Monthly Archive: October 2020

COETAIL Course #3 Final Project – Building a Virtual Library

This time we’ve teamed up via the Twitter chat – me (Julija Balčiūnė), Shalene Huth, and Simon Dobson. We have agreed on a real-time communication through WhatsApp in order to arrange virtual meeting details. We accepted the time difference challenge, which wasn’t a challenge for participants in Lithuania and Russia, however, required some calculations for the participant from China 🙂

Here are the Ubd planner and the Slide Deck of our project, which we worked on together, as a team.

Photo by Mike Swigunski on Unsplash

Online Collaboration

We held 4 virtual meetings via Zoom. Firstly, we defined our goals and agreed upon the tech tools we are going to use. We’ve added all this information to a shared planning document, that all of us could access any time to check some details or add necessary updates for the group communication. Then, we all dug into an exploration of digital tools that would be used in this project – Write Reader, Book Creator, ThingLink, Flipgrid, and Pear Deck. After that, we filled out the Ubd planner in order to come up with a clear scaffold of a structure of a more detailed unit plan. Finally, we all collaborated on filling in our slide deck.


Our main idea was to create a virtual library on ThingLink with students’ designed digital books created using online book creation tools – Write Reader and Book Creator. The books include personal narratives written by students and also voice records which reflect reading fluency progress made by students. After that, unit students would have to develop a higher reading fluency, manage to create a digital book design, create a narrative using all the necessary literary elements (character, plot, setting, problem, sequence, theme, solution, etc.) and share their creation as well as a reflection of their learning experience online.

Project Choice

Our project choice was the first one – creating a Ubd unit planner based on the enduring understandings of this course that support students in becoming Creative Communicators and Global Collaborators (ISTE Standards for Students 6 and 7). We all agreed on this choice since our previous projects were related to options 2 and 3.

The Topic

The design experience for students that supplements topic of this project came to my mind, while thinking about the concept of week #3. It inspired me to teach a book design by following the most important rules and teaching about the utilization of all necessary visual elements in order to support personal narratives written as text. However, very often students add too many elements to their slides, digital books, posters, infographics, etc. Design Secrets Revealed (Keri-Lee Beasley) has been a great resource for the design ideas of digital books, that students create in the classroom.
The ISTE standard for educators that I focused on was 6.d. Model and nurture creativity and creative expression to communicate ideas, knowledge, or connections.

My Takeaways 

My biggest take away from this collaboration process is trust between the team members, responsibility, flexibility, active participation, and respect. My role in this teamwork was more of a collaborator and the values that I’ve mentioned are significantly supporting the process of any collaboration. During Zoom meetings we managed to work together on checking the slides and the Ubd planner which allowed us to find the gaps to be filled very effectively. Therefore, the final result of the project was generated very quickly. A positive attitude towards each other helped us hear each other’s ideas and agree on our main goal. All of us had clearly defined different roles and this was the biggest advantage that led us to succeed. My growth with this experience is valuable because I’ve improved my collaboration skills that allowed to develop ideas and find solutions, that would fulfill the vision of the project.

This project is different from my other learning experience, mostly, because of the effective collaboration via virtual calls, that improve the creation process. Moreover, the slide deck we came up with is not only the structure of the plan on the steps of the unit, but it also includes samples of interactive slides generated using a Pear Deck add-on that effectively supplements the teaching as well as learning content.

The process of collaboration might seem to be challenging, but the final result is rewarding most of the time. Learning from each other is one of the best experiences in this COETAIL journey and my experience has been really pleasant so far. During both collaboration project form courses 2 and 3 I was lucky to work with kind and professional educators 🙂 I hope you had this experience as well…



Sharing the World

Reading the material of this week reminds me of one famous and very old song, one of my favorite songs, that encourages all of us to go away from the stereotypes.

Smells like wind

“Immediately upon our birth we begin to be socialized by the people we love and trust the most, our families or the adults who are raising us.” (Cycle of Socialization)

Babies are the innocent part of our community, their eyes are always clear, trusting and very honest. By growing, people are losing this attribute. The words of one Lithuanian writer (Gendrutis Morkūnas) will always stay in my memory – “children smell like a wind when they are born, unfortunately, the more they grow the more that smell goes away”. I like this metaphor because wind means freedom of thought, actions, freedom from boundaries, stereotypes, rules, and much more. You can always find a child who will smile at you or start a conversation without even knowing you. Let’s learn from children until they get spoiled by the impact of the adult world and the community surrounding them. They don’t care what your skin color, gender, or religious beliefs are.

Photo by Amelie & Niklas Ohlrogge on Unsplash

“…human beings are different from each other in many ways based upon gender, ethnicity skin color, first language, age, ability status, religion, sexual orientation, and economic class.”  (Cycle of Socialization)

According to the Cycle of Socialization article, many factors such as Television, Internet, advertising, newspapers, and radio make a huge impact on forming our world view as well as stereotypes. What we wear, what we eat, what we consume, and the worst – how much we consume, how we act, who we communicate with. To be honest, the more I live, the more I realize, that there are no common rules for everyone, just like the fact, that there is no unified truth that everyone would agree on. It is all relative.  The world around us is the reflection of our thoughts.


Equity – I first heard this term from Tara Linney at the Learning2 conference. She was talking about equity vs equality and the importance of equity in the educational systems. Students should get equal opportunities for education and the right for demonstrating gained knowledge in the classroom, school community, any educational institution, and finally real life. The stereotype such as talented students/”smarter” students get to talk more often during the lesson than others are disappearing just like the fact that only men being programmers.

Flipgrid and reflection

Flipgrid is one of my favorite tools. It is an amazing reflection tool and many of the teachers at my school love it and use it. They are using it for the book talks, video reflections, persuasive speeches, etc. Flipgrid is great for its feature that allows students to see each other records, explore, comment, and the most important – learn from each other.

Here is my Flipgrid reflection on the reading of this week’s material –

Part 1Community Text Rendering

Part 2 – Community Discussion

This Flipgrid experience was slightly different from the one I am used to. First of all, I had to make a video record of myself which is challenging. I am used to speaking to a group of students, but reflecting on colleagues is way different. However, this is a great experience of wearing the shoes of our students. I like the structure of the Text Rendering Protocol, which encourages digging deeper for a better reflection on reading material. This is a great method on gathering students’ reflections as well as initiating discussions between students all around the world, and it doesn’t require a real-time discussion. Gathering insights of other participants made me rethink the concept, just because of the variety of observations of other people, this way deepening my understanding of the material we’ve read. But even more I loved the ability to see and hear all of the other participants of our cohort. It feels like we are getting to know each other more and more by participating in our collaborative projects and activities like this one on Flipgrid. This proves the fact why students love watching each other video reflections – it happens all the time between my students who are doing that on Seesaw. Therefore, similar discussions between students around the world would be even more effective. This is a great way to foster communication regarding essential world discussions and real-world problems.



Art of Communication

Default PowerPoint Templates – Presentation of the Past?

In the past, I strongly believed that a PowerPoint presentation is a plan for your presentation with a clearly defined template. Traditional single title slide followed by a bunch of other slides with elements listed out as bulleted points and a picture representing content in a slide is appreciated. You have a list of templates with text boxes, text fonts, and size adjusted, so just go ahead and add your content. However, it appeared that those default presentation templates and not as effective and as helpful as they seemed to be from the first sight.

However… The big motivator of successful learning for our brain is visual aids. Our brain is too lazy to accept any textual information when it can see an attractive image displayed on the same slide. But is that enough?

I must admit it isn’t that easy to create a good presentation design for everyone’s needs. “Simplicity is an important design principle. But simplicity in design is as much art (small “a”) as science.” According to the article about Presentation Zen, the essential factors of a successful presentation are full knowledge of the context and circumstances. It also depends on how much is the audience hungry for information.

What makes a presentation successful?

David JP Phillips in his TED talk How to avoid Death By PowerPoint emphasized six elements of the effective delivery of your content via presentation:

  • One message per slide
  • Contrasting elements by size
  • Contrasting elements by color
  • Avoid sentences
  • Dark background of the slide
  • No more than six elements per slide

More ideas on how to build a successful presentation can be found in the presentation by  Kery Lee Beasley. Her simple and great advice are the key to success of your presentation for your class (and not only class) and even more – for better communication of your ideas. Check it out – Presentation Design for Kids 

Presentation theme also matters – slidesgo and slidescarnival are amazing resources for an attractive theme of your presentation via PowerPoint, Google Slides, or even Keynote on your Mac.

I found the message from Mark Robinson meaningful – “Even with the great content you can destroy your message simply by the way you are presenting” (How to present to keep your audience’s attention – TEDxEindhoven). I wonder how many times I have done that with my presentations or other visual aid…  It’s time for some changes 🙂

I’m not using presentations in my classes very often, but still have some from this school year and therefore, I looked through my presentations and realized that most of them have to be changed according to the essential elements of a successful presentation that I’ve reviewed. However, my recent experience was a successful utilization of the educational material for a Digital Citizenship topic from Common Sence Media, which also contains lesson slides that include all the necessary teaching material. These presentations as well as videos and posters are really worth attention. Moreover, visual aid like that has significantly increased students’ understanding of the Digital Citizenship topic. Students from K-3 grade levels were attracted by images, videos, and the main characters while students from grades 4-5 got interested in relevant questions, raised in slides, and surely visuals that attract students’ attention as wells as increased motivation for learning.

Design Solutions

I’ve chosen a visual aid that I am using with my students  – a ChromeBook label/nametag. I think this is one of the most important visual aid since students can see it every time when they are using their devices. Here are some changes, that I’ve done to upgrade the label/nametag. First of all, I decided to slightly challenge myself and try a new digital design tool – Piktochart. I loved it very much, its interface is really well built and it took me less than 15 min to learn how to navigate it. The navigation menu has a similar structure to Canva. First of all, I’ve decreased the amount of text as well as the number of elements in the label and organized them in a clear order. The selection of matching colors supplements this visual aid even more by making it more attractive to students’ eyes. In addition, I’ve made the label look similar to a browser window by adding minimize, expand, and close icons in the corner in order to help students learn how to optimize the window on a device.


After that, I’ve shown both visual aids to my students, and the new one was a pleasant surprise to them 🙂 This raised their level of curiosity about online digital design tools. We had a short discussion about a variety of visual aids they get to see every day at school. This was a short brainstorm that led us to an activity during which I’ve implemented one of the protocols from the list – Chalk Talk to gather feedback from my students.

Grade 5 Students were split into groups and each group received a big piece of paper and color markers/pencils. While remaining silent, students had to write 1 thought about visual aids and how do they help learn on that piece of paper. After writing their own ideas, students had to check out their groupmates’ ideas and if they agreed with them – draw the line from their own idea to the groupmate’s idea. I have to be honest – this was a challenge to my students since they got used to working in groups using verbal communication for finding solutions in order to complete the task. I think that next time giving one huge piece of paper to all students to share might be a better solution than splitting them into groups, however, take a look at what they have come up with.

After the activity, we all looked at the results and had a short discussion. Students agreed that visual aid is always more appreciated than just a handout with plain text. Colors, pictures, favorite characters in the same visual aid encourage to pay better attention. This proves that any visual aid develops better communication as well as facilitates a more efficient understanding of the ideas while teaching and learning.



More Visuals – Less Text, Please!

The History of Infographics

The fact mentioned in the brief history of infographics by article (InfoGraphic Designs: Overview, Examples, and Best Practices) that early humans created the very first type of graphical information attracted my attention. Thanks to those pieces of art in the caves, we know so much more about human life during that period. People didn’t have any writing skills, but they could use drawing to tell a story.  It’s incredible how powerful visual information can be – psychologists can define the condition of our mental health by analyzing our drawings. Humans at the very early developing stage such as childhood are mostly learning from images. It is amazing how much non-verbal communication happens between a baby and a mom by expressing feelings, emotions or requests by mimics.

Infographics are traditionally viewed as visual elements such as signs, charts, maps, or diagrams that aid comprehension of given text-based content ()

Even more fascinating facts about infographics history can be found in this TED Talk by Tommy McCall.

Design Journey

I had some design experience before, such as creating yearbook pages using Photoshop and I can tell that it was easy to learn how to use the tools. However, once I got to the creation of the actual design stage, I realized that I lack experimenting in my design process – as the result the designs I came up with were very similar. Later, I have assigned this job to my students and introduced the most important tools and features of the Photoshop. Students didn’t get to see many examples of possible designs so they began experimenting with passion! Oh… I can’t even tell how much I love this process! I saw so many more design options, just because students weren’t afraid to experiment and their surrounding world was different from mine. Success! Later I got an amazing opportunity to participate in a workshop led by Keri-Lee Beasley at one conference. She explained some simple ways of how to see the various elements around us and use them in the design process. We were looking for elements, lines, repetitions, colors, sizes, angles, etc. This was a really great experience. We were experimenting with all of these elements in order to make our own infographics.

My infographic

I evaluate my design skills very carefully. From time to time I have to create my own infographics such as posters, name tags, etc. Many times Canva was my lifesaver.

I’ve made this infographic for a really important purpose. I was thinking about the research unit, which I’m teaching my students from grades 4&5 every school year. This resource will be shared with the students as a PDF file, which contains all the necessary links to the online resources. The purpose of this infographic is to make a research process easier to understand for students. I strongly believe that this visual resource will improve both teaching and learning process.

Icons and Sequence

I’ve emphasized the essential steps of online research and described them using images. My idea was to use as little text as possible and explain the concept by using images and icons. Pictures can say more than words. Canva is a really great tool for that. I could find all the necessary icons and elements in it. I personally like a certain sequence of any online resource which makes navigation easier, therefore, I organized the infographic as a list of steps to follow in order to make effective online research. I also thought that the combination and set of colours is essential in any design and this time I would like to say compliments to again, because it pulls out/generates all the colours already used in the design which allows to easily pick similar colours and maintain integrity of the design.

I love creating infographics, since the process itself is fun, especially once the final result is ready and it is pleasant to your eyes. Using Canva, I’ve made some of my other posters and I like using my own designs because it allows me to add more relevant details, which other posters don’t contain.

My youngest students love exploring icons, so for their Chromebook labels, I’ve created special name labels earlier. I’ve added all the relevant icons for any tool navigation. Students can explore the labels and find the icons of existing digital tools and learn more about them with teacher. You can see an example of it. I made these labels for teaching students the icons of any digital tool. I think introducing icons is essential because many times we explain, that for example the Play button looks like a triangle, and it really looks the same on any digital tools. I believe, that this visual resource on their devices will attract students’ eyes and motivate them for further exploration.

As a teacher of early years age students, I can tell how powerful the visual resources are for students learning. Young students especially love visuals and I strongly believe that successful students’ learning will happen only in a visually well-prepared classroom fulfilled with many visual resources. Visuals engage and motivate students to learn.

Information is beautiful

And yes… Information is beautiful. Check this out! Even the scariest information can be beautiful on the well-designed infographic. I hope someday I will be able to create something similar 🙂

Do you like it as well?

Photo by Brian McGowan on Unsplash


The Power of Collaboration

Collaboration in the Classroom

I was always finding this fact that all of us are different, one the most exciting, especially while working in an educational environment. It is amazing, how differently we can see the world around us. This is especially powerful in any collaboration process.

“It is the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) that those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.”Charles Darwin

Why collaboration?

Collaborative learning can occur peer-to-peer or in larger groups. Research shows, that through peer instruction, students teach each other by addressing misunderstandings and clarifying misconceptions (Collaborative Learning – Cornell University)

Collaborative learning has a significant impact on students’ communication and collaboration skills development. Durin collaborative learning students increase the quality of thinking, oral communication, self-management, leadership, self-esteem, responsibility, etc. They develop a higher quality of their social communication which has a big impact on their future life and employment success. (Collaborative Learning – Cornell University) 

Building Collaboration

This time the group of my choice for facilitating a collaboration process was a group of 5 years old students.

Building collaboration in the classroom takes a lot of steps to plan. First of all, we worked on establishing group work rules. We all agreed that being kind to each other is essential in this process. But what does it mean to be kind while working in a group?

We all talked about possible values of our group work. The ideas we all came up with were:

  • all of us are different and can learn new things from each other;
  • some of us might have a better understanding of the concept we are about to learn and can be really good helpers to others;
  • some of us are better experts in using technology and will be able to assist during the lesson.

After talking about the possible values of group work, we all came up with the roles:

  • Technology expert;
  • Timekeeper;
  • Ipad monitor;
  • Class library assistant;
  • Teacher assistant.

Students got a feeling of responsibility right after they got their roles assigned. Of course, some of the roles required explanation for better understanding.

