TTK Mentoring and Meaning

I recently spent a significant amount of time contemplating online literacy, specifically information literacy, through the creation of our Special Interest Group Information Literacy Skills (SIGILS).

SIGILS Word Cloud

One concern that was immediately evident as we began to gather information for our SIG was the way students and teachers currently use literacy skills and how that structure does not fit with the new digital texts that kids are interacting with. James Paul Gee alludes to this idea and offers a solution in his book The Anti-Education Era, “Let’s call this essential early foundation ‘talk, text, and knowledege mentoring,’ or ‘TTK mentoring’ (where “talk” means interactive, sustained, elaborated talk)” (200). TTK mentoring is a way to promote literacy development through multiple platforms from an early age. The ability to talk about texts in an elaborate and interactive way is a skill that students will need to have in order to be competitive in the work force. If parents and teachers are fostering this type of talk and text connections through TTK mentoring from an early age, then students would be much more prepared to engage in critical thinking at the high school level. Gee backs this idea by stating,

“Children today will have to ‘read’ (consume) and ‘write’ (produce) with a whole suite of technologies, including texts, digital tools, and social media of different forms often used in social media away from kids early, but to build on experiences with these media to create a pathway towards higher-order and complex thinking, skills, talk, and texts, just as we want to do with books” (Gee,  201).

The  task  of navigating and connecting all of those technologies and texts will help students solve complex problems if they are carefully guided through the process. If students are introduced to this framework at a young age then by the time they are middle or high school students the process of navigating and connecting digital texts should be the platform that their learning is built on. This would allow higher level educators to push students to extend their thinking and create/produce material that they would not be able to tackle if they did not have prior TTK mentoring.

Gee also speaks about how humans all strive for meaning, which resonated with my own life and teaching practice. I teach language arts to 9-12 graders, we tend to talk about material that gets a little more personal than some other subject areas. Connecting the author’s meaning or a character’s viewpoint to my student’s own viewpoints and lives is a daily occurence in room 205. Finding meaning in a text, analyzing what the meaning is and why it is important in the grand scheme of a life is important for student growth and promoting lifelong learning. Gee mentions,

“For some young people, lack of meaningful learning in school can be ameliorated via learning out of school. For all children there are twenty-first-century skills that are, at least today, more often developed out of school than in it” (202).

Every lesson and every subject will not resonate with every child and the meaning behind the work will not always be clear. Students use technology to search out their interests and learn about those interests at an alarming rate. Their vocabulary, creativity, engagement, and collaboration skills can be exponentially enhanced through their online involvement. This could also be seen as an incentive to start flipping the classroom setting. Providing students with small, web assignments and then giving them several options of how they can build upon that knowledge may spark students to build off of what is meaningful to them and craft new meaning through the choice they are given.

The problem lies in the fact that these literacy skills need to be fostered from an early age through TTK mentoring  in order to have a lasting impact on students’ thought processes.  As Gee explains, “Nothing weighs heavier on the human mind than complexity” (140). We can help students sort through that complexity in order to obtain meaning and make connections by constantly having conversations about the connections between texts and ideas in the primary years.


Gee, James P. (2013). The anti-education era: Creating smarter students through digital learning. New York, Palgrave Macmillan.

[Untitled image of a lightbulb with plant]. Retrieved July 21, 2014 from

Reflecting on Team Teaching

Team teaching is a part of my daily classroom routine in room 205 and I was delighted that I had the opportunity to team teach through the program as well. It’s always interesting to teach with someone new and meld your ideas together into a lesson. As long as there is a collaborative spirit, two minds are definitely better than one. You have two people available to address student needs, to troubleshoot, to help differentiate and deliver the material in engaging ways. Each person brings their strengths to the table and has someone who may be capable of backing them up where weaknesses emerge. Team teaching also provides teachers with a way to validate what they are doing on a daily basis. Instead of wondering whether or not the material is truly connecting to core standards, the project you created has any loopholes in it, or the disciplinary action you decided on was effective, you have someone in your classroom who can constantly help assess what you are doing and back you up if questions arise. Although it may be daunting to invite someone into your classroom space and a bit unnerving to hand over the reigns, I truly believe that building a strong co-teaching relationship really provides the kids with a better classroom experience.

On that note, the team teaching I did for the program was with Joie Marinaro for two readings from written by James O’Donnell and Howard Rheingold. The question both authors were trying to answer was, “Is the Internet changing the way you think?” Both authors voiced that the internet will surely change the way you think, but their viewpoints on how they would change and how much control you would have in the process differed. O’Donnell wrote about how this change is actually a physical change in the way we interact with technology, which is evident in the title of his article, “My Fingers Have Become Part of My Brain.” While Rheingold’s piece “Attention is the Fundamental Literacy” discussed how technology users can either learn new literacies and ways to be attentive or allow them to overtake their attention.

