Final Thoughts: Using Technology to Support Student Learning

First of all, I just have to say that I LOVED this course. It was fun!! A lot of work, but there is so much that I am taking away. A theme that has emerged for me, especially in the last few weeks, is how engaging the coursework was. I am a wife and mom of two young kids and my attention is ALWAYS divided. If this course was a “read the articles/books, write a research paper, etc.” type of course, it would have been very difficult for me to be motivated and concentrate on the coursework. However, every week in CEP 811 we were exploring a different tool to create a product that was meaningful and useful (to each of us personally), and the projects were engaging. Design your ideal classroom? Make a remix video? Make a game for my Spanish students?  So much more interesting and engaging than your typical masters course! I am so glad that I chose this path for the focus of my degree.

That being said, I know that the same is true for my students (and everyone else’s). Projects are engaging. They are meaningful because you get to design them. As much as I would rather play with computer programs and create products that I can use in my career, my students would be much more engaged by relevant, useful projects than by rote memorization and work from a textbook. Prior to this course, I had thought a lot about differentiated instruction, but not as much about project based learning, creative problem solving or personalized learning environments. I now understand the importance of centering learning experiences around “play, experimentation and authentic inquiry” (constructivism), as well as emphasizing a product  and designing experiences that will lead to students to learn “by constructing knowledge through the act of making something shareable” (constructionism) (Halverson & Sheridan, 497-498). I touched on this a little bit in my last post, but I think the idea of coming up with a SHAREABLE product is huge. If students are presented with a task, or a problem that they need to come up with a realistic, innovative solution for, they will (hopefully) be motivated to use creativity and find the best possible solution that they can. However, if they know that they are going to present this solution to others who may potentially need it or be interested in using it, I think that takes the task, and hopefully their motivation, to the next level. This isn’t just a project for school, or for a grade, it’s actually going to be used by others. In addition, in a classroom setting, they are one of several groups working on the same problem, so the pressure to come up with a truly, unique, innovative solution is increased by adding the share-ability component. In that way, I think that project-based and creative problem solving learning environments are very powerful, as long as the content remains a main focus and students are able to master the same key concepts that they would in a more traditional classroom environment.

In terms of integrating technology into my teaching and using it in innovative ways to support student learning, I feel much more prepared to do this after taking CEP 811. One thing that I still remember from Richard Culatta’s TEDx talk “Reimagining Learning” was that he talked about a “digital divide” that exists in our country between “those who know how to use technology to reimagine learning and those who simply use technology to digitize traditional learning practices” (Reimagining learning, 2013). I would argue that some technology is better than none; even if it isn’t an innovative use, it’s a step in the right direction. Before CEP 811 I had not really considered this “digital divide” but after hearing Richard Culatta describe it, it made a lot of sense and I definitely see that what he says is true. That being said, I feel very prepared and confident as a result of this course to use technology to truly reimagine learning. Of course there will be some limitations based on what is available in whatever school I teach in, but I feel very equipped to adapt and innovate whatever is available to me to give my students powerful, concrete, relevant learning experiences.

For example, the programs and applications that I used to create my projects in this course could easily be adapted to any content area as a teaching tool or as a tool for students to express what they have learned.

  • Popcorn maker – As a teaching tool, I could create videos to introduce the key points and ideas of a unit and capture students’ attention. Students could make remix videos to demonstrate the points that were most prominent to them in topic of study.
  • Scratch – I could create games (like I did in my Maker Inspired Lesson Plan) to help students review grammar/vocabulary. Students could design review games for each other to review Spanish grammar/vocabulary.
  • Sketch Up – Students could design and furnish their dream home, then describe it in Spanish to others. I could do the same to teach them the vocabulary.
  • Infographics – are amazing tools!! It’s like a remix that you scroll through instead of watch. I could have a lot of fun creating these to use as teaching tools to present information. Students could also design infographics to represent their learning on a topic, or present information to teach a concept to others.

SO MANY POSSIBILITIES! I’m actually kind of bummed that I’m not currently teaching (staying home with my babies for now) because I have no real outlet to try these things! But I will definitely remember them for the future.

Whenever I go back to teaching, I know I will not be the same teacher that I was. My mindset has completely changed and I can see the bigger picture now – the purpose of school and education is, of course, content mastery, but it is also preparation for the real world. I always knew this, but didn’t know how to truly incorporate teaching life skills (leadership, group work, adaptation, etc.) into curriculum. Project based, creative problem solving learning environments naturally incorporate these elements, as well as personalizing learning and allowing opportunities for me to differentiate instruction. This type of learning environment will be my focus in the future, along with innovative use of technology to support student learning.

Overall, I really enjoyed this course and I know that I will be a more effective teacher and better able to serve my students because of it. I’m already looking forward to CEP 812!


Halverson, E. & Sheridan, K. (2014). The maker movement in education. Harvard Education Review, 84:4, 495-504.

TEDx. (2013, January 10). Reimagining learning: Richard Culatta at TEDxBeaconStreet [Video File]. Retrieved from


Assessing Creative Problem Solving

Through CEP 811,  I have become very aware of the disconnect that exists between the way we traditionally do “school” in our country and the direction the world is heading. In the video interview “Grading with Games,” James Paul Gee addresses this disconnect, saying that the “current model of schooling [memorizing facts, etc.] will not be [an] economically profitable form of schooling” in the future. He also states that “if [students] are going to survive in a developed country, outside of low level service work, they’re going to have to have innovation and creativity” (Edutopia, 2010). I know I want to do everything I can to ensure that my students are well prepared to reach their full potential in this world.

As an educator my job is not just about teaching content, but teaching life skills, such as how to work with others, be flexible, take responsibility, and be a leader. Enter project based learning and creative problem solving. Project based learning “is a dynamic approach to teaching in which students explore real world problems and challenges. With this type of active and engaged learning, students are inspired to obtain a deeper knowledge of the subjects they’re studying.” Some key elements of project based learning are questioning, inquiry and critical thinking (Edutopia, Project based learning, 2015). Project based learning is very similar to the constructivism framework, which defines learning as “the product of play, experimentation and authentic inquiry.” The constructionism framework takes that one step further as “learning by constructing knowledge through the act of making something shareable” (Halverson & Sheridan, 2014, 497-498; emphasis added). Designing educational experiences based on these principles and goals for student learning requires a much different way of thinking than the traditional method of teaching and learning. Therefore, assessments of student learning must also change.

In a project based, creative problem solving learning environment, assessments are done much differently. In my classes, I envision that there would be multiple assessments for a given topic or learning experience. For example, students would be assigned their task or presented with a problem/issue that requires them to come up with a solution. These tasks would vary between individual and group projects, depending on the content and learning goals. Student work would be assessed in various ways; formative assessments would be done as students worked on their tasks and the final product would be their summative assessment. These are the types of assessments I envision:

  • Informal meetings with groups or individual students to discuss their progress and address any questions, concerns or misunderstandings. These would be informal assessments to inform my instruction and help me  determine how to proceed as I facilitate their learning and progress.
  • Students submit regular updates on their progress toward their goals and their individual contributions to the project. Again, these are informal assessments designed to catch any misconceptions or possibly group members that are not doing their share of the work, and therefore not mastering the content.
  • Informal presentations of their work to other groups, or to me, to demonstrate their progress and indicate the direction that they are headed with their projects.
  • Day to day assessments done quickly by circling the classroom and having conversations with students.
  • Content “checkpoints” – to determine student progress toward content mastery. Could be quizzes, something in writing, a mini demo or presentation, etc.
  • There would be the final product, which would be graded according to a rubric designed specifically for each topic/unit/project. Students would be given this rubric at the start of the project so that they know what the expectations are.
  • Self-evaluation, to address the following: the knowledge that they gained as a result of the project (possibly some specific content questions to respond to, depending on the topic) as well as how they grew personally as a result of the project. What was their role in the group? Did they take responsibility and show leadership? Were they flexible and adaptable to the needs of their group? Did they do their fair share of the work? I believe this self evaluation is an important component to helping students recognize their personal growth and achievements, as well as areas they may still need to work on.

In terms of HOW I would assess student work in a creative problem solving environment, rubrics would be a huge asset. In his blog post entitled “On assessing for creativity: yes, you can and yes, you should,” Grant Wiggins discusses assessing student creativity and even provides a rubric for doing so. Some of the key words in this rubric are clever, imaginative, engaging, vivid, compelling, powerful, style, novel, and unique (Wiggins, 2012). I would present students with these terms and incorporate them into our project rubrics to encourage students to think outside the box. In addition to creativity and innovation, they would be assessed based on the following criteria:

  • Whether or not they met the qualifications of the project
  • How realistic and/or useful their solution/product is
  • Content mastery, as demonstrated in their final project/solution
  • Whether their product/solution is SHAREABLE and ADAPTABLE. Can others access and use it? Is it realistic? Is it adaptable to different situations/users?

The share-ability component is what boosts student learning/mastery to the next level. They have to know their content and final product so well that they can demonstrate how it might be shared and used by others. This gives their work a true purpose and connects it to real life in a deeper and more meaningful way.

The aim of creative problem solving is to contextualize content and make it realistic, interesting and applicable to the real world. It is more challenging to assess students in a creative problem solving environment than on a multiple choice test, but this is the way that the world is moving and assessment design and strategies need to evolve as well. If we do not adjust our ideas of what constitutes a learning experience, our students will become the consumers, not the makers.


Edutopia. (20 July 2010). James Paul Gee on Grading with games. [Video File].

Edutopia. (2015). Project based learning.

Halverson, E. & Sheridan, K. (2014). The maker movement in education. Harvard Education Review, 84:4, 495-504.

Wiggins, Grant. (2012). Creative [Electronic file]. Retrieved from:

Wiggins, Grant. (2012, February 3). On assessing for creativity: yes you can, and yes you should [Web log post]. Retrieved from:


How Making and #MakerEd Can Enrich the Classroom Experience

Well, I created my first infographic this week! Our task was to create an infographic about some aspect of the Maker Movement in education. I chose to focus mine on personalized learning environments and how they can be enriched by incorporating Making and encouraging students to be makers. It was a lot of fun to make, and I can definitely see myself using infographics in my teaching in the future. They also would be a great project for students!

I don’t think there is much else to say – the infographic explains my ideas!

Here it is:

MakerEd 1


Brahms, L., Halverson, E., Litts, B., Jacobs-Priebe, L., Owens, T., Sheridan, K. (2014). Learning in the making: A comparative case study of three makerspaces. Harvard Education Review, 84:4, 505-531.

Halverson, E. & Sheridan, K. (2014). The maker movement in education. Harvard Education Review, 84:4, 495-504.

Maker Education Initiative. (2015). Who we are.

Yildirim, Z., Reigeluth, C. M., Kwon, S., Kageto, Y. & Shao, Z. (2013). A comparison of learning management systems in a school district: searching for the ideal personalized integrated educational system (PIES). Interactive Learning Environments, 22:6, 721-736. doi: 10.1080/10494820.2012.745423. Retrieved from Michigan State University:

Experience Design – My 21st Century Classroom!

I have been looking forward to this assignment all semester! I love to design and organize things…I’m definitely in the right profession! This week I used a free downloadable program called Sketchup Make to design my ideal, 21st century classroom. It was a lot of fun! A lot of work and time to figure out the program and create my design, but it was an engaging and fun project. I’m looking forward to playing around more with this program. It’s also always fun to create an “ideal” – budget was not a factor, although I will give an estimate for how much it would cost to actually implement my design.


