Assessment in Genius Hour: First Steps in a Third Grade Classroom


I have poured hours into this weekly hour, as have the kids.  How will I capture the essence of the great things that are happening?  How will I be sure that great things are happening?  Welcome to my latest Genius Hour question.

As I ponder the question of assessment, I have to look at the elements that I have built into Genius Hour and see how I can best make sure those are each happening.  Then I will consult the ISTE Standards for Students.  They are so ambitious and above anything that I can imagine achieving with my students. However, if I can move students a bit forward with those standards in mind, I will feel like they are heading in the right direction.

I started Genius Hour after I became curious about what my neighbor teacher was doing with her students.  For several years my students had completed one project in May.  They learned a lot and their parents were always very proud to see their child’s projects.  I wanted to give students a chance to do this over and over throughout the year.

Then I started taking classes from MSU.  Happy and actively engaged learners are nice, but now I was challenged to read some of the research to find how best to think about the intersection of technology, pedagogy and content, or TPACK (Mishra & Koehler, 2006).  I was exposed to the ISTE Standards for Students 2016 and informed by my personal learning network.  In addition to all of that, I now have my upcoming progress reports and twenty-three makers working away in my classroom.  It is time to gather up the thoughts and begin the process of making an assessment to guide both my thinking and my teaching.

I decided to first look at the process that students cycle through to create questions for my assessment.

Ask a question:

Does the student ask a question that requires some work to answer?

Make a plan:

Does the student make a plan for answering the question?

Will the student learn something new in finding the answer?

What is new?  New content?  New use of technology?

What is taking the student to a deeper level of mastery?  Additional content?  More expert use of technology?

Will the use of technology be primarily to explore content? Are the technology skills related to analyzing content? To explore new skills?  Are the skills related to communicating what has been learned?

How well does the student progress through the steps of the Genius Hour process?  Nearly independently?  With some adult help?  With a moderate level of adult support?  Primarily with adult support?


How does the student share his or her learning?  Does the presentation engage the audience?  (Wiggins, 2016)


Does the student reflect upon his or her work?  In what ways does this happen?  Does the student see both strengths and areas for further development in the work? How does the student integrate comments from the teacher into his or her next project?


What would this assessment look like?  I would like to capture students at each step of the process with just short videos and/or written comments from the student.  I will also take notes throughout the process.

As I read about the work in Albemarle County Public Schools, I consider the process skills that are discussed by Chang and Ratliff (2016):  social-emotional skills, problem solving, collaborating and persisting.  I will look more closely at their district’s Seven Pathways that lead to lifelong learning competencies.

As I look at the ISTE Standards for Students 2016, I see a few areas that are most directly related to Genius Hour in third grade this year. These include:  Empowered Learner, Knowledge Constructor, Innovative Designer and Creative Communicator.  The Digital Citizen, Computational Thinker and Global Collaborator standards are worth discussing with students in order to build awareness. I feel that they add an even more sophisticated level of teaching and learning and will be a greater part of my focus in the coming years.


I appreciate any feedback and comments of how others have assessed their young students in the maker classroom.



Chang, S., & Ratliff, C. (2016, July 11) Assessment in making, [Web log comment]. Retrieved from

International Society for Technology in Education (2016) ISTE Standards for Students. Retrieved from

Linksvayer, M (Photographer). (2008, October 30). [digital image]. Retrieved from:

M. Mishra, P., & Koehler, M. J. (2006). Technological pedagogical content knowledge: A framework for teacher knowledge. Teachers college record, 108(6), 1017.

Wiggins, G. (2012, February 3). On assessing for creativity: yes you can, and yes you should. [Web log comment]. Retrieved from

Maker Education and Genius Hour in Third Grade


This week’s assignment in CEP 811 is to create an infographic to share information about Maker  Education.  I decided to share my ideas about Maker Education and my class’s Genius Hour with parents and fellow teachers.  This project allows me to summarize the activities that are happening in my classroom.  My hope is that sharing this graphic will spark conversations with both parents and my fellow teachers about why and how Genius Hour is unfolding with my students this year.

Our work in Genius Hour is focused on asking important questions and seeking to better understand something that we are curious about.  In the process, students create an object or a performance to share what they have learned. The early questions have been about animals, mythical creatures, events in history or how a wind-up car works.  Students are just now beginning to share what they have learned.  The buzz of excitement is building and giving energy to those who students who were having difficulty figuring out what to do with all their new understanding!

Though working on projects is nothing new to third grade, several elements are new this year.  Students have dedicated time each week to work on their projects.  They will likely complete at least six projects over the course of the year.  Instead of having to wait for a new opportunity in the next school year, students will be able to apply what they learn from the process right away.  They are experiencing personalized learning, which is one of the characteristics of 21st century learning that Richard Culatta, the Director of the Office of Educational Technology for the US Department of Education, challenged teachers to provide for their students (2013).


Culatta, R (2013, January 10). Reimagining learning: Richard Culatta at TEDxBeacon street.[Video file]. Retrieved from

Hobbs, R. (2011). Digital and media literacy: connecting culture and classroom.  Thousand Oaks, California:  Corwin.

