I emptied the attic … and ran out of steam!

Photo Credit: april-mo Flickr via Compfight cc

So… in case you haven’t guessed…. the first part of this post is my ramblings about what I’ve finished (with Andrew and Ashley’s collaboration!) for the group project.  Anyone who has ever tackled a big project (for example, emptying an attic to sort, declutter, clean) and then got halfway done and ran out of steam might relate to how I’m feeling right now.   I worked SO hard on the project… thinking, planning, talking, thinking, creating, tweaking…  and I came up with, what I believe to be, a great collection of activities/assignments for my module.

And then, I ran out of energy…. or interest… or both.

I emptied the attic…

Photo Credit: april-mo Flickr via Compfight cc

I consider myself ‘very lucky’ to have Ashley and Andrew as my teaching AND learning colleagues!  Talk about the best of both worlds.  Over the last couple of months, we’ve had many opportunities to pop into each others’ classrooms to share an idea for “the modules” or “the project”.   Our initial planning took place using a Google Doc … but our close proximity and affinity for hallway chats seemed to take over where this tech tool left off.

Agreeing on the “course” we wanted to teach was pretty easy …  as Technology 9 / IP 10 teachers, Ashley and I were so grateful that Andrew was willing to lend his genius-ness to planning a Digital Citizenship “short course”.  (Yes – both Ashley and I will be using this course in our teachings next year!)   With Alec and Katia’s “Digital Citizenship Education in Saskatchewan Schools” document as our guide, we had no trouble selecting an area of “DigCit” that was of special interest to each of us.

Deciding on the platform to use (a totally new term for me… although I have been using

Edmodo for years 🙂 … I didn’t even know what it really was!).   We all explored Canvas and agreed that it was very user-friendly and visually appealing for students.  Once the “shell” was established, things started to take shape.  We independently planned the activities and assessment tools that would be used within our own modules.  (There was some conferring on this, as we wanted to make sure that a variety of tools were used and that a variety of assignments were given.)  I had trouble choosing what I wanted my students to do (explore, connect, share, etc.) for my module about digital etiquette.  I felt like a kid in a candy shop as I flipped through my EC&I 833 and 834 notes, finding one great ed tech tool after another.

I settled on bit of a collection…    for my module, the students will do a Flipgrid, blog about classmates’ Flipgrids, answer a survey about their level of digital etiquette, write a discussion forum post about the class’s digital etiquette, respond to other’s forum posts about #digetiquette, complete an EdPuzzle (that I made), read an article about good digital etiquette, and create a MySimpleShow to educate middle years students.  I was excited when I was creating these activities… and I’m even more excited to put them into action!

In addition to choosing our tools, planning our assignments and evaluation methods, as ed tech lovers, we all enjoyed MANY tangents into areas of digital citizenship that were not at all related to our specific modules.  Each of us had, as a result, gathered fantastic resources for teaching many Ribble’s nine elements of digital citizenship.  Filling in bits and pieces of the “extra modules” for our short course was a great way of making use of our excellent findings.

…and, ran out of steam!

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Just like the kid who chooses to a) watch TV and b) THEN go clean her room (truthfully, I’d be happy if any of my little people got to ‘b’ … regardless of the order of events!) … somehow, for this project, I did all of the fun stuff first – and I left the less thrilling tasks to the end.  Despite the fact that my two much younger, much tekki-er, and much more disciplined colleagues have finished all of their project responsibilities, I have yet to:

  • create any of my assessment rubrics
  • create the syllabus that will accompany our “short course”
  • fill in the extra resources that I found for the other modules
  • add bits and pieces about audience, rationale, objectives, etc.

Photo Credit: Mufidah Kassalias Flickr via Compfight cc

I actually know what I want to do / what I need to write for each of these remaining project elements … it’s just a matter of sitting down and getting it done.  I still have six days, right?  If I tackled one of these bullets each day, I’d still have two days to just sit back and relax, right?  Uhhhhmmmm… I mean…. Tweet, read and post on Google+, finish this blog, read a bunch of blogs and share my thoughts, plan my summary of learning …    … Well, too bad for me.  I can’t leave all of those attic items just lying in the middle of the living room.  I have to get back to work and finish this project!

I hope you are all well on your way to the state of “project completion” !  Happy planning!


p.s.  Look at me… I just wrote this entire blog post INSTEAD OF FINISHING MY PROJECT.   How did I distract myself AGAIN?  😉

Preparing to Dip my Toes in Muddy Waters

Photo Credit: Melissa Hillier Flickr via Compfight cc

In Adam’s blog post, he stated that, “Unfortunately, many teachers are not familiar with the open source websites or how they can be used in a productive way.”  In some ways, I’m afraid I might be one of those teachers.  

Openness in education is quite a new concept to me.  I only recently learned that open textbooks were being produced and made available by a number of institutions, including the University of British Columbia.  Last semester, I heard about MOOCs.  Although I haven’t had time to explore these, I am fascinated by the learning opportunity that exists in this area.  My knowledge of open learning opportunities has been growing (exponentially) since September 2016, when I enrolled in my first class with Alec.

As someone who was completely new to Twitter, prior to taking EC&I 833 in the fall, I had some reservations about sending my thoughts out into the open, online world.  This feeling of trepidation didn’t exist when working with the other tools because they were ‘closed spaces’.  I didn’t anticipate anyone from outside of the class to ever come across my blog space or to read my Google+ posts or comments.  Although I had only ever met a handful of my classmates, I felt an immediate sense of trust … perhaps due to our shared journey (graduate studies) or because most of us were teachers, in one sense or another.

Some Challenges with Open Learning

After a month of so of using Twitter, I began to get the hang of it.  A classmate told me about Tweetdeck and Hootsuite to help me see more of what I wanted to see on Twitter.  I learned how to follow some excellent educational groups and I started to contribute to my profession with my own tweets.  Then one week, I received a couple of notifications that I had new followers … one was a student of mine and the other was someone whose profile details were definitely not in line with my interests.  Suddenly, Twitter became a place of discomfort, rather than a productive, connected learning space.  

My frustration with having a student follow me was unfounded.  I realize that now.  There was no reason for me to be uncomfortable with him reading my tweets, as they were all about educational technology and teaching, in general.  I suppose I didn’t want him to know about my own journey as a graduate student, because, at school every day, I was the teacher, not the learner.  My concerns were doubly-unfounded, as, I’m quite certain that, after seeing how dry my tweets were, he likely stopped following me anyway!

I decided not to wait around to see what the other follower thought of my tweets. After briefly consulting a more “Twitter astute” classmate, I decided to block the person.  Someone who could be so crude on his profile page did not deserve to take my valuable time reading his replies to my tweets.  Once I’d blocked him, my anxiousness returned, as I worried that he would see that I had blocked him and would, perhaps, be offended by this.  What I thought he’d do, I have no idea, as we likely live a million miles apart.  But, still… it was this unknown … this unwanted connection to the open online world … that I found to be a bit disturbing.

Another puzzling experience that I had recently involved using what I believed to be

“closed tool” that turned out to be “open”.  In an introductory ELA 10A lesson, I asked my students to create a Flipgrid video describing a famous person who had overcome an incredible challenge.  When I logged in to start viewing the Flipgrids, I was so surprised to see that some of the videos had 250 views.  In a class of 21 students, I couldn’t really explain how this could happen.  I didn’t send the link to anyone … I simply shared it in an Edmodo post for that class.  Some of the students asked how that could have happened.  I said that, perhaps the link was made public by someone? I really wasn’t sure.  I was happy that, with only the basic version of Flipgrid, no one could comment on the students’ videos.  I wouldn’t have wanted a bunch of outsiders sharing their “two cents” about the assignment.  I guess I wanted to maintain ‘control’ of the assignment and what students got out of it.

It’s no surprise then that, when I read Benita’s blog title, I could immediately connect to her ideas.  In her post, “Control vs. Chaos”, Benita looks at closed learning as being very controlled, while open learning might lean a bit closer to chaos.  According to Benita, “for those of us that love chaos, breaking the rules, questioning everything, make our own rules and like to be free then open learning is for us.”  Perhaps my own “still developing” knowledge of educational technology keeps me from allowing this type of “chaos” to become a part of my classroom.

I don’t even need 140 characters to explain my slight resistance to “open learning”… I could simply state the word “Twitter”.  Twitter?  No – I still have trouble imagining setting up a class hashtag on Twitter… especially with a group of grade nine or ten students that I’d never taught before.  How would I be able to trust that they would make safe and appropriate choices when it came to tweeting?  Education and good modeling has to happen first.

Angela made this point in her recent blog post.  She noted that, “with proper digital citizenship education starting when students are very young, we can set them up to have successful online skills.”  When it comes to considering adopting “open learning” in the classroom, the teacher must become informed about digital citizenship, too.  According to a Be Web Smart article, some tools clearly indicate that they are not meant for children.  Other tools, like Twitter, for example, don’t actually ask for age verification information… they simply state in their privacy policy that the tool isn’t really geared toward those who are under the age of thirteen.

Until recently, I didn’t even know that there were recommended ages for educational technology tools, apps, etc.  I just assumed that parents made the decision as to when their child was “ready”.   … reconsidering this, though, it is VERY clear that many parents are quite technologically illiterate and, in fact, have no idea what their children are doing when they’re online.  (On that note, here’s a link to the new Screenagers movie that explores “growing up in the digital age”.)  For parents or teachers who are interested in staying in tune with new apps and other tech tools, Common Sense Media is a reputable site to visit.

So, even though I’m still unsure about adding open learning to my teaching repertoire, I am definitely aware of many tools that are available should I choose to try this out AND

I know of many teachers who are comfortable in this “chaotic but effective” learning space. I feel relatively well-equipped to at least dip my toes in these muddy waters.  And … with each EC&I ed tech class that I take, I move one step closer to the “other end” of the spectrum.

Where do you fall when it comes to open learning?  Will you take baby steps when it comes to moving from a more closed learning teaching space to an open space… or will you just dive right in?

I look forward to hearing from you.


Modelling Isn’t Just About Runway Swagger!

Okay, so no one can argue that this 80-year-old model has got that swagger that fashion designers dream about!   But, I’m afraid this isn’t the kind of modelling that I’m going to be talking about.  (Sorry to all of you fashionistas and catwalk queens!)

By “modelling”, I’m referring to the act of “serving as an example” (dictionary.com).  As Ashley stated in her post, and as Andrew reiterated, we are truly hoping to model the blended learning format that Alec and Katia have created for us in their series of five ed tech courses.

After MUCH deliberation, exploration, frustration, determination (and any other “tion” word you can imagine!), I believe I’ve finally decided on the ed tech tools that I will be using for my module.  [Backtracking for a moment…  Ashley and Andrew both already shared our overall group plans to include a Twitter hashtag for our Digital Citizenship class (with encouragement to use Tweetdeck or Hootsuite), a blog hub (with the option to use Feedly),  along with making full use of the assignment and discussion capabilities of Canvas (as our main learning management system).]  My (additional) chosen tools are Flipgrid and EdPuzzle.


Twitter Hashtag

Like so many of you have mentioned (Ashley, Andrew, and many others!), to busy people, Twitter can just seem like a waste of time.  I intentionally avoided Twitter, Facebook (still avoiding that one!), Instagram (intrigued by this, but not yet a user … can be a great tool to use to send students on a scavenger hunt, per Catlin Tucker!), Snapchat (laughed my head off at this one the first time Ashley showed me what the filters could do!!) …  but, I now feel that Twitter has become a reliable resource for me.  It connects me to educators from faraway places.  I can follow entire groups of people who are working toward goals that are similar to mine (ex. #skteachers or #21stedchat).

More than just being able to communicate easily with one-another, Ashley, Andrew and I want the students in our Digital Citizenship course to learn how to use this tool effectively, respectfully, and responsibly.  We will provide clear instructions about expectations for use and we will model good “tweeting practices” throughout the semester.

Blog Hub (likely WordPress)

My first experience with blogging was last semester for EC&I 833.  Completing my very first post took me several days, as I typed, deleted, restarted, and grew more and more unsure of what to write.  After reading the blog posts of so many incredible classmates (colleagues), I began to understand the true meaning of blogging.  (If you’re still unsure about it, WordPress has some great tips here!)

In both EC&I 833 and 834, I have acquired SO much knowledge – simply from reading the posts of classmates, clicking on their links, following up on my own pingbacks, etc.  For our Digital Citizenship class, we’ll use the blog hub as a place for students to share their work, view the work of others, and comment on what is being created.

Discussion Board on Canvas

According to the resource guide, Mastering Online Discussion Board Facilitation,  one of the benefits of using discussion boards in an online class is that, “Students are able to reflect upon their ideas before sharing them with the class, leading to more reflective responses and in-depth learning.”   Although I have had little experience using a discussion board (unless Google+ qualifies as a discussion board ??), I anticipate it being one of the key features of Canvas that my group members and I use for our modules.

With the discussion board, we’ll actually be able to create groups  – and we can assign different questions to different groups.  We could then let these smaller groups return to one large group to share what was discussed about their particular topic.  (A jigsaw activity, of sorts.)  For my particular module, I plan to let the students brainstorm their final assignment plans using the discussion board (in small groups).

NOTE:  We’ll also be using Canvas for posting assignment instructions, etc.


I’m already a huge Flipgrid fan.  Thanks to Alec for introducing us to it at the start of EC&I 833!   Given that my module will be the first one for students to complete for our Digital Citizenship course, I plan to use this Flipgrid as a way for students to introduce themselves and hear the voices of their classmates.

My specific plan is to start my module off with asking the students to create a Flipgrid in response to the question, “In ninety seconds or less, talk about a time when someone used technology in a way that annoyed or frustrated you.”  This will be the “hook” of my lesson.


I’m a new EdPuzzle user (I’ve created one so far, but I haven’t had a chance to share it with students yet, as we’re just wrapping up a different unit).  Finding a quiet place to record my audio was the trickiest part of using EdPuzzle!  For my module, I have selected a TEDx video about digital etiquette.  I’ll add some questions for the students to respond to as they watch the video.  There will be either an activity or short quiz at the end of the video.


For my final assessment of student learning, I will ask the students to use technology to create a teaching lesson for a younger grade on the topic of digital etiquette.  Although I’ve never used PowToon, I’ve watched several that other’s made… including Natalie’s summary of learning from last semester…  and I think it will be just the right fit for children learning about DigCit.

It is QUITE possible that I will give students to option to create their teaching project using MySimpleShow instead of PowToon.  I recently checked it out after reading about it in Carla’s blog post…  it looks fantastic.  Maybe I’ll give the students the option for their final assignment for my module.


So… you might be thinking …. “Wow – this seems like a LOT of different ed tech tools for the students to be expected to use!”  … and you might be right.  We plan to provide the students with a quick “cheat sheet” about all of the tech tools they’ll be using.  (Focusing on the tool’s purpose and our expectations for frequency of use / application of the tools.)

In response to the question, “Can there be too much tech?” … the answer is “yes”.  But, as super techy teacher, Nakita Gillespie states in a video shared by Jen H. …

“Using various devices and apps in the classroom each day means [students] will become more and more fluent… it won’t be something they have to learn later to be successful.  That will just be second nature to them.”

Technology is not decreasing.  Its use is expanding into new areas all the time.  I acknowledge that, with the good, comes the bad but, hopefully, with good teaching, students begin to respect technology and its users so that the growth in this field is never viewed as a colossal mistake.

I’d love to hear your comments … or your experiences (good or bad!) with any of the tools that I’ve mentioned here.  Does this sound like a feasible plan (for our group to roll out and for the students to complete)?

Thanks for reading!


Going where this girl hasn’t gone before!

Photo Credit: Martin_Heigan Flickr via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Martin_Heigan Flickr via Compfight cc


With a whole week’s break from most of my children’s activities, without having to plan lessons or do a bunch of marking, and with a night off of class, on February 17th, I looked forward to having time to relax… uhhhhhhh, no… scratch that.  I looked forward to being able to dive right into all of the amazing blended learning and ed tech tools that I had not yet had time to explore. (Typical teacher, I know!)  

Sure, I could have used some R&R but, after weeks of reading so many fantastic blog posts, and after several opportunities to gain wisdom from Tony Bates, I knew exactly what I wanted to do for the blog prompt for the break.  I wanted to “DO BLENDED LEARNING”.  I wanted to actually create some blended learning opportunities in my own classroom.  Yes, of course, I’ve been incorporating various ed tech tools and “moments” into my teachings this past school year (thanks to everything I’ve learned through EC&I 833 and 834) … but I wanted to do more.

Until now, I’ve been easing my way into the blended learning environment … my hesitation emerging as a result of some self-doubt … as a result of my fear of not getting it right.  But then, I read Natalie’s post.

I really appreciated the quote that she included by Fischer about blended learning being a “process of innovation”, rather than an “event”. Thinking of blended learning as an event – as I had, in some ways, been doing – made me feel that I would either get it right, or I would get it wrong. The idea of “creating” a blended learning environment through trial (and error) seemed much less daunting!

Kyle was also helpful in this regard, as his post included an article called 6 Disadvantages of Blended Learning by Scott Winstead.  Winstead’s six harsh criticisms of blended learning / flipped classrooms forced me to consider some possible areas of concern regarding this endeavour. Two of the criticisms that were mentioned were “teacher overwork” and “plagiarism/credibility”.

Addressing the “Teacher Overwork” Criticism of Blended Learning/Flipped Classrooms

My experience has shown me that, to make a really great lesson (or series of lessons), teachers often have to invest many, many hours.  In most cases, the students are able to complete the tasks – whether they be online, hands on, or on paper – quite quickly, compared to the time put in by the teacher.  For example, the ThingLink that I recently created for my Law 30 class likely took me more than an hour to make, but students could have easily finished it in twenty minutes.  So, why would I work that hard for such a short student experience?  Well… I hope that it was effective and memorable for the students AND I hope that I can use it again with future Law 30 classes.

I can’t disagree that preparing for a flipped classroom isn’t time consuming for a teacher – just as creating Socrative questions, developing Aurasma augmented reality experiences, or making up a Google survey all take time.  But, if students are engaged by these interesting ed tech tools, the time saved in dealing with classroom management issues or chasing down incomplete assignments would more than compensate for extra teacher “input time”.

Addressing the “Plagiarism/Credibility” Criticism of Blended Learning/Flipped Classrooms

I have to admit that I’ve wondered how many students cheat in “online learning environments”. Is the number comparable to a regular classroom environment?  Is it higher?  It just seems so much easier to share assignments, plagiarize ideas, etc. when a

Photo Credit: vozach1234 Flickr via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: vozach1234 Flickr via Compfight cc

teacher and classmates aren’t present – and when there’s little to no face-to-face interaction.  My gut feeling tells me that “cheaters are cheaters”.  The same students who would steal copies of old exams, hide cheat notes on an eraser or inside their watch band, etc., are the students who would have someone else complete online assignments for them or simply copy other people’s work to submit it as their own.  

With so many people committing to lifelong learning – whether through face-to-face classes, traditional online education, MOOCs, or just YouTube videos – I would like to think that cheating has subsided.  Perhaps people are beginning to enjoy the process of learning – and are no longer simply focused on finishing. (This is coming from a Master’s student – and is being shared with Master’s students – so those in high school or the undergraduate world may be of a totally different mindset!)

Ready to Try This!

As I read each critical point, I felt quite confident in my ability to dispute the author’s beliefs.  Kyle, too, was able to poke holes in the author’s skepticism about blended learning and flipped classrooms.  This only brought about a greater feeling of confidence in my ability to have success (or, at least, do little harm!) in trying some serious blended learning in my own classes.

And Then I Struck Gold …

If only my husband had shared my enthusiasm when, at 9:30 pm on a Saturday night, cup of tea in hand, I exclaimed with pure joy about having discovered Catlin Tucker and her list of “Favorite Web Tools”.  I was practically beside myself when I actually checked out a couple of her recommended tools, including CommonLit and EdPuzzle.  Three hours later, I pried myself away from my computer to find sleep for my screen-drained eyes.


Big Thumbs Up for CommonLit!

CommonLit is an amazing site that includes stories, questions, quizzes, related text, and other media for teachers in most subject areas.  Stories can be selected based on theme, title, or related texts and are categorized by subject area and by grade leve.  I chose stories that involved struggles or challenges and limited my search to the 9th and 10th grade levels.

20170228_220828I was so surprised to find some of the stories with which I was already familiar included on this site.  One story was “The Sniper” … a civil war story that takes place in Ireland.  I’ve just finished working on this story with my students, so I looked at the “paired text” options that CommonLit identified.  I was happy to see several other war-related stories that would match up very nicely with “The Sniper”.  The story that I chose to use was “A Horseman in the Sky” – another tragic tale of civil war.   (I already have two other “paired stories” saved in my “Favourites” folder on CommonLit.  One of them even has a video that can be shown to provide more background information to the students!)

