An Inquiry into Coding in the PYP

Should coding be a 21st century requirement? Could it be offered as a new foreign language? Might coding be the most important language in the world? These are just a few of the questions that have been at the center of many educational discussions across the world as schools grapple with the value placed on coding across the curriculum.

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There has been a recent push for coding in educational settings thanks in part to Mitch Resnick and, who have made coding not only more accessible to students of all age levels by providing accessible tutorials and apps, but have also worked on reformulating the social image we hold of computer programmers. An outbreak of recent articles and resources in the last few years has also justified a push for coding in schools by explaining a number of its benefits: to anticipate future employment needs, to stay competitive with other global economies, to enhance problem-solving and thinking skills, to improve logical and computational thinking and to empower the next generation of innovators.

As someone who grew up cracking these types of codes, it is safe to say that I am operating way outside of my comfort zone this week as I introduce coding to my 3rd grade/Year 4 students. With any change, especially one found within an already packed curriculum, there always seems to be those parents, colleagues or administrators that question what you are introducing and why you are doing so. It is important that we anticipate possible reluctance towards the adoption of something new and consider what types of questions we might face when implementing it. It is from those questions that we as teachers can truly reflect on why we do what we do. Asking ourselves deep questions ensures that we do not get caught up with societal or educational trends; it forces us to evaluate the long-term needs of our students.

When I was thinking of ways I could not only justify coding in the elementary curriculum to others, but also advocate for it, I began to envision potential questions from those who might question its place in primary education:

  • What is coding? Is that like HTML? Can they do that at this age?
  • Why do students need to learn how to code? Shouldn’t we be teaching them how to read and write first? It seems like a waste of time.
  • What is the benefit of coding? I mean, how many of these kids are actually going to go into computer science? If they want to code, can’t they learn about it in high school?
  • Shouldn’t we be teaching students to write legibly instead? I keep getting students in my class who can’t even hold a pencil correctly!
  • When you are teaching students to code, what part of the curriculum are you cutting out? Why should coding be a higher priority than ________?
Photo Credit: KaroliK via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: KaroliK via Compfight cc

In most cases, well-intentioned, yet suspicious, questions like these come from a lack of knowledge and familiarity with coding. Since I am the farthest thing from an expert on coding, having only learned about it recently, I would not be able to discuss the personal or societal benefits of coding with them. The most I could do would be to pass along the resources I have used to teach myself about its advantages and let them decide for themselves if they are interested in trying it out.

Over the last two months, I have read up on coding’s potential in elementary education and can say I have a clearer understanding of why and how coding should be a part of student learning.

If you can’t code, your experiences are limited to what others have created for you. If you can code, you are only limited by the scope of your imagination. With creativity and design thinking becoming more valued in today’s society, coding gives young students the opportunity to make something from scratch. All they have to do is come up with an idea and, theoretically, they can make it. In the process of building something, students break down problems, test their ideas and create visible maps of their thinking. They persevere through challenging tasks that have relevance to them because they are invested owners in their creative vision. Coding encourages risk-taking, innovation and collaboration, which are 21st century skills necessitated in an evolving and interconnected world. Most importantly, teaching coding is teaching the primary form of communication used today: that of computers.

Reading and writing code is a new form of communication that should be taught to students using a system-wide approach, similar to how we instruct numeracy and literacy. The goal would not be to make all students fluent coders like we expect them to be fluent readers and writers. Coding also should not be seen as a replacement for reading and writing.

Photo Credit: Vicki's Nature via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Vicki’s Nature via Compfight cc

Rather, coding should be viewed as an adjunct to the elementary curriculum, either through a logical-mathematical lens or a digital literacy one, which exposes students to the basic computational skills that govern communication in today’s world. Doing so will not only transform students from passive digital consumers into active producers of content and tools, it will also help them become better global citizens for creating tomorrow’s world.

While sifting through the growing body of evidence for coding being taught across the curriculum, I began to recognize many of the skills, concepts and mindsets experts made reference to. They were naturally embedded in the curricular framework I was already working within: the Primary Years Programme (PYP).

In Making the PYP Happen, it outlines what inquiry actions look like. Aside from stating that, “Inquiry involves the synthesis, analysis and manipulation of knowledge,” it also states that inquiry entails:

  • exploring, wondering and questioning
  • experimenting and playing with possibilities
  • making connections between previous learning and current learning
  • making predictions and acting purposefully to see what happens
  • collecting data and reporting findings
  • clarifying existing ideas and reappraising perceptions of events
  • deepening understanding through the application of a concept
  • making and testing theories
  • researching and seeking information
  • taking and defending a position
  • solving a problem in a variety of ways.

The emboldened skills are the more obvious examples of inquiry inherent in coding that do not require persuasion and extension. A few of the above-mentioned approaches that were not emboldened could also be argued as present in coding, depending on the context and developmental level of the task.

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Photo Credit: dawnzy58 via Compfight cc

In addition to the PYP taking an approach to learning through the spirit of inquiry, the framework also places an emphasis on learners constructing their meaning through purposeful engagements. Coding, which is a form of learning by doing, is based on the learning theory constructionism, where learning happens most effectively when people are active in making tangible object in the real world.


Aside from being inquiry driven learning, coding also follows the majority of the criteria for unit of inquiry central ideas: engaging, relevant, challenging and significant. It is unlikely (although not unreasonable) that schools would write central ideas around coding. Although unit of inquiries might not be based in coding, this should not deter from the fact that coding is rooted in many of the curricular foundations of the programme: conceptual understanding, transference of skills, as well as engaging, relevant and challenging problem-solving through collaboration. It may not be a unit of inquiry in and of itself, but coding could easily be fused into language arts or math strands that dovetail within other units. If there is no direct unit of inquiry connection through knowledge, we can further explore how coding is manifested in other Essential Elements.

In examining the key concepts in the PYP, we can recognize the conceptual nature of coding and explore a plethora of questions:

  • form (What is computer code?)
  • function (How does coding work?)
  • causation (How do codes cause computers to complete different tasks?)
  • change (How can changing specific elements of code affect the outcome?)
  • connection (How is code connected to my daily experiences?)
  • perspective (Why are there different coding systems?)
  • responsibility (How can we use code to take action?)
  • reflection (What might be some different ways we can learn to code?)

Looking at the transdisciplinary skills, there are a variety of skills across the sub-themes (especially thinking skills) that stand out as obvious opportunities to engage with while coding—either independently or collaboratively.

Further exploring the Essential Elements of the program, we can identify ways coding might foster certain attitudes:

  • appreciation (I appreciate the numerous, specific directives required for computers to respond to my desires.)
  • commitment (I am committed to the coding task I am working on and won’t give up.)
  • confidence (I am confident that I can make a computer respond the way I want it to by speaking its lanaguage.)
  • cooperation (I am cooperating with my peers to problem-solve tasks we are stuck on.)
  • creativity (I am creatively designing new uses, applications and experiences for myself and others by coding.)
  • curiosity (I am curious as to what will happen when I try this.)
  • empathy
  • enthusiasm (I am enthusiastic about learning to program computers to do what I want them to.)
  • independence (I am independently problem-solving and making my imagination come to life.)
  • integrity (I am acting honestly and assigning credit to those codes I am modifying.)
  • respect
  • tolerance
Photo Credit: DonkeyHotey via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: DonkeyHotey via Compfight cc

The end goal of all inquiry in the PYP is taking responsible action. Since coding is, and will continue to be, an essential part of every economic sector (both public and private), the opportunities for taking action are only limited by the coder’s intention and attitudes. Ironically, the attitudes that were not emboldened above in the direct practice of coding yield themselves perfectly to initiating socially responsible action. Increasingly, we are seeing how writing code is not an isolated activity that only serves the coder’s fascination with computer science. Rather, coding is an integral part of participating in a digital world and making a difference in the lives of others. And as the foundation for an ever-growing number of human activities, coding empowers all students by giving them the potential to take action, help others and change the world so far as their imagination will allow them to.

Just because I can’t code doesn’t mean that I’m going to prevent my students from coding. As a community of learners, we will help each other along the way. And when I introduce coding to my students, I will learn more from them than they will learn from me. We will learn together, we will inquire together and we will code together.

And if anyone asks me where coding fits into the curriculum, I’ll ask them, “Where doesn’t it?”


If you don’t know where to start with coding in your classroom, take a look at the learning sequence I am using to introduce it to my students. You will also find articles I used to select coding apps and websites appropriate to my students’ needs.

