Posted in creative learning, Creativity, design thinking, Learning Design, Uncategorized

Learning Design

I have become increasingly excited about the idea of learning design. Not to be confused with instructional design where the emphasis is flipped around and focused on how the flow of the instruction; materials, assessments, et al. It bidirectional. What will the teacher do to instruct the lesson and how will the learner show that they are learning.

Learning design flows the opposite way. The emphasis is on the experience. Experience being the optimal word. How will the learner experience the learning. When a learning experience has really been thought through, it can make a lasting impression on a learner’s life. Learning design takes a human centered approach with the design of the learning experience.

My example is reading the book Lord of the Flies in 10th grade, it was an incredible experience. My English teacher designed this experience with empathy and creativity. She turned her classroom into the island. Throughout each class she put us in complete control and left the decisions up to us as a class on how we would study the themes of each chapter. Her twist came on the 3rd day of reading the book, presented as a mid-term exam. It changed the entire hierarchy and social dynamic. Much like in the book, small factions broke apart from the larger group and began their own studying. Less serious groups pushed back. At the conclusion of the book she held a trial where we put the characters of the book on trial for murder. We each role-played a role from within our legal system, but we were expected to discuss the society of the island and relate it to the society of our classroom during the reading of the book. We had a lot of interesting discussions about right and wrong and power vs absolute power.

It has been a quarter of a century since I read this book in the 10th grade and I can still recall the experience, how I felt, what I learned and how that all tied together into the themes of the book. She designed a learning experience. The emphasis was multi-directional. Learning came from the environment, the other learners in the room and was allowed to happen organically. She never interfered. Just like in the book. We kids were completely on our own. It was brilliant! And the experience has stuck with me for all these years later.


Posted in design thinking

What if teachers taught like designers think?

We would think of students as people first and foremost.

We would observe more and rely on what is said less.

We would constantly be looking at what might change to help us understand how we could shape the future into our own vision.

We would want to solve problems and transform our insights into inspirations for all.

We would focus on the experience that our teaching brings.

We would obsess about new ideas, not new tools.

We would sharpen our curiosity and learn from the lessons around us.

We would meet our students on their terms.

We would train ourselves to unlearn and to reimagine and rethink instead.

We would worry about how our teaching makes our students feel.


Posted in Inquiry, Research, Search, TC@Columbia

Teaching Students How to Research for Understanding with Technology

Searching for information on the Internet can be extremely challenging for our students. This is widely due to the sheer amount of information that is currently available out there. A lot of teachers assign projects that have students conduct searches, whether using a paid database, or Google. Many teachers that I know tend to equate searching for information with learning. They believe that if students are searching for their information online that they will naturally make sense out of what they find. Research however paints a different picture. When students search for information, they tend to search for predetermined answers and are not comprehending or reflecting on the meaning of what they have found; they are simply searching for the one answer that the teacher is looking for (Fidel et al., 1999).

Unfortunately searching, or what teachers often call research projects, often ends with the harvesting of the data, rather than extending into the next stage of the process. Searching for information is essentially meaningless without a deeper purpose. With this concept of “researching” in mind, let’s consider what it takes to teach students how to research for understanding with technology and become more competent researchers in the process.

A “Research” Project

Eighth grade students were recently assigned a research project about an historical figure. The students were required to use one of two paid research databases and were not allowed to use Google to collect their data. Once students had located their data they were instructed to create a PowerPoint about the historical figure and use only the information that they gathered from the paid research databases as their primary source of data. Once completed the students were asked to present their historical figure to their class.

The above is the general framework that many “research” projects take on. The students are instructed to gather their data from a source, or sometimes sources, and then they present on their data, usually in the form of a PowerPoint or Prezi presentation. The problem with this framework is that unless this is a Ctrl-C + Ctrl-V lesson, there is no learning for understanding taking place. That is because this lesson assumes that researching (data collection) is a one step process.As you can see from the diagram, under this framework of research there is no way to know if the students are understanding what they are collecting and then presenting on. This framework, as designed, assumes that the students have had the time to analyze the data for being (a) accurate, (b) factual and (c) up to date. In order for there to be a learning outcome the students have to have ample time to reflect upon the data in order to make meaning in order to understand what the data is telling them (Jonassen, 2011). This lesson, currently designed, fails to accomplish that outcome by ignoring crucial steps in the research process.

What Is Understanding

Understanding is a flexible performance capability that encompasses four dimensions that take into account that learning is an active process, not simply a matter of absorbing information or practicing basic skills. Such performances require learners to stretch their minds, to think using what they have learned and to apply their knowledge creatively and appropriately in a range of circumstances (Wiske, 2010). The four dimensions of understanding are:

Domains of Understanding


Knowledge of important concepts

Research is a multi-stage activity that requires searching for data from multiple sources of information

Methods of disciplined reasoning and inquiry,

Data sources should be triangulated; compared and contrasted before being used

Purposes and limitations of different domains

Information sources use hierarchies when displaying results of searches

Forms of expressing understanding for particular audiences

Demonstrating understanding of information by performance using multiple tools that are appropriate for various audiences

(Wiske, 2005).

Understanding Searching With Technology

Equally important to this discussion is the knowledge of how search engines work. First, a search engine is just a vehicle for the retrieval of data from a database or network. Google is the most popular example of a search engine, however the paid research databases like EBSCO and GALE are also search engines. The database that is queried by the user requires first, that information be gathered from around the web, and second, that this collection of data be processed in such a way that a page’s relevance to a particular set of keywords may be determined (Halavais, 2009).

The most basic form of processing that is common to almost every modern search engine is the extraction of key terms that are used to create a keyword index for the web by an “indexer” (Halavais, 2009). Like a book index, information about which words appear on any given page are reversed so that the searcher is given pages that contain the keywords that they are searching for. Once the set of results are generated, they are ranked in some way to provide a list of topics that present the most significant “hits” first (Halavais, 2009). The most common display of search results is as a list with a brief summary, or snippet of the page that contains your keywords.

A problem that arises in research projects with students is that they tend to click on the first few results on a list. The results of a search are usually ordered by relevance of the page which uses among other things how many times your search words are found on that page and how many other pages link to the page. The problem with this is that relevance does not always equal reliable. Researching requires multiple sources of information, not just what the search engine deems to be the most popular for your search.

Stages of Research

Researching is the act of solving problems by asking questions. In order to learn from the data being sought, students must have an intention to find information that will help them solve that problem (Jonassen, 2011). Students therefore must have a purpose other than fulfilling the requirements of the assignment. Researching requires at least a four-step process:

1. Plan

2. Strategize

3. Evaluate

4. Triangulate

(Jonassen & Colaric, 2001)

Research Process

PLAN – Identify what the problem is and the questions that you are going to ask.

STRATEGIZE – The route that you are going to take to search the web for information about your questions.

EVALUATE –  The sources of data that you are  using for credibility, accuracy and currentness.

TRIANGULATE – Compare your sources of data against one other.

Putting This All Together

Teaching students how to research for understanding requires multiple-steps. This framework allows students the time to both evaluate where the data is coming from, compare the data against each other, reflect in order to make meaning and then present on their understanding of the data and information gathered. If we use the historical figures research project mentioned earlier, this framework would break that project down as follows:




Student selects historical figure and asks how they were important to American History


Student identifies how they answer how their selected historical figure and their answer to the essential question(s) and/or problem


Student selects databases they will use to gather data that supports their answer to the essential question of their historical figure’s importance to American history.


Student evaluates their sources of data and identifies the limitations of them.


Student compares data that was collected from their sources and looks for discrepancies and similarities.


Student reflects upon their data and how they have used it to support their answer to their essential question.


Students selects the appropriate tool to present their data to an audience.


Equipping our students with the skills to search effectively is the first step in using the Internet as a source of information. The above framework is structured to scaffold students throughout the research process, beginning with identifying the topic that are both meaningful and relevant to them, the learner. This inquiry-based process emphasizes metacognition, with students reflecting on the research process itself. This allows students to engage in learning that has significance and value. Technologies can support and extend this value to students by allowing them to investigate, solve problems, access, manage and evaluate information that they find. These skills are vital for the information rich world that they are growing up in and when learned will help them to become better consumers and producers of information and knowledge.  

Works Cited

Colaric, Susan, and David Jonassen. “Information equals knowledge, searching equals learning, and hyperlinking is good instruction: Myths about learning from the World Wide Web.” Computers in the Schools 17.3-4 (2001): 159-169.

Fidel, Raya, et al. “A visit to the information mall: Web searching behavior of high school students.” JASIS 50.1 (1999): 24-37.

Halavais, Alexander. Search engine society. John Wiley & Sons, 2009..

Jonassen, David H. Meaningful learning with technology. Pearson/Merrill Prentice Hall, 2011

Wiske, Martha Stone, and Lisa Breit. Teaching for understanding with technology. John Wiley & Sons, 2010.


Posted in Google Plus, Reflection, Social Media, TC@Columbia

Meaningful Learning With Photography

What if there were a way to use a technology in a meaningful way that promoted inquiry, deeper levels of thinking and sparked conversations in your classroom? Would you use that technology? What if I sweetened the pot and said that the technology requires little training, just about everybody already carries one and probably already knows how to use it?

What is a Picture Worth?

If you take at look these pictures can you see my story? Could you tell me where I live? What I’m doing? Where I’m going? What kind of day it is? What could you tell me about me? About my life? How would you support your answers with only the pictures as your data?

Now take a look at these pictures and tell me a different story. Talk to me about resources, infrastructure, quality of life and global warming.

What do these pictures say about socio-economic, policy making, healthcare and crime? Do you see a math, literature or health lesson in them?

Are these pictures meaningful learning in action?

The Role of Technology in Meaningful Learning

The role of technology must change from technology-as-the-teacher to technology-as-the-partner in the learning process. But how is this accomplished? How do we use technology as an intellectual partner with students? Learning with technology assumes that:

  • Technology is more than hardware. Technology also consists of the designs and the environments that engage learners.
  • Learning technologies can be any environment or definable set of activities that engage learners in active, constructive, intentional, authentic and cooperative learning.
  • Technologies do not convey or communicate meaning.
  • Technologies support meaningful learning when they fulfill a learning need-when interactions with the technology is learner initiated and learner controlled and when the technology interaction is conceptually and intellectually engaging.
  • Technologies should function as intellectual tools that enable learners to build more meaningful personal interpretations and representations of the world. The tool must support the intellectual functions that are required by the course of study.
  • Learners and technologies should be intellectual partners, where the cognitive responsibility for performance is distributed to the partner that performs it better.  — (Jonassen, 2011)

Using Photography for Meaningful Learning

What if I wanted to explore politics, or war, or the developing world or education in Africa and compare it to education in America? Do these pictures say more than words can? Often we use pictures as brainstorms, or conversation starters. But how can we use nothing but pictures to achieve meaningful learning?

