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The Evolution of a Connected Learning Community: Teacher Edition

2014 May 11
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by Kim Cofino

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

Over this past semester we have steadily been working towards the next stage of our Connected Learning Community: moving 2:1 with an iPad Mini + MacBook Air for each student in grade 7 (for now). We’ve started by working with all of our grade 7 teachers in lots of different ways to ensure that they have the support they need to be successful with both devices. Here’s what we’ve done:

Grade Level PD

To kick off the trial with our teachers we had two grade level meetings (part 1 & part 2) in late January – not as easy to schedule as it sounds because (in a secondary school of about 45 teachers) we have 28 teachers of grade 7, plus all department heads, and all admin at these meetings. The scheduling challenges were worth it, though, to have everyone in the same room, hearing the same message, and experiencing the same introduction to the trial.

Our focus during these two meetings was to:

To keep the grade level team learning together, before we left for spring break, we came back together as a seventh grade team and shared some highlights from our learning over the past months. Teachers had a chance to connect with participants from every other team (jigsaw-style) to get an idea of what the other teams had explored. As part of this sharing, each jigsaw group made suggestions for further PD, as well as ideas for new apps to add to our (then) essential 8 list. From this feedback, Clint and I were able to revise our essential 8 to the “big 10″ apps, and to continue developing ideas for future teacher PD.

Informal Team-Based PD

At our initial meeting, we asked teachers to think about the goals they have for working in a 2:1 environment. Based on those goals, as well as their skill level and comfort with other teachers, they formed their own teams of 4 – 5 teachers. The purpose of these smaller teams was to encourage informal sharing throughout the trial. We asked them to set a weekly or every-other-week meeting time so they could come together and share. Each team was asked to document their thinking in whatever format worked for them, and then to wrap up their discussions at the end of the trial in a blog post on our collaborative blog. Although we couldn’t make it every time, Clint and I attended at least one or two of these meetings for each of the 9 teams.

The fact that these teams were very informal, and that teachers created their own teams made the meetings very relaxed, open and productive. For the most part, teachers felt really comfortable sharing and learning together. The meetings I sat in on included lots of laughter, exploring apps, and brainstorming how they could be used during the trial period. Lots of these conversations also continued into the staff room, which helped spread enthusiasm across different groups.

Also in the staff room, we (actually, superstar PE teacher Alex Thomas did this for us) put up simple brainstorming posters for teachers to share tips and tricks with our original “essential 8″ apps (now the “big 10″), as well as ideas for new apps.

Formal Team-Based PD

In addition to the more casual weekly meetings, we wanted to make sure that all teacher teams had a more formal opportunity to learn together, facilitated by either me or Clint (depending on who was available). Each team of 4 – 5 teachers were given a half day of release time to further explore their use of the iPad, as a companion device to our existing laptops. At the start, we thought each team may want a different session based on their subject area of interest or their skill level, but we found quickly that this proposed agenda template actually worked really well for all teams.

The focus of each meeting was:

  • getting to know our (then) essential 8 apps
  • what do we want students to know and be able to do (during the trial time), how do we traditionally get there, and how can we take advantage of the iPads to enhance that learning experience
  • how can we create a streamlined and effective learning environment with multiple devices and the use of air server
  • finding and vetting new apps to add to our list

From these conversations we realized a few important things:

  • Taking the time to focus our professional development on the learning outcomes we would like to see for our students was a very valuable process – and sometimes challenging because of the desire to discuss the apps over the learning process.
  • Selecting 10 apps that can work across subject areas helped teachers see the power of the iPad for reflection, documentation, sharing and collaborating (rather than focusing solely on content delivery).
  • Many of our groups were mixed-department, which made for much richer conversations that could focus on the overall goals for trial (enhancing learning), rather than getting bogged down in subject-specific or department-specific challenges.
  • We are going to need to continue to refine our list of “big 10″ apps as teachers and students come up with exciting new ways to use their iPads – every conversation I had inspired tons of new ideas for how we help students share their thinking with each other.

Sharing & Reflecting on Teacher Learning

As with every school, our teachers are busy people. We are conscious of the fact that they have lots of things going at once, and even with the enthusiasm over getting a new iPad, we know we need to be as clear and streamlined as possible in our communication and expectations. So, we set up a collaborative blog for all teachers to contribute to over the course of the trial.