I would like to thank Amanda Klahn for her unbeknownst inspiration to educate myself about coding so I could expose my students to it.


The Case for Digital Manslaughter: Consequences for Online Abuse

12-year old Rebecca Sedwick, 13-year old Hope Witsel, 13-year old Megan Meier, 14-year old Viviana Agguirre, 15-year old Audrie Pott, 15-year old Amanda Todd, and the list goes on and on and on. All teenagers. All bullied. All dead. All by suicide.


In breaching the topic of the effects of students’ digital actions, we must tread lightly with the subject of how severe cyber bullying (or any form of bullying for that matter) can hurt another person. We don’t want students operating out of the same fear adults might be instilling into them regarding their digital footprints. Teachers and adults can’t go around telling students that every mean thing they say will wind up killing another human being, for these are the more severe examples. Nevertheless, we should let them know that every word or action they engage in has that potential, so they should choose their words carefully.

In cyber bullying, the perpetrators (along with their parents and lawyers) often express disbelief afterwards that they didn’t think the accused’s words or actions could have hurt the other as much. They say they were only joking, it was just a prank or that the action was mutual. They often say that they didn’t actually mean those words literally, but were just expressing anger and frustration.

They say anything and everything that will potentially alleviate accountability and responsibility on their behalf for the actions they have consciously engaged it. In essence, they claim ignorance. By default, they claim innocence. In truth, they are not.


We, as teachers, parents and concerned adults, need to eliminate the claim of ignorance which too often leads to innocence on the perpetrators behalf while implying guilt upon the victim. We also need to re-label and redefine the language we use to describe these actions and behaviors to eliminate an overused, often misinterpreted and subjectively potent word: cyber bullying.

The word cyber is an outdated word that resonates little with today’s youth. We have equally overused the word bullying to the point of it becoming meaningless. Whether adults call it bullying, students call it drama, their parents call it a prank or the next generation calls it something completely different, we should all be under a common agreement of what it entails. And this is where we as adults, have not only the right, but the responsibility to define the actions and words that can be found under this behavioral umbrella. Let’s reformulate the language we use to describe it so students (and their parents) can’t sidestep accountability and understanding through subjective definitions. Let’s make the definition broad and encompassing and call it what it is at its root: digital abuse.


The word abuse means, “to treat in a harsh or harmful way; to use so as to injure or damage; to attack in words, and to use wrongly,” among other definitions. Wouldn’t digital abuse be a more apt description of the type of behavior we are referring to?

If you kill someone unintentionally, but do so out of an illegal or irresponsible action, you are charged with manslaughter. It doesn’t matter if you just had a few beers and thought you were fine to drive or if you were only going seven over the speed limit. 

The fact is, although there was no intention to kill another human, you fully assumed your role in the crime when you engaged in the irresponsible behavior. What if we began to look at the more serious cases of digital abuse like we look at drunk and reckless driving? What if we started upholding the same expectations and consequences for online behavior as we do for physical behavior? What if we started charging those who abuse others online to the point of their suicide with digital manslaughter?


Incidents such as vehicular manslaughter and DUI manslaughter are sad and unfortunate events on both sides of the story. Family and friends must grieve the loss of a loved one whose life was taken away far too soon through no fault of their own. From the other side, too often we hear of a driver who made one irreparable choice on an unfortunate night while making thousands of altruistic and loving ones the rest of their life.

But the simple fact remains that those who caused the death of another knew full well about the potential consequences of their actions when they were choosing them. They have little room for excuse and must face accountable action for their decisions that killed another human being.


In a similar fashion, we need to put to rest the bed of excuses, finger pointing and ignorance claiming with digital abuse and digital manslaughter, no matter what the age. What happens when a sixteen year old goes to a party, leaves drunk and kills an innocent pedestrian? What happens when a fifteen-year old borrows his moms’ car, drives recklessly on icy roads, loses control and crashes into a family van? In these cases, they made a really poor choice which ended in someone else’s death, and that was never their intention. But you can’t tell me that they were not aware of the possible outcome when they engaged in the action. If society assumes that teenagers are responsible enough to control 3,000-pound missiles, we should also expect them to be responsible enough to control their mouth (and their keystrokes) to the point of not abusing others to their death.

If we explore this potentiality even further, we see that there are differing degrees of intention that can be assigned to the perpetrator based on the voluntary or involuntary nature of the manslaughter. When someone kills another human due to vehicular manslaughter or DUI manslaughter, they are not trying to harm or injure another human, but they do. But, what about when someone is digitally abusing them? Could we say the same thing about them? Are they trying, or not trying, to harm or injure another human through their words and actions?


When one goes out of their way to repeatedly hurt another, physically, mentally or emotionally, they should be considered guilty of abuse.

However, knowing where and when the line of abuse starts opens us up to a vast and dynamic grey area because of the unknown emotional or mental duress one’s comments could have on the other. We don’t know, and can never claim to know, the level of resilience, sensitivity, stability, family situation or breaking point of another individual. We don’t know the weight our comments or actions might have upon another, which makes this a grey area where objectivity has little residence. It is also why we should err on the side of caution, and choose to be safe rather than sorry (for their sake, and our own).

A responsive societal intervention that goes beyond education might put a halt to the destructive patterns we are increasingly seeing through the digital world. For this to happen, legal consequences will have to support the ongoing education. And these legal consequences should not just start at eighteen. If digital abuse is happening, a teenager should be arrested and charged in the same fashion they would for other crimes. If digital abuse is so pervasive and severe that is causes someone to kill themselves, then it should be considered digital manslaughter and the culprits should face appropriate consequences.


Records of those found guilty of digital abuse and digital manslaughter should not be kept private. Their names should not be withheld from public view. It is unbelievable that a minor can get away with such atrocious acts and knowingly not face any repercussions because they are under eighteen. Why is it that the day someone turns an arbitrary number, they are absolved of all wrongdoing committed in the months and years prior? Upon turning eighteen, records of digital abuse or digital manslaughter convictions should not be expunged from the perpetrator’s file. The crimes should remain on their record until they have reached twice their age from the time the crime was committed, assuming a clean record afterwards.

In the most serious and publicized examples of digital abuse, a victim takes their own life due to the tormenting they receive from their peers. In more common instances, these forms of digital abuse are not reported (due to fear of more severe peer consequences) and the emotional trauma is repressed. In these cases, the trauma that is caused by others corrosively affects the rest of the victim’s life through psychological and emotional disorders. These disorders not only have a direct effect on the individual and their family unit, but also an indirect effect on the social system as a whole.


In order to avoid these consequence for all parties involved, we need to ensure that we are educating our youth about the potential severity their words and actions can have on others. There are ways we can introduce this gently and carefully, as early as the third grade, as this is when many friendship dramas with girls begin. It should be done with the expertise and guidance of school counselors in a graceful, honest and psychologically appropriate manner.

If we openly discuss and examine some of the more extreme examples of when children are so hurt by the actions of others that they look for escape through their own death, students might begin to see a window into the lives and emotions of others. This could first give rise to a metacognitive pause before speaking or acting. Second, understanding the pain all parties involved have gone through in previous fatalities could bring more empathetic action into their own lives.

If it does not serve any emotive shift in their feelings towards another, at the very least, knowledge that their words and actions have the potential to drive someone to suicide might cause them to think twice. And with a full understanding that, in rare instances, their words and actions can kill (or indirectly contribute to it), it lays down the foundation for personal accountability that awaits them should they choose to participate in digital abuse. We do not always refrain from drinking and driving due to empathy alone. Sometimes, we don’t drink and drive because of the consequences it would have on us more than the potential havoc it could wreak on the lives of others. This is where legal consequences can aid in establishing a no-excuse policy should one consciously and voluntarily engage in digital abuse.


Open and honest dialogue about the mistakes others have made in the past, such as those who voluntarily share nude photos of themselves with others, might give pause to those young women who are considering doing it themselves. Many of these girls brought such intolerable suffering upon themselves through their own volition, in part due to ignorance of the Internet’s power. Looking at where others have stumbled and how certain choices have forever changed their lives might allow for a metacognitive reflection before potentially traversing down the same path.

