Edtech 542 PBL First Reflection

Project Based Learning (PBL) is a topic I have been interested in for many years. As I am more than half way through the MET program at Boise State, I am thrilled to be taking the course Edtech 542 Technology-Supported Project-Based Learning.  The first two weeks have included class introductions and an overview of PBL. The course utilizes the website Buck Institute for Education (BIE) as a key source of information. I have followed the BIE website for a few years and used some of their resources. It contains a wealth of information that I am looking forward to exploring. I am eager to learn how to effectively transition my classroom from a direct instruction approach to a student centered/student directed environment. As the course progresses, I hope to gain a greater understanding of what BIE refers to as the Gold Standard of PBL.


Creative Expression: Social Network Learning – CoPs, Connectivism, and PLNs


When creating a visual expression of the three concepts in this module: Communities of Practice, Connectivism, and Personal Learning Networks, I chose to begin with the idea of gears. Alone a gear (or cog) does not serve much purpose, but when linked with other gears and a common purpose, these individual gears become part of a valuable network. That is how it is with educators. Alone we are isolated and less productive, but when we become part of a learning community, we can achieve so much more.

Communities of Practice are all about togetherness, which is why I chose images of hands reaching in together and small groups of people collaborating.  According to Lave and Wenger (2014), in Communities of Practice, learning involves a deepening process of participation. Learning is done in groups and the focus is on lifelong learning rather than a short-term project goal. In CoPs, learners collaborate, communicate, and create through social networks over extended periods of time. People in Communities of Practice share a common interest or passion.

Connectivism is a learning theory developed by Dr. George Siemens and Stephen Downes. It “seeks to explain complex learning in a rapidly changing social digital world”(Education2020). According to Dr. Siemens, Connectivism is a social connected process of learning. The visual interpretation of a network of rapidly firing neurons that are connecting through external social spaces is the image I hoped to portray through my next slide. Learning is a process of connecting information through social sources such as blogs and social media. MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) have redefined learning in the 21st century and build on the theory of Connectivism.

Personal Learning Networks (PLNs) have, for many educators, redefined professional development. Rather than meeting with a predetermined (by administrators) team of colleagues to discuss a predetermined (by administrators) topic, PLNs use social media and technology to collect, communicate, collaborate, and create with like-minded individuals. PLNs can meet any time and any place.  Each PLN is unique and each member is a potential source of information. A PLN can be thought of a “collective knowledge”. Facebook and Twitter, as depicted on my PLN slide, have become a central part of PLNs.

My final slide is a visual image bring these three concepts together.  Over time, learning has evolved from an individual practice with a fixed beginning and end, to a community of learners committed to lifelong education. It is no longer separated from other activities. Professional development is no longer fixed to one place and time with one “instructor” or leader commanding all of the attention. As individuals we have a lot to offer, but as a community, we gain so much more.

Communities of Practice (Lave and Wenger). (2014, July 16). Retrieved from https://www.learning-theories.com/communities-of-practice-lave-and-wenger.html
Education-2020 – Connectivism. (n.d.). Retrieved June 12, 2017, from http://education-2020.wikispaces.com/Connectivism
Graffin, M. (2015, November 14). Step 1: What is a PLN? Retrieved from https://teacherchallenge.edublogs.org/pln-challenge-1-what-the-heck-is-a-pln/
Whitby, T. (2013, November 18). How Do I Get a PLN? Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/blog/how-do-i-get-a-pln-tom-whitby

Social Networking: EdTech 543 Introduction


“Education needs role models who demonstrate that complex problems are solved by cooperative networks of creative & passionate individuals.” – Alec Couros

How will the use of social networking sites impact my teaching? As we venture into this course, Edtech 543, this is the question I am beginning to ponder.  I have used Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, and Instagram for years. Each of these social media sites plays a different role in my life. Facebook is my way of connecting with friends and family around the world. I was born in England, went to college in New York, and first started my teaching career in Florida. Facebook allows me to stay in touch with my friends and family both near and far. I do belong to a few education related Facebook groups, but I primarily use Facebook for personal contacts. Google Plus has not been a central part of my social media life. I joined when I began my graduate courses at BSU and only post to it when I create a new class assignment. I am a Wellness Advocate for a holistic healthcare company and Instagram is my go to social media site for connecting with others in the business.

