Gideon Williams

How we introduced Canvas to our Junior schools

Blog Post created by Gideon Williams Champion on May 26, 2017

I work in an international school with a British curriculum. I am responsible for digital learning in the Senior School (ages 11-18) and my colleague Liz Jones is a Learning Technology Manager (LTM) in one of the Junior schools (ages 4 - 10). Our school is 1-1 iPad, starting in the last year of the Junior school and carrying into the Senior school.


I launched Canvas to the Senior school in January after a fairly exhaustive and comprehensive selection process. Although there were no immediate plans to introduce it to the Junior schools, Liz and I felt it would be a worthwhile task for a number of reasons:

  • We felt that Canvas could support and enhance both the curriculum and the pedagogy through aspects like discussions, peer assessment and embedding external resources
  • Students would be more comfortable and confident how it works when they transitioned to the senior school and would allow us to develop and improve our own digital practice


Planning the Day

Liz and I met together to plan a morning of activities centred at each of the 3 junior schools. With the help of Michael Kop, in our IT Support team, we had already provisioned accounts on our Canvas linked to our MIS (SIMS). We decided to call it 'Follow the Panda':

We decided on four main activities in the time we had available:

  • Orientation/Navigation of a Canvas course
  • Submission of assignment and peer review
  • Quiz
  • Discussion forum


Liz then contacted the LTMs and Year 6 teachers in other schools to brief them about what preparation needed to be in place prior to 'launch'. She worked tirelessly with the schools to ensure that each student had:

  • Used their school individual log on and password to access Canvas - this is something they are not too familiar doing
  • Installing the Canvas app on their iPad and setting it up from home. Single sign in at school prevents them using it at school until they have used it at home
  • Add their birthday to their Canvas calendar
  • Explore their Canvas profile and created a suitable avatar


Recruiting Staff Support

The event was going to run simultaneously in each of the Junior schools with all of the Year 6 students together in one location. I was then able to persuade some of our Senior school staff who are 'Canvas Pioneers' to work with the Junior school teacher and LTM at each site. Our Canvas Pioneers are amazingly supportive of ventures like these and they are made up of staff who really push Canvas in their subjects, encouraging a far more blended approach to learning. When meeting with the staff we agreed that the model of support we wanted the students to show was the 'Brain, Buddy, Boss' approach to try to work things out for themselves, before getting help from others around them or finally turning to the teacher expert!


Recruiting Student Support

The Quiz activity that we designed had questions all about the Senior school. Students would work in small groups with some of them researching the problem and only one entering the score. We wanted to make it interactive, so recruited a number of Year 7 students and made them Teaching Assistants on the course. The Year 7 students would stay in the Senior school but could be contacted by the Year 6 students via the course Inbox messaging feature or by Facetime. Students in Year 6 were allowed to contact them anytime a question had 'Buddy' in it eg

To add to the competition and tension, students in the Junior schools could only contact the Year 7 TAs that had been at the school.


Course Design

We created our Canvas Induction course and kept it hidden from the students. We removed most of the extra menu items and had the activities grouped in Modules.



Student Guidance

Independence and resilience are two key learning skills we need to encourage in students if they are to use the learning platform successfully. To support these, students worked in small groups throughout the tasks even if those tasks were individual ones. To encourage a more supportive role from teachers we designed some simple step by step guides for the students for each task:

What was particularly challenging (but ultimately very rewarding) was the fact that some students were using the Canvas App and some Canvas on the web. We also (deliberately) designed tasks that required use of both!



I love digital badges, not simply as recognition of a skill earned but endorsement of that skill which encourages badge holders to support others. With the help of the Badgr plugin, we designed badges for each of the Module tasks. My graphics skills are not great but I made up these in Microsoft Word!! and added them to the course:


Badgr makes it very easy to set up Badges and I heartily recommend it. Linking the badges to tasks within a Module also gave a bit more flexibility and challenge. We could then use the Module requirements features eg setting a minimum quiz mark or contribution to a Discussion forum instead of just viewing it:

Assignments and Peer Review

Submission of assignments is a key skill to learn in Canvas for use in the Senior school. We wanted the Junior school students to get a flavour of this but in a way that was not too daunting!


Students were set the challenge of uploading a picture file or PDF or Word App file containing evidence that they had made an avatar, added their birthday to the calendar and downloaded the App.


To encourage students we created a rubric for the assignment. Students had never seen this and were quite amazed at the opportunity to 'see' what they needed to do to score the highest marks BEFORE they submitted the task!


The use of the rubric also helped tremendously when doing the peer review task. Peer review is a great feature but it is very fiddly and has a number of design features that Canvas need to improve if they truly wish to promote Canvas as device independent.


The biggest challenge (and learning point) was linked to screen size. Student who tried to open work to mark and the rubric on the same screen got quite frustrated. Although we had written instructions about pressing down on the link so the pop up menu appears (to allow students to select Open in New Tab), this is not intuitive on an iPad or on any device to be honest. What we would really like to see is the pop-up menu appearing as the first option when clicking the file to peer review


Reflections on the Day

The day was hugely successful. We did not get everything finished but that was not really the point. Students enjoyed the experience, liked working independently and appreciated the mixture of tasks. Our Year 6 teachers definitely saw the potential in the platform for activities they could be doing and our Canvas Pioneers were hugely impressed how quickly the students picked things up. Student feedback was great. They found some things harder than others but to what they had learned in 3hrs has taken me and some our staff an awful lot longer in comparison. 


Developments for Next Time

Facetime was great but I would like to find a way of including video conferencing within the platform in a safe, managed and effective manner.


We had hoped to use Prulu's Q&A App for Year 6 students to post questions to Year 7 but the (COPPA?) age restrictions stopped us going further


We set up a dotstorming activity embedded into a page to get students to vote on it.

Very disappointingly it did not work. I need to contact the company to find out as I think it is a great tool. Perhaps we had set it up wrong?