Saturday, December 7, 2013

Writing Letters in Google Drive using Chromebooks

Photo taken by the Charlotte Prong Parkhill - Kitchener Post
Two of my students working on the Chromebook
Each year, around the middle November, I tend to teach my students how to write a friendly letter. Traditionally, many of my students inform me that they will be writing to Santa before Christmas. For this reason, I try and take advantage of their focus, motivation, and excitement by connecting their lives to the curriculum.

The idea to use Google Documents to write the letters and share them came from a presentation I attended at the ECOO13 Conference in November. I was inspired by +Julie Millan's presentation ("Google Blends with Anything! Blended Learning with Google in the Classroom") and her encouragement to try one idea when we got back to our classrooms. I am thankful and appreciative of educators like Julie who employ Google Apps for Education to help inspire students to become more creative an collaborative with their learning.

We started our learning with the co-creation of success criteria and then proceeded to create anchor charts along our journey through the process.

Our learning goal and success criteria.

An example of one of our anchor charts: our friendly letter model.

After some brainstorming and discussion, the students used a letter template to start printing their drafts. The students and I agreed that it would be best to use paper and pencil to write out our drafts before jumping onto the Chromebooks to use Google Documents. After some discussion we decided that it would be best to learn how to properly write our letters on paper before adding the challenges that come with using a keyboard and learning how Documents in Google Drive works.

Here are a couple of examples of student work (first draft and final draft):

First draft - sample #1
Final draft - sample #1
First draft - sample #2
Final draft - sample #2
Once the students had completed their paper-pencil letter they were ready to use the Chromebooks and begin to learn how to use Google Documents to type their letter and then share it with their parents and intended recipients.

Here are some examples of the work the students did in Google documents:

First draft Google doc - sample #1

Revised draft Google doc - sample #1

First draft Google doc - sample #2

Revised draft Google doc - sample #2
Once the students had established their document they shared it with me and gave me editing rights. The ability for me to make comments in their documents and assist with revision in real time while they were working on their letters was truly transformational. The ability to go into documents to check on student progress and provide feedback without disturbing momentum and engagement proved to be quite beneficial to the students. As they worked on their letter (either alone or with a partner) they seemed focused and engaged. I try not to interrupt that when it is happening.

Before we started using Google Documents, students would bring their work to me and stand in line as I conferenced with each student in front of them. The time spent waiting to meet with me ended up being a huge waste of time for them and normally involved students being disciplined for engaging in inappropriate behaviour. Not a very successful experience for any of us.

With the integration of the Chromebook and Google Documents I have become more proactive in my 'check-ins' with the students via the Chromebook and they became less interested in waiting in lines. They would simply call out to me and ask if I could jump into their work to check it out. I found that when I would jump into their document they would be talking about their work with a partner or would be standing over someone else's work and offering suggestions or asking questions about another student's work. Much more focused, interested, and helpful!

The students in my class who struggle with printing informed me that they rather struggle with a keyboard rather than a pencil because their work will be neat and look like everyone else's in the end. I try not to hound my students about their printing if they are working hard and doing their best but when they share their work it is difficult for some because they wish that their printing was as neat as some of their classmates. This activity allowed certain students to produce work that they are proud of and resembles the work of others.

I am really happy that my students have learned the basics of using a word processor, particularly one that allows them to share their work and will provide them with opportunities to collaborate with others. I would like to connect with colleagues inside and outside of my school board who are interested in creating engaging tasks that will allow our students to connect with and collaborate with each other to make their learning experience a richer and more memorable one.

Photo taken by the Charlotte Prong Parkhill - Kitchener Post
Two of my students working on the Chromebook
From an organizational perspective, Google Drive assisted me in keeping track of my student's work. Here is a screen shot of the folder where I placed the student letters:

Whenever I needed to get into a student's document I would simply select their work and instantly gain access to their document. I found this to be an efficient way to provide descriptive feedback to my students and to interact with many of them at the same time. 

My students have enjoyed learning how to write a friendly letter and how to use Google Documents to write and share their work. Parents have been provided with the opportunity to make comments on their child's work and some have taken advantage of that. Some of the parents experienced some difficulty leaving comments in the document so they wrote back to their child via email and provided feedback that way. We have entered a new realm of teaching/learning where the integration of technology is providing innovative opportunities to learn and share. 

The excitement and interest in our classroom community is palpable. In fact, some of the students have been asking to use Google Documents in their free time! They are eager and serious about using the Chromebooks to learn and to demonstrate their learning. It's blended learning at its best and it is just the beginning. 

