Community Engagement

Community Connections

Over the course of the last few months I have really tried to make a conscious effort to seek out collaborative and connecting opportunities.  I have tried to do this through twitter as I find it easiest to use and the network I have developed is fairly strong on this platform.  I really wanted to highlight my twitter activity as of late so I have implemented a recipe from IFTTT (If This, Than That) which allowed me to aggregate my twitter mentions and showcases the conversations I have been having between fellow COETAILers, and others, in lead up to our final project and other educators on twitter.

I recently connected with Brian Jackson at ISB Bangkok and our DT classes are looking to share some ideas and examples of what we’ve been up to.  We have also asked Brian’s class to be consultants for our Middle Schoolers as they experience the Design Thinking Cycle.  Its incredible what can happen when you open yourself and your classroom up to others.  I suppose this takes a level of risk taking and a growth mindset, but I hope my experiences might spur others at my school.

Below is again an example of how I used IFTTT to manage tweets that I was favouriting.  I know that Twitter does this as a list automatically but I also wanted to track my activity via this google app.

Attempted Connections

I attempted to connect via Google+ but felt that Twitter was a more manageable platform for me.  I think as a father, a husband, a teacher, an artist, and son I needed to decide on one application and stick to it.  Likewise I wanted to spend time cultivating my PLN on Twitter and thus focused my attentions there.  This being said – I did end up joining the Google Educators Group in the UAE and will actually be presenting to this group about my COETAIL final project on May 2nd.

Google Educators Group UAE Community
Google Educators Group UAE Community

I also posted on the Coetail Course 5 Project board set up by Vivian looking for other participants in our quad but in the end didn’t get any real response and ultimately chose to go with educators from ASD Dubai whom I spoke to face to face.

My attempts at connecting via Google +
My attempts at connecting via Google +

Relying on Old Faithful

When Twitter didn’t do the trick, my fellow group mates and I of course resorted to connecting via Google Docs and good ol fashioned email. The docs we created were shared and edited collaboratively (see other post on my final project for the examples) and we were able to of course connect within these two forms easily and often.

43 Back and Forths between our collaborative quad
43 Back and Forths between our collaborative quad

A really cool attempt by our group to connect was through Google Hangouts. I must sadly say that only on one occasion did we manage to get 3 of us involved in a group call but our attempts at a Google Hangout may have been hampered by my school’s administrative settings. In speaking with the tech department and legitimising my needs my access has recently been changed and I hope we can get a Hangout on Air working soon.

Reflecting on my community involvement I realize the importance of sustained connection through conversation, sharing, and exploring. I recently added the idea of starting our Art Department meetings with a 5 minute twitter search revolving around key hashtags pertinent to our Fine and Performing Arts Department. Not everyone in my group is on twitter and I got some pretty interesting looks from some teachers, but when I shared with them the power of a PLN via twitter I think that many interests were piqued.

Scrolling through the tweets from IFTTT – I really get a sense of my last three months of activity. I see what I was sharing, who was interested in it and how far my ideas as a connected educator were reaching. This is pretty powerful stuff and I even showed it to my Curriculum Co-ordinator who subsequently joined twitter – feel free to follow her – @lisaemborsky  Looking at what I have been tweeting and my nodes of connection also showcase for me an incredible wealth of professional growth and recognition of outstanding opportunities.  It really is incredible how connecting can lead to collaborating, which can lead to a changed pedagogical approach!

The Future

I noticed on Vivian’s Coetail Google + community that there will be a chat about “Life after COETAIL”.  This really got me thinking.  What will happen after COETAIL as a course I take is over?  In the words of Reid Wilson’s infographic back from Course 3 – “Coetail is more than a course it is a way of life” – my PLN is developing everyday, my students feel the impact of my learning, my thoughts on teaching and learning have changed drastically.  Whats incredible is that all of this started by attending Learning 2 back in Singapore in 2013.  Who knew the path it would set for me.  Now the path is wide open and it is my turn to push myself along it.  I am ready and willing to continue to challenge myself in this journey of teaching and learning and I know I will have my community right there along the way with me.  Nicki, Anne, and everyone – although we are far away physically – we are only ever a tweet away.

