The New and Improved Personal Project

I’m just finishing my 9th year in an MYP school. In that time I have supervised my fair share of personal projects. A few have been fantastic, a few have been shocking, but the vast majority have been average at best. With the release of new guidelines for the personal project comes a chance for us to reinvent how we introduce and, ultimately, get the students to think about the personal project.

When Andrea Law, our MYP Coordinator, and I started talking about this, we decided we needed to find a way to get the students to invest themselves in this year-long project and truly make it personal. Too often in the past students chose topics that they thought would be easy or help them get a good grade rather than one that they truly cared about.

Instead of starting with an Area of Interaction (AoI, which, to be honest, they don’t always truly understand), we asked the students to identify problems that they see in their world around them. They could be huge global problems like poverty; they could be problems based on their community like friends not truly understanding the importance of the Tet holiday; they could be individual problems like not having enough space in your room for your stereo and computer.

Once they identified a few problems, students were asked to write down their personal connection to each of those problems. Why did they matter? Possible links to AoIs were established here as well.

Once personal connections were identified, students began thinking about a solution: what could they make or do in order to address the problem. After conferencing with their peers, students then came up with the topic for their personal project.

All of the information about how they came up with their topic (problem, connection, AOI, and solution) was submitted by survey by each of the students. Teachers then read each description (without student names) and signed up to be supervisors based on their own interests as well.

Andrea, Joyce the librarian, and I just spent the morning rotating between the three homerooms talking about important aspects of the personal project students need to address over the summer: organizational details and meeting with supervisors; information literacy and evaluating sources; and the process journal and blogs.

I’m really excited by the quality of the topics that were decided upon by the students. I could immediately tell that the problem solving  approach has made the whole concept of the personal project much more accessible. I think we’ve also helped the students choose topics that they are really interested in. This will have such huge impact on how the view this year-long process!

Devojka mala AttributionNoncommercial by Sebastian Adanko

Lendle: A P2P Community Library?

Sitting, waiting, for hours at Narita Airport on Saturday afternoon…

I’d finished Catching Fire, the second book in the Hunger Games trilogy, in my hotel earlier in the week. I couldn’t wait to get back to school so I could check out the last installment Mockingjay.

And then, as I was sitting in an internet cafe enjoying an overpriced double espresso and free internet, @21stcenteducat told me about Lendle.

Within 5 minutes I had set up an account, added the few Kindle books that I own, and put in a request for Mockingjay. Within 10 more minutes, another Lendle user had loaned the book to me. The hardest part was getting my Android phone connected to the wireless at the airport in order to get the book delivered to me!

Now I have two weeks to finish reading my loaned book before it automagically disappears!

Kindles are great for personal use but they are a lot of issues associated with trying to use them in a library. I wonder if Lendle can/will be modded to fit the needs of libraries around the world? I mean, if we can share books amongst strangers, why can’t we do it in our communities?

It’s All Connected

A few weeks ago, we had an in-house PD day here at UNIS. At the beginning of September, the staff were surveyed on which of the whole-school goals they would like this day to focus on. The big winner (surprise!) was technology, followed by coaching and professional learning communities.

I spent a lot of time working with our Curriculum and Professional Development Coordinator on the plan for the day. We decided it would be an excellent way to introduce the entire staff to the Technology and Learning Plan that was developed (I was on the task force) last year. This plan consists of three goals: one based on the NETS for Students, one based on the NETS for teachers, and one focusing on our technology infrastructure.

Our goals for the day were:

  • To learn more about the school’s vision regarding technology;
  • To learn from each other about technology use;
  • To think about goals for teachers and students regarding technology use;
  • To facilitate discussion across the school divisions

So what did we do? I stole a page from Learning 2.010! Teachers were carefully grouped based on division, subject/grade level, gender, and comfortability with technology. After the MSHS principal introduced the Tech and Learning Plan, each group was assigned a strand related to one of the NETS-inspired goals. They discussed what they felt that strand meant to them as a way to generate some ideas. Then, they were given until after lunch (about 2 hours) to come up with some sort of presentation to the entire staff that introduced their strand.

Along the way, we modeled some different technology tools that could be used in the classroom. We used a wiki as a means of distributing information. We used Wallwisher as a parking lot for questions and concerns that weren’t directly related to the discussion. We used surveys on our SharePoint portal to quickly gather information from the group. We used Wordle to display our staff’s response to the prompt “How do you feel about technology?”

