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Making and Innovation: Balancing Skills-Development, Scaffolding, and Free Play

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This post discusses some of the challenges and proposed solutions for implementing maker education activities into a learning setting.  Several trends drive this post:

  • The Play Deficit – diminishing amount of free play in which kids engage
  • Lack of creativity and innovation in children’s lives and toys
  • The Maker Movement -Maker Education

The Play Deficit

I think many adults, me included, have fond memories of free play during our childhoods . . . playing kickball and tag at recess, flipping baseball cards, creating carnivals in the backyard . . . all done without any guidance or interference from adults.  These memories are more vivid for me than any time I spent in school.  Fast forward to today  . . . school recess is shortened or does not exist at all, kids come home from school and sit in front of TVs or computers playing structured games, teens lives are structured with school, sports, social events with no free time.

The health of a society should be measured by the health of its play. The play of a healthy society should be rich and varied: imaginative, dramatic, physical, cooperative, solitary.  Play should be afforded the same importance as math and reading, valued as truly integral to curriculum, as the foundation of learning.  Yet, a current Play Deficit exists. It is the very real decline in child-driven, unstructured play in U.S. society, and it has critical implications for the physical and developmental health of children and adolescents as well as the health of communities. Signs of the Play Deficit can be found almost everywhere.

The health of a society should be measured by the health of its play. The play of a healthy society should be rich and varied: imaginative, dramatic, physical, cooperative, solitary. Children—in urban, suburban, and rural areas—should have ample and easy access to safe and stimulating outdoor play spaces: creeks, woods, adventure playgrounds, pocket parks. Caregivers and parents should feel comfortable allowing children the time, independence, and freedom to play in their neighborhoods. Kids should be safe playing outside. Play should be afforded the same importance as math and reading, valued as truly integral to curriculum, as the foundation of learning – See more at:

The benefits of play, although hard to measure, cannot be overstated.

A playful society is filled with problem-solving, resiliency, communication, and exploration of acceptable boundaries and risk. Play promotes all these faculties, and more.  While hard at play, we unwittingly built the cognitive, social-emotional, and physical skills which continued to support us as we made the transition to adulthood.

The health of a society should be measured by the health of its play. The play of a healthy society should be rich and varied: imaginative, dramatic, physical, cooperative, solitary. Children—in urban, suburban, and rural areas—should have ample and easy access to safe and stimulating outdoor play spaces: creeks, woods, adventure playgrounds, pocket parks. Caregivers and parents should feel comfortable allowing children the time, independence, and freedom to play in their neighborhoods. Kids should be safe playing outside. Play should be afforded the same importance as math and reading, valued as truly integral to curriculum, as the foundation of learning – See more at:
The health of a society should be measured by the health of its play. The play of a healthy society should be rich and varied: imaginative, dramatic, physical, cooperative, solitary. Children—in urban, suburban, and rural areas—should have ample and easy access to safe and stimulating outdoor play spaces: creeks, woods, adventure playgrounds, pocket parks. Caregivers and parents should feel comfortable allowing children the time, independence, and freedom to play in their neighborhoods. Kids should be safe playing outside. Play should be afforded the same importance as math and reading, valued as truly integral to curriculum, as the foundation of learning – See more at:

At play, children learn the most important of life’s lessons. To learn these lessons well, children need lots of play — lots and lots of it, without interference from adults. what children in our culture want to learn when they are free turns out to be skills that are valued in our culture and that lead to good jobs and satisfying lives. When they play, these students learn to read, calculate, and use computers with the same playful passion with which hunter-gatherer kids learn to hunt and gather. They don’t necessarily think of themselves as learning. They think of themselves as just playing, or ‘doing things’, but in the process they are learning.

Lack of creativity and innovation in children’s toys.

The symptoms of the play deficit can be seen in the types of commercial toys being bought and sold.  Legos provide the perfect example of the changing nature of toys.

