Are Digital HOTS Worth The Time They Take?

-Is all of this experimentation with how to use technology in the classroom helping my students learning, or hindering it?

-Are these time-consuming synthesizing tech “projects” the best way for students to learn?

-To what degree is the time-investment in product creation worth the returns of student understanding?

-In the creation and design phase, what opportunities are being lost in other subject disciplines, such as literacy?

-What gets cut out of the curriculum while students are engaged in these time-consuming creative and evaluative learning activities?

I teach Y4/3rd grade in a 1:1 iPad environment. This is the first grade level the students have their own iPads, coming up from 1:2 classrooms the previous two years. That being said, many students come up to Y4 with very little knowledge of how to use the iPad, other than to perhaps create basic presentations on a few apps.

The learning curve for digital literacy is very intense for students throughout Year 4, especially in my class where I’m looking to extend and capitalize on using technology as much as possible to enhance student learning. Throughout the year, students learn about digital citizenship, internet safety, how to independently run their email accounts, how to publish videos on You Tube, how to use cloud storage services such as Google Drive and Picassa, how to run and manage their own personal blogs, how to use student-friendly search engines and other library based systems, etc.

They also learn how to use apps and online resources, such as: Book Creator, Explain Everything, iMovie, Haiku Deck, Pic Collage, Frame Artist, Padlet, Today’s Meet, Thinglink, a variety of mind mapping apps, other knowledge-based apps and several more digital literacy skills and concepts. If I find anything new that comes along, I’ll experiment with that too and see how it works.

Now, the time it takes teaching them how to use, organize, manage, share, push to/from the cloud, troubleshoot and evaluate apps and web resources is not the problem. I feel okay with the amount of time we invest in class teaching them the ins and outs of how to be as digitally literate as one can be at 8-9 years old. This does not weigh on my conscience.

What weighs on my conscience and makes me question whether what I’m doing is the “right” thing, is how much time is “lost” while they are using their Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) to create and produce evidence of their conceptual understanding.

Photo credit:
Photo credit:

This is my second year in a 1:1 environment, and also my second year ever touching an iPad (let alone having one). The way I instruct students and guide them to show their understanding has transformed dramatically (so much so that I cannot envisage going back to a classroom that is not 1:1). I feel I’ve adapted very well to my environment and have voraciously embraced education through technology over the last year and a half (as evidenced by me being in this cohort).

I’m continuously striving to think innovatively in how I can instruct and assess student understanding. I’m constantly reflecting on creative lesson design. I’m trying to think outside my box to invent new ways of engaging my students. I’m producing “projects,” “learning engagements,” “inquiries,” and “activities” that are built from borrowed ideas and devised improvements. I’m always testing out new ideas for how I can capitalize on my students’ capacities for creation, innovation and visual literacy communication.

And, I am also my own-worst enemy in the same breath, as I’ve created the current dilemma I face. I’m a hypocrite. I’m presently having an educational/moral dilemma with the time it takes students to engage in the digital HOTS, but I seem to have no objection to readily practicing them myself (see pedagogical reflection mentioned above).  More so, I’m just as guilty in my personal life, as I have decided to pursue this COETAIL program on my own volition. Do I dare reduce the amount of time students spend weekly on digital HOTS, while I increase my own time engaging HOTS at home and at work?

I don’t know. I just might consider it, and this is why:

My students spend enormous amounts of time creating, designing and communicating their understanding on many of the apps I mentioned above. I tend to have issues with isolated “learning activities” that, although are conceptual, skill-based and valuable, are like separate droplets of rain that never come together into a synthesized puddle.

Photo Credit: ecstaticist via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: ecstaticist via Compfight cc

These isolated engagements tend to get at the heart of the unit of inquiry, but they are separate, rather than whole. And for whatever reason, being a global, synthesizing and big-picture thinker, I struggle with isolationism in unit planning. Due to my aversion towards this type of teaching style (perhaps being my own worst enemy again), I tend to create and design longer-term inquiry “projects” that require an extended process. And, with so much time invested in the process of discovering, this almost necessitates (in my opinion) some sort of product to collate their conceptual understandings with the knowledge they have discovered. It gives them an opportunity to apply the skills they have learned and celebrate their growth in the process. It’s a chance to synthesize everything they know and understand and communicate it effectively to others, which leads to our classroom’s collaborative capacity being realized. Despite these projects’ frequent transdisciplinary nature, which of course is desirable, their product creations just seem to drag on and on.