The presentation tools were varied; groups went with what they were most comfortable with – natural differentiation! There were movies, powerpoint presentations, a Prezi. One group tried to use SongSmith to emulate We’re All Connected; lot’s of groups used humor. The two Tech Facilitators (myself and my ES counterpart) were available to help troubleshoot but mostly groups just got on with it!

After lunch, we watched all the presentations and voted for the top two. We had created a very simple rubric (we are an IB World School, after all!) prior to the creation time to help guide the groups.  Not everybody was thrilled with the idea of a competition, but I really wanted to encourage groups to put in that extra effort!

During Learning 2.010 I was really struck by the enormous stress that we felt when trying to finish our group artifact. It made me really empathize with our students as we ask them to do this all the time without truly (I believe) thinking about what it puts them through. I hope this day helped to reinforce that with our teachers as well as highlight the amount of time these types of rewarding products take up.

Overall, I am very impressed with how these 100+ teachers tackled the day. It was extremely difficult trying to find a format that would suit the enormously varied needs of this large group of individuals in a way that they would find interesting, engaging and useful. We certainly asked the staff to be risk takers and to go outside of their comfort zones. They did so and then some!

Next up: Unconferences!

Some selected feedback:

“I really felt as though we each came away with SOMETHING interesting – even if it was not something practical to use for our own teaching, it may just have been a greater understanding of some things that go on elsewhere in the school, which also contributes to developing a whole school ethos.”

“I found the actual task and the working with teachers that I normally do not work with, very satisfying and I learned a great deal from them. Finding out things by ourselves was a great mirroring of how we should teach.”

“I really enjoyed having the opportunity to actually ‘work’ to make our learning happen.”

“I would prefer to learn about technology through direct instruction.”

“I found the presentation method very interesting, especially in observing the behaviors of myself and everybody in the group, how the decision were taken.”

“It really got us all involved and not only discussing technology but we were teaching each other new technologies that we used.”

“I liked the fact that it ‘demystifyed’ the use of technology in class and made it clear that it can be used, with basic knowledge, as long as you are ready to use your imagination and you’re are open to make use of others (students included) knowledge and imagination.”

“I thought the idea of familiarizing everyone with the school’s technology goals in smaller, mixed groups, and then using a technological presentation to give feedback was great.”

Social Networking for Parents

Michelle and I had our first PD session (Parent Development) this morning and had about 25 parents show up! It is by far the biggest crowd I’ve ever had for one of these technology sessions. Our plan was to pick a hot-button issue to get more butts in seats and boy did it work. At one point, we didn’t have enough computers in the lab to accommodate all the parents!

We started with quote from Prof. Helen McGrath (.pdf):

Young people on the other hand see technologies (and especially the internet) as a vital part of their social life and the building of their identity. Mobile phones seem to be the key to young people’s social lives (ACMA, 2007)… (T)he most significant milestones towards adulthood are now acquiring a mobile phone and joining online social networking sites. [emphasis added]

Social networks are now a fact of life and won’t diminish until something bigger and better takes their place. As parents we have the choice to ignore it (not recommended!) or to get involved with our children’s interactions.

We then showed the awesome Common Craft video Social Networking in Plain English

I love the ideas behind this series; I wonder if we could contact Lee and ask him if he could make a ‘student-friendly’ version?

When discussing the benefits and drawbacks, the focus from parents was mainly on the negatives, including:

  • time wasting
  • devalued meaning of ‘friend’
  • online dangers
  • damage to one’s image and the idea of a digital footprint

As we have a very international population, a lot of parents recognized the benefits of staying connected to ‘home’ and to friends across the globe. This did not, however, have as a big an impact as I thought it would.

We spent some time introducing parents to Club Penguin (most had never heard of it) and going through some of the more controversial aspects of the Facebook Terms of Service. Like their children, most parents with Facebook accounts had never actually read the Terms of Service and were a bit shocked to see language such as this:

You specifically give us the following permission, subject to your privacy and application settings: you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook (“IP License”).

We ended by talking about what parents can do to help encourage discussion with their children about social networking. They included:

  • Set boundaries
  • Be interested! Ask questions, just like you do with their F2F friends.
  • Ask to be shown their profile page … tomorrow.
  • Ask to be their ‘friend’ with an understanding that you will not actively participate.
  • Remember: Most kids really do use social networks just to communicate with their friends.

I had hoped to spend some time going through specific privacy settings but we ran out of time. I will include the related links in our weekly school newsletter however.

Overall, we tried to stress that social networking sites are the cordless telephone and mall of the current generation. It’s how they communicate and  it’s where they sometimes hang out. When one parent said something about children creating Facebook accounts behind their backs, I related it back to watching R-rated movies: If she’s told her child that s/he cannot watch a certain movie, how does she know s/he won’t just go watch it at a friend’s house? What’s the difference?

