Doodlecast with Young Students

In the Infant school, our youngest students in K1 and K2 have been using Sago Mini Doodlecast to share their thinking about what they are doing in class.

The teachers love that the app is easy to learn for both themselves and their students.

Here are some samples from some students. The first looked at the trash that one class created in a week. The second is looking at how students knew how many counters there were in a set.

There is Doodlecast Pro which gives more functions and is more suitable for older students too.

11 Answers Transformed to 5

Well, my fellow Digital Literacy Coach the UWCSEA Keri-Lee Beasley recently tagged me in a blog post that she wrote answering someone else’s questions. Basically, she was asked 11 questions and, after answering them, had to tag 11 people to answer a new set of 11 questions that she made up herself.

So this is me answering her set of 11 questions but with a bit of twist. Call me lazy or maybe just call me busy, but I am cutting the original set of 11 questions down to 5. So that means at the end of this post, I will ask 5 new questions and tag 5 people who I would love to hear their answers to my questions.

So here are the questions that Keri-Lee asked me and 10 other unsuspecting victims and my answers to them.

1. Who was your most memorable teacher, and why?

I was fortunate to have many memorable teachers. But my grade 12 mathematics teacher stood out to me. My grade 12 year ended poorly with my getting very sick. I was so sick that I couldn’t take the government exams at the end of the year. I had enough credits to graduate and did so with my class, but I never got credit for my mathematics class or english class. So I decided to go back and do a few classes the next year. Unfortunately, the way the school was set up, I had to take those classes over the course of a whole year. But this turned out to be a good thing.

My grade 12 mathematics scores were not good my first time around. My teacher had very little time for me. I wasn’t the best mathematician in the class and I can remember her being frustrated with me many times because I didn’t understand something. Her response to this was to not help me. She was very good at mathematics and I think she just didn’t get why I was not understanding the work. I sensed I was a lost cause to her. My confidence fell as fast as my grades. I think I was in the C range of grades (mid 70%).

That all changed my second time around in grade 12 mathematics with Mr Agnew. When I didn’t understand something, he worked even harder with me to help me understand. He broke down the problem to get it to a point where I could build on prior knowledge. He had time for me. I mattered in his world. I still wasn’t the best mathematician in the class, but I worked hard to understand and try to learn.

Mr. Agnew helped me to see that I could learn anything I wanted to. I take this with me through life. It has helped me become the person I am today. I love working with students with mathematics and try to help them to understand. In University, I studied to earn an elementary education degree at the University of Victoria. In doing so, I had to have a subject with was my “concentration” and take extra courses in this area. I chose mathematics so I could learn to help kids with their difficulties in mathematics. To this day, I believe that everyone can learn to be good at mathematics or anything they choose and that is thanks to Mr. Agnew.

A final note about Mr. Agnew. I did go back to my high school when I was in university training to be a teacher and talk to him about how he had had a huge impact on my life. I thanked him for not giving up on me and seeing that I could be a learner. I will always remember him.

As a side note, this understanding in myself that I am a learner has helped me to be proficient in many things like technology and photography. If I want to learn something, I set out and do it.

Ok, the rest of my answers will have to be WAY shorter than this one.

2. Who is one of your educational mentors, and what makes them so special?

So my answer might be a bit unorthodox, but I would say my school, the United World College of South East Asia, is my educational mentor. I know that sounds weird but I will try to explain.

First of all, a school is only as good as it’s people and the people I work with every day are amazing and really the mentors. I feel so lucky to be surrounded by people who put children’s learning first. I work closely with incredible teams especially the primary coaching team and the school digital literacy team. And of course the many teaching teams that I work with on a daily basis. They are incredible professionals.

I love that my school is always working to make itself a great place for a holistic education for our students. My school pushes me to be a better educator and expects a lot of its staff. Everyone works extremely hard but it means we are surrounded by people who are always learning and striving to be better.

3. Which song describes how you are feeling today? Add the youtube clip if possible 

I would say that I am a pretty happy guy so I am going to go with “Happy” by Pharrell Williams.

4. What is your favourite restaurant/place to eat in the city in which you live, and why?

Well, right now I would say my favourite place to eat in Singapore is Burnt Ends. If you know me, I am not someone who goes out a lot but this place is wonderful. There is only one table and the rest is bar style seating. When booking the table you have to fill out a questionnaire and then the chef will create a menu for you.

I absolutely loved the whole experience of tasting all these amazing things that had been prepared and tried things that I would never had tried otherwise. The food was all delicious and I am always looking for excuses to go again. Highly recommended.

5. Which video is *cracking you up right now? (*making you laugh) Give us the link!

I am more of a inspirational video kind of guy but I saw this video the other day and it made me laugh.

6. What is one thing you learned recently, that wouldn’t have been possible without technology? How did you learn it?

I would have to say a lot of what I learn is somehow connected to technology. My computer and the internet is often my go to when I want to learn something new. Information is readily accessible at our fingertips.

One thing that I could never have done without technology is light painting. I capture digital images on my camera and then combine them in Photoshop. The final image is sometimes hundreds of images stacked together. There was light painting before photoshop, but the level and quality of this particular style of light painting would not be possible without technology.

This image below was one that I captured and is composite of around 80 images.

Steam tractor

I learned it by purchasing an ebook called Painting with Light by Eric Curry and then tried it out myself. I learned through trial and error and made mistakes along the way. But now it is a tool that I can use to capture images.

7. Can you please snap a picture of one of your everyday views, and share the photo here?

A photo overlooking the plaza at my school UWCSEA East campus.


8. What is the next place you want to visit and why?

There are just so many places I want to visit and explore! I am a bit stuck on the word next as it may imply a priority to a place or that a place which is difficult to go to and would require a lot of planning might not be next on my list. Also, some of these places are difficult to go to with small children which I have now so they might not be next on my list but they are definitely on my list.

A lot of the places I would like to visit are related to photography and my need to capture the stories and people of a place. Where would I like to go? Bhutan, New Zealand, Katmai National Park, Italy (again), Sri Lanka, on Safari in Kenya, Tanzania, Namibia, Zambia, Uganda, Eastern Canada, Princess Royal Island to search for the Spirit Bear, Haida Gwaii, a huge road trip through Europe, Bolivia, Peru, South Georgia Island, Myanmar (again). And I of course reserve the right to continually add to the list.

So which one is next? Who knows? But I will keep trying to get to them all.

Shwedagon birds

The Shwedagon Paya in Yangon, Myanmar.

9. Complete this sentence: Teaching is a wonderful profession because…

…. you can affect the lives of so many young people every single day and help them to learn and positively affect the world we live in.

10. Can you please list 5 of your favourite movies? Feel free to elaborate on why you like them. Or not!

In no particular order

Whale Rider – Makes me cry every time.

The Three Idiots – Great Bollywood movie that has a bit of everything.

Good Will Hunting – I watched this movie over and over. So much to love about this movie. A movie that really launched Matt Damon and Ben Affleck’s careers and there are so many other movies by Robin Williams that I just love and that could be on this list.

October Sky – A movie that not a lot of people might have seen but I love it. Based on a true story (I am a sucker for that sort of thing) and it really reminded me of my relationship with my father.

Love Actually – My Favourite movie to watch at Christmas time. I love the interweaving stories and I am a sucker for a love story.

11. How do you unwind on a Friday after school?

I am not sure I do unwind 😉

But I love to go to a movie or spend time with friends.

Now comes the part where I ask five of my own questions and forward them to friends hoping that they will answer them.

1. Who would you say has had a big influence on you in your life? Please explain.

2. If you could live anywhere, where would that be? Feel free to be creative.

3. What is one of your favourite documentary movies? Why? (Share a link if you can find one)

4. What is one place or event that you would love to photograph and be able to capture beautiful images of?

5. Tell me about a moment that changed your life forever.

So peeps, if you want to participate, I have tried to make it a bit easier by making it 5 questions instead of 11. If it is too much no worries. But if you do, please post a link to your answers in the comment of this blog so I can see what you have written.

1. Paula Guinto @paulaguinto

2. Claire Wachowiak @cwachowiak

3. Deb Gordon @debgordon123

4. Steve Kay @ska_kay

5. Andrew McCarthy @ajmccarthynz

Technology and Service Part 1- OLPC

My school, the United World College of South East Asia or UWCSEA for short, does amazing things when it comes to helping others. We have local groups from around Singapore that we work with as well as groups in other countries. There are trips all year to a variety of places near and far that students and teachers actively participate in and support.

DSC_2282 - Version 2 (1)

I have participated in service trips before, most of which have gone to different groups in Cambodia. At least once a year I go back to Kuma school outside of Phnom Penh, Cambodia with my two young children and wife. I want my family to connect to the students there and be a part of trying to make a difference in the world of these young children.


So my question is, how can I support groups like Kuma in terms of technology?

To start to answer my question, I decided to go to the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) basecamp in Malacca, Malaysia on November 16 and 17, 2013.

We were incredible fortunate to have one of the two people behind OLPC, Walter Bender from MIT, come through Singapore on his way to Malacca for the OLPC base camp. He spent the day at our school and did a few workshops with students and then we travelled up to Malacca in a van with a small group of people. It was incredible to have some time listening to someone with the experiences the Walter has had.


Once in Malacca we met up with a variety of people connected to OLPC from all over (most of them from around Asia). We spent two days talking and listening about many different aspects of OLPC.

The OLPC program deploys a laptop called the XO which is pretty incredible. Originally coined “the $100 laptop”; it was meant to be something that was cheap to produce and get into the hands of students. The eventual cost of the laptop came in around $200 but it can be dropped (which Walter delighted showing us many times) and even have liquid spilled on it without damaging the computer. The newest version of the computer even has a touch screen. It really was meant to be a computer that would last. If it needs to be fixed, it can easily have parts swapped out by the user with a little help. The computer uses very little power and can be charged by plugging it in or by using a hand crank (very cool for places with no electricity).


Here are a few of the things I learned that I feel can apply to the work that UWCSEA does with the groups that we support in terms of technology.

1. Pre-deployment – One of the mistakes that some of the OLPC groups made was that they thought that they just had to put the computers in the hands of students and the students would learn to use them. Some groups would literally come into a school, bring in computers, stay for a week and then never come back. Also, they sometimes would ignore the teachers as people who are not going to make a difference in the program.

So we need to make sure that we meet the key people involved in the school that we would work with (more on that in a future blog post). We have to ask them what they want. If we don’t have a similar vision for where we think technology fits, it might not be a good idea to work with that particular group. There are many questions that need to be answered when we meet with the school. Is there buy in from the leaders of the school community? What is the teacher’s role in implementing the program? What do they have for internet and reliable power? Is there someone local who can support them in terms of IT support when something breaks?

We need a mentor (probably their teacher) who can guide the students. They don’t need to be someone who needs to be able to instruct the students or be an expert in the technology.

But the key here is that the person working with technology with the students need to be able to ask them questions. So many of the teachers that we work with go through a system where they learn to instruct students through the use of a textbook. There is no inquiry in these classrooms and learning is a linear approach. And this is where we have to help the teachers in terms of their pedagogy. It is a longer process and a larger commitment. This is something we can do but we have to be prepared for it and it doesn’t have anything to do with technology. It is about retraining the teachers.


2. Deployment – We need to start with the teachers. Some of the OLPC deployments completely ignored the teachers. When Apple computers were first introduced at UWCSEA as the one platform, the teachers had the computers for a full year before we fully deployed the computers to the students. We need to involve the teachers and get them their own computers. This will increase the buy in. Of course we need to continually support the teachers with ongoing training.

How will the hardware be managed? Will the students be able to keep the computers and take them home? What is the expected level of access for the students? How often will they be able to use the computers? Whenever they want? Only at certain times?

One of the biggest problems that the OLPC groups had was trying to get the computers to be used regularly in the classroom. Many of the deployments’s schools and teachers worried about losing time for their own curriculum. They worried that their students would not be able to do well in their government exams.

Some research has shown that students who participated in the OLPC program did no better on their government standardised exams. In many ways, this makes sense because a standardised exam often tests facts and not higher order thinking. Learning to use a computer can help students to be inquirers, problem solve, and to learn how to learn. These things will not show up on a government standardised exam.

So to show the effectiveness of any program that involves technology, we need to design an assessment that can be given prior to deployment and periodically throughout the deployment that can assess the students in terms of critical thinking, problem solving, and other areas. This will give us a true understanding of the effectiveness of any deployment.

One of the ways to help teacher’s fears of the computers in the classroom taking away from instructional time is to start by using them in an after school scenario. This might involve their teacher or even an outside instructor. But this approach seems to have the best level of buy in. It is also the approach that we think we will try with our groups.

3. Sugar operating system – One of the things about the XO laptop is the operating system (OS) which is known as Sugar. It is open source meaning that users and access the operating system and make their own changes or write their own programs. This can prove to be very powerful for learners.

The group of teachers from my school all installed Sugar on our MacBooks (you need to run it through Parallels or Virtual Box). It is a cool OS which provides a lot of flexibility. One of the best parts of the OS was a program called Turtle. It is a program which allows you to do some simple programming. Anyone who is familiar with Scratch will understand Turtle. The thing about Turtle is that it has a much higher ceiling than Scratch and allows the user to do so much more. When we were in Malacca, Walter was working on a program that would allow programs that were created in Turtle to be exported out as apps that could be run on the Sugar operating system. So users could easily write their own apps. How cool is that!

One question arose about whether we should purchase cheap laptops like Chromebooks or other netbook type models and install Sugar on these computers instead. But again, the robustness of the XO laptop seems to be a huge benefit.


4. Collaboration – As previously mentioned, one of the aspects of introducing anything new to a school whether it is technology related or not is that it must be continually supported. One way this can be achieved is to regularly provide professional development for teachers and students in terms of workshops.

Another way we think we can help support the teachers and students if our students at our school continue to collaborate over the computer when our students are back home in school. Generally, our students are able to work with our Global Concerns groups only when they go on a trip. These trips last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. But then it is over.

Using computers and the Sugar operating system, our students could continually collaborate throughout the whole year. I know that this could be done using google docs and another operating system. However, using the Sugar OS they can access the same screen of any app they are using. So the students could use Turtle to work together and write programs in real time.

A great thing about this is that our students would be learning along side their students. Our students are new to Turtle and coding and their students are too. So we wouldn’t be the prevailers of knowledge; they would be discovering together.

So what is next?

The next step is to visit the schools and groups that we work with and find out what they want. We know that this is a crucial step in the process. We can’t just make decisions independent of them. Each school is unique and although there will be similarities to our approaches to each school, we will have to develop a different strategy that works for each group. So we are planning to visit the schools in the coming months and meet with all the people involved to make a plan for where we go next.

Creating Self Portraits with Drawing Pad on the iPad

Drawing pad1I have been working with K1 students at school on a unit about feelings. One of the projects that we have attempted was for the students to create a self portrait of themselves using an iPad.

The K1 team decided to use an app called Drawing Pad as there are a few functions that allowed the students to create a wonderful representation of themselves. The app is $1.99 (depending on the currency of the store you are purchasing it from).

Before we opened the Drawing Pad app, I had to capture an individual image of each Drawing Padstudent I was working with (in small groups of 3-6). I used the regular camera app to do this and found that selecting a square picture worked better than a regular picture. Once in a while I had difficulty when capturing regular sized pictures as they sometimes imported into drawing pad all stretched out. Depending on the class, I either had the students (with teacher support) capture the photo or the just teacher take the image.

I captured a picture of each student with the iPad that they would be using. As I was always working in small groups, this was the first thing I did with each student when they joined my group.

Then the students opened Drawing Pad and I allowed them a few minutes to explore the app to see how it works. I modelled how the students could add their picture into a new page.

I started by helping the students locate the different paper types and then opening them.

drawing pad tools

Then the students choose the film strip option to access the images on the iPad’s camera roll. They chose the portrait that has already been captured of themselves and imported it into the page.

Drawing pad tools filmstripDrawing pad pens

Once the image has been inserted, the students touched the home icon to go back to all their tools. I found that the marker pens did the best job for this project. I modelled the process for them and they were very excited to try it themselves. The students chose different coloured pens to trace over their picture. Some chose to stick to the colours from their image while others didn’t. I didn’t mind as long as they tried to represent themselves in a portrait.

Once the students were done, I saved the image to the camera roll. Then came the best part – I went back to the paper types where we originally added the student’s picture and chose a white paper instead of their picture. So the image behind their pen drawings disappeared. I always loved seeing the results and so did the students.

Sample 1Sample 3Sample 2

Drawing pad3 Drawing pad2

This was an easy project that yielded some fantastic results. It was accessible to all students and they enjoyed learning some iPad skills as well as

Life as a Digital Literacy Coach

IMG_9127This year I have changed my role and moved out of the classroom and into the role of a digital literacy coach. Although I have written other blogs in various online places, I decided that I would start here for my new role.

I was initially excited and nervous about coming out of the classroom where I had been for all of my teaching career and start a new job without a classroom to call my own. I had mostly been teaching grade 4, 5 and 7 over my career and changing roles to where I would be mostly working with teachers would be very different.

I originally got into teaching because I loved making a difference in students’ lives. I loved having a connection with the students and being there for them, able to help them through the speed bumps of their lives. My biggest concern was that I would lose this connection and stop being someone who could be influential in students’ lives. Could I still be someone who mattered in the school? Yes. Yes, I could. And I would hope that my sphere of influence would be even wider than if I were in the classroom.

Before I left the classroom last year, one of my colleagues mentioned to me that they really wanted to be more tech savy because he saw what the students coming out of my class could do at the end of the year and was sad that his students were not at the same level. It wasn’t even close. I feel that this was only because I integrated technology into the lessons where it would make sense and be best for learning. Many other teachers, including this colleague, only integrated technology when it was planned for. So the only technology he would do is when we had planned an activity or an assessment. This obviously wasn’t going to help his students as much as mine who used technology when they felt it would be beneficial to their learning.

I really believe that the best person to help students with technology is the classroom teacher. Not an IT teacher who sees them once in a while. The classroom teacher has the opportunity to integrate technology at any point where it can help improve student learning. A separate teacher who takes the class could never do this as effectively.

IMG_9141One thing that I love about my school is my job and how my school values my role. Digital Literacy Coach is my official title or DLC for short. My job is to help teachers integrate technology into their classrooms. Although I also come into classrooms to help, co-teach and directly teach, that is the lesser part of my role. My main objective is to help teachers become better at integrating technology because they are the ones who are going to do it on a daily basis. So if I can help teachers become more comfortable and proficient with technology then I am helping the students.

Because I am not always working directly with students and because I am responsible for many classes across a number of grade levels (K1 to grade 5), it may not be easy to measure my impact on individual students. Sure, if I was in a small handful of classrooms on a regular basis I might be able to see and measure the change easier. The change I see might be a teacher’s attitude towards technology or the way a teacher talks about technology to their students. The change I see might be in the students’ skills improving or their excitement towards technology. Ideally, I would love to see students choosing to use technology to improve their own learning without having to be directed to do so by the teacher. That is where the transformation would really take place.

When I originally started thinking about ideas for this blog post, I thought I would write about how the role starts with forming relationships with teachers. How, as a classroom teacher I was in charge of my to do list while as a DLC everyone else is in charge of my to do list and puts things on it for me. I thought I would talk about how I was doing some of the things in this role in past years but also doing my regular classroom work too. I thought I might talk about how much I am loving the role and not really missing the classroom. All those things are still true and valid but that isn’t really what it is all about.

It is all about helping students with technology. And now I am doing that but in a different capacity. I’m doing that through helping teachers.

This all brings me back to why I originally entered teaching. To make a difference and be influential in students lives. As a digital literacy coach I feel that I am doing this through helping the teachers become more proficient in technology who in turn help the students. So am I on the front lines with the students? No, not as much. I am behind the scenes working with a large number of teachers helping all of them to help students be more proficient in technology. The students may not know it, but there I am, working away, trying to make their lives better. That is the life of a digital literacy coach.