Deeper Learning 2018


Wow. It’s been almost 3 years to the day since I’ve produced a blog of my own, not related to graduate work. So, before I dive DEEPER into this post (see what I did there?) a quick recap of the last 3 years, in of course, no particular order:

  • We added a daughter, Olivia, to our family. She keeps life interesting. Her big brother Carter loves her to death.

Liv Glasses

  • I graduated with my Masters in Educational Technology from Boise State University
  • I became a Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert.
  • I’ve won about 6 grants to further my programs, LEGO robotics, and those of colleagues.

So I’ve been busy. Not much time for blogging. But here we are, in BEAUTIFUL San Diego (my first time!), and I went to the wrong session. I wanted to go to “Making ‘Making’ Make Sense.” Instead, lunch must have got to me and I ended up going to “Inquiry All Around Us: Using Data Collection to Inspire Authentic Engagement in Mathematics.” Somehow, I was sucked into it and only realized it was the wrong one halfway through. So I left (of course after I knocked over someone’s water bottle…). I am sitting outside writing this (disclaimer: I didn’t finish this that day. We’re over a week later. No wonder I haven’t blogged in 3 years!). In my mind, doing this will give me time to decompress what I’ve already experienced and begin to put my thoughts into words.

We had a few amazing Keynote speakers to welcome us in. Ron Berger was one of them, and was first introduced to me a few years ago during a PD session at the high school. I believe this was the video that we watched. It was really cool listening to him explain that everything is beautiful. Meaningful. Amazing.

Following our Keynote addresses, we were tasked with trying to come up with our own Keynote that summarizes what we experienced. We went through the revision and sharing processes in an attempt to craft something meaningful. Here is what I came up with:

What do we do with the stories that we keep inside? Through all of our life experiences, what are the stories that we hold close to us, that define us? How do we let those stories out? Deeper Learning allows us to put a human, emotional, and intentional spin on our learning, making it real, honest, and worthwhile. Aaron Maurer, an aficionado of all things makerspace, says “Each day, are we experiencing ‘Déjà vu or Deja poo?’ Are we enjoying what we do, or are we doing the same crap everyday?” Are we teaching or are we learning the way we want to? In order to do that, we need to know our students and where they come from; their likes, their dislikes, and what motivates them; THEIR stories. From that, as educators, we should be designing meaningful learning experiences that are authentic, motivating, and create a feeling of wonder. We want to design experiences that will ignite a passion for learning and assuring students that while they may not have all of the answers, we hope they have the desire to search for the answers. Let them make mistakes, because from those mistakes, comes learning. Even Phil Collins said, “In learning you will teach and in teaching you will learn.” This cycle should push Deeper Learning into an evolving force that will transform student engagement and help them be better prepared for the outside world.


I also learned a new way for students to offer suggestions to their peers using the “Rose/Bud/Thorn,” technique.

Rose-What you loved

Bud-What you’re excited about seeing more of

Thorn-what could use some more focus, confusing


I’ve used the Grow vs. Glow statements with the kids before, but this was something different that maybe the older grades might be able to connect with.

I did learn some things in the session I wasn’t supposed to be in. It wasn’t all bad. I was able to connect with an assignment that I know my son has completed in the past. It made me think how we could re-energize a worksheet as simple as having students count tally marks. Instead of giving students the data, showing them how it’s organized, and asking them the questions, how can we have students, even as young as kindergarten or first grade, own their learning? How can they generate the data and the questions and determine how to organize it? That’s what we should be working towards. The Engagement Checklist outlined should ask 5 questions:

  1. Is the data interesting
  2. Did the student collect the data?
  3. Did they generate the question?
  4. Is the context real and/or relevant?
  5. Is there a potential for a “Rabbit Hole” occurrence?

On Day 2 we got to dive a little bit deeper into solving problems. I sat in on a session called, “The Collective Genius – Unleashing Teacher-Led Innovation,” by Summer Horwath, the director of Educhange. A couple of the quotes that I took away from that include, “Done is better than perfect,” “Hope is not a strategy,” and “Drive change.” We did a couple of activities to try and map our thought processes throughout the day. One of the things that we did, she called a “Moaning Minute.” It’s essentially a session in which we were given a topic and we had to write down our vent, say it, and throw it in the middle of our circle. We wanted to get all of our frustrations out in the air during a particular time frame. We did this same thing when we started to generate ideas on how to solve a particular problem (she gave the example of how we could get Hugh Jackman to come do our closing Keynote tomorrow…there were some great ideas thrown out!). We  worked in a group to fill out a Root Cause Tree worksheet that looked similar to this one:


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I was able to sneak in with new found friends from Texas to work on this project. They had a problem where the data showed that so many kids didn’t like school. So we tried to create a solution to fix it. What started with a TON of brainstorming and Post-It notes turned into a really cool poster with what we thought a solution could be:


That’s Carie. She was in my group and I was just posing for her principal. We were working inside a kindergarten classroom, and the teacher of that room had pictures framed of all of her students. On it, it said, “I thrive…” and the picture was of each student holding a white board with what makes them thrive. I thought it was brilliant, and a great way for teachers to get to know their students and design learning around them. That was kind of the basis for the design we came up with to solve our problem of kids not liking school. If we know our students and let them design learning, their space, and their schedule, we’ll produce happier and more productive and proud kids. And then the cycle would repeat itself. I came up with the title. ::pats back:: But it was neat to see the design process in brainstorming and coming up with a plan. There are apparently 15 steps to this process:

design process

One of the other solutions to a problem that someone in our session came up with was dubbed, “The Phoenix Project.” It’s goal was to have teachers select a unit, kill it, and then work towards bringing it back from the dead in newer and and engaging ways. It relates to a Phoenix, which when it dies, bursts into flames before being reborn. I couldn’t help but think of Fawkes, everyone’s favorite Phoenix from Harry Potter during this discussion.


