Category Archives: Course 1

Photography Collaboration: From Deciding to Acting, Course 1 Final Project

Last week I was busy thinking about, deciding on and planning a meaningful collaborative project with my young Early Years students and another class at my school.  Now, my “school” is actually 3 separate campuses somewhat spread about in Central Switzerland: 1 small Elementary School in canton Luzern (mine) a larger Elementary/Middle School and a High School, both in canton Zug.

As I mentioned last week, our small campus is closing at the end of this year, due to declining enrolment, and most of students will next year attend our much larger campus in Zug.  We have been encouraged to begin the process of a meaningful transition for our students, which include in person/on site meet ups–a recent field trip went really well– but I am hoping to continue these “meet-ups” online through a joint photography project.

We were actually initially inspired to look into photography a little more deeply by a fellow Coetailer’s (and ISZL’s own amazing High School English teacher, Tricia Friedman) invitation to collaborate:

Screen shot from Tricia’s Padlet

So far this year my young students have taken hundreds of not so great, slightly out of focus, thumbs in the way of pictures of the floor using the ipad.   I am hoping through this project our understanding of what makes a picture good, interesting and meaningful will improve, but also that contributing to this “movement” is a great way to improve the feeling of community and connection across our campuses, which otherwise share little more than a name, despite its promise:

3 Campuses, 1 International Experience

The more I have thought about the nature of my planned collaborations across campuses, I realise they are really 2 separate learning collaborations…the first one being a response to a specific blog prompt set by Tricia on her Blog Prompt Padlet.  I had to choose a prompt appropriate for 4 & 5 year olds, (not so easy), so a prompt involving the obviously highly visual medium of photography jumped out at me.

World Photography Organisation,

World Photography Organisation, Shortlist contender

Now, this World Photography Organisation contest may well be over by the time we actually get around to making our choices, but it is of little matter.  The website itself is sweeping and the amount of different categories is a bit overwhelming, and I knew clicking around and waiting for web pages to load while my wriggly 4 year olds squirmed was not going to cut it, so I chose some relevant photo categories (Nature and Wildlife, Panorama, Smile and People) and pre-selected a few photos in each category that I thought would particularly resonate with the kids (photos of children, animals and landscapes similar to those of our own beautifully situated campus).

While choosing a favourite to win the contest and defending their choices using some newly learned insights into photography and story telling is part of the goal of this project, it is really only the jumping off point.  I am actually interested in how members of the High School English class (and anyone else who responds to the blogging prompts) respond to our posts about photography. And more so, I would like this exploration to inspire my students to become better picture takers and therefore better story tellers, using the medium of photography.

A picture is worth a thousand words.

This brings me to the second part of my collaborative project.  Our beloved campus closing, while a sad event, is also an opportunity to make sure our story is told, and our small voices heard.   Part 2 of my planned collaborative Photography Exploration will be to challenge my students (and EY at Zug campus) to capture the essence of our campuses–taking pictures of favourite locations, moments, people and friends (similar categories to those I chose from the wpo) and to share them with one another. Here at Luzern, we are blessed to be located right on lake, surrounded by mountains, fields fountains, and forest. Our building’s name is Villa Kämerstein, the Early Years building is in a quaint Swiss chalet.  There has got to be some photographic gems in there somewhere.

taking pics

Yep…this is typical EY, upside down and finger prints on the lens

The idea to involve the Zug campus actually stemmed from an earlier email conversation between myself and one of the EY teachers there, we were studying different constructions, in particular bridges, and she had the idea of somehow creating a project to “bridge” our two campuses; sharing the story of our two campuses to help with the transition our students will make next year.  I loved the idea, but at the time was unsure to how to proceed.

