A good long look.

In order to connect physical learning space with educational experience, this week in CEP 811 we read Barrett, Zhang, Moffat, and Kobbacy’s (2013) A holistic, multi-level analysis identifying the impact of classroom design on on pupils’ learning, and then used SketchUp** to reimagine our own classroom spaces.  Check out the current space as of this past week,and my SketchUp of its hopeful future for the start of the academic year.  (The wall of windows certainly gives beautiful natural light – although I had to close them to get a good picture! – so I rarely have to use the overhead lights – I think Barrett et. al.  (2013) would approve!)

Sketchup Classroom

My classroom has undergone a substantial shift in the last few years and continues to evolve.  When I first started teaching, the desks were predominantly in rows facing the front board and while students gained valuable content knowledge, I feared that they were not gaining 21st century skills that would allow for transfer of that knowledge.  Ever since, I have continually sought ways in which I could better the space for more meaningful learning.  Here are the transformations that my room has undergone:

  1. Pod it up!
    • My earliest change was to arrange students in ‘pods’ of 4-5 desks so that they could collaborate with each other and ‘talk it out’ when solving problems.  This works great for discussion based classes and allows students to see both the front and back boards of the room.  The downside is that the desks were still very cumbersome and noisy to move (they had the attached seat and were quite heavy!).
  1. Visualize and Share Thoughts
    • To better improve communication and give students a way to lead their podmates through thought processes, I lobbied for department funds to purchase 2 portable double-sided whiteboards to roll in between pods.  (Ideal I usually have 4 pods.)  The size of the boards (2×3) is large enough to accommodate concept mapping and problem solving, but not so large that they become a visual nuisance to navigate through the room.  This idea came from the Node video.
  2. Go Zen
    • Some students experience anxiety when it comes to Math and Science, as they have preconceived notions of its difficulty.  To reduce this worry and make the room more welcoming I made some changes based on the advice of a coworker who researched positive energy in classroom spaces.  First, I moved my desk away from the line of sight when students first walk into the room, as it is linked to power and authority, and instead placed a cozy seating arrangement on the wall opposite the entrance.   The rug and furniture are all repurposed from my home, and the students love the colors of the fabrics – sure enough, they are warm colors that coincide with the research of Barrett et. al. (2013).
  3. Get Rolling
    • The next and very very very exciting change for my room in the 2016-2017 classroom is to get rid of those old clunky desks and instead have the more adaptive Node chairs.  These are quite costly and a number of discussions occurred with my Administration on their utility, but when I visited my classroom this summer, the old desks were gone (note the lack of chairs in the pictures above) so with any luck come August I will have a remarkably modernized learning environment for the students!

Looking ahead…the wall space (though minimal because of the windows, lab storage, and whiteboards) is predominantly white.  Only the ‘front’ wall is colored green.  A creative mural of sorts may be lovely on the half wall that divides the lab space from the classroom…


Barrett, P., Zhang, Y., Moffat, J., & Kobbacy, K. (2013). A holistic, multi-level analysis identifying the impact of classroom design on on pupils’ learning. Building and Environment, 59, 678-689. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.buildenv.2012.09.016

**A note on SketchUp….this program is incredibly sensitive and difficult to use without a mouse!  Also make sure you have accurate room measurements (I did not) to help with furniture positioning.**

A picture is worth a thousand words.

No, really.  With the use of multi-modal sources and infographics on the rise, and the ability of visuals to transcend language barriers, visual literacy is increasingly important. Going back to incorporating Chibilights into the Chemistry curriculum, I have designed this lesson that enhances students’ visual literacy using LED stickers.  This lesson incorporates aspects from physics (we follow a Physics First curriculum) and art theory, allowing for cross-disciplinary conversation and meta-analysis of how and why information is included in a visual.  Essentially, students create a sketchbook of visual aids throughout the year to contextualize topics covered in Chemistry.  Discussion and presentation of these visuals not only help to solidify content understanding, thereby supporting transfer of ideas, but also, it opens the door for a deeper look at how visuals in the text and online sources convey information.

Another great aspect of the lesson…it can be tailored to any subject area!  Enjoy!

Challenge Accepted.

CEP 811 is a video goldmine!  This week we were encouraged to “Reimagine Learning” in this TEDx Talk by Richard Culatta, the U.S. Director of the Office of Educational Technology, and contemplate his challenge to “use technology to do entirely new things that simply were not possible before.”  Well Mr. Culatta, challenge accepted.

Add to this a refresher on Bransford, Brown and Cocking’s (2000) basis for learning with understanding and a new-to-me chapter by O’Donnell (2012) on constructivism and the ideas are never ending!  Really, give them a go!