For a conference held at “High Tech High” I couldn’t help but reflect on how low-tech this conference was. When we checked in, they gave us a journal…and I’ll admit, that throughout this conference, I felt like it was my Grail Diary.

grail diary.jpg

I was able to open up my MacBook and use OneNote maybe once. I wanted to use OneNote to keep track of some stuff because I can upload pictures and things from my phone right to my Notebook. I love OneNote, and I’m not sure I can say that enough! I could also take some screenshots from Twitter:


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This experience opened up my eyes to a couple of things…

  1. Being around our district initiative towards Deeper Learning, our teachers seem to look at project-based learning as a singular event. They’re focused on “getting their PBL done,” yet this initiative, I believe, is supposed to be almost a way of life. 
  2. There are still many hurdles that stand in the way for a full adoption of Deeper Learning. Not everyone can be High Tech High. Between testing schedules, non-differentiated district-wide professional development opportunities, and teachers who have not yet harnessed the power to create their own PD opportunities, I feel like we’re at a standstill, at least from the elementary perspective.
  3. Networking will always ROCK! Being around like-minded educators, learning and striving to better their craft for the benefit of all students is just inspiring. 
  4. It’s really not about the technology. It still blows me away that this conference was so low-tech. While technology can help break down walls, as long as teachers can create an authentic learning environment that sparks an interest in learning and applying new things, Deeper Learning can exist.
  5. Ready Player One,” is absolutely fantastic! Seriously. Go read it. I need to see the movie really soon. I read the whole book throughout the course of my trip.

Interesting side note, following this conference, I flew up to Oregon to visit my sister and her and her boyfriend have an Oculus Rift system. AMAZING! It felt like I was in the OASIS, and it was something I definitely wanted to try and pack into my suitcase to bring home. Now to figure out how to write a grant for it…

To close this out, I’d like to end on a couple of thoughts that I wrote down. I can’t quote them, they just stood out to me. 

  • Teaching is about building relationships
  • Teaching is dangerous; we could isolate ourselves, or we could learn and grow from others
  • Reflection makes us who we are
  • Students taking risks should be mirrored by teachers taking risks
  • Education should work for ALL students
  • Deeper Learning is about being an educational leader and building educational leaders

I’d also be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge my HH family that shared this experience with me. Thank you, Dr. Ryan Thomas, Nicole McClure, Dennis Steinly, Ralph Rapino, and Kristina Ulmer. And also to Frank, the VP of WD-40 who wisely stated by the fire pit during his retirement celebration, “You are what you are when….”

If you’ve made it this far, CONGRATULATIONS! Hopefully I won’t wait another 3 years to share my thoughts!


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In which I experiment with a poetry group…

Recently, I’ve been asked to help out with a 4th grade poetry group.  What can be difficult about poetry is talking or writing about it.  To help put thoughts into words, I’m going to have a poetry group write a response to a poem.  Because I’m a firm believer in having students share their work with the world (it doesn’t happen nearly enough), I’m going to take their responses, as honest as they are, and put them here for the world.  The poem is taken from Caroline Kennedy’s book, Poems to Learn by Heart, the poem is called, by Neal Levin.  There are two groups that I’ll be doing this with, and each will have about 15 minutes to read and respond.  I’m really curious as to how they do and what they say.  They’ve never done anything like this before, knowing that what they write will end up on the web.

The Poem:

Baby Ate a Microchip
By: Neal Levin

Baby ate a microchip,
Then grabbed a bottle, took a sip.
He swallowed it and made a beep,
And now he’s thinking pretty deep.

He’s downloading his ABCs
And calculating 1-2-3s.
He’s memorizing useless facts
While doing Daddy’s income tax.

He’s processing, and now he thrives
On feeding his internal drives.
He’s throwing fits, and now he fights
With ruthless bits and toothless bytes.

He must be feeling very smug.
But hold on, Baby caught a bug.
Attempting to reboot in haste,
He accidentally got erased!

Some observations of the first group:

I’ve already had them ask me how to spell things and my response was that I want them to try.  I’ve told them they may move anywhere else in the library because what they are working on is mobile.  Surprisingly, nobody has moved.  One laptop has already crashed, victim to its age and one student cannot log on, a victim of our building’s infrastructure.  Some kindergartners walked by from lunch by our open door and made the group chuckle.  A student brought up the possibility of using Dragon Dictation, saying it would be awesome to speak into the computer instead of typing.  Is this a vision of the future?  There are 12 students in this group, and a quick walk around the table shows that three students still have nothing written after 15 minutes and one was doing a math problem.  A great lesson to not be blogging while students are typing and why teachers need to be visible and mobile.  This is an experiment though as much as a lesson, so even if I hadn’t moved and the math problem stayed on the document, you better believe I would have put that response here!