Course 5 Final Project: Video & Reflection

First off I need to thank my students, my PLN, my fellow COETAILers and instructors but especially Nicki Hambleton and Anne Driligen.  Without these two incredible Art educators this project would not have happened.  Making this video has been a fun experience – its asked me to think about my final project in a visual and critical way – which as an art teacher I appreciated doing!

I think in the end the product we have created is pretty amazing.  A venue for students to discuss, connect, and reflect about Art they are creating and created by other Middle School students is pretty incredible.  The fact that it involves students from varied locations also adds to the exciting nature of this project.  My students have been incredible during the process and I can only say how much I appreciate their help and support.  I tell them this all the time.  It has been a really wonderful way to connect with my students around learning with a capital ‘L’.  Its really great when students in my class prompt me with “Hey Mr. McGrady – how’s your course going?”  What I hope to be able to ask them some time is – “Hey how is that blog you are part of going?” as the gradual release of our Quadblogging takes hold.

My video was created using a screen capture using Quicktime and voice over of a Haiku deck of images taken by myself or searched through the image search function in Haiku.  This meant that all of the images I used were either self taken or applied to CC licence which would allow for use and modification.

 My Project

If you or your students would like to make a comment on OUR art – please check out –

Our Art Quadblogging Google Doc

-feel free to use – below is a blank template

Blank Template

Student Feedback about the Process

The Haiku Deck without Voice Over

-just in case you were interested.

Peer Feedback Goes Global – Created with Haiku Deck, presentation software that inspires


Below is the UBD of the unit

Community Engagement Tool

As part of our community engagement for course 5 it is important that we showcase our presence within our PLN.  I came across IFTTT and realized I could use their recipes to do exactly this.

The recipe I am using to keep track of twitter mentions as part of my PLN engagement.
The recipe I am using to keep track of twitter mentions as part of my PLN engagement.

This is what it looks like in Drive.
The site is really easy to use and allows for this recipe to run in the background.  In my Drive a new folder was created and aggregates the tweets where I am mentioned. Super cool!

I also did the same for any tweets that I favorite so I can keep track of conversations and involvement this way as well.

Just wanted to share!  Enjoy!

Canva – part two – worth a look for teaching Design

Student’s thoughts on Canva and final reflections

Our journey in Canva is coming to a close and I wanted to reflect on some of the success and failures we have experienced over the past 6 weeks.  I wanted to do this via the student’s words so I left it to them.  To give you the background, students worked on formative classwork which asked them to work through a variety of Canva’s tutorials.  These tutorials were posted on their student portfolios (Google Site) and were accompanied by some reflective points for each section.  Then students worked towards both a formative and summative assessment which they designed based around needs in the class and in the broader school community.

Has working on Canva helped you see graphic design differently?  If so, how?  If not?  Why do you think that is?

Yes I believe it has made me look at it differently. To start off, before I thought that Graphic Design was designing on a computer. And then putting it online. But I realized it is used for the real world such as planners, invitations, etc. I also found how stressful it is to pick one design of all you made because you are working on something then you realize you want to try something out so you duplicate it and try it then you go back and look which one over all looks better and you do this many times. – Student -Grade 8


How would you have changed the structure of the work you did?  Things to consider:

  • using your portfolio as the house for your work.

I liked the way we did it except maybe next time we could try more mini formatives. Like the teacher sends students a presentation to each one where you have to correct different things to see if the kids understood the concept of each section. And I also think we could of housed our work in one presentation which we put on the portfolio.

– Student – Grade 8

  • working through tutorials

I liked the tutorials because I could work through them at my own pace.  I also liked that they were all similar, they all had a do and learn section which I liked a lot.

– Student – Grade 8

  • Using docs, drive, and or other means to share your work

I also think we could of housed our work in one presentation which we put on the portfolio. Because it is easier to edit things on there. And its easier to upload pictures to a presentation for everyone to see.

-Student – Grade 8

Below are some examples of a student’s portfolio which is how they housed their formative and summative work.

Responding to formative work : screenshot taken with the permission of the student
Responding to formative work : screenshot taken with the permission of the student
planner cover.
Image of summative design challenge: Screen shot taken with permission of the student
Unit Work
Connecting Section in student portfolio: student’s tutorial work organized on Google Drive.







