Tag Archives: IB

A Minecraft Inquiry – Course 5 Final Project

MinecraftEdu is a phenomenal tool for educators. The possibilities are endless and I am already planning how to integrate MinecraftEdu into language, mathematics and social studies units.

I found that a one hour setup before each session really helped me to stay focused on exactly what the students had to achieve. It also helped me to become more familiar with MinecraftEdu as a tool. The social computing skills that the students were able to develop far exceeded my expectations. It was a safe, easy to use digital environment for young students to be able to interact, collaborate and create together.

A Minecraft Inquiry Unit Plan:

This really is just the beginning. I am going to continue my ‘Minecraft Inquiry Blog‘ as I continue to research the possibilities of Minecraft in an inquiry classroom.

Community Starts at Home

Global Community

One of the significant advantages of being a COETAIL student is the level of community engagement required and encouraged. Any educators at any time can reach out globally yet this wasn’t something I really benefited from until this COETAIL course. I now consider it my responsibility to develop my PLN. The articles shared, conversations, connections and learning experiences I have encountered due to my expanding PLN are incredible. I strongly urge all educators to take the time each week to reach out globally.

By sharing my own experiences I am able to process my own ideas and consolidate my own understanding, known at the Protege Effect.


I have been astounded by the power of twitter. After a reluctant and slow start to twitter I now can’t imagine a significant teaching event without it. COETAIL has encouraged me to extend my reach and use twitter in different ways. At a recent IB regional workshop teachers were asked to volunteer to run a short presentation on something they are passionate about and I jumped at the chance to sing the praises of twitter.

I quickly put together this presentation using the PYP key concepts to describe how I use twitter as a primary class teacher.

As a result of actively engaging with my PLN as part of my COETAIL course I have become significantly more engaged online.

Twitter has also enabled me to further my own understanding by discussing relevant topics with others. Hashtags have been a really effective way of connecting including #coetailchat, #pypchat and our own school hashtag #sislearns.

TweetDeck has been really useful to help me efficiently manage my account and not to miss anything.

I also enjoy using storify to record and share special events such as #siscodes for the Hour of Code. I now create hashtags for significant events such as our PYP Exhibition #sispypx.


Following on from connections made during our coetail blogs @tracyblair invited @leahbortolin and myself to trial #Edu-Hangouts. The proposal is that like-minded educators meet on Google Hangouts to discuss topical educational issues. I created this infographic to help advertise the event.

We have now met and discussed social media in the primary classroom and are planning many more #Edu-Hangouts.

Screen Shot 2016-04-04 at 19.37.00

Local Community Connections

An area where I have had unexpected success in connecting with educators is at my current school. Surprisingly by connecting online we are able to share, discuss and connect. The quick and easy instant sharing that twitter enables means that we can all be a part of each others learning environments even when we are unable to be there in person.

Yes it is wonderful to be able to connect globally- but don’t forget the fantastic educators that you share a staff room with!

A Minecraft Inquiry

If you work in a primary school chances are you have heard your students discussing Minecraft. Currently over 21 million people have purchased Minecraft. There are a staggering 7 billion views of Minecraft related activities on YouTube. Clearly it is very popular. My question is ‘Can Minecraft enhance student learning in my classroom?’.

Image from Flickr by Thomas Wagner


I have researched how many teachers have integrated Minecraftedu successfully into the learning engagements. I have read and learnt from previous coetailers’ blogs about integrating Minecraft into a primary classroom, in particular @wayfaringpath @mikehoffman and @biggles. I am hoping to learn from their experiences and to build a valuable resource for teachers like myself. My aim is to create a blog that is aimed at primary teachers interested in integrating Minecraft into their classrooms.

The first draft of my Minecraft blog.


I am particularly keen to see how Minecraft can integrate into an inquiry classroom. I will be focusing on how the PYP transdisciplinary themes can be used in Minecraft, as well as looking into possible conceptual links with the PYP key concepts. I am also hoping to see any potential ways to teach language, mathematics, social studies or science learning outcomes.

Image used with the author’s permission.


My research will also include reading Colin Gallagher‘s new book ‘An Educator’s Guide to Using Minecraft in the Classroom’.

It is my aim to provide a simple guide for primary inquiry teachers to integrate Minecraft into their units.





