Speak Up! Transform Classroom Discussions

Thanks for taking the time to view my contribution to K12online 2012. The slideshow is below should you want to view it again, share it or download and reuse it.


Also, here is my full writing called Discussions in Classrooms. I completed this for my Master’s degree through SUNY.




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Minecraft in the classroomTechnology will continue to make education more accessible and ubiquitous. Access to the internet in the world is increasing and this will give more people access to education. More Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) will open up. Sites like Coursera and edX will continue to expand their course offerings and form more partnerships with other universities. As edX’s tagline on the sites opening page says “The Future of Online Education for anyone, anywhere, anytime”.

I think this is simple but a realistic future we will see. Many schools, SSIS included, have moved to 1:1 environments (be it iPads, laptops or both) for a number of reasons but anytime anywhere access is up towards the top of the list. The NMC Horizon Report 2012 confirms this by stating as their first key trend is that “people expect to be able to work, learn, and study whenever and wherever they want to” (p. 4). Personal devices such as iPhones, iPods and other personal “computers” already allow for this to happen. The gap between what you can do with a laptop compared to a mobile phone or iPad is lessoning. I am continually using my iPhone and iPad to do tasks I use to do exclusively with a laptop. This is fantastic because more and more people are getting  connected smart phones which gives anyone access to learn anytime anywhere.


Technology will continue to transform the classroom from to more student centered and with this students will become more self directed. Dan Pink the author of Drive said that one day of  “autonomy produces things that would have never emerged” he is speaking in particular about work environments but the same applies for the classroom. Google and a number of companies have gained from this and as a result the whole world benefits.


I think game-based learning will continue to be more accepted and respected in education. As the NMC Horizon Report 2012 points out “the greatest potential of games for learning lies in their ability to foster collaboration and engage students deeply in the process of learning” (p. 7). James Paul Gee’s talk on Learning with Video Games talks about how games are effective learning tools that foster collaboration and motivation. Commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) games like Minecraft and World of Warcraft will continue to be “repurposed” for learning and be integrated into course curriculums. Currently, we are hosting a Minecraft Server at school and are testing it out. Right now, students are playing in Minecraft during break time. We established some norms and the students took off with it. Students are motivated to collaborate with other students and have form alliances on their own and built incredible structures. I have been amazed by what students have done with little direction and all in their free time. The engagement and excitement of the students is something teachers need to tap into and design curriculum around. I have been utterly surprised by the new language I’ve learned from the students and the amount of time they have invested in Minecraft. What blows me away most is that in Minecraft there are no clear instructions. You have to explore the Minecraft world and read the Minecraft wiki to learn how to craft items and survive. Students have spent countless hours researching how to do certain tasks. They have learned through play in a game “with a purpose beyond play” (1). This goes back to what was said earlier “the greatest potential of games for learning lies in their ability to foster collaboration and engage students deeply in the process of learning” (p. 7). Students are highly motivated when playing minecraft and strive to achieve mastery. It’s like Dan Pink said in his talk about “The surprising truth to what motivates us” from his book Drive, “autonomy produces things that would have never emerged.” Students have had autonomy in our SSIS Minecraft World and they have and are building cities. Also, it has leveled the playing field for students that don’t socialize face-to-face and are more introverted. They collaborate through chatting virtually and work with other students in Minecraft. Schools will continue to “play a critical role in fostering learning in association with game play” (3). At present students are so interested in Minecraft we have had to  freeze students so they can’t move and play Minecraft during classes. This type of engagement and motivation to want to play Minecraft is all the more reason to combine it with curriculum and bring it into classrooms.  As a technology integrator, it will be critical for me to support teachers with integrating games into the classrooms.

“Don Menn (1993) claims that students can only remember 10 percent of what they read; 20 percent of what they hear; 30 percent, if they see visuals related to what they are hearing; 50 percent, if they watch someone model something while explaining it; but almost 90 percent, if they engage in the job themselves, even if only as a simulation” (25).