In addition to Culatta’s call for personalizing education, Spector (2013) notes the significant similarities of the New Media Consortium’s 2011 Horizon Report and the National Science Foundation’s funded A Roadmap for Educational Technology.  Both of these independently researched studies arrived at the conclusion that new and emerging technologies, coupled with research in cognitive psychology, support the creation of personalized learner centric environments in which students can learn with understanding based on their current needs and interests.  Personalized learning not only allows teacher’s to meet students at their current position along the learning path, but it also creates the opportunity to address the student’s preconceptions and personal perspectives on a topic (Bransford, Brown & Cocking, 2000).

With last week’s Maker Experience still fresh in mind, I connected personalized learning environments with visual literacy.  More than ever before, science textbooks – and online sources – are multimodal, including visual aids and schema to convey meaning; however, an exploratory study by McTigue and Flowers (2011) found that students struggled to understand the intended meaning of such schema, lacked the vocabulary to discuss schema, and tended to devalue the schema’s importance and thus ‘skip’ the visual aids altogether. Furthermore, as in noted by Serafini (2011), multimodal texts require the reader to synchronously navigate between visuals and text to discern understanding.  Given that these sources are authored and taught by expert sources, it could be that we (as experts) have misjudged the ability of the learner (a novice) to identify meaningful patterns, organize content, and flexibly move between ideas (Bransford, Brown & Cocking, 2000).

In giving the students autonomy in creating their own visual aids, they will not only be able to construct meaning of the content in a personally contextualized manner and thereby simultaneously progress their understanding of the ideas, but also an environment to discuss design elements of the visual aids will be created and as such, students will expand their visual literacy.  If that were not enough, both the act of creating the visual aid and the use of a metacognitive design approach – in context of content and visual literacy – promote the transfer of knowledge (Bransford, Brown & Cocking, 2000) and cross-disciplinary extrapolation (Roswell, McLean & Hamilton, 2012).


Bransford, J.D., Brown, A.L., & Cocking, R.R. (2000). How people learn: Brain, mind, experience and school. National Academies Press. Retrieved from http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?isbn=0309070368.

McTigue, E., & Flowers, A. (2011). Science Visual Literacy: Learners’ Perceptions and Knowledge of Diagrams. The Reading Teacher, 64(8), 578-589. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/41203457

O’Donnell, A. (2012). Constructivism. In APA Educational Psychology Handbook: Vol. 1. Theories, Constructs, and Critical Issues. K. R. Harris, S. Graham, and T. Urdan (Editors-in-Chief). Washgington, DC: American Psychological Association. DOI: 10.1037/13273-003.

Roswell, J., McLean, C., & Hamilton, M. (2012). Visual Literacy as a Classroom Approach. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 55(5), 444-447. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/41331470

Serafini, F. (2011). Expanding Perspectives for Comprehending Visual Images in Multimodal Texts. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 54(5), 342-350. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/41038867

Spector, J. M. (2013). Emerging Educational Technologies and Research Directions. Educational Technology & Society, 16 (2), 21–30. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/jeductechsoci.16.2.21.pdf


Chibi Chibi Chibi TPACK!

This week revisited TPACK and working at the interface of technology, pedagogy and content to achieve effective learning with understanding.  (Remember that Quickfire TPACK activity from CEP 810?!)

The Task: Go thrifting and get creative to repurpose items and incorporate them into a maker kit – in my case, Chibi Lights.

The Result: LIGHT!
The Play-by-Play:

1. PLAY!

I started by playing with the Chibi Lights STEM Starter Kit and completing my first circuit.  As seen in the video, it was really quite simple – just adhere the conductive tape to the path drawn on the sketchbook taking extra care at the corners, add the circuit sticker and attach the battery with the binder clip – and Huzzah!  There was light!

Now the question was “How could this work for my classroom?”.  Two ideas came to mind: visual aids and an on/off switch for the Mazemaster compound naming and formula writing game.


This week just so happened to be the week we were on vacation (hooray for asynchronous technology!) so the “thrifting” got interesting as I rummaged through my car to see what I could come up with.  I desperately searched for a crayon to use as a nod to Punya Mishra and the Deep Play Research Group’s 2012 paper Rethinking Technology & Creativity in the 21st Century:Crayons are the Future, but alas, it was not meant to be.  Meanwhile, I had the option of a half eaten animal cracker and a toy car so I thought it may be best to wait until we arrived at my parents to dig through their closets!   Luckily, that turned up some sticky notes, a pencil, double-sided tape, a scrap of snowflake cardstock – snow would be nice right about now! – and a magnet for a kitchen refinishing company.