International Society for Technology in Education (2016) ISTE Standards for Students. Retrieved from

Sheridan, K. Halverson, E.R., Litts, B.K., Brahms, L, Jacobs-Priebe, L., & Owens, T. (2014).  Learning in the making: a comparative case study of three makerspaces. Harvard Educational Review; 84 (4), 505-565.



You’ve got to move it!

For CEP 811 my task was to redesign a learning space with 21st-century learning in mind. I decided to think about my current classroom. Using SketchUp, I made a sketch of my classroom based on my estimation of its size.  I then spent hours working on a sketch that was frustrating and I was only able to include two changes.


My lack of satisfaction with my drawing led me to go back to my classroom to measure, and then move things around.  Once I returned home, I tried to change the size of the classroom in my drawing, but I could not make it happen.  So, my drawing does not actually capture all of the changes I would like to make.  I was able to include a quiet room in my drawing for kids to use for making audio or video recordings.  I was also able to draw in tables rather than desks.  However, I did not draw enough space in my classroom SketchUp drawings to include all of the learning zones that already exist in my classroom. In the remainder of this post, I will share my thoughts on how I can redesign my classroom, beyond what is conveyed in these drawings, to the benefit of my students.

My entire school  was recently renovated.  Most of my furniture is new, except for the students’ desks.  I have lots of storage and bookcases.  Though they are not on wheels, I push those bookcases around several times a year. My latest configuration gives students two different places to feel like they are getting away.  I have a new projection system and bulletin boards in locations that I requested. I have three work tables, each with six chairs.  I have twelve wobbly Hokki stools for kids to use.  I also have twelve Back Jacks floor chairs and a couch.  The size of my classroom, plenty of natural and artificial light, variety of seating and flexibility of the set-up are all design qualities that lead to increased student progress (Barrett, Zhang, Moffat and Kobbacy, 2013).

img_5779This photo shows my class on the day of standardized testing.  We do not normally have laptops on each desk.


img_5784I would like to put all of the bookcases on casters so that they are easy to move around when needed. I am not sure if it is possible to just add casters to the existing bookcases.  If I needed to replace them with rolling bookcases, It would cost just under $400 per bookcase.  I have nine bookcases.  That would be $3600.

One challenge that I have been thinking about is the use of desk groups during whole class math instruction.  When I talk to the kids about math, I tend to use an Elmo camera with the projector while the kids work on personal white boards at their desks or with manipulatives in their desk groups.  I have been wanting a way to have all of the kids closer, but still able to work in groups.  I also struggle with having them turn their bodies to face me when their desks are in table groups.  Many of the seats and desks are facing away from me, and it seems less the optimal.  After looking at Christopher Bell’s classroom, I decided that I could find a way to have the students seated in a U formation. I know from past experience that a U-shaped configuration using desks still keeps many kids far from me and it makes the seating too tight for me to help the kids who sit at desks in the middle of the U.  I decided to move my three work tables into a U shape and to put a rug in the middle.  I put five Back Jack chairs on the rug and moved the all of the chairs so they are facing the board.  I think that having the students closer and facing forward will be better for our math lessons.  They will still be able to work in groups with manipulatives (though some will have to turn around) , and it will be easier for me to see how their work is going.


Barrett et al (2013) found that having multiple zones for different types of learning at the same time to be positively correlated with increased student achievement.  This configuration allows for more options for students to complete their assignment.  When it is time to work on their independent practice, they may move to their desks.  Students who need continued support may stay at the tables to get help from me or from other students.  I will still have access to the board for any explanations and they will be able to write on the board as well.  If students want to continue their work at the front of the room, they will have both a rug and a table to work on.

Finding a quiet place to record videos is the biggest challenge my students face when using iPads to record their projects.  When all the students are working in the classroom on projects, the noise level can be a challenge.  Kids who like it to be quieter sometimes request to work in the hall. Having a quiet space within the classroom would be a great improvement.  It would give us a reliable spot for making recordings and give a few students at a time a sound sanctuary.

There are quite a few examples on the internet of recording studios that you can make yourself.  They mostly involve the use of a box that is covered inside with eggcrate foam.  A microphone is placed in the box and record from there.  Here is just one example:  I am curious to try one in my classroom. Maybe if I covered a few tri-fold display boards with additional foam, the students could surround themselves with the box and boards and get quality recordings.  Estimates for making a recording studio from a box, egg crate foam and display boards will cost around $50 or less. If I want to include a higher quality microphone, I could purchase a Blue Yeti microphone.  Those run about $130 on Amazon.  I will try making the sound studio first and see if that makes a significant improvement in our recordings.

I feel very fortunate to have such a lovely classroom already.  I am eager to see how the new desk and table configuration feels on Monday.  For as we know, the experience of our classroom design is sensed by our students.  Their emotional response to the space and how they interact with me and with each other is an important measure of how successful the changes are (van Gelderen, 2010).