When we planned our lesson, we wanted to allow time for discussion of two questions that were generated from the reading. In order to get everyone tuned in for the discussion, we opened our lesson by asking  students to respond to the following on Mentimeter: “What strategies do you use to sustain your attention while interacting with technology?” Our goal was to have the class reflect on how they stay attentive and we predicted that many people would dull one of their senses as a way to focus. When we had everyone’s responses we formed a word cloud and discussed the outcomes through Mentimeter. One hiccup with Mentimeter that we encountered was that it did not filter out the prepositions or articles that people wrote in their responses, so we had to sift through the word cloud a bit. In the future, maybe it would be a good tool for one word responses but not open ended questions.

The answers that everyone came up with led into our discussion of the two focus questions we wanted to address:

Do you agree with O’Donnell’s assumption that shifting literacies are involuntary–that we are victim to our tech. use?

Do you agree with Rheingold that it is inevitable that the Net will change how and what we think as it teaches- or reteaches- our attention span?

Although the conversation shifted from our initial outcome of talking about the new literacies and became more of a discussion on digital citizenship and the importance of teachers in a student’s netizen education, the discussion turned out to be quite engaging.  We used Prezi to navigate through the discussion and the activity that we planned using Snagit. Everyone was asked to snag an image of a netizen and create their own interpretation of what a netizen is.

In hindsight, it would have been beneficial to breakdown what the difference was between a citizen and a netizen because everyone was using the terms interchangeably. Because our discussion morphed and went longer than anticipated, we decided to have students do the Snagit activity in pairs and then instead of sharing them all one by one, we held a gallery walk where everyone took a stroll around the room and admired the interpretations of netizens that the others had created. I actually thought the gallery walk ended up being a better discussion/presentation strategy than our original plan.

I thought the lesson went rather well. Yes, it ended up veering in a different direction from the original plan, but the class was engaged and had the opportunity to have an authentic discussion about issues that are part of our current classroom environment. We were left with the question, What is a teacher’s role in preparing students to be responsible netizens?


O’Donnell, J . (2011). My Fingers Have Become Part of my Brain. In J. Brockman (Ed.), Is the Internet changing the way you think? Retrieved from

Rheingold, H . (2011). Attention is the Fundamental Literacy. In J. Brockman (Ed.), Is the Internet changing the way you think? Retrieved from

Flipped Class Website Intro

Last year when I had my first round of parent conferences in October, I found that many parents did not know that I had a functional class website let alone how to operate it. I also needed to walk students through the process in class several times before they completely understood where daily assignments were, how they could submit homework online, and where they should post for their weekly blog posts. This year, I am going to provide students and their parents with a video tutorial that works as a tour of the website. That way whenever they have questions about the site at the beginning of the year they can refer back to the video as a guide.

This will also be a nice way to introduce them to one of the ways I will be flipping the classroom this upcoming year. Although many of my flipped instruction videos will hopefully be interactive, I believe walk through tutorials could work really well for explaining how to navigate new sites, apps, and programs. This video tutorial is a little longer because I want to make sure that they know how to navigate the class webpage completely. I am also introducing myself to parents at the beginning of the tutorial. Usually I would try to keep flipped videos between 2-3 minutes, 5 at the most.


After students watch the website tutorial with their parents, they are asked to complete a Google forms survey. This will help me determine who understands the uses of the website and can be a homework grade. It will also give me parent feedback and allow anyone that has questions or concerns to leave a comment.

I am excited about flipping my classroom because it will allow us to focus on the production of work in class and the questions that accompany that work instead of the instructional process. If students receive the instructions or lecture portion of the lesson in small doses outside of class, then they can return to class with their questions ready and their interest piqued for the assignment/project portion of the unit. How much work could we accomplish if the prep work was done outside of class? What extensions could be added to projects that have previously been done in class with the lecture as part of the class time? The possibilities are fun to anticipate. Sylvia Libow Martinez and Gary Stager address this idea and other project based learning in the book Invent to Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering int he Classroom. The book focuses on the Maker Movement, but there are several moments that I thought of during this post and the following is one of them:

“‘I think it’s an exaggeration, but there’s a lot of truth in saying that when you go to school, the trauma is that you must stop learning and you must now accept being taught’ -Seymour Papert” (Martinez & Stager, 2013, p. 69).

This quote highlights what flipping a classroom represents. It stops students from being taught and instead gives them the opportunity to learn in an organic, individualized fashion. If students are able to focus on creativity and innovative ways to display their knowledge in class, then it is reasonable to say that the end product will be much better than what they would have been able to create if a majority of the class time was spent on instruction.