Initial observations of the second group:

Because the library group was coming back from the computer lab, students were forced to spread out.  They seem a bit more distracted because they are spread out more and I need to move.  So here I go…Students are helping each other, and while small communication and chattiness is happening, that is an indication of space and the proximity of those students.  Having them move somewhere else, once the class that comes down leaves.  Now that they’re spread out, they’re concerned with the number of words they’ve typed.  Are they done?  They keep checking in.

Here’s what they came up with:

Baby Ate a Microchip is a cute poem. It has rhyming that makes the poem flow easily. The last words of each line rhyme. In the poem, the baby suddenly becomes smart because he ate a microchip. He does his dad’s income tax which I think made him happy. I would give this poem a 5 out of 5 because the rhyming has to do with things that could probably happen if you were to swallow a microchip. That is what I think of the poem Baby Ate a Microchip by Neal Levin

This poem is really weird. It follows the AABB pattern. I think the poem is about a baby who is obsessed with a computer. The dad was probably happy because the baby was doing the taxes. I think that at the end of the poem everything the baby does gets erased by a computer bug (glitch). I think it’s also about a baby who ate a microchip then pretended to become a computer. The baby acts like a know-all smarty pants because he is processing information, feeding his internal drives, downloading the ABCs, calculating 1-2-3s, thinking pretty deep, memorizing useless facts, doing daddy’s income taxes, and throwing fits with ruthless bits. He is acting like a true older adult. He is a computer maniac.

I think baby ate a microchip is about a baby eating a microchip and then living and acting like a computer.  Since it says he’s memorizing useless facts while doing daddy’s income tax he must have gotten very smart from the microchip like the internet is now in his brain.  He swallowed it.   He calculated and downloaded things instead of learning them.  It is AABB rhyming pattern. It says he caught a bug which could have meant a computer bug or getting sick I think it was sort of both because he is a human so he can’t get a glitch but he did also swallow a microchip. This poem is not real and the result of swallowing a microchip would not be the same as in real life. It also says attempting to reboot so I think it was a computer bug.  It also says he accidently got erased I think it was like the computer memory being erased not him.

I think  the poem is about a baby who ate a part of a computer . Now the baby knows everything  a computer knows.  The rhyming pattern is aa bb . This  makes  the poem easy to read. This poem is very amusing . This is because at the end that part of the computer gets deleted.  Also  because the baby  does things adults do ad babies do not do yet. Also  because the baby beeps and thinks very advanced.  The picture  helps me to understand this poem . This is the best poem I ever  read!

Baby ate a microchip is a cute, funny poem that I would rate 5 stars. It is a great poem because of its clever word play, like baby caught a bug reffering to a computer bug , not a stomach bug like humans (that did not eat a microchip) can get. Also, it has a nice smooth flow and a nice beat. You can tell because it says microchip, sip (AA) and beep and deep (BB)

I think this poem is funny because why would a baby be doing his dads income taxing. It’s also funny when the poet says baby caught bug because when a computer gets a bug it’s like it gets sick and when a person has a stomach ache people call it a stomach bug.  I think this poem means that the baby ate a microchip then he got really smart and then he got erased and wasn’t   as smart. He is a baby and he was learning his ABCs and his 123s but it said he was downloading his ABCs and calculating his 123s. He got erased and lost all of his thoughts an he erased all his memory  and when you erase all of everything on your computer and now he is erasing all his memory.

Baby ate a microchip is
A funny 4 stanzas. That
Make`s you think the
baby is learning, after
eating a microchip.

  • Very smart babys
  • It rhymes
  • It was a normal baby but then it ate a microchip and became so smart by doing its dads taxes typing on the computer downloading ABCs its brain almost became like a machine
  • when the baby ate something it turned smart and then the baby ate something again and he turned back to normal all his smartness went away

It has a meater (or known as beat) that is relaxing and soothing.

I think that baby ate a microchip is a good and super funny poem. I think it is funny because the baby is doing taxes and he is downloading his A,B,C’s and instead of learning them like a normal baby. The hole poem is really happy and up beat but the ending is a little sad because he caught a bug and got erased. I think that the poem could have been set to music. It is a little confusing because it says he is thriving and I don’t know what thriving means. That is my opinion on the poem baby ate a micro chip.

The poem is weird. At the end of the poem da baby get erased.

The meaning of this poem is that a baby that ate a microchip and he now thinks like a computer.  The rhyme is a good flow and so is the rhythm.  Then at the end of the poem he got erased like a hard drive that got its memory erased.  I think it was a pretty good poem because of the flow, the rhyme and the rhythm.

I think the poem is funny.  Every line rhymes together.  There is 4 stanzas, and 4 lines in each stanza. I think the meaning of the poem is trying to say that the baby starts dumb then goes to smart then goes back to dumb that’s also why I think it is funny.

The baby is acting like an adult. The poem was kind of silly. The micro chip probly had a bunch of on it stuff. The baby started learning his A,B,Cs and his numbers. He does his dad’s taxes. The poem rymes and has a good rythem.

In  the poem the baby ate a microchip  is funny and a little weird.   After he took a bite he made a beep sound.

I like the rhymes in this poem, and I also think it is interesting too. Also I think it’s pretty  funny.

I think this poem is funny, crazy, and super. When itr read “Baby ate a microchip” I did’t know what was going to happen. Was he going to go to the ER or the hosptal. It turns out he did’t It tottly shock me.  He was downloading all sorts of stuff in less then 5min. The things he was downloading was his ABCs then calculating his 1-2-3s. Then it seys “While doing daddy’s income tax.  I just loved this poem in meny ways possible I can’t say it all.

