Stories my Grandparents Tell…Unit 4 UBD

I decided I wanted to try Projects Based Learning (PBL) after reading more about it and reviewing the Wikipedia  definition:

A student-centered pedagogy that involves a dynamic classroom approach in which students acquire a deeper knowledge through active exploration of real-world challenges and problems.Students learn about a subject by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to a complex question, challenge, or problem.


grandparentI figured it would be fun to try PBL with my next unit,  “Stories my Grandparents Tell” that focuses on time (past/present) and needs and wants.  Also, the The Five E’s was recently reintroduced (I am sure I learned about it years ago, but have never actually incorporated it in my lesson plans for some reason) and I thought that was a perfect way to focus more on inquiry and make this unit more projects based.

The five E’s begins with Engage, then Explore followed by Explain. I had always done the Engage portion, however I would mix the explore and explain. I quickly realized that if I explained everything, then went to explore, the children are not really asking questions or wondering about what is happening since I had already told them what would most likely happen. Seems so simple to reverse, yet I had never done that and realize the disservice I was doing by not allowing the children to explore and inquire about what they explored.

I decided to try to Explore before Explain while working with the thermometer and I was impressed at how well the children noticed what was happening and coming up with some of their own conclusions and questions while exploring. When I explained the thermometer after exploring with it, explaining seemed so much easier! The children understood what I was talking about and could relate to it more because they’ve already explored.

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So with all these new ideas on how to create my unit and try to make it as PBL as possible while incorporating the five E’s,  I came across some major roadblocks. I was trying to think of ways to engage and explore about the past and technology of the past without doing too much explaining first. I struggled with ways to have the children explore more since they were not around in the past. I planned to use pictures, videos, etc. with the hope that they can get some ideas (I will even show them pictures from my childhood).


Then I thought it would be fun to do some interviewing. Of course, interviewing their grandparents is a must, but I figured it may be fun to practice on someone closer to their age who is still a student. I am hoping I can round up some high schoolers keen to work with the younger kids and willing to be interviewed and share their experiences from when they first began school.  Ten years is not a huge age difference, but the children in my classroom have a completely different experience than the high school children did (I know this because the way I taught ten years ago was completely different than now!) I hope to have the students generate their own questions for their interviews based on some of the pictures and videos we looked at.

Hopefully we can videotape the high school interviews and watch them in class to discuss them more (not only how to interview people, but what exactly the high school’s past was like compared to their lives). Once the children are more comfortable with interviewing, then we will discuss more about tools and technology and the differences from now and then. The children can use the same questions asked in the beginning or generate new questions to ask their grandparents (or parent). We will not be able to videotape those interviews (many will not be in English and will require some translation help from the parents) but I am hoping we can get some pictures from some of the people being interviewed. That would help bring things into perspective and would be a great experience for the children and their families!

I hope to have the children create ebooks using the book creator app and upload everything they create (whether a video, picture or book) to SeeSaw as well.

I am not sure how to make this more hands on and add more technology.  Take a look at the unit and any suggestions you may have would be greatly appreciated! I’ll begin the unit in January and we shall see how it goes (more to come on the final project in course five!)


Improved…but still have a long way to go

As I think about the technology I use in my classroom and reflect back to how much I was using prior to COETAIL, I do have to say I have learned a lot and improved in some ways.

Often, I would just add technology because it was expected, but I never really thought about the purpose or exactly how useful the technology was that I had implemented. After learning more about the SAMR model and recently reading the blog from another COETAILer Jennifer Coleman, New Possibilities, that caught my eye I realized that I have began to reflect more on SAMR as I implement different forms of technology in the classroom.


As Jennifer discusses in her blog, she is reflecting and realizing she is using technology in more ways than she had expected and is using it more in terms of Modification and Augmentation. I feel my technology integration falls within the same Modification and Augmentation as well.

I know I still use some technology for substitution (youtube videos, brainpopjr, etc.) and that will not really change as I enjoy using those tools to help explain different concepts we have been experimenting with. However, I am using technology more than just as a substitution tool now. I have began to use different forms of technology to help change the task or improve the task at hand.

I have dabbled some with SeeSaw to help not only improve parent involvement and what they have access to, but also to allow the children opportunities to decide what is shared with their parents and make them more accountable in their learning. I am still struggling to find a way to have the children post more, but they have enjoyed trying it and the parents have already made several comments about how much they enjoy seeing different items kids are working on.

Once Seesaw is running more smoothly (hopefully that can be accomplished in the next few week prior to the holidays!) I would like to explore the other tools that Seesaw provides. Unfortunately, I am a very linear thinker  so it is hard for me to try something new till I’ve tackled the first thing, but I am working on that and hope to try some new tools after the holidays.

I’ve also attempted blogging and creating global communication. My goal would be to have a blog that kids are more interactive with other kids around the world and have a penpal sort of relationship with. It would be great for the children to learn from other kids around the world and discuss some of what they are learning with them. Unfortunately, that has seemed to fizzle out some, but I hope to bring it back at some point. I had a lot of fun with it last school year.

Following the break, we will also begin to explore ebooks and maybe dabble some in digital storytelling with our new unit “Stories my Grandparents Tell.”  The children may be interviewing their grandparents (or parents if no grandparents exist). Hopefully we can gather some pictures from the past and the students can create their stories through an ebook or spark video.  I have never tried this before, so I am a bit nervous but I’ve been earning right along side with the children and it has been a great education for me as well.

I do have ideas and I am thinking more about the SAMR while I decide what technology to use, but I still need to work on utilizing my PLN more. I struggle with so many different aspects of technology and often give up, but I forget that I have a massive PLN out there that can help me out if I just reach out and ask. That is something I will need to continue to work on because it would be foolish to give up on an awesome idea or tool just because I am stuck when there are so many people who may be able to help or share their own ideas.  The goal is to use the PLN more, but try not to become overwhelmed with all the new changing technology. It is ok to take a step back and reevaluate what is most effective and what can be adapted, changed or tweaked to work with my class.


The Future is Bright

“How do you prepare children for the future when you are not even sure what the future will be?”

I remember my professor back in 2001 asking me that question prior to my completion of my teaching degree. I spent days researching and writing my massive response (all saved to a floppy disk). Little did I know at the time, the question my professor asked would be a question asked every year, every month and every day throughout my teaching career.

What will the future of education look like? My students are still at their prime in their educational career. What I teach them is the foundation, knowing fully well that their educational career will be vastly different than those students I taught back when I first finished college.unknown


The technology is rapidly changing and it is hard to predict just how much technology will continue to change. With technology changing as quickly as it is, it seems almost impossible to keep up with what to teach and what will be important in the future (I remember taking keyboarding classes and now that is basically unheard of!)


Even with all the changes and uncertainties about the future, one thing that should never change is teaching the children the importance of human relationships and how to show compassion, empathy and respect for everyone they encounter, whether it be in person or on the computer. In other words, treating people like people.


In the wake of the recent U.S. election, it is more and more apparent that the human relationship and how people should be treated is not being addressed and therefore many people are lacking in the ability to treat others as people with respect and dignity.


Dan Pink spoke of the things that motivated people the most, and at the end of his speech he states:

“If we start treating people like people, and not assuming they are horses, slower, smaller better smelling horses…we can make organizations that are better off and make our world a little better


Video of Dan Pink

I also recently read the book, Leadership and Self-Deception-getting out of the box that discusses the importance of treating others as people in any situation whether good or bad, “A family, a company-both are organizations of people” (p.177).


Learning and understanding one another as people and understanding the differences help create a culture of respect. Children, even at a young age can learn to treat others fairly, show respect, compassion and empathy for their peers despite their differences. Many opportunities arise during free play or group projects where children have to learn to compromise and come to an agreement on their differences. Even lining up for recess is a perfect time to remind children to not shove and push their way in a line, but to wait and line up orderly, remembering that everyone is feeling the same way they are.


Understanding that other people are people with feelings and thoughts is difficult for young learners, but with modeling and reminding, they will understand in time and begin thinking about others as people just like themselves.

Bring back playtime!

I’ve read more and more about how schools are reducing recess time, putting in pedals on chairs so children can move while learning, or eliminating free time altogether. I often wonder how this continues to happen when there are so many studies and educational systems in other parts of the world that provide definite benefits to free play for children (especially in the earlier years).


Play is not only for fun and enjoyment.  “Play is vital for normal cognitive, social and emotional development. It reduces stress and increases well-being. Absence of play leads to maladaptive behavior.” (The Power of Play in Learning).  

Children who have the opportunity to play have a chance to development many different skills. They learn to interact with others as well as how to adapt to different situations.  I’ve watched some of the most creative things happen while watching the kids have free play.  I noticed how children become problem solvers and developed critical thinking skills just by trying to get a ball off an overhang!

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As stated in The New York Times: Taking Play Seriously, play  “is a central part of neurological growth and development — one important way that children build complex, skilled, responsive, socially adept and cognitively flexible brains.”

Clearly the problem solving this group of children did helped then develop their brains cognitively and socially. They had to work together and adapt their own ideas and thoughts to come up with a solution.  It was a fantastic example of  how important free play is.

Play allows children to make mistakes or have disagreements which is an essential social skill. Children will not develop the skills to solve problems if they do not have a problem to solve.

As positive as play is, it requires the ability to make mistakes. It implies being able to entertain multiple scenarios and outcomes. (The Power of Play in Learning)

The children in my class are always tattling and it is apparent that they have disagreements. I do not always intervene when there is a problem because I believe they need to try various ways to solve their problem first.  Even at the age of five, children have the ability to learn to adapt and work through their problems in a variety of ways.


I love this quote from, The Power of Play in Learning:

Play is about exploring the possible. In times of rapid change, exploring the possible becomes an essential skill. We don’t have maps for the territory of tomorrow. As a result, all citizens must become explorers of this emerging world. The best way to prepare for the emergence of the future is to learn how to be comfortable with uncertainty. To be comfortable with uncertainty, one must remain fluid, receptive and creative — in a word: playful.

As educators, we really have no idea what the future will look like for our students when they are adults. But equipping them with the opportunities to make mistakes, adapt, problem solve and explore their world through play will provide them with the ability to change and develop in this ever changing world more comfortably.


But despite all this evidence and the importance of play, as I said before, more and more schools seem to be doing away with it. This statement from The New York Times: Taking Play Seriously,  sums it up perfectly:

In the end, it comes down to a matter of trade-offs. There are only six hours in a school day, only another six or so till bedtime, and adults are forever trying to cram those hours with activities that are productive, educational and (almost as an afterthought) fun. Animal findings about how play influences brain growth suggest that playing, though it might look silly and purposeless, warrants a place in every child’s day. Not too overblown a place, not too sanctimonious a place, but a place that embraces all styles of play and that recognizes play as every bit as essential to healthful neurological development as test-taking drills, Spanish lessons or Suzuki violin.


PBL…Great ideas popping up everywhere!

Project based learning (PBL) is defined by Wikipedia as:

A student-centered pedagogy that involves a dynamic classroom approach in which students acquire a deeper knowledge through active exploration of real-world challenges and problems.Students learn about a subject by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to a complex question, challenge, or problem.

Students have direct involvement in what they learn and are often more engaged in their learning through PBL.  “Learning by doing,” was an idea that John Dewey himself discussed over a hundred years ago, so the idea of PBL is nothing new. Research even suggest the benefits of PBL for learners;

Research shows that learners not only respond by feeding back information, but they also actively use what they know to explore, negotiate, interpret, and create. They construct solutions, thus shifting the emphasis toward the process of learning. Introduction to Project Based Learning

Even with all this research, years understanding and knowing that learners benefit from PBL, hundreds of schools are still using testing, route learning and direct instruction on a daily basis. I recently watched the movie Most Likely to Succeed, discussing this very topic of innovative schools that use PBL as their main source versus the standard form of education.

After watching the movie, and with all of this week’s readings,  I just could not understand why education is so slow to change when PBL seems so obviously successful. But as I read what Dr. Seymour Papert wrote in his study on PBL I began to realize why the more schools do not use PBL more. First of all, Dr. Papert said, “first thing you have to do is to give up the idea of curriculum. Curriculum meaning you have to learn this on a given day. Replace it by a system where you learn this where you need it” (Seymour Papert: Project Based Learning).  


Giving up curriculum is a scary concept for policy makers, superintendents and even for educators, many who may be too nervous of what unknowns can happen. Suzie Boss states is best in her article, Perfecting with Practice: Project-Based Teaching




In project learning (PL), plans that look spectacular on paper can go awry when students enter the picture. During the implementation phase, students may decide to head in directions their teacher never anticipated. Tensions can build if teams don’t understand what it means to collaborate or share responsibility for project success. Creative problem solving can start to feel like classroom chaos. This is when the art of project-based teaching makes all the difference.

Many new teachers, and some veteran teachers who are comfortable with what they have been doing for years are fearful of chaos and not knowing what may happen.  I myself, who began teaching (and still do teach many subject areas) with curriculum become a little nervous about the idea of giving up curriculum.

Recently, I have had a little more freedom to dabble in PBL (yet still with standards and main objectives) and it was incredible to see what even five year olds were capable of. Our recent science unit was a unit about movement, pushing and pulling. We allowed the children opportunities to experiment with different things that move and how they move while discussing the force needed to push or pull the items in different directions. It was very interesting looking at all the different types of ramps and tools the children used to see how they move!  They came up with far more than I had even thought about. As their final assessment, the children had to make a toy that can be pushed or pulled and share it with the younger students. It was a log of fun to see how creative everyone was and how well they presented their toys for the younger students to play with.

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I read the final project ideas and am still struggling what I may do. We have a unit coming up titled “stories my grandparent’s tell” to discuss past and present as well as an introduction to needs and wants. I am trying to think of a way to make it more project based (interviewing grandparents, researching the past, etc.) I will have to continue to think about that more in order to make the unit more project based and not so teacher directed.

“We are all Technology Teachers”

I’ve been teaching many years and have seen the different forms of technology, but I had always been too nervous to dive in and try some of it, I just left it for the technology teacher. I have been doing myself and my students an injustice by having technology seen as a separate subject.


I wish I had learned a few more skills years ago, because now with integrated technology, I have been very slow to actually integrate the technology in my teaching.  I am doing a little better trying to integrate it, but according to Mary Beth Hertz in her article What Does Technology Integration Mean, I am still only in the basic and slowly moving to the comfortable stages of integration.

A) Sparse Technology is rarely used or available. Students rarely use technology to complete assignments or projects.
B) Basic Technology is used or available occasionally?often in a lab rather than the classroom. Students are comfortable with one or two tools and sometimes use these tools to create projects that show understanding of content.
C) Comfortable Technology is used in the classroom on a fairly regular basis. Students are comfortable with a variety of tools and often use these tools to create projects that show understanding of content.
D) Seamless Students employ technology daily in the classroom using a variety of tools to complete assignments and create projects that show a deep understanding of content.

I can say I am making my way to the comfortable stage only this past year with my first three courses in COETAIL. With the collaboration project during course two, I was forced to learn more about blogging and had a blast learning along with the students. We created some fun blogs and this school year I am starting the blogging even earlier so the students can blog more and develop their skills throughout the year. I’ve also recently tried using SeeSaw and will work with the children on how they can create their own digital portfolios as well as use it as a means of showing the parents what the children can do.


Despite my recent attempts to integrate technology more, I still believe I am only in the “enhancement stage” on the SAMR model.


Maggie Hos-Mcgrane said it best in her blog, Tech Transformation that, “Often we attend planning meetings where teachers suggest using technology in a way that is merely enhancing what they are doing (the S and A in the model).”  I feel my integration of both the blogging and the seesaw are still only being used as substitutes and augmentation. I will have to find ways to move past the enhancement and make attempts to move to transformation more. I’m not saying that enhancement is necessarily wrong, but it would be nice for the students to be more in control of what they create.

My goal is to continue to learn (and at times, learn with the children) in order to provide more integrated technology that not only enhances, but also transforms the way I teach and the children learn. It is surprising how fast they can pick something up so they are completely capable of developing their own projects even at a young age.

I agree with what Kim Cofino wrote in her blog, We Are All Technology Teachers. She used an analogy of how most teachers now say we are all ESL teachers and it is not just a pull out program. Well, I do think I can begin saying that “we are all technology teachers.” With some support from the tech staff or assistant, it is possible to embed technology in my lessons more often and not just use it for the sake of saying I used technology.

As stated in the ISB 21st Century Vision and Philosophy,

The key to successfully teaching and learning information technology skills is the total integration into relevant and meaningful curricular contexts. Teachers do not supplant the teaching of other academic areas to “do technology” but instead use technology to better teach the other academic areas.


I believe I am in the process of using technology to better teach academic areas. As my thinking has shifted,  I understand the importance of technology being embedded in the classroom and not just done to tick off a standard or list of subjects that need to be taught.