A Unit of Inquiry: Design a School

I have designed a unit of work that will help to introduce MinecraftEdu to students. The project is deliberately open to enable students to follow their own ideas. Students will be working collaboratively on designing and building a new school. They will have to justify features of our new school design and then follow a plan to all build it together. We will also be focusing on cooperation skills so that it is a collaborative learning experience. The detailed plans are below:

My Concerns

My main concern is that, although using Minecraft will be fun, it may not be academically rigorous. I am also worried that it will be a distraction for students. In regards to my blog my concern is that I am repeating what other teachers have already tried to do. I am also unsure of how using Minecraft can be linked to our curriculum as I will be learning as I inquire. I am also concerned about the technical side of using Minecraftedu as this is the first time it has been used in my school.

New Pedagogy

This will be a new experience for me. I have not yet used Minecraft or seen it in action in the classroom. As a homeroom teacher I will be rethinking how I can teach all areas of my curriculum to find authentic links through Minecraft.

Image from Flickr by Steven Saus

Let the inquiry begin!

iPad Time!

As a class we have decided it is time to update our system of iPad access in class. Up until now the teacher has had control over when the students have access to their iPad’s. Increasingly students request their iPad’s for a range of tools (spelling, translation, research etc.) and I realised it is time for me to let go of the control. I asked myself ‘Am I hindering my students’ learning?’

Previously, I have been concerned about device distraction, lack of social interaction and an overload of screen time. Common sense media recommends one hour per day for primary aged children. We have six hours of class time per day. Does this same amount apply to supervised educational use? There appears to be limited research that applies to our specific situation: a small class of motivated Grade 5 students who are encouraged to independently make the right choices about their learning.

Are we hindering student learning by restricting tech use?

I proposed to the class my idea for allowing them to use their iPads at any time in the classroom. Surprisingly a quick vote showed me that students wanted a list of rules that they could follow. They explained that having some guidance made it clearer to understand what was acceptable.

When deciding on these rules the following points came out in a class discussion:

Encouraging self-management skills.

We conducted a ‘think, pair, share’ thinking routine to analyse these results. We narrowed these ideas into four workable class rules that addressed our concerns. A student also suggested we review these rules every month. Another student suggested that they monitor their own daily screen time – if we use the iPad’s a lot at school – play outside at home.

Class designed rules.

I look forward to the monthly review!

My Classroom in 2030

After reading Michael Barber’s article on ‘How Could-and Should-Schooling Look in 2030’ I began to reflect on what the future might hold in my PYP classroom. My dream learning environment of the future is an open learning space with comfortable furniture filled with the latest technology. I will be able to enlighten my well-motivated, internationally minded students. However, from what I can remember these have been my dreams for some time.

I decided to compare my PYP classroom from 15 years ago with my vision for my future PYP classroom in 15 years time. When using Mary Beth Hertz’s levels of technology integration I can see that 15 years ago my technology integration was sparse. I would currently rank my classroom as between ‘comfortable and seamless’ but I wonder what the next 15 years will hold. What is beyond seamless?

I also reflected on how teacher use of technology may change in the future. Will the email epidemic continue to take up value time? Will university entrance exams become 100% digital thus releasing the pressure on handwriting expectations?  I researched potential future technology use for the classroom including from ‘Co creation and the web of new things‘. I also attempted to keep my financial expectations realistic whilst considering how technology advancements can impact student learning in my classroom. Below is my infographic to demonstrate my ideas.

How technology may change in the future.

Student-Centred Learning

A Brief History of Student-Centred Learning

Student-centred learning is not a new phenomenon. John Dewey outlined many educational theories including the importance of how ‘students should have the opportunity to take part in their own learning’, in 1897. Project-based learning, Problem-based learning and more recently the apple launched Challenge-based learning all discuss the importance of student-centred learning, and inquiry being central to the learning process. What all of these learning styles have in common in today’s classrooms are that they naturally lend themselves to integrating technology. If the technology is available, and students know how to use it, it should be a part of the learning process.

My current conundrum is ‘If I want a student-centred, inquiry classroom, should my students should have access to technology all of the time?’

My Concerns

How much screen access is okay? Should ten year old students have access to iPads all day? I decided to find out what students and teachers thought. I used a great idea from @traintheteacher. A binary question for all students to answer as they arrive at school.

    I also tweeted a poll for teachers’ viewpoints:

An Experimental Inquiry

Our central idea

After discussing these issues in class we decided to try an experiment. A full day with unlimited technology, and a full day unplugged completely.

Below are some student reflections from our ‘Tech Saturation Day’.

Students were also asked to write a Headline (maximum of ten words) to sum up the unplugged day. Below are some examples:

Teacher Reflections

  • Beginner EAL students were able to work independently. They produced more work than they ever have before.
  • Some students were easily distracted with the iPad. They did however still complete all of their assignments.
  • Working on paper is time consuming. Ten minute tasks took at least four times that.
  • Students enjoyed drawing and paper-craft.
  • Our replicate social media account is the students favourite past-time.
  • Marking and photocopying work is very time consuming. This took up approximately two hours of my day (compared to minutes using google apps).