In Literature

Photography could be used to by the learner to create a personal interpretation of the novel, or as a way to build a representation of the novel’s key themes.

In Math

Photography could be used to convey geometrical shapes, patterns, or lines of symmetry. Scale, distance, or even angles could be explored and measured.

In Science

Photography could be used to convey physics, chemistry and even biology concepts.

In Social Studies

Photography could be used to convey government policy, social injustice, geography, and even history.

The Tools of Life

On my way into work today I used my iPhone4, Instagram and Flickr to create a story of my journey. The tools that I used were tools that I already owned. Most of our students carry these same tools and already know how to use them. What if we took the example of my walk and used that as a team building exercise at the beginning of the year?  What if we asked those same students to take 1 daily photo of themselves and upload it to a class Flickr group? What would those pictures tell us at the beginning, middle and end of the year about these students?

Meaningful learning happens when the learner is able to connect what they are learning to the  world in which they live. How do the themes of To Kill a Mockingbird relate to the crisis in Ukraine? How is geometry used to convey feeling in architecture? What does the war of 1812 have to do with poverty today?

Photography allows us a more robust canvas to express and show how we are making meaning out of our learning.  Meaningful learning with photography is just one powerful way that you can use technology to have your learners inquire, think more deeply and reflect upon their own learning.


Posted in Abstract Thinking

The Origin of the Word Technology

I have always loved history. There is a deep seeded belief in me that it is vitally important to know where we came from in order to know where we are going.  As a person who calls himself a technologist I wanted to understand where the word technology comes from in order to better to understand where technology is going. In this post I examine the origin of the word technology in a hope of better understanding its evolution and thus purpose in my practice as a technologist.

It’s Greek to Me

Technology is not an old word in English. The ancient Greeks used the word techne which meant skill with art, or craft. In fact Plato and Plotinus had an entire hierarchy of knowledge that expanded in an ascending scale from crafts to science and it moved from the physical to the intellectual. Technical art ranked somewhere in the middle of this schema.

Aristotle had a more neutral, simpler and far less value-laden concept of techne, which he described in the Nicomachean Ethics, Book 6, Chapters 3 and 4, where he used architecture as his example. He defined techne as a “rational faculty exercised in making something…a productive quality exercised in combo with true reason.” Aristotle believed that the business of techne is to “bring something into existence  which has its efficient cause in the maker and not in itself.” It is also important to note that Aristotle related techne to the crafts and sciences, most notably through mathematics.

To the Greeks, work with the hands was inferior to philosophical speculation and techne was a more restricted term than the capacious modern term of technology that we use today. Since the Greeks use of the word techne was more focused, many classical thinkers believed that the Greeks were just as mistrustful of technological change as they were with political and social change.

When in Rome

By contrast the Romans had a much deeper appreciation for techne than their Greek counterparts. In De Natura Deorum the Roman philosopher Cicero praised the human ability to transform the environment and create a “second nature”. Other Roman poets praised techne as well with the construction of roads and the conveniences of well-built villas.

The Roman poet Statius devoted an entire poem to praising techne and technological progress. The Roman writer Plity the Elder too often praised techne and technological progress with his writings of the skilled laborers of the day.

Medieval Times

The term technology did not exist in the Middle Ages.  Writers of the time instead used the word mechanical arts when referencing crafts and art with a physical aspect such as architecture, weaponry, agriculture, commerce and theatre.  What we would call technological innovation during the Middle Ages typically took place with little reference to scientific knowledge or information.

The Renaissance

It is during this time period that a full expression of the modern attitude toward technology appeared. In his 1627 book New Atlantis, Francis Bacon imagined a perfect society whose king was advised by scientists and who’s engineers were organized into research groups at an institution that was called Salomon’s House. These scientists and engineers could predict the weather, had invented refrigeration, submarines, flying machines, loudspeakers and conducted amazing medical procedures. Bacon’s vision later served as the inspiration to others to form the Royal Society in London in 1662,


We own thanks to Germany for their broader definition of words like teknologie and the even broader technik. In fact in the early 20th century the word technik was translated into English as technics. Teknologie, from 1775 , meant a system of classification for the practical arts until it was abandoned in 1840.

In the 1800’s, German engineers made the word technik a central part of their self-definition and elaborated on a discourse that related the word to philosophy, economics and higher culture. In fact the word technik meant the “totality of tools, machines, systems and processes used in the practice arts and engineering.”

Present Meaning

It was somewhere between 1820 and 1910 that the word technology acquired its present meaning. The word, however, remained unstable until the later half of the 20th century where it evolved into vague abstraction that was further complicated in the 1990’s when newspapers, stock traders and bookstores made technology a synonym for computers, telephones and ancillary devices as David Nye argues in his book Technology Matters: Questions to Live With.

The word technology has only be part of the English language for a little over 100 years  where it has come to reference all of the skills, machines and systems one might study at a technical university, or a term for complex systems of machines and the techniques in which we use to operate them.

Why This Matters?

Technology empowerment relies on the understanding that the word holds many different meanings to many different people. In some respects the word holds cultural and societal attitudes deeply towards it, its uses and its teachings. In modern times the word is so abstract that if you were to Google “What is Technology?” you would receive over 3 billion results.

It is my belief that the culture in which the technology is going to be used, served and taught should be the one to clearly define it. In order to accomplish this we must look to the past to see how the word’s meaning has evolved over time and then look towards the future to understand how the word will continue to evolve and then prepare ourselves and our learners for those inevitable shifts that are most likely to occur.