This blog is also where we share the updates about the trial, agendas and minutes for meetings, and all related resources. Since we just introduced the iPads to the students last week, I’m hoping that we’ll see some documentation and sharing on the blog in the next few weeks. We’ve also organized a meeting agenda template in our collaborative Google Drive folder for all minutes of both the formal and informal PD – which should be a good way to document the thinking of each teacher group. Finally, we have an iPads@YIS Diigo group (with an RSS feed on the shared blog) that all teachers can join to share resources they come across.

Next Steps: Connecting with the Community

We’ve had some great conversations with teachers over the last few months. It’s absolutely fantastic to see the enthusiasm and excitement over this new development continue through some major school events (MYP Authorization and Next Chapter Training, various breaks, exams, and tons of PD hosted at YIS including #edcamp, #beyondlaptops, COETAIL final presentations). In recent weeks teachers have started sharing their unit plans with us, suggesting new apps that they have explored with their teacher PD group, and, of course, continued sharing ideas and resources with each other in the staff room.

In addition to working with teachers, we also wanted to make sure that all stakeholders felt involved in the implementation and outcome of the trial. In my next post, I’ll share how we structured our Community Focus Group (of teachers, students and parents), and then our iPad Institute for students.

From what I can tell, we’re one of the only schools in the world (the other being The Avenues School in NYC) that is implementing this kind of 2:1 program… has anyone else tried anything like this? Any suggestions?


20% Adventure

2014 May 4
by Kim Cofino

Over the past few years, I’ve been very fortunate to have the opportunity to present at various conferences, lead weekend workshops, consult with other international schools to help them leverage technology for learning, and continue to teach COETAIL both face-to-face at YIS and in our online cohorts. Collaborating with other educators in all of these settings is really inspiring to me and helps push my thinking so that I can bring back new ideas to YIS.

Although I absolutely love all of these experiences, this year I realized that these opportunities outside of my formal teaching job are taking more and more of my time (in a good way). Because I’m not entirely sure where this kind of work will take me, and because I am so happy working at YIS, I’ve been feeling torn about how to manage everything – without spending every evening and weekend working to catch up.

So, back in January, I had a great conversation with my superstar admin team (one of the many reasons I love working at YIS) about how I can continue the work that I do at YIS, and finding time in the working week to continue developing those outside opportunities.

During that conversation, I realized a few things:

  • I like going to work. Well, I’ve always known this, but I really freaked out at the thought of not going to work and not being part of a school. I like being with people, having a common goal that we can work towards together, being able to bounce ideas around with a team, and generally having some kind of routine in my life.
  • I really value the opportunity to implement ideas in an open-minded and innovative learning community like YIS. It’s hard for me to suggest ideas to others without having actually followed through and done them myself, so that I really understand the nuance and can share the practical elements of implementation.
  • Working with students is my favorite part of the day. I’ve really enjoyed being able to teach grade 6 at YIS, not only for the time I get to spend with those awesome kids, but also feeling like I’m a “real” teacher – not “just a coach” or someone who doesn’t have to do all the things that teachers do (that are so quickly forgotten when you leave the classroom).
  • I’m not a huge risk taker. I like trying new things, but I also appreciate having some kind of consistency and support network – professionally, socially and financially.
  • So, what would really work out best for me (at this time, with this situation) is one day off per week – really to focus on teaching COETAIL online, but also to give me the opportunity to travel, if needed. Ideally this would be a Friday or a Monday for those weekend trips.

Thankfully, I work in a fantastic and supportive school, and after we discussed all of these various elements, we agreed that working 80% would be a great match for both my professional needs and the work I need to continue doing at YIS. Not only was it wonderful to hear how supportive everyone on the admin team was about this new adventure, but it was fascinating (to me) to see how completely unsurprised they were that I would be interested in moving in this direction. I think everyone (at different times, and in different conversations) said they were expecting me to ask about this soon (they clearly know more than me about my future career moves).

So, next year I’ll have one day a week to start focusing on some exciting adventures! We’ve also agreed that if I need to do longer traveling in the year (which I will for Learning 2.0 in Bangkok and Addis Ababa) I can work some extra Fridays in lieu of those travel days. Mostly I think I’ll be working on the COETAIL online cohorts (the next one starts in September!), but there is another exciting venture in the works (more soon) that will certainly take up even more of my time. I love working with other schools, so hopefully I’ll have some opportunities to do some more traveling (already booked, a weekend with NIST, a conference in Korea at KIS, and a week in Amman at ACS).