So that leaves Twitter.  Twitter is the only social media site that I use primarily for professional development.  I have a network of Twitter friends with similar interests in education that I connect with on a daily basis.  I have gained valuable insight into teaching pedagogy and am often encouraged by like-minded educators in my Twitter #PLN. Last summer I was part of a Twitter book club where we discussed A.J. Juliani’s book LAUNCH: Using Design Thinking to Boost Creativity. My experience in reading the book was much enriched through the discussions and insights of my PLN.

Because I teach in a small, private school and teach students under the age of 13, social media has not really been a part of my classroom instruction. Most social media sites are blocked by the school’s security software and my students are not old enough to join most social media sites (although I am aware that many of my students have their own personal accounts). I am looking forward to discovering how I can effectively, safely, and appropriately integrate social media and social networking into my classroom environment. Through this course I hope to better understand the role social media can play in my classroom.

Obstacles and Solutions for Integrating Technology in a Selected Content Area

In The 10 Barriers to Technology Adoption, authors Norris and Soloway examine ten obstacles schools face when attempting to implement new technologies into their curricula. I believe that teachers frequently run into these obstacles and many schools, especially private or small school districts, struggle to effectively overcome them.

  1. Lack of vision: Schools fail to set up an effective technology plan or, if a plan is in place, it is not always communicated well to the teachers and staff.
  2. Lack of leadership: Similar to #1, school administration may not effectively communicate the technology plan or have a clear way to implement it.
  3. Lack of money: Many schools face the digital divide, a separation between those that have access to technology and those that do not.
  4. -6. Norris and Soloway combine obstacles #4-6 together into one problem: curriculum. “As schools now move to one-to-one via BYOD—bring your own device—administrators can’t expect to be successful on the backs of teacher-generated curriculum materials. Teachers are not curriculum producers; teachers are, well, teachers” (Norris & Soloway, 2011). Effectively integrating technology into the content area is perhaps the greatest challenge for teachers and administration. The amount and variety of available applications can be overwhelming to many in the education field.  Evaluating the usefulness and relative advantage of each program also adds to the difficulties. It is often left to the teacher to find an application that works well with their curriculum, obtain permission to install it, get adminstration, IT, and parents on board, and then successfully weave it into an already packed curriculum.
  1. Infrastructure – School must update servers, wi-fi, and Internet access.  All of this may be too costly for many schools and districts.
  2. Parents – Parents, often unfamiliar with educational technology, may resist what they believe are just games or toys for their children to use in school.  Communication with parents is crucial to gaining their support.
  3. Time- Finding the time to research, learn, implement, and support the integration of new technologies will take patience and commitment by teachers, administration, IT, and parents.
  4. Assessments- Many argue that technology is not effective in raising test scores and to some extent, I would agree.  When technology is sporadically and randomly sprinkled into the classroom, it is futile to expect test scores to suddenly rise.

So how do we, those of us who see the great value in improving our schools through effective technology integration, address these barriers? How do individual teachers go about effectively integrating technology into their specific content area?  “Professional development, the human infrastructure, needs refurbishing; it shouldn’t consist of random workshops or lectures that teachers suffer through on specific PD days. Rather, just as professionals in other industries are constantly honing their skills, PD needs to be an ongoing activity that is focused on helping teachers adopt essential one-to-one technology” (Norris & Soloway, 2011).

In the area of social studies, there are numerous ways to easily integrate technology, but quite often teachers are not taught how to do this or given clear expectations. Google Earth, Google Maps, and IWitness videos are just a few of the programs available to social studies classrooms. Teachers can find primary sources on websites like cia.gov and the National Archives.  Students can read about current events on sites like Newsela, which adjusts the articles based on a student’s reading level. Online encyclopedias offer updated information for research and essays. Many social studies applications are free and can easily be installed on school hardware or accessed through the Internet. Virtual field trips can also offer students an opportunity to learn about places and sites they may not otherwise have the chance to experience. Creating social studies lessons with technology enhanced curriculum can help the lessons to be more exciting and engaging for the students.  I believe it will take both skilled and trained teachers who are passionate about bringing classrooms into the 21st century and technology integration specialists who can bridge the gap between the available technology and effective implementation.