Nye, D. E. (2006). Technology matters: Questions to live with. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Whitney, E. (2004). Medieval Science and Technology. Greenwood Publishing Group.

Posted in Inquiry, Mashups, Tour Bulder

4 Inquiry-Driven Project Ideas Using Google’s Tour Builder

There are a lot of great tools out there that have more than one use. One of my favorite tools is Google’s Tour Builder, a Google Maps infused interface that allows the user to create tours. But did you know that you could also use Tour Builder to support inquiry-driven learning? Tour Builder gives students an interactive way to present their learning in a way that is a lot more engaging than a PowerPoint or Prezi presentation. Here are four of my favorite ways to use Tour Builder with students.

Click HERE to view my example Tour Builder

Multimedia Letter 

What would it be like to be a Private in the 4th Infantry Unit of the U.S. Army in 1944? In this Tour Builder example students research this question and create a multimedia letter experience around the event, or book that they are reading. In my example I use WWII and begin on June 6, D-Day, on Utah Beach as part of Operation Overlord. My letter takes place 3 days later, after the Allied forces had successfully taken the beaches of Normandy, France.

As students research the battles and events of WWII they add other locations that the 4th Infantry fought and continue to write letters to explain the events and what their “soldier” experienced throughout the many battles of the war. To add to the experience I have included a YouTube video that uses histrocial footage from D-Day. If you have more time you could have the students create their own multimedia and add that to the tour instead.

Variations: The multimedia letter could also be written around other historical events, or even books that the students are reading. Students can assume the role of a character from the book, or an actual historical figure and create an interactive tour that immerses the viewer into the world.


I love Google Trends for inquiry-driven projects. This project blends Trends and Tour Builder together. In my example I use Google Trends to see how popular the search term “pizza” is. Trends gives me data by country and state/provence but it doesn’t tell me why.

Currently the United States leads the world in searches for pizza and the state of Minnesota clearly loves searching for pizza. Canada comes in 2nd as a nation in pizza searches. In my tour I could continue to add more countries and inquire as to why they are searching for pizza. In a more scholarly project I may use Trends to see the search data of other words, like democracy and socialism, or racism and build a tour that looks where these terms are popular and not popular and why.

Getting to Know Us

I currently teach on a U.S. Navy base in Sasebo, Japan and next year I will be working in an International School in Frankfurt, Germany. Our kids have lived all over the world. In this tour example I showcase my favorite place that I have lived and why. If I were doing this with students I would have them add their favorite cities to the tour as well.

Once all of the students have added their cities I would have them interact with the tour and learn more about their classmates. I could add a Google Doc to this project and have the students write what they have in common with their classmates, or what they would like to learn more about them. This is an inquiry-driven lesson into getting to know each other. It could also be expanded later on to include historical/major events that have happened in the city.

Variation: If you teach in a location where the students either haven’t lived in other cities, or traveled to other locations you could have your students add their favorite park, or place to visit in their own city.

Lit Tour Journal

In this tour the students use the locations of a book to write journal entries on the major events of the book, or to write from the persective of one of the book’s characters. In my example I use the book The Hobbit to show how with a little imagination you can include fictional locations as well.

Non-Displayed Examples

Tour Builder is great for just about every subject. If students are learning about distance they could build a tour that takes us on a journey of a certain amount of miles. If the students are learning about biomes the tour can take us from one biome, like a rainforest, or another.

Because Tour Builder allows us to integrate other forms of media we could take our tours to new levels by including podcasts, Google Docs, videos and even links to websites or blogs. Tour Builder would also make for an amazing Choose Your Own Adventure that blends together different media and art forms to really make the experience unique.

Posted in Google Plus, Hashtag, Inquiry, Search, Social Media

How a Common #Hashtag System Could Change Education for Students

Social media is not about the exploitation of technology but service to community.
– Simon Mainwaring


The hashtag has become one of the most recognizable symbols of our time. Much like the peace sign, Apple, or Batman logo. When you see the hashtag you instantly know what it is and how it is being used. This only became clear to me as I stood in line for a crepe at my favorite mall in Nagasaki, Japan. While standing in that long line I began looking at all of the signs to the various boutiques. That’s where I saw it. The hashtag. Only what followed was not recognizable to me. What followed the hashtag was something written in Japanese. That’s when it hit me. The hashtag is a global phenomenon. And there’s power in using it in K12 academics.

The Power of a Hashtag

The five hashtags that begin this thought are, as you probably guessed, good morning in 5 different languages (Japanese, Spanish, Korean, French and English). If you search with any of the five hashtags on Twitter, or G+ you will see how others have tweeted, or posted using that hashtag. When I searched there are pictures of sunrises from various parts of the world, breakfast plates, clouds in the sky, a cat (of course) and a Japanese teenager’s selfie of her in her school uniform on her bed in a rather interesting position that I’m pretty sure her father would not approve of.

Commonly Used Hashtags for Academics

Educators already use commonly accepted hashtags when they tweet, or post to G+. An education conversationalist uses #edchat, an educational technology conversationalist uses #edtechchat, Google Apps enthusiasts use #gafe and educators in Iowa use #iaedchat. If we began using commonly accepted hashtags with our students the possibilities would be nearly endless.