Thanks to Kim Cofino and Jeff Utecht for sharing their previous experiences on this subject. It helped us a lot in preparing for our session!

I’ve embedded the slides from our presentation here. I’ve also got an hour’s worth of audio that I will try to sync up to the visuals at some point…

Roll ’em Out!

After a relaxing summer, it’s been right back into the thick of things at the start of this school year!

As of 3 days ago, our entire Middle School and High School is 1:1! We rolled out tablets to the last two grade levels (grades 6 and 7) on the first day of school and there is no looking back!

A quick recap:

  • In August 2007, about half of the teachers received tablets.
  • In August 2008, all teachers and students in grades 10 and 11 received tablets.
  • In August 2009 all teachers and students in grades 8 – 12 (three new grade levels) received tablets.
  • In August 2010 all teachers and all students in the Middle and High School received tablets. (In additions, students in grade 5 will be receiving tablets as well but that is not my area of responsibility.)

This is a process that has been a long time in the making and I am very excited about it! It’s also kept me quite busy, both to end the year in June and to begin this year.

One of the things that we decided we could improve as a school is giving more support and training to students from the get go. We’ve always done a basic training session and then let the students go straight to class. While this maximizes class time, I also found that many teachers were spending a lot of time teaching the same tech skills in their classes. That’s not a bad thing, mind you, but it was getting in the way of the learning.

So I came up with a plan. All students in Grades 6, 7 and 8 have been on a modified intensive technology curriculum for the first three days of school. Instead of math, science, english or humanities, they have been learning how to use their tablets, learning how to use OneNote 2010, having lessons on cyberbullying and cybersafety (thanks to the curriculum!) and having lessons on using NoodleTools and MLA referencing.

It was a bit of a nightmare trying to coordinate the schedules for 9 homerooms (3 at each grade level) but the middle school teachers have been great. I’ve been alternating between helping to deliver lessons, lending support as other teachers deliver lessons and just watching. By all accounts, the students are doing a great job of adapting. Of course, we always knew they would.

Now comes the harder part: getting the teachers to adapt to and implement a new learning environment!

Foreign Language Collaboration Wanted

One of the foreign language teachers here at UNIS Hanoi is looking for schools and classrooms to collaborate with in French or Spanish.  In the past she has collaborated with the International School of Prague to discuss poverty in both the Czech Republic and Vietnam using a private Ning. At the end of the unit a Skype chat was organized so the students could participate in a debate and ‘meet’ each other.

A theme hasn’t been decided upon yet so if you’re interested  leave a comment below. I can put you two in touch and you can hash out some details.  Thanks!


Image Credit:
Ad – Macro’ed by bjmccray (CC BY NC ND on Flickr)

Thing 12: My Holiday Slideshow (from Flickr)

Please excuse the brevity (and funny punctuation) of the next few blog posts. Being in Europe has its drawbacks: expensive internet cafes and funny keyboards.

At least, that”s what I hope it will look like! I”m only on the 5th day of the holiday, but thanks to Flickr, those are the things I”m hoping to see. You can travel anywhere in the world using other people”s photos, or you can harness the power of visual images using clear, sharp and near-professional photos.

Image Credits:

Nice-Cote-d’Azur-card by

Contrails and the Pisa Tower by ccgd

relax in river to the Arno by pasma

Salzburg Cathedral by joiseyshowaa

Nuremberg: The City Clock by bill barber (very sporadic)

Relief…Bleriot-Plage, Calais by grange85

London Eye at Night by Philipp Klinger (in US & CDN 14/06 till 04/07)

Mermaid Quay by JohnGreenaway

Exposition Universelle by . SantiMB . (uninspired)

Thing 10: Copyright, Copywrong and Creative Commons

Please excuse the brevity (and funny punctuation) of the next few blog posts. Being in Europe has its drawbacks: expensive internet cafes and funny keyboards.

Teachers have always gotten around traditional copyright law, whether they knew it or not, by the “Fair Use” standards in place for education. While this serves us well, it will not always serve our students. Nor does traditional copyright laws take into account the instantaneous nature of sharing and remixing information.

Enter Creative Commons.

CC licensing is necessary in today”s world. It can, I think, be thought of as a community. I”ll use your images, music, etc. and you can use mine. There is nobody policing anything. It”s up to the individual users to ensure that they are abiding by the terms of the license that has been placed on the work by the creator.

I kind of like that idea when it comes to students: empowering people to ensure that they are using other people”s work responsibly.