Month: August 2015

Bringing It All Together: Classroom Design

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_MG_2577It has been a whirlwind six week experience in the MAET program at Michigan State University!  I have learned a great deal while making lasting connections with some tremendous educators.  Throughout the past month and a half, I have stretched myself outside of my comfort zone, and you know what?  I like it.  I feel re-energized and excited to put all that I’ve learned thus far into my current teaching practice.

Recently, I read an article by Thomas L. Friedman called, “It’s the P.Q. and C.Q. as Much as I.Q.”. He discusses how there has been a shift in the skills necessary to succeed.  Specifically, he writes that it’s no longer enough to have a high I.Q.  In addition, one must have a strong Passion Quotient (P.Q.) that drives you and a powerful Curiosity Quotient (C.Q.) which propels you forward.  “The winners won’t just be those with more I.Q. It will also be those with more P.Q. (passion quotient) and C.Q. (curiosity quotient)…” (Friedman, 2013).  This article has prompted me to think about how my ideal classroom design supports my own P.Q. and C.Q. and how it encourages the development of my students’ passion and curiosity.

Passion Quotient (P.Q)

Passion plays a vital role in my work as an educator.  I am passionate about allowing opportunities for students to collaborate and improve their teamwork skills.  When my students leave my classroom, not only do I want them to have learned the content, but I also want them to feel confident in their ability to work constructively with others and be passionate about it as well.  They will not learn this lifelong skill if they are never afforded the opportunity to practice it.   

desksFor this reason, my classroom design must be a space in which collaboration is made easy. I want students to be able to move around and regroup themselves when necessary.  This is why I’d like individual tables and chairs that can easily be manipulated.  This allows students to shift into different sized groups when necessary, a large semi circle for discussion, or pairs for more one on one conversation.  Why confine them to the groups I set?  Learning is flexible and so should the space it takes place in.  

comfortable learning spaceI am also very passionate about making sure students are working in a comfortable space.  I always say that our class is a family and I want our classroom to feel like home.  Should I make students stay in their desk all day because that’s the way it’s always been? No.  I am passionate about offering different spaces for students to work.  This allows for even more collaboration and greater productivity.  Therefore, along with desks, I have incorporated different sized tables, stools, a couch and carpet area, cushions, exercise balls for students who prefer to sit on those, and soft lighting by adding lamps around the room. 

laptop stationTechnology is also a huge passion of mine.  In my ideal classroom each student would have an iPad.  Since iPads are so mobile, this seamlessly fits with my desire to have students work in a variety of spaces at any given time. I would also like there to be several screens around the room that students and I can share information on.  This way, not all students are struggling to see just one screen.  I have also included two movable laptop stations for students to use if their content will not load on an iPad.  These can also be cleared of the laptops and used as collaboration stations too.  To me, versatility is key.  

Curiosity Quotient (C.Q.)

By having iPads available to students at all times, I will be able to do continuous whole group digital activities, have students share findings with others, as well as delve into individual projects to fulfill their curiosity.  They will be able to reach out to their PLN and work on refining their internet navigation skills.  I want students to take ownership of their learning.  With this type of purposeful classroom setup, it shifts the focus from the teacher to the students.  I am not the center of attention, but rather a guide on the side.  With this inquiry approach, students are learning to question, try, fail, revise, and try again.  TPACK suggests that the sweet spot of learning is where technology, pedagogy, and content overlap (Mishra & Koehler, 2009).  By having these technological resources easily accessible and this classroom set-up, I will be able to focus on the content and integrate appropriate modes of technology meaningfully.

makerspaceIf students feel comfortable, they are often more willing to take risks.  Risk-taking is key in being curious and curiosity drives the learning process.  When students are interested in what they’re learning, they’re more willing to persist.   I want to afford my students the opportunity to create, explore, and discover in a safe environment.  This is why I would also include a small makerspace in my classroom.  

I am always curious about my students’ learning styles and what type of learning environment works best for them.  By offering these diverse types of work spaces and opportunities for collaboration, my own curiosity is being satisfied.  I am able to observe how each of my students learn best and ultimately use that knowledge to help them go even farther in their learning.  As Loris Malaguzzi said, ““There are three teachers of children: adults, other children, and their physical environment” (79 Flashcards).  Through this classroom arrangement, I believe you could walk in and see all three of these teachers at work.

classroom sketch 2


Friedman, T. L. (2013) It’s P.Q. and C.Q as much as I.Q. New York Times. Retrieved from

Malaguzzi, L. 79 Flashcards. The Third Teacher. Retrieved from

Mishra, P. & Koehler. M. J. (2009). Too cool for school? No way! Using the TPACK framework: You can have your hot tools and teach with them, too. Learning & Leading with Technology, 36(7), 14-18

Classroom images created using SketchUp Make


Networked Learning Project: Complete!

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_MG_3474Do you remember the question I asked about a month ago?  Did YOU come up with an answer to, “What do I WANT to learn?”  I sure did!  I decided I wanted to learn how to create a piece of wood wall art for a blank space in my home and I used Pinterest as my inspiration.  I previously blogged about my process and I have now finished this project.  I’m sure you can’t wait to see the results and I am just as eager to share them with you.

One of the reasons I took on this project was because it was part of my MAET courses.  But frankly, I’ve really always wanted to make a wood sign.  It was just, like most people, I never had the “time”.  

The purpose of the project was to learn how to do something.  Of course, there was a catch.  The stipulations were that in order to learn how to do this “thing”, you could only use YouTube and online tutorials.  No other help of any kind.  While that was intimidating, I dove head first into finding videos and blogs to help guide me.   

My Project’s Progression

In my previous post about this endeavor, I took you through my adventure at Home Depot, my crisis with the wood glue, and my decision (because of help from a YouTube video) to skip the glue and just nail the boards together.  After putting the boards together, I began the staining process.  This was my first experience working with stain and I was a bit apprehensive.  I found an excellent YouTube resource that was quick and straightforward.  After watching it, I was excited and ready to begin.  

Tip from YouTube: stir the stain
Tip from YouTube: stir the stain

I had learned from the video that I needed to make sure to stir the stain before beginning and every so often through the process.  I had one piece of scrap wood leftover that I used to practice on.  This made me feel way more confident to tackle the giant sign.  I began, and there was no turning back.  I learned that you have to work quickly with stain.  I would brush some on a board, and then quickly wipe it off with a rag.  The longer you let it penetrate, the deeper the color you will get.  I had already chosen a rather dark color so I knew I didn’t want it to sit on the boards for too long.  Once, I got the hang of it, the staining went pretty smoothly.

The next step was to create my stencils for the word, LOVE.  Shanty-2-Chic recommended using a silhouette machine or printing your own letters and using a craft knife to cut out the stencils.

Stencils cut and laid on the board
Stencils cut and laid on the board

 I didn’t have a printer that would print large enough letters.  So instead, I found some big letters at Hobby Lobby, traced them, and then cut out around them so I was left with a stencil.  This worked out fabulously!  Once I had the stencils cut, I taped them to the board using regular masking tape. Then I took white craft paint and painted the “L”, “V”, and “E”.  The example on Shanty-2-Chic uses a red heart in place of the “O”.  I loved the heart idea but the red color not so much.  I decided to use a muted yellow color because it would go much better in my home.  

Once the paint was dry, I removed the stencils and beamed with delight.  I absolutely LOVE my finished product (no pun intended)!  

_MG_3571I have to admit that the second part of this process went a lot smoother than the first half.  One thing I would do differently next time is cut out the stencils on contact paper.  Shanty-2-chic did recommend this but others did not.  By using plain paper, some of the paint “bled” a little and so the letters are not as crisp around the outside.  However, I still think it looks fantastic and it just adds to the shabby chicness.

Networked Learning Approach

I knew that the purpose here was not just to learn how to make wall art.  There was a deeper concept our instructors were trying to teach us.  They wanted us to experience first hand, the idea of networked learning.  By experiencing it ourselves as educators, we can gain a valuable “student perspective” and potentially integrate this type of learning in our classrooms.  After engaging in networked learning, I can definitely see adding this as a tool in my tool kit of teaching strategies.  