Stay tuned as my students learn how to use Google Presentation (similar to PowerPoint) to create a slide show of their culminating task in Social Studies. If the letter writing task is any indication, this next project will help my students be more creative and collaborative as they work to effectively communicate their learning to me and the rest of the world!

Photo taken by the Charlotte Prong Parkhill - Kitchener Post
Two of my students working on the Chromebook
I welcome your feedback. Do you use Google Apps with your students? If so, what kinds of tasks have they engaged in? Are you interested in connecting and collaborating my my students and I? 

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Blended Learning in Action

My students have been using the Chromebooks this week to engage in an on-line learning lessons/activities about Time. At this point during the unit the students are learning about telling time. They have already explored the passage of time and units of time. They have been introduced to analogue and digital clocks and how to identify minutes and hours. This is their first on-line learning activity for the blended learning we are doing in this Measurement unit.

The activity I am showcasing below shows students the corresponding digital time on an analogue clock for time to the hour, half-hour, and quarter-hour. Students had to match the digital times to their corresponding analogue clocks.

This first shot is of the first slide of the learning activity:

Here they are learning about telling time to the half-hour:

Telling time to the quarter-hour:

Here they get the chance to apply their knowledge/understanding and practice matching digital to analog times:

The students are responding well to the blended learning so far. They enjoy working on the Chromebooks and appreciate the opportunity to 1) learn using the online lessons and 2) practice what they are learning using the technology. The students are doing a great job in this blended learning cycle. I'm finding it a challenge to get around the room and talk to all the students while they are engaged in their practice activities. I want to make sure that I know how they are doing so I can speed things up, slow things down, and adjust for their needs. Their excitement and engagement is incredible and they can't seem to get enough of the tech integration and online learning activities. Nevertheless, I still provide them with other opportunities to show their learning such as using paper & pencil to write and draw, the use manipulatives, and by conferencing with me. It is important that I continue to provide them with what they need to be successful but I also believe in producing well-balanced students who can show their learning in a variety of ways if asked to do so. 

It is important that I continue to transform myself and my teaching so that I am reaching every student. The Chromebooks are tools, blended learning is another way to reach students. My experience has shown me that the use of technology is motivating and engaging and that students tend to be more invested in their learning and achieve greater academic success. I recently had a conversation with a close friend and mentor who expressed some concern about the use of technology in my classroom and how it might negatively impact my students next year when they don't have such technology to assist/support their learning. Concerns around writing, for example, were raised. How would students learn to write a friendly letter with a paper and pencil if they are not provided with that opportunity? How will students lean math concepts and solve problems if they are not introduced to manipulatives that can assist them? These are great questions and they are valid. 

My students use paper and pencils each day. They use manipulatives to learn and solve problems too! The technology and all the "goodies" that go with it are also used. I'd like to think that my students have a variety of options to learn, create, collaborate, problem solve, and communicate. Blended learning is happening in my classroom because I am fortunate enough to have the technology and support to offer it up to my students. It is NOT the only way, it is one piece of the teaching/learning puzzle in my classroom.

In language literacy my students are currently engaged in learning how to write friendly letters. I won't get into too much detail around what we are doing because I would like to dedicate a blog post to it later, but I can tell you that we are BLENDING our learning using paper and pencil as well as Google Drive (via the Chromebooks) to write and send friendly letters. The students are learning the basics of this type of writing and are improving their technological literacy at the same time.  

I would love to hear your thoughts about blended learning - please feel free to leave a comment below, reach me by email, twitter and/or connect with me on Google +.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Sharing the Learning Summit - TLLP

Wordle created for the site where our project reflections and findings live on the Internet.
I've just returned from the TLLP Sharing the Learning Summit where I got to present the findings our our project and talk to other participants about their projects. I have created a Google Presentation of the project that can be found here if you are interested. The Summit was a bitter-sweet moment for me - the opportunity to meet with other passionate educators was sweet, the official end to our project is bitter. Fortunately, I am in the midst of another project which means that +Ferdinand Krauss and I will get to attend the summit next year to talk about Blended Learning and Teacher PD using Chromebooks.

From beginning to end, the Summit was a huge 'highlight' for me. +Mark Godin was in attendance with me and has been part of our project before it was a project. As the Principal of Our Lady of Fatima it was his vision and support that led to the purchase of the iPads. Then, it was his encouragement and leadership that led to the TLLP application to support teacher learning & leadership and an improvement in academic & social achievement for our students with Autism. I am honoured to have such a role model in our corner and was very pleased to have him at the Summit to wrap up a project that he was such an integral part of.  