Barrett, P., Zhang, Y., Moffat, J., & Kobbacy, K. (2013). A holistic, multi-level analysis identifying the impact of classroom design on on pupils’ learning. Building and Environment, 59, 678-689. doi:

Ball, C. (2016, November 19).  Invigorating environments [Web log post]. Retrieved from:

Clark, C. (2013, October 28).  Make a desktop sound booth for $25 [Web log post]. Retrieved from:

Digital Education Strategies at The G. Raymond Chang School of Continuing Education, Ryerson University (Producer). (2009).  Tedde van Gelderen on Experience Design [Video].  Retrieved from:

Additional resources:

Back Jack Chairs:

Hokki Stools:

Imagining New Parks for Chicago: Third Graders as City Planners


Context for this lesson:

The City of Chicago’s motto is Urbs in horto–City in a Garden.  This lesson is the culminating activity for a six week, third grade study of Chicago’s parks (Phillips, Davis &Park, 2016).  Students study the big idea that civic ideals and values influence city planning.  In the unit, students work to answer the following questions:  How did all these parks get here?  What is the boulevard system and who created it?  Who maintains the “City in a Garden” and why do they do it?  What is the purpose of public art?  Who pays for all of this?  Do all citizens have equal access to a park?

In addition, in preparation for this project students have been learning about how to support each other in times of uncertainty.  To do this they have been practicing the following skills to reduce uncertainty: listen to the person who is uncertain and either share in that uncertainty or give them more information in a kind way, reread directions, use trial and error, make a t-chart that shows what we know and what we don’t know, name the problem, use the 3 group C’s:  clarify, confirm, build consensus, and “ask three before me”.

Students have also been working on social skills for problem-based collaboration.  They completed  lessons two and three from the Thinking Together lessons, and created rules for discourse through these activities.

Mozilla Learning 21st Century Skills

The following skills may be used through participation in this lesson:


  • Identifying and defining a specific problem, challenge, or questions to investigate based on sound research and relevant data.
  • Generating relevant questions based on observations.


  • Responsibility & Productivity
    • Preparing for obligations by reading, researching and completing actions on time.
    • Submitting high-quality work products that meet goals
    • Prioritizing and monitoring individual and team progress toward goals and making


  • Utilizing idea-generating techniques to develop or revise original ideas
  • Drawing connections between ideas using a variety of organization techniques, such a categorization, prioritization or classification.
  • Articulating ideas clearly and appropriately


  • Message Development
    • Organizing presentation of ideas to appropriately inform and engage others.
  • Group Contribution
    • Evaluating and adjusting one’s own level of active engagement and degree of participation in group settings


Learning theory

This lesson is based on dialectical constructivist thinking.  O’Donnell (2012), lists the key characteristics to be:  “(a) the importance of social participation, (b) the availability of scaffolding, (c) the need for authentic tasks in which learning is embedded, (d) the role of tools to support learning, and (e) the dialectic between the individual and the environment broadly construed.” By working in a group, the students act as scaffolding to each other.  They use the facts that they have learned in the early part of the unit to inform their work to imagine a possible park that could increase equitable access to parks for residents of our city as it currently exists.  The task is authentic in that students are using real world information to provide some limits to their design process.  They are supported in their learning not only by each other, but by a classroom teacher, with access to assistance from the technology teacher, and by the science teacher.


Problem-based learning experiences require students to be comfortable with uncertainty.  Many third graders are just beginning to become independent learners.   Even when they are pretty sure an idea will work, they are not always comfortable trying it out.  Some third graders are less willing to risk what they perceive as a lack of success.  Research by Jordan & McDaniel (2014) suggests that several key factors can be implemented into learning experiences to provide students with support during problem-based learning.  First, peer interaction is a primary source of social support. Students can “learn effective strategies for reducing, ignoring, maintaining, or increasing uncertainty,” (Jordan & McDaniel, 2014, p. 523). Social support for uncertainty helps the individual believe that his or her uncertainty is legitimate and deserving of attention and response, (Jordan & McDaniel, 2014, p. 525). If peers join in the uncertainty or not, but collaborate to solve the problem, then the uncertainty may be resolved.  If peers do not help solve the problem of uncertainty, then a layer of social uncertainty is added to the present task uncertainty.  A student who is experiencing both task uncertainty and social uncertainty “may not be getting all he or she might be getting from participation in learning projects, (Jordan & McDaniel, 2014, p. 525).

Students will also need support in bringing effective social skills to their group work.  In a study of the collaborative problem-solving skills of primary students involved in an engineering project, Gu, Chen, Zhu and Lin (2015) developed an intervention framework to enhance student social skills and problem-solving skills.  They set up eight rules for social discourse.  “These rules included:  (1) Sharing information or knowledge with a group member; (2) Asking everyone to express his/her viewpoint; (3) Listening to everyone’s opinion; (4) Providing feedback on each other’s ideas; (5) Providing reasons and evidence for what we say; (6) Working together to determine the solution; (7) Negotiating to deal with disagreements; and (8) Implementing the solution when all members agree,” (Gu et al, 2015, p. 147).  In addition, question prompts were valuable in assisting student work.  Elaboration prompts, reflection prompts, and argumentation prompts guided student thinking.  Students who had received these interventions performed better on many of  the group rules (all but rule 5 and rule 8), rated both their group performance and individual engagement higher than the control group students, and had more “active and ordered group interaction,” (Gu et al, 2015, p 151-152).  From this study, it appears that helping students with the social aspects of group work can significantly enhance their engagement with the learning.  Upon reading these two studies, I wanted to incorporate elements of both of these studies into my lesson.

Lesson Objectives:

Students will begin to create a model of a park that does not yet exist, but could exist, in a real location in Chicago.

