Reimagining My Classroom

Clarkston High School in its current iteration was opened in 1999. Technology within the high school was cutting edge in its time. Unfortunately, the building has not really gone through many updates since its opening in the late 1990s. When the high school was built, it was built following the traditional school model, which was originally conceived to accommodate needs during the industrial revolution as Sir Ken Robinson points out in his famous TED Talk. (more…)

Make a Vocabulary Acquisition Game – A Lesson Plan Within the Maker Movement

Lesson planning within the Maker Movement is difficult, especially when you teacher a world language. Typically when we do reading on the maker movement, the ideas that are available out there only apply to the STEM courses, leaving us world language teachers out in the cold.

This week I was tasked with building a lesson using my maker kit, the MaKey MaKey. I started this process in a panic as I had no idea how I was going to incorporate this into a language class. I decided to stick with the idea that I had for my prototype (as of this post I still do not have a functioning MaKey MaKey) and have my students create a vocabulary acquisition game that they can teach to lower level Spanish students in either Spanish 1 or in our exploratory courses at the middle school level.(Click here to view the lesson plan in full)

As a World Language teacher I find incorporating the ideas of the Maker Movement to be difficult. In our language methodologies classes we learn that students need a ton of comprehensible input, and that output will come over time. It seems to me that within the Maker Movement we are asking students for output at an earlier stage. I chose to have them create a vocabulary game because they are still getting input while they make the game, and then they are providing input for our lower level students, while getting language output for themselves. I found that while I am giving up control of my class and of language input (extremely difficult and uncomfortable for some language teachers) I can still find other ways for my students to be provided with input and for them to achieve my desired learning targets.

I hope that you enjoy my lesson plan linked above, and welcome any feedback or questions that you might have.

Individualized Learning

After listening to Culatta’s Ted Talk, I have realized that I am a part of the problem that he is describing. Culatta talks about teachers using classroom technology to digitize old and ineffective teaching methods. Like many teachers, I am guilty of this. I post my daily warmup on the board every day using Google Slides. I will post my daily agenda this way, and I will post assignments for students to complete on there as well (replacing traditional bookwork). Technology has changed how I present things to students, but it really has not changed my instructional practices. This week in CEP 811, we continue looking at how we can use existing technology to do things that were not really possible in the past.

I chose to look at research on personalized learning. The reason that I am interested in this topic is because it is an area that I have always struggled with as a teacher. I am a Spanish teacher, and as such I have a hard time meeting the differing needs in my classes that are all around 30 students, give or take a couple depending on the hour. I teach Spanish 2, which means that my language learners have yet to acquire a ton of language, so how do I differentiate for the students who have acquired more than others without it being detrimental to the order of my classroom.

In my research, I came across a couple of really interesting articles on individualized learning. The first article that I found was called “Effects of an Individualized Narrative Intervention on Children’s Storytelling and Comprehension Skills.” The article is targeted more at pre-school teachers; however, being a world language teacher and teaching lower levels of world language, the article is relevant to what I do as my students are learning the language at a pre-school to elementary level.

The article focuses on the importance of narrative skills including retelling stories, telling personal stories, and answering questions about stories (Bilyk, Kajain, Petersen, & Spencer, 2013). As a language teacher, I often teach the language through the use of story telling, and we focus on these same narrative skills in my classroom. This particular study looked at the effect of individually delivered language intervention on the narrative skills of pre-schoolers who had developmental disabilities as many of my own students do.

The study used Story Champs, which is an intervention curriculum that can be used to help children develop narrative skills. In this study daily intervention was delivered using pictures and icons to assist students in the retelling of a story. Through the use of Story Champs the students that participated in the study were able to go home to their parents and use the pictures to retell a story (Bilyk et al., 2013).

In reading this particular study I have been thinking back to the maker movement, repurposing technologies and resources that already exist, and how I can apply them to my own practices. In my classroom we have a lot of open discussion and tell a lot of stories using our target language. The students who “get it” thrive, but the students who struggle with narrative skills continue struggling. The simple answer in the study above was to slow it down with those students and use a variety of visual aids to help facilitate the narration of a story or a situation.

The next article that I found was called “Professional Development and Teacher Efficacy”. This study looked at the struggles that teachers have in providing students the type of learning activities that best help them to learn in classrooms that are full of students who learn through various styles and have differing needs. This is a topic that I can relate to all too well.

The idea that students learn differently from one another is not a new concept; yet, often times when we teach we take a “one size fits all” approach within our classrooms (Dixon, Yssel, McConnell & Hardin, 2014). This is not effective, and continues to be a huge problem in our education system. Students that work within a classroom where teaching methods are differentiated are often more successful, however many teachers struggle to do this.  Teachers who struggle with differentiating instruction often do not feel confident in their own abilities to teach. This particular study looks at teacher efficacy in relation to providing differentiated instruction. A teacher who identifies varying needs within their classroom and may understand the strategies introduced to them on differentiation in professional development, they may not translate these skills into their classroom. The reason that this happens is that teachers may not be comfortable in their own knowledge of their content area, and as such do not feel that they can be flexible enough to adapt their lessons to the varying needs of students (Dixon et al., 2014).

In reading this I reflect back to an earlier point in my own career, and think that this reasoning is probably accurate. Now I am very comfortable in my content area, but still uncomfortable adapting my own lessons. I went through an alternate route to education, and as such did not have the same types of methods courses that many of my colleagues had. As I continue to grow and learn and take classes through this MAET program, I am becoming more and more comfortable in adapting my lessons to fit the various needs of my own students. While I have always been rated an effective teacher in my evaluations, I know that I still have room to grow. In the past I have taught higher levels of Spanish and as such, did not really have a need to differentiate my lessons. I was teaching to students who for the most part did not have any learning disabilities, but also were passionate about the subject. They had an intrinsic motivation to want to learn a language. This year, in teaching Spanish 2 as opposed to Spanish 3, 4, Advanced Placement, or even IB Spanish I have a different type of student. As such I need to be looking at different ways to maximize their achievements, and look forward to my continued growth and improvement as an educator.

This research fits into the Maker Movement as a whole because studies have proven that students learn more effectively through individualized learning. Giving students the opportunity to learn, explore, create, and share their findings with others is far more effective than traditional boring lectures, or finding ways to use technology to “spice up” our traditional lectures without really changing them. When I initially began studying the Maker Movement I approached it with a but skepticism as I thought that there was no way that these principles could be applied across all subjects and curriculums, but the more that I learn the more that I understand that the Maker Movement can be applied across various contexts. The particular research that I have referenced above applies as we can individualize learning in any classroom in order to help students gain a deeper understanding of the curriculum. This can be done using various visual aids in any subject. If a student is able to narrate events that happened in English class, or summarize and explain mathematical properties or scientific theories and laws, they will gain a deeper understanding of those topics.


Spencer, T. D., Kajian, M., Petersen, D. B., & Bilyk, N. (2013). Effects of an individualized narrative intervention on     children’s storytelling and comprehension skills. Journal of Early Intervention, 35(3), 243-269. Retrieved from

Dixon, F. A., Yssel, N., McConnell, J. M., & Hardin, T. (2014, 06). Differentiated instruction, professional development, and teacher efficacy. Journal for the Education of the Gifted, 37, 111-127. Retrieved from

Thrifting, Repurposing, and Frustrations

For my CEP 811 class this week we were challenged to repurpose things that we found in a thrift store, or had lying around the house into something that we could use in our class using our “Maker Kits”.  For my Maker Kit this semester I have decided to use MaKey MaKey.

MaKey MaKey retails for $50 and can be ordered directly from their website. Back to MaKey MaKey. MaKey MaKey allows you to repurpose objects to be interactive with your computer through the completion of a simple circuit.

Makey Makey

When I first got my MaKey MaKey I was excited to unwrap it and have the chance to play with it. I had heard of them before, but never thought that I would have the chance to use one. Much to my disappointment, my MaKey MaKey was defective. The people at Joy Labz were very helpful. They spent about a week troubleshooting with me by going back and forth over email. Upon determining that I had a faulty board they sent me a new one free of charge. I only had to pay the $5 shipping cost. Excellent customer service!

You could turn fruits and vegetables into a keyboard, draw an interactive keypad with a pencil, use PlayDough, along with pretty much any other objects that are slightly conductive. In thinking about using this tool, I began thinking about how I might incorporate its use into a World Language Classroom.

The way that I want to use it as vocabulary reinforcement. I would like to have my students make games using a MaKey MaKey and a program called Scratch. Ultimately, the game will have them identifying vocabulary words (think foods, body parts, classroom objects, etc.) By having them touch the vocabulary object that is connected to the circuit as can be seen in the video below.

Screen Shot 2015-12-06 at 6.35.36 PM

For this prototype I have chosen to use two different foods that I had around my house: an apple and a banana. In my first endeavor with Scratch I had to create two different sprites to represent my apple and banana, and program them with what I want them to say when their corresponding fruit which is hooked up to the MaKey MaKey is touched. For the apple, when touched it will say “La manzana” and the banana will say “El plátano”.

Setting up the prototype:

  1. Connect a lead to earth. This needs to be touching you for the MaKey MaKey to work.
  2. Connect one lead to your apple, and the other end to your MaKey MaKey. Connect it to the part of the keyboard that you wanted it to represent. I chose the up arrow.
  3. Connect your banana to the MaKey MaKey. For the banana I connected it to the down arrow.

Setting up Scratch:

  1. Setting a backdrop: Click on new backdrop in the bottom left corner in order to set whatever background you want.
  2. Creating a sprite:
    1. Delete the original sprite by clicking on it and pressing backspace/delete.
    2. To create a new sprite click on new sprite and select the icon that you desire, in this case an apple.
    3. Repeat this process to create your banana sprite.
    4. To make it “speak” when clicked go into the events tab under scripts and drag the “when _____ key is pressed” bubble to the right.
    5. Go into the looks menu and drag the “say ______” bubble to the right and attach it to the “when ______ key is pressed” bubble.
    6. Repeat this process for your banana.

Enjoy! I am really excited by this and what I will be able to have my students do using a MaKey MaKey and scratch. Check back for a future post on my Maker Lesson Plan.

Note: The photo and my video add meaning to my post by showing the MaKey MaKey working in conjunction with the fruits and Scratch when they are touched. The photo was added because after several video attempts things just weren’t as clear or as visual as I wanted them to be.



The Way We Teach Must Change

WeVideoIn my new course, CEP 811, we have been challenged to learn and reflect about “maker culture.” This topic goes well with an idea that I have been thinking about for a few years: creativity in our classrooms.

I think that the manner in which many traditional classrooms run are not conducive to creativity and making, and because of this they are not conducive to true learning. I think that our system as it stands are outdated, and as such does not currently tie into the Maker Culture. I first began thinking about this a few years ago when we were asked to listen to a TED Talk in our Professional Learning Community (PLC) given by Sir Ken Robinson.

All of this comes at a time when the state of our education system is a hot button issue, in which many have weighed in with different ideas.

This week in CEP 811 we were tasked to make a “Remix video” based off an idea that we have using a video editing tool called WeVideo. This is one of the more frustrating assignments that I have had in my MAET program at Michigan State University. Usually technology and learning to use new technological tools comes easily to me, but I struggled with this video assignment.

I began the assignment by searching Creative Commons for videos and pictures that would support my idea. This part was relatively time consuming, but not all that difficult. From there, I began importing my resources into WeVideo. This is where the assignment became challenging. After playing with the tool I thought that I understood it, but the assignment still proved to be very difficult. As I bumbled through trying to make my video I lost my work several times and struggled to get the clips and pictures cut into the proper length. This is a cool tool to use, and I have a lot of different ideas for how I might bring it into my own classroom; however, not before I have a lot more time to play and practice with it as making a short 1 minute video took me several hours.