Lego, loosely translated, means “to put together” in Latin. But “to put together” doesn’t fully encompass the value – and purpose – of those buckets of colorful bricks. Legos are about putting together, then taking apart, then reassembling in new ways. Legos unleashed my creativity when I was growing up. They drew out the part of me that had to know what things looked like from the inside out, how they worked, how they might work better.  Since that time, Legos have changed. Instead of all-purpose boxes of bricks, with no rules or instruction manuals, the company now sells Star Wars Legos and Harry Potter Legos, complete with step-by-step instructions and stated objectives. Follow these steps to build a Jedi Starfighter or Hogwarts Castle; when you’re done, your creation should look just like the picture on the box.  These Legos require a level of precision, and a measure of patience. But no longer are they about imagination; instead, the point is replication. In an essay in his wonderful collection, Manhood for Amateurs, Michael Chabon described the transformation like this:  “Where Lego-building had once been open-ended and exploratory, it now [has] far more in common with puzzle-solving, a process of moving incrementally toward an ideal, pre-established, and above all, a provided solution.”

Still, we lose something when the nondescript buckets of freeform Lego bricks are moved to the back of the toy store, while the highly specialized Disney sets fly off the shelves. We lose that chance to inspire a future engineer, the one who will grow up to revolutionize solar power, or make the iPhone as obsolete as Steve Jobs made the Discman.  This isn’t just about Lego bricks and Star Wars kits; it isn’t just about playthings. It’s about the way we prioritize and encourage creativity in society. Which is to say that we don’t do it nearly enough.

Many of kids’ toys are promoted and sold with directions, solutions to problems, and expectations for end products.  Creativity and innovation are enhanced when directions and expected end products are intentionally omitted from the toy packaging.

The Result: Uncreative Children

No free time play time to experience, interact with, and experiment with the real world; toys that lack room for divergent and creative play; and a school system that focus more on results, accountability, and  standardized products has led to a society of less creative children and research provides some evidence of this.

In a 2010 study of about 300,000 creativity tests going back to the 1970s, Kyung Hee Kim, a creativity researcher at the College of William and Mary, found creativity has decreased among American children in recent years. Since 1990, children have become less able to produce unique and unusual ideas. They are also less humorous, less imaginative and less able to elaborate on ideas, Kim said.   Experts say creativity is innate, so it can’t really be lost. But it needs to be nurtured. “It’s not that creativity can necessarily disappear,” said Ron Beghetto, an education psychologist at the University of Oregon. “But it can be suppressed in particular contexts. “The current focus on testing in schools, and the idea that there is only one right answer to a question, may be hampering development of creativity among kids, Beghetto said. “There’s not much room for unexpected, novel, divergent thought,” he said.

At least two conclusions can be drawn from this literature:

  • Making, creating, innovating, experimenting is needed now more than ever in this rapidly evolving world and our children are severely lacking in these skills
  • If these skills are to be integrated into formal and informal learning settings, some direct instruction and scaffolding will need to occur.

The maker movement and education has the potential to do both.

The Maker Movement – Maker Education

Thanks to new rapid-prototyping technologies like computer numerical control milling and 3-D printing, we’ve seen a convergence between hacker and hipster, between high-tech coding and the low-tech artisanal craft behind everything from Etsy to Burning Man.   Maker culture, for all its love of stuff, is similarly a culture of resourcefulness in an era of economic scarcity: relentless in its iterative prototyping, its radically adaptive reuse of ready-made objects, its tendency to unmake one thing to make another — all in a new ecology of economy

The Maker movement has sparked a Maker Education trend in some informal and formal education settings.  The intent and mission of the maker movement is:

Fortunately for educators, making overlaps with the natural inclination of children to learn by doing. The maker movement values human passion, capability, and the ability to make things happen and solve problems anywhere, anytime.  The maker movement treats children as if they were competent. Too many schools do not. Making builds on each child’s passion by connecting their whole being with constructive materials in a flow that results in fantastic artifacts that almost always exceed our expectations. We want our kids so engaged in projects that they lose track of time or wake up in the middle of the night counting the minutes until they get to return to school. Never before have there been more exciting materials and technology for children to use as intellectual laboratories or vehicles for self-expression.

The learning-by-doing approach also has precedents in education: project-based learning, Jean Piaget’s constructivism, and Seymour Papert’s constructionism. These theories explain the remarkable accomplishments of young makers and remind educators that every classroom needs to be a place where, as Piaget taught, “knowledge is a consequence of experience.”

So, in essence, the maker movement-maker education can counteract the negative effects that school and our society have had on children’s and young people’s playfulness and creativity.

 Scaffolding and Building Skills as a Foundation to Making

Maybe in the past, educators could throw out a bunch of materials and tools; and ask the kids to create, but as discussed in the previous sections, many of today’s kids don’t know how to just make.  Also some of the more common technologies built into some of the new maker tools (i.e., Arduino, Makey-Makey, Little Bits, 3D printers) require some basic user skills.  The scaffolding of learning needs to occur. Learning and developing basic maker skills can occur through direct instruction by the educator, watching videos, using manuals, and learning from peers.

It is important, though, that the learning experience doesn’t stop there.  Learners need the time, tools, encouragement, and support to go beyond the “what already is” to build and develop new and unique designs.

In conclusion, for maker education and similar initiatives that drive and are driven by innovation and creativity to work, several things need to occur given today’s learning and teaching climate

  1. Educators and other involved in curriculum development would need to let go of the focus on deliverables, measurables, and expected products.  The process of doing and creating needs to be the focus.
  2. Creativity, innovation, experimentation, tolerance and acceptance of mistakes need to be viewed as being as or even more important as learning content area knowledge,
  3. The educator should take on the role of lead learner – demonstrating, modeling, and scaffolding the use of the maker education tools and techniques.
  4. Educators would need to let go of control and embrace the ambiguity that comes with the messy learning of maker education.
  5. A sense of play and fun should be expected as part of these learning activities.
  6. In essence, the educator’s role in this learning environment would be a tour guide of learning possibilities. S/he would show learners the possibilities and then get out of the way.

makered teacher

 Related Posts:

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

April 21, 2014 at 12:24 am

2012 in Blogging Annual Report

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WordPress generated an annual report for this blog –

Highlights were that I had 160,000 views during the year;  the most viewed post during a single day – Addressing Sandy Hook (and other tragedies) in the Classroom at 1,889 views, and viewers from 183 countries.



Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

January 1, 2013 at 3:18 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Passion, Projects & Play: Restoring Creativity in the Classroom

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crossed posted from: Passion, Projects & Play: Restoring Creativity in the Classroom.

Passion, Projects & Play: Restoring Creativity in the Classroom

By Howard Rheingold October 4, 2012 – 10:40am
Passion, Projects & Play: Restoring Creativity in the Classroom  Blog Image

At my elementary school in Phoenix, Arizona, problem students like me were often sent to the art teacher’s room. Unfortunately for me, my objection to sitting in a little desk, arranged in rows with other little desks, then moving in single-file to another room full of desks in rows whenever a loud bell rang, made me a problem student. Fortunately for me, the art teacher was my mother, beloved by many as Mrs. Rheingold. After the pin-drop quiet, pin-neat order of our homerooms, the happy chaos of Mrs. Rheingold’s art studio was like travelling to an altogether different dimension. Mrs. Rheingold’s philosophy of teaching art was that all human beings are creative innovators who have a need to express themselves creatively and take joy in it, but many — most — people are shut down at an early age. Someone looks at the page you are happily scribbling and tells you that your horse doesn’t look like a horse, and you decide to leave art to specialists. Mrs. Rheingold didn’t teach technique. She gave permission to play. Thank you, mom. By now, art classes in US public schools are notions from a distant past. I was heartened when Sir Ken Robinson received world-wide attention for his TED talk, “Do Schools Kill Creativity?” With so much attention to core curriculum, the creativity-blunting effects of schooling have not been at the forefront of discussions about how to fix educational institutions. I was heartened again to see that my mother’s philosophy of teaching creativity through permission rather than technique is being advanced by some of today’s educators. Jackie Gerstein, for example.