Mark Godin taking a break at the Summit.
Other highlights included:
  • Meeting and speaking with Dr. Ann Lieberman who told me "...I've been looking for you!". Dr. Lieberman is doing research about teacher leaders and was given my name. I will be providing her with information about my experience with the TLLP. It tuns out that the email address she had for me was not correct so I am really happy to have connected with her.
  • Being interviewed by TVOnatrio about our project. I got to spend some time talking to TVO about our project and the positive impact it has had on staff and students. The opportunity to share our learning is endless!
  • Connecting with people who I interact with on Twitter is always a treat. I got to spend some time chatting with Kyle Pearce (who also spoke to Summit participants about his past TLLP work) and Peter Skillen & Brenda Sherry (who are both heavily involved in TLLP training that participants experience at the start of their project journey).
  • Last but not least, the opportunity to chat with a variety of people who stopped at our display to learn about our project. I was more than happy to talk about our work and next steps for this project and other work that we are currently pursuing. 
On duty at the Summit.
My only regret is that I didn't say anything on my evaluation form about the networking that spills over into Twitter or Google + from these TLLP events. As an example, I think it would be a great if TLLP participants could have their Twitter or Google + handles listed with their project descriptions. This would be one simple way to help people connect and it would provide encouragement for non users to give social networking services a chance to assist them with their professional learning and sharing. There is nothing better than being part of other peoples professional learning networks and having them join mine. 

Being surrounded by people who are passionate about their work and about sharing their work is such a personal and professional boost. I want to end this post with something Dr. Ann Lieberman said when she spoke to the participants closer to the end of the summit. She hit the nail on the head and I couldn't agree with her more.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Digital Boot Camp: Practice & Support

My students are finally starting to get a handle on the user names and passwords they need to log on to the Chromebook and enter our Learning Management System (LMS).

WCDSB Learning Management System

Today they experienced what I call "Digital Boot Camp". During their time with the device the students had the opportunity to sign on to the Chromebook, go to our LMS site, bookmark it, and then sign off to allow their partner to do the same. When all the students were done bookmarking the LMS on the browser via their account I got them to take turns signing on to the Chromebook, going to the LMS, signing on to the LMS, use one of the learning activities, and then log out of the LMS and sign out of their Chromebook account. 

This "Boot Camp" activity proved to be beneficial for the students. They needed the time and repetition of using their user names and passwords. This activity allowed them to use and reuse their authentication credentials and get to work with some learning activities on the LMS.  

An important lesson for me is that I need to continue to provide my students with instructional strategies that are effective for young students. Sometimes I get carried away and excited about what we are doing and my brain is running a lot faster than everyone else. I need to ensure that I continue to provide them with what they need to be successful - scaffolding and gradual release of responsibility - both are good examples that sometimes get missed with all the excitement. 

Today was a great learning moment for my students and myself. My hope and wish is that I continue to support my students effectively as I learn and lead and with them. 

Saturday, October 26, 2013

The Power of Self Directed Professional Learning & Social Networking Services

I just finished spending two days at the Educational Computing Organization of Ontario's (ECOO) "Bring IT Together" Conference in Niagara Falls. This wonderful opportunity was provided by the Ministry of Education as part of my 2013-2014 Teacher Learning and Leadership project.

The organizers did a fantastic job of bringing together a variety of people (mostly educators) who put on great presentations. The amount of choice was staggering but very apt for people who are interested in directing their learning. My self directed professional learning lead me on the following journey:

- #ecoo13 Thursday Keynote"Relentless Adaptation"+Amber Mac

Amber Mac in the middle of her keynote at #ecoo13
- Google Blends with Anything! Blended Learning with Google in the Classroom  - +Julie Millan

- Google Chromebook Implementation and Use - A View from 4 Levels: Board CIO, Principal, Teacher and Student Perspective - +Mark W. Carbone+Andrew Bieronski, +Ed Doadt

- Supporting the Development of 21st Century Competencies: Letting Technology do the Dirty Work - +Steve Joordens

- How Technology Can Break Down The Walls of School - Andrew Campbell+Jennifer Chan

- Leadership in the 21st Century - A Model for Change - Scott Johnson

- Professional Learning and Expression - Aaron Puley, Lisa Neale

Feel free to select any of the links above to learn more about the presentations. The sessions were all very engaging, informative, and motivating. They will prove to be helpful in one way or another to my practice moving forward. With respect to my portion of the TLLP, blended learning using the Chromebook, I am building my capacity in terms of how the device works and its Google Apps for Education (gafe) capabilities. Furthermore, I am deepening my learning about 21st Century teaching/learning and the use of technology to assist. There is nothing better than learning opportunities that motivate me and allow me to immerse myself fully.