Flipping the classroom is a valid option because of the technological advances we have made. Students have the ability to learn in new environments and through new experiences because of the technology available. According to Donovan, Bransford, and Pellegrino, “Technology can help to create an active environment in which students not only solve problems, but also find their own problems. This approach to learning is very different from the typical school classrooms, in which students spend most of their time learning facts from a lecture or text and doing the problems at the end of the chapter” (p. 207). It is a challenge to implement a new method of teaching into my classroom after spending a large amount of time creating a curriculum, but I am encouraged to take the leap by imagining the possibilities that a flipped classroom could gives my students.


Donovan, S., Bransford, J., & Pellegrino, J. (2000). How people learn: Brain, mind, experience and school. Washington, DC: National Academy Press. Retrieved from

Martinez, Sylvia L., & Stager, Gary S. (2013). Invent to learn: making, tinkering, and engineering the classroom. Torrance, CA: Constructing Modern Knowledge Press.

Interpretation, Ideation, & Experimentation

There are many ideas and issues to consider when creating a maker project for a classroom. Here I will attempt to walk through the three phases that will hopefully lead to a well rounded project for my students.


There were several themes that came to mind during my discovery phase but a few ideas that really resonated were symbolism, the connectivity of the circuits, and light. I thought about how students might use that visual connection and light to show symbolically how texts connected. After this idea entered my mind I started to imagine how I might be able to demonstrate the concept in a concrete way. How could a paper circuit show a symbolic representation of a text?

Here is a view of my first attempt:


Here I made a visual representation of the poem The Raven by Edgar Allen Poe. The LED light used as the Raven’s eye gives you the impression that the bird is always watching from his perch. I started to think about how this idea of visually representing a text and using the circuit to connect ideas could work through multiple texts. I liked the idea of students using their creativity and imagination to envision those connections and then make them visible to their classmates. The question the became, how can I challenge my students to create visually symbolic representations of multiple texts?


There is a lot of value in brainstorming with other people about your idea. Outside thoughts and viewpoints can open new doors in your own thinking and provide a pathway for further innovation. Setting constraints on the brainstorming session seemed like it would hinder the process, but in actuality it may have allowed for more creative growth. Setting a time limit and prohibiting the discussion of ideas while they were being generated created a sense of urgency that somehow stimulated a more creative and open-ended atmosphere. Group members did not have enough time to worry about whether or not their idea made sense or was ridiculous, they wrote down all their thoughts and through that a lot of great material was born. “It’s often the wild ideas that spark visionary thoughts. With careful preparation and a clear set of rules, a brainstorm session can yield hundreds of fresh ideas” (Design Thinking for Educators, 49).  This idea held true and I left the brainstorming session with many wonderful ideas and insights.


I really liked many of the ideas my classmates came up with but a few that stood out were creating an advertisement campaign or interactive book cover and somehow using the symbolism of a connection/circuit to show the similarities between texts. The advertisement campaign could be used for our annual craft fair and would give them a chance to showcase their talents in the community as well as work on symbolism. The intertextual connections idea seems very appealing as well, especially because this will be a focus in upcoming PARCCs assessments for students.

The more I consider my ideas the more I like the idea of connecting multiple texts, maybe as a unit ending project to validate and consolidate student thinking of unit concepts as a whole. Students could find a way to symbolically connect the ideas from the main texts in a unit through circuits. The circuit itself would be a symbolic representation that they could build on. Constraints may be that the focus is too narrow. Is it okay to just focus on paper circuits? Should they be given more options? What would be the best unit to use this idea with? There are still many sides of this idea to explore.


My Idea/Challenge to students:

Using your knowledge of Lord of the Flies by William Golding, the research you did for your historical analysis paper on WWII, and the documentary we watched on the Holocaust design and develop a project that symbolically connects ideas from all three texts using paper circuits.


Students will work on their intertextual connections, symbolic representation of a text, and textual analysis skills through making visual, artistic connections between 3 texts with a paper circuit. The reason this will be so powerful is because students will be able to visibly make connections and see the connections that other students are also making. The written portion of the work (explanatory paper) will help them rationalize their own decision making process and form meaningful connections between the ideas in the texts. Students will also be given the opportunity to showcase their work within the school and community through the local craft fair.

Breakdown of steps:

Day 1: Students will be asked to use a mind map or possibly another strategy to brainstorm their ideas on connections between the three texts they will be using in this project. Once their ideas are down on paper (or computer) students will get together and give each other feedback or add their own ideas.