If I were teaching 3rd multiplication I could use #3rdgrademultiplication to search for content, or even better to connect with other classes that are learning the same thing at the same time as my class. We could have challenges, either through Google Hangouts, or Skype. We could conduct projects and spin-off the hashtag for our own purposes. We could organize everything by using the hashtag and make it simple for our learners to search for and thus find later when they need it.

With older students learning more about #formsofgovernment they could organize content and resources around their hashtag. They could also use the hashtag to connect with other learners in their age group who are studying the same thing. Projects could be created, but even better students could offer peer feedback and assistance.

The best part about using the hashtag is that it is archived and future learners searching by using that hashtag can then tap into the content, resources, or peer assistance and feedback as well at later dates and times.

We Have to Start Students Early

Daily calendar is a widely used strategy for teaching the days of the week, basic counting, weather and using appropriate symbols in early childhood education classrooms. Imagine if early childhood teachers used #dailycalendar to organize their content around. We could begin to teach our young learners more about the world in which they live. World weather and thus graphing, or charting, could be added by teachers gathering the daily weather that other teachers from around the world are sharing through the use of the hashtag. Global connections could be made through this. Teachers could also search the archive of past uses of the hashtag and gather weather data to create charts, or graphs and have their young learners make predictions before they reveal the actual answer.

This is a lot more interesting that just searching Because there is a teacher, and class for that matter, on the other end of that hashtag tweet, or post, the students can begin to form global bonds and thus begin the early stages of learning more about digital citizenship. The earlier we teach this the more likely our young learners are to become digital leaders by the time they hit middle, or upper levels of their education. Other benefits of this could include global pen pals and teacher connections. Imagine using other commonly accepted hashtags for your age group to connect on other projects, of if you are like me, build thematic inquiry-driven units around.

Hashtags for Experts

By developing a commonly accepted and thus used hashtag system educators in the K12 space could encourage experts and other scholars to engage with our students around the content that they specialize in. If I am having my students learn about #formsofgovernment politicians, or scholars of government could follow the hashtag and participate in the conversation, share their own resources, or content, or even better connect with the class/student(s) that are learning about the subject.

Hashtags for Inquiry-Driven Research

Future learners would also benefit by this by being able to search the hashtag for answers to their own questions.  As with any learning that happens online, students would have to learn if the source is reputable, and reliable. Previous tweets, or posts from the expert could be examined as well as links in their Twitter masthead, or through Google searches of the person.

The hashtag also presents a way for learners to engage with primary sources. Hashtags are already being used around historic events. #ArabSpring, #syria, #japantsunami are just a few. Chances are if something major is happening in the world that there is a hashtag for it. Learners can search for the hashtag and begin to read first hand accounts, often in real-time as the event is happening. And again, all of this is archived and can be accessed at any point in the future. Search #japantsunamai and you’ll see photos from the scene of Japan’s March 2012 tsunami if you are willing to go back in time to view them.

Where Do We Begin?

At the beginning of course. Start by creating a hashtag for the content in which you are going to teach. If you blog post an article about your newly created hashtag. Tweet it, post it, do everything you can to spread the word. Encourage other educators that you know to use your hashtag for that specific content and to create their own new hashtags for other specific content. Have them blog it, or you can as well, tweet it, post it, pin it, share it, whatever. The goal is to get your hashtag out and used. The more people who know about it and begin to use it the more likely it is to stick and become a commonly accepted and used hashtag.

You will also have to use the hashtag to connect with other users of that hashtag. Think about the age group that you teach and are targeting. If younger this makes a great circle time teacher-lead activity.  If older it makes for a fantastic inquiry-driven project. I suggest starting small, one concept, one hashtag. I also suggest paying attention to other educators sharing their hashtags and taking note. If you don’t have the time to write them down believe me there will be a rock star out there that will and they will share the academic hashtags that they encounter. Hey, what an awesome use for a collaborative Google Sheet.

Endless Possibilities

As I mentioned earlier, the possibilities are truly endless. If K12 educators began to develop and then use a commonly accepted hashtag system you would essentially be cataloging the Internet. Not only would you be benefiting the current generation by creating an easier way to connect, gather and share, but you would be also giving future generations an easy way to look back and see how we learned and how we used social media to deepen our own understandings, connect globally and become responsible digital leaders

Posted in Inquiry

Digital Storytelling with Google’s Cultural Institute

Storytelling reveals meaning without committing the error of defining it.
– Hannah Arendt 

Creative expression, regardless of what subject you teach, is in my view a great way to have students make abstract connections to the concrete skills that they are learning. When I taught math there was always a place for students to create digital stories of the concepts that they were learning. I usually made this lesson a tent pole lesson, which were my lessons that happened in the middle of the unit. I found that these stories often painted a very clear picture of whether or not there was any learning happening. They become an important piece of my assessment puzzle.

There are so many tools and different ways to have students work with digital storytelling now that it can be hard at times to seperate the good from the not so good. I generally recommend that the tool should not get in the way of the outcome, which in this case would be a story. The tool should be easy enough to use that any age, or ability level, can do so. One such tool that I have had success with using is Google’s Cultural Institute.

Really? Google Has  Cultural Institute?

Google’s Cultural Institute combines the efforts of the Art Project, World Wonders and Historic Moments. It’s full of really high resolution photographs that allow you, on some art, to zoom all the way into the brush stroke. You can use the CI to do a virtual field trip of some of the best museums in the world by clicking on the Museum View dude (Streetview dude in Google Maps). My favorite Museum View is the White House. It actually gives you the feel of walking through the actual White House and looking at all of the amazing works of art that they have.

