Bethany's Blog

Just another Globally Connected Learning Sites site

Not very globally connected…YET!


Prior to this school year, the only connections I made were one sided. By that I mean, I never contributed to the connection, I merely took. I would search Google, Pinterest,, read blogs, listen to podcasts about teaching looking for ideas and inspiration. While I was busy taking, I didn’t stop to realize how much I could be giving. Furthermore, I didn’t see how making global connections could enhance the experiences with my students. Thankfully after joining the Silvia Tolisano cohort, I see the value in these connections and how they must be at least two sided!

When I began reflecting on my year, I was going to start apologizing for how far I didn’t get in the process of making global connections, and then I sat down and literally wrote out everything I had accomplished. It was only then that I realized I am not just floating stagnantly, but I have come so far! This is what documenting AS learning is all about! Wow! I was amazed with my progress and then, my documenting for learning coach Silvia Tolisano said to me, “you have actually come much farther than I thought you would”. Now I truly felt like I am on the road to accomplishing my goal, and that learning and growing had taken place in a meaningful way. Now I am invested in making global connections and have began to witness how myself and my students can benefit in so many meaningful ways. At the same time, I wonder why making these connections is so difficult and why it takes so much time and effort? Silvia shared with me a blog she wrote “Collaboration Projects Doomed to Fail”. I learned that it’s not going to be so easy after all, and these obstacles are exactly the ones I’m facing in growing my professional learning network (PLN).

How did I begin? I told everyone I knew that I was looking to make connections globally with other Jewish Schools. To prepare my students, I had them first investigate their roots and family stories that could later be compared with those of our global connections. This was a great first step. Once I began the process of searching for a partner school, Rabbi Finkelstein had an idea. He had a contact in Panama that he would reach out to. We got a response right away and I was so excited. I put all of my eggs in one basket and waited for this connection to pan out. Ultimately, this connection fell through perhaps because my over eagerness scared them off with my “big project idea”, or maybe lack of time or interest. I quickly learned that relying on one connection is simply not enough and I would need MANY other connections and LOTS of patience!

I’ve learned that there are many stumbling blocks that lie within making global connections. The three major ones that I found are: personal teaching schedules, time zones, and lack of interest on the other persons’ end. I trolled through Twitter countess times looking for connections that that would expand my PLN. I sent out tweets looking for schools to participate in Mystery Skype sessions. I took time during class to have my grade five students search the World Wide Web looking for Jewish schools around the world. We looked for email addresses, researched time zones, school hours, and we brainstormed questions we could ask these schools if we made contact. The grade five class sent out 10 emails and didn’t get one answer. I got some bites on Twitter from my posts, but nothing came of them. The students and I were getting discouraged, but we kept going. Then Melissa sent me a contact of a Jewish school in Toronto. Not exactly the kind of global connection we were looking for, as they were in the same country, time zone, cultures are the same… but we would take it! The teacher at this school was very receptive to trying out a Mystery Skype and I (the experienced one) helped guide him through the process. I sent him some useful documents that I created for my use:

Mystery Skype Questions

Mystery Skype Rules

Mystery Skype Jobs

The teacher and I emailed back and forth a few times and then, we did a Mystery Skype. My students were prepared, they were all assigned jobs and were ready to go. The other class had not done a lot of the prep work that I believe is required. They didn’t do a practice run between them to “feel” what it’s like to be on camera. It appeared that they had been assigned jobs, but these jobs were not clear. It was disorganized on their end. But this was all ok! We were the teachers and we were teaching them what to do during a Mystery Skype call. We felt good after, even though it only took a few questions to learn each others’ location. In order to further embrace this connection, I asked the partner teacher to collaborate on a Flipgrid where the students could reflect on their Passover traditions. Even though all the kids live in Canada, I wondered if they have unique traditions they do at their Passover seder that come from their grandparents or different cultures. It seems like putting an orange on the seder plate was the most common and afikoman hunting came in second. We didn’t get to hear many unique or different traditions, but they did have the chance to talk about Passover with kids they don’t know. Reflecting on the activity, I should have allowed the partner teacher to be a co-pilot, so that he could delete posts that were not relevant. Some students comments were slightly inappropriate and the Flipgrid was no longer being used for Passover comments so I had to take it off line. 

This leads me to talk about digital citizenship. This has been a big part of our learning. First we discussed that when we are online, we are ambassadors for our school, and how others view us, is a peek into the halls and classrooms of OJCS. We want others to see that we have good manners, we are competent in the use of technology and we know our online netiquette. Students practised looking into the camera, beginning a skype session with a short greeting, eliminating background noise, sitting still, speaking loud and clear, and being mindful of your facial expressions. The grade 5’s are now ready for future online interactions and hopefully this learning will help guide them during other social interactions.

For my planning perspective, I had to plan for a global audience and global learning. I used the KWHLAQ chart “for the 21st Century” in my mind to help guide me. The first 5 steps came naturally for me: assessing what I know already, gathering information, creating a plan, executing the plan, showing our learning, teaching others, even reflecting on what we’ve accomplished. The area I struggled with and still do is the Questions step. This is not a natural step for me. I usually do my unit with a goal in mind and once that goal is met, I consider myself done. I don’t normally reflect afterwards on the process or think about what new questions I have. In my monthly conversations with Silvia, she often brought up the “Q” step and how beneficial it could be in documenting for learning. 

KWHLAQ chart template

So, where do I GROW from here? I have made some further connections in Budapest, Panama and Ecuador due to an email rampage I went on one Sunday afternoon literally searching up random schools all over the world and sending a blanket email to them. I hope that these teachers will make space in their busy schedules to consider how investing time and energy into making global connections can enrich their programs. My goal is to do a Pineapple PD during my next Mystery Skype session so that my colleagues can learn from my students and me! As I head into these new connections, I want to document my learning as I go. I want to ask questions to myself and my students to help us reflect on not only what we learned, but what we could change in the future. I want to ask what new questions we might have as we are in the process. Additionally, I want to reflect in new ways. My “go to” is to write about what I’ve done. There are so many other interesting ways to document: video, pictures, post to Twitter, take more pictures, interview each other and more. And lastly, I want to be an inspiration for others.

This is an exciting journey and I know that I have only scratched the surface, but with every step, I am learning, understanding and appreciating the connections I am making.

Sketchnoting Journey



Today is the first time I will be trying to sketch note. I honestly don’t know what sketchnoting means (yet). I wonder if this is something I may be good at? I like to doodle but I’m not very good at drawing. My students and I often make fun of my drawings when I try to illustrate things on the board for them.

Let’s see what this is all about.

Hmm, I thought I would enjoy sketching more. I felt rushed to get the information down so I didn’t have the opportunity to make it look “pretty”. I’m going to try using sketchnote again but with less information to document and more time available to work on it. I think I may like it more.


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Collaboration in Progress!


What learning did I see happening?

Today I had the opportunity to observe a math lesson guided by a series of open ended questions. The lesson was given by my good friend and colleague, Julie, and assisted by the lovely, Faye. I wasn’t sure what lens I would be observing the lesson through. I expected to see a math lesson where students showed their knowledge of multiplication. I expected the students to show their answers through pictures, words and numbers. Since I am a Judaic Studies teacher, I knew that looking at the lesson through a math lens would not necessarily be useful for me. I decided to look at how the students were able to collaborate with each other.


I observed four groups, two students per group, and each group was chosen at random. I had the advantage of knowing these students very well as I was their teacher last year when they were in grade two. In a way, I already had a sense of what I might expect as I began observing each group. I tried my best to keep my biases aside. In the first group that I observed, each of them read the question they were given separately. Then they began, separately, writing down the answer. They finished the first question in just a couple of minutes without even speaking to each other. With the second question in hand, they began to read it separately but soon realized that this question was much more complex, so they read it again, together. They decided to develop a system to work together. One boy was the “idea giver” and the other was the “writer”. They did switch roles a few times as each of them had something to add to the others’ role. So towards the end, they were truly collaborating. Success!

The next group I noticed that from the very beginning, they worked together beautifully. They explained to each other exactly what were doing throughout the process. Neither took more of a leadership role than the other, and worked positively the entire time. Such a delight it was to see these two working and respecting each other. The next group were two boys who never quite got into a groove. One was clearly the boss and everything his partner did was not good enough. He was constantly putting his partner down and eventually just began doing his own work and not collaborating at all. When I asked them at the end how they think they worked together, their responses showed that they were frustrated with each other. One of the boys commented, “My partner wouldn’t let me do any of the work and kept crossing out my numbers when I made a mistake.” Julie mentioned that these two had been paired up based on math skill level alone. The last group I observed was a fascinating pair. One team member immediately took the lead as quite possibly they knew that their partner wouldn’t necessarily want the lead, and would actually appreciate having their partner take the lead. What a leader this student was! This student explained what they were doing the entire time so that their partner was not left out. The partner commented to me, “We worked it out together, Morah Batya! It was really good.” Both members were content and happy!

Making Globally Connected Jewish Students


It is very important for students to recognize their strengths, weaknesses, traits, where they come from, their traditions and culture, etc, as all of these items build their identities. It is also important that these same students are exposed to the global community so that they are able to see how other people live around the world.  Once students make global connections, they are able to see the diverse cultures and traditions that exist. When we connect with these communities, it will give the students the opportunity to compare and contrast others’ traditions, etc, with those of our own.

For my “Professional Growth Plan” this year, my grade five students will have the opportunity to learn how to interact with students from different cultures all around the world. As Jews in particular, being globally connected is important as it shows us that we are part of a much bigger community, and that there are Jewish people living all over the world, speaking different languages, eating different foods, celebrating holidays a bit differently. It allows the students to feel validated and realize they are not alone in the world. In addition, it gives our students the understanding that we Canadians ought to feel fortunate that we have the freedom to practice Judaism.

To date, I have completed the first few steps in the process…

My grade 5 Judaic Studies class has been using the book “Friends Across the Sea” to learn about different Jewish communities around the world.

Students were assigned to interview a grandparent to learn about their migration path to Canada, how their families were affected by the Holocaust, and how their families assimilated into Canadian culture. This showed the students that even though our families came from all around the world, (mostly Eastern Europe and Morocco), we come together, as one Jewish community, here in Ottawa.

Grade five has prepared a list of questions for  Mystery Skype calls. We began by splitting the classes into two groups. Each group decided on the location they would “pretend” to be at for the mock Mystery call. They practiced in separate rooms to be ready for the call. Then we made a Skype call from separate classes, each with a teacher supervising. It took about 30 minutes for the groups to guess each others locations once we figured out all of the technology pieces.

Now the students were ready to make a Mystery Skype call with Silvia Tolisano in Florida. The students used their skills to choose their jobs, place the call,  review the rules of the call with Silvia, and ask the questions in order to guess her location. This only took about 15 minutes, however, Silvia already knew our location in Ottawa. The final step in the Mystery Skype will be to connect with another classroom somewhere in the world and try to find out each others’ locations.

Once the students and I are more comfortable using Skype, we will take my PGP to the next level. Using connections suggested to me by Silvia as well as some of my own, we will connect with other Jewish Schools around the world. We will interview them to compare and contrast our traditions at home, our schools, and our communities. In doing this, the students will hopefully see the value in connecting globally with Jewish students around the world.

In the meantime, talking about getting comfortable with Skype, Grade 2 has had the opportunity to Skype two times with a grade 1-2 class in Smiths Falls. The first call was to teach the students in Smiths Falls about Hanukkah and the second call was for the Smiths Falls school to teach grade 2 at OJCS all about Christmas. We plan to do round two come Easter and Passover.


How Will the Current Flow?


As a teacher I am constantly thinking about my lessons. How am I going to introduce a topic, what supplies will I need, how will I make it engaging for the students, and on and on. This is literally on my mind almost all waking moments of my day. Whether I’m walking through the aisles of the grocery store, making dinner at night or sitting at my son’s football practice, I am thinking about something related to my teaching. I would bet that this same thing is true for almost all teachers. Teaching is not just our jobs, it’s our life. We live it while we are in the classroom, of course, but also when I’m with my own children, my nieces and nephews, and even my children’s friends. I have a tendency to take teachable moments to help others. For example, last weekend, my son and his friends wrote a speech to say at a Bar Mitzvah party. Not only did I make sure that boys edited the speech so that it made sense, I also reminded them just before going up, to speak loudly and clearly so everyone could hear and understand them. No doubt this is also merely a parenting job, but many times other have commented that it’s the “teacher in me” that makes sure these kinds of things run smoothly.

Now for the tricky part. What happens when things go exactly the opposite way that you had planned? A lesson is bombed, the kids don’t understand what you’ve taught, it isn’t as engaging as you’d hoped? Well, we all know that it is not the end of the world. We can start over and try again. No biggie. BUT what about when you have planned a great lesson and the kids decide to take it in a completely different direction?? GO WITH IT! I love when this happens. I taught a story in Hebrew last week and made some props to help with their understanding of the story. I had a follow up activity planned but the students started asking if they could create their own props to tell the story. Luckily I have a big bin of scrap construction paper in my class so they got straight to work. The props were made and story was told. Such a simple idea, yet it engaged each student in the goal to understand the vocabulary in the story. So, after all the planning, and thinking, and creating I do all of the time, you never really know which way the current will flow and you have to be prepared to ride it wherever it takes you.


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A Teacher’s Learning Journey


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Straws and Connectors


Woah! I am finished day two of three where I am learning how to document my learning AS a learner. Still trying to wrap my head around all of the information that is being hurled my way by experts and those passionate in their roles. Silvia Tolisano is inspiring me to reach beyond my comfort zone and to realize that straws and connectors are of no use alone. They need to be put together to build something that can make learning more meaningful, more current, less linear. We are the straws, and the world wide web, and all of it’s tools are our connectors.

I was way too shy to volunteer to be a moderator, but since these amazing ladies made it look so easy, I may just volunteer next time!


Today we had the opportunity to skype with the connector maven, Jocelyn Blumgart, in the field of documenting learning. How amazing that this woman, literally on the other side of the world, was able to have a live conversation with us. Imagine how I could connect with teachers all over the world to share ideas about what we teach in the classroom without even leaving my brand new living room couch!

As I slowly creep into the 21st century, I’m hopeful that I’ll be blasted off into the 22nd, with just a little more confidence and a little less panicking. Can’t wait to see what my straws and connectors can build!

This is before I realized I better stop taking pictures and listen to Jocelyn!

Josh was my rock star! As a brand new “twitterer” he volunteered to tweet out our skype date. So brave!


Ok, for some reason this picture won’t save after I rotate it. Hmm. Help!






Here goes nothing…


Ok, so clearly I didn’t play with enough play dough as a kid. 🙂 Today was wonderful, even though I entered panic mode several times. Thankfully only for a brief periods. So excited (and totally freaked out) for the adventure that lies ahead.


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