User Generated Education

Education as it should be – passion-based.

Posts Tagged ‘social learning

Living a Life of Kindness: #26acts

leave a comment »


Tens of thousands of people answered Anne Curry’s call and thus began the 26 Acts of Kindness campaign to honor the 20 children and six teachers lost in the shooting at Sandy Hook, according to NBC.  A Facebook page has been set up to promote the 26 Acts of Kindness campaign. It already has almost 83,000 “likes.”

Here is an example of the 22 acts of kindness a 22 year old did to celebrate his birthday, not part of this project but a great example how one person took the initiative to do some of his own acts of kindness.

If I was still a classroom teacher, I would have my students do this as a year long project and record their acts of kindness via a photo essay or video.  I believe that this era of education should include learning about social good and global stewardship.  Students should be encouraged to be change makers in the world. This is why this post is included in my series on user-generated education.

Some teachers have started acts of kindness campaigns with their students:

What follows are my #21 acts for Holiday, 2012 (five more are forthcoming).  I try to live a life of acts of kindness, trying to give charity to others all year long through my actions (e.g., helping a senior citizen) or making contributions during catastrophes.  During Christmas time, I make my big contributions and try to do some volunteer work – helping deliver meals to homebound, packing Christmas treats at the Salvation Army, etc.  I never tell anyone about my acts as they are personal and I do not do so to get any pats on the back from anyone else.  I am sharing this year’s acts due to the #26acts movement, and to inspire, motivate, and challenge others to do so.

#1 – Lifted Spirits at the Post Office

I was in the post office to mail some Xmas presents. As expected, the line was extremely long. We took our numbered tickets upon entering the PO and found our places for the inevitable waiting. I have very little patience for lines and based on the reactions, attitudes, and comments so did the other people waiting. I took a deep breadth and dove into my iPhone. An older lady (she looked about 80) a few people away from me kind of joked about being #67 as they had just called out #17. I realized I had picked up a lower number #33 from the counter leaving me with both #33 and #41. I handed her #41 saying it is a good time to engage in acts of kindness. She yelped with joy and asked me for a hug. A man then stated loudly that he forgot to get a ticket. The older lady handed him her #67. We had started a game of pass it forward. A majority of the 30+ folks in the Post Office started laughing and commenting – a potentially miserable time at the PO became joyful and fun. I left the PO smiling – the first smiles I had since hearing about Sandy Hook. A very small act of kindness changed the entire climate of a “grouchy” situation into one that touched my heart.

#2 – Gave Homeless Man My Lunch

I went grocery shopping. In the roasted chicken section was a roasted turkey breast. I bought it for my lunch today – nothing like hot roasted turkey. It cost $9. At the stop sign off of the highway, on the drive home, was a homeless man (I assume) with a cardboard sign that said, “Anything would help.” He was an older man with very long grey hair and beard. I stopped to consider giving him a few dollars. I asked him if he smoked. I don’t give the guys with signs money for fear that they would spend it on cigarettes. He said he did and I told him that I didn’t want to give him money for cigarettes. With very said eyes, he asked, “Do you have anything to eat?” I grabbed the roasted turkey and handed it to him. He stared in disbelief and could only say “Oh my goodness” a few times. I yelled Merry Christmas and drove off.

#3 – Bought an iTunes Gift Card and Made a List of Recommended Apps for My Brother with Asperger’s.  He is getting an iPad for Christmas.

#4 – Donated to John Green’s (Fault of Our Stars) amazing Youtube fundraiser, Project Awesome 2012


#5 – Promoted Sandy Hook Snowflake Project on my social networks.

#6 – Donated $26 dollars to the Sandy Hook PTA for their Snowflake Project.

#7 – Donated to Beyond Borders because we should not forget about Haiti,  Beyond Borders is an international nonprofit working to end child slavery, guarantee universal access to education, end violence against women and girls and promote dignified and life sustaining work that recognizes and reinforce Haiti’s strengths.

#8 – Bought Merchandise to Support and “Advertise” Pencils of Promise


#9 – Bought a MiiR Water Bottle – $1 of every MiiR bottle purchased provides one person with clean water for one year, one4one.

#10 & #11 – Donated a Year of School for Two Girls through International Rescue


#12 – Donated a New Classroom through International Rescue


#13 – Donated a Pair of Goats through International Rescue

#14 – Donated  A Women’s Health and Wellness Kit through International Rescue

#15, #16, #17, #18 – Contributed to four classroom projects through Donors Choose for classrooms affected by Hurricane Sandy


#19 – Provided Kiva loan to the agriculture Mahinga Group in Kenya as I believe we are all global stewards.

#20 – As I do every year, I donated a substantial amount of $$ to Save the Children.


#21 – Planned a Surprise Birthday Cake-Card for Fellow Potter Who Turned 70.  During our holiday pottery show, I gave Mimi, who was turning 70, a chocolate cake and a card signed by the group members.  Her son and grandchildren came to the show so I gave it to her when they were there.  She told me that it had been years and years since she had a birthday cake.


#22 – Paid $20 of a Senior Citizen’s Grocery Bill.  She was really grateful and asked me for a little kiss.


These are my acts for the 20 children and for Sandy Hook Principal, Dawn Hochsprung, and teacher, Vicki Soto.  The other four acts will occur when an act of kindness is needed and I can provide such an act.

I do not live a life of trying to give acts of kindness as a ticket to get into an afterlife.  I live it because it feels good.  It is the right thing to do.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

December 26, 2012 at 1:02 am

Morning Meetings, Check-Ins, and Social-Emotional Learning

with 3 comments

I am an advocate of integrating socio-emotional learning into the classroom.

It’s not enough to simply fill students’ brains with facts. A successful education demands that their character be developed as well. That’s where social and emotional learning comes in. SEL is the process of helping students develop the skills to manage their emotions, resolve conflict nonviolently, and make responsible decisions.

Research shows that promoting social and emotional skills leads to reduced violence and aggression among children, higher academic achievement, and an improved ability to function in schools and in the workplace. Students who demonstrate respect for others and practice positive interactions, and whose respectful attitudes and productive communication skills are acknowledged and rewarded, are more likely to continue to demonstrate such behavior. Students who feel secure and respected can better apply themselves to learning. (Why Champion Social and Emotional Learning?)

Implementing morning meetings is a method to do so.

Today, many children in kindergartens, elementary and middle schools around the country launch their school days in Morning Meetings. All classroom members—grown-ups and students—gather in a circle, greet each other, listen and respond to each other’s news, practice academic and social skills, and look forward to the events in the day ahead. Morning Meeting is a particular and deliberate way to begin the day, a way that builds a community of caring and motivated learners. (Morning Meeting: A Powerful Way to Begin the Day)

See ideas for morning meetings at

I used morning meetings with the gifted elementary students I taught.  I taught each group of about 20 students, grades 3rd through 5th, for a full day/one day a week.  We began our days with morning meetings.  The meetings included a check-in where students reported how they doing and feeling, and if anything significant was happening in their lives.  To keep the students’ interest and to introduce unit concepts, I had them create artifacts for these morning meeting check-ins (see below).  The goals and outcomes of these check-ins included:

  • Increased emotional awareness and intelligence
  • Increased social intelligence as learners developed listening and empathy skills
  • The ability to represent thoughts and feelings in metaphoric form
  • Concrete, student-created examples of content area concepts

Here are some examples of what I have done in my class . . .

Morning meetings started with a beat of the drum:

Use of feelings cards:

Found at

Use of student-created feeling masks

Use of feelings books:

Choose a book cover that represents how you are doing and feeling:

Create a hat of a literary character to represent how you are doing and feeling:

Create a tangram image that represents how you are doing and feeling.  I had about two dozen small tangram sets and decks of cards with tangram puzzles.

Construct a 3-D geometry symbol of how you are doing and feeling.  The school had a die cut for 3-D origami.  I cut out a variety of shapes. Students, then, selected those they want to create for their check-in.

Select a constellation that represents how you are doing and feeling:

Create your own constellation that represents how you are doing and feeling:

Select a bone of the human body that represents how you are doing and feeling:

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

August 5, 2012 at 4:14 pm

A Technology/Mobile-Enhanced I AM Poem

with one comment

I blogged about this activity before.  I am using it for an online course for the first time this summer and am so excited about the results, I wanted to report on it again.  The I Am Poem is a popular exercise for language arts.  I thought it would also be a good ice breaker for students to get to know one another.  It goes beyond the, “Hi, my name is ________, and I live/work at __________” type of introduction, and reinforces the importance of beginning an online course through developing a sense of community.  Some general strategies to do so include:

  • Connecting people’s names and faces is a first big step to forming bonds.
  • Students need non-threatening, interesting ways to begin creating online community.
  • Social interactions between and among learners enrich the learning community and should be supported in the instructional design of the course. (

I have used the I Am Poem in a face-to-face undergraduate course (see  For this summer semester teaching online courses on Integrating Technology Into the Curriculum for the Boise State Educational Technology graduate program, I asked students to do the I Am poem as one of their first course tasks.

Students were provided with the following directions:

Flickr Version

  • Once your poem is written, locate or take a photo via one of your computer devices that symbolizes who you are, the essence of your poem.
  • Send your photo to Flickr along with your first name in the subject line and your I Am Poem in the email body to (email to my Flickr account – randomly generated by Flcikr).
  • Since all the group’s images will be sent to this single Flickr account, you can view each other’s poems via the Flickr account
  • You do NOT have to have a Flickr account to submit your I Am Poems nor to view other students’ pictures/poems, but if you want to comment on a photo/poem (not required), you will need to have an account.
  • A full description of this activity can be found at  Here you can find more directions how to set up the activity for your own class.

Here is a screenshot of the Flickr page of student submissions.  I love the diversity and creativity they demonstrated both through the images selected and poems written.

Google Presentation Version

Directions to Students:

  • Once your poem is written, locate or take a photo via one of your computer devices that symbolizes who you are, the essence of your poem.  It does not have to be a picture of you.  It can be a symbol.
  • Create a slide that includes your poem/image. You can include your name or not – it is your choice.   Add it to the class Google presentation at . . .  This is the editing version.  Please make sure you choose a blank slide.  Google automatically saves any added content.  The presentation version can be found on the Moodle homepage.  Look for your slide once you add it.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

June 7, 2012 at 2:37 pm

The Equity Game: A Mobile Device-QR Code Driven Activity

with 2 comments


I have been blogging about how I am integrating mobile technology into my undergraduate course on interpersonal relations.  Since I have always been an experiential educator, I seek ways to integrate the learners’ mobile devices into my experiential activities.  The questions I seek to address when designing experiential mobile learning activities include:

  • What effective instructional activities did I use in the past that can include mobile device integration to make them even more effective?
  • Will it be interesting and engaging for the learners?
  • Will it be an authentic and relevant learning experience?
  • Can it facilitate critical and reflective thinking?
  • Does it have the potential for to cause a change in thinking and/or behavior?  (Grant Wiggins recently wrote about this in Everything you know about curriculum may be wrong. Really where he discussed the point of learning is not just to know things but to be a different person – more mature, more wise, more self-disciplined, more effective, and more productive in the broadest sense.)
  • Does it have the potential to be epic?

The Equity Game


  • To explore issues related to unequal distribution of resources.
  • To explore principles related to communication, non-verbal behavior, emotions, listening, and conflict.


  • High School, College, and Adult Learners in Face-to-Face Settings


  • The intent of the activity is for three groups to build a city within the boundaries and materials provided.
  • Prior to the activity, the facilitator set ups the room by tapping off three areas – a large, roomy area for the upper class, a medium sized area for the middle class, and a small, cramped area for the lower class.

  • The community resources are provided to each group via QR Codes on Index cards.  The QR codes lead to Creative Commons Flickr photos of city structures, These include houses, schools, recreational buildings, etc.  The reasons QR codes are used is twofold: (1) It increases the realism by linking into real images, and (2) Because groups can trade with each other, it adds an element of trust.
  • Popsicle sticks are also distributed to represent roads.  The upper class is given a huge pile, the middle class about a dozen, and the lower class a few broken ones.
  • The resources represent those typically (and stereotypically) found in the neighbor of that social class.  The upper class gets nice homes, several schools, high class recreation center and golf course, and high end shopping.  Here are some examples (you’ll have to scan it).


  • The middle class receives housing, some strip mall shopping centers, basic schools and recreational areas.


  • The lower class receives low income housing, a liquor store, a waste disposal center.



  • The group is split into three sub-groups of equal numbers. There needs to be one or two mobile devices per group to serve two functions: scanning the QR codes and communicating via text with the other groups.
  • The facilitator takes the groups one by one into the set up room and are told to build a city with the materials provided.  The upper class is taken first and given directions that they are to build a city, that they can request additional resources.  The middle class goes next with most of the same directions omitting that they can request additional resources.  The lower class is taken in last and given short directions, “Build a city with materials provided.  The QR Codes lead to pictures of resources.”

  • They are told that they can text the other groups with questions and requests.  This is intentionally left vague with the hopes that some trading and deals with occur.

  • The unspoken rules that the facilitator follows during the activity: (1) Upper Class can go outside of their boundaries, lower class cannot.  If the lower class member goes out of their boundary, they are warned.  If they get more than two warnings, the member causing the infraction is taken to “jail” – a corner of the room. (2) The facilitator continues to check in with the Upper Class group if they need anything.  If another group has an item requested, then the facilitator takes it and gives it to the Upper Class. (3) The Upper Class can communicate with the other groups in any manner they choose.  The Middle and Lower Class can only communicate via texting.
  • Post-activity reflections occur via a group discussion and a VoiceThread using photos from the activity.  The Voicethread allows for opinions to be shared that might not be shared face-to-face.

The Equity Game: In Action

The following is an edited video of this activity in-process.  It provides a good overview of how this activity operates.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

April 2, 2012 at 9:41 pm

Mobile Learning: End of Course Student Survey Part II

leave a comment »

This is the second of two posts on student perceptions of mobile learning integration within an undergraduate course on Interpersonal Relations.  It combines two semesters’ worth of student surveys.


As is true for many of us using educational technology in the classroom, we are experimenting with how technology can enhance the learning experiences of our students.  Sometimes we have failures, often times we have successes.  Yet, in this age of evidenced-based education, educators, administrators, and other decision-makers are depending on and using the data gleamed from large studies often completed by companies with vested interests, e.g. Gates Foundation, book publishers, and testing companies.

Educators can easily conduct action research about the practices they are using in their own classrooms especially given the ease of creating online surveys and data collection methods.  Yet, it seems that it is rarely done.

For example, I introduced Quest Atlantis into my gifted classes a few years ago and asked these 3rd through 5th graders to complete a survey to assess its efficacy from the student perspective.  The results I received were rich and informative.  The kids offered great feedback, ideas, and suggestions.  See Beyond the Game: Quest Atlantis as an Online Learning Experience for Gifted Elementary Students.

So if educators want to influence what occurs in not only their own classrooms, but in the classrooms of their co-teachers, then they need to invest the time and energy to demonstrate best practices.  In a related blog, I discuss Every Educator Has a Story . . . Just Tell It.

End-of-Course Survey

The two sections of Interpersonal Relations course were offered during Fall, 2011 and early Winter, 2012.  There were 20 students in the sections – eight were male, 12 female; 16 of the students were 17 to 20 years old, one was 25 year old male, another a 40 year old female, and two of the  students were females in their fifties.  All of them had/owned some type of mobile device.  No two of the owned devices were of the same make or model.

The first section of the survey listed all of the class activities that used the students’ cell phones.  I blogged about the individual activities.  The archive of these blog posts can be found at User-Generated Education tagged with mobile learning.

As can be seen by these results, most students rated most of the mobile-driven activities to be of some value in helping them understand the concepts being discussed/covered.  Students were them asked to identify their least and most favorite activities.  The most favorable activity was Building Communications.  The least favorite did not identify any consistent activity.  A few mentioned that there were none, “They were all pretty good.”

Do you feel that using students’ mobile phones during class time was a good idea? Why or why not?

  • Yes, it was great learning new technology and interacting with each other via phones.
  • Yes I do because it brings our generations technology and learning.
  • Yes I do feel it is a good idea. I believe technology is growing so much that mobile phones are vital in today’s communication.
  • There were some things about people calling with different providers which would be annoying.
  • Yes, I liked it because I know how to use it so well.
  • I do, but with my phone, it didn’t work well.
  • I thought it made the time go by faster because we were learning a different way. But some other students took advantage of this and used it as personal time.
  • Yes I do because it gets more involved in our lives.
  • Yes, it gave us the ability to open up and be ourselves.
  • Yes, I did. We are in a technological age, it is time to accept that.
  • Yes, it made things more entertaining.
  • Yes and no. we could have done the same on the computer.
  • I think it was in the middle because I would get distracted.
  • Yes because it helped us use our cell phones for good use in activities.
  • Yes. I think it was because you go to learn more things about people
  • Yea. Cell phones are a big past of society these days.

As can be seen in these results, there was an overwhelming positive response to mobile device use in the class.  A few problems were noted but no students reported a purely negative response to their use.  The reasons stated for positive feelings about mobile device use seemed to revolve around three themes:

  1. Technology is part of today’s world.
  2. It made the activities more engaging and interesting.
  3. It provided the means for learning to be more personal.

What was the greatest advantage of using students’ mobile phones to get to know one another and build a sense of community in the class?

  • It was nice to use them and not have to hide them and it connected the class because one way or another we all got each others numbers.
  • I think people are a lot more open on their phones so I believe it helped us get to know each other more. Also we were able to show pictures of important people in our life so that I feel personalized it.
  • The greatest advantage was how we could text and get to know each other.
  • Ease of communication.
  • You got to know the students better.
  • It made us open up to one another because we had to connect at a more social level.
  • It was something that we use everyday so it related back to us
  • To get a better experience from the class and enjoy coming to class.
  • It was something they were familiar with.
  • It provided us with a common ground on which to get to know each other.
  • We got to talk to each other outside of class, not just when we were in class.
  • The students use their phones on a regular basis.
  • That we didn’t waste paper.
  • Getting the other students numbers and exchanging phone numbers to get to know one another.
  • You got to know the people better though them
  • We were able to communicate outside of class and create friendships.

The student responses centered around the social nature of mobile devices adding to their feelings getting to know one another.  Several students mentioned that it provided them with a forum to open up with other students.

What was the biggest problem in using students’ mobile devices during class time?

  • People who did not have unlimited texting, or did not have a phone..
  • Sometimes your phone wouldn’t be charged and you wouldn’t be able to participate in the activity.
  • I think some of the students were confused on some of the activities.
  • It distracted me because I kept texting and not focusing
  • Lack of technological compatibility.
  • People text other people other than the class mates.
  • I didn’t always remember to charge my cellular device so I thought it was going to die.
  • People would abuse it and text friends and do other things that the activity wasn’t for.
  • Caused outside social distractions
  • The students were tempted to use the phones for personal use.
  • Not everyone brought their mobile device.
  • Students had more of a chance to get distracted.
  • Some didn’t work.
  • The service was bad because i would send a text and it would show up ten minuets later.
  • Some people texted when they should have been participating.
  • I didn’t see any problems.

Not surprisingly, the responses centered around two themes: distraction and not having a device/device that worked for the activities.

In addition, students wrote a final course reflection.  What follows are some comments regarding their significant overall course learning.

I think I learned more about myself in the building structure unit then I did in the whole quarter.  I always thought of myself as having the potential to be a leader but this activity helped me believe it.  When I was trying to help the others build this structure without actually being able to help was very difficult, I had to make my teammates feel confident enough to where they could achieve the end project.

The most significant learning would be the, “building the bridge” because that was fun to be able to know who would take charge and everything you said over the phone about what your team was building with the blocks would affect how there bridge would look. I had to be very precise and accurate, nearly perfect in order to get them to build it the same. Something I am going to improve on is the clarity of how I talk.

My favorite activity would have to be going around taking pictures of our emotions with the emoticons.  We really got to see everybody’s different personalities and see them open up on a different level.

I learned several ways to communicate effectively with others, especially during our build a bridge activity.

I appreciate that there were so many hands on activities to do and that we got to learn in a different style other than lecture or reading.

I enjoyed them all because I like doing hands on learning and I learn the best that way versus book work and paperwork. Being able to learn about something then put it to use during a couple activities actually helped me a lot to understand everything I was learning.

I personally enjoyed the activities quite a lot. They helped me learn the concepts effectively while also being enjoyable to participate in.

I really liked having the participation on Facebook as part of our assignments. It was nice to have discussions throughout the week with classmates about what we had done in class


This part is easy.  Based on student testimonials both through the survey and their end of course reflection paper, the following two themes emerged:

  • Students appreciated the use of mobile devices and believed they helped to increase their engagement.
  • Students appreciated and learned best through the use of experiential and hands-on activities.

This is in line with recent research.  An EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative report, Authentic Learning for the 21st Century: An Overview, states that “students say they are motivated by solving real-world problems. They often express a preference for doing rather than listening.  At the same time, most educators consider learning-by-doing the most effective way to learn.” and that the focus should be “on real-world, complex problems and their solutions, using role-playing exercises, problem-based activities, case studies, and participation in virtual communities of practice” (

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

March 25, 2012 at 6:10 pm

Experiential Mobile Learning Activities Presentation

leave a comment »

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

First Class Ice Breakers Using Mobile Devices

with 19 comments

I previously wrote about the importance of beginning a class focusing on the learners in the room as opposed to the content to be covered in Beginning the School Year: It’s About Connections Not Content.

Most classes, starting with about middle school, begin the school year with reviewing the content to be covered, expectations regarding grades, and other academic information provided by the teacher or instructor.  The human or social element is often disregarded.

What is interesting is that most learners enter the classroom wondering who is in the course.  They want to know about the teacher and the people in the class not what material is to be covered. What this says to me as an educator is that it all begins with a social connection – between the educator and the learners, and between the learners themselves.

All of my classes, regardless of student age or demographics – elementary gifted students or graduate students, begin with ice-breakers and team-building activities.  I recently developed a passion for using students’ mobile devices to do so as this devices have become natural and personalized extensions of students’ “selves.”

What follows are several of the mobile-driven ice-breakers I recently used in an undergraduate course on Interpersonal Relations.  I also include some student reactions to these activities.

Cell Sharing

  • 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.
  • For photo or video sharing:  Pass the device around so all students can view the image or use a webcam to project the image onto a larger computer screen or whiteboard.
  • For sharing of music: Attach portable speakers to assist with the sharing of songs so others can hear them.

Student Reflections about Cell Sharing

Several students stated that this was their favorite activity of the class.

I thought it was awesome that you wanted everyone to show the class a picture or type of music that had meaning to us. By doing this we got to see and learn a little bit more of our peers.

We did a photo/audio thing which was my favorite activity because we got to learn a little bit of everyone’s lives

Question Selector

Texting Interviews

  • Randomly pair students (can be either face-to-face or virtually).
  • Ask them to develop questions that they would ask to help them get to know someone better.
  • The pairs text their questions and answers back and forth.
  • Interviewers summarize what they found out about their partners and posts their partners’ names and this information on a Sticky Note Board such as Wallwisher.

Student Reflection About the Texting Interviews

I enjoyed the texting exercise. It’s pretty cool when your teacher lets you use your phone for the activities especially since I got to learn more about my partner.

Student Reflections About the Ice Breaker Activities

I think that those games helped us get to know each other and were a very good ice breaker to help us know who our class mates are.

We played many activities and I believe that they all helped in breaking the ice between us all. We were able to get to know each other easier and faster than in a typical classroom environment.

I learned to communicate better instead of hanging back in a corner.

Although we all come from different backgrounds and cultures we all related quite well and by learning about each other we can start to establish friendships

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

January 8, 2012 at 5:20 pm

An Instructional Activity: Student-Produced Viral Videos

leave a comment »

I implemented my plan to have my undergraduates (mostly 18 to 20 year old students) create “viral” videos for one of our in-class activities.  The first part of this post is geared towards educators and administrators.  It provides a rationale for this type of learning activity.  The second part describes the characteristics that help define a viral video so that these attributes can be presented to the students.

Young People’s Use of YouTube

The rationale for this activity is based on How Teens Use YouTube & Social Media: The Online Generation Gap:

  1. Teenagers today see online video as a normal every-day type of activity.  During middle school and high school years, YouTube is always a hugely popular platform. Most teens consider it to be the “normal” way of watching video (as opposed to television). Certain YouTube videos would take the younger generation by storm; they’d be talked about in the hallways of schools to even the dining table at home. It’s just about impossible for teens to remember the days before YouTube and other online video websites.
  2. Teens Share More Videos Than The Older Generation. Teenagers consume these videos as they would gossip and TV shows and magazines – whatever video makes an impression on them, they share.
  3. Creating videos for this generation comes as naturally as creating an essay in school. Teenagers are not only creative; they are very impressionable. They express their findings in life both verbally and visually, through all means of technology.

Encouraging Communication, Collaboration, Critical Thinking, and Creativity

Given these “knowns”, asking teen and young adult students to produce their own videos related on the content begin covered in class should facilitate an engaging and authentic learning activity.  This learning activity also addresses some of the 21st Century Learning Skills:  the 4 Cs – communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity – as proposed by Ken Kay (via Edutopia) and the Partnership for 21st Century Learning.  P21 & FableVision collaborated to release an animated film about the 4 Cs:

Assignment – Producing a Viral Video

My young adult students will not be interested in any of the above information.  This is provided for educators and administrators to gain an understanding regarding how and why integrating the production of videos can enhance learning.  They will be interest in the characteristics of what makes a viral video.

  • Make them laugh.. or cry. The best way to compel someone to send a video to friends and family is to stir up emotion, whether it’s laughing or crying. There are some common traits among the most viral videos — “music, dancing, attractive women, Candid Camera-style pranks, children and topical and political references’ (Lauren Dell).
  • Keep it short and snappy.  A video needs to be easily “consumed by a multitasking generation” — viewers shouldn’t have to watch a long-form video to get the joke. “Keep your clip or video short, interesting, edgy and give us a surprise that makes us want to forward it to our friends” (Lauren Dell).
  • Surprising Contrast.  When we see two things that don’t normally belong together, and someone finds a way to make them belong, the reaction it creates is one of surprise. For example, Big guy with a little voice; small girl with big voice – Do you remember the little girl who sang opera on YouTube and how quickly her videos spread? (Jim Chao)
  • Three things every video should have:
    • Authenticity
    • Connection—humorous (The Annoying Orange), touching (Transcending), or surprising (Susan Boyle).
    • Visceral—We’re all really, REALLY busy.  Unless we’re moved on a gut level, we won’t forward anything (L. Drew Gerber).
  • Include one or more of the following as viral videos tend to include these types of content:
    • Pranks
    • Dancing
    • Music
    • Children
    • Political humor
    • Song parodies
    • Video blogs
    • How to (Eric Olson)


These suggestions were presented to my interpersonal communications students (18 to 20 years old) along with the desirable content – to demonstrate via different types of nonverbal behavior as presented at Nonverbal Modes. They worked on these in small groups during class time.  Here is one example:


The results are not that great as you can see but the students were engaged (quite difficult with this particular class of young college students) and they learned about nonverbal behaviors.

. . . and this parting shot of a short clip written and produced  by my gifted students from a few years back.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

October 26, 2011 at 9:23 pm

Facilitating Learner Voice and Presence in the Classroom Using Mobile Devices

with 4 comments

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

leave a comment »

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.

%d bloggers like this: