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!



Here are a few ISTE Standards for Educators that I would like to focus on over the next year and a half.

Standard 6C: Create learning opportunities that challenge students to use a design process and computational thinking to innovate and solve problems.

Computational thinking, design thinking and computer science are high on my list of priorities at YIS. I’ve had lots of conversations with YIS teachers about computational thinking and how it aligns with the way we approach education and the way IB approaches education. The elementary school teachers and I have just started collaboratively investigating computational thinking and have been brainstorming ways in which we can embed computational thinking authentically into the units of inquiry. We’ve made a start, but we have a long way to go. I’ve also spent some time learning about and exploring our use of design thinking. Of course, I spent some time looking at the Stanford and its approach to design thinking and are developing ideas of how we can move forward with a more concrete design thinking approach at YIS.

Standard 3: Citizen, Educators inspire students to positively contribute to and responsibly participate in the digital world. (all substandards)

Another large focus for me this year is digital citizenship. YIS is in the middle of a shift in thinking regarding digital citizenship. In the past, digital citizenship was a combination of whole school focus around digital citizenship (including a digital citizenship week) and sporadic classroom lessons. Last year we formed a focus group to move away from the idea that digital citizenship just happens one week a year and to the idea that digital citizenship is embedded in most everything we do. I know this isn’t new, but we’ve also been looking at the idea that maybe we just need citizenship, not digital citizenship. I’m still not sure where this will end or what direction we will take, but I look forward to using some of my time with COETAIL to help expand my understanding and consolidate my thinking.

Standard 1: Learner, Educators continually improve their practice by learning from and with others and exploring proven and promising practices that leverage technology to improve student learning. (all substandards)

Lastly, I’ve chosen Standard 1 because I don’t want to forget that just because I’m a coach, doesn’t mean I’m not learning and growing everyday. I just spent the weekend at Vietnam Tech Conference – on Saturday I introduced myself to another teacher and after stating that I was a Tech Learning Coach he replied that I must know everything being presented. Well I’m sure he was just sparking some light-hearted conversation, it did make me think a bit about my role as a coach and how sometimes teachers see us. I certainly didn’t know everything that was being presented and I’m very much a learner all the time.


My Learning Communities

I participate in a variety of online and offline communities to further develop as an educator. I lucky to work at a school where we value and encourage teacher inquiry with our Professional Growth Plan (PGP) and have a group of colleagues who are naturally inquisitive and happy to embark on a shared learning journey. Every year at YIS I’ve inquired into different aspects of learning and teaching, fully supported by our community and administration.

For my online communities, however, ‘participate’ might be a bit of a stretch – in most of these online communities I’m just a (proud?) lurker. I stepped into the Twitter scene a couple of months into my teaching career – I could see the benefits of the educational community on Twitter and over the years I’ve benefited from a small, curated list of educators that I follow. However, as you can see, I’ve not quite found a flow for sharing on Twitter, yet. I’ve just calculated my average and it looks like I’m rocking about 1 tweet per month – far from impressive. One of my goals over the next year and a half with COETAIL is to work to further develop

Interested in what else completes my learning community? Check out the graphic below.


Hi there, I’m Matt

Name: Matt Broughton
Originally from: Lexington, Kentucky, USA
Currently living & working: Yokohama International School, Japan
Position: Technology Learning Coach
Cohort: 11
Twitter: @broughton_io

I’m Matt a Technology Learning Coach at Yokohama International School currently enjoying the beautiful Japan winter.

As an educator, very passionate about creating authentic connections to technology. Recently, I’ve been spending quite a bit of time thinking about computational thinking and computer science (we are a school that doesn’t offering DP computer science, but we will want to ensure that our students have experiences with computational thinking and computer science).

I’ve also been working with some of our administrators and teachers investigating digital citizenship and how we can ensure that our students are well prepared for living in our connected world – I’m sure you will hear more from me about that as the course develops.

Outside of my primary role at YIS, I’m also hugely passionate about teaching students scuba diving and learning through scuba diving. I run a high school service group that is focused on aquatic conservation. We partner with a non-profit organization to collect data regular data on the ocean conditions via scuba diving here and Japan and share it out with the world. It’s long term service, but the students are super passionate about it. It’s a wonderful way for me to share my personal passion for scuba diving with the amazing students at YIS.