Pushing collaboration to the limit.

At our last professional learning day, we wanted to see if technology could be used to leverage the collective expertise of our entire staff. Check out the challenge we set below and the beautiful reflection from one of our staff members, Rebecca OBrien.

Thanks to Camille Lill, Brittany McCrea & Lisa Beeman for capturing the process.

3 Marks and a ticking clock

by Rebecca OBrien

SO.. why do I love my job? Maybe because it gives me an INSANE amount of stimulation as a human being.. and provides me an opportunity to see the world and my role in it in a new way.

So, if you permit.. Lemme write you a story of my day yesterday. [Please pardon the random, stilted way in which I tell the story…]

Today, during our “professional learning” day [no students], the head of Learning and Technology at our school, John Burns (a cool “outside the box” dude), decides to come out with this challenge (he calls it a “collaborative debate”) for the teachers that he totally made up from nothing. I call this his “brainchild”. He tweeted this after the initial presentation… (@j0hnburns)

There are 90 of us teachers total across two campuses presently sitting in the amphitheater of my school. After John introduces the debate question, “Is technology good for learning?”

A HS science teacher / ‘techie’ named Mark McElroy was delegated the job of dividing us into two groups. He confessed to us, rather than numbering us off, he asked us to  “raise your hand only if the person next to you isn’t raising their hand.” We all looked around, slightly perplexed and confused, as people started to raise their hands for no apparent reason. He said science teachers would understand this exercise, as it is compared to neurons transmitting signals in the body. I was one of them, since no one around me had raised their hands. It worked out perfectly — within ten seconds, every other person had their hand in the air, and those sitting directly next to/near them kept their hands down.

We were then told, in our two respective teams, the ones who had raised their hand would be “PRO” technology in education, and those who hadn’t would be “AGAINST” (or NEGatives). Then, we were explained that each team should be broken down into the following roles for the debate:

The team leaders for each ‘side’ were unexpectedly designated by John (coming from different departments in the school) and the rest of the ‘roles’ (who would do what) would be decided once the groups separated. The other group of “NEG”s left for another space, we stayed behind in the amphitheater…

The challenge? We would have 65 minutes to ‘harvest’ information/reasons and evidence for our argument, a filter to help transmit that information to the writers, a liason that should keep tabs on what everyone was doing, 3 speakers that would have to stand up and present in front of everyone the ideas of the group, 3 production members to record/document the whole process (and publish it), and 3 people working on creating the shared digital platforms (like a shared google .doc, getting everyone’s e-mail, etc.) through which we would communicate and pool our ideas …  and at the end of it all, the school’s team of tech specialists would decide the winning vote.

That was it. Just that. READY?? GO!!!

So, as the other team walked away to gather in another place, someone, somewhere pressed ‘start’ on the timer.

Tick. Tock. Tick… Tock.

My pulse quickened a bit. I thought to myself, “What can I do? Why is everyone just sitting here! LET’S GOO!!!!” I could sense that we were all feeling jittery and on edge as it was still sinking in — this was real.

The team leaders started to assert their ideas, and others asked, who wants to present? (No pressure, right?)

……….Everybody looked at one another, or down at the ground, some were shaking their head or whispering to each other “not me..”

I tentatively suggested that we decide on a common platform, I gave the idea of a padlet. There we can see each other’s ideas pop up instantaneously on the projector screen. Liz, one of our leaders, suggested a ‘live’ google doc, where we can brainstorm our ideas in real-time on a spreadsheet. But still — in many people’s mind, the question remained: Who will speak for us? (I mean, it is an oral debate.. after all.)

I started to realize though, maybe, just maybe, the speaker would actually end up having the least amount of work! In theory, the writers and harvesters had to do all the groundwork and “labor”; the speaker would simply have to articulate the ideas to the crowd.

‘Hey! .. I could do that!’ some small voice echoed from the back of my mind. (Especially if that meant not having to sit on my computer for an hour and read boring articles online arguing for some arbitrary, abstract argument that I’d already decided my opinion on.) I was always chosen to be the narrator of school plays in elementary school.. maybe this is why.

..BUT I was still scared. I mean, speak in front of the whole staff??

I looked around, back and see my jolly Wisconian PE teacher named “Knudy” (short for Mark Knudsen, @PhysEdDude). If anyone could speak, it would be him, too!  I pointed back at him smirking slyly and suggested, “Hey Mark! You should present!!” (BTW – He has a massive presence, booming voice, and light sense of humor.) He just looked back with wide eyes, silently beckoning me to stop by shaking his head. I was laughing to myself when suddenly I heard three people say my name to the side– I jerked my head in their direction and then immediately slouched further in my seat. (Karma’s something else, ain’t it?)