I first became aware of Jackie when she posted regularly and incisively in the text chats that accompany the weekly Connected Learning Webcasts. When I Googled her, I found her post about Sir Ken Robinson’s uncomfortable question, which led me to Gerstein’s argument for the increasingly rare unstructured places and times for learning. I wasn’t surprised to learn that she was not only an early advocate for “the flipped classroom” but spent a year thinking in public on her blog about what you do with the physically co-present classroom when traditional lectures have been moved to YouTube. And I love that she applied the flipped classroom frame to tinkering and making — introducing me to the delicious term “maker education.” Cyberized as my life and work has become, I still find joy in making physical objects. Along with art class, one of the few classes in elementary school that I looked forward to was shop class, another notion from the past.

I welcomed the opportunity to talk with Jackie for the brief video below. One thing that video conveys that is hard to get across in text: the passion of the speaker for her calling. Among other things, I asked her about “passion-based learning,” an idea she picked up from Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach and extended to include “project-based” and “play-based” learning. Passion, projects, and play. Sounds like fun. In the hands of Mrs. Rheingold or Jackie Gerstein, it’s also about connecting with the deep joy humans experience in learning until we’re schooled out of it.


Banner image credit: Todd Berman

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

October 5, 2012 at 2:17 am

Posted in Uncategorized

An Education I Wished I Had As a Learner

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Historically, teachers teach the way they were taught.  I want to change this.  I am on a mission to encourage and assist teachers in designing learning experiences they wished they had as students.  Seriously, how many would create lecture-based learning settings?  It is my belief that since that was the model used from early on, that most got used to it.  Some tolerated it, some endured, and some dropped-out (dropping out does not necessarily mean physically, it can mean physically attending school but mentally dropping out).  How many teachers, who use lectures as a primary instructional strategy, found them boring and ineffective when they were students?

I believe that a major role and responsibility of the educator is to become an ethnographer in the study of his or her students.  Educators should know the background, interests, passions, antagonizers of every student.

So I am going on a personal narrative.  I am going to become Jackie’s teacher and design learning experiences for her.

Dear Younger Jackie:

Jackie, I know that your school experiences left you with a life lasting legacy that you are defective. You were told to shut up, sit still, stay on topic, stay in line, raise your hand, don’t disrupt.

I will be an ethnographer in the study of you. I want to be your personal teacher and create learning experiences that invite you to disrupt, to innovate, to create, to imagine, to be you.

I will never make you listen to lectures of more than 15 minutes, memorize information, or take multiple-choice tests.  You have told me that not only do you find these tasks boring, you find them painful.  I will, instead, ask you to write, create, speak, make, and perform.

I know you find sitting in desks, sitting properly, sitting still to be confining, constricting, and contrived.  Playing, moving, and tinkering are such integral parts of how you learn.  Our learning environment will look more like a family room than a classroom.  Our playground will be an extension of our learning environment not one separated by time and space.

Your need for wanting to know more about topics is inspiring.  The Internet is such a gift for you.  I will permit you to have your laptop open and search for information when the need arises.  I will not ask you to unplug as you know when it is important to do.  I will respect your ability to self-regulate.   I will also ask you to share with others what you learn.  I know you love to share what you find with others.

I will observe you to find what interests you and suggest resources and readings that interest you like that English teacher who saw the types of fiction books you carried around with you, and gave you a massive books of plays.  She then suggested that you perform a few of them to the rest of the class.  Your performances, with a few of your classmates, of Edward Albee’s The Sandbox and other plays were such joy to her.

I know you “wonder” a lot out loud and ask a lot of questions including, “Why do I need to know this?”  I will point you in directions where you can get answers to your questions.  I will do my best in engage you in rich discourse or point you in directions where you can get answers to your questions.  I promise not to sssh you as so many teachers have. I know that is cuts through you like a knife and shuts down your passion and energy.

Relationships are the essence of all positive learning experiences. I know your family life has been tough, and that you developed a hard exterior to protect that soft, sensitive interior.  I will never look at you with disdain. Rather, I will treat you only with kindness, compassion, and love.

I will recognize you are my student and it my job to guide. When you are incorrect, too loud, too abrupt, I will take you to the side, and with love give you some feedback.  I will end these little conversations with a smile and a little hug.

And when I do see the hurt in the eyes, your eyes really do tell a story that you words do not.  I will touch you gently on the arm, and quietly say, “It’s okay.”

We will, as bell hooks suggests, create a place of possibility, openness, and freedom, where our hearts and minds will transgress all self-imposed boundaries.

Learning is a place where paradise can be created. The classroom with all its limitations remains a location of possibility. In that field of possibility we have the opportunity to labour for freedom, to demand of ourselves and our comrades, an openness of mind and heart that allows us to face reality even as we collectively imagine ways to move beyond boundaries, to transgress. This is education as the practice of freedom. (hooks 1994: 207)

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

August 16, 2012 at 3:23 pm

Experiential Mobile Learning Activities Presentation

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I am presenting workshops on Experiential Mobile Learning Activities at the Digital Media Literacy Conference 2012 and the Mobile Learning Experience 2012.  What follows is the slide deck from and a description of my presentation.

This interactive, experiential BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) workshop has its foundation in two guiding principles: (1) Building a sense of community in the classroom helps address the whole learner including achievement and academic success, and (2) Mobile devices are extensions of young people. As such, they should be leveraged in the classroom.

Young people are connecting with one another through technology in unprecedented ways. Computers, wi-fi networks, and smart phones allow young people 24/7 access to technology and to one another. Using smart devices in educational settings as learning and community building tools can promote interpersonal communication and encourage young people to positively express their individuality and build their student-to-student, student-to-educator relationships. The activities that will be presented and experienced during this workshop use the technology that young people use – cell phones, social networking sites, laptops, blogs, and digital cameras. These activities focus upon and build diversity and cultural sensitivity, teamwork and problem solving, self-reflection and self-exploration, and communication and self-expression (adapted from Wolfe & Sparkman, 2009).

Through participation in this workshop, you can expect to:

  • Understand the importance of building community in the class.
  • Explore the research about the use of mobile devices by young people.
  • Learn through experience at least six community-building activities that you can use with your students.
  • Develop ideas and strategies for integrating mobile-driven team building activities into your classroom environment.

This workshop is divided into three parts:

  1. Exploring research on the importance of building a classroom community and how young people are using their mobile devices.
  2. Learning, playing, and experiencing team-building games using mobile devices – see for a list and descriptions of these activities.
  3. Large group brainstorming through Wallwisher and discussion – how these ideas and activities can be integrated into one’s own work environment.

Supporting Research


One of the DMIL2012 workshop participants, Billy Meinke, wrote about his experiences in my workshop in his blog, Digital Media and Learning (DML) 2012 Conference – Experience Notes:

The session, as she explained before we began, was much less of a talking-head lecture and more of an interactive experience. After describing recent research supporting the use of mobile devices in K-12 and Higher Education, she broke up the attendees into groups to take part in the same exercises she uses in her classroom. Using such tools as and Flickr’s mobile image uploading, she took us through simple activities that can be used to improve student engagement and build a sense of community in the classroom. Sure enough, no ice was left unbroken during that session and many participants continued conversations into the main room when she was done. I’ll be showing some of those activities to my mentors back at UH, hopefully seeing them put to use by instructors in the College of Education.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

March 3, 2012 at 2:53 pm

An Experiential, Mobile-Device Driven Communications Exercise

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This past week in my undergraduate interpersonal communications course, I adapted the Bridge-It communications exercise to incorporate my students’ (most ages 17-20) mobile devices.  It combined some of my favorite instructional strategies:


First. students were asked to line up in the classroom on a continuum from those who believed they had the best, most effective communication (verbal and listening) skills to those who thought they lacked those skills.  They counted off by three’s to form three groups.  The top three self-reported communicators were asked to be the communicators, the others were the builders.

Next, groups were moved to separate rooms, given the same set of building blocks and their task . . .

