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The Evolution of a Connected Learning Community: Parent Edition

2014 May 17
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by Kim Cofino

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

One of the things that made the implementation of our Connected Learning Community (1:1 program) so successful four years ago was the input and collaboration between all stakeholders in our community: parents, students and teachers. So now that we’re continuing to develop our program by trialing an additional device in grade 7 (an iPad mini, in conjunction with a MB Air 11″), we wanted to make sure we kept that collaboration going strong.

Because the addition of a second device is something quite new to many of us, and there aren’t many models out there for us to follow (if you know of any schools implementing a program like this, please let me know), we wanted to make sure that our teachers felt comfortable in this new environment before we started heavily promoting the idea within our wider community. So, we started by working closely with our grade 7 team (almost the entire middle and high school staff, actually) for the first few months (read more about that process here).

Once our teachers were feeling confident about this new learning environment we were about to create, our next step was to involve both the parents and the students to help them understand what we’re doing and why, and to work with them to collaboratively define success for our trial.

Creating a Community Focus Group

We started this process by inviting all grade 6 and 7 parents to an evening session in early March to introduce our trial. Our hope was that we would have a big crowd and could build a team for our community focus group from those attending. Although we had a great conversation, we only had a very small group join us (5 or 6 parents attended), so we did a little more promotion via the school newsletter and some personal conversations.

Once we had our core team of 6 parents who were interested and available to spend at least a half day with us, we invited students and teachers to participate in the process – developing an evenly distributed team of 6 parents, 6 students and 6 teachers.

Here’s how we structured the day:

Part 1: Revisiting our CLC Vision & Mission

Because this 2:1 trial is the next evolution in our Connected Learning Community, we wanted to start our session together by revisiting the vision statement written by our community members four years ago. This vision will drive all of our actions and decisions as we go through the trial process. It was a great way to start this meeting in particular, because only one of the parents attending had been part of those conversations four years ago. This gave us a good opportunity to really highlight our school values and help define where we are coming from and hoping to go. At this time, we also did a short recap of the earlier parent evening presentation for those parents that weren’t able to attend.

Part 2: Defining Success

Once we had the background and vision to work from, we started in peer groups (parents with parents, students with students and teachers with teachers) to determine what success would look like at the end of our trial. We thought about what students, parents and teachers would be doing, and how they would feel. A few really interesting ideas came up in this conversation (and you can read more here):

  • Students felt like having another device would make them less distracted and more responsible. They felt that having to care for two devices would keep that responsibility at the forefront of their thinking, and that being able to select the best device for the task would allow them to make better choices when focusing on school work.
  • Students felt that the portability of the device, as well as the different types of input (voice and stylus) would give them lots of different ways to share their learning – using the format that is most comfortable for them.
  • Parents felt that success would be when students are able to determine how and when to use each device – and when to put them away – being more responsible for being balanced in their lives.
  • Parents also felt that success would be when students are sharing their learning more regularly with the family.
  • Teachers felt that knowing that every student had access to a mobile device would allow much more efficient and equitable use of technology in the classroom. Right now many students have access to a mobile device, but not everyone, and this can limit some of the learning opportunities teachers select for a class.
  • Teachers felt that the customizability of the device allows students to learn, share their learning, and collaborate in ways that work best for the individual. Being able to take advantage of that customization would be a strong sign of success.
  • All of the groups mentioned that it would feel like we are all learning from each other (students, parents and teachers), that students would have more choice in how they learn and demonstrate their learning, and that we would all feel comfortable with taking risks and trying new things.

Part 3: Developing a Shared Understanding

As we brainstormed in step 2 above, all teams were documenting their thinking on a collaborative Google Doc. Next, we mixed the groups (putting parents, students and teachers together), and asked them to develop a shared understanding of what success would look like, based on their earlier conversation. In order to keep our CLC vision at the forefront of these conversations, we structured this section around the five themes of our vision. Again, lots of interesting ideas came up. Here are a few highlights (and you can read more here):

  • Attitudes and Behaviors: More learning can take place outside the classroom. Students, parents and teachers will feel empowered and open to learning anytime, anywhere.
  • Learning Environments: Learning will be more flexible in many ways: types of experiences, location, formats for sharing and documenting, and more opportunity for student choice. Students will feel more flexible and confident in trying new things.
  • Actions and Decisions: Students will make good choices about when and where to use their devices – and for how long. Students will feel more comfortable using their devices on public transportation because it’s much less unusual to see younger people using tablets than it is for them to be using computers (this was an especially interesting point).
  • Educational Experiences: More opportunities for authentic collaboration with others around the world, as well as more opportunities for the use of multimedia in learning. The use of multimedia will help students feel more engaged in their learning.
  • Community: We will all be open to the ever-changing nature of technology and innovation.

Part 4: Ensuring Success

After a break (with delicious snacks from Zest, as usual), we came back together in peer groups (students with students, parents with parents and teachers with teachers) to determine what we should and shouldn’t do to ensure the success of the trial. Again, we documented our thinking on that same collaborative Google Doc, and again, after coming to some decisions as a like-group, we merged into mixed groups to share our findings together. Here are a few highlights (and you can read more here):

We should:

  • Keep an open mind to new ideas, and be aware of the importance of sharing what we’re doing with the wider school community.
  • Encourage students to work towards solving challenges in many different ways, therefore ensuring that different learning styles are met, students are able to demonstrate their creativity, and that we are taking advantage of all that the device has to offer.
  • Continue teaching both technology skills (to all stakeholders), as well as the ethical, moral and physiological implications of using technology.
  • Accept that we won’t know everything and that everyone is learning together.

We should not:

  • Restrict use or creativity.
  • Do everything online just because we can.
  • Avoid new ideas.
  • Feel like we have to master something new before we allow students to explore.

Having been at YIS for four years now, this kind of open and honest conversation among all stakeholders is not new to me, but once again, I am honored to be a part of such a collaborative community of learners. To hear the students talking about the new and exciting ways they can use two devices, and to listen to them sharing with parents, who are so open and willing to talk about these new ideas, all in the same room is just outstanding.

After the meeting was over and I read through the minutes (which have not been edited by anyone, and accurately represent the conversation as each person documented it), I was blown away by the thoughtful and open-minded attitude that everyone in the room demonstrated. I absolutely love that we can have these conversations and then share them with our wider school community (via our collaborative blog) so that everyone feels involved in the decision making process.

Next Steps: Continued Conversations

Our next steps will be to have at least one more follow up session with the CFG in late May or early June after the trial ends. We’ll of course provide a recap for the whole school, as well as opportunities for everyone to share their feedback in a variety of methods. It would be nice to see if we can find a time for the CFG group to meet once during the trial, but knowing how busy everyone is, this might be tough to schedule…

In my next post, I’ll share the structure and outcome of our iPad Institute for Students which was the launch of our 2:1 trial (and included a great session with students and parents learning together too).


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.