Tag Archives: teaching

Creative Mode

My Minecraft Inquiry is now well underway. I still have a lot to learn but we are definitely making progress with MinecraftEdu. I’ve discovered that we achieve more in Creative Mode and that border blocks help students to build in the same location. Our unit of inquiry is almost complete and then I will begin the process of compiling a video for my Coetail Course 5 Project.

Our new school so far!

I realised I have had to learn a lot of new vocabulary quickly. Students are already familiar with Minecraft which left us teachers new to Minecraft constantly researching definitions. I decided a MinecraftEdu glossary aimed at beginner educators would be a useful addition to my Minecraft Inquiry blog.

Throughout the Minecraft lessons the students helped to create an assessment rubric. Student suggestions are listed below which we then constructed into a rubric.Assessment tips

The students identified a range of skills required to be successful in our Minecraft Inquiry including face-to-face social skills as well as ‘in game’ social skills. They also felt it was important to follow the plan and recognised that this was related to staying on task.

Students identified cooperation and kindness as key Minecraft skills.

As in all aspects of education, the more time and effort I put into the Minecraft lessons the more the students get out of them. I have now scheduled an hour’s set up for each lesson where I just explore the world, check on student buildings, and prepare any assignments or additions for the lesson. This has really helped me to understand the expectations for each student for every lesson, which in turn helps students to be successful with clear guidelines.

My Initial Observations

Student engagement in MinecraftEdu is staggering. Every student is completely focused on their task for every minute of the lesson. Every single lesson ends with disappointment when the students realize they have to stop working. This level of student interest is remarkable and motivates me to consider how else I can integrate MinecraftEdu into our curriculum.

One minute warning: What already? #MinecraftEdu the fastest hour of the day #coetail#minecraft

— Amanda (@ALMcCloskey) February 23, 2016

The social and thinking skills that the students are developing are incredibly beneficial.  Elena Malykhina discusses in ‘The Scientific American’ the impact that digital games can have in education. The challenge for teachers is trying to find the time to assess how to best utilize these resources. Hopefully my ‘Minecraft Inquiry‘ will support other teachers hoping to incorporate MinecraftEdu in an inquiry classroom.

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!

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?

Another Feather in a Teacher’s Cap

teachers cap

Image from pixabay

Teachers are adept at wearing many hats. In a ‘normal’ week in a primary school a teacher may also take on the role of coach, leader, nurse, engineer, editor, designer, cleaner, peace-maker, philosopher or facilitator. The list is endless and ever changing and now often includes blogger, web-designer, vlogger, social media marketing managers and many more roles.

The hurdle for many teachers today is that they are not equipped with the correct skills to fulfill these digital roles successfully. An understanding of web design, topography, visual hierarchy, scanning patterns etc. should now be a priority for all educators (and their students) both as consumers and producers of information.

An informative post by web developer, Brandon Jones, has helped me to understand the essentials of web design. He explains web design as visual communication. He goes on to explain the importance of using size, colour, contrast, alignment, repetition, proximity, density and whitespace, and style and texture.

Good visual hierarchy isn’t about wild and crazy graphics or the newest photoshop filters, it’s about organizing information in a way that’s usable, accessible, and logical to the everyday site visitor.

Understanding Visual Hierarchy in Web Design, Brandon Jones

So now time to make my learning authentic. How can I improve my own blog? Admittedly I have not given much thought to the design of this blog. I am now reviewing my own blog through the eyes of my new role as a web designer. The size of the large sunset image draws the eye but it is now relevant to the content of the blog. The background colour could be toned down to be more ‘calming on the eye’. I also need to consider which widgets and headings I want.

Digital Inquiry

My COETAIL blog homepage


One of the questions that Brandon Jones tells us to ask ourselves is:

Does the expected importance match up with the actual designed importance?

Understanding Visual Hierarchy in Web Design, Brandon Jones

This is an important question for me as the expected importance in the layout, particularly the widgets, does not match up with the designed importance. A photograph of personal significance doesn’t have a lot of relevance to my audience. I am also now analysing the priority of the tool bars and widgets. What do I actually want you, the reader, to take from my page? The aim of my blog is to connect with like-minded professionals and to promote collaboration as a tool for developing classroom practice.