A newer feature of the CI is the ability to combine your saved artworks into your very own gallery. You can add text (200 characters, slightly more than a tweet), or link to a YouTube video. The CI also allows you to make your gallery open to the public. Because there is so much contained here the possibilities are quite endless on how you can use the CI with students.

It’s Google, So Search On

Since the CI is a Google product you have the ability to search. If you are looking for specific types of art, explore the artworks and search for what you are looking by medium.


When you do this you begin to see just how much they have in their collection and how powerful of a learning tool this is for students.

Early Childhood Meets Art

My 4-year old son is very curious about art. Together we have been exploring some of the galleries looking for pieces that interest him. We began saving the blue pieces and then placed his favorite ones into a gallery. I asked him why he liked these pieces and he said that they made him feel happy. With my help we typed up one sentence stories and created Blue Happiness which we have made public.

Math Stories

When I taught math I would have my students write their own stories. It was a way for them to express themsevles and for me to assess whether any learning was transfering. With the CI students have a very easy tool, access to amazing photos and artwork to work with as they write their own math stories. If 200 characters is not enough space you can use the text box to paste a link from a shared Google Document or use YouTube to record a selfie-narration.


My favorite project with my geometry students was to look at art and then identify various geometric concepts happening within the art. With the CI I can now incorporate Google Draw into the lesson. Have students identify geometric concepts that they are learning from the pieces of art and then use Google Draw to explain those concepts back. Instead of text just paste the link to the drawing so that those viewing the gallery can see the visual explanation.

Indiana Jones and the Google

When learning about new cultures, or countries, why not have students use the CI to identify artifacts and create an adventure story with them. For more than 200 characters link a Google Doc to each of the visuals. For more advanced students have them create a “choose your own adventure” story that links together several different galleries that the reader can move through. Use the various types of art to create artifacts that the reader chooses locations to search. Have the students research the artifact and include some interesting facts about it, where it came from and who made it right in the story.

A Picture is Worth…

How a picture is framed, captioned, and distributed can blunt, heighten, or pervert its effect. Are we being informed, or manipulated? Reassure or enraged? The Historic Moments section of the CI is filled with many histroic photographs. It is like looking back at the past through the lens of those that experienced it. Have students create a gallery that answers the questions above. If you are studying about a war you can also have students answer if war is horiffic, or a heroic adventure. Have them play with the captions to change the effect of the photo.

What Does Art Say About the Culture?

Instead of just reading about a culture, or country that the students are learning about, have them explore its art. Here’s a gallery of early 20th century art from Japan. What do the images, colors and artifacts tell us about them? Have students locate art from the country or culture they are learning about and create a gallery that connects the concrete with the abstract.

Go Ahead, Get Yourself Lost

You could spend days exploring the CI and all that it has to offer. I encourage you to do so. Play. Zoom. Save. Create. Reflect. Write. Have fun!

Posted in Inquiry, Research, Search, Trends

Teaching Students How to Conduct Inquiry-Driven Research

If we knew what it was we were doing, it would not be called research, would it?

– Albert Einstein

Teaching Students How to Conduct Inquiry-Driven Research

It always starts with a question. Most of the time there is a simple answer to that question.

  • What time does the store open?
  • How do I get to that city from here?
  • What was the name of that actress that played in that movie?

But a lot of times our questions don’t have an easy answer to them. That is an answer that can be found within one, or two searches. For these answers to our more complex questions we need to know how to search, or what most call research. But research is really nothing more than asking a question that requires the person, or persons who are asking the question to search for an answer (Jonassen, 2011). And what usually happens, is that one question leads to another. The goal is to collect as much data to draw and then support a logical conclusion, or answer, to your question(s) (Jonassen, 2011).

Research as Meaningful Learning

Technology that is used to support meaningful learning that engages and facilitates deeper levels of thinking does not include using technology as delivery vehicles (Jonassen, 2011). Meaningful learning with technology:

  • Supports knowledge construction for both representing learner’s ideas, understandings and beliefs as well as for producing organized, multimedia knowledge bases by the learner.
  • Is a vehicle that supports the exploration of knowledge by supporting and constructing information to compare perspectives, beliefs, and worldviews. (Jonassen, 2011).

Searching for Information requires the learner to acquire multiple skills. Effective information gathering from the Internet combines expertise in searching for information and also assessing the worth of that information in order to organize it into something that is usable (Jonassen, 2011). Therefore, finding information on the Internet can be extremely challenging to students because of how much information is available.  Teaching students how to research for that information supports their exploration of knowledge and allows them to compare and contrast various perspectives, beliefs and worldviews on that information (Jonassen, 2011).

Teaching Research to Students

When we teach students how to search for information on the Internet it is important to consider three very important questions:

  • How do people enter items into a search engine query box?
  • How do they interpret those results?
  • How will that information be used? (Halavais, 2013)

Therefore this lesson on teaching students how to conduct inquiry-driven research addresses those questions and also seeks to educate the learners on how search engines work. The goal is to increase the learners search engine literacy by  advancing not only their searching skills, but also by educating them on how to compare the information that they are receiving through triangulation (Halavais, 2013; Jonassen, 2011).

A Question of Great Importance…to Most Teenagers

Who is more popular, Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus, or Beyoncé?

I love questions like this. You can’t just Google the question to find the answer to it. Believe it or not but this is a question that will require deep inquiry and research. Yes, we’re going to Google it. But we’re going to Google it in a way that teaches students how to conduct inquiry-driven research in which they will collect data that they will then use to draw and support a conclusion from.