Day 2-3:  Students will choose one of the ideas they came up with in their brainstorming session and start to flesh out the symbolic connection between the 3 texts. When students have solidified their ideas, they will start to sketch a design that will work for their project incorporating paper circuits. Students will now be in “maker mode” and able to experiment with all of the materials available in class.

Day 4: Students will now have a model of their project and can begin working on their explanatory piece. Why did they choose the quotes, symbols, or materials they did to use in their project? How do their choices reflect symbolically about the texts? What other connections could they make? As they write their rationale, they will also be concurrently reflecting on their own ideas and may become aware of areas for improvement in their projects.

Day 5: Writing and Making workshop to work on completing the final project.

Day 6-7: Sharing their projects and rationales with their class and receiving constructive feedback.

Day 8: Making adjustments to their projects and modifying ideas in their papers as needed.

**Students will present their final products either at a craft fair/coffee shop night or a cross share with the other freshman classes.

Here is a prototype example of what a project may look like completed:



After receiving feedback from my peers, I found that there are two areas for improvement in my plan. I am focusing solely on paper circuits for this lesson but this is a lesson that could be done with other connective maker kits. I liked the connection between paper circuits, light, and the subject matter but it may be a good idea to leave the project a little more open ended so that students have more creative license with their work and ideas. I do worry about the fact that I may not be able to fully demonstrate several types of maker kits in my classroom and get through the material in a realistic timeframe, which is why I may focus on just paper circuits before branching out into other mediums and kits.

I was also asked at one point during the session, “Does the symbolism of the light have to be the use of light/dark in the texts?” Which really made me think about the constraints I put on the project by telling students that is the symbolism they are looking for. There are several types of symbolism they could draw from and I do not want to limit the connections they may make between the texts. I think that I will modify that aspect of the project and just state that they are using the circuit to symbolically represent the connections between the 3 texts. Finally, why does it have to be just those 3 texts? We work with more than those texts throughout the 9 weeks dealing with WWII. I believe that I will make the directions so that they have to use the 3 main texts that we concentrated on but that they are challenged and encouraged to draw from other class sources as well.


IDEObooks (2013). Design thinking for educators. IDEO. Retrieved from

Maker Project Lesson: Connecting texts through paper circuit symbolism



The goal of this post is to provide other educators with an example of how to use paper circuits in the classroom to enhance and extend the curriculum. The question initially posed for this project was, how do I use maker kits in a language arts classroom to meet course requirements and engage students in participatory learning? After a lot of contemplation and experimentation I came up with a few challenge questions. How do I help my students use their strengths (technological, physical, artistic) to make an item or create an experience using paper circuits that connects the 3 major texts used in our World War II unit? When have completed their maker project, how can the projects be displayed/experienced at our annual craft show or coffee night?

The purpose of this activity will be to help 9th grade students demonstrate the interconnectivity between the texts they are working with in language arts and social studies. For this unit, students read Lord of the Flies by William Golding, Research a WWII battle for a historical analysis research paper, and watch part of the documentary Inside the Nazi War Machine- Inside the Holocaust by the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. Using paper circuits as a way to link their ideas and understanding of the events they are studying could be a great culminating project. I really like the idea of using the light from the circuit as a symbolic representation of hope throughout the war, but I also do not want to limit my students to only thinking of that specific symbolic representation.  Making textual connections through the project and the explanatory paper they will submit as part of the assignment will really allow students to connect the dots between not only what we are doing in class but also what they are working on in social studies. According to Mishra and Koehler (2009), “Teaching requires the transformation of content in ways that make it intellectually accessible to students.” I believe that by focusing on the connections between the texts as well as the language arts and social studies connections through this maker project students will be able to discover new ways of thinking about the material.  Students spent the entire unit building their knowledge of the material and this is their chance to creatively shape that knowledge into a finished product that showcases their thoughts and understanding. Below are some of the CCSS standards that can be focused on through this assignment:

Materials Needed for this project:

  • A variety of paper, card stock, cardboard, and donated/recycled materials (bottles, cans, tissue paper, etc.)
  • Copper tape
  • Electric paint
  • Conductive thread (optional)
  • LED lights (at least 1 per student)
  • Coin batteries (at least 1 per student)
  • Scissors
  • Tape
  • Glue

Technology needed:

  • Laptop/desktop/tablet for research, reflection, and document creation

Plan for instruction:

Day 1: Teaching students how to connect the texts

1. Students will be asked to brainstorm as many connections as they can think of between Lord of the Flies, their research from their historical analysis paper dealing with WWII, and the documentary of the war they viewed. They will also be asked to think about symbolism in relation to all 3 texts. *Symbolism has been defined and discussed repeatedly throughout the year and the unit.