You can view my completed remix video here: Remix Video

Remix Credits

Robinson, Sir Ken (16 Oct 2008).  Changing Education Paradigms [Video file]. Retrieved from

CEP 810 Final Reflection

The last 7 weeks in CEP 810 have been filled with valuable learning, exploration, and creating through the use of different technologies.

What I really enjoyed about CEP 810 was that it enabled me to improve my own technological skills and to really take time to reflect on the learning process from the perspective of a student, as opposed to always being a teacher. We did a networked learning project that enabled me to learn a skill that I have been wanting to learn for a while, as well as experience the integration of technology as a part of the learning process. Through this project I was also able to gain an understanding of the difficulties and frustrations my own students may experience if I were to ask them to do something similar in my own classroom.

We also learned about the use of social media to grow our professional learning networks which will only serve to enhance our classrooms. I had never considered Twitter as a tool that could help my teaching practice, but after exploring for a bit I have been able to expand my language teacher network and it has opened me up to a whole world of resources that I would not have otherwise found.

Throughout this course I have been able to reflect on what thoughtful technology integration would look like. If you give students the opportunity to explore and create using technology in a meaningful manner, then the lesson will be far more successful. One of the points that really struck home for me during our week learning about TPACK was the point that a lecture is still a lecture, even if we jazz it up with some technology integration as many of the teachers that we work with everyday try to do. The use of technology in the classroom is wonderful, but it absolutely must be integrated in a meaningful way.

As I continue working toward my ultimate goal of meaningful technology integration in my own classroom, I still have questions of what that will look like in a world language classroom. An area that I struggle with is that we are striving to be a proficiency based program, so how can I let the students explore and create when they have yet to acquire the language to be able to do so on their own? I am unsure of what the answer to that question is, but look forward to finding out.

Cooking With TPACK

This week I had some fun with our Cooking With TPACK assignment. I began by putting slips numbered one through five into a hat, with each number representing a different task. My wife selected task number four, which was a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

Next, she had to choose a plate, a bowl, and a random utensil that I would use to make the peanut butter and jelly sandwich. For this task she solicited the help of our one year old daughter, Ellie. Ellie chose the plate, the bowl, and the utensil by crawling to the one that I would have to use. Ellie selected a large serving plate, our fruit bowl, and a pair of tongs. Since I had no knife, I had to repurpose the tongs into a tool to scoop the peanut butter and jelly.

As I did this, I thought of what the implications were in a classroom. Many times teachers will integrate technology into their lectures to “spice” them up, but at the end of a day a lecture is still a lecture. One of the problems with technology integration is that there are not many tools out there that are designed with education in mind. It is our job as educators to repurpose existing tools so that they fit our needs.

This assignment made me think about TPACK (the integration of technological knowledge, pedagogical knowledge, and content knowledge) because in order to be successful I had to integrate my background knowledge knowledge (the ingredients needed to make a  PB&J ), along with my pedagogical knowledge (how to make actually make the sandwich), and my technological knowledge (how can I successfully use the tools that were given to me). Like a teacher who has to integrate all three of these aspects when introducing technology into the classroom, I had to integrate them to make the sandwich. You can enjoy my video below.

CEP 810 Networked Learning Project #3

In my final post on my Networked Learning Project for CEP 810 I will share the progress that I have made along with the sources that I have used. Using a variety of YouTube videos and help forums I have successfully built my own HDTV antenna. One of the most complicated parts of this task was deciding which antenna I can build, as there are several options available.

To recap what the project that I have been working on, my class had to pick a skill that we have always wanted to learn and go out and learn out to do it. The catch was that we could only use YouTube videos and online help forums to acquire our chosen skill.

I began by attempting to build one of the simple cardboard and aluminum foil models out there. Such examples can be seen on several do-it-yourself pages such as this one. After procuring all of the necessary parts I build the antenna and it worked worse than the overpriced store-bought model that I already had in my house.

After turning to one of the most popular DIY HDTV Antenna Forums I decided on building a variation of this model that I found on YouTube. After searching the Internet even more I decided to work smarter and not harder and begin with a simple folded dipole model found here.  Once I plugged it into my TV and did a search for channels I found that the simple model I have constructed would be sufficient for my current needs. I may go back later and build one of the more complex models when I have the time to do so.

