Action Plan Update (or, Back to the Beginning)

I can’t believe we have our final Cohort 21 Face to Face this Friday. Does this mean that the year really is almost over?? I have so many thoughts and meditations upon (nearly) completing my first year of teaching. Luckily for me, the Cohort 21 journey has been an integral part of my year: framing my teaching, buoying me up, enticing me with tools to try. Although I can see how beneficial it would be to come to this amazing program with many years of teaching under my belt already, I am excited to go into the first years of my teaching having had this experience.

Initial Action Plan

I began this action plan journey wondering how I could leverage twitter to help me answer my first year teacher questions, thinking about how to weigh the use technology in the classroom (purpose and usage beyond entertainment).

My action plan then morphed into utilizing coding for grade 1 & 2 math club as an alternative mathematics experience for students.  For a month of math club meetings (four in total), I had students utilize iPad apps such as ScratchJr., Kodable, and Lightbot. I found that students loved using the apps and required very little instruction in how to use them. Kodable and Lightbot are gamified coding apps – you complete strings of symbol based code to move players through challenges. I really liked this kind of game based learning for an introduction. At the end of the month, we decided to move the direction of math club back to basic number sense skill practice.

This decision was based in going back to the design thinking process – one user that I empathized with (students) needed more practice in these skills, and my other user – grade level teachers, wanted additional practice for these same students. And so, after testing the coding unit, we returned to number sense.  The next time I undertake coding with students (perhaps as a separate club), I’d like to introduce the concept through a hands-on activity where students read signs to do different movements, and then move into the translation of this into computer code.


(image from

Further Action Planning 

Despairing the end of my action plan, I was also confronted with the task of teaching patterning in Kindergarten to a small group of advanced students. My big question going into this task was “how can I put the learning in the hands of my students, instead of making the lessons teacher directed?”. At my school, we use a lot of provocations, open ended activities, and games to help students in kindergarten expand their knowledge and experience new things. I wanted to plan a unit in which students could act as leaders in their classroom, something open ended to encourage their own questions, and something that would help me see what they know (but not a pencil and paper task). Furthermore, I wanted a project that they could use to extend their own learning that looked at mathematical concepts more deeply (instead of acceleration of learning to future grade level expectations).

I had the students take photos with iPads on a walkabout of the school. They photographed every pattern they saw. Although I didn’t think ahead, I knew there were some patterns to find inside the building. Their understanding of pattern blew me away – because of the photos they took we are now exploring not only ABAB patterns but tessellations and patterns that are horizontal and vertical.

The students decided that the best way to share their photos with the class was through creating a book. I downloaded an app called Skitch that annotates photos on iPad with typing, freehand drawing, shapes, and emojis. After a brief conversation about how we needed to describe our patterns so that other SKs would understand them, the students were off and working on “translating” their patterns.

skitch example

In the future…

Ultimately I would like to find ways to incorporate the design process in my teaching with students, instead of for students. With my current age group, this seems more difficult, but I think that there are many possibilities at my school, which values reflection on learning (much like the re-defining stage of design thinking).

Now that I’m at the end of this process, I am back to my initial questions about technology and how to continue to best use technology in my teaching.  I have discovered that there is an app for just about anything – but whether one might serve the purpose that we want, in ways that are ideal for the student are questions that I will know how to answer now, using my toolkit from Cohort 21. And in a sense, this is related to my first year teacher questions as well – my toolkit will help me to answer them for myself.
A link to my presentation:–design

Who says 6 year olds can’t code?

I’m a little behind in posting my action plan but I’m glad I waited because in the course of just one day, it has been radically transformed. Initially, I was investigating ways to alleviate the logging in time and frustrations that grade one students working with laptops and IXL were facing.By utilizing some excellent apps (namely ToDo Math and MathDuel), the problem of making skill practice engaging and easy to set up was solved!