2. Once they have their ideas down on paper or recorded online, they will be introduced to the following challenge: How can I use paper circuits to  showcase the connections/symbolism between the texts?

*If students have never worked with paper circuits before then extra time must be afforded to teach them how to use the materials to make a paper circuit.



Paper circuits use copper wire, electric paint, and other conductive materials to connect two circuits in order to operate an LED light.  Students will be using the circuit they build in their project as a symbolic connection between the texts.

3. Students are given time to experiment with the materials available to them in order to work out how they are going to approach the project. They will start by preparing a working prototype of their circuit and an outline of their project idea (this may take 2-3 days of class time).



Above is an example of two circuits that have been created to symbolize envy (green light) and hope (white light) in connection to the 3 texts associated with WWII.

4. Once students have completed a prototype of their circuitry and have a clear outline/rationale for their project, they can build and elaborate on their idea.


In this example, a quote from Lord of the Flies was added, broken pieces of glass and pottery, small change, and dates from specific battles were wrapped around the can.

5. After students have spend time putting together their symbolic representation of how the texts connect using the circuit, they will start working on their explanatory paper, which will showcase their ideas and solidify their creative choices.

6. Students will be asked to reflect on their work after completing the draft of their paper and may add other elements to their projects if they see fit.


Here an extra quote was added to the front of the project to back up an important idea from the text.

7. Once students have completed their reflections and revisions on both their projects and papers it is time to showcase their work.

In my classroom, students would be asked to display their project and written work at the annual craft fair/coffee shop night in order to reach a wider audience and validate their work in the community. Students could also share their work in class or through display cases. The importance of having a venue to show their work is to validate what they have worked so hard to create and allow them a chance to view the creativity and innovation of their peers. Their final product is not only a work of art, but a display of higher level thinking skills shown through their ability to symbolically connect and evaluate multiple texts across two subject areas.




The plan for this assignment went through many stages. I felt that paper circuits were a great way for students to look at symbolism and connect texts but I also did not want to limit students to a specific type of symbolism or hinder their own interpretations of the texts. It is hard to give students the space they need to create while also trying to assess certain criteria. Design learning is a new concept in my classroom and so reflection, self-evaluation, and readjustments will definitely be a part of the classroom experience for not only the students, but myself as well. It is important that students are also given the opportunity to engage in meaningful dialogue with people outside of the classroom about their studies and how they effect them, which is why showcasing their work at a community event would be powerful. According to Design Thinking for Educators,”Invite colleagues, experts, and friends to participate
in your design community. Participants may be
experts or novices in Design Thinking but should
include people you feel comfortable sharing new
ideas and frustrations with” (74).  By providing students with this opportunity to interact with the class material in new ways and giving them a comfortable venue to show their work, students will be able to succeed as students, innovators, and community members.

The example I have provided, in my mind, is far inferior to what one of my students would be able to imagine and invent. It is merely a rudimentary example in order to spark an idea and challenge them to surpass my attempt with their own. I had a fantastic time struggling through the process of designing, connecting, and rationalizing my own project. The level of my own engagement was refreshing and my excitement of having the opportunity to tackle this project with my students in the upcoming year keeps growing. I cannot wait to witness their own interpretations of our WWII unit.



IDEObooks (2013). Design thinking for educators. IDEO. Retrieved from 

Mishra, P., & Koehler, M. (2009). Too Cool for School? No Way!: Using the TPACK Framework: You Can Have Your Hot Tools and Teach with Them, Too. Learning & Leading with Technology, 14-18.


Discovering the Maker Movement

This week in the MAET year 1 program we are experimenting with maker kits. The Maker Movement is all about using technology, recycled materials, and many other tidbits that people may tinker with to produce items either digitally or physically. The purpose of making is to promote creativity and higher order thinking skills, especially through the use of technology. Students will have opportunities to use technology in a way that will show them real, material connections to the world around them. As global citizens, it is imperative that they are capable of honing their problem solving skills in order to become innovative members of society. Below are several maker kits and programs I had the opportunity to explore through class:



This program is a circuitry program called Squishy Circuits and the goal is to make different circuits in order to ring a bell or light up lights. Squishy Circuits may also be used in conjunction with other maker kits to create more interesting combinations.



Above is a picture of Raspberry Pi, a rather complicated maker kit that I believe would be used with middle school/high school aged students. Raspberry Pi is more difficult to grasp, but it is also the maker kit that seems to have the most potential because it is capable of controlling many aspects of your computer once programmed correctly.



Here is an example of Makey Makey, another circuitry maker kit that can be used to make a variety of interesting projects. This is a great kit because you can get large groups of people involved in forming the conductive link needed to operate the kit if you want. The photo above is a picture of a banana piano set up at 091 Labs in Galway, Ireland.




