Reaction 6: Teaching & Learning Environments

From Getty Images

Reading this week:

Bransford et al. (1999). How People Learn, Chapter 6: Learning Environments

Jenkins et al. (2007). Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century

Hattie, John. (2003). Teachers Make a Difference: What is the research evidence?

Reading Hattie’s article about expert vs. experienced teachers went straight to my heart. It made me want to be back in my 7th graders in science class, getting a chance to do many things the same and many more things differently. Several of his points made me appreciate the individuals and the communities from whom I learned to teach. Though both my parents were teachers, I went to school in the same building my mother taught in, so I usually knew the students in her class and got to see her as a teacher. To me, she epitomizes the expert teacher who respected students “as learners and people, and demonstrate[d] care and commitment for them.” (Hattie) I’ll never forget asking her how she could teach 4th graders who “didn’t really know much.” She replied that you just start by asking them questions, and you’ll find out they know a lot. To this day, she gets invited to college graduations for kids she taught in elementary school! The communities that I learned and taught in both had a positive impact on how I saw myself as a teacher. Hattie and Bransford et al. basically say the same thing about classroom and school communities: “learning seems to be enhanced by social norms that value the search for understanding and allow students (and teachers) the freedom to make mistakes in order to learn” (Bransford et al., p.133); “[Expert teachers] build climates where error is welcomed, where student questioning is high, where engagement is the norm, and where students can gain reputations as effective learners” (Hattie). These were the teachers I taught with. One of my colleagues shared with me that when a student answers a question wrong or asks a question that reveals a misunderstanding, he replies with, “Thank you for your answer/question – I’m so glad you said that because that helps me know what we need to do next.”

I think assessment is something that teachers in traditional classrooms (this was certainly true of me) struggle with, whether it’s doing enough formative relative to summative, using it to inform their own practice, or actually assessing “higher level thinking and deep understanding.” (Bransford et al.) The result, unfortunately, is assessments that seem more like judgements about students themselves rather than an accounting of what they learned (or didn’t). Participatory cultures, where there is “strong support for creating and sharing one’s creation” (Jenkins et al.), are really good at assessment, because members are constantly sifting, sampling, and sharing. I see this as a hope of the maker movement in schools, where the artifact being criticized is literally and physically separate from the creator. This allows both the creator and assessor to examine it, and the creator almost becomes a witness to the assessment rather than the target.

It would be interesting to apply Hattie’s characterization of expert teachers to participatory cultures to see what characteristics of an individual teacher might also be present and available, though in a distributed way, to learners in an affinity space.  It would be ironic if networks of people, with dynamic structures and teachers, designed for innovation and creativity, was the “idiot-proof” solution.

Reaction 5: Making and Arts in K12 Education

Tea, Earl Grey, Hot.

(Interestingly, this picture, linked from, is actually also featured with a blogpost about 3D printing food.)

Also this is my 100th post! Reflection on that coming soon…

But for now, this post is a reaction to Neil Gershenfeld’s article, How to Make Almost Anything: The Digital Fabrication Revolution, and Erica Halverson’s paper, Digital art-making as a representational process:

If you are a traditionally trained, career teacher, you likely have no idea how creative processes work in industry. I think one of the most compelling parts of the Youth Media Arts Organizations is that they use real processes of production, like Reel Works pitching to actual directors at an actual film studio. This is what makes it authentic rather than contrived. Without personal experience as an artist, I think teachers struggle to facilitate authentic student work in this area. I know that I personally have assigned video projects without any discussion of what the rules of the genre are, types of films, camera angles, storyboarding, etc. “Creating art mindfully, that is learning how to construct and critically evaluate these representations, requires scaffolded instruction” (Halverson 2010). Being able to scaffold instruction requires deep content and process understanding by the teacher, which the majority do not have. For this reason, students who are good with iMovie flair might dazzle their teachers with effects, and teachers then mistakenly equate the ability to manipulate software with understanding the rules of genre and/or content understanding.

