have gathered an insight into how I see the value in professional online communities, but haven’t transitioned to become much of a connector.

Transitioning to a connector, for me, isn’t about believing in the value of connecting – I see those benefits everyday of teaching, but instead breaking out of my comfort zone. I’m a social media wallflower! Not just professionally, but also personally. I enjoy reading Facebook to catch up on what I miss when living overseas, but I rarely post (I haven’t done the math, but likely much less that the 1 per month Tweet).

For my personal social media, I’m not so worried about it, but professionally I want to practice what I preach. I want to further develop the connections I’ve made at workshops and conferences. I want to share my successes and learn from the dialogue with other amazing educators.

How can I break that habit?

My plan is to set a goal – 2 original posts per week sharing either a resource I’ve created that I’m proud of or something that was successful in my teaching. I want to share posts that are valuable to my followers, something that can spark an idea or challenge their thinking.

So, with that said, I’m starting with this Tweet. Fellow COETAILer and colleague, Flynn, invited me into his classroom yesterday to share one way he was transforming the way his students investigate how the earth has changed. Great lesson and a great way to get back into Twitter. Flynn takes complete credit for this – I only stopped by for a few minutes to share his success!

To jump to the other end of the spectrum, just last week I stumbled upon an article titled The Wikipedia contributor behind 2.5 million edits – the story of Steven Pruitt a 34 year-old Virginia man with over 2.5 million Wikipedia edits to his name. I think the tides are changing on how educators see Wikipedia (for the better, in my opinion) and it’s intriguing to get a better understanding on just how the over 6 million articles are Wikipedia are created and edited. An extremely valuable lesson for both our colleagues and students.

See you on Twitter!