Author Archives: Caitlin Howald

I’ve got sew much to learn!

This week’s content was actually quite timely as my Grade 5 teaching team works to finalize the plans for our PYP Exhibition. (For those of you not familiar with PYP, here is a short description of the PYP Exhibition from the IB.) For the last couple of years, our exhibition was driven largely by students’ passions. First and foremost, our goal was for students to be engaged in learning that they were excited about! However, through our teacher reflections, it became quite obvious that we were missing something, purpose for the learning.

So with that being said, our guiding statement for this year’s PYPx is passion for a purpose. Within this framework, students will be encouraged to identify a passion and use it to achieve one of the 5 types of action described in the Enhanced PYP. We are hoping that this will help give guidance and structure to students as they work through their learning process!

Five Types of Action (Image by @terSonya)

So, you might be wondering where I’m going with this. What does this have to do with me learning a new skill? Don’t worry, I’m getting there!

My Inspiration

A few of Alecia’s projects (Images courtesy of @alecialoo)

As a teaching team, we have also discussed the idea that it may not always be the case that passion leads to purpose. It is possible for a purpose to create a passion. One of my colleagues, Alecia, will be sharing with our Grade 5 students her experience with this. In the last couple of years, Alecia has become an avid sewer.

She is mostly self-taught, using a variety of online resources and books to learn. She has identified that one of the driving forces in acquiring this skill was that she had difficulty finding clothing that she liked and that fit her well. Purpose developed her passion. 

Over the last year, Alecia has created clothing, gifts, and other household items for herself and others! She has shared this passion with students and has even started a sewing club (Sew Social!) at our school to help other staff learn!

Sewing is a skill that I have been wanting to learn for quite a while now, but just keep not getting around to it. This week’s assignment might just be the push I need!

Taking action!

So here’s my plan! I know it’s not going to be easy; and I know I’m going to have to push through the frustration barrier that Kaufman discussed in his TED Talk; but, I’m excited to see what I can create! I will keep you posted as to how it goes!

For any of you out there with any knowledge or expertise in this area, I’d love to hear from you! Please send any tips, tricks, or tools that I should not miss my way!!

The times are changing…we’ve gotta change too!

We work together to challenge and support our students to be successful and responsible in an evolving world.

This is one of the statements in my school’s mission. In order to challenge and support our students in this ever-changing world, we need to accept that teaching as we know it, is changing too. I consider myself lucky to be working at a school that is looking to challenge the status quo in education.

Johnson and McElroy start their 2010 paper with the following quote from Louise Stoll and Dean Fink; “Many of our schools are good schools, if only this were 1965.” In this paper, they discuss the idea that not only is our educational system seriously outdated, but that many educators are going to great lengths to “perfect” this dated system. They argue that compared to other industries, education has changed very little in the last 30 years.

So in order to be able to able to support our students to be able to thrive in this evolving world, we as teachers need to rethink our role. “From sage on to stage to guide on the side.” Though incredibly overused, this cliché feels oddly appropriate right now. For years, it was a teacher’s job to be the expert in the room. Students came to school to learn because that was where the information was. This just isn’t the case anymore. Through the internet, students have access to individuals far more knowledgeable than me.

Being an IB PYP school, our units of inquiry are driven by concepts rather than content. In our Grade 5 Learning Model, we have worked to open up our units to allow for more student voice and choice. In most of our units, we provide students with a central idea as a focus for learning. While we will have some learning experiences and guided inquiries to support students, much of their time is spent on personal inquiries.

Enhanced PYP – Approaches to Learning. Graphics by @Orenjibuta

In our How We Express Ourselves unit, our central idea, “There are no original ideas” is a provocative one, intended to challenge students’ thinking. Though we start the unit by unpacking this concept of originality and debating the validity of the statement, the students are quickly tasked with the challenge of working as artists in a medium of their choice, with the goal of creating something original. In this model, I do not need to be an expert in all of the artistic media chosen by my students (thank goodness for that!). Instead, it is my role to support students as they seek out other experts, to question them throughout their process, to provoke their thinking, etc.

For those of you not familiar with the PYP, one of the essential elements are the Approaches to Learning. (Here is a link to a great ATL resource created by @OrenjiButa.) These five skills – thinking, communication, social, self-management, and research – emphasize the importance for students, not on what is learned, but on how to learn. Instead of content, these skills have become the focus for more of the direct teaching that happens in our Grade 5 community.

To challenge and support our students to be successful and responsible in an evolving world, we, as teachers, need to be willing to accept that our role as teachers is evolving too.

“An effective teacher is not someone utilizing the methods and initiatives of 1965, but rather embracing the culture…and adapting to the needs of students today.” (Johnson and McElroy, 2010)

I want to be found…

In his keynote address at the 2018 IB Global Conference in Vienna, Will Richardson had his entire audience raise their right hand and repeat after him: “I want to be found…by strangers on the internet.” An uncomfortable laugh followed, and it was clear by looking around the hall that many educators weren’t quite sure what to make of it all. (For those interested, Richardson describes this exercise, a staple of his talks, here.)

After reading the title of this week’s module, I have to admit, I was a little taken aback. A lurker. A word with such a negative connotation. After reading more, I realized (much to my disappointment) that it was a fairly accurate description of a lot of my professional time spent on social media.

I joined Twitter in 2012, but only really started using it in the Fall of 2017. My original intention in reactivating my Twitter was to provide me with a forum for sharing out the learning happening in my – what I thought at the time was a fairly unique – learning environment. 

Since that first tweet, I have become “connected” with so many great educators. After attending a few conferences, I started to realize the power of Twitter. The number of great educators that I followed began to increase, and for me, it became more of a platform to learn from others. While I do occasionally share an original tweet, most of my tweets are just retweets.

I want to be found by strangers on the internet.

I do.

As I laughed along with the crowd, while repeating these ten words, I saw the truth in the statement. Not only do I want to be found, but I want to connect with others. I want to share my thoughts and ideas, and engage in discussions. COETAIL is pushing me to do just this – to become a contributing member of my PLN.

From lurker to contributor. That is my goal. 

My learning goals

I have really enjoyed reading through everyone’s introductions over the past week and am looking forward to learning from all of you (Cohort 11) over the next year and a half! It has also been really nice seeing how welcoming and encouraging the wider #COETAIL community has been! I am so excited to be a (new) member of this community! I am hoping to complete the Google for Education Trainer as well and am hoping to learn a lot from all of you to be able to do this.

I am in the special situation of completing this certificate alongside my husband. He is currently a Tech Integration Teacher at our school. Throughout this course, I feel I will be able to benefit from his expertise, both online and off!

After reading through the ISTE Standards for Educators, I had some trouble narrowing it down to the specific standards that I would like to focus most on over the next year and a half. This is what I’ve come up with for now:


In my first blog post, I shared my reasons for why I decided to start COETAIL in the first place – one of them being that I wanted to be able to better support my students in becoming more “literate” individuals. As I mentioned, this was inspired by Will Richardson. In his talks, he often references Mozilla’s Web Literacy Framework. The ISTE Standard that I feel most aligns with this is Educator Standard 3 – Citizen. In order to be able to inspire students to positively contribute to and responsibly participate in the digital world, I need to be living this as well.

Substandard 3b is one that really resonates with me as this is an area that my grade level team is frequently discussing. How can we as educators support our students to critically evaluate the digital information they are exposed to? I would love to learn from others as to how they tackle this in their classrooms!


The school I am at is 1:1. Elementary students (prep – grade 5) use iPads, and Senior School students (grades 6-12) use MacBooks. The grade 5 students have access to the Google Suite and we use this frequently to collaborate within our community and share learning to the larger school community.

Substandard 4c’s focus on using collaborative tools to expose students to authentic, real-world learning experiences is what I see as the next step for my teaching team. How do you provide students with authentic, real-world problems to solve? And how do we provide students with authentic audiences to share their learning with? I really hope to gain some insight in this area over the course of the next year and a half.

My Professional Learning Community

Created with Canva

I feel that within my school community, I am very well connected. In my grade level team, we work together to plan and implement our collaborative teaching model. In this team, I have contributed to and greatly benefitted from the expertise of each team member. I have also been a member of many focus groups and design teams within the school community.

Both my husband and I come from a family full of teachers, so whether we’re home for the holidays, or chatting with family, the conversations inevitably turn to education. This stands true with teacher friends around the world!

In terms of my online community, these connections are more one-sided at the moment. I learn a lot from the posts of others, but do not engage in many online discussions. This is a goal of mine! The people I meet through professional development opportunities make up a chunk of my network as well, but again, these are not the lasting connections I wish they were.

The start of my COETAIL journey…

Hi Everyone!

I am excited to be starting my COETAIL Journey with Cohort 11! I am new to blogging, but excited to give it a go!

My name is Caitlin Howald and I am originally from Mississauga, Ontario (a suburb of Toronto). I started my international teaching journey 6 years ago in Bangkok, Thailand. I made the move to Europe after two years there, and am currently in my fourth year teaching at the International School of Düsseldorf in Germany. I am a Grade 5 teacher, and consider myself lucky to be working in a collaborative teaching model in a newly designed flexible space with 4 other teachers! Follow me on Twitter to find out more about my teaching journey.

I went from having no real access to tech in my classroom in Bangkok to 1:1 iPads in Düsseldorf, which was a huge shift! I now can’t imagine a classroom without them! With that said, I am always looking for ways to more effectively use technology and support students in this ever-changing digital world.

In the fall of 2017, our school brought Will Richardson in as a guest speaker. He is a provocative speaker and is not afraid to question the status quo in education. (For those of you not familiar with his stuff, I highly recommend taking a look!) One of the pieces of this talk that resonated most with me was his discussion of what it means to be “literate” in today’s world. It made me question if I was doing enough to support students with this.

At the IB Global Conference in Vienna this fall, I was happy to be able to listen to Will Richardson speak again, but realized I wasn’t any further along on my journey in helping students to build this 21st century literacy…

Enter Twitter. I have only in the last year or so, become a more active Twitter user. I kept stumbling across people talking about COETAIL (one of these being Tanya!). After looking into it, I decided that this journey was what I needed to move me forward towards my goals of becoming a more “literate” individual and teacher.