Still, that first idea persisted in my mind and I decided it may just be the only route; I mean, I love to talk.. and I’m proud of my abilities to articulate myself and basically, …I’m a clown. I look around as the silence starts to get awkward — still no takers. My hand just shot up as I was determined to convince myself that this would be the easy way out. I spoke questioningly aloud, “I mean, in the end you guys would have to write what I would say, right? …Ok, I’ll do it.” A slight applause went through the crowd, most likely relief. I looked back at Mark and encouraged him silently… “C’mon, let’s do this!!”

So in the end, Mark and another Mark were chosen as to be my partners in crime. One boisterous and laid back, the other of the most refined British accent and put-together demeanor around. A true alliance. While the other roles were being decided and the platform being constructed, I felt useless. So I went to map out the roles on a dry erase board (that’s the ex-sign maker from Trader Joe’s in me) and put names up next to the circles.

Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock.

As they started to pool together ideas of pro’s and con’s of technology in learning, I joined with the writers and other speakers and we got a shared google .doc started to write out our script for the debate. We had to come up with an angle.. were we gonna slam the other team, or acknowledge their points and take the higher road? We were undecided, but in the end conceded to our leader Nathan that we should say this argument was over before it started. Technology exists, so whether it’s good or not is irrelevant.

I laid out the main points a the top of the document, and helped clarify we should each take one of the main points and run with it in our respective speakers. Oh wait! We were missing a writer!!

I started taking notes of everyone’s thoughts, and in the end we all constructed our own arguments. We didn’t have access to the information being gathered by everyone else until the last 10 minutes before the debate, and my writer was trying to get me to focus on some arguments I didn’t see as too powerful. I would be the introduction to our argument.

As some people tried to come up and give suggestions, I noticed how people were talking over one another, and it was like invisible threads were being weaved together as “You do this, I do this.” Delegation and cooperation was key — don’t lose focus. Any questions go to the leader. Any clarifications go to the liaisons, who at some points seemed a bit lost in the shuffle between harvesters and writers.

Finally, it was time. I didn’t want to get up from my table, and my writers were telling them to wait for me. “She needs time!” they whispered to our leader Liz; I felt shielded from the pressuring complaints and was allowed a few more precious moments for watering down my ideas. I didn’t even get time to support my main point with research that the harvesters had worked so hard to prepare!

Ok, ok.. the other team was waiting. This was it. The Marks and I lined up and sat down at a table in front of all the staff. My adrenaline was pumping, as I personally was still feeling a bit unprepared but ready for a fun fight with a smile on my face.  I clapped myself into an enthusiastic state. My writers were tweaking details on the google .doc as I carried my computer up to the podium. I was glad to know they were there with me, on the inside.

As I began reading my introduction, “What is learning?” a ringing buzzer sounded.  Everyone started to laugh and I felt the tension dissolve into the corners of the room. “Great anti-climax, haha!” I joked silently to myself. I pretended to head back to my seat, for a second, as if my speech was done, and the crowd started to applaud in jovial encore. John Burns put his hand up in the air as he chuckled to himself and fumbled to set his phone to silent again for the next 120 seconds.

As I read through my speech, concentrating on my screen, I tried to keep it simple…natural, and honest. However, halfway through reading, my brow started to crease as the internal clock in me told me time was flying. I wasn’t going to finish on time… I could feel it in my stomach as my eyes glanced at the several notes still left to explain. I also felt like I was losing my train of thought, as the arguments my writer gave me didn’t seem to fit with my original approach. So I decided to jump down my last concluding lines, not remembering which was to be said later on by our 3rd speaker, so I managed to get out the phrase “This debate is over already. Why? Technology exists, so whether —”


Just a few words before finishing the high pitch ring mingled with my words. I re-spoke even louder: “…So whether it’s good or not is a moot point!!”

An enthusiastic applause billowed up from my team and bounced off of the ceiling.  I let out a long  breath of air, “Whewwww..” and retreated back to my seat. While it was a bit abstract and philosophical, my argument was at least well-timed!

As the debate carried forward, the other team introduced arguments about how technology hurts children, and our team kept our argument in the clouds… Mark #1 did well to build off of Meaghan’s provocations, and Mark #2 smoothed out some concluding words, but the ringer interrupted them as well. All of us went slightly over time… but so did the other team.

In the end, the other team was declared a winner, but it was an awesome experiment… to see 90 people working as one live organism of thought.. using technology and pooling our strengths, abilities and creativity into a 6 minute argument spoken from three mouths.

After my speech, I looked around during the debate and realized from the very beginning, the personalities and characters of my co-workers shone through in every moment. The outspoken sitting at the tables, me being one of them. Nathan (@NathanLill1) who is a word-smithing, poetry-slamming genius that loves green tea became the thread that weaved our thoughts into an articulate framework of ideas at the head writing/speaking table. Liz (@cho_liz) directed the harvesters into organized rows and made lists of data and background knowledge into a fitting table to buttress our lofty ideas and approach. We became a self-selected, intertwined, electric cloud of thoughts and information that wiggled it’s way into a coherent personality in the minds of our audience.. I’m sure it was fascinating (entertaining, as well) to watch, and even more mind-blowing to experience hands on.

I am definitely working at the right place, having fun and being challenged as a person. Yet another reason why #SISrocks and I’m feeling lucky to be here on a daily basis.


Rebecca (@b3cc4bu)

PS – For being at work on a National holiday, this is one of the coolest activities we could’ve done. It was a good time for all! Though definitely not out of the ordinary. (Sorry though that no one recorded the actual debate.. it was pretty hilarious.)

PPS – If you need a visual to go with, this is my groups quick short video documenting our process in preparing for the debate.

Feedback Loop


Both Hillary Lauder and Meaghan Wilson wanted to be able to make an impact on their students they teach every week. They wanted to view their thought process and make authentic comments on their work, to provide a value learning experience. Both of these teachers wanted something that would be a game changer in students’ assignments, reflections, and assessments. A feedback loop if you will.

After a couple of weeks I followed up with Hillary and Meaghan and asked if anything developed from our conversation on using Moxtra. This is what they shared with me.


Hillary Lauder :

What is so important about using this tool as apposed to sitting down with each student individually and conferencing with them? 

“First of all this is a paperless process, so making a conscious effort about environmental awareness.”

“Second, my commenting is so detailed that typing out my comments on their science inquiry reports would actually take more time. With Moxtra I am able to record my voice and annotation and keep that private between myself and student. I am able comment on their work while I am working outside of school hours and this done in real time. So the learning actually never stops. I’m really happy with how this also eliminates a lot of wasted time because time is so important in education.”

What is the feedback that you are receiving from students, since using this tool?

“I have received positive remarks on using this tool to make a bigger impact on assessing their science inquiry reports.”


Meaghan Wilson:

What is the biggest change that you have had in your curriculum this year?

“Reflection is critical in PE or in any subject for that matter because it means so much to learning. It was a tedious process in the past because students would email me their reflection and I would reply with my comments. This year I needed something more and Moxtra has been that for me.”

Do you and you students go beyond reflecting through Moxtra?

“I use Moxtra throughout the entire block. I prep my students with a document, video, or recording that they have to view. I then document what every student is doing and upload that content to their binders. Before class is over, I give the students ten minutes to go to their Moxtra binder and reflect on what they have accomplished in PE that day.”

“What I have started to see is that many of my students go beyond my simple reflection prompt. I have students critiquing their skills through more writing in their Moxtra binder. I now get a chance to hear students that I normally don’t hear on a regular basis through voice recording or video they capture and load to Moxtra.”

What kind of impact do you feel this has on your students?

“I feel that they are able to speak to me everyday even if I don’t get a chance to speak to them in person. I feel like I am able to make an individual impact because I get to comment on their work in real time, there is no waiting.”


Since then, the use of Moxtra has started to disseminate into other classes. So, is this the game changer?

Compartmentalize of Information

Receiving information updates via email and having that message clutter your inbox is just another step in organizing and prioritizing your digital life. Basically,  your email inbox has become that closet that you just throw old and new stuff into. So, how can you reorganize the information so that is is placed in drawers/compartments in your digital life? It’s easy: really simple syndication, better known as RSS, or an RSS feed. This a great way to consume new content, professionally and personally. The tool to best access your new content across laptop and mobile device is an application called Feedly.
To better understand more on how Feedly operates, click here. Please keep in mind that Feedly does require you to have a Gmail account in order to sign up and have access to all your resources.




Breaking Down the Walls, Little by Little

Nicki Ruthai presented Kidblog.org on our second day of professional learning here at SIS. She has been using Kidblog in her classroom for several years and has found it to be a powerful tool for her students. Here is what she as to say about it.

“I use Kidblog to show case learning in my classroom and as an ePortfolio. What is special about Kidblog is how I am able to connect with other classrooms around the world. It so happens a lot of the schools that I have connected my class with are actually executing some of same exact units and concepts.

