Meeting of the Minds: ReMaking high school classrooms

Traditional classrooms have fallen out of favor across America. Educators, students, parents, and administrators all know there is SOMETHING that must be done differently, but they are unsure of where to start & where to begin.

We have to


The #makered & maker education movement is an excellent place to start. There are many aspects to developing a Maker movement, whether that starts with your class, your students, or eventually your school. Incorporating the ideas of the Maker movement to a larger forum such as an entire school requires innovation on a wider-scale.

Here is an infographic I put together of why I think high schools should embrace the Maker movement along with predictions as to what a #MakerEd classroom, school, and student could be like. Take a look and give me your feedback!


Altman, Mitch. “Makerspace Urbana” [Image file]

DMCA. “Thinking Allowed” [Image file].

Halverson, Erica Rosenfeld;Sheridan, Kimberly M. (2014). The Maker Movement in Education. Harvard Educational Review; Winter 2014; 84, 4; ProQuest pg. 495-501.

Sheridan, K. Halverson, E.R., Litts, B.K., Brahms, L, Jacobs-Priebe, L., & Owens, T. (2014) Learning in the making: A comparative case-study of three maker spaces. Harvard Educational Review, 84(4), 505-565. Retrieved from /content/SS15/CEP/811/SS15-CEP-811-733-97EFZZ-EL-14-204/Sheridanetal_ComparativeCaseStudyofThreeMakerSpaces_2014.pdf

Stager, Gary. (2014) What’s the Maker Movement and Why Should I Care? Scholastic Administr@tor Magazine; Winter 2014. Retrieved from

Stewart, Louise. Maker Movement Reinvents Education. (2014) Newsweek; September 2014. Retrieved from

Wikipedia Commons. “Think Outside the Box” [Image file].

Rethinking how we reward teachers

My work regarding a wicked problem of practice from the New Media Consortium’s Horizon Report concluded this week with me addressing the issue of rethinking how we reward teachers.signs-108062_640

I have spent a lot of time thinking about why I feel rewarded and so incredibly satisfied in the public school job that I have. The recommendations I have put forth in this paper are, to some extent, some of the recommendations my current employer has put into place. I know that many school districts are struggling with compensating and rewarding their hardworking employees. Therefore, I wanted to think about this wicked problem NOT through the lens of merit pay or increased compensation, but through more creative rewards that used technology to address this wicked problem.

First, I created an infographic of the wicked problem of rewarding teachers.

Next I put forth my recommendations for new ways to reward teachers in this white paper: Not Always About Money: How to rethink rewards for educators in the 21st century.

Please take a look at both of these and give me feedback. I look forward to hearing other people’s thoughts on this important topic!


Reward. Geralt. (2013). [Image file]. Retrieved from

What’s in your diet?

I have always embraced reading and a healthy “infodiet” since I was a child. When I read the second half of James Paul Gee’s The Anti-Education Era:  I thought about the affinity spaces I use to inform my thinking around topics related to education. Gee defines affinity spaces as, “ “An affinity space is a place or set of places where people affiliate with others based primarily on shared activities, interests, and goals, not shared race, class culture, ethnicity, or gender” (Gee, 2004 Loc: 67). Some affinity spaces that feed my professional “infodiet” are the Teach to Lead educator community, Twitter, and blogging. The Teach to Lead community informs my thinking with access to a national educator community focused on teacher leadership. Twitter & blogging have given me a way to discover educator voices and new ideas and practices. I committed myself to a goal of one chat per week and found I share and collaborate through this affinity space just as much as the colleagues I see almost every day face to face. Blogging too has given me an affinity space where I can engage professionally in longer musings and reflections on my learning.


Reflecting on the second half of Gee’s book, I thought about the limitations in my “infodiet” that used to occur before this year. Before this year, I primarily used the community and spaces set up by others to inform my thinking on professional topics. For example, I used Google Groups, chats, and professional developments set up by my job, organizations, and professional communities I belong to. I didn’t need to seek them out, because those networks were set up and I was being slotted right in. But there is a danger in just being satisfied rather than seeking out. This year I have focused on the latter, but I pushed myself even further this week to test the reach of my new “diet”.


When I added three new sources of information to my infodiet this week I searched for new sources based on Gee’s statement, “We seek the best answers we can, act on them as our ‘best bets’, and stay open to revising them and learning more” (Gee, 2004 Loc: 2454). The first source of information was a selection of comments on an article discussing the current MI teacher evaluation legislative bills. In reading these comments, particularly the ones I disagreed with, I realized the comments on these articles reflect a part of what Gee says society should be like. These comments are a way in “which everyone feels that they count” (Gee, 2004, Loc: 2490). People are making comments because they want to feel actions like commenting “can have a meaningful impact on others for the good.” (Gee, 2004, Loc: 2490). The comments in opposition said without hyperbole or vitriol let me know what informed citizens would say, not just the opinions of those already in my circle. The second new source I added were entries of a homeschooling blog posted by a high school acquaintance on Facebook. I found the school space I operate has much in common with the aims of homeschooling. Sharing feedback allowed both of us to develop and expand our mindsets a in a public forum. Finally, I followed a public policy group I generally tend to disagree with on Twitter (Mackinac Center). Their policy positions reflect their visions and values. But I have shared interest in education and through understanding their position I can leverage their expertise even if I disagree with it. Incorporating these different sources are already pushing my thinking and changing my worldview. Here’s to consumption of my new “diet”!


Carroll, Andrew. Information Diet. [Image file]. Retrieved from

Gee, James. (2013). The anti-education era: Creating smarter students through digital learning. Palgrave Macmillan.

Johnson, Clay. Startup Information Diet. [Image file]. Retrieved from

Different Places, Different Spaces

This week my task was to redesign my learning space to better optimize student learning and incorporate the pedagogy of modern education design and learning. First, an introduction to my current space. I am fortunate to work in a space with some design elements of 21st century learning. My school’s hybrid learning workspace (heretofore referred to as the “lab”) does not reflect the usual classroom setup. In the main lab (which is the size of 2-3 traditional classrooms), instead of rows of desks there is an L-shaped arrangement of computers, two flanking low bookshelves, and several modular tables that can be rearranged along with a whiteboard and materials cabinet. This type of learning environment reflects the advantages of collaborative learning and connectivity (Thompson, 2014 p. 21) however, there are missed opportunities for building an even better learning environment.

I used SketchUp Make to image a reinvention of this blended learning space.

Revamped Learning Lab

The first change is with the walls & lighting. Currently in our lab, all of the wall space is completely blank and there are just overhead fluorescent lights. The biggest change in my redesign is to add paint, the Alliance for Excellent Education relates “Classroom colors should be warm and calming; not overstimulating and distracting.” Right now our walls are sterile and generic white. The 2013 Barrett, Zhang, Moffat & Kobbacy study also shared that color and light (among other factors) had a statistically significant effect on student performance. I added a few lamps to add softer light since there is no way to add more natural light into the space. According to the ideas of The Third Teacher, learning spaces should also display student learning, both past and present in order to track progress. Right now the accomplishments are only celebrated in our virtual environment – viewed only by that student and no one else. My redesign adds these display opportunities.

The second change is with the tables and workspace. Instead of just using bland modular tables with sterile student chairs, I want to incorporate a combination of workspaces including whiteboard tables, higher tables with stools, and comfy chairs.  As Michael Posner writes, “Simply put, the brain likes novelty, new things” (Persaud, 2014 p. 1).

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Some of these tables are converted to whiteboard tables for increased collaboration. Having convertible seating and workspace will allow for students to arrange the workspace for their needs much like their personalized learning in our school. Echoes teacher and design consultant (as well Michigan Ed Voices fellow alongside me) Erin Klein, “flexible seating arrangements…allow for easy transitions will serve students today and in the future” (Thompson, 2014 p. 19).

The third change is with an essential part of our learning environment – our computers. Instead of utilizing desktops, my new design has bookshelves filled with different tech devices. Again, having portable tech tools would allow for greater personalization of the space. Plus the choices in tech tools and seating involve student decisions in the classroom’s functionality too.

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For each change I need resources necessary to carry out my vision. First, with regards to painting & lighting, the cost would be thousands of dollars (particularly for the paint), but the cost would come down considerably if we organized the staff and student volunteers to do it all ourselves. I looked up whiteboard paint and a set of DIY instructions for how I could transform some of our modular tables into them. The paint is approximately $275/gallon. The new tech tools would not necessarily be purchased all at once, but phased in over time as devices age out. Currently we are needing to purchasing laptops or Chromebooks, after so getting different tech devices would line up with our existing technology budget. I just requested a new Chromebook through a grant that was approximately $300 dollars and we would need around 30-50 to fully supply our lab space which could approximately $9000.

The classrooms of the future are exciting, collaborative, and engaging places to learn from. I am excited to see if my school can continue to make good decisions to get to better space and design choices for student learning.


OWP/P Architects, VS Furniture, & Bruce Mau Design. (2010). The third teacher: 79 ways you can use design to transform teaching & learning. Retrieved from

Persaud, Ramona. (2014). Why Learning Space Matters. Retrieved from

Thompson, Greg. (2014). 4 Keys to Designing the Classroom of the Future. THE Journal. Retrieved from

Technology Needs Assessment

Before I could examine the wicked problem I chose in CEP 812 about rewarding teachers, I needed to assess the population of teachers I was working with as well as their levels of expertise and needs around technology. Knowing this information will help me direct my inquiry into how technology could be used to facilitate rewards for educators. Clicking HERE will contain a link to the survey I gave my staff as well as an analysis of the data they provided.

ReMaking Big History

My school uses the practices of assessment literacy when designing the interdisciplinary units of study that students complete in our program. Staff create a pathway (akin to a unit) using the standards of the primary course certification of that unit creator. These standards have already been broken down into discrete learning targets in student-friendly language. Then the projects are reviewed for additional learning targets for secondary subjects. Students demonstrate progression towards comprehension of the learning targets for all applicable courses by completing the project requirements and checking their work against the target rubric. They can earn credit in multiple subject areas of a project so staff is always aiming to make a project as multifaceted as possible. Every target earned = a percentage of credit. I wrote this lesson for the Big History Project course that I teach to high school 9-12 grade and in the spirit of the Maker movement – utilizing the Makey Makey kits.

The targets I was aiming for with this stop (part of our unit plan language) in the concluding month of our interdisciplinary course  are social studies and English Language Arts (ELA) since I am certified and instruct in both of these subjects. There are additional Big History learning standards that this project also met. The ELA targets are derived from the ELA Common Core Standards while the social studies targets were derived from the National C3 Standards.

Check out my lesson plan & assorted materials HERE

Not Your Parents’ Education

Certainly when I was in high school, the idea of personalized learning or a personalized curriculum seemed laughable. My job position and my school definitely hadn’t been invented or even thought of yet! However, the origins of education learning used to be highly personal through educational concepts such as oral histories and apprenticeships. In fact, it was only with the advent of industrialized education that the de-personalization of education actually commenced. Now the pendulum is swinging back. In my primary role, I found a combination of face-to-face experiential learning along with the tools and applications of technology have the potential to create an ideal personalized learning environment for the 21st century citizen. I was excited to research the application of personalized learning to blended environments such as mine. I discovered two articles of note that delve into the broader research of personalized learning environments.

The first article discussed the potential of blended learning using a personalized curricular model with a case study of the experience of a charter school called the Alliance Tennenbaum Family Technology High School. The author, Susan Headden, shares that “active-learning — owned learning lets students determine where and when learning will occur” (Headden, 2013, p. 14). Through Headden’s review of other studies she determines that for technology to make a difference and truly personalize learning it must “come with humans attached” (Headden, 2013, p. 17). Success in a personalized learning format depends on the quality of curriculum and technology being used to implement this curriculum. Headden points out this could be why recent studies of blended learning have inconclusive results (Headden, 2013, p. 15). With this case, she found their personalized learning model was successful because it used “technology in a way that was systematic and intentional, and because it [worked] toward a mastery of learning” (Headden, 2013, p. 19). If personalized learning is filtered through technology then technology can also collect useful data to help this student make decisions to best fulfill their education.

The second article describes a system for personalized learning experiences called iClass. In reviewing this system the authors conclude that for personalized learning to work effectively both teacher and learner preferences have to be taken into account. When a course focusing on a personalized learning model is produced it should fit “both the teacher’s preferred mode of learning and the learner’s preferred mode of learning” (O’Keeffe, 2006, p. 115). They also argue optimal personalized learning experiences have to allow for “dynamic adaption” and give the example of a personalized curriculum changing based on real-time assessment results (O’Keeffe, 2006, p. 125). They conclude using technology to “personalize the pedagogical strategy” allows educators to better integrate e-learning & e-learning tools with traditional classroom methodology (O’Keeffe, 2006, p. 125). Personalized learning provides alternatives to all students to better suit their needs as well as the needs of a changing economy and workforce. This study draws the important conclusion that a “one-size-fits-all” approach is not effective for the student nor the teacher.

Both articles conclude using personalized learning systems are only effective if they work effectively for both teacher and student. As Richard Culatta in his Ted Talk stated, It is not enough to simply “digitize the status quo”. As he stated, personalizing using technology has to do something entirely different than just using a traditional classroom’s traditional methodologies and setup. All three sources discuss how the teacher’s role is an integral part of personalizing a student’s learning even if students drive the learning themselves.
Maker Education, in many ways, can be seen as a branch of personalized learning. Maker Education expands the experiential learning that should comprise a part of personalized learning to a network beyond just teacher-student, but rather teacher-student-audience. Maker works are intended to be collaborated and remixed by others, yet the articles I read did not explore this extended relationship although Culatta’s talk certainly indicated it could be there. If students are given the chance to use Maker technologies and methodology to demonstrate mastery of learning and teachers are given the freedom to personalize their preferences for delivering the instruction around these tools, the greater audience for the Maker movement as well as those unfamiliar with it will all benefit. For my program, it’s a direction that is not that far off.


Headden, S. (2013). “The promise of personalized learning.” Education Next, 13(4), 14-20.  Hoover Institution. Stanford, CA.

O’Keeffe, I., Brady, A., Conlan, O., Wade, V. (2006) “Just-in-time generation of pedagogically sound, context sensitive personalized learning experiences.” International Journal on E-Learning, 5(1), 113-127

Thrifting Thresholds

Last week I discussed my initial embrace of the maker movement and how it debunks many of the fears people have about technology. The maker movement embraces connectedness, physical activity, and imagination in ways that people feared were long-lost with the advancements in technology. However, this week it wasn’t about just talking about the maker movement it was actually becoming a part of it.

I have to admit – at first I was completely clueless as to where to begin. I received my Makey Makey kit and was shocked to discover it was just a little box with basic instructions. I felt extremely inadequate – like I’d missed the novel that should go along with this little tool! However, the internet had a plethora of ideas. With the framework of a high school social studies assignment in mind, I researched Makey Makey ideas. However, most of the Makey ideas I found centered around geography or maps & navigation. Although these ideas were fun and enjoyable to look at – they didn’t really strike at the higher-level order creativity I was looking for to adopt in a high school class. Then I started thinking about what class I teach. I work in a hybrid teacher leadership role at my blended learning school program (instruction can be blended and personalized in a mixture of F2F and online learning). We have a series of interdisciplinary workshops where students can earn credit. One such workshop is taught by me (the only class I teach & I teach it 2x per week) – the Big History Project*Teaching Big History.

*Full disclosure – I also blog about my experiences teaching Big History on the BHP website.

The Big History Project looks at how there were thresholds of increasing complexity that spawned the modern world we had today. Instead of teaching about world history in the same manner that it is usually taught (somewhere around the Incans or maybe Mesopotamia), BHP starts with the Big Bang and shows how and why people are in the areas that they are and where the real world’s history begins. I decided to do my Makey Makey Project centering around the 8 thresholds of Big History as defined by the Big History Project.  Even though I knew the thresholds were going to be my topic, I still wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to do, especially because I needed to incorporate the “found materials” part of the assignment. Then, it struck me!

idea-light-bulb-clip-art-black-and-white-MTLEnkBTaI always love the part of teaching where students have to justify their choices. It is part of how I have always taught & it is a part of BHP. Students can pick anything they want as long as they justify it. That is the spirit of my Makey Makey project as well. I picked 8 items that I chose to represent each of the 8 thresholds in BHP. This selection of found objects as well as justification of how they represent each threshold will be a part of my Maker lesson plan for BHP.

Here are some selections of items I used to represent each of the thresholds (the complete threshold with each item is present in the video).

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I also used the Soundplant program to create keyboard triggers that would play when someone touched the item. I plan on requiring more elaborate explanations than what you see here.

So here’s a video glimpse of what I came up with


Watch my blog in the coming weeks to track my progress in making this demo into a lesson plan that the BHP community can use and give me any feedback for improving this prototype.