I really enjoyed the networked learning project, and the methods that we were asked to use to employ a new skill. I did struggle with this project initially because once I began digging around on YouTube and on help forums I found that there was an abundance of information out there, and I had to sift through the information that was actually useful to me. Once I was able to do that the process was really quiet simple.

The video of my success can be seen below. In the video it only worked for a second because I am uncoordinated and dropped it.

Having enjoyed this process I am already thinking about how I might be able to employ a networked learning project in a foreign language class. Because my students don’t have a deep basis of understanding in the language, trying to use such a method to help them acquire language would be difficult. I do think that they could do a networked learning project to learn about culture. Another thing I could do is very similar to the project that we did, where they would have to go out and learn a skill and then present on it in Spanish. One of my favorite things about this project was that I was able to learn a skill that I was interested in learning. Because it was a topic that I was passionate about, I was able to remain engaged in the process even through my frustrations.

21st Century Lesson Plan

This week in my CEP 810 course we were asked to create a twenty-first century lesson plan that ties into my current curriculum.

In Spanish 2 we spend a lot of our time making cultural comparisons. In our current unit of study we are learning to talk about what we do in our free time (places we like to go, activities we like and do not like to participate in, making plans for the future). As a part of every unit there is a cultural component. Cultures are always an area that I have struggled to teach as students lose interest if it is a topic that is not directly relatable to them. For this reason, I have chosen to have the students do a research assignment on their country of study that they have already picked out earlier this year. They will then compare and contrast their favorite pastimes to the pastimes of teenagers in their country of study, in an effort to gain a better understanding of and relate to other cultures.

Students will begin by working with a partner and presenting on their own favorite pastimes to the class. This will be done in Spanish as they already have learned how to talk about these things in the target language. The students will have an option of using Google Slides, vcasmo, or Prezi to share their information with the class.

The next step will be for them to research pastimes in their country of study and to complete a cultural comparison. They will report their findings to the class as well as reflect on why the pastimes in their country are different from what teenagers in the United States are doing. To share their findings the students will create a Voicethread that includes photos from their country of study. This will also be completed in the target language.

To conclude this assignment students will write about their findings in a blog entry and post links to their presentations to their wiki portfolio. In their blog they will be asked to reflect upon prejudices and stereotypes that they might have thought about when beginning the assignment, and to share how their ideas have shifted after completing the assignment.

CEP 810: Networked Learning Project Update

As mentioned in a previous post I have been asked to learn how to do something I have always wanted to do. For my project I have decided to build my own high definition antenna to allow me to receive my local over-the-air broadcast channels without paying the steep prices offered to me by the cable and satellite companies.

The reason that I have wanted to do this is that I have tried several store bought antennas and none of them seem to be capable of doing a satisfactory job, and the ones that have worked have been inconsistent at best.

RCA Paper Thin Antenna that is currently in my apartment

RCA Paper Thin Antenna that is currently in my apartment

Above is a picture of the antenna that I currently have. We are limited to small indoor antennas because we just moved back to Michigan from Salt Lake City, Utah. As such, we are renting an apartment this year that does not afford me the ability to attach a high powered outdoor antenna to the building. This has proven to be one of the biggest issues that I have encountered so far. There are several resources available out there if you wish to build your own outdoor antenna, or if you have a high up attic that you can place your antenna in as shown in this how-to video on YouTube. There is not much out there that talks about homemade indoor antennas. The most valuable resource out there so far has been Lifehacker as they feature several different antenna options, both indoor and outdoor.

The biggest problem that I have encountered so far is finding a matching balun transformer at any of our local stores. Radio Shack would have been a great option had they not gone out of business. So far what I have learned from this project is to always trust my instincts and just go to Amazon first.

As seen in the quick vine above, aside from having to improvise some parts my first attempt and current setup is a failure. I will need to find a way to strengthen my reception ability. I will retry this week once I have all of the correct parts, hopefully that helps. If not, another possible solution would be to pick up a signal amplifier, which costs around $16 at your local Walmart.