Back on Board

March 12, 2017 at 4:19 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

So I’ve been back in the US for 21 months and it’s been a rollercoaster. I was fortunate to be hired as a grade 3-5 Computer Lab teacher/Technology Integration Specialist in Brewster, MA the summer after returning so I’ve been in that position for a year and a half. It’s been a steep learning curve at times as it was a change for me from a regular classroom teacher to specialist teacher and since the position was newish for the school. Another steep learning curve was repatriating to the US. Living overseas changes you and when you come home you don’t really fit anymore. It’s a subtle but substantial discomfort and adjustment. Although moving from Singapore to Cape Cod in the off-season is not really a subtle change. That’s all I’ll say.


One of the best things I’ve done since moving here was volunteering for the Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary during the Diamondback Terrapin Nesting and Hatching seasons.

Anyway, I find I’m just now feeling as though I’ve caught my breath enough to begin sharing and reaching out again on my blog. I’ve been networking on the cape and finding some fun, inspiring new friends!

Lately I’ve been getting creative at work and personally. I’ve started a Makerspace at school (Makerspace in the Making, it’s evolving). I’m also working on the computer lab class lessons so they are more engaging and relevant, plus more interesting for both my students and me. At home I’ve been playing with LEGOs, paper circuits, LittleBits, MakeyMakey, LEGO Simple and Powered Machines kits, Dash robot, sewable electronics, while also revisiting Scratch coding and green screen and stop-motion animation. I could call it “work” because I’m doing it to learn how to implement these projects in both lab classes and after-school activities, but I do enjoy it.

Personally, I began a pottery class 3 weeks ago and I’ve never, ever used a pottery wheel or used clay by “throwing” it. I really stink at it but I am improving and “getting it” more each week. Last week I was so successful that I began philosophizing about what I was learning: breathe, pause, slow down, don’t push but rather support with one hand and pull/guide up with the other. And when starting a new ball of clay I need to center it first by being firm, still and strong.  And it’s so exciting to find the tiniest bit of success when one is struggling and feeling completely inept. Stay calm and persevere.



Writing, Mysteries and Consulting Experts

June 20, 2015 at 10:00 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

On my 10th day after repatriating to the US in Massachusetts I had settled in some and aside from my job search, I was checking the daily local paper for events happening in the area that day. This morning I found that the local library was hosting a speaker, Susan Santangelo, the author of the Baby Boomer Mystery series. I left with 2 books in hand and contact information for a local event organizer, an excellent contact.

While Susan was sharing her writing process, I was surprised to hear that she does not map out a story but the story evolves as she writes. Susan begins with the title, the focus for the story. As she writes the story there are a few characters who may be the murder victim and it is while writing the story the that character who is the victim is revealed during the first draft process. She also mentioned that sleep can help solve a dilemma in the writing process. I have heard other authors share this, but Susan also explained well the occurrence where the characters can lead the writer through the story. We were all sitting around a large table and I think that hearing an author describe this (apologies) mysterious dynamic personally was very revealing.

It reminded me, as a teacher, that a published author offers so much more to teach writing strategies to my writers. Even an author who does not write children’s books. It was the way Susan explained her process and sources for inspiration in an intimate setting that left me feeling inspired. I have used author interviews before as part of our nonfiction writing unit while teaching in Prague. We Skyped with author Tami Lewis Brown, and she spoke about research and writing nonfiction. My young writers were hanging on her every word and applied her strategies in the following weeks of independent nonfiction writing.

We learn from experts and as lifelong learners it’s so important to take advantage of experts both near and far. Now I’m off to read the first in Susan’s series, Retirement Can Be Murder. (I really wanted to first read the second in the series, Moving Can Be Murder, due to my personal circumstances but order prevailed!)

Genius Hour: How’s it going?

April 19, 2015 at 9:30 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

“We do not learn from experience… we learn from reflecting on experience.” John Dewey

I’m not really a reluctant writer, but I am often reluctant to publish my views. I started this blog years ago as part of a blog challenge created by Kim Cofino to connect educators and build conversations by sharing our ideas, experiences and views together. I encourage my writers to take risks, write, share, revise and publish their work. However, knowing that a piece of writing is never really ‘done’ combined with that inner voice always judging the content, I’m reluctant to publish my reflections. Realistically, there are massive numbers of blogs out there and I rarely publish posts, so why worry that anyone will read what I write anyway? With that in mind, I’m going to write a series of posts reflecting on this year of learning around implementing “Genius Hour” in my third grade classroom. Because I ask my young creative geniuses each week to reflect at the start and end of each Genius Hour, I will post reflections here as well.

I last wrote about our Genius Hour launch in September. This hour each Friday has helped me learn and grow along with my students. One benefit of this shared creative time is that it has allowed me to get to know my learners in ways I would have otherwise missed or taken longer to learn about them. In general, the majority are very social. They learn easier while talking through ideas and understanding. They build off of each other’s ideas by sharing what is working and offering suggestions. Even the independent individuals engage in a form of ‘parallel play’ while working on individual projects by consulting with others. I learned quickly who is comfortable with choice, and those who struggle without a specific assignment. Two students who weren’t easily successful as conventional students found coding with Scratch natural and they quickly became the coding experts. They shine and are frequently consulted by others, plus I’ve seen that success build their confidence in all areas of the school day.

My friend and colleague, Kate, recently shared some final videos from her grade 7 students who had just finished their inquiry-based Passion Projects. In the videos they shared the inquiry task, their process and finally what they learned. One student began by sharing, “Passion is something you do when you’re bored. So I did something that interested me.” I have discovered some personal interests and talents of my learners more deeply than from an interest survey that is completed at the start of the year. For example, Sarah who wants to make a movie in spite of learning how complex a task that is. Rayan who loves to research, learn and teach about science topics. My group of tactile artists collaborating to create a “snow village.” Gabby, the gifted writer who loses interest without an audience. Kaden the historian, building a model battlefield as he learns about the Hundred Years’ War. And my group of coders who are telling stories in animations and creating their own games. While building their coding skills as they work on sustained projects each week, they are discovering how to think, plan, the process of trial and error and how to work collaboratively.

As I reread the above, it looks like it could be enough, but I will continue to write and share my ideas and thinking on how to improve this weekly inquiry and discovery time.

Great Ted Talk on our most important task in schools today: The Myth of Average

September 27, 2014 at 1:37 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A Year of Genius Hours: Launch

September 20, 2014 at 8:35 am | Posted in Genius Hour, Learning is Messy, Planning, Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Wonder WallWe started with a Wonder Wall. I learned a lot about my students from this alone. For example, what excites them and the individual interests they have. Also, that they are hungry for a voice and choice. After posting one ‘wonder’ several learners asked, Can I write more than one? After learning ‘more than one’ was permitted, I had to end the questioning at a point due to space on the board and our schedule.

Yesterday everyone made a word web in Popplet on his or her iPad. The popplet web should show things they are interested in or want to learn. I introduced the task by creating one of my own showing interests based on things I did in my free time when I was a third grader. See a student example below.

Aiden's Web

Our next step was to Diamond Rank all interests and ideas that were possible on our school campus. I wanted to try the Diamond Rank because it allows the user to bunch ideas rather than create a rank order, which can slow one down when having to make distinct decisions so early in the process. Ideas from the interest web were selected and ranked.


The learners then cut and glued their interest web and diamond rank into their Genius Journals. I chose to use paper journals over an iPad journal for this first project as the iPads are new to many of the students. The semester 2 project documents and images will likely be kept in a digital journal, perhaps in Penultimate or in a shared Google folder.

During our next Genius Hour we’ll take this planning into Tuning In, from Kath Murdoch’s inquiry cycle. I’ve used Kath’s cycle in the past for complete units of inquiry. Here I am using it as a planning guide for our overall Genius Hour process:

  • Tuning In- What do I already know about this topic, skill or idea?
  • Finding Out- What do I need to find out to begin?
  • Sorting Out- What do I know so far that will help me with my Genius Hour project? What can I use from Tuning in and Finding out?
  • Taking Action- What is my beginning plan? (This is only a starting place because as I learn and reflect I will adjust my plans and my thinking.)
  • Making Conclusions: What did you learn? Tell what you learned about your project, your learning process, your strengths, about the world.

I found a video that reveals one way to implement Genius Hour, and it closely matches the process I outlined above. I plan to share this with my class at our next session to provide an introduction to the process that we are embarking on. Another resource that I’ve found very useful is from a class that I found on the Global Genius Hour Project wiki.

What can this app do for you?