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

It is the celebration of their learning through creation apps to make cumulative products which is my Achilles’ heel. When it gets to this point in the process, I question whether their cognitive engagement in those concepts and skills that had been highly engaged beforehand is now eroded or put on the backburner, replaced by priorities in visual storytelling and effective communication skills. I wonder whether this is more important than direct instruction in literacy groups to students who are still learning to comprehend texts. I wonder whether more specific writing tasks at an early age might be a better investment in sowing powerful communication skills later in life.

What form of communication is more powerful now? What form of communication will be most powerful 15 years from now? What is my responsibility to my students as learners, and what is my responsibility to societal construction as a whole?

I value creativity, innovation, effective communication techniques and digital expression of understanding more than most teachers. But I also value balance. And I feel like my classroom is out of balance some weeks with how we are spending our learning time. I can’t decide what learning takes precedent over another, and I don’t know what is going to be most beneficial to my students long-term. I’m at a personal and professional reflective crossroads, and I’m littered with hesitations and questions as to whether what I’m doing is best for my students.

The metaphor I always use to describe what I do as a teacher is that of the Dutch boy who put his finger in the dike to prevent a flood. But in our profession, there is not just one hole in the dike; there are many. And for every hole we plug with one of our fingers or toes, we leave another few holes unattended.

Photo Credit: manglani via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: manglani via Compfight cc

Despite my internal conflict, maybe this is not such a big deal after all because I’m looking at it through an outdated lens. Maybe it can be attributed to the fact that this problem is arising because my lesson design thoughts never left the box in the first place. Maybe it’s because, as Prensky says, I’m still trying to teach old things in new ways.  Until then, it’s about time I stopped pondering this, as I’m already over my allocated time limit set aside for this HOT blog.



Part 2 of this blog post will continue to examine synthesizing, transdisciplinary “learning engagements” with digital HOTS products. However, the focus will shift from one teacher’s discomfort zone towards data and evidence from students’ perspectives, such as:

-survey data I’ve collected from students in relation to how they view using technology in class, how they perceive time allocation in longer-term projects and to what degree using technology motivates them to learn 

-examples of synthesized, transdisciplinary “learning-engagements” plans

-students’ digital products which demonstrate their understanding

You’ve Just Been Drafted…

mob 2

Using Twitter without TweetDeck lists was akin to what one might experience in “lines” or “cues” in certain unnamed countries (I’m sure you can imagine which ones): spatial and self-absorbed chaos. My Twitter feed was dominated by those line members who were loudest, pushed the hardest, and acted upon the assumption that no one else but them mattered. No disrespect to those who tweet non-stop throughout the day, but instead of being an asset on my Twitter feed, they became a disruptive nuisance that took over faster than bamboo roots in Asia. Their pushiness and assumption of “it’s all about me” into my Twitter feed was wearing out its welcome more than that guy who just shoved past four respectfully patient patrons and walked up to the counter like he owned the place.

I will admit, I am that guy who confronts individuals who cut in front of everyone else in line and will not hesitate to call them out in public. I have no shame in that. I will also admit that I’m about to do the same thing with my Twitter feed over the next few months. I’m taking back my Twitter feed and no one here is safe.


I’m a sports nut.  I can’t get enough of reading about sports, particularly my beloved Green Bay Packers of the NFL in the USA. I see myself as the General Manager (GM) of my Twitter feed (and Google +) and I’m about to assemble the best team that will help me learn.

ted thompson

Here’s the scenario current Twitter feed members:

I just assembled my initial roster of 90+ players (tweeters) to begin the season. Some of you were acquired through a recent draft (searchable names), some of you were acquired through free agency (picked up off the Twitter streets) and some of you will begin this season on the roster because you’re already a part of a previously assembled team (Online Cohort 2).