Let’s engage students by adopting Game-Based Learning, the future is now.


Here is my Telling Stories Through Scratch Unit

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Integrating and managing technology is something I enjoy and this year I am teaching all grade 6 students technology and writing. At present we are digitally story telling telling through programming with Scratch. Telling a story is one thing but being able to use computation to do it is infusing mathematics with writing, art and technology. Students have learned basic control structures in class and then planned a story that they want to tell. This year they will also be incorporating sound into their projects.

After reading the Horizon report I’m reminded of how much mobile apps and tablets are transforming how we teach and learn. This made wonder why there wasn’t a Scratch app for the iPad. I remembered researching this a year or two ago. I googled “Scratch app iPad” and the first hit was “Apple Rejects Kid-Friendly Programming App” from Wired. Hopefully this changes in the future as touch friendly programming adapts for tablets. It would be great to be able to interact with the blocks more with the touch technology. There are a handful of schools that have move to a 1:1 iPad environment and hopefully with this push of iPads in education that critical apps for education like Scratch make it to the app store and are approved.

A new addition to my job this year is a 40% allocation of sharing the MS Technology Learning Facilitator role with Gary Bertoia. We both have a 40% allocation each for this role. We have been working with teachers, students and also working on a lot on backend systems and planning technology in the MS. It’s certainly been busy a year but so far it’s going great.

One recent excitement is that we launched a school hosted Minecraft Server which our Dragon Ninja Tech Team are currently beta testing. In addition, to our weekly Dragon Ninja Tech Team meetings we now have Minecraft Monday’s though students’ are so keen it could be Minecraft Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday’s. I’ve learned more about Minecraft in the last two days from students then I have from reading about it the last year or two. Which gets to my final point.

The Horizon Report highlights Game-Based Learning and it is showing up more and more in my reader. I think the first time I heard the phrase Game-Based Learning and had a deep conversations about it was in an unconference session with Ewan Macintosh at Learning 2.008 in Shanghai. Game-Based Learning fits so well with TPACK and Punya’s Mishra’s idea of repurposing for education. The “TPACK framework require teachers to go beyond their knowledge of particular disciplines, technologies, and pedagogical techniques in isolation” (Mishra & Koehler, 2009). I’m getting a lot of ideas about how teacher’s could use Minecraft in their classroom. I look forward to repurposing Minecraft “so that fun, cool tools can be educational” (Mishra & Koehler, 2009).

image from jennyluca

image from mkoehler

My plan to is to further infuse TPACK and the SAMR model into my practice both as a teacher and technology learning facilitator. Also, there is a need to support teachers and integrate best practices with classroom management of our current 1:1 program. The 23 computer tips from Dean Groom are a good place for teachers to start with classroom management and 1:1. There are many great points and as I read it, I kept saying “tick, tick” and to a large extent we are doing or have done many of the points.

Technology changes how people teach and learn. It changes how the classroom is setup. I need to revisit classroom layouts at our school and check whether they are supporting teachers and students learning in a 1:1 environment. This could be something as simple as moving a projector plug so the teacher laptop is in a better positions with classroom tables. Technology forces us to think differently and teach differently.mTechnology changes how people teach and learn. I will continue to support teachers with technology integration. It is year two of our 1:1 program in middle school and already teachers are thinking differently and teaching differently.