April 6, 2013 at 9:20 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

While attending the recent CEESA Conference here in Prague, I was inspired by several presentations and during discussions about using iPads as book logs and for reading reflections. My class has access to 12 iPads once or twice a week with use of my own iPad throughout the day. I decided to introduce 3 iPad apps to my readers that they can use to reflect on books read and for a prewriting activity.

Morfo was used to take a photo of a character and then record your voice speaking as that character telling others about him/herself. When using books without a useful illustration, the reader can draw their own portrait of the character to use. Other applications would be for the reader to share that character’s point of view regarding an event or another character.

We used PicCollage to insert book images and text telling about the book. Like with Morfo, if illustrations are not available original drawings or images could be used. Here is a sample by Philip: PicCollage

Finally, my writers used Popplet to create a story web before beginning their original realistic fiction stories. These web files were emailed to me when completed and I saved and dropped them into their Google folders so they could refer to them when writing their first drafts. Below is one example:

Disaster Strikes Denis


  • Ongoing sharing and reflecting on the quality of book and character reflections to improve communication and thoughtful reflection
  • Where to post reflections so the readers and writers have an audience for sharing their ideas and original work?
  • Create a class  list of ideas to apply these apps to other areas of learning and sharing

Autonomy, Mastery, Purpose

May 8, 2010 at 11:34 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Two months ago I read Daniel Pink’s Drive. In his book, Pink focuses on 3 elements that drive us and allow us to create fulfilling life experiences: Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose. And not only do these ideas arise in Pink’s book, he focuses on and discusses them so clearly, but since then I have seen some or all of these aspects discussed as necessary for a quality life in several other books. They also arise in conversations, articles and blog posts.  When an awareness surfaces it can stay there and open up deeper connections each day.
When I think about it personally, my most meaningful experiences and deepest desires in life have centered on one or more of these aspects of action:
Autonomy: I have almost always wanted to “do it myself” or learn by doing because I gain a deeper understanding and pride in what I have learned. This doesn’t mean learning independently- just being able to have a hand in what I am learning.

Mastery: I am passionate about anything related to the three most important roles in my life as a parent, teacher and lifelong learner and I am continually learning through reading, thinking, trying, experiencing and reflecting.  Ironically, I’ve never thought it possible to master any of those roles, but the pursuit of mastery is what makes them so rewarding and interesting.

Purpose: It’s that question of “why?” that helps me persevere during challenging times, find the means to solve a problem or motivate a learner and also act based on essential beliefs and values. I’m currently rereading Man’s Search for  Meaning by Viktor Frankl and he discusses the necessity of not just purpose but a meaningful, rewarding purpose.

Now that I have autonomy, mastery and purpose always in the back of my mind personally, I am focusing on them and reflecting in these areas currently as a tech integration specialist and in planning for my classroom next year. Building a sense of ownership, meaning and mastery for the learners in my classroom will be the litmus test for creating and maintaining my classroom. Marco Torres talks about focusing on the verbs, not the nouns. But when viewed as qualities, autonomy, mastery and purpose can be the nouns we focus on that lead to the verbs we manifest in our lives and classrooms.

As a tech integration specialist I am surprisingly never asked “why” should we try to integrate technology into our classrooms. Perhaps colleagues think it would be too rude or direct. But I’ve always answered it this way when I have been asked. Generally, I’ve noticed that it is attractive and motivating for all students, particularly the reluctant learners, and it allows us all to learn in ways never available before.  One specific example is that I really became excited about podcasting as a third grade teacher when one challenging, reluctant student who hated writing began asking to stay in at recess to finish writing a piece he wanted to podcast and post on our blog. Publishing his writing as an audio file gave him a meaningful audience (not limited to the teacher and classmates) and motivated him to work towards mastery and own his writing and ideas.

Please share how you create ownership, meaning and mastery in your classroom or school…

John Couch / final thoughts

April 10, 2010 at 4:04 pm | Posted in 21st Century, Apple, Conference, Presentations, Professional Development, Shift, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Stay in the question(s): Reflections from the Apple Leadership Conference2010 (Part 6/6) 

Apple’s VP of Education, John Couch closed the conference by discussing the challenges that we face in creating change and growth in education:

  • Our current mode in education is like a steam engine pulling horse carriages
  • Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower. (Steve Jobs)
  • Technology as a tool v. technology as environment
  • Substitution v. transformation

Whenever I feel homesick and miss my family and lifelong friends, I remind myself of the opportunities that I have had since becoming an overseas educator. This conference was one of those opportunities. The participation of students, infusion of learning through the music/arts, brilliant presenters and the location in a beautiful, enchanting city and a school that has a vision for the future made it one of the most valuable learning experiences I’ve had.