Students will use apply their rules of discourse while working in a collaborative problem-solving group.

Students will express uncertainty to their group to seek support and they will support each other by listening and responding kindly when someone expresses uncertainty.

Students will use Makey Makey and Scratch to allow viewers to access student-created audio that communicates why they chose the location.

Big idea:

Civic ideals and values influence city planning

Key questions:

If you could build a park to serve areas without parks, what would you build?

How do your choices reflect the values and ideals of our city?

How can you work with a group to solve a problem that will benefit people in your community?

Does the way to talk to your group help the group solve problems?


points comments
They will create a model of a park that clearly shows  four elements     /4
Their model will be completed with care     /3
Students will use Scratch to record five explanations to go along with their park.     /5
Students will state at least one value or ideal that drove their design decisions     /2
Students will use the makey makey to make the audio recordings accessible to people who want to interact with their model     /2
Individual SeeSaw video sharing examples of being supportive and of following rules of discourse     /2
The group will record a conversation about how they supported each other and how they solved problems at the end of the project.     /2
The map will have a coordinate system     /1

Materials needed:

Anchor chart for How to Handle Uncertainty (created by class in previous lesson)

Anchor chart for Group Rules of Discourse, (created in previous Thinking Together lessons)

Anchor chart of values and ideals that have informed past park planning in Chicago (created in earlier unit lessons)

Videos and photos from So Many Legs blog post

Research from previous City of Chicago lessons must be accessible to students

Map of the City of Chicago that has the parks we have studied marked in an obvious way

1 Makey Makey for each group

1 USB cord for each Makey Makey

*6 alligator clips per group

(*It is possible for two groups to share a makey makey based on the required number of keys.  In the case of sharing, 11 alligator clips are needed per two groups, but additional insulated wire or 4 jumper cables will be needed to access 10 keys and one ground connection for every two groups)

Copper tape

1 pizza box per group to serve as the base for the park

Assorted recyclables for model making (paper, cardboard tubes, craft sticks, air-dry clay, pipe cleaners, cotton balls, etc.)

One laptop per group with internet access

SeeSaw account for the class

Scratch accounts for the class

Yardsticks and rulers



Sharpies or other markers


Wire for building



One current map of the city of Chicago per group

A folder for each group

A box to store all the folders

Designated space to store projects and all materials


Introduction (15 minutes)

Possible narrative

I was looking at our map the other day with Benjamin, and he noticed that there are some areas of our city that don’t have as many parks as other areas.  I know that there is a park right at the end of my street. It’s not very big, but it is big enough to have a lot of fun there.  My kids used to climb the trees and play on the swings. They learned how to ride their bikes there and we used to take our dog over there to fetch balls.  What if I couldn’t easily walk to a park?  Would I like living in the city as much?  Would you like it if you didn’t have a park to go to?

When Benjamin noticed that, it really struck me.  Let’s look at the map together.  How can you tell where the parks are?  How can we find where they aren’t?  Let’s see–let’s put these small flags in areas that don’t have parks.  Now that we notice this, what could we do about it?  Do you think we could imagine a park for those neighborhoods?  You are experts in parks!  You know what types of things are in parks. You know why the city build parks.  You know the history of parks.  I bet that we could really design some amazing parks for the people in those neighborhoods.  Let’s plan some parks for those areas and build models!

What do you think we could use to build our models.  Our cardboard constructions and globe projects took up a lot of space.  If we make models, I hope that they won’t take up the whole room. Let’s make something a bit smaller this time.  If we work in table groups, it will be easy to keep just six models in our room.  And we will have plenty of space to work on them too.

Do you remember the Makey Makey project that I brought in here?  I know that you have been using scratch in computer class.  I am sure that you would be able to write a short program just like I did to tell people about your model!  I am getting really excited about this project! You can make a model and record your voices telling all about it!

Before we get started, we need to review a few things.

We have been talking about how to continue working when we are uncertain.  Let’s review those ideas because I think there will be some uncertainty in this project.  What should I do if I am feeling uncertain? Let’s remember what we can do.  Where can I be reminded of the possible responses?  Review the chart.

We have also been working on how to talk to each other.  Let’s review our Rules for Group Discourse chart.

Initial Planning Phase in small groups (15 minutes)

We identified all these areas that don’t have parks.  I will give each group a location and your job will be to plan a park for that area.  Spend the next 15 minutes talking and drawing in your group to make a plan for your park. Be sure to think about why certain things should be in this park.   (Teacher circulates and takes note of supportive behaviors and identifies examples of using the rules of discourse while problem solving).

screen-shot-2016-11-13-at-12-06-34-pmHow to incorporate the Makey Makey in whole group (10 minutes)

Let’s take a few minutes to talk about how you can use the Makey Makey to add interactive audio to your model.  It is important to have the Makey Makey in mind when you start building so you can plan how you will connect the alligator clips to your model.  Let’s watch a few videos from my blog.  I created this post to explain how I made my So Many Legs game.  Watch closely to see how I made the game.  After the video we will list the steps together.  (Watch the video again and stop to write down the steps).

Ask questions to get at this process:

Decide on what you want to say

Decide on which key will be used for each sound

Program on Scratch-make event, then record sound for four explanations

Assemble the Makey Makey–connect ground cable, connect one cable for each key that is used, test each key to make sure it works

Decide on how and where each key will be pushed

Create each key


How to plan your design whole group discussion (10 minutes)

Okay, we have the steps for working with the Makey Makey and with Scratch.  How do you think we can get from having an empty pizza box, to an interactive model of a new park?  How can we make this happen?  Talk as a class about the steps and help them put them in a logical order.  Discuss this together while teacher writes on a large piece of paper so the steps can be used as a resource while children are working.

Steps will look something like this:

Agree on ideas for what should be in the park

Agree on four features that you can talk about

Draw a map of the park so you can decide where to put the “keys”

Decide how you will attach the keys on top of the box or below and how that will affect how you build your model

Put down any copper wire you will need

Make your model

Program in Scratch to make your recordings

Test your recordings

Test your keys

Group work time (25 minutes)  This is going to take us at least a week to finish.  How will you keep track of your ideas and plans?  Distribute folders to the groups.  So, based on what we just planned, what will you work on today? You will have 25 minutes to work today and then we will clean up.  Remember your rules of discourse and support each other when there is uncertainty.  When we are done cleaning up, we will talk about how we supported each other and how well the rules of discourse worked.

Clean up time (5 minutes)

Whole group share on the rug (10 minutes) to review where groups are in their process, how they supported each other, how well the rules of discourse worked, what additional materials or other support would they like.

This is the end of the 90 minute lesson.

Additional sessions will be needed to complete this work.  Each session should begin on the rug with a review of the rules of discourse, the steps to getting the project done, and each group agreeing on what they will work on next.  Once the group has a plan for how they will move forward, they may leave the rug and go to their work space.  Each session should end with a whole group share on the rug to see where they are in the process, to see what challenges they are having and how others have handled those challenges, and what additional resources (materials or support) they will need for the next session.

The next session after this should start with a review of how to use the Makey Makey with Scratch.  There needs to be experimentation with what works as a key so that groups are sure to include that in their model.  Here is a helpful YouTube video on how to program with scratch to work with your Makey Makey: If need, rewatch the videos from the So Many Legs! blog post.

Time needs to be allotted for individuals and groups to record their group reflections and individual reflections. A list of questions will be provided to give some structure to the reflections. Each video is limited to 5 minutes.

Closing Activities:

Set an end date so the models may be shared with other classes.

Prepare a short video that summarizes the project to share at the next Lower School Assembly.


Bachrach, J. S. (2001). The city in the garden: a photographic history of Chicago’s parks.  Santa Fe, New Mexico:  Center for American Places.

Davis, D. (2016, October 30). So many legs!  [Web blog post]. Retrieved from

Dawes, L. (2004). Research Report. International Journal of Science Education, 26, 677-695.  Doi: 10.1080/0950069032000097424

Ebbs, M. (2016, May 8) Recording sounds in scratch for makey makeys [Video file]. Retrieved from

Gu, X., Chen, S., Zhu, W., & Lin, L. (2015) An intervention framework designed to develop the collaborative problem-solving skills of primary school students.  Educational Technology Research and Development, 63, 143-159. doi:10.1007/s11423-014-9365-2

Jordan, M. E., McDaniel, R. R., Jr. (2014) Managing uncertainty during collaborative problem solving in elementary school teams: the role of peer influence in robotics engineering activity.  Journal of Learning Sciences, 23, 490-536. doi: 10.1080/10508406.2014.896254

Mozilla Learning Network, 21st Century Skills. (2016) Retrieved from

Phillips, G., Davis, D. & Park, S. (2016) City of Chicago unit: cities plan for, create and change identities over time.  Unpublished manuscript. University of Chicago Laboratory School, Chicago, Illinois.  Manuscript in preparation

Thinking Together (2016). Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge, Retrieved from Thinking Together website:

Thinking Together (2016). Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge, Retrieved from Thinking Together website:

Supporting Peer Interactions in Collaborative Problem-Solving



This week I looked at two studies related to collaborative problem-solving. The first article, Managing Uncertainty During Collaborative Problem Solving in Elementary School Teams:  The Role of Peer Influence in Robotic Engineering Activity, summarizes the research of Michelle Jordan and Reuben McDaniel, Jr .(2014). They defined uncertainty as, “an individual’s subjective experience of doubting, being unsure, or wondering. . ..” (Jordan & McDaniel, 2014, p. 492).  They studied 24 fifth-grade students in a suburban public school district.  Students participated in three Lego Mindstorms robotic collaborative tasks. Jordan and McDaniel (2014) suggest teachers must consider how to help students navigate the interdependent nature of collaborative group work when they design problem-solving experiences. Uncertainty should be an expected part of these experiences.  Students can become aware of their own uncertainty as well as provide support to others in their group.

The second article, An Intervention Framework Designed to develop the collaborative problem-solving skills of primary school students, is the work of Gu, Chen, Zhu and Lin (2015).  Gu et al. (2015) worked to foster basic collaborative problem-solving skills in primary school science students. The treatment class in this study received intervention about rules for discourse, “making group plans for solving problems, and structuring evidence based arguments with question prompts related to elaboration, reflection and argumentation,” (Gu et. al, 2015, p. 144).   Gu et al. (2015) found that after the intervention and problem-solving activities, the treatment class had significantly higher performance in using most of the rules of discourse than the control class.  The students were more willing to share information and make recommendations to their peers.  They were better able to work together to find a solution than the control class.  They rated their group performance higher and had more active and ordered group interaction.  They developed ways to solve disagreements.  The control class scored significantly lower on nearly all fronts, and the engagement of individual students was lower. When given a less structured task to design a solution to a problem, the treatment class was better able to take into consideration relevant information and showed deeper understanding of the problem.

Before choosing the articles mentioned above, I listened to a TED talk by Richard Culatta, Director of the Office of Educational Technology for the United States of America.   In his TED talk, Culatta appeals to America teachers, technology developers, students and parents to work toward innovative application of technology in our schools. Rather than just digitizing schools as they exist now, he challenges us to reimagine learning experiences that were previously not possible.  His three main points are that educational experiences should be personalized, provide instant feedback and allow for student agency.  He asks for experiences that give students access to professional level technology tools to create things that are meaningful to the learner.

Collaborative problem-solving activities give students peer feedback.  When the problem-solving tasks allow students agency and authentic audiences that are meaningful to them, then we are also working within the parameters set by Culatta. Culatta’s examples of reimagining education focused on interactions between individuals, technology and content within the environment of a school.  In contrast, the research that I read focused on instructing the group while supporting each individual.  In those studies, the success of individuals both intellectually and socially was the result of support given by teachers, peers and technology within whole classes and small group settings.  If teachers are cognizant of the most effective ways to support group work, and students have positive experiences in collaborative problem solving experience, given a choice, they may want to have more of these experiences.

Research on effective ways of working in groups is imperative to the maker movement. When we make things, we struggle with uncertainty.  We often share space and supplies even when we are working individually.  When we share our ideas, our audience may delight in our result but they may also want clarity. If we want to give our students not only the tools that professionals use, but also the types of experiences that professionals have, then we need to support their development in working collaboratively to solve problems. Our charge is now to give students the social, metacognitive and organizational tools they need to be successful in collaborative problem-solving groups along with repeated opportunities to use these skills.  We can be sure that all of us will experience some uncertainty as we step forward to this task.  Let’s be sure we support each other.


Culatta, R., (2013, January 10). Reimagining learning: Richard Culatta at TEDxBeaconStreet [Video File]. Retrieved from

Gu, X., Chen, S., Zhu, W., & Lin, L. (2015) An intervention framework designed to develop the collaborative problem-solving skills of primary school students.  Educational Technology Research and Development, 63, 143-159. doi:10.1007/s11423-014-9365-2

Jordan, M. E., McDaniel, R. R., Jr. (2014) Managing uncertainty during collaborative problem solving in elementary school teams: the role of peer influence in robotics engineering activity.  Journal of Learning Sciences, 23, 490-536. doi: 10.1080/10508406.2014.896254

So Many Legs!

Creating an activity with Makey Makey and Scratch to practice the multiples of 6

I ordered the Deluxe MaKey Makey kit from  It includes the MaKey Makey board, alligator clips, a mini-USB cable, jumper wires and a roll of copper tape.  All of these components were very useful in this project.  It took only a little bit of time to make a banana work as a key.

  1. To get started, it is best if you go to There is a detailed explanation of how to set your Makey Makey board up.  You can follow along just as I did.
  2. Plug the USB into your computer
  3. Plug the USB connector (the smaller end of the red cord) into the Makey Makey board.
  4. Clip one alligator clip to the section of the Makey Makey that is labelled EARTH.  You will need to hold onto the free end of this cord when you want to use the keys that you are making. I used the black alligator clip for mine.img_9365
  5. Choose which key you would like to control.  I started by experimenting with the green alligator clip connecting to the section on the Makey Makey labeled SPACE.  I clipped the other end of the green cable to the banana. If you hold the end of the black earth cord and touch the banana at the same time, it works just like you have pressed the space key.
  6. I experimented with the different apps that are available on  They have many different sound effects.

I quickly ran out of bananas, and I knew I would like nine keys. I opened the refrigerator and decided to use snap peas.  They worked beautifully and they are even easier to clip.


I was curious to also try using pencil-drawn lines to make a key.  It worked!


To make the pencil drawn line work you need to make sure the line is heavy and that the clip touches it.  You hold the clip connected to the earth while you touch the drawn line.

I decided to make an activity for my students to practice their mutliples of 6.  At first, I wanted to create something with lots of circles, but I saw that if I kept the size of the circles consistent, then parts of my activity might become bigger than I wanted to work with.


I thought about all the things that naturally occur in sixes.  The idea of using insect legs as the unit seemed to be the most appealing.


I found these fantastic insect photos on Flickr through a Creative Commons search.  The photographer is Ude Schmidt.  He has taken many photographs of insects from museums all over the world.  Each one is photographed on a white background and all of the legs are easy to see.  I marked each of the insects that I chose for this project as a favorite so it was easy to find them if I needed additional information.  I tested out the different sizes for printing and found that the small size worked the best.  That size was big enough to be easily visible and the entire insect was in the image.

Next, I wanted to find a way to give the answers to the multiplication facts from 1×6 to 9×6.  I decided that I would have to record my own voice. I had never used Scratch before, but it seemed like the best way to accomplish this goal.  By programming Events and Sounds, I was able to make it possible for each of the different keys on the MaKey Makey to give an answer to one of the math facts.

It is easy to use alligator clips to hook up to the arrow keys and space key.  However, I needed to be able to control 9 keys.  The arrows and space keys weren’t enough.  I had to also use at least four of the connections on the back of the board.  If you want to use the w,a,s,d,f and g keys, you need to use the jumper cables. Since the jumper cables do not have clips, you need to find a way to connect each one to the object that is your key.  I just poked each one into a snap pea for my exploration of Makey Makey.  For my box, it was necessary to attach an alligator clip to each jumper cable.  I needed the cables to reach all the way to the lid of the box and the clip end easily attached to the copper tape (see below).



The next step was to assemble the poster.  I printed each of the insects for my poster, plus one additional copy of each for the box.  I set aside one of each insect for the box and cut out all of the poster insects. At first I thought I would put the insects in clusters of like insects.  Upon further reflection, I thought it would be even more fun to mix them up and make the game a remix of Where’s Waldo. I mixed up all the insects and arranged them on the calligraphy paper that I found in my stash.  I used adhesive dots to attach them. Next, I cut out the insects for the box. I decided to go for the rectangular shape since I had plenty of space.

I planned the design for the top of the box and typed up the text for the poster.  I cut small slits through the top of the box to allow the copper tape to pass through to the inside. I secured each piece of copper tape with an additional piece of copper tape that would act as the key on the box. I made a chart that showed which key provided each recorded answer so I could easily connect it to the appropriate piece of copper tape. This chart is only necessary for the installation. Then I hooked up the alligator clips and tested them out.


I will use this in my classroom as an interactive center when we are studying multiplication.  Students can use it as often as they like to practice their multiples of six.  I think that it will also be useful as an example of a simple Makey Makey project for our Genius Hour work.  I will be able to show my students how I created a program in Scratch to play custom recordings. When this center is not set up in class, I will also be able to share my MaKey Makey with students who are interested.

The videos and photos in this post were chosen to give you an idea of the end results as a whole, and to allow you to see the details that led to the successful completion of this project.  I was sure to include plenty of visual information in the video about using the jumper cables since I had to watch several videos before I was able to learn about that step.  Happy making!



Does the maker movement develop a culture of empathy? CEP 811

Thoughts of mindfulness, maker culture, and technology applications dance together to an inaudible soundtrack.  My intention in this course is to listen deeply and find a way to understand the dance so I may apply it to my work with children.

In a previous course, CEP 810, I embarked on a journey to learn something, anything, through only YouTube videos and internet help forums. From my previous posts, you may know that I chose to learn how to play the flute.  I was amazed at the seemingly endless number of people who took the time to share their knowledge on the internet.  I learned from amateurs and professionals in several parts of the world.  My teachers were young and young-at-heart.  They were knowledgeable and seemed to know very well what my struggles might be.  My mentor flutists had been down this path and had overcome the challenges that I too faced.  My teachers were patient and could be accessed at any hour. I watched, and struggled, then re-watched those videos. My heart is still bursting with gratitude to these first teachers and my home is filled with the ever-improving melody of Mary Had a Little Lamb.

Technology allowed me to access the instruction that I desired.  Mindfulness gave me the mental space to reflect on my gratitude.  How does this relate to maker culture?  When looking at a problem in daily life, maker culture asks you to consider the question, “How can I improve this situation?”  Maker culture doesn’t require you to be an expert to tackle tricky situations.  It only requires that you enter into the process of responding with curiosity and tenacity. Curiosity and tenacity require a calm mind.  There’s that mindfulness.  When we approach a question with a calm mind, we can open ourselves to many possibilities.  We can seek answers from others, and copy their actions. Or we can think about how their actions can be transformed or combined in a way that meets our needs.

In seeking wisdom from others through the internet, we have access to the thinking of people we would never get to meet in our daily lives.  These strangers help us answer questions that are important to us. The two of us have asked the same questions! They share what they know, and their journey to that knowledge.  We can listen to and watch their explanations until we understand.  We are walking in their mental moccasins. In addition, we often have the ability to pose questions to those same strangers and begin a dialogue.

My remix asks the question:  Does maker culture develop empathy?  Roman Krznaric, describes the six habits of highly empathic people as:  talking with strangers, challenging prejudices and discovering commonalities, trying another person’s life, listening hard and opening up, inspiring mass action and social change, and developing an ambitious imagination.  These behaviors are almost inevitable when a person uses the internet as a source of information and inspiration, and a venue for sharing, in the context of the making culture.  Though we often think of empathy as taking a walk in the emotional footsteps of others, perhaps just taking a quick jog in their intellectual life is a good start.  With the internet we have expanded access to the intellectual life of a wide group of the people on this planet. We are no longer limited to the wisdom at the corner bookstore.

Is this revolutionary?  It certainly feels new and exciting!  It moves me to share in ways that seemed unnecessary before.  Must I share my early attempts at Mary Had a Little Lamb?  Maybe not.  But when I find a new way to think about the ideas that others have so generously shared with me on blogs, in videos and on websites, then I am compelled to share my thoughts too.  It will be wondrous to see what happens next.

References for blog and video

Krznaric, R. Six Habits of Highly Empathic People [website]. (2012, November 27). Retrieved from

Krznaric, R.  (2013, January 10).  Six Habits of Highly Empathetic People [website] Retrieved from

Lieschke, Simon (Photographer). (2007, November 28). Curious [digital image]. Retrieved from

The Royal Society for the Arts (Producer).  (2013)  Brene Brown on empathy [Video Short].  Retrieved from

McFarland, Ian T. (Photographer). (2009, August 15). Listen [digital image]. Retrieved from

Wyatt, Paul. (Filmmaker). (2016, September 8) The empathy museum [film].  Retrieved from

I’m Awake Now

img_9675It has been an exciting seven weeks learning about technology in education.  I have had the opportunity to read thought-provoking texts and to discover some educational corners on YouTube. I have been inspired by my fellow classmates, and helped along the way by both professors and peers.  I have worked to apply these new ideas into my work with my students.  It hasn’t all been easy and fun, but the feeling of triumph when I knew I could just add another widget for the Creative Commons license in week 7, is proof enough that I have come a long way since August.

This week I started Genius Hour with my class of third graders.  I was able to use my experience and my videos from my Networked Learning Project as an example for my students.  Since I have wrestled with a very similar project myself, I know very well how difficult and rewarding their projects might be.  When a student asked me what would happen if disaster struck, I was able to talk about my own flute disaster and share how I solved my project.  The videos that showed my progress helped my students see how much growth is possible.

My colleague, Ginger Phillips, shared a research proposal document that she created to use with her students.  I want to contribute to the work that Ginger has already done by applying what I have learned in CEP810.   My mind is full of Renee Hobbs’ descriptions of the essential elements of digital and media literacy as described in Digital and Media Literacy:  Connecting Culture and Classroom. I decided to make a summative chart of Hobbs’ five elements:  access, analyze, communicate, reflect and act.  My hope is that in taking Hobbs’ work and transforming it into a chart, teachers can look at a student’s work and show which elements of their literacy students  are exploring and developing.  After creating the chart, I also feel that it can broaden our ideas of what types of research students could be doing.  For instance, as I look at Hobbs’ description of students exploring real world conflicts and developing empathy, I thought that kids may want to research ways to solve social problems with friends or try navigating our school for a day in a wheel chair.  We certainly discuss social conflict topics with students, but I have never encouraged them to do this type of research. In addition, Hobbs’ work in this text focused on 7th through 12th graders.  I am also eager to look at a resource that focuses on the elementary student–  Discovering Media Literacy:  Teaching Digital Media and Popular Culture in Elementary School.

Hobbs, R. (2011). Digital and media literacy: Connecting culture and classroom. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

 Hobbs, R., & Moore, D. C. (2013). Discovering media literacy: Teaching digital media and popular culture in elementary school. Thousand Oaks, CAC: Corwin Press.

Self-Portraits with Video/Audio Explanation


Each fall, my third graders create self-portraits to decorate the front of their lockers. The students start by doing pencil drawings of themselves in action. Many students have only ever drawn themselves in static poses, making this a novel way for them to portray themselves. They add in small illustrations of people, foods, and activities they like. They trace over their drawings with permanent markers and then paint the entire illustration with watercolors.

This project helps students feel known within our community, because parents and students really look at their classmates’ work.  The portraits are beautiful and many visitors comment on how much they enjoy seeing these lively paintings in the hall.

This year, we are adding an entirely new element to this project.  At our school, we are beginning to use an application to make online portfolios.  I decided to use the recording with annotation and video tools in SeeSaw, an online e-portfolio application, to allow students to create explanations of their self-portraits.  Using voice recording not only allows students to explain and contextualize their portraits, but it makes a well-rounded project to establish their portfolios.

I tried four different ways of adding students’ verbal commentary to their self-portrait:  student video of their own self-portrait, student video of another student explaining their own portrait, screencast with annotation of the portrait, and a zoom-in video of the portrait.  As I was trying to decide which of these four methods would be best, it occurred to me that students could learn a lot by making their own methodological choice. As we looked at the four different methods, we could think about what we are trying to share with our authentic audience and discuss the pros and cons of each. Then each student could productively evaluate which method he or she wanted to use to share that information.

My planning was informed by the work of Renee Hobbs in her book, Digital and Media Literacy:  Connecting Culture and Classroom (2011).  Hobbs lists five core literacy competencies:  access, analyze, create, reflect and act. This lesson focuses on access to sharing with a digital tool, creating with consideration of the audience, and reflecting by learning about each other from their portraits and explanations.   This lesson allows students to access technology tools to communicate information about their artwork and interests.  It is easier for students to use a new tool when they are sharing information about a topic in which they are well-versed.  After this lesson, students will be able to apply the tool to other topics that may be new to them. Students will learn to work with an audience in mind. After discussing the pros and cons of the ways they can record their comments, they will consider their audience while choosing which sharing option they want to use.  Finally, this project provides parents and other community members an opportunity to learn about the students.  Since our school is a commuter school, and we have four students who are new to our grade this year, our display gives new families a vibrant way to become acquainted with our community.