Summer Slide – A reality or media construct?

I just read Alfie Kohn’s take on the Summer Slide.  He puts forward an interesting argument and correlates the ‘fear’ of loss of progress over the summer with the same fear of what will happen if teachers don’t assign homework (hint: Mayhem! Chaos! Kids Gone Wild!).

He summarizes his argument:

By the time September rolls around, kids may indeed be unable to recall what they were told in April: the distance between the earth and the moon, or the definition of a predicate, or the approved steps for doing long division. But they’re much less likely to forget how to set up an experiment to test their own hypothesis (if they had the chance to do science last spring), or how to write sentences that elicit a strong reaction from a reader (if they were invited to play with prose with that goal in mind), or what it means to divide one number into another (if they were allowed to burrow into the heart of mathematical principles rather than being turned into carbon-based calculators).

Summer learning loss? It’s just a subset of life learning loss—when the learning was dubious to begin with.

His summary is really a blueprint for what parents can do (and teachers can support) in order to use the summer break as an opportunity for growth rather than loss: Do experiments, swing in a hammock and write a story from the perspective of something around you, bake something or make something that has you using your math skills, for real. Most importantly, focus on the process of having a summer vacation and all that entails: rest, experiences, creation, re-creation, and play.

As Kohn points out, the ‘summer slide’ is evident when standardized test scores are compared. But what about the skills that can not be measured on such a test?

My take on combatting the slide? Here are some Summer Learning slides I shared with the parents at my school:

With the exception of the ‘knowing’ slide, which gives details of websites in which students can practice traditional academic skills, the tools suggested focus on the idea of creating and documenting based on experiences. The more children see, do, touch, feel, experience, and try, the more they will have to speak, write, and create about.

In addition to technology, get outside, and read (read outside or just read and then go outside or vice versa). If you are needing help with summer reading, look no further than my favorite book blog: One Page To The Next.  Last summer she posted on Summer Reading for Book Enthusiasts. This summer, her Summer Reading post is another great spread of excitement for readers.

If you are still looking for ideas, my other favorite blog Engage Their Minds has a wealth of resources under the category “Summer Slide

Finally, I love this list of ideas for experiences for kids from Ranger Rick.  Take a look and download from here – and then make a digital book, i-movie, podcast, artwork, poem, rap song, comic book, or ??? about your experience!


What’s up, Dr. Tony Wagner?


I have been a long-time fan of Dr. Tony Wagner. His quote, “it is not what you know, but what you do with what you know” is one that I repeat regularly – to myself and to colleagues in order to switch our focus from collecting knowledge to connecting ideas and concepts, to creating and sharing with others.

In November of 2014, Dr. Wagner wrote a blog post for that led with the driving question:  What is really needed to prepare students as citizens and workers in the 21st Century? In this post he said:

…as long as we insist on testing every student every year, instead of testing only a sample of students every few years, we will be unable to afford the kinds of assessments, like the College and Work Readiness Assessment, that measure the skills that matter most.

…I believe that this “reform” will only serve to accelerate the trend of teaching to the tests and to ensure that whatever good qualities that may exist in the Common Core will be lost in an increasingly test-prep-centered curriculum.

…no corporations make important hiring or promotion decisions on the basis of a standardized test score…

I continue to worry about the impact of a test-prep curriculum on student motivation, as well as on teacher morale.

Dr. Wagner describes the current situation as one in which there is an “overzealous focus on standardized testing”. So, can you imagine my surprise when I open an email from NWEA (Northwest Evaluation Association) and find that at their Fusion Central conference in July, none other than Dr. Wagner is the keynote speaker.  NWEA is the author of MAP tests (Measures of Academic Progress).  A standardized test.


This seems like such a disconnect to me in light of everything I know about Dr. Wagner and his high regard for experiential learning and a holistic education. Has he sold out?  Gone over to the dark side? I can’t believe that this is possible, so why is he there?

Part of the potential reason is hinted at in his blog post:

To scale innovation, we need broader agreement on the education outcomes that matter most, as well as an accountability system aligned with those outcomes. The key to accomplishing these two tasks, I believe, is for educators to more actively engage with business and community leaders and to work together to develop a more 21st Century appropriate accountability system.

My hope is that Dr. Wagner is seeking to become part of the solution. That he wants to have a hand in how the tests are created in order to help develop tests that are broader in scope and take into account things beyond the limitations of current standardized tests.

Or, perhaps his goal is to show educators who are required by schools or districts to administer these tests how they can use the results of these tests to ‘create innovators’ and build upon student strengths. I would like to think that there is a way of making valuable something that takes so much of a student’s time and removes them from the classroom.

