User Generated Education

Education as it should be – passion-based.

Posts Tagged ‘game-based learning

Assessment as a Means for Developing a Sense of Achievement

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They replaced the old spin bikes with some new ones at the health club where I work out.  These new ones have a feedback monitor that provides feedback about effort via the RPM, watts, and gear level,  The spin instructor told us that the recommended watts for a good workout is over 200.  I started my workout as I always do, putting out my typical amount of effort.  The watts indicator hovered between 100 and 125.  Yikes!  I have gone to two workouts using this monitor.  I have reached, huffing and puffing, 200 watts on a few occasions, and attempt to keep it at around 150.   I wasn’t able to reach 200 watts the first time and felt a great sense of achievement upon doing so during my second spin class with the monitor.  Needless to say, these were some of the best spin workouts I have accomplished. I realized that the monitor made my spin performance into a type of game by me providing me with ongoing and continuous feedback and a way to level up.

I made the connection between my experiences on the spin bike and the need for humans to feel a sense of achievement.

Need for achievement (N-Ach) refers to an individual’s desire for significant accomplishment, mastering of skills, control, or high standards. The term was first used by Henry Murray[1] and associated with a range of actions. These include: “intense, prolonged and repeated efforts to accomplish something difficult. To work with singleness of purpose towards a high and distant goal. To have the determination to win”. (

I began thinking about how all of this applies to the educational setting.  I have a cynical view about assessments, most often in the form of tests, and how they are used at school.  They are often contrived and separate from the learning process, and a measure of a student’s deficiencies.  As such, students do not use information gleamed from the assessment process to improve their performance. As a deficiency model, rather than one that promotes a sense of achievement, students who do not achieve 100% proficiency feel as though they have failed in some way.

Assessment should be a continuous feedback loop, one that is integrated into the learning process, and where the feedback improves the competency of the learner.  Assessments should be used as opportunities to develop competencies and the related sense of achievement.

Sal Khan discusses this problem of testing:

Regardless of whether they can prove proficiency in 70, 80, or 90 percent of the material, they are “passed” to the next class, which builds on 100 percent of what they should have learned. Fast-forward six months, and students are lucky to retain even 10 percent of what was “covered.”

This is a grand exercise in labeling and filtering students with arbitrary grades rather than teaching them. It is a hugely inefficient use of time and resources, but no one wants to notice, because it is the way things have always been done.

Perhaps the worst artifact of this system is that most students end up mastering nothing. What is the 5 percent that even the A student, with a 95 percent, doesn’t know? The question becomes scarier when considering the B or C student. How can they even hope to understand 100 percent of a more advanced class?

Ten years from today, students will be learning at their own pace, with all relevant data being collected on how to optimize their learning and the content itself. Grades and transcripts will be replaced with real-time reports and analytics on what a student actually knows and doesn’t know. (YouTube U. Beats YouSnooze U.)

This is why I believe that game-based learning is becoming popular and being promoted viable means for assessment.

As James Gee notes:

Games don’t separate learning and assessment.  They are giving you feedback all the time about the learning curve you are on.

So what is the difference between a game or a machine giving feedback and a teacher giving a grade? How does all of this relate to intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation?  Is getting feedback from a game extrinsic motivation?  Does the external rewards gained through leveling up in a video game or gaining a badge by completing a series of competencies diminish the sense of accomplishment?

Judy Willis, A Neurologist Makes the Case for the Video Game Model as a Learning Tool:

It may seem counter intuitive to think that children would consider harder work a reward for doing well on a homework problem, test, or physical skill to which they devoted considerable physical or mental energy. Yet, that is just what the video playing brain seeks after experiencing the pleasure of reaching a higher level in the game. A computer game doesn’t hand out cash, toys, or even hugs. The motivation to persevere is the brain seeking another surge of dopamine — the fuel of intrinsic reinforcement.

Good games give players opportunities for experiencing intrinsic reward at frequent intervals, when they apply the effort and practice the specific skills they need to get to the next level. The games do not require mastery of all tasks and the completion of the whole game before giving the brain the feedback for dopamine boosts of satisfaction.

. . . which she further notes, helps students develop competencies and the related sense of achievement.

In the classroom, the video [game] model can be achieved with timely, corrective feedback so students recognize incorrect foundational knowledge and then have opportunities to strengthen the correct new memory circuits through practice and application. However, individualized instruction, assignments, and feedback, that allow students to consistently work at their individualized achievable challenge levels, are time-consuming processes not possible for teachers to consistently provide all students.

The best on-line learning programs for building students’ missing foundational knowledge use student responses to structure learning at individualized achievable challenge levels. These programs also provide timely corrective and progress-acknowledging feedback that allows the students to correct mistakes, build understanding progressively, and recognize their incremental progress.

How can all of these ideas influence how educators provide feedback to learners and opportunities to develop competencies along with the resultant sense of achievement?

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

May 12, 2012 at 3:04 pm

9 Year Old Boy’s Arcade Creation: An Example of Passion-Based Learning

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When I teach my class on Pedagogy and Learning, one of the first questions I ask my learners (both pre-service and in-service teachers) is, What do you consider your most significant and powerful learning experience?  None of them ever mention one that occurred within an institutional school setting. Caine’s most powerful learning experience, like my students, did not occur within the walls of a school building.

“Caine’s Arcade” — a short film about a 9-year-old boy who built an elaborate cardboard arcade in his dad’s used auto parts store in East L.A. — has gone viral with over 2 million views in less than a week.  It is being talked about by many news outlets and social media networks, and his Facebook page,, has close the 100,000 likes.

Why is Caine’s story touching so many?  I believe it touches people’s hearts due to the authentic passion Caine shows for his craft.  Some the characteristics of Caine’s passion include:

  • Tinkering: His dad, “He takes apart all of his toys to see how they work.”
  • Foresight, planning, and attention to details: Caine, “I have fun passes, office speakers, business cards, tokens, and prizes.  The winning tickets come through the box arcade like they would in a real arcade.”
  • Open to feedback: Caine, “People told me that my soccer game was too easy so I added goalies.”
  • Encouraged to problem-solve:  Caine, “Dad, I want a claw machine for my arcade.” Dad, “Caine, then build one.”
  • Patience and tenacity: “Caine never gets discouraged waiting for customers.”
  • At least one caring adult:  His father and film maker, Nirvan Mullick, believed in and supported his efforts. Nirvan, “This kid is a genius.”
  • Joy:  Caine found joy in all parts of his business venture.
  • Game-based learning.  Caine created his own form of game-based learning and it was NOT technology-based.

Forbes magazine has even recognized and analyzed Caine’s success in their article 9 Hidden Factors of Caine’s Arcade Success:

  1. He asked permission: He asked permission to use some unused space and recyclable materials.
  2. He sought to serve others: Caine’s passion is focused on what others will experience.
  3. He had a benefactor: With indie filmmaker, Nirvan Mullick, a chain of wonderful events is set in motion.
  4. The visual is clutch: Caine certainly understood the importance of making something visually appealing and having a story.
  5. More than x-box:  There is excitement when adults see children and young people striving to do something other than electronic games.
  6. Familiar with yes: Caine appears to have heard the answer, yes, often in his life.
  7. He made use of remnants:  There is a certain allure in American entrepreneur circles for turning waste in wonder, of finding a diamond in the rough, so to speak.
  8. Preparation meets work:  His chance to meet Nirvan Mullick came because he was waiting and looking for a customer.
  9. Tears of joy: The hidden lesson is that Caine maintained an air of thankfulness and gratitude through his long summer and that rubbed off on others.

. . . and Seth Godin, the famous blogger, had this to say:

The first thing that made me smile was how willing Caine was to do his art regardless of how the world responded (it didn’t). Caine didn’t care. The goal wasn’t to be accepted, the goal was to do it right.

The second extraordinary thing is easy to miss. Around 3:30, you learn Caine’s folk-arithmetic trick of using square roots to validate the PIN numbers on each fun pass. Extraordinary.

And the third? Starting around the nine-minute mark, any entrepreneur with a heart is going to shed a few tears. In the immortal words of Caine Monroy, “and I thought they were here for me, and they were.” (

Why is this type of ingenuity, innovation, and entrepreneurship not being nourish within the school walls?  How can we include passion-based learning as part of the curriculum?  For more information about passion-based learning, see:

Passion is not tangible but it can definitely be seen and felt as the following photos demonstrate.  Caine sees, for the first time, the crowd of people wanting to play his arcade games, the crowd he so patiently wished and waited for.

Caine told his dad that this was the best day of his whole life!

I wish for all children to have an arcade moment like Caine at least one time during their lives.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

April 16, 2012 at 2:45 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

Evaluating the Value of Apps for Educational Use

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As of the writing of this post, there are approximately a million apps available.  On my daily Twitter feeds, I see list after list of apps for educational use.