I see three opportunities for bridging this gap between the experiences we want kids to have and what is currently happening. First, I think we need to recruit and enlist second career teachers who come from within industry. I see this happening at the Sullivan Center at the ‘Iolani School, an independent K-12 school in Honolulu, where they have a game designer, software architect, and studio and fabrication artist, among others, as faculty. Alternately, in the same way that the National Writing Project promotes teaching writing by developing teachers as writers, there could be art and maker institutes for teachers to develop themselves as creators. I would also love to see arts integration coordinators who support teachers designing, implementing, and assessing lessons. This might see new literacies (Knobel and Lankshear 2007) and “tasks that put the arts forward” (Halverson 2010) take root K-12 schools.

Gershenfeld (2012) in his article also addresses making, but in a different context and purpose. For the most part, his article is historical or explanatory, but there was one point that I thought stood out: the parallel comparison made between personal computing and fabrication. Although some could not imagine what people might do with personal computers, users adapted its design to their own desires (shopping, connecting, sharing). One of the radical ideas of the Ito et al. (2008) report was that they observed students “in the wild,” seeing how they actually used the tools, rather than assuming that they would just be used as they were designed. I think it is telling that in Gershenfeld’s Bits and Atoms class, it was research students who came up with innovative ideas, adapting it to the “market of one” (Gershenfeld 2012), and that as adults, we often can’t fathom what to do with something like a 3D printer.

One final point is to tie the art and process of “making” in with Sennett’s three key themes for navigating the era of new capitalism: narrative, usefulness, and craftsmanship. I see making, whether digital media or fabrication, as providing opportunity for developing personal narrative and craftsmanship through mindful design, production, and performance, and the performance of making, as seen in participatory cultures (Jenkins et al. 2006) and the FabLabs in Manchester and Barcelona (Gershenfeld 2012), provides spaces where people feel useful and connected. Perhaps in contrast with the fearful reaction by many (Gershenfeld 2012), I see the maker movement as a fundamentally hopeful trajectory for individuals and communities.


Gershenfeld, Neil. (2012, September 27). How to Make Almost Anything: The Digital Fabrication Revolution. New York Times.

Halverson, Erica. (2010). Digital art-making as a representational process. Paper presented at the International Conference of the Learning Sciences.

Ito, M. et al. (2008). Living and Learning with New Media : Summary of Findings from the Digital Youth Project (pp. 1–58).

Jenkins, H., Clinton, K., Purushotma, R., Robison, A., & Weigel, M. (2007). Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21 Century (pp. 1–72).

Lankshear, C., & Knobel, M., Eds. (2007). A New Literacies Sampler.

Sennett, Richard. (2006). The Culture of the New Capitalism. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Reaction Paper 4: Video Games and Learning


Gee, James. (2009) Good Video Games and Good Learning.

Klopfer, Eric; Osterweil, Scot; Salen, Katie. (2009). Moving Learning Games Forward: Obstacles, Opportunities, and Openness. Report from the Education Arcade, MIT.

Squire, Kurt. (2006). From Content to Context: Videogames as Designed Experience, Educational Researcher. 35(8) 19-29.

Video games and learning is something I have thought a lot about (and apparently blogged a lot about! here, here, here, here, herehere, here, and here) in the last 4 years since I began a project integrating SimCity into my 7th grade science classroom. I participated in the Games and Learning MOOC that Squire and Steinkuehler taught last fall, Reality is Broken by Jane McGonigal is a favorite, and this spring I finally got a chance to present on the topic of video games and learning to parents and a few teachers at my school. This week’s readings built on this foundation and affirmed a lot that I already believe, but I want to add an analogy that I think is helpful in terms of why games belong in education and one aspect that I think was missed.

First, though, I feel like I need to come clean and admit that I’m a gamer. Whenever I talk about games in education, I almost always preface it with “I’m not really a gamer.” I say it for two reasons. One, because I do regularly play major video games like WoW or Call of Duty, so my gaming does not align with what people stereotypically associate with the label “gamer.” Two, if I did identify myself as a gamer, it might prevent honest conversations with teachers or parents who are skeptical or negative about games, whereas presenting myself as a non-gamer allies me with them. I think this gets at the deep attitudinal barriers that Klopfer et al. (2009) refer to. But when I read the descriptions of the range of what is considered gaming, it’s me. My earliest memories include being allowed to “pick tiles” for my mom’s Scrabble game, I got Yahtzee with 3’s when I was 3 (very exciting), finally beating my older brother at Monopoly (which he contested, of course), and staying up very late playing Tetris against my cousin with our linked Gameboys. I spend and have spent a lot of time playing games; I’m a gamer.

