Student Agency

I recently attended a workshop for Exhibition in the PYP.  There was a mountain of useful information shared over the three days. The workshop leader created a space where participants could share their ideas and resources, and I came away with a deeper knowledge of Exhibition in the PYP. One of the big ideas I walked away with was student agency.



Student Agency

One of the big goals of the exhibition. I think of student agency as students managing their own learning. Three elements that are key to building student agency are the culture, mindset, and the work being done in class.

Culture: Creating a culture where the student feels like they matter and are important.

Mindset: The student has a growth mindset and they believe they can overcome challenges.

Authenticity: Purposeful work that is meaningful to the student.


Encourage Student Discussions

Student discussions help build a culture where the students feel important. They feel that their voice will be heard and they will be listened to. It is a good idea to talk about how we can agree or disagree with others before starting a student-lead discussion. I use sentence starters such as, “I agree with your thinking because…,” or I disagree with your thinking because….”

We have also used the ideas from the Harkness Method and used a Harkness Graph to see who is sharing in the discussions.

Here are some ideas to start a discussion.

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Use a short video about a boy and his dog to start a discussion of collaboration. How does this video link to collaboration? What does true collaboration look like?

Using a simple image to introduce the students to the exhibition. Use the image to promote a discussion about success and failure. What does it mean to succeed? Is failure a bad thing?


Online Discussions

There is a website called Verso that facilitates online discussions. It is a little like Reddit for the classroom. Students can respond to a topic, comment on other responses, and promote responses.


Mindsets and Authenticity

At the start of the year, I supported student agency through mindsets and authenticity. I used some ideas from Learnstorm on Khan Academy to promote growth mindsets. We started by learning about how the brain learns. Learning about how we learn can help the students take more responsibility for their own learning.

Next, the students thought about a goal that would challenge them and help their brain to grow. The students all thought of personal challenges that mattered to them. One student wanted to be able to speak to his Grandmother in Chinese to improve his Chinese language skills. This was an authentic challenge for the student and he cared about being successful.


Students Taking the Lead

I am also looking for more and more opportunities for the students to lead. This will help build a culture where they are important and relied upon and also give them authentic tasks to connect to. The students have started creating the class newsletters on Friday to share information with their families. They have started to help plan our units of inquiry and they will increasingly become more and more involved. After learning about how we organize ourselves as learners, they have also been in charge of designing our classroom as a place where learning thrives.


Coming Soon

Another way to engage students in authentic learning is to connect it to people outside the classroom. I will post about having a connected classroom next.



Playing at MIT’s Kindergarten

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I recently attended a STEAM workshop at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) .

The highlight of my trip was a workshop on Scratch, Lego WeDo sensors, and Makey Makey. The workshop was held in MIT’s Media Lab with the students of the Lifelong Kindergarten. Scratch and Makey Makey were both created in the Lifelong Kindergarten at MIT, so they had a lot of helpful ideas to share. For a little bit of background, the Lifelong Kindergarten group believes in play based learning. They are inspired by the way kindergarteners learn and believe students should have a chance to design, create, and express themselves in school.

Scratch is a computer coding language designed for kids. The blocks fit together and make writing code easier. If you haven’t tried it out yet I highly recommend it, and the Lifelong Kindergarten has designed card to make introductions to Scratch easier. These cards can be found online available for download or available for purchase at Amazon.

Makey Makey was designed to make inventing easier. It can be used with Scratch to make the computer programs easier to connect to real world applications.

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Lego WeDo also connects to Scratch and provided sensors, servos, and a Bluetooth connection to Scratch. There was a tilt sensor and a distance/motion sensor. Below is an example of a project made with Scratch and Lego WeDo. It is a carousel that spins when the motion/distance sensor is triggered. The closer the object is to the motion/distance sensor, the faster the carousel spins. This was connected to Scratch through the Bluetooth connection.

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I loved playing around with these toys and creating. Everyone was completely engaged in the experience and made some really creative games and inventions. If you have a chance to play around with Makey Makey or Lego WeDo, I highly recommend it. I am looking forward to introducing the Makey Makeys to my computer coding club this year.

If you are interested in learning more, check out the Lifelong Kindergarten MOOC.

Student Teachers

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The project I created involved student-designed Math tutorial videos.  I have often seen my students get really excited when they explain a concept to each other. I therefore wanted to tap into this enthusiasm and have the students teach each other the concepts, using Math curriculum as the subject.

When thinking about this project, I started with the International Society for Technology in Education Standards (ISTE Standards). I used the ISTE Standards for facilitating and inspiring student learning and creativity. I also referenced them for student standards. They help enable students to demonstrate creative thinking, construct knowledge, and develop innovative products and process the use of technology.


