Skip to content

Going Up!

2013 September 29

Have I mentioned yet how lucky I am to be working with Clint this year? It’s been a busy start to the year, as usual, and as we look ahead to see where we would like to be by the end of this academic year, one theme keeps coming up again and again: elevating the use of the tools we already have.

We’re in year 3 of our Connected Learning Community and we are really hitting our stride with our “big 3″ tech tools: blogging (WordPress), Google Apps for Education, and Veracross (our new student information system and reporting portal, implemented last year). It always makes me smile when I hear teachers, students or administrators request items shared as a Google Doc (rather than an e-mail attachment), or send meeting requests via Google Calendar, or start a new blogging project for a Field Studies trip. To me, this means that overall, as a school community, I think we generally feel comfortable with these tools.

And when we think about what’s next, we don’t feel the need to add more and more new tools. In fact this combo can do quite a lot already. It’s more a matter of enhancing how we use the “big 3″ rather than adding something new. So, Clint and I have been backwards planning and brainstorming where we can go and how we can focus our support (for teachers) for the year.

Here’s what we’re thinking:

Note: this post focuses on the teacher side of these tools, I’ll come to ideas for students in a later post.

Elevating our Blogging

When we started implementing blogs as our primary means of school-home communication, the example we would often give (three years ago) is that it’s a great way to post homework and share resources, and teachers are doing a great job at this. However, now that we’re three years into the process, we can start to think about blogging as more than just posting homework. Plus, we now have Veracross, which does exactly that. So, its time to start thinking about teacher blogs as more of a blended learning environment and reflective space, rather than just a long list of homework. Here’s what we’re hoping to highlight this year:

We are fortunate to have a number of teachers already doing many of these things (mostly COETAILers or COETAIL graduates, naturally), so we have plenty of examples. We just need to strategize on how we share these examples and how we promote the use of blogs in this way. This will help those teachers that haven’t started thinking about their blogs like this to see the difference between blogging and Veracross, and to recognize the value of having a blog beyond just a space to post homework.

Elevating our use of Google Apps

We are awesome at creating docs. We are awesome at collaborating on docs. We’re not so good with the organization side of things. I think that’s the biggest frustration for our teachers – where to find documents that have been shared, especially if teachers have not yet created a filing system. So, we’re thinking we can:

  • Make more effective use of Google Sites to organize and navigate through important documents. We already have quite a few, and now that we’ve started to see the value of Google Sites for organization, we can continue to spread the word.
  • Share folders rather than individual files. This seems like a no-brainer, but sometimes you don’t realize how many files you’ll be sharing around a specific topic, so you start off file by file. After three or four of those, it just makes more sense to have a folder.
  • Start using the extension apps in Google Drive. I just spent some time with our Humanties department on Friday and we explored Lucidchart, MindMup, and Kaizena. These are not new, but they’re new to us and I think teachers will find them really helpful.
  • Start using scripts. Jay Atwood, we need you!
  • Use shared calendars for faculty-type meetings. We already have a Tech PD calendar that teachers can subscribe to, as well as a Tech Support Drop-in Room calendar. Now we need one each for regular faculty meetings, assemblies, and special events. This way it’s always up-to-date and we always know where we need to be.
  • Select the right type of file for the task. We tend to do most things in Google Docs. Sometimes a spreadsheet or a form would be better. Sometimes we need a presentation. We need to do a little bit of exploration and organization to make sure that we’re using the right tool for the task, not just the one we know best.
  • Collate and share student work uploaded in these spaces, particularly on YouTube. We have lots of students making videos and publishing on their own blogs, but it can be hard to find them because it’s not one central account.
  • Google Hangouts for learning. Exam revision, typhoon day activities, connecting with other classes. Now that we have this turned on for HS students (and all teachers), the possibilities are endless!

It is amazing to see how quickly we’ve adapted to the use of Google Apps. It’s hard to believe that we didn’t have it when I got here three years ago, and I really can not imagine how the school would function without it now. Once we start taking advantage of some of these ideas, I think it’s only going to help us be more efficient and effective with our time.

Bringing it all Together

At our first tech-related PD session of the year, we wanted to focus on the strengths of these three tools, to help define why we have three, and how each compliments each other. We started off with a shared Google Doc for brainstorming (in table groups) ways that teachers have successfully used (or seen successfully used) blogs and Google Apps. Once we had a long list of successful strategies, we created a Venn Diagram together to see where the tools overlapped, and added in Veracross so we could get a good overall picture. Here’s what we came up with:

The Big Three

We’re very fortunate to have access to all of these tools (with super speedy internet too!), so now that we have some goals for moving forward and taking them to the next level, I can’t wait to see where we will go!

How are you taking blogging, Google Apps, and your student information system to the next level?  What should we be trying out here at YIS?


Finding Balance (For Me) Part 2

2013 September 22
by Kim Cofino

Note: Hopefully, you’ve read Part 1, and have been warned that this is primarily about me (and what I’ve been up to in the last year), but at least this post has some fun technology and fitness additions. (Hmmm… I think that’s the first time I’ve ever used the word fitness on this blog.)

In the last year, I’ve been exploring the different ways I can apply my geekiness to promote a more healthy lifestyle.

It came about in bits and pieces, and I should definitely say that I did not set out last year to lose weight (or even to become more fit, to be honest). As each thing happened over the year, I felt a little bit better and a little bit better so I continued. As much as this might seem like a “plan” now, it really wasn’t when I started, but overall, I’m really excited about this intersection of tech and health and fitness that I’ve discovered for myself!

Here are some of the things I’ve been exploring:

Baby Steps

Last August, I got a FitBit (thanks to my YIS colleagues, Lynda, John and Rebekah, who all had just purchased one at the time). You may have noticed that I’m a little competitive (just a little), and when my friends had something fun like counting steps to talk about, I wanted to be part of it too.

FitBit is awesome! I started tracking the number of steps I was taking which motivated me to work towards a minimum of 10,000 a day. Although it wasn’t hard to get to 10,000 steps since we walk back and forth to work every day and I’m usually running around all day long, it did make me realize that I’d rather be walking during breaks than sitting at my desk. So, Alex and I started going for a walk during morning break and at lunch recess around the neighborhood. On our walks, we often see parents around the neighborhood and I love that they recognize our 10 minute walk as an opportunity for bringing balance into our day.

In addition to the walking, I started to use the FitBit to track what I was eating so I could pay more attention to calories. Let me tell you, this was a real eye-opener. I have no idea why I didn’t really know anything about calories until last August but I didn’t. Yikes. It didn’t take long for me to realize I was eating far more calories than I could ever hope to burn off. Conveniently, this realization came very close to that fateful day: September 14th: my first (and technically, only) gallbladder attack (for more about that experience, see Part 1).

A FitBit is not the only device that can do these things, it just happens to be the one I bought. Now with the new iPhone 5S, I might be able to track my activity with my phone instead, but I think I’ll stick with the FitBit, at least for a little while. It’s just so easy, and it’s fun to have a network of teachers at school that have them too (quite a few more teachers bought them over the summer this year). Plus the new FitBit (which I just got because my old one broke – and they replaced it for free!), syncs wirelessly and only needs to be charged once a week. I guess I also just like gadgets – the more the merrier for me!

Smarter Phone

In addition to the FitBit, I’ve been exploring more ways that my iPhone could support my goals. I had heard a lot about this “Couch to 5K” movement (thanks Facebook!) and figured I could check out something along those lines. I mean, if it had “couch” in the title, how bad could it be? So, I started with the 5K Runner app on my iPhone to train myself on my Elliptical at home. Who would have thought that a voice in your ear telling you when to run and walk could be so motivating? In late May, after I finished the 8 week training program, I also started running outside. I know there are tons of apps for tracking your run, but I haven’t started using any of those yet – just my FitBit. Now that I’m back at school, and contemplating a 10K run in late November, I’m definitely going to buy the 10K Runner app next.

Over the summer, while it was super hot in CT (and I didn’t want to run outside), I went to my mom’s local gym, and a whole new world was revealed to me: an Elliptical with a built-in TV. Amazing. So, after I got home, I decided I could do the same thing with my iPad. I downloaded the Hulu app, rested a cheap little tray on the bars of my Elliptical (lucky design on that one!), and created a little TV station to use while running. Perfect. Plus, the 5K Runner app works in the background (so do a bunch of the apps listed below), so I can still be following my training routine, while enjoying some trash TV.

Of course, I also have the FitBit app, but to be honest I rarely use it. I have to admit, I like the new dashboard display on my laptop, and I’m too lazy to type in all my food using the iPhone keyboard, but it’s great that it’s available. There are a bunch of apps I downloaded, but haven’t really used, for tracking calories too: Lose it! and My Fitness Pal being the two that my friends really like.

Somewhere along the way, I learned about an app called Sworkit, which allows you to create body-weight resistance interval workouts for a variety of durations (and includes video tutorials for each movement). I have the free version now, but I could see myself purchasing the Pro version in the future. I love that I can choose how long I want to work out (in 5-minute intervals), as well as which type of workout (strength, cardio, or yoga), and which part of my body to focus on.

Once I discovered the “7 Minute Workout” for strength training, I created a button for it on my home screen using this website on my iPhone – but now searching for the link, I found a bunch of other apps that do the same thing, that could possibly be better than the website I use, but I’m happy with it for now.

In the last week, I’ve found a few more that I like, focused on interval training. I’ve been switching up my Elliptical routine and doing intervals with Interval Timer and SIT (instead of just the steady runs I can do with the 5K Runner now that I’ve completed the 8 week training). I’ve been exploring some of the free body specific training apps like Arm Workout, Ab Workout, Butt Workout just in case I get bored with the others (though I haven’t used those too much yet). One more that I haven’t tried yet is FitFix from PopSugarFitness, but I can tell I will like it. I love that it has such a good variety of workouts, it’s regularly updated, and it’s really visual and well-designed, which makes it a pleasure to explore. These will definitely help keep variety in my morning routine.

Daily Dose

At some point last spring, I finally got around to watching Forks Over Knives which I had heard about from Josee over in Vietnam last November. Which then prompted me to watch Fat, Sick and Nearly DeadVegucatedFood IncHungry for Change, and a bunch of others along the same lines on Netflix. These documentaries led me to think more carefully about what I was eating and I started moving towards eating more of a whole-foods, plant-based diet (like a vegan diet). Of course, I also love that Netflix suggests other related videos for me every time I log in, so I know I have a whole list of new documentaries to watch too!

Inspired by what I had watched, I ended up “liking” all of those pages on Facebook, which has really changed my timeline, and helped me find other resources that I like just as much like Mind Body Green, Happy Herbivore, Fat Free Vegan, Moutwatering Vegan, Women’s Running Community, 100 Days of Real Food, and Vega. Now my daily reading includes not just my favorite techie sites and my friend updates, but also inspiration for continuing a healthier lifestyle.

Along with Facebook, I  followed similar sites and people on Twitter, where I created a “Health” list that I check almost as often as my favorite teaching and technology lists. Every day I find new people or organizations to follow on Twitter, new recipes to try, new stories to be inspired by. It’s fascinating to open up this learning environment to something completely new, and to find just as many useful resources.

Another one of my favorite regular reads is my RSS Reader and the iOS app Zite. I’ve started following more topics related to healthy living and that’s opened up another whole world of resources and ideas. In fact, the related articles in Zite has been a fantastic resource for new apps, because I don’t have to know exactly where to get the information, I just have to select key search terms and “like” or “dislike” articles to get relevant material. Plus the ease of sharing articles from Zite means I can mix and match the reading I’m doing and share with others as I go.

Old School

Even though I have discovered so many great resources for my iOS devices, I still really like following workout videos. Thanks to Zoe, I found the perfect routine: Jillian Michaels 30 Day Shred. She has a bunch of other routines, including Ripped in 30, which I’m going to try next. I am also continuing with Ashtanga Yoga (which is my favorite kind, that I’ve been doing off and on for about 10 years) with David Swensen’s audio files (I’ve had those for at least 10 years now). I also discovered that Hulu has a bunch of workout videos available, including yoga and Pilates, along with circuit training-type, and aerobics-style videos, so that’s another area to explore if/when I get bored with what I already have.

On weekends, Alex and I also enjoy taking hikes around the area (Kamakura, Takao, Hanno, Hadano, Hakone). Although I use Metro (my favorite subway app for Tokyo-Yokohama at the moment) to plan our public transportation, I haven’t started exploring apps to track our actual hikes – which seems like it would be really fun – any suggestions?

This summer, I also bought (gasp!) a selection of books based on all the resources I found too:

I have purchased a bunch of other e-books along these lines as well, but there’s something about cookbooks, that I just like to have in a paper copy.


So far, I am so excited to have found so many different ways to use technology to promote a more healthy and balanced lifestyle. It’s always amazing to me just how much is available, no matter what you’re interested in. When we moved to Japan and I started following tons of Japan-related people and resources, I remember being excited about how much I found. Now I’m having that same feeling again. Which totally reminds me that the skills to be able to find these resources, make sense of what is found, and to manage it into a daily work flow, are so critical to learning today.

So, this is what I’ve found, what suggestions do you have? Is there a go-to app/website/resource you recommend? I’d love to keep exploring and trying new things!


Finding Balance (For Me) Part 1

2013 September 16
by Kim Cofino

Note: this post is not about education or technology. It kind of comes back around in Part 2, but it’s really more about me.

It’s hard to believe it’s been a year since I posted something new here. It’s not because I don’t have anything to share, or because I’ve lost interest in blogging. Actually, I really miss it. But, I guess I needed a little bit of time away to focus on something else. For the last year I’ve been working on finding a more balanced approach to life than I’d had for the previous eight years or so. It all started on September 14th.

The Attack

On September 14th (our first PD day of the year, coincidentally), I woke up with a shooting (and I mean shooting) pain in my upper-right back, just under my shoulder. It was so bad, I couldn’t move for at least an hour. I really couldn’t even talk. It was painful.

Eventually, when I could see straight, I realized that this must be my first gallbladder attack. I’ve had gallstones for a few years (because I have the beta thalassemia minor trait, and they’re unavoidable for me – but, hey, I’m less likely to get malaria), and I knew it would be coming, but I didn’t know when.

The Long Wait

This little wake-up call very early on a Friday morning began my adventure to remove my gallbladder, and as a side benefit, find a better balance in my life.

After confirming that it was indeed my gallbladder causing the problem, and finding a surgeon who spoke enough English to make me feel comfortable, I was informed that it would be at least six weeks before I could actually have the surgery (not that I was looking forward to a hospital stay, but I certainly did want to just get it over with).

Oh, and until the surgery I could eat no fats. Well, except olive oil. No chocolate, no cheese, no fried anything, no butter. No. Fats. Hmmm… to be honest, I had always wondered if I was a person with willpower. I mean, if a doctor told me I would die if I didn’t stop eating chocolate, would I do it? Turns out, yes, yes I would.

During this time I attended Learning 2.012 in Beijing, where the team took such good care of me that I had my own (fatless) meals organized in advance (thanks Mads and Annette!) and then participated in our week-long grade 6 Field Studies trip to Hakuba, where I flummoxed the hotel restaurant chef day after day with my bizarre food requests. And, yes, there may have been a few angry incidents in the grocery store as I discovered that fat is in everything delicious. But, I survived. And, I kind of felt better.

Six weeks with no fats and I wasn’t hungry all the time, I was eating more veggies, snacking less, and generally kind of proud of myself. But, let’s be honest, I was planning a cheese and chocolate party the day I came home from the hospital.


Here in Japan, doctors are very cautious. So, my gallbladder removal was a whopping six days, five nights in the hospital. (I think in the US it’s almost become outpatient surgery). Thankfully, I was in an outstanding hospital (Jikei University), with absolutely fantastic care, and had my own private room (with a bit of a view). Nevertheless, this was my first surgery, first inpatient procedure of any kind, actually, the first time I ever had more than a cold, so I was a little nervous. As luck would have it, I had a bit of a comedian as a surgeon. When I told him how nervous I was the night before, he said with a hearty chuckle, and arms spread wide, “Why are you nervous? I’ll be there!” Surprisingly, this made me feel much better.

It turns out my anesthesiologist was also a bit of a jokester. Just before he put me under, he showed me the anesthesia and said “You know Michael Jackson?” I nodded yes. He said “Same for you!” And I was out like a light. This was all after I waited for a few minutes in the surgery prep room with a soundtrack of the theme song to Star Wars. Actually, it’s a good choice to pump you up before surgery.

Anyway, everything went smoothly. I was gifted with my removed gallstone the day after surgery (although Alex got to see my actual gallbladder right after it was removed to prove the surgery was successful). I’ve named him Tim and he made it all the way home with me.