The poam of the baby eating a microchip is so funny and kind of weird.I wander why the baby ate the microchip.After the baby ate the microchip he was downloading his ABC. And made a beeping sound like this beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep.

In the poem Baby ate microchip the baby ate microchip so now he is very smart

The baby ate a microchip so he is like a computer. He can do his a-b-cs. He can do his 1-2-3s.He can do his father’s taxes. But then he caught a bug and got erased. This baby was acting like an adult. This was my blog on Baby ate a microchip.

I think that the poem was good and had a funny tune to it with the rhythm and was interesting that a baby ate a microchip. I also think that when he was ‘’downloading his a,b,c s ‘’was hilarious   because that does not happen in realty so that was great. Also and the Arthur [Neal Levin] made the poem so that the 1st   and last stanza weren’t too much with rhyme which was a good idea because no poems are perfect.
So in total, I had maybe three with blank pages and one completely ramble, creating a bigger issue which needs to be handled separately.  I thought this was a cool project and I may do this again.  If you’ve made it this far, thanks for hanging out!

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Go See Your Students Graduate. Do It.

This past weekend I experienced something as a teacher that has been extremely difficult to put into words.  It kind of needs to start with a flashback to bring readers up to speed on what I mean…

The school year was 2006.  I, having been extended an offer to teach in the district I student taught in (Chambersburg, PA), decided I would make the wiser choice, having lived near Philadelphia my entire life, to teach in Culpeper, Virginia for the school year.  If you look at a map, you’ll notice that Culpeper is about 3 times further away than Chambersburg.  When I tell that to people they look at me funny and ask, “Why would you go further away?”  Well, when I interviewed, they called me the same day and offered me a fifth grade position while I was walking around the local Wal-Mart.  Friends of mine from college also taught in Culpeper.  Jill taught fifth grade and Dave taught kindergarten.  They offered me a place to stay that year, as it was pretty much going to be a stepping stone year to gain experience for the following year back home.  I was sure I’d find a job easier as long as I had a year experience.  The deal was a sweet one.  I was extremely lucky to live with Dave and Jill, not just because the rent was cheap and the food was delicious, but because they offered me an opportunity to make things work that year financially.  My future-wife was staying back home, so I’d be away from her for a year.  The bottom line was that I took a chance in teaching somewhere else to try and gain footing back home.  What that year did for me set me on a career trajectory of unimagined experiences.

Photo Jun 06, 2 58 31 PM

A.G. Richardson Elementary School.  Fifth grade.  The school had had a high turnover rate for teachers because the district was the stepping stone that I was using it for.  You don’t realize it at the time what a bad idea that is.  I actually thought that depending on how the year went that I would stay another year.  I had a fantastic group of kids.  I still remember it as if it was yesterday, which is the crazy part.  Something has to be said for the memories that a teacher’s first class make.  I remember the guided reading lessons, the making globes out of balloons, hooking up my surround sound to make a better experience for videos, playing football with the kids at recess, the talent show.  At one point I offered as an incentive to students at the end of the marking period the chance to come in and either play Madden on Guitar Hero on my PS2 after school.  Without realizing it, I was building connections that would last with me long after I left.

This was also the time my interest in technology really took off.  I wanted to learn how to create a website, so our technology integration teacher showed me how to write basic HTML.  I wanted my students to do a newscast, so he set up a green screen and showed me a program that would put pictures on it behind the students.  Jack Glick was the one who really opened my eyes that anything is possible with the help of technology.  And this was 7 years ago!  I feel like this is the year I’ve come full circle, but I’ll touch on that later.

Fast forward to now.  Once I moved back to Philly, I kept in touch with a few of my students through Facebook.  They reached out to me, I never talked to them, but was able to keep tabs; make sure they were doing ok.  At one point, I really thought one of my students was heading down a bad path.  I lost track of her, but come to find out that she really turned her life around, graduated early, and is going to college.  It was neat to kind of keep up with their lives, their lacrosse victories and even broken hearts.  They were living their lives.  One of the reasons I became a teacher was that I wanted my students to remember me and to come back and visit me.  That wasn’t possible once I moved home.  The one thing I knew for certain was that when my kids graduated, I would go see them graduate.  I didn’t care where I was or what I was doing, that class of kids meant the world to me.

I’ve had a bunch of long-term assignments since then, doing many things while learning even more about technology.  This year, I finally received a contract to teach elementary technology.  I’ve brought green screen technology into teacher lessons.  I’ve started a Master’s program where I’m re-learning HTML.  And my kids graduate.  Full circle, I think.

This past weekend was graduation.  I found myself a sponge, absorbing everything and just trying to live in the moment.  I had touched base with one of my students, Erin, and her mom (she had also worked at A.G. when I was there).  Erin actually sent me an invitation to come down and watch her graduate.  There are two high schools in Culpeper, so I was going to try and see both.  First up was hers on Friday night.  First off, the nerves of driving 5 hours to see kids and other teachers you haven’t seen in 7 years is incredible.  Would they remember me?  Would I recognize them?  Do I swing my my old elementary school first?  I fought these nerves with the old “When in Rome” approach.  This was a once in a lifetime opportunity for me, let’s try and do it all.  My first stop was A.G. Richardson where I met up with my former grade level partner Christin Funderburk.  Her first year of teaching was also mine, so we explored things together.  She taught our classes science, I taught them social studies.  She ended up being a Virginia Teacher of the Year just recently!

Photo Jun 06, 3 03 06 PM

It was great to catch up with her and start what would almost be a weekend of selfies, a term which I don’t believe was invented when I taught down there…

Graduation.  Eastern View High School.  Whoever designed the stadium layout must have been crazy, because the home stands were facing the setting sun.  That made for some awesome sunset pictures, but also the start to my nice tan I got this weekend.

Photo Jun 06, 8 10 00 PM

I saw Erin when I first walked in.  The one thing I never realized, or thought about my kids is that they grow up.  I still remember them in fifth grade; what they looked like, how they sounded, how they acted.  To see them grown up is just crazy.  There were a few kids at that high school who I taught.  The choir sang an arrangement of the “Friends” theme song, while the speeches were motivating and inspiring.  Afterwards, I was able to meet up with Erin and Edgar, another student for pictures.  With the post-graduation chaoticness, I really didn’t expect to see anybody, even though I wanted to see them all.  The fact that I was there was really what was worth it to me.  I decided to put together pictures of my students then and now:

Photo Jun 07, 9 13 39 PM Photo Jun 07, 9 12 53 PM

Edgar & Erin

Edgar is going to be an automotive technician, while Erin is going to be a nurse.  The feelings of pride as I gave each of my students an “atta boy” or “atta girl” as they crossed the stage to get their diploma was just overwhelming.  Teachers come into students’ lives for a year, rarely more.  They usually don’t get to see the final product.  I talked to another teacher when I stopped by A.G. who said she had never been to graduation.  Why?  This was such a refreshing experience for me and the next day’s graduation was just as emotional.

Culpeper County High School.  Again, the sun is beating against the home stands.  I hadn’t been here since I participated in Relay For Life (also participating this year at home!).  There were again a few students that I taught (overall, I only think that between the two classes there were less than 10 I actually taught still around).  I saw Bailey and Justin today.  Justin was a Green Bay Packers fan back in 5th grade and will be going to school for business and computer sciences.  Bailey has been my only student who had Tourettes.  My favorite moment, and I still laugh about this, was when he fell asleep taking a test.  I got down real close to him to wake him up, which scared the bejeezus out of him and we all had a good laugh.  He was and is a great kid.  This past January he actually suffered through some life-threatening and life-altering health issues.  Luckily and thankfully, he survived and sang at his graduation.  He spoke about courage.  His dream is to become a singer and he’s headed on that path.

Photo Jun 07, 9 11 46 PM Photo Jun 07, 7 14 32 PM

Justin & Bailey

While Justin didn’t recognize me at first (as I didn’t expect), I think Bailey did a double-take, ran up and gave me a great big hug.  The feeling of realizing you almost lost a student is probably what prompted him to tell me that I was squeezing him too hard.  Every one of my students look like they have fantastic personalities and the future is theirs to own.  It was a refreshing experience, reinforcing why I teach.  I only hope that someday they will understand why this was such a big deal for me.

I can’t thank Erin and her mom enough, because without them, I wouldn’t have probably seen anyone.  I am eternally grateful for my time spent in Virginia.  This has been a hard post to put together because there is just too much for me to think about, but hopefully it does the weekend justice and provides an account of my thoughts and feelings.  Every teacher should experience watching their students graduate.  We come into their lives for only a fraction of theirs.  Who affects who more?  Are we a bigger part of their life or are they a bigger part of ours?  Make the time with your students as memorable as you can and those memories will be as valuable to you as they are to your students.

Sing on.

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Project Based Learning-Mod 1

In an attempt to better stay organized this summer, I’m going to attempt to blog throughout my projects.  Instead of writing down everything I need to do on a legal pad, or some scratch piece of paper that I’m going to lose anyway, my hope is that a place like this might keep it better organized. 

So this week, I’m looking at answering one group of questions:
Group 1: What is Project Based Learning?

  • Define Project Based Learning. Describe the difference between Project Based Learning and Problem Based Learning.
  • Why should teachers consider incorporating PBL in their classroom?
  • What are the essential components of a PBL approach to instruction?

Group 2: What considerations are important when incorporating a Project Based Learning approach into the classroom?

  • Describe qualities of a successful project.
  • What issues must a teacher consider that are specific to PBL instructional strategies?
  • What types of students will be successful in PBL environments?

Group 3: What are the current and potential issues surrounding the use of Project Based Learning in traditional or nontraditional schools?

  • What do the numbers say? How many K-12 teachers/students/schools/programs are involved in the move toward PBL?
  • Are at-risk students served by programs that incorporate PBL? How?
  • What role does NCLB play in encouraging/inhibiting the use of PBL in traditional classrooms?

I’m going to roll with Group 2.  I feel I’ve seen some good examples of PBL, but have also seen and talked to teachers who refuse to change, leading me to really believe in the “Adapt or retire,” mantra.  Our students are missing things.  Too often it feels like our students want to be spoon fed information instead of discovering things for themselves.  Anyway, here’s my response to the second group:

              I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about Project Based Learning as I’ve been a champion for some sort of “Genius Hour” club within the schools that I teach. I am also in charge of our robotics program and see a correlation between what students do in robotics to what they could be doing during Genius Hour, to what could even be done within their own classrooms. Project Based Learning is a tool to empower students with finding and presenting solutions instead of forcing them to memorize facts or take tests. Allowing students to take the journey through a project gives them ownership of the final product and allows them to build a sense of pride in what they’ve accomplished. Sure, you can hang a test with an A+ on it on the fridge, but give students a different way to present their projects, whether digitally or otherwise, and you may turn the unlikeliest of students into a lifelong learner.

