Why I Love What I Do and Where I Do It

Modern learning is more about creating the environment for learning now that information is abundant and learners can learn without us. I think of it more like solving a puzzle as we are somewhere between school 1.0 and school 2.0. Two years ago I came up with the idea for STEAM by Design Seminar and wondered how it would work out. I had some nonnegotiable things like no grades or homework. That made this a seminar (not a class since classes have grades and homework), which has turned out to be just what I and our students needed. I have made a good living being a teacher and digital learning coordinator. In fact Durham Academy just did a profile of me which tells my story pretty well. I did a poor job of describing when I moved out of the house at 13 as I did come back each Sunday night to go to school, but spent the weekends on the farm of Eldon Crapp. Read it here. I am lucky that DA has allowed me to try almost anything I thought was worth trying. Granted, I study things and believe I should learn it first before I suggest the school jumps in. That was mostly true with STEAM by Design with the exception of no grades or homework part. As I continue to learn and adjust the seminar, I am grateful to receive the positive feedback like the article, the cards from students, notes from parents, and the affirmations from people I have learned with over the years.

Here are a few of the affirmations in the last week or so:

From a student: note tells it all.

From a parent: Just wanted to send you the latest from the people who inherited Zach (He was in STEAM by D last year). I am glad he found the US teachers of Beck and Starling as well.

From a company:https://www.makersempire.com

We are very excited to let you know that Cal’s entry in our February competition has been selected as the WINNER.  We were impressed by Cal’s original design that showed creativity and fit for purpose design.
This student’s entry was chosen from over 1000 designs that were entered in our ‘Help Theo the Dog’ competition. A cool Makers Empire prize pack will be on it’s way to Cal soon and their design will be featured in the gallery in the Maker’s Empire App.
We are also pleased to announce that entries from the following students were selected as runner-up in the February competition:
Lauren from Wilderness School in South Australia
Natalie from Verona Area School District
Chloe from Woodcroft College in South Australia
We have an exciting new competition called Feeling Dice, challenging students to design an emotions monitor.
We hope you are enjoying your 3D designing and printing at Durham Academy and we look forward to seeing more great designs.
Kind regards,
The Makers Empire Team


Last but not least from Will and Bruce at Modern Learners: Read The Artistry of Teaching and listen to Changing Educational Norms That No Longer Serve Us .

I think the Seymour Sarason quote Will shares … gets to the heart of what I hope to achieve with STEAM by Design.

“There is one goal [of education] that, if not achieved, makes the achievement of all other goals very unlikely. That goal is to create those conditions that make students want to learn; not have to learn but want to learn more about self, others, and the world. The overarching purpose of schooling and its governance is to support that goal, i.e., to create and sustain contexts of productive learning supportive of the natural curiosity and wonder with which children start schooling.”




On Tour with Tour Builder

I love it when a teacher asks me something they would like to do with their students to help connect what they have been studying or reading to the larger world. Julie, Patti, Mike, and Melissa wanted to make maps so we looked into G Suite’s My Maps and Google’s Tour Builder. With the help of these explorers we have embarked on our journey comparing and creating our story maps. We had decided on My Maps as it appeared to be a more friendly and feature rich environment and was available in our G Suite. After working with a class, Julie and I wondered if Google Tour Builder would work better since there is more sharing options as we want the maps to be viewable on their blogs. My Maps will not work as our students are not allowed to share outside of our G Suite domain. Tour Builder allows for sharing with a link which we can put on their blog. With this in mind, we will work with the afternoon class in Tour Builder. I enjoy ideating as we work through the learning goals and the technology. I just got a message from Patti saying, “I’m in for Tour Builder.”! This is an example of the tour I built in Tour Builder. Since I have not read the books or stories, it is not an accurate example of what our students will create.

The only caveat is that we must create on a desktop computer and then share to iPads to view as the creation is not supported on mobile, “yet.”

We used these resources to get started.

Tour Builder by Eric Curts http://www.controlaltachieve.com/2017/10/tour-builder.html

Overview of the differences by Ann Witherspoon. http://www.poweredwithtechnology.com/2016/04/storytelling-with-google-tour-builder.html

The long running Google Lit Trips is a good place to see past examples. http://www.googlelittrips.org/

Richard Byrne has great resources on how to use Tour Builder and My Maps as well. http://www.freetech4teachers.com/2017/10/google-tour-builder.html#.Wh2RybQ-fUI


The Power of Off

Another day, another story about distractions caused by devices. Why do none of these articles and studies discuss the power of the off button? I wrote about my culpability in a post as I own that I have distraction on my hands.