Even though this doesn’t seem like a huge risk – just one day off a week – it does seem a bit daunting to me. I enjoy working, particularly at YIS, and I’m just not sure how I’ll feel about working from home, doing even more traveling (which is exhausting) and feeling slightly disconnected from my main job. I’m also thinking the more time I have to work on “other things”, the more time I’ll spend working – which is not really what I’m going for, but might have to be the way it is, at least at the start.

For those that have already tried this model, what did you think? What works well? What should I avoid or watch out for? What do I need to plan for now?


#beyondlaptops & the power of vulnerability

2014 April 26
by Kim Cofino

We just wrapped up our annual #beyondlaptops mini-conference here at YIS, and again, for the fourth year in a row, I am amazed at the grounded, open, collaborative and thoughtful conversations we had over our three days together. Although the participant group changes every year, there is something special about the format that really creates a fantastic community of learners.

Although it’s very hard to articulate exactly what it is that makes #beyondlaptops so special (just like COETAIL, in my opinion), I did have a realization as we were working together last weekend: everyone in the room is willing to be vulnerable:

  • Participants have a huge range of comfort levels with technology (from tech directors and coaches to admin, coordinators and teachers) – and everyone (everyone!) is willing to give it a try. Even though technology is not the focus of the event, using a variety of tools to communicate, and understanding major trends, are both a big part of our time together. At this year’s event, we asked everyone to record a short clip (less than 1 minute) of themselves talking about their learning and then to create a remix from everyone’s clips using YouTube Editor. For those that don’t use those kinds of tools regularly, that could be (and I think it was, for some) a very intimidating experience. But, everyone participated (even though it may have really stressed them out) and during the remix session everyone was so focused you could hear a pin drop!
  • The planning team is always willing to take risks and try new things. The remix project is a great example – we had no idea if the videos would show up using the keyword #beyondlaptops in the title, we weren’t able to upload all the student videos in time, and we wouldn’t have had any video to remix if people didn’t make their individual videos. But, in taking that risk we learned how collaborative YouTube Editor actually can be, and developed some absolutely outstanding products which much more authentically represent the learning that happened than the  centralized and controlled (and more “flashy”) video we created in the past.
  • We’re all willing to share both our successes and challenges. There were no teams that refused to share, and no teams that only focused on the great things their school is doing. We represented our schools, and ourselves, honestly. Because of that honesty, we were able to learn so much more than we would have if we were all trying to outdo each other or present only the best versions of ourselves. During the design thinking challenge, my partner made the comment “this is like a therapy session!” When you don’t hold back, you stand to have the most to gain.

Looking Back

Although we have had a fantastic event each year, this element of vulnerability really stuck out to me this year. When we all appreciate that each of us has something to share and something to learn, we really do open ourselves up to the possibility of becoming better than we were when we started. So, as I think ahead to our next conference (the best time to plan is when it’s fresh in your mind, right?), here are the elements I want to make sure we maintain:

The Participants

This is not something special to this year, because every year the participants are amazing, but it really felt like this group bonded really quickly. I’m wondering if it was partly because we moved the conference dinner to the first night so that everyone had a chance to get to know each other very early on. Keeping our numbers set at 40 participants also helps create a close connection where most people know each others’ names by the end of the first day.


For the second year in a row, we’ve asked participants to attend in teams of 2 – 4. All four members of each team should have a different job title (administrator, tech coach, teacher, curriculum coordinator, for example). Having participants attend in teams not only helps give different perspectives on each topic, it helps ensure that the learning that happens at #beyondlaptops can continue on once participants get home.


Each year we include some form of action, as a way to consolidate our learning together, and as a demonstration of what we learned. This year we tried a few new things:

  • the video remix using participant produced clips and YouTube Editor,
  • an individual Design Thinking conversation, which led into a team-based Design Thinking challenge to solve a larger school-based problem,
  • a mini-presentation (in teams) sharing learning highlights and plans for future implementation.

These projects help give us a focus and a purpose to our time together. They work really well for people who prefer hands-on learning, and they give teams time to debrief, reflect and apply the learning from the three days. Although we wouldn’t want to do exactly these same projects again next year, the idea of application of learning is an important one.

