User Generated Education

Education as it should be – passion-based.

Posts Tagged ‘reflection

Show Learners the Possibilities . . . And Then Get Out of the Way

with 3 comments

We are living in an age of advanced user-driven technologies, information abundance, and networked, participatory learning. It should logically follow, then, that education should take advantage of these amazing developments. As many of us in education know, it has not. This theme has permeated many of my blog posts:

Moving from Education 1.0 Through Education 2.0 Towards Education 3.0

The evolution of the web from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0 and now to Web 3.0 can be used a metaphor of how education should also be moving, developing, and evolving from Education 1.0 towards that of an Education 3.0. The Internet has become an integral thread of the tapestries of most societies throughout the globe. The web influences people’s way of thinking, doing and being; and people influence the development and content of the web. The Internet of today has become a huge picture window and portal into human perceptions, thinking, and behavior. Logically, then, we would expect that schools would follow suit in matching what is happening via the Internet to assist children and youth to function, learn, work, and play in a healthy, interactive, and pro-social manner in their societies-at-large. This, sadly, is more often than not the case. Many educators are doing Education 1.0; talking about doing Education 2.0; when they should be planning and implementing Education 3.0

Learner Agency, Technology, and Emotional Intelligence

The notion of agency as contributing to cognitive processes involved in learning comes primarily from the Piagetian notion of constructivism where knowledge is seen as “constructed” through a process of taking actions in one’s environment and making adjustments to existing knowledge structures based on the outcome of those actions. The implication is that the most transformative learning experiences will be those that are directed by the learner’s own endeavors and curiosities. (Lindgren & McDaniel, 2012)

All of this is fresh in my mind as I just completed four weeks of summer camp teaching maker education and photo-video apps to 5 to 10 year olds. This teaching experience reinforced for me that educators can be tour guides of learning possibilities; showing learners the possibilities, then getting out of the way.

Facilitating the Process

The following section describes some of the conditions in the learning environment that support the educator as being the tour guide of learning possibilities and then handing over the responsibility for learning to the learners. Educators still take on a very active role in the learning environment, but learning is driven by the actions of the learners not those of the educator.

Expectations for Self-Directed Learning

In a learning environment that stresses self-directed learning, the educator conveys the attitude that learners are capable of being masters of their own learning.

In its broadest meaning, ’self-directed learning’ describes a process by which individuals take the initiative, with or without the assistance of others, in diagnosing their learning needs, formulating learning goals, identify human and material resources for learning, choosing and implement appropriate learning strategies, and evaluating learning outcomes.” (Knowles, 1975, p. 18)

In line with showing learners the possibilities and getting out of the way, the educator needs to take a back seat role in the learning process. Learners may not, often will not, do things the way the educator might, but the educator respects and supports this process in a self-determined learning environment.

Educator as an Observer

If educators want to know how learners learn, then they need to observe them learning under their on terms, with tools and techniques they use naturally.  Too often adults assume they know how children and young people learn, and too often they do not especially in this new age of learning. The educator in the role of tour guide of learning possibilities first, observes to discover each learner’s unique way of interacting with the world, and second, based on these observations, suggests or offers resources and strategies to further each learner’s self-directed learning process.

Educator as a Resource

The educator as a resource means that the educator becomes a coach or a mentor. Educators are the adult experts in the room. Learners will often go to the educator for assistance especially when stuck on a problem or to get feedback.

The best coaches encourage young people to work hard, keep going when it would be easier to stop, risk making potentially painful errors, try again when they stumble, and learn to love [their learning] (One to Grow On / Every Teacher a Coach).

The educator as a resource implies that the s/he has multiple skill sets: expertise in the process of learning and expertise in how to navigate online environments along with the ability to mentor learners using these skill sets.

Educator as a Demonstrator of Technologies

A subtitle of this section is It Really Is About the Technology . . .  Sort of.  In order for learner agency and self-directed learning to occur, educators need to keep abreast of current and emerging technologies. There is an assumption that young people are digitally savvy and know how to use emerging technology.

The widely-held assumption that all young people are digitally literate and able to navigate the internet meaningfully is inaccurate. This is something we urgently need to address if we are to support young people to cope with – and contribute to – a complex, global and digital society (New report challenges the assumption that all young people are digitally savvy).

“If educators are 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 (It really is about the technology and . . .).  This translates into showing learners the possibilities of technology and internet use for learning so the learners can then bring this knowledge into their own learning journeys.

Learning is Viewed as Natural, Fun, Playful, and Joyful

It has been said that learning is painful. I take issue with that phrase. When learning occurs in settings and with processes selected by the learner, it is natural, fun, playful, and joyful. Sure, there are struggles as new learning develops, but it becomes a natural, accepted part of the process.

The highest-level executive thinking, making connections, and “aha” moments of insight and creative innovation are more likely to occur in an atmosphere of what Alfie Kohn calls exuberant discovery, where students of all ages retain that kindergarten enthusiasm of embracing each day with the joy of learning.  Joy and enthusiasm are absolutely essential for learning to happen — literally, scientifically, as a matter of fact and research (The Neuroscience Behind Stress and Learning).

Climate of Free Range and Constructivist Learning

The learning environment in a setting embracing self-directed learning takes on the characteristics of free range learning resulting in learners constructing their own meanings from their learning endeavors.

Free Range Learning is learning by living. It is learning by following our passions, exploring our world, living inquisitive lives and thinking freely. It is a lifestyle based on trust of a child’s natural desire to learn about the world around them. Every person’s learning journey will develop based upon their interests, experiences and choices (What is Free Range Learning?).

Free range learning is often associated with unschooling or homeschooling but it is intimately related to self-directed learning; and its tenets can be brought into in a more formal learning environment. The result is an honoring of contructivist learning “which holds that learners ultimately construct their own knowledge that then resides within them, so that each person’s knowledge is as unique as they are” (Learning Theories and Transfer of Learning).

Open to Emergent Learning and Learning Possibilities

Emergent learning is unpredictable but retrospectively coherent, we cannot determine in advance what will happen, but we can make sense of it after the event. It’s not disordered; the order is just not predictable (Emergent Learning and Learning Ecologies in Web 2.0).

Ambiguity is accepted. The educator lets go of what types of learning and products should result. By letting go of expectations “what should be”, there is an opening up to all kinds of emergent learning possibilities.

With an openness to emergent learning and learning possibilities, there is an acceptance that learning is messy:

Learning is often a messy business.   “Messy” learning is part trial and error, part waiting and waiting for something to happen, part excitement in discovery, part trying things in a very controlled, very step by step fashion, part trying anything you can think of no matter how preposterous it might seem, part excruciating frustration and part the most fun you’ll ever have. Time can seem to stand still – or seem to go by in a flash. It is not unusual at all for messy learning to be …um …messy! But the best part of messy learning is that besides staining your clothes, or the carpet, or the classroom sink in ways that are very difficult to get out … it is also difficult to get out of your memory! (

. . . and a trusting of the process and embracing the journey:

I have learned that if you give freedom and trust to students, they will find their own way to the learning that matters the most. Playing it safe is not going to yield the opportunities that will make a difference. Off-script is when you don’t quite know where you are going, but you have the courage to commit to the journey knowing that it is the process itself that will hold the worth (Speculative Design for Emergent Learning: Taking Risks).

Use of Open Technology and Resources

In this age of information and technology abundance, free online technologies and resources are just ripe for the picking. An advantage of open educational resources is “expanded access to learning. Students anywhere in the world can access OERs at any time, and they can access the material repeatedly(Pros and Cons of Using OERs for Instruction). These resources leverage the playing field. They are available to all learners regardless of geographic location and SES level (although access to the Internet is required). This translates in the availability of high quality tools and resources outside of the more formal educational setting. Learners can access them in informal learning environments such as at home or local coffee shops and/or via their mobile devices in order to continue and extend their self-directed learning.

How the Learners’ Benefit

I often say that all learning activities should have multiple and layered benefits – addressing cross-curricular, cross-interdisciplinary areas as well as developing life skills. Here are some of the benefits along with example learner self-statements associated with those benefits that I have observed as a tour guide of learning possibilities:

  • Technology Skills: I can use technology to help me learn.
  • Creativity and Inventiveness: I can create new & worthwhile ideas & things.
  • Risk-Taking: I am willing to try new things when I am learning.
  • Academic Mindset: I am a good and powerful learner.
  • Communication: I can communicate clearly both verbally & in writing.
  • Curiosity and a Sense of Wonder: I wonder about the world around me.
  • Connected Learning: I can network with others to help with my learning.
  • Self-Directed Learning: I know how to learn new things on my own.
  • Self-Motivation: I can motivate myself to learn new things.

Educators as Tour Guides of Learning Possibilities

How Do We Learn? How Should We Learn?

with 4 comments

If I ask you or your students, “How do you learn,” how many of you could clearly articulate this process? If you can, are the strategies you’re using the best ones for learning? Furthermore, if the research on the process of learning is compared to the practices being implemented in school, does this research influence school practices?

During my school years, I noticed there was a problem with how I was being asked to learn. Cramming and memorizing information, being tested for mastery prior to having enough practice time, having units of study with supposedly beginnings and endings, and learning facts with no context were counterproductive and at times, painful to me.

The unintended consequences of these artificial and unnatural ways of learning include believing that learning is or should be difficult, painful, disciplined, and not fun. This, too often, results in learners believing that they cannot or do not want to learn new things especially in those areas where and when learning was painful. I believe learning can or should be natural, fun, engaging.

Benedict Carey informs us that “most of our instincts about learning are misplaced, incomplete, or flat wrong” and “rooted more in superstition than in science.” That’s a disconcerting message, and hard to believe at first. But it’s also unexpectedly liberating, because Carey further explains that many things we think of as detractors from learning — like forgetting, distractions, interruptions or sleeping rather than hitting the books — aren’t necessarily bad after all. They can actually work in your favor, according to a body of research that offers surprising insights and simple, doable strategies for learning more effectively. (

Instead of making assumptions about the best and most natural learning strategies, it is best to research and study this process. “Unfortunately, most people, educators included, are unaware of the lessons from the science of learning” (

What follows are some of those strategies that research has indicated are some of the better ones. It obviously is not extensive nor inclusive of all possible learning strategies, but it is a good start to reflect on how educators ask students to learn.

Productive Failure

We’ve heard a lot lately about the benefits of experiencing and overcoming failure. One way to get these benefits is to set things up so that you’re sure to fail—by tackling a difficult problem without any instruction or assistance. Manu Kapur, a researcher at the Learning Sciences Lab at the National Institute of Education of Singapore, has reported that people who try solving math problems in this way don’t come up with the right answer—but they do generate a lot of ideas about the nature of the problems and about what potential solutions would look like, leading them to perform better on such problems in the future. Kapur calls this “productive failure,” and you can implement it in your own learning by allowing yourself to struggle with a problem for a while before seeking help or information. (

Spaced-Out Practice

When we’re picking up a new skill or learning something entirely new, it’s easy to binge-learn and obsessively work on it over time. However, that’s not always the best idea. In fact, spreading out learning, also known as distributed practice, is thought to be a better way to learn. A review of studies in Psychological Science in the Public Interest found that spreading out learning is far more effective than cramming. Distributed practice is an old technique, but it actually works really well for the busy lives most of us lead. Instead of sitting down for hours on end to learn a skill, distributed practice is all about shorter, smaller sessions where you’re stimulating the link between the neurons more often throughout time. (

Breaking up and spacing out study time over days or weeks can substantially boost how much of the material students retain, and for longer, compared to lumping everything into a single, nose-to-the-grindstone session. (

Take Breaks to Allow for Incubation

There’s a whole bunch of science looking at problem-solving. In problem-solving, when you get stuck, you’ve run out of ideas, distraction is really your best friend. You need to stand up, let it go — walk around the block, go to the cafe, drink a beer, whatever it is — and that is really your best shot at loosening the gears a little bit and allowing yourself to take a different and more creative approach to the problem. (

A 15-minute break to go for a walk or trawl on social media isn’t necessarily wasteful procrastination. Distractions and interruptions can allow for mental “incubation” and flashes of insight — but only if you’ve been working at a problem for a while and get stuck, according to a 2009 research meta-analysis. (

Try Alternate and More Fun Ways of Learning Before Giving Up on Something New

When trying to learn something new, you can easily get burned out and feel defeated if the subject is taught by rote. The problem was the way the books “dragged [him] through a series of structured principles” lifelessly. This is not to say that learning through books is bad (not all books are terrible) or that all classes are like this. If you find yourself, though, thinking of giving up on a subject you really want to learn because you’re struggling with it, consider how you’re learning or being taught. Try to find a way to learn through play (

Apply New Learning Often and in Meaningful Contexts

The more you can apply what you’re learning to your every day, the more it’ll stick in your head. The reason is simple. When you’re learning by doing, you’re implementing everything that makes our memory work. When you’re able to connect what you’re learning with a real world task, that forms the bonds in your brain, and subsequently the skills you’re learning will stick around.

We learn best when we have context, and that applies to new skills as much as it does random facts in school. That’s why something like the transfer of learning is helpful when your learning a new skill. This means you’re applying your new skills in your day to day life in a context that matters. (

Questions to Help Guide Learning:

  • Is failure viewed as normal and as a productive part of the learning process?
  • Is learning spaced out over time rather than crammed into a short time period?
  • Are distractions during learning normalized?
  • Is the learning practiced often and in a variety of contexts?
  • Is learning playful and fun? This is especially important when 0ne gets “stuck” at an impasse.


Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

March 8, 2015 at 12:11 am

The Mindset of the Maker Educator

with 9 comments

Here are some graphics, Thinglinks, and the slideshow I created for my Mindset of the Maker Educator Workshop:



Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

October 8, 2014 at 12:24 am

Why Do I Need to Know This?

leave a comment »

Yep, I was one of those kids, “Teacher, why do I need to know this?”  Teachers thought I was being a smarta–.  This is farthest from the truth  . . . I really wanted to know.

So I was excited when Daniel Pink in his keynote at the ASCD 2014 stated to the audience of educators that the WHYs are as or even more important than the HOWs but that the education setting often does not focus on the WHYs.  He suggested the following:


As Danel Pink noted in his keynote, it is a human need to know why.

We are meaning-seeking creatures. We seek to understand the reason for almost everything that happens in the course of each day.  Why is what drives not only everything we do, but also our emotional reactions to everything that happens to us. We’re simply far more likely to accept a change if we understand the reason for it. Interestingly, our acceptance seems to hinge less on how much we like the reason and more on how much sense the reason makes to us (Why We Need To Know Why).

I believe that it is a student right to know the answer to “Why Do I Need to Know This?” about about topic being presented to them in the school setting.  Chris Lehmann of the Science Leadership Academy does a great job addressing this in Why Do We Need to Know This?

It is the question that many teachers hate to hear from students in their classrooms. Whether it is the format of the Shakespearean Sonnet, the Pythagorean theorem, or why the Periodic Table of Elements is organized the way that it is, kids spend a lot of time in schools wondering why they are learning what seems like a disconnected series of facts and skills that don’t seem to have much importance to the lives they are leading. And from time to time, the bravest of students will screw up the courage to ask that question.

Sadly, too often, the answers (when a teacher is even willing to engage with the question) students range from “It is going to be on the test,” to “It will help you some day,” to “It’ll help you get into college.” When really, more often than not, it’s because the subject matter in question is “part of the curriculum.” If a student is lucky, the teacher is teaching that particular thing because the teacher has a real passion for the subject, but even that really doesn’t answer the question in any meaningful way.

If we remember that the time students spend in school is supposed to be about helping them to become better citizens, then the question of “Why do we need to know this?” becomes essential to what and why we teach. The questions and answers that follow the asking of the question should and will have profound implications on both our content and our pedagogy. And if we create our learning spaces as places where the question, “Why do I need to know this?” is actually the right of every student to ask, but is the first, most exciting question of every day, we can create vibrant, powerfully relevant classes that engage and empower everyone in it.

Self-Directed or User-Generated Learning

To take it a step farther, “Why Do I Need to Know This?” is naturally embedded into the learning experience when students engage in interested-driven self-directed learning.  This is line with moving from Education 1.0 to Education 3.0 as I discuss in Education 3.0: Altering Round Peg in Round Hole Education.  In the case of Education 3.0, the roles become reverse as the learner then needs to articulate the WHYs of his/her studies to the educator and his/her peers.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

March 16, 2014 at 5:14 pm

Posted in Education

Tagged with , ,

Teacher Agency: Coming from a Strong Foundation

leave a comment »

My past few blog posts have been dedicated to teacher agency:

This post focuses on the foundation needed to have authentic, strong, and purpose-driven teacher agency.  To have a voice, to gain agency, it is important to have a strong philosophical foundation and be able to clearly articulate one’s ideals, values, mission, and vision as an educator.

As part of teaching pre-service teachers, I ask them to spend a lot of time exploring why they are becoming teachers, their values related to being one, philosophical orientations, and desired instructional practices.  This builds a good foundation for their lives as teachers but what I find interesting is that educators are rarely asked to re-visit these core and foundational areas once they become teachers, once they have the experience of being a teacher.  I fear that many, once they get caught up with the mandates, accountability systems, requirements of being a teacher, they lose sight the why they became teachers.

The recommendation, then, is for educators to periodically revisit why they became teachers along with the exploring and possibly revising their value system and related teaching philosophies.  This could be done as an individual endeavor but it is more powerful done within a professional learning community.  Some exercises to assist with this process follow.

Characteristics of Effective Teachers and Letter to an Ineffective Teacher

Brainstorm characteristics of effective teachers.  The recommended number is about 10 to 15.  As a follow up, a letter could be written to an ineffective teacher, explaining what made him/her ineffective and what could make make him or her more effective.  Example:

Developing a Teaching Mission Statement

Grant Wiggins believes educators should be able to address and answer the question, Why do you teach?, in the form of a teaching mission statement.

Having taught, what should they have learned?  What do you aim to accomplish as a teacher? What is your goal for the year, for all the years? What kind of a difference in their thinking and acting are you committed to? Why You Teach: Developing A Teacher Mission Statement

Some resources for assisting with this process:

Specifying Beliefs as an Educator

This is an expansion of the developing a mission statement.  It is a list of guiding beliefs or principles for teaching.  Examples:

Promises to Our Students

Create a list of promises to your students.  Post them in your classroom so both you and they can view them.

teachers promise 2

Create a Purpose Statement of Education from a Futuristic Perspective

Pretend it is the year 2100. So almost a hundred years have passed from the current day.  What has been the purpose of education in the 21st century based on your beliefs on what is the best education for our students?

    • create an image
    • write a newspaper or magazine article
    • create a fable
    • create presentation
    • write a narrative

Year_2100This is a great paper written by an alternative teaching licensure student:

2100 Scenario: The 100th Year Progress Report of the Bio-Regional Resource Center for Public Education


As this is part of my mission to encourage educators to demand their own agency, it is important for educators to take these exercises to the next level.  They need to live out and put into practice their beliefs and values.  They need to demand of themselves, their students, their administrators, and their communities that they are given the opportunity to do what they know in their hearts and minds what is in the best interests of the students.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

December 8, 2013 at 12:20 am

Photography for Enhancing Social-Emotional Learning

with one comment

I spent the day attending a full day workshop on Phototherapy by Judy Weiser.  This post is not about how to use photos for therapy, but the workshop reinforced the power of images for building social emotional skills in our students.  There are many resources online about using digital cameras and images in the classroom.  The focus of this post is having our learners use photography and digital images to make personal connections with themselves, the content, each other, and other “cultures” with the ultimate goals of increased self-awareness, cultural awareness, and empathy.



Self-portraits have a lot of potential in assisting learners in developing greater self-awareness and self-concept as well as reinforce content area learning.   The use of self-portraits in the learning environment has a number of applications especially when combined with other content areas.

  • Language Arts:  Learners are told that they will be posing for a self-portrait.  They are asked to write a piece of the message and mood that they want their self portrait to convey.  They later work with a group to help develop that message and mood – using their group members for feedback and to help “stage” the settings for the individual self-portraits.
  • Language Arts:  Each learner chooses his or her favorite book – fiction or non-fiction and creates a hats to convey the major character’s or author’s persona.  Pictures are taken of each learner as they describe their character.

Selfies for Good

This is an extension of self-portraits.  Beth Kanter, non-profit guru who uses social media for social change, stated:

No doubt you’ve taken a “selfie,”  a self-portrait taken with your mobile phone camera and shared on Facebook or other social media channels.   Although selfies have been around for years, they have gained popularity recently.  But do selfies have benefits, especially for social change causes?

I wondered whether selfies can be used as part of your social content strategy to help support a social good cause?  I asked this question  here’s what I learned: –

  • The New York Public Library is using selfies as part of its social media initiative to engage library patrons.
  • Fedoras for Fairness uses the fedora hat as a metaphor for the many hats that women wear to create a brighter future for all. It is also a symbol of the need for immigration reform that treats women fairly, and a declaration that though women wear many hats.  Supporters are encouraged to share photos of themselves wearing a hat with the hashtag and say why the campaign is important.
  • See more at:


This type of initiative could easily brought into the classroom with groups of students deciding on a school or local cause to promote; and using “selfies” for its promotion.


Sociology, Civil Rights, Social Activism

Photography can be used in a sociological, civil rights, social activism context.  This can occur through:

  • Studying how marginalized groups are using photography for empowerment; to give themselves a voice.  This, in turn, could help students from more mainstream cultures understand these cultures from their own perspective (not by reading about them in a textbook written by someone not of their cultures.)
  • Providing students living in marginalized groups with an opportunity to do some participatory photography projects.

Examining the Lives of Marginalized Cultures

Students can study and discuss some of the following photography projects that give marginalized cultures a voice and a sense of empowerment:

(Thanks, Judy, for sharing these great resources.)

Empowering Students Living in Marginalized Cultures

If the educator is working with students, who are or considered themselves marginalized cultures, they can have the learners do a participating photography project.

Participatory photography, sometimes referred to as ‘photovoice’, is a methodology used in human and community development that combines photography with self-development, creative expression and grassroots social action. A group of people are provided with cameras and through a series of workshops are offered the opportunity to express themselves and document an issue or problem that affects themselves and/or the people and the communities around them. The aim is to support people to define, communicate and improve their situation.

Participants are asked to represent their community or point of view by taking photographs, discussing them together, developing narratives to go with their photos, and conducting outreach or other action. It is intended to give insight into how people can conceptualise their circumstances and their hopes for the future.

See Implementing Photovoice in Your Community for more details.

Living Images of History

With this teaching strategy, groups of students work together to bring historical images to life.  “Living images” help students develop a deeper understanding of a particular moment in history.

Teachers give groups of students (4-6 students per group) a set of 4-6 (primary source) photographs surrounding a specific period in history (e.g, March on Montgomery).  This activity works best if groups receive different sets of photographs.

Directions for Students.

  1. Review each picture, one by one, and answer the following questions:
    • What is the context for this picture? When and where was it taken?
    • What do you see? Specifically, what do you notice about the people in this image? Why are they? How do you think they are feeling? What might they be thinking?
    • What does this image tell you about the time period?
  2. After answering these questions for each picture, create a “living image” for each one. A “living image” recreates the scene from the picture in real life. Think about yourselves as actors who are supposed to assume the physical positions, gestures and facial expressions of the figures in the photograph. Each image should have a “director” who helps coordinate the scene. The picture should be a “freeze frame,” where actors hold their position for at least 10 seconds.
  3. Once you have created your living images, decide in which order you would like to display them. Then, work on transitioning from one image to the next so that your group can present these pictures seamlessly to the larger class.

See for full details.

Digital Storytelling Research: Engaging the Affective Domain

Digital Storytelling, obviously – using photos to tell a story, has a lot of applications in the classroom.  For more about these applications, see Educational Uses of Digital Storytelling.  What is interesting to note, and as a sidebar to this discussion on using photography for social-emotional learning, is that digital storytelling has the power to emotionally connect learners to the content resulting in deeper, more connected, personalized learning.

Georgetown University examined the question “What is the relationship between affective and cognitive—or between emotional and epistemological–dimensions of learning?” when digital storytelling was used to enhance humanities courses.

Some of the findings included:

Digital storytelling works at the intersection of the emotional and the epistemological aspects of learning, bridging story and theory, intellect and affect. For many students an emotional engagement with the topic is the point of departure that allows them to connect their stories to the relevant theories. As emotions are reclaimed cognitively, they enable students to write themselves into existing discourses and to contribute personal perspectives to an academic community.

Digital storytelling provides students with a site where they can inscribe their lived experiences not just as ‘this is what happened to me’ but as ‘this is what my story teaches us’.

Students described that they put much more effort into the production of a digital story than they would have writing a traditional paper. In addition, they mention investing “passion and love” into the completion of the story, not only making sure it was finished and accepted by the teacher, but connecting emotionally to their work.

Digital stories often bridge cognitive and affective dimensions of learning. Becoming aware of one’s own positionality, engaging with a problem more deeply or on a more personal level, may force students to leave an emotional-intellectual comfort zone. Sometimes this means students are motivated to say what other do not want to hear. Others feel the need to give voice to those who have been silenced by dominant disources. More generally, digital stories cause students to operate under conditions of intellectual and technological difficulty, often taking emotional as well as intellectual risks.

The format of the digital story gives students a voice that makes them aware of how they can position themselves in relation to others and to existing theories of identity construction. From that position, they are able to identify gaps in the existing literature and produce stories against the oppression of marginalized groups.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

August 25, 2013 at 6:23 pm

Photojournalism Activity: Community Service or a Social Cause Event

leave a comment »

Recently, I had an amazing experience attending a local One Billion Rising event.  I enjoy taking photos and video of special events like this one.  I spent the afternoon following the event creating an Animoto mash-up of the photos and video taken while I was at the event.

The process of putting together the video mash-up provided a great opportunity for me to deeply reflect on the event.  I saw and experienced things I did not get to during the event.  This experience made me think this would be a great learning activity.


  • To create, as a means of reflection, a video mash-up of photos and video taken during a community service project or a social cause event.
  • To learn some skills related to ethical photojournalism.


  • Ask learners to identify a community service event or an event that is promoting a social cause that they would like to attend.  Examples include serving meals at a holiday event, a dance fund raiser for a charity, collecting food for local shelter, neighborhood clean-up, or a community rally like One Billion Rising.  Many news shows feature weekend events that include these type of events.  For younger kids, this could became an activity for parental engagement.  Parents and/or parent volunteers can help with the travel and logistics.  A Google spreadsheet could be set up to list these.
  • Prior to the events, review with learners how to take photos and videos at public events. As learners will be acting in the role of photojournalists, go over the National Press Photographers Association Code of Ethics.


  • Practice sessions can be set up where learners take photo and/or video of their peers during learning activities.
  • After the event:  Decide which video mash-up tool will be used for creating their videos.  My preference is Animoto as it permits the upload and use of photos, video, and text.  Here is a Animoto video tutorial:
  • To further reflect on their experiences and video, learners can answer some of the following questions via a blog post or a Voicethread where the video has been uploaded.
    • What about your community involvement has been an eye-opening experience?
    • Describe a person you’ve encountered in the community who made a strong impression on you, positive or negative.
    • How has the environment and social conditions affected the people at your site?
    • Has the experience affected your worldview? How?
    • Have your career options been expanded by your service experience?
    • Why does the organization you are working for exist?
    • Did anything about your community involvement surprise you? If so, what?
    • What did you do that seemed to be effective or ineffective in the community?
    • How does your understanding of the community change as a result of your participation in this project?
    • How can you continue your involvement with this group or social issue?
    • How can you educate others or raise awareness about this group or social issue?
    • Talk about any disappointments or successes of the project. What did you learn from it?
    • What sorts of things make you feel uncomfortable when you are working in the community? Why?

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

February 16, 2013 at 2:18 am

Educator Best Practice: Continuous Improvement

with one comment

I had the opportunity to do experiential corporate training as part of being a graduate assistant.  Learning how to conduct training and development for corporate groups was some of the best training I ever received to hone my skills as an educator.  Two of the lessons learned that are pertinent to this post are:

  1. The Importance of Continuous Quality Improvement
  2. Implementing a Procedure for Formative Evaluation

Continuous Quality Improvement Continuous quality improvement is often written into the missions and built into the practices of high performing corporations.  Because I became impressed with this practice, I included it in my own mission statement and guiding principles as an educator.

Set standards that encourage continuous improvement and the production of ideas that result in improved solutions.

Some of the tenets of Kaizen [the translation of kai (“change”) zen (“good”) is “improvement”] can help guide the practice of continuous quality improvement within one’s teaching.

  • Improvements are based on many small changes rather than the radical changes.
  • All educators should continually be seeking ways to improve their own performance
  • Ideas for change and improvement come from the educators and students themselves.
  • Educators should take ownership for their work and related improvements.

Formative Evaluation I advocate for the use of reflective practice activities by educators and by students, and discuss this in Where is reflection in the learning process?

From Reflective teaching: Exploring our own classroom practice

Reflective teaching means looking at what you do in the classroom, thinking about why you do it, and thinking about if it works – a process of self-observation and self-evaluation. By collecting information about what goes on in our classroom, and by analyzing and evaluating this information, we identify and explore our own practices and underlying beliefs. This may then lead to changes and improvements in our teaching.

This is directly related to formative evaluation.  Formative Evaluation (different than Formative Assessment) is . . .

useful in analyzing learning materials, student learning and achievements, and teacher effectiveness…. Formative evaluation is primarily a building process which accumulates a series of components of new materials, skills, and problems into an ultimate meaningful whole. – Wally Guyot (1978) (

I am proposing the use of formative evaluations as part of one’s teaching practice in a less formal manner than what might be used in training and development settings.  The goal, though, is the same . . . to assess efforts prior to their completion for the purpose of improving the efforts ( How? How can the educator, given limited time and resources, build continuous quality improvement and formative evaluations into his or her practices?  As I previously stated, I advocate for the use of reflective practice into one’s teaching, not only for the teacher, but for the student. I have been asking students to reflect on their learning since I began teaching.  Since I am an experiential educator, our face-to-face time is/was spent doing cooperative learning activities, Socratic seminars, art-based activities, case study analysis, and others.  As such, it becomes important for students to extract personal meaning.  An ongoing course assignment in my classes is to reflect, through journaling, on significant learning during our class time together. It began with them just handing in typed out versions of their class reflections. Now I do so using Facebook and Blogging.  For an example, see my Facebook Page for my Interpersonal Relations course. The purpose of this post is to propose a rationale and a means for educators to engage in continuous improvement.  What I discovered through student journals and blogging is that not only does it promote reflection, it is an amazing source of feedback for me as an educator.  I learn, through the student reflections, what was most significant for them during the class time.  This assists me in focusing on their learning needs in future classes as well as in helping me re-design future similar courses. I also encourage students to back-channel (usually through Twitter).  I have discovered that this is a powerful form of note talking and for some students, this active way of learning helps to retain information covered during class time.  As is the case for student class reflections, it also provides me with information about the points of my presentation that are most relevant for the participants.  This helps me revise and re-focus future, upcoming classes. These are just a few ways that instructional activities provide me with rich data of what they learn and experience during class time.  I, then, take the initiative to use this data as a type of formative assessment to engage in and practice my form of Kaizen, continuous quality improvement.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

July 5, 2012 at 1:25 pm

Important Endings

leave a comment »

Tonight was the last night of our student teacher seminar.  We met once a week every Tuesday night for the past three months while they were student teaching. The seminars were virtual and synchronous with most students choosing to use webcams.  As such, we were able to share laughs and tears . . .

. . . see each others’ homes and children . . .

. . . and even enjoy one student’s new baby boy.

A sense of community was built.


I have blogged before about the importance of beginnings in Beginning the School Year: It’s About Connections Not Content.  I also believe in the importance of endings, that it should be a celebration of community and providing inspiration for the future.  As such, the student teachers were asked to bring virtual treats to share during our last seminar.  These treats could take the form of an inspirational quote, video, picture, thought or final wishes.  What follows are some of the treats shared.

Videos Shared

I started off the seminar by sharing Jeremy K. Macdonald’s Soiree of Slides at the Instructional Technology Strategies Conference  . . . a beautiful five minutes. Read more at Becoming an Unteacher: Do the Unexpected

Student watching the video . . .

There is a story many years ago of an elementary teacher. Her name was Mrs. Thompson. And as she stood in front of her 5th grade class on the very first day of school, she told the children a lie. …

Teachers have one of the greatest responsibilities and because of that, one of the greatest gifts.

– Abraham Lincoln

Imagine being born without arms. No arms to wrap around a friend ; no hands to hold the ones you love; no fingers to experience touch ; no way to lift or carry things. How much more difficult would life be if you were living without arms and hands? Or what about legs? Imagine if instead of no arms, you had no legs. No ability to dance, walk, run, or even stand. Now put both of those scenarios together… no arms and no legs. What would you do? How would that affect your everyday life?

The underlying point of this video is behavior and the discouraging factors dealing with our present-day behavioral situation.

A short video based on the Starfish story, with an inspirational message for all teachers to “Never give up”.

Quotes and Passages Shared

I like a teacher who gives you something to take home to think about besides homework. – Lily Tomlin

A master can tell you what he expects of you. A teacher, though, awakens your own expectations. – Patricia Neal

Be an opener of doors for such as come after thee. –Ralph Waldo Emerson

We gain strength, and courage, and confidence by each experience in which we really stop to look fear in the face… we must do that which we think we cannot. –  Eleanor Roosevelt

What I hear I forget, what I see I remember, what I do I understand. – Chinese Proverb

You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who’ll decide where to go… – Dr. Seuss, Oh, the Places You’ll Go!

To teach is to touch lives forever. –  Anonymous

Arriving at one goal is the starting point to another. – John Dewey

A teacher affects eternity; he or she can never tell where his or her influence stops. – Henry B. Adams

Good teaching is one-fourth preparation and three-fourths theater. – Gail Godwin

The people best qualified to run the world are to busy teaching school.

Nine tenths of education is encouragement. – Anatole Frank

I Am a Teacher – by Phillip Done

I read Charlotte’s Web and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory every year, and every year when Charlie finds the golden ticket and Charlotte dies, I cry.

I take slivers out of fingers and bad sports out of steal the bacon.  I know when a child has gum in his mouth even when he is not chewing.  I have sung “Happy Birthday” 657 times.

I hand over scissors with the handles up. My copies of The Velveteen Rabbit and Treasure Island are falling apart.  I can listen to one child talk about his birthday party and another talk about her sleepover and another talk about getting his stomach pumped last night – all at the same time.

I fix staplers that won’t staple and zippers that won’t zip, and I poke pins in the orange caps of glue bottles that will not pour.  I had out papers and pencils and stickers and envelopes for newly pulled teeth.  I know the difference between Austria and Australia.

I plan lessons while shaving, showering, driving, eating, and sleeping.  I plan lessons five minutes before the bell rings.  I know what time it is when the big hand is on the twelve and the little hand is on the nine.  I say the r in library.  I do not say the w in sword.

I put on Band-Aids and winter coats and school plays.  I know they will not understand the difference between your and you’re.  I know they will write to when it should be too.  I say “Cover your mouth,” after they have coughed on me.

I am a teacher.


Books Shared

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

March 28, 2012 at 3:08 am

Student Reflections As Part of Class Design

leave a comment »

I previously blogged about the important of including reflections in education in Where is reflection in the learning process? This posts describes two ongoing strategies I use for student reflections for an undergraduate course I teach.  These strategies are extremely easy to implement and provide such rich information both for the learners and me as the educator.

End of Class Reflections

At the end of each class session, students report in a verbal go-around, what the class session meant to them.  They are asked to extract key and significant learnings.  The video that follow was from our first class together that focused on building a learning community.

I view this as a verbal exit ticket.  I see the power of the exit ticket especially in shorter class periods, but the verbal reflections permits the entire classroom community to hear one another’s responses.  This method also allows me, as the teacher, to get immediate feedback about how the class went and which activities were the most powerful/significant for the students.

Class Reflections on Facebook

Each week (the class meets once a week), students post their reflections about the class onto a Facebook page set up for the course.  They are also asked to respond to at least two other members.  All students have Facebook pages so this increases ease of access.

The use of the end of class verbal go-arounds and the Facebook reflections allows for a community-based form of reflection.  Not only do students get to personally reflect on and learn from the class activities, the community of learners get to learn about what others got from these experiences.  This builds a sense of community and increases the potential learning of all students in the class as they get to discover what others have learned.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

January 5, 2012 at 4:36 pm

%d bloggers like this: