A Summer in Madrid – It’s Not What You Think

As my time at UNIS Hanoi comes to a close, I’m already looking ahead to my summer plans. I will be spending the month of July in Madrid while the rest of the family goes back to Australia. I can hear you wondering, “How did you manage THAT?!?”

Four weeks living the bachelor lifestyle in Madrid sounds fabulous… but that’s not going to be me! It won’t be all tapas and cava…

I’m embarking on a 13 month MEd. in International Education Administration from Endicott College. This summer will consist of four courses in four weeks, then four online courses over the course of the school year, and then four more weeks and four more courses in Madrid in July 2014 (this time with the family)!

For the next five weeks or so this blog stands the chance of seeing an inordinate number of posts focused on what I’m reading, thinking, discussing or presenting as it relates to my classes. And so it begins…

In “A Diploma Worth Having” Grant Wiggins argues that the current (American) high school diploma doesn’t actually prepare students for adult life.

We are on the verge of requiring every student in the United States to learn two years of algebra that they will likely never use, but no one is required to learn wellness or parenting.

And later:

In sum, it seems to me that we still do not have a clue about how to make education modern: forward-­looking, client-­centered, and flexible; adapted to an era where the future, not the past, determines the curriculum.

Since I’ll be back in the math classroom next year (only teaching one class), I’m really interested in this critique of the draft Common Core Standards by the Partnership for 21c. Skills (my emphasis):

the standards should include more emphasis on practical mathematical application (for example, analyzing financial data); include statistics and probability in the elementary grades and emphasize these areas more in the secondary grades; and focus less on factual content mastery in favor of better integrating higher-order thinking skills throughout the curriculum

I’ve come to believe this more in the four years that I’ve been out of the math game. I mean, who needs to memorize the Pythagorean Theorem these days? I used to teach a whole unit on this! Surely it’s better to focus on finding and investigating authentic problems that requires students to think like mathematicians rather than regurgitate a formula.

Wiggins also introduces me to the Quantitative Literacy Manifesto (2001) (retrieved here) which calls for developing in students:

a predisposition to look at the world through mathematical eyes, to see the benefits (and risks) of thinking quantitatively about commonplace issues, and to approach complex problems with confidence in the value of careful reasoning. (p. 22)

I think I’m going to need to find the time to read this more fully…

The Dark Side of GDocs? – Transferring Ownership

We’ve starting implementing Google Docs pretty heavily at our school. It’s the perfect solution to share and collaborate on documents with colleagues. There are many important curriculum documents that are created by individual teachers. With GDocs it is a simple process to work on these documents and develop this curriculum collaboratively.

As with many international schools, however, we have a pretty decent turnover rate of teachers at our school. Our average length of stay for teachers hovers right around 4 years.

And this is the dark side of going Google: What happens when a teacher leaves the school and we delete their Google Apps account? All of that data is also deleted. All of those shared documents and all of that institutional knowledge is gone unless you take precautions and prepare those teachers in advance.

So, what are the solutions?

Actually, for the leaving teacher it is pretty easy. Although you cannot transfer ownership of documents outside of your school domain, it is a pretty simple matter to use Google Takeout (thanks to the Data Liberation Front) to download all of the items in your Google Drive (or selected folders).

But what about those documents that need to stay within the institution? There might be a better way, but here’s what I’ve come up with:

Transfering ownership of Google Docs, Spreadsheets, Presentations, and Forms: These native formats can easily have their ownership transferred to a departmental or institutional account. For example, if I have Math curriculum documents, I can put all of these in a single folder, select all and transfer ownership to math@mydomain.com. (If this is a new account, you may need to share it with this account first, and then transfer ownership.) Because you are transferring ownership and not creating a new document, the URL should remain the same and any existing links to that document should still work. Also, the existing sharing settings should remain the same. You can also use this method to transfer ownership of any of your documents to anybody else in your school like a co-teacher or your department head.