How Smartphones Hijack Our Minds – Nicolas Carr who also wrote the book The Shallows which told us what the internet is doing to our minds. I do not completely buy his argument although I get the point. I imagine there were articles about how the printing press was damaging to the eyes or memory of the humans when it was introduced. Check out Marshal McLuhan’s The Gutenberg Galaxy, The Printing Press as an Agent of Change by Elizabeth L. Eisenstein, or The Rand Corporation’s article on the Information Age, Looking Backward to Look Forward Try this do a Google search for distractions and learning distractions and you will find a plethora (About 31,400,000 in 0.64 seconds, according to Google’s humble brag) of information about the damage being done.

Do a Google search for mobile devices and learning  and you will find an abundance, (About 111,000,000 results 0.71 seconds, again a humble brag) according to Google’s humble brag) of information about how the same devices can be used to increase the learning with adaptions and conscious use. That is about 79,600,00 more although to be honest I did not read them all to make sure if they were pro or con.

I get it and agree, but until there is no longer an off button on the devices, we are still the overlord of the devices we put in our lives. I for one do not want to go back to the day when digital learning happened when you went to the computer lab. For fun, I did a Google search for how to turn off my iPhone? I did not see this number coming (About 16,900,000 results (0.55 seconds)). If there are that many resources on how to turn off an iPhone we might need an intervention.

The Reluctant Learner Uncovered


The USS Benham DD-397

On the first day of the STEAM by Design Seminar, I asked all of the students why they signed up. It sounded cool or my parents signed me up were the most common answers. One student who was signed up by his mother was reluctant to stay and said so. Since the seminar is done through study hall, he could easily just not come. I did suggest that he give it a day or two before he decided. Those days were filled with struggles and a desire to stop. He persevered and worked on the lessons until his skills and confidence grew. Then one day he asked if he could make his own creation and I said yes as long as it was his creation and not a copy of someone else’s work. That was the day the once reluctant learner became uncovered as he has become a very engaged and creative STEAMer. I found out that one of his passions is WWII aircraft and ships. He is using Wikipedia as a source for his images for inspiration while he creates the 3d object. I asked him why he likes to do these planes and ships and he responded that he just enjoys researching and reading about them. He proceeded to tell me all about a ship (not this one) that was a fuel tanker during the attack on Pearl Harbor that was destroyed. He knew the backstory of the ship and what happened to the crew after being bombed. He also knew how it was scuttled and other details. Is he a reluctant learner or just a uncovered learner that has found his agency in learning. I am very proud of him for the growth he is making.

Finding Time for STEAM – NCAIS Conference


This Friday, 10/21/16, I will be presenting in room 6 from 10:15 – 10:45 at the Annual NCAIS Conference. I proposed this session last year as I think other schools could benefit on how I have approached developing the STEAM by Design Seminar.

Proposal Summary
Making, Makerspaces, and Design Thinking are powerful new instructional methods and concepts that many schools are adopting or trying to adopt. This session will focus on how a Middle School teacher started a STEAM by Design class in a schedule that did not have any room. Come to this session to find a place to add a STEAM by Design seminar in your school.

Proposal Description
Schools are faced with a dilemma when trying to institute new programs or classes. Most schedules in schools are already full leaving little or no room for creating new models of learning and teaching. Our Middle School wanted to have a STEAM class with Coding, Design Thinking, Electronics, 3D Design, 3D Printing, and Making. How do we add something to an already full schedule for students in a way that will not overload the students while also exposing them to these skills and concepts. The answer was to look at the area where students are provided time to study even on days when perhaps they do not need the time to study, or that they would like to learn something about STEAM and still have the time to study when needed. Therefore we are offering a STEAM by Design Seminar as a year-long class open to any seventh or eighth grade student who wants to take the seminar (provided they are also not a double foreign language student). The seminar will meet three out of the six days that their study hall meets. The STEAM by Design Seminar will explore these concepts and skills using the online resources (Project Ignite by Autodesk and CodeMonkey). With this approach, our school plans to infuse the STEAM concepts and skills related to STEAM and Making without wide institutional change that would require committees and time. If we fail, we iterate and adjust to the next design.

This is the presentation I will be using so please feel free to make a copy of

Explain Everything and Creative Learning

I was so excited, and a bit nervous, after I found out that we would indeed be purchasing the incredible app called Explain Everything. I was nervous because the purchase represented a lot of money and while I knew the app could be a wonderful tool for our students and teachers, I was nervous that the use would be slow and isolated. I did prepare a tutorial for students and teachers after being approached by a teacher about using it in her classroom. She wanted her students to create tutorials that could be used by students and to show they understood the concepts. The old adage of really knowing something only after you try to teach someone else is very apt. One of the best parts of this app is that it does not require students have an account. Instead, we leverage the services we already use to store and share the completed projects. Configuring the accounts to share in Evernote and Google Drive was seamless. Eeoutside2After the initial instruction, students were off recording anywhere on campus since no internet connection is needed while working. The image above shows students outside working on math problems. They are using the Learner 3600 Headsets from ACP Direct. The use of the headsets helped keep the background noise level down and made the process more formal. Students do not need to use headsets if in a quiet room but kids like to be “professional” so the headsets serve that purpose as well.

The video below shows how two-eighth grade students use the app to create tutorials. These were shared in a Google Drive Folder so all students could listen, watch and learn.

My nervousness is gone and my excitement is growing as I know that Spanish and Algebra classes are using the app to create learning opportunities. The support from the company is also fantastic so if you do not yet, have this app, get it now!

What is Going On with My Brain?


Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/21611336@N00/3723710203

I am concerned both about my brain and my student’s brains. My brain due to aging and devices since each year I seem to remember less unless I have it on a device. Then of course I need to remember what device it is on. This is one reason why Evernote, Google Drive, Instapaper, and my new one Pocket is so important to me as they remove needing to remember which device as they are on all of them. I no longer have to remember as much as I need to know how to search. The time I used to spend trying to remember can now be used doing or not doing other things.

I listened/read the audiobook Brain Rules by John Medina and was fascinated by his research and findings. While his research and advice focuses on more then just the matters of distractions caused by our digital world. This is a big concern for educators and parents as we adapt to the changing world. I think that there are some reasons to be concerned or at least aware, but also more reasons to adjust how we teach and use devices in general. Some of this is based on the Brain Rules book while I have also learned much in the MOOC-Ed Digital Learning Transition class I am taking as well as Common Sense Media which is full of good advice as usual.

One thing to always remember is BALANCE being important regarding most activities in life. Too much of anything except oxygen is usually a problem. I received an email today from a parent about the issue of multi-tasking being a huge concern which prompted this post which has been percolating for awhile. The concerns are valid and if we all work at helping each other, we will be fine.

The Brain Rules web site if full of great videos and information about rules of the brain and I highly reccomend watching it and reading the book in whatever format you choose. This video is about attention which is important for both teachers and parents. 

Quoted from his site about Attention and the MYTH of Multitasking:


Rule #4: We don’t pay attention to boring things.

What we pay attention to is profoundly influenced by memory. Our previous experience predicts where we should pay attention. Culture matters too. Whether in school or in business, these differences can greatly affect how an audience perceives a given presentation.

We pay attention to things like emotions, threats and sex. Regardless of who you are, the brain pays a great deal of attention to these questions: Can I eat it? Will it eat me? Can I mate with it? Will it mate with me? Have I seen it before?

The brain is not capable of multi-tasking. We can talk and breathe, but when it comes to higher level tasks, we just can’t do it.

Driving while talking on a cell phone is like driving drunk. The brain is a sequential processor and large fractions of a second are consumed every time the brain switches tasks. This is why cell-phone talkers are a half-second slower to hit the brakes and get in more wrecks.

Workplaces and schools actually encourage this type of multi-tasking. Walk into any office and you’ll see people sending e-mail, answering their phones, Instant Messaging, and on MySpace—all at the same time. Research shows your error rate goes up 50% and it takes you twice as long to do things.

When you’re always online you’re always distracted. So the always online organization is the always unproductive organization.

Read the articles at Common Sense Media for tips to help your children and yourself as our children model what they see. I also think this study by The Frameworks Institute: A Hands-On Approach to Talking Learning and Digital Media (PDF) could help us all understand the changes taking place with learning and our perceptions. The parts I have read opened up my eyes to misperceptions and gaps in our understanding on how to even talk about some of the changes. The video (12:32) below will discuss the hightlights.

Digital Media and Learning: Trigger Video from Beth Fisher on Vimeo.

Am I Treading Lightly Enough?

Tread Lightly


As I work on writing comments for my students during our teacher workday, I found a link to Sir Ken Robinson’s TED talk in a shared Google Doc from the English Departments Retreat last week. I had not seen it so with two browsers open, one for comments, and one for soul food, I listened and wrote. How do I best support my students learning? How exactly did they walk into our collective learning environment? What dreams did they leave at home because they do not get to fulfill them during school? Should I even care?

My day started out with an email from a friend who is opening a new school in August. He has worked on this for a few years and while I no longer interact with him due to a possible conflict of interest, I am happy to see him getting closer to realizing a dream of his. I am jealous a bit in that he has gone for his dream. Not that I haven’t as I am doing a job I love with a school that has all of the learning resources needed at the ready. Yet, I feel like something is missing and maybe it is the change that Sir Ken speaks to and that I think Steve is going to try to foster. My own grandchildren are in school now and I see a melting of the dreams that they once shared with me. What can I do better to nurture all of the dreams of the dreamer, myself included?  

Steve had read a post by Denise Krebs and got to using VoiceThread and remembered how I had told him about how much I like it. You can read more at his blog. 




This is a quote from the talk when he reads a poem W. B Yeats.

I wanted to read you a quick, very short poem from W. B. Yeats, who some of you may know. He wrote this to his love, Maud Gonne, and he was bewailing the fact that he couldn’t really give her what he thought she wanted from him. And he says, “I’ve got something else, but it may not be for you.”

He says this: “Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths, Enwrought with gold and silver light, The blue and the dim and the dark cloths Of night and light and the half-light, I would spread the cloths under your feet: But I, being poor, have only my dreams; I have spread my dreams under your feet; Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.” And every day, everywhere, our children spread their dreams beneath our feet. And we should tread softly.

Students Writing and Teaching While Looking for an Audience


Image: Apple\’s Eyes Studio / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Over the last few weeks, more students are looking for audiences for their writing and stop animation movies. Mostly the avenue chosen is to send out email messages individually to students and teachers or to a conference where all students can read the request. I think this is a great indicator of the changes that are taking place not only with our students but also with teaching and learning. As the Innovation and Learning Cohort continues to discuss the book: The New Culture of Learning we run into this shift in each chapter. While we could feel threatened by it, I think we need to realize the power this affords us in our classroom. We no longer have to be the smartest person in the room, but do need to be the wisest. This wisdom will allow us to guide the learning, asking questions that allow learners to go further in their thinking and learning as well as modeling that learning is something that does not stop. The changes taking place in education are thrilling even when I am not sure what comes next.

There will be those who read the student writing below and wonder why the writing is not essay or formal quality. I believe this is a new informal writing that is more conversational then it is formal so while I too cringe at some of the errors, I also believe that we have to allow the students to own their learning and at times learning is, well messy.

I asked the students if it was OK to blog their requests so here they are. If you have a moment, add a comment and let them know what you think.

Ashwin writes:

MORE!!! A observation on blogging by: Ashwin S.January 9th, 2012  Tagged blog, more, personal I’ve noticed over the time I’ve been blogging that most people have the same overwhelmingly feeling. That they want more comments more replies or as I phrased it in my title they want MORE!!! Well you think that I am stating the obvious because who wouldn’t want people to see what they were writing that’s the whole point of blogging isn’t it? Well I think that a lot of people want more comments because of human nature. The more people pay attention to you the better you do in life. Even I am feeling like I want more comments (So please comment) it’s just the way we are. A common phrase I say is the perfect way to describe this observation. That phrase is “That’s just life”. http://pdroom212.edublogs.org/2012/01/09/more-a-observation-on-blogging-by-ashwin-s/

Students in sixth grade have really taken to blogging as you can see from some of their posts. I hold great hope that we can begin to see more teachers use this method of authentic writing with their classes.

Alex G sent out this message to a select group of people both at our school and outside of our school:

You may have already gotten an email message like this from me (Alex G.) or Gus L. but we’re just really trying to spread our stop-motion videos to the world. Me and Gus make LEGO stop-motion on imovie and are going to start using ikitmovie (agreat stop-motion sowtware) which I got a few days ago. I’m currently putting my BEST VIDEO YET on youtube so it will be visible probably tommorrow (thurs. january 12). It’s called The Gang, a LEGO STOP-MOTION and don’t worry none of our or my videos are inappropriate unless you say clay blood  or lego guns are but if i can stand watching it, you probably can too. I’ve sent this to my advisory and many other 6th graders and 5th and 6 grade teachers

If you go to youtube or google (and yes, google) just look up in search: “stopmotionbro alex lego” and some of my videos will come up and in the description of the video, if it says stopmotionbro (me) and doofuzz123 (that’s gus) that means we bothmade it. We’ve only made a few together though. I make them on my own out of lego, clay, caplas, puppets, and on paper. My best Videos will say in the description, used IKITMovie.