Over the next few months, I will be evaluating you like a normal GM would in the NFL. Some of you are savvy veterans who have been around other Twitter feeds before. You have value and experience in this profession and could become a leader on this team…if you can stay healthy and innovative.

Some of you are rookies to the TCL (Twitter Community League) and may turn some heads in your first season. Some of you might be role players and find a niche spot on this team (a specialized Twitter list) and can contribute to my learning in some way.

Some of you might find a spot on the practice squad, where I’ll keep my eye on your development over this year. Practice squad tweeters could move up to the active game-day roster if a veteran loses his or her hunger and becomes complacent, or goes down with a hamstring injury (no Internet connection).


And, the hard truth is that some of you, perhaps many of you, will be cut and not make my Twitter feed. I’m sorry. It’s not personal. It’s a professional business decision. Making the highest level of professional sports is not easy; neither is making the highest level of educational tweeting.

But don’t worry. Even if you get cut from my other Twitter lists, you’ll still get a chance to turn my head in the future by maintaining your spot on the COETAIL Twitter Group.

Screen Shot 2014-02-22 at 4.31.41 PMTweetDeck, via Twitter lists, will transform how I use Twitter due to its filtering and categorizing capabilities. I’m excited to refine my lists to meet the needs of what I’m looking for in Twitter and participate in “geeked out engagement (which) involves accessing as well as producing knowledge to contribute to the knowledge network” (Living and Learning With New Media). Before this week, I never understood why Twitter was such a popular platform because it seemed so random and chaotic. To me, it was not user friendly. Due to that, and people overly tweeting minuscule actions in their daily life, I tended to avoid it.

Now, I plan on taking back my Twitter feed and using it for what it was originally intended: professional development. TweetDeck is a simple and user-friendly extension that allows its users to assert more control over the knowledge that is disseminated to them. In Living and Learning With New Media, the authors state that “almost all geeking out practices we observed are highly social and engaged, although not necessarily expressed as friendship-driven social practices.” My intention when I signed up for Twitter over a year ago was never to use it to socialize with my friends or access news, as I have Facebook for that. I wanted to hear about what everyone else was doing in the world of education, as my colleagues repeatedly opined that it was the best form of professional development available. In this end, I hope to reassert Twitter as the professional collaborative community it was intended to be, and exercise my inner line-monitor aspirations in the process.


Disclaimer: The above metaphor is not to be taken too seriously, nor too personally. You don’t need to go out and start lifting Twitter weights in order to try to make my team. As a GM of your own Twitter feed, you also have the power to follow and cut those that will help you assemble the best learning team. In fact, I might find that as a current Twitter lurker, I will probably soon be called to the coach’s office to be given my walking papers.

pink slip

The Mess I’ve Made

I’m just starting to realize that I’ve been messing around for far too long. The simple fact that I’m here embedded in this COETAIL journey, however, indicates that I might not be messing around for much longer.

In Living and Learning with New Media, a study completed by the John D. and Catherine T. McArthur Foundation, the authors state that, “what is characteristic of these initial forays into messing around is that youth are pursuing topics of personal interest… in a self-directed way.” Now, I’m not one to call myself youthful, as hangovers and sports injuries are lasting a lot longer than they used to be.


However, I find a certain degree of parallelism happening between the youth of the MySpace and The Facebook era and my own digital journey through COETAIL (which according to George Siemen’s Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age, should be an obsolete course in a matter of months due to the shrinking half-life of knowledge). I sought out this course with self-directed passion and curiosity after being exposed to it by the formative nodes of an unintentional PLN birthing. I did this while messing around (or is that hanging out?) on our school blog, later conferring with COETAIL alumni colleagues and making nomenclature connections back to my first Learning 2.0 conference.