And yet another part of me hopes that he will just stand up there and declare “NO MORE STANDARDIZED TESTING!” And the audience will go wild!  Whichever way it plays out, I will definitely be following closely to see what comes of this.

Visual Note-taking or Sketchnotes

I have been working with one of our Learning Support teachers and EAL teachers to give guidance to students in fourth grade on taking sketchnotes. I am a huge fan of this and try and practice it myself at conferences and when listening to TED talks. I am always on the lookout for ‘how to’ guides….and then I found this: The work of Sylvia Duckworth in one amazing presentation.  It is seriously all you could ever hope to want to know about visual notetaking.

Packed with links, images, suggestions, more examples, and just so, so good, this is a brilliant place to start if you are a novice or experienced sketch noter.

What are your best tips and tricks for visual notetaking?

Flip, Game, Play

These three forms of instruction are interesting to me. I like things that try and disrupt the status quo and I am inspired by educators who want to adapt and change “the way we do things” in line with new thinking and new technology, and with the needs of the students in mind.

Reverse (Flipped) Instruction


I think this is a no-brainer and yet I still think it gets a bad reputation from teachers and parents who really don’t understand how to use it. I am a massive fan of the Khan Academy and while it didn’t start the flipped learning idea, it certainly has provided educators with an enormous supply of quality videos to support learning. I really don’t enjoy being lectured at. So I try not to do it to my students. What I do instead is either make or find videos that explain the things we will be working on. An example would be blogging with my fourth graders.  When it came to adding media, there were so many options and some with many steps and I knew I was dealing with a huge range in terms of experience and ‘comfortableness’ with technology.  Some kids are super happy to plug at it until they figure it out themselves, others want step-by-step instructions. So I tried to cater to both: I began the lesson by outlining the goals (to embed photos and videos into a blog post) and immediately gave kids the option of giving it a go themselves – to ‘sandbox’ the task on their own or with others. The other options were to use my blog as a tutorial service and stop, pause, rewind the videos whilst giving it a go.  The other option was to sit with me and follow along while I walked through a ‘real life’ tutorial.The videos were posted prior to the lesson which meant students had the option of viewing them prior to the lesson as well (hence the large number who chose to go it alone).

I think it is a MUCH more productive use of time for the lecture portion of the lesson to be delivered via video. It doesn’t take long to flip open PhotoBooth and take a video or open QuickTime and make a screen recording. Yes, there are concerns that students won’t watch the videos at home but they can still watch them in class and then make a choice about how to proceed.

One of the claims made by critics of the Khan Academy is that Sal Khan wants to replace all teachers with computers. This is absolutely not true. What Sal wants to do is elevate the role of the teacher. He believes that teachers should do more than lecture – they should plan learning experiences that allow students to delve deeper in their understanding of concepts. I love this idea. Is it more work to plan engaging learning provocations and opportunities for collaborative and individual projects? Yes! But is it worth it? Absolutely.

Game Based Learning


The Khan Academy is the platform with which I have the most experience in terms of Game Based Learning. I have used it since 2007 with 3rd graders in Japan. It has evolved a lot since then and it is (to me) a no-brainer inclusion in anyone’s math education.


I work through it with my kids: I have an account, an avatar (which is pretty bad-ass because I have so many points) and a trophy case with my finest achievements in it. I have had “million point parties” with my students when we have collectively racked up 5, 10, 15 million points.  I have watched kids furiously completing math problems in order to boost our collective score and individually striving to achieve mastery in different areas. It’s individualised, targeted instruction, rewards, and tracking make it a classic game and a brilliant tool for learning. Here is my class last year, competing to hit 1 million points:

Learning Through Play


I learned a lot about “the sandbox” and play based learning from Jocelyn Sutherland at the ECIS Technology Conference.


I haven’t explored the connection very deeply between learning through play and IT integration – but I have started. Instead of a stand-alone lesson with the EC students at our school, I now am a part of their Learning Through Play ‘stations’ with a primary focus on the process of using technology (rather than a push to produce a product). I have enrolled myself and created a cohort of interested teachers to participate in a course on Childhood In The Digital Age which starts online on June 8 (free and still time to sign up if interested!). I am hoping it will give me more insight into how to best integrate childhood with technology.  I also was introduced to the work of Dr. Richard Freed (who happens to be the brother of my principal) the author of Wired Child.  I haven’t read the book yet but I am very intrigued by what he has to say:

In Wired Child, you will find a common-sense guide rooted in the science of behavior and brain function to build the strong families kids need, promote their success in school, limit kids’ risk of developing a video game/Internet addiction, and encourage their productive use of technology.