Transferring ownership of non-native GDoc formats such as PDFs, JPGs, and MS Word files: The method above does not work with other files that you have uploaded to Google Drive, unfortunately. However, once you have gone through the process above and have also removed any personal or non-essential files from Google Drive, the Google Apps administrator has the ability to “bulk transfer” ownership of all files from one user to another. This transfer could be to an archive account (archive@mydomain.com?). If teachers find they need a file and the owner is listed as “archive” they can then either request a transfer of ownership (if it is a native GDoc that was accidentally overlooked) or could make a copy of the file. After a set period of time (6 months? 1 year?) I would delete all archived worked permanently.

Transfer Docs

Thoughts? How do you handle this at your school?

GEEK is the Word!

Cross posted from EdTech@UNISHanoi
Getting Ready to Geek!

On Wednesday we held our 3rd Annual SpeedGeeking session (previous post here). Like I said in an email to all the teachers, this is my favorite day of the year! SpeedGeeking is an opportunity for our teachers to learn, celebrate, socialize, and hopefully get inspired.

In the past, speedgeeking has been a highly orchestrated affair, involving different rotations, various groups and multiple locations. At the end of it, there were a lot of teachers with glazed-over eyes, scratchy throats and full brains! This year, we decided to simplify: 18 presentations divided into two rooms, groups were made at random and on-the-fly (the ol’ pick-a-number-out-of-the-hat trick) and each group only went through one room. Each presentation was 7 minutes long with about 20 seconds to rotate to each new station.

After a delicious mid-afternoon snack, we had about 45 minutes to just sit and digest, both the food and what we’d just seen! In addition to all the great ideas they had just seen, we were able to talk with our colleagues about what happened in the other room. We’re hoping this can help spark conversations for months to come.

A huge THANK YOU! to all of the presenters who shared a small bit of their teaching practice with us. Without you all, an event like this could never be successful!

Below is a list of all 18 presentation topics. If you were a presenter and would like me to link to anything, let me know. If you want to learn any more about any of these topics, the presenters are good people to start that conversation with!

  • Research Better with Social Bookmarking (Diigo) – Kelsey G.
  • Using Edcanvas as a presentation tool – Jan H.
  • Flubaroo – Neil F.
  • Mixcraft with Elementary students – Sally O.
  • Coach’s Eye – Mel H.
  • Class sites with Google Sites – John G.
  • Class blogs – Jen P.
  • Digital Ads using Photostory – Jennifer K.
  • G8 Drama animation/movie – Anne Marie D.
  • VoiceThread/Animoto – Abigail L.
  • ThreeRing in ECC – Andy D.
  • Scribble Maps – John H.
  • Using Prezi – Simon N.
  • Pecha Kucha w/ students – Susan C.
  • Copying and Copyright in the Creative Classroom – Michelle W.
  • Learning Numeracy (and Coding) using Scratch – Mindy S.
  • Robotics – Mags M.
  • “Cutting out Kids” with Photoshop – Chris F.

#vtc2013 – That’s a Wrap!

<How quickly time flies… I started writing this post a month ago and it just kept getting pushed back and back… Sorry about the lag!>

The #vtc2013 participants

Back in September 2011, I was sitting in a hotel lobby in Shanghai with Gary Bertoia and we asked each other: “What if schools in Vietnam were to create a local #edtech conference?”

Almost 16 months later, we have!

The past two days have been the culmination of months of work and collaboration between UNIS Hanoi and Saigon South International School to organizing the Vietnam Tech Conference (#vtc2013). It has also been the product of 95 Vietnam-based teachers who were willing to share, teach, learn, mentor, collaborate and network with one another in  a way that has never happened in this country before!

Some of the goals that we had for the conference were to create a dynamic learning environment for the teachers that was high quality and relatively low cost; to have maximum impact on student learning; to maximize teacher participation by

The Organizing Committee

The organizing crew took the best bits of some of our world-class regional technology conferences and combined them into two intense days. We had a day of structured workshops (I even managed to squeeze in a session on Digital Citizenship) combined with a day that was more participant-driven and progressive, featuring two rounds of SpeedGeeking and two blocks for Unconferences. All in all, I think it came together quite well. I’m looking forward to sitting down the conference feedback information and getting a more in-depth feel of what the participants thought.

Saigon South International School did an amazing job of hosting the conference. Robert Appino, David Perkin, Theresa Flaspohler and the entire SSIS crew thought of just about everything and pulled off the weekend without a hitch! I’m a little sad that I won’t be at UNIS Hanoi next year when #vtc2014 is hosted there, but I have no doubt that they will match or exceed this year’s organization!

Image Credit:
VTC2013 Group PhotoSome rights reserved by Clint Hamada (photo courtesy of SSIS)
The Organizing CommitteeSome rights reserved by Clint Hamada (photo courtesy of SSIS)

It’s Official – I’m a Google Advanced Power Searcher

I’ve even got the certificate to prove it!

Clint Hamada - Advanced Power Searching Certificate

As with any course, I don’t know how much of it I will retain unless I use my Google-Fu on a regular basis. But it is cool to know some new tricks. Two of my favorite finds are the inurl: operator and the “specify a number range” operator.  And if/when I forget them, I know I have the skillz to just google them!

Innovative Learning Grants at UNIS Hanoi

Resurrection by Untitled blue. CC BY

We’ve never suffered from a lack of resources as long as I’ve been here at UNIS Hanoi. We’ve been running a 1:1 TabletPC program for the past 6 years. All students in grades 4 – 12 have their own machines. And in the Middle and High School we’ve been running a (virtually) paperless environment with varying degrees of success.

But. as I’ve said previously, as a school we are becoming cranky teenagers. Instead of accepting what we are given with a “Thank you!” and a smile, we’re beginning to ask “Why?”

Why are we using this machine and not that one?

Why do we have to do that?

Why can’t we do this?


Now, from my perspective, this is a great problem to have. Teachers and students asking “why?” means that they are thinking about the best ways to transform teaching and learning. I’m actually more concerned about the teachers and students who never question what we’re doing! It means they are passively accepting what is being given to them and not showing any critical analysis of our program or of their own learning.

To help spur the question of “Why?”, we’ve introduced Innovative Learning Grants. The central questions that we started with was “What is it that you want to do at but currently can’t?” and “How will this improve student learning and/or teacher pedagogy?”

The idea is that teachers submit a proposal documenting their interest and also noting some of the research that they have done on the topic. Once proposals have been selected to go forward, the teachers are responsible for documenting their work and submitting a written report at the end of their trial period. This report includes feedback on the outcome of the project as well as suggestions for scaling the project up to go beyond their individual trial. From this, decisions can be made about going forward. It is my hope that all of this – all grant proposals and the final reports/recommendations of the ‘winning’ projects – will be published to the entire community as examples of how UNIS is looking at staying on the cutting edge when it comes to learning.

In the first iteration, we received a quite a few grant proposals. I was amazed by the depth and breadth of the proposals that we received. In the end, we selected three to go forward. One is looking at the use of standing desks in the classroom. Another is looking how to adopt mobile technology into PE classes. And the third is looking increasing collaboration and lay through the use of a SMART Table in our Early Childhood classes. All trials will end before June and I’m looking forward to reading and sharing their final reports. [I will ask to see if any of the authors mind if I share their proposals.]

A quick note about the name: it was a very deliberate decision to use the term “Innovative Learning” and not mention “Technology” even though the funds are being put up by the Technology Office. As a school, our focus must continue to be on learning. Our focus on technology is not for the sake of having the shiniest bell or the newest whistle but to improve student learning. 99 times out of 100 Innovative Learning will involve the authentic use of technology, and by using the title “Innovative Learning Grant” we are keeping the emphasis where it belongs.

What is your school doing to encourage innovation in both teaching and learning? Do you think you could apply a similar process at your school?

Thinking About Thinking

UNIS Hanoi has had the good fortune of spending two day with Mark Church, one of the researchers and authors behind Project Zero’s Visible Thinking Project. We are actually just starting day two and I find myself with a few minutes to reflect back on the first day.

The focus of the first day was less about Visible Thinking Routines and the Teacher for Understanding framework and more about discussing the need for making thinking visible and teaching for understanding. While they may seem obvious to any group of teachers (and who in their right minds would ever disagree with the need for teaching for understanding?), these concepts are sometimes not given the thought that they deserve. It was very refreshing to have an “outside expert” come in and say that we need to be a community of learners and that it is vital for teachers to provide opportunities, model and document the thinking that goes into the learning.