This is a picture of littleBits, a connective circuitry kit that has many different add ons, such as a fan. Students would be able to snap together many magnetized sections in the kit in order to form different types of projects. There are even ways to slow down or speed up the light displays and fan movement.


5. IMG_0783IMG_0792

*flipped classroom photo courtesy of Joy Zaher

Above are two examples of paper circuits. Paper circuits use conductive paint, string, copper wire, or other conductive mediums to build circuits on paper. I can start to see several ways this may be applicable to my language arts classroom in the future.



The photos above are examples of 3D printing, another part of the maker movement that is becoming quite popular and reaching a wider market of people as the price of printing begins to decrease.

So far, I have only begun to experiment with different Maker Kits and online programming. One program for 3D printing that I found rather interesting and quite extensive was Tinkercad. This program allows students to design objects, buildings, etc. that would then be printed using a 3D printer. The tutorial the site provided was quite helpful and entertaining. As I moved around the different beams and practiced resizing them, I found that there was an awesomely rendered version of Elvis hidden behind one wall. This tells me that someone even had a great time building the tutorial. I can see lots of implications for these kits in the classroom but I’m still unclear on how I would tie it to my own language arts curriculum.

How do you use these creative, open-ended kits to promote literacy? What sort of problems should my students try to tackle through the Maker Movement? How much freedom should I give them? Many, many questions raced through my brain as I played and learned about each new kit but one thing was certain; I was engaged and it was fun. That is not something to be taken lightly. This form of exploration and lab-like learning could be very beneficial if introduced and handled correctly. Especially if you could find a way to use maker kits to bridge the gap between two subject areas. I will continue to play and think about the possibilities for future classroom integration as I contemplate my first maker challenge.

Here are the initial questions I am posing for my project:

1. How do I help my students use their strengths (technological, physical, artistic) to make an item or create an experience using paper circuits that connects the 3 major texts used in our World War II unit?

2. How can these projects be displayed/experienced at our annual craft show or coffee night?

Additional thoughts that cross my mind when I think about integrating this project into my classroom are: How does this connect to my student’s daily lives? What is the added benefit of using circuits in their coursework? What materials in the community could we use for the lesson? How can this help with our sustainability project? Who can benefit from this project outside of our class?




Technology Resources


Powtoon is Powerpoint’s livelier little brother.


I really like this program even though I haven’t had the chance to spend a long time with it. You can do a lot with this site like video, animation, voice recording, it has great accessibility, kid friendly and business savvy at the same time, and it’s easy to clip and position your animations as well as your text. It’s free!


It would be great if you could set it as a slideshow instead of always being a video presentation. Sometimes you just want to have a good old slideshow without having to stop the video every time you want to make a point. The signup is free but that only gives you 4 presentations. You are allowed to delete and add new presentations but you can only ever have 4 on the site at a time.


Google Drive

Affordances: This is a staple in my classroom. This free Office-like suite allows students to create documents, presentations, spreadsheets, online discussion groups and much, much, more. The best part of Google Drive is that it automatically saves student work and they can access it both at home and at school on their laptops or mobile devices.

Constraints: When all students are on the drive at the same time and working on collaborative documents the program can freeze a little or lag. Students have to have a Google account to access the drive and because that is a social networking platform, some districts may not want students on a site that can be used the same way as Facebook and Twitter.



Affordances: This is an instantaneous news source, a way to reach out and collaborate with novices and professionals alike from all walks of life and all over the globe. Utilized the right way, it can be a powerful teaching tool and a great way to get feedback from kids and where they are in the learning process quickly.

Constraints: This is a social networking site that is used world-wide so the online classroom management must be very tight if you are going to use this program in your class. Students have to have a clear understanding of what it means to be a global citizen and responsibly participate in coursework involving this application.



Affordances: This is a fantastic notetaking, photojournalism, doodle think pad, document scanner, andanything else you may think up application. I haven’t even begun to delve into all of the nooks and crannies of Evernote but I do think it will be a great tool in the classroom. The app has a great filing system to be explored as well. It also syncs across devices keeping your notes and documents at your fingertips.

Constraints: It is a little complex and takes a while to get acclimated with. Younger students may struggle with this one at first, I think it would be great for high school and college age students.



Affordances: This is an extension of Evernote that is very handy and a lot of fun. You can use a stylus or your finger to create notes and pictures in a digital notebook. You also store these documents and images you create in Evernote so everything is kept in one tidy place. There are a million activities and strategies that could be used with this app.