For me, since having a child and thus my own little observation piece of how children learn through play, I can definitely see the value in things such as perseverance, trial and error, and adaptation. Our daughter plays with Duplo, blocks, trucks, puzzles, dolls, coins, paper and markers, water, sand, paint, books, and (her favorite) our paper recycling box of egg cartons, boxes, and newspapers. She can also grab a phone off the table and without needing the passcode, swipe up the camera app and take a few (thousand) photos and a couple of videos too. She knows how to select another episode on Netflix and will do almost anything for a video with dogs, babies, or MacGyver in it.  And she just turned 2 on Saturday. We do (I think) a pretty good job of balancing her digital life. As I am upstairs working, my husband and daughter are spinning in the egg chair and building a fort in the playroom. She fell asleep in her dad’s arms this morning while he was watching TopGear. We sat down and flicked through photos of my new nephew on Facebook. We snuggled in bed this morning (and last night) and read book after book.

My point: I think there is a place for technology in a child’s play-based world.  I think the introduction and use of technology can be woven in with the introduction and use of low-tech tools as well.  And I think that as parents and teachers, we need to be open to ensuring a balance of both in our children’s lives.

Totally unrelated but incredibly gorgeous shot of my sweet girl, determined to blow those two candles OUT!

Totally unrelated but incredibly gorgeous shot of my sweet girl, determined to blow those two candles OUT!

Project, Problem, Challenge

There are a lot of terms used in education today. Project, Problem, and Challenge Based Learning are three that are widely used (along with Inquiry Based Learning, Play Based Learning…)

As educators, I think it is important to know what these theories are, how they are similar and how they are different. I also am beginning to move toward the school of thought that says “Pick One”. Many schools I have worked in have tried to make a mash-up of different theories in order to craft their own ‘unique’ version of learning.  While I commend this initiative, I am wondering if it is not better to spend time adopting (and supporting, educating, resourcing) one XXXX-Based Learning theory? My personal jury is still out on this.

What I do know is that each of these approaches to learning definitely has merit and each certainly has its place.  But is that place (or could that place be) in my classroom?  In order to answer this, I first needed to understand the learning theories so I distilled the copious amount of reading on this topic, down into three graphics to show the key components and they way they play out, of each theory.

Project Based Learning is definitely my ‘cup of tea’. I like that the projects are started with the end in mind but that ‘end’ is not articulated by product but by standards and understandings. The role of the teacher appears to be to craft great questions, plan an assessment for understanding, map the project out, and then get out of the way of the students, facilitating their learning.


I can see this working in my class.  It is not dissimilar to what already happens. What I would need to do is to think about how best to use my time: in the planning phase, or in the process phase? My initial thoughts say planning (and reality is probably both) but I definitely like the idea of being a resource to students (and teachers) and to help them with their embedded use of technology within their project.

Problem Based Learning also works for me.  I like that the focus is on the student, that each group of students is supported and that the problems occur early on before much research has occurred. I think solving authentic problems is something that can be lacking in schools and I like the idea of kids working together to solve a problem. I really like that the problem also exposes what kids know and don’t know so each can push through to get what they need from the time made available.


This learning theory was perhaps not grounded enough for me in terms of defining the assessment parameters. However, I can see myself throwing a problem at students such as “We need a new welcome video for potential students to our school” and guiding them through the many elements that task involves. This would certainly eliminate the boredom of everyone doing the same thing at the same time and providing an authentic problem would make the acquisition of the skills of filmmaking more important and worthwhile. I think the group emphasis would call for the use of a collaborative tool like Google Classroom or at the least, Google Drive, so that students and their tutor could be in contact easily and it would be easy to identify (and support) the gaps that become visible as the problem evolves.

Challenge Based Learning was the learning theory I knew least about. Created by Apple and targeted at a high school level, challenge based learning might be recognisable to you in the form of TV shows like Project Runway or MasterChef in which contestants are given challenges, resources, the opportunity to collaborate, tasks with multiple options for solutions and assessment based on product and process.


This is probably the most exciting learning style for me as it seems the most difficult and the most interesting. I see a lot of work in the setting up of challenges, but I also see the massive potential for growth in those undertaking the various challenges. Would this work with younger students?  I don’t know. Perhaps!  We have just finished the PYP exhibition and this is what the exhibition looks like to me so perhaps, yes, it is possible with younger students. Creating playlists of materials to support learning and then equipping students with the skills ‘just in time’ to showcase their learning – this is the type of dynamic and free-flowing environment I would most like to see myself working in.

There’s No One App For That

Back in February I presented at the ECIS Technology Conference in Munich. My session was about how technology will NOT transform education. I thought I was pretty edgy to pick such a topic to share with a room full of ‘techies’ but was happy to see that many people were in agreement with me. My big idea?