First the visual aids.  These were pretty simple.  The atomic structure photo illustrates the protons and neutrons in the center of the atom, in the shape of a “plus” because the nucleus is positive, while the electrons are very tiny and spread out away from the nucleus.  The second image explains energy absorption and emission during the flame test lab that results in the observation of light.  Both examples provide students with a unique and memorable visual experience to remember foundational principles of chemistry so that they may better apply those principles to more complex questions. Students could make an entire series of these throughout the year.

Now for that on/off switch for our games.  I started with a sticky note and sketched my own path only to realize that there was not enough room to connect the battery +/- to the circuit and have space to move the switch back an forth, but then I remembered the basic switch in the sketchbook and modified it to work with my switch.  It went something like this…


Use double sided tape to adhere one magnet piece to the cardstock “switch cover”


Cover half of the magnet with conductive tape


Use the Switch Activity in the Chibi Lights Sketchbook and place the other piece of magnet behind the switch gap


Add the battery and the switch to label “on”


Slide the switch to label “off”

So before this switch is actually used, I should probably find some heavier duty magnets and dazzle it up a bit more…maybe even make it 3-D…hmmmm….

**Note:  The images used are intended to allow the reader to understand the processes involved in this activity and also to repeat them as desired, while the video is intended to provide a basic idea of how the circuit sticker sketchbook works and how it can be applied in a classroom.**


Mishra, P., & The Deep-Play Research Group (2012). Rethinking Technology & Creativity in the 21st Century: Crayons are the Future. TechTrends, 56(5), 13-16.

Be a MAKER. Solve some problems.

On to CEP 811 Adapting Innovative Technologies to Education.

Week one started with an exploration of Remixing and Maker Culture.  We watched these (pretty awesome) videos by Kirby Ferguson (Part 1 of 4 is below) and read about Lessig‘s opinion of getting back to sharing ideas to advance the community as a whole.  Basically what it boils down to is this: society innovates by leveraging what has been done into what can be done.

Everything is a Remix Part 1 from Kirby Ferguson on Vimeo.

To combine the ideas of Remix and Maker Culture, I ventured into WeVideo (the tutorials are super helpful here, particularly with adding text) and made my first remix…actually it’s about the tenth iteration of my first video, but who’s counting?!  I started with storyboard to come up with my plan – that alone changed A LOT.  Then it came time to find media through the Library of Congress, Vimeo, and Pixabay (CC0 – Public Domain).

There are so many options when it comes to remix especially when talking about maker culture.  Makers have existed since the beginning of time!  Do I try to cover all that time with representative examples?  The aqueducts, crop rotation, the printing press, urban development, vaccines, pacemakers, antibiotics….the options are endless!  Eventually I decided that a one minute remix should focus on only one example of a maker solving a problem.  Now it was a matter of finding an example with some interest and maybe a little shock value, but that everyone could relate to.  It’s safe to say that we all get the impact of cars, but did you know that they literally saved New York City…and London…and practically every other major city in turn of the 20th century?!  Watch to find out…
Video References:

.(1870) [Broadway near Grand St., New York City]. [ca][Image]Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc,gov/item/91793479/.

Rustad Media (Producer). (2013, May 10). People of New York II.  Retrieved from https://vimeo.com/65920402.

.(1896)[Street types of New York City: Hansom driver standing in front of horse and cab]. C. [Image] Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/2002699101/.


CEP 810: Closing the door and opening the window

This was the final week of CEP 810 and we took a look at creative licensing and the idea of “transformativeness” according to Hobbs’ 2010 Copyright Clarity: How Fair Use Supports Digital Learning.  Reflecting on the last few weeks of CEP 810, I am excited to incorporate some new educational technologies into my curriculum for next year to support 21st century learning with understanding.  Student reflection is a key component of a learner centered classroom, as it is important to draw attention to the growth and learning that takes place when learning becomes active “play”.  As such, I am going to have students blog about their progress and include web resources – embedded or hyperlinked – into the posts.  This will not only help them be more cognizant of their learning, but also they can share this learning with their parents and peers, partake in discussions on fair use and tranformativeness, and have a running review of materials that work for their own learning styles.  Now that’s a win-win-win-win!

In teaching, I have found that while students are digital natives, that does not mean that they are naturals at using technology as an educational learning tool – just as we are not naturals at using educational technology in our teaching practices.  Students really latch onto using technology in a productive way and have great pride in the product.  CEP 810 gave me a great platform to think about how I can modify my classroom to achieve efficiency in student learning with understanding.

Quickfire TPACK

CEP 810 Week 6 and who knew I would be cutting Gruyère with an ice cream scoop?

This week we studied Koehler and Mishra’s theory of TPACK – technological, pedagogical and content knowledge.  In a talk by Mishra at the 21st century Learning Conference in Hong Kong, he discusses technocentrism and reminds us that even the pencil and paper were new technologies at one point, and moreover, encourages us to think about how tools can be innovatively repurposed to learn creatively.

