Teach Every Class As If It Were the Last

The best advice I was ever given in my counselor education was to approach each counseling session with every client as if it were the last one.  The rationale is that you never know if the client might decide not to show up again.

I have taken this advice into my teaching.  My teaching experiences include elementary gifted and PE, and teacher education courses.  Some classes last an hour, some a full day (gifted kids and weekend intensives for pre- and in-service teachers).  I bring this philosophy into the classroom in all my teaching – no matter the age or content.  The learners are giving me their time, literally pieces of their lives.  It becomes my responsibility to provide them with experiences worthy of their time.  In most of my teaching situations, I would see them again for the next class – but one never knows.  I have had a handful of students who suddenly went missing-in-action due to family conflicts, emergencies, etc.

In terms of what this means in my teaching practices, I strive to bring magic and joy into my classroom.  I want students to shiver with positive anticipation and energy when they enter class that day – not knowing exactly what to expect, but knowing it will be something exciting.

I work towards having my students experience one or more of the following:

  • An “Aha” – a new insight about the content, self, or the world-at-large.
  • A feeling of being an important part of and connected to the world.
  • A rise in self-esteem (Note: Seeing a student’s eyes light up/body posture change – observing the growth in self-worth is the most amazing thing I have ever witnessed.)
  • A new question to explore.
  • A new topic of personal interest.
  • A new friend to learn more about.
  • A flow experience.

I work towards and have a desire for every student to leave each class qualitatively different than when he or she came to class that day.  This is a lofty goal but really adds to the creativity, engagement, and joy I attempt to infuse into each class session.


A End-of-Course Student Survey: The Use of Mobile Devices for Class Activities


As is true for many of us using educational technology in the classroom, we are experimenting with how technology can enhance the learning experiences of our students.  Sometimes we have failures, often times we have successes.  Yet, in this age of evidenced-based education, educators, administrators, and other decision-makers are depending on and using the data gleamed from large studies often completed by companies with vested interests, e.g. Gates Foundation, book publishers, and testing companies.

Educators can easily conduct action research about the practices they are using in their own classrooms especially given the ease of creating online surveys and data collection methods.  Yet, it seems that it is rarely done.

For example, I introduced Quest Atlantis into my gifted classes a few years ago and asked these 3rd through 5th graders to complete a survey to assess its efficacy from the student perspective.  The results I received were rich and informative.  The kids offered great feedback, ideas, and suggestions.  See Beyond the Game: Quest Atlantis as an Online Learning Experience for Gifted Elementary Students.

So if educators want to influence what occurs in not only their own classrooms, but in the classrooms of their co-teachers, then they need to invest the time and energy to demonstrate best practices.  In a related blog, I discuss Every Educator Has a Story . . . Just Tell It.

End-of-Course Survey

The Interpersonal Relations course was offered during Fall, 2011.  There were 12 students in the course – five were male, 7 were female; ten of the students were 18 to 20 years old, one was 25 years old, and the oldest student was a female in her 50s.

The first section of the survey listed all of the class activities that used the students’ cell phones.  I blogged about the individual activities.  The archive of these blog posts can be found at User-Generated Education tagged with mobile learning.

Obviously the sample size is small, but I was excited to find that most of the students found most of the activities of some value and that only one student found one of the activities a waste of time.

I also asked a series of open ended questions . . .

Favorite and Least Favorite Activities?

These were all over the map with no general consensus.

What was the greatest advantage of using students’ mobile phones to get to know one another and build a sense of community in the class?

The responses centered around being able to use the devices they used outside of the class,

It was something that we use everyday so it related back to us.

It was something they were familar with.

The students use their phones on a regular basis.

. . . and that their devices helped to create an environment of sharing, friendliness

It provided us with a common ground on which to get to know each other.

We got to talk to each other outside of class, not just when we were in class.

We were able to communicate outside of class and create friendships.

You got to know the people better though them.

To get a better experience from the class and enjoy coming to class.

What was the biggest problems in using students’ mobile devices during class time?

As was expected, most of the student responses centered around them being a distraction.

People would abuse it and text friends and do other things that the activity wasn’t for.

The students were tempted to use the phones for personal use.

Sometimes people weren’t always doing what they were supposed to be doing.

Students had more of a chance to get distracted.

Some people texted when they should have been participating.

(Note:  I had to implement a device away strategy, when I had to ask students, often several times, to put their devices away when we weren’t using them for class activities.)

A few mentioned service problems.

Some didn’t work.

The service was bad because i would send a text and it would show up ten minuets later.