Possible design updates:

  • technology related header image
  • reorder widgets depending on relevance
  • new background colour to complement new header image
  • upper tool-bar categories for each coetail course
  • twitter feed more prominent
  • links to my other blogs
  • include some personal information about me
  • global visitors map/globe counter
  • clear licensing details

As always, I look to my COETAIL colleagues for inspiration. The design of these blogs have given me some great ideas.

chez vivian with comments

A screenshot of Vivian’s COETAIL blog.

chamada with comments

A screenshot of Clint’s COETAIL blog.

And now I shall begin the process of updating and improving the design of this blog. I now feel more confident to include web design in my own teaching as I help my students to understand and benefit from the importance of visual media. As George Lucas succinctly put it in an Edutopia article:

We live and work in a visually sophisticated world, so we must be sophisticated in using all the forms of communication, not just the written word.

James Daly, Life on the Screen: Visual Literacy in Education

And here is a screen shot of my ‘new look’ blog, which may continue to evolve as my confidence in visual literacy grows. Watch this space!

Screen Shot 2015-09-08 at 10.25.53 pm

My new look blog; constantly being updated.

Are you using more tech than a 2nd grader?

School has broken up for the summer holidays! This is a wonderful time of the year to appreciate all our students have achieved. As I reflect on my adventure in educational technology this year I can’t help but wonder how many educators would also achieve our grade 2 tech goals for this year.

So before you head off on your summer break ask yourself these questions:

  1. Is the majority of your work saved in the cloud (googledocs etc.)?
  2. Are you using hyperlinks instead of attachments?
  3. Are you a confident googledocs user (e.g. using the suggesting setting)?
  4. Are you using a photo sharing app or are you still uploading/downloading every picture?
  5. Are your cloud based documents organised into folders?
  6. Are all the images you use cited/licensed correctly?

In my class the aim was for each student to achieve at least 5 of these. How did you do?

What else would add to this list?


Are we all keeping up with our students tech skills?


It Takes a Village…

The attitude to parenting in Tanzania is often referred to as ‘Mtu ni Watu‘ which translates as ‘A Man is People’ (often interpreted as ‘It takes a village to raise a child’). Children’s needs are not the sole responsibility of the parent. It is expected that the community is always able to help out. When a child is tired, hungry, bored or upset, passers by entertain children, offer snacks and drinks and greet parents with messages of reassurance and friendship. As a parent raising a young child in Tanzania this approach was refreshing and appreciated. Raising children is a shared responsibility.

Mtu ni Watu (It takes a village to raise a child) Photograph by S. McCloskey

I think the same attitude of ‘Mtu ni Watu’ is needed in the approach of teaching students how to be responsible digital citizens. Whilst I appreciate that being a responsible citizen is the same thing, it is important to identify specific situations for how to be a responsible digital citizen. Valerie Strauss’ article ‘Teaching kids to be ‘digital citizens‘ (not just ‘digital natives’) discusses why it is important to help students be safe and responsible online.

That’s more true now because today’s technologies have unprecedented power to harm, as we have seen in documented cases of cyber-bullying and harassment.


One of the ways schools can initiate the involvement of parents in raising responsible digital citizens is by holding parent workshops. This gives parents the opportunity to become more aware of what schools are doing and how they can also support their child in being a responsible digital citizen. Mike Ribble explains the importance of involving parents and using the same terminology to help students understand digital citizenship.

Do we have a “common language” that we can use to talk to students and parents about appropriate technology behavior?


With this ‘common language’ parents are then able to reinforce the same message at home that is encouraged in schools. Parents’ views on technology vary widely from no regulations to no technology. I believe there is a happy medium on this spectrum and that with an open dialogue and knowledge about potential problems students can manage their use of technology well wherever they are.

