Make your parent emails more meaningful with @adobespark

In this age of instant communication, the old paper newsletter that often ended up scrunched up at the bottom of the bag is a relic of the past.

Each week I send out a ‘warm fuzzy’ email where parents learn more about what’s going on in class as well as important dates coming up.  As the drafter of the emails, I had several needs not being met by email

  • No information on how many parents had read the email – Am I sending notices out into virtual void?
  • No ability to add a large number of photos or video to the email.
  • The emails didn’t look visually appealing – particularly if reading on a mobile device

Thinking from a parent’s perspective I knew that the parents wanted

  • Visually appealing information – no large blocks of text
  • Lots of photos
  • The ability to access readable content on multiple devices
  • A chance to show they’ve received the information without necessarily sending a reply

Enter Adobe Spark.

Adobe Spark is a free digital storytelling platform. Whether you’re viewing Adobe Spark Page on your phone on your computer, the results are beautifully designed and readable multi-media pages.

You can use Spark in a web-based browser or on iOS Apps. You do need a sign to access Adobe Spark, but you can use your Google Account. The bonus of the App feature is that you can create on the go, I often write my newsletters on the commute home from school. Being able to send out beautiful updates from school camp or out on field trips is another possibility.

What I love about Spark as a creator is the simplicity of the interface.

I use pages for my Newsletters.

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You then build your content using a simple interface – the only things you must include is an image, headline, and sub heading.

The rest is up to you.

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You can add text, links to videos, Photo Grids, a ‘Glide Show’ ( text is overlayed on a photo). Spark turns all your content into well-designed multimedia stories that you can then share via a link with your parents. Here’s an example of a recent newsletter from my class.

When you are finished hit the share button and you’ll get a notice like this.

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You do need to select a category. Be careful to turn off the ‘get noticed’ if you don’t want your email to be promoted on the Adobe Site.

I then share the link out via email to my parents.

One of the great features of Spark is the ability of readers to acknowledge that they’ve read the newsletter through giving some love.

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As a creator, I have access to the number of views and hearts each update received on the ‘My Projects’ page. This lets me know, at the very least, my messages are getting through but I also like seeing the hearts.

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I could see Adobe Spark being used for digital storytelling. In particular, I think it could be a great platform for digital portfolios for learners which is something I may trail with the learners next year.


If you can learn it on YouTube, why bother going to school

As an edtech geek I often have others showing up in my classroom laptop in hand wanting me to fix a problem or two.

I don’t consider myself particularly computer literate – just a very good googler. In fact I’ve often pointed out as I’m fixing something the steps I’m doing along the way – finding a resource, watching a video or reading the instructions, trying, re-watching, re-trying, finding a new resource if need be until I have success.

There is an amazing plethora of skills out there online.

From hairstyles to programming, someone somewhere has probably created a ‘how to’ at some point.

And you can teach yourself some pretty cool stuff as this 11 year old points out by rewinding and retrying.

Which leads to the question – why do kids need to come to school.

Connection  – when all is said and done kids don’t remember much of the content of school. What comes up time and time again at the end of school leaver speeches is the social connections and the relationships with peers and teachers. So why do we organise schools around divisions of knowledge rather than building relationships?

Motivation– Going to local dance classes I’m in a room with other people who are in the same situation. I feed off their energy and enthusiasm on days when I’m just not feeling like exercising.

The environment as the teacher – There’s something about bookshops and libraries that make us want to sit down and read, religious buildings are places to pause and reflect, museums and art galleries heighten our sense of observation. Our rooms should provoke interest and help children to see themselves as junior versions of the academic disciplines they are exploring.

Feedback Part of the act of sharing is to elicit feedback. Likes, comments, shares are acts of positive feedback. However nothing beats timely and accurate feedback from an expert.

Skyping experts

33 minutes.

That’s how long my children spent asking questions and listening to an expert on free play.

The children spent of time watching and re-watching a video about free play. The spent time sorting through questions quickly throwing out the ungoogleable and off topic ones to make sure time was spent used effectively.

They finished the Skype call inspired to take action.

I wonder what will happen next…

The internet isn’t always a dangerous place

“I’m going to sit at this table because I can’t talk to strangers on Skype.’

As a follow up to our free play provocation, I had arranged a Skype call with a principal in New Zealand to talk about how ‘no rules’ lunchtime works.

“The person we are talking to is principal, right?”


“Ms Stephanie arranged for our class to Skype him.”


“So is this the same as an unknown stranger contacting you?”

I can see the tiny wheels turning inside the brain.

At 8 years old the children in my class have to deal with far more nuances in their lives. Strangers on the internet aren’t always dangerous. Sometimes they can help us with our learning.

I could almost see the tiny wheels turning in her mind as she reconciled two seemingly conflicting pieces of advice.


Old school cardboard meets new school technology

Often in debates over educational technology there’s a false dichotomy presented – kids can play on devices or they can do the old-school creating with their hands.

Yet left to their own devices, my students made a fort with alarms and sound effects to protect it from unwanted intruders using scratch and Makey Makeys.

Lesson learned: we need to give kids broad experiences and then step back to let them play.


On community versus broadcasting

During my Cambodian sojourn I took part in a food tour through the markets in Siem Reap and out to a rural village.

Talking with the guide we got on to the topic of social media.

I casually mentioned that I found the business through a contact on Instagram.

While I enjoyed following this business’s Instagram account as a user I find it far more gratifying to take part in a hashtag.

A hashtag enables me to:

  • Participate beyond a like – I can contribute my own photos to the experience
  • See other perspectives
  • Interact with people I met on the tour
  • Inspire others to learn more about the business

Online participation is more effective when we are truly connecting, not broadcasting.

Luscious #green and #purple #siemreap #cambodia #instatravel #travelgram #eatsiemreap #foodie #market

A post shared by Stephanie (@traintheteacher) on

Developing quality student questioning – through asking less questions

One of the most thought-provoking professional learning experiences I’ve had recently was the International School Ho Chi Minh’s city ‘deconstructed day’ at the 3E conference I attended last week. The children were challenged to put together 5 PCs with only 3 questions from the adults in the room (which I videoed during visit)

The process had me wondering about the children in my own class. Despite providing modelling and giving written instructions, I often find myself frustrated at the number of ‘low level’ procedural questions I field in class.

‘How do Iogin into google?’

‘I don’t know how to share this file.’

‘What are we doing again?’

Perhaps my help was part of the problem?

Was my it creating a culture of dependency in the classroom?

I followed ISHCMC’s of giving instructions and then stepping out of the way. This week I introduced my class to scratch programming. The children were challenged to have a play with scratch –  logging into the class account and getting their character to rotate, jump and play a sound.

There was a catch – in pairs the children were give two popsicle sticks which represented the two questions they could ask an adult in the room.


Sure enough, some teams blew their questions quickly by not following instructions written on the board or not typing in the URL correctly.

Others were more judicious with their questions to adults – preferring to ask a peer or figure problems out for themselves ‘we needed to save a stick for something really important’ one of the children mentioned. Many groups still had two popsicle sticks at the end of the challenge. A lot of groups had figured out a whole host of other features on scratch that I hadn’t modelled.

What was interesting about the experience was the gender split.

The groups that lost popsicle sticks were exclusively all-boy pairs, the teams that kept both sticks were predominately girls. The gender-mixed teams retained at least one stick.

Never before had I seen how stark my time was split as a teacher. The experience had me pondering the lack of women represented in science and technology fields.

Is the boys ability to dominate teacher time with low-level questioning enabling them to overcome the same obstacles the girls faced earlier leaving more time for creative play and experimenting?

Is the girls reluctance to ask for help meaning they are getting stuck on procedures and thus missing the exploratory aspect of STEM and finding the subject too difficult and ‘not for them?’

Certainly both my and my classroom assistant were able to interact with a great number of children than we usually would and were having higher quality interactions with the children.

The experience has made me more mindful of how time is being used in the classroom.