Let Us Look at the Trends?

Popularity can be so subjective on its surface. However we can look a little deeper and agree that the more popular something, or someone in our case, is the more that people will be searching for it. And we can all agree that the place most people search for something is in a search engine. And the most popular and widely used search engine is Google.

Using Google Trends we can examine how people from all over the world are searching. With Trends we will be able to see how often a particular search-term is entered that is relative to the total search-volume across various regions of the world and in various languages. Trends is like having your finger on the pulse of the world.

Our interest  in the popularity of Miley Cyrus, Justin Bieber and Beyonce can be easily looked at in Trends. A graph is returned charting the amount of searching of the three over the last ten years. Below the graph is where you can see the regional interest of each of them. This is important since it is also important to teach our students more of a global perspective on the topics that they are searching for.

The graph is interactive, so as you mouse-over it you are given a month-by-month account of each of the three artists’ search-volume. It gets particularly interesting in April 2008 when Miley Cyrus’ graph spikes for the first time. The graph doesn’t tell you why, it just gives you a date. This gives students the chance to figure it out on their own. It’s a digital puzzle that they get to put together themselves. What happened in April 2008 that caused her to jump in searches, or in February 2011 when Justin Bieber spiked to 100? That’s the students job to piece it all together.

Our Question Has Led to More Questions

After having the students look at their question through the Google Trends lens we are left with more questions than answers. Why did Justin Bieber spike? What happened in the summer of 2013 to make Miley’s search go through the roof? Why did Beyonce’s global interest begin to grow in the first half of 2008?

I haven’t answered the first question yet, remember, the who is more popular one? What I’ve done is added even more questions to my original question. Our inquiry is only beginning. It’s time that we introduce a Google Spreadsheet to the fun.

Data Collection Made Collaborative

We need a place to organize our data. On our Gsheet I have created a tab for each of the 3 artists. The students will work collaboratively to identify and collect the dates of a significant trend. That is when an artist sees an increase, or decrease, in searches. If an artist sees a rise in searches from the previous month we will color code the column green. If they see a decrease we will use red. This will give students an easier way to visualize their data. Once they have compiled their data in their GSheet it will be time to begin piecing the puzzle together.

Researching Credible Sources

Since this project has more to do with pop culture it might be best to use a credible newspaper, or magazine as our primary source of information. Students will use advanced searching techniques in Google to search for this information from credible sources only. They will use their GSheet to log the data that they research and provide a link back to the credible source.

As credible sources for this inquiry we will use the Los Angeles Times ( and the New York Times (

We will use a Google Site Advanced Search to search for our data on only those two specific sites. Since we want to find credible data and then corroborate that data with another credible source we may need to use a 3rd site just incase we can’t corroborate our data between the LA and NY Times.

Advanced Site Search

Once the students have identified some data to search for they will use Google to search only the LA and NY Times. To accomplish this they use an advanced search function know as a Site search.

Type – Justin Bieber – into the Google search box. Once the results load use the Search Tools to search by a specific date range.

This will return all mentions of Justin Bieber from the month of November, 2009, the first month that he begins to see an increase in his search-volume. In the results that are returned we learn that the Bieber’s appearance at a Long Island, New York mall caused a near riot and led to the police arresting somebody. Could this be the first moment where Bieber-mania was born?

Remember when I said that we may need a third site to search? Well in May, 2010 the Bieber sees a huge spike in his search-volume when he reaches 91. Searching both the LA and NY Times didn’t return any significant reason. I selected YouTube as my third site. YouTube is the 2nd most used search engine behind Google. When I searched YouTube with the string Justin Bieber in May 2010 I am greeted with the reason why we saw his spike. The Bieber was making the rounds on all of the major talk shows, including Oprah, Ellen and American Idol. The Bieber has hit the big times.

The Big So What?

While the topic we are researching isn’t scholarly, the methods that we are using are. This example that I am using was designed more for the upper/high school level student. But there are plenty of ways to modify it so that even our youngest students can begin to understand how searching works.

The World’s Favorite Color? – A great way to get our young students thinking about search and the world in which they live. This is also an amazing way to introduce graphs to our young learners. Teachers using this activity can ask inquiry-driven questions like what is the most popular searched for color and why might that be? Why is red so popular in the United States, and Green so popular in China? I don’t have the answer to these questions. But I can think of some advanced searches that I would use to begin finding out with my students. And for students learning how to write, why not use a Google Document to have them make predictions and write down their answers after you’ve taken them through a few advanced searches.

The World’s Most Popular Form of Government – Here’s a way to get students thinking globally about more than just one form of government. Inquiry-driven questions to begin asking are; why is socialism so popular in Cuba? Why isn’t democracy a widely searched term in the United States, but is in Bhutan? What happened in November, 2008 when democracy spiked to 100 and become more popular than socialism in searches for the first time?

These inquiry-driven questions can also be great jumping off points into students conducting research into various countries and dates in modern history.

Wrapping it Up

There is a lot to sink your teeth into here and you can literally spend hours playing in Google Trends comparing different search terms with each other and checking to see what is trending in other countries. This is why learning how to search is so important to learn and thus teach to our students. It’s kind of exciting, and a little scary, to think about just how much we can begin to learn just by seeing what people are searching for.

