Unit Plan – The Scientific History of Earth

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I chose my final topic through speaking with teachers in the Middle School and simply asking them if anyone wanted to collaborate to embed more technology into any of their units of study. I currently am teaching a coding course with another teacher, but felt that using this course may have been too easy of an approach since the course is tech based to begin with. A new MS Science teacher was open to collaborating so we began the process by simply sitting down and looking at what he was currently doing.  The Unit is called: The Scientific History of Earth and is for grade 8 science students. I asked him to give me an overview of the unit and his learning targets for the students, as well as the skills that he wanted to them to have by the end of the unit. When we looked at the unit we found several areas that tech could enhance the learning experience. From there we examined the ISTE standards (see below) and found some that would work well with what he was trying to achieve, namely student voice and creativity , this is where 1c and 6b, were chosen, later on, 3c was added once we saw a fit between one of the tech tools and this standard.


Students use technology to seek feedback that informs and improves their practice and to demonstrate their learning in a variety of ways.


Students curate information from digital resources using a variety of tools and methods to create collections of artifacts that demonstrate meaningful connections or conclusions.


Students create original works or responsibly repurpose or remix digital resources into new creations.

I provided the teacher with a list of tech options I thought would enhance this unit and work well. From there I left them with him, to mull them over. I wanted him to feel comfortable with what we were going to do and have the ultimate decision so that I had the buy in that was necessary to make the integration a success. And of course, he knows his students best. We decided to use Wakelet and Flipgrid.  Wakelet will be used for the students vocabulary words as an opportunity to creatively display their knowledge. Traditionally, students have copied vocabulary words in their notebooks and I presented Wakelet as a way to allow the students to present vocabulary in a multitude of ways, and to extend their learning.

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As a means for reflection post lab, Flipgrid will be used. Traditionally, students write up their labs and submit them once the lab is complete, but there is no opportunity to reflect on the learning experience itself, nor an opportunity for discussion with each other.  Flipgrid will be use to provide a space for reflection and metacognition, and for students to share their thoughts with their classmates and receive feedback.

This experience was similar to the way I have been collaborating with teachers over the past few years. I always sit down with a colleague and look at their curriculum, learning goals, and what skills they want students to walk away with. If it is a situation where we are planning something from scratch, we take the same approach, and take the time to build the unit together.


In my previous blog post Knowledge and Skills B4 Tech, I spoke at length about the need to consider knowledge and skills before considering the tech. This was a thought process that has developed over the past few years, and this unit only served to reinforce that belief. The other learning that really impacted this unit was the reading on constructivism and collectivism. As I thought about the students lab and wanting to have them really be critical with their process and metacognitive post lab, I had constructivism in the back of my mind. Allowing the students the opportunity to apply their learning in an authentic way.  With the students putting together their Wakelets, I thought about the multitude of ways they could demonstrate their knowledge and the manner in which using this tool allows them to connect everything.

What has influenced me most in course one is a pretty simple concept, but as adults, can be very hard to enact. This is the ability to be a role model for failure. Beyond my unit plan, this is a philosophy that I have been trying to embody in my leadership as well. If I make a mistake, I own it and model with my team that I am reflective around it, and seek out their advice. I am the leader, but I am also the learner. In this unit, we wanted to give the students some new technology to play with, and make mistakes with it in the process. And we have modeled that it is perfectly fine to make mistakes, as long as we learn and reflect.

Besides the learning goals and skills that we have outlined, I hope that the students have two new tech tools that they can transfer to other classes. Flipgrid can be more teacher driven, so they may have to wait for the teacher in another subject area to drive that process. However, if students are making presentations it can be a great way for them to seek out feedback on the student learning experience. Wakelet can be used for just about anything! I have encouraged students to use it in other subject areas, or student clubs, etc. I also hope that this gives them the confidence to play with more education apps that can prove useful for them in their classes.

I had the chance to facilitate the learning around Wakelet with the students. I started with a very quick slideshow on Wakelet, and then provided time for them to play. I gave them fifteen minutes to build a Wakelet on any hobby of their choosing and I set a list of the types of files that they had to add.  This was an enjoyable way for them to play and learn. Once their time was up and had them pair up for feedback. The classroom teacher and I then laid out the requirements for their vocabulary assignment using Wakelet. The feedback from the students was extremely positive. During “play time” they were engaged and learned very quickly. The only negative feedback that I received was that they wanted more time to play.  One other question that I think I would have asked them was how they could apply it to other courses.

Here is a link to the complete unit plan

And here are a few of the Wakelets that students worked on, keep in mind these are a work in progress as the unit is ongoing:




Theories, Theories, Everywhere!

This week’s readings could not have been more timely. Last year our school signed a partnership with Harvard through Research Schools International, and this past weekend we had someone from Harvard visit to present the research taking place, and spend a day planning with teachers for next steps.  We had a great turnout of teachers who will be undertaking action research in their classrooms. Below is a picture of the work being done by our staff on February 23, 2019. Enough about ISC for now, onto the reading from the week.

I wanted to briefly touch on Connectivism and Constructivism.  Let me start by quoting Siemen’s work: Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age;

“Connectivism is the integration of principles explored by chaos, network, and complexity and self-organization theories. Learning is a process that occurs within nebulous environments of shifting core elements – not entirely under the control of the individual. Learning (defined as actionable knowledge) can reside outside of ourselves (within an organization or a database), is focused on connecting specialized information sets, and the connections that enable us to learn more are more important than our current state of knowing”.

This definition, while wordy, very accurately describes learning in a digital, connected, and constantly changing context. It truly is not always under the control of the individual, these days while being connected, we often can have deep learning experiences without even intending to. I like that the word ‘chaotic’ is used here; it truly represents what learning in a digital age can look like, coming from a variety of places at any given time. I think this word chaos also represents the fact that we must have the skill of determining useful from not useful knowledge. We can’t possibly take everything in, so we must be able to quickly discern what is necessary, and what is not. The other challenge is that knowledge is being learned, researched, developed, and made available at such a pace that we must learn the skill to use new knowledge before it is obsolete.

Kipras Štreimikis

A nice representation of this connectedness and receiving new knowledge is found in the Bell article: Connectivism: Its Place in Theory-Informed Research and Innovation in Technology-Enabled Learning. In this article, there is a link to a Blog, entitled Teach Web Blog, which contains a great video by Wendy Drexler entitled: Connectivism: Networked Student…The Movie. This video accurately depicts the organized chaos that is digital learning, it is definitely worth a watch. She does a good job of visually representing digital learning in a connected world, and the pace of learning that occurs.

Here is another great summary video on Connectivism that I found, by Brandy Dudas:

Moving onto Constructivism. The Bodner article: Constructivism: A Theory of Knowledge. Bodner states: “Piaget believed that knowledge is acquired as the result of a life-long constructive process in which we try to organize, structure, and restructure our experiences in light of existing schemes of thought, and thereby gradually modifying and expanding theses schemes”. What constructs this knowledge can vary widely. Especially, if we take into account what learning looks like in a digital age. Dewey, like Piaget, was also a constructivist, and wrote about constructivism before Piaget did. He purported that children learn best when they interact with their environments and are actively involved with the school curriculum.  He argued that rather than the child being a passive recipient of knowledge, children are better served if they take an active part in the process of their own learning (teachthought). It is quite amazing the Dewey wrote this almost 100 years ago, and these are still ideas that we are pushing for today, personalization of learning, student voice and choice, experiential education, authentic learning, etc. Dewey further argued that for education to be at its most effective, children should be given learning opportunities that enabled them to link present content to previous experiences and knowledge. Again, this, we know, is good teaching practice, connecting one learning experience to the next, in order to reinforce the learning.

Nicole Adams

I definitely think that both of these theories can co-exist with another. Constructivism gives us the idea that knowledge is built upon prior knowledge, and that students must be actively engaged in their learning. Connectivism gives us the idea that learning takes place within a connected network, one that is always changing and developing. I see these fitting together like this: Students must be actively engaged in their learning through their connections that exist beyond the walls of the classroom, in an authentic manner. I am interested to hear what others think about Connectivism and Constructivism, and how these theories manifest themselves in schools and classrooms.

Knowledge and Skills B4 Tech

When I first started to integrate tech into my lesson planning, and I am talking many moons ago here, I was definitely more focussed on the tech, than I was the students, or the learning targets. I think in many instances this is why the impact that I may have been looking for did not take place. When I think back, part of this was due to the fact that I was a newer teacher and there is a tendency to want to be progressive and bring new things to the classroom, without always thinking it fully through. In addition, being new, there was a lack of that deep knowledge of standards and learning targets. The other part was if I thought I had found some great new tech tool, at least in my mind, I would jump in right away. Sometimes it is best to seek out the advice of others before jumping into something new. I think the below meme represents where I used to be 🙂

When I look at the way I plan technology integration currently, it is completely different. I know that my time working in curriculum had a profound effect on how I approach my work now, and this is a great thing. As Kim Cofino mentions in her article 3 Steps to Transforming Learning in Your Classroom, it has to start with what you want a student to know and be able to do, what are your learning targets? I quite like that this was labelled as step zero, because this should be the basis, the foundation, before you even speak the words technology.

At this stage, two other things that I like to consider are the SAMR model and the TPACK model. You can see the SAMR on Kim’s Blog post, I have included the TPACK model below.


These two models help me with planning purposes and keeping me on the right track. If you are unfamiliar with them, I highly suggest reviewing them before beginning to embed technology into your unit planning.

Last year I had the opportunity to attend the Unplugged Conference at the American School of Bombay.  There, I attended a session by Dr. Ruben Peuntedura, the creator of the SAMR model. Here are a couple of my key takeaways from his session:

  • The most challenging stage is to move from Augmentation to Modification
  • SAMR Ladder – Take a unit of study and start with substitution and move along towards Redefinition – One does not need to move all the way to Redefinition, a new teacher to the technology can stop at a point that makes them comfortable
  • The research tells us that the SAMR model works (exponential pay off as we move along the ladder), it is vital to provide the time for teachers to do the work.  It will be work to learn and implement the technology, but we have to support them to do so
  • To do the best design with the SAMR model, it is important to consider the TPACK model at the same time
  • Authentic audiences drive students to perform better, the research supports this.  Additionally, authentic mentorship combined with an authentic audience drives this further

If you are looking for some of the research that he mentions above, or looking to delve deeper into the SAMR model, Ruben’s blog is a great place to do some research:


There is a great article on the blog, entitled SAMR and the EdTech Quintet, which speaks to integration of the model with TPACK, the EdTech Quintet, and other models, plus it includes research on the positive impact of using the SAMR model.

After I consider those models, then I select the tech. This is where having some experience, a good network, and being a connected educator come into play.  We all know there are too many tools in existence for us to keep up with all of them. However, through our network and connections we can conduct the research that we would like. And of course this is only in consultation with the teacher, as I want to make sure their students are ready(and the teacher too), and the students have the prior skills to allow for success. Of course we may have to push them out of their comfort zones, but we want to ensure we have them set for a positive experience and growth. From our readings I also like the Teach Thought article on 15 Questions To Ask About Tech Integration in your Classroom.  These make for some solid reflection before heading into the classroom with your tech.

Kim’s other steps include using real world tasks and utilizing an authentic audience. These are two steps which are highly valuable and help to motivate students.  As Dr. Peuntedura mentions above, authentic audiences help to drive students, and even more so when coupled with authentic mentorship. I’m also a big proponent of Project Based Learning, which is a model that supports authentic tasks, and authentic audiences.

I came across the video below when searching for embedding technology into the classroom.  A couple of important points that Khan makes. Firstly, he states himself, that the technology is a tool, not the primary, a tool to complement what is happening in the physical classroom.  Second, he speaks about personalized learning, students learning at their own pace, and learning about what interests them. Again, no mention of tech, but students first. It’s a short video and worth the watch.

This week especially, I am really curious to hear how others go about embedding technology into their classrooms. What do your processes look like?

Be a Role Model of Failure

Two new skills that I plan to incorporate into my Course 1 final project are Wakelet and Flipgrid.

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My goal is to not only incorporate these into a Unit Plan for MS Grade 8 Science (my Course 1 Final Project), but to teach others in the school about these two tools. The best way to learn something for me is to have the responsibility to teach others.

Action StepTimeline
1. Investigate WakeletWeek of February 4
2.Investigate FlipgridWeek of February 4
3. Teach Wakelet to StaffWeek of February 11
4. Teach Flipgrid to StaffWeek of February 18
5. Work with teachers in classroom to teach either toolWeek of February 11 and 18
6. Incorporate Wakelet and Flipgrid into Course One Final ProjectWeek of February 25

In terms of my own learning around these two tools, I have had the chance to experiment with them both.

The first Wakelet I put together was for a social science teacher.  I remember walking into the MS teachers workroom and asking them “who is working on something for kids right now”? One of the social science teachers was working on a presentation for her students on responsible production and consumption.  So I asked her to share her slides with me and said I am going to share with her a creative new tool that I had just found. Here is the example that I created for her.

Here is a quick presentation I put together for our staff and students on Wakelet. I plan to use this with staff and students when training, but mostly give them time to play!

In terms of Flipgrid, I had my very first experience with this tool recently.  In an online course on coaching that I am taking, I was asked to record a welcome video using Flipgrid.  Before I recorded my video, I found this quick intro video to help me quickly understand what it could do:

I decided to incorporate Flipgrid into the unit that I am collaborating with another teacher on for my course one final project. It will allow students to provide feedback in a quick and efficient manner, and in a differentiated way.

My research into both of these tools has been through two methods.  As I mentioned previously, I looked at YouTube for information on Flipgrid, and I did the same for Wakelet.  This, of course, was a quick method to see examples and how to videos. The second place I went looking for information was Twitter.  Using hashtags like #flipgrid, #flipgridfever, #wakelet and #wakeletwave, I have been able to do some great research and find wonderful examples of how these tools are being utilized for student learning and growth. As I have been writing this post, I have just discovered that Wakelet and Flipgrid have joined forces, here is a quick intro video where I discovered this:

Learning any new skill as an educator provides us with the opportunity to put ourselves in the shoes of the kids whom we teach. Of course we should continually look to learn in order to up-skill ourselves and be better professionals, but I feel just as equally important a reason, is so that we can struggle, be frustrated, seek help, make mistakes, and then, ultimately, find success. Here is a nice read on Teaching Children it’s OK to Fail. We often tell our students that it is permissible to make mistakes and learn from them, but we don’t allow ourselves the same breathing room.  Even more powerful, I think, is when we can experience this ourselves and share it back with our students. In making ourselves vulnerable, we actually empower our students.

How do we Decrease the Gap?

Another week filled with tremendous resources. There was so much I wanted to comment on.  However,  this week, in honour of Black History Month, I want to focus on marginalized youth and the digital divide.

The first reading entitled Connected Learning from the Connected Learning Research Network spoke to the idea of connected learning and what it could do for adolescents.  If you don’t know what exactly it is, definition follows: ”learning that is socially embedded, interest-driven, and oriented toward educational, economic, or political opportunity. Connected learning is realized when a young person pursues a personal interest or passion with the support of friends and caring adults, and is in turn able to link this learning and interest to academic achievement, career possibilities, or civic engagement”.  My immediate response to this was that this is great! When you have students who are supported by their peers, have a strong interest in the topic, and that topic is academically oriented, strong learning can occur outside of the classroom. This made me think of corporate initiatives like the Google 20% (whereby Google employees get 20% of their time to pursue passion projects), or 3Ms 15% time.  Connected learning could be the catalyst to send a whole new group of innovators and design thinkers into the workforce.


However, as always, my spidey senses started to tingle; what about the students on the margins?  It is wonderful for those who are white, middle class and have the support and funding for parents and other role models, but what about the others?  I was quite pleased as I read further, the report mentioned this: “There is also a growing gap between the progressive use of digital media outside of the classroom, and the no-frills offerings of most public schools that educate our most vulnerable populations. This gap contributes to widespread alienation from educational institutions, particularly among non-dominant youth”. Further reading into the document reveals: “Despite the recent gains by African American students in educational testing, they still lag far behind their white counterparts”. I thought to myself, this is great, we are getting to the crux of the problem; how do we provide access for everyone, so that we level the playing field?

Mimi Ito, one of the researchers for Connected Learning, speaks to marginalized youth in her Edutopia Interview about the research.

Again, there is great promise with this concept of up-skilling adolescents by them pursuing their interests.  She speaks about a minimum baseline knowledge that all kids should have, but there is no direction as to how all of them should get there. In her 21st Century Talk, she is much more direct, which I was happy to see.

She points to statistics of upper class versus lower class kids, and the huge difference in access to after school specialized programming, and of course technology. As opposed to closing the gap, as was once the common thinking, the gap is actually increasing between those adolescents with privilege, and those on the margins (see graphic below). Furthermore, she points out that MOOCs (Massively Open Online Courses), are mostly taken by those in the upper classes.  So again, those on the margins fall further behind. Unfortunately, in both videos, we are not offered any insight as to how we (as privileged, educated people) can help to solve this problem.

Hansen and Reich, 2015

A few days ago I participated in a Twitter Chat from https://twitter.com/EduGladiators with a theme centered on Black History Month.  One of the questions surrounded role models for marginalized students, and I think this highlights part of a multifaceted problem.  I mentioned that I had a grade 12 student tell me several years ago that I was the first teacher of color that she had ever had, and for her it made a huge difference to see a role model that looked like her.  I think if things are going to change, we need teachers, administrators, and district level leadership that represents those students in the margins. I remember being promoted in my school board back in Canada.  Walking into our first district leadership meeting, I was flabbergasted.  These were monthly meetings for all Principals, Vice-Principals, and district level leaders. In a school board of nearly 100 schools I could pinpoint those leaders who looked like me. If marginalized adolescents are to be in leadership roles, they must see themselves in the leaders in front of them. This is at least one way to move things forward.

In Kaufman’s TedTalk about the first 20 hours in terms of learning a new skill he speaks to removing the barriers.  Now I know in the context of his speech he is talking about distractions as barriers. But in the context of our marginalized youth, the barriers are much more significant. How do we overcome these barriers that minorities face?  Barriers such as access to technology, parents and role models to demonstrate the learning, time to invest in the technology, a network of supporters, academic guidance, and others.

Matthew Garoffolo

The internet was supposed to be the great saviour.  It would magically lift those who are in poverty, in the margins, and minorities, out of gutters, and onto the digital freeway with everyone else.  Unfortunately, that has not happened, and as we can see in some instances, is actually getting worse. The big question I am left with, and I leave you with, is:

How do we use technology to lift the ‘others’ up and give them the same opportunities as those who have access to everything, so that they may be truly connected?

Open Dialogue is the Key

Sharon McCutcheon

There is much to write about when it comes to the plethora of reading this week.  However, there is one topic that really resonates with me, that I want to expand on.  The reading Children in a Digital World points out the fact that youth, aged 15-24, are the most connected age group in the world.  This is not surprising at all, as these Digital Natives, have grown up constantly connected. The report also spoke to the phenomena of children being left alone with digital devices in their bedrooms, even overnight. The report states: “Smartphones are fuelling a ‘bedroom culture’, with online access for many children becoming more personal, more private and less supervised”. It still surprises me that many children are left alone in their rooms with digital devices.

Boudewijn Huysmans

This infographic from Common Sense Media on Teen Social Media Experiences had some statistics to further my point.  57% of teens stated they were distracted by a mobile device when they should be doing homework, and 29% said that they have been woken up by their smartphone.  When we look at the full report from Common Sense Media on Teen Social Media Experiences it contains some other powerful statistics, 37% of teens stated they were on the mobile devices when they were supposed to be doing homework, and 26% stated that their devices impeded their sleep.

Taken from Common Sense Media

We can’t assume that teens are going to make good decisions around having screens in their bedrooms, and making positive assumptions around this can be dangerous. Like any other life skill that we work with teens on, this is something that needs to be addressed with our kids and revisited frequently.  The challenge for many parents and teachers alike, is that we grew up with a totally different experience and thus have nothing to fall back on. It is really important that we read research and keep ourselves informed. Here are a couple of great resources to start the conversation:

Should bedrooms be No Phone Zones for Teens

Teenagers’ sleep quality and mental health at risk over late-night mobile phone use.

I recently was passed this article from a friend that I think really drove home the point as to why teens need to check their phone in at night, entitled “Our Daughter’s Nightly Struggle”. Beyond the lack of sleep, this article points out to other pressures are kids might be dealing with that we don’t know about.

We know our kids are more wired than ever before. We also know that being connected is highly important to them as individuals, and to their success in social circles and relationships.  As adults we have a responsibility to teens to guide them through making smart decisions around their use of tech. We need to open up the dialogue.

Moving from Lurker to Connector to Contributor and Creator

There was lots of great food for thought this week in the readings, the theme being Lurker to Connector.  However, I would like to push the thought a step further and say that we should be moving from Lurkers to Connectors to Contributors and Creators.

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Kelsey O’Brien

Like many of us, when I first join any social media site I tend to spend a lot of time lurking, putting one foot into the pond, testing the waters, checking things out, getting a feel for the scene.  I have always admired those that just dive right in to any new thing without a caution, unfortunately this has never been me, but I have pushing myself to change over the last few years, especially as I have moved into Teaching and Learning and my current role of Director of IT and Innovation.  I now find myself pushing others to move themselves beyond lurking, and well, in order to do so, I have to first push myself.

In Jeff’s article What Does it Mean to Disconnect, he makes a powerful point with the statistic that only 1% of internet users are creators.  Lots of lurkers, and some contributors, but not many creators. He furthers this point when he speaks to the fact that many educators take things from the internet to create lessons, but about 10% put content on the internet for others to use.

Likewise in Living and Learning with New Media, the terms used are “Hanging Out” as opposed to Lurking, and “Messing Around” as opposed to connecting. They mean the same thing, but the point being that a majority of those on the web are doing either of these activities, as opposed to “Geeking Out” (Contributing and Creating). The above article studied youth culture, but again, the concept and terms transcend to adults as well. The bottom line being that we need more creators on the web.

When I reflect on my own practice over the past 15 years, I have taken a lot from the web, but have not contributed much until lately. Last year, I had the privilege of becoming a Google Certified Trainer.  One of the many things I enjoy about being a GCT is that I must contribute to the database of resources that exist for all of us to use.  It has forced me to move beyond being a lurker, connector, contributor, to being a creator. I have also recently written a few Blog posts for education Blogs and in the past couple of years have become very active on Twitter, contributing as much as possible.

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I recently gave a presentation with my partner https://twitter.com/wondrwomyn entitled, Literacy Development in a Digital Age.  One of the important points that we made is that even at a young age it is highly important for children to not just be consuming content, but interacting and even creating. This presentation was aimed at parents of early years and lower elementary students, but our point can transcend all divisions and adults.  Too much screen time spent lurking is a bad thing, but taking the time to create is completely different. It promotes the 4Cs that Joel Bevans mentions in his article I am a lurker, but I am changing.

In Cofino’s post, First Steps Toward Becoming a 21st Century Educator, she lays a good foundation for becoming a 21st Century Educator.  I find her point about being the only one in a certain position at a school very poignant (consider I am the only Tech Director at my school). Having that connection with others is so important so you can share successes and failures, and seek advice.  Even more importantly, she points out that one must begin to contribute and create as well.

Two great corporate examples that come to mind are Google and 3M.  Google has had the concept of the 20% rule in place in which employees could spend 20% of their time working on personal projects or exploring ideas.  3M has always been known for promoting creation, ever since 3M sticky notes were invented. Did you know that in 2012 alone 3M had over 500 patents awarded, not that is creation.

I have recently read a couple of great articles promoting the idea of creating and why leaders must begin to create content on the web.  The first article, Why Great Leaders Should be Great Writers by Tonya Thomson, purports that we all have influence and should use it.  All of us involved in the COETAIL program are leaders, and as such, we have influence and should use it in a positive manner. To me this means putting ourselves out there on the web. The article also states that we should use writing to express our creativity, passion and communication skills. The second article is bit more “geeky” in nature, but it drives home the point perfectly.  In, Why you should contribute to open source software right now, Austin Tackaberry, speaks to the fact that developers should not be afraid to jump in and correct or improve open source code.  They just need to do it, learn while they do it, and not be afraid to make mistakes. The same goes for creating content, just dive right in and go for it.