when did I know?

Many have asked me when I knew I wanted to become a teacher. Was I always born with the passion to teach? No (but my mom would probably disagree as she recounts a story about me standing in front of the neighborhood children who were all huddled on the grass while I nattered on about… something. Everything!) Did I have an inspirational teacher who made me want to follow this vocation? Yes. I had many teachers who inspired me to think, ask questions, and challenge myself. But they didn’treally persuade me to become a teacher.

My first real teaching experience took place at ISK in Nairobi, Kenya. Though I was affiliated with the school as a volunteer, it was not until I had my first hands-on day with kids, papier mâché, and a lot of fun, that I even fathomed teaching as a career.

All through my credential work, earning my Master’s degree, and 10 years of teaching I liked my job. I was passionate about what I did. I knew I did it well… on most days. And I was proud of the work that I did. But I still didn’t know I wanted to be a teacher.

It wasn’t until just last week (Tuesday, 16 August 2016, 8:00 am to be exact) in my new adopted country of Oman, that I knew I wanted to be a teacher.

I had dropped Rob and the kids off at school for a 7:30 am start time. Then I got back in the car and drove. Away. Did I drive to another classroom at another school? Nope. I didn’t go to a curriculum planning meeting or a school supply store. I went… to a coffee shop! I didn’t know what to do with myself so I ordered a cappuccino and tried to read a book.

About 20 minutes after reading the first paragraph… again… and again, I realized I wanted to be a teacher.

Driving away from school (in a year when there was no ES teaching job available) was one of my lowest moments. How could I share my talents if there were no students to teach? Who would need me (besides my family before and after school)? How was I going to affect change in the community or world? What was going to happen to my PLN of educator contacts and collaborative colleagues? Who was I going to be?

All of these feelings, questions, worries, and value judgements of myself, my career, and my professional reputation weighed on me. And then the tears came. I began to grieve. The feeling was similar grief I had experienced before. It was the grief of death. Of lost love. You know… the type of sorrow that makes your chest ache . That was the feeling I had when I walked away from school, got in my car, and drove away. Complete and total loss.

During that cappuccino I felt useless. Unnecessary. Wasted. And those feelings are terrible on a normal day. But the feelings seemed even more desperate because I had just realized what I wanted to be when I grew up!

So now what? What’s the next step? What the hell am I going to do to wipe these sorrowful feelings from my heart? I don’t know, but I guess I’m gonna have to try something new.

I’m going to make friends, volunteer, write Genius Hour curriculum, try to sell myself, and then… secretly hope a lot of teachers get pregnant so I can get back in the classroom where I belong. Because now. Only now, do I know that I want to be a teacher!


Taking Action

Every time I write a unit I try to use Kath Murdoch’s inquiry cycle:

From Train the Teacher
From Train the Teacher

So when I finished my COETAIL Unit 5 project (utilizing Minecraft as a teaching tool for an integrated Farm to Table unit) I thought about what I tell my student’s during Writer’s Workshop, “when you think you’re done… you’ve just begun.”

Putting my mouth where my money is… even though the unit is over, I’ve kinda just begun. I need to follow my own inquiry cycle and go further, help the students make further connections, and then… take action! So here are my next steps.

Going Further

On a number of occasions, my students have used the Hour of Code website. This tool has helped develop logical thinking skills and enthusiasm for coding and problem solving. So it wasn’t a far stretch when my Technology Integration Coach, Mark Marshall, told me that we could take this Minecraft Edu thing to the next level. After a brief mini-lesson introducing students to the turtles:

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and showing off the Turtle Training Booklet, students participated in a practice course where we (teachers) guided, supported, and helped kids troubleshoot. Within 15 minutes, Mark and I were walking around trying to offer students help, but they were solving each other’s problems without us.

So, for the next week I was really brave. By using a “flipped” station model during my math workshop, a small group of students coded the turtle through different challenges (each new challenge opening after the previous one had been completed). The activity’s high-engagement meant that I could focus on the students at my math station while inspiring other learners to complete their designated tasks so they could earn their day at the technology station.

Further Connections

Our grade 2 science unit about Processes that Shape the Earth is now coming to an end. Our team created a STEM-based summative task which allowed students to “make” their understanding of life on/near landforms by creating a diorama, a poster, a video, a LEGO world, or a Minecraft community. The 2 students who chose the Minecraft Edu option were already “expert” Minecraft players and, by giving them “creative mode” access, they were able to achieve success in a reasonable amount of time.

Photo Credit: wcm1111 via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: wcm1111 via Compfight cc

Taking Action

I’m taking action by sharing Minecraft Edu with as many colleagues who are willing to listen. I’m growing my PLN to include the @MinecraftEdu (which has now been taken over by @TeacherGaming and @Microsoft) network. I’m sharing with colleagues at work, and I’m trying to use Minecraft Edu in any way I can think.

Though I’m not a master crafter yet, I’m meeting my own personal inquiry… one step at a time!

It’s time to Mine

Students sell their cookies at the Farmer's Market.
Students sell their cookies at the Farmer’s Market.

So this is it. 4 weeks of serious research; 2 weeks of planning; 6 weeks of teaching; And too many hours of reflecting have all resulted in this. An integrated Farm to Table Minecraft unit.

The unit is done and it was a whopping success!! The parents were confused but pleased with the engagement and learning, our grade 2 students were psyched, the elementary school was jealous, and now it’s time to share the good, the bad, and the ugly of this unit with you…

Let’s start with the negative stuff first and get it out of the way:

The Ugly

  • African power outages got the best of us on a few occasions. Because of this, sometimes students lost valuable work which caused a bit of heartbreak (particularly when they had completed their designated tasks).
  • Because Minecraft Edu doesn’t work on the our Samsung Galaxy Tablets, we had to borrow laptops from 3rd Grade. Negotiating a swap schedule, charging routine, and sharing devices was not always the easiest of tasks. But we made it work.
  • We didn’t do a great job explaining to parents what we were doing. Though we had written it on our classroom blog (which few read), parents didn’t have a clear understanding of the academic value of Minecraft as a learning tool. At the beginning, there were a lot of questions. See also: the good

The bad

  • There was an incredibly steep learning curve for teachers (and some students). Because we are a team of 6 teachers and 2 Technology Integration Coaches (across 2 campuses), there were a lot of people to get up to speed. We all had to learn a great deal. And… since this Social Studies unit had never been taught before, we had to learn a lot about the unit objectives as well as how to use Minecraft to meet those objectives.
  • Set-up, quite honestly, could be a bitch! I don’t know if it was our class server or a Minecraft Edu glitch that proved the most challenging, but logging in could be complicated. Sometimes, it could take 1 teacher a 40-minute lunch break to complete the task. That said… this would have been an even more daunting task if we had asked the students to do it.

the good

  • Everything else! The students were already so passionate about Minecraft, that the use it just played right in to their hands. The engagement level was at it’s peak and the students far exceeded our learning expectations.
  • Connections between the real world and the virtual world made sense to kids. But as soon as the students began sharing their understanding with their parents, we had a huge support network.
  • The Grade 2 Essential Agreements for this unit were awesome–students followed the rules and were so principled when it came to helping one another (both in the Minecraft Edu world and in real life).
  • Our reflection journal was outstanding (if I do say so myself)! This journal was the “proof” that parents and administrators appreciated to justify the use of Minecraft Edu as learning tool. Using the journal also helped teachers look back on the process of the learning and understanding of the unit concepts.


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See below for useful resources including the UBD and supplemental materials.


This unit was a resounding success. Despite the occasional headaches and hiccups, the unit, the learning, and the students’ conceptual understanding far succeeded our expectations. That said, we’d consider these few changes next year:

  • A video to explain to parents why we’re using a “video game” to teach.
  • We’d get enough computers to make sure that some students (mostly our Minecraft experts) could work independently while others could continue working with a peer in the Minecraft world.
  • I’d join the Minecraft Edu Educator Community to get ideas, share experiences, and challenge myself to make this unit even more meaningful.
  • It would also be pretty interesting if we could share Minecraft servers with another another Grade 2 class somewhere in the world. How cool would that be? What do you think @mikehoffman?


Getting Crafty

Photo Credit: e.c.johnson via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: e.c.johnson via Compfight cc

Dear Digital Friends,

This post has been in draft form for so long I barely know what it’s intention was anymore. But I am archiving it to cyberspace to shed all.

This project may be a complete disaster!

For those of you who relish in other people’s failures… you may love to hear this. For fans of risk-takers, you might love this too. For me, I’m scared shitless! This project is an all-or-nothing for me and I’m worried it might flop. I’m concerned my students may not learn and I’m über freaked out that at any point, my Principal will call me in to his office with his, “Are-you-kidding-me-Angela” face and give me the what-for. But I’ve decided–it’s too late to back out now.

One. Two. Three. Publish!

The idea

Like I wrote in The Magic of Minecraft, my kids and their friends have been obsessed with Minecraft for years but the creepy pixelated images have always disinterested me. Over time, as my students’ obsession matched my children’s enthusiasm, I realized I needed to hop on this Minecraft bandwagon, so I started on my own personal inquiry which lead me to some great inspiration:

But observing other people’s ideas or experiences is one thing and doing it for yourself is a whole different beast. So, I crafted a plan.

The Plan

I decided to integrate all of my COETAIL learning in much the same outline as the 5 COETAIL courses:

  • Step/Course 1: use my PLN—for ideas, resources, and troubleshooting 911s (including attending Daniel Flynn’s Minecraft Workshop at Learning 2.016 Africa)
  • Step/Course 2: make sure that my students and I are digital citizens— be EMPOWERED, give credit (a million thanks to @mikehoffman) where it’s due, and share our ideas with others
  • Step/Course 3: craft some sort of digital work or an infographic to help my students and share with any other teachers crazy enough to take this on
  • Step/Course 4: make sure my unit is technology rich, integrated, and including some sort of gamification
  • Step/Course 5: tell my digital story

How I’m Gonna Get there

The JHB team learning how to use Minecraft Edu
The JHB team learning how to use Minecraft Edu

I convinced my team that we could take a never-before-taught unit and go all the way by integrating social studies, math, service learning and Minecraft. Because it was my crazy ass idea, I took it on myself to write the unit. I wrote up an integrated Social Studies Farm to Table unit and then embedded some interesting Minecraft learning (thanks to some direct idea snatching from my Minecraft idol, Mike Hoffman). I knew that my team of novices and I would need a lot of help from our Technology Integration Coach so, I met with him, discussed the learning objectives that I wanted the students to meet, tweaked my UbD to accommodate the three subjects of integration, and then, it was time to be schooled. Under the watchful eye (and incredible patience) of our TIC, Mark, we teachers were dumped in to the Minecraft world where we tried to do some of the complicated tasks we were going to ask the students to do:

  • buy a plot of land (math and economics)
  • build a home (wants and needs)
  • build a farm to plant and harvest food (how food gets from farm to table)
  • trade our food for essential items (needs, wants, and economics)

As a team, we decided that the unit would be part inquiry, part teacher-directed instruction, and part technology rich. Using Kath Murdoch’s inquiry cycle, classes started Finding Out and Sorting Out through some basic home-school connections. Students brought in food packages from home and, as a class, investigated the journey that item took from the farm to the table. Students built on this understanding by talking about whether or not food products that they eat are “needs” or “wants” and why. Once this foundational learning was in place, it was time to unveil MinecraftEdu.

Desired OUtcomes

Photo Credit: kurichan+ via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: kurichan+ via Compfight cc

I don’t know how this is going to go… and with the power outages of late, it might go terribly wrong, but my team and I are hoping that meaningful learning comes out of this fun integration. If not, uh… I guess that’ll be OK!?!? Yes. That’ll be OK because, at the end of the day, I know the students will learn, I know my team and I will learn a lot, and we’ll tweak and make new plans moving forward to next year.

Fingers crossed it all works out! If not, I might be opening that craft brewery sooner than I thought.

forgive me COETAIL…

Photo Credit: Robert Cheaib - Theologhia.com via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Robert Cheaib – Theologhia.com via Compfight cc

…for I have sinned. It’s been too many days since my last blog post. Mea culpa. Mea culpa. Mea culpa.

In my defense, I’ve been swamped! Rob and I were still recruiting until just a few weeks ago (yeah, we’re moving to Oman!), I’ve had a student teacher in my classroom for 6 weeks, I’ve transitioned 2 new kids in and 1 kid out of my classroom, and I’ve been trying to be a wife, mom, friend, and teacher all while trying to maintain respect with a head of blue hair (that’s another topic for another day!).

At the top of our resumes this recruiting season were the words: innovate. collaborate. motivate. And I’ve been busy trying to do just that.

So what’s kept me honest these past lots of days? You guys! Maybe not here through these blog posts but everywhere else. You and I have been workin’ the plan. We’ve been all over this world wide web participating in an endless stream of idea sharing, resource trading, and collaboration. And because of all this busy-ness I just haven’t had a minute to sit down and share with you all of my successes (and the failed attempts as well).