Aside from the formal learning opportunities I referred to above, I had the privilege of meeting face-to-face with some of the people who are part of my professional learning networks (PLNs) on Twitter and Google+. I also added many new people to my networks who I met at #ecoo13.

Aviva Dunsiger (@avivaloca), Adele Stanfield (@adeletweets), Andrew Campbell (@acampbell99), and Jennifer Chan (@jennzia) sharing a laugh at lunch time at #ecoo13
My PLN's via Twitter and Google+ have proven to be valuable resources. These people engage in discussion about a variety of educational topics/issues, they provide support/guidance for each other, and are always willing to share. They are excellent communicators, collaborators, and life long learners. The four people pictured above have provided me with support at one point or another and I am grateful for their time, energy, and expertise. The great thing about the two social media sites I refer to are that they allow ME to choose when, where, and how I engage others around my learning and/or their learning. It has connected me to many gifted people. They say it takes a village to raise a child. I am fortunate to be part of a huge villages called Twitter and Google+!

If you are not on Twitter or Google+ I urge you to consider joining one or, even better, both sites. They are very powerful tools that will allow you to learn, share, and network with people locally and globally. As one of my teachers once said, these social networking services are

"...akin to a river. The water never stops flowing and you choose when to come to the river and how much water you will take away." - +Anthony Carabache 

If you are interested but have questions or reservations, please feel free to ask me. If I don't have the answers we can search them out together! I look forward to hearing from you soon and seeing you on Twitter and Google+.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Teaching and Learning using the Chromebook (TLLP 13-14)

It has been a little over a month since I introduced the Chromebook to my students. During this time they have been provided with opportunities to explore the device and learn their logins and passwords. It has been, and continues to be, a multi step process with sprinkles of frustration and success. The frustrations have come from the different passwords they need to input to use the device and issues around establishing a wifi connection. The successes involve students feeling a sense of accomplishment (by continuously trying and not giving up) and system level assistance in making our learning experience a smoother one. 

My project partner, +Ferdinand Krauss, has been assisting me in the classroom and working with our IT department to figure things out. He and IT recently made the decision to enable the Chromebooks to gain access to the wifi without login/password authentication. This decision proved to be a beneficial one for my students and myself as it saved us a lot of time and frustration when we used to the devices to do some Math. I found a great Math site the other day and thought this would be a great time to lead my students to some interactive online activities. 

We are working on Number Sense and Numeration right now, specifically number relationships. We had just finished talking about ordering numbers and number lines/hundred chart. I found a neat activity called "Order Numbers 1-100" . As soon as I saw this game I thought it would be a great way to engage them in trying something relatively fun and provide me with a quick assessment of who may be struggling with number order. The students had the opportunity to use the device to get on to the Internet and have some fun applying their understanding.

The students had to pop the balloons from the smaller number to the largest number: 

Here is the shot of the first level:

A screen shot of the positive reinforcement when they complete a level:

The activity starts off simple (3 balloons) and becomes more complicated as the student moves up the levels (level 5 = 6 balloons):

Many of the students had success with this activity. The activity was colourful and fun - they wanted to play! I observed the students working well together and they helped each other out. The students that flew through this were given a challenge to find another activity or two that would connect to what we are learning about right now. The students that needed some support worked with me and a few other students. 

Their time with the Chromebook wasn't all about Math. The majority of our time was spent learning some of the basics of technological literacy. The students were taught and worked on the following:

1) signing-in on the device,
2) becoming familiar with the address bar by typing in the address that I had projected for them on the whiteboard,
3) bookmarking the site,

--> working on the interactive game<--

4) closing the browser,
5) signing-out of the device

AND then their partner had to do the same things listed above in order to have this website book marked under their user account. 

Lots of awesome teaching and learning took place during this time. The students felt really good about their work using the Chromebooks and look forward to their next opportunity to use the device and the Internet to benefit their learning and demonstration of learning. 

If you have any questions/comments about this post, please feel free to leave a comment below or send me an email at

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Introducing the Chromebook

Picture source,2817,2419670,00.asp

I recently acquired the Chromebooks that my students will be using for their blended learning. From the moment I took possession of the devices, I have been thinking about the most effective way of introducing the Chromebooks to them. Having only known my students for 7 days I feel like I have a decent grasp of what I need to do in order to effectively reach them around the what the Chromebook is and how it works.

As a whole group, I took one of the devices out of the box and gave them a look at it. They immediately made comments about its size (how small it is) and wondered about its weight. I informed them that they would each have the opportunity to power one up and work with it in a small group setting. Since they are learning about the guided reading groups that we will be having in my class I decided to roll it into our guided reading time so that I could have a small group to work with as they practice being independently engaged in learning while I guide a small group in reading. 