What recommendations would you make to improve the use of students’ mobile devices for class activities and community-building?

Most of the students stated, “None.”

There are none everything is A Okay.

Interestingly, two mentioned having laptops available for all students.

Change the moblie devices into personal laptops provided by the school.

Have computers for each student.

Next week, I begin this course again with a new group of students.  I will continue to test out the mobile learning activities and get student feedback about them.

Thanks Fall, 2011, students!

Evaluating the Value of Apps for Educational Use

As of the writing of this post, there are approximately a million apps available.  On my daily Twitter feeds, I see list after list of apps for educational use.

Yesterday, I saw a post from TechCrunch The Top 20 iPhone and iPad Games Of 2011.  I downloaded and have been playing Cut the Rope for two days now.  It has been giving me hours of joy.  See Cut the Rope: Experiments Review. If I was still teaching my 3rd through 5th grade gifted students, I would definitely introduce them to this game.

I have been critical of the use of educational apps and games in the classroom in that many of them have been developed by adults in business ventures.  They are more like worksheets on steroids rather than games and apps for higher-order thinking.  I also wonder as I read through the lists of recommended apps if the kids, themselves, would find them educational and interesting . . . worth their personal time in using and playing with them.

As such, I test out technology tools and games from the standpoint of a user rather than an educator . . . asking if I’d like to use it if I were one of today’s young students.  Based on my own experiences as a gamer, educator and kid at heart (one of my 4th grade students gave me the compliment, “You haven’t forgotten what it is like to be a kid.”), I developed my own criteria for evaluating the potential of apps for educational use and engagement:

  • Does it have cool graphics and an interesting interface?
  • Is there a game-like and/or creative intent to the app?
  • Is it fun and entertaining?
  • Does it make the user laugh with joy?
  • Does it require creativity, ingenuity, imagination, and problem-solving in its use?
  • Do the tasks get more complicated, requiring more skills as the user works through the game-app?
  • Does the user have the opportunity to gain points and level-up?
  • Does it have an addictive quality (yes, I believe in this) in that it calls for continuous play?
  • Does using the app create a state of flow?
  • Are there opportunities to connect with other users for socializing? problem-solving?  strategizing?

As I said, I am currently spending my time playing Cut the Rope (physics and geometry).  Past personal addictions have included Scrabble (language arts) and building in Second Life (geometry and spatial reasoning).  Friends’ and colleagues’ game and app passions have included World of Warcraft (economics, social bargaining/cooperation) and Angry Birds (physics).

Excluded from the list is a question about educational value.  A good educator can extract learnings from any app that meets most of the criteria discussed above.  If educational value can be extracted from Angry Birds, then it is possible with almost any app 😀

It is important to note that one person’s app and game joys may not be another person’s, but most offer educational opportunities.  An educator can leverage what students are using and playing in their own lives and explore ways they can be integrated into the curriculum to learn different content area concepts.  The role of the educator is this era of learning of that of facilitator.  What a great way to facilitate learning – to leverage what the learners are using in their own lives to teach broader content-related concepts.

The bottom line becomes focusing on quality rather than quantity – to find those apps and games that have potential for long term use and engagement.  Following a constructivist model of education, an effective educator can assist students to extract their own meanings from an app of personal interest, helping them make larger world connections (which includes addressing those ever present content-related standards).

Tinkering and Technological Imagination in Educational Technology

Given the infusion of technology in almost every aspect of our lives, the education sector is struggling on how to integrate it into the classroom.  We have seen current trends and attempts for the use of educational technology with the Flipped Classroom ala Khan Academy, Interactive Whiteboards in every classroom, and lots of discussion about what are the 21st century skills and literacies.

Most educators would agree that a major purpose of education is to assist learners in gaining the skills, attitudes, and knowledge for having a better quality of life now and in their futures.  So any discussion about technology integration should include this purpose.

Qualitative evidence points to the ease by which kids pick up their computer devices and use them as if they were brain-wired to do so.

But even as some parents and educators express unease about students’ digital diets, they are intensifying efforts to use technology in the classroom, seeing it as a way to connect with students and give them essential skills. Across the country, schools are equipping themselves with computers, Internet access and mobile devices so they can teach on the students’ technological territory.

“If it weren’t for the Internet, I’d focus more on school and be doing better academically,”  says one youth. But thanks to the Internet, he says, he has discovered and pursued his passion: filmmaking. Without the Internet, “I also wouldn’t know what I want to do with my life.”   Growing Up Digital, Wired for Distraction

Hmm.  So in the big picture, do we want students to do better academically or find and pursue their passions?  I do understand that many educators would argue for both.  The current educational climate is so centered on academic achievement and standards-based curriculum, I believe we need to make proactive, concentrated attempts to get the pendulum to swing towards semi-structured, open-ended, process-oriented and student-driven learning environments.

Two recent and interconnected discussions have implications about how technology can be used in the classroom to ignite passion, innovation, and creativity . . . technological imagination and tinkering/maker education.

Technological Imagination

Anne Balsamo, author of the Designing Culture: The Technological Imagination at Work, defines technological imagination as . . .

a character of mind and creative practice of those who use, analyze, design and develop technologies. It is a quality of mind that grasps the doubled-nature of technology: as determining and determined, as both autonomous of and subservient to human intentions. This imagination embraces the fact that all technologies have multiple and contradictory effects. This is the quity of mind that enables people to think with technology, to transform what is known into a set of possibilities, and to evaluate the consequences of possibilities from multiple perspectives (http://dmlcentral.net/node/5109).

A course being offered at the University of Washington provides this description of technological imagination.

Humans have always been technical beings. We live in and through our technology: from stone tools and woven baskets to combustion engines and computers, our society is continually altered by the existence of these technical objects. Living in a highly industrialized, networked society such as ours, one need only try to imagine life (let alone college life) without computer or Internet technologies, or any number of everyday information technologies which seamlessly mediate our daily routines; yet this is precisely what it is so difficult to do: to “think” technology, and to see its peculiar agency in our individual experiences and in our social world.  For us, this situation seems magnified by globalization and the intricate layering and interconnectedness of technical systems, complex industrial machines, and vast networks. Our needs go beyond an immediate understanding of a given technology to the development of a more reflective technological imagination in which we consider the ways technologies enable us, and shape and reshape our experience and social realities. “Developing the Technological Imagination” (Winter 2011)

Tinkering and Making

In order for technological imagination to develop, tinkering needs to be encouraged within educational settings.  In his discussion about Learning for the Digital Age, John Seely Brown presented the following slides about tinkering.

If we want more young people to choose a profession in one of the group of crucial fields known as STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — we ought to start cultivating these interests and skills early. But the way to do so may not be the kind of highly structured and directed instruction that we usually associate with these subjects.  Time: In Praise of Tinkering

In a discussion with Howard Rheinhold, Mitch Resnick stated the following about tinkering.

One thing we’ve seen is that the best learning experiences come when people are actively engaged in designing things, creating things, and inventing things – expressing themselves. It’s not just a matter of giving people opportunities to interact with technologies or using technologies, but if we want people to really be fluent with new technologies and learn through their activities, it requires people to get involved as makers – to create things.

A lot of the best experiences come when you are making use of the materials in the world around you, tinkering with the things around you, and coming up with a prototype, getting feedback, and iteratively changing it, and making new ideas, over and over, and adapting to the current situation and the new situations that arise.

I think there are lessons for schools from the ways that kids learn outside of schools, and we want to be able to support that type of learning both inside and outside of schools. Over time, I do think we need to rethink educational institutions as a place that embraces playful experimentation. Mitch Resnick: The Role of Making, Tinkering, Remixing in Next-Generation Learning

The full interview can be viewed . . .

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As I’ve stated before, I believe that the educator is now “the tour guide of learning possibilities”.  Educators should expose learners to the potential types and uses of technologies and then get out of the way so that the learners can tinker and develop their own technological imaginations . . .  ones not driven by state standards, competencies, outcomes, nor products.

Each educator needs to decide how to implement tinkering into his or her educational setting.  When I taught gifted elementary students, the last 45 minutes at the end of the school day was dedicated to tinkering.  I’d introduce the learners to Web 2.0 tools and hands-on technology kits like WeDo and PicoCricket.  I’d then get out of the way so they could  play, tinker, experiment while sharing their findings with me and their peers.

A Technology-Enhanced Lesson on Conflict

This lesson was done with undergraduates, ages 18-20.  As you can see by the lesson, the driving pedagogical tenets are:

  • Experiential and authentic learning.
  • The use of technology to increase student engagement and motivation.
  • A focus on student-centric learning with the teacher only providing directions as to how to complete the experiential activities.
  • Students interacting with each other and the content much more than the teacher.

The Goals:

  • Define conflict.
  • Describe differences between destructive and constructive approaches to managing conflict.
  • Identify and describe win-lose and win-win negotiation strategies.
  • Identify and use conflict management skills to help manage emotions, information, goals, and problems when attempting to resolve interpersonal differences.

Define Conflict

Students are given the following directions:

Write the word conflict in the center of a blank piece of paper and draw a circle around it. Quickly jot down all the words and phrases you associate with the word conflict by arranging them around your circle.

Review your list of associations and categorize them as positive, negative, or neutral. Count the total number of positive, negative, and neutral associations, and calculate the percentages that are positive, negative, and neutral. Did you have more than 90% positive? Did you have more than 90% negative?

What do your associations with the word conflict indicate about your views about conflict and your approach to conflict?

Following a discussion of the positive and negative aspects, students are asked to complete the following tasks:

  • Reduce your list to four words.
  • Find a partner, reduce that list to four words.
  • Join another partner team – reduce the list to four words.
  • Go to Visual Thesaurus – http://www.visualthesaurus.com/  get definitions for each of the four words
  • Create a web on the white board that includes your group’s four words and key words associated with those main words.

Escalating and Deescalating Conflict Situations

Students are presented with the following scenarios and compose two responses for each, one that would escalate the conflict, and two, another that would deescalate the conflict.

They are invited to use their own laptops to compose their responses.  They find partners, who reads and finds the comments composed by their partner to share with the rest of the class.

Conflict Resolution Techniques

Through a brief Powerpoint presentation, students are introduced to the following conflict resolution techniques:

  • Abandoning
  • Getting Help
  • Humor
  • Postponing
  • Compromise
  • Integrating
  • Collaborate/Problem-Solve

To practice using these strategies, students write a Dear Abby letter that describes a conflict they are currently or have experienced in their lives.  These are composed on Primary Pad.   Their individual links are emailed to the teacher.  These links are shared with the entire class one at a time so the other students can make recommendations for resolving the conflict based on the strategies above.

Win As Much As You Can Negotiation Strategies

A separate blog post describes this activity – Win As Much As You Can Mobile Edition

Personal Goal Development – Motivational Posters

Finally, students make goals for improving their conflict resolution skills by creating a motivational poster using the Big Hub Motivational Posters.  These are uploaded to a Google Presentation to create a class aggregate of motivation posters.’

Win As Much As You Can Mobile Edition

Win As Much As You Can is a popular negotiation game based on the Prisoner’s Dilemma problem (Axelrod 2006). In one version players are grouped into four teams and asked to play an X or Y over a series of rounds. The object is to score as many points as possible. If everyone in the group chooses X, then everyone loses points. If all choose Y, everyone scores points. If there is a mixture of X’s and Y’s, those that played X get more points and those that played Y get fewer points. Discussion is not allowed except during three bonus rounds, when players may discuss how they will play the next round.

Many assumptions are embedded in this deceptively simple and powerful game, developed to illustrate economic principles from game theory. The most obvious is the use of a “game” to introduce many of the fundamental themes and concepts of negotiation theory. These include the tension between creating and claiming value, individual versus joint gain, trust, concessions, attributions, ethics, and multi-round negotiations.

The sports or game metaphor and the “game,” with its title commanding the player to “win as much as you can” reflect the values of self-interest and personal aggrandizement. The title, score-sheet and rules of the game also suggest a “fixed pie,” leading to the assumption that there is no room for integrative bargaining. The game, however, is more complex than that, as players discover that single-minded pursuit of self-interest can backfire, and that a relationship between personal gain and joint welfare exists, particularly when there will be a continuing relationship. The title and rules suggest that conflict may lie ahead [and almost always does result].  Cultural Baggage When You “Win As Much As You Can” Julia Ann Gold

Mobile Edition

The mobile edition is appropriate for upper level High School students and college students.  In the mobile edition, students form in four subgroups as in the original game.  One member from each group becomes the designated voter using his or her mobile device to post his or her team’s response.  Votes are made through texting into Celly (a free group texting service) their X or Y vote along with the round number using a hashtag to denote the round.  The results of each round are projected to the entire group so they can view all teams’ votes.

The individual groups make their selections and votes with no communications with the other groups except in three of the rounds.  Three different forms of inter-group communications are permitted during rounds 3, 5, and 6 with payoff results increased during those rounds.

  • Round 3:  Groups are invited to text to any other group any message of their choice.  As such groups are asked to exchange phones numbers prior to the game.

  • Round 5:  During this round, the teams can text message any communications they want to make to the other groups through Celly which are projected to the entire group.

  • Round 6:  Groups can communicate directly with one another.


Reflection of Win As Much As You Can occurs through a VoiceThread set up for that purpose, and through group discussion.