Monday, August 1, 2016

An Interview With Kelly Maxwell

Kelly and Colette (blog author) 
at the 2015 Calgary Summit.
A Perspective From Outside of EPSB
While the primary focus of this blog is the work of EPSB, we also like to collaborate and share experiences with our colleagues in different districts. Kelly Maxwell is from Black Gold Regional Schools. I managed to catch her for an interview before she leaves division one for division two. Kelly has been a grade two teacher for twelve years but is moving into grade five in September. You can find her on Google+ and on Twitter as @kelmax307.

The Interview

What technology skills should students have before coming into grade two?
Students should be able to log onto their Chromebook, care for the device, know how to access their Google drive, how to open and close tabs and know how to bookmark a site.

Where do you get your educational technology ideas?
I get my ideas from Google+, colleagues, blogs and FreeTech4Teachers.  Our district’s Engaging Students has become a treasure trove of ideas as they are shared locally by teachers and tech coaches in our district.

What hashtags do you follow on Twitter?

What type of technology do you use in your school?
We have Chromebooks, iPads, webcams and Epson Brightlink.

Imagine you only could keep one technology at your school. From the ones you listed about what would be the one you would keep?

Based on your response to the question above. Why would you keep that technology?
I would keep Chromebooks because they are easy to use and they meet the needs of me and my students.

What is one piece of technology would you like to try in your classroom that you haven't had an opportunity to yet?
Android tablets.  We have used iPads, but they are so expensive.  I am such a Google fan that I wonder if an Android tablet could be effective at a portion of the cost?!

How has technology changed the way you teach?
It expands my classroom to include people and information otherwise unattainable.

How do you decide what is worthwhile for students to learn through technology, given literacy and skill challenges in division one?
If the technology makes the learning more engaging and differentiated, then I do it. Also, if it makes the teaching more fun for me!

What apps or technology tools do you use? Are there any that you use for specific projects?
I use:
My focus is to try to find free tools.  I am tired of paying a bit here and there for tech tools for my classroom when these free tools meet my needs very well.

What are your hopes for educational technology in the future in your classroom? Alberta? Canada? Globally?
Wow! This is a big question. I would hope that classrooms would be more equitable in regards to technology. Not that the kids have to have Mr. So-and-So to use technology, but that all teachers would embrace the value of technology as a tool to enhance learning in every classroom. With that in mind, there also needs to be equity in regards to hardware and bandwidth so that every student and teacher has access to quality tools and the bandwidth to effectively use these tools.


I would like to thank Kelly for taking time to do this interview in the middle of report cards, packing up her classroom and switching grades. Division one's loss is division two's gain.

Check back for the September interview with Shannon Pasma!

related blog posts: 

Saturday, July 9, 2016

An Interview With Marge Kobewka

An EdTech Perspective From An Online Teacher

This month we are featuring Marge Kobewka, an EPSB teacher and Div1 Edtech blogger. Marge currently is an online teacher and therefore offers a very unique perspective on technology in education.

You can find Marge as @MaggieKobewka on Twitter and on Google+. I have been fortunate to have many in-person conversations with Marge and always leave inspired. I was thrilled when she agreed to be interviewed and once again inspire me. 

Check out some of Marge's blog posts: 

The Interview

What grade(s) do you teach?

I teach grade three students online and a group of grade 4, 5, 6 students, who meet with me once a week at Argyll Centre for a writer's workshop and computer science - coding with Scratch.  

What technology skills should students have before coming into the grade(s) you teach?

I would like students to have a growing understanding of digital citizenship. For example  understanding how to use their passwords and keep them safe, an awareness of their developing digital footprint, and some experience evaluating a website by asking, "Will this website answer my question?" This year I used a series of lessons from Common Sense Media, that addressed these issues and more. 

Where do you get your educational technology ideas?

I get ideas from Twitter, professional reading, colleagues and blogs. This spring I read a fabulous book, Invent to Learn by Sylvia Libow Martinez and Gary Stager. On Twitter I follow as many teachers as I can. 

If you are looking for inspiration for using technology in the classroom attend blendED2016, Alberta's Blended and Online Symposium, October 23-25, 2016.  I am on the organizing committee and I know you will come away with lots of ideas to apply to your own classroom practice. 

What type of technology do you use in your school? 

We use laptops, iPads, Moodle, Blackboard Collaborate, and Google Applications.

Imagine you only could keep one technology at your school. From the ones you listed about what would be the one you would keep?

For now, it would be Moodle and Blackboard Collaborate however I would never want to be limited or tied to one kind of technology.  

Based on your response to the question above. Why would you keep that technology?

Currently Moodle and Blackboard Collaborate are primary ways I keep connected to my online students and their parents. The work I have done as an online teacher involves thinking about best practices for learning, (especially for young learners), and then re-envisioning those practices in an online environment. It is a challenge that I love. Especially since young learners need to move, create, act, and play as part of learning. It is definitely a collaborative effort and that is why my 'classroom' includes the parents who work closely with their children. 

Have you ever attended an online webinar? Now imagine doing that with 6, 7 or 8 year olds. My division one colleagues and I have online classes with our students, usually these are an hour long. We have developed a variety of ways to have our lessons be interactive, engaging and collaborative. 

What is one piece of technology would you like to try in your classroom that you haven't had an opportunity to yet?

Last year I worked with grade 4, 5 and 6 students to learn Scratch Coding. We used Google's CSFirst to help us learn (I am including myself in that one). This year I am building on that to include Makey Makey and a Hummingbird Robotics Kit. I am not ready yet to move these tools to division one but I am thinking about meaningful applications.

What is something new or different you are planning to try next year? 

One evening after school, (5:00 pm) I got a notice that one of my grade three students wanted to have a video call with me. I accepted and there he was, at home sitting on his bed with his computer and math book. He was puzzled about some math questions. We discussed the math problems and he went off to do his work. It was a delightful exchange, after all, there is everything to like about an earnest eight year old who uses technology to connect and learn. Based on this experience I am considering having a small group of students (four or five) meet weekly to participate in 'Google Hangouts Book Club' and 'Google Hangouts Math Talks'. I am thinking it will be important to have a small group and to alternate the groups from week to week so that in the course of the month all of my students will participate in both the Book Club and the Math Talks. This will be different than the Blackboard Collaborate sessions we have as a whole class.

How has technology changed the way you teach?

Ha! My very position as an online teacher is determined by technology. I hope that you can see that one of the joys of my work is the opportunity I have to problem solve and create something new. In my case the 'new thing' is an online learning environment for division one students. I sometimes wonder why was it slow to dawn on me that the joy of creating and sharing that I love about my work, is exactly what students need to do too. This insight changed the way I view technology. How can technology enable kids to problem solve, create, share, collaborate - all the very things that make learning engaging. 

I recognize that technology can give students the opportunity to become creators and problem solvers, but I don't think that all online learning is presented in that way. Even in my own practice I see giant leaps forward over the time I have worked to develop an online learning program. It is always about learning to use the particular technology and then applying what we know about learning so that the technology becomes invisible. 

I think the real question should be not what technology do I want to have in my classroom, instead the question is how do I deepen the learning? Make it meaningful? Enable kids to think more deeply and become creators? Then I can look at the tech I have available and use the resource that will enable that kind of learning. For example this year instead of Math Journals I had my students create Math Videos. All of my students had tablets at home and so using Apps such as: Show Me, ScreenChomp, and Explain Everything, my students explained their math thinking to me and to each other. As we progressed through the year I realized that not only did I have new insights into my students understanding of math concepts, my students had to think more deeply to explain their thinking in new ways. And to my delight I was also obtaining a library of 'learning objects' to use in my online course. What could be more meaningful to students then seeing another student explain a math concept and then discussing it together?

How do you decide what is worthwhile for students to learn through technology?

My students are at a distance - they are students who live in various communities in Edmonton and across Alberta. I am fortunate to work with families who are highly committed to working with their children to learn at home. This presents both opportunities and challenges. My goal is always to develop meaningful interaction and to learn from each other. 

What apps or technology tools do you use? Are there any that you use for specific projects?

What are your hopes for educational technology in the future in your classroom? Alberta? Canada? Globally?

Seriously, you have to know that I am excited about the changes and challenges before us in education. Once, I was told that designing lessons was an iterative process and I had to start with the end in mind. I think that is still true but I would add this: The process of learning is iterative and the end is something I may not even imagine yet.


I would like to thank Marge for taking time to do this interview during the summer.

Check back each month for new interviews with Kelly Maxwell, David Salmon, Shannon Pasma, Alyssa Prouty, Colleen Roux, Jared Galbraith, Alicia Kuzio, Laura Buchanan and Amanda Fahey!

related blog posts: 

Thursday, June 30, 2016

What I Learned About Using Twitter In Class This Year

How I Used Twitter In Class This Year

I have been on Twitter professionally since 2009.  In 2014-15 school year I used it once or twice to send tweets out on behalf of my students. Then I participated in The Global Read Aloud  (GRA) in October 2015. One of the GRA activities my class did was to send tweets to author Amy Krouse Rosenthal and illustrator Tom Lichtenheld. By the end of the GRA my students understood what Twitter was and how it worked.

In general, I chose and encouraged my students to use the Instagram account we had for our class mascot. So, I would not say that we used Twitter regularly but it did get used in class more frequently this year. For example,  in science I often ask my students how they could share the results of their experiments. This year Instagram was a regular choice but Twitter often came up as an option, too. 

Related blog posts:  So You Want To Participate In The Global Read AloudShare What Is Happening In Your Class Instantly... Use Instagram!

What I Learned

As I had not planned to use Twitter much in my class, I decided not to create a class Twitter account. I used my own account on behalf of my class. 

When the tweets were simply output, this was fine. However, when we began to have conversations on Twitter, I began to see a problem.

My students' tweets and the replies to their tweets were mixed in with my other tweets and notifications.  This posed two concerns for me:
  1. It did not allow for the class to own their learning. I could not turn it over to my students to type or to look for replies. I was able to this with the Instagram account. In fact, I regularly handed over an old phone to students to type the Instagram posts. I certainly was not going to do this with my own Twitter account.
  2. As well, I had to worry about what I was tweeting when not using it with the class. It is my professional account and I like to think that anything I tweet is appropriate in that regard. However, my audience is other adult educators (primarily) and I participate in Twitter chats such as PubPd; my tweets are appropriate for me using Twitter as a teacher. However, sometimes not all of my feed is appropriate to display on my Smartboard to use with seven year olds. Fortunately, my feed and notifications that were visible when I displayed Twitter on the Smartboard never posed a problem but I could see the potential for issues.

What I Will Do Differently

Each school year one of my first activities with my class is to come up with a class name. I plan to build into that routine creating a Twitter account. Currently I am debating whether I should just create an class account that gets used year after year versus a new one per class/school year (I do this with my class blogs). For those of you who use Twitter in class, what is your opinion (and why)?

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

An Interview With Nick Reilly

New Feature: Div1 Edtech in EPSB Interviews

This month we are starting a new monthly feature: educational technology interviews with classroom teachers. Our first interview is with EPSB teacher and occasional Div1 Edtech blogger, Nick Reilly. Nick currently teaches grade four and “junior high stuff, too”. You can find Nick as @NotebookNick on Twitter and on Google+.

The Interview

What technology skills should students have before coming into the grade(s) you teach?

Students should be able to log into their accounts, create Google Docs and have familiarity with the internet. (Nick blogged about this previously, check out Preparing For Division 2 for a more detailed answer).

Where do you get your educational technology ideas?

I definitely get ideas from more than one spot: Twitter, Google+, Professional Development Days, professional reading, colleagues and blogs.

What type of technology do you use in your school?

We have laptops, desktop computers, Chromebooks, 3D Printers, and Smartboards.

Imagine you only could keep one technology at your school. From the ones you listed about what would be the one you would keep? 


How has technology changed the way you teach?

It defines the way I teach. It opens so many doors.

How do you decide what is worthwhile for students to learn through technology, given the literacy and skill challenges in your class?

With assistive technology playing a significant role for some of my kids, sometimes technology helps to overcome basic skill deficiencies and allows them to complete a task they normally would not be able to unassisted. Students choose to work with technology when given the choice, and often it is to help them in some capacity. Whether it is listening to something instead of reading it, or finding a different medium for information when researching, the end goal is still the same for most of my tasks. Completion of the task to the best of their abilities is the main goal. How students get there is up to them.

What apps or technology tools do you use? Are there any that you use for specific projects?

I use a number of apps from the Google suite (Classroom, Docs, etc.) and some that tie in nicely. We've recently been writing with Storybird, and using Prodigy and Mathletics for math.

What are your hopes for educational technology in the future in your classroom? Alberta? Canada? Globally?

I think Expeditions is a huge step in the right direction. Being able to give kids experiences they normally wouldn't be able to have is the right way to go about things. Technology as a bridge to bigger and better things for learners is where it should be going.

If you could add a question to this interview, what would it be?

What is one piece of technology would you like to try in your classroom that you haven't had an opportunity to yet?

A huge thank you to Nick Reilly for being the first interviewee. His question has been added to the list of interview questions! If you would like to suggest someone we should interview, leave a comment! Check back in July for the next interview.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Mystery Location Hangouts

We're Going To Start A Little Off Topic

The reason I blog is two fold. Yes, it is to share what I have done with others to show how technology can be effectively used with younger students. However, I blog mostly for myself. When I blog, I reflect on the activity and research the topic in more depth which helps me think about what my next steps are. As such this, as with many other blog posts, is a mix of what I have done and what I have learned and what I might do next.