“This didn’t happen over night, I used Twitter as well as the hashtag #comments4kids to have students from other schools comment on my learners’ work. My students are actively engaged in their blogs and are always excited to read and view the number of comments they have on their posts. It’s a process, whatever platform you are using, Macbook Pro, PC, or mobile device it is important to set precedents when blogging. I also taught my students how to comment on other students work, whether in my class or another school around the world. I really feel it can be used at all grade levels, it really has made each of my students work personal and authentic. ”

If you have any questions about KidBlog.org, feel free to connect with Nicki Ruthai or just visit her Kidblog or class twitter account to view the powers at hand.


Where is my Device

What happens if my iPad is lost or stolen?

Who to inform:

Student: Teacher, administrator, and parent.

Teacher: eSupport staff or eLearning staff.

Our own system may also be able to track your lost device, otherwise follow the instruction below.

Immediately go to iCloud dot com

1. Sign-in to your iCloud using your Apple ID & password.

a. Select “Find My iPhone.”

12. Map of your bound Apple ID devices will appear.


3. Select on the button that indicates device.

Select the device that is lost from the list below if you have more than one bound device.


4. Three options are given to choose from.

Depending on the severity of the missed placed device, you have three options to choose.


5. For recovery select lost device.

a. If your device has a passcode, enter the code and proceed on to the following. Then cross your finger and hope for the best.

b. If you know where your device may be select play sound.

c. If you know for sure that it will not be recovered, select erase device.




The Power of the Podcast

Short History of Audioblogging or Podcasting:

Audioblogging as it was once known actually came about in the 1980s. But it wasn’t until the beginning of the 21st century that it really took off under the new label of “Podcast,” derived from Apple’s iPod. The point of it all was to capture one’s voice so it could be heard over and over again as wanted.

Exposure to Different Media

Since the upload and streaming of video has become the norm when absorbing content, it seems natural for us to move away from a radio-like media. However, podcasting holds a great deal of power, especially in the realm of education. With videos, students need to think of multiple variables to capture their learning, whereas creating a podcast requires only a quiet room to unleash one’s creativity. Click on the links below to hear Podcasts about the planets. These Podcasts were created by our grade three SIS students in just three days. It was their first experience using Garageband and creating Podcasts, which is a testament to just how simple this platform for showcasing learning can be.


3B learners Kidblog

3C Learners Kidblog

3D Learner Kidblog


Sharing via Instashare

When students in the HS/MS Spring Musical needed to quickly access the songs they would be performing this weekend (April 12th and 13th) and all they had were iPads, Instashare to the rescue!

Instashare allows for easy sharing between iOS devices, and between OSX and iOS devices.  It works much like AirDrop on your MacBook pro.


Get Instashare for iOS


Get Instashare for Mac OSX


Below is a video tutorial of how to use Instashare to transfer files between devices. Note that the Instashare app must be open on each device to transfer files.

 Screen Shot 2013-04-08 at 10.12.20 AM

  *Remember that some files with copyrighted material must be licensed before being used on different devices.

Student eCoaches?

With so much technology at SIS, staff members can’t do it all.

Apple Distinguished Learners Bamboo Program, better known as ADL at SIS is a program for students who want to have a leadership role through technology and learning. Students who applied and got accepted into the program will be taught a number of valuable skills besides using technology in their classroom. This extracurricular program has just begun at the elementary school with grades four and five students,  but has already been up and running at the high school. The current members of the high school ADL program are working towards becoming SIS Apple Genius.

The power of the program is endless in the fact students are pushed to make the program their own. Students will be going through a number of assessments of technology and learning as well. At the elementary level and soon to be in the near future at the middle school, ADL participants will be learning the ins and out of the iPad and Macbook Pro and the powers of iOS/OSX ecosystem. Participants will use the SAMR model to redefine their education. They will use these skills to help teachers and peers troubleshoot devices issues, along with offering sound pedagogical app suggestions.

What sets this program apart from other technology programs at other schools around the world is that we are putting student eCoaches into the classroom. For more details about the program click on the image image below.



MacBook Pros for all Freshmen!

Today all 9th Graders received brand new MacBook Pros!  During a special advisory session students learnt how to set up their new devices and then ran through basic care, use and applications.

We’re really excited to see what they start creating over the coming weeks and months!  Special thanks to Mr McElroy, Mrs Kruse, Mr Ruti, Mr McCrea, Mr Bill, Mr Uy, Mr Yoseph and Mr Tsui for all their help with the preparation.

It was an exciting day for all involved – check out the pictures!