Now that I feel more confident in how this could play out, (sharing the picture or “story of our 2 campuses” on a Collaborative Photography Padlet) I am left waiting for a response from the other campus.  Despite a well thought out email to 6 teachers & 4 assistants, only one has expressed interest in joining the project.  Our Tech Coach warned me I might face reluctance…not necessarily due to lack of interest…but a lack of time, understanding, etc. Some told me they hadn’t even read the mail.  Deep sigh.  My biggest challenge will not be improving the photographic or reflection skills of my students, as evidenced by some results from our second day of picture taking;


Our tree lined driveway, cropped and filter added by Emiliana, 4.


View of the lake and mountains, photo untouched by Johnathan, 5








It will be ensuring the collaboration aspect of my Collaborative Picture Taking Project actually takes place.


Collaboration? Too Busy Deciding…

The real question, then, is, “how much time are you spending deciding what to spend time on?”

To quote seth's blog link on another fellow coetailer Tricia Friedman's blog… inviting others to collaborate via student blog prompts….yikes, the META here is killing me!

Gave me something to think about…

(To quote  seth’s blog link on another fellow coetailer Tricia Friedman’s blog,  inviting others to collaborate via student blog prompts….yikes, the META here is killing me!)

The above quote seemed rather appropriate as I reflect on the amount of time I have spent thinking about this week’s post on global collaborations.  I am feeling a bit stuck, and a bit in awe, thinking about some of the example collaborative projects.

This video was shared in a comment by Emily Roth on one of my posts:


The video shows a collaborative project involving seniors learning about the internet, facebook, youtube, etc. from some very helpful teenagers, and I was almost moved to tears. This particular project is perhaps not the ideal project for 4 year old expats living in Switzerland to take on, but inspiring nonetheless.

Finding that ideal collaborative project has been an-ongoing goal: I completely agree that (global) collaboration is a key component to 21C Learning, and have made it a personal/professional mission this year to simply begin by collaborating more often and with more teachers and classes at my own small school.  So far I have made the initial contact with several different classes, but I am hoping all collaborations will continue to develop, evolve and expand.  


Connections and Collaborations are key elements of 21C Teaching and Learning

My Early Years students and I have collaborated with grade 1 on a variety of small projects using the iPads (Collaborative/Christmas Memories using Puppet Pals, Story telling with My Story.)  A really proud moment was watching a 4 year old showing the 6 year olds how to make a stop motion movie, to be used in their upcoming school play.

We’ve worked with grade 5 throughout the year, reading, baking, building, along with a few joint ipad app explorations.   We have a joint “Buddy” blog, but with so many other pressures, including our own class blogs, this venture has been a challenging one to maintain. 

Most recently, we have highlighted our class blog at assemblies and have invited comments from the audience.  I quickly typed comments from most of the students (we are a small school) on the spot.  I think all were happy to have contributed something, it wasn’t simply those who were presenting and showcasing.  This realisation also helped me to understand more fully the power of blogging and creating a shared (learning) experience.

Our newest collaboration is teaming up with grade 3 as “blogging buddies” who are learning about digital citizenship.  We are learning to make comments on one another’s blogs…something that isn’t without its challenges. My Early Years students don’t read or write yet, don’t have their own google accounts, need help scribing, etc. Currently we are meeting face to face, which perhaps defeats the purpose of an online collaboration, but we are learning that good citizenship skills are also good digital citizenship skills: we make appropriate, specific and positive comments and we are learning to ask questions, all of which help to get a possible conversation going… Thank you Jocelyn Sutherland for pointing me to this post: digital citizenship starts with face to face citizenship by Andrew White.

Screen shot of my Twitter Plead

Screen shot of my Twitter Plead

I am looking to expand on my students’ local, face to face collaborations, with more global connections, but am unsure of next steps and really do want to make it meaningful.  I have posted in Twitter using the hashtag #comments4kids, but simply finding an appropriate blog for my students to comment on first (as suggested on the comments4kids blog itself—-give and you will receive) is challenging–most I’ve looked at are text heavy and completely inappropriate content wise for my mostly EAL 4 year olds.  

CALCULUS-olga, olga shulman lednichenko, lednichenko, lednichenko-olga, olgalednichenko, lednichenko-olya, olya lednichenko, IMGAES AND PHOTOS OLGA LEDNICHENKO

What I ‘m seeing…
flickr photo shared by lednichenkoolga under a Creative Commons ( BY ) license

What I'm thinking

What I’m thinking..(the kind of thing we do!)


I have received some nice feedback–(thanks online 6 cohort colleague, Linda Grunwald!) but have yet to find any real bites.  I suppose other educators like me, need a real purpose for the collaboration. People don’t necessarily want to collaborate simply for the sake of collaborating…just as we don’t always want/need to use technology for the sake of using technology….its use must be purposeful and integral to the collaboration.  

Which brings me to another, perhaps most promising and purposeful collaboration at our school’s nearby campus in Zug, Switzerland. Our small Lucerne campus is unfortunately closing at the end of this academic year and our students and many of our teachers will make the transition to our larger campus at some distance away. We have organised upcoming field trips to visit our new campus and make new friends, but I keep thinking another way to ease this transition is to begin a digital connection.   What that could look like, I am still trying to hammer out.  The next challenge will be to present the idea to my new colleagues on the other campus in such a way they can’t refuse.  I worry at resistance, as these are the same colleagues I will be coaching next year,  but I am hopeful…that this is exactly what we will “decide to spend time on.”


Digital Divide Needs Mending (…or more glühwein)

Last night, over a glass of hot glühwein (a Swiss thing)  I caught up with a  friend I hadn’t spoken to in a while.  We hadn’t really spoken in any depth about technology before–our main topics of conversation are typically about our young children.  The topic of technology in the classroom came up and for perhaps the first time , I felt the gulf of the digital divide between us. Okay, perhaps I use the term digital divide term loosely and symbolically here, not wikipedia’s more politically loaded, but none the less true:

digital divide is an economic and social inequality with regard to access to, use of, or impact of information and communication technologies (ICT)


Found image inspired a new title. flickr photo by -Nicola- shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

Found image inspired a new title.
flickr photo by -Nicola- shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license


This friend is an expat like me, my age (younger even), and a teacher, but she seemed very resistant (fearful of, even) to technology integration in teaching (and in life, in general), and went so far as to describe herself as “old-fashioned.”


Call me old-fashioned (technology)

Call me old-fashioned (technology)



Now, I am not a digital native myself, but a willing and interested “non-native”. I wasn’t always this way, but recently, I’ve learned and grown enough to be assuming the role of primary EdTech coach, starting next academic year.  I will be working at a new campus (same school) and coaching teachers holding similar reservations to those of my friend.



Our conversation, almost more of a debate, got me thinking that a huge part of successful coaching must require a certain amount/kind of communication which must first convince someone that it (receiving tech coaching) is a worthwhile thing to do in the first place.

Earlier this week I read a few articles and posts about EdTech coaching.  There was Why Coaches need Coaches, Tech Coaching for Professional Learning, The Ten Commandments of Technology Coaching, all of which offered a certain value, with tips I likely won’t fully appreciate until later.  

But the article Never Too Late: Creating a Climate for Adults to learn new Skills by Rebekah Madrid resonated the most, as the ideas directly linked to (at least part of) my friend’s reservations about technology.  In Madrid’s article, the concept of a Professional Fixed Mindset was introduced to me (which linked to other articles and great resources for the primary classroom!)

Basically, a Fixed Mindset is having a fixed view of oneself and one’s abilities/intelligence (not a lot you can do about it, just accept.)  A Growth Mindset is the belief that one’s abilities are continually growing and changing (but you have to work at it, no way around it.)

According to Madrid’s Never Too Late,

For children, a fixed view of intelligence can lead them to negatively label themselves with statements such as, “I’m not good at math” or “I’m a bad writer.”

Similarly, when professionals struggle with new demands, they may be tempted to use phrases such as “I’m too old for this,” or “I already know what works for me,” or

“I’m just not a computer person.”

I suppose I am a recent graduate of my own Professional (and personal!) Fixed Mindset, which used to be, “I’m not a techie person.” I might have even said these exact (or something very similar) words to my own amazing EdTech coach (yes, the very person whose job I will take over for next year) the day we started working together.

flickr photo by dkuropatwa shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license

flickr photo by dkuropatwa shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license


But, I suppose was willing to try new things and I think a large part of my willingness to learn was due to the approach my coach took–always modeling a Growth Mindset. My coach showed me that she didn’t know everything either, but was willing to try and figure it out–that learning “on the job” was part of the job, and that’s how her skill set grew–not because she was simply born “a techie person.”  

This modelled approach to a Growth Mindset doesn’t always work with all people and it takes time, my coach advises me.  I anticipate a non-techie fixed mindset will be a powerful obstacle to consider for my new role.  I wonder how other tech coaches address this issue: what are coaching strategies (any strategies, really,) that convince the unconvinced, or “un-fix” the fixed-mindset.


I continually reinforce that I expect folks to not always get it right — and I am quick to point out when I personally do not get things right. We have to be willing to take risks. If we are not taking risks and making mistakes, we are not doing our jobs as educators. 

-Dr. Lisa Brady, Schools superintendent in Dobbs Ferry, New York via Madrid’s article.

flickr photo by ransomtech shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license

flickr photo by ransomtech shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license

By the end of the discussion over hot drinks with my friend the other night, I think I did present a few positive aspects of technology integration in the classroom that she reluctantly accepted, but I don’t think I came close to convincing her that technology in the classroom or even technology in general, is at all a good thing.   We changed to subject to something safer, but the discussion nags me.  If I can’t convince someone who likes and respects me, how will I fare with teachers I barely know?

Getting “ahead” Legally

Living in Switzerland, and being on “ski” break this week I have had a lot of extra time to read and hopefully get “ahead” in the course.  I have been using my time to read a lot of blogs, leave comments on a few, save links and quotes for future blog posts.  My mind is literally spinning with ideas and my current trouble is narrowing down a focus for this week’s post and reflection.  Since I had too many ideas and a limited word count working against me, I am taking Ben’s advice and am splitting up the post I originally started.

Too many ideas, limited word count...

Too many ideas, limited word count…

My first error in thinking I could quickly “get ahead” on posts was assuming I could churn out several reflective posts in a day or two. I can do a lot of “consuming” of information in that time, but the harder part–the sorting, categorising, and consolidating aspect of reflection simply takes time.  I need time to reflect on all the new ideas.  I need time to seek out more information to see what I can find to further support and extend my new line of thinking.



Me, being driven crazy by plug ins, widgets and posting to pages

My second error was assuming the “tinkering and playing around with my blog” would not be the time suck that Jeff promised it would.  I am being driven crazy by seemingly simple things (the digital equivalent of putting a paper in a folder, or in other words, adding my posts to a Page) that I haven’t yet figured out how to do simply–without altering code on a plug in (??? all Greek to me) as some tutorial I googled suggested- and wondering how to tap into my PLN for answers.   Of course, the more time it takes to tinker with the appearance, the more stressed I become that I am running out of time to focus on the actual content.

Now, I realise that in our visual world, the appearance of the blog is a huge part of the package, and just as important as the “content”–the medium is the message kind of thing.

Your message is only as good as your ability to share it.  

So, just as I am finally getting a little more comfortable with public sharing, and hoping that people actually do take a look, at  week 3 with no comments on my blog, I am a little disheartened.  But I have to remember my inner mantra form week 2…Networking is High Maintenance, and you get out what you put in…So, I am going to  step up my game in the karmic commenting department myself.  More on how that turns out later…

Spreading UK love…


And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.–The Beatles


For the love…

The next part of the game plan to make more visually appealing blog posts is to find some good and legal sources for images…Pinterest had a zillion lovely memes for my favourite Beatles lyric, but I am not sure how legally I am allowed to share them.  I am loving the noun project but am otherwise wondering why is it that the nicest images aren’t found in any creative commons search engines?  I am also still figuring out how to best credit images…photos for class is great for being easy to use, but the embedded attribution really takes away from the visual experience.


 Yuck!  →→→→→→→→→→→→→→→→→→→→→→→→→→→

I am also learning from free technology for teachers about best practices for using images.   I know this week is supposed to be all, “Google+ and Twitter”…but I am actually all, “Sign myself up for free pics!” Woohoo!




Photo Credit: UK love, flickr photo by @Doug88888 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license

Networking is High Maintenance

@horofraser thanks for joining our discussion so actively and great ideas! #aisrpl #aisrthinktank #thinktankchat

A year ago I might not have known what the above comment meant.  First of all, I would not have understood the symbolism. I suppose I still don’t really understand why # is used, really, but I know to use it to search topics or chats in Twitter.

Secondly, I wouldn’t have believed that the above comment would be describing me–typically quiet during a group discussion–being actively engaged and opinionated.  This comment was tweeted to me during a scheduled twitter chat that I happened upon during my Planning Time earlier this week.

Meant to be working on my COETAIL assignment for week 2, I initially felt guilty for getting easily sidetracked by random Twitter posts on gender.  I am a self-proclaimed feminist, and my husband will claim I tend to gravitate towards bias-supporting articles.  Yet, I was intrigued by the rather neutral title, Gender Gap in Education Cuts Both Ways.

After reading the article and chat questions, but before committing to actually participating, I checked over this week’s topic and assignment.   The Networking topic and loose reflection assignment about our changing thoughts brought me to the realisation that this was exactly the kind of thing we were meant to be doing!  This is the networking in the form of active online participation that is so powerful that I am meant to be reflecting on (and therefore blogging about). 

The public nature and digital representations of these relationships require a fair degree of maintenance.

Although this sentence comes straight from the article Living with New Media and actually refers to teens using social media to publicly manage and curate relationship tidbits, I thought it also applies to the development of an active and engaging online PLN.  I am more recently aware that in order to really learn, it takes more than simply connecting digitally.  Learning digitally (and publicly)  is effort and maintenance.  

So, I have been rather consciously proactive on Twitter activity this week, and I noticed that Andrew Grover, a fellow online 6 Coetailer had posted a visual map about learning communities.

Coetailer Andrew Grover's PLN Tweet

Coetailer Andrew Grover’s PLN Tweet

After hinting to him that I may very well borrow this fabulous idea, and reflecting that it nicely complemented my exploration of what modern day networking is all about,  I set about the task of creating my own mind map of my current Personal Learning Network.

Having earlier tinkered with Popplet  after an In-service session at my school, I decided that would be the tool I would use to map out my network.  Andrew’s original had created additional links, showing his University ties, but I decided I would only use current, or developing links, not severed links to the past…which sadly, is how I think of my university and early teacher training and professional development courses.  Quickly, I came up with this:

  (*Can’t seem to add a proper caption to  my “Work in progress PLN” above without the formatting going all wonky…so this note will have to do.)

Looking at the “finished” product, I realise I could have continued to branch out and be even more specific: listing specific twitter hashtags or google groups. I could have listed blogs I follow or podcasts I listen to, but as these lists are growing and my time this week is not, I decided to save those for later and anticipate revisiting this map in the future, as I am curious to see how it evolves.  

I want someone in my PLN who is going to give me constructive criticism and also accept it….I want someone who wants to learn, listen, and consistently share. I want someone who provokes my thinking. What I don’t want in my PLN is someone who is going to blindly re-tweet something I post.  -Andrew Marcinek

After reading “Help Students Use Social Media to Empower, Not Just Connect”  a blog post by Andrew Marcinek on Edutopia, I still feel I am my tweeting early years, and while I post the occasional blind re-tweet (with the full intention of referring to re-tweeted article when the more pressing need or interest arises)  I also feel I have already come a long way in making sure to learn, listen and consistently share, both on and offline.

A Crossroads in Thinking and Understanding

The internet is a mass of communities and networks which bring people and knowledge together.  The internet is of course both a mass of content and connections.  One is interdependent on the other.  The RSA animate video,The Power of Networks by Manual Lima, describes in gorgeous visual detail, many changing ideas and representations of knowledge, Science, and the brain, and uses the Network analogy to describe Life and the Universe itself.  



Tree of Knowledge?

Tree of Knowledge?


The video begins with the idea that the tree is often used a symbol of collective knowledge–people use it to map different areas of knowledge–with each branch of knowledge as separate and defined.  Lima claims people like the tree as a symbol because of its familiarity and simplicity–and its order, hierarchy, etc.  My husband would argue this metaphor for the categorising and organising of knowledge is valid today, as he works in the military and this is certainly how things function in a military setting– top down, systematic, organised.  He claims to learn best from traditional (teacher-at-the-front-of-the-room-lecturing) methods (and I suspect secretly expects all teaching to look like this). However, the creator of the video describes how this “tree of knowledge” analogy is outdated and that we are at turning point in our understanding of how knowledge works (and I would argue, teaching and learning, but more on that in another post).


Knowledge? Military? School Systems?

Knowledge Systems? Military Systems? School Systems? Screenshot from Manual Lima’s, “The Power of Networks”


A Crossroads in Thinking about Learning and Understanding



“The community is the curriculum.”


Lima talks about a paradigm shift and cross roads in our thinking and later uses the rhizome (“… a centred non-hierarchical, non signifying system without a general organising memory or central automation…”) as a new metaphor for how knowledge is organised:  In drawing a map of wikipedia, he demonstrates how it is one the largest “rhizomatic structures” ever created by man.  This idea can be extended to rhizomatic learning,where, “the community is the curriculum,” where learning takes place in a social setting, is constantly evolving based on interests and “subverts traditional notions of instructional design.”


Wikipedia as a rhizomatic system

Wikipedia as a rhizomatic system


“We thought communities trumped content.”


The animation further goes on to show the changing view of the brain as well—previously thought of as compartmentalised, with each area responsible for a specific task.   (This view is similar to how governments, militaries, corporations, or even school departments and subjects are organised.)  Now, a more interconnected understanding of the brain is introduced through brain mapping programs such as “The Blue Brain Project.” This neural interconnectivity is what allows people with injuries to specific parts of the brain to continue to function.  Likewise–If I can’t access certain knowledge myself–I can access my Personal Learning Network for assistance. As Steve Case, co-founder of AOL, predicted early on in the internet game, “We thought communities trumped content.”


Traditional Food Chain

Traditional Food Chain


Lima  reworks  Darwin’s “Tree of Life,” where humans traditionally sit atop the food chain. He demonstrates how now we understand that networks of bacteria connect very disparate species and claims there is no longer tree of life but a web of life and that networks pervade all areas of life.  Like my husband’s comfort in the familiarity of a military chain of command, many people are very comfortable with a food chain analogy of life–with humans at the top, justifying certain practices and long held beliefs–as opposed to an incredibly complex interconnected ecosystem, where everything is interdependent on everything else.


The final mind boggling network comparison in Lima’s animation is the neural network of a mouse (very similar to our own) to the network of the the millennium simulation of the creation of galaxies.  The smallest scale Web of Connections are near identical to those on the largest scale.


We are all connected

We are all connected, Screenshot from Manual Lima’s, “The Power of Networks”


If indeed knowledge, life and the universe itself is a mass network of interconnectedness, the internet, which is of course our attempt to map, organise and understand this knowledge–can only be built and understood in a similar vein.