The goal of the class was to explore a new tech tool – Write Reader – a digital online book creator. Digital book creation is already motivating students by its format. As the final result, the book itself looks more like a real book – it contains all the necessary parts – book cover, title, author, page numbers, pictures, labels, etc. Moreover, students can access each other’s book library, see and read each other’s books. This also might be a great way for students to introduce each other culture of their origin – creating and sharing a book about the home country and culture of each student. After the books are printed, students would go to different grade levels to present their books and read them with their buddies. However, this year, with all the COVID limitations, the presentation will most possibly turn into a virtual meeting. However, this process contains a lot of collaboration and communication between students, which is fun and effective.

The main focus was on the following ISTE standards for students:

1d. Students understand the fundamental concepts of technology operations, demonstrate the ability to choose, use and troubleshoot current technologies, and are able to transfer their knowledge to explore emerging technologies.
3d. Students build knowledge by actively exploring real-world issues and problems, developing ideas and theories and pursuing answers and solutions.
4b. Students select and use digital tools to plan and manage a design process that considers design constraints and calculated risks.


The first step of the digital-book creation process was managing student groups. Students were split into groups of 5 students. Students were informed, that during this class each group will be able to request teachers’ help only once. Students were really surprised after they heard this fact, they were all used to get teacher’s assistance at all times. Right before the activity, we discussed the idea of how can students learn without teachers’ constant instructions/reminders during class time? I could see how sharp their minds became, once they realized that after the tool exploration with teacher’s assistance they will have to work only by themselves and learn together with classmates only. We all looked at the new tool, talked about the features and, most importantly about icons, which help us navigate the digital book creator. During the class, I was only reminding, that they can ask groupmates for help.  All groups had to work on the creation of a book title page. Students of each group could share their knowledge and insights on the digital tool navigation. All three groups had to include a different type of animals in their books. One group was exploring animals living in the desert, other groups worked with ocean animals and the last one had to think about animals in the sky. Students had different areas of explorations and according to the type of animal habitat each group had to come up with a certain book design – book color, image, text, etc.

Groupwork outcomes

At the end of the class, we took a moment to discuss what value working in groups gave them? Students explained that they didn’t need teacher’s assistance since they could receive help from their friends, therefore, they didn’t have to wait so much for a teacher’s attention, because their friends could assist sooner. They could share the experience of the icons they’ve explored on WriteReader. Also, a fun part was searching for pictures and sharing with friends in the group.

For planing this group activity I was following most of the recommended steps from 10 Strategies to Build on Student Collaboration in the Classroom article (George Washington University). Such steps like organizing the groups for maximum effectiveness, teaching students listening to each other, or making goals, and expectations, assigning roles, or using real-world problems are key components in any group work. Applying these elements in planning and organizing the student’s group work raised the effectiveness of the process at least more than twice.

Thinking routines

My next step with this group is to organize an activity of thinking routines. First of all, Flipgrid videos with students’ reflection will be really valuable, especially, knowing the fact that students will be able to see each other’s video reflection on the group work experience. This activity includes students’ concerns, which will lead to a further discussion of teamwork values and challenges. I personally find value in using a Mind Map in order to make my thinking visible. This tool is really effective to start learning a new concept and organizing thoughts. I think this might be a great tool to record the student’s reflection on groupwork insights.

Project Zero’s Thinking Routines Toolbox has also caught my attention. One of the routines I liked a lot is “See Think Wonder”. This routine encourages students to make careful observations and thoughtful interpretations. It helps stimulate curiosity and sets the stage for inquiry. It will perfectly enrich my book creation activity. In this case, this Digital Book creator tool successfully supplements any curriculum. In addition, another similar tool is Book Creator – a digital tool that allows more editing opportunities and more flexible tools to unleash the creativity and design skills of your students. My 5 years old students will explore it later in the year.

For more digital tools for thinking routines check out the Tech Tools to Try (with Thinking Routines) in 2020 article. Some additional great activities/protocols for students’ learning can be found here – Critical Friends Group Protocols. This one has a big list of activities and icebreakers for students for middle and high school, however, it is worth attention and better exploration, because some of the activities can be adapted to younger age students.

It is amazing how valuable technology is for educators, especially thinking about the amount of all that information and opportunities to share and exchange. However, we are getting more and more addicted to it. You probably know that disappointing and frustrating feeling of the lost wifi connection during your school day. I strongly believe that all talented educators can teach without technology, but I have to admit, that it is essential to have it right now.