During our guided reading time today, I started introducing the Chromebook. The four students I worked with seemed very interested and engaged while the rest of the class tried to focus on their given task (who could blame them?). I made sure to keep things as simple as possible - I didn't want to assume that they knew anything about the device. Needless to say, they were quick to pop it open and find the power button. Once the device powered up, the students faced their first difficulty. The devices automatically prompt the user to log into their Google account with no option to log in as a guest. Having talked to +Ferdinand Krauss, my project partner, he informed me that my students would have a Google log in at a later date in order to employ the benefits of our Google Apps for Education (GAFE) account. Since we were not able to log in as a guest, I taught the students how to access the wireless network using their Internet login and password which they need to access the desktop computers at school. At this point, a couple of the students could then log on  the device as a guest but the other two could still not. With the confusion that ensued we are not certain how they ended up having the option of logging on as a guest user.

Once the students were logged in as guests and logged on to the wireless network, I taught them how to launch Chrome (the browser). Once they were on the "net" I asked them where they wanted to go in order to practice using the volume control and the track pad (on board mouse pad) - they chose to practice at Cool Math Games . They practiced using the track pad - moving up and down the page and the use of the right and left click buttons. After a short time I taught them to close their window and power down the Chromebook. 

Picture source

I asked them what their first impressions were and they said that they thought it was "cool". When I asked them to elaborate they said that they liked how small the device is and that they are excited to use it for their learning. 

I'm looking forward to working with my next small group tomorrow and I am really excited that we have started integrating the device in our classroom community. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to leave a comment below or you can email me at        

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Wrapping up the iProject: Teacher Reflections (TLLP 2012-2013)

The teachers participating in the iProject (using iPads with students with Autism to enhance their learning) met today to talk about the professional learning we experienced, the successes, and the challenges of our 2012-2013 TLLP project.

In our discussion about our professional learning, we discovered that we had a lot in common about what we gained from our year long experience. We talked about how technology can be used in our classrooms to benefit student engagement, motivation, and focus. Aside from our professional learning around the technology, we realized that we had 1) accumulated a deep knowledge of how to effectively teach our students with Autism and 2) a deep awareness and interaction with our student's IEP.

This project allowed us to really examine the characteristics of our students and how to best use the iPads to enhance their learning. As we learned more about the common characteristics of Autism we also discovered the personalities of our students, which sparked more of an interest in learning how to better serve them. With respect to the IEP (which was the main force behind the apps we would choose for our students to engage with), it became a rich and dynamic document that was used daily rather than weekly or monthly. This project led to strong teacher-student-EA interaction which helped inform the creation and maintenance of the IEP.

When we talked about the successes of the project we immediately acknowledged the effective communication and collaboration we experienced with each other and our EA's. The team work we engaged in to meet our professional learning needs and the learning needs of our students was a rich experience that provided us with feelings of support and collegiality. Another success has been the engagement, motivation, and focus we have witnessed from our students. We have also noticed that the use of the technology has allowed two of our students to become more social in the way they use their device in the classroom community. It has provided them with a way to connect to other students in the classroom and to feel more involved.

When we talked about the challenges that we came across during this project it was clear that it was difficult for us to not be involved and understand everything that was going on with our iProject students. As we instruct and support the majority of our class, our EA's would be providing direct support with the students using the iPads. At times we felt like we were on the periphery of the project rather than being in the center with our EA and student. We realized that our challenge was more of an emotional/philosophical one rather than a logical one. We felt like we weren't "in charge" because we weren't sitting with our iProject student every minute of the day. With time and constant communication with each other and our EA's, we overcame our challenge by establishing a strong relationship and trust with our EA's.

Near the end of our discussion my colleagues expressed some interesting points about their experience with this project. They noted that they are not tech savvy and that they wished they could understand the technology better. They still seem to puzzled about what they referred to as the "abstractness" of the technology and how apps are found and loaded on to the iPad. They expressed concern in not understanding how all the "abstract" stuff come together and end up on the device. From my perspective, I think that they could benefit from actually participating in locating and actually downloading apps from the iTunes store right on to the device. They experienced a taste of this a while ago and after our discussion it is clear that it was not enough for them.

Overall, our reflections on the iProject are positive and it is our belief that the use of iPads with our students with Autism has been beneficial for both the students and the teachers. It has been a great year of professional and personal growth.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Chromebook in the Hands of Grade 2 Students

I recently acquired an Acer Chromebook to test out its capabilities for student and teacher use. I blogged about my initial response to the device here, where I discussed the Chromebook's ease of use and the possibilities it holds for blended learning with my students. Shortly after blogging, I handed the device over to the students to see what they would do with it and find out what they think.