Since I started this COETAIL program a year ago I’ve participated in more department, school-wide, continental, and global collaboration than I have in 10 years of teaching…combined! I feel like there’s a vortex of amazing ideas swarming around me and I’m grasping at any projects that would meet objectives, challenge me, and redefine learning for my 2nd graders. So far this school year… here are some of the highlights:

Innovate: Starting Local

In my own elementary community, I’ve built a PLN of people who want to try this Genius Hour thing. For so many colleagues, it’s innovative and borderline crazy. For me–it’s the way school should be. So, I’ve blogged about it, tweeted about it incessantly, collaborated with ES (then MS and HS) teachers and students at my school interested in taking the risk, and even presented 3 workshops about Genius Hour just since October! I’ve openly shared my own resources and those I’ve used as tools to help my own Genius Hour program unfold as well as started on a Wikipedia article that has turned into my own Genius Hour project. I’m doing my best to share this innovation with everyone who will listen in hopes that it eventually becomes they way we do school! Next stop–TEDTalk perhaps?! (insert hearty laugh here)

Collaborate: Going Continental

Thanks to Ryan Harwood and his #AfricaEd website, my network of African colleagues to collaborate with, be inspired by, and commiserate to has grown 10 fold. Though I can’t always get what I want, sometimes (read: often times) they come through immediately… and it’s a beautiful thing.

So I’ve learned that one of the best ways to collaborate is just by taking a risk, asking the question, and putting it out there:

motivate: GO Global

And then there’s the PLN stuff that goes global. It starts at the #AfricaEd level and then it grows to the COETAIL level when all of a sudden I am spending nearly $200 to send a raggedy grey teddy bear around the world to Sri Lanka because I signed up for a project that I just knew would be meaningful to my students! Enter stage right: the #GlobalEdTed and Traveling Teddy project.

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Projects like this one have motivated me to continue taking risks with my students and the projects I choose to do with them. So maybe we have to skip a writing lesson, merge two math activities, or reschedule our library time–so what!?! If I can motivate my students to understand more about the world–then I’ve done my job! When I can show my students that it’s OK to take risks, fail, and try again–then I’ve done my job! If I can motivate them to share their opinions on Amazon or Trip Advisor, teach about South Africa via video and Skype, or answer a questionnaire to understand that students in a far-off land are more similar than different, then I’ve done my job! …And I’ve done it well.

Get Collaborative

So I guess it’s OK that I’ve been MIA for some time. Because I haven’t been missing from all of it. I’m out there. I’m doing stuff. I’m working with people. I’m growing my network. And I’m trying new stuff. Heck, all you have to do is check-out my to-do list to see that I’m busy and I’ve got even more work to get done:

  • get podcasts finished- by Thursday 3 March
  • build on Course 5 Project (more info to follow) by merging MinecraftEdu with a math and coding integration- Friday 4 March
  • Mystery Skype(s) with PLN partners for next science unit- week before March break

Yup…March is going to be BUSY! So I’ll sign off now, say my 10 Hail Mary’s, and catch some zzzzs so I’m ready to innovate, collaborate, and motivate again bright and early tomorrow morning! Bring it!

genius making

Photo Credit: Brent Pohlman via Twitter
Photo Credit: Brent Pohlman via Twitter

Being reflective

For some reason, this year of teaching has led me to being quite reflective on my own learning experiences. When planning with my colleagues, I often think to myself, “I would have loved school so much more if I had had this learning experience” or “I would have done so well on this summative if my teachers had presented me with a problem task like this.” Every Wednesday, when gathering the troops together for Genius Hour I wonder “How excited would I Have been if any of my teachers had called me a genius?” or “What would my life be like now if I had followed the passions of my creative and inventive 8 year old self?” So I pay it forward towards my students and I call them what they are: geniuses! Creative. Passionate. Excitable. They are inventive students who have the ability to change the world in meaningful ways!

So I’ve been walking around pushing my Genius Hour agenda. If you still don’t know what Genius Hour is, you can do some of your own research or check out this explanatory video that Rob and I made for our colleagues:

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During the first semester, my students have been participating in Genius Hour. Every Wednesday, without fail, the students have been gifted 70 minutes of time (we usually spend the first 10 minutes getting the kiddos organized and sorting through some issues we encountered the week before: organization problems, conflict resolution, idea generating, etc.).

Back in September, I even blogged about our first couple of Genius Hour sessions. And since that time… we’ve had some great successes (and epic failures that led to awesome reflection!) I even put my money where my mouth is and took my own passion for Genius Hour and presented a workshop at the Learning2Africa conference held in Johannesburg this year. A few weeks later, after great success, I was asked to present again for some of AISJ’s high school staff which has lead five of my colleagues to start Genius Hour sessions with their own students.