Constraints: It’s fun! Once you start doodling and drawing it may be hard to stop and concentrate on the lesson at hand.

pixel press logo

Pixel Press

Affordances: This app is cool, creative, and brimming with innovative possibilities as part of the maker movement. Students use special graph paper to create their own levels in their own video game and then can play each other’s creations online. You could use this as a platform for a narrative story unit told through their game, a graphing exercise in math, or review and produce an ad campaign for a classmate’s game.

Constraints: This is what I would call “cutting edge” in the education sphere because you may have to do a lot of explaining and defending to administration and/or parents in order to use video gaming as a valid tool for higher order thinking skills in your classroom. I do believe this would be a great way to promote those skills.



Affordances: This is a quick, easy way to get a conversation started and you can save the chats you have to reference later.

Constraints: There is no way of stopping a chat once it starts. This may not be the best mode of holding a conversation if you are presenting at a conference or covering a difficult topic with your kids and may fear comments that aren’t appropriate or constructive.

Texter example


Affordances: This may be my new favorite site! You can use the text from Alice in Wonderland to draw your picture or you can insert your own text to draw with. The tool is very easy to manipulate and you can change the size and color of the text as well. The faster you move your mouse, the larger the text becomes, giving the images you create a lot of character and making certain words pop.

Constraints: If you do not reinsert your text when you clear and start redrawing, you will start wherever you left off in the text on the previous drawing (hope that makes sense). Also, if you do not save your work it tends to reset itself after a period of time sitting unused.




Build (and play with) a Technology Toolkit

A current buzzword in education is technology. How do schools get it? How do schools afford it? Why do schools need it? Most importantly, how exactly do educators use the technology at their disposal to help students succeed both inside and outside of the classroom? As surprising as it may sound, educators can figure out how to use the technology that they have by playing with it.

Before teachers can recommend programs and apps, before they can confidently ascertain which technological gadget would have great classroom implications, they have to spend some time exploring the tech themselves. Think about it, would we want a surgeon teaching medical students how to operate on someone with a robotic arm if they’ve never used the technology themselves? Of course not, that’s ludicrous. So, why do we expect teachers to miraculously be able to meld these new devices and apps into the classroom? Making another valid point are Mishra and Koehler (2009), “The idea of creative repurposing is important because most technologies that teachers use typically have not been designed for educational purposes.”  Because technology is rarely designed with education in mind, teachers must bridge that extra gap in functionality by becoming curriculum designers. In order to design an effective curriculum that functions through the use of technology, not because of it, teachers must put an immense amount of time into their thought process and planning practices.

Every educator has spent countless hours improving their curriculum maps and aligning those maps to state and/or national standards but how does technology fit into the scheme of things? As soon as a new piece of technology is added to the classroom the way the concept is taught, the strategies used, the focal point of the lesson all shift. “For example, teachers who change the technology they use naturally make changes to their pedagogical approach and the content they cover to create a new “curriculum” that is also highly effective” (Mishra & Koehler, 2009). The goal is to make sure that shift is an improvement and not just another hoop for students to jump through on their way to graduation and “the real world.” One way that educators may start to contemplate this idea is through the study of TPACK. Another way that you can start to effectively incorporate technology into your students’ lives is simply by playing with it.

The first task I gave myself when I wanted to start having students turn in work online was to learn everything I could about Google Drive and the whole Google realm of apps. I dabbled in Google+, made a circle of friends and started an online chat, messed with several of the apps that were free and downloadable. When I introduced it to my students four months later, I gave them my two cents and then asked them to explore the possibilities of the site. At the end of the first class, we made a list together (on a collaborative group document mind you) of class rules when working in Google Drive as well as questions we still had collectively. It was a much more productive and engaging way to approach the tools we would be using throughout the year, and many students returned to class the next day eager to let me know that they had solved one of our collective problems or found a new use for the program. “Teachers need to develop a willingness to play with technologies and an openness to building new experiences for students so that fun, cool tools can be educational” (Mishra & Koehler, 2009). It may seem a little discombobulating to get lost in Powtoon for an hour or build a few levels of your own videogame in Pixelpress and pass it off as future planning for your classroom, but as you spend more time thinking about the classroom implications and the cross curricular possibilities it will not seem as peculiar.  The truth of the matter is that the only way that technology will ever be useful in our classrooms is if we mold it in a way that showcases and aides in the learning process.


Jenkins, H., Purushotma, R., Clinton, K., Weigel, M., & Robison, A. J. (2006). Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century. The MacArthur Foundation, 5-7.  *Didn’t reference in-text but was a good read!

Mishra, P., & Koehler, M. (2009). Too Cool for School? No Way!: Using the TPACK Framework: You Can Have Your Hot Tools and Teach with Them, Too. Learning & Leading with Technology, 14-18.