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Learning Theory

This past week I researched connectivism as a learning theory. It was interesting reading George Siemens and Stephen Downes the gurus of connectivism. In short, connectivism believes that “learning is ubiquitous” and that in order to “learn you must connect to a network”(Siemens, 2004). In other words, “knowledge exists everywhere and can be accessed by the learner”. Learning about connectivism made me want to try to design a unit in my grade 6 technology class. After thinking about how connectivism would work in my class I decided to use a slice of connectivism (meaning make it a part of the unit not the entire way we learn throughout the unit) when teaching an upcoming unit on basic programming in grade 6 technology. I was not comfortable with only immersing grade 6 students in programing through only making connections and accessing the available knowledge on the web. I say “slice” because in actuality I’m providing students with a base knowledge of scratch. In the unit, students are introduced to the basics of programming with Scratch which is a programming language developed by MIT. When first designing this unit I thought using a flipped classroom model would be effective to differentiate the differing starting points of programming for each student.  After my pre-assessment activity I realized that only two students in each class had played with Scratch. “Played” meaning in this experience that they had experimented with it by adding three or four blocks to make the Scratch cat move or change color. I used these students to model to the class what they knew and then I modeled to the class other basic functions of Scratch. The format of modeling was showing two or three specific functions and then giving students time to try out and explore and create something using the specific functions. They then shared their progress with others in small groups. After two lessons on the basics, students shared how they used the basic functions with the class. This shows students and me (the teacher) what they understand and what they need to build on.

The next steps are where connectivism or rather somewhat controlled connectivism comes in to play. Students were encouraged and given time to explore the various projects in Scratch (there are many demo projects to learn from ranging from basic movement to space invader style games). The idea is students find projects they are interested in and learn from looking at the specific programming scripts of different projects. In addition to the scratch demo projects included in the Scratch program, students were also introduce and encouraged to explore the Scratch website, which includes the entire Scratch community with loads of Scratch projects to watch, play, learn, download and modify. It’s a place where people have uploaded their scratch projects to share with the community so others can learn from them. I’ve set specific guidelines for our scratch project based on including certain control structures and elements to the project. Students will create a project that tells a story. Every project will be very different and depend on what the students are interested in. If a student is interested in making a game then their story will somehow be told through a gaming experience. This project will give students a basis for using Scratch to learn a programming language and provide many cross-curricular projects in the future. I could have choosen many other programing languages like Alice or Squeak but the Scratch Community and ease of use to teach computation is perfect for grade 6 students.

My reasons for specifically teaching students the basics and then allowing them to move beyond the basics by learning from the plethora of Scratch projects in Scratch and on the Scratch website are based on keeping students excited about Scratch. My worry has been that if I use the flipped classroom model to teach students the basics of Scratch they may give up or become frustrated. This could be a good thing and bring on more targeted teaching of certain basic Scratch functions. In the future, I would like to try to incorporate flipped classroom to see if it changes the excitement around working in Scratch and better targets areas that students need more specific teaching on within learning Scratch.

Punya Mishra said “technology should not drive pedagogy, or “technology is just a tool, a means to an end, not the end itself”. I agree with these statements. Scratch is used to teach students “mathematical and computational ideas, while also learning to think creatively, reason systematically, and work collaboratively”. There are a number of ways to teach mathematical and computational ideas. I could have designed a project with physical blocks to do that though that would not have considered what I learned from the TPACK framework nor would it have reflected relevant learning in 2012. “Technology should not drive pedegogy” and this not the case. The truth be told, using technology to teach programming is better. Using Scratch is better than using physical blocks. Students can program better, they can build reasoning better, and they can learn new ideas from others all over the world and in time share their projects with the world. This is better.





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An Excuse Poem – Digital Story Style

In class we created a whole class Excuse Poem Digital Story. This was our second poem for our poetry unit. To begin I reviewed and taught students about poetic devices and we spent time going over rhyme scheme. Then we read, reviewed and discussed Shel Silverstein’s poem Sick. After this, I told students they would each get to rewrite 1-2 stanzas Shel Silverstein’s poem in their own words as an entire class. We reviewed what mimicking his style would look like and students got into groups. Here is the one of the planning docs from class (we conducted this in three different classes). Students then practiced their lines, created props and then we filmed their parts.