My questions to keep in mind:

  • How can I assist and challenge each student to learn and grow?
  • How can I assist in transforming schools?
  • How can I inspire and help other educators to learn and grow?

Joy in Collaboration

December 14, 2008 at 9:00 am | Posted in 21st Century, Collaboration, Global Collaboration, Planning, Professional Development, Project-based Learning, Shift, Tech Integration, Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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I should be baking candy cane cookies right now but while mixing the dough I was thinking about the past 2 weeks at school and how encouraged I feel about the growth taking place.

First, I’ve been invited to help in Kim’s classroom with her center-project-based approach to student learning about the Rainforests. I’ve been helping out 2-3 hours a day, three days a week with students in groups, mainly the PPT group. I bring my laptop with me so I can work on my own things if I’m not needed. There are Kim, one or two parents and myself responding to student questions as well as observing and asking questions to help them self-discover an answer or find the best direction to follow. These projects require students to understand the content in order to share creatively what they have learned. Kim noted that it took a good deal of work to plan and set up, but it has been worth all the effort. On a side note, nothing settles restless 4th graders like Holiday or Celtic music or Bob M. and the Wailers.

Secondly, I asked all grade level teams to meet with me now or after the holiday break to reflect with me on what is working and not, what they need, and what dream projects or activities they would like help developing. So far I have met with the kindergarten and first grade teams and our meetings were very positive and gratifying. Beside the suggestions and problems noted to be addressed I have 2 larger projects I’m excited about.

Kindergarten teachers would like to use the classroom desktops more and need to know what software is on them, what can be added and they want drop-in help during centers to introduce students to online activities related to current classroom content. This is one of my dreams- to see students using the classroom desktops as much as any other classroom learning tool. Also, a second Kinder teacher is interested in participating in KinderKidsDraw!

For the first grade team, I am investigating a long-term project linked to their curriculum that we will co-plan and teach starting in January. They will be studying continents so I am developing a 4-6 week project with a continent focus that incorporates the language study, writing and math skills also being taught at that time.

cardMy position as ed-tech specialist is much less lonely this year as I am in classrooms more (not just in the lab) and have built relationships with teachers. The kids greet me by name in the hall and I’m even getting handmade holiday cards this year (with my new name, Momaly). Yea!

Lastly, and not related to my own campus. For several years I’ve learned so much by searching online to see what other educators are doing in their classrooms and regularly reading some favorite blogs. I have also collaborated with other classes one-to-one. But within the last year I’ve moved from being a blog and Twitter lurker to a contributor. It takes some getting used to, mostly stepping away from brutal self-judgement, and to build relationships but I enjoy connecting and contributing so much more than merely taking and one-to-one collaborations.

So, if you are reading this I want to wish you a wonderful holiday and vacation- I’d share my Candy Cane cookies with you if I could!

Celebrating adventurous teachers and students!

May 6, 2008 at 8:35 pm | Posted in Links, Podcasts, Professional Development, Scratch, Tech Integration, Uncategorized | 7 Comments
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As an edtech instructional specialist, it often feels as if in order to “do my job” I am trying to push colleagues down paths they don’t want to travel. It’s also tempting to fall into that “glass half empty” frame of mind. In order to feel successful on a daily basis, I make every effort to focus on how full the glass is each day.

Yesterday I listened to 2 podcasts that had a lot in common. One from Jeff and David in On Deck Podcasts, Celebrating Shifted Teachers and the latest Seedlings @Bit by Bit podcast from Maine. Both podcasts provided the encouragement and focus I needed for a Monday and I’ll save them as favorites for the rainy days.

In Seedlings, Bob shares his use of Scratch with fourth grade students. As he begins telling about his process to introduce Scratch, he relates that he decided that he would not be the expert in the room, but rather proposed that the students discover how to use the program. He realizes that some students will always exceed his skill levels, that they can identify and work through problems with his help as facilitator and guide. To create an environment where students can feel challenged and successful is so empowering! They do need us for guidance and presenting challenges, but we don’t need to “always be the smartest person in the room.”

Jeff and David “celebrate the teachers in their schools who are making the shift. No philosophical discussion tonight, just concrete and practical instructional strategies.”

Again I find it would be so lonely without the network of like-minded educators out here who inspire and encourage me!

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