I will still have some parts of our school day tech free but will monitor for which learning engagements this is an advantage. I’m interested in hearing how other teachers manage the availability of technology in a student-centred inquiry classroom. Is it time to let the student’s decide?

Are Some Primary Classrooms Short Cited?

Primary School Citation Expectations

Citation Children

https://academicallyhonest.blogspot.in/ Inforgraphic created by R. Langlands

In many primary classrooms citation can be a grey area. Often, by the end of primary school, students can source information from a book by identifying the author and perhaps the publisher/date. However, many students use images and videos from the web without ever considering who created them, how to cite them or if they are available for public use. In fact, many teachers don’t consider copyright or fair use regulations when using images and video clips in a school setting.

For a group assignment, 4 educators got together to try to find our why citation may be a problem in primary schools We began by asking Grade 5 students to reflect on their understanding of citation. Most of the students were in the process of their IB PYP Exhibition and all had some experience of citation. Students from our 4 schools were asked to reflect on their skills of citation on this padlet page.

padlet course2

Image authors own. Grade 5 citation reflections

An Idea Develops

The student feedback reflected what we were witnessing in our own schools. Some students can link to websites, but information about citing images and videos is unclear or non-existent. Whilst researching primary citation we located some useful resources for teachers, but no resources for primary students.

We began with the idea of producing posters for primary classrooms with examples of citation. It quickly became clear that this was too limiting and our ideas developed. We used a googledoc to share thoughts and develop our understanding. We quickly had an indepth, authentic collaborative inquiry into primary citation expectations.

Student Resources for Citation

We required an easily accessible resource where primary students could see examples of successful citation, especially of images and videos. Media is constantly changing and students need access to recent citation guidelines at their fingertips. Therefore we decided a blog focused solely on Academic Honesty with specific examples of how to cite a range of multimedia would be beneficial to both students and teachers.

A Truly Collaborative Inquiry

Although our googledoc was a great place to share ideas we felt we needed the opportunity to connect in real time so we decided upon a weekly google hangout. This provided us with the opportunity to really discuss the details of what our blog needed and enabled us to move our own learning forward. We were fortunate to have a range of backgrounds and areas of expertise in our group and everybody contributed significantly to the development of our project. Our collaboration enabled us to build extensively on our initial idea to a blog that we are all proud of. As evidence of our successful collaboration we recorded a ‘Google Hangout on Air‘.

A Unit of Inquiry on Citation

As our project evolved we identified the need for two units of inquiry. Firstly, a unit aimed at schools that are trying to support primary teachers in understanding how and why to teach citation. Secondly, a unit aimed at primary teachers delivering lessons in citation of various media.

A Unit Planner for Schools 

A Site to Help Primary Educators Teach Citation

A Unit Planner for Teachers

A Site to Help Children Cite


Student Self Assessment Rubric

Finally, we included on our blog a self-assessment rubric for students to identify specific improvements in their citation skills. We used the same headings for various media which will encourage students to identify that all images, videos, blogs etc. need to be cited correctly.

Final Reflections

We hope that by introducing our blogs in our own schools that teachers will be able to feedback on how useful it is in the classroom. There are many practical resources available on our blog to assist primary teachers in implementing accurate and age-appropriate citation guidelines for students. Our aim is that our blog will continue to evolve based on the comments that we receive from educators and students so that we will always have an up to date, child-friendly resource, easily available for all.

Empowering Student Action with 1:1 Devices

Recently my school has adopted a full 1:1 programme in the Primary School. After only a fortnight of using our own iPads I am already beginning to see the amazing benefits of a 1:1 programme for young children.

Immediate Impact

My students now have the choice of how and when to use their iPads. Without planning to, we have naturally moved away from scheduled  ‘ICT lessons’ to students accessing technology when it is relevant to them. Students have requested to use apps, take photo’s, record themselves talking to take notes, video something interesting and more. And it feels like we are only just beginning to redefine our classroom practice.

Image authors own. A choice of tools available

Another significant improvement in our lesson time is that we no longer have to deal with passwords. If you haven’t had to help a class of Grade 2 students log in using computer generated passwords then you may not realize the significance of this statement. It is usually the most time consuming and frustrating part of any lesson. I’ve tried a number of strategies to overcome this (password cards, teacher log-in prior to use, saving passwords on desktops) but there are inevitably problems. I am relived now that we can use the wonderful ‘remember password’ feature.

Image authors own. Not your typical spelling list.


As I now reflect on how to enable my students to reach their full potential I am considering how I can make the most effective use of our devices.  After reading ’20 Things I Learned’, created by Google, I felt reassured that I may not know everything but what is important (especially for my class) is that I am learning about developments on the web.

Life as citizens of the web can be liberating and empowering, but also deserves some self-education.


Thanks to my research for my COETAIL course I have increased my awareness of cookies, browsers and filters. I can also see how important it is that I become a ‘search engine expert’ so that I can teach my students these vital skills.

Search competency is a form of literacy, like learning a language or subject. Like any literacy, it requires having discrete skills as well as accumulating experience in how and when to use them.


What I am witnessing is that how we are learning is constantly changing. This should impact on how we teach. David Weinberger explains this well in his book ‘Small Pieces’.

The old model is about control: a team works on a document, is responsible for its content and format, and releases it to the public when it’s been certified as done.

David Weinberger, https://www.smallpieces.com/content/preface.html

Although not aimed at primary educators the point is still significant. Technology is not just a substitution for how to publish work. Now we have the potential for students to create, share, connect, comment on and transform their learning. This was written in 2002, yet many schools are still not realizing the potential of how the web can enhance and alter everything we do in the classroom.


An excellent example of how a primary student can use the web to share and connect globally is Martha Payne, a Scottish student who kept a blog ‘NeverSeconds‘ of her school dinners for a writing assignment. She currently has ten million hits on her blog and an incredible story to share. If you too are inspired you can donate on Martha’s just giving page for Mary’s Meals here.

As a PYP teacher, action is an area where I feel the web should have a huge impact on student experience. One of the five essential elements of the PYP programme is action. In the document ‘Making the PYP Happen‘ the importance of action is explained.

In the PYP, it is believed that education must extend beyond the intellectual to include not only socially responsible attitudes but also thoughtful and appropriate action.

Making the PYP Happen, 2012

As a teacher attempting to provide authentic opportunities for students to ‘act’ the web can be a powerful resource for connection. Student-initiated action can be enhanced by:

  • The potential of a global audience
  • Connecting with like-minded individuals
  • Learning from others instantly
  • Continuing to receive feedback on their ideas and move their understanding forward
  • Reflecting on their own understanding

Educators need to model these connections in the classroom to enable students to appreciate the full extent of possibilities. The potential for students using the web for action is vast and almost incomprehensible. Our role is to increase student awareness and skills, then step back and allow them to access the power of their global connections.

As I attempt to move my teaching forward and to utilize our 1:1 devices effectively I hope to promote more meaningful and collaborative uses of the web in our learning, and to inspire student-initiated action.

Activating Learning

Schools face many challenges when attempting to integrate technology effectively. These challenges include training, awareness, and the prioritization of appropriate technologies based on cost and benefit. The adoption of technology is never a ‘one-stop’ solution but always a continual process of upgrading, learning, adapting, purchasing, training and implementing new tools.

It is becoming increasingly clear, at least in my classroom, that the redefinition of learning moves at a much faster pace when students, have access to a 1:1 device. This is expressed in Claire Wachowiak‘s blog post ‘A Beautiful Game’ where she compares not being 1:1 to a team of footballers not all being allowed on the pitch at the same time. Mark Prensky also highlights the impact of not having a 1:1 programme in his Edutopia article ‘Adopt and Adapt’.

Any ratio that involves sharing computers — even two kids to a computer — will delay the technology revolution from happening.

Adopt and Adapt: Shaping Tech for the Classroom by Mark Prensky (Edutopia), 2005


Image by Creative Commons. https://pixabay.com/p-214364/?no_redirect

However, there is a lot more to implementing technology than just purchasing it. ‘Alive in the Swamp: Assessing Digital Innovations in Technology’  is a detailed report by Michael Fullan and Katelyn Donnelly. In the foreward Sir Michael Barber addresses this concern:

For years – ever since the 1970s – we have heard promises that technology is about to transform the performance of education systems. And we want to believe the promises; but mostly that is what they have remained. The transformation remains stubbornly five or ten years in the future but somehow never arrives.

Alive in the Swamp: Assessing Digital Innovations in Education, 2013

Below is a video summary of the Alive in the Swamp research paper.

Whilst reading this report I came across the term ‘activator’ to describe the new role of a teacher. This struck me as an excellent way to describe how our role is now being defined with technology in the classroom. This was illustrated in the report with a teacher as a ‘change agent’ (not just a facilitator of learning), guiding students to take charge of their own learning.