Here is one classes Excuse Not to Go to Mr. Appino’s class:

Here are the other two classes plans and end result videos. The first class didn’t have the advantage of seeing the whole project come together. The last two classes got to view the first classes end result and discuss what went well and what could be improved. This helped focus what students needed to do to make their stanzas come to life.

Here are the individual class created excuse poems and their whole class videos:

First Class Attempt Blk D Planning Doc and End Result Video

Second Class Attempt Blk G Planning Docand End Result Video

Third Class Attempt Blk E Planning Doc and End Result Video (this is the embedded video above).

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Reflections on Course 3


image by renierrossouw

This has overall been my favorite CoETaIL course to date. I have been interested in visual literacy and practice and teach this to students. I have read Garr Reynolds blog for years and taught students Presentation Zen for three or fours years. Creating a zen-style presentation was easy because I practice this when I make presentations for students or teachers (here is a recent example for grade 6 students on haiku).

Also, I really like how the Pecha Kucha challenged me to present lots of information in under seven minutes. I will definitely be bring Pecha Kucha into my classroom in the future. I might bend the rules a bit depending on the projects. 6 minutes and 40 seconds is too long for certain projects but the style will definitely be modeled. I think teaching CRAP is essential to teaching design layout and would fit well for a persuasive presentation on a given topic in humanities.

After reading, Becoming Screen Literate I was reminded of a little over ten years ago and trying to get decent video editing software to create a movie. I remember intentionally planning out scenes to string together so I would have to edit because it was extremely complicated and expensive. In recent years as Becoming Screen Literate points out cameras and editing software are cheaper and easier to use. Most people I know have a camera on their phone they could record video with and with iMovie on iPhone we can now make quick edits and instantly post our home movies.

Overall, digital literacy is so engrained in everything we do these days. This course has provided a more in-depth lens to grow and develop.


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Pecha Kucha

My first live Pecha Kucha presentation was at Learning 2.011 in Shanghai. Jabiz Raisdana gave a Pecha Kucha keynote on PLN and finding his tribe (people he learns from). Once he got into the rhythm and flow of the Pecha Kucha style presentation it engaged me and quickly displayed the power of networking and learning from others. Technology is powerful and brings us from our isolated ends of the earth together.

I constructed a Pecha Kucha on iOS apps (particularly iPhone and iPad) I use frequently. They are essential apps that I use almost daily. All of the apps I chose are not part of iOS’s built-in-apps (i.e. mail, messages, clock). I enjoyed going thorough my iPhone and iPad and thinking through what do I actually use regularly. I tried to balance utilities, social media, entertainment and even include some games.

Here is my iOS Apps presentation Pecha Kucha style (I had to customize the timing in HTML mode to 20 seconds because Google Presentation only allows you to publish the presentation which advances at 15 or 30 seconds but not 20 seconds):

After uploading to Google Presentation and embedding it to this blog (see above), Shane and Rachel inspired me to add an audio track to the presentation. To do this I first googled “google presentation audio narration” and quickly discovered that I needed to download the Google Presentation as a ppt and opened it in Keynote (which opened perfectly no formatting issues). Then I googled how to add a narration for the Keynote presentation, practiced rehearsing a few times and recorded it. I then saw that Keynote could export to Quicktime and did that. After this, I shared the Quicktime mov. file directly to youtube through Quicktime’s “share” drop down menu. You can see the end result below. Also, as a long time windows user I am pleasantly amazed by how the Mac integrates applications seamlessly. This is simple, efficient and should be the standard. Loving the integrated approach of the Mac.

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Presentation Zen

Visual presentation definitely can effectively communicate many messages. Garr Reynold’s  said in his blog post about new learning from Daniel Pink’s A Whole New Mind novel that “making a presentation is an opportunity to make a small difference in the world.” Our messages can communicate effectively if done well.

Here is my presentation on Poverty for grade eight Humanities:

Reading Garr Reynold’s post on “What is good Powerpoint design” reminded me that it’s not about what presentation slide is good or bad rather it depends on the purpose, audience and other factors. The art of presentation is not black and white it “depends” because presenting to different audiences requires different needs. In his TEDx Tokyo he provides a great example of presentation zen.

Additionally, Wes Fryer uses repetition in his design of presentation by making the same first slide for all presentations. He includes contact info to communicate and connect with his audience through different social mediums. This is clever and I like the uniformity among his presentations and within a given presentation. He always starts and ends a presentation with the same slide. See his presentations on slideshare. Also, Kim Cofino has a uniformity to her presentations and follows the principle of ‘simplicity’. She is a designer not a decorator.

Also, this is a great example of presentation zen in the ISB brochure presentation. It takes us through what the schools holds valuable and provides and very clear self guided snapshot of all aspects of ISB. It has simplicity and the presentation clearly makes an “impression” as the title hints at.

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Power of infographics

As the people at the official google blog have pointed out, our eyes our drawn to visuals over text. I’ve attempted my first ever infographic. I choose to create an info graphic with THREE facts about World Poverty. The first attempt I was created with Piktochart which has a very easy interface but the free version has very basic graphics and three templates to choose from. The paid version has a lot more features and a lot more graphics to choose from.

I tried to create a infographic that displayed my understanding of C.R.A.P.

Here is my first attempt:

I shared this with the class and told the group I wasn’t happy with the end result. This is partly due to the limitations of Piktochart and more about my lacking Photoshop skills and patience.

After class, I took note of the feedback and added visuals to the first two facts. My new visuals were created with Google Drawing then screenshot and uploaded to My infographic in the Piktochart editor. While tweaking the infographic I realized I really needed to change the theme and since that wasn’t an option, I decided to change the background instead.

The World Poverty info graphic version 2 is much more aesthetically pleasing. It has more C.R.A.P. and also includes a Creative Commons license at the very bottom.

Overall, this project has made me better appreciate info graphics and more so design layout (C.R.A.P.). It is very time consuming to create interesting, accurate and visually grabbing  infographics.


Here is my final version:




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image by Public Domain Photos

As we near the end of course 2, I keep thinking about all the fantastic conversations we have had as a cohort and all the new learning that came from it. The main conversation that sticks out to me was about privacy and our digital footprint. We have various different experiences and perspectives on our digital presence online. @destryshane uses VPNs clears web history and searches google products as a ghost and @gabbra01 who recently graduated from university was encourage by professors to get off social networks to secure her future as a teacher. I think both of these examples are valid but we need to question why.

Why is it a good idea to use a VPN? I’ve always taken precautions and do use VPNs if it’s necessary (to protect my personal info in public or if I need to pretend to be in another country to make a certain service work properly) but what precautions do students take? I know many of my students use VPNs but not to protect their data rather to use certain websites that don’t work here.

Why should we clear web history? We’ll aside from not wanting others to know what we’ve searched it does clear the cache and keep the browser running at optimum speed.

Why get off social networks to secure our future? Well, if you were projecting a negative digital footprint through social networks it would reflect badly and certainly make you less of a candidate for a further employer or school. If you are projecting a positive digital footprint as a student or teacher this would and will be a huge way of securing your future as a learner and far beyond that. Many universities and employers tapping into our digital footprints and will continue this in the future.

Students do need to be taught about how to manage their digital footprints as it immediately it connects to their safety and future. We can’t ask students to get off social networks but we can teach them the difference between posting something within a private network versus to the public network. It’s everyones responsibility to teach about cyber safety and embracing the power of the web safely.

For my final project, I revised and updated our AUP at SSIS. Some major changes included changing the language which was geared at multiple audiences (student/teacher/administrator) to only grades 6-12 students. I tried to make it slightly more future proof by not explicitly naming certain social networks, websites or tools. This said the AUP is definitely something that will need revising once every year or two as technology changes so quickly. This AUP aims to keep students responsible and safe.

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