The Post Cohort 21 Experience – 1 Year Later

Using Sesame HQ to take photos of one of his favourite books in the classroom to share with his Mum at home

Using Sesame HQ to take photos of one of his favourite books in the classroom to share with his Mum at home

As my colleague, Melissa, prepares to attend her last face-to-face, I am reminded of the transformation that I underwent this year thanks to Cohort 21. I have been eagerly following Melissa’s journey and it has been so affirming to have a colleague who shares a similar philosophy and mindset. We have been able to share our vision together, and be each other’s support as we launched a technology program in our school and worked to continually improve our programs.

Hang on, Launched a Technology Program?

Yes! (And how ambitious is Melissa to not even have this as her action plan!?) With three other colleagues, we created a technology committee to submit a proposal to management for the purchase of Chromebooks and iPads. We received 16 Chromebooks (enough for biggest Junior class) for the Junior Division and 8 iPads (just short of a class set) for the primary divisions. Melissa took charge of the Chromebooks, and may write about her experience with this in the future. As an early years teacher, and armed with my Cohort 21 experience, I took charge of the iPads. I nearly lost my mind. To be teaching full time and launching an iPad program from scratch was one of the most frustrating experiences I’ve ever had.

Recording 'signs of spring' during our weekly Outdoor Discovery time.

Recording ‘signs of spring’ during our weekly Outdoor Discovery time.


Without allowing myself to go on a very long rant, the biggest issue was with the network. It was not able to support the implementation of all of these devices, so issues I was having for weeks with setting up the iPads had nothing to do with me. To do the same resets, backups, profiles, blueprints, etc. over and over again to only fail was frustrating, to say the least. But, once I figured out the signal was stronger in another area of the school, the same process I had done all along worked beautifully!

Since we are not one-to-one, we assigned students to iPads and have a travel cart to send them classroom to classroom. Aside from the occasional “who has the iPads?” when things go off schedule, this is working well for us. Maintaining the iPads is manageable, and we have a solid base of apps for the teachers to acquaint themselves with. I am hoping that we can expand our iPad collection next school year.

Some of my major takeaways from this experience include:

  • Have a designated mac ready to go from the outset. I can’t imagine doing this without Apple Configurator. Especially on a bigger scale.
  • Apple Forums are a gift. Trust the advice. If their solutions are not working, it’s not you, it’s something else.
  • Establish a clear saving system from the outset – since the older students use google, and we’re not one-to-one, we created a general iPad drive with shared classroom folders. It’s proven to be a good stop-gap solution.
  • Take breaks. I was so driven to finish this project that I kept digging myself into a deeper rut. After allowing myself to stop thinking about it for a while, I was able to go back with renewed excitement.
Scrolling through past photo they took of their structures in Sesame HQ

Scrolling through past photo they took of their structures in Sesame HQ

The Problem with Mindsets

Once we knew we were receiving this technology, I hosted a session on the SAMR model at the beginning of the school year. My goal was to provide my colleagues with a helpful framework for them use when planning different ways to use the technology. Part of the problem with this, is that it takes a certain mindset in order for teachers to view themselves going all the way through the SAMR model. And the problem with mindset is that you can expose educators to multiple mindsets, but you have no control over what they pick and choose from it. Considering these things, the biggest challenge since the program’s inception has been inspiring our colleagues to allow the students to take ownership of their thinking and products. To allow the students a chance to create and innovate. To allow the students to use the technology without abandon. To allow the students control. Pre-occupation with the “how to” has led to a plateau in the use of technology that Melissa and I are trying to inspire others to overcome. But how to convince your colleagues to ditch traditional practices and give more ownership to their students without getting on a soapbox? This is something that we are passionate about working on, and hope to overcome.

Using the record function in 'explain everything' to capture students' spelling and sounding-out strategies

Using the record function in ‘explain everything’ to capture students’ spelling and sounding-out strategies in real-time

What Next?