Another way that schools can support students to be responsible digital citizens is by educating all teachers about the uses of and dangers for children using technology. Awareness and knowledge about digital citizenship are essential for all teachers so that any problems that may arise are recognised and dealt with appropriately.

My Grade 2 class have recently completed their Common Sense Digital Citizenship work in Information Literacy lessons. I thought I’d see what they had learnt. I was inspired by @traintheteacher in the blog post ‘Back Channelling in the Primary Classroom‘ and used TodaysMeet to record their reflections.


TodaysMeet created by P5A. Image by Amanda McCloskey

It seems our village is on the right track.

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!



Time to Redesign https://www.flickr.com/photos/unitedsoybean/10481741576/

Technology is evolving at a dauntingly exponential rate. As educators we are tasked with not only trying to stay up to date with new initiatives, but also creating ways for our students to use these effectively in the classroom. The ISTE Standards recommend that:

Effective teachers model and apply the ISTE Standards for Students as they design, implement, and assess learning experiences to engage students and improve learning; enrich professional practice; and provide positive models for students, colleagues, and the community.

International Society for Technology in Education, 2008

Teaching is a demanding job. Incredibly rewarding, but always demanding. I have a constant long list of tasks & ideas that should or could be accomplished. Experience has taught me to be well organised with my time, and to prioritize incessantly. There is simply never enough time to complete every task that crosses my mind. This is why, for me, the word ‘design’ is the most daunting from the above quotation. In a 20 hour teaching week (+ meetings, ECA’s, planning etc.) how am I going to find the time and expertise to redesign all of these learning experiences effectively?

Stress Balls

Stress Balls (not only for student use). https://super-ninja-poo.deviantart.com/art/Emoticon-stressballs-214920563

So what is the solution?

How can we make this an achievable and beneficial process for all teachers?

Leading by example is a great place to start.

In class we are currently learning about surveys, questioning and data handling.I thought this was a great time to trial Google Forms. I began the lesson with a brief orientation and away my students went.

All students launched into creating surveys instantly. They were fearless and unafraid to make mistakes, problem-solved quickly and shared their increasing understanding with each other. Within the first lesson all surveys were complete, shared on our class padlet page and completed by each other quickly.


Our class padlet page. Authors own.

Then the students took the lesson design in their own direction. This is when the design got interesting.

‘Let’s invite other classes to complete our surveys’

‘Add more choices so I can choose one I like’

‘Can the teachers do mine?’

‘Let’s all add more questions about animals.’

‘Can the world do mine?’

Ideas quickly snowballed and we tweeted, emailed and shared links to the forms. Students were very excited to see their results created for them instantly. The analysis of this data was also instant, spontaneous and enthusiastic.  After a quick demonstration all students were able to review their results and create pie charts. They discussed their data immediately. And this was all within the first hour. The task before re-design was at least 4 hours which mostly involved trying to meet our target audience and not losing our data (or felt pen lids). Pie charts, percentages, peer editing and a global audience were not even considered part of this task.

Summary example zoraan

Data analysis from a student survey. Authors own.


The hardest part of the lesson was my decision to actually teach it. The redesign of the task of ‘use a survey’ intimidated me as I was unsure about how the students might learn data collection. The conclusion was that the students far exceeded my design and were able to teach me things as we all learnt the functions of google forms. They quickly realised that if they had a mistake on their form, they could update it without changing the link. ‘Oh it’s okay Miss I’ve already fixed that bit’ was how I learnt to do this.

The students are so excited about their results we have decided to share them with the school in assembly this week. One student is still keeping a daily count of his survey entries and comparing his increasing pool of data. (Please add to it: https://tinyurl.com/och6hrf ).

Teaching P3

A student teaching a younger class how to complete her online survey. Authors own.


I have completely altered how I will teach data handling forever. I did not utilize the peer editing potential of the task so I am already excited about redesigning this task further for next year. Once again I am reminded by the COETAIL approach of how to go about using technology. It really is okay that I don’t have all of the answers. The design of the task may change (for the better) after you have begun the lesson. And hopefully it may even result in saving you time.

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