In conversations with Cohort coaches and peers today, I realized that within my role, I have the opportunity to widen students’ conception of mathematics through math club. While students will continue to have the opportunity to practice skills through the apps we have already introduced, I am now interested in exploring coding with students. As Leslie McBeth so brilliantly put it, coding preserves the notion of “x + y = ?”, but instead of 5+5=10, now ‘arrow + arrow + switch = movement of a character in a computer program”. Using child-friendly coding apps might allow students who do not have strong memories for facts engage in larger mathematical contexts. Creating the opportunity for young students to code also fulfils one of my own objectives in teaching: to engage students in authentic learning and ‘doing’, instead of just preparing them to do “real” tasks in the future.

My next step for my action plan is to pitch coding to the Math Club next week and see what their prior knowledge is. I hope to do minimal modelling and let them try the apps on their own. In most of my experiences using apps, students tend to throw themselves into the experiences offered and figure things out as they go. I am hoping that students can understand math as a creative pursuit and build their own programs while also having opportunities to practice skills!





image courtesy Michelle Meiklejohn at

Although I haven’t been the most prolific cohort 21 blogger since our first face to face meet up, my mind has been busy with questions about edtech.

Fellow cohort 21 member Andrew Ruston asked me to flip the question about introducing tech in the classroom. What is the problem I have been trying to solve in my work that technology might be able to help with?

The first experiment with this kind of thinking happened around teaching printing. My students regarded it as lacklustre to say the least. I decided to carefully introduce teaching printing on the smart board in the grade one classroom, including a “sick letter clinic” game in which students manipulated letters so that they were in the right placement. Such a simple idea but they were captivated. They enjoyed using the smart board in new ways, the lesson was more interactive, and the students were engaged during the teacher directed part of the lesson.

Bolstered with this small success (which I imagine as dipping just the tip of my baby toe into the water of technology), I began talking with other faculty at my school about utilizing technology in the primary grades. Former cohort 21 member Jillian Green and I decided that we are both going to look into iPad apps to alleviate another problem: the students’ cumbersome task of transporting and logging in to laptop computers during literacy and math centre time. Surely iPads will be easier to deal with, we realized. My first goal for the year, then, is to research and experiment with math and early literacy apps.

My second goal, as I am a brand new teacher, is to find out how I can leverage technology (more specifically, Twitter and Diigo) to help me with my “new teacher” questions. To enumerate those questions here would likely be boring, and needless to say I have lots! I am looking forward to our meet-up tomorrow: to connecting with the other members, having more courage to ask some #firstyearteacherquestions and learning more about Twitter and Diigo!

Edutainment Versus Educative Technology in the Primary Classroom

Two weeks after my first Face 2 Face with Cohort 21 today, the biggest question in my mind is how to determine whether technology I might use in my teaching falls into the category of relatively meaningless entertainment (what I might call edutainment), or if it carries real educational value. By value, I mean: will it give my students an opportunity to learn a new skill or consolidate their learning?  I shamefully admit that my current use of the SmartBoard in the grade 1 classroom consists mainly of playing videos for body breaks, or sometimes putting up a math question for discussion.

So many of the apps that I have encountered seem like great ‘hooks’ for learning, but lack substance. On top of having to sift through this kind of content, I am also faced with the challenge of ensuring that apps and programs will be usable without needing to read a lot – as many of my students are in the very beginning stages of reading development. With screen time being a concern of parents and fellow teachers, it is important that I choose technology wisely. I am hoping to access more tools for teaching and to find ways for my students to not just use technology, but to manipulate and question it as well. images

Welcome to Cohort 21

Welcome to Cohort 21. This is the first post on your new blog. This journal is an integral part of your Cohort 21 experience. Here you will reflect, share and collaborate as you move through the C21 learning cycle towards your action plan.

Cohort 21 is a unique professional development opportunity open to CIS Ontario teachers and school leaders who are seeking to explore  what it means to a teacher in the 21st century.