This week’s quickfire activity was to explore that idea of repurposing by having someone select any bowl, plate and utensil that we would use to complete a randomly chosen task.  My task was to cut hard cheese – I had some Gruyère left over from this week’s Chicken Cordon Bleu, YUM! – with an ice cream scoop.  In this case the plate was the cutting board and I didn’t need the bowl at all.  The outcome isn’t beautiful, but hey, it worked!

On a side note, this task reminded me of the time I was in graduate school and used a spaghetti scoop to make mashed potatoes….funny how limited resources can spark creativity…


Network it!

Here it is!  The shark raincoat made from PUL and vinyl!  This was a tough one!  Starting with fabric choices and then getting wrapped up in pockets, this guy finally came to life.  Using only online sources was very difficult, especially when you have a broad network of people that you could easily call upon for help.  The benefit of this project was that it really put you in the students’ position, where they have a wealth of information at their fingertips, but figuring out how to access and use it is a totally different story.  While I used past knowledge to muddle my way through it, I realize that there are a number of places along the way that a student could get sidetracked – wow did those pockets really suck me in! – and lose sight of the bigger picture.  This project was a great example to highlight the need to effectively locate, apply, and share information in the digital age.

See all the snafus in the full video!

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School’s out…Now let’s get planning!

It’s already week 5 of CEP 810 and that means it’s time rethink some lessons!  Fitting since we just had our final round of faculty meetings this week – oh, the ebb and flow of teaching!

I designed a lesson to address the difficulty students have applying mathematical concepts (dimensional analysis in particular) to chemistry in the stoichiometry unit.  After reading Friedman’s NY Times Op Ed (2013) on a learner’s need for basic information in addition to skills and motivation, and contemplating Hobb’s Digital and Media Literacy: Connecting Culture and Classroom (2011), I sought to design a lesson that would address the content and support a learner centric classroom while emphasizing 21st century skills.

In accordance with Hobb’s  (2011) 5 fundamental literacy practices core competencies, students will:

  1. Access information both online in their text.
  2. Analyze the credibility and applicability of their sources.
  3. Create a blog post relaying what they learned.
  4. Reflect on how what they learned builds upon past topics in physics and math, and how it may apply to chemistry and broader issues in business and healthcare.
  5. Act by white-boarding their ideas to a group of peers and inviting questions and discussion.

Read the full lesson plan here.


Hobbs, R. (2011). Digital and media literacy: Connecting culture and classroom. Thousand, Oaks, CA: Corwin/Sage.

Check it! Getting things done!

It’s week 4 in CEP 810 and that means taking a good look at productivity with David Allen’s 5 stages of workflow and being ‘appropriately engaged with what’s going on’ as he points out in his Tedx Talk .  These stages have some ways to incorporate technology:

1. Collect – Google Docs

  • This stage is all about figuring out what needs done and while you could use Google Docs and access it anywhere, I find that I work much more productively with a good old checklist – usually nostagically written on an envelope because that’s what my mom did (and still does), and as a single mom of 2 *perfectly angelic* kids who worked full time and went to school in the evening, I think it is safe to say that she knows how to get things done!  Plus, I can take this envelope with me anywhere and post it wherever is most logical at the time – on my keyboard for an email, by my phone to schedule an appointment, on the corner of my desk to grade papers…and how rewarding is it to cross things off!

2. Process – Outlook

  • Okay this one is tough.  I know there are many folders and tools to use in Outlook, but I find this more time consuming and easier to ‘lose’ things in the process so I just go back to my good old checklist and move things around or highlight things that are urgent, circle if they should be done that day, etc.  It may seem like a whole lot of random arrows and nonsense to everyone else, but hey, it works for me!

3. Organize – Schoology

  • This is one I love!  It is great for class managament and keeping the students on track.  It even has a great gradebook and a dropbox for online submissions.  While this one is more for day to day class work, I would like to give Diigo a try to organize ‘bigger picture’ educational articles and techniques I run across for changes I would like to implement in the near and ‘far’ future.

4. Review – Schoology

  • This one goes along with whatever organization tool you use and for class work that is Schoology, which is rather easy to take a look at what is coming up, but generally review for me means going back to the checklist and identifying what was done and what needs done.  This is daily for ‘do now’ items and weekly for those further out tasks.  I am thinking Diigo could really help with those ‘big picture – not immediately actionable’ items.

5. Do

  •  What needs done? Do I have the time and energy to do it? Is it a priority now?  Then do it and check it off!  Small Victories = Big Productivity!


Allen, D. (2001). Getting things done: The art of stress-free productivity. New York: Penguin.