The students liked the format of CommonLit, but the story, itself, was very difficult to 20170228_222008comprehend. It was written in the 1800s and, although the vocabulary and footnotes helped to clarify things, my students still found it to be quite a challenge.  I loved, however, that they were able to complete everything online and that I could see their progress and their success at answering the multiple choice questions.  Thankfully, we have a face-to-face class tomorrow, where we can reconnect and discuss the more difficult parts of this story.

(Love blended learning!)

Here are a few things that I really like about CommonLit:

  • It was so easy to create my teacher account and set up my class(es)
  • I could have students join my class by sending them a link
  • I could easily assign different stories, poems, etc. by clicking “Assign Text” while viewing that piece of writing
  • While reading the text, my students could click on little bubbles positioned near challenging words in order to view a definition of the term
  • Each story, poem, etc. includes questions that the students must answer by the assigned date
  • Questions for stories are either “text-dependent” (in multiple choice or short answer format) or “discussion” questions (longer format)
  • This is great for blended learning environments because the text-dependent questions can be completed online, at home and submitted to the teacher through the CommonLit platform, while the discussion questions are meant to be shared in class
  • For each poem/story, there is the option to have the story read aloud right on the site (note:  it is a rather mechanical voice!)
  • There’s a “guide for teachers” to help share some deeper insight into the stories
  • On my teacher page, I’m able to see the progress of each student in the class
  • It’s free!

If you’re curious about CommonLit … here’s a link to the FAQs page!

EdPuzzle… You Go with Videos Like Milk Goes with Oreos!

With CommonLit in my back pocket, I decided to create more blended learning opportunities for ELA 10 (as this is basically a “new prep” for me this semester, after not having taught it for about 9 years!).  Thankfully, I came across EdPuzzle.  In an effort to have the students consider challenges that they might face in the years ahead, I selected a video called “Introducing Gen Z”.  I want to use this video in a new part of my “Challenges of Life” unit … basically showing the students some of the preconceived notions that people might have of them. I want them to question the accuracy of the beliefs about Gen Z.  This video shows the differences between what employers believe Gen Z’ers are like … and how the Gen Z’ers actually perceive themselves to be.    The video was about 3 minutes long, but I have trimmed it down to 2:41.  I added an introductory audio clip, explaining the purpose of the EdPuzzle.  I also added “audio tags” (questions) to help the students engage in the video – rather than simply “viewing it”, as they might view a television show.  The EdPuzzle wraps up with a five-question quiz that the students complete right on the EdPuzzle site.  (We have not yet reached this part of the “Challenges” unit, so I don’t have any student feedback to report at this time.)

Here are a few things that I really love about EdPuzzle:

  • It’s easy to create your own teacher account
  • This ed tech tool lets teachers add questions, activities, quizzes etc. to videos
  • The bank of videos is QUITE enormous, as it includes postings by sites like Khan Academy, TedTalks, YouTube, National Geographic
  • Teachers can trim the videos to focus on only the parts that they want their students to view
  • EdPuzzle walks you through the entire process, with help videos all along the way
  • If you can’t finish everything in one sitting, just save it to your account
  • You can share your EdPuzzles with students by sending them the link or through Google Classroom
  • You can set the EdPuzzle to “not allow skipping” so that students have to answer all questions before finishing
  • Students type their answers to the quiz at the end of your EdPuzzle and you can view them from your EdPuzzle account
  • It’s free!

Here is my final EdPuzzle regarding “Generation Z”!  (I wasn’t able to embed this.)

Mrs. Armstrong’s Generation Z EdPuzzle

Adding audio notes:

Video showing the view from a student’s account:  

Video showing how to share the EdPuzzle:  

Next up on my list of things to try …  Audacity, Movie Maker, GoAnimate, VideoScribe, Touchcast…. and the list goes on, and on, and on!!

Let me know if you’ve given EdPuzzle, CommonLit, or any of these other great educational technology tools a try!  I’d love to compare notes!

Thanks for reading  🙂