Yesterday, I saw a post from TechCrunch The Top 20 iPhone and iPad Games Of 2011.  I downloaded and have been playing Cut the Rope for two days now.  It has been giving me hours of joy.  See Cut the Rope: Experiments Review. If I was still teaching my 3rd through 5th grade gifted students, I would definitely introduce them to this game.

I have been critical of the use of educational apps and games in the classroom in that many of them have been developed by adults in business ventures.  They are more like worksheets on steroids rather than games and apps for higher-order thinking.  I also wonder as I read through the lists of recommended apps if the kids, themselves, would find them educational and interesting . . . worth their personal time in using and playing with them.

As such, I test out technology tools and games from the standpoint of a user rather than an educator . . . asking if I’d like to use it if I were one of today’s young students.  Based on my own experiences as a gamer, educator and kid at heart (one of my 4th grade students gave me the compliment, “You haven’t forgotten what it is like to be a kid.”), I developed my own criteria for evaluating the potential of apps for educational use and engagement:

  • Does it have cool graphics and an interesting interface?
  • Is there a game-like and/or creative intent to the app?
  • Is it fun and entertaining?
  • Does it make the user laugh with joy?
  • Does it require creativity, ingenuity, imagination, and problem-solving in its use?
  • Do the tasks get more complicated, requiring more skills as the user works through the game-app?
  • Does the user have the opportunity to gain points and level-up?
  • Does it have an addictive quality (yes, I believe in this) in that it calls for continuous play?
  • Does using the app create a state of flow?
  • Are there opportunities to connect with other users for socializing? problem-solving?  strategizing?

As I said, I am currently spending my time playing Cut the Rope (physics and geometry).  Past personal addictions have included Scrabble (language arts) and building in Second Life (geometry and spatial reasoning).  Friends’ and colleagues’ game and app passions have included World of Warcraft (economics, social bargaining/cooperation) and Angry Birds (physics).

Excluded from the list is a question about educational value.  A good educator can extract learnings from any app that meets most of the criteria discussed above.  If educational value can be extracted from Angry Birds, then it is possible with almost any app 😀

It is important to note that one person’s app and game joys may not be another person’s, but most offer educational opportunities.  An educator can leverage what students are using and playing in their own lives and explore ways they can be integrated into the curriculum to learn different content area concepts.  The role of the educator is this era of learning of that of facilitator.  What a great way to facilitate learning – to leverage what the learners are using in their own lives to teach broader content-related concepts.

The bottom line becomes focusing on quality rather than quantity – to find those apps and games that have potential for long term use and engagement.  Following a constructivist model of education, an effective educator can assist students to extract their own meanings from an app of personal interest, helping them make larger world connections (which includes addressing those ever present content-related standards).

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

December 19, 2011 at 10:43 pm

Win As Much As You Can Mobile Edition

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Win As Much As You Can is a popular negotiation game based on the Prisoner’s Dilemma problem (Axelrod 2006). In one version players are grouped into four teams and asked to play an X or Y over a series of rounds. The object is to score as many points as possible. If everyone in the group chooses X, then everyone loses points. If all choose Y, everyone scores points. If there is a mixture of X’s and Y’s, those that played X get more points and those that played Y get fewer points. Discussion is not allowed except during three bonus rounds, when players may discuss how they will play the next round.

Many assumptions are embedded in this deceptively simple and powerful game, developed to illustrate economic principles from game theory. The most obvious is the use of a “game” to introduce many of the fundamental themes and concepts of negotiation theory. These include the tension between creating and claiming value, individual versus joint gain, trust, concessions, attributions, ethics, and multi-round negotiations.

The sports or game metaphor and the “game,” with its title commanding the player to “win as much as you can” reflect the values of self-interest and personal aggrandizement. The title, score-sheet and rules of the game also suggest a “fixed pie,” leading to the assumption that there is no room for integrative bargaining. The game, however, is more complex than that, as players discover that single-minded pursuit of self-interest can backfire, and that a relationship between personal gain and joint welfare exists, particularly when there will be a continuing relationship. The title and rules suggest that conflict may lie ahead [and almost always does result].  Cultural Baggage When You “Win As Much As You Can” Julia Ann Gold

Mobile Edition

The mobile edition is appropriate for upper level High School students and college students.  In the mobile edition, students form in four subgroups as in the original game.  One member from each group becomes the designated voter using his or her mobile device to post his or her team’s response.  Votes are made through texting into Celly (a free group texting service) their X or Y vote along with the round number using a hashtag to denote the round.  The results of each round are projected to the entire group so they can view all teams’ votes.

The individual groups make their selections and votes with no communications with the other groups except in three of the rounds.  Three different forms of inter-group communications are permitted during rounds 3, 5, and 6 with payoff results increased during those rounds.

  • Round 3:  Groups are invited to text to any other group any message of their choice.  As such groups are asked to exchange phones numbers prior to the game.

  • Round 5:  During this round, the teams can text message any communications they want to make to the other groups through Celly which are projected to the entire group.

  • Round 6:  Groups can communicate directly with one another.


Reflection of Win As Much As You Can occurs through a VoiceThread set up for that purpose, and through group discussion.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

December 2, 2011 at 10:18 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

Facilitating Learner Voice and Presence in the Classroom Using Mobile Devices

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I recently started another face-to-face class with undergraduates – about 3/4 of them in the 18-20 age group.  I work towards a learner-centric classroom based on the following principles:

  1. Give learners multiple opportunities to be heard and seen through multiple modalities – verbal, written, visual.
  2. Get to know each learner as an individual – this is in line with my belief of the educator as an ethnographer.  Really see every learner in the room.
  3. Insure that the learners see one another as much as (or better yet more than) the content and the teacher.
  4. Provide ongoing opportunities to connect with the learners and for them to connect with each other.
  5. Use strategies, tools, and materials that the learners use outside of the school
  6. Make sure learners know that they are significant, important, that they matter- see Angela Maiers You Matter.
  7. Use learning activities that are engaging and authentic with the knowledge that the learners are giving their time (and sometimes money) to be in the learning environment.  (I feel an obligation not to “steal” my learners time with activities that are boring, useless – painful for them.)

As such, my first classes are always focused on having the students get to know one another and building a sense of community.  The only content-related activity during the first class is going over the syllabus which occurs during hour 3 or 4 of the class – not the first activity.

Another one of my driving principles is continual improvement.  I have been an educator for a few decades but I am always looking for ways to improve my courses.  Mobile technologies have evolved to a point where they can be leveraged in the class.   What follows are the mobile activities I used in this course to get to know the learners, have them get to know one another, and build a sense of community.

About Me

Students located a photo, song, or video from their mobile devices that best represented them. Learners then shared their media and the reasons for their selections.

Every student had a mobile device with personal content on it.  Even though the majority of students were under 21, a few were in their 20s and two were over 40 years old.  Most students selected a photo to share, two selected videos, and two shared a favorite song.

Values Photos

Students were asked to choose their most important 10 values from  a list of values. They were then asked to narrow their list to three values, their core values.  This was followed up with giving them the task of finding objects around the school that symbolized these values.  Once found, they took pictures of the objects using their mobile devices and emailed the photos directly to a Flickr page set up for this purpose.  Lisa Nielson describes this process in her blog entry, Using Flickr to Collect Images Captured on Cell Phones.

I can unequivocally say that there was close to 100% engagement by 100% of the 16 students the entire 3 hours of this first class.

Guess Whose Eyes

My goal is to continue this engagement and connection outside of the classroom.  A Facebook page has been established to have them post their class reflections and for addition community building activities.  For example, I took photos of each student’s eyes during the first class.  These were posted on Facebook as Guess Whose Eyes – students are already making their guesses.

Facebook for Class Reflection

. . .  and the reviews have begun to come in via their class reflections on the course Facebook page.

. . .  a response.

This significance of this post cannot be understated.  The young woman who posted this is extremely shy and reserved (possibly has Asperger’s syndrome).  She told me at a break that she is not a people person.

Watching the magic occur during these learner-centric activities cannot be understated.  Seeing the engagement, smiles, connections happen during class is why I am an educator.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

October 15, 2011 at 3:23 pm

Bringing Digital Propensities Into the Learning Environment

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Over the past decade there has been a lot of press given to the idea of the digital native.  Regardless of one’s belief in this phenomenon, the under 21 age group is growing up with technology, always has had technology in their lives, and typically uses it on a daily basis.

A new research project by the Open University explores the much-debated concept of “the digital native”.  It concludes that while there are clear differences between older people and younger in their use of technology, there’s no evidence of a clear break between two separate populations. Younger students are more likely to have worked on a wide range of computing tasks, and to have used technology over longer periods. Younger ones more frequently have laptops and handheld devices – phones, music and games players.  More of the younger users than the older ones, though, are likely to have access beyond the home computer – at work, at a public facility, or anytime, anywhere with a mobile device. When it comes to mobile phones, the differences are again in line with common perception – older users are just as likely as younger ones to make calls, but are less likely to use all the other features – text, camera, music, internet, wi-fi. (

Even with the evidence provided by research studies, I subscribe to the notion of educators as ethnographers (the science of contextualization).  I observe and study how my learners interact with the objects in their world both in formal educational settings and in informal settings when it is their personal choice.

I have been integrating technology into my classrooms (3rd grade to graduate school, online and face-to-facet) for over a decade.  The big difference I noticed over the years is the ease that learners now have in using the technology.  Years ago I needed to spend a lot of time explaining simple things like how to open applications, load pictures, navigate through a website.  Now the learners easily complete these tasks.  The similarity I find between now and then is that many learners are still not using technology in their educational-related tasks.

What the researchers do find interesting  – which is independent of age — is the attitudes to technology and approaches to studying. In short, students who more readily use technology for their studies are more likely than others to be deeply engaged with their work. (

In an effort to blur the lines between school and “outside” life, and to assist learners in using their everyday technologies to become 24/7, on-demand learners, I recommend that educators use and promote the following in their classrooms:

  • Let Them Tinker
  • Let Them Text
  • Let Them Google, Use Wikipedia and YouTube
  • Let Them Use Technology to Develop Their Skills and Passions
  • Let Them Showcase Their Skills and Passions Using Online Tools and Social Networks
  • Let Them Game

Let Them Tinker

I am absolutely amazed how easily young kids pick up and understand how to use the apps on iPads, iPhones, and other mobile devices.  If you load these devices with a lot of educational apps, the kids will explore, play, and tinker with them, finding those they like.  This serves several purposes,  First, the kids are learning with excitement and self-motivation. Second, the educator, again as an ethnographer, can see which ones the kids are attracted to.  This becomes a type of learning interest survey, whereby the educator can introduce the learner to similar education-based apps.

For example, the young man in the picture, 8 years old, had never used an iPad nor iPod.  I introduced him to mine.  He navigated through the apps like a pro teaching me some things while he was at it.  He found an app, Game Dev Story, and spent over an hour playing this game, which interestingly was not designed for his age group.  So in line with letting learners tinker is not letting our own notions about what students can or cannot learn get in the way of their own learning (quite the sentence, I know).

Let Them Text

As Pew Research noted, teens (and pre-teens) text.

Cell-phone texting has become the preferred channel of basic communication between teens and their friends. Some 75% of 12-17 year-olds now own cell phones. Those phones have become indispensable tools in teen communication patterns. Fully 72% of all teens or 88% of teen cell phone users are text-messagers.  (

This provides a rationale for bringing texting and social networking into the classroom.  Learners can be encouraged to text to one another about what they are learning;  Tools like Etherpad, Edmodo, or Wikispaces can be set up for this purpose., and for those more daring educators, Twitter and Facebook provide some other options.

Sending text messages – from the slang “wot” and “wanna”, to the short cut “CU L8R”- may actually be improving, not damaging, young children’s spelling skills, new research shows. Contrary to popular belief, the use of text message abbreviations is linked positively with literacy achievements.  (

Let them Google, Use Wikipedia and YouTube

Young people search for information, content and entertainment through YouTube, Wikipedia, and Google.

Peter Drucker, author of Managing the Future observed: “We live in a very turbulent time, not because there is so much change, but because it moves in so many different directions.” (Drucker, 1993) Effective instructors have to be able to recognize and run with opportunity to learn, and to constantly refresh the knowledge base.” The complexity of rapidly changing teaching technology makes it a critical objectives for practitioners to learn about the latest tools to enhance presentations in the classroom. YouTube has proven in the last two years to be an emerging technology with strong potential for enhancing classroom discussions, lectures and presentations.

Yes, this may mean working to unblock these sites (57% of schools block YouTube, 14% of schools block Wikipedia) to open up these channels of student learning.

Let Them Use Technology to Develop Their Skills and Passions; Let Them Showcase Their Skills and Passions Using Online Tools and Social Networks

For example:

  • Andrea, who likes to write, was encouraged to start a blog.
  • Max, who likes to draw, was introduced and loved Odosketch.
  • Chris, who is an accomplished potter and just graduated high school, was assisted in developing an online portfolio using Weebly.
  • Eric, who loves online gaming, was given a link to GameMaker  so he could make his own online games.

Let Them Game

Approximately 90% of teens have played video games at least once, with a majority of teens playing regularly.  83 percent of young people aged 8 to 18 have access to a game player in their own home. (

What if teacher gave up the vestiges of their educational past, threw away the worksheets, burned the canon and reconfigured the foundation upon which a century of learning has been built? What if we blurred the lines between academic subjects and reimagined the typical American classroom so that, at least in theory, it came to resemble a typical American living room or a child’s bedroom or even a child’s pocket, – if, in other words, the slipstream of broadband and always-on technology that fuels our world became the source and organizing principle of our children’s learning? What if, instead of seeing school the way we’ve known it, we saw it for what our children dreamed it might be: a big, delicious video game? (

The benefits of using games for learning are too numerous to discuss in this post.  I have a Teaching with Ted page on Gaming for Education and Social Good, and I am curating a Scoop.It on Game-Based Learning – an aggregate of articles and resources related to this topic.

These are the strategies I am currently using with my learners.  As can be seen in the photos of my classroom, student engagement is a common factor.  My pledge to them is to continue to observe them in informal learning environments and adapt my instructional strategies around their interests.

Team and Community Building Using Mobile Devices

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Cell phones today allow users to do so much more than just a few years ago. Students can use their cell phones to write and send text messages, take and send digital photos, and even take and send short digital video clips, in addition to making phone calls.

As such, mobile devices provide great opportunities for learning.  One such use is for team and community building.  What follows is a list of smartphone-based, community-building activities.

About Me

  • Ask participants to locate a photo, song, or video from their mobile device that best represents them.
  • Each person then shares his or her media and the reason it was selected.
  • Bringing portable speakers can assist with the sharing of songs so others can hear them.
  • Source: Jackie Gerstein


  • Prior to the activity, create a list of at least 10 categories of playlists. Possible categories include pop music, boy band music, country music, holiday music, bits of TV or movie dialogue, classical music, college fight songs, love songs, TV or movie theme music, and cartoon character voices.
  • For the activity itself, have participants form teams of about 10 members each, then ask all participants to make sure that their cell phones are turned on. Next, tell them that you are going to call out a playlist category. If they have this style of ringtone in their phone, they have to find it, hold up their phone, and play the appropriate ringtone (or music) for everyone.
  • Points awarded to groups based on how many in group can “play” the sound.
  • Example List
    • Boy band
    • Girl band
    • Love song
    • TV or Movie tune
    • Cartoon or movie Voice
    • Voice of significant other
    • A phone ring
    • Your own voice
  • Source:

Categories – Do you have?

  • Alternative – ask each small group to assign one person to take digital photos during some of the small group activities (e.g., team-building activities).  This person should be told nothing but to get a visual record of the group during the activities.  After the a number of group activities, this activity can be conducted.
  • Call out the following.  If the the photographer for that small group has that image, then they get a point.
    • Picture of someone with the GPS
    • A Group Shot
    • A close up of someone concentrating
    • A close up of someone smiling
    • Someone helping another person
    • A picture with hands
  • Source  – Jackie Gerstein

Spot the Eyes

  • In small groups, ask group members to take close ups of one another’s eyes.
  • Show the entire group the pics using the LCD  – other group members guess whose eyes they are. This is a good name game.
  • Alternative – group members can send the facilitator full face shots and eyes-only shots of themselves.  The facilitator can post these randomly on Flickr, a Wiki, 0r Facebook. Group members then attempt to match the faces with the eyes.
  • Safety – only first names should be used.  Pictures should only be head and eye shots.
  • Source:
  • Alternative: Jackie Gerstein

Community Puzzle

  • Separate group into smaller groups.
  • Explain – Your group is to use images from you cell phones to create a group story.  The story can be sequential where one cell phone picture leads logically to the next.  Cell phones and the pictures can only be used once to tell the story.  The logic and connection to be obvious to the viewer with little or no need for verbal explanation.
  • Source: Jackie Gerstein

Values Photos

  • Ask participants to choose their three top values.  They can be given a list of values.
  • Give participants the task to locate objects in their environment that symbolize these values and take a photo using their mobile devices.
  • Photos with directions are directly emailed to a Flickr page set up for this purpose.  Lisa Nielson describes this process in her blog entry, Using Flickr to Collect Images Captured on Cell Phones.

Texting Gossip – Telephone

  • Prior to the activity, choose a phrase (with fewer than 300 characters) that has meaning to your group and translate it for text messaging (for help, visit Make sure that all participants have one another’s cell phone numbers stored in their own phone’s memory.
  • After arranging the group in a circle, text your message to the first person (it helps to have the message already loaded into your phone). The person who receives the text then whispers the message to the next person in the circle. That person must then text the message to the next person. Continue in this fashion (i.e., alternating texts and whispers) until the last person receives the message via either text or whisper. The last person then verbally shares the message with the entire group.
  • Example:
    • Fear stops you in your tracks. Self confidence propels you forward. to Fear stops U n yor tracks. Self confidNc propels U 4ward.
  • Discuss problems with texted gossip
  • Source:

Human Machine

  • Separate group into smaller groups – 4 to 8 per group.
  • The group’s task is the create a human machine that has the following attributes
    • Two cell phones that are to be “synchronized” in some manner to make a sound
    • One or two cell phones that create some type of visual effect for the machine
    • All group members need to be connected in some way.
    • At least half the arms and half the legs of the group need to be moving in some way.
    • A group spokesperson needs to be able to explain the purpose and function of the machine.
  • Source: Jackie Gerstein

Two Truths and a Lie

  • Each group members takes or locates (copyright free or creative commons) three images  – two that represent “facts” about them; one that is plausible but really a “lie”.  These should be symbols rather than portrait type shots . . . a favorite dog, a flower if likes gardening, a country’s flag is from or visited that country.
  • These are uploaded on a “public” site such as Facebook, a Wiki, or Flickr only with a brief caption.  Remember that the goal is to fool others so the third picture, the lie, needs to seem like a truth.
  • Other members guess which one is the lie by leaving their guess in the comment section.
  • Safety:  Only first names are used.  No pictures of self, family member, or friends
  • Source: Jackie Gerstein

Building Communications

  • The facilitator builds a prototype model using Legos or another building kit.
  • Two or three volunteers act as the communicators.  They have the prototype in their location. The rest of the group is in a remote location.  They have all the parts of the prototype but it needs to be built as an exact replication of the prototype.  The communicators either text or voice chats with the group who must build the prototype based on these directions.
  • Two or three times during the building process – a “runner” from the building time can run over and view the original prototype.
  • If the group struggles with the task, they can send an image to the receiver.
  • Pictures of “results” can uploaded onto Facebook or a Website – and placed side-by-side for comparison.
  • Source: Jackie Gerstein

Text a Group Story

  • One person starts a story – either a word, phrase, or sentence (can be negotiated with the group or predetermined by the leader), and texts this to the next group member who adds a word, phrase, or sentence.  When it gets to the last person, s/he reads the story aloud.
  • If done virtually, the last person can post the story onto a wiki, website, or Facebook.
  • Source: Jackie Gerstein


  • Form smaller groups – 6 to 8 people per group.
  • Group members choose an image or single word to display on each of their cell phones.
  • The phones are laid out on a table.
  • The other groups are give a minute to memorize the images-words.
  • The group that collectively remembers the most cell phone displays wins.
  • Each group is given a chance to display their cell phones.
  • Source: Jackie Gerstein

Pass the Task
  • Smaller groups of 6 to 8 members are formed with equal number of members per group.
  • Give members some time to get the phone number of the person who is “next in line”.
  • Group members are given slips of paper with tasks.  Each smaller group gets the same slips.
  • The first person looks at his/her slip and texts the task to the next person.  The next person does the task, then looks at his/her slip, and finally, texts this task to the next person.
  • The first group to complete
  • Tasks:
    • Hop 10 times on one foot
    • Hum or whistle your favorite song.
    • Shake hands or high five the next person in line.
    • Do Head, Shoulder, Knees, Toes three times.
    • Pat your head and rub your tummy
    • Say Sally Sells Seashells at the Seashore three times
  • Clarity in communication??
  • Source:

Spot the Difference

  • This activity is like the Find the Eight (or so) Differences between the two pictures.
  • Group members take an original-first group picture.  They then make subtle changes – eight to ten of them – to the group.  It could be change of clothing, hair, background, etc.
  • Each set of pictures is displayed via some sort of LCD.  The other groups are to identify the differences.
  • Virtual – individuals can do this using their home setting – making the eight alterations in the scene.  The two images could then be uploaded to Facebook or a wiki.
  • Source: Jackie Gerstein


  • As a debrief for the day’s team building activities, ask participants to go a take picture of something that represents that day’s events.
  • Ask participants to use a song or ringtone to go with that image.
  • Source: Jackie Gerstein

Texting or Facebook Feedback –

Students send their classmates via textbook or Facebook three adjectives that describe their classmates’ performance during the class activities.

Using Mobile Devices to Create a Personalized Feeling Chart

Students are introduced to the feelings cards by selecting the cards that matched their feelings at that moment . . .

In small groups, students select 10-15 feelings cards and set up scenarios that represented each of feelings selected. They used their own mobile device to take photos of these images . . .

The photos are directly uploaded to Flickr via an email. The full process is described by Lisa Nielson in Using Flickr to Collect Images Captured on Cell Phones.

The uploaded images create a personalized feelings poster. Students are provided with scenarios and asked to locate on the Interactive White Board which of these displayed images that they created best represented how they would feel in that situation.

Texting Communications Activity

This activity is an adaptation of the Back-to-Back Communications Exercise. Students pair up. One volunteered to give the directions, the other to be the drawer. They exchange phone numbers and the drawers go to another room. The direction givers are provided with the following drawing and told to text in words (one student asked if he could send a picture) the description of the drawing. The goal was for the drawer to reproduce the drawing to scale.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

August 22, 2011 at 1:05 am

Kids Are Learning . . . Just Not in Ways We Want Them To.

with 4 comments

Kids are learning . . . just not in the ways expected of them through formal education.  Young people have always engaged in informal learning based on their interests and passions.  Kids have found and initiated these opportunities in the past through school clubs, reading, local community centers, and neighborhood kids’ ballgames and performances.  These informal learning opportunities have taken an astronomical metaphorical leap due to social networking and ease of access of interest-based information via online means.  I am that not sure if those involved in the institutionalized education of young people are unaware or choose to ignore that young people are often learning more outside of the school than within that learning environment.

Major researchers such as Mimi Ito, Constance Steinkuehler, Danah Boyd, and Henry Jenkins have been documenting these trends.  Here is what they’ve discovered:

Mimi Ito on Interest-Based Learning

Networked media offers an unprecedented opportunity to support learning that is highly personalized and learner-centered, driven by passionate interest and social engagement. But very few learners and educators are taking advantage of this opportunity. And the reason for this is that too often we separate the worlds of young people and adults, play and education. We hold onto the old boundaries between schooling, peer-culture, and home life, between what looks and feels like learning and education that we grew up with, and what looks and feels like socializing, hanging out, and playing. Even if those boundaries were never that real to begin with, in today’s networked world, they are even more untenable. My argument is that we need to engage with kids’ peer cultures and recreational lives outside of school if we want to tap into the power that today’s networked media offers for learners (

Full Reference: Living and Learning with New Media: Summary of Findings from the Digital Youth Project

Constance Steinkuehler on Creating Powerful Learning Environments Through Games

Collective information literacy emerges in which the communal rather than individual participation is the defining feature of online play spaces such asmassively multiplayer online games. In In online social contexts such as World of Warcraft, information literacy is contingent on the presence and availability of other people. Peers are often the first line of inquiry because, simply put, storing information across one’s social network and then querying that network when a need arises is far more efficient and adaptive than storing copious amounts of information in one’s own head. In such spaces, the fact that the Internet is a communication device and not merely a collection of semi-static information resources becomes difficult to ignore.

Martin, C. & Steinkuehler, C. (2010). Collective information literacy in massively multiplayer online games. To appear in eLearning and Digital Media, 7(4), 355-365.

Constance Steinkuehler’s Publication Page:

danah boyd on Teenagers who are Living and Learning with Social Media

We all know that youth are searching for information in totally new ways so I’m going to skip over that. But they are also sharing differently. Sharing of information is very different in a world of bits where it’s easy to make a duplicate and still retain what you originally had. Pointers have value and sharing information can create memes. Needless to say, youth are leveraging social media to share with their friends and peers. Now, most of what they share might be pure gossip, but teens also share links, references, ideas, and original content.

Written Transcript:

Henry Jenkins on Learning in a Participatory Culture

Outside their classrooms, today’s children learn by searching and gathering clusters of information as they move seamlessly between their physical and virtual spaces. Knowledge is acquired through multiple new tools and processes as kids accrue information that is visual, aural, musical, interactive, abstract, and concrete and then remix it into their own storehouse of knowledge. (

Henry Jenkins’ Blog:

Progressive educators have always asked, “How can we provide students with the opportunities and skills to learn how to learn?”  Now, given the tools and access, the role of educators should be primarily to assist students is leveraging the numerous online resources so that they become their own self-motivated, passionate, and self-directed learners.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

May 17, 2011 at 6:54 pm

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