Active Proteins. Image from Creative Commons https://www.rcsb.org/pdb/images/2wns_bio_r_500.jpg?bioNum=

Active Proteins. Image from Creative Commons https://www.rcsb.org/pdb/images/2wns_bio_r_500.jpg?bioNum=

This report also supports the view that just having the technology is not enough. Teachers need support and guidance to effectively implement the technology. Mark Presnsky goes on to discuss strategies that might enable educators to do this:

So, let’s not just adopt technology into our schools. Let’s adapt it, push it, pull it, iterate with it, experiment with it, test it, and redo it, until we reach the point where we and our kids truly feel we’ve done our very best. Then, let’s push it and pull it some more.

This approach to integrating technology is not necessarily easy, but it is, I believe, important. The dangers of not supporting teachers in this approach are outlined in a recent Edudemic article focusing on the pros and cons of educational technology:

If not utilized properly, the positive effects of technology become negative which continue to hinder students’ success.


There are many things that administrators can do to enable teachers to be successful in integrating technology. Expectations and priorities should come from the leaders of the school, preferably supported with a proactive technology integrator. A culture of collaboration amongst teachers should also be encouraged, face to face, and also by utilizing an on-line PLN. A realization that this is a continual process for teachers and that time and guidance should be encouraged to accommodate this also helps. I also believe that teachers need to plan technology integration with a purpose. Whether modifying or redefining tasks, we need to actively plan to incorporate technology in a meaningful way to facilitate learning.

The good news is that there are many international schools leading the field in successful technology integration. By developing PLN’s and connecting with like-minded educators we can learn from each other to successfully integrate technology and move learning forward in our classrooms. Let’s get activated!

The Shifting Definition of Teaching

As I am approaching almost 2 decades of teaching I am able to reflect on a shift in my role as a teacher. In my early career in London my role was to ‘share knowledge’ and although we sometimes ‘looked something up in the dictionary together’ (just to model how of course) I was perceived by my students as the expert in all areas. When I began teaching the IB PYP in 2001, my perceptions of myself as an educator were challenged. I began to adjust to an increasingly student-centered, concept-driven, inquiry based approach. Perhaps I didn’t need all of the answers to be an effective teacher.

Now, as a teacher attempting to utilize all of the advantages that technology has to offer in my classroom, I find I am definitely not the expert. I am learning continually: sharing, copying, modeling, trying, retrying, listening and reviewing different approaches. For the first time in my career, my students are able to discover things with me, and teach me. ‘Miss, why don’t we do it this way?’ has become one of my favourite questions in the classroom. I am constantly impressed with how quickly young students can utilize new tools, apps and programmes experimenting and sharing their knowledge instantly.

Not a solitary activity!

A spontaneous sharing of ideas. Photo from my Code Club activity this week.

This sharing of knowledge and expertise is having a hugely positive impact on what is happening in my classroom. The connection of like-minded educators around the globe is an outstanding, never ending resource, of new ideas and approaches. As we all try to accommodate the ever evolving technological advances around us, we are able to help, assist, develop and offer practical suggestions for adapting these in the classroom. This connecting and building on knowledge extends the expertise of teachers like never before.

This shift in learning within a digital community is being discussed as a new learning theory.

“Siemens and Downes initially received increasing attention in the blogosphere in 2005 when they discussed their ideas concerning distributed knowledge.  An extended discourse has ensued in and around the status of ‘connectivism’ as a learning theory for the digital age.”

Rita Kop and Adrian Hill

Connectivism: Learning theory of the future or vestige of the past? 2008

 Although the authors conclude that connectivism is not a learning theory in it’s own right they do acknowledge that connectivism:

“Continues to play an important role in the development and emergence of new pedagogies, where control is shifting from the tutor to an increasingly more autonomous learner.”

It seems that the role of the student is also shifting. They are no longer ’empty vessels’ waiting to be filled with knowledge. Technology has enabled them to become contributors and creators in their own learning. The excellent ‘Blooms Digital Taxonomy‘, by Andrew Churches, attempts to incorporate this new digital learning style to facilitate learning. He also discusses the importance of teachers setting the example in their practice:

To prepare our students, our teaching should also model collaboration.

Andrew Churches

Churches provides practical examples of what being creative is currently like digitally, including coding, filming, animating, videocasting, directing, producing, video logging etc. All great practical suggestions of how we can try to encompass the modification and redefinition stages of the SAMR model, developed by Dr. Ruben Puentedura (explained briefly below by Candace M).

As teachers we are at a compelling time in education. Incorporating endless new technologies to prepare our students for an ever-changing world. Luckily, our connections mean that we’re not alone. Even our youngest students can help us to create this. And whilst we tackle this task of the future we should remember some wise words from the past:


 Schools of Tomorrow, 1915