We were working on adding and subtracting with and without regrouping and the students had just been introduced to base ten blocks.

The students were presented with the task of adding and subtracting two digit numbers using base ten blocks. A few of my students found this task to be relatively easy so they were tasked with the responsibility of helping me discover on-line sites/activities that would allow us to blend their learning.

We found a great site that had two activities that we thought would be great for remediation and enrichment. Base Ten Fun and Base Ten Bingo  were deemed appropriate and were presented to the students. Using the Bright Links projector via the class desktop I introduced the two activities to the students and explained that they would all get a chance to use a 'computer' to try them out. As we progressed though our learning cycle the students got to use the various computers in our classroom (Chromebook, Laptop, Desktop) to try out the two activities.


The students knew that we wouldn't have the Chromebook for a long time so they all wanted to use it. I placed few limitations on its use - I wanted it to be treated with respect and survive its stay in our classroom. Every student had the opportunity to use the device and as they were using it I observed them and questioned them with respect to their mathematical learning and about the device.

The students loved how portable it was. Some of them sat at their desks and other laid down on the carpet. They liked that it wasn't plugged in and that they could walk around the room with it to show their friends what they were doing. They were happy to be "free" to move about the room. THEY commented that they don't like calling people over to the desktop or the laptop to look at their work, they prefer to simply go to the person they want to talk to - this includes me! Side note: there is nothing better than having many students want my attention at the same time to COMMUNICATE their THINKING.

Even though they are very careful and respectful with the computers, they commented that the laptop is too big and although they could walk around with it, I would probably not allow it. They are correct, the laptop is pretty hefty compared to the Chromebook and the iPads and iPod Touches that they use in class.

One of the students asked why we couldn't use the iPads to do this work. This question came from one of the students that was limited in mobility due to the use of the desktop computer. She wanted to find a comfy spot in the room to explore and enjoy. I explained that the iPads are not "Flash" compatible. The students wanted a demonstration so I showed them using our document camera. Due to the incompatibility with Flash based software I rarely, if ever, get the students to connect to the Internet when using the iPads and iPods. I logged on to the Internet with an iPad and showed them that we could not use the tablets to use the activities we found on the site.**

Here is what my students said about the Chromebook:
  • the screen is big enough to see what is going on
  • they like moving around with it, just like using the iPads/iPods
  • not trapped in an app, can move all over the Internet to get to different places
  • they can use sites that they use on the computer
  • they can use sites that they already know about (,
  • turns on quick
  • can move around the room easily
  • don't have to keep it plugged in
  • it is small and light
The Chromebook proved beneficial to my students while it was in our classroom. The key benefit is that it allows my students to use Flash based software that seems to be everywhere we want to be. For the purposes of our project, compatibility with Flash based software to start us off is key. My students did not have a chance to use any of the Ministry's online learning resources while we had the Chromebook in our possession (which are all Flash based by the way) but I did and everything worked fin. It is integral that we have a device that is compatible with the software used to create the learning resources that my students will be using. Moreover, the Chromebook is the perfect device for what +Ferdinand Krauss will be doing next school year with teachers. Ferdinand has blogged about his plan to leverage the Chromebook mainly with educators while my prime focus will be on blended learning with the students.

So far so good. My students only had one issue with the Chromebook - that they won't be in my class next year when I have once device for every two students!

**I must admit that I have relied heavily on the use of apps with the tablets so I took it upon myself to research web browsers that I could download onto the iPads so that my students could use Flash based software. I downloaded the "Photon" Browser onto one of the iPads and then proceeded to the two online activities listed above. Sadly, we were still not able to load Flash based activities. We got a message that said something about installing the most recent Flash software. Although I am not easily dissuaded most of the time, I threw in the towel on this ongoing issue due to the fact that we have discovered a relatively affordable device that can do what we want and a lot more.


Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Chrome is as good as Gold!

+Ferdinand Krauss and I are on an exciting journey, one that we believe will lead students to success by employing 21st Century strategies and a blended learning model. Although our journey has just begun, we have already had to make some changes to our project.

One of the changes involves the device that we will leverage to benefit the learning of primary students and the professional development of teachers interested in using blended learning in their classroom. After extensive research and experimentation we realized that the Acer Chromebook would be the best suited device to support us in our above mentioned goals. 

We want our primary students and teachers to be able to view/experience on-line interactive sites, particularly Flash-based learning activities created by the Ministry of Education without having to change/configure any settings. We want their experience to be as seamless as possible with their focus squarely on the learning/teaching and not the technology. 