Melissa and I have just received word that we have earned the McCullough-Andrews Fellowship from our school, which is sending us to the EdTechTeacher Innovation Summit in Boston this fall (full details are not yet publicly released). We. Are. Pumped!!!!! I can only imagine what this conference will inspire. I spent a whole night going over slides that were posted from the most recent conference in San Diego. I plan to be doing a lot of reflecting and writing after this experience.

Getting the right category for a new post in Sesame HQ

Getting the right category for a new post in Sesame HQ

Success in the Classroom

As I type this long-overdue blog post, I overhear a conversation between students using the iPad during “quiet activities” that went like this:

“We can’t find the pictures that we took!” “Are you looking at pink, or looking at red?” “Oh, we’re looking at pink! Let’s get red.” “There they are!” “What do we take a picture of now?”

Technology is now a part of their every-day school experience. They eagerly post their work on SesameHQ, use explain everything with ease, read on Epic Books, make fantastic books with Book Creator and Pic Collage. We are starting small, but I have big plans! We talk about what is meaningful. They ask questions and challenge their own thinking. My students know that information is everywhere – from me, from their peers, from videos, from books and at their fingertips. All they have to do is be open to it. A good lesson for us all.

A happy face, designed and created by a happy SK

A happy face, designed and created by a happy SK

Posted in Classroom Reflections | 2 Comments

Documentation and Design in SK

I have always enjoyed doing design projects in Kindergarten. My mentor during my teachers ed program, Carol Stephenson, amazed me by using design to challenge and stretch the thinking of young learners.

Before my twitter chat with Cohort 21 after our third Face 2 Face, however, I didn’t give much thought to the formal process of Design Thinking.

Screen Shot 2015-04-19 at 5.02.57 PM

I was excited to realize that my students practice design thinking, and my action plan provided a wonderful opportunity to make the process explicit. Many of these steps become blurred with young learners, as they will change their idea or prototype, but without formally recognizing and celebrating this part of the process.

While working on their tools project, I provided the empathy for them – they were designing something for themselves. Each SK defined what this meant for their project, and brainstormed. After initial sketches were made, each SK hunted through our found materials to build their first prototype.


Prototype is where their use of accessible technology came to life. The SKs were so excited to photograph and take videos of their creation. They took such pride in their product and were eager to test it out! Some children changed their design completely after the initial test. For example, “I wanna change my design because I need this part longer. He won’t fit in the short part.” And other children were happy with their first product. The videos and photographs they put on SesameHQ provided a wonderful timestamp of their journey. This information is easily lost when relying on scribing and photographs.


Overall, I am delighted with the use of the iPad in my classroom in this way. It is proving to be accessible to young learners, and is opening up new insights into their thinking. How enjoyable it is for me to sit back after the fact and watch a video that shows the world through their own eyes. They are always learning and they are so proud of it. Being able to capture that has been a valuable process for me that would not have been possible without Cohort 21. I am so very appreciative!

Below you will find my Action Plan reflection:

The Cohort 21 journey may be coming to an end, but I leave with a wonderful network of amazing educators and endless inspiration!

Posted in Action Plan, Classroom Reflections | 1 Comment

Refining the Action Plan

As with past Face-2-Faces, I left the third Cohort 21 session at MaRS Discovery District so incredibly inspired! Not only was being surrounded by a building focused on innovation inspiring in of itself, I am consistently amazed by the fabulous ideas of the Cohort 21 clan! Thanks to their input, I have made some revisions to my Action Plan.

Narrowing the Focus

Taking the suggestion of a great Cohort 21 Coach, instead of taking a broad approach, I am going to be focusing on two facets of the Technology Integration MatrixConstructive and Active. I believe these resonate the most with my iPad documentation project , as I am eager to have “students consistently have opportunities to select technology tools and use them in the way that best facilitates their construction of understanding” (constructive) and have “students understand how to use many types of technology tools, are able to select tools for specific purposes, and use them regularly.” Although I am limited in my ability to grow to the Transformative stage for the environment, as the classroom teacher, it will be my goal to expose my young learners to the technology tools available to them, and guide them through the process of applying it to demonstrate their understanding.

Sesame HQ

Sesame HQ is a game changer. My initial plan of using iMovie to allow the students to produce a film of their learning would have been well received by my students, but as soon as I saw the capabilities of Sesame HQ, I knew that this would be a much more dynamic and interactive tool to use.


Each student only has one item in their feed so far, but I anticipate that they will all enjoy going back in time to see where they started! I also anticipate that they will find the app easy to use without my assistance once we get over some initial bumps.

Early Discoveries

I have begun this project with my students and here are some brief observations that I have made thus far:

  • My students think big! The scope of the project makes me nervous (for example, one student would like to construct a ‘bike ski’), but also incredibly excited.
  • My students are not intimidated. They grabbed the iPad with eagerness and familiarity.
  • My students know what they want. When given the choice to record a video or take a picture, each SK happily selected a medium. I look forward to seeing if there are similarities in selections over time.
  • My students are inexperienced. Starting this project has opened my eyes to the importance of breaking technology-related skills down into smaller chunks. I immediately thought the SKs could use Siri to scribe their thoughts, but they do not yet understand the importance of volume and clarity in getting accurate representation. New lessons will have to be developed along the way – for example, tomorrow we will be playing a game that involves the SKs saying a sight word into the mic and having their peers tell them if they said it clearly enough to be written correctly on the Smart-Board screen.
  • My students really are 21st century learners! When I handed them their QR code to scan, no child thought it was unusual that this black and white scribble would lead them to something they could use.

I can’t wait to see what these wonderful students are capable of!

Posted in Action Plan | 8 Comments

Tools of the Trade – Action Plan


I’ve had the backbone of my action plan in mind for quite some time, but I was waiting for the right content to fill in the gaps, and my students provided inspiration for that content for me this week (just in time!)

Inspired by PD

After being inspired by a PD session at BSS last summer, I was determined to brainstorm new ways to use documentation in my classroom. Student photographs, quotations and sketches are displayed around my class, and student videos are published my classroom blog. However, the students have no ownership over the documentation, other than the fact that they are in it! Eager to get my young learners more involved in the documentation process, I was on the hunt for tools for them to use.

Then, in early October, I attended a PD session at Sagonaska School on using the iPad effectively in the classroom. The school has a focus on using technology to set-up students with learning difficulties for success. Throughout the session I was brainstorming ways that I could bring this back to my early learners. One of the points that resonated with me most was how accessible the iPad is. I hold the belief that effective practice for students who face challenges is effective practice for all, so I was excited about the tools out there that I could potentially introduce to my students. iMovie, in particular.

Inspired by the Cohort

At our second face-to-face session at Cohort 21, we were introduced to three models of looking at technology integration into the curriculum. The model that I feel most closely resonates with my program is the Technology Integration Matrix. Upon reflection, I found it surprising that as an advocate of technology in the classroom, and as an avid technology user myself, I mostly fall into the “Entry” and “Adoption” levels in my classroom. Occasionally the students have the opportunity to independently use technology while I facilitate (Adaptation), however, I feel there is plenty of room for improvement. For my Action Plan, I have decided to aim for Adaptation, Infusion and Transformation across all five characteristics: active, collaborative, constructive, authentic and goal directed.

Inspired by Ice

Knowing what I wanted to incorporate into my plan, I was stumped on deciding a topic or curriculum area to undertake this massive, uncharted project. Science seemed like the best fit, but inquiry topics that the students would be engaged in were not emerging. That is, until, this week! While heading outside to the yard, one of the students slipped on ice as he was coming out of the door. He enlisted the help of a friend, grabbed a scrap piece of bark, and they both started chipping away at the ice. when asked about what he was doing, he explained that he used his body to measure how far out the door swings, and used that to determine where they should chip away the ice, to prevent anyone else from slipping. Soon, almost the entire class joined in and I stood there amazed as they used these pieces of bark as fantastic tools to achieve a common goal. Also inspired by the level of engagement the students had in the book “The Most Magnificent Thing” by Ashley Spires, our new inquiry topic was established!

Taking Action

So, as of now, these are the stages I have plotted out:

  • Begin a student-led inquiry of tools
  • Lead the students through research, designing and building
  • Have the students document their process by using the iPad to take their own video and photographs
  • Coach the students through compiling their video in iMovie
  • Assist the students with narrating their film
  • Share with their peers
  • Receive feedback
  • Re-design, document and add to their final film.

Looking forward to more inspiration at the third third face-to-face and seeing where this adventure takes us!

Posted in Action Plan | 4 Comments

The Late Art of Typing


How to introduce assistive technology if they don’t know how to assist themselves?

I just had an interesting conversation with a colleague about introducing formal typing skills at the kindergarten level. Something I have definitely thought about, but haven’t pursued. She was talking about the challenge of teaching older primary students who need assistive technology, but who do not know how to use it to its fullest abilities. For example, they are able to use the touch screen functions for selection, but have difficulty using the iPad or computer to type out their work instead of writing it by hand. For students with printing difficulties, this is a helpful skill to have. Although there are many benefits to using a speech-to-text program, many new roadblocks are encountered if the student is not able to use the keyboard beyond the one finger point.

What is my role as a kindergarten teacher with regards to computer skills?

Currently, my students are taught mouse skills, so that they are able to successfully play games on the computer. iPads are new to my program this year, and I am navigating through ways to best use this technology with my young learners. We completed a fun book-making project that involved them taking pictures of shapes around the school, and the SKs use apps that I have selected. The physical keyboard and the touch-screen keyboard have not even been introduced!

There are professionals who are adamant that keyboarding is not taught in Kindergarten (see, “Just say ‘no’ to keyboarding in kindergarten” by Rae Pica), but there are a multitude of games, apps and programs that are geared for just that purpose. Do I introduce typing to students who are still mastering printing, or leave it for later years?

How do I help my students?

The Ontario curriculum does not offer formal typing skills until Grade 9, and I strongly feel that this is too late. Students are expected to produce typed products in elementary school, and old habits can be hard to break. I would be curious to learn about the ways educators around the province are tackling this hurdle.

Although I do not think I will be pursuing this topic for my action plan, I am definitely going to be reflecting more upon how I can provide the building blocks for students of all abilities to use technology to success in all of it’s forms. Perhaps games that encourage the students to locate keys on the keyboard, or typing their names makes the most sense for students this age. An informal introduction without talking about the ‘home row.’

The biggest point that resonated with me in the article by Rae Pica was the importance of formally developing fine-motor skills. So I think it’s time for me venture over to Pinterest, and grab some ice cube trays, tweezers and pom poms!


Posted in Classroom Reflections | 8 Comments

What is the role of technology?

What is the Role of Technology in my Classroom?

This is a critical question that each educator needs to ask him/herself as we collectively embark on working towards integrating technology in our classrooms for students to acquire information and demonstrate their learning. Inspired by the first Face 2 Face session with Cohort 21, I am reflecting on how this applies in my Senior Kindergarten classroom in the following ways:

  • How are young learners able to absorb information presented to them through technology?
  • How are young learners able to independently use technology to acquire information?
  • How much time should be dedicated to working with technology in the kindergarten classroom?
  • How are the attention spans of the students reflected and/or impacted by the use of technology in the classroom?
  • Am I, as a teacher, maximizing opportunities for students to be using technology?

What does Techology Currently Look Like in My Classroom?

As I stood in a room full of educators at our first Face 2 Face session and we had to place ourselves on a scale of how much students use technology in our classrooms, I realized that my students currently use it much less than students in other grades at other schools. I also realized that it does not match my ideals for amount of time spent with technology.

As currently structured, the Smart Board is used daily for our morning routine and there is often one or two lessons/videos that we use the Smart Board for as well. Time on the classroom computer is available during free play every afternoon, but there are often weeks where none of the students select this option. Whether or not this is a function of my scheduling or of their interests, I am keen to find out!

My Current Goals

As I look forward to implementing exciting projects that utilize accessible technology in the classroom, I will be observing and reflecting on the ways that children already are using the technology in the classroom, both self-directed and teacher-directed. Hopefully, this will give me some anecdotal evidence that will help me make informed decisions to best meet the needs of my students. An exciting journey, to be sure!

Posted in Face 2 Face Sessions | 4 Comments