                A successful project will be able to solve a problem or answer a question. From start to finish, students will have been refining their research tactics, run into road blocks and find a way to navigate around them to reach a conclusion. If collaboration is necessary, students will be able to put aside differences to reach a common goal, thus developing their interpersonal skills. Presentation is also key; how will students present their findings? Who is their audience and did they successfully present their findings? If students need to present in front of an audience of not just their peers but people from the community or elsewhere, they build presentation skills that will aid them through the rest of their life. In the “real world,” one may be tasked to work with someone they hate to solve a problem they don’t understand. Are what we teaching students today preparing them for situations such as this?

                Maybe the better question is, “Are teachers capable or willing to instruct students through PBL?” Instead of teaching from the same textbook or binder year after year, why don’t more teachers teach through PBL? Some teachers claim they “don’t have the time,” or “the district doesn’t provide adequate planning time,” or they don’t want to give the students the freedom they might need to do something on their own. Teachers become very structured and engrained with what they do. They argue that PBL doesn’t help students learn what is on “The Test,” because test scores are now part of a teacher’s performance review. There are also a few teachers who, for lack of a better word, are lazy. One of the issues with letting students go to work on their own is the concern for students staying on task. It takes effort by the teacher to touch base with every student and observe the work they’re doing. In some instances, being a facilitator to learning instead of a direct instructor is too much change for a teacher to handle.

                For all of the difficulties in implementing Project Based Learning, I’ve seen some successes. A second grade teacher implemented “20% Time” to his students, which allowed them to research and present information about whatever they wanted to research. The students who thrive are the ones you’d never expect. I worked with a few using a green screen to present their information. They loved it and want more. That simple fact, “they want more,” is what drives lifelong learners. Those students have been presented with a task and have worked towards finding the answers and presenting those answers. They have done better in my technology class and within the second grade teacher’s class. They are building resilience and grit and know that if they’re presented with a task or a problem, they will be able to solve it, which is a skill that successful leaders of tomorrow will have.


What is Project Based Learning (PBL)?. (n.d.). What is PBL?. Retrieved June 7, 2014, from

D’Orio, W. (n.d.). The Power of Project Learning. Scholastic Publishes Literacy Resources and Children’s Books for Kids of All Ages. Retrieved June 8, 2014, from

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This past Saturday I went to camp.  I have friends who have talked about EdCamp, and their experiences, and I knew it was something I had to see.  I had never been so excited about professional development.  I just read that Burger King is scrapping their “Have it your way,” slogan.  Maybe that’s a slogan that EdCamp can take on, because it’s professional development “your way.”  I really didn’t know what to expect when I got off the train.  I understood the concept, but it wasn’t until I walked in that the butterflies meshed with the excitement.

After registration, I looked over at the window, where blue painters tape marked off a schedule with session times and rooms.  As fellow educators were coming in, some were mingling with other colleagues, most were getting coffee, and a few were starting to put post-it notes up on the window.  They were building the schedule for the day!  Again, I had heard all about this before and didn’t think that I would present today.  Who would want to hear me?  I knew I had some things to share, but as I looked at the board, I started to notice things fill up that I could potentially talk about.  Twitter was up there already, so that was out.  Friends kept asking me what I would present.  As I went back to look at my iPad again to gain some confidence, I thought about how I really would like to become a better speaker and presenter.  I had done a mini-workshop on apps to enhance lessons.

appsThe next thing I knew, I had a post-it on the window!  Wow!  Was I really going to jump right into my first EdCamp feet first?  How would this go?  How could I engage fellow teachers for an hour?  My goal was to kind of wing it; I had no real plan, but to take a tour of my iPad and facilitate a discussion as opposed to just talking at people for an hour.

My first session was learning about MinecraftEDU in the classroom.  Man, this program is AWESOME!  I had learned about some basic activity ideas at the Pete&C conference, but this time, one of the presenter’s kids jumped in and started explaining things that he was doing.  The facilitator kept pointing out that this game was building some awesome critical thinking skills.  Another teacher mentioned how she had students create a museum with Civil War weapons, and in the backyard was a replica of the Battle of Antietam.  I would love to infuse this into some of our classes, but I know that teachers are reluctant to try this and it would end up being an after school activity, which I just don’t have time to run right now.  So I’m still trying to find the perfect fit for it.

After that, I decided to hang out in the Maker Space.  The Maker Movement is something that I’ve kind of latched onto in the past year and am trying to push.  I ordered a MaKey MaKey, which can turn anything that’s conductive into a key on the keyboard.  I noticed nobody had opened it up yet, and I’ve only played the piano on bananas and pennies, so I thought, “Let’s just get things going!”  I couldn’t believe other teachers hadn’t seen one of these yet!  I eventually made my way around to play with a Little Bits set.  That would be awesome for primary grade students to start to learn about circuits, cause and effect, and how programming works.  They had a Hummingbird Kit there too, and I saw somebody playing with LEDs and copper tape.  The most common phrases heard were, “That’s awesome!” and “That’s so cool!”


Of course the deli was backed up across the street with people ordering lunch, so after I scarfed down my chicken salad wrap, I meandered up to the session I facilitated.  I walked into a science lab that was a mess, I mean it was full of awesome stuff!  There were beakers, computer boards, game controllers mounted to wood pallets, robots, soldering tools, tool chests…it was like Frankenstein’s lab!  We were at the Science Leadership Academy, so I expected to see stuff like this, but I was about ready to say, “Forget the session, let’s just look around at this stuff!”  I didn’t think anyone was going to come in, but eventually about 6 or 7 people ended up in my session.  I plugged in my iPad and away I went!  At one point I looked at the clock on my iPad and realized that it was only 1:18 and I still had almost 45 minutes to go…..

This is what I eventually filled in on our Google Doc after the discussion was over:

I’m going to take a tour of my iPad, discussing apps such as Educreations, Explain Everything, Stage, Socrative, and Class Dojo

Also hit:

-book creator
-the civil war today
-video star
-my script calculator
-the human body

After the sigh of relief once it was over, I thought I did an ok job of just jumping in.  I still need to work on my presentation skills, and maybe having an idea that I WILL present next year will help me better prepare.  It was great to be able to be a part of something so empowering.

My last session was about 3D printing, and while I didn’t get out of it what I was hoping, it was a great end to my day.  I did not stick around for the Smackdown of apps, but everyone said I could run my own, based on what I had already shared.  It was a fantastic day of collaboration and learning what I wanted to learn.  Next up is EdCamp Leadership in August!

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Reflections on EDTECH 541

Where did this spring semester go?  I feel like it was just yesterday I was introducing myself to our class, learning to deal with the redundancy of deleting several of the same emails because I refused to change my settings on Moodle, and getting over the nervousness of actually interacting with people I’ve never met.  I’ve certainly stretched my boundaries so far in 2014, and I could not be more thrilled to have this creative outlet to share my thoughts and projects while being guided through more rigorous theories of educational technology.

I’ve felt strongly for a while that an iPad is not just an iPad, but rather an instructional tool that allows the users to perform just about anything.  Being able to harness that power into enhancing one’s curriculum is something I’ve set out to try and do even before this class.  While I teach technology, I focus on core skills to develop technology independence; when I work with teachers, I start to see those skills come alive through the use of other various technologies.  I’ve learned in this course more resources to aid in student accountability and creativity that will allow them to continue to build that independence outside of my classroom, while enhancing the curriculum for other teachers.  The only way I’ve ever built a website prior to this course was through HTML.  Weebly has turned out to be just an awesome resource to build and share resources.  I’ve already turned a few other teachers onto its ease of operation and I hope to work with teachers next year in implementing it into their curriculum.  Through this, students would have the ability to have an online portfolio and a place to share their thoughts with family members, or people outside of their classroom.  The Pete & C conference I attended earlier this spring showed me that other districts are using this type of forum to demonstrate student work, and in discussing it with the students presenting, they loved creating it.  Making student work more authentic through the use of blogs or websites is a push I’ve been trying to make, and I think Weebly, as simple as it is, could be that facet that students could excel with.

That same theory of student independence and authenticity is really what drives me and the development of my projects.  I’ve tried to make several of them interactive, allowing the creator and the readers to connect on a digital level.  It means that spelling needs to be spot on, design needs to be comfortable, and students really need to double or triple check their work before it’s published.  While having students complete these types of projects within my schools is a challenge, hopefully the resources that I’ve built up will spur initiative in the future to create projects like I’ve done.

Prior to this class and EDTECH 501, I knew nothing of the AECT standards.  Matching my projects to these standards made me realize that there was more to focus on than just delivery of information.  Designing, planning, utilizing, managing, and evaluating are critical skills for any educator.  The challenge is narrowing down the resources available to fit a specific need, and that’s where these standards come into play.  I’ve now completed projects to fit every standard, which has given me, I believe, a more well-rounded vision of how technology should be utilized in schools, AND why most have difficulties with using technology.  It’s not easy to understand networks or data collection.

Through this course, I feel I’ve become more confident in my leadership abilities.  I’ve only been teaching technology for the past year, but have used it in my classroom as a building substitute for a while, almost becoming a “rogue educator,” because at times I’ve done lessons in my class that were once reserved for technology teachers.  Because I’ve been in the classroom and now have more of an integration specialist role, I feel that this course has given me more practice with theory, the “why’s and how’s” of integration.  In my own classroom, and with my team of technology teachers, I’ve been trying to push for a more integrated model.  Instead of using the same typing program for several years, why not allow some of them to blog?  I know that I’m on the right course.  Once I joined Twitter, my eyes started to open up to some of the best practices and trends in education.  I love that these courses are emphasizing some of those models because our professors are also on Twitter and see changes in education happening too.  Having 140 characters explained in a course with many other resources has given me a tremendous advantage that I love to share with my colleagues.

I’ve never liked self-evaluation.  I hate determining how I’m doing or how I’ve done because I hate talking about myself.  I strive work with teachers and integrate everyday, so a class like this was perfect for me to make myself better.  I loved it.  There were definitely a few projects that I could’ve done better, but I feel that I brought some good things to the table in this course.  As far as a blogging grade, I was excited to have more opportunities to write.  I’ve been trying to reflect more on my teaching and what’s been going on, and this program has given me that opportunity.  I’d give myself a 60/70, only because I always feel like I could write better.  As far as a class grade, I’d be satisfied with a 90%.  While my themes may be a bit quirky for some, I enjoy what I do and believe that things need to be fun.  I’ve been able to find connections with Doctor Who, Star Trek, Star Wars, and still successfully link them to my projects.  If what you’re doing isn’t enjoyable, it’s not worth doing, and that has been my practice for a long time.

I wish my classmates the best of luck in their endeavors and hope to work with them again soon in other courses!  We are all now part of each others Professional Learning Network.  Let’s continue to learn from each other outside of our classes.

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Assistive Technology-Accessibility Features on My Computer

For the past year, I have had a student in my class who is autistic and non-verbal.  He cannot speak to you.  When he gets frustrated or upset, he makes noises to show his emotions.  He said, “Hello, Mr. Deissler,” to me this year.  Only he didn’t speak it; he pushed some buttons on an iPad and the iPad spoke it for him.  He always able to understand me and what I was saying, but I could never hold a conversation with him before he worked with this app.  It truly opened my eyes to the power of technology and our students with special needs.  Not every special needs student can be afforded the luxury of an iPad, however.  Last year, I had a student with a visual impairment.  He had really thick glasses and it was difficult for him to see.  He had to get really close to the screen and to the keyboard.  Our technology assistant wrote a file that would tell the computer to enhance his screen resolution any time he logged on.  We got him a keyboard with enlarged letters.  He did better, but like the other student, how much further along would they be if we knew what tools to give them at an earlier age?  Unfortunately, it takes some trials and errors to find what works for these students to help them learn, but we should investigate what our computers can do further.  Every teacher should know the accessibility options on their computer.  I am using a Windows 7 laptop.  The accessibility features can be found by going to your Start Button>Accessories>Ease of Access.


The Magnifier, Narrator, On-Screen Keyboard, and Windows Speech Recognition are all shortcuts underneath the Ease of Access Center.  The Ease of Access Center contains your accessibility features.  As the title suggests, it makes your computer easier to use.

ImageMy menu spoke to me as soon as I opened it up the first time.  I’m not sure if this was a default setting or not, but I’ve never had a need to open these settings before this post on this computer.  Each of the different options can accommodate a students’ needs.  At the very top, the options “Start Magnifier, Start On-Screen Keyboard, Start Narrator, and Set Up High Contrast,” speak to students who have difficulty seeing, hearing, or have sensory or mobility difficulties with the keyboard.  The magnifier does exactly what you would think it would and magnifies the screen:

ImageAn option like this could help the students who are challenged visually, including students who can’t see really well or students who cannot concentrate on the entire screen.  The magnifier enables a smaller part of the screen to be shown at a higher resolution, meaning students could concentrate on a single area better than the entire screen.

The on-screen keyboard adds a keyboard to your screen:


Typing is a difficult skill to master.  In my classes, students type for 10 minutes into a program each class.  There are students who have a hard time memorizing where the keys are, or their fingers cannot function to the point where they can type well.  Having an on-screen keyboard enables the users to see the letters more clearly (when you’re trying to type, your fingers are covering the letters), and users would only need to click the letters to type them.

Setting your screen to high contrast inverts the colors to possibly make things easier to see for the users:


The narration portion of this “Ease of Access,” section is probably the worst helpful thing available.  The narrator is the computer and reads just like you’d expect a computer to read with choppy, sometimes unrecognizable words.  When you expect to here, “Always scan this section,” but your really hear, “Always SKIN this section,” it can throw things off.  I would look to an alternative narration program, such as something that Dolphin Computer Access ( offers.

If you explore all of the settings within this control panel, you’ll discover many more options to customize your computer to fit you or your students’ needs.  A few of the options that I found that could really help students are things such as:

  • Configuring your speech recognition.  Be able to talk to your computer and have it understand you.  This is actually a really neat function.  I set it up on my laptop and I was able to say what I wanted to type.  it did take some training and learning exactly what to say to make corrections, but it definitely did what it was supposed to do.  This could be used with those students who have difficulty learning their letters or have difficulty spelling and putting words together.  
  •  You can make the mouse easier to use by changing the color of the cursor or turn the mouse off completely, so that you use the arrows on the keyboard to control the mouse.  You can adjust the speed of the mouse, as well as control how fast you need to click it to select something.  I actually have a kindergartner that has difficulty double-clicking programs or folders to open them.  I’ve adjusted his click speed to allow him easier access. 
  • The keyboard settings allow you many different options.  You can eliminate the use of the mouse by using the mouse keys, or corresponding numbers on the number pad.  Sticky keys allow you to press a combination of keys one key at a time.  To log on to a computer, for example, instead of holding CTRL + ALT + DELETE, you could press each key in succession to accomplish the same task.  Students who cannot coordinate their fingers or find the keys could find this useful.  You can set up your keyboard to recognize a different language, or replace your existing keyboard with something with a larger font, colored keys, or less buttons to cater to student needs.
  • You can adjust the speed of things that move on your screen.  If you know you will be visiting a site with moving graphics, you can disable those and allow students to concentrate more on the task at hand. 

If we as teachers can harness what the computer is able to do, we can ensure that every student learns and can participate in lessons with the rest of the class.  I feel that most teachers have no idea that their computers have the ability to do things like this.  I think that the job of working with the students and technology falls to the physical therapist, or the occupational therapist, or the case manager for children with special needs.  Teachers need to have an idea about what their own equipment can do to compensate for what their students cannot.

Roblyer, M. D., & Doering, A. H. (2013). Integrating educational technology into teaching (6th ed.). Boston: Pearson/Allyn and Bacon Publishers.





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