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.

Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?

Are human beings an impossible species to educate? Can we ever achieve a perfect paradigm of education? James Gee would argue that we can never achieve perfection, because human beings can act extremely stupidly. Our minds, thoughts and hearts are in a perpetual state of what you see below:


All of the inner turmoil swirling both inside & around us lead to limitations on how smart we can be and even more importantly how smartly we can actually solve problems. However, there is hope on the horizon and in my white paper linked HERE, I argue that although these conflicts swirl around and inside of us, the knowledge communities we have formed at the grassroots level provided hope & commitment towards using our smarts.

What do you think? Do you think Twitter chats and other grassroots, educator-led communities are leading us to become smarter problem solvers?


Full reference of James Gee’s (2013) book The Anti-Education Era: Creating Smarter Students Through Digital Learning contained in attachment

Sid. (2009). Businessmen fighting 2001. [Image file]. Retrieved from

Citelighter Review

*For further details about Citewriter, please click on the screencast I made HERE

The at-risk school program I currently coordinate curriculum for has had many students on the autism spectrum come through the doors. Having a family connection to this diagnosis has made me want to explore tools that would help address the unique needs and challenges that autism spectrum disorders (ASD) contain. ASDs are categorized as a group of development disorders. They primarily impact how individuals understand what they see and hear and how they make sense of the world (Alberta Education, 2004 p. 4). They can also tend to have difficulty with communication and social skills.

In many ways, the unique layout and small personal settings of our program lend themselves well to the success of students with autism in our program. Although our program may address their social needs, the academic needs tend to be just as great of a challenge for students as they were in a traditional classroom setting. ASD has common features, however “no two individuals share an identical profile” (Alberta Education, 2004 p. 2) Thus the accommodations can vary significantly. That being said there are several effective practices for students with ASD. These range from giving students multiple opportunities, tasks are structured with clear requirements, and organization is facilitated. One tool that could address the needs of ASD students in order to thrive academically is called Citelighter (

Citelighter is a web-based platform that helps students with scholarly writing and research. Students can use the tool when they select articles and capture text, Citelighter will automatically create a citation and bibliography. They can follow tutorials and add notes to their research. It is not meant to completely replace active writing instruction, but can work as a beneficial tandem tool. As Christopher Wyatt writes, ”If we can use technology to help students during the prewriting process, technology might have pedagogical benefits for students with ASDs” (Wyatt, 2010 p. 13) Citelighter’s online presence matches with the goals for ASD students to have student-centered environment. It allows students to direct their own learning process (Bryant, 2011 p. 29). Citelighter can also be done in complete solitude, which according to Attwood (2007), can help to relax some with the ASD diagnosis as they can better relax, focus, and remove themselves from a high-trigger environment. On the contrary, Citelighter’s engaging visual format and mode of the platform can create a refuge for students to explore in-depth and at their own pace (Attwood, 2007). Citelighter could also be a tool that would smooth the transition to collaborative writing practices for all students (Wyatt, 2010 p. 36).

A significant feature of Citelighter that would also be helpful for the student-centralized environments that are crucial for success for students diagnosed with ASD is the Teacher Tools link. This link helps teachers track student progress by assessing a student’s use of sources, time, and what citations they have collected and if students are assigned a group project, a teacher can their participation and learning. These tools are crucial to help a student with ASD where “the opportunity to progress at a pace commensurate with their interests and ability level is ideal” (Bryant, 2011 p. 21). Using these services along with an application like Citelighter also can provide a framework for ASD students that struggle with appropriate social skills. Most students with ASD (including many I have worked with) know that they do not function like their peers. But using the organizational tools provided in Citelighter could help break down the walls “created by awkwardness and other unusual behaviors that can be a deterrent to effective social interaction” (Bryant, 2011 p. 28). When Citelighter can be employed with group projects and provide monitoring and organization formatted by the teacher, it can be particularly helpful to those with ASD to help them succeed in an academic task and working with their peers.

It can be extremely challenging for students with ASD and teachers who instruct them because of the range of abilities and challenge that are unique to each individual. The use of a tool such as Citelighter provides more options to personalize their learning and help facilitate personal interaction. Citelighter is definitely a tool that I will be incorporating my school program next school year.