The goal of enrolling in COETAIL and messing around a little more was two-fold. One, as the Living and Learning with New Media report states, “this more exploratory mode of messing around is an important space of experimental forms of learning that open up new possibilities and engagements.” I was enthusiastic to see how I could continue to experiment with new forms of technology and digital literacy in my classroom. I always want to be taking risks and trying out new methodologies for instructing students and open up new possibilities for them to show their growth and understanding. The insatiable curiosity of the digital dark hole has led to a continuous experiment in education over the last two years, which has brought me to active engagements in the COETAIL community today.

dark hole

Another reason I decided to experiment with this self-directed learning journey relates to Siemen’s Connectivism theory, “when knowledge, however, is needed, but not known, the ability to plug into sources to meet the requirements becomes a vital skill. As knowledge continues to grow and evolve, access to what is needed is more important than what the learner currently possesses.” I know little to nothing about digital literacy and its potentials. That’s why I have decided to hang around those who are “geeking out” and are more versed in the field. Siemens goes on to say, “learning now occurs in a variety of ways – through communities of practice, personal networks, and through completion of work-related tasks.” I’m quickly learning that participating in this course is just as much about the knowledge I will be gaining as it is about the connections I will be making through my PLN. With connectivism being, according to Siemens, “a learning process of connecting specialized nodes or information sources,” by messing around in COETAIL over the next year and a half, I will have firmly planted myself not only within the adaptive organism, but also as an active member and contributor to it. This will solidify my evolution from being a lurker who hangs out and leeches the system into a co-creating node with certain degrees of specialization within an inter-connected system.


The Living and Learning with New Media report goes onto say that, “messing around involves tinkering with and exploration of new spaces of possibilities… we see them as a necessary part of self-directed exploration in order to experiment with something that might eventually become a longer-term, abiding interest in creative production.” It is with that hope of a longer-term abiding interest in creative digital pedagogy that I find myself here and now. As I navigate through the genres outlined in The Living and Learning with New Media report (Hanging Out, Messing Around, Geeking Out), I doubt I’ll firmly embed myself within the Geeking Out crew by the time I’m done wandering this COETAIL path. However, I just might be done cleaning up the mess I’ve made leading up to this point.


Jumping Into the Unknown

I use the metaphor of a fork in the road often with my students when I talk to them about making choices and breaking out of their comfort zone. It’s ironic that when I am sitting down to write my first blog post, like an RSS feed, the fork in the road metaphor has found me rather than I searching for it.

fork in road

I suppose I’m feeling sufficiently discomforted by the prospect of blogging at this point in time. I’ve written “blog” posts for parents in the past, but those have been simple narratives of what we have been learning lately. It wasn’t like I was opening up, making myself vulnerable to the world or assuming that I would have something of value that merited publicizing. Blogging before now was mundane reporting, reminding and celebrating student learning. Now, it’s supposed to be personal, reflective and connective?

I’m sure my relationship with blogging will change over time as we grow on each other, as will my blogging skills and time it takes to crank out a reflection. But for now, blogging feels semi-forced rather than natural. I would assume this has to do with fact that although I’ve chosen the path towards pedagogical transformation, my inner Scaredy Squirrel is battling his discomforts as I stubbornly will myself to follow the path of most resistance and jump into the unknown.ScaredyLess than two years ago, I touched an iPad for the first time. Shortly thereafter, I found out I’d be stepping into a 1:1 iPad Y4/3rd grade classroom. It was at that time in my career that I realized I would need to catch up with how education was changing and completely alter not only the way I teach, but also the way I learn. After signing the contract that would help guide this shift, I went out and bought a smart phone to help ease the transition into the modern world and learn to be more connected. Neither the smart phone, nor the school provided iPad, nor any other technological device eased the transition of pedagogical transformation in my classroom. Rather, it was an intentional discomforting process that required perseverance, humbling and at times humiliating admittances of incompetence (otherwise known as Digital Illiteracy).

Old Person

The interesting thing about the transformative potential inherent in digital literacy in education is that it’s not an external shift in terms of resources or devices, which so many institutions tend to focus their energy and budget on. It’s an internal shift taken on by the individual to step into the unknown and square up to any insecurities that one may have around feeling out of touch, feeling like they are falling behind or feeling like they may not be as good of a teacher as they thought they were. After attending Learning 2.013, I walked away more inspired and motivated than ever, but also more insecure than ever in my teaching practices compared to what others were doing. It was a readjustment in how I perceived myself as an educator, and an opportunity to clean the lenses with which I was looking at teaching through. I quickly learned that if I’m not riding the face of the technological wave in education, I’m holding onto the past in order to operate within my comfort zone and I’m doing my students a disservice by acting out of fear rather than courage and trust.


It’s been a two year process coming to this point in my teaching practice, and I couldn’t be more excited and inspired for what I’m going to find out and how that potential could be creatively applied in my classroom. I also can’t help but feel like I don’t know a lot more than I do know about digital literacy. But I know that with gentle and forgiving patience, intentional de-construction of self and an ever-expanding comfort zone, I will catch up in practice to my envisioned highest point of contribution as a teacher, learner and co-conspirator of uprooting the current educational paradigm.

Disassociated Ramblings:

After reading Disrupting Class: Student-Centric Education is the Future, it brought me back to thoughts and discussions I’ve had before with our digital technology coaches about what’s lacking in our current implementation of application software. I am a proponent of disruptive innovations in education and I believe the following can help facilitate those intentional systematic agitations.

The most difficult part of teaching in computer-based learning environments is finding appropriate apps or software that can be independently explored by the students and are developmentally and conceptually appropriate for their individual needs (as well as those needs of the institution’s curriculum).

I think a step in the right direction would be for schools to start hiring software developer teams in the same way they hire other educators at international teaching fairs. The software development teams would work solely for the institution that hired them and create apps or software based on their specific curricular needs. The team leader would spend 50% of his or her time inside the school observing teaching practices, attending team and department meetings, consulting with Administration and interviewing students to develop specific learning outcomes and interfaces that would allow for age-specific and concept/skill specific software that could be used in computer-based learning environments. The other 50% of their time would be spent back with their team putting theories into practice and developing software that is specific to teacher and student needs. I think it would be a high-risk, high-reward proposition, but could help those who know most about what students need have a greater say in how they learn. Educators are not often stuck on generating ideas, but can be at a loss for finding practical ways to implement and create a reality for their visions, especially when specific skill sets are required to program. Software developers working for schools rather than with them can help bridge this gap.
After reading World Without Walls: Learning Well With Others, I became excited at the prospect of global collaboration projects in my classroom, but quickly felt reluctant to search and sift through an unassembled collection of unrelated parts on Google. Perhaps what I’m about to propose already exists out there (and please let me know if it does). If it doesn’t, I believe this would be an ideal solution to facilitate reaching out with others and connecting learning as wide as it would be deep.

I would love to see a centralized global collaboration community website where classrooms can filter their needs by region, language, year level, concept/content, time of year and desired form of interaction or collaboration. For every classroom to sign up on this website, they would need to complete a form that indicates what concepts/content they would be learning about during specific months and what technological proficiencies or capabilities they have available to them.

For example, if we are learning about adaptation, ecosystems and interdependence in our Year 4/Grade 3 class in Thailand during the months of September, October and November, I might search for another willing classroom in South America who is learning about similar concepts during that time of year so they we can build our understanding together. This would help both classrooms facilitate scope and sequence efficiency and flow. We might find out that although this class does not have Google Drive set up for their students, we both have indicated that student blogs and Skype are potential avenues for connection and November is a time when we both are learning about similar-enough concepts to reach out to one another. All of this could be filtered out in less than 5 minutes and classrooms would have one-click access to each other in proposing collaborative learning projects.

As I continue this never-ending journey of educational change (the only constant) and perso-professional growth, I’m quickly reminded that with every door that opens and perceived progress that comes with it, also comes the potential for stubbing my toe and being brought back down to reality. I just finished my first blog post, which I can celebrate and use as a stepping-stone for future exercises in vulnerability. However, I ended up banging my toe on the stubbing stone and just realized I don’t really know how to attribute rights to the photos I inserted. Perhaps this is a lesson in gentle and forgiving patience as I intentionally step outside my comfort zone and into the COETAIL zone. More than being a simple step, it’s a rather large and intentional jump…into the unknown.