Technology alone is not going to transform teaching.

Connected teachers who want to make school different by allowing students agency and freedom over their learning and are not afraid of using technology to flatten classroom walls and move their role to guiding student inquiries.  That is what is going to transform education. And that is what I think good technology integration looks like.

If you were to ask me what my top uses of technology in the classroom were, I would tell you:

  1. Observation. Exposure to events, images, information that would otherwise be out of reach for students. Abseiling into a volcano with a camera on your head, touring the Louvre, exploring London from the tops of buildings, seeing a murmuration – these are things technology allows our students access to.
  2. Collaboration. Inviting expert lecturers into my classroom.  From my favorite, Sal Khan, to a host of experts in their own field via YouTube, the internet and technology allows students to learn from so many different people. Why should I (with zero rythym or essence of cool) try and teach hiphop dance when YouTube can do an infinitly better job?
  3. Documentation of student learning. The ability for students to be able to explain their thinking via apps like Book Creator, Explain Everything or DoodleCastPro is invaluable for me as a teacher to ensure I can hear what each student has to say. In the same way, I find asking students to reflect on their learning by turning on the camera and making a video yields infinitely more information than asking them to write (especially when they are 6 years old). Book Creator is a great way of collating digital resources in one place to be able to observe development over time.
  4. Creation by students. As teachers, if we ensure that our focus is on conceptual standards, HOW students demonstrate their understanding of those concepts should be up to them. Technology opens the door for students to become creators of videos, animations, stop-motion, puppet shows, podcasts, iBooks….the options are virtually endless.


In my role as Learning Technology teacher, I see it as my responsibility to provide options for teachers that push them beyond asking, “Is there an app for xxxx?”.  I try and do that by helping to curate playlists of experiences, videos, and  instructional material based on the conceptual understandings of the unit. But I also try and listen to what the teachers are trying to learn from and about their students and then equip them with the tools to help make the learning visible.

What I have found is that we are most successful in elevating learning through technology when the learning itself is open-ended, grounded in conceptual understandings, and allowing for authentic inquiry from students. If we as teachers, spend our time planning in a way that really allows students to be true inquirers, the use of technology to achieve the outcomes desired by both the students and teachers, is almost intuitive. What it also requires is a re-thinking of the role of the teacher and the desire for the teacher to push learning further, higher, and deeper than before.

In terms of the SAMR model, I don’t think this means we discourage ‘teaching below the line’ or exclusively teach ‘above the line’.  I think it means we look for ways during the planning process to teach in a way that expects technology integration as an integral part of teaching and learning.

In my presentation, I talked about pencils and lightbulbs because I had read the following from The Tech Rabbi:


Revolutionary inventions are not about the invention itself, but whats the invention gives use the ability to do. A truly revolutionary invention should in time become invisible. No longer is it viewed as something special, yet its effects are far reaching.

We don’t plan a unit around the fact that we have pencils.  Pencils are just one tool that the students can use to demonstrate or document their learning. We don’t need to “all hail the iPad”. We need to think about the iPad (or other device) in the same way we think about the lightbulb:

The lightbulb changed the way the world functioned. The world was no longer bound to productivity during daylight, or the length of time it takes your oil lamp to burn up. It was about what you would be able to do because now there was a constant and stable source of light.

What can we do now that we have devices in our classrooms? The Tech Rabbi believes in invisible technology.  And I do too. To me, tech integration means transforming teaching and learning beyond what was previously possible in a way that empowers students and allows them to express themselves and direct their own learning. And there’s definitely no one app for that.

Slow Down!

After posting about Austin’s Butterfly, I entered into a discussion with a Twitter-friend:

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If you look, you’ll notice my tweet about a ‘slow-education’ was favorited:

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After following Joe, I checked out the website.  Similar to the concept of ‘slow food’ the principles of a slow education are:

  • Promoting deep learning in the context of a broad curriculum that recognises the talents of all students.
  • Believing that the quality of the educational engagement between teacher and learner is more important than judging student ability by standardised tests.
  • Supporting investment in education and in teaching as a profession as the essential moral foundation of society.

Further investigation led me to this video which is so cool and such a good reminder as to why we need to trust kids more, allow them more agency and freedom, and be prepared to let them take the lead in their own education.

I love the PYP Exhibition for this reason.  I am wondering though, if even this is something that we are sullying with our obsessive need to

1. be in control

2. checklist and rubric everything

3. keep learning on a tight, fixed schedule

What if…

  • ‘exhibition’ was a year round process
  • all units were designed with big ideas that allowed for individual inquiries
  • we created a space for kids to learn at their own pace

Imagine that school….