Alberta Education. Special Programs Branch. Essential Components of Educational Programming for Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders. Standards for Special Education. Edmonton, Alberta. June 2004.

Bryant, Lorna. The Academic and Social Implications of Virtual Learning Environments for Gifted High School Students with an Autism Spectrum Disorder. Little Rock, Arkansas: University of Arkansas Little Rock. December 2011.

Wyatt, Christopher. Online Pedagogy: Designing Writing Courses for Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders. Minneapolis, Minnesota: University of Minnesota. May 2010.

Embracing a bit of the Maker spirit

I consider myself tech-savvy & I also consider myself to be forward-thinking, but I will be completely honest in this posting that until I signed up for CEP 811 I had steered clear of the maker culture. It isn’t that I didn’t admire makers from afar, because I absolutely envied the spirit that I have seen from my students, colleagues, and conferences I have been to. I think a part of it was fear – you see, especially when it comes to technology, I have a tinker nature myself. I will spend more time than I have fiddling with editing photos, organizing the online layout of my curriculum, and preparing blog posts. I knew that the maker culture would suck me in…. and my first initial foray definitely did!

Using the web-based tool of Mozilla Popcorn was tricky at first. I watched and rewatched tutorials as well as remixed a couple from the site in order to see how subscribers made each component interact seamlessly. When I first started constructing my remix I thought I was just going to comment on what it meant to be a maker, but I started to think from the Dale Dougherty Ted Talk ( that the broader commentary of maker culture is the contrast of maker culture to the fears of technology.

There seems to be a pervading message in the media that technology is leading human beings into a toxic modern world. One in which we are doomed to live in isolation & die alone. However, all that I have read, seen, and experienced with the maker culture leads me to be believe that all is not lost. I also think that this class will give me a chance to activate the hidden maker within. Hopefully this message will also come across in the Mozilla Popcorn remix I made. I hope you enjoy it!

Remix Credits

Backert, Rachel. (2014 April 30). Google Glass: Shiny New Technology or the Root of All Evil? [Video File]. Retrieved from

Coronet Instructional Films. (1949). Act Your Age. [Video File] Retrieved from 

Geek Group. (2014 Aug 30). TGG at the Grand Rapids Mini Maker Faire! [Video File]. Retrieved from

Koshy, Koshy. (2011). Yosemite National Park. [Online Image]. Retrieved from

Krebs, Denise. (2011 Nov. 20). Technology Wordle. [Online Image]. Retrieved from

The Orchestral Movement of 1932. Home. [].[Free Copyright].[Audio file]. Retrieved from

Musings on the Art of Focused Conversations

Words of wisdom from an elementary school principal this week. In my current position, I do a LOT of conversations with students. Since my school operates an extremely innovative model (I’ll save that for another blog post), much of my work is spent having conversations with students. However, I was talking to a new staff member this year that I helped hire and she mentioned that even though advising and conversing with students (on home visits, in school, online, on the phone, etc.) make up a large part of job we do not yet have a formalized process for how those conversations should be structured.

It was with this thought on my mind that I entered with into one of my Michigan State grad classes this week. We had a guest speaker, an elementary school principal, who at first I did not think I would learn much from. However, it turns out that he was incredibly well-read and peppered his speech full of references and resources. My edu-catalogue for leadership reading material is now completely full!

Anyway, he discussed the art of having intentional conversations. Enter – “The Art of Focused Conversations for Schools” by  Jo Nelson. Available on Amazon here.


The premise is that educators need to structure conversations for not only students, but also parents. Our students need to also practice the art of having a structured conversation. In the work I have done with my at-risk students, having & holding a successful conversation are not exactly skills they have demonstrated successfully. I also found a handy infographic of the elements of a focused conversation:


I introduced this book & related message to my director so I think we are going to incorporate this structure starting this summer in our student conversations. I love how the layout provides a framework that every educator can enhance from new to veteran teachers. Most important key to success will be modeling, practice, and consistent implementation. Ready to focus!

Can you really learn much from a conference? Reflections from a first-time attendee of MACUL

This past week was a week of firsts for me. First of all it was the MOST intense week for me professionally and I want to spend my blog this week reflecting on this past week. But first I had to knock out a reflection on how my experience & social networks at the 2015 Michigan Association for Computer Users in Learning has manifested itself. I had never gone to MACUL before and so this post is just one in a series of reflective posts about it. The conference itself had over 5000 educators across the state of MI as well as highly engaging, supportive, and innovative presenters on technology and innovations in learning.

I went looking through the internet to see if I could find an image that connects to how I feel about innovation, design & elevating student & teacher leadership in school systems. The graphic below does a decent job.

Image from Baker, Jamie Felid. Spring 2009. A Whole New School.

So let’s start with the three presenters whose sessions contained the most impact for me at MACUL this year.

Screen shot 2015-03-24 at 11.33.05 PMFirst, the keynote speaker of George Couros. Having completely embarrassed myself on an elevator to start my introduction to George’s work, I was lucky that he had a short-term memory regarding embarrassing moments and addressed much of the elements of innovative school culture. Karen Bosch’s sketchnote of his session does it more justice than my words could, so I wanted to make sure I included her work above. His keynote really embraced the elements of my school’s program that I wish more traditional districts would adopt and I’m constantly talking about. For examples, being isolated as a choice of educators & sharing be the default. We have eliminated this as a possible choice for educators by creating shared spaces and a makerspace type of learning environment in my school program. Our curriculum is also shared & developed collaboratively and we have a teacher-led shared leadership model. I left his keynote feeling inspired that although I may sometimes get overwhelmed by my to-do list in my job, my program is on the right track!

Second, my friend and also colleague as we are both members of the Michigan Educator Voices fellowship & MI Network – Michigan Teacher of the Year – Melody Arabo. Melody’s presentation and conversation centered around becoming a teacherpreneur. On the graphic this falls under the cycle of Telling Your Story & Increase Community Connectivity. We should all explore our passions as we can only be innovative in schools if we embrace and reimagine our roles as educators. I completely agreed with her that this movement has to come from the teachers. It is part of why my sister and I pitched the idea of a Michigan Teacher Leadership Summit which won the ShiftMich Idea Slam after MACUL. I am so excited to continue to work with Melody – she is now an accomplished author, which I am so jealous of! 🙂 She also gave great connections to the work other MI educators are doing and involved the audience in sharing their passions and thoughts around this topic. CAjT-XGW8AAE_CI

It’s a blurry picture, but what’s great is my school program has ALL elements of what teachers want – I think that’s why I love it so much 🙂  My adventures with Melody at MACUL will continue in tomorrow’s post as well! 🙂

Finally, the closing keynote with 2 Guys. These guys definitely knew how to engage a crowd of tired, but passionate educators. Start with swag and a folkrock theme of Thunderstruck to go with your amazing video opening! Seriously – check it out here:

But in all seriousness, these guys also spoke about the need to connect and build relationships using technology. That was a message that came across loud and clear from all three presenters I am sharing. We have to shift and share because that is what the 21st century will demand from us as well as our students. Their messages that we can use technology to help show students that they matter and that failure is just another step are again key tenets of my school.

I loved the energy and network of educators at MACUL that embrace a culture of collaboration and innovation. I came back to work this week ever-committed to the ideas of our program, teacher & technology leadership, and continuing our work. Thanks to these presenters – your words mattered.

So what ideas do you have from the wisdom of these speakers?

“PLN” or just the “N”

As educators we are constantly prompted and supported by others in education circles. We know all the buzzwords, we support each other’s learning, we attend conferences and events that center around our profession. Something crucial though happened last week that sparked this latest post. Regardless of whether or not you disagree with his politics, I strongly agreed with Gov. Snyder’s decision to hold a joint Education & Economic Summit in MI. Too often educators are in our own heads. We use the relevant buzzwords, we embark on hours upon hours of endless professional development, but there is a whole network outside of educators that need to hear from us. Holding a joint summit where business professionals were side-by-side with educators is more than just symbolic. It shows both fields that they can and should learn from each other.


Educators have to do more to explain to non-educator audiences the work that we are doing & the expertise we have to offer. We have to expand our professional learning networks to touch more networks that contain non-educators. We need to drive the business of education or it will be driving us. As much as I disagree with some facets of the industry of education, if we pretend that it doesn’t exist, if we circle the wagons and only continue to learn and grow from our educator-centric PLNs we are missing a tremendous opportunity.

So my message to educators is simple – get out there and spread the word about what we do in order to elevate our profession. If we do not deliver our message, it will be delivered for us and to us.  What have you done lately to expand your network outside of your profession?

I’d like to consider myself an expert, BUT…

Even though I work in a blended learning program, am completing my GAFE training, and lead workshops on integrating technology, there is so much more I need to learn. I sought out and had to receive permission to take a class at Michigan State called CEP 810 as an elective. I’m so glad I did!

As my experience in this class draws to a close, I was tasked this week with reflecting on how this course has changed my professional practice and also what lies next with regards to teaching with technologies.

First, my reflection of my coursework & application to my practice

1. Blogging! I have always tried to do blogging as a classroom teacher and also attempted to start a couple for personal use. However I never really attempted to intertwine the two and write about MY thoughts and feelings ON education. I always tried to keep these two parts of my identity separate & distinct. However, I realized through the course of this class that my blog has the best chance of success if I reflect on my practice and share my thoughts on education to a wider audience. In week two we learned that “Moving forward, teachers must become comfortable being co-learners with their students and colleagues around the world.”, 2013. I learned within this course to become comfortable with my reflections and ideas being disseminated to a wider audience. I am proud to say that this was evident with my first national blog post about teacher leadership being published by National Board & the US Department of Ed.

Check it out!

2. Networking & Twitter!

Both of these were goals of mine this year as I was awarded a Michigan Educator Voices fellowship, but having this course gave me the time and space to see why these two tools are so important for teachers. The access to PLNs using Twitter cannot be understated. Each week I set a goal for myself of participating in Twitter chats and I have seen my professional networks and learning expand dramatically each week. Everyone I have “met” have shown me incredible opportunities and learning to take back to my students that I might not have been aware of if it wasn’t for these digital tools. One of the essays we read from Will Richardson (2012) concurred with this idea saying, “educators have to reexamine their own learning practice and move toward becoming more networked and connected themselves.” Thanks to CEP 810, I have had the time and space to do exactly that.

What lies next?

In my role as curriculum coordinator and instructional advisor at my school program I definitely have ideas, due in part to this course.

Goal 0 is for my student learning with technologies to look something like the woman with the sledgehammer in the clip below:

This is Apple’s 1984 commercial – I tend to think of my philosophy as such – pushing on the systems limitations particularly with how students should learn with technologies.

But also….

1. My staff and I were rather clueless about how to concisely explain Creative Commons and Fair Use . Although we have had professional development and most of my staff felt fairly comfortable with what NOT to use, they have shied away from some really great resources simply because they were afraid. This last week of CEP gave me quick excellent ideas to give to staff to help them conquer their fears and have materials prepared for staff new to curriculum design to better familiarize themselves with the process.

2. I LOVED the ideas of Dr. Mishra and the framework of TPACK. I plan on using this framework within our school’s mission and vision regarding blended learning. I had a hard time explaining conceptually about using technology in education and his viewpoint crystallized my thoughts and feelings. I also liked his ideas about pushing on the system to integrate content, pedagoy, and technology with instruction at the center point. This week I am appealing to Michigan State to allow me to continue to take CEP 811 & 812 as my other two electives for my Master’s in Education Administration. I plan on using the TPACK framework in my argument because I don’t believe that teaching and learning with technology should be separated from the role of an administrator. I will share on my blog the results of my appeal.

Thank you for listening to my thoughts & feelings regarding CEP 810. Thank you to my instructors for giving me a platform in which to think about technologies and learning and finally thank you to my PLN. I plan on sticking with this blog this time and I look forward to sharing my journey with you!