What Is A Mystery Location Hangout (or Mystery Skype)?

Typically, Mystery Location Hangout (aka Mystery Hangout or Mystery Skype) is a game played by two classrooms in different* cities that connect to each other using Google Hangouts or Skype. The objective of the hangout is to correctly guess the city each classroom is located in by asking each other questions using a webcam.

*It does not have to be two different cities. My Edmonton (Alberta, Canada) class did their second Mystery Hangout with a class that is a part of the "Greater Edmonton Area" (Sherwood Park). This was great as we were studying Alberta geography at the time. 

How Do You "Play"?

Students use their geography skills to guess the location of the other class. However, there is some preparation required with younger students and I would also recommend preparation with older students for their first few Mystery Hangouts. Prior to the Hangout, I have my students prepare the clues we are going to share. I then try to order the clues to keep the game going as long as possible, if time allows, I included students in this planning (for example should we tell them we are next to Saskatchewan as a first clue?).

Prior to the Hangout, I assign a pair of students to welcome the other class. Everyone else is paired up and each pair is given a numbered clue to read. Before their first Mystery Hangout I also have my students practice with the webcam on (and display it on the Smartboard). Then each pair goes up to the webcam and practices reading their clue (or greeting/ending). I typically do not do this extra practice for subsequent Mystery Location Hangouts.

During the actual Hangout, my class and the other class alternate reading the clues to each other. My students use a combination of simple atlases and Google Maps (on Chromebooks) to try to locate where the other class is. 

I typically give a tutorial to the students that help on the Chromebooks to help them use Google Maps prior to the Hangout.

Once both classes have located where the other class is from, a pair of students closes the Hangout with a good-bye and appreciation.

I am intrigued by the idea of having students be assigned (or selecting) various roles, as described by Pernille Ripp. I am not sure what that would look like in the younger grades yet. 

Cybrary Man has a list of some unique questions older students might want to ask if you are doing a Mystery Location Hangout with a class in your own country. For example:
  • How would you describe the weather now?
  • Do you experience any extreme weather? If so, what kind?
  • Do you live in an urban, suburban or rural area?
  • What time is it where you are right now?
After our first Mystery Hangout this year, I added a follow up lesson. We reviewed our clues and the clues the other class gave. Then we revised our clues based on our experience to help us on our next Hangout.

Why Do A Mystery Hangout? Let's Look At The Social Studies Curriculum

As I am a grade two teacher, I am going to pull from the grade two Alberta curriculum. However, if we start with the front matter, this applies to kindergarten to grade twelve. The front matter reminds us to "infuse technology". Other aspects of the curriculum doing a Mystery Location Hangout will help address are:

  • demonstrate a global consciousness with respect to humanity and world issues 
  • apply historical and geographic skills to bring meaning to issues and events     
  • use and manage information and communication technologies critically
  • communicate ideas and information in an informed, organized and persuasive manner

Looking more specifically at the grade two curriculum, Mystery Hangouts offer students the opportunity to use their geographic thinking by using simple maps to locate communities studied in the world. It also makes using an atlas have a purpose! When you have students using Google Maps to figure out where the other class is, they are sharing information collected from electronic sources to add to a group task.

How To Find Classes To Connect With?

Without a doubt, finding classes to connect with is the hardest part of doing a Mystery Location Call. If you are flexible about who you connect with (and where they are from) and when you can connect, you will have no problems! Twitter is a good way to locate teachers to connect with. You could use the hashtags:

In my opinion, the best way to find classes to do Mystery Location Hangouts with is by joining some G+ Communities.   

There are many spreadsheets out there that you can add your name to as a teacher/classroom available to do Mystery Location Calls. I find these resources hit and miss and more time intensive than say Twitter or Google+. However they do occasionally work. Just this week I got an email asking to do a Hangout.

Often the classes I do Mystery Location Hangouts with are with teachers that I have made a connection with through another project such as Dot Day or the Global Read Aloud. The more you are involved in global projects and the more you develop a digital PLN, you will find it easier to find classrooms to connect with. In these cases, often a Mystery Location Hangout is the introductory activity to a larger collaboration project.

Four Important Tips

Tip One: Place your webcam carefully. Try not to have that Canadian flag or other identifying items visible to the other class. 

Tip Two: Try to do a test call prior to (ideally the morning of) the actual Hangout. That way you can try to work out any technical problems ahead of time. 

Tip Three: Have a back up plan if technology problems do occur. What will students do while you (or the other class) problem solve? 

