Tag Archives: skype in the classroom

Big Idea at ISTE2015: Student Agency

I was fortunate to be able to attend the ISTE conference in Philadelphia.  There were over 15,000 educators there, so you can imagine the passion, excitement, and learning that happened!  I will share the tools I learned about over the course of the summer, but in this post, I want to reflect on the presentations that had the most significant impact on me.  Perhaps it is because I have been focusing on digital leadership and student voice in my own work,  but the big idea which seemed to be an over-arching theme  at ISTE for me, was the notion of student agency which I heard a few times at ISTE and which is articulated nicely in this post.  The idea being that when students are given autonomy and power over their own learning, they are in control of their own development and therefore more invested in the process of learning. This is not a new idea in Education–it’s been a buzzword for a long time now, but it’s one thing to talk about it, and another to see examples of this in action.  Below are the presentations and the examples which made this idea come to life for me.

Jennifer Scheffer, Panelist for ISTE 1:1 PLN — Challenges and Solutions for Large-Scale PD

Jennifer Scheffer (@jlscheffer), a Technology Integration Specialist/Mobile Learning Coach for Burlington Public Schools, located in Burlington, Massachusetts spoke about a unique course she created in which students run a Help Desk to assist other students and teachers.   This was perhaps one of the most significant examples of the power of student agency.  Students are not only assisting other students with tech applications at their own school, but they are interviewing industry people, and using social media to create a powerful digital footprints.  They are true Digital Leaders!  Check out the link to the Burlington Publish School Help Desk Site for a glimpse into what this looks like.

Here’s Jenn’s ISTE Ignite where she encapsulates the BHS Help Desk program in 5 minutes/20 slides:

What is the impact of this program? This powerful video reflection by one of her students says it all.

I’ve reached out to Jennifer, who has been amazingly helpful, and hope to explore what this could look like in our District.  Surely, there is potential for the Help Desk idea to happen anywhere?

Shannon Miller, ISTE Librarians Network Annual Breakfast Keynote.

A Teacher-Librarian extraordinaire, and Tech Integration Specialist, Shannon Miller (@shannonmmiller) has made connecting students a priority at Van Meter in Iowa.  She engages students in opportunities to connect with experts and other students around the world and advocates that it is important for students to have access to other people in the world.  One of the most powerful testimonials came from a young 6th grade student whose school experience was transformed when she connected with an author on Skype.  Meridan has gone on to create her own blog, Meridan’s Little Voice,  in which she showcases tech tools and inspires other students.  Check it out here.

In her keynote, Miller focuses on the many ways in which connecting students and giving them a voice is not only rewarding, but should be a priority for educators.

(Fast forward to 10:15) The quality isn’t the best, but it the message is worth the effort.

Miller’s blog can be found here. 


Chris Lehmann and Diana Laufenberg:  Transforming Schools into Modern Learning Environments

Chris (@chrislehmann) Diana (@dlaufenberg) of the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia spoke to the Inquiry process and how it has transformed learning for students at SLA.

I was completely inspired by the way in which inquiry-based learning has created a place for students to take control of their own learning.  One example Lehmann & Laufenberg showcased centered around the inquiry question, “How are local communities shaped by history?” Students were to create a hypertextual narrative telling the story of a building within their zip code.  They selected a building with a name on it and had to research the origin of that name.  The results?  Incredible and meaningful.  Check out their CAPStone Project in which students explore the questions,  “How do we learn?” “What can we create?” and “What does it mean to lead” through a self-selected and designed independent project.

I am excited about exploring the potential of Inquiry-based learning in secondary schools in our District and Diana has offered to lend a hand!

George Couros  The Innovator’s Mindset

George (@gcouros), whose presentations are always so dynamic and engaging (in fact people were pressed up against the back doors to hear his talk), speaks to the Innovator’s Mindset, which is intricately connected to giving students opportunities to not just “do school” but to become participants in what that school could look like.  He advocates that leaders spend time in schools to listen to students and what they have to say.  To me, Couros’ focus on relationships & the innovative leader are the essential ingredients: only by establishing a context of trust by leaders in Districts and schools can innovation flourish as in the examples above. Each of the presenters had Superintendents & Principals that were champions for them so that innovation could happen.  Couros resources can be found here.

Everyone who attended ISTE brought their own context and experience to the sessions they attended. I’m sure that what I got out of these sessions, may be completely different from the learning of others.   Feel free to peruse the #ISTE2015 hashtag for other perspectives and check out for post-ISTE reflections at Tech & Learning.

Cross-grade Collaboration

I had the privilege this week to work with two awesome teachers: Eric Fabroa (Communications Technology teacher) and his RAMS Media Film Club, and Rob Cannone, a grade 6 teacher.  We had a nugget of an idea, connected online and voila, a mutually beneficial collaboration has begun between the highschool and its respective feeder school.

I can’t tell you about the project itself–that’s top secret (for now), but what I can tell you is that connecting via Google Hangout to plan a film project was completely invigorating and exciting (after our initial technical difficulties).  I think we were all giddy!    The grade 6 class, who had already been planning the script, shared it with the secondary students on Google Drive so they could come to a common vision.

The high school students are going to bring some equipment down to the elementary feeder school to film a promotional video next week.

So simple.

And yet, what a powerful experience! When students from the feeder school graduate from grade 8 and go to the high school, they will already have a connection to the school and an amazing artefact of their time together.  And the high school kids will benefit from the mentorship experience and have a film to show for it.

To me, the true transformative power of technology is that it makes it easier than ever to connect to create these real life and memorable experiences for our students.

So I’ve been thinking about other opportunities for cross-collaboration.

A few ideas:

Science:  Secondary students prepare experiments  which elementary students  complete and write the lab for.  Labs could be shared with the teacher AND the secondary students.

English: Secondary students work with a group of younger students on creative writing, paragraph writing, or any other writing genre using Google docs (writing workshop).

Geography:  Secondary students create a geocache scavenger hunt for elementary students.

Art:  Secondary students can invite elementary students to their art exhibits.  I know a few teachers who are already doing this with great results.  To extend the learning, elementary students can take a pic of their favourite art piece and ask the artist questions via any of the tools below.

Religious Education:  Co-create an awareness campaign for a charity that is important to the school community.

Physical Education:  Create an exercise and/or healthy eating routine for elementary students (age appropriate).

Here is a Google Doc I’ve created.  Feel free to add ideas!


Google Apps for Education provide a great way to collaborate with other classes.

Skype in the Classroom provides some great ideas and opportunities to connect with other teachers and classes.

Connecting with other educators on Twitter is also a great place to start if you are looking for ideas (Use hashtags i.e. #kinderchat, to find other teachers teaching the same grade).  Check out Teachthought’s Guide to Twitter hashtags.

If you already have an idea in mind, Facetime and Google Hangouts work well.  I also see lots of exciting opportunities to connect with experts and events emerging using the @periscope Twitter app.


For a successful experience, I think that the teachers should have an idea about what they would like to see happen; i.e, know the big ideas and learning goals they are hoping to achieve.  and then co-construct with students what effective collaboration will look like.  Start small.  You probably wouldn’t do this more that one time in a year to begin.

Have you already done this?  Would love to hear about it or additional ideas you have either on the Google doc or here!  If you’re in my school District and want some help connecting, please contact me and I’d love to help you to get started!