For this project, my class used iPad minis and the Screen Chomp app.  Screen Chomp is a simple digital whiteboard tool that allows the user to share a link so others can view the video.

Project Steps

The project took six different steps.

1. The Introduction

I took an idea from Kim Corfino when introducing this topic.  To demonstrate the power of video tutorials, the students first tried drawing picture and writing directions for their friend. They then had their classmate follow those written directions to try to draw the same picture.

We also practiced with the app. Before we started our video, we took a little time to explore the app Screen Chomp on the iPads. We then made a practice video to make sure we understood all of the features.

2. Modeling and Exploration

I showed the students a video I made and then had them investigate other Math tutorial videos for homework.

3. Script Writing

After familiarizing themselves with the app and tutorial videos, the students wrote a draft script for directions of how to solve the math problem down in their math notebooks.

4. Recording

For recording, the students found a quiet room where they could make their videos. The followed their script and recorded the video using the whiteboard app Screen Chomp.

5. Sharing

We shared our videos from our class on our class website.  We also shred it with our grade level on Wikispace and we also shared our videos with a class in Sofia Bulgaria using Edmodo.

Project Reflection

I thought this turned out to be a good introduction to Math tutorial videos for the students.  The tasks given to the students wouldn’t be possible without technology in the classroom.  Researching effective videos, creating their own and sharing them with a third grade class in another country redefines classroom learning and teaching methods.

If I did this again, I would want the videos to be produced more organically.  For instance, the student videos that were most watched and discussed were the ones that answered other students’ actual questions.  If there is a math concept that the students struggle with this year, I can turn to my class and ask them to answer the question with a video.

When doing this video I noticed that the students can reach each other in ways the teacher can’t. The best person to explain a concept is often someone who has just faced that challenge and was able to understand it.  Their process is fresh in their mind and easy for them to access.  The students can relate well to each other and they speak a common language.  Their explanations are easy for each other to understand.

Student Videos

Place Value

Comparing Numbers

Rounding to Tens

Rounding to Hundreds

Commutative Property of Addition

Identity Property of Addition

Associative Property of Addition

Mental Math Using Expanded Form

Mental Math Simplifying Addends


The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

This is a small scale review of available white board apps on the market. I was looking for cheap app that my third grade students could use to make short math tutorial videos and I wanted to share the results with you.

Screen Chomp – The Good

Verdict: the best for my parameters

Screen chomp is easy to use. With its simple design and intuitive interface, students could make a video after about 20 minutes of exploration.  Screen Chomp allows you to share videos and people do not need to be logged into Screen Chomp to view the videos.  The app provides you with a link where the video is able to be viewed by others.  While this is not ideal, I would prefer to be able to download the completed video in order to share it with a greater audience, it is adequate. One tip for teachers, if the students put in their own birthdays and they are younger than 13, they will be unable to share their videos.

Educreations – The Expensive

Verdict: too expensive

Educreations provides the user with a clean easy to use interface for creating tutorial videos. It is a great whiteboard app but it makes sharing the completed videos difficult.  The person viewing the video either needs to log into Educreations or the video creator needs to pay to be able to download the videos.  The pricing for one teacher is $99 per year.  The pricing for a school is $1,549 per year.

Doceri – The Complicated

Verdict: complicated interface

While Doceri seems to be able to make useable video tutorials, but I found the app to be hard to work with.  It is more of a presentation app instead of simply a recordable white board app.  I think Doceri would be a helpful app for teachers creating presentations, but a little too complicated for the short videos I wanted my third grade students to make.  If I had picked this option I was afraid I would spend too much time teaching the app instead of creating the tutorial videos.

Photo Credit: Nina Matthews Photography via Compfight cc

The Best Plans of Mice and Men

When I returned to school after vacation, I was reminded of one of my favorite sayings.

“The best-laid schemes of mice and men often go awry.” – Robert Burns


This summer I planned out a Unit in Math in which I wanted to incorporate new technology to further student learning.  I thought that flipping the classroom would be a redefinition of technology that could make the classroom much more efficient.  Using the first unit of study in Math, I created instructional videos for each topic.  I was eager to try this new teaching method out.


When I arrived back at school at the end of summer, I learned that we had a new Math curriculum.  The new Math curriculum did not match up exactly with my instructional videos.  I could’t use most of the Math videos I created.  I spent the beginning of August familiarizing myself with the new curriculum rather than flipping the classroom.


I love watching my students explain something they have learned to others.  They love sharing information and putting on their teacher hats.  I wanted to give my students a chance to create their own math tutorial videos to share with others.  I adapted my project by putting the video creation task in the hands of my students.

My students will create video tutorials to explain their math concepts to others.


Next year I will be teaching third grade.  I looked ahead at some of the units of study and thought how I could integrate technology into a unit.


Digital Citizenship:

The first unit of study next year will be Community Spirit. It would be very easy to tie this unit into digital citizenship.  We could cover our acceptable use policy, our digital footprints and digital citizenship.  I would then like to challenge the students to create a digital story that demonstrates a concept we covered in the unit.  This digital story could be shared with others through YouTube, our class blog or other sites.

I have one camera and a webcam on my computer.  This would mean that the students access to the video cameras would be limited.  Working in small groups would help to overcome this hurdle.  I could ask parents, that are comfortable, to send in a digital camera for a day.

A Flipped Math Class

I think the flipped classroom model can be effective and more efficient then our current Math instruction.  I would like to try it out with my new third grade class.  I find differentiation is important in primary Math instruction.  I think a flipped classroom would lend itself to this.  The students would watch an instructional video the night before.  They would complete a short assessment test when they first walk in the class.  Based on the results they would either get further small group instruction or they could work on their own on a challenge problem.


Another idea I had was to gamify a unit.  We are doing a unit on transportation.  I could teach the unit using games and text based adventures.  The students would work toward receiving a badge n each standard covered in the unit.  At the end for a final project, I could ask them to create a short game on Scratch.


Each idea has obstacles and benefits.  I feel I am at a junction and will now choose the direction in which to head.  Over the summer I will research more into the feasibility of each idea and choose a path that would be best suited for third graders.


In my classroom, I bring in my own device (BYOD).  I have a MacBook Pro that I use for writing lesson plans, sending emails to students and parents, reading our class writing blog and presenting media to the class. The desktop that the school provides for the classroom I have placed on a desk for students to access.   The computer is available to the students but it is only one device for a class of thirteen students.


This semester I asked the students to bring in their own devices as well.


At first I was apprehensive about asking students to bring in their own iPads.  What if not enough students have iPads? What if parents don’t want to send them? What if an iPad get damaged in class?


In class we used the student’s iPads to complete center activities on explorers. Having the iPads used at only some of the centers made it possible to complete the activities without everyone bringing in an iPad.  Students offered to use their cellphones but we didn’t need to use them because enough students brought in iPads.  We completed the center activities in three days. This limited the amount of trips the devices made to school and back.  The most important step I took in the BYOD activities was to communicate clearly with the parents.  I sent an email to all the parents explaining the activity. I made sure the parents knew how the devices would be used and the benefits. With a little planning and good communication the students were able to bring in their devices and benefit from more technology in the classroom.


There were four centers where students used iPads.  There was a center where the students would use the iPads to map out the route of the explorers, a center where the students would identify different spices using, a center where the students would match explorers to their discoveries and a center where the students would create a timeline of the age of explorers.  There were also centers that didn’t involve iPads as well.


It is irresponsible to teach and not introduce students to digital devices in the classroom.  At one point writing was a new technology but we would never limit a student’s access to writing.  There are obstacles to overcome when asking students to bring in their own devices but these obstacles are surmountable.


There are a lot or resources out there for helping you with a BYOD program.  I found these helpful:

Connecting to the Online Community

Connecting my classroom to the global community can offer the best opportunities for learning. As my COETAIL course continues, I am being introduced to some ways and means to connect my students to the online community.


This is a simple list of ways to connect online and some ideas about using them.



Writing emails to students in another part of the world is a great way to connect online.  Teachers can find email pals through a site such as ePals.  Students could also write emails to politicians, companies or institutions.


Messaging is a great way to communicate instantly with people across the web.  You can create chat groups and chat to multiple people at the same time but it remains private on the web.  The messages are private so others can’t share the information you are discussing.  This is a helpful tool when collaborating online.


Skype and Google hangouts can both be used for messaging, voice calls and video calls.  Face to face chats with authors over Skype can be a great experience for young readers and writers.  Kate Messner created a really nice list of authors that will Skype with your class for free.


Writing comments is a great way to connect with all different kinds of people and sites online.  Helping the students understand the difference between complimenting and commenting can be a lesson early on.  While complimenting is nice to here it doesn’t progress the conversation forward.  A comment adds something new to the conversation and moves the conversation forward.  This is a simple but helpful lesson for students.


Starting a class blog is a simple way to share student work online.  Student’s enjoy sharing their work with their classmates and larger audiences.  They seem to improve drastically in their writing ability when they think a lot of people will view their work.  Students can create an online portfolio on their blog.  They can use their blog to reflect on their learning, add journal entries on what they are learning or publish their writing work for a larger audience.