Enter the Chromebook: not complicated to learn, no expensive software to buy, and it starts in seconds. As I use a Chromebook to write this blog post I can attest to the simplicity of the device. The fact that it starts up in seconds and requires almost no set-up or maintenance is a dream. As a classroom teacher much of my  attention is placed on instructional time and I can see how this device will not take away valuable time from my teaching or student learning. 

The Chromebook is often referred to in a negative light because it is seen as, simply, a web browsing device. It is for this very reason that for +Ferdinand Krauss and I, Chrome is as good as gold! Blended learning is all about combining face-to-face classroom methods combined with "online" content and instruction. We want our students and teachers to engage with a device that will facilitate excellent and fast web browsing. The faster the better!! The web browser (Chrome) is a modern one that includes tools that allow standardized and easy deployment and management that are welcome in educational settings. 

Moreover, the Chromebook houses the best that Google has to offer. With respect to teacher professional development, Google Drive (file storage and synchronization service provided by Google which enables user cloud storagefile sharing and collaborative editing) and Hangout (places used to facilitate group video chatare just two examples of apps that facilitate collaboration and are easily accessible on the device. Combined with the speed of the device these two apps function very well and add to the positive experience. 

I look forward to blogging more about the the other capabilities of this device for the purposes of our project. Stay tuned to read more about our exciting journey!! 

Monday, May 20, 2013

Building Capacity via Self Directed Learning

I recently spent several days in Toronto with +Ferdinand Krauss for the Teacher Learning & Leadership Program. We spent our days learning the 'ins and outs' of the program, things like the fundamentals, project management/budgeting, and time to work on our project. This was my second time attending the training and even though I participated last year, the experience was not lost on me. In fact, I gained wonderful insight and "heard" things that didn't get absorbed last year. I looked forward to the training and was mentally ready to engage in it.

Informal discussions around integrating technology in the classroom, project design & implementation, digital resources, and social networking helped "stretch" my thinking and has caused much reflection on my part. In his TED Talk about motivation, Daniel Pink  mentions that one of the ways to engage people is by allowing them to self-direct their learning. The project we are working on, the professional learning network I am part of on Twitter, and the reading I engage in are all self directed and based on my professional needs and interests.

Essentially, I am building capacity by going after what I need and doing so with an open mind, prepared to deal with the critical questions and cognitive dissonance that comes my way. This is no easy task, but what makes it palatable is the understanding that it will make me a better teacher and leader.

As I reflect on the 2012-2013 TLLP that is coming to an end, I can't help but reflect on the learning that has occurred. I must admit that during my project there were times when I was not open or comfortable with the critical questions and dissonance that came my way. If my recent training experience is any indication of what is to come, I feel like I am better equipped to deal with what comes my way and do what I can to leverage it in order to continue to benefit my students, my colleagues, and myself.

Your comments are always welcome - please feel free to comment here or at

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Engaging Students using Video Messages

Many months ago I read about using video messages to "hook" student into the learning that they were going to do in class. I read about this on Twitter and I was intrigued. The idea comes from the fact that many people have smart phones that have video camera capabilities, so why not take short video of a real-life situation that can be used to engage students in their learning. I have played around with the idea and have tried it a couple of times but I didn't really feel good about it until today.

I was at the hockey arena on the weekend with my boys for their skating lessons and as they were doing their thing I couldn't help but wonder what my students would say if I asked them how they would measure the perimeter of the skating rink using non standard units. We are talking about perimeter right now so it seemed like a great opportunity for me to try this out without too much stress. The video is "raw" and impromptu so please don't be too harsh in your judgement. I fumble a couple of times and even use the word 'area' as I am trying to set it up for my students. My wife (who is also an elementary school teacher) commented on the 'flaws' of the video but I am sticking to the idea that it is an authentic video and that this whole process would not be so effective if things were planned and polished. Here is the video:

After watching the video the students worked with a partner to talk about what non standard units they could use tho measure the perimeter of the ice rink. After a couple of minutes we brought things back to the whole group and I recorded their ideas. We had a great discussion!

Here is what they came up with:

The students had a lot of fun with this! They enjoyed watching me talk to them about the math and they loved seeing all the items in the video that they could use to measure the perimeter of the ice rink.

I'm looking forward to trying this again! I hope that I can continue to catch real life experiences that I can use in the classroom to help engage my students in their learning. I already have some ideas to try and get them to make connections and work on point of view. I am also interested in asking richer questions/applying Blooms Taxonomy in order to reach my students where they are at and work with them to bump things up.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Plans Change, Shift Happens! (TLLP 2012-2013)

Tweet from Simon Sinek (April 23, 2013) -
 I read this tweet this morning and it seemed to fit perfectly with what I have been experiencing with what I affectionately refer to as the iProject. There has been a lot of 'change' with the project - the only constant has been ME and my mentor. Nevertheless, I felt a strange comfort when I read Simon Sinek's message.