Like I said, nothing revolutionary in theory but great to hear…

I love the Visible Thinking Routines. I try to use them whenver I can as a reflection tool at the end of workshop sessions. As more schools are going 1:1 and beyond, I wonder if there is a way to update or revamp them to reflect the tech-rich environment that so many schools now find themselves in. Besides taking a picture of the work at the end, how can we visualize, capture and display thinking in our digital environments? Or, does that defeat the power and the purpose of these thinking routines?

What do you do to visualize thinking with technology? Which of the VTRs have you successfully updated to your digital/online learning environment?

Image: Master Learners by Clint Hamada licensed under CC BY NC SA

Blog Importification

I love having smart friends.

As UNIS Hanoi moves towards a school-wide blogging platform I’ve been looking for ways to make life easier for teachers wanting to implement blogging in class. One of the big questions I’ve had  has been “How can teachers get only the information that they want/need?”

What stuck in my mind was a comment that I heard in passing back at Learning 2.010. Somebody (who???) mentioned using Google Spreadsheets to build RSS feeds. Since most school URLs are predictable, that sounded easy enough. It turned into my own personal Fermat’s Last Theorem though. What seemed easy turned out to take me a few years to solve and then only with the help of my aforementioned smart friend.

@zomoco has rigged up a Blog Importificator for me. Here’s how it works:

  • Teachers create a class list using Outlook contact groups and send that to me. (In the future, this information could also be pulled out of our student information system.)
  • Teachers also tell me what category they want the students to use in their blog posts (grades 6 – 10 use MYP subject related categories that have been pre-loaded on each blog; grades 11 and 12 create the category they are going to use) as well as what grade level the students are in (our blog addresses are dependent upon graduation year for ease of maintenance).
  • I erase the header from the text file they sent me so there are two columns of data: student name and student email/username. I then upload this text file to the Importificator, fill in the category slug, the folder name and the graduation year.
  • The Importificator spits out an OPML file that can then be imported into Google Reader, Outlook or just about any other RSS reader.

From the time I receive the class list to the time teachers are subscribed to all of the blog posts in that specific category: about 2 minutes!

While this particular version of the Importificator is very UNIS Hanoi specific, @zomoco has released his code over at GitHub licensed under ASL and CC BY NC SA. If you use it, please be sure to drop him a tweet and say thanks!

One day, after a few more lessons at Codecademy, I hope I’ll be able to modify the code myself!

Is there a better/easier way of doing this? What do you do at your school to help teachers with their blogging students?

Merging Data in Google Docs

Some rights reserved by mag3737

One of the power features that I’ve always loved in Microsoft Office is the ability to merge data from Excel into individual Word documents. I used to use this extensively with my Excel Gradebooks when I was a classroom teacher: writing comments for each student in a column, recording the various criteria scores, and then merging all of that data on to a template that included the original assessment criteria and task-specific clarifiers. It took a bit of time to set up, but it was powerful assessment data.

As I’ve made the move to Google Docs, I’ve often lamented the missing ability to merge data. I put it down to ‘one of those things’ that I would have to live without in order to use the collaborative power of GDocs.

Yesterday, in our weekly tech team meeting, we were discussing how we handle the reporting of loss or damages. This is an area that has caused much angst amongst all parties involved: students, parents, teachers, admin, technicians. What could we do to make the system more user-friendly and more efficient?

The idea of students filling out a Google Form came up. While it is a great way to collect information from the students, it’s not a great way to view all that data. Cells and cells of text in a spreadsheet is not my idea of a good time. What we needed was a way of getting all of that information on to a document – an individualized report for each incident.

Back to the idea of merging data…

I started searching for a solution. I asked Twitter. I asked the IT teachers if they thought they could write the java script necessary. Finally, I decided to check the script gallery on Google Spreadsheets. Jackpot.

autoCrat by Andrew Stillman does exactly what we need.  Amazingly, it was updated just a few days before I searched for it!