You might say that laparoscopic gallbladder surgery (cholecystectomy for those who want to be technical) is no big deal. I think it’s actually the most common surgery in the world. But it was a big deal to me. And even though I had a very successful, and actually kind of pleasant, stay in the hospital, that week was enough to convince me that I never wanted to go back.

A Turning Point

So, after I got home from the hospital, I decided I was going to keep up the eating habits I developed before the surgery. I tried to eat cheese, but found I had really lost my taste for it. I knew that eating fried foods and other fatty choices would be hard to digest without a gallbladder, so I continued to stay away from those too. Plus, I was so happy to be less nervous about another sudden gallbladder attack that Alex and I were spending more time outdoors, enjoying the day, rather than working the day away. And before I knew it, I noticed a biiig change.

I was starting to become a healthy person. Not that I wasn’t healthy before, but now I was paying attention to the food I was eating, I was spending time outside, I was saying no to some aspects of working that I had always done without question before, I was prioritizing. And side benefit, in only two months after the surgery, I had lost 20 pounds. In five months, I had lost 40 pounds. At this point, I’ve lost a total of 60 pounds, and I’m still working towards another 10 – 15 (which is not nearly as scary or intimidating as it would have been a year ago).

I did not set out last year to lose weight. In fact, I’m sure I wouldn’t have done anything like this had it not been for the surgery, but I’m glad I did, and I’ve learned a lot more about what makes me happy in the process. So, although I’m not blogging nearly as much (although I haven’t stopped entirely, since I’m still writing on my various YIS blogs and my COETAIL blogs), I’m feeling increasingly better about myself, and starting to find ways to get back into positive old habits while retaining the new ones I’ve built in the last year.

Kimbo 2.0

What’s been really fun, over the past year, is how I’ve been able to merge my geekiness with my new healthy habits. I’m seeing a whole new side to technology that I really wasn’t taking advantage of before. And it’s awesome!

Stay tuned for Part 2, where I’ll share all the geeky goodness I’ve been infusing into my more healthy lifestyle!

Image Credits

Student Tech Team: Student Leadership in Action

2012 October 7
by Kim Cofino

One of my goals for this year is provide more opportunities for authentic student leadership, specifically in the tech support and training that we do with students and teachers. We have a very engaged and supportive learning community here at YIS, and in addition to our fantastic student councils at each division, we have a great opportunity to add more student leadership in an area where students are often the expert: technology.

Facilitating a Student Tech Team

Throughout my career as a teacher, I’ve always facilitated some sort of middle school student tech team. In some schools it’s been a hang-out time for students who enjoy spending more time with technology, in others it’s been more like an extra class where we have actual lessons, in other schools it’s turned into a movie making club or some other form of creative use of technology. In each school, of course, the dynamics of the community and the group of students have had an impact on how we spend our time.

Student tech team filming & reviewing a laptop responsibility video on the fly with an iPhone

Over the last two years at YIS, I’ve facilitated our Middle School Student Tech Team, and each year I’ve learned a ton from my students. My biggest take-away has been how much they want to share their expertise with others.

In my first year at YIS, the MS STT was a voluntary club, held after-school once a week. Because we had a majority of students in grade 6, who were learning about blogging in MYP Technology, we developed a STT blog. We used that space to share resources we found online, and to create a personalized one-on-one tech support for teachers during lunch or after school. Although we had some success with the teacher training, the after-school timing made it more difficult to stay focused and productive. Also, because the club was voluntary, we didn’t really have a true Middle School team (students were mostly from grade 6).

So, with the implementation of our Connected Learning Community last year, we have included a student representative (similar to a student council model) from every homeroom to create our MS STT. Having this equal representation from each homeroom has had a positive impact on the growth, the reputation and the skills set of our team.

So proud of our MS Student Tech Team members for leading teacher training today!Sometime in the middle of last school year, we realized one of the best ways for our team to share their knowledge was through tutorial videos. Each month, at our middle school assembly, the MS STT had at least one tutorial video to share. Of course, we had the blog from the year before, so that became the repository for all of our tutorial videos.