Social Media

Social Media is the most common way people connect online. Vicki Davis recently posted on Edutopia with a Guidebook for Social Media in the Classroom. This guidebook is comprehensive and influential with many great examples as links.  Creating a Twitter account for a book character is a great way for the students to practice tweeting. There are a lot of other great ideas in Vicki’s post.

Uploading Videos

Making and sharing videos is another way to connect to others online.  Students could teach others a lesson they learned in class.  They could make a video tutorial on how to do something or how to use a certain program.  Students could also make a public service announcement to make others aware of an important issue.  Creating and sharing media is a great way to participate in the online culture because you are adding something to the web that could help others.

Sharing Other Content

One of the greatest things about the digital format is that it is so easy to share.  Creating a Prezi to share is a common activity.  There is also Haiku deck or simply Google presentations.  Recently a student wanted to post a quiz on his website he was creating to test the readers knowledge.  In Scratch, students can create programs that others can use and rate.  Creating a podcast is another way to share learning.


I look forward to hearing about other online connections I missed or ideas for connecting students to the web.


Dear Threes, I want my life back.

I have been hooked on a new game.  I have devoted a bunch of my free time to sliding number tiles around on a board.  Why am I doing this?


Games can be addictive. Gamification is the application of game elements into the classroom. I was introduced to gamification at the Bangkok Teachers Network.  The presenter discussed online programs such as Zondle and Class Tools that allowed content to be presented in a game format.


My experiences with these programs are limited.  It seems to engage the students quite a bit but I have found the content becomes secondary to the game play.  Students would guess at answers to get further in the game rather then try and learn the content.


Another option to introducing games in the classroom is a text-based game.  These are easy but time consuming to create.  I have had more success with this in my class.  The students really enjoyed playing it.  Some of the students bunched up in groups with out direction from me.  In their self selected groups they helped each other determine all the different endings.  They had fun with this but they didn’t see it as a game.  For the students in my class a video game doesn’t include so much reading.


Here is an example of the text-based game I made:

I used Text Adventures but a Google presentation is another option.  If you are feeling like a challenge Twine looks like a tool that takes more effort but can give you more options.

Although adding video games to the class can engage some students to a greater degree, I think the real question is how can the psychological principles used to restructure a class?  The idea of badging would be one place to start.

Photo Credit: december_snowdrift via Compfight cc

Going Further with Projects

Project based learning and challenge based learning (PBL and CBL) have always appealed to me.  PBL and CBL motivate students through increasing student autonomy and purpose.  Students are able to complete the project or solve the challenge the way they want.  It is often easy to connect PBL or CBL to real world situations.  The students can see how their work has a greater purpose.

Here is a video by Common Craft showing how project based learning more closely resembles real world work assignments:

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Recently, my class completed a project for our Native American unit. The class divided into groups and the groups chose a region of the United States they would study.  The assignment for the students was to create a museum exhibit on Native Americans from the region they chose.  

The GRASP Task looked like this:

G – Goal – Explain to other classes about the culture of Native American tribes and how their environment affected their culture.

R – Role – You are an archeologist called upon to design a museum exhibit on a group of Native American tribes.

A – Audience – Classmates, schoolmates and fourth grade teachers will be the audience.

S – Situation – You have been working on uncovering artifacts in a certain region of the United States.  The artifacts are from Native American tribes.  You have been asked by a new museum to design an exhibit on Native Americans.

P – Product – Create a museum exhibit showcasing the different tribes culture.  Pay specific attention to how the tribes environment influenced their culture.  Make sure to include:

1) A poster containing information of the tribes’ culture
2) Explanation how the environment of the tribe influenced their culture
3) An artifact from the tribe

S – Standards and Criteria for Success

I had the students self-assess their work with this rubric:


Native American Museum Exhibit Rubric


Name:____________________________                                                                             Date:______________________


4—Above Standard

3—Meets Standard

2—Below Standard

1—Way Below Standard

1. Poster—well made, informative, text and images, colorful, complete.
2. Artifacts—authentic, realistic, well made.
3. Presentation—informative, clear, interesting, complete.
4. Concepts—exhibit clearly shows what students learned and helps others to learn the same.
5. Work habits, time management, cooperation, effort.
6. Group score




The students were motivated and engaged when working on this but writing this post and reflecting on it how I can go further.  I could increase the student’s autonomy by letting them decide how they want to communicate the information learned.  Instead of limiting them by requiring an artifact and a poster, I could ask them to design their own section of the museum.  Their section could include a presentation, a movie, a play, or any media they choose that communicates the information on their Native American tribe.  I could also give them more autonomy by allowing them to choose a tribe from anywhere on the globe.