Here’s what I’m hoping to set up in the next week or so:

  1. Students will come into the Tech Office and use a dedicated computer to fill out a Google Form to report loss or damage. That information automatically gets sent to a Spreadsheet.
  2. autoCrat will automatically generate a Doc for each entry as it is created, pulling the information from the Spreadsheet. This document will be emailed to both the student and his/her parent.
  3. The Doc will be created in a folder that is shared by all technicians, using a naming convention based on the name of the person filling out the form and the date it was created.
  4. As the issues are resolved, technicians will write in how and when the problem was resolved and the Doc will be transferred to another shared folder for archiving. The ‘how’ and ‘when’ will also be copied back to the spreadsheet.
  5. Because all of that information is in the spreadsheet, I’m hoping to be able to easily collect stats about the types of problems that have been fixed, average turnaround time, etc.

While this is more of a systems implementation, I can see autoCrat being used in the classroom. I’m not sure how yet, but I think it can be used to collect and share formative assessment, for students, parents and teachers.

How do you think you might be able to use autoCrat?

ASB Unplugged Reflection Part 2 – Unplanned, Unconference

It seems like forever ago since I landed back in Hanoi after 3 days in Mumbai. Actually, it was only a week ago. I started my reflections with a list of tweets that I sent during the conference.

The first day of ASB Unplugged was devoted to classroom visits, student showcases and discussions by some of the various R&D groups that are functioning at ASB. During that time, quite by chance, I found myself sitting around a table that included Jeff Plaman, Andrew McCarthy, Simon May, Aaron Metz and Adrienne Michetti. What happened over the next 90 minutes was PURE GOLD.

The focus of conferences, for me, has changed. It is no longer about sitting in a room and being told about/shown the  “next great thing” in education. It’s now about sitting in the hallways and in the common areas and leveraging connections that I have already made through Twitter and other aspects of my PLN into deep and meaningful conversations.

In those 90 minutes, we bobbed and weaved through three major points of discussion:

1. Ownership and Exit Strategy – I’ve written about it a long time ago and it still sits somewhere in the back of my mind. How do we balance the needs and wants of teachers to create curriculum materials in spaces all over the internet with the need for the school to have continuity in that curriculum delivery? With such a large amount of transience in international schools in particular, how can schools encourage teachers to create amazing, lasting digital curriculum material that can continue to be used by both parties when that teacher moves to the next school? Related to this, what are we doing as a school to create an “exit strategy” for teachers, helping them to collect all of their digital resources to bring to their next school, ensuring that those resources are available to subsequent teachers? I’d be curious to know if there are any schools with effective checklists for the end of year related to Google Docs, WordPress blogs, and any external wiki platforms that are used. How do you keep track of all the great things that are going on in the classroom on the weeblys and wikispaces and tumblrs and…?

2. New Teachers – Transient teachers mean lots of training. Last year, there were 44 new teaching and admin staff at UNIS due to staff turnover and school growth! We spent a lot of time discussing ways in which we run our various orientations and inductions. CISHK runs a course through Moodle with teacher-created content that is accessible by their new staff prior to their arrival. Included in the course are some short ‘assessments’ on skills. If they can show mastery prior to showing up on campus, then they can skip those training sessions at the beginning of the year and spend time doing other things to prepare for the start of the year. I love this idea. I wonder if we could use Google Forms and Flubaroo as a means of creating self-assessed quizzes for incoming staff to show their understanding?

3. New Students – Student turnover is pretty constant at UNIS. Just this month I’ve seen 4 or 5 new students as they prepare to start in their new classes. Because we are a technology-rich school, students need to feel some level of comfort with the machines and the systems before they can be effective in classes. What’s the balance? How do we effectively and efficiently get these students ready to participate in classes? One things that is working very well this year in the middle school  is the idea of a tech buddy. New students attend a 60 – 90 minute orientation with their tech buddy (who is also their buddy for other things, I believe). Instead of me leading the students through some of the basics of their new computer, I get the buddy to do the brunt of the work. I think this idea has great potential but I’ll need to work with the teachers to ensure that the skills that they feel are necessary from day 1 are being addressed.

I’d love to hear any ideas that you have about any of these three points. The more perspectives the better!


EXIT: cc licensed ( BY NC ) flickr photo shared by zilverbat.