Visible Thinking

Posted: October 2, 2016 in Visual Thinking

New Year New Learning

Around 5 years ago I stumbled on the work of Ron Ritchhart through my Vice Principal Paul Brogden, an avid fan and user of the Thinking Routines. I devoured the book, “Visible Thinking” and pored over the HGSE website, specifically Project Zero, wondering how I had ever lived, let alone taught before knowing this! Testing out some of the routines was a start and, as most new learners, I began with one that fitted neatly into the curriculum: See, Think, Wonder. You can read all about the thinking routines at the Harvard site.


A team of 6 MS teachers from the UWCSEA Dover campus embarked on the online Making Visible Thinking Course from HGSE. We were an eclectic team of me (Art teacher and Head of Grade), a Head of English and Literacy coach, a Science teacher, a Language teacher (Head of Spanish), a Maths teacher (and MS Pastoral Vice Principal) and finally a Geography/Humanities teacher (and Curriculum Vice Principal). It was a great mix and we learnt so much about each other and the curriculum we have for our Middle School students.

The course is divided into 6 individual courses and each team has a coach who manages many other teams from around the world. We connected through the portal and comment and feedback on other teams which is wonderful. My art teacher friend from COETAIl, Matt McGrady first introduced the idea of the online course and he and a team from Abu Dhabi participated in this phase too.


The first course opened us up to the routines and helped us to navigate the site, sharing and posting about what we discussed as a team about creating a Culture of Thinking. Earlier this year, Ron Ritchhart published the book, “Creating Cultures of Thinking: The 8 Forces We Must Master to Truly Transform Our Schools” to help guide us in teaching students habits of mind for deep learning and to encourage collaboration and group learning to develop powerful communities.

Already, as a group we were collaborating online, meeting and chatting ad hoc and sharing experiences and ideas about our thinking as a result of the readings, videos and information shared. It was an exciting time. Time will always be a stumbling block for teachers and finding time to share and talk was always going to be challenging for 6 teachers in different areas of the school with varying constraints

As laid out below, the 8 forces that shape our classrooms are imperative in developing a rich learning environment:

cultural forces1

Fostering a culture of thinking resonated with us as we help youngsters navigate the complex digital world they have been brought up in. So much is done for them; an answer is just a click away. When do they stop to think for themselves? Do we give them thinking time on class when we ask questions? Do you give students at least 7 seconds pause time for thinking when you pose a question to the group? Which of the cultural forces most resonate with you? It seems that this course opens our thinking and help us to encourage others to draw students away from their comfort zone and to enhance their critical and analytical thinking more.



“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”

Dr. Seuss

Learning in the Library of COETAIL a visualnote drawn by Nicki Hambleton on iPad with Adobe Ideas

Learning in the Library of COETAIL a visualnote drawn by Nicki Hambleton on iPad with Adobe Ideas

Let me start at the very beginning…

Back in Course 1, I found the greatest learning was through connecting. (Connect Collaborate Create). Twitter, in particular, gave me an online family to offer support, answer questions and helped me to develop. I have never been so in awe of an online platform to learn from. At times it is overwhelming and there is too much information that I try to take note of. My Evernote is fit to burst, my Instapaper unread and my Flipboard not working, but I try to stay on top of what is important to me.

It was during this time that I asked myself:

“how can I connect students outside of the art classroom?”

During one of the live COETAIL chats, Dane Watts also talked about student connections and it was in Course 1 with the guidance of my mentor Clint, and help from Vivian, Joe and many other COETAILers online, that the seed was sown for what was to be the beginning of the end of COETAIL. It has been incredible to connect with Matt and Anne, both teaching art and members of the COETAIL online cohort like me.

The Beginning of the End? Visual note drawn on ipad using Adobe Ideas by Nicki Hambleton

The Beginning of the End? Visual note drawn on ipad using Adobe Ideas by Nicki Hambleton

As I was preparing for the end of Course 4, my thoughts turned to a bigger concept. I loved the online wikis and websites that I talked about back in Course 4: how art teachers in Asia can connect through the ARARTE ning and IB Visual Art students and teachers can share their work on Mrs Anderson’s wiki.

I marvelled at the way you can be connected with like minded people and share and learn alike on sites like Deviant Art. Much as I love reading others blogs and looking at websites, the real growth comes in the interactions and activity. You learn so much from one another and it was with this thought that the idea evolved.


Having posted my plan online, Matt contacted me and asked if I would like to collaborate on Course 5 and also with Anne, both Art teachers in Abu Dhabi and China. Together the 3 of us set out to connect our students to share their art and give and receive feedback online. Matt suggested using Quadblogging, as I explained on an earlier Course 5 post, and I researched its origins and successes.

Photo Credit: SurfGuard via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: SurfGuard via Compfight cc

For me, my goals were clear:

“for students to connect online and to give and share feedback on their artwork”

“to learn about and apply digital citizenship to their daily practice”

but also:

“to see how far the connections would reach and what developed from them”

Here is the original UBD from the end of Course 4 documenting my idea:


As the project kicked off, I introduced it to all of my classes, sharing my thoughts and blog with them. They ALL wanted to get involved! The plan was to only use one class, but who was I to say no?! I had to draw the line at Grade 6, despite their enthusiasm for the project, as I knew that would take the most time and energy in educating them about internet safety, careful and respectful commenting and sharing online. I still have plans to start the new academic year blogging with all classes.

I set up the landing page to connect all classes with one another but also for parents and the wider community to see what we were doing. It think it also helped the students and teachers in the other schools to find their way! You can find it at the top of my blog as a separate page called Quadblogging.

The landing page for the class blogs

The landing page for the class blogs

But as the students got more involved it seemed that the goals were changing:

“how could we share our work with a wider audience and develop a student orientated space online?”


I decided to use Blogger as students already have Google accounts and it synced seamlessly with them. Talking them through the process of signing up and commenting was just the start and beyond that students worked on designing the space asking for authorship rights. This was a new risk for me as they inevitably designed, redesigned, changed layout, logo, headers and labels almost daily!

As the project developed, I found I was pulling from all four courses of COETAIL and in fact the students were beginning to mirror my own experiences.

Mirror Me image drawn by Nicki Hambleton on iPad with Adobe Ideas

Mirror Me image drawn by Nicki Hambleton on iPad with Adobe Ideas

I always think far too big, but if I was to give the students a valid and authentic experience I couldn’t help but incorporate my learning from the whole of my COETAIL journey.

The 5 rooms in the COETAIL house drawn by Nicki Hambleton on iPad with Adobe Ideas

The 5 rooms in the COETAIL house drawn by Nicki Hambleton on iPad with Adobe Ideas


All my classes were excited to be involved in the blogging task. I introduced it in class and sent an email explaining the project to all parents.
Screen Shot 2015-05-10 at 15.57.25              Screen Shot 2015-05-10 at 15.57.42                            Screen Shot 2015-05-10 at 15.57.01

It seemed the right time and place to be addressing Digital citizenship yet in a practical way alongside the lesson work. Students too were eager to get started with connecting as Ashari, Khush and Tamzine explain in my video:

Screen Shot 2015-05-10 at 16.02.29   Screen Shot 2015-05-10 at 16.02.47   Screen Shot 2015-05-10 at 16.03.11

Here is the final video of how the project evolved:

From start to finish I have been both impressed and surprised at the students tireless enthusiasm and constant commitment to pushing the boundaries of online connecting. I love that I too learn from them as they find alternative (and better) ways to connect and collaborate.


Photo Credit: wizzer2801 via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: wizzer2801 via Compfight cc

From listening to my students and reading their ongoing reflections it seems clear that they have met the goals of connecting and understanding digital citizenship. We have begun to see a glimpse of what might happen as the connections grow and deepen over time too. Even though Grade 6 were not involved at this stage in the blogging project the aims of understanding Copyright stretched to them as they shared photos on a Flickr site and they discussed using music in their Stop Motion animations. It was great to see the learning flowing into other classes as a result.

Zain talks about starting a Flickr site to share their own photos

Zain talks about starting a Flickr site to share their own photos

Making Stop Motion videos and addressing music copyright

Making Stop Motion videos and addressing music copyright








With youngsters it is crucial to keep revisiting digital mindfulness as they can be lulled into a sense of familiarity the more they connect and communicate. Just the other day I found one of Grade 8 students discussing the reasons why a video should or should not be uploaded due to its unusual style and content: “Might it offend someone in another country?” “Would they understand it” “How personal to a culture is humour?” The video stayed online for little over 4 hours before he decided to take it down and rework some aspects. It is controversial but he wanted to debate the idea too. Is blogging a place for such debate? I believe that it can be if handled appropriately. Often online we are watchful of what we say and debate is rarely seen effectively and openly, so it is important we teach our students how to debate effectively and respectfully.


Did my students learn from the experience? How did my learning change too?

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Students reflected that their learning had and still is changing due not just to the project but as a result of connecting and sharing. They changed their ideas about how they could learn not just what they were learning. They are enjoying the process so much their thoughts are currently looking ahead to how they can incorporate different types of learning about art online and to a wider audience. I have learnt so much with them about how students learn best and how learning changes as they move up the school. I still want to involve my youngest Middle School students, those eager Grade 6s and, as the academic year draws to a close I would like to integrate them into the process somehow: maybe with just one blog and for interested individuals to post, yet all can view and comment?

Next year as our online learning platform takes off with all classes, there will be ample opportunities to work with students online, sharing and commenting and this may help to develop good practice and start to journey towards the ultimate goal of a more connected space for artists.


Antonio and Eric talking about using  rotating teams to connect for ease and diversity of comments

Antonio and Eric talking about using rotating teams to connect for ease and diversity of comments

Reflecting the voices and opinions of Antonio and Eric, it would have been far better to have focussed on just one class. But how could I have chosen and known just how interested and intriguing the process would have been if I had not allowed all 5 classes access and involvement?

I like the idea of using teams across schools that rotate and change as the weeks evolve. This would allow everyone to receive comments and to grow the connections far better. The original Quadblogging site documents a similar process where the “quads” are changed after each 4 week cycle. With this in mind, I wonder if we can set this up online with the help of art teachers worldwide: a more focused, subject-specific version of David Mitchell’s initiative?

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Anyone interested in starting this in the new year? Please spread the word online and get in contact with me if you are interested in linking your art students to mine. It would help me and my students to start connecting further afield and bridge the gap to the classroom in the cloud.

Whilst asking the students for feedback towards the middle of the process many students suggested ways to connect beyond the blogs including via Skype. This got me thinking that we could use this more in the classroom to talk to and learn from experts. With this in mind I reconnected with a British painter, Niki Hare, via email who my students had sent questions to last year about her process of working and the meaning of her work. They are excited this year to be able to connect with her via Skype this week to ask her advice when creating abstract and emotive paintings. I cannot wait to see how their thinking changes with this connection and how Skype might broaden our learning in the art room.

Connected Classrooms? when pigs fly drawn on Adobe Ideas by Nicki Hambleton

Connected Classrooms? when pigs fly drawn on Adobe Ideas by Nicki Hambleton


Right now my students are still in the process of awaiting comments on their second post. This has taken time to await the 4 week turn around and it set me wondering if there was a more natural way for it to progress. Should students work more organically, posting as they wish or would that clog the page and lose the thread and equality? My thoughts slipped back to the idea of the website and how this would give much more autonomy for student choice.

brainstorming ideas for the website

brainstorming ideas for the website

This was where my students thinking really took off. It was only supposed to be a lesson starter, a suggestion of an idea, but they tackled it with gusto. They worked collaboratively and discussed and debated names and designs for the online space as well as offering concepts and suggestions for what they, the participants would want to see included on the space. It helped to show me that if you are thinking for kids, ask the kids! After all it is them who will be using it.

ideas for the nme and concept for a global art classroom

ideas for the nme and concept for a global art classroom

I wish I had incorporated Twitter more into the process with my students. It is difficult as it is to keep up with Twitter but I wondered if I could have created a class hashtag to share and communicate more to a wider audience. I will ask students how this might work but to quote a HS student:

“students don’t use Twitter, we use Facebook”

How can we change this practice, show them the benefit, the swiftness and versatility of Twitter? and what about the under 13’s? How can we offer them a social space that is both easy and safe to use?

Photo Credit: Mike Gabelmann via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Mike Gabelmann via Compfight cc

I wish I had thrown down the gauntlet to my students much earlier in the process, asking them what they need, want or would like in order to connect, learn and collaborate. It is always an eye opener to see and hear their opinions. Often, as teachers, we think we have a good idea of what is needed, but involving the students more in the process changes thinking and helps us step into their shoes a little more easier.

Discussion about Learning

Discussion about Learning


Right from the start I have shared my learning on COETAIL with my senior team who have supported my journey. The IT department have been a source of help and advice and particular thanks must go to Andrew, Pete, Noah and Ben. Without them I am sure my questions and deliberations would have gone unanswered and my path would have been less clear. Paul Brogden, Vice Principal Curriculum has been following my progress online and was keen to see how the journey evolved. Perhaps now staff can see the value in connecting our students beyond our classrooms and how imperative it has been in teaching digital safety and responsibility.

Just last Friday the Tech mentors at UWCSEA met for a sharing session and I talked about how powerful an experience this had been and how much learning had taken place.

sharing COETAIL blog

sharing COETAIL blog

I would like to offer a session about connecting, to help more teachers to see the value of social networks both for them and students and how blogging can start this process. I offered this a number of years ago and the Languages department have taken it on board. The problem with our school as it is with many schools is TIME! How do you add to the already bursting curriculum without taking anything away? It has been tough juggling so many variables and ideas through the COETAIL journey but it has been worth it to see the growth in both me and my students. With our online platform Teamie coming onboard with all MS classes in August, this could help us encourage discussion, to connect more and may, in time help pave the way for more online connections.

Teamie - online learning platform

Teamie – online learning platform

As the idea continues to evolve I would like to push my learning so I can help my students find the best route through this jungle of ideas. I talked before with Noah about learning some html and with Peter about HYPE but now I am interested in web design and I have found a free online course through ALISON that might meet that wish. I have already bought my domain name, nickihambleton, hosted through Hover, but I am yet to set it up. Perhaps this will kick start that process.

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For years I have looked from afar at the work of The Harvard team’s Visible Thinking and Project Zero. I have read the book, studied the website and resources online and yearned to visit Harvard or at least take the online course. I missed out on a 3 day course with Ron Ritchhart in Asia this month and so I was excited when Matt shared the new MTV online courses. They contain a new concept – learning in teams. I am in the process of discussing this with my curriculum leader to build a team at UWCSEA to pilot this work and then take it into a PLC. Keep your fingers crossed I can participate so that I can work with not only my school but with other educators on what surely is an invaluable curriculum-wide skill.


The greatest learning for me in the whole process was:

that the students can have ownership and change your thinking

that is doesn’t matter that you don’t yet know where this is going or what the outcome may be

Talking to Emily Maclean from Chatsworth International School at a recent TeachMeet, I will try in the future to hand the project over to the students much earlier on for them to devise teams of workers to problem solve. Asking the right questions is a crucial part. It is enlightening to see how Emily can get a class of grade 5 students to devise and share an online course single handedly! She too did not know what the outcome would be or how it might evolve. Taking risks as a teacher? We should do this more often! You can read more about Emily’s work at

shared with kind permission from Emily Maclean

shared with kind permission from Emily Maclean


Could we have done this without technology? As Nick states, the main benefit of connecting online was the immediacy of receiving feedback and the ease of the connections. It opened his mind to more possibilities and helped to change his thinking. Another student laughed as she explained that we could have sent the artwork by post, waited to receive a letter or some art in return! The project might have taken a year to happen!

Nick explaining how we could not have done this without technology

Nick explaining how we could not have done this without technology

So what does redefinition look like?

Back in Course 4 I drew a seed germinating growing to a plant to represent the process of SAMR, but looking back it should be seen as a circular design much like my application video to Apple Alumni earlier this year:

As students reach redefinition it allows thinking to restart and evolve again. Following the introduction of the blogs, commenting online and forming connections has become second nature, a natural progression to gathering feedback in class and from their peers. So what next, to redefine redefinition?

Reflecting on the process made me question what difference I made to my students’ learning, but also how it redefined learning in the context of the SAMR model. Nick Coulter (TPACK and SAMR) recently shared this infographic by Jackie Gerstein:

SAMR as a framework for Education 3.0

SAMR as a framework for Education 3.0

Looking at the lower area of the graphic, my students redefined their learning about art, by connecting online and began to develop a PLN as a result. They are sharing their knowledge and ideas online and learning from others they have connected with in return. Grade 7 are uploading their demonstrations to their blogs as I speak, in order to share their skills with others and are hoping to see some in return so they too can extend their learning. They range from Photoshop tutorials to how to draw and eye, pulling together their own learning from class and their personal interests outside of school.

Grade 7 uploaded demonstration videos on Google Drive

Grade 7 uploaded demonstration videos on Google Drive

It is exciting to see how much the original idea is growing and how the students are helping to reshape it. We are still a distance from what I envisioned with the connected classroom but we are working our way towards it. With one lesson a week of art, I am not rushing it. Good things take time to develop and this is just the beginning.


Back in February, Edutopia article by Elizabeth Bostwick, talked about student voice and it was here that I realised the true future of helping my art students to find theirs in a predominantly visual context. She talks about growth mindset through community building and collaboration and about giving opportunities for our students to open up, to connect and communicate in other ways than speaking out in class allowing greater opportunity for the introverts to find their voice.

“the greatest voice in the classroom is the student’s” 

Elizabeth Bostwick (Empowering student voice through classroom culture, February 2015)

Also on Edutopia another article, “Help Students use social media to empower, not just to connect” resonated with me:

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Even though this article is over 4 years old, the sentiment still rings true. We should be helping our students to use social media not just to connect with one another but to empower them to take an active role, to participate, and to add value. Andrew Marcinek talks about student’s criteria for a PLN and to become an active member for the hashtag or group they follow.

In time I hope to work out how to get the collaborative online platform for connecting Middle School art students up and running. I am testing the water and the technical aspect of the Drawing board/Artery/The Blank Canvas/ Global Palette (or whatever it will be called) in the final weeks of term and reaching out to Twitter in the hope there are some equally keen art teachers out there ready to step in and join me. Once I have some interest the next thing will be voting on a name!

As always, watch this space………….

COETAIL: The swiss army knife of learning drawn on iPad with Adobe ideas by Nicki Hambleton

COETAIL: The swiss army knife of learning drawn on iPad with Adobe ideas by Nicki Hambleton

“never stop learning because life never stops teaching”

by Robert Tew on


Connect Collaborate Create visual note by Nicki Hambleton made on iPad using Adobe Ideas

Connect Collaborate Create visual note by Nicki Hambleton made on iPad using Adobe Ideas

“Alone we can do so little but together we can do so much” Helen Keller 

All I have ever wanted as a teacher is for students to be happy and relaxed in my classroom and eager to learn. I wish for them to have the courage to tackle tough tasks and to grow as an individual. When I started teaching back in the UK in the 90’s I was young and keen and desperate for the students to get on with me. I felt, and still do, that students work best when they are comfortable and supported and it is still with this philosophy that I teach today.

Photo Credit: Akamï via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Akamï via Compfight cc

I remember when I first started teaching, older teachers advised me not to smile for the first 2 weeks. How ludicrous does that sound? Do newly qualified teachers still get told that in the UK? Why on earth would we not want to enjoy our job and show students how much we enjoy it. I could never adhere to that advice and always wear my heart on my sleeve. I have been told I am an open book, that is is blatantly clear if something is wrong. I am a rubbish liar and an even worse actor. However, I have always found the greatest rapport with my students and that is why, years later I still love my job.

I still connect online with students I first taught at a lovely school in the UK. Just today one of my 11 year old tutees is a dad of 2 and running the London marathon. Another is about to have an operation after a knee injury playing Premiership football for the past 17 years. Most are regular mothers, husbands, working adults or students at university. Teaching keeps you young, yet connecting with past students makes you feel old as time passes and they become adults themselves.

Photo Credit: carlaarena via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: carlaarena via Compfight cc

Teaching internationally has changed me as an educator and as a person. Connecting has brought the world closer and now we can talk to another person despite their distance. Being an international teacher has also brought connections that have helped me to grow more and Twitter has been at the heart of this. I remember in Ghana when my colleague introduced me to Kim Cofino’s blog Always Learning and it was through Kim that I began to use Twitter far more effectively to reeducate myself in the world of technology and pedagogy. Only when I moved to Singapore did it begin to make more sense through Learning 2 and in particular with Jabiz Raisdana. Being inspired by him to connect and follow, lurk and stalk, I began to develop an understanding of the benefits of Twitter and indeed connecting, but it wasn’t until much later that I had the confidence to give back into the community and form the beginnings of a PLN.

Nowadays my reach is far and eclectic. I have groups of art teachers, sketchnoters, COETAIL groups, International teachers and online friends that have become real friends in life. Joe Teft and I connected first through Learning 2, then COETAIL and eventually met face to face when he moved to Singapore last August to join CIS. We met over wine and talked like long lost friends and this is how powerful connections can be. You develop a depth that cannot necessarily be developed with a classroom colleague or a condominium neighbour. You spend time communicating, asking questions and thoughtfully responding and it is this that I am trying to impart to my students.

The Dating game

I introduced the blog task first to my Grade 8s, believing that they would be the best guinea pigs to try this out on. Most were over 13, keen for some excitement in their day to day existence and active social media participants already. They took to the task, like ducks to water, finding both meaningful learning and fun as the weeks progressed. I still giggle at their funny comments when I introduced the motivational aspect, to encourage them to connect and collaborate with the students in the other 3 schools, when one student asked how many points he would get if he got someone’s number!

But it was with the under 13s that my interest ultimately lies. Those who (legally) cannot connect on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram, many of whom do, albeit superficially and disrespectfully.

As Head of Grade 6, the majority of the issues I have had to deal with in my first year with these impressionable 11 year olds has been through misuse of digital media, clashes online and misinformed conversations through social media. Despite informing parents and guiding students through a structured PSE programme they still use Instagram and Skype and many disagreements are through this. One student, let’s call them “X”, vehemently accused other students of reporting him on Instagram, yet he too had blocked another Instagrammer as she was underage. He spouted threats and accusations on Skype, screenshot by a parent and vowed to find out who they were. The irony was he too was only 11 and should not be on Instagram in the first place.

So my thoughts led to developing a programme that helped Middle School students to learn how to connect in a protected environment and to use similar platforms to connect and learn from. Developing this has been the hardest part of Course 5. Quadblogging has been just the beginning and I have plans to grow the connections further.


Icon made by Freepik from is licensed under CC BY 3.0

Icons made by Freepik from is licensed by CC BY 3.0

Looking back I wondered if COETAIL subconsciously included a slight element of gamifying: maximum points for the number of blog posts and connections, encouraging words, being published on Flipboard, retweets, being featured or mentioned on another’s blog or Twitter – this is the kind of incentive that works for adults, not necessarily, points, prizes, rewards. These rewards go deeper and last longer. The knowledge that we have connected and made friendships that do far more than give us prestige that we are top or second on a leaderboard or the fastest poster of COETAIL this week.

These connections have longevity, are real and support and encourage us.

Being part of a PLN

My PLN seen through MentionMapp

My PLN seen through MentionMapp

Before I joined Twitter, I did not know the benefit of an online PLN and I would have probably baulked at someone who said they had strangers online who they learned from. I joined Facebook back in 2007 when we first lived abroad and I wanted to connect or reconnect with friends in the UK and with students we used to teach. It was a fun way to chat and dip into their lives from afar.

But Twitter became a different entity: it became my learning zone. Until I was introduced to Tweetdeck, I was a little overwhelmed at the sheer amount of information coming at me. I could not fathom how Keri-Lee Beasley could track so many things, add them to Diigo, respond, share and create so much in so little time. I watched her, enthralled, at a conference, listening, tweeting, storifying, sharing notes on google docs and all in the blink of an eye! Nowadays, even though I am nowhere near the league of KL, I can see at a glance the groups of people I follow, the hashtags I am interested in and the individuals I want to learn from.



As you can imagine, this is just a section of the many hashtags and groups I follow!

I am sure I still miss out on key things but as I was once told, it is like coming into a room: you step into a group and join the conversation as it happens, you do not worry about what was discussed 5 or 30 minutes previously.

Building a tribe

Connecting the Dots visual note by Nicki Hambleton using Adobe Ideas on iPad

Connecting the Dots visual note by Nicki Hambleton using Adobe Ideas on iPad

COETAIL connections have been more widespread. As I documented in Course 4 (Connecting the Dots) there are often key people in one’s network who you draw most from. Pana, Joe and Matt are the ones I have grown most from as they give so much back to the community and extend my thinking. We often “meet” on Twitter chats beyond COETAIL or in one to one conversations: Pana in #kchatap, Joe in #enviroed and Matt in all things Art. Early on, Jamie, Vivian, Andrea, Clint and Joe helped me gain trust in the system, helping me to believe that I had thoughts and ideas worth writing about, and leaving comments on my posts. Connections I have made often cross platforms, so if I connect on COETAIL I will inevitably search for them on Twitter to continue or extend the conversation. It is through this that we can develop deeper and lasting friendships. Looking back at my activity on the COETAIL page gives me a sense of who I have connected with across the course and beyond the official records on my Gradesheet:

My main focus of connecting is through the strong friendships that have grown over the course on Twitter. It is not easy to track all my activity on Twitter but I try to remember to use the #COETAIL hashtag frequently when connecting and sharing.

Searching for a good way to view past connections and tweets I stumble on some clever websites. Liking the look of Visible tweets but not seeing it fit for purpose here, I used Tweetbeam to view my connections and conversations on Twitter. I took a screencast to show these many connections, although presented live at an event they would pop up randomly.

I wondered how I could get my own students to learn better not only in the classroom but beyond. It was with this thought that Course 5 developed and is still developing. Students started tentatively commenting on other student’s blog posts and posting themselves, waiting eagerly for their first response and the beginnings of connecting globally.

But the hardest part for both adults and students is to develop meaningful connections and that is what I have been trying to encourage and build over the past few weeks with my classes, just once a week and within the 75 minute lesson alongside their practical art!

To grow a friendship you have to spend time nurturing it. But how does one invite comments without seeming pushy? How do we ask for feedback online? Often we expect another to respond to our comment and reciprocate on our blog when we have spent time replying to theirs. But it doesn’t necessarily work like that. This is a real lesson to teach our students.

I look back at the record of my connections through COETAIL and my involvement in the community. I was not a very good Diigo user and Google Reader ceased to exist so I built on the growing friendships I had through Twitter to help connect deeper, focusing on responding to the hashtag #COETAIL and searching for like-minded individuals through posts from the online2 cohort. I wish I had done more to reach out further beyond COETAIL, but time is tight as a working mother of 2, in a new role as Head of Grade in a very busy and manic school such as UWCSEA. Add on Learning 2 preparations and I reflect that my connections grew considerably, all things considering. I may not have nurtured enough connections beyond Twitter and COETAIL but sometimes it is better to have fewer stronger friendships than many weaker ones. Or so I tell my kids.

Using Twitter Advanced search I can review specific connections with other Twitter users under #COETAIL or conversations between collaborators or friends. Often, I discover, I have tweeted a lot but not necessarily utilising the hashtag and so it is difficult to see the wood for the trees. Here are some screenshots of the types of more recent conversations on Twitter:

Screen Shot 2015-04-27 at 21.04.03 Screen Shot 2015-04-27 at 21.06.30

I used to comment diligently each week during Courses 1-4 recording these on my Gradesheet, but within Course 5 it felt more natural to search, comment and connect at particular times and with a wider range of people, some not even connected with COETAIL. I tracked these widespread connections using MentionMapp, a fascinating tool online to see your connections relating to Twitter users and hashtags. Again, I took a video of the screen as I clicked the nodes of connections to show how my reach has developed.

I would love to pursue this avenue more in order to track connections and their interconnectedness, reminding me of the 6 degrees of separation and how social media brings people closer.

As our online and offline connections brought us together, Anne in China, Matt in Adu Dhabi and two Art teachers from Dubai began to chat more about our connecting project on Gmail. Matt shared the link to a doc so that we could see how Quadblogging could work and our emails have been going back and forth since February, checking, questioning and clarifying:

Gmail connections and conversations

Gmail connections and conversations

Working closely with my fellow bloggers, Anne and Matt, we attempted to connect on Google Hangouts during Course 5. Our first meet up helped us to see where we wanted to go with the blogging and how it would work in practice. The second was meant to reconnect us visually to review how it had been going and we tried, in vain to record the conversation live. For some reason it did not work out as we had envisioned and we laughed our way through it as I appeared to be talking to myself, watched Anne hear me, although she herself was mute and Matt’s icon with no sound! So much for technology.

Google hangout and Twitter connections

Google hangout and Twitter connections

I recounted this to my students who thought this hilarious but I don’t see them having any success themselves since setting a similar challenge when connecting! However, one such student forged better connections, albeit within our own school community and he evidenced these through his GDrive folder just this last week. He is a quiet and reserved student, keen to do well and he connected with another equally shy boy in another class. Together they talked online about collaborating and even managed a Hangout to talk about possible ideas. I am so pleased that my words meant something and that he was able to connect outside his usual peers. Talking to Pratyay, and viewing his “evidence” we can track back that the connections begun with a comment on his first blog post. They decided to email, then google chat and finally on Hangouts. I look forward to what they manage to collaborate online with art, as other students in China and Abu Dhabi test out Ping Pong, remixing each others artwork. ArtyRemix didn’t really get off the ground back in Course 1, maybe now is the time to resurrect it?

I love that this has followed such a similar thread to how I connect. From initial unknown commenting on COETAIL blogs, to chatting more openly, to video conferencing. Rodd Lucier talked about the 7 Degrees of Connectedness back in 2012 and back in Course 1 I could see how this thermometer of growth could help our students to connect.

Screen Shot 2014-03-15 at 23.38.06

Visual Note by Nicki Hambleton Course 1: Connectedness

I see how the tentative commenting at the start of the project began to grow into more confident and natural friendships, like Arran and Pratyay. If only I could get them on Twitter! I think we can see that connecting takes time, not just for ourselves, fully embedded in a connected cohort and confident on Twitter, but for our students. We need to nurture them in forging friendships and finding their tribe. For some it feels awkward, for others it is fun. For most I wish for them to be able to do this beyond the classroom, in preparation for their life ahead of them, immersed in social media, armed with the skills and knowledge to do so safely and authentically.

Since our own fateful afternoon, Anne, Matt and I have discovered other ways to connect, asking our IT specialists and students who suggested Zoom and Twitch. I love that there are multiple ways to connect and have real F2F conversations beyond the tweet or blog comment.

A problem shared

I had much more luck with Hangouts with Pana and Susan last Sunday as we set out to support one another in our final weeks of the course and in sharing our ideas for our final video. Pana invited us (and David) to connect through Google, we logged on, and it worked. We spent a lovely 30-40 minutes supporting one another and genuinely feeling less stressed having shared our thoughts and worries. Even though we did not record or present the Hangout live, so we have no visual record or evidence, we all felt the conversation allowed us to be relaxed and open, which ultimately moved us all forward with our thinking. Through Pana I have connected with other visually interested Tweeters on #kchatap and had some great conversations back in October. It was good to connect with other COETAILers here too and about a subject close to my heart.

Twitter chat #kchatap on Visual Literacy

Twitter chat #kchatap on Visual Literacy October 14 2014


From the #C5 Hangout I went straight on to the #COETAILchat about life after COETAIL. I have found much inspiration connecting from Day 1 with Vivian through Twitter and online chats. She befriended me and I am genuinely grateful for her constant kindness and responses over the year and a half. I enjoyed watching and tweeting throughout the COETAILcasts and then listening to her for real later on in the course. She has been a source of help and support and I would love to continue this one day and pay back her kindness into the community as a mentor myself. There have been numerous connections, old and new, mostly through Twitter, that have generated powerful conversations but it is in connection with COETAIL where I feel the most affinity.

#coetailchat slowchat The impact of COETAIL

#coetailchat slowchat The impact of COETAIL

#COETAILchat on life after COETAIL April

#COETAILchat on life after COETAIL April 26 2015

Beyond COETAIL, I have connections with my immediate colleagues, International educators, Art teachers, Learning 2 and the ADE community. I gain so much from the interactions with these inspiring individuals and I continue to reach out to forge new friendships to connect and grow further.

Questions are the answer

Art Alternation: Antonio's blog post inviting critique

Art Alternation: Antonio’s blog post inviting critique


Replies to Antonio on Art Alternation

Replies to Antonio on Art Alternation








This last week, I invited my students to connect on a deeper level with the art students from the other 3 schools and we discussed how this might work. They tracked back who had commented and who had replied back to comments they had left. They looked for the reasons why they commented and whether they had started to develop a rapport and how. Students at AIS specifically asked for questions and my students, from the beginning, were advised to ask and invite questions as part of their lesson in connecting and commenting. It seems that this is at the heart of connecting. Students were frustrated at the length of time it took and some were without comments so this was hard. I knew just how they felt, as I too found it difficult to know sometimes if what I was writing was good enough, interesting or indeed if anyone was actually reading it! Some found the process took too long and were missing valuable class time to learn the practical skills in art. It was a tough task to complete before the end of COETAIL drew nigh.

Back in Course 1, I wrote:

“How do the youth of today connect and grow as learners? In what ways is this different to how we learnt as teenagers and how we now connect to grow and develop as adults?” (I didn’t get to where I am today… February 16, 2014)

I hope by my final COETAIL post I will have reflected more about how students learn, how they can connect and in turn become better individuals. At this point I do not want it to end but to continue: to begin something new. It has almost been like a pilot for the new academic year when Teamie, our online Learning platform, will launch across campus with all students. Through this students will be able to access information, links and connections far more seamlessly and this may help in the process of timing yet also may hinder it. There will become a day when students go to their own tribe of like minded students online, as I do, without it being a mundane, teacher-led task. There will be a day when students will learn in different ways, outside of my classroom by connecting and sharing practice online with other artists, students and teachers.

Until that day, I want to encourage connections, encourage sharing of resources and demonstrations and to inspire them to develop their own learning networks. COETAIL has helped to plant this seed and over time we will see what it bears forth.

Personalised Learning a visual note drawn by Nicki Hambleton on Adobe Ideas for iPad

Personalised Learning a visual note drawn by Nicki Hambleton on Adobe Ideas for iPad

Whatever we do, whatever we teach, whatever wondrous new fandangled gadget or app appears on the market, whoever we teach and whenever we are teaching them, learning should be at the heart of it.

It may sound crass or even naive, but often in this brave new world this fundamental aspect is forgotten or at least pushed further and further backwards. Literacy hour, genius hour, standards and benchmarks, aims and objectives, collaborative work, group work, authentic use of technology and many more bombard our daily practice and jostle for space in the short amount of time we have with our students.

In Middle School Art, students have but a mere 75 minutes to learn and grow as a artist over the year, and with Sports Days, visiting speakers, training days and public holidays sometimes this can be whittled down to just 30 lessons. This equates to around 37.5 hours, just over a day and a half. What can you teach a 12 year old for a year if you only had a day and half? If assemblies run over or it is the start or end of a term some of this time would be reduced even more.

So, how do we prioritise what we want our students to learn?

From the mouths of babes



IB PYP philosophy promotes purposeful inquiry as the leading vehicle for learning and through this it is clear that students are the key, the centre of learning and that they need and want ownership of their education. They may not have the skills nor the knowledge, yet they know what they want and need and, with guidance, can and should help to shape the lessons. It may again be naive of me to think that children can plan your curriculum but we spend so much time as adults forgetting what it is like to be a child and what it means to learn as a child. They want to know why they need to learn this concept or that information or skill, and what use it is in today’s changing society. We cannot neglect that the world is a very different place to that which we grew up and learned in: we must think in the shoes of our students more often and ask them their opinions and ideas. So, even though I do not teach PYP, I honour the philosophy and turn the discussions over to them. I ask my students what they want to learn and what they think they need to learn to be a better artist, thinker, problem solver, collaborator, team player, independent learner and what the use of learning art is.

It is an eye opener. It develops new thinking and shapes the curriculum.

Adding Value

When I worked in the UK, a judgement of a child’s success was based on “value added”. What did students come into the school with (or at what level) and what did they leave with (and at what level) compared to the expectation? For those too young to have heard this phrase in education, here is a simple diagram to explain this concept:

Value Added - a simple diagram by Nicki Hambleton

Value Added – a simple diagram by Nicki Hambleton

What might surprise you is that this assessment is centred around the teacher not the child, rather the child as a result of the teaching. Not something that ever sat well with me or, for that matter, many teachers. How can we measure learning? Is it possible solely by testing?

Last year, in Florida,

the teachers’ suit challenged the state’s 2011 Student Success Act that requires school districts to evaluate teachers based in part on “student learning growth” — defined by increases in standardised test scores. Florida is one of several states that have passed “value added” teacher evaluation laws linking teacher merit pay and retention to students’ standardised test performances. (Law Professors, May 2014)

The judge found Florida’s teacher evaluation unfair, but legal. How else can we assess learning and student growth in a less numerical or judgmental fashion?

What value have I added to my students this year? What new learning has happened through Quadblogging?

Words don’t come easy

Photo Credit: dslrpena via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: dslrpena via Compfight cc

For most, blogging at the Dover Campus is a new thing. A handful of students had a blog in Primary school or with their Spanish teacher, but on the whole, connecting and posting online was a new experience and one that needed nurturing. It astounded me that, in their social media-centric lives, they were unaware of what makes a valuable contribution to commenting, so it was here that I started to teach them real value in their words. We have worked all year on purposeful feedback with peer groups verbally at several stages in their work using various models such as “I see I think I wonder”, “invisible artist” and even “poo sandwich”, a phrase coined by one of my Science colleagues (don’t ask!). Armed with the skills and strategies to comment intelligently and meaningfully, we tested the waters commenting locally before embarking on public sites, trialling post it comments at the High School Art Exhibition, sending emails to the artists and practicing in a Picasa web album of their own class’s photography. They began to see the real power of their words, discussing starting sentences and suggested etiquette to keep themselves both on track as well as respectful.

The biggest learning so far was that of questioning. During the blogging process they figured out that when they asked the artist a question or reached out in their own post inviting critique or connections, they added value to their own thinking but also that of the receiver. It helped them to connect and began to form a conversation: a 2 way conversation. This in itself was powerful learning and prepared them well for the blogging ahead.

Freedom to choose

Photo Credit: pennuja via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: pennuja via Compfight cc

Reflecting on my own learning over the past year I can see so much growth in the manner I present my findings, in the depth of my posts and the actions I have taken back in the classroom. I have documented this through writings and drawings but the real results are less easy to measure or see as they are deep within the curriculum development, the forward planning and the nuances of my lessons. If you were to ask my students how the lessons have changed, I am not sure that they will have noticed drastic changes, more gradual drip feeding or subtle additions, as I am loath to add a new app or concept just for the sake of it, especially with time being so precious. I believe in authentic use of technology that doesn’t dominate the learning, it enhances or transforms it and this takes time to develop and authenticate. I yearn for the day when my students pick up an iPad or use an app or software of their own choosing as just another tool in their kit to learn with. I feel we are fast approaching this and we have to race to keep up with the plethora of new ideas firing at us and to filter the most effective ones to teach our students that would benefit their learning. What does this swiss army knife of new skills look like? Teachers should pool the ideas they offer students so other curriculum areas know what students can pick and choose from. What does your bag of tricks look like?

Modelling lifelong learning

Picking from my own COETAIL bag of tricks I found so many aspects I wanted to focus on when developing my Course 5 project. For me, at the heart of COETAIL, and its ultimate success and longevity, is connecting and sharing. My wish was for my own students to develop their own online communities in a similar manner so that they too could grow and learn. But now I look back and think, is this me, as an adult, thinking I know what is best for them to learn better? What if I thought more in the shoes of a 12 year old, as a child, learning art surrounded by all the influences and distractions a child in today’s world has? What would I want to learn and how?

Holistic education is at the centre of UWCSEA and our mission states:

The UWC movement makes education a force to unite people, nations and cultures for peace and a sustainable future. The UWCSEA goal is to educate individuals to embrace challenge and take responsibility for shaping a better world.

Kurt Hahn’s philosophy is at the heart of how students learn.

He championed the importance of developing the whole person, and based his thinking on the ideals of a holistic, experiential, values-based education.

“I regard it as the foremost task of education to insure the survival of these qualities: an enterprising curiosity, an undefeatable spirit, tenacity in pursuit, readiness for sensible self denial, and above all, compassion.” Kurt Hahn

The world is a very different place since Hahn founded the UWC movement 50 years ago. But his educational philosophy, with a focus on academic achievement, leadership, experiential learning and service to others has remained, and will continue to provide our students with a unique learning experience for many more years to come. (From UWCSEA website)

Experiential learning should be at the heart of our lessons and Ed Batista sets this out in his article on How to get Unstuck back in April 2010. Referencing Jessica Hagy and Andrea Corny’s models I believe the simplest is the most effective: What? So What? Now What? and Do it! hits the mark.

Self directed Learning – at the heart of Course 5

Photo Credit: clappstar via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: clappstar via Compfight cc

It has been both exhilarating as it has been daunting working through Course 5. Self motivation is at the heart of self-directed learning and time seems to run away from one, especially in a busy place like a school. But we are adults and at the end of a course that has taught us well, modelling research and structure enough so that we cannot possibly flounder at the last hurdle. How can we learn from this experience and help our students to be more self directed, motivated, organised and committed right up until the final flag?

Perhaps planning the year around this model would work, beginning with teacher-led instruction and demonstrations, modelling good working practice. Then, as the year unfolds, the next unit has some aspects of self-directed learning with guidance and a little hand-holding leading up to the final term. Lisa Nalbone neatly demonstrates the process of self-directed learning in her diagram below. Starting with a question changed how I looked at learning in my classroom as well as within COETAIL and asking students to ask more questions to direct learning is a powerful way to start in any subject area of the curriculum.

Self-directed learning model by Lisa Nalbone

Self-directed learning model by Lisa Nalbone

How do I make learning more engaging?

Looking back at COETAIL, the aspect that influenced, inspired me and changed my thinking the most was Course 4. It lit a fire. I would like to try to integrate gamification, or at the least some aspect of motivational learning into the framework next year to urge and push students in their pursuit of growth.

As I am currently at the stage of reflection on the course and in the final term of the academic year, I figured that it would be good to test the waters and ask the students: what they wanted to learn, how they learn best, what helped them to learn and grow this year and how they might demonstrate this learning? A large proportion of my students say they learn best by “trial and error”, their words not mine. Many said they learn best by seeing and doing, experimenting and trying out and this has been at the heart of this Connected Classrooms project. I said at the start I did not know where it was going to go, and I still don’t. I am letting the students lead the way, make the choices of how to alter the course and to find new ways to do what they used to do. It takes me back to the beginning of my course and the visual:

Mark Prensky's "Shaping Tech in the classroom" visual note by Nicki HAmbleton

Mark Prensky’s “Shaping Tech in the classroom” visual note by Nicki Hambleton

But it also draws me closer the the fundamentals of SAMR and redefining learning. With the learning firmly in the hands of my students I am excited for what happens during the final weeks of the course yet even more for what happens after. I am pushing the learning right up to the last minute of COETAIL, desperate for it not to end and to squeeze as much out of it as I can. I am a long way from personalised learning but I am heading in the right direction, slowly. The next posts will track the choices they make, the collaborations they plan, the gamification of the learning and finally the results of their work.

Watch this space….

 “Education is not the filling of a pail, it is the lighting of a fire” W.B.Keats

What fires have you lit today?

Connected Classrooms? when pigs fly drawn on Adobe Ideas by Nicki Hambleton

Connected Classrooms? when pigs fly drawn on Adobe Ideas by Nicki Hambleton

Kicking off Course 5 in the Classroom

Photo Credit: via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: via Compfight cc

It is with trepidation and anticipation that I begin the final phase of my COETAIL journey. In my previous post, Classroom in the Cloud, I said that I know this is not the end, just the beginning, and as I start introducing my students to the concept of connecting globally it feels like a new start and the beginning of something great.

Middle Schoolers cannot hold their feelings, they don’t mince their words and they show in their faces exactly when they are excited or upset. As I explained about my own COETAIL journey and shared with them my wish for them to have the same level of connectedness, to learn from others usually out of their reach and at the same time have fun, their faces reflected my own positive thoughts (thank goodness!). You never know whether what we plan is right or even interesting to our students, even if we think, as experienced educators, that we know what is best for them. They were genuinely excited to meet other MS art students and share learning with them.

All under one roof

The concept began to take root at the end of Course 4 where Matt McGrady and Anne Dirilgen, both Art teachers too, were thinking through their ideas for their final project. As we had connected long before COETAIL we wanted to build on this connection of like-minds and share that with our students. My initial idea, and still a huge part in my plan, is to develop a digital classroom that connects Middle School students in the ways that older students can interact: sharing videos or stories, commenting on photographs, chatting in a group or starting a discussion in a forum for example. Finding a format or platform is not so easy, especially for younger students. Edmodo exists and Nings are a possibility but I want the students to own it, design it, develop it and build and grow within it.

Previously many of my Middle Schoolers have had blogs which I connected to each other through my initial art blog (thisisallaboutart). It started out as a way for me to get to know them better as a person and to encourage interaction, positive sharing, pride and feedback. But teaching over 250 students every week made this very difficult to manage. Google Reader, at the time, made it slightly more palpable by allowing groups to be added to my blog and tracking when an individual posts. What a shame Google Reader ceased to be as I haven’t found a similar widget or tool to embed the collections in the same easy go-to fashion. Sadly, since starting COETAIL my time has meant my first blog has been on pause, whilst I developed my own voice here on Thinking Tradigitally. Perhaps the students will allow me a little space on their pages?


Following initial contact on Twitter and the decision that we should continue to work together, Matt suggested Quadblogging, developed by David Mitchell, Deputy Headteacher of Heathfield Primary School in Bolton, UK. Since its inception in 2011, over 500,000 students from 50 countries worldwide have taken part, connecting their classrooms. Connecting students outside of their usual domain is the underlying takeaway of this phenomena and when Mitchell asked on Twitter, “A blog without an audience is like…..” the responses came back such as:

“A library without books, a car without an engine and Beyonce without a ring!”

I asked a similar question to my classes, “Why do we share online” and their responses were equally heartfelt:

“When you are proud of your work, you want to share it”

“To share your story and to create memories”

“To receive feedback, to be noticed”

“You want to know what people think, what you are doing right or need to change to make it even better”

You can find out more about Quadblogging on the Edutopia post, from September 2012 or more about David Mitchell on his website Ask Sir.


Some Grade 7s and 8s have Instagram and share their photography through this method, trying for the most amount of “likes” and it is this that, to a 13 year old narcissistic girl, signifies their success or popularity. But do participants really add value to Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest? Comments range from “great shot” to “Love it” often with many emojis. So do they grow as a photographer, artist, writer or as a person as a result? What is its purpose?

I teach feedback to my students through the Visible Thinking routines with the favourite one being I see, I think, I wonder, as Silvia Tolisano eloquently describes on her post, Reflecting in the Learning process. With this framework peer and group feedback models useful yet positive commenting to take the artist forward and it is through this that my students are gaining insight into how to grow.

Hanging out

screenshot mid-hangout with Anne and Matt

screenshot mid-hangout with Anne and Matt

As part of the plan, Matt, Anne and I met online the other weekend to talk through the process, our aims, challenges and to discuss the timeframe. Matt set up the chat and we proceeded to try to record the hangout (just in case anyone was in the vaguest bit interested in the process and to laugh at us floundering with the new technology!). Google Hangouts on air will be our next learning curve when we should have our initial reflection on the first few weeks recorded.

3 became 4

Matt introduced us briefly through email to Alissa at The American School of Dubai and we are hoping that she and her colleague will join in the collaborating to spread the connections further afield. I am sure that there are other Art teachers with similar classes of youngsters that would love to take part in a programme like this. If you know of anyone, please connect them to me via Twitter: @itsallaboutart

The Class blog

This week, Matt’s classes will prepare their first blog page and introduce themselves to us. We wait in anticipation to see the first insights into life in Abu Dhabi, a country not many of us have had the pleasure to visit.

UWCSEA Dover High School Art Exhibition 2015

UWCSEA Dover High School Art Exhibition 2015

In the run up to the first week of commenting, my students took time out from the classroom to walk around our current High School Show to view and were amazed by the variety and quality of work on show. I asked them to chose just one student whose work had affected them and to write on a post it, these 2 things:

screenshot from my Active Inspire lesson for Grade 6

screenshot from my Active Inspire lesson for Grade 6


At the end of the week, I am compiling the multitude of post its (I currently teach 176 Middle School students in one week) to display as a “virtual blog post” alongside print outs of the artists’ work. In this way the students (and the artists) will get to grips with posting publically and how their comments can be viewed by many.

In addition, students are researching the look, feel and content of blogs on a theme of their choice to compare the writing style, design and layout and use of images for homework this week. This in turn, I hope, will inspire their class blog design to be both functional and attractive to draw viewers in and help them to want to return.

Under the same umbrella

Photo Credit: anettehustad via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: anettehustad via Compfight cc

I still hold on to the dream of the connected classroom in the cloud: a one-stop, all under one roof place for art students to interact. A place to connect artists, a little like the NING art teachers in Asia have with ARARTE, created by Kendra Farrell; not dissimilar to Michelle Anderson‘s IB Visual Art site, and not forgetting the wonderful GCSE and A Level Art site created by Amira Gale Student Art Guide. I also recall a site The Incredible @rt Department which has been going since 1994, originating as an Elementary Schools site, now serving not only the US but with some International Schools participating too. Deviant Art, started in 2000, is a wonderful community of artists too, but often open to comments and sharers that would leave my impressionable youngsters, and their parents, covering their eyes and leaving their hearts wounded.

Through this project I want to teach them the basics of digital citizenship, how to be safe and protected online. They need to learn about using their images properly, about licensing and sharing respectfully, about tagging and labelling. But I want them more than anything to forge friendships; to learn and grow without walls, to share and teach others about what it is to be a pre-teen, about culture and art. Not every 11 year old will be as keen to be involved and I get that. Just today I saw the face of a Grade 6 bubbly, impetuous boy, open as a book, clearly thinking more of the football pitch or what he was about to have for lunch than the prospect of blogging his latest masterpiece online! You cannot win them all, but it will be my pleasure and challenge to engage them all, in some way, in the wonderful world of global connections.

Where next?

Photo Credit: aturkus via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: aturkus via Compfight cc

The plan for the next few weeks is to test drive quadblogging and get the students up and running their class blog site, sharing content and connecting and commenting with the other schools. I would like to allow the students to be moderators and authors on a rotation basis to help them to organise and play with the system new to them yet also to work together to create a living, breathing space that reflects who they are, not that of the teacher. This is a crucial aspect of my plan.

The following weeks, not only will they be curating content but I would like to involve them in the design and structure of the major plan – the connected classroom in the cloud.
Through discussions with Peter Li, one of the Digital Coaches at UWCSEA, we looked at Edmodo, Pathfinder and Google sites as gatekeepers, settling on the possibility of creating a “landing page” that the blogs and other features could link from. What I am investigating over the coming weeks is HYPE, I will have some fun in the coming weeks learning keyframe animation and HTML5, but Peter will be there to help along the way. Students will design the base image and the buttons and icons that will take them forward to the blogs or galleries and we will discuss what makes an aesthetic yet functional initial webpage (see Course 3 Visual Literacy: Design Matters).

The image I currently see is of a palette of many colours linking to the blogs, videos, artworks and forums; or of a classroom with different doors to take them to various sections of the site. But who knows what the students will design and whether this idea really is akin to “pigs flying”.

I know this process will take me beyond May 2015, but this is not a short term idea. I intend this to be  something that will evolve and transform as classes move up the school and beyond my four walls.

But however it ends up looking, ownership is everything.



The Beginning of the End? Visual note drawn on ipad using Adobe Ideas by Nicki Hambleton

The Beginning of the End? Visual note drawn on ipad using Adobe Ideas by Nicki Hambleton


Looking back over the past year, it amazes me just how much I have learnt, grown and changed due to COETAIL. I had been so excited to start the course last February and it has not disappointed. In fact, I believe it has been and still is the making of me. When asked for a 140 character summary to a prospective COETAIL applicant I wrote:

Screen Shot 2015-01-05 at 20.17.57

The Beginning of the End

Reviewing my notes, both written and visual, helps me to remember my thoughts and directions to decipher the way to move forward into Course 5, effectively the beginning of the end of COETAIL. It helps me to rewind through my ideas to see where the most learning and growth occurred yet also to see where the vision for my students crept in during the course. Despite thinking I knew exactly what I wanted to work on, it surprises me, through a comment from Clint, that I had made some suggestions all the way back in Course 1 about connecting my students and helping them to grown in the same way that I had.

A Classroom in the Cloud?

Photo Credit: mugley via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: mugley via Compfight cc

Why do you think this unit is a good possibility for your Course 5 project?

Having rewound through the past 28 posts, far too many words and 21 visual notes, I found it initially hard to decide what aspect would be right to pursue, so I looked back at myself and my passions to help take new direction. It was clear that we gain so much through our connections and often students in Middle School cannot be a part of this due to their age and online restrictions. Yet this is a huge part of my growth and learning and I want students to be a part of it too. From this the idea to connect artists online, bringing together their art work, cultures, discussions and feedback was born. Now I know this is nothing new as many teachers have websites doing similar things, such as Michelle Anderson‘s IB art site (currently not working) and The Incredible Art Department to name only a few, but these are largely teacher driven and I would like my students to drive it. In this way they own it, create it and develop it for students by students. Course 1 asked us to reach out and develop our PLN documenting the benefits from like minded groups and I want to help my students to reach out beyond their classroom, their school and country to learn much deeper with other similar aged youngsters. In Course 2 we looked at responsibility and digital citizenship and I feel that helping students to communicate and post online will help to address and teach students this first hand. In Course 3 we focussed our attention on Visual Literacy and working on a wiki, website or blog will help students to understand good design, aesthetics and functionality. Finally in Course 4, the course that taxed and pushed me the most opening many doors in my learning, focussed our attentions on using Technology authentically. It was here that I grew the most and I know my teaching has changed because of it. Connectivism and problem solving will be at the heart of the project, driven by SAMR to aim towards transforming the way art is learned and shared.

What are some of your concerns about redesigning this unit?

In the past I have helped students to set up a blog and use Picasa web albums to share their work and thoughts online, connecting with their fellow peers for feedback. They were largely successful and, with my encouragement, began to receive comments but not true connections as a PLN might be. This aspect worries me, as at this stage I do not know how we can create an online forum for discussions like Twitter, exhibit artwork to comment on like Voicethread, connect with a multitude of schools globally yet keep them protected and safe. When I look into blogs, sites and wikis I can see the potential but not the depth or functionality for all to participate or take turns in moderating or curating. It feels like an unanswerable question but:

Is there an appropriate platform out there that would work and if so, why hasn’t someone done already this before now?

How can I ensure all students have ownership and work collaboratively to create, upload, share and comment? How can I ensure students drive this with limited experience of such a task? I have a great Technology team behind me who can suggest and show us ideas and options but even so, any ideas and advice would be gratefully received at this stage!

What shifts in pedagogy will this new unit require from you?

In my last post I was told that problem solving sometimes means you don’t know what the outcome may be and this scared me. But as I look ahead to this project it feels a little liberating and exciting to not know, not plan every step and to believe and trust that my students can work through this with my help. It is odd to not foresee the outcome but I am confident that it will be what it will be and most definitely grown by my students.

What skills and/or attitudes will this new unit require from your students?

I really want to push more problem solving and student directed work through this project. I know our students are great thinkers yet also demanding of answers, so it will be a shift in what they are used to and possibly unnerving for them (and me!). But the benefits far outweigh the concerns. It will require them to adopt the new method rapidly and to be adventurous in posting, connecting and sharing ideas. Our students are used to technology and work naturally in Google apps so I am concerned they will find “yet another thing” tiresome to adopt initially. It will also rely on them encouraging others to participate beyond their classroom and away from their school but I am hoping that my PLN will help to encourage involvement and to spread the word once it is up and running.

Please look over the following UBD and let me know your thoughts and feedback:

Photo Credit: Andreas Kristensson via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Andreas Kristensson via Compfight cc

It feels rather sad that COETAIL is coming to an official end but reading the outline for Course 5 helps me to realise that this may only be the beginning, the beginning of what happens next. I know the connections we have formed will be long-lasting and I hope that the group will keep posting, sharing and connecting both online and, where possible, face to face. I like the idea of continuing to work with COETAIL, perhaps as a coach if that were to be possible, in order to help others as I was helped and to give back to the community. So perhaps it should read “The End of the Beginning”.

*the above drawing “The Beginning of the End” make visual reference to Escher’s Upstairs and Downstairs, 1960, lithography.

What's Your Problem? PBL visual note drawn using Adobe Ideas on iPad by Nicki Hambleton

What’s Your Problem? PBL visual note drawn using Adobe Ideas on iPad by Nicki Hambleton

Ask Seek Find

When I was at school the biggest problem I remember trying to solve was the Rubic cube. For weeks my friends and I would get so far in completing several of the coloured sides then be stumped. There was no internet, YouTube demonstrations, spoilers or instructions in completing the puzzle, only our brains and trial and error. I cannot quite remember whether I eventually finished it through methodology or just sheer luck but the next step in my circle of friends was how quickly you could complete it.
Photo Credit: electricnude via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: electricnude via Compfight cc

In my school, however, learning in class was quite different. We were there to learn facts and figures, answers, equations, grammar, painting, music notation or, in PE, how to do the hurdles. Today’s hurdles for our students are greater and more complex than in my day.
Projects, blogs, labs, book clubs, journals. So many processes and so little time…
When do we give students the time to pose their big questions? Questions like: Where will I use algebra? What happens when it thunders? Why can’t we time travel? I remember a great book I got for Christmas one year called WHY, a fabulous book my mother still has on her shelf that can answer a multitude of questions a youngster may have. I think the equivalent of it on amazon these days is the Big book of why (or How) by Time, for kids.

But what is the Question?

Questioning is an important part of a child’s education and asking the right questions is the key.

“Judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers.”  Voltaire

Photo Credit: Editor B via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Editor B via Compfight cc

Previously, when I worked in MYP departments, essential questions were the backbone of the unit of work. They opened thoughts and began conversations. Students grappled with the context of the unit and the Big Idea that would help them to unravel not only what they were studying but also why. It is a practice we have continued at UWCSEA with both Frank Curkovic and I having taught MYP for many years, Frank in Japan and me in both Ghana and Italy. Together we have added Essential questions throughout our units across Middle School Visual Art and, despite time being tight when teaching a class once a week, I know that it helps to ground the unit firmly in what we believe to be the root of knowledge. This way students can see the meaning for their work and how Art fits in the whole scheme of things and make sense of it.

“The important thing is not to stop questioning.” Albert Einstein

It seems to me that questioning is a fundamental part of learning and that this practice is not new at all. Elementary teachers use questioning throughout their daily routines, as do IB Science teachers. Inquiry based learning is an important part of the IB. But how often do we ask our students what questions they have? I mentioned before the weekly practice of Carl Jenkins, a music teacher at UWCSEA who asks students to pose their question on a google doc at the end of the lesson that helps him to know what they are struggling with or want to know more about in readiness for the following lesson. I love this simple idea and I am adopting it in earnest using Google Forms in order to drive the lesson starters and check in with the level of learning and problems students are facing. With our school well underway in piloting Teamie as our Learning Platform this will eventually make the process far more transparent and easy to manage in real-time open forums. Being married to an IB Physics teacher I see questioning at the forefront of Science topics. Could this student generated practice filter into all year groups and across all disciplines?

“Indeed, the only truly serious questions are ones that even a child can formulate. Only the most naive of questions are truly serious. They are the questions with no answers. A question with no answer is a barrier that cannot be breached. In other words, it is questions with no answers that set the limit of human possibilities, describe the boundaries of human existence.” Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being

Projects vs Problems

Throughout my years of teaching in different schools and countries and in observing the teaching methodologies of my colleagues I have noticed many students are set projects, often in groups, to work on over a given timeframe. These projects are usually multi faceted and governed by the current theme or topic being covered in class. It seems to be a usual practice in schools around the world. Often they have a prescribed outcome and a step by step method in which to get there along with an accompanying rubric or assessment matrix. Yet, of what benefit are these projects to students? Are they meaningful, current, relevant? Do they teach students the skills and mindset necessary for success? Perhaps the original concept by John Dewey and the idea of setting a real world problem or designing a tangible project or being guided by an open-ended question has in many cases been lost somewhere along the way.
In UWCSEA, Grade 6 undertake a fabulous Humanities unit learning about natural disasters and geographical formations resulting in the making of an impressive model, for example of a Tsunami or volcano. I understand the value and contextual nature of the unit yet not the outcome – model making? Often the students return to class with spectacular results and having spent weeks perfecting the shape construction, textures and details but I am not sure of the learning that has gone on. Is a model the most effective way to understand the concept of geographical features or occurrences? Why not a simulation or diagram?  This perhaps seems strange coming from an Art teacher!
When I was teaching MYP a fundamental part of the units was to have meaning and context. The unit grew around the essential questions and the Big Idea. Yet they were still set by the teacher. These real-world problems being set demanded deep thinking from the students guided by the teacher.
Norbert de Graaff on The Noun Project

Norbert de Graaff on The Noun Project

Back in January 2014, John Larmer wrote an article on Edutopia about the different types of “based-learning”. Over the years there have been many twists on the original concept, from challenge based to design based learning. He refers to BIE’s 8 Essential Elements of PBL. Yet all fall under the umbrella of inquiry led learning. Larmer sets out a clear distinction between project and problem based learning with project based often being centred in post 16 education and being more multidisciplinary, compared to problem based in single subjects and being shorter in length. He documents the typical steps in problem-based learning demonstrated similarly here by Maastricht University:
The narrated animation clearly sets out to explain the concept, procedure (7 Jump), gained skills and the possible problems with PBL. It re emphasises the need in schools for basic skills in communication, thinking as well as listening.

The 4 Cs

Spinning off from Larmer’s article and Maastricht’s video, I find an interesting write up by Robert Kaplinsky on implementing PBL. The article is a great source of further information, particularly if you are a Maths teacher and Kaplinsky shares his thoughts on the four Cs on which a teacher should focus on: Communication, Curiosity, Critical Thinking and Content Knowledge. Kaplinsky refers to Dan Meyer’s TED talk “Math class needs a makeover”, and quotes him saying,
“What problem have you solved ever, that was worth solving, where you knew all of the given information in advance? Or you didn’t have a surplus of information and you had to filter it out? Or you didn’t have insufficient information and had to go find some? I’m sure we all agree that no problem worth solving is like that.”
How can we apply this thinking and strategy to our daily practice? How might we encourage more curiosity in our Middle School and High School lessons? My son, working on his iGCSE Design Technology project had to search for a problem to solve, investigate and develop possible solutions. Being a keen guitarist, he decided on a guitar stand for limited spaces, functional yet aesthetic and his thinking followed clear guidelines which form the backbone of Design Technology.
This process of problem finding continues on into the IB Diploma Group 4 project, a multi discipline Science driven practical activity set over 10 hours. This project brings together the different disciplines of the subject, collaborating in teams to investigate and suggest solutions to Science problems. Students formulate large, almost unanswerable questions to investigate, research and experiment.
This seems to be a perfect combination of these 4 Cs, developing deeper content knowledge through critical thinking, collaboration and curiosity into the problem either given or proposed.
Photo Credit: Kurayba via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Kurayba via Compfight cc

The most interesting part for me from Larmer’s article concludes that both PBLs start with open-ended questioning, in real world contexts and with student independence and inquiry at the heart.
With this in mind, I return to my learning over the past months in COETAIL and to my own classroom at UWCSEA. How do I use PBL currently and what can I do to incorporate it authentically into the existing curriculum for maximum benefit to my students?
Michelle Cordy on Hack the Classroom in November 2014 shares her 6 ideas to start you off in inquiry and PBL: Using a factoid to start discussion, Pushing thinking further through probing questions (Thinking routines), slowing down, noticing thinking, feeding forward and using non-fictions texts.
How might you incorporate these into your classroom?

Design Thinking

Inspired by John Rinker and his many workshops on Maker Spaces, it is fascinating to see so many adults enjoy the prospect of just making, tinkering and playing. So too do students love this freedom to create and this, I feel, is at the heart of Design Thinking. Dropping in on the extensive Storify of the Design Thinking Twitter chat, hosted by Pana Asavavatana, Joe Sergi and Tosca Killoran a few weeks ago, I realise that often Art and Design teachers naturally teach in a PBL manner. Design Thinking, in its nature is cyclical and, working through problems we think we have a solution. Yet delving deeper, it gives forth to further developments.
Twitter Chat: Design Thinking December 9th 2014

Twitter Chat: Design Thinking December 9th 2014

The first question asked on the Twitter Chat gave forth to many interpretations on What is Design Thinking and there was no doubt that it was a powerful and beneficial methodology for our students today. The conversation online ebbed and flowed opening many ideas for justifying its place in education and I particularly appreciated the moment when the discussion sidetracked to Introverts and extroverts, again from Heather McKay‘s tweet:

Screen Shot 2014-12-30 at 17.30.47Why should all learning be group based? Not every student works best in a team and this is an important consideration we need to be aware of with PBL – the balance between group and individual work.
When I first started teaching the Creative Cycle, as it was known then, followed a similar format and Design Thinking can take this more formal approach as in Technology MYP:

It is through this kind of process that PBL seems most clearly connected with. We need to create a culture of thinking if we are to best serve the citizens of the future. My mind drifts to Harvard’s Project Zero and its Visible Thinking Routines.

Creativity and 20%

In Ewan Mcintosh’s TEDxLondon talk “What’s Next” he asks us to encourage and teach our students to find the problems, then solve them not to spoon feed them. He talks about the world needing Problem Finders yet still I find students, often higher up the school at IB level wanting to be given the answers, not to search for them. Yet some years ago Dan Pink told us in his book “A Whole New World” that the creative ones will be the successful ones in the future, the entrepreneurs, the thinkers, the ones who look for the problems, develop these ideas and take the world forward just innovators such as Steve Jobs did.
Photo Credit: rickz via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: rickz via Compfight cc

Employees at Google have one day a week dedicated to their own new idea or fixing, idea developing or problem finding, known as Google 20%. Google’s 20% time is a feature I would love to bring into every classroom, for students to work on their passions not driven by any assessment criteria, rubric or text book. Through this we can nurture and cultivate true creativity and see that design thinking has its future firmly locked in our youngsters, ultimately the most innovative members of our society. Many schools have already taken Google’s concept onboard, collectively known as genius hour. In Michael Schrage’s article on Harvard Business Review, “Just how valuable is Google’s 20% time?” he asks “do curiosity-driven and/or passion-driven initiatives lead to measurably better innovation outcomes?” It is interesting to read about the changes at Google, from shutting down the intrapreneurial playground Google Labs to Google X, the moonshot research lab that gave forth to Google Glass. I can’t help but recall again Jeff Utecht’s Moonshot Learning 2 Talk. What would your moonshot be? What would you develop, design, find or solve if you had 20% time?

Next Steps

Photo Credit: J. C. Merriman via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: J. C. Merriman via Compfight cc

I am wondering now in anticipation of, not only Course 5 but my teaching in general, how to combine the idea of gamification with problem solving (or problem finding!). Could a unit be a series of problems or quests that determine which direction next? What are the potential big questions students want answers to in my subject? And how can I incorporate more creative time and free thinking to search for those problems in a rapidly changing world?
How is this going to be possible in a 75 minute Art lesson once a week?
Now there is a problem just waiting to be solved……!
I remember a recent conversation with Joe Teft about the next steps. As I recount my woes of indecision and too many ideas brewing, he tells me that “problem setting often means we don’t know what the outcome will be”. He is clearly a wise thinker, but for a Graphic designer that is quite a scary concept! I am going to need a bit of coaching to help me to answer these and other pressing questions.
“Every problem is a gift – without problems we would not grow.” Anthony Robbins
So to the final step, Course 5 – what will I do, how will I decide what best to do for both me and my students?
Now that is a big problem.

“If I had an hour to solve a problem I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.” Albert Einstein

Connecting the Dots visual note by Nicki Hambleton using Adobe Ideas on iPad

Connecting the Dots visual note by Nicki Hambleton using Adobe Ideas on iPad

As a young child I loved Dot to Dots, joining the seemingly random patterns to reveal a recognisable image. I loved to try to work out what the dots were going to magically transform into by connecting them via advancing numbers. If you have never heard of or done a Dot to Dot before there is one below. Can you tell what this one is going to be?

Photo Credit: whitney waller via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: whitney waller via Compfight cc

The idea of seeing the whole picture is something that has continued with me; from developing meaningful lessons to my “Big Idea” visual notes and it was whilst planning this current post that led me to recall a quote from Steve Jobs:

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.”

Despite the uniqueness of this quote, most people talk about looking to the future than the past, it rings true for so much that we do. In order to move forwards we must look to the past: to learn from it, to move on from it or to take ourselves somewhere new. There is no point thinking we can develop anything without building on the past, it is the way we have always been. Even Picasso said that all art comes from what precedes it and Kirby Ferguson talked about the remix culture in his TedTalk Embrace the Remix in 2012.

Do we look back to the past or into the future? What is the future of Education?

What Learning Matters?

Thinking about the future of education and how it might look, takes me back to the Learning 2 Talk “What Learning Matters” by Charlotte Diller of The Chinese International School , Hong Kong. She begs us to think about what what really matters:

“with so much that is now googleable, what learning is it that is going to position our students in a world that is rapidly changing and for a future that is unknown?”

Learning Online

Photo Credit: giulia.forsythe via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: giulia.forsythe via Compfight cc

Way back in 1969, the Open University launched and opened its doors to students in 1971. With more than 250,000 students enrolled and more than 1.5 million students having taken courses since it began, it qualifies as one of the largest institutions in the world. Many students prefer distance learning, due to age or health reasons or for convenience of studying at home and this concept of “learn when you want” is common practice these days. We learn in so many ways, from watching a video on YouTube to signing up for an online course through Alison, Coursera or iTunes U. Some time ago I set out to improve my digital skills in Art through online courses in Photoshop and a multitude of alternatives presented themselves to me. Alison has 600 free courses available from Accounting to Yoga with over 4 million learners online. My New Years resolution is to learn more about After Effects and thank goodness Alison has a free course! Coursera takes it one notch further, connecting learners with universities and organisations to provide high quality courses again for free. Back in 2007, iTunes U was launched providing downloadable material for learning and encouraging individuals to set up their own online courses. Wouldn’t it be great if teachers backed up their lessons online through iTunes U extending the class material and pushing students further in their understanding? Two years ago an article on Edudemic encouraged teachers using iPads in the classroom to start using iTunes U as a resource as there were so many lessons already available for them to use. More recently, this summer Techcrunch reported an update that allows teachers more flexibility with creating and managing course content on iTunes U through iPad.

Perhaps I should develop a Visual Note taking course online – would anyone be interested?

We can literally learn anything we want, whenever we choose. MOOCs (Massive Open Online Course) emerged in 2012 as a way of bringing together unlimited numbers of participants to resources and videos through forums and discussions to build community around content. EdX differs from Coursera and Udacity as a MOOC and online learning platform being non-profit, analysing the data of its users and currently has over 3 million users in over 300 courses online.

It seems as technology advances so too does the amount of choice we have in taking learning into our own hands. But returning to Charlotte’s talk, the combination of emotion and cognition is what is important in the future. The skills of perseverance, creativity and thinking are what will be needed in the future.

So how might this look?

Connectivism: it takes a village to raise a child

Like most people, my best learning and thinking occurs around, from and with others. So the visual note above shows that connecting with people and places is the most effective way to learn, and it is this model that is at the heart of the success of COETAIL. At the beginning of Course 1 I looked at connecting and reaching out to begin to build a network of support as well as encouragement and a point of contact to learn and bounce ideas from. I am eternally grateful to those early supporters, like Matt, Ann and Joe who found the time to connect with me and comment on my posts. And they are still with me, despite our difference in backgrounds and distances in locations. Jim Laney at Learning 2, Africa states, “there is no other continent that values personal connection and social responsibility more than Africa”. (The Right Time. The Right Place). Jim quotes that “it takes a village to raise a child” and to me COETAIL is like a village, consisting of the Elders, the wise ones, always there to guide and push us; the coaches, like the graduates in a family understanding our worries and directing us forward through their own experience; and us, the teenagers, ready to embark on our journey ahead. And as valued members of this COETAIL family, we are there for the new members, those staring out, ready to help them to connect and learn too. It is this “engaged learning” that Jim talks about that is the centre of the philosophies of COETAIL. I remember how difficult connecting was when I lived and worked in Ghana from 2008-10, and the isolation and technology difficulties meant we had to find alternative ways to learn together and move forward our thinking. Challenges force us to think differently, to find solutions and change can be rapid.

Photo Credit: Dietmar Temps via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Dietmar Temps via Compfight cc

Building a Tribe

There are so many incredible and inspirational educators out there, and through COETAIL and Learning 2 I have been privileged to learn and work alongside them. As I think back to where this all started and map my journey above, I realise that connections and emotion are inextricably linked. Without the will to meet and learn we would not connect. Without the drive and desire to change and develop we would not grow. My tribe started small and close to home, with the enviable names of educators I followed on Twitter starting that journey. As an early Twitterer, Jabiz encouraged me to expand my PLN so I duly followed many educators he followed. I learnt so much in the early days from Kim Cofino’s blog Always Learning, introduced to me by the Elementary librarian Tanja Galetti at LCS in Ghana. I am lucky now to work at UWCSEA with Keri-lee Beasley, Dave Caleb, Jeff Plaman and Paula Guinto, all who have helped me in this journey of development but it was Andrew McCarthy who first tapped into my talent as a mere Art teacher dabbling with technology in the classroom and helped me to where I am now. It took a while to believe I had something worth sharing.

Having a tribe of honest, helpful and caring people is crucial in developing trust and belief and it is with this in mind that I wonder how our youngsters can build their own tribes to support and guide them in their learning. How can we foster this in Middle School when they cannot join many social media sites until they are 13?

The Future is Now

Back in January 2012, Sir Ken Robinson talked about Leading a Learning Revolution. He said that:

“every education system is being reformed yet it is not enough. Reform is no use as it is simply improving a broken model. What we need is not an evolution but a revolution in education. This has to be transformed into something else.”

He also stated that people are reluctant to reform or transform as “it has always been done that way”. As I think about this further, I remember Jeff Utecht’s talk “The Future is Here” at Learning 2 Singapore last year:

Jeff told us that we are “in a world where Science fiction meets reality yet Education isn’t changing”. But is it? Are we teaching as we always did? We are bombarded with new ideas and initiatives often when there is barely enough time to teach the curriculum so how can we change for the better, for our students? Maybe we need to change our thinking and ask, as Charlotte did, “What Learning matters, now and in the future?” What walls are you faced with to get around? What is that wall and what is stopping you breaking through it?

Jeff Utecht "What's your Moonshot?" Learning 2 talk 2013 Singapore by Nicki Hambleton

Jeff Utecht “What’s your Moonshot?” Learning 2 talk 2013 Singapore by Nicki Hambleton

From thinking about this course, I ask myself, What am I going to do differently on Monday? The whole experience of COETAIL has led to thinking differently and changing what I do on Mondays, yet I want more and I want it for more students than just the ones I teach. I, like Jeff, am bothered that things aren’t changing and if they are, are they changing for the better, for our students in this unknown future?

Photo Credit: andrew and hobbes via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: andrew and hobbes via Compfight cc

For one, I would like to help my students to grow their PLNs whatever that looks like, to find their go-to people, their supporters, encouragers and guides. Working with online services like blogging and image sharing, I hope to assist them in giving and receiving valuable feedback that will take them forward and transform their learning both in and out of the classroom. But, as always this change in culture will take time, but I hope that, like me, they will see the benefit and beauty in connecting and supporting one another in order to grow and develop.

It is incredible how much changes in a short time. What changes will we see in education, what has changed in the time I have been teaching, or even just in the last 5 years? Sir Ken Robinson finishes his 2012 Learning without Frontiers talk by saying that we should be “customising and personalising education to our students” and in the context we are teaching. It is not about finding a new solution but in developing our own solutions.

What is the Future of Learning? Well, whatever it is, it is in our hands…


What if….

Students came to your classroom already prepared to ask questions about a new topic?

What if you already knew the questions the students wanted answering?

Students already understood the new concept and were ready to experiment?

Teachers didn’t have to stand and lecture and students didn’t sit and listen for long lengths of time?

There was more time to work with individual students and help them progress at their own pace?

Students were engaged in meaningful activities right from the first minute they entered your classroom?

Could this be possible with Reverse instruction or by flipping the classroom.

Photo Credit: nataliej via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: nataliej via Compfight cc

The concept of the Flipped Classroom is not new. In fact educators have had somewhat of a rocking love affair with it over the years. From an influx of video watching homeworks to a damning of the practice by others. But is it just another fad? What if we could make it work and be of real benefit not just for students but to teachers too?

Chatting with a music teacher at UWCSEA recently Carl Jenkins asks students to ask questions at the end of the lesson submitting these on a google doc or form. He says this helps him to track their learning, to see who “got it” and who didn’t and how to plan ahead for the next lesson. What if this was a fundamental part of a flipped classroom? By reviewing a video of their own work or the demo by the teacher, they could submit their questions in advance of the next lesson or formulate a reflection that helps guide the teacher in gauging the level of understanding? How might watching a video form a stepping stone to the next concept or technique?

Photo Credit: PauliCarmody via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: PauliCarmody via Compfight cc

Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams ( Woodland Park Colorado explain the benefits of flipping the classroom in their video below:

Bergmann and Sams use Camtasia Studio to produce their videos. But beautiful and slick as Camtasia is, it also costs and there are lots of other, just as good, alternatives out there to use. Annotating your Youtube videos could work just as well as Patrick Green demonstrates here and he adds Virtual wait time to allow students some thinking time whilst pondering a thought or question..

I have dabbled with using YouTube videos to back up classroom practice or to review a process. I even tried out using TEDed for homework. TED-ed adds the dimension of watching, thinking and digging deeper asking questions to check learning and allowing some followup work. Here is one I found and used on Imagination with Janet Echelman. Have you tried using TEDed or curated your own video in a similar fashion or used an existing one? Can you see how you might use this in your teaching?

Having seen many teachers raving about the Khan Academy I took a look at the site, thinking this could be a great use for reverse instruction. Unfortunately there isn’t really much there for Visual Art and what there is is Art History orientated. It would be great if Art educators added real lessons there too.


Hand crossing fingers by Till Teenck from The Noun Project

Hand crossing fingers by Till Teenck from The Noun Project

But setting this type of homework demands trust. We must trust that students will watch the video, read the text or interact with the Q&A, post their questions or answer the quiz. It would more beneficial if we knew their worries in advance, their queries and questions, whether they are likely to struggle with the concept or skill and what prior knowledge they come to our lesson with. This all takes planning and time. The task must also be achievable work as one frustrated student posted on the comments section of a Flipped Classroom video on YouTube that they felt lost without the direct guidance of the teacher. We must know our students, prime them, instruct them and not leave them to flounder with yet another new approach.

By the nature of reversing the instruction the teacher leaves far more time for the student to practice and apply the technique or concept in class to their own work. This is crucial in an Art room context yet the demos are the most important part so they can literally see and feel the process. What might be lost through watching a video outside of the classroom? Wouldn’t we miss the discussions, the chats as a whole class? Wouldn’t students miss the opportunity to see when an experiment goes wrong or how to fix a problem – aren’t Youtube videos often too slick? Mistakes help us to learn and seeing a teacher work through it right in front of them has to be a great learning moment.

EduCanon and EDpuzzle

EduCanon allows that interactivability into the videos just like TEDed but with more punch. The key features that ensure feedback for the teacher are monitoring and question answers. I love that you are able to know which students have watched the video or not; a bit like Big Brother but in a supportive way!

Andrew Douch raves about its use in his classroom on his blog, citing the way that students cannot just skip through the content by answering the questions without watching the video. This feature ensures that all students will have watched it and you will know this. When you connect the students and the videos to you through a code, this is when EduCanon comes into its own, collecting the data and the responses for you. Reading his followup comments at the end of the blog post I discover a competitor, again free, EDpuzzle, with extra features EduCanon only has on the paid versions. Recently, Edudemic wrote an extensive article reviewing EDpuzzle as a complement to the school’s LMS or MOOC. I know I cannot wait to try one of these out. Can you see how they might be valuable in your classroom?

Death by videos

Years ago we were threatened by Death by worksheets, then in recent years Death by Powerpoint. Now might it be Death by videos?
It seems to me that they are many ways to incorporate the idea of reverse instruction into your classroom effectively and that it isnt just about watching videos or presentations. As educators we can be far more creative with this concept by switching or sliding, as opposed to flipping, the content you would normally dwell over in class. Moving the viewing and discussion out of the classroom totally would be a shame. My students love sitting on the beanbags or sofa at the front of my room talking together with me about the new idea or concept. Students benefit from listening to each others interpretations.
Do I ever lecture? No not really. Do we watch videos? Yes. Could they watch them at home? Probably.
But would it be the same experience, would they lose something?
We go to the movies together to react and experience, we like to ask questions during a lecture or talk and bounce ideas off one another as it is happening. Wouldn’t this be lost if it was switched to home and alone?

To flip or not to flip?

Photo Credit: lamazone via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: lamazone via Compfight cc

Reading online it appears flipping is much like Marmite. It’s a love it or hate it relationship. Clearly there are many teachers using it well and finding real benefit from it such as Jane MacKenzie-Hoskyn who uses a combination of Edmodo, Google docs, quizzes and videos with her IB Visual Arts class. In her words, she prefers “rather than shopping at one shop, I am happily shopping around to see where I can find the best bargain!” But reading comments on the Flipped Classroom YouTube videos and on blog sites, many teachers and students do not like it, some slamming teachers as being lazy. Another replying to the post on IncredibleArt says:

“In discussions with the colleague of mine that uses components of the flipped classroom, she has voiced the advantages as well as disadvantages. One of the disadvantages that she expressed was students not completing the assignments or listening to the lectures on the podcasts or online.” – See more at

Ownership, Assessment and Asynchronicity

The success of another strategy in education is in considering who is in charge of the learning. In Flip Love Affair, on PLP Network, Shelley Wright talks about it not being a fad but about ownership. She says:

“I’ve learned that inquiry & PBL learning can be incredibly powerful in the hands of students. I would never teach any other way again. When students own their learning, then deep, authentic, transformative things happen in a classroom. It has nothing to do with videos, or homework, or the latest fad in education. It has everything to do with who owns the learning. For me, the question really is: who owns the learning in your classroom?” PLP Network October 8, 2012


One of the main benefits of flipping lessons I can see is that students can revisit a concept or technique and work through at their own pace as explained in Aaron’s video below:

I am going to revisit videos in and out of the classroom to differentiate learning and help students prepare and revise concepts, ideas and techniques. Just this week I have set my students to watch a TED talk by JR the artist who posts huge billboard sized portrait posters of unknown members of the community. My students are in the midst of a project blending images on Photoshop to create a unique Portrait yet, being egocentric teenagers the works are all about themselves. By looking at the work of JR they came up with the suggestion to raise the profile of our support staff: the cleaners, canteen staff, the facilities and security staff who remain otherwise unknown yet a crucial part of the running of our school. By viewing JR’s website and video, formulating questions and challenges students return this week ready to put their thoughts straight into action. This leaves me time to see individuals about their own work and skill development and the remaining can start the practical work, armed with all they need to begin working.

So with all this talk about flipping, how do you like your eggs? Me, I like them scrambled.

Photo Credit: Hamburger Helper via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Hamburger Helper via Compfight cc


If you want to know more about Flipped Classroom see Knewton’s infographic below:

Flipped Classroom

Created by Knewton and Column Five Media


Gamification in Education Visual note made on iPad using Adobe Ideas by Nicki Hambleton

Gamification in Education
Visual note made on iPad using Adobe Ideas by Nicki Hambleton

Could game-based learning have a monopoly on education?

All kids love games, whether they are physical or mental games. As a child one of my favourite games to play was Kerplunk and the sheer fun of watching the marbles fall even today reminds me of the good times we had meeting up with my cousins each Christmas. Nowadays it is all Minecraft or Xbox in my family, games that one plays on their own mostly. We did have a Wii which was popular with us all and fun and we played this together as a family, but times have changed as have my kids. They like the challenges that today’s video games bring and the idea of improving by practice. How different is this to learning a new skill or gaining knowledge in school? Yet the two are perceived very differently by both educators and students.

Photo Credit: Ben Andreas Harding via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Ben Andreas Harding via Compfight cc

What place do games have in the classroom?

Engaging students is important so that they love to learn and games can play a part in this process. At UWCSEA we integrate the idea of games or gaming but how successful is this? As I was searching for a video clip of Kerplunk in action to educate the younger viewers reading this post, I stumbled on an unusual article by a Psychologist using the game to stimulate discussion on natural selection!  Certainly not something I would have associated with the game but an intriguing concept. This in turn reminded me of an ice-breaking task Grade 6 engaged in Life skills using Jenga with questions taped to them to trigger discussion and helping them to get to know one another better. So too was Jenga used in an awareness campaign against Shark Fin Soup yet in a huge format set up in an outdoor space over lunchtime. The idea was to illustrate what happens if you take out one species in the food chain and specifically raising awareness of sharks. In the classroom, I have used buzzers in team games to review content with Grade 6 (specifically on the Elements and Principles of Art and the corresponding vocabulary.) They couldn’t get enough of it! So it appears students love the idea of games integrated into the curriculum. But we must make sure that they are there for valid reasons (not just for fun!). Science teacher, Tony Deeley uses Triptico resources with a variety of classes to check understanding and review work and watching his classes engagement and competitiveness was clear that they have a rightful place.

Uncertain reward

Just last week a podcast on the BBC website ( talked about the cognitive behaviour associated with gaming. Dr Paul Howard-Jones explains how the idea of uncertain reward in most games, ranging from snakes and ladders to Monopoly made the game more engaging, exciting and inspired motivation. Could this concept help students to work harder in a competitive way with their peers? The podcast focuses on a school in the UK using Zondle, a quiz/game show style online software company, within a Business Studies class of Grade 10 students where we hear students battling away in groups and deciding to “gamble” their answer for more reward. One student explains how the competitive nature of these quizzes pushes him to revise more to beat his peers and another says the intense music and the suspense drives him. That reminds me of many nights gripped by Who wants to be a Millionaire.

But is the learning better using this approach? How do you see this transfering to your classroom? How might the concept of uncertain reward help your students to achieve higher and give them incentive to learn?

Gamifying lesson content

Again, just this last week MindShift published an article “A Third graders plea for more game-based learning” and you can watch Cordell Steiner’s inspirational TEDx talk, “Individualization, failure and fun”:

“5th grader Cordell Steiner enjoys spending his time with Legos, golf, basketball and boy scouts. Cordell found value in a classroom that is centred around the individual student through gaming. he looks forward to spreading this concept to other classrooms and schools by telling his personal account of Mr Ananth Pai third grade classroom and extolling its benefits” (TEDx Talks)

I stumbled on Gamifi-ed wiki which has lots of game-based learning activities to try out from cockroaches vs Algebra to the 4 litre challenge. I am sure there are lots of other examples of teachers using this approach to motivate learning but is this what students want? Is it gimmicky or just a fad and is there real learning happening?

Do we ask our students how we can tailor the content of our lessons to their learning or do we listen to their ideas on how they are motivated, inspired and want to learn? and how does this idea of game based learning transfer to High School?

Photo Credit: Sezzles via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Sezzles via Compfight cc

Last month at Learning 2 I attended the workshop run by Jesse Scott on Gamifying Assessment and it is interesting to track his progression from his COETAIL post, Everything’s a Game in April 2012 to his practice in the classroom now. The concept lies in intensive planning of the curriculum content where students work at their own pace through the challenges and tasks to reach the next level. Jesse says that he stops the class frequently to input new learning yet students are happily working through the content. It intrigues me and I have a feeling I will be addressing this concept myself during Course 5!

The idea of a Leaderboard worries me though, as I wonder if this would be motivating for the best students, always at the top yet demotivating for the lesser able, always struggling 2 or 3 steps behind, particularly in my subject of Art.

I like the idea of students having progressive levels, perhaps colours that help them progress, a little like the Elementary reading book stages my son had in the early years. I also appreciate the concept of students self selecting and being able to move at their own pace, a bit like an iTunes U course. At UWCSEA our focus this year is on Differentiation and it seems to me that this could be a powerful way to motivate, inspire and engage, yet help all to achieve if planned right.

Superpowers in Art?

Crazy as my thinking always is, I think to my younger son’s previous obsession with Top Trumps, a simple card game played by outwitting your opponent with specific powers or skills:

Photo Credit: Matt Seppings via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Matt Seppings via Compfight cc

Could my Middle School students develop Art Superpowers as the year progresses? Powers and skills such as: observation, thinking, idea developing, analysing and discussing.  Or holistic skills that reflect our school mission like collaboration, resilience or communication. How might a gamified curriculum help students to achieve these skills and gain points for your profile? Would it have to be just in Art, why not for across Middle School? This would not be a small idea, but when have I ever done things by halves? As a Head of Grade I would love to push this forward with my grade group of bouncy gaming boys and highly motivated individuals.



Created by Knewton and Column Five Media

What if the year in Art was a board game or a platform based game or a quest with a series of challenges? Teenagers love challenge and video games for years have had kids hooked yet, according to Dr Paul Howard-Jones, it is the combination of cognitive function plus fun that makes their integration in education so intriguing. Games that are based on choices and reward are the ones that motivate us the most. Think Tetris, Donkey Kong, Sonic, Super Mario, Pacman, Candy Crush or GTA. Knewton and Column Five Media document Gamification through their Infographic on the right. It is clear that there is a difference between game-based learning and gamification. Gamification is the use of game-like mechanics and systems to non-game situations such as Leaderboards whereas game-based learning is simply using games. Serious games is a the concept of using real world examples with the concept of game or simulation to solve problems. Teachthought documents the process of adding gamification to your classroom on the post back in 2013.

From the sublime to the ridiculous

Watching Tom Chatfield’s TED Talk 7 ways Games reward the Brain, I am reminded of a conversation with my hairdresser the other week as I read the latest gossip magazine to escape the mountain of emails I could be addressing whilst awaiting my hair to be finished. We laugh at the images of Kim Kardashian in Heat magazine and I ask, “What exactly does she do?” Lydia grabs her phone and shows me her latest app, Kim Kardashian Hollywood, a Barbie World meets Sims concept, where you create your own celebrity character, dress it, go to photoshoots and see if Kim rewards you and accepts you to help you rise to fame and fortune.

Kardashian app

Kardashian app

screenshot from itunes app store for Kardashian

screenshot from iTunes app store for Kardashian


In her early 20’s, Lydia is horrified at how addictive it is and how she is currently lining Kim’s pocket as she dresses to seek approval. I laugh yet see the addictive and costly implications to our impressionable teenagers and how “clever” Kim Kardashian has appeared to be to get (even) richer. Currently it is estimately made the star $43 million in 3 months reported on MSN news!

Surely we could develop a far more ethical app for our already beauty and fame obsessed youngsters, especially girls battling with self esteem issues. Surely with this powerful concept, we can encourage positive behaviours such as caring, manners, or reading for points or rewards.

Maybe then I can give up the day job? Never!