This project has taught me a lot about a variety of things, but what I am taking away from it today is how it has helped me transform into a better collaborator, communicator, and problem solver. While working on the project this morning I was wondering how my morning would go as I search for apps to assist our grade 2 student. Without question, each student is unique but usually there are similarities. All three of the students in this project are different and all of them are on a unique learning journey. One of our students is really doing well and able to meld a social aspect to it. Another student responds well to the use of the device but the social aspect is nearly non existent. Our youngest student has good days and bad days but has come a long way.

The main plan was to provide our students with an innovative way to meet their needs and help them learn and I am pleased to say that it has been happening, as we planned. Everything under the umbrella of the main plan has shifted and even changed. If someone had told me a year ago about all the changes that would come our way I would have laughed out loud and told them that what they were telling me would never happen.

I am 'ok' with what we have experienced throughout this journey so far and I look forward to the last couple of months as we lead our iProject students to success!

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Success for all Students: 21st Century Teaching/Learning using Tablets & A Blended Learning Model

Over the past few years my school board has invested in technological advancements/ideas in order to improve student engagement, achievement, and encourage the acquirement of 21st Century skills. Every classroom in our system is equipped with a Brightlink projector/interactive whiteboard. This combination allows for access and use of digital resources (e.g. You Tube, interactive websites) for teacher and student benefit. Also, teachers have been provided with training and access to software that allows for the creation of interactive lessons to be used via the projectors in the classrooms. On top of the investment in the classroom, all of our schools have wireless Internet hot spots that allow staff, students, and visitors to bring their own device for appropriate use in our buildings. 
With such great developments in our system, Ferdinand Krauss and I created a proposal for the Ministry of Education's Teacher Learning and Leadership Program (TLLP) which is an annual project-based professional learning opportunity for experienced classroom teachers. The TLLP "...funds proposals from classroom teachers who seek a peer leadership role in curriculum, instructional practice or supporting other teachers. The three goals of the program are to create and support opportunities for teacher professional learning, foster teacher leadership and facilitate the sharing of exemplary practices with others for the broader benefit of Ontario's students" ( Ferdinand and I are pleased with the Ministry's decision to fund our project for the 2013-2014 school year.
Image courtesy of Michael Redfearn
Our project title is "Success for all Students: 21st Century Teaching/Learning using Tablets & A Blended Learning Model". Our plan involves the use of the collaborative inquiry framework to design blended learning projects that target a specific area of achievement and engagement for primary and junior students. A review of current instructional practice will help us to identify an innovative approach to achieving the stated learning goals. The Blended Learning activities will incorporate resources from the Ontario Educational Resource Bank, and tools from the provincial Learning Management System in order to differentiate instruction and provide enrichment and remediation for student learning. The use of tablets will allow students to actively participate in Blended Learning on a regular basis and help them to become more proficient at using Web 2.0 tools for collaboration and communication. Professional development will occur with the use of the Blended Learning model and the tablets so that educators interested in adopting this approach can use their own experiences to inform their practice.
Participating in the design, implementation and evaluation of a Blended Learning project will allow us to determine the specific instructional practices and strategies that are required to improve learning for primary and junior students. For example, what activities and formats do the students find most engaging and which ones are most successful at enhancing their learning? We will also be able to determine how to use the tools and resources to become more effective at differentiating instruction for a variety of learning styles and aptitudes in order to meet the needs of our students. Gaining experience using the tools in the LMS will help us to better design learning pathways for remediation and enrichment in a Blended Learning model. The knowledge we gain will be shared with other educators that would like to adopt this model as a result of our Board’s recent decision to support Bring your Own Device.
We believe that our project will contribute to increasing student learning and development by differentiating instruction in order to meet each student's needs. Helping all students succeed in their learning is an enormous challenge that requires an innovative approach such as the one we have proposed. The use of technology as a learning tool is an engaging one that allows for differentiation of content of instruction, processes & techniques to help make sense of content, and what students produce to demonstrate their learning. Differentiation is further supported with the use of Blooms Digital Taxonomy which is appropriate when using web 2.0 tools in combination with mobile devices. Moreover, the use of the blended learning model & tablets would also help facilitate student learning/development of critical thinking skills known as 21st century fluencies, making learning relevant to life in our digital age.

Image courtesy of Michael Redfearn

We are both very excited to have this learning and leadership opportunity. We look forward to engaging our students in such an innovative way while meeting their needs. Your feedback is welcome, please consider leaving a comment here or via email at