About a month ago, I was speaking to one of the Primary Mandarin teachers at our school and she was sharing with me that Google Docs was limiting in some of the features required to make her work easier when typing in pinyin for the students. I began to ask around to a few people and couldn't find quite what we were looking for in terms of a solution.
Then as luck would have it, I was investigating all the awesome add-ons in Google Docs to try to figure out which ones are most beneficial for teaching when I re-stumbled upon a goodie - Easy Accents. As someone who unfortunately only speaks English fluently, I hadn't had the need to use this add-on personally but as I read about it, I wondered if this was the answer but there were no pinyin tone feature yet.
With a 'Why not?' attitude, I emailed Dan Baker (Network Administrator, Ursuline Academy) on the chance that maybe something was in the works for the future. I cannot say enough good things about Dan. He was so helpful and quick to respond as we both tried to talk about a language we were not familiar with. After consulting with one of our Mandarin teachers, Dan came back to us with the Pinyin Tone Easy-Accent Add-On in no time.
Easy Accent Website
Over my two-week summer break, I had the pleasure of travelling to the New Delhi region in India. This was my second time in India and I had previously only been there for 2 days for the Google Teacher Academy in December. I knew I absolutely loved the food, the culture and adventure that India had to offer, but hadn't realised how much I would be accepted with open arms and such amazing hospitality by the educators I would encounter when I returned. Over my holiday, I was blessed to be welcomed into 7 schools for 7 days of workshops to do some outreach support in local public schools that focused on introducing the Google Apps for Educations tools to teachers and how they could integrate them into their classroom to support their current teaching and learning practices.
As I prepared myself to transition into a technology coach position at my current school next year, I began to realise how different my role would be. Every session was unique, even though a lot of days I was facilitating workshops with the same products. No day was the same and each had its own unique challenges. I very quickly learnt that working with adult learners is a very different experience than working with my nine-year-old students, but yet some core factors stayed the same. The more I facilitated workshops, the more I began to explore how adults want to be supported in their learning journey.
Throughout my time, I constantly was reflecting on my experience and came away from the experience with valuable lessons.
1. Embrace questions.
Sometimes teachers fear the unknown. You can have a lesson planned out one way and a student asks a question that makes the lesson shoot off in a completely different direction - I love that. You begin to learn after a day or two of workshops what questions teachers have, how to reduce the fear of uncertainty for those participating in a workshop but also embrace the fact that you never are quite sure what you will be doing when facilitating workshops. No question is a bad question. When you take the time to listen to someone and walk someone through how they can be successful, you are able to spark more curiosity to learn. Often more questions will come from solving one query - those are my favourite. To see teachers continuously become more excited about what they were doing as they learn each piece of the puzzle is truly a treat to experience. I loved when teachers engaged in asking questions and it made my job easier than trying to guess what they wanted to learn by knowing I was actually helping them meet the needs of their inquiries. I'm so thankful that the educators felt comfortable asking the questions so I could support them. I also loved that the learning hasn't stopped since I left their schools and that the conversations and questions are continuing even though we are now separated by distance.
2. The Internet is not always reliable.
I am very privileged to work in an international school in Singapore where I don't have to think twice about having a consistent internet in my classroom. I know that I can plan a lesson using the computer and I can execute it without the concern of having the internet drop out. But that isn't the case in all schools in India. The internet would drop out at times or even be very limited in some cases. For me, it definitely kept things interesting and forced me to be ready for anything. If the internet did drop, I was constantly forced to evaluate how I could keep the audience engaged and learning without becoming frustrated and give up. I also learnt how valuable it is to have a backup plan. For me, this was having a Google Slides presentation for the various apps that could help walk teachers through the tools at the moment but could also act as a resource beyond my time at their school. I am empathetic towards teachers who work through these challenges every day and yet continue to inspire their students and embrace a world of technology.
3. Repeat the instructions - often.
I've always thought students are better students than teachers. But the level of excitement and engagement for teachers and students can always be high if you go about it the right way. Teachers seem to like to listen and do at the same time, rather than watch, then do. Therefore, a one time demo isn't always sufficient. Just like students, instructions need to be repeated verbally, demonstrated and also have time for teachers to 'do' what they are being shown. When you walk around and support teachers, you have to be ready to repeat, repeat, repeat what you've said again and again while also not making them feel small that they didn't understand the instructions the first time or two or three. Learning is a process. We all learn at a different rate and in different ways. It's our job as facilitators to help find the best way to help our students discover how to be successful in their learning and support them with the resources and means necessary.
4. Patience is a must.
I wouldn't consider myself a patient person, especially outside of my classroom. I like efficiency in my personal life and have always said I use up all my patience each day with my students. However, I found this sense of calm working with teachers that I hadn't experienced before as I walked teachers through different features of an app step by step and having them do it, rather than me. It was almost a very zen experience. Not once did I feel overwhelmed, frustrated or rushed. We just took our time and explored as necessary and flowed onto the next application when we were ready. Some days we focused on one app for an hour and the next day it only took twenty minutes and worked through challenges as they presented themselves. As a facilitator, I learnt that in the face of any challenge you have to stay calm as your 'students' are looking to you for that sense of security and insurance.
5. Stay positive.
The moment you become negative, you will lose your audience - so don't. When you are positive in a room, the energy and excitement levels will go through the roof. Creating a safe environment to learn in allows teachers to the fullest and feel safe making mistakes and growing. Technology isn't meant to be something that is a pain for teachers, even though there is a learning curve. By having a smile on the face and showing teachers you are learning together helps break down their defensive walls against technology. No obstacle can't be overcome and it's important to help teachers develop their growth mindset mentality.
6. Be flexible.
I never really knew what type of school I are was walking into each day, the technology and comfort levels of the teachers or how often the teachers were even using the tools. I very quickly learned that building relationships and engaging in conversations before a workshop began was a sure way to begin to figure those things out. I loved hearing about where teachers were at in their technology integration and how much they wanted to do this, but sometimes just weren't sure how to go about it yet. I became very aware of how to read the audience to know when they were struggling with a concept or when teachers felt like they accomplished a task. I noticed the small things that made a big difference to how I would adjust to my teaching environment. I knew that I had to be open-minded when the direction of the workshop would change without planning and two seconds later I'd be showing a different application I hadn't planned to share that day. I really felt like I had be a chameleon adapting to it's surroundings to meet the needs of the teachers.
7. Have fun
Every one of those 7 workshops were unique. Nothing ever went the same or fully as 'planned'. The only consistency was making it fun for both the workshop participants and myself. I was on spring break after all. But learning should be fun. It shouldn't be stuffy and a lecture from the front of the room for hours and hours - that's not real learning. Students need to be getting their hands messy and trying things. As they make mistakes, they ask questions and problem solve. I learnt to not take things so seriously and when I was faced with my own uncertainty with a question we figured it out together. Technology can be daunting for some teachers but when you create a learning environment that can minimise that fear, teachers actually get motivated to develop their skills. We laughed, we smiled, we had fun, we experienced, we grew - that to me is learning.
By the end of the two weeks, I began to look at the role of a workshop facilitator and technology coach with a new perspective and even more excitement. The experience forced me to think about how educators learn best and reflect on how I learn best too. It also helped me think critically about what I need from others to feel supported and successful in my new role and how I could take that thinking and translate it to help better support other educators. The amount of personal growth in such a short time seemed tremendous to me and I am so thankful for the opportunity to work with over 200 educators from around the Delhi region. This experienced filled me with excitement and has motivated me to continue to push myself further as an educator with a new perspective of teaching and learning. I can't wait to see where my journey takes me next and look forward to learning from every opportunity that continues to unfold.
Sometimes I throw my kids a challenge that might seem a little unreasonable.
"Let me show you how to build a Google Site from a blank template. I've got about 10 minutes to show you some things you need to know or might want to try. Then you have 30 minutes to design - that's it."
But that's exactly what we did today.
I pre-made the 4 google sites that students would be working on today. (1 for each group of 4 students) and shared it with all group members as owners. I had done it the night before and had been getting emails ever since it hit the students' inbox as they were excited to get started. The sites were simple, boring and if my students had anything to do with it, about to be transformed to look nothing like that ever again.
After showing my students this site, I showed them my professional site I had just created a few weeks prior. This was done to give them a sample of what they would be doing without showing them an exact site they could replicate about ecosystems. They had seen it before as I had asked them for their feedback on it, but this time it was good for them to see a before and after type demonstration. In addition, I find my students like to see that I have done or am doing the same thing they are as it helps to remove the divide between teacher vs. student.
The first thing I suggested the students did was to choose 2-3 colours as their theme for their site. It was important that the students thought about the content that would be put on their course, colours that complemented each other and represented the group as they wanted to be seen. One group was very specific in asking for a site to match colours and I provided them with https://color.adobe.com and http://paletton.com as reference points. I even had one group create a colour swatch with their 3 colours in an image with the hex#'s as a reference point for the entire team and utilised them to customise other fonts later. Most groups chose colours that worked well together.
From there it was time to make the site look better than it did. Most teams split in half to conquer site design/layout and creating the header in pairs.
The header was an important part of the site for the students as it would be on their site no matter where they were on their site. There were lots of options for creating headers - Google Drawing, Pages, Canvas, but most went to the internet to find an initial image that inspired them. This was in and of itself an important lesson in how to search. After searching for an image, I suggested to students they selected 'Search Tools' and then 'Usage Rights' where they could select images that were 'labelled for reuse with modification'.
After students had selected their image and saved it to their desktop, they could open it in Preview and adjust the size from the Tools drop-down menu. We did our best to resize the image into an appropriate header size. Some additional features at this point such as text.
Then it was off to https://pixlr.com/ to use Pixlr Express. As we are a Google Apps For Edu school, we chose to go to our Drive, select new, connect more, connect more apps and choose to connect Pixlr Express to our drive. From there, students had the option to make adjustments, add text, stickers, overlays and effects to create a header that suited their particular taste. Here are a few they came up with. Most teams tried quite a variety of options and ideas before settling on the headers you see here.
These were easy to insert as a header and we also removed the logo from the site design.
The other team members were in charge of the look of the rest of the page, while still communicating with their team as a whole to create a cohesive project. The students had to make a number of tabs for their different lessons/ levels within their courses. They could choose from a horizontal navigation or a sidebar navigation. It was unanimous that the horizontal navigation was the preferred choice by the student.
Once the header and tabs were in place, the students could just really begin to play around with the overall design. I showed my students how to manage the site using themes, colours and fonts. Many became fascinated in ways they could change the hover colours, spacing and shape of the tabs, colours of different sections and adding images.
There was a lot of engaging discussions going on along the way such as debating colour choices, the alignment of tabs, and if the picture of a puppy as a header was the best choice of the unit. As I walked around and also met with groups to check in on their progress, it was wonderful to just be able to respond with a question and allow the students to think about their designs. Sometimes they made smart decisions when they reflected on the question asked and sometimes they made design choices I disagreed with. But in the end, the work was their own. Never telling them no you can't do that, but rather allowing them to rethink their choices in design allowed them to collaborate more to come up with a final product they were proud of.
Honestly, I was amazed. Less than 30 minutes and this kind of design work was produced as a collaborative team of 4 with all students engaged and eager to do more. Can't wait to see what they do once they start putting some content into their sites soon.
This year I started the program from the beginning of the school year. I believe this allowed me to help build the relationships with my students from day one. Overall, the students have been very responsive. It really has allowed a few of my students to blossom as writers. These students in particular really think about the feedback they are given and I can clearly see it being applied in the following email. This just emphasises the need for timely and specific feedback for students.
Many of the same writing areas of growth appeared and have allowed me to have a more targeted approach from the beginning of the year. The biggest one will always be quantity and quality writing. We have started our dialogue about how to create paragraphs that really give your readers a ‘juicy hamburger’ paragraph (detailed paragraph) instead of a ‘grilled cheese’ paragraph (a small paragraph with not much in it).
One student this year has asked to write a weekly letter by hand to improve her cursive handwriting. I have no problem with this and provided her with resources for handwriting as well. However, she still wanted me to email my response back so she could have one on Monday morning in her inbox like the rest of the students.
It’s important for my students to know the conversation isn’t just one way either. I always allow my students to ask me questions about whatever they want, and yes that sometimes means questions about who I am and my life. As long as they are appropriate, I have no problem answering them as I think it’s important for students to see you as a person just as they are. So far I’ve never had anything come my way I wouldn’t answer. Perhaps I’m just lucky to have such respectful students. I’ve always felt being honest with my students is essential if I expect the same from them so sharing about my holidays or relating to them with stories from my own life growing up or whatever the case may be is something I think is important for my students to see.
There was one weekend when I was away at a conference for a few days and into the weekend where I did not send individual responses to students. Instead, I sent a general email to the whole class. The students were understanding of it and I responded to many of the common questions asked throughout all of the emails that week. But the following week I was back to the individual emails again.
It is a time-consuming project on my end but I truly believe the value of it outweighs that. One thing I have done to help me combat spending so much time on email writing every weekend is to create a canned message template for each week. In doing so, each student hears about maybe something I did on the weekend, something that might be coming up to look forward to in class or another topic that pertains to all students. Then, I will respond individually to the content of their emails and provide feedback where necessary. It still means sending an email to every student but I’m not rewriting every single word in every email.
For one of my beginner ESL students, this has been a really positive experience this year. He always sends me his email in English (his native language is Japanese) because he wants to improve his English and he has! He went from a one or two sentence email to sometimes up to two paragraphs now. The other really interesting part is how he uses images and videos in his emails to help convey his messages to me. Without the use of technology, we would not have this ability.
I had a student who was very disruptive during class at the beginning of the year. We tried different strategies in class to help him be successful in whole class settings but I always found he was more successful when he was able to use the computer to communicate his thoughts. In his emails, he would always express how he didn’t want to call out but couldn’t help himself and how much he enjoyed the class. His emails provided me more insight into the student I saw in class. The dialogue created through this digital medium allowed us to reflect on what was happening in class and what we could do together to make the classroom environment work for him. I don’t believe these conversations wouldn’t have happened in class to the same effect as they have.
On holidays and summers, I still get emails from my students - not all, but some. It always surprises me who emails me too. Often it is some of the students who really didn’t like writing when they came to me. It makes me confident that the plan worked. It makes me confident that students want to have an audience for writing, that building relationships with students is important and that sometimes writing isn’t just about writing.
Many students come and go in an internationally community and I still hear from some of them every now and again. I heard from ½ of the students who moved to another country at the start of this school year and left our school community. Sometimes students need that sense of comfort from their old life as they start a new one. I’ve always said to all my students, if you write me an email, I will respond. Sometimes that sense of security, as little as an email is, is what a child needs most.
The greatest success of these writing program is that is has had impacts much farther and more meaningful than just my students’ writing. It really is impacting who they are as a person as they grow. Each week I have the pleasure of reading about sleepovers, friends moving away, disagreements on the playground, celebrations at home, parents returning from business trips and more. Each week they open up their little lives to me with trust and respect and I do my best to do the same. It has become more than writing - it is a dialogue to build the foundation of relationships, skills and attitudes that go beyond what is reported on any report card. I can only hope that I can continue to be that source of support both inside and outside of the classroom this year.
GMAIL: Home Writing Program Plan
Last year I began a writing program in my class where the students would write me an email each week and I would respond. I created a thought out plan with input from our Director of Education Technology and off I went. After just over a year of doing this, I opened up the same document to check in and see if I was still doing everything I had set out to do and reflect on the overall effectiveness of the program.
Here is the plan created in October 2013:
In my first year of teaching, a colleague of mine had a grade 4 class who did ‘Thinking Thursday’ every week for a lesson. The concept was simple – write what you were thinking about. Students had an option to write a letter to the teacher, choose a topic from the jar or write about whatever they wanted. Surprisingly, most students would choose to write a letter to the teacher.
We had many discussions about the power of a letter back and forth between the teacher and student
I personally have never been one to be good at communicating in person and have found writing a better form of communication for me as I am able to think through what I want to say before saying it. While it takes away the initial face to face conversations, it will allow for more meaningful conversations inside the classroom and help me relate to my students more.
I have decided to incorporate this as part of their homework rather than an in-class assignment for the simple reason that it utilises technology and writing in a way that will captivate students and allow them to develop their writing skills without feeling they have to write a polished piece to publish.
Why Not Blog Instead:
Sample Email for Introduction to Students
Dear Ms. Mac,
I hope this email finds you doing well. This week at school I really enjoyed doing our summative assignment. I liked that we were able to work in groups to make our buildings. I found it tricky working with Roger on our project because he did not listen to my ideas. Do you have some suggestions on how to work better as a team?
In cross country this week, I came 4th. I ran as fast as I could and really tried my best. I would have done better but I tripped over a log on the path and rolled down the hill. But I did pass one person because I rolled really fast.
I look forward to hearing from you soon.
Foreseeable Challenges & Solutions
Email Sent to Parents Prior to Beginning Program:
I wanted to take a moment to write to you in anticipation of our next unit of inquiry which is about personal awareness. The central idea for the unit is “A person’s behaviour and how they choose to present themselves can project aspects of the identity.” We’re really looking forward to exploring it.
As part of the writing homework, students will be asked to write a weekly email to myself. Students may choose to write about one of the selected topics in their homework package or choose to write about something of their own interest, but each email must be submitted no later than Friday along with their regular homework. All emails will be sent from the student’s Chatsworth email account to the teacher’s Chatsworth email account as usual.
There will be two parts to the teacher feedback to these emails. The first part will be a response to what the student has written, while the second part will deal with writing styles, grammar and conventions. I will read them over the weekend and students will have a response in their inbox on Monday mornings - at which point they can ponder the questions posed by myself and include their answers in the next email. I’m excited at the potential for some very interesting conversations and dialogue.
Chatsworth’s mission includes developing students as internationally aware, responsible digital citizens. By connecting with students through email, they are building skills in digital literacy and developing their writing skills in a 21st-century environment.
Students who are enrolled in the ESL program are welcome and encouraged to write in their first language if they feel more comfortable. The purpose of this writing exercise is to allow them to express themselves without feeling restricted by language. I will translate emails through Google Translate and respond in English. Students may choose to read the English response or translate it back to their first language. (Please note: No translation is perfect).
This assignment will provide students with many learning opportunities and has the potential to develop our classroom community tremendously. Students will learn how to write letters and use proper email etiquette as well as developing their writing skills with individually tailored feedback. It is important for students to become familiar with typing on a computer and remembering to incorporate appropriate capitalisation and punctuations.
In doing this, I hope to continue to develop an ongoing relationship with my students and allow them to write about topics of personal interest in a format that is meaningful and timely.
Should you have any questions or concerns, I would be more than happy to discuss this with you at your convenience.
As always, it is a pleasure learning with your children.
Ms. Emily MacLean
I absolutely love this program with my students. Over the past year and a bit, I have learnt so much about my students through this initiative and it literally makes my day when I get the sweetest emails from them.
For the first few weeks of the first year of the program, I documented my weekly reflections. These are my thoughts from October - December from 2013 as the home writing program began to unfold.
Week 1 Reflection
Well, it’s out in the world now, let’s see how it goes. The students seemed pretty excited that they didn’t have to write on paper for the homework each week. By providing an example of what was expected in the email really allowed students to get a visual of what was intended.
I am glad I emailed the parents prior to the assignment – it can be difficult at times understanding the perspective of the email being sent and I could find myself in tricky situations potentially if a student emails content of concern so it’s good to be completely open about it first and educate the parents instead of trying to backpedal later. I even got a response from one parent being really supportive of the idea and excited to see what comes of this.
The first night I had a few students email me with their letters. It is interesting to see the range of emails. Some students are sticking specifically to the options, others are writing about their own topics. It is a quick glance at who chooses to be creative or follow the form. The range of work is quite wide from a sentence to a couple paragraphs. Hopefully, I can get all of my students writing at least a few paragraphs each week to me.
One thing that also happened today was that a student emailed me about an issue that took place last Friday (not as part of their homework). This was the first time I have received an email like this from a student. It is clear that this outlet can provide students with a comfortable environment that allows them to connect with a teacher without having to have difficult conversations face to face. While I still believe face to face interactions are important, it simply provides students with another avenue to communicate with me so that we can problems solve together.
One thing I learned today is that I should draft the email from the students as I receive them. This way I’m not writing to 20 students on Sunday night. It is a bit much to do it all in one go. Therefore, this week I will try drafting the emails as I receive them and still send them out on Monday morning. I’m going to let my students read their email from me first thing Monday morning once they get settled for the day.
Some of the most common areas of improvement for writing emails include :
Week 2 Reflection
Week 2 of the email writing. I emphasized to my students they should aim to write at least 3 good paragraphs to me if possible when we were reviewing our homework for the week. Hopefully, this will help them continue to develop the length of their writing.
Monday, October 7, 2013– Today was the first day my students got to read their emails from me. They were all very eager to read their responses from me. By the time I got home at night, I already had a few emails from students. Many responded to the questions I had asked them but the biggest thing I noticed was that the length of the emails had grown to almost double for most students compared to the first email they had sent.
Another thing I noticed was that I received questions about class work. I had 2 boys in my class email me to ask to meet with me tomorrow to review some of the work they were unsure of. All I thought was wow! Already my students are using this assignment not only as a vehicle to fulfill their weekly homework but also using it as an educational tool to reach out and get help. For these two particular boys, they both need extra help and rarely participate or ask questions in class. For me, this was a major success this week. These emails are truly opening up the lines of communication with my students and making them feel more comfortable reaching out for support.
I was discussing the project with a colleague tonight sharing some of my successes. I was also mentioning how labour intensive it was right now as it required me to write at least 20 long well thought out and grammatically correct emails for students each week. But how can you argue with the results? A little work could mean a lot of rewards and right now I am enjoying getting to know my students better and being able to help them personally, socially and academically.
Topics that have come up so far in the first 2 weeks:
Week 6 Reflection
“The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They’re there to stop the other people.” ― Randy Pausch, The Last Lecture
Here I am, in mid-flight, with what I could only describe as challenging and stressful weeks leading up to the flight. In general, I’ve become a very casual traveller with simply throwing what I need in a suitcase the day of the trip jumping on a plane and figuring the rest out upon arrival. Passports, visas, supply plans, etc. can cause bumps along the way. In my case though, I'm pretty sure I hit every bump on this unpaved road on my way to the Google Teacher Academy India 2014.
When I first began working at my current school last year, I was coming from a school with minimal technology. I was put into a classroom with 1-to-1 laptops and began using the Google Apps for Education (GAFE) as part of my everyday practice. Technology became something I tried to weave into my classroom and I took the opportunity to challenge myself in new ways as I explored different strategies, tools and programmes. I became aware of the Google Teacher Academy (GTA) and thought it was something I wanted to strive for but pushed it to the back of my mind as I felt I was nowhere near ‘application ready’ and would maybe apply in a couple years.
This past summer, I decided that I wanted to apply this year even though I was still doubtful of being accepted and was encouraged by a few colleagues to do apply anyways. While I may not have the years of experience using GAFE and technology in the classroom, I decided I had to take it upon myself to help prepare myself for the application process. I began doing the Google Educator courses as well as the YouTube Digital Citizenship course to solidify my baseline learning and knowledge of GAFE.
Then the application schedule for Fall 2014 GTAs came out. First up was #GTASYD. While I managed to write my responses to the questions with ease, it was the video that was a struggle for me as I couldn’t imagine summarising all I wanted to include in a 1-minute video. I did a video, submitted it… and I didn’t get in.
I little bit disappointed I knew I had other opportunities and decided to apply to the next one, #GTASEA. This time I decided to take a different approach to the video but again...not accepted.
I decided to not give up and try 1 last time in the 2014 GTAs with #GTAIndia. Finally, I got the letter that I was accepted into the GTA and thrilled that it would also take me to a country I had not yet had the opportunity to travel to. Once getting over the initial excitement, I quickly realised I needed a new passport before going as I didn’t have enough pages to travel to India and then a friend’s wedding in Vietnam shortly after. It was surprisingly quite a simple process submitting my renewal passport application overseas at the High Commission of Canada. It was due to arrive back in Singapore a week about 12 days before I needed to go to India, plenty of time to get a visa. Unfortunately, it was delayed a day plus a weekend. There was doubt of whether we could get the visa in time as it required 7 days to process it. We had exactly 7 working days from the day I picked it up until the date of my flight (including the day of flight).
As soon as the passport came in, I was at the High Commission picking it up, only to hand it over to begin the application process for the Indian visa the same day. When my paperwork and passport went off to the agency, I found out they needed an additional signature. I spent most of my night there and the issue of needing additional paperwork first surfaced. Handing over every letter I had at the time, I had to write an additional letter stating I was presenting at the ‘conference’ to get the conference visa I was applying for. It seemed to be sufficient and I was told the 7 days included the weekend so I would be able to pick it up the following Monday -2 days before flying.
As Monday came, I tried calling to find out when my passport would be ready to be released to me. Later that night, I received a call asking for even more paperwork. I immediately was calling the Director of EdTech at my school asking for a favour of drafting a letter that evening to submit and then also forwarding a letter noting I was presenting at the GTA. Thankfully, I work at a school where people go above and beyond to help others out and had all the paperwork sent back to the agency for the visa and was told I would find out in the morning.
Tuesday morning came and went...nothing. I decided to call to find out the status of my application. Currently – denied. Devastated, I was told I needed a more official letter from Google about the ‘conference’. So I did what anyone would do, I used my technology to WhatsApp one of the organisers and emailed as well. Everyone working for the Google Teacher Academy was so helpful, kind and reassuring that I would be able to get the visa. Google legal drafted a letter and we sent it off to the High Commission asking for the process to be expedited.
I also knew if I wanted to get the visa in time I had to go to the High Commission of India in Singapore and go for a visa interview. This meant taking off an entire morning to figure out how to get it. In the interview, I was told they wouldn’t approve my conference visa without a letter of authorization allowing the conference in India and a letter stating that the Google Teacher Academy was indeed a conference. This was after 11am on Wednesday and I was set to fly at 7:30pm that evening. If I could get the letters, the High Commission would approve the visa. I was concerned with the time constraints and asked the interviewing officer if there was any other way of getting a visa. At which point, he informed me I could do a new visa application for an entry visa and it would be approved.
The time crunch was on. I had to do the application online pay for it 12 noon in order for it to be processed and ready for pickup at 4pm. I jumped on a computer filled it out and paid with 15 minutes to spare. A lucky chance I had a passport picture and the correct amount of money in my wallet. All I had to do was wait for 4pm.
Back at school, I found out my flight ticket had been cancelled because my initial visa had been denied but we were able to get it reissued with minimal issues. Because I had a new passport, I also had to have my employment pass transferred over to it and the paperwork wasn’t finished being processed we found out. The school was able to get me a letter stating it was in the works but I would need my old passport – which was sitting at home.
As class wrapped up for the day, I told my students I wasn’t sure what would happen that night and I may or may not be in tomorrow. We talked about how if you really want something you have to go after it, no matter how many obstacles stand in your way. One of my boys even said to me, "This is so frustrating. You've worked so hard for this. They can't make you wait any longer to go!" (too sweet). With fingers crossed from 16 of my favourite people, I whizzed out the door after school to pick up my new passport, head home to find my old passport and off to the airport.
Check in went smoothly and I was ready to board with 2 hours to wait in the airport, which in my mind meant a safety net for anything else thrown my way.
So many times I really thought it was over and I wasn’t going to be able to go but for every problem, a solution appeared. It has been a roller coaster ride and I am so thankful to be en route. There were so many people that played a role in making this trip happen who I can’t thank enough. I am so excited for what awaits me tomorrow as I head to the Google Gurgaon building, for the talented educators I with encounter and for the learning experience to begin.
As a colleague said to me at some point during the chaos, "If it doesn't work out this time, it would make a killer application video for next time showing how badly you wanted to go to the Google Teacher Academy." Luckily, I won't have to.
Going Global - Making Connections
One of the things I never really did last year was reach out to other schools in other countries. As an international teacher with students from around the globe, it's something I feel is important. Students should have an understanding that the world is bigger than they are and that there are others who can help their learning grow outside of just your school community.
In our first unit of inquiry about communication systems, I was talking to my class about how I communicate with my family and friends back home by using Skype and FaceTime even though it was hard with the time differences. So of course, my students wanted to call my family. We set up a time to FaceTime at the start of one of my days and my students fired a ton of questions at my dad, and also my sister and niece who had a guest appearance during the call. Instantly, they loved being able to connect with the other side of the world.
We started mapping our connections we made using Google Maps Engine and plopped down my home onto the map.
Next, I arranged a Mystery Skype call with another school in Thailand. Each class prepared 10 questions to ask the other class. With each question, the class would gather more information and tried to furiously figure out where the other class was from and used their laptops to help them. In the end, we both successfully guessed where the other one was and onto our map went another point.
The students wanted to do another one but I had a harder time arranging one within a time zone we could call during school hours. In conjunction with the other teacher in New Zealand, we decided to create videos for the other class to watch. We each created a video with 10 clues and similarly we had to try and guess where the other school was located. These clues were quite tricky actually and really made students use their mapping skills and research skills online to successfully locate the school. It required a lot of collaboration and discussion amongst my students as well. Once we had guessed, the other school sent us more questions they wanted to know about our class, school and Singapore in a Google Document. With the collaborative feature of Google Apps for Education, we were able to respond easily and then generate some more questions about New Zealand and so on. This was really great to get some dialogue going with students and could be done whenever it was convenient in our class, not just a one time Skype call.
Our last connection so far this year was this past week to a school in Malaysia. This time we decided to mix it up a bit and play a math game between students at each school in small groups. We set up Padlets for each group and the students played a type of 'Guess Our Number' game using place and value. This one had some small bumps with lag time when the students posted responses but still was a fun way to connect and we are hoping we can play again with the school in a similar fashion later in the year.
I love the excitement my students get when trying to figure out where the other class is. Our technology allows us to connect students that never would've been able to connect before with as much ease. It's brought up a lot of discussion about different cultures, countries and quite simply geography. We are looking forward to our next global connection in any form it comes in.
We tell our students it's okay to fail. We tell them it's okay to make mistakes as long as you grow from them. We tell them not to worry and that it'll all work out. We tell them you learn more from doing something wrong than doing something right. We smile at our students and tell them to persevere, bounce back and to work through it. We tell them We tell them this when they get a bad grade, don't make the school team, or don't get into the college they want. But what about us as teachers? What about when you go after something just like our students do and you do quite reach what you want?
I make mistakes on a daily basis. There is no surprise there and it's something I really do embrace, usually with a good laugh at that. But sometimes you give something your all and you have those 'oh I really want this' moments and still it is just out of your reach.
This is exactly what happened to me this week. I had applied to Google Teacher Academy in Southeast Asia and, of course, was waiting patiently for a response on the status of my application. I had made a video, answered the questions, shared my resume and was pretty happy with my application overall. Was it perfect? No, there were things I wished I had fixed or changed or added in the end but that's always the case when it comes to the learning process. Then I got the email that informed me this time wasn't my time to be accepted into the programme.
Of course, I was a bit bummed at first. I had that sinking feeling that takes me back to my Grade 7 year when I didn't make the co-ed baseball team at school. It was an opportunity I really wanted to be a part of and felt I could learn a lot from. But I believe everything happens for a reason and it just wasn't meant to be right now.
Sometimes when you want something, you seem to forget about what you already have. If I stop for a second, I see how much I have accomplished already. When I look back over my teaching career, it's amazing to see where I am already and I am so thankful for each opportunity that I've been given. As I begin only my third year of teaching, I've had the pleasure of living in 2 countries, developed my technology skills tremendously and been guided and inspired by fantastic international educators. I've had the opportunity to take PYP workshops, present at a conference, lead training within my school and recently moved into a Year Group Coordinator position. I get to work with students who inspire me each and every day and who bring so much laughter and joy into my life. Never did I think I would have a career that lets me create digital products, foster leadership in others, share my own love of learning and also get to play dodgeball and dance all in the few hours of a workday.
I've really only been using GAFE in my 1 to 1 classroom for a year now and I can't believe the transformation I've had as an educator because of it. Just like I tell my students to do, I'll try again next round. Each time I'll have more experience under my belt, more knowledge of GAFE, and in general, will hopefully be better a teacher than I was before. I am presented with the challenge of using GAFE in my classroom and trying to become more knowledgeable with the tools I use on a daily basis. I will continue to develop innovative ways to learn with my students. I do hope in my professional future that I do have the opportunity to be a part of the Google Teacher Academy and other professional opportunities that lie ahead. An obstacle only lights the determination within more as I continue to focus on making my classroom a positive and engaging learning environment for my students.
No one is ever going to be told yes every time. No one is going to get 100% every single time. No one is truly perfect. Mistakes matter. Mistakes make people develop character, resiliency and a different outlook on life. So failure isn't really anything but finding a new approach to the same problem, a new way of looking at things and just one of many ways that don't work. Failure is just a way of saying a you've still got a challenge to overcome.