How We Learn and the Importance of Technology

There are many scholars, scientists, and psychologists who have contemplated how we learn and process information. Trends in education are often morphed to fit the latest research in the field. Teachers have been preparing their students for standardized tests for decades and some are currently preparing their students for new tests (PARCCs), which focus less on memorizing facts and more on interdisciplinary inquiries and process learning in order to apply former knowledge to new problems that arise in real life situations. The problem is, the world that students are entering and growing up in is an ever evolving, technology driven realm. Educators are hard-pressed to develop ways to prepare students for this world inundated with information while at the same time trying to master and keep up with the morphing technologies themselves. How do educators bridge the gap between learning and technology? How do they help students learn in a way that is sustainable and applicable to new material and problems? Educators can start by making students aware of their own learning process, providing students with interdisciplinary, relevant learning opportunities, and using technology as a tool to help students learn and transfer the concepts being taught not as a magic wand that will “fix” the comprehension problem or fill the gap.

Students spend a lot of time worrying about what was marked right or wrong on their papers, but they rarely think about why they may have struggled with a concept unless they are asked to contemplate their thought process and reflect on their own learning. If students start to evaluate their own learning process and grow from it, they will start on a path of self-discovery that will lead them to using higher order thinking skills on their own. According to Donovan, Branford, and Pellegrino (2000), “Teaching practices congruent with a metacognitive approach to learning include those that focus on sense-making, self-assessment, and reflection on what worked and what needs improving. These practices have been shown to increase the degree to which students transfer their learning to new settings and events (e.g., Palincsar and Brown, 1984; Scardamalia et al., 1984; Schoenfeld, 1983, 1985, 1991).” This sounds great on paper, but how do educators provide the framework for students to learn these metacognitive approaches and start using them on a daily basis? There needs to be time in the learning process for them to reflect on their lesson and decipher their learning process. “Providing students with time to learn also includes providing enough time for them to process information” (Donovan, Branford, & Pellegrino, 2000). Like many new approaches in the classroom, adding self-assessment and reflection will require new strategies and time commitments in order to give students learning opportunities that are relevant as well as rigorous.

Providing students with relevant, interdisciplinary learning opportunities also promotes self-reflection and higher order thinking skills. Students are more likely to learn and engage with material if they can make connections and transfer the prior knowledge that they bring to the table from one content area to another. “A key finding in the learning and transfer literature is that organizing information into a conceptual framework allows for greater “transfer”; that is, it allows the student to apply what was learned in new situations and to learn related information more quickly” (Donovan, Branford, & Pellegrino, 2000). Providing students with that conceptual framework will help them form connections between concepts and content in their mind. Once again, teachers will need to modify their curriculum and work cohesively with other departments in order to allow students the ability to transfer as much knowledge as possible. Technology can play a key role in providing this framework if used effectively as a tool in the classroom.

Using technology as a tool instead of the lesson itself is a thought provoking concept on its own. “One of our key goals is to stop focusing quite so much on “do kids have computers in their classroom?” and start focusing more on “do kids have the basic social skills and cultural competencies so that when they do get computers in their classroom, they can participate fully?” (Jenkins et al., 2006). It is important, especially with the incoming PARCCs assessment that educators make sure that students have the skills necessary to operate the technological tools and contribute positively to society as global citizens. So, how do we use technology as a tool to empower students and lead them to higher order thinking when the Internet and technology are constantly in flux? Teaching them how to evaluate their own learning process can also bridge into learning to evaluate the value and effectiveness of different sites on the web as well as their own role in that global society.

In retrospect, it all comes down to one point. In order to effectively provide students with the learning experience they will need to function in our evolving world educators are going to have to modify not only the way they instruct students but also the way they think about learning.  As stated by Mishra and Koehler (2009), “teachers who change the technology they use naturally make changes to their pedagogical approach and the content they cover to create a new “curriculum” that is also highly effective.” Become an innovator, collaborator, and metacognitive encourager in order to prepare your students for the challenges they will encounter throughout their lifetime.


Donovan, S., Bransford, J., & Pellegrino, J. (2000). How people learn:     Brain, mind, experience and school. Washington, DC: National Academy Press. Retrieved from

Jenkins, H., Purushotma, R., Clinton, K., Weigel, M., & Robison, A. J. (2006). Confronting the challenges of participatory culture: Media education for the 21st century. The MacArthur Foundation, 5-7.

Mishra, P., & Koehler, M. (2009). Too cool for school? No way!: Using the TPACK framework: You can have your hot tools and teach with them, too. Learning & Leading with Technology, 14-18.