This is not chainmail but it would be great if you did send this to or tell other people about our videos. thanks and enjoy the videos!
ps, I CURRENTLY HAVE 999 VIEWS FROM 2 MONTHS OF POSTING VIDEOS SO I ATLEAST WANT 1000 BY THE END OF THE DAY but i don’t need to worry because i get about 50 views a day.
Alex G. 6th grade student

Gus and Ian sent out this message. Clearly Gus is working with many students so must be a good collaborator.

Ian L. and I created a youtube account. It is IGLProductionz. We are uploading videos DAILY, and we hope that you subscribe, as it means a lot to us and will encourage us to make more videos!

So when you hear about how teachers need to harness the passion of their students, this, I believe, is the passion we are talking about. What would happen if these students were directed to create videos for subjects and concepts in the classroom as well as the ones they are passionate about like stop animation and Minecraft? Besides, these students are learning about copyright, fair use, Creative Commons and other 21st Century issues.

Since YouTube is blocked at school, all of this work is taking place outside of school and with their parents knowledge and support.

Here’s to a bigger audience for your teaching and learning.

Is it studying or learning?


‘Studying’ http://www.flickr.com/photos/90151774@N00/3349594759

I have blogged in the last year about how I wanted to flip my classroom with posts called When Students Teach Themselves and When Students Run the Class. Both highlight for me how I must adapt the ways I have always taught to the current culture of learning. I am helping to lead a cohort of teachers reading the book: New Cultures of Learning by John Sealy Brown and Douglas Thomas. We meet once a month and have great conversations about learning, future, past, current and our role and place. Read more at the blog. We are reading chapter 5 which talks about personal collectives. So the idea of observing what is going on in the labs and in the classes I teach is at the forefront of my thinking these days. In addition, the digital device project is going strong with near constant daily insights.

So with all of this going on, yesterday I overheard an interesting exchange between a very well-meaning teacher and a group of students. The teacher is responsible for an after-school study hall which is housed in a computer lab. Students sit at computers accomplishing work or sit elsewhere reading. Since it is after-school, most students have out their cell phones and iPods which are not allowed during the school day. There are rules for what students are supposed to be doing in order to maintain a productive environment. One thing they are supposed to have is a book to read if they have no homework I understand these rules and support them, for the most part, especially as the numbers of students has grown from 10 or 12 to over 30 students.

What happened yesterday though got me thinking, what is the difference between studying and learning? Are we in the studying business or the learning business? I believe it is the learning business and even though we are often hard pressed to describe what learning is, most teachers know it when they see it, or do they with the changes? Why is not one of the rules to be learning something and not just studying it since to me that implies the knowledge being gained is coming from a source outside the learner. I think we as educators may not recognize learning in this new form and instead may actually quash it in favor of the view of studying which is more familiar.


So what happened? Two students (both girls which is a whole different post about girls and computer science) just finished my class. In their last rotation they both created incredible SketchUp cities as they taught themselves and each other how to use and create. There was another student who they were teaching how to use Sketchup. Students teaching each other SketchUp has been going on constantly since the last rotation. They were not disrupting the study hall but were working on creating a village of their designs. As the teacher, who is well meaning, asked if they were done with their homework, check, they all were. Then came the fateful question, is what you are doing for a class? The students said no, and were told to quit it then as they should read a book or do something else as they could not “play” on the computer. They did quit and went about doing something different. These are exceptional students. I was disheartened but recognize that what looks like learning to me, looks like not studying to someone else.

As I prepared to leave for the day, the student who had been getting instruction stopped me to ask if she could create a petition to get a technology elective class for seventh and eighth grade students since there is not one. I told her I would support her doing that and asked what tool she would use hoping she would choose a Google form which she did. I gave no instructions on how to do anything but today in my email was a sample form asking for my feedback.

As Alan November states in his Global Education Keynote “Who controls the learning?” I would add, would we recognize it if we saw it or would we attempt to stop it?