Tip Four: Related to tip three, give yourself MORE than enough time to do the Hangout in case of technical problems. If you think it is going to take 30 minutes, give yourself at least 45 minutes instead of trying to squeeze it into a 30 minute block. 
Stay tuned for a sister post to this one: Mystery Number Hangouts.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Reflections On: Connected From The Start PART 3: Twitter

Connected From the Start

At this year's Greater Edmonton Teachers' Convention (GETCA) I went to see Kathy Cassidy's session called "Connected From the Start" which is also the name of her book, which covers the same topics.

Like many teachers who use technology in class, Kathy uses a wide variety of technology devices and applications. Her classroom has one-to-one iPads. Her session had three main sections: Skype, Blogging and Twitter. I reviewed each section in a separate blog post, this is the final review.

Part Three: Twitter

Kathy Cassidy has her own personal Twitter account as well a class Twitter account which is used year after year with her class. Her students are usually the ones composing the tweets on iPads. She also types what students share. Sometimes it is a combination of students composing and Kathy adding clarifying spelling in brackets.

Her students tweet class events, tweet what they learn and sometimes tweet about specific topics using hashtags (#). Her students usually combine their tweets with pictures. This is where having iPads/tables is useful.

The rule in her class is to show Mrs. Cassidy before you tweet. She shared a humourousf story about when a student did not show her prior to tweeting on purpose. A Twitter follower alerted her to the inappropriate tweet and reminded the class that the "world is watching". This event would often turn people off of letting young student have access to Twitter in the classroom. She shared how she used this as a digital citizenship learning opportunity for that child.

She recommended that you do not use your personal/professional account for class tweeting. She suggests limiting which Twitter accounts your class account follows to only Kid-friendly Twitter accounts.

My Reflections

I use Twitter for developing and strengthening my Professional Learning Network. I use it to find ideas and educators to inspire me. However have not used Twitter much with my class (until this year). I have watched other teachers use class Twitter accounts but did not feel that the practice would enhance my students' learning experiences as using Twitter with younger students felt somewhat superficial, from my perspective. Seeing how Kathy has students logged into Twitter on iPads helped me see how having a class Twitter account can be child centred. 

One I idea Kathy shared that I really like is the possibility of using Storify for a class Twitter account. Storify helps you create stories or timelines using the content you create on Twitter (and other social media). 

This year I started using Twitter with my class via my own account because we participated in the 2015 Global Read Aloud. My students tweeted questions at author Amy Krouse Rosenthal and illustrator Tom Lichtenheld. Both replied and my students were excited to get a special hello from Tom.

Last year I started using Instagram in a similar way to Kathy's use of Twitter but on a much

smaller scale. I have one device (an old smartphone of mine). As I have become more comfortable and confident with using it in class, I have allowed my students more independence with composing (sometimes using voice typing) the text. I will often share the Instagram post on Twitter if we have added a hashtag. So I can see the benefit of having a class Twitter account to support our Instagram account.

After the Global Read Aloud we did use Twitter a few more times. This happened because my students were now aware of Twitter. In science I tell students that at the end of an experiment we need to share our results. Each year we brainstorm that could look like. This is typically what students come up with: 
  • tell our families when we get home
  • put what we learned on SchoolZone (EPSB's secured information bulletin board for parents and students).
  • email someone
  • blog about it
and this year they added:
  • share it on Twitter.

The few times I did use Twitter this year with students, they wanted to know if anyone had replied or responded. I had to scroll through my other notifications to get to the replies. The adjacent tweets each time I did this were benign but it was distracting for the students. This is when I realized the importance of having a dedicated school or classroom account. You would never have to worry about what other tweets were on your feed that you did not want posted on a Smartboard.

So as you can see even before I went to Kathy's session at GETCA I was already beginning to lean toward creating a classroom Twitter account. I would say her session solidified this decision for me. However, I still have some things to think about before I do.

Questions I need to figure out before I start a class account on Twitter:

  • Will I create a unique account for each school year? My students come up with a classroom name. I try to avoid calling anything "Ms Mondor's class" but prefer to use the unique class name to build student ownership of creating our classroom climate. On the other hand, building followers to make Twitter impactful takes time. Having a strong base of followers at the start of each year would be ideal.
  • Similar to my first questions, what will happen if I change grades or schools? Will my classroom Twitter account follow me or will I start a new one for a new school/grade?
  • Am I willing to have a device (or more, I do have access to a few tablets at my current school) permanently logged into Twitter for students to use? I already do this with Instagram but I am the one the hands the Smartphone to students to take Instagram photos rather than having it available for when they decide they have something important to share.

Related Div1 Edtech in EPSB blog post: So I Joined Twitter. Now What?