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The Evolution of a Connected Learning Community

2014 March 23
by Kim Cofino

Note: this is the first post in a series about our 2:1 (iPad Mini + MacBook Air 11″) trial at YIS

Now that we’re in our third year of our Connected Learning Community (1:1 program) at YIS, we have been thinking about how to continue to push forward, helping both teachers and students elevate their use of technology for learning. One of the things we noticed last year around this time was that teachers and students were very comfortable in our learning environment. They know what to do with their laptops, they feel confident in their practice, students are finding lots of ways to be creative with the tools they have, and we generally had a feeling that we had “hit our stride”. The CLC was just part of regular life at YIS, interwoven into the fabric of our school as if it had always been there.

Envisioning Our Next Steps

One of the things I love about YIS is our strong spirit of innovation. So, when we started to realize that we were in a really good place with our CLC, where the members of our community were feeling confident about the learning environment, we noticed that we had a great opportunity to continue to grow. We could take this very solid foundation of our CLC and enhance the learning opportunities for students and allow teachers even more options in their classrooms.

Through informal conversations with teachers, students and parents, we started looking at the possibility of adding a mobile device (an iPad) to our current 1:1 program, therefore giving students and teachers both an iPad (mini) and a MacBook Air (11″), allowing them to be 2:1 (2 devices for each student and teacher).

Starting Small

We started very simply with a small group teacher trial last May. We gave seven teachers from all subject areas a MacMini to explore for about 6 weeks with regular meeting times to exchange ideas, problem-solve and make connections. A few of the highlights from this group (both positive and negative) were:

  • Flat screen facilitates conversation – something about the norms of using an iPad is different than a laptop. When you put a screen up on a laptop, something stops in the conversation.
  • Super easy to share content on the iPad (as long as it’s within the app structure). It allows students to make their thinking visible to others.
  • Concern about getting data out, and the free flow of data between applications eg printing, moving data between apps and their computer.
  • Evidence of learning is easy to capture and collate. Students can talk about their learning in a different way. More applications that allow for screencasting or sharing their work.
  • Word processing is very difficult on iPad. We imagine that any long written work (including curriculum writing, etc) would be done on the laptop, not on the iPad.
  • Students can re-evaluate their own knowledge on the spot; teachers and students can get instant feedback.
  • Possible to take class notes/revision notes in multiple ways (eg: photos of board notes, handwritten notes, written notes can also be annotated into a visual note taking technique).
  • Need to choose apps that help students produce instead of simply consume.
  • The ability to have students move around the classroom (or out of it) with a device is beneficial.

And some suggestions from this group:

  • We need directed PD. Perhaps structure around the concepts of assessment, capturing student learning, etc.
  • We will need a system for saving on the Cloud. We recommend following previous models to have a system to help young kids who struggle with organizational skills and help out teachers as well by using the same system.
  • Students will need a case that can accommodate both their iPad and computer.
  • Specify what teachers will be expected to use the iPad for.

Expanding Our Scope

Based on this feedback from June last year, we returned to YIS last semester with some great ideas for moving forward. Over the last semester, with many new staff members (normal at any international school), including superstar Clint Hamada as my partner in crime, Technology and Learning Coach, as well as a new Head of School, these conversations, and the planning, continued and evolved. We knew that we wanted to have more teachers and students involved and most importantly, that we wanted it to be a true trial – meaning we really don’t know for sure what the outcome will be. We are fortunate to be working in an amazingly supportive community with teachers, students and parents who are enthusiastic and excited about learning. Having an opportunity to explore new ways of learning, sharing and documenting with this community in an open and safe environment is key.

We discussed so many different ways to support this kind of trial, I can’t even remember what they were (some were: iPad carts, sets of iPads with specific teachers or specific classrooms, and rotating sets of iPads with certain groups of students). In the end, our research and discussions led us to the conclusion that the real power in this device is the ability to make it personal – one device for one student – rather than a set that rotates around the school. With this in mind, we thought about the grade level that would fit best for this kind of trial (set-time limit, open ended opportunities, focus on exploration), and in consideration with our current laptop replacement cycle, determined that grade 7 would be the best choice.

Getting Started: Pilot Timeline

Once we had identified the grade level (grade 7) and the time frame for the trial (May), we started planning out the process. One of our priorities was to keep the trial feeling positive and energetic with input from all stakeholders, as well as lots of opportunities for learning from each other. Here’s the timeline plan for the semester:




iPad introduction & distribution for teachers


Teacher PD


Teacher PD continues

iPad introduction for parents

Community Focus Group begins


iPad Bootcamp for Students


iPads in student hands (2 – 4 weeks)


Feedback collected from all participants – students, parents, teachers

So far, things have been going extremely well. We’ve had lots of great learning opportunities with all stakeholders and vibe of the pilot continues to be positive and exciting, we’re keeping track of all that great learning in a central blog for both teachers and parents, and we’re starting to get to the exciting stage of planning specific units and lessons to use during the trial period. In my next post, I’ll share the structure of our teacher introduction, distribution and professional development; and in the post after that, the way we’ve been involving our students and parents through our Community Focus Group.

Right now we’re working on planning our Student Bootcamp for the first week of May. Thanks to Dana and all the work that’s been done at AES, New Delhi, we have lots of great ideas to get us started, as well as the fantastic feedback from teachers, parents and students here at YIS. We’re just in the early stages of this planning process, so if you have any tips or advice, please share!


An Unknown Goal (Part 2)

2013 December 15
by Kim Cofino

Despite how long it took me to write my first post about this process, I’ve actually been thinking about my design thinking goal quite a bit since late October when we signed up. While I still like the idea of using the design thinking process to help teachers develop practical and useful technology-related goals for the year, I’m feeling like I might want to explore how the process works a little bit more with students before moving on to the teachers.

Luckily, in a some very convenient, and perfectly-timed professional coincidences, a few things have happened in the last few weeks that may give me some great opportunities to do just that:

Design Thinking & Games

On November 9 – 10, we hosted an EARCOS Weekend Workshop (as part of the YIS COETAIL cohort, Course 4) with Adrian Camm just a few weeks ago. His focus was game based learning and interactive fiction, and as we were creating our very own choose your own adventure game with text adventures, I realized that this was yet another opportunity to bring design thinking into my classroom.

My students are always asking about creating games, and the student tech team in particular really likes to test out new ideas to see how they work. So, I’m thinking it would be fun for them to develop an idea for a text based game using the design thinking process. Adrian also showed us Twine, another tool to make non-linear text-based games, so they could have multiple options for creating the game as well.

I’m imagining that we could start the design thinking process with just the idea of creating a text based game, and then select the appropriate tool based on our needs.

Design Thinking & 3D Printing

Right after our workshop with Adrian, our very first 3D printer arrived at YIS. We have a makerbot and the kids (and especially Clint) are super excited about it. They’ve been watching Clint print up all sorts of fun things for about a week and they’re so ready to start creating their own objects. Again, I’m thinking the student tech team can give this a try, and that it might be really interesting to think about what problems we can solve by designing and printing some sort of 3D object.

One of my office-mates, Aaron (our database manager) designed a small cable wrapping device for his iPhone charger that perfectly fits the length of cable and keeps it neat and tidy. This makes me wonder if our students could use something similar – maybe for their laptop charges, since they often carry them in their bags back and forth to school. This would be a great opportunity for our students to solve an authentic problem and maybe raise some money for the student tech team.

Design Thinking & Robotics

Also new this year, we have a set of 20 Lego Mindstorms kits to explore with. To get us started, Clint and our Math HoD, David, are leading an after school club to explore how the kits work and what we can do with them. We’re hoping that, as we become more familiar with what they can do, we can bring them into the curriculum, rather than just an after school activity. Although Clint and David are taking the lead on this, it could be a good opportunity to look at various aspects of our curriculum with a Design Thinking lens to see where we can make use of these new devices. This could also be a great way to transition from thinking about the process with students, to bringing it to teachers.

Getting Started

After writing all of these ideas down, I realize that I need a bit more of an understanding of exactly what Design Thinking is. We’re starting to build a great list of resources in our Google+ community, and I really enjoyed Maggie Hos-McGrane’s Learning2Talk at Learning 2.013 which gave a great overview of the process, but I think I need to go through it myself to really understand how to implement with students….

We have a team meeting coming up soon where we will do just that! Stay tuned for the next installment!


An Unknown Goal

2013 November 30
by Kim Cofino

Note: this is the first in a series around my professional learning goal at YIS (more below)

At most international schools (and probably most schools in general), each year teachers are asked to create one (or several) goals for the year. In some cases, I’ve had to create three: a personal goal, a team or department goal, and a goal related to a school-wide initiative. Although I always have many ideas for things I want to improve or explore each year, I often find the creation of these types of goals a little artificial.

Starting with the end in mind

Racers cross finish line in 5K run for Navy Chief birthday.For starters, I pretty much always select a goal I know I will be able to accomplish – something that’s basically part of my job, but maybe a little bit above and beyond. If it’s not something I know I’m going to do anyway, then it often ends up being something practical that I know I should be doing, but can’t always force myself to make time for it. And in the worst case,  it’s something that’s easy to document (and often easy to do), just to be able to say I did it at the meeting at the end of the year.

This is not to say that I don’t have my own goals that I’m really interested in or passionate about, just that those usually aren’t the ones I document because they may be too vague, or I’m not sure if I can actually do it, or I don’t know exactly what successful completion of those goals look like. Those are the more interesting ones, for sure.

In the end, I always meet my documented goals, and certainly make progress on my own (vaguely formed) individual goals. But those documented goals often feel like hoops I have to jump through, rather than an authentic learning experience (even though they could be perfectly practical and important things for me to do).

Enter the YIS Professional Growth Plan

So, this year, I’m super excited that we have started a whole new process for teacher goals. Last year a team of teachers and our then Head of School, James MacDonald, worked together to develop a plan for professional growth that is authentic, relevant to the teacher, collaborative, and individual. We called it the Professional Growth Plan (or PGP for short). This is our first year of implementation, and it’s already been a great learning process.

Here’s what we’ve done so far:

In a very organic fashion (using a Google Doc) teachers added ideas for what they wanted to learn about this year. Some themes were:

  • Creativity
  • Service Learning
  • Making Thinking Visible
  • Blended Learning
  • Game-Based-Learning
  • New Literacies
  • Leadership
  • Design Thinking

As those themes appeared on the shared Google Doc, teachers added their names to a group they were interested in. We had about a week or so to select our topic and join a group (of course we could change and move around during that week if we wanted to). Personally, I really liked that the doc was open and that we had time to finalize our choices – this helped me select a topic that I was interested in, and a group that I knew I would work well with, stay focused, and could really support me in my learning.

Once we had our themes, we had our first full PGP-focused faculty meeting, where we were able to meet in teams and start thinking about our chosen topic, and how that central theme can be applied to an individual goal. At this time, our group opted to create a Google+ Community to stay connected throughout the project and share relevant resources in a central place.

Over the course of the year, we’re responsible for moving forward with our individual goal and documenting our progress in any format that works for us. The purpose of the group is for support, feedback, inspiration, and to learn from each other. As you might have guessed, I’m going to be documenting my learning and thinking here.

Here’s the timeline:

PGP Timeline


Getting Started

For me, the selection of the topic and group was really exciting. Because this process is so authentic, and so focused on individual teacher professional growth (rather than a specific task that can be explicitly measured throughout the year), I decided to take somewhat of a risk in my topic group. When I looked at the topics, there were quite a few that would be obvious for me, and I could see myself thinking along the lines of a more traditional school goal. However, instead of going the “safe” route, I chose something I feel like I don’t know much about, and am really interested in learning and exploring more: Design Thinking.

I’ve heard the term quite a lot over the last few years, I know lots of people have been talking about the concept and it seems like a natural fit for me, teaching MYP Design Technology. But, I really haven’t taken the time to explore it much further than that. That means that this is the first time, ever, in my 14 years of teaching, that I have identified a topic for a goal that I actually don’t know how it will end up. I really have no idea what I’ll end up doing with design thinking – either in my classroom or as a technology coach – and that feels great! This is what learning really is: an opportunity to explore a new idea with a group of collaborative and supportive colleagues who genuinely want to learn, grow, and be better teachers. I couldn’t be any luckier with my group either – I’m working with Rebekah Madrid, Clint Hamada, and Mariko Jungnitsch. All superstars (and COETAILers) and some of the most thoughtful and pro-active colleagues I’ve ever worked with!

An Unknown Goal

The Gentle Path to the BeyondSo, now what? At our first meeting we talked about what we want our individual goals to be, within the theme of Design Thinking. For the first time, I really didn’t know what my goal could/should/would be. We talked about the ways that Rebekah plans to bring Design Thinking into her classroom, how Mariko wants to use the process with her EAL students, and the ideas Clint has to refine some projects in MYP Tech using this process. Rebekah and I talked it through for a little while as we explored useful resources and added them to our Google+ Community, and I decided I think I like the idea of using Design Thinking to help teachers develop their goals for learning with technology this year, maybe to use the process in some of our PD events, and generally to find ways to really make sure that teachers are individualizing their technology related learning in a practical and useful way.

While I like the sound  of all of those ideas, I’m still not sure this is exactly the direction I want to go. What do you think? Have you explored design thinking as a professional learning format? Is it useful? Or is there something else I should/could be doing?

It feels a little crazy not to know the destination yet, but I think that’s all part of the learning journey!

Image Sources:

The Pop-In

2013 October 6
by Kim Cofino

One of my favorite things about being a technology coach is that the primary focus of my job is talking about learning in many different subject areas. I’m a bit of a geek, I know. Sometimes, though, I find myself gravitating toward certain subject areas or grade levels because those are the ones where I feel like I have the most ideas or the most experience.