Bernard, S. (2009, May 27). How to Teach with Technology: Social Studies. Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/digital-generation-social-studies-lessons

Norris, C., & Soloway, E. (2011, November 16). The 10 Barriers to Technology Adoption. Retrieved from https://www.districtadministration.com/article/10-barriers-technology-adoption

Relative Advantage of Using Digital Games for Content Area Learning

In an effort to increase student engagement and performance, our high school initiated a game based learning program in our 7th-12th grade basic skills class in language arts and math a few years ago.  What, if any, are the advantages of game-based learning?

According to a Yale study of 500 second graders, “short video games designed to activate specific neurocognitive processing systems can serve as brain warm-up calisthenics to improve cognitive performance immediately following the video game” (Banville 2016). If in fact this proves true for students of all ages, then implementing video game warm ups into any lesson could assist students in getting ready for the task ahead.  Just as an athlete stretches and completes a few warm up laps before running a race, students must mentally prepare themselves before embarking upon a difficult lesson.  Could playing a few video games assist in this warm up? “The team found that by using short, 5-minute games before the full lesson, students did not only better on the training games over time but also did better on lessons that followed, but had nothing to do with the subject matter of the game.” (Banville 2016).  According to Dr. Bruce Wexler, professor emeritus of psychiatry at Yale, the games increased focus, self control, and memory (Banville 2016) among the participants.

Focus, self control, and memory are three cognitive skills vital to learning. However, what does the research show about educational programs based solely on playing games? In the Wiki Space Gami-fied, video games are evaluated for their value in teaching problem solving skills based on real world problems or events. Students engage in thinking games revolving around subjects such as world hunger and genocide in order to foster critical thinking skills.

While thinking about game-based learning specific to my content area of world geography, the games Oregon Trail and Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? immediately came to mind.  Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? is based on a 1990s PBS television show for kids. According to the product description on Amazon, “Carmen Sandiego is up to her thieving high-jinks again. While children travel the globe to track her down they learn about geography, history and world cultures.” This high-interest game could definitely increase student engagement.  

Oregon Trail is another game for the PC.  Oregon Trail’s gamemakers entice kids to “travel the trails and make history come alive! Kids will build real-life decision-making and problem-solving skills as they choose their wagon party and supplies, read maps, plan their route and guide their team through the wilderness. Develop solutions to help your friends and family survive the dangers of the long journey including raging rivers, buffalo stampedes, sickness, and starvation. Discover a learning adventure that’s greater than fiction—about real people with real dreams facing and overcoming real challenges. Build decision-making and problem-solving skills as you experience the challenge of traveling the trail! My own children played these games growing up and seemed to enjoy the challenge of the game while acquiring some basic geography and history skills.

In his blog Free Technology for Teachers, Richard Byrne writes a post entitled Ten Interactive Geography Games and Maps. While some of these games are simple map location type games, others such as Placefy “present players with an image of a city square, buildings, and other famous landmarks. Players then have to choose the correct answer from four answer choices. Playing the game is simple, but the images as questions make it a challenging game” (Byrne 2010). Similarly, Geoguessr is a web-based geographic discovery game designed by Anton Wallén, a Swedish IT consultant, released on 9 May 2013. Geoguessr takes advantage of Google Earth’s street view locations and requires players to guess their location in the world using only the clues visible. Geoguessr can be played as a one or two player game. After students make their guesses based on the clues, a map opens with the exact location, the location of the student’s guess, and the  distance from the correct location all placed on the map.  These visual images are a relative advantage when teaching basic mapping skills.

An article on the TeachThought website, 6 Basic Benefits of Game-Based Learning (2013), lists six benefits of game-based learning:

  • Increases A Child’s Memory Capacity
  • Computer & Simulation Fluency
  • Helps With Fast Strategic Thinking & Problem-Solving
  • Develops Hand-Eye Coordination
  • Beneficial Specifically For Children With Attention Disorders
  • Skill-Building (e.g. map reading)

Clearly game-based learning can offer a relative advantage over traditional classroom instruction. Students may be more engaged in the lesson and cognitive skills can be honed. Game-based learning can also improve critical thinking and problem solving skills, both integral to 21st century education.


6 Basic Benefits Of Game-Based Learning. (2013, March 15). Retrieved from http://www.teachthought.com/the-future-of-learning/technology/6-basic-benefits-of-game-based-learning/

Banville, L. (2016, October 1). Brain Trainers May Kick Start Learning in Students. Retrieved from http://www.gamesandlearning.org/2016/10/01/brain-trainers-may-kick-start-learning-in-students/

Byrne, R. (2010, February 22). Ten Interactive Geography Games and Maps. Retrieved from http://www.freetech4teachers.com/2010/02/ten-interactive-geography-games-and.html

gamifi-ED – home. (n.d.). Retrieved October 18, 2016, from http://gamifi-ed.wikispaces.com/


The “Basic Suite” in the Classroom

Today’s teachers are looking for technology tools that increase productivity and improve workflow.  Students are also in need of practical, reliable technology software.  According to Roblyer (2016), software tools known as the “basic suite” can improve productivity, improve appearance [of products], improve accuracy, and provide more support for interaction and collaboration. Typically included in the basic suite of software are word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation programs.

Two of the most commonly used basic suites are produced by Microsoft and Google.  Microsoft offers Word, Excel, and Powerpoint, and Google offers Docs, Sheets, and Slides. Microsoft Word is a word processing program that allows the user to create documents, newsletters, brochures, etc. with both text and graphics.  The use of spell check and a variety of fonts adds accuracy and interest to the documents.  Students can use a word processing program to write essays, reports, letters, or to create poetry and flyers. While teachers can choose to create lesson plans, assignments, parents letters and much more.  The relative advantage of a word processing program over pen and paper is a more polished look, the ability to share files with other students a teachers, and to save documents for later use.  Google Docs offers the additional features of collaboration (two or more students can work on the same document at the same time) and the teacher has the ability to make comments and corrections directly on the student’s document. “Adaptive keyboard and voice recognition capabilities make writing more accessible for students with physical challenges.” Roblyer (2016). I was recently able to use Google Docs to create a Back to School Night packet to share with parents.  If a parent cannot attend the meeting, the packet can easily be emailed home.

Spreadsheet software such as Microsoft Excel and Google Sheets have also become valuable technology tools for educators and students.  Spreadsheets put numerical information in a row-column format and can also be used for calculations by applying mathematical formulas. Data such as student lists, club information, and checklists can easily be copied and manipulated in the columns and rows. For example, this year I have 75 students that move in 3 different groups.  I can enter all of their data, including their various groups, into a spreadsheet and then choose which columns to organize the information by.  This is a huge time saver, as previously I had to create many different tables of student information and then choose which table was appropriate for each task. Students can take surveys and polls and then input the results into spreadsheets. From there, they can create charts and graphs to make the data more visually interesting and clear.  Google Sheets offers a similar advantage as Google docs by allowing collaboration and sharing capabilities among teachers and students.

A third element of the basic suite is presentation software.  Most people are familiar with Microsoft Powerpoint as a tool to display text, graphics, audio, and video in a multimedia style slideshow.  Google’s version of presentation software is known as Google Slides.  Both Powerpoint and Slides can help organize thinking about a topic, enhance the impact of spoken information, and allow collaboration on presentations. It is important that students and teachers understand the basics of a quality presentation.  Overuse of text and bullet points, poor color combinations, and difficult to read fonts can all weaken the impact of a good presentation.  Overuse of animations can leave the audience feeling like they just left the funhouse. However, when used well, standard book reports, review games, and project presentations can be much more enjoyable and interesting. Another advantage of presentation software is the ability to include links to additional sources and websites related to the presentation.

Software support tools known as the basic suite have become indispensable resources for students and teachers alike. Basic tasks can be done efficiently and shared with other teachers, students, or parents in an email. Materials used from year to year can be organized, reworked, and enhanced on either flash drives or computer files. “Teachers choose them not only because they have qualities that aide classroom instruction and help make classroom time more productive, but also because they give students experience with 21st century tools that they will see again and again in their workplaces.” Roblyer (2016).

Roblyer, M. D. (2016). Integrating Educational Technology into Teaching (7th ed.). Pearson.