Lost in the feed

CC: https://unsplash.com/photos/Aa2h3S3E47k


Dear PLN, I must confess…

I have to be honest, my community engagement has been lower than I expected for the past three months. Building, developing, and maintaining a PLN takes time and perseverance and it just never ends. When Course 5 started in September, we were having a very intense time at my school as both a LMS and an ePortfolio were introduced to the whole Lower School. I also attended two week-end workshops and launched my course 5 project. In other words, although I had a look at some of the new Coetail bloggers posts, I had not left any comment on their page. Yet, I see the value of being bound up with one another, but I failed in doing it at that time.


I tried this week to catch up with some of them and introduce myself, but I know it is a bit late to do so. I sincerely hope that I will be able to maintain this relationship during the year as getting and giving comments was extremely useful to me when I was at that stage of my Coetail journey.

I have noticed that the online space that I find the most effective and natural to connect to my PLN is Twitter. In the past year, I have been in touch regularly with many Coetailers from my cohort like @berryinjapan , @michellehanoi, @SuperMsKaufman, @jennykb11 , @MsRaseman , @pimstar , @valerie_koch ,@Sitwathkhan , as well as Coetailers who are in my school: @LaurenESpector , @irene_tanya , @ramsdensuzy , @BevansJoel , @livingnlux , @steveweatherell , @mrs_jojo16

 I have noticed that Twitter was a great extension of the one-to-one relationship I have with my colleagues and that we actually shared and retweeted a lot through this media so that our PLNs overlap more and more. We sometimes start a conversation offline and continue it with Twitter or vice versa.

The real surprise for me was that my PLN could grow outside Coetail. For instance, my PLN integrates now people who share common interest for Ron Ritchhart’s Culture of Thinking, SDGs, project-based learning, UN, etc. What I have also noticed is that you gain new followers when you share something authentic.

 For instance, Nora Vermeulin and I have been creating visuals both in English and French for Project zero thinking routines and understanding map. Because I tweeted them at Ron Ritchhart, everyone who was also interested in this pedagogy could potentially see my posts. Moreover, each time I attended a workshop or a conference and met educators from everywhere, we kept in touch through Twitter. Except Twitter, I used different spaces to communicate with my learning community. I usually share my Coetail posts with my school colleagues by email because that’s how it works so far. Now that we have introduced Schoology, it could become an appropriate space to set up a group. I also used Linkedin too, but in a different way. I post less on Linkedin as this is more a formal network than a community of learners. For instance, I have been part of a UN project which has nothing to do with my school and I really enjoy this experience. On Linkedin, I am linked to UN officers and members of this project.

On a more personal side, I also have a PLN on Facebook messenger, mostly made of former colleagues who work in various International schools. They are real friends and good educators so it is another level of relationship than Linkedin and Twitter.

FInally, I have tried a few times Google +, but it is not a natural online space for me and not a lot of my PLN members are using it. The challenge I face is to develop a PLN on more than one online space and to be consistent. I clearly struggle to maintain my online presence when I am too busy at school. Moreover, if your PLN grows, it also true for the number of posts you have to read and I feel like I often miss some good posts because they are sometimes lost in the feed. I wonder if I should almost have on my calendar a dedicated time to read my PLN posts and respond or create new posts. Wouldn’t it be great if schools could include this on teacher’s schedule?

Creativity for the SDGs

NOTE: My first project video prototype was 18 minutes long. I had to cut and trim many parts of my reflection that you will therefore find in this post instead!

Screen Shot of my video

 In September, when attending Will Richardson’s workshop, I was a bit disturbed by his first question:

What do we mean by Learning?”

It made me think about the students who attend our “Better World Lab” and how they were actually learning. After an interesting discussion, he displayed a quote from Seymour Sarason saying that:

“Productive learning is where the process engenders and reinforces WANTING TO LEARN MORE


Source: S:Vermeulin, Better World Lab, nov 2017

In my video, I show one example of students’ project made by three girls. When they first came, they started to generate many ideas and decided to make one radio show about climate change. Later on, they realised that they wanted to do a lot more than one show so they explored the idea to have podcasted episodes on iTunes. Six weeks after they first opened the door of the lab, they are now developing a prototype to create a full website with podcasts, videos, links, comments and a page on how you can take action too! They have watched carefully how many websites were structures and now want to learn how to create their own. By observing them, I was impressed by their will to always “LEARN MORE”.




Why should we have a structure to be creative?

A few weeks after the launch of the lab, Tanya and I felt the need to reflect and make some adjustments. We noticed that while some students were moving forward, some were still confused about the steps they had to go through. We decided to revisit these steps and make them more visible in the lab. From our brainstorming, I used Pages to create visuals about what I called the “9 moves”.


CC S.Vermeulin

I made a visual for each move, printed a bunch of them so that each group could have their own and displayed some on the walls. We organised our space so that the first stations could be near the entrance with a TV+Apple TV, the SDGs app and a QR code we created which opens a Padlet with videos about the SDGs. The idea is to have a designated area to start your project and learn about the SDGs. 




Source: S:Vermeulin, Jeff Utecht in Luxembourg, 12 Nov 2017

A month after we introduced the 9 moves and noticed a real improvement, Jeff Utecht came to our school for four days in November. On the second day, he talked about creativity and he insisted on the need to structure the process:


“There is a structure in how to be creative”

His point made me think about what we did in our lab and I asked him if I could use the audio record I made with my “Notebook” app. Structuring the process does not mean that students have no ownership. Actually, it is almost the exact opposite since they independently advance from one move to the next one. Without ownership and agency, most students would probably not choose to spend their lunchtime in the lab. Tanya and I provide opportunities to create and take action. We are also here to support, give feedback, ask questions and give little technical advice when it is needed. This structure for creativity enlightens the idea that Process is more important than Product.


Why focusing on the SDGs?

We want to show them that while most of us consume online, we can also create with technology in many different ways. While it is fine to first have a time to explore and tinker, you quickly need a purpose to drive you. Our students are free to develop their own project and search the questions they come up with, all we do is providing a global and real context to deepen their thinking and develop empathy.

For instance, two grade four students came with the idea to make a presentation about dogs. There is nothing wrong with that, but after I explained them that our creative lab was focusing on the SDGs. As they were spending time learning more about the SDGs, they became very interested in SDG 14 “Life below water” and started to generate lots of ideas. Now, they are in the process of designing a board game about marine wildlife.

SDGs are universal and are therefore everyone’s business. With 17 goals, it is very unlikely that students cannot find one question that they are interested about. It is not always easy for a nine-year-old kid to take action against poverty or climate change. This lab tends to empower them, to make them feel like they can contribute to do something for the planet. When students finish their project, they share it through Flipgrid, Twitter and Youtube with the #teachSDGs community.

Moreover, if you give a sense and a purpose to your action, they can be even more powerful. In my school mission statement, it says that we inspire students to

”… act as responsible participants in a global society”.

By taking action for the SDGs in a creative way, I believe they do so.

The school also promotes the following lifelong learners attributes:

  • Inquiry

  • Critical thinking

  • Communication

  • Open-mindedness

  • Risk-taking

  • Creativity

  • Reflection

Once again, I believe that the Better World Creative Lab allows students to develop these attributes.

   Finally, we encourage all learners to make their thinking visible and share it with an audience. Our Lower School works closely with Ron Ritchhart to create and spread a culture of thinking. Technology offers many possibilities to make your thinking visible and share it outside the classroom walls. Students are very aware that if they want to make a difference, their voice should be global. They are usually very excited to share their creation on Youtube and social media. This is a really appropriate time to have a discussion with them about Digital citizenship as it is often one of their first digital footprints.

One of the limitations for me was about the way we connect globally at my school, as there are strong contraints about how both educators and students communicate for a global audience. Also, a social media policy is about to be released, which will clarify how we make our thinking visible to the World. For my own video, I did ask parental permissions for the students that I interviewed. Parents were actually very supportive and I feel grateful for that because: how could you tell a story without the main characters?


Final Reflection

This project is going to last for the rest of the year so I can still try to improve it. First of all, Tanya Irene and I have already made some adjustment, but many practical aspects could be improve. For instance, we will now ask students to bring their own device or a class device as we ran out of devices a couple of times. We also need to prepare in advance the raw materials that students need to design their games. Time management can also be improved since we both give up our lunch to run the lab. We are more than happy to do so, but some days are hectic if we cannot have a proper break to catch our breath.


I have noticed that I introduce the lab in a much more efficient and clear way than I did in late September. The 9 moves, the SDGs App and the way we have organised our space help me to explain this project to students. Students are now ready to go after a two minute long introduction. The tools used by students were adapted to their age and abilities as they are mostly the same we use in class: Touchcast, Minecraft, QR codes, iMovie, Adobe Spark, Clips. Only one of them -Audacity- needed more coaching because students were not familiar with it and it is a more complex software. Tanya Irene had the idea to use IKEA frames to leave basic instructions about the tools students use the most and we will ask students to design the instructions visuals with Adobe post or Canva.

I feel that I have met most of my goals as I have noticed real engagement, collaboration and creativity from all students. Their awareness of global issues and their will to do something have also been very high. Now, my challenge will be more about how I can make sure that the younger students manage their time and planning in a more efficient way. I will need to check more regularly with them what the next steps should be.

From two students on the first day of the lab to an average of 16 or 20 now, our numbers have grown every week, which means that there is a little buzz going on in the school.  Lunchtime is a precious time for teachers, not only to eat, but also to check their emails, prep their lessons, make copies and so many other things. Most of them have therefore never seen the Better World lab in action. I planned to share my final course video with my colleagues so that they can know more about the lab as many of them also teach the SDGs in their classroom!

At a global scale, this project has been shared through Twitter, Facebook Messenger, Flipgrid and Coetail. Most of my inspiration came from Coetailers and tweeter educators who posted interesting  and innovative ways to use tech tools. I was particularly interested in how you combine different tools to take expand the possibilities. At our school scale, I have created visuals which are displayed on each floor and a video which was shown during the school assembly. My final project video was also emailed to all staff members. I am grateful that our leadership team, as well as many colleagues and parents have shown a total support to this project.

Finally, I have learned a lot during this long journey about many different topics such as visual and digital literacy, PLN, project-based learning or blogging as a powerful learning tool, but my greatest learning is that you should never underestimate students intrinsic motivation, capacities and excitement about creating and sharing. I was really amazed to see their enthusiasm, their deep thinking and their total commitment while they could choose to spend their lunchtime somewhere else.




Learning from and with others


CC: Chris Tse, Flickr https://goo.gl/Wktf2N

Since I joined COETAIL in June 2016, I have had so many amazing opportunities to learn from and with others. The way COETAIL is structured makes it easy and safe to interact with “strangers” in the World WILD WEB. I clearly understood after the first few weeks how interested it was to be part of a Learning community and to develop my own PLN. My PLN brings me a curated access to materials that are relevant and meaningful to my own practices. The quality of the resources found through Twitter only is impressive.

A screenshot from Lauren Spector’s twitter account where you can see John Mikton and Will Richardson.



Outside COETAIL, I also had the privilege to participate to workshops with Alan November, Will Richardson, Ewan Mc Intosh (twice), Jeff Utecht and Ron Richhart (twice). On top of that, John Mikton is now our Head of Education Technology and share with us his rich experience. 


I have learned a lot from all of them, but I realise now that I really expanded my learning when I applied these ideas in the context of my school, reflect and then discuss with my peers about our practices and conceptual understandings.

CC S.Vermeulin, Ron Richhart in Luxembourg, Oct 2017

Here are a few take-aways from these workshops that I have slowly integrated and combined in my own thinking.

From Alan November, I realised the benefit for the students to connect to the World, to access best examples of the World and to develop their digital citizenship skills. This is also something that Jeff Utecht explains very clearly when he talks about connected classrooms. It is time for teachers to leave their fear and embrace the fact that the whole society is connected. so why their classroom is still not?


As Jeff Utecht and Will Richardson say, we need to reimagine schools and classrooms to prepare kids for their future. A teacher who says that she/he doesn’t like technology or doesn’t want students to use it seems very selfish to me. This is not about YOU, this is about THEM.

CC S.Vermeulin, Ewan Mc Intosh at Bett, January 2017

Now, the question is How should we be using technology?

If it is not to amplify learning, then it is better not to use technology. Sometimes, it is absolutely fine to use markers and papers. For instance, before creating anything on a device, every student should generate ideas and plan on paper. They can use Ron Richhart’s Thinking routines to do so or some of Ewan Mc Intosh’s technics to generate ideas and solve problems. Both of them show through these thinking strategies how powerful it is to collaborate and make your thinking visible to your peers. Some of these technics can also be done in the digital World. Building on everyone’s ideas, as well as giving and receiving useful feedback seems to be the most productive way to enhance learning and create original outcomes.

It is also exactly what Coetal does…


“Stéphane blogged after a while”

Sometimes you receive a notification saying that someone twitted after a while. Well, if we had Coetail notifications, you would have probably received one saying that I had “blogged after a while*. I am not looking for any excuse, nor I should need to feel guilty. It took me a bit of time indeed to re-connect with the Coetail community after a long break and an intense first month of school. I guess that I had less time than I thought to prepare the launch of my Coetail project. I was still in the Digital World, but simply in another region. The good news is that I found the way back to the Coetail community where I plan to spend more time now and interact with the newly installed neighbours. For the first 5 weeks of school, I had almost no time to work on my Coetail Course 5 project which was to open a creative lab at lunchtime. Of course, we could have started the lab and “build as we were flying” to quote our new Head of Education Technology, but I felt the need to revisit the project before we could open it to students. My side-kick had some great ideas and together we reshaped a bit the concept to make it more manageable at the beginning. The idea is to offer learners three possibilities to take action for the Sustainable Development Goals: a radio show, a green screen movie or a board game. Then, as soon as students are independent and can become themselves facilitators, we’ll open more possibilities. We are supporting them during the brainstorming phase by using a mixture of Project Zero’s thinking routines and Ewan Mc Intosh’s strategies. Nora Vermeulin and I have made visuals about some of the thinking routines both in English and French to be used in class. The “Better World Creative Lab” was launched two weeks ago and we now have four teams working on their project. It feels great to see their excitement and to observe how they generate ideas together and take ownership.


I also attended Will Richardson’s workshop two weeks ago about re-imagining schools. Basically, he said that if you do so, you are never done since you keep re-evaluating and upgrading your practices. He also said that it takes lots of small steps and the involvement of the whole learning community to start the process. Another important factor is to be aware as an educator of the gap which exists very often between our believes and what we actually do.

  Giving students agency and rethinking how we use time and space are necessary to re-imagine schools. One of the participant used the skatepark metaphor where learners define their own rules, learn from their mistakes, watch carefully role models, take risks, are creative and develop their resilience.   Perhaps our lab could become one of these little steps to re-imagine our school?

Everyone Thinking Creatively Lab

To go back to the genesis of this project, we need first to have a look at our space and its purpose. Our office consists in two adjacent rooms, the first one has a couch, a radio station and a café table where my side-kick and I work, collaborate and share ideas. The second, as I described it in my very first post, is a vast bookable Media lab with TVs on wheels and a large green wall where students come sometimes at recess to make movies.

cc S.VERMEULIN The ISL Lower School ETC office
cc S.VERMEULIN The ISL Lower School ETC office

For the past month, we have been thinking about how we could have more students use our Media lab regularly with a real purpose next school year. We came up with the idea to open it everyday at lunchtime so that students could come and make something. My side-kick suggested that we could rename it the “ETC lab” since we are Educational Technology Coaches, but the ETC lab would then mean Everyone Thinking Creatively Lab. I immediately loved the idea. As I am not a classroom teacher, it became more and more obvious to me that this regular creative time could perhaps be my Coetail final project because it will be a great opportunity to have a real impact on students’ learning with technology. Therefore, I decided to develop more our concept and to define more precisely what students would make and how the lab could be structured. I wanted students to have some freedom to develop their own project, but I also wanted them to have the possibility to take action as global citizens. I decided to give them two routes to follow and made the following design to make my thinking visible.


The first one called Be a creative inquirer allows students to finish a line of inquiry started in class or follow their own passion/interest. If students choose the second route, called “Make the World a better place”, their project are then linked to one of the 17 UN GOALS for 2030. No matter which route they choose, they can make two categories of product:


  • DESIGN YOUR OWN (DYO): Game Design, Digital image editing (canva, pixlr, avatars, etc.), Infographics, Create your own cards, Sketchnoting, Remix digital resources.
  • BUILD AND CREATE: Green Screen movies, Green Paint, 3D building (sketch up and Minecraft), create tutorials, make an inspiring presentation, Newspaper/Magazine publishing, website creation, AUDIO MAKER (Radio shows, informative podcast about one topic, Music creation with Garageband, Storytelling, “Rock like a star” creations.

Screen Shot 2017-05-25 at 15.25.06I am in the process of designing two sets of cards to help students develop their skills. The sets represent the categories of product and for each one of them, you can have Learn cards which gives technical instructions and Challenge cards which challenge students to make something by themselves. As mentioned in the following Adobe Page, students will generate ideas, negotiate learning, plan and develop their project, make weekly reflections, create prototypes, give and receive feedback and improve their prototype until they make their final product.

Everyone Thinking Creatively Lab
 Creating the Unit planner was a very good way to think deeply about my project and It helped me to clarify many uncertain points. At first, I thought that It would be more difficult to consider this idea as a Unit since it is not a typical unit, but I believe now that it can be planned as a unit because this project also requires learning objectives, essential questions and a clear pathway.

Why do I think this unit is a good possibility for my Course 5 project?

This unit aligns with Coetail’s goals of promoting an authentic and meaningful use of technology to deepen understanding, collaborate, stimulate creativity, connect to the World and enhance learning. By developing their project, students will hopefully do all these things and will improve their approaches to learning and technical skills, which can be then transfered and used in homeroom or with specialist teachers.

What are some of my concerns about redesigning this unit?

My concerns are mostly related to the logistics. How many students should be in the ETC Lab at the same time? Will different groups be able to record simultaneously in the same room? How can we make sure that they come regularly? Should they have a pass to come before or after their lunch? These are some of the questions that I still need to consider with my side-kick.

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

Once the lab opens, my role should be to facilitate the smooth run of the lab, to keep updated the list of participants and the projects they do, to ask students questions and to give them some feedback or advice, to make sure that students have access to the tools they need, to collect and analyse their weekly reflection and to facilitate the sharing of their product with a global audience. None of the projects are graded, but I would like students to do a self-assessment based on the rubrics that we will create for each “challenge card”. In the lab, there will be a strong emphasis on the Design Thinking process and I plan to use some of the inspirational activities that I learned from Ewan Mc Intosh about generating ideas and solving problems.

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

Some of the skills and attitudes are not necessarly required at the begining of the unit as they can be acquired or improved during the learning process. Ideally, students will have to be both active contributors and good listeners because every voice counts in a group. They should be open to new ideas and capable to consider other perspectives. Students will need to effectively give kind, specific and useful feedback and be ready to positively receive feedback in order to improve their prototype.They also have to be risk-takers and innovators as they will have to use new tools and perhaps think outside the box. They must adopt a growth mindset because there will be failures along the road and they’ll have to bounce back and persevere to overcome problems and find solutions. Finaly, students should be reflective on their own learning. I am aware that there will be difficultiesthat it differs from a classroom unit and that there are still many details to fix, but I do believe that this project could be beneficial to both students and teachers while it is in line with the spirit of the Coetail community.

Between addiction and fear, we must find the right balance!

Banner ISL LS
S.Vermeulin, 360° photo of ISL Lower School, May 2017

I remember the time when there were computer labs in schools. You had to book them in advance whenever you had planned an activity which needed some use of technology. One child in front of one computer if you were lucky, no online interaction between them and a USB key was used to save their work. Does it ring a bell?

Depsite it was not that long ago, it seems like an old story from the last century. Our approach of technology at that time was static in time and space. It happened in one dedicated space at a specific time. The growth of Internet and the expansion of mobile devices have completely shifted the lines of our use of devices. This true at home and this is also true at school.

S.Vermeulin, Laptops in ISL Lower School classrooms, 2016
S.Vermeulin, Laptops in ISL Lower School classrooms, 2016

In my school, the choice was made years before I arrived to use ipads, ipods and laptops in the learning environment. The philosophy behind is not based on a one-to-one approach because we think that primary students do not necessarly need to have their own device. Many students work in small groups on projects and have to negotiate learning with the device they share. Their use of device is frequent, but not excessive at all and always related to learning. The ratio device/student is not bad at all since we are probably above one device for two students on average for the whole Lower school, from Pre-School to grade 5. Lower Primary levels have only iPads while the Upper grades have a combinaison of iPads and Laptops, all provided by the school. We are also in the process of supplying a new laptop and an ipad with a stand and a microphone to all Lower School teachers so that they can document the learning process.

Being mobile allow students and teachers to interact more easily, to use their device outside the classroom and to connect their device to any screen. I forgot to mention that we are also in the process of getting rid of all our smartboards and to replace them with TVs which have both Apple TVs and Microsoft Wireless Dispaly Adapters. We already have Apple TVs in every classroom, which has already changed the role of the board which was previously “owned” by the teacher.

S.Vermeulin, ISL students using Apple TV to connect their iPads.
S.Vermeulin, students using Apple TV to connect their iPads.

Therefore, no matter where you are and what device you have, you can connect your device to a screen to show and share your learning or work in small groups as it was also said in Dean Groom’s blog:

“The board is not the place to ‘look’. Consider how it can be used to work with ‘small groups’ to workshop ideas – and use the laptops as a student management tool to keep them busy and focused on work – not you or the board.”


With hundreds of devices, hundreds of photos and videos are made everyday. Each device is connected to Google Photos with a class email account so that sharing becomes as seamless as possible.

Of course there are ponctually small hiccups to fix, but our main challenge by far is to manage Apps and accounts on our 250 iPads. Until this week, every single iPad had to be configured by a techinician and we -the Ed.Tech. Coaches- had then to manually enter accounts and passwords for their email, Google apps and Apple store. This process was really time consuming for us and we have good hope that the newly purchased software called Jamf can simplify the process.

Credit: Common Sense Media Summary on Technology Addiction, 2016.
Credit: Common Sense Media Summary on Technology Addiction, 2016.

I found the Common sense media summary on Technology addiction not surprising, but quite informative. Our students are part of the notification culture with 72% of teens feeling the need to immediately respond to notifications. I would argue that many adults too let notifications interfere in their life without any kind of self-control. It made me reflect on my personal use of device, and especially my iphone. I try to avoid that “time spent with media subtracts from face-to-face time” and I must admit that I am not always enough self-aware of my own use.

No matter how old you are, it is clearly a matter of balance. Having the faculties to self-regulate the time spent on a screen can help find the right balance in your life, but is not easily achievable by a teenager for whom an external regulation may be needed.


“Embracing a balanced approach to media and technology, and supporting adult role-modeling, is recommended to prevent problematic media use. A balanced approach includes fostering awareness of media and self, embracing quality media usage, selective single-tasking, carving out times and places to disconnect, and nurturing relationships and face-to-face conversation.”


An addiction to technology or anything else can usually isolate an individual. Moreover, it is not only a question of time spent in front of a screen, but also about what is being done with the device. Adolescents’ use of technology “is actually a reflection of teens’ need to connect with others”, which is a wonderful thing, but needs to be managed. The Common Sense report recommends to support adult role-modeling and, as educators, we are on the front line. This means that we should have clear expectations for ourselves before we can efficiently advise our students. It is 11:01 pm, I am typing these words from my bed… it is definitely time to switch off my laptop.

For more information, see Coetail.com

Screen Shot 2017-05-07 at 17.11.17


Kim’s step-by-step guide to global collaborations which aims at helping teachers collaborate on learning projects, not surprisingly shares many commonalities with Coetail. For instance, the need for a “home base” and a common platform can be seen in Coetail’s main page with the use of wordpress. Also, expectations are clearly communicated and goals are established for each course. Coetail models how we could create global collaborations between teachers and between students but also perhaps between all members of a wider learning community that potentially includes parents, leaders, NGOs, etc.

It is a real paradox that many schools operate in silos while most of them have all the equipments to connect to the World. Why?

Some educators are probably either too reserved to create their PLN or they perhaps don’t know how to start and who they should connect with. This is obviously an issue that you don’t have in Coetail because you are part of a cohort since the beginning. Other teachers perhaps think that it is a waste of time to build their PLN and make global connections, certainly because they have never seen the benefits of it. Coetail does not only help you to connect to Coetailers, but it gives you the confidence to go beyond and contact people outside your circle who seem interesting, no matter where they live and who they are. It also reinforces the idea that it is extremely worthwhile and valuable to get and receive a feedback, to understand different perspectives, to be exposed to a variety of experiences and to make your own thinking visible for others.

If we really want to prepare our students for 2025/2030, then we must adopt new approaches such as global collaborations, MOOC, PLN, and technology plays and should continue to play a strategic role in the future development of Education. Cathy N. Davidson refers to the silo metaphor when she wrties about the way of seeing:

“For more than a hundred years, we’ve been training people to see in a particularly individual, deliberative way. No one ever told us that our way of seeing excluded everything else.”

By focusing too much on one thing, we miss a lot. She argues that multitasking could be relevant in the digital age because “On the Internet, everything links to everything, and all of it is available all the time.” The iPod experiment in 2003 at Duke was probably one of the first attempt to flip classooms, but what is even more impressive that it was de facto a “crowdsourcing” initiative where a group is invited “to collaborate on a solution to a problem”.

Whenever you empower students, the results are far beyond your expectations:

“The real treasure trove was to be found in the students’ innovations. Working together, and often alongside their professors, they came up with far more learning apps for their iPods than anyone—even at Apple—had dreamed possible.”

The development of MOOCs, podcasts and many other initiatives to move the relation between the source of knowledge and the learner makes us reflect on our own practices and on how we could do things differently. In January, I was fortunate to attend a workhop run by Ewan Mc Intosh.

S.VERMEULIN, Ewan McIntosh, January 2017
S.VERMEULIN, Ewan McIntosh, January 2017

One of the tasks that we were asked to do was to identify a problem that we encounter when we integrate technology in our school. We had to generate as many ideas as we could. Then, he showed us a visual with about thirty famous brands on a screen and asked us: “What would X do with this idea ?” We then realised that although we were all teachers, we could find inspiration from anything around us, including companies like Spotify, Google, Formula one, Ikea, etc. So we though about Sportify as they would probably have teachers create playlists or F1 which could design a tech pit stop in the corridor for anyone who would need a precise and quick help. Suddenly, we had hundreds of new ideas. This is the power of having more than one way of seeing!

What Cathy Davidson says about wikipedia also rings a bell:

“Wikipedia is an educator’s fantasy, all the world’s knowledge shared voluntarily and free in a format theoretically available to all, and which anyone can edit. Instead of banning it, I challenged my students to use their knowledge to make Wikipedia better.”

This is it! Knowledge is everywhere and accessible in one click so the real value of Education lies in how we evaluate it and what we do with it. Students must be challenged to think, create and innovate. New approaches and tools help schools to define a better use of students and teachers time. In their own time and pace, students can learn by watching vodcasts, listening to podcasts, writing blogs, commenting on their peers blog, etc. Class time is then organised around inquiry, group discussions, thinking routines and projects. In our school, like in many others, Google apps have become the norm to work collaboratively and share documents, photos or videos between all the members of the school community. Some parents -and teachers- still believe that students should know how to write and read. Of course they should! They simply don’t do it in the same way and with the same purpose. When Heidi Hayes Jacob declares in the following video that the enemy is the Number two pencil, she meets Cathy Davidson’s point of view when she reflects on her students blog skills at Duke:

“Their writing online, at least in their blogs, was incomparably better than in the traditional papers. In fact, given all the tripe one hears from pundits about how the Internet dumbs our kids down, I was shocked that elegant bloggers often turned out to be the clunkiest and most pretentious of research-paper writers.”

In my school, technology has grown a lot in the past five years and we now have hundreds of iPads and laptops in the lower school only. But figures only do not make the success. It also takes dispositions. The approach of teaching and learning has also changed in many of my colleagues’ mind and this is an absolute prerequisite to any change. Like any school, we still have some skeptics which forces us to define well our arguments and make our thinking even more visible. Prakash Nair says  “the Classroom Is Obsolete: It’s Time for Something New”.

The walls of the classroom have already been torn down and the windows are now a lot wider than even. On the door, there is no number or teacher’s name, just a post-it note saying “for more information, see Coetail.com”

Bring them to the next level!

S.Vermeulin at Bett 2017
S.Vermeulin at Bett 2017

I suffered. I suffered and was bored for most of my schoold years. My torture was called lecture and my jail was my desk. However, I mananged to get my baccalaureate and to go to College without any scratch, but without any spark either. When I became a teacher, I promised myself to be a different teacher. Despite my good intentions, it took me years before I really start flipping my classroom.

To play or not to play, this is not a question. Children, teenagers, adults and seniors, we should all keep playing because, as it is said in this article:

“Play, nonetheless, is a serious business, at least for the teachers, because it gives children vital skills in how to learn.”


If you agree that learning how to learn is fundamental, then you also agree that playing is fundamental.

Our school systems are divided on very old and formal acadamic subjects and based on busy timetables and homeworks, not to mention extra-curriculum activities and tutoring. Parents and very often teachers are placing student’s results in standardized tests as an evidence of success. In “Taking play seriously”, Robin Marantz Henigfeb says that it has become ” playtime versus résumé building.” There is therefore a lot of pressure to listen in class, take notes and perform during tests, even thought these tests won’t develop your critical thinking, creativity, collaborative skills and many other essential skills for our students’ future. Even in my school, the IB Diploma results are always displayed and publicized as a guarantee of quality.

However, one country is not following the herd. Finland is always seen as the strangest educational lab of the planet where students seem happy and successful. In the following video, Michael Moore interviews some educators and what comes back regularly is that Finland doesn’t care about standardized tests at all because their main priority is the happiness of their students. Play is central, homeworks inexistant or consist in watching vodcasts and listening podcasts… a sort of happy flipped classroom!


S.VERMEULIN, Lego education at Bett 2017
S.VERMEULIN, Lego education at Bett 2017

When I was a Middle School teacher, I always had students play games in class or online as a homelearning. The power of playing is underestimated by some teachers, but it is immense and even in Upper School. Some of my ex-colleagues thought that I was just entertaining my students and still believe that learning at the Upper School is a serious matter. I wish they could see the benefit of some game-based projects.

In January, I went to Bett in London and I spent some time in both Minecraft Edu and Lego Education zones. I had a lot of fun, I learned a lot and it reinforced my believe that some elements of game design should be integrated more often into the curriculum.


Minecraft club, ISL lower school
Minecraft club, ISL lower school

In my school, my side kick started a Minecraft Club years ago and I am now in charge of it. I never lecture and students play and solve problemes together and by themselves. One of our grade 1 teacher, Suzy Ramsden, who is also a graduated coetailer has done a fabulous Minecraft project with her class which became her Course 5 Final Project. If you want to get some inspiration and see an incredible example of how games can enhance learning, I suggest that you click immediately on this link! To quote Suzy:

“Rather than planning a project to reach that transformation stage in my students learning, what happened  was something much more powerful. The students themselves were transforming or redefining their own learning. So although it was a guided inquiry into using Minecraft as a collaborative tool, with detailed steps and skill building, before too long the students were beginning to take the project way beyond my original task.”


Suzy does what Judy Willis MD suggests in her article, she sets a serie of progressive and achievable challenges to every student in order to recognize the progress made. And do you know what the good thing is about that? It is contagious as other teachers in our school start using Minecraft or other games to bring students to the next level!

Unleash their curiosity

CC Svermeulin, le Marais, 2017
CC Svermeulin, le Marais, 2017

It all starts with two simple ingredients: a natural flow of curiosity carried by a self-directed learning.

During the Easter break, I was in Paris and I love walking without any goal in a district called “Le marais”. There are always unexpected things and places to see in this area. Driven by my curiosity, I explored a part of the neighbourhood where I don’t go too often. I first saw an interesting door, then, next to it there was an entrance with a sign saying that there was actually a park and eco-friendly gardens right behind the building. As I went through I discovered that all the area between the building had been turn into a fascinating collaborative eco-friendly project.

Of course, in my situation, I didn’t have to follow any curriculum and I had no time pressure, but curiosity and inquiry can be extremely powerful forces to make people explore, create, think and learn.



If you are already familiar with Kath Murdoch’s work and the inquiry-based pedagogical approach, you have already used many different types of inquiry-based learning opportunities in your classroom, including perhaps project-based, problem-based and challenge-based learning. My school is one of them, but I must admit that although I have been designing student-led projects for years, I had never really thought about the difference between these three types of “-based learning”. In order to clarify this point, I had a look at two articles which I found helpful.

The first one, by John Larmer, explains that according to the Buck Institute for Education (BIE), project-based learning can be seen as a broad category which contains numerous variations: Design-based, Case-based, etc. Although they all slighlty differ, they usually all share a combination of three characteristics:

•Designing and/or creating a tangible product, performance or event

•Solving a real-world problem (may be simulated or fully authentic)

•Investigating a topic or issue to develop an answer to an open-ended question

The BIE definesstandards-focused PBL as a systematic teaching method that engages students in learning knowledge and skills through an extended inquiry process structured around complex, authentic questions and carefully designed products and tasks.”

According to the BIE, “challenge- and design-based — are basically modern versions of the same concept. “ If the first umbrella can be the project-based learning, we could also add another broader umbrella on top of it as they also fall under the general category of inquiry-based learning. Indeed, many x-based learning types overlap. There are many similarities and benefits to implement these approaches for they promote collaboration, enhance intrinsic motivation, develop problem-solving skills, deepen understanding of concepts, use technology in a purposeful way…to name just a few.

CC Svermeulin, PBL in grade 8
CC Svermeulin, PBL in grade 8


The process of learning is indeed a collective act, but also must actively involve learners who are now at the centre of their own learning. With the emergence of new technological tools, Education had to adapt and redesign how we learn in the 21st century.




“ In a sense, the need for education to adapt to a changing world is the primary reason that PBL is increasingly popular. “


As PBL is an attempt to adapt learning to our changing world, it will therefore keep evolving and the emergence of x-based learning approaches could be an evidence of this evolution.

Challenge-based learning, which is promoted by Apple, tackles real-World issues and is seen as an approach “of our time” As the New Media Consortium Report stipulates:

“ the world has never had a greater urgency in ensuring that our children are equipped to tackle the serious challenges that lay before them “

The authors argue that PBL and problem-based learning fail “ partly because they are bolted on to the curriculum in addition to everything else that must be done”. The best aspects of these approaches should be used, but the curriculum should welcome these projects seamlessly and the focus should be on real world issues. 21st century tools are central is CBL as they could provide access to updated data, resources, networks and information and allow students to work collaboratively, critically and creatively on these global challenges while imagining local solutions and make a difference. The force of challenge-based learning is therefore to develop critical thinking and to stimulate student’s will to take actions to change the World. Comparing to problem-based projects, CBL have a flexible and custmomizable framework.

For all the three “based learning” considered here, although students “direct the course of their learning”, the role of teachers is essential as guides and facilitators. All the literature shows that students find the experience worthwhile, probably because it is relevant and meaningful. However, Suzie Boss and the BIE (edutopia) reminds that if not well-prepared, projects can generate chaos and frustration:Tensions can build if teams don’t understand what it means to collaborate or share responsibility for project success”. While PBL have become increasingly popular, its spreading could lead to mainly two kind of problems:

“First, we will see a lot of assignments and activities that are labeled as “projects” but which are not rigorous PBL, and student learning will suffer. Or, we will see projects backfire on underprepared teachers and result in wasted time, frustration, and failure to understand the possibilities of PBL.”

credit: BIE
credit: BIE

To avoid any trouble, many teachers share their projects online, as well as recommendations and ideas. Once again, being part of an online community and having a PLN can be a good way to learn from each other and share good practices. It is probably also a school culture that needs to place curiosity and inquity at the heart of the learning process.

“Create a ‘culture of curiosity’ – a classroom where wondering and  questioning are encouraged and celebrated “, Kath Murdoch

When I was a Upper School Social Sciences teacher, I was a strong believer of project-based learning. I realise now that the projects my students led were very often in fact challenge-based learning activities since the focus was on global issues and involved both collaboration and technology. If I had to review these activites now, I would probably have a closer look at my PLN to find ways to improve them.


Here are two examples of PBL that I did with my grade 8 students on globalisation and migration.

In the first one, Students had to work in groups of four on different migrants’ journey. Each member of the group was an expert of one field and had to meet regularly with other experts to share their findings.

CC Svermeulin, PBL grade 8
CC Svermeulin, PBL grade 8

In this second example, students had to be investigative journalists and create a Youtube video about a product lifecycle. They had to choose a product, to bring it in class and then to research and critically analyse its lifecycle. The project went well and most students were very engaged even if finding information was sometimes challenging depending on the item they had chosen. I reflect on it at the end of last year and I thought that it would be great to have students interview stakeholders involved in the different phases (raw materials, manufacturing, etc.) or NGOs through skype/Face time.

SVermeulin grade 8 Globalisation project
SVermeulin grade 8 Globalisation project

As an Educational Technology Coach, I have no total control of how teachers design their x-based learning any more. However, I still have a direct input and can contribute to the discussion when they plan their inquiry-based learning opportunities. My role is then to show them that technology can multiply the possibilities and facilitate the empowerment of students.

Why tech Integration must rhyme with pedagogy and curriculum?

digital COT

Integrating technology into the curriculum in a seamless, purposeful and meaningful way takes a mix of dispositions: curiosity, effort, growth mindset, patience and risk-taking, but also and perhaps mostly, a good portion of collaboration.

In Maggie Hos-McGrane’s article about the SAMR model, I found many similarities with my own experience as an Educational Technology Coach. For instance, the fact that teachers don’t always see the difference between Subtitution, Augmentation, Modification and Redefinition. As she mentions, our role is to help them adopt a state of mind which make technology an organically integrated element of their teaching practices.


Our target is wider than one teacher using one app, it is the whole curriculum!

Clearly, it can’t happen in one day. Not even in one year. Acutally, any single example of a Redefinition activity has the power to make the whole learning community walk one step forward. However, it should not be about one teacher innovating in isolation nor a thousand apps being provided to teachers. The Integration of technology cannot be separeted from the process of reviewing or redesigning the curriculum. When I started my position, I was surprised by all the curriculum meetings I had to attend. With my colleague Tanya, we attend every single curriculum meeting from Pre-School to grade 5 alongside the curriculum coordinator, EAL, learning support and homeroom teachers. Although our input is sometimes negligible, it is a very good way to understand what is happening in the classrooms. We have a direct entry to the heart of the curriculum so that we can guide and advice teachers right at the time when they develop or review the learning activities. The support of the curriculum coordinator is therefore extremly important because this person is very often a change maker. It is essential to me because you cannot pretend to integrate technology in a purposful way accross the curriculum if you don’t have a voice in the curriculum meetings. If not, you would only make a limited impact by showing teachers who are already interested a thousand apps that they may or may not use in their classroom in a one-shot way, which might results in a few shiny samples, but should not lead to a sustainable integration of technology because it only scratches the curriculum.

Designing new learning opportunities not for technology, but with technology.

A good integration of technology can be measured when there is a clear learning objective that students can meet and even go beyound this objective with a wise use of various technological tools, which will foster, enhance and deepen the learning process and student’s creativity to a point that could not be reached without it. it is therefore really about the learning goals, the pedagogy and the process, not the product, nor the technological skills.

In Edutopia’s 2008 article ‘Why Integrate Technology into the Curriculum?: The Reasons Are Many“, a similar point was already made:

“Effective technology integration is achieved when the use of technology is routine and transparent and when technology supports curricular goals.”

My side-kick recently shared with me this very interesting TED talk video by Heidi Hayes Jacobs, a curriculum designer:

Because the role of teachers has changed and because many school curricula have become trully inquiry-based and driven by student’s curiosity and problem-solving skills, the integration of technology makes even more sense. Why would you need technology in traditional education as described by Steve Dening in his comparison with the factory model where students are simply asked to learn from the “sage on the stage”? Why would you need technology when learning is only about memorising?

“…the role of teachers (and parents) becomes one of enabling and inspiring the students to learn, so as to spark their energies and talents.”

In the SAMR model, the integration of technology not only spark their energies and talents, but creates conditions in which creativity, thinking and learning are reinvented.

When I reflect to our school’s integration of technology, I see that we head toward a clear direction because our pedagogy principles (cultures of thinking and inquiry-based learning) and our approach to technology are both consistently in our minds when we review the curriculum. It does not mean that we systematically integrate technology in a seamless way, as there are still many learning opportunities which are only tackling the S or the A of the SAMR model yet, but we are working on it. We are aware that we are still not integrating technology in every unit of every grade level, but we persevere and we are making progress.

For instance, we have defined all school criteria to integrate technology with some advice from Alan November and they are now visible everywhere in the schools on large banners. Two weeks ago, my side-kick and I also used a thinking routine called ‘Generate, sort, connect, elaborate” to have teachers think about tech integration and learning opportunities.

We will now create a map of our digital “culture of thinking” with examples of learning opportunities where technology is seamlessly integrated. Our goal was to link the integration of technology with our pedagogical approach (the cultures of thinking and its eight forces).

Moreover, the introduction of SeeSaw as an e-Portfolio, as well as Schoology as a new LMS and the development of our Creative lab will certainly help our school next year to integrate technology more consistently.

Things change, new apps are released, but the focus remains the same:

Developping a coherent and innovative combinaison of the “PTC”: pedagogy, technology and curriculum.