One way that I find is helpful to address the deep skepticism and negative reaction to video games in the classroom is through an analogy. (It is not my own: I credit it completely to the director of educational technology that I worked with at OES, Brad Baugher.) While it’s an easy comparison to talk about how video games are like athletics, he took it one step further. He argued that the way video games are played right now is a lot like pick up games: informal, unsupervised, unregulated, ad hoc, and exclusionary. We believe (and spend a lot of money) on incorporating sports into schools because we see that they teach valuable life skills like grit, persistence, cooperation, and inclusion, and we employ coaches to facilitate this. Incorporating video games into the classroom is a lot like bringing them into a space where teachers can facilitate the game play, such as incorporating reflection on the experience.

The aspect that I think was missed, particularly in the Education Arcade’s report, is involving students in the creation of games. Klopfer et al. (2009) mention this in the example of Gamestar Mechanic, but not really elaborated on: “The Gamestar Mechanic team argues that by participating in and understanding the interactions of multiple complex systems, they are developing skills that are crucial for an increasing collaborative, networked, and high tech society.” This meta-awareness is crucial, and this is what I think needs to be used to create a sense of urgency amongst educators. In my experience with SimCity, and here I will make an unresearched generalization from my anecdotal though professional experience, students rarely asked why the games were designed they way they were. Boys were much more likely to prod the limits of the game and test cheat codes but without asking fundamental questions about the assumptions of the games, whereas girls were more likely to accept the gameplay as they were and seek to optimize their play within the rules, but also without questioning the game itself. I think this says a lot about how gender plays out in the game of school in general. Engaging students in game design will improve their understanding that games are artifacts designed by people who have ideologies, beliefs, and values, in the same way that learning to create movies or use photoshop helps them understand the media they see. By extension, students who learn to identify the rules and ideologies of a game can ultimately learn to question how and why “real life” societies are governed by rules and ideologies. I, perhaps optimistically, see intentional and reflective game play as an exploration and understanding of who we are and the world we live in.

Reaction Paper #3: New Literacies

This week’s readings were the first chapter of A New Literacies Sampler (2007), edited by Lankshear and Knobel (whole thing is available as a pdf), and a program report from The Campaign for Grade-Level reading called “Pioneering Literacy.”

The Campaign for Grade-Level Reading begins their report on “Pioneering Literacy” with a focus on the importance of the environment and parent-child interactions in teaching reading. I like that they make the distinction between the presence of devices and how the technology is used, though I am often skeptical of reported hours of screen time and what is really meant by “60% of white and hispanic preschoolers … have played video games on a console.” There are a lot of value judgements going on in reporting their statistics, and readers will interpret the numbers as good or bad depending on their own personal bias.

Where I think the Campaign goes astray is that by using an old model of “bookspace” and literacy, they limit both the success of kids and limit the use of an iPad. The first point about “bookspace” points to their desire to find authoritative products or programs that will deliver literacy skills in a textual order that is recognizable to their schema for teaching literacy. The key line from Lankshear and Knobel is that “to bring a model of value that ‘belongs’ to a different kind of space is inappropriate and creates an impediment to actualizing the new space.” In other words, it doesn’t make sense to look to iPad apps and websites to reflect traditional approaches to literacy, and by doing so, it limits what that technology might actually be able to teach. For example, an app that does not explicitly teach reading comprehension as traditionally understood may do very well with new literacies, such as recognizing and adapting interaction based on the context, of which reading and understanding is a part. Further, if we look at the Discourse for being a student in school, language is certainly a part of that coordination, but focusing on that alone may not result in the Campaign’s goal for grade-level reading because there are other factors preventing children from marginalized groups from stretching to a secondary Discourse.

This report reminds me of the early reports on climate change that were trying to convince people that it was a real thing while scientists had already established consensus among themselves long ago. The Campaign may serve a valuable role in helping raise awareness by encouraging intentional use of media by families and educators, but I think they need to reconsider their own understanding of New Media and the “cyberspatial-postindustrial” world to help programs update their mindset, rather than just helping them “technologize.”

Reaction Paper #2: How People Learn & New Media

Readings for this week include the first chapter of How People Learn, by Bransford et al. 1999, and Living and Learning with New Media, by Ito et al. 2008.

(I’m just including my last paragraph, which I think was the most interesting.)

A lot of schools and teachers are threatened by this generation of seemingly empowered, engaged, technology-savvy youth with their “resilient set of questions about adult authority.” (Ito et al. 2008) Further, “our values and norms in education, literacy, and public participation are being challenged by a shifting landscape of media and communications in which youth are central actors. Although complaints about ‘kids these days’ have a familiar ring to them, the contemporary version is somewhat unusual in how strongly it equates generational identity with technology identity, an equation that is reinforced by telecommunications and digital media corporations that hope to capitalize on this close identification.” (Ito et al. 2008) I want to address this very last part: the corporations. All these interfaces, platforms, and services are run by corporations, whose goal is to make money. This capitalistic ethos is built into the web, our children’s playground, and the companies make money when you to come back. They provide dopamine hits by alerts of connections to friends, by the functions of affirmations (“Pokes” or “Likes”), and by presenting solvable problems (such as in games), which is far from true about dilemmas in the teenage world. They provide quantifiable measures of popularity or desirability, which might at first seem like a reflection of content, but it’s not a far leap to being a measure of worth: the most followers, friends, shares, or comments. All this engenders FOMO (fear of missing out) and drama, such as “unfollow me and I’ll unfollow you.” This, naturally, affects actual identity formation and the conception of what it means to be successful in life. I’m not a technological determinist, clinical psychologist, nor anti-capitalist, but as the interfaces becoming increasingly seemless and as a greater percentage of our learning and life is extended on these platforms, I get a little skittish. Like many generations before me, my guiding hope is in education.

Opinions in this last paragraph were influenced by It’s Complicated: The social lives of networked teens, by danah boyd, and by a critique written of the book by Michael Simon, reprinted with permission on ISTE’s Indenpendent School Educator Network’s blog.

Think twice about the research sound bite and keep those perspectacles on, people!

Business Insider

There are a bunch of news stories flying around right now about how “digital technology and tv can inhibit children socially”, but if you actually read the study it’s not that clear, and NO ONE reports and important disclaimer by the authors themselves. As per usual, the news is more sensational than the research…
Here are links to recent news articles:
Basically the study looked at about 50 6th graders from a Southern California public school before and after an outdoor nature camp and compared their ability to read emotional facial cues to kids who stayed at home going to regular school.
Kids who went to camp showed statistically significant improvement in the test of emotional facial cues.

Continue reading

Parent Partnership: Video Games and Learning

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Click above for the presentation slides or download the pdf here.

Download the handout here.

I also mentioned two important books: It’s Complicated, by danah boyd, and Reality is Broken, by Jane McGonigal.


This morning I gave a presentation on Video Games and Learning. I’ve wanted to have this discussion since I started as technology coordinator and since beginning the SimCity project. The focus of the presentation was on the opportunities presented by video games and the skills learned, hopefully providing an entry into why kids (and lots of adults!) play the games they do and why they enjoy them so much.

I tried to walk the line between research and practicality and tried to frame how we think and talk about video games rather than giving my opinions, though my positive bias is clear. I wish I could have had more time to devote to the current research on the transfer of skills from video games to other arenas and the effect of play violence in teenagers. But that is what graduate school is for!

The best part was my somewhat last minute decision to play MMTW, Massively Multiplayer Thumb War, as inspired by Jane McGonigal from ISTE last year. I felt like I couldn’t talk about games without playing one!

Overall, I hope that people come away holding worries at bay and looking with their kids towards the opportunities. Technology is neither good nor bad, though it does change what life affords and affects us as individuals and as communities. When I look at the world, I am fundamentally hopeful about what the future will be, and maybe growing up around the Scrabble board helped shape me that way.

CFG Presentation to Colleagues


This past Monday at our Professional Growth and Development Day, our Critical Friends Group presented the tuning protocol to about 25 colleagues. We ran it as a fishbowl in order to model what the protocol actually looks like in real time.

I’ve bolded items that I said or facilitated and then give my reflections at the end.


Call to order.

Each person introduces themselves.

Inoculations. These were done to address what we saw as some of the potential objections to our presentation. Each person took one.

  1. Thank you for being here and appreciation to Faculty Learning Group leaders for the opportunity – sometimes we feel like these days should be for personal preparation time, but this protocol is a great tool for helping guide conversations that make meetings more productive.
  2. Please don’t use technology during the presentation. We understand that everyone has other things on their mind or to do today, but we ask you to be present and actively engaged. This will take about 60 minutes and there will be a break afterwards to check email.
  3. Sometimes the structure can feel awkward or restrictive. We chose a protocol that really works to get to the hear of an issue or dilemma and provides the presenter with an opportunity to take a step back and look at it through other perspectives. And it really is about the presenter learning to work through her own dilemma, not for us to solve it for her.
  4. This protocol is also helpful for educators who are not classroom teachers. This can be an opportunity for you to present a dilemma or tension that you feel you need support with.

Why are we presenting this to you today? Continue reading

Beginning Courageous Conversations about Race, from Everyday Antiracism

At POCC, I picked up two books: White Like Me, by Tim Wise,
which I read cover to cover in the week following the conference,
and Everyday Antiracism, a collection of essays specifically for
teachers, edited by Mica Pollock. I’ve begun reading through the
essays and came to this one, Beginning Courageous Conversations
about Race. It has prompted me to finally write some of my
reflections about my experience at POCC. The four principles are
this: 1) Stay engaged. I think POCC more than any conference has
made me more reflective about who I am and who others are. I find
myself very aware of race and behaviors, constantly searching for
microaggressions and bringing it up in conversations with people,
almost probing to see if others are willing to talk about it. I
find myself seeking out people who have a more developed racial
identity so that I can listen to how they speak and what they
think. 2) Expect to experience discomfort. Oh yes. Falling silent
because you’re not sure how not to say the wrong thing? Yep.
Worrying that you’ve already said the wrong thing? Yep. I live in a
world where people mostly agree. And when we don’t, everyone is
very nice about it. When you begin to see terrible inequities and
racism in the fabric of your reality and it feels like you are the
only one seeing it, yes, you could say it’s uncomfortable, though
that’s a bit of an understatement. But even in my shifted world
view, I’m expected to carry on as though nothing’s changed, have
polite and thoughtful conversations, be nice about it, even when I
want everyone to be jumping up and down with urgency for the change
needed. At POCC, one of the best sessions I went to was about how
white children are racially socialized. I forget the prompting
statement, but a black man stood up and said something to the
effect of, “I’m tired of our kids having to suffer just so you
[white people] can keep figuring out how to cope with race!” This
really made an impression on me. It IS my responsibility NOW to be
racially competent. 3) Speak your truth. I have two thoughts on
this. I am grateful for the many people I have around me who are
always willing to engage with me. Second, I think I don’t always
recognize who is and who isn’t ready and able to. I tend to drop
small bombs in informal conversations with statements about how
uninclusive something is or the lack of diversity in children’s
books, for example. It might catch the other person off guard,
which is maybe why I do it, but I need to find more constructive
ways of engaging with others on this topic. 4) Expect and accept a
lack of closure. One of my beliefs that was shattered (in a good
way, though tough at the time) at POCC, is that the sheltered
environment of an independent school, where people are nice and
teachers are thoughtful and the harsh reality of the world is kept
away, is a good thing. Actually, it’s just a magnification of white
privilege. Yikes. I love the school I grew up at and the two
institutions at which I have taught, and never would I have thought
that what we were doing was actually worse than the real world!
Unpacking white privilege as it relates to independent schools is
an essential next step in my commitment to education and to who I
am as a person. I worry about sharing these thoughts publicly. In a
time when everything written can come back to haunt, I fear these
words will get taken out of context or that when I’ve gone further
down this journey, I’ll look back and judge my naïveté. But I will
be courageous and speak my truth and be gentle with myself, as I
would with others and hope they would with me. Thank you for
reading and being on this journey with me.