And if you thought that the Bieber, Beyonce and Cyrus example wasn’t very academic then I invite you to consider this. As you have students look over their data and compare the dates of search-volume spikes to the data they collect on what happened on those dates a very clear picture will begin to form. That picture will teach your students more about digital leadership, and responsibility than any canned lesson that is contained on one of those websites that is dedicated to the topic. The reason, the students use inquiry-driven research to piece together a very clear puzzle that they are able to draw their own conclusions from. That’s powerful learning through powerful researching that just can’t be done by watching a video. I invite you to see if you and your students can put that puzzle together for themselves.

Works Cited

Halavais, Alexander. Search engine society. John Wiley & Sons, 2013.

Jonassen, David H. Meaningful learning with technology. Pearson/Merrill Prentice Hall, 2011.

Posted in Google Plus, Social Media

Google Plus: The Best Social Media That You Probably Aren’t Using

Dear Facebook,

By the time you read these lines I’ll be gone. We just aren’t working out anymore. You make my social media experience an unorganized cluster. I just need a simpler way to manage my digital footprint. Thankfully I have found Google Plus…

My Social Media Footprint

I’m a very busy husband, father and teacher. I do not have a lot of time to spend checking my social media as I once did.  At the same time I also did not want to completely disengage from social media. I enjoy reading what my friends and family are up to on Facebook. I love connecting with other educators on Twitter. I hated having two separate social media footprints, and accounts, to manage. Google Plus gives me exactly what I want. One social media account to rule them all…

The Circles of Life

I tended to use Facebook to keep in touch with friends and family. I would share pictures and information more of a personal nature over there. With G+ I share information of a more professional nature. I rarely crossed over those self drawn lines. But lately those lines have started to blur.

When I first connected with Brad Waid, Drew Minock and Todd Nesloney our relationship was professional. We mostly shared our blogs, professional links and resources. Twitter was our primary social media that we connected on, but Google Plus also played its role. When that all started to change and the 3 started to become my friends I welcomed them into my Facebook Friendom.  They were now able to see pictures of me with my family, read more personal updates of my life and connect with me in a way that was both personal and professional. But in order to accomplish this I had to manage 2 separate social media accounts.

With Google Plus Circles I have the ability to separate my personal from my professional, or combine those that fall under multiple categories with one social media account. So Brad can see all of the content that I share with just colleagues and also some of the more personal information that I would only share with friends and family. He, like Drew, Todd and others are in multiple circles of mine. When I share friend content those in my friend circle can see it. When I share colleague content, those in my colleague circle can see it. Those in both circles and see both sets of content.

No More Friend Request Stress

Facebook friend requests have always left me feeling a bit nervous. Most everyone has a Facebook account, including your colleagues from work. When I received a friend request from a work colleague it always felt like a drama creating moment. Deny the request and risk hurting the colleagues feelings. Accept the request and risk sharing too much information with those that you work with.

G+ eliminates the friend request completely. With G+ you add people to one of your own circles. The person being added, or circled as it is called, has the choice to circle you back, or not. When some one circles you and you do not circle them back then all of your public content can be seen by them, but none of the content that you share with your friends, or colleagues, or other circles can be seen. I like this as it adds a Twitter feel to the network. I can circle somebody who may share a lot of resources publicly. There is no pressure for them to circle me back. I can see exactly what I need to see.

However I can take my G+ experience a step further and just add them to a professional circle. This way when I share my own resources I can target a specific group of followers and invite more opportunity for them to interact with my content. G+ allows me to share to as many circles as I want, including all of them if I need to.

So if a colleague, or administrator, circles me, I don’t have to feel any pressure to circle them back and yet they can still access any content that I choose to share publicly. No hard feelings this way and in my opinion everybody gets something out of it.


I also like how I can customize my experience more with G+. There are a lot of amazing communities that have been created around topics that interest me. Some communities are open to the public and allow anybody to join, while others are private and require an invite. The way that G+ organizes these communities and the extra functionality of allowing me to set alerts for each individual community that I belong to is an added bonus. I like being able to receive push alerts for a specific community delivered to my email and mobile device while leaving others for me to check into when I have the time to do so.

Google Plus and GAFE

I’m a huge advocate for teaching students more about digital leadership and responsibility. Social media has to be part of that lesson and I can think of no better platform to teach students on that G+. If you are on a Google Apps for EDU domain you have the ability to create an entire social media walled garden. There is no better way to teach our students than to use the actual tool. With GAFE schools can close G+ down to the outside world and only have it accessible to those that have school GAFE accounts. This gives educators a social media sandbox to train students in. What better place for a student to make a mistake than in their school’s social media sandbox that is monitored by teachers and other learning professionals?


Since G+ is part of Google I now have one account to rule my life. I’m addicted to my Google Calendar (GCal) and when I use one of the best features of G+, Google Hangouts (think Skype but so much better), I can schedule them from either my GCal, or in G+. Either way adds an appointment and a direct link to the Hangout. This keeps me on task, and better organized and only having to remember 1 password.

So Long Facebook

G+ is everything that social media should be. I can use it like Twitter by circling those that share resources, or challenge my thinking. But I get more than 140 characters to interact back with them. I can use it like Facebook and only make content available to my friends and family. And I can use it professionally to share out links to my blog, resources, or other media that I want to have a discussion around. I can do all of this with one platform, that requires only one account.

So today marks the day that I announce on my Facebook page that I will be leaving. I will do what I rarely do and share my professional blog with my friends and family in hopes of convincing them to make the move with me. I hope that all of them do, just as much as I hope that you do as well. The more people who use G+ the better it will become.  I hope to circle some of you real soon.