Round 1 of Quadblogging: Student Reflections

I can only say I am incredibly impressed that 28 8th graders can comment so positively about a shared experience. I am so excited that they see the potential in this project. I thought the comment from one student about the inequity of responses was a good point and possibly one to discuss with the group. What is the basis of why he/she is not getting their work looked at? What could this student take from this?

All in all – so far – so good!

Our Plan and Our PLN – Art Students of the World Connect


Our original posts on connecting our Ideas
Our original posts on connecting our Ideas



Initial Plans on Twitter and PLN
Initial Plans on Twitter and PLN
Twitter Plans
Getting Set and Getting Going


Initial Planning on Twitter and PLN
Initial Planning on Twitter and PLN



Our initial planning session was a smashing success not only did it bring us all together to talk about our common goal it also humanized the experience of virtual communication.  It was such a pleasure to see all of the tweets and google docs come together to finally have a grounding.  Perhaps this is sentimental and or lame but as I have seen both of my colleagues grow and develop over twitter and through their blogs, it was a real joy to see their faces light up as we jointly figured our way through a Google + hangout.

Things I Came to Know

  • Having a moderator worked with a virtual conversation dynamic
  • Collaborating across 4 hours time difference wasn’t as difficult as I thought it might be

Things for Next Time

  • Next time we will use Hangouts On Air as using Snagit to screen capture went terribly wrong.  Although I am sure it was all my doing!
  • Next time I would like to have a more interactive experience in terms of being able to share and reference documents we are already shared in.  I think if I play around with Hangouts a little more I will find ways of doing this.

Documents we are Using

Quadblogging template – to connect classroom blogs.

Planning Document after our first Hangout


What has come from our Hangout and twitter conversations is a focus and intent for our project moving forward.  Our plan focuses on getting our Art classes connected via a quadblogging format.  All of the participants are new to quadblogging and I hope the format is going to be manageable for us all.  I think our plan to have another Hangout after our first round of blogging and commenting is a good one.  I also hope we will be able to have the teachers from ASDubai involved in that as well.  It was a shame they were unable to attend the first Hangout as it was a great experience.  We have each chosen to connect one class, as a way to keep things manageable.  Also for keeping things manageable we have chosen a class blog over individual students connecting.


An interesting, albeit 3 year old, article from Edutopia about Quadblogging in the US

Some action research on quadblogging from Silvia Tolisano @Langwitches 


It sounds like all of us will be using Blogger as our blogging format and I hope our students will not have any issues commenting as they follow the visual thinking routines outlined from Nicki or the PQP framework I provided in the document above.  I will admit I am nervous about the level of discussion amongst students and wanting to keep things open ended we have not chosen to give themes to discuss for the blog posts from students.  We will have to see how this goes.


We have an ambitious plan and I hope it is manageable in the time frame given.  I think there is a need for this type of idea and I am excited how it has dovetailed with the curriculum work I have done this year regarding peer feedback amongst my students. With this quadblogging format I hope I am able to expand my student’s network and allow for a more diverse selection of voices commenting on our artwork.



Canva – Design School – Teaching and Learning / Some Goings on

I’ve wanted to write this post for a while now.  But have been unsure about how and why I might.  Finally I decided it was worthwhile when I noticed my friend and fellow Online 2 COETAILER – Nicki Hambleton had tweeted about it.  If it’s good enough for Nicki – the queen of visuals in our group – it’s good enough to discuss further and definitely my teaching.

Design Journey

3 weeks ago I began my journey to teach my students Design with a capital D.  As the semester started students were fresh, I was coming off a great experience in a Middle School Fine Arts Invitational (another post coming soon) and I had the good idea to teach my Design and Technology course in a new way.  This semester I was going to explore careers in Design as the units of study.  The first was Graphic Design due to the fact that I myself had recently completed a wonderful bunch of tutorials in Canva‘s Design School.

I had come across Canva last year and had played around with it finding new templates for graphic design that I was using in my class and for making our Middle School student planer cover.  I was impressed with the familiar styles it offered and the relatively easy to use interface in general.  What sold me was a new feature – Design School.  What I love about Design School is the way it is organized.  There are three main sections for any viewer to explore within Design School these include: a blog, tutorials, and teaching materials.

Screen capture taken on February 22nd, 2015 from
Screen capture taken on February 22nd, 2015 from

I was of course drawn to the teaching materials and found them to be well thought out units designed by teachers, for teachers, using Canva as a platform for teaching Design.  What I really liked was the age groups it was tackling – resources geared towards elementary students made me believe I could bring similar content to my Middle School Design students.  I was also very interested in the teaching materials provided in the workshop model presented.  This seemed like intelligent chunking of material paired with teaching examples which would benefit any student.

Screen capture taken from on February 22nd, 2015
Screen capture taken from on February 22nd, 2015 – Showing Workshops

Screen capture taken from on February 22nd, 2015
Screen capture taken from on February 22nd, 2015 – Showing Lesson Plans

I was also interested in the tutorial section of the Design School.  I had experienced online tutorial format for teaching in a course I taught on HTML which used Codecademy as the learning platform.  The feedback I got from students about this blended model of teaching and learning was that they appreciated specific support, and also the means to progress at their own pace.  The tutorials in Design School are similarily set out with simple activities organized via main Design components such as Fonts, Layout, Color etc.  Further the tutorials take on a simple Learn and then Do format where students can see an example and then act on what they see in the simple sandbox in the next cell.  I also appreciate that each of the Learn and Do tutorials include a video in case students need additional independent help with the app, albeit not the actual design.

Screen capture taken on Sunday February 22, 2015 from
Screen capture taken on Sunday February 22, 2015 from – Showing Learning and Doing


My only complaint is that I wish the content found a way to get more and more difficult as the tutorials progressed, often this was not the case.  To an extent the final three tutorials ask students to showcase their skills, but at the same time I would like to see more obvious progression within a single tutorial set up.

Classroom Logistics

Back in my classroom I have my students working through Canva Design School independently and at the end of each tutorial they download the Learn and Do from the module/tutorial and share this on their student google site.

Student Google Folder storing images of their work - found on their Student Portfoilo
Student Google Folder storing images of their work – found on their Student Portfoilo

Students also reflect on 3 key tips they can take away from that group of tutorials my hope being that by completing the section on Fonts they might have 3 points to remember when it comes to independent application.  All of this work basically acts as their notes on learning Design and is stored on their student portfolio as evidence of their learning.

Real World Applications

My hope with using Canva to teach Design was that my students might come to better understand how to effectively communicate ideas.  So I set it to them – I asked,

What would be an applicable formative and summative assessment of your knowledge?

How would I know they had learned elements of graphic design and garner a better of Design in general?  For their formative learning they wanted to use an invitation to a birthday party as a means of showcasing their developing knowledge.  They also asked if they could use a template from the Canva site.   As it is an assessment for learning we agreed that using a template was ok in this circumstance but would not be true in a summative scenario.  Somehow, like all good realeasing of ownership in teaching, the birthday party invitation became a birthday party invitation for a student in the class; and of course somehow the birthday turned into a tea party birthday for said young man who was turning 14.  As this was happening I was thinking “oh no, this is losing credibility, they are not going to take it seriously etc.”  but then I realized this was a perfect opportunity to explore deeper the design thinking framework which I had hoped to employ in the this class.
Design Thinking process in the Chapters Dialogue project

What was wonderful was that by making it a real class design question we could consult the student and really Understand the beginning of the design cycle. Thus came the questions from students:

LMS update of information and assignment for formative assessment in DT
LMS update of information and assignment for formative assessment in DT

I can’t wait to see a tea part invitation that incorporates Manchester City blue!

Some Concluding Points

My students decided that an applicable summative for this unit would be for them to design next year’s Middle School Student Planner covers.  As they leave Middle School and move up to High School they felt it a nice way to leave their mark on being in the middle.  These young graphic designers, as I hope they come to see themselves, will hopefully take away the transfer goal that good design can and should be employed in all that we do.  Likewise it is something that can be learnt through practice and application, feedback and revisiting work.  Working through Canva so far has been a great vehicle to learn graphic design and as they say the proof is in the pudding:

Things I've learnt from Syd
Things I’ve learnt from Syd

After the first round of critiques here are a sampling of works from student’s.  We discovered a lot about motives for design, stylistic concerns, and what overall theme was most applicable.  As a group students also came to understand the importance of careful editing (we had some grammar issues – don’t tell their LA teachers).

I was impressed with the critical eye students were able to take on others’ work and I hope the critique cycle will allow them a better understanding of what level of work is expected.  I started with own designs and allowed students to explain what they thought was working and not working about each.


Work of Julian used with permission of the artist.
Work of Julian used with permission of the artist.
Work of Lucy - used with permission from the artist
Work of Lucy – used with permission from the artist
Work of Dalya - used with permission of the artist
Work of Dalya – used with permission of the artist




Course 4: If These Walls Could Talk – Augmented Art Exhibtion

Bridging the Gap Between Viewer and Artist

creative commons licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by COD Newsroom

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

In the end – I don’t know if this is completely great unit for course 5, but I do see this as a great first step towards what I am hoping my course 5 project will become.  As much as this is a push for me – in that the unit is new and completely different to anything I have undertaken in the end it really doesn’t make a huge leap in the SAMR scale. Really the major tech integration would be using a new app to create an advanced audio/video guide to an art exhibition.  This being said – I have wanted to test this out and think it will be an excellent unit for my 8th Grade artists.  I really want to give them the opportunity to experience art exhibitions in multiple platforms and therefore this face to face exhibition will be the stepping stone to a virtual one I will look to hold near the end of the school year.

Currently exhibiting at the art gallery in Abu Dhabi, is a show from the Guggenheim collection called “Seeing Through Light”.  The exhibition is a series of European and American artists from the 50s and 60s minimalist movement.  All of the works call on light as part of the piece whether it be perceived light or light acting on the space or artwork.  I find it incredibly cool!  I am not so sure what my students will think…..For this reason we will be heading out to the gallery to experience the artwork first hand as part of the prep for our exhibition.  Students will have a chance to do a workshop, see the gallery and hopefully open their minds to minimalist art.  What I envision happening is giving half of the students an audio guide which would contextualise the artwork for them, the other half will experience the artwork without.  I can’t wait to hear what people’s perceptions are afterwards.  Some the of the work on exhibit really is difficult to connect to and without context some pieces seem vague or difficult to read as art.  I was visiting the exhibition the other day and I heard a visitor note “It just looks like a big Venn Diagram”…..  I really want to get at bridging the gap between artist, artwork, and audience with this unit, and I think we can do it.

Like I said previously, this unit will be a precursor to that which I am planning for my Course 5 final project.  A major goal of our Art department this year has been to increase the amount of peer feedback students are engaging in.  We are using this feedback as formative and corrective assessments whereby other students have voice in helping one another in the learning process.  We have had great success with this but now I sense it is time to take it to the next step.  In my last post on a connectivist classroom – I asked if anyone would like to buddy up and have their art classes give feedback and comment on student art work, both through the working process and on finished pieces.  Anne Driligen in our cohort agreed to join in the fun and she and I will be connecting our classes next term.  Ultimately, students will share their student portfolios where they house images of their developing and finished artwork and then ask for feedback from students from the other school.  From this online interaction of feedback and comments, I would like to see students selecting artworks, with the help of their buddies, which they would like to exhibit formally.  This would ideally happen via the google cultural institute which has opened its virtual gallery doors to artists and schools out there.  Alternatively we will craft a Google site which can be our virtual gallery platform.  I really want my students to become curators, collaborators, and connected to other art students around the globe.  If anyone else out there would like to be involved please let me know.  The more the merrier – in fact I was hoping to set up a quadblogging sort of scenario if possible.

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

Well – in years past I would have done all of this work – now I am opening it up to students to do – I love it when curriculum takes on practical life experiences.  Planning and implementing an art event is a great learning experience for my students, and I am looking forward to experiencing it from a different perspective this year.

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

Patience, troubleshooting, collaboration, dedication, organization, an eye for detail, curation, – I love it – great things to be learned here.