So, when Clint and I were talking about the various ways that we can support teachers this year, we decided to add something new: The Pop-In.

First, here’s a quick overview (from an e-mail sent to teachers at the beginning of the year) of the ways we’ve been supporting teachers (and will continue to do so):


We are available (and ready!) to co-plan lessons and units with you, as well as co-teach (or demo) in your classroom. If you have a new idea you’d like to implement, but are not sure how, we’re here to help!

Appointment Calendars

We have each set up an appointment calendar in Google Calendar so that you can schedule an appointment with either of us and know that we’re available. Appointment calendar is great because it layers our free appointment slots over your calendar, so you can see at a glance when would be a good time to meet.

Tech Pilots

The Tech Pilots team meets regularly to share new ideas about teaching and learning in innovative ways. It’s an informal group and a great way to get regular PD with like-minded teachers at YIS. This year we hope to meet both in school and outside school (Starbucks? Mizumachi bar?) If you’re interested in joining us, learn more here.

Drop-In Support

Subscribe to this calendar to see when Kim or Clint are outside Mark and Susie’s office for quick drop-in questions and support. Come by for help with a specific app or to talk about an interesting article that you’ve just read! This is a great opportunity for individual PD, to learn new tools, or just to get support with already established tools at YIS like the blogs, Google Apps or Veracross.

Meeting Support

If you’d like one of us to come to one of your meetings, either as a one-off or on a regular basis, then let us know. This can be for a department meeting or for a planning meeting or any other kind of meeting.

Optional PD Sessions

Over the course of the year we’ll be offering optional PD sessions both after school and within the school day. Sometimes these sessions will be run by Clint and/or Kim, other times by other teachers. We’re still working on getting the schedule sorted, and you can add it to your Google calendar here (new additions will pop up whenever you refresh the page). If you have a topic you’d like to share with others, please let us know!

All of the above is a continuation from previous years, which has worked well for those who opt in. However, both Clint and I wanted to challenge ourselves a little bit this year, to move out of our comfort zones and to help others do the same. So, we decided to try something new:

Pop-in Visits

One of the ways we’d like to support you is through classroom visits and curricular development. To help us get started, we’ll be visiting different classrooms just to say hello and see how things are going. This will help us get more of an idea of what learning is taking place in different classrooms, and how we can better support you.

We’re hoping that these visits will give us a better insight into how we can support all teachers, as well as the different and exciting ways that they are already using technology in their classrooms. One of our three goals for this academic year is “Learning From Each Other”, so we’re also hoping that by opening classroom doors and talking about learning with a variety of teachers that we’ll create a buzz within different departments and groups of teachers that may not have been part of these conversations before. We all have something interesting and unique to share, and often those ideas are held behind closed doors.

Here’s how I’m planning to get started:

  • I’m going to set aside a chunk of time in my weekly calendar – maybe one or two periods in the morning one day a week. I always love reading about #noofficeday from Dave Truss and so many others, and although I’m not an administrator (nor will I be evaluating teachers in any way during this time), I’m excited to see what’s happening behind those closed doors!
  • I’ll decide in advance which teachers I’d like to visit for that week, and let them know at the beginning of the week. (I like the idea of popping in, but especially at the start, I think it’s nice to give some warning so teachers know why I’m there).
  • I’m not planning to write anything down while I’m in the room, but I’d like to use some of my Looking for Learning experience from ISB to see what and how the students are learning.
  • I’ll document my thoughts after I’ve left the room, so that I can share with the teacher later that day/week. I want to make sure my visits have something productive or useful for the teachers so they can see the value of having someone visit them.
  • I’d like to try to visit different subject areas and grade levels each time so that I’m getting an idea of what’s happening in different parts of the school each day I do classroom visits.

Here’s what I’m hoping will happen:

  • Visiting other classrooms will give me better ideas of how I can support teachers.
  • Sharing my ideas with teachers, preferably in person (but via e-mail if necessary), will help start conversations with a diverse group of teachers.
  • I’ll see connections between what different teachers are doing, and can put teachers in touch with each other.
  • We’ll have a better idea of what technology support is needed by the whole faculty and we can better plan PD sessions.
  • We can deepen our conversations with teachers who are already taking advantage of the support we’ve been offering, to take our coaching to the next level.

Final Thoughts

I’m really excited about where this may take us! In the past three years we have grown by leaps and bounds, both in our use of technology to enhance learning, and in our collaboration around learning. We are so lucky to be working with a staff of enthusiastic and engaged teachers who welcome new ideas. I think this will help us continue to develop and spread the learning love even further!

Have you used the “pop-in” strategy with your staff? What did you think? Are there certain strategies or approaches that work best?