I realized that this is probably a way many of my students learn on their own already.  They Google everything.  Ok, maybe not everything, but a lot of things.  Therefore, I think many would enjoy a learning assignment like the one I took part in.  Of course, I would tailor it to my specific content.  For example, I could ask students to create a science experiment showing Newton’s first law of motion.  I am positive YouTube videos and online forums could aide in their design process.  I could take it a step farther and have them video their own experiment and post it so as to help others.  Personal Learning Networks (PLNs) would be heavily integrated in this type of lesson.

Students may live in a digital world, but as Danah Boyd said in her book, It’s Complicated, “Educators have an important role to play in helping youth navigate networked publics and the information-rich environments that the internet supports. Familiarity with the latest gadgets or services is often less important than possessing the critical knowledge to engage productively with networked situations…” (2014, p.180).  As a teacher, it’s important for me to remember that although many of my students have grown up with this technology, they still need to be taught how to critically engage in and evaluate these learning networks.  As well as learning the content material, I want to help them build effective internet navigation skills.  With rapid advances in technology, these types of skills are becoming essential for twenty-first century citizens.


One thing I really found out about myself during this process is that I am very much, a visual learner.  Often times, when I am stuck on a problem with technology, I Google my question.  Almost always, a few YouTube videos pop up in my search as well as a list of web resources.  Nine times out of ten, I go to the videos first.  I find the explanation with a visual much easier to understand.  

Upon completion of this project, I reflected on the sources I used and their ability in helping me succeed.  Since I am very much a visual learner, I tended to gravitate toward the blogs that had lots of pictures or easy to follow videos.  Shanty-2-Chic was excellent to follow and although I strayed a few times from the suggestions, I followed it relatively precisely.  Craig Hurst’s video really helped me over the wood glue hurdle, and the video by howtopaintinfo made me feel much more confident in my staining ability (in fact, I googled “how to stain wood”, and that video was the one that came up in my list of results).  As previously stated, I tend to go straight to the videos!  I ended up not referencing the blog, Storypiece, very often because I found the video of the staining process more helpful than the written blog.  

I have really enjoyed my networked learning experience and I would not shy away from learning something again using only YouTube and online help.  Perhaps I will even try my hand at another Pinterest project.  Yes, there were times when it would have been easier to just ask someone in person.  However, I have to say I feel even more successful in the end because I didn’t.  I am quite proud of my piece of wood wall art and can’t wait to hang it in my home!  Check out my video below to see my progression from start to finish!



Boyd, D. (2014). It’s complicated: the social lives of networked teens. New Haven + London: Yale University Press.

Solving a Wicked Problem

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Photo used under the Creative Commons License  CCO 1.0
Photo used under the Creative Commons License CCO 1.0

Failure is a part of our lives every day.  Some of us fail to get to work on time, others of us fail make it to our child’s soccer game, and still others fail to successfully make even the most simplest of dinners.  Does that mean that we throw our hands up and never go to work?  Never attempt to make it to another soccer game?  Never cook again?  Ever?  I would venture to say that you have answered no to each of these questions.  If anything, wouldn’t this failure cause you to want to try to accomplish that goal even more?  Why then does failure have such a rotten stigma in our culture today?  Many of us have been taught from a young age to fear failure when in reality, failure is fundamental to the learning process.  

Recently, for my MAET courses, I have been tasked to attempt to solve a wicked problem in education.  According to the New Media Consortium (NMC), wicked problems are defined as, “issues that are extremely difficult and even seemingly impossible to solve because of the complex or ever-changing environments in which they arise” (2013, p.1).

I have not been in this process alone.  I have been fortunate enough to collaborate on this project with three other educators, Chelsea, Taylor, and Rosie.  We made quite a deal of progress that I recently blogged about.  Since then, we had more discussion and modified some of our initial thoughts on solutions to the problem, “allow failure to be as powerful a learning mode as success” (NMC, 2013, p.1).

We initially proposed that teachers shift to an inquiry-based learning approach.  This method seamlessly allows for failure to take place, and more importantly for those failures to be the driving forces behind the decisions of what to try next.  “If we do not encourage students to make mistakes within the controlled environment of a classroom, we might find that they will never attempt great things outside that environment” (McIntosh, 2013).  Because of the proposition of shifting to inquiry learning, we encouraged the use of a flipped classroom approach and standards based reporting.  With any new change, teacher resistance is often found.  Therefore, we proposed professional development opportunities on these topics that teach through inquiry learning.  Check out our original content here and then read further to see how our ideas developed.  