For boys, separate education about what the law would entail would be equally beneficial. This could examine what it means to be complicit in an act, and what would infer indirect or direct participation. In the same way someone avoids being around drugs if they don’t want to risk the consequences of possession, paraphernalia or distribution, digital abuse should instigate the same responses. The reception of a defamatory photo sent by another is not a crime. However, what should be a crime is the passing of said photo along to others, knowing that the photo contains nude or illegal evidence that could cause serious embarrassment and mental/emotional distress.


Just like we need to adapt our teaching to the shifting landscape (one moving from less interaction in a physical place to more interaction in a digital space), we also should expect the same of the laws that protect citizens. As educators, we should go beyond the superficial and vanilla approach of simply saying, “Don’t say mean things because it could cause someone to feel bad,” or “Once it’s goes online, you can’t erase it.” Instead, we should call a spade a spade and explicitly teach and exemplify how deep a wound one can create upon others; sometimes, to the point of suicide.

Digital abuse can drive some students to take their own lives. In this case, it’s not bullying, drama or pranking anymore. It’s manslaughter. And any human, regardless of their age, should be held accountable for being that mean.

Original Thought: A Buddhist Perspective on Copyright and Ownership

My ego is very possessive and fiercely private. When I come up with an idea, create something or introduce an innovative element into a system, I want to be recognized for it. When I take photos while I am traveling, I don’t want those photos to be lost amongst the millions of others without a watermark recognizing my efforts in composing them. When I simplify a complex curricular document into a user-friendly version, I don’t want that synthesizing task to be forgotten. When I introduce a forward-thinking learning engagement or propose a system-wide review of learning at my place of employment, I don’t want those ideas to simply be pushed off as intellectual property of the school. My ego craves the recognition and wants to steadfastly possess and hold onto that which is mine: my thoughts, my ideas, my creation, my self. My self-serving ego yearns for there to be a thoughtprint left in this world that shows I that I existed and had a unique and special set of skills that no other human possessed. My ego wants to be seen as separate from and different than the rest, but most of all, it just wants to be recognized for its efforts.

Photo Credit: 9stars via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: 9stars via Compfight cc

When I started reflecting more about why I have such a deep-seated inability to let go of my intellectual property and artistic creations, I began to think about how unconscious I am. I began to think about Eckhart Tolle and The Dalai Lama and how all of the above-mentioned patterns are based on such limited and shortsighted thinking. I started wondering about the origins of my thoughts, ideas and creative inspirations that I so dearly clung onto. This lead to a series of questions I began to ponder:

Where does creativity start? Where does it come from?

Where does a thought start? What is the source of an idea?

Where does originality stem from? Is anything original anymore?

How many thoughts does a person have each day? How much media is a person exposed to on a daily basis?

What does the brain process on both a conscious and subconscious level in today’s world? How has this changed over the last millennia and what does that mean for humanity?

How does the Buddhist principle of interconnectedness affect creativity, idea-generation and originality?

Can original, creative works or ideas even exist anymore? Have they ever been able to?

Is the issue of copyrighting, ownership and rights a social issue or a personal one?

While examining some of these questions, I looked at opinions on the difference between creativity and innovation, how great minds such as Aristotle, Dali and Einstein accessed their creativity through a power nap, the science behind creativity, and how to boost creative potential. From looking at those perspectives, it appears that creative or original ideas are accessed through a combination of the subconscious mind, a relaxed mental and physical state that allows the mind to wander (and dormant seeds to be awakened) and highly engaged cognitive tasks interspersed between them.

I also found out that humans produce some 50,000 thoughts a day, are exposed to hundreds of advertisements daily and consume almost 15 hours of media a day.  Creative seeds are also encouraged to flourish in highly social environments where there is exposure to a variety of areas of expertise that allows our ideas to have sex. From these perspectives, creative and original thoughts come from interaction with other ideas and can rarely been seen to exist in an isolated field. Humans are bombarded with an overwhelming number of cognitive interactions on a daily basis, both personal and media-driven, that give eventual rise and inspiration to what we often think of as my idea.

This the leads back to the original question, “Can original, creative works or ideas even exist anymore? Have they ever been able to?” To answer these questions, one needs to look at the issues of copyrighting, ownership and fair use through a more global and Buddhist perspective, one temporarily devoid of ego.

Photo Credit: arbyreed via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: arbyreed via Compfight cc

Through this lens, we might see how the ownership of a thought or an original idea is an illusion based on seeing ourselves as a separate cognitive entity than the collective mind Matt Ridley refers to. This is in no way denying that there could and should be some sort of individual acknowledgement of personal capacities and insights. If there were not an economic or social system rewarding one’s work, humanity would have a difficult time flourishing in such a personally deprived state. Humans are assuredly unique and different, carrying varying degrees of creative skills that contribute their individual nodes to the collective mind. All one has to do is listen to some TED talks to quickly realize that not all Minds are created equal. This needs to be recognized and individualism should be respected for the intellectual mark each contributor is leaving on the world. However, the concept of thought ownership is probably as foreign to enlightened Buddhists as the notion of land ownership was to Native Americans upon colonization. Original works and ideas are relative in their temporary scope and have a limited context through which their process is viewed.

In absolute terms, through a Buddhist lens of interconnectedness, nothing can occur independent of another; this includes the self and the original ideas that come from them. Any thought or idea that spawns a creative or innovative action (which may result in a product being copyrighted or considered intellectual property) is only a result of some other action preceding it. This cognitive creation might have been subconscious and dormant for some time, only reawakening during those states fringing on the conscious zones or those when unoccupied by other mental chatter. Or, it may be a more conscious process in which a creative work comes out of direct stealing, borrowing or inspiration from another source. Either way, the egotistical notion of my thought, my idea, my creation, my innovation is a misguided one (which I am personally coming to terms with) when viewed through an interconnected spectrum. To illustrate a more concrete example of interconnectedness than those found in intellectual property abstractions, let’s take look at Diego, who comes up with an original idea for an invention.

Photo Credit: olemartin via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: olemartin via Compfight cc

Diego has just had a stroke of genius insight and sees what the world is lacking: a kiwi peeler.  When he envisioned this kiwi peeler, he thought about it being about the size of one of those electric pencil sharpeners he used in his high school classroom. The kiwi peeler would have a top that flipped opened, like those juicers he saw from the time out west he spent during his college years with those neo-hippies. Upon putting the kiwi inside, one would find a sort of malleable material, like those stress balls he was taught about at teacher’s college. You know, the ones his professor let him play with and could help boys who need physical stimulation aid their thinking. But, the inside of the kiwi peeler would not be as hard as a stress ball. Instead, it would be more like one of those balloons he filled with flour as a child in Sunday School. It would be a softer version, that would hug the kiwi to ascertain its contours, the way he used to feel the shape his neighbor’s dog’s neck rolls when he was eight. When the kiwi would be placed into this soft inside that would conform to its shape, he thought there could be some sort of sensor that would read and memorize the exact shape of this particular kiwi. He saw some sensory capabilities like this in a random, futuristic low-budget movie one rainy day last May while he was channel surfing. Once the dimensions of the kiwi had been measured, some razor blades, not dissimilar to those found in the old-time push mower he used to use on his granddad’s farm, would emerge from within the structure’s walls. But these blades would be more like the sharp razors he saw in those Gillette commercials that came on during four consecutive commercial breaks during the game last week. This idea could have only happened thanks to the hundreds of thousands of people who have worked in the television manufacturing, entertainment and marketing industries over the past fifty years, not to mention all those people involved in the behind-the-scenes primary source material extraction of those interchangeable parts in countries he still can’t locate on a map.

The kiwi peeler, he decided, would be rechargeable, which meant that he had thousands of copper miners in Peru to thank for the battery and the thousands more throughout time who have refined electric potential. Not only that, but if it wasn’t for the burgeoning lithium investments from that country he decried at a local bar last weekend, batteries and their nearly indentured labor force wouldn’t have allowed for such a spatial convenience. When he would push the button, the blades would carefully and quickly take back the kiwi’s skin without wasting the fruity flesh. It would be as efficient as the potato peeler he used as a prep cook in his first job at his neighbor’s restaurant.

The night this original idea came to Diego, he was at a highland lake in a country he had recently migrated to, drinking tea picked by an ethnic minority hill tribe in Myanmar that made its way to the Americas by virtue of thousands of workers involved in land and sea transportation. The tea strainer he used to dilute his tea was made from the resourcefulness of certain east Asian entrepreneurs who found a way to further exploit their local population in the mining of coal and iron ore. The mug with which he drank from was a gift from his beloved aunt who died of cancer the previous fall. The only mug he decided not to donate to his local thrift store before his recent move was decorated with an abstract representation of an indigenous woman, with what looked like some sort of rectangular prism in her hand, which helped him formulate the design in the first place.

But, before the design of this product could manifest, it was the fruit bat that he was following as it flew around at dusk and dipped down towards that banana tree, as it skillfully avoided that motorcyclist when its muffler backfired, which initiated it all. As his eyes and thoughts now turned towards the banana tree and its bland-flavored fruits, he wondered why the best fruits in life were those that were hardest to get to. He was, of course, speaking literally and metaphorically, as he left his former country looking for a fresh start after a breakup by his teenage crush brought him to this foreign land looking for a fresh start. His sullen mood brought him to memories of his comfort food: kiwis, yogurt and maple syrup, which he began to favor at a summer camp he worked at three years ago. And as he raised the mug he received from his aunt to take a sip of the hill-tribe tea held in that stainless steel coffin, his eyes moved from the fruit bat to the banana bunch and he thought to himself, “I really wish kiwis were easier to eat.”

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Photo Credit: GranniesKitchen via Compfight cc

In relative terms, this was Diego’s idea, his creation, and should be intellectually protected and dutifully recognized as owned and originated by him. However, in absolute terms, we might see the folly in assigning personal ownership to this sequence of events and the thousands of humans involved in fabrication of the objects around him that allowed him to be in that particular place and time in order to have that thought.

Diego is not really the original source of the creative idea he believes is rightfully his. Instead, Diego is the medium through with the collective creativity expressed itself. Diego can be grateful for the subconscious element emerging into his conscious mind and should humbly acknowledge that he is only the most recent medium in a lineage of causal events and influences; and he most certainly will not be the last.

Humans are born, live and eventually die. All but a minuscule number of enlightened ones on this planet see themselves as an I, as having a self that is distinct and separate from everyone and everything else.

Photo Credit: bhermans via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: bhermans via Compfight cc

The same can be said for thoughts, ideas and original works we so strongly attach and cling to. Our creations are born, sometimes live as innovations, eventually die and are no longer relevant. Instead of holding on to these expressions as if they were an extension of ourselves, perhaps we can loosen our grips on not only what has been manifested through us, but also the I and the my which was privy to this inexplicable creative birthing.

Maybe Creative Commons, copyrighting, digital attribution rights and fair use are not purely social and libertarian advancements? Maybe they can also be seen as evolutionary openings into an individual diminishing the ego in one’s self?



(The author makes no claim to know anything about anything written in this post and can attest to all thoughts being those not of his own. He also has a much easier time writing about what should be practiced than actually implementing it in real life.)

Contributing a Digital Thoughtprint

The word footprint often conjures up visions of Mary Stevenson’s, “Footprints in the Sand” poem, set alongside a picturesque sunset over the ocean. In the poem, the author’s Lord reveals to her that throughout her most troubled life events, when she thought she was abandoned and alone, she was actually being carried.

Photo Credit: Rich Renomeron via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Rich Renomeron via Compfight cc

If only we could count on someone carrying us through our most troubled digital times as well, we wouldn’t feel so marked and exposed when we realize the digital footprints we have left behind.

According to Merriam-Webster, the word footprint means:  a track or mark left by a foot or shoe; a marked effect, impression or impact; something that identifies; and, the area on a surface covered by something. One could sum up the word footprint to entail anything that marks an existence in space where there had been nothing in its place previously. The current use of the word footprint actually has very little to do with feet and more to do with what is left behind in one form or another. The word itself has outgrown its literal meaning and has taken on a figurative undertone that can be applied to almost everything.

The problem with adopting the word footprint in our lexicon is that it is often accompanied by a negative connotation. There are ecological footprintscarbon footprints, water footprints and slavery footprints. Footprints are what detectives used to follow at crime scenes and criminals are booked with a fingerprint. All of these footprints assume a certain degree of non-responsibility or self-indulgent actions. They all leave a negative marked impact upon society or the environment, which implies guilt and corroboration.

The latest footprint to jump on the negative and destructive bandwagon seems to be digital footprints. Although, the effects of our digital footprints are not as physically harmful to the environment as other ecological footprints are, they can be equally toxic to our futures. Similar to other linguistic references, digital footprints, from their inception, are assumed to be negative and indelible marks left in the online world. They are to be edited, erased, deleted, hidden, feared and respected because nothing is private anymore. Digital footprints encase what we are guilty of through the eyes and judgments of others. Digital footprints have us all starting out in a position of powerlessness because we are beginning from a place of fear: fear of employment reprisal, fear of educational discontinuation, fear of social malfeasance, fear of personal exposure. Semantics can do this to a word; it can give it (and us) power or it can take it away.

Why can’t we instead engage with the digital world from a position of empowerment and authority rather than apprehension? We cannot take back the place where our digital interactions exist, as there is no going back to online privacy, but we can take back the place from which they arise: our minds. We can, and should, become more in tune with our thoughts, as that is what we actually leave behind when we occupy space in the digital world. We don’t leave behind a footprint; we leave behind a thoughtprint. These thoughtprints are what truly identify us and mark our existence in this new world; and they do it much more permanently than impressions left upon the physical earth.

Photo Credit: A Health Blog via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: A Health Blog via Compfight cc

What we contribute to the online world is not simply a collection of our thoughts, but a reflection of our self-beliefs, our self-perception, the identity we hold of ourselves in relation to others and our ability to metacognate. The imprint we leave behind is much deeper than that which would come from a foot, and is much more representative of who we are, and can be, as individuals. A simple shift in semantics when describing the print we leave behind in digital space might provide an opportunity to reflect upon whether this is the mark we want to leave on the world. Rather than suffering the personal ramifications of having a passive digital footprint, why don’t we reap the rewards of promoting an active digital thoughtprint?

Much of what exists today on social media can reveal much about not only the content of a person’s life, but also the concept of their self-image. Frequently, online spaces are used for personal venting, social posturing and comparing, mainstream idolatrizing, look-at-me attention grabbing and relational outpouring in search for common human experience. Social media and blogging serve a beautiful purpose in connecting humans to one another and have contributed greatly to the advancement of humanity, but oftentimes that purpose is abused in a grandiose and egotistical fashion. Digital footprints come from a mental place of unconscious and self-serving behavior. Digital thoughtprints come from a mental space of concerted reflection and conscious action.

Photo Credit: h.koppdelaney via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: h.koppdelaney via Compfight cc

In order to take a more proactive stance on leaving behind positive digital thoughtprints rather than contaminated digital footprints, we can reflect upon an oft-used phrase from our childhood:

If you don’t have anything good to say, don’t say anything at all.

This does not just mean using kind and caring words, which is obvious online protocol. What it means is looking at the quality of the words you are leaving behind, not the quantity. Sometimes, less digital imprinting with words that carry more weight can be more powerful than a frequent presence with inconsequential discourse.

Before hitting “Enter” and imprinting our thoughts upon the digital landscape, we can reflect on the following:

Will the words, images, videos or links I share improve the knowledge base of my audience?

Will they help others to reflect and think at a deeper and more insightful level?

Will what I share or contribute help others grow and evolve as individuals?

Will my words drive expansion of thought, cause sparks of innovation, instill ethical or moral behaviors or modify choices and actions?

Am I contributing to an enhanced and educated society? Or, am I eroding mental capacities by dropping down the level of discourse, and thereby thought?

Am I clogging others’ feeds or am I contributing to them? Am I taking up space or taking advantage of it?

Would I rather tell Facebook what’s on my mind, or what’s in it?

In order to answer these questions, we might need to look a little more deeply at our own values and beliefs:  Who am I at my deepest level? What do I represent? What do I have to share with this interconnected web of other thoughtprinters? What is my sentence?

Photo Credit: josef.stuefer via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: josef.stuefer via Compfight cc

If we begin to focus on these questions, we engage at a deeper level of thought about why we interact with social media. When we start to reflect on why we post, comment, tweet, link or visit, we can more fully engage with the how, thereby leaving a more responsible and representative mark in the online world. In essence, we begin to reflect instead of react, and in doing so, our thinking and a more accurate portrayal of our true selves is revealed. This empowered and intentional walk traverses not down a sandy beach at sunset, but through our metacognitive minds to explore the who and the why behind what we share. We take back control of our digital identities and we proactively contribute to a global matrix. We become thoughtprinters.

How to Use Padlet to Show Action, PYP Attitudes and Learner Profile Traits

The Essential Elements in the PYP consist of knowledge, concepts, skills, attitudes and action. In Making the PYP Happen, it states that a balance is sought between them through delivery of the written curriculum. I’m not sure if the Essential Elements were arranged in that order intentionally (knowledge, concepts, skills, attitudes and action) or if they just happen to be naturally prioritized that way in most classrooms. But casual inspection of Essential Element preference in most PYP schools would indicate that there is a gap between the first three (knowledge, concepts and skills) and the second two (attitudes and action).

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Photo Credit: Dhammika Heenpella / Images of Sri Lanka via Compfight cc

Although walk-through observations of many PYP classrooms would exhibit frequent teacher references to attitudes and action, there is often a lack of visible celebration of them by students. Generally, they operate as invisible forces working through students, either mentally and emotionally in the form of attitudes, or physically in the form of actions. When they could be detected, attitudes and action often (and positively) occur outside our field of vision.

Through no fault of their own, most teachers are faced with making evaluative decisions in an attempt to find balance in an overloaded curriculum with the time constraints they have. Due to this, the Essential Element wedge is opened and most teachers choose to focus on the first three Essential Elements (knowledge, concepts and skills) while putting the last two (attitudes and action) on the backburner. Teachers place an emphasis on knowledge, concepts and skills, and therefore, so do their students. The problem with this is that it again leaves attitudes and actions often standing on the sideline watching the other Essential Elements get more play time. Despite our best efforts to directly instruct attitudes and action, take advantage of teachable moments to reflect upon them or simply model and allow mirror neurons to do their thing, it’s still not enough. We need to get students more actively involved and empowered with the PYP attitudes and the action cycle.

Enter Padlet, a very simple-to-use and free website that provides an opportunity for students to create and take ownership of their own “walls” to showcase evidence, understanding and transference of these attitudes and actions. Here is how it works:

In our class, students have created three Padlet walls within their account: PYP attitudes, Action Wall and Learner Profile traits. Since the Learner Profile (LP) traits are the foundation of all IB programmes, we included a wall for them as well, as they are referenced just as much as the attitudes are in our class.

Tanya Blog

We have linked these Padlet walls to the student blogs, which also act as an online portfolio for their learning. With one click from their personal blogs, students are taken to the Padlet wall they wish to post on. The beautiful thing about Padlet is that, so often, the LP traits, PYP attitudes and especially action take place outside of school hours. Padlet can be accessed from any computer in the world, as long as the students know how to find their personal blogs off our class page.

What this means is that students and parents can easily contribute a photo or video that demonstrates their engagement of these holistic practices at any time from anywhere in the world. All they need is their mobile device. Is your son taking a risk while on vacation? Post a photo of it. Is your daughter serving others at an orphanage on the weekends? Post a video of it. Are your children finally appreciating each other’s company? Celebrate it! And post it. Many elementary students now have their own mobile devices where they can initiate the posting when they realize they are acting out LP traits or PYP attitudes in their home lives. The Padlet wall can serve as a digital portfolio for who they are not only as learners, but also as people.

Inside the classroom, we are working on a renewed metacognitive shift of awareness of the PYP attitudes, LP traits and action. Although students are exposed to the attitudes and traits every day, they frequently do not recognize when they might be enacting one unless prompted to reflect. Each morning, upon arriving to school, students select a descriptor I have written for each of the LP traits and PYP attitudes out of a large bucket. They then have to find the LP trait or PYP attitude poster on the wall that the descriptor matches to. This attitude or profile trait becomes their “Word for the Day,” which they then should try to reflect upon and practice when an opportunity arises. This sixty-second welcoming to the classroom each morning not only opens students up to further exposure of the LP traits and PYP attitudes vocabulary, but also expands their limited notion of what those words could mean or entail. This practice provided a foundation for increased referencing and identifying of LP traits and PYP attitudes in class reflections, but student engagement with them still seemed passive and lacked ownership.

Photo Credit: tochis via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: tochis via Compfight cc

In order to try to provide more ownership of metacognitive recognition of their action, attitudes and traits, we are affording more opportunities for students to interact with their Padlet walls. To begin some lessons, I give the students a reminder that if at any time, they recognize they are practicing one of the PYP attitudes, LP traits or taking a form of action, they make take a photo and post it onto their Padlet wall. They start off by giving their iPad to a friend to capture a reenacted photo of them doing the trait, attitude or action that set off that metacognitive realization. Then, students go onto their virtual wall, post the photo, identify the attitude or trait and write a caption that describes how they were showing it. We’ve timed the whole process and it takes less than four minutes. Shortly thereafter, they are back to the independent or collaborative activity they were previously engaged in.

Other lessons, if the students are very focused and we don’t want to break their cognitive momentum, my academic assistant and I will grab their iPads and take photos of them engaged in their learning. Later, we will tell them that they have some photos waiting for them in their camera roll in which they can identify LP traits or PYP attitudes they were practicing during that engagement. If some of the attitudes or traits are too obvious in a learning activity (creativity, communicator, cooperation, respect, caring), I might prohibit identifying them on their walls for that day to encourage acquainting themselves with lesser-known traits and attitudes.

Photo Credit: Michael Matti via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Michael Matti via Compfight cc

If students take action somewhere around the school and let me know about it, I encourage them to take a classmate with them to that location and reenact the choice they reflected upon. When students bring in learning resources from home they would like to share with the class or have voluntarily extended their understanding outside of school hours and would like to present new data, a classmate takes a photo of them. When they are done speaking to the class, they put the photo up on their action wall as a form of furthering their own (and others’) education.

Although this undertaking is still in its infancy and there are flaws with this approach (like its propensity to serve as extrinsic motivation for some students), we find that its rollout thus far has been successful in celebrating students’ holistic growth and evolution. This Padlet wall endeavor will not bring the PYP attitudes, Learner Profile traits and action cycle onto equitable terms with the heavyweights of knowledge, concepts and skills. However, it has the potential to shift the scales a little more favorably into balance.

Final Photo

Minecrafting Our Moral Reasoning: Course 1 Final Project

My interest and passion in video games has been in sharp decline ever since the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) was pushed off its pinnacle by Sega and Super Nintendo back in the early 1990’s. In fact, I more or less retired from the video game world after Atari and NES became uncool and old, but not because they became unpopular. The thing that pushed me over the edge was Sega’s addition of a third button, the “C” button. Really? Another button to learn? I only have one thumb and I don’t need another button to get unlimited lives in Contra! Modern 1990’s society moved on with their neon colors, rollerblades, bike shorts and advancing gaming systems and I chose to dwell in the past, content with my late 1980’s two-button pixilation (decked out in neon bike shorts and oversized rollerblades).

Photo Credit: rapapu via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: rapapu via Compfight cc

I have to admit that I am, and apparently always have been, a throwback. I loved the simplicity of Atari and original Nintendo back then as much as I love the simplicity of original hockey sweaters now. I had so much reverence for them back in the day that in my freshman year of university, I went out and bought an Atari and original Nintendo (with a power pad) for my dorm room. Needless to say, according to printed photographic evidence, we invented plenty of creative drinking games based on Atari and power pad competitions.

It’s not surprising then, that after only ever willfully playing Atari and original Nintendo my whole life, that I find myself slightly over my head in what I’m about to embark upon. For some God-forsaken reason, I’ve decided to jump off the deep end (as usual) and design the majority of a unit of inquiry based on something I have no idea about: Minecraft.

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Photo Credit: post-apocalyptic research institute via Compfight cc

Now, I’m not going to get up on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and declare that, “I have a dream.” I am, however, going to get up on this COETAIL blog and declare that, “I have a vision.”

I have a vision for what potential lies in Minecraft based on no degree of evidence or personal experience with the game. Rather, I have a vision for what Minecraft can do for this unit of inquiry based only on hope and anecdotal comments from colleagues in the field of education. I’m following the trail of inspirational examples they have left behind and my intuition on this one. I don’t know whether it is possible to enact the vision I have or whether I am going to be in for a rude awakening, but I’m not afraid to find out. It was Thomas Edison who once said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

With this venture into the unknown world of Minecraft in education, there is a chance that my vision will fail. However, in contrast to Edison, I’m looking at it not from a perspective of finding ways that won’t work, but rather, finding ways for the future that will.

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Photo Credit: deeplifequotes via Compfight cc

How We Organize Ourselves

Central Idea:  People adhere to governing systems that impact their behavior.

Lines of Inquiry:

  • Governing systems

  • The actions and choices we make as members of society

  • Our awareness of the consequences of these choices and actions

Related Concepts: Governing systems, behavior, beliefs, opinions, subjectivity

The words governing system in this unit are often initially interpreted to be the external system of ordinance that rules or exercises decision-making authority over a given population. Although there is a slight focus given to that external system of control in this unit of inquiry, the primary locus resides on the individual’s internal governing system, their moral reasoning, that impacts their behavior.

Every human faces a plethora of moral or ethical dilemmas on a daily basis which require them to make decisions based on their system of reasoning and beliefs. The personal choices that we make each hour of each day not only reflect our own inner values, beliefs and attitudes as individuals, but also reflect our society’s as a whole. The external governing system that is agreed (or sometimes forced) upon a society is also a reflection of those internal governing systems that comprise its member parts.

For this unit, students will be using the learning tool Minecraft to create a virtual society that would bring out the internal governing systems that they adhere to. In that process, the external governing system they would share as a societal whole would reflect the internal governing systems the individuals adhere to. These governing systems would be evidence in their virtual interactions with one another based upon their real-world moral reasoning.

Photo Credit: dietmut via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: dietmut via Compfight cc

My intention is to create and impose situations and limits within the Minecraft world that would require the inhabitants (students) to make decisions based on the ethical or moral implications of their choices. Students will be introduced to the world without any external governing system and be given questions and provocational prompts that would imply that competition might be necessary (just like it is in the real world), but does not say as much outright. The situational context and roles introduced to the students before entering the Minecraft world will intentionally include other concepts and central idea themes from previous units. This will facilitate access to their prior knowledge and extend formerly learned concepts within a different unit of inquiry.

The societal construction and building of an external governing system will bring out the moral reasoning and ethical consideration of every action they take. Students will constantly be going through The Action Cycle and will be exhibiting differentiated degrees of the Learner Profile traits and the PYP Attitudes based on their moral reasoning development.

Back in the real classroom, students will have regular Philosophy 4 Children conversations centered around issues occurring in their virtual reality and blog about the governing systems impacting their behavior (both those as an individual and those inside their virtual reality).

Over the next month, I will be utilizing as much of my PLN as possible to help lessen the steep Minecraft learning curve that is currently doubled-back in the shape of a learning overhang. If anyone has MinecraftEdu resources suitable for the gaming-challenged, I would graciously accept all help.



Being a Concept

We used to teach about content. Now we teach through concepts. The next step, in my opinion, should not be to teach students about or through concepts, but rather for students to become them.

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Photo Credit: AlicePopkorn via Compfight cc

Everyone knows the Ghandian quote, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”  It’s plastered on bumper stickers, printed on t-shirts and screened on reusable bags throughout the Western world. At first glance, many might say the quote points to walking the walk rather than talking the talk. Instead of just discussing change, or posting about it, some of us might be so internally conflicted that we actually inconvenience ourselves and take a new form of action.

But, perhaps Ghandi was pointing us to a greater meaning, one filled with other principles he emanated: Oneness, the diffusion of duality from subject to object (human to thought) and, most importantly, being.

Photo Credit: thelearningcurvedotca via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: thelearningcurvedotca via Compfight cc

The Beatles, another group of influential humanists, also pointed us towards the fundamental word, but perhaps we misunderstood that as well? “Let it Be” is a global ballad that unearths the common denominator in all humans. Just a few notes of that song can cause most humans to transcend all perceived ethnographic differences and sing out together arm in arm as they relate to each others’ suffering. In relative terms, the song’s meaning might be associated with acceptance of what is, surrendering to life’s struggles and allowing things to happen as they may. In absolute terms, maybe Mother Mary’s wisdom was pointing at something more fundamental and core to the human condition: being.

In Shakespeare’s classic, Hamlet, Prince Hamlet coined the now overused soliloquy “To be, or not to be. That is the question.” Maybe Shakespeare, too, had his pulse on the essence of humanity and was able to articulate that existence, being, is its highest concept?

Photo Credit: Vainsang via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Vainsang via Compfight cc

In times of shifting educational paradigms, we re-creators of learning should look to those past and present torchbearers who have been pointing to being, being the key all along.

Maybe our goal of a transformative education is misled by the very nature of the word? Maybe we shouldn’t be revolutionizing how to educate students about concepts? Maybe we should be inventing new ways for students to experience and to become them.

Maybe students shouldn’t explore form? Maybe they should be forms.

Maybe students shouldn’t observe function? Maybe they should function.

Maybe students shouldn’t explain causations?  Maybe they should cause them.

Maybe students shouldn’t assess change? Maybe they should be changed.

Maybe students shouldn’t make connections? Maybe they should be connectors.

Maybe students shouldn’t look at other perspectives? Maybe they should become them.

Maybe students shouldn’t reflect on their learning? Maybe their lives should be a reflection.

Maybe students shouldn’t be more responsible? Maybe we should instead.

Photo Credit: h.koppdelaney via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: h.koppdelaney via Compfight cc

In an attempt to uproot the old model of education, I’m curious about ways that we might be able to provide an experience of being, rather than imposing prepositions upon our concepts. I look forward to investigating the creative potential that might exist in gaming, virtual simulation and other pedagogical portals to this state of experience. This would be a learning environment that would not necessarily require a physical place. Rather, it would encourage a cognitive and affective space because the experience of being in physical human form would not be the existence where most of the being, most of the experience, takes place. The device through which this occurs, if a tangible medium is even necessary in the future, would act as not only an extension of their body and mind, as the portal for entering this world of being, but also as an extension of their past and a composition of their future selves.

This device could act as a gateway for students to enter and exit this point of cognitive and affective engagement; thus, allowing learners to eliminate the subject-subject or subject-object duality inherent in modern education. Students would then not learn about or through a concept, skill or knowledge domain; they would become an active and integral component of it. They would emerge as the concept.

Photo Credit: musubk via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: musubk via Compfight cc

They would be able to realize its forms, functions, causations, changes, connections, perspectives, reflections and responsibilities in the first person. The simulated or virtual space they would occupy while having this learning experience would be so real and so intense that it would cause them to become one with the concept. They would not learn. They would become the learning.

In the process of navigating this virtual world, students would eliminate dualistic prepositions caused by reinforced notions of self and other in their real world. The cognitive goal upon returning to their physical place would be increased understanding of the concept they once were inside the virtual space. In the affective domain, the goal would be to foster lasting and experiential memories so powerful from that virtual space that it would yield more empathetic interaction in our shared physical place off the grid.

For example, in a unit about geological transformation, students wouldn’t learn about plate tectonics and volcanism. Students would enter a virtual world where they are the shifting plates. The class as a whole might makeup the world and each student would be a moving, dipping plate. They would experience the process of transforming themselves through the states of matter and reemerge as new earth. Consider how powerful that experience would be for them and how that might change the depth of their understanding of the key concepts mentioned above.

In a unit about survival, migration and interdependence, students wouldn’t learn about migrating animals and the reasons that caused them to relocate. Rather, the class would exist as sets of animal species and enter a virtual ecosystem that was interdependent on each other for survival. When environmental conditions in the virtual space (manipulated by the teacher) force students to migrate or die, they would experience first hand what it means to be a migrating species on the brink of extinction due to deforestation. Certainly, being a living thing would be far more engaging and meaningful than learning about one and lead students to more sustainable transferred action in the real world.

Photo Credit: c@rljones via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: c@rljones via Compfight cc

In our quest engage a new 21st century paradigm, we should strive to adapt envisioned learning to our technological potential rather than adapting our technological capacities to contemporary learning. We should explore the possibilities for learners to be the concepts, rather than to learn of them, and immerse our students in true experiential education.

In the end, it might not be the education that needs transforming. It might be ourselves.

What Students Think About Digital Learning: Digital HOTS Part III

During the same week I instructed my students how to use Google Forms to collect data, I decided to do a bit of data collection myself. I was stuck on whether digital HOTS projects were taking up too much time in my classroom and wanted to get their perspective on it. I also wanted to know a little bit more about how they felt about learning in a digital environment that is based on communicating through technology.

Some of the survey results were predictable, but many were surprising to me in some way, shape or form. Below is a synopsis of most of the data that was collected through this student learning survey, along with a brief reflection about the data and what implications it might have for my students and my pedagogy.

The original intention of conducting this survey was to find out how students feel about long-term, synthesized and transdiscipilnary HOTS projects. After wondering about that question, many more naturally followed.

Learning Activities PreferredReflection: When I saw the results of this question, was reassured in my pedagogical insecurity that the majority of my students prefer long-term digital HOTS projects. Perhaps the minority does not have the patience to wait for the process to be finished and needs more immediate closure. The results may also reflect the subject discipline preference of students, as math (number) and word study are typically taught in shorter centers. Either way, it is nice to know that many of my students enjoy the process of learning; not simply the product.

Time on iPad ProjectsReflection:  I was worried that many students might feel that I was on their back too much, pushing them along through the process too quickly in order to recapture some time. However, I was pleasantly surprised to see that many of the students (unlike me) don’t feel we are spending too much time on longer term learning engagements.

Communicating UnderstandingReflection: This result completely floored me at first. Really? Nearly one-third of my students want to make posters? At first, I was annoyed by this and couldn’t believe my students wanted to demonstrate their learning in such an old-school way. Slowly, I’ve realized that I do need to strive for greater balance in my class to provide for those whose digital motivations are not as high. Many students have various multiple intelligences and learning styles, and those that may be more artistically or kinesthetically inclined could feel limited or hindered by iPads. I feel I need to do a better job of differentiating for them, or creating new ways for them to learn and express their understanding through their strengths, while still recording and documenting their process digitally.

Where Store LearningReflection:  I’m starting to see a pattern here. About two-thirds of my students seem to be on board with digital literacy. About one-third of my students are throwbacks. In absolute age, all of my students are digital natives. However, I can only imagine how many of them are old-soul digital immigrants living out their karmic rebirth in my classroom (I wonder what they did wrong in their previous lives?). The two-thirds to one-third ratio is an intriguing proportion to me. I wonder what the ratio of old-school teachers to new-school teachers there are in any given educational institution. How many teachers are on board with moving forward in digital learning? How many prefer to teach like they were taught? Is there a two-thirds to one-third pattern with modern-day educators? If so, who would be the majority?

Learing That MotivatesReflection: I was surprised to see how many students prefer to work independently considering how much collaboration we do in our classroom. I’m beginning to wonder if I’m on a digital and collaborative overkill and they are receiving too much of a good thing. Perhaps I need to lay off a little bit and find greater balance, or open up some of these digital HOTS projects to their learning preferences.

Learning on iPads isReflection: Whether they enjoy using them or not, I’m glad to see that the majority of my students feel that they are learning a lot about digital literacy. I’m wondering about the others, though. Are they just the objectors to everything except the one thing they like? I have an exceptional learner cohort and I wonder to what degree the anti-technology syndicate is being spearheaded by some of them and their inflexibility. What can I learn from examining the minority and their reasons for objection? When I look at myself, I’m definitely a minority kind of guy and frequently object to what the majority is doing. What might these objectors be guiding me to look at in myself and my teaching patterns?

In order to assess whether there was a direct correlation between digital learning, learning motivation, feeling challenged in the classroom and happiness at school, I asked a series of questions to posit possible relationships. Here is what I found out:

Tech to Communicate UnderstandingOne: I do not like to use technology to show my understanding.

Ten: I love to use technology to show my understanding.

How Much Learning About TechOne: I’m not learning much on the iPads.

Ten: I’m learning so much on the iPads.

How Challenged Are You this year?

One: I’m pretty bored. I’m not learning anything new.

Ten: I’m very challenged and I’m learning a lot.

How motivated are you?

One: I’m not motivated or enthusiastic about my learning this year.

Ten: I’m very motivated and enthusiastic about learning more.

Relaxed or Stressed

One: Super relaxed.

Ten: Stressed out.

How Happy Are you this year?

One: Not happy.

Ten: Very happy.

Reflection: I was secretly hoping for better results and I deliberated whether to share these publicly or not. However, one of my personal goals this year is to make myself more vulnerable, and be easier on myself for my mistakes. I’ll consider this to be a practice in that. I would have liked to have seen all of my students in the seven to ten range for all of these questions. It would have been great to see that they all love communicating their understanding through digital storytelling, that they are all super engaged and challenged, that they are all learning intensively in my class, that they are carrying over their learning motivation to action beyond the classroom walls and that they are supremely happy to come to school this year because of all the new digital technology and innovative learning activities they are being exposed to. It would have been great to see all that data come back, but it didn’t. The only result that I was happy to see was that students are operating in the optimal learning range, between stress and relaxation.

Looking at how many students responded inside my desired range for all other questions, between seven and ten, it should come to no surprise to me that it more or less follows the pattern of two-thirds to one-third.

Is it the apps? Is it some of my students’ apathetic personalities? Was it the concepts we learned about? Is it social factors? Was it their mood at the time of the survey? Are they just so used to technology in their lives that they are already bored with it? It could be a range of many variables that contributed to the data that I’ve collected. Despite all those valuable variables inherent in their responses, a pattern is emerging, and it’s not a positive one. The hard truth I have to face when looking in the mirror is that I’m not providing enough differentiation or engagement for one-third of my students. It’s my responsibility and I fully accept that how I’m designing lessons for them and how I’m interacting with them might not be honoring who some of them are as learners.

After all this reflection, I’ve learned that my classroom is out of balance, but not in the way I suspected it to be. Instead the imbalance being due to too time spent on long-term digital HOTS learning engagements, the lack of balance is due to how I’m not differentiating enough for the needs of the one-third of my class that might be as resistant to pedagogical change as some of us educators are. And the question I have to figure out now after evaluating all this data is, where do I go from here? The answer can only lie one taxonomical level up: creating.

Synthesizing Learning Engagements: Digital HOTS Part II

This blog post is a continuation of thought from the previous reflection entitled, “Are Digital HOTS Worth The Time They Take?

In the week since first posting on this thread of thinking, I have reconfirmed that the theme that seems to be running through my life on all levels (professionally, pedagogically and personally) is that of balance. In regards to digital HOTS, I have been struggling to cope with the fact that, some days and some weeks, the schedule I’ve created to try to intentionally ensure that subject balance was adhered to (more so for my own self-discipline than to provide a predictable routine for my students) has been thrown out the window. In addition to the loss of balanced subject allocation within the time provisions, I have also lost a certain degree of confidence and assuredness in how I am teaching. I feel this self-questioning is not only a natural component of the profession, but an integral part of the reflective and learning process.

Photo Credit: stuant63 via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: stuant63 via Compfight cc

This past weekend, I went scuba diving for the second time and earned my Advanced Open Water certificate. There were dives where everything went well and I felt very comfortable with my skill development. There were also two dives in particular where I felt completely disoriented, uncoordinated, out of control and, simply…out of balance. Upon returning to the dive boat, I was reflecting on the process of the various dives and realized that I valued those dives where I made the most mistakes more than those where I was in my comfort zone. I was grateful for messing up and experiencing that feeling of what not to do, because I was able to improve upon those skills the next time around due to greater metacognitive awareness.

Slowly, with diving and with pedagogy, those reflections of what to do rather than what not to do become more intuitive and engrained. I will never stop questioning and wondering if what I’m doing is best for my students, but I will learn something each time I ask it. For me, each time I ask about how to find balance across subject disciplines, I learn a little bit more about my own habituated ways of teaching and thinking that I hope to de- and reconstruct in order to find the middle ground.

In my case, I have been worrying that I’m spending too much time on digital HOTS and not enough time on direct literacy instruction. One of the reflections that has come out of this process is that I feel I need to see things from a higher perspective regarding subject discipline time allocation. Instead of looking at how many hours we spend on xyz from a weekly point of view, perhaps I can look at it from a monthly or yearly perspective? Additionally, although the projects are very transdisciplinary in nature, I think I could work on being more accepting of the fact that the application of comprehension strategies (making inferences, determining importance, asking questions) and writing skills (conventions, voice, sentence fluency, word choice) may not be as effective and efficient as those taught in more structured isolated learning activities. However, the manner in which students are brining all of their conceptual understandings, skill applications and communication techniques into a synthesized whole might be more authentic and relevant to them in the long run. Finally, another area I can work on improving is that, perhaps I’m getting too caught up in building a knowledge base for my students to launch their conceptual understanding off of. In order to free up a little more time earlier in the unit, I might relinquish my self-fulfilled need to provide more content knowledge than an 8-9 year old would readily require, or even recall a few months from now.

Photo Credit: Neuwieser via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Neuwieser via Compfight cc

I still don’t have the answer as to what degree my students are benefiting from long-term inquiry projects that require time-consuming digital HOTS or whether they are missing out on more foundational aspects of literacy instruction due to them. As with everything in education, it’s a process…and a time-consuming one at that.

In order to give the reader more specific examples of synthesized, transdisciplinary learning engagements happening in my class, here are three examples we have undertaken that have required Digital HOTS over the last two months.

Comparing and Contrasting Citizen Opportunities Through an iMovie:

 Instead of having students make Venn diagrams and discuss the differences between opportunities citizens of different countries have access to, I wanted students to dabble in the HOTS of movie production. First, students selected three countries they were interested in inquiring about. Next, they had to choose four concepts they wanted to learn more about and compare and contrast those concepts across their countries. The concepts were: geography/land, economy/jobs, culture/people, education, food, entertainment and settlements/shelter.

I shared a Google Doc with my students, who then had to make their own copy to keep in their folders in My Drive. Over the subsequent two to three days, students inquired into their chosen concepts through their selected content and completed the graphic organizing table found in the Google Doc. In this part of the process, students were using their reading strategies to determining importance and find out what text was of value to be noted down. They were also making inferences not by writing down random facts that couldn’t answer the question, “So what?” But instead, they were inferring meaning by making connections to their previous knowledge base to create mini stories based on isolated facts found in the text. To hone their writing skills, students were learning to take notes using short phrases and to work on paraphrasing and summarizing.


After students completed their graphic organizer, they went onto Google Images and Compfight to begin selecting powerful images that represented the ideas they determined were important within each concept. Students were encouraged to look for images that were “sticky,” or ones that stuck in people’s minds due to its captivation and the story it might tell in the background. This part of the process is where students were evaluating photos based on their effectiveness in communicating the concept they would like to teach their audience. After students had selected 36 photos (twelve photos across four concepts for each country), they embarked upon making an iMovie project.

photo[1] They completed an iMovie storyboard that organized how they were going go communicate their data in an effective way. The ordered their title and concept introductory slides along with the sticky country photos that compared and contrasted their areas of study. In iMovie, students evaluated themes, selected transitions and added simple subtitles to each of their photos. They also utilized the zoom in and zoom out option on each photo in iMovie to non-verbally communicate what they wanted the audience to feel and experience while viewing their images.


After, students went into Garage Band and created a two bar track that would musically reflect the feeling they wanted their movie to convey. Students laid down this audio track in the background of their iMovie on repeat.

Finally, students learned about higher level compare and contrast connectors (vocabulary from our EAL teacher) and narrated an audio track to go along with the concepts they were comparing across their three countries. The learning objective of narrating the iMovie was to specifically make the students practice using those higher level compare and contrast vocabulary connectors in their oral language. They referred back to their graphic organizer in Google Drive to access the inferred knowledge base they were comparing and contrasting verbally as the movie’s narrator.

Screen Shot 2014-03-06 at 3.36.36 PMCredit: Brighde Reed, NIST International School

Upon completion, students then published their iMovies onto their personal blogs, emailed links to their families and commented on each other’s projects.  (Tem’s iMovie)

 Data Handling and Google Forms:

At some point in elementary school, we need to get away from collecting data with tally marks. From the time students are six until they are at least ten, tally marks always seem to be the default activity for surveys.

Photo Credit: patersor via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: patersor via Compfight cc

Students from other classes typically ask permission to interview students in your class, then proceed to give oral surveys without giving indications of how many times students can raise their hand. Impulsive students raise their hand early in the survey and then the data collecting students give them more options to choose from after a student has raised his or her hand on the first option. It tends to be a well intentioned collection of data on the student’s behalf, but a complete disaster in efficacy and efficiency.

Although students are collecting data, the results are heavily skewed and there isn’t much student reflection in the process of how to administer a survey. The focus seems only to be on counting tally marks and drawing bar graphs on graphing paper in the end. This year, I tried something different.

Photo Credit: Cayusa via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Cayusa via Compfight cc

Students were first emailed a Google Form that I had created to introduce them to a digital survey before they knew they were going to be creating one themselves. Later that week, I taught them how to use Google Forms and write multiple choice survey questions. This would ensure that they provided the respondent with answers to select from right away, rather than after the fact (as some verbal surveys do).

Students then wrote five survey questions in their math notebook that had to be centered around our central idea, lines of inquiry or related concepts. Students edited and revised their survey questions to ensure specificity was adhered to and vague generalizations or misinterpretations were avoided.

Next, students created their own Google Form, selected the theme they felt best aligned with the types of data they were collecting and began to create their online survey. Once completed, instead of interrupting other classes to ask students to, “Raise their hand if…” students requested their email addresses and asked them if they would be willing to complete an online survey in the next two days. The data collectors came back to our class, entered the email addresses of their classmates, those of students from other classes in our year level who willingly participated and the email addresses of their family members they had access to. Students wrote a message to be included in the body of the survey invitation email to introduce who they were, what their objective was and to request for assistance in their data collection.

Photo Credit: RambergMediaImages via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: RambergMediaImages via Compfight cc

After completing each others’ surveys and allowing participating schoolmates and family members time to do so as well, students opened up a Google Sheet where there responses were recorded and logged in an accurate way. They counted up the responses for each of their multiple choice options and noted them down near their first draft questions in their notebook.

To communicate their findings, students used Haiku Deck to present not only their survey results, but a story of the process they went through to obtain the data. Embedded within the digital app was a procedural text and a reflective component, which gave students an opportunity to reinforce those text types. Using Haiku Deck to create bar graphs and pie charts from scratch allowed students to engage more personally with data handling. The graphing option gave students a chance to reflect on the minimum and maximum values of the y-axis in bar graphs and evaluate which number of intervals would best communicate quantities on their graph. It also encouraged them to draw relationships between how raw numbers can be expressed using percentiles in pie charts and reflect how to effectively communicate through digital storytelling.

Students then posted a link to their Haiku Deck presentations on their personal blogs and commented on each other’s presentations and data findings. For those teaching inside the PYP, nearly all of the transdisciplinary research sub-set skills were evidenced in this data handling process, along with several other thinking and communication skills.  (Jene’s Haiku Deck)  (Tanya’s Haiku Deck)

Personal Narrative of a Migrant Looking for Opportunities:

Students were given a writing task where they were to write a diary from the perspective a child living in a country that did not have not many opportunities available to them. The child and his or her family had decided to migrate across borders to find better opportunities. The students’ objective was to narrate their character’s daily life in their former country, their migrating experience and their life in a new country.

SimpleMind+Students began the process by pre-writing a detailed brainstorm in , a text-based mind-mapping tool that many students enjoy due to its color coordination capabilities. Students brainstormed three color-coded nodes off the centralized theme to indicate the three phases in this character’s life: former country, migration and new country. Simple MInd

After writing out their diaries on paper over a series of a few days, students revised and conferenced with each other in their notebooks for how to improve the 6+1 Writing Traits we have been focusing on.

Upon receiving feedback and making their own first round of revisions, students re-wrote their second draft in Google Drive. Later, students shared their Google Doc with one or two other peers, who were given access to comment, in order to conference further. Peer partnerships provided real-time feedback and guidance on several of the writing traits in focus as well as the clarity of their classmates’ texts. Using the commenting option in Google Docs is a powerful way for students’ feedback to be recorded and accessible at any point in the writing process. Students value having online chats discussing their thinking and seem to take their peer’s suggestions more to heart when they highlight something specific in their text.

Students then published the final draft narratives in Google Drive and shared their published copies with each other.


These are just a few examples of some of the synthesizing transdisciplinary projects we have been doing lately in our class. Although they might be ambitious in the scope of concepts, skills and literacy/numeracy applications, students readily begin to see the interconnectedness of everything they learn. Despite the fact that these processes and digital products tend to take much longer than a more traditional approach, I feel they are of value and will allow students to hover in the higher order thinking skills with more regularity, not only the digital product, but also increasingly so, throughout the entire process. It is my goal over the next few months to continue to provide these types of learning experience for my students, but do so in a way that can scale back on some of the depth expected in the product.

To see how my students feel about learning through technology in a 1:1 iPad environment, student perceptions of digital HOTS projects and time allocation, please take a look at this blog post that synthesizes my own data collection on their learning through their eyes.