Build a three-dimensional structure using all the pieces provided.  All three structures need to be exact in dimension and in color patterns.  The communicators can use their cell phones via text and/or voice to communicate with the other groups.

No time limits were set.  When the teams believed they successfully completed the task, they could send pictures of their structures to one another.


After the completion of the activity, reactions and reflections were posted on a Voicethread slide using an image taken during the activity and quickly uploaded to Voicethread.

Comments included:

I loved doing this project! It was fun to get to know the class and it was interesting to figure all of this out without being in the same room with one another. We all worked very well together after we figured out what we were doing.

The activity showed we all communicated very well. The best way we were going to build our structure was to communicate by one and to make sure we had everything in place. i learned that communicating with good instructions will make it successful.

This activity showed how well we can communicate with each other. I learned that we can communicate well if given proper instructions that are detailed and precise.


Next class students will be shown video clips of their participation in the activity.  Since the topic is on nonverbal communication, they will be asked to text to Wifitti what the nonverbal behaviors they witnessed during each of the clips.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

November 5, 2011 at 6:17 pm

It really is about the technology and . . .

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It is not about the technology.

I have developed a sour taste for this common and almost automatic “battle cry” from the educational technology community.   If we view learning as a process that is integrated, holistic, and systemic, then of course it is about the technology . . .  and the pedagogy . . .  and the learners . . .  and the available resources . . . and the community.  It is not about one thing before the other, one thing over another.  It is about the whole picture.  It goes from being a reductionist view of technology integration to one that holistic, taking into account all the elements, and how they influence and are influenced by one another.

I am teaching an online Integrating Technology Into the Curriculum course for a Masters of Education fully online program.  This is the only technology course they have during their Masters work (and it is an elective).  It is an eight week course and one that has been designed by the university’s course designers.  Most of the students come into the course with knowledge of Microsoft products  – Word, Powerpoint, Spreadsheets and hardware such as overhead projectors (yes, they still reference this), DVDs, and Elmos.

Most of the students’ suggestions for integrating technology into their curriculum include examples using these tools they know.  Here are example recommendations from one of the “better” students  from his technology improvement plan:

Computers would make a nice addition to each classroom for use by students.  Software such as Microsoft should be installed on each computer so students can explore with Spreadsheets, word, and database.  In addition, with computers the school should install the internet on them so students may use it to search for topics of interests and study as well as thousands of other things.

They know their learners, their schools, their content areas, and only the technologies I described.  But most of their technology integration ideas pretty much contain these old school technologies.

I make suggestions about how to enhance their curriculum using more current technologies – Google docs and apps, social networking, Blogs, wikis, Skype, Twitter, TeacherTube – but few “take me up” on these offerings.   An emphasis here – they are Masters of Education students in an Educational Leadership program.

This fits with the cliché of “If all one knows is a hammer, then everything is viewed as a nail.”  The same tenet applies to educational technology integration, “If all the educator knows is Word and PPT, then all technology-integrated learning experiences will be viewed through the lens of a Powerpoint.”

The benefits of educators knowing a full range of emerging, educational-relevant technologies include:

  • Content and process can be presented to the learners using a variety of modalities – visual, auditory, interactive.  Use of multiple modalities has the potential to make the content more interesting and more relevant to a broad range of learners.
  • Instructional could be differentiated to meet each student’s needs.  The more tools an educator knows, the more likely s/he can offer the right technology to address that student’s learning style and interest areas.
  • Teachable Moments are enhanced. When learners bring up ideas or questions, the educator has a larger back pocket of options, knowledge of internet resources upon which to draw to address that teachable moment.

It then becomes the responsibility for educators to understand the current technologies being used by society-at-large.  What that means in actual practice is:

  • Keeping informed of how emerging technologies are being integrated into the educational landscape by other educators, librarians, instructional technology specialists, and administrators.  This is where social networks such of Twitter come in handy.
  • Getting to know and understand the tools through webinars often offered by the tool administrators/developers and online tutorials.
  • Understanding the user agreements and privacy issues associated with the tools being used by society-at-large.

If education is serious about preparing learners for their real lives – current and future, then it becomes an ethical imperative to bring relevant, current, and emerging technologies into the learning environment.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

July 15, 2011 at 2:23 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Celebration of Learning

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I prepared this slideshow to show current students examples of end-of-semester Celebration of Learning.  Love students’ creativity and passion.  It is always such a pleasure to witness these presentations.

Celebration of Learning, posted with vodpod

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

June 8, 2011 at 7:11 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

5th-6th Grade Civil Rights Project: Technology-Based Activating Event

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The learning expedition for the 5th and 6th grade this year is civil rights.  The teachers in the three classes started this expedition by having the students study literature and view media (Little Rock Nine) related to civil rights.  During these initial activating events, students identified vocabulary related to civil rights.  The teachers requested that their students create covers for their binders during their technology class.  They asked for Word Clouds of their vocabulary words and a related quote to be included within this cover.

Content Standards Addressed (Idaho)


  • Demonstrate increasingly sophisticated operation of technology components.
  • Locate information from electronic resources.
  • Use formatting capabilities of technology for communicating and illustrating.
  • Publish and present information using technology tools.

Language Arts:

  • Use words and concepts necessary for comprehending math, science, social studies, literature and other Grade 6 content area text.
  • Read grade-level-appropriate text.
  • Apply context to identify the meaning of unfamiliar words and identify the intended meaning of words with multiple meanings.


A Google Presentation was set up with sharing permission set for anyone to edit (plans to change to view only once their pages are complete). This permitted all the students in the class to work within the document without the need of an email to log in.  This would not only result in student binder covers, but also in an embeddable presentation of all student work for that class.   A template was developed that included a block for the Word Cloud image and text box for the quote.  The individual student names were included on the slides so the student could find and work on his or her individual slide.

Students came to their technology class with lists of their civil rights words.  Two types of Word Clouds were introduced to the students:  ABCya Word Cloud and Tagxedo.  I introduced Tagxedo during the first group but didn’t realize that Tagxedo needed Microsoft Silverlight to operate.  Due to the block on the system, any additional software needs to be downloaded by the network administrator.  ABCya Word Cloud became the back up tool.  But the third group (another day), got the opportunity to test out Tagxedo.  The students loved producing the word cloud into a shape of their choice.


To find a relevant quote, the students were directed to go to Thinkexist: more than 300,000 quotations by over 20,000 Authors. When students located their quotes, these were copy and pasted into their slide.


So with this few hour exercise, the students learned how to

  • engage in language arts content standards through a technology interface
  • convey their vocabulary words in a visual format
  • creatively play with words
  • download an image
  • insert an image
  • search for and locate a relevant quote
  • copy and paste the quote from a website into a Google doc
  • work collaboratively on an online document

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

October 24, 2010 at 11:10 pm

Junior High Technology Project

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The Junior High Technology project was developed using the following rationale:

  • Sometimes It is About the Technology: Many educators involved in educational technology believe “pedagogy before the technology.”  I agree, but sometimes it has to be about the technology.  Learners may not discover the full potential of a technology without direct instruction. There is a false belief that students, being digital natives, will intuitively learn all how the technology tools operate.   I have observed something quite different. If a student does not immediately understand the workings of a technology, he or she will quickly get frustrated and/or move to onto another. My role as a technology instructor is to know the tool and demonstrate to students how to use that tool . . . learning the tool separate from its connection to a curricular area.
  • Offering Choice of Technologies: I know that has been some questions about the existence of  learning styles, but I also know, through years of working with and observing students of all ages, that they have different needs and desires for expressing their knowledge and understanding of content and concepts. In most classes I teacher, I offer a choice menu of projects – see A Technology-Enhanced Celebration of Learning.
  • Tinkering is Important: At first I expected students to jump into their content-based project. I realized that the students needed to play with the tools to learn how they function. Now when I introduce a tool, I tell the students they can experiment with the tool, create projects on one of their hobbies and interests. Their content-related school project will come after they get the opportunity to explore and tinker with the various technologies being offered.
  • Supporting the Content Area: Educators embracing the potential of educational technology believe, as do I, that technology should be integrated into existing curriculum rather than being offered as a separate course. It is similar to teaching multicultural education and character development. These areas, like educational technology should be embedded into all curricular areas.  But, since I am a technology instructor (and like being so), I want to use technology to support the content being covered in the students’ classrooms.
  • Technology as Project-Based Learning: Along with supporting the content area, the technology project is designed to be just that – a project, one that will take several weeks to complete.
  • Addressing National Education Technology Standards: Built into the structure of the Junior High project is learning and practicing technology skills: developing innovative products and processes using technology; applying digital tools to gather, evaluate, and use information; and practicing safe, legal, and responsible use of information and technology.

Idaho Content Standards Addressed


Basic Operations and Concepts

  • Students demonstrate a sound understanding of the nature and operation of technology systems.
  • Students are proficient in the use of technology.

Social, Ethical, and Human Issues

  • Students practice responsible use of technology systems, information, and software.
  • Students develop positive attitudes toward technology uses that support lifelong learning, collaboration, personal pursuits, and productivity.

Technology Productivity Tools

  • Students use technology tools to enhance learning, increase productivity, and promote creativity.

Technology Communications Tools

  • Students use a variety of media and formats to communicate information and ideas effectively to multiple audiences.

Technology Research Tools

  • Students use technology to locate, evaluate, and collect information from a variety of sources.
  • Students evaluate and select new information resources and technological innovations based on the appropriateness to specific tasks.

Humanities: Visual Arts

Goal 3.1: Demonstrate skills essential to the visual arts.

Objective(s): By the end of Grade 8, the student will be able to:

  • 6-8.VA.3.1.4 Produce art that demonstrates refined observation skills from life.
  • 6-8.VA.3.1.7 Locate and use appropriate resources in order to work independently, monitoring one’s own understanding and learning needs.

Goal 3.2: Communicate through the visual arts, applying artistic concepts, knowledge, and skills.

Objective(s): By the end of Grade 8, the student will be able to:

  • 6-8.VA.3.2.2 Demonstrate the ability to utilize personal interest, current events, media or techniques as sources for expanding artwork.

Goal 3.3: Communicate through the visual arts with creative expression.

Objective(s): By the end of Grade 8, the student will be able to:

  • 6-8.VA.3.3.2 Create a work of art that expresses personal experience, opinions, and/or beliefs.
  • 6-8.VA.3.3.3 Use the creative process (brainstorm, research, rough sketch, final product) to create a work of art.

The Junior High Technology Project

General Goal:

This is a semester long project.  The goal of this project is for students to use a technology creation tool to demonstrate their knowledge and understanding of one of the following content areas:

  • Digital Citizenship (Technology)
  • Universal Human Rights (2009-10 learning expedition)
  • Africa (2010-11 learning expedition)

Progression of Learning Activities

For five consecutive technology classes, students will be introduced to different Web 2.0 project creation tools – one per class:

Students will be provided with an overview, during these introductory classes, of the expectations of their assignment.

  • At least 10 facts with references about their topic.
  • At lease five live links to additional resources.
  • At least 10 copyright available images.
  • A video embedded into the presentation
  • An audio segment embedded into the presentation.

Safe and responsible internet use will be demonstrated throughout these lessons:

  • Locating appropriate information sites.
  • Judging the validity and legitimacy of a website.
  • Conducting a Google Image search using strict filtering and user rights that permit use of the image.

Beginning with the sixth technology class, students will work on their technology projects.  They will provide the teacher with the topic and the technology tool they will use for their project.  As part of this contract, students will also specify possible extra credit projects.  The expectation is that students will work on their extra credit projects in the case that they finish their project by the end of the semester.

At the time that the students select their project topic and technology tool, they will be provided with a rubric of the assignment criteria.  At the end of each class, they will be asked to write a reflective statement at the bottom of the rubric specifying progress and challenges related to the project.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

October 24, 2010 at 8:57 pm


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