Taylor and I were able to attend a roundtable Zoom meeting to share these ideas we had and receive feedback from our peers outside of our own wicked problem group.  We received compliments as well as constructive suggestions.  One of the biggest take-aways we had was revamping our flipped classroom approach into a more hybrid or flexible flipped method.  When done correctly, this flexible approach can allow for great inquiry.  It also has the potential to allow students to collaborate, affords time for peer to peer feedback, encourages extension activities, as well as teacher guided support.  It enables the educator to determine which content to flip rather than all instruction taking place outside of the classroom.  In essence, allowing for much more flexibility but also inquiry-based learning.  Often times, when teachers hear flipped, they think it’s simply recording their lectures and having the students watch them at home.  This is why we have now proposed a more flexible flipped approach.

“Within a supportive classroom learning community, failure is not a roadblock but an opportunity for success” (Fouche, 2013, p. 49).   In his book, The Anti-Education Era, James Paul Gee discusses that “grit” is needed to attain success (2013, p.202).  Gee writes, “Grit is an invented term that means perseverance and passion of the sort necessary for persistence past failure through long hours of practice” (Gee, 2013, p. 202).  Grit is a necessary skill that twenty-first century learners today must develop.  As educators, it is our job to help this come to fruition.  We must encourage and require this kind of persistence.  Inquiry-based learning, that naturally allows for failure and multiple trials, can be an excellent method to teach this perseverance or grit.

As an end product, in response to this wicked problem of, allowing failure to be a powerful learning mode, we have created a final Blendspace to share our work.  Here you will find an infographic to give you a quick synopsis of our proposal, a white paper policy document with our proposed solution grounded in research, and a multi-media mash-up video showcasing our thought process throughout the project.  Failure is not the end, but rather, a new beginning.


Fouché, J. (2013). Rethinking failure. Science Teacher, 80(8), 45-49. Retrieved from

Gee, J. (2013). The Anti-Education ERA: Creating Smarter Students Through Digital Learning (First Ed.). New York, NY: Palgrave MacMillan.

McIntosh, J. (2012). Failing to get an A. Techniques: Connecting Education and Careers (J3), 87(7), 44-46. Retrieved from

New Media Consortium (2013). The Horizon Project. Retrieved from

Community of Practice Survey Analysis

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tech surveyIn his book, The Anti-Education Era, James Paul Gee (2013) refers to “frozen solutions” as solutions that were once good but are not anymore (p.89).  These solutions have become frozen in time (p.89).  Gee says, “We humans should often think about, reflect on, and make new decisions about institutionally frozen solutions, but mostly we do not” (2013, p.89).  In one of my most recent assignments for my MAET courses, I was able to gain perspective on my colleagues take toward technology integration.  I was curious to see how many were “frozen” or flexible when it came to technology in education.

I began by creating my technology integration survey using Google forms.  I then distributed it to the twenty teachers at the elementary school at which I work.  This Catholic school serves approximately 290 children in grades Kindergarten through six, in a small town in Michigan.  Out of these twenty teachers, sixteen of them responded.  Therefore, this survey represents 80% of the educators who work in this building.

The purpose of this survey was to answer three driving questions:

  1. How my colleagues are currently using technologies in their professional practice?
  2. How would my colleagues like to change or improve their technology integration practices?
  3. What type of technology-focused professional develop would my colleagues find most useful?  

In addition, I wanted to determine my colleagues level of comfort in using technologies in the classroom and attempt to uncover any roadblocks they face when doing so.

Tech Integration Survey (1)

The data I collected was very close to what I expected to see based on my observations at school.  There are definitely trends that were evident in my data, but also various questions that arose while analyzing the results.  I found that overall, most teachers felt they were average when asked how comfortable they feel integrating technology into their teaching.  I believe that this number is not higher partially due to the lack of training with the technology.  Fifty percent of teachers said one of the biggest barriers they face is that there just isn’t enough training time.

The educators in my building are indeed using a variety of technologies in their practice such as iPads, Microsoft Office, SMART Boards, and Elmos just to name a few.  However, one hundred percent of teachers rated their desire to increase their technology integration at a 3 or above on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being “absolutely”.  What teachers would like most is to learn more about educational apps to use in the classroom!

Can’t wait to check out the full results?!  Take a look at my complete analysis.  You can also find the full set of data here. For a quick, simple, run down of the results, check out my infographic I created to the right.


Gee, J. (2013). The Anti-Education ERA: Creating Smarter Students Through Digital Learning (First Ed.). New York, NY: Palgrave MacMillan.

Wicked Problem Post #1

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Photo by John Liu used under the Creative Commons License CC-BY-2.0
Photo by John Liu used under the Creative Commons License CC-BY-2.0

“Students have been taught, both on purpose and accidentally, to fear failure. Yet the working world looks for people who can overcome failures and setbacks for their employers through critical thinking and problem solving” (McIntosh, 2012).  Learning from failure is just as important as learning from success.  Yet it seems that many of us, myself included, intrinsically fear failure.

The New Media Consortium (NMC), has recently defined five different challenges in education as wicked problems (2013, p.1).  According to NMC, wicked problems are defined as, “issues that are extremely difficult and even seemingly impossible to solve because of the complex or ever-changing environments in which they arise” (2013, p.1).

One of the projects for my MAET courses, requires that we attempt to come up with the best solution to one of the five wicked problems defined by the NMC.  Chelsea, Rosie, Taylor, and I are working to find a solution to the challenge, “Allow failure to be as powerful a learning mode as success” (NMC, 2013, p.1).

So far, we have had a lot of great conversations about ways to tackle this problem.  We are proposing that inquiry based learning is the best way to allow failure to be a powerful learning experience.  In inquiry learning, the student works through multiple trials to find the solution.  It is evident that failure is a part of this process, and it is with these failures in mind that students learn to change their thinking and try a new strategy to solve the problem.  While inquiry based learning isn’t the perfect solution to this wicked problem (as these challenges are seemingly impossible to solve) it does offer a learning mode where failure is at the heart of the instruction.

There is a fine balance that is needed between this type of failure learning.  The teacher needs to work as a guide, constantly questioning the students’ thinking and conclusions in order for the failure to be productive.  In his book, The Anti-Education Era, James Paul Gee (2013) calls for these types of twenty-first century teachers in schools (p.187).  “…A teacher in the sense not of telling people what to do, but in the sense of encouraging and resourcing their own creativity and productivity” (Gee, 2013, p.187).

One way to allow for inquiry based learning is to use a flipped classroom approach which puts the student much more in charge of their own learning.  This process allows them to inquire, devise and test their own strategies, examine results, and try again.  Students are often working through this at their own pace.  With that in mind, we have also suggested using standards based reporting (SBR).  This allows students to master skills at their own pace and not be penalized for not mastering it within a certain time frame.  SBR allows the teacher to meet each student at their level.

This type of instruction can be daunting to any teacher.  For this reason we propose teachers have professional development opportunities where inquiry based learning is actually practiced rather than just discussed.  Teachers putting themselves in the seats of their students is a key learning experience.  By providing professional development in this way, teachers will be able to see first hand, the benefits of inquiry based learning.  They will feel more confident to tackle this way of teaching in their classrooms.

Our group is still in the process of putting together a healthy solution to allowing failure to be as powerful a learning mode as success.  We believe that we have a good start and are continuing the discussion process.  According to Gee (2013), “A Mind is what you get when you plug minds and tools together in the right way (p.165).  We are using Zoom meetings, Voxer, texting, Google docs, and Blendspace to collaborate with one another and therefore, plugging minds and tools together to come up with the best solution.  Check out our Blendspace to see our progress so far!


Gee, J. (2013). The Anti-Education ERA: Creating Smarter Students Through Digital Learning (First Ed.). New York, NY: Palgrave MacMillan.

McIntosh, J. (2012). Failing to get an A. Techniques: Connecting Education and Careers (J3), 87(7), 44-46. Retrieved from

New Media Consortium (2013). The Horizon Project. Retrieved from

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