The Planning Team

For the second year in a row, we had an all-star planning team (Heather Dowd, Rob Newberry, Michael BollSteve Katz, Dana Watts, Robert Duckworth) to work with me and Clint. Since only Clint and I are working at the same school, we had regular Google Hangouts every other week in the few months leading up to the conference. Having so many different ideas and perspectives allows us to develop an event that would really reflect the needs of the participants.


There are no presentations at #beyondlaptops. Everything is a facilitated discussion based on an idea, a resource or a question. This year we worked really hard to make sure that those sessions were determined as much by the participants as the planning team. We did a pre-conference survey to see what people were interested in, and then asked specific participants to facilitate discussions (thank you Patrick, Tyler, Hamish, and the rest of the planning team!), or created activities led by different members of the planning team. This means that although we spend most of the three days all together in the same room, there’s no one presenter, no “talking at” participants, and that the agenda can be flexible and change as the discussion evolves. We also make sure to include unconference time for all of those conversations that we weren’t able to think about in advance. This structured unstructured time really allows for participants to be actively involved in all aspects of the conference, and to steer conversations in the ways that are most interesting to them.


For the first time, we decided to add a theme to each day, rather than just slotting in events where they fit, we looked at the big topics that participants requested and organized them into three separate categories. This enabled us to select appropriate guest speakers that could deepen our thinking on the topic and start the day in focus. We were also able to develop activities that really highlighted the key elements of each theme.


Each day we made sure there was something we could interact with so that we weren’t just talking about big ideas, but we were actually testing them out. On the first day it was our student participants who had the hands-on focus in their Raspberri Pi workshop (which we then heard about later in the day). Getting to work through the design thinking process with Heather and Patrick after hearing about the importance of design from Trung Le on the second day was really valuable (and I now have some great ideas to solve my challenge). Spending most of Saturday creating these awesome remixes of the videos participants created was a great opportunity to explore more with a new tool and to see just how collaborative YouTube Editor can actually be.

Looking Ahead

Along with continuing the elements above, there are a few elements I want to make sure we add for next year:

Connecting Early

Mads had the great suggestion of finding a way for the participants to get to know each other a bit before participants arrive. This way participants will know who they might value connecting with at the event, as well as have a good idea of both the schools and the jobs represented. Hopefully this will spark some discussion before the event and possibly inspire some actual sessions when we’re face to face. In order to get this started, we’ve created a G+ community, which hopefully will also be a great place to store and share resources as well.

On-Air Hangouts

We are very fortunate to have some really amazing guest speakers join us via Skype or Hangouts. As we were chatting with Kevin Honeycutt and Ginger Lewman this year, Clint mentioned that it would be a great idea to host these as on-air hangouts so others could participate as well. Such an easy way to connect with past participants, and with others who may be interested but not able to attend.

Advance Prep

In order to keep pushing the limits of what we can do when we’re together, as well as to make the most of our time during the conference, Heather and Rob have been talking about asking participants to bring materials or media with them. We could then use those student samples (for example) or media produced at the school, for deeper conversations or an action project. Often it’s difficult to ask participants to prepare something for a conference in advance – especially those that haven’t attended before – but with the team format, usually there is at least one person that has been in the past and understands the format of the event. If we share some of those resources in the G+ group in advance, we could also have some really interesting conversations before people arrive.

Student Involvement

Every year we increase the level of student involvement. We started out with just a panel and have now progressed to student workshops, feedback sessions, and small group conversations at this year’s event. Next year it would be really interesting to see if we can structure a whole day with students. As Heather suggested, maybe we can work on a project together with students and then reflect on the process together. This would combine some of the major highlights of the event into one awesome day!

Final Thoughts

It is amazing to me that this event has continued to evolve and grow each year, and that it consistently gets better and better. One of the key learnings from our YIS team (Cari, Shanel, Rebekah and Zoe) was that this kind of structured unstructured time is so valuable for learning – not “sit and git” learning, but authentic conversations and thoughtful reflection that we don’t often have time for in our busy day. Our goal as a team is to find a way to bring this PD format to the whole YIS faculty to see what we can learn together. Our task now is to use the Design Thinking process to ideate ways that we can do that, successfully, for as many faculty members as possible.

I’ve attended other events that are kind of similar to #beyondlaptops (#edcamp springs to mind), but none of them are quite the same. I’m already excited about what we might be able to do at next year’s event! If you’re interested in joining us (and can get yourself and a team to Japan in April 2014), please check out the conference website and fill in the “join us” survey.


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!