So just before the end of our first term at school, our 2nd grade students participated in AISJ’s first ever “Genius Hour Showcase.” I’ve Storified this momentous occasion (as well as highlighting some of my other Twitter heroes and their successes) below:

I also made a video for my students and their parents. The video relives some of the highlights of our first Genius Hour Showcase. We could probably change a hundred things next time, but after 10+ years of teaching in 5 countries… this was my proudest teacher moment EVER!

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I look forward to the geniuses and change makers that I meet in 2016!

liar liar pants on fire

Photo Credit: id-iom via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: id-iom via Compfight cc

Well dear friends, colleagues, and fellow COETAILers, we (@rlanglands and I) have been caught. We are slightly embarrassed about our last post. @brandonhoover called us out and others saw through our sham post. You’re all right… it was a bit of a ruse but it was also a great way to challenge ourselves at the end of our 4th COETAIL course. The truth is… Rob and I (and probably you too, if you’re honest) are all a combination of blue and green when it comes to use of technology in the classroom. We can all find examples to defend both sides–blue: restrict use to students or green: a free and open system of tech use.

Most of us (at least the few regular readers of this blog) are lucky enough to be working in international settings with students who are very privileged. We are not working in an inner city school in California where, in 2013-2014, 82% of the students purchasing lunch participated in the Free and Reduced Lunch Program. Our students have amazing access to technology whether it is school purchased or in a BYOD program. Heck, most of our students have more (and more current) tech in their personal arsenals than we do. Plus, their schools are clad with 3D printers, maker spacers, robotics programs, drones, and, and, and…

We live in a bubble. Our kids attend school in a bubble. And a lot of us COETAILers have lived in the bubble for so long that we forget what technology needs look like for the average public school child in the western world let alone that of a child growing up in a developing nation.

Though Rob and I are blue to the core when it comes to the technology for our family and our students… the reality is we both know we need to appreciate the features of the green team’s arguments–we need to equip students with resilience to think and survive without instant access to technology. We don’t want our world to become so reliant on technology that we end up as disgusting digital loners like those blobs in Wall-E. Balance is something we must teach (and model)!

Thanks for humoring us… and for being part of the discussion.

the magic of minecraft

Photo Credit: BRICK 101 via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: BRICK 101 via Compfight cc

My children have been obsessed with Minecraft for years. For me, the pixelated graphics and blocky characters were reminiscent of my first Atari so they were not something I was eager to investigate. But as my 2nd grade students have become more and more engrossed with Minecraft, I figured I had to look in to this a bit more deeply! But where to find the time?

It wasn’t until our school migrated to the Common Core social studies standards and we were presented with a farm-to-table unit that the wheels started turning. My kids are always mining and planting things in Minecraft, so maybe we can mash-up the two activities.

So over the summer, while I had time to reflect on my year, I decided it may be possible to use Minecraft as an engaging tool to help students learn how food gets from the farm to the table. And things got even better when I started to investigate this idea on the Coetail website. Utilizing the musings of others Coetailers, like Ried Wilson, Carlina FiordilinoDavid Cole, Dwight TrainerPatrick Holt, and Mary Carle I began to think that this idea was actually doable.But everything fell right in to place when I began working with someone who had actually instructed a similar unit when working with Coetail graduate, Mike Hoffman.

Last week, during the Hour of Code, students were so engaged with the Minecraft coding task that I knew that my team and I were on to something good!

Some of my students enjoying the Minecraft challenge from Hour of Code
Some of my students enjoying the Minecraft challenge from Hour of Code

So now… the plans are in effect. We’ll have to try teaching it this year to see if it works, but I have high hopes that this will be my first real step in redefining technology in my 2nd grade classroom.


I know this unit is a good choice for my Course 5 project because it merges together a high interest tool (Minecraft) with conceptual learning that can be challenging from within the walls of a classroom. My biggest challenges with this unit is that we are a 2-campus school with 60 2nd graders–I’m concerned that our Minecraft.edu account and our ES TICs will not be able to support the demands of all of these students across two campuses. The other challenge we’ll face is the pedagogical shift in teaching and learning for my team. We’ll have to step away from read-alouds and guided inquiry in to a more hands-on technology-rich learning approach. This will require teachers to augment the way in which they run their social studies block…but I know it’s all manageable. And even though I’m SO eager to be done with this post, get to the airport, and start my holiday break… I can’t wait until January 18th when we kick-off this unit.

Fingers crossed it’s a great success!