In fact, the MS STT became so good at creating tutorial videos, that they created the entire CLC Essentials for Students site with all of the training videos for our CLC Orientation this school year. This was a huge improvement to the way we introduced the laptops in our first year of the CLC, because now students can work at their own pace through a selection of student-created tutorials, and we had our MS STT lead the sessions at the beginning of the school year.

Now that we’re in our second year of the CLC, with a more established STT role in the school, thanks to their leadership in previous years, we’re ready to build in even more student leadership. During our first meeting this school year, I asked our team (of 17 students in grades 6 – 8) what they would like to do this school year, focusing on being more active leaders among the teachers, students and parents.

Here’s what we have planned:

Video Tutorials

The STT tutorials are popular with students and teachers, and having them all centrally located on our STT blog makes them easy to access. Our goal this year is to continue to help students become more efficient and effective with their technology use, prioritizing tasks and skills that we weren’t able to highlight last year when so many features of having a laptop were new to everyone.

So far this year:

  • Idan (grade 6) has created a tutorial on using Google Calendar to record homework,
  • Brian (grade 8) is working on one to show how to use Activity Manager effectively so that you can maximize the processing power of your laptop, and
  • Aiden (grade 6) is creating one for organizing and managing files in Google Drive.

All of these tutorials will premiere at the MS Assembly once a month, and then be added to our STT blog and the CLC Essentials for Students site.

Teach the Teachers

Our STT is really excited to start leading more training with teachers. They want to run sessions that will help teachers understand why they use technology the way they do, and to help teachers become more efficient and effective with what they do on their laptops.

So far this year, we’ve had students featured at our first SpeedGeeking event of the year:

Based on their success, they will be offering after school hands-on sessions to any teachers or students that are interested in learning more.

In addition to featuring students at our SpeedGeeking sessions, they’ve also come up with a number of hands-on sessions to run during lunch times and after school:

All of these will be offered to students and teachers, starting after our October break.

In addition to these group sessions, we’re also going to continue the one-on-one teacher support through a simple survey linked on our STT blog. Teachers can request a specific STT member, or topic, and a specific time to be trained. We keep track of all the training we’ve completed using a shared Google Spreadsheet.

CLC Orientation

MS Student Tech Team members teaching teachers during SpeedGeekingWe are very fortunate to have a 2-day orientation at the beginning of each school year. For the past two years, this has been primarily focused on introducing our Connected Learning Community. Next year will be our third year, so we would like to see more of a focus on team building and getting to know each other.

To support this more collaborative and social environment, we will have the STT lead the majority of our CLC-focused sessions. We have a team working on an a YIS Orientation iOS app, another team will work on developing age-appropriate activities, and another team updated and expanding the CLC Essentials for Students.

Supporting Parents

We have a very active and engaged parent community. A number of parents who regularly attend our Parent Technology and Literacy Coffee Mornings have requested one-on-one tech support. The first time I was asked, I thought maybe our superstar YIS-graduate tech support staffer, Kanna, could help. But then a few weeks ago, I was asked again, and thought it would be great to have a list of students willing to help, along with their specialties.

It was no surprise to me that when I shared this idea with the STT, they jumped at the chance! We’re just in the early stages of planning, but we’d like to have a central list of STT members (and others, if they’re interested, perhaps CAS students?) who would be willing to tutor parents in technology, along with a short bio, photo and their list of specialty areas.

Learning New Skills

Our whole team wants to learn more about technology. As we learn, we will teach each other. One of the teams is really excited about learning how to create an game for iOS devices (any experts out there? We’d love some help).

Final Thoughts

I’m really excited to see where this team will go! They have already organized themselves into sub-teams with leaders in each group who are responsible for reporting back to me on their progress. Each student is able focus on an area of personal interest or growth to add to our growing list of responsibilities. Already I’ve been impressed by the time and effort they have put in to each task – by our second week, the group had already asked for two meetings a week! Now we meet on Wednesday and Friday during lunch. I’ve also heard from other colleagues that whenever there is a tech problem in class, the STT members “swarm” in to help. It’s taken a few years to get this kind of energy about student tech leadership going, and we’re just going to keep on growing!

Do you have a student tech team at your school? What do they do? I would also love to see if we can collaborate with other student tech teams around the world – perhaps some Skyping to share tips? Or even starting some collaborative resources if we have similar school communities and needs? Interested?

Image Credits: