Technology in PYP Workshops? Absolutely!

iphone okWaaaay back in November I had the pleasure of joining the fabulous Paul Langtree to deliver a workshop on Collaborative Planning in the PYP at Seisen International School in Tokyo. I feel it was the best workshop I’ve done to date – the staff were fantastic, open-minded and enthusiastic, and Paul was so great to work with, I felt I had known him all my life!

I was determined to incorporate more technology in the planning and delivery of the workshop than the last PYP workshop I did. Since my conversion to the benefits of backchannel chats, I felt it would be a worthy endeavour!

Luckily for me, Paul was totally on board. Together we used Google Docs to share our resources  and create our workshop plan. We set up a very basic weebly for participants to use, which incorporated some of the videos we showed, and contained a wallwisher to replace the traditional burning questions chart. We set up several laptops for participants to use if they felt so inclined, but of course many of them brought their own. Phones were also welcome.


  • Participants checking out the website of the author of an article we shared on their iPhones – they were totally on-task and used technology to further their understanding of the material covered, and learn more about the author.
  • The questions on the wallwisher were great – and many added them at home after the first session.
  • Participants accessing their planners using their laptops – this meant they could type straight onto their planners, avoiding the need for someone to type it up later.
  • It really felt as though the technology was invisible – it was just another tool for people to use if they wished, not a big deal that required a whole lot of explanation and preparation.

Next Steps

  • I’m not sure if the PYP workshop is the best forum for a backchannel chat (as engaging participants in face-to-face conversation is one of the main aims), but I haven’t ruled it out by any means. I have a workshop coming up in February, so it will give me an opportunity to explore some more options.

Photo Credit: Mastrobiggo

iPod Touches meet Kindergarten 2

Man have I been looking forward to this! My first chance at getting into classes with the iPod Touches. My expectations were certainly exceeded and I can’t wait to tell you all about it.

Full disclosure: I have never taught K2 before. In fact, I’ve never taught kids younger than Grade 2, so thankfully I had an expert to work alongside: Ms Louise is an experienced early years teacher (and fellow PYP workshop leader), so I was in very capable hands.

We worked with groups of 7 or 8 students at a time. The rest of the class was working with the teacher assistant on some shapes work, and another group had play.

We decided on 2 free apps to start with. First up, we introduced ABC PocketPhonics Lite

abc_1 abc_2 abc_game

This app reinforced phonics skills and writing skills. Once various sounds were explored, students played the game, where the programme says a sound, and the kids have to select the letter that matches the sound. They end up making words (e.g. an, it, sit, cap).

What we liked about this app was that we could select lowercase letters (from a menu of uppercase, lowercase and cursive), US or UK English sounds, and even the style of print. Very customizable.

After about 10 minutes on this app, concentration levels were beginning to wane (especially as a menu of other apps was only a click away!). I had planned on doing some more structured letter practice using our next app, Doodle Kids, but Ms Louise wisely suggested we let them draw and play.


What’s neat about this app is that you can change the background with a 2-finger tap, draw with various shapes, and basically be creative. When we were with the second group, Ms Louise said, “Wouldn’t it be great if we could save some of the pictures?”

I remembered that with the Whiteboard Collaborative Drawing app, that simultaneously holding down the menu button and the sleep/wake button took a photo which got saved in the photos folder on the iPod Touch. I had a go, and sure enough, it worked!

From there, we were able to email it to Ms Louise (or anyone!).

** We had previously set up the iPod Touches with a generic gmail account I created for the school, and this function would need to be set up prior to use with the kids **

The kids were really excited about the prospect of emailing their pictures to their parents. One wee girl said to me, “This one’s for my Mum, because she’s going to Germany tomorrow.” How sweet!

Remember, this is day 4 of school for these little guys. Wouldn’t you be impressed with an email from your child’s teacher with a drawing they’d done for you? This one’s by Daniel.

Doodle kids Daniel

I have been asked countless times since purchasing the iPod Touches for the school, “But what are the kids going to be learning on them?” Don’t get me wrong, I totally support this mode of thinking. If we can’t justify to teachers/parents/anyone what kids are learning on the iPod Touches, then they’re just another toy.

So I have been reflecting on what the kids learned during that mini-lesson, and here are some of the skills I saw (using the PYP Transdisciplinary Skills):

Communication skills

  • Listening
  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Viewing

Social Skills

  • Accepting Responsibility
Self-Management Skills

  • Fine-Motor Skills
  • Codes of Behaviour

Thinking Skills

  • Acquisition of Knowledge
  • Application

Clearly there is a lot of learning taking place.

I know this is just the beginning, but I hope to document the different ways we are using the iPod Touches at UWCSEA East so we can build a bank of knowledge and ideas to share. We are always looking at unique ways we can use them, so please feel free to share ideas with us.

10 Reasons to try Backchannel Chat

I tried backchannel chat for the first time during keynote addresses at the EARCOS Teachers Conference: ETC09.

What is Backchannel Chat? It’s like note-taking at a lecture, but notes are shared with anyone who has the URL. They might be people in the room with you, but they could also be anywhere in the world. At ETC09, this meant that while the keynote speaker was presenting, a group of us were on our laptops, sharing notes about the presentation, though there were some people in different countries tuning in (see links to transcripts of our backchannel chat at the end of this post). We used TinyChat, which was really easy and straightforward to set up, though others have also recommended Chatzy.

Initially, I found it hard to keep up with the fast pace.  I struggled to answer a question from a friend beside me AND watch the speaker AND type AND listen. Was I focused? I was certainly concentrating. I hadn’t concentrated this hard on a keynote speech before, that’s for sure!

After a few minutes, I got the hang of it and managed to keep up enough to contribute to the discussion. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, and now I’m completely sold.

10 reasons you should try backchannel chat:

  1. Keeping up – The great thing about the chat was that if I got behind on what the speaker was saying, I could scroll back over the comments of the other participants and catch up that way.
  2. Remaining on-track – I found @amichetti and @jutecht typed really quickly and managed to keep the discussion focused on the keynote, not just random thoughts. This was helpful for me as a person new to backchannel chatting, who didn’t yet know the etiquette.
  3. Transferring knowledge – I had a better understanding of the keynote as a whole, because I was typing it – transferring it into another form. It was easier for me to remember later, rather than just aurally listening.
  4. Staying Focused – I was more focused on what was being said because I felt I had to attend to contribute to the discussion. I wanted to pull my weight and not ride on others’ coat-tails.
  5. Engagement – The chat had me not only focused, but totally engaged. The number of multiple intelligences addressed at one time was definitely higher than had I only been listening. As @amichetti suggested to me via Twitter, backchannel chats can be particularly engaging when the presentation is more content-focused rather than skill-driven.
  6. Perspectives – I had the benefit of other people’s perspectives. This was fascinating. We all ‘heard’ things differently. When we transferred what we heard into our own words, different perspectives were offered.  Certain parts resonated more than others for each of us, due to our varied prior knowledge and experiences.
  7. Clarification – if there was a word/phrase introduced that we were unclear of, one of us would look it up on wikipedia, so we were getting near-instant clarification of new vocabulary. I couldn’t have done that myself. @nadinedickinson told me (via Twitter) that she like the instant feedback that was possible during a backchannel chat.
  8. Review – I benefited because I had material to review and look over later. Not only did I have my notes, but I had the notes of everyone else in the chat.
  9. Divide and Conquer – people in our chat took on different roles. @Skardalien helped out by looking up words we were unsure of or videos that related to the topic. @amichetti was a speedy typist and great note-taker. What we learned together I felt was greater than we could have accomplished individually.
  10. Fun – I really enjoyed the chance to connect with people during the keynote, rather than being a passive observer. I consider myself an interpersonal learner, and the backchannel chat allowed me to participate in the way I learn best – with others.

During one keynote, I received this tweet from @rhondacarrier: @klandmiles thanks for keeping us up-to-date with what is happening. Very useful for those of us that aren’t there #ETC09

Until that tweet came through, I wasn’t truly aware of the realm of influence of our chat. It stretched around the world! Our chat was helping other people learn across countries, as if they were there themselves. That certainly upped my levels of responsibility! I sat a bit straighter after that!
[Please check out Rhonda’s blogpost on the uses of backchanneling for more information]

So how does this relate to my class? Earlier this academic year, I tested out the chat function in Studywiz with my Grade 4 students to discuss an essential agreement for blogging. I found that some of the kids who would normally not say anything, were the ones who had the most to say in a chat forum. That is HUGE! I need to consider different ways to conduct discussions and ensure I provide a range of options to cater to every child’s needs.

Tips: I would recommend using small groups so the kids can keep up with each other – 22 kids all typing at once makes a challenging chat to follow! I’d do 4 separate chats next time, so everyone can follow easily and participate effectively.

How does it relate to me as a workshop leader? I cringe now at how I made people turn their phones off during a PYP workshop I led in Jakarta recently. Next time I’d like to set up a backchannel chat as some people feel more comfortable asking questions and/or participating that way. It would give me a chance to check their understanding (and levels of focus!) later on, and perhaps clarify further any points where necessary.

I’m definitely going to look for ways to incorporate backchannel chat into my regular teaching repertoire. How about you?

Links to Backchannel Chats of Keynote speeches at ETC09 can be found on the following pages:
William Lishman – If We Are Not Part of the Solution We Are Part of the Problem
John Liu – “Earth’s Hope” – Responding To Climate Change – By Healing the Planet

Further reading: Ben Grundy’s post on Back-Channel Chat in Class

Photo Credit: FadderUri

PYP Induction

A big welcome to all our new PYP colleagues in Singapore! Lovely to have you visit our East campus.

Below is a Voicethread we started to help us look at practical ways we can reinforce the PYP Attitudes in the classroom. Some of our teachers have already added information about how they use the attitudes in their classrooms.

We need your help to make this as useful as possible. Please listen to & read this Voicethread, then add your own comments about what you would do in your classroom to highlight and promote the PYP Attitudes.

You can comment via audio (pop the headphones on), text (type your ideas) or webcam (click ‘allow’ to access your webcam). Detailed instructions for commenting can be found below.

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To make an audio comment, click on record. You will then be prompted to let Voicethread access the camera & microphone. Click on allow.

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For more information on using Voicethreads for education, click on this link.