Since I’m not teaching in my own classroom right now, I redesigned my old classroom (pictures below). It was a decent sized room, with a window into the hallway. There were windows in the hall so I got some natural light in my room that way, but I covered the bottom portion of the windows so that my students wouldn’t be distracted by things going on in the hallway. On the wall opposite the entryway, there were two doors for storage closets. On the front wall was a large whiteboard, which I used for teaching. There was second whiteboard on the same wall as the door/window that I used to write daily schedules. I also had a table in the corner between those walls for handouts. My desk was in the corner diagonal from the door (so I could see the door). On the back wall were 2 file cabinets, a large storage cabinet and a table with students supplies (stapler, tape, absent work, etc.). I taught Spanish and U.S. History, so I had posters for both subjects around the room. It was colorful and bright. I’ve never been a fan of the desks arranged all in straight rows, and the way we taught Spanish was by storytelling so I needed to be able to get around the room easily and see everyone. There were 30 desks in the room and I had 12 in the front, 2 rows of 3 desks on each side and they faced each other. In the back were 6 rows of 3 desks facing the front of the room. I liked this set up because no student was further than 3 desks away from the front, so they weren’t peering around each other to see. They could see me easily and I could see them. There was a lot of open space in the middle of the room so I could walk around while I was teaching or students were working. The desks were the tippy kind that students have to slide in and out of, so they weren’t the greatest for grouping but students would put them together when they needed to collaborate. The only technology I had in my room was a projector with a screen in the front. I used it A LOT – I prepared a lot of my teaching materials ahead of time (lots of PowerPoint) to save time. It was also great to be able to show movies and videos on the large screen. I loved my classroom and I was proud if it — seeing these pictures really makes me miss it (and teaching)! I taught from 2008 – 2010, so there have been lots of changes in technology since then, and my former school is very innovative. They are 1:1 with iPads (which I factored into my new design) and doing lots of great things with 21st century learning models!

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I think the easiest way to explain my redesigned classroom is to show the image first and then go through it and explain why I chose the elements that I chose. I was not sure of the dimensions of my original room so I kind of guessed and the redesigned classroom is 30′ x 40′. After putting all the furniture in, I think my actual room may have been a little smaller but there was some extra space, so I think I could still implement this same (or similar) design in a smaller space. Here is the overhead view:

CR Overhead 2

As I thought about the elements that I wanted in my ideal classroom, I knew that I wanted it to be comfortable, stimulating (to an appropriate degree) and easily allow for students to collaborate as well as work at their own pace, in a way that is comfortable for them. I found this list of “10 Signs of a 21st Century Classroom,” which was very helpful as I thought about what instructional elements would be important to include. I also found the image at the top of this article, called “Top 10 Characteristics of a 21st Century Classroom” inspiring. It got me thinking about alternative seating options in my classroom – hence the corner couch! I also chose warm colors for the walls, as I teach older (high school) students and research has shown that warm colors seem to support better learning for older students (Barrett et al., 2013). The primary student seating is tables of two that can be arranged in many ways, depending on the instructional and learning goals. They can be grouped into tables of 4 for collaboration, arranged in a large square for group discussion, just to name a couple. There are many possibilities! The chairs are comfortable, lightly padded with a back so students can be comfortable. There are white boards on two of the walls and students’ seats face different directions, so there is no clear “front” of the room. Learning  happens in all directions, at all times!

I will show an image of each wall as well and explain the features of the classroom more in depth. Here is the entry wall. The color is a soft, light orange (warm but not too bright). There is a SMARTboard 6065 (the smaller of the two boards), which is the latest model. It is intuitive, interactive, multimodal, high-definition and would be an amazing tool to enhance learning and instruction. Students can work on it, I can teach on it, and we can use it to experience content in new and innovative ways. Next to that is a regular white board that could be used for teaching, writing daily schedules/tasks, or for students to work on. The windows would be covered halfway just as they were in my original classroom (not pictured), and there is shelf underneath the windows for storage and student supplies. In the right corner is a couch with a small round table. Students could sit there to work individually or collaborate. It is a different seating option that will allow students to just be comfortable while they learn. There are also upward facing light fixtures on all of the walls for a different lighting option — dimmer, less bright lights make the environment more comfortable as well. Ideally these would be individually controlled (on/off) and the brightness would be adjustable so they could be dimmed.

CR Entry Wall

Next is the former “front” wall. The color is a soft yellow. Again, there is the couch and the same light fixtures for a different lighting option. This wall has a large whiteboard for instruction. Students may also use this board when they collaborate. In the right corner are 4 tall desks. Students can use these if they prefer to work individually, uninterrupted. They are also tall so students can stand to work if they prefer. Some students have difficulty sitting all day; they are fidgety and/or uncomfortable, so if they can stand up or sit on a couch, that is one less thing to interfere with their learning. My husband works an office job and he has a tall desk. He shares a tall chair with two of his co-workers and spends the better part of his day standing up to work. It’s great for him and I wanted my students to have the same option.

CR Front Wall

The wall opposite the entryway is painted a soft, light red. The main feature of this wall is classroom storage. There are several cabinets and closets, including a set of overhead cabinets. Extra copies of students handouts would be on the counter, along with boxes to turn in any paper work. In the right corner is my desk area. It is L-shaped, with a desk along the side where students can sit for individual or group conferences.

CR Side Wall

The room would be decorated with posters and examples of student work. The wall behind my desk has a display case for student work.

CR Back Wall

Students would be 1:1 with iPads, so there really isn’t a need for a computer station in the room, but there would be charging stations available around the room.

Cost of Implementation

Below is a list of the items I would need to purchase for my redesigned classroom. I could use storage cabinets and teacher desk that are available in the school – no need to purchase new items for those.

SMARTBoard 6065 – $5999.00 (

Corner couch – $899.00 (

Round coffee table – $89.00 (

Standing desks (4) – $1132.00 total (

Tall desk chairs (4) – $352.00 total (

Student tables (17) – $1700.00 total (

Student chairs (34) – $1088.00 total (

Storage shelves – $195.00 (

Conference desk – $630.00 (

Total – $12,084 (!!!)

Resources and Implementation

In order to implement this design plan, I would need about $12,000. I could probably get some of the items for less if I researched a bit more. I could also definitely do the implementation in stages, which would stretch the cost out over time. The first change I would make would be to switch the desks out for tables. Next I would want to add the SMARTBoard, then the standing desks and finally the couch. Depending on student needs, I may opt for the couch first and then the standing desks. I could use any table for the conference portion of my desk; it does not need to be the fancy round conference desk.

Doing the implementation in stages would spread the cost out over time, but it would also allow me and my students to transition gradually into a new model of teaching and learning. In my opinion, the quicker the better, as the world is moving forward whether we do or not!


Barrett, P., Zhang, Y., Moffat, J., & Kobbacy, K. (2013). A holistic, multi-level analysis identifying the impact of classroom design on on pupils’ learning. Building and Environment, 59, 678-689. doi:

Goertz, Patrick. (2015, February). 10 signs of a 21st century classroom. Retrieved from

Le, Trung. (2010, May). Redesigning education: why can’t we be in kindergarten for life? Retrieved from

Le, Trung. (2011, March). Teaching kids design thinking, so they can solve the world’s biggest problems. Retrieved from

Saxena, Saomya. (2013, December). Top 10 characteristics of a 21st century classroom. Retrieved from

Personalizing Learning with the Makey Makey and Scratch

I did a lot of reading and thinking about personalized learning last week, and this week I wanted to find a way to use my Makey Makey to personalize learning. The examples of personalized learning environments that I read about in my research last week were all very fancy – systems used computers to track student progress, learning preferences, etc. and design assignments and tasks specifically to lead each student to mastery. This is incredible, of course, but for many school districts this type of system isn’t feasible because of the cost. This week I had the opportunity to collaborate with some of my CEP 811 colleagues about our maker projects and the topic of personalized learning came up in our conversation. Someone referenced the fancy systems and how much they cost and we discussed how we can use the tools we have to personalize learning. It could be as simple as videotaping lessons so students can play them back and work through the content at their own pace. That conversation got me thinking about personalizing learning in a different way, using the tools that I have available, which at this point are computers and the Makey Makey. I think that a key component to a personalized learning environment is that “students are allowed as much time as they need to achieve mastery…rather than being forced to move on to the next topic even if they have not yet mastered the skills and understandings for the current topic” (Yildirim, 722). So, this idea of allowing students to repeat and review a concept until they have mastered it became a key component of my lesson. I also designed it so that students can receive immediate feedback about their responses and check their own understanding.

For this lesson, I created two different activities using Scratch. This program allowed me to create exactly the type of activity that I had envisioned. It took some figuring out, but honestly, if I can do it, anyone can 🙂 Several hours (and a lot of chocolate) later I am very happy with my products! I also made a controller using the flap of a diaper box, some tinfoil and tape. The controller is connected to the Makey Makey and allows students to move the sprites (Scratch characters) without touching the keyboard, similar to a video game controller. As part of the lesson, students will make their own controllers to use for the activities.


         IMG_1733 IMG_1735

So, without further ado, here is my Maker Lesson Plan.

Students will have a handout that they will complete as they follow along with the activities (this is a Google Doc copy so that it can be viewed online. The actual student version is a MS Word document and looks a little cleaner).

The activities are demonstrated in the video below, and can be found (and played!) at the links that follow:

Scratch Activity 1 – Spanish Location Word Practice

Scratch Activity 2 – Spanish Location Words Practice 2

Enjoy, and let me know if you try the games!


P. Laurain, S. Lohitsa, S. Nowak, R. Rassel, B. Rimes, A. Scott, J. Shelley, M. White. Personal conversation. June 10, 2015.

Yildirim, Z., Reigeluth, C. M., Kwon, S., Kageto, Y. & Shao, Z. (2013). A comparison of learning management systems in a school district: searching for the ideal personalized integrated educational system (PIES). Interactive Learning Environments, 22:6, 721-736. doi: 10.1080/10494820.2012.745423. Retrieved from Michigan State University:

Reimagining Learning: Personalized Learning

This week in CEP 811, we watched a very thought provoking talk by Richard Culatta from TEDx called “Reimagining Learning.” The video can be viewed here and I would recommend watching it! Culatta covered several different topics, but the one that was most intriguing to me was the idea of personalized learning. He described several schools, one in New York, one in Detroit and one or two others, that used technology to track every student’s individual progress in their content areas and assign them tasks based on their progress. Students spend as much time as necessary on concepts until they demonstrate mastery. I thought that was incredible, so I decided to try and find out more about personalized learning and how technology is used in this way to guide ALL students to mastery.

I found two research articles on this topic, each with a different focus. The first is “A Comparison of Learning Management Systems in a School District: Searching for the Ideal Personalized Integrated Educational System (PIES)” (Yildirim, Reigeluth, Kwon, Kageto and Shao, 2013), and it is exactly what the title implies. The authors worked with a school district to pilot and evaluate different “PIES” in an effort to determine which one best suited their needs. This article detailed the features that should be available in a personalized learning environment and how this differs from the traditional “school” model. The second article that I read is called “The Role of Affective and Motivational Factors in Designing Personalized Learning Environments” (Kim, 2012). In this article the author discusses how previous experiences with failure and frustration can negatively affect students’ attitude, motivation, and performance in online classes. The article focused specifically on college-level remedial math courses, but I believe that these principles transcend all content areas and ages. A large focus of this article was the role of Virtual Change Agents (VCAs), which are “three dimensional, human like, animated characters” (567) that interact with students throughout their online course. They can be used to curb feelings of frustration, failure and other negative emotions by offering encouragement, additional resources or ideas for how students can improve their understanding of course concepts, how/where to seek help, etc. I had never heard of VCAs, so this article was a very interesting read.

Culatta proposed that we need to reimagine learning and use the technologies that we have available to do school differently. In their article, Yildirim (et al, 2013) state that “in the learner-centered paradigm, knowledge is constructed by students through gathering and synthesizing information to solve real world problems.” They also explain that “students are actively involved in the learning process” and that courses are designed so that all students “master learning objectives rather than being forced to move on to the next topic even if they have not yet mastered skills and understandings for the current topic” (722). Culatta referred to this as well, and to the fact that students would be expected to move on from a concept before they have mastered it, to build upon an incomplete or confused knowledge base, he said “I wonder how that’s going to go for them” (Reimagining Learning, 2013). Technology gives us the opportunity to track students’ progress so closely that we can personalize their learning options and opportunities to create a unique experience specifically for them – relevant, interesting and tailored to their preferences as a learner. So why wouldn’t we??? Money, time, resources, it’s overwhelming, etc. All those things are very real, but meanwhile we’re doing our students a disservice and sending them out into the world unprepared.

Kim’s study further demonstrates the benefits of content mastery. There is the obvious, mastery, but also the emotions that students experience when they are successful. Kim states that “cultivating positive emotions and reducing negative emotions can benefit learning processes and outcomes” (565). The reverse is also true – negative emotions (failure, frustration, etc.) have a detrimental effect on learning outcomes. Personalized learning environments allow students to experience continual success, which boosts their confidence and motivates them to continue pursuing their goals and digging deeper into content. The technology that is available to personalize learning and give students a learning experience that is literally tailored to them, through which they will master ALL concepts that they study, is incredible.

In a personalized learning system, all students reach the same goals but they have control over how they get there and how long it takes. This type of system encourages free thinking, innovation and creativity, and also gives students opportunities to spend more time on the topics that interest them. When students enjoy these freedoms and have control over their learning processes, they experience continual success and are motivated and positive about their education. In our world, it is free thinking, creativity and innovation that are going to move us forward as a society. These are the qualities of Makers, and personalized learning cultivates Makers – it allows students to identify their passions, the concepts that come naturally to them, their learning preferences and strengths. They are confident and ready to put their solid educational foundation together with their ability to innovate, create and think critically to MAKE something amazing. So, why don’t we provide all students with these opportunities? This is the way the world is going – what are we waiting for??


Kim, ChanMin. (2012). The role of affective and motivational factors in designing personalized learning environments. Educational Technology, Research and Development 60.4, 563-584. doi: 10.1007/s11423-012-9253-6. Retrieved from Michigan State University:

TEDx. (2013, January 10). Reimagining learning: Richard Culatta at TEDxBeaconStreet [Video File]. Retrieved from

Yildirim, Z., Reigeluth, C. M., Kwon, S., Kageto, Y. & Shao, Z. (2013). A comparison of learning management systems in a school district: searching for the ideal personalized integrated educational system (PIES). Interactive Learning Environments, 22:6, 721-736. doi: 10.1080/10494820.2012.745423. Retrieved from Michigan State University:

Thrifting, Makey Makey and Spanish

I have a confession; I was totally intimidated by the Makey Makey. I didn’t even open the box until a few days ago when it was time to start exploring and figuring out to use it and I had no choice but to dive in. Now that I’m (at least mostly) on the other side of my first prototype, I feel much more confident and have lots of ideas for how I could incorporate the Makey Makey into my classes as a teaching tool. According to Punya Mishra, “The best way to have a good idea is to have lots of ideas” (Teaching Creatively: Teachers as Designers of Technology, Pedagogy and Content), so hopefully I’m on the right track to something innovative and very useful!

In the same video that I referenced above, Mishra discussed the components of creative ideas. They are NEW: Novel (new, surprising, fresh, unusual), Effective (valuable, logical, sensible) and Whole (organic, complex, understandable, well crafted). As I researched, looked at examples and thought about how I could use the Makey Makey in my Spanish and/or U.S. History classes, I tried to keep these adjectives in mind to help me sift through my ideas. At the end of the week, I am proud of what I came up with and excited to improve upon it in the weeks to come as I learn and discover more about the possibilities of the Makey Makey as a teaching and repurposing tool.

As I said, I knew almost nothing about the Makey Makey a few days ago, so I started with the “How to” page on the Makey Makey website. Using that site, along with the printed instructions that came with the Makey Makey, I hooked the Makey Makey up to my computer. I used Google Maps to play around with it and figure out how it worked when hooked up to the computer (i.e. which functions on the Makey Makey corresponded with certain keys/functions on the keyboard). Once I understood how to hook it up and use it, I moved on to looking at examples of how other teachers had used the Makey Makey in their classrooms. I viewed lots of different videos, but the one that mostly inspired my prototype was this video on YouTube (initially found in the Makey Makey gallery). It is called “Makey Makey Prepositions” and appears to be a program that a father designed for his son. The little boy moves his toy to wherever the program instructs and it tells him “good job” when he does it right. If he makes a mistake, it says “try again.” If I could figure how to create a similar program with instructions in Spanish, that would be AWESOME! I am definitely planning to dig deeper into this and find out if this is possible with the resources that I have access to (free on the web) and my VERY basic and minimal knowledge (if that) of computer programming. But if there is a program that I can use to record Spanish audio and set up a simulation type activity similar to this one, the possibilities for teaching/practicing with a tool like that would be endless! And so exciting!!!


Anyway, the first part of our prototyping assignment this week was to do some “thrifting” and look for materials that we could repurpose into classroom/teaching tools using our kits (not everyone chose the Makey Makey). I went to some garage sales but did not make it very far before it started pouring. I already had the idea for this prototype in my mind, and I knew that my kids had some toys in their playroom that I could repurpose for this activity. So I ended up borrowing a Fisher Price Little Person and some Mega Bloks (10 to be exact) to create the board for my activity.

My Prototype and How to Create it on Your Own

In a nutshell, my activity uses the Makey Makey Piano (pictured in screenshot below) as a fun way for students to review and practice location words in Spanish. The game board is connected to the Makey Makey and will play different tones depending on where the “player” is placed.

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These are the steps I followed to set up my activity:

1) To create the board, I used an 8.5″ x 11″ piece of cardstock and divided it into 6 boxes. The left side and center boxes are 3.5″ wide and the right side boxes are 4″ wide. All of the boxes are 4.25″ tall.

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Each section on the game board will represent one location word/phrase in Spanish. You could choose any 6 (six) that you want; the ones I chose are: a la izquierda (to the left), a la derecha (to the right), enfrente de (in front of), detrás de (behind), encima de (on top of) and debajo de (underneath). I made a note card for each phrase in Spanish, which will will be used for the activity.

2) Set up the game board to connect to the Makey Makey. I used folded up pieces of tinfoil and taped them in the formation that is pictured below (left photo). I wrapped the foil over the edge of each box and taped it on the backside of the paper as well, so that the alligator clips would be touching foil on both sides of the paper. The top right box has a different set-up; there is no foil needed there. The photo on the right shows the game board with the blocks on it. In each box, the foil is positioned differently in relation to the blocks.

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3) Select game pieces. I used 10 (ten) Mega Bloks pieces – 9 (nine) single pieces and 1 (one) long, skinny one, and one Fisher Price Little Person. The colors of the blocks don’t matter; I chose the smallest ones so that they would fit easily on the gameboard. The lower right corner location word is “under;” I used 5 (five) Mega Blok pieces to create a bridge (see photo above) but you could use something different for that one, as long as the player can fit underneath it and you’re able to get foil or some other conductive material underneath it as well (player must touch the foil to play the note on the piano). You could also choose something else for the player. Something similar in size to a Little Person would probably work best, but as long as it fits in the spaces on your game board it will work.


4) Set up game pieces.

a) One of the single Mega Bloks will be used in the top right corner of the game board and the set up for that piece is a bit different from the others. You will need a large coin, piece of foil or other conductive material. I used a coin and secured it to the top of the block using scotch tape. There is a bit of a lip over the edge of the block for the alligator clip to attach to. If you use foil or another material, be sure that there is a way to attach the clip to it.

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b) Build the bridge out of Mega Bloks (or whatever you chose for the “under” section of the board).

c) Attach the player to the connector wire: I used two quarters for this. The inside of the player I chose was hollow, so I used scotch tape to attach a quarter to the bottom of it so that there was a solid, flat surface for the wire to go up against. Then, I taped the wire to the second quarter.


Be careful to keep the opposite side of the quarter (the one that does not have a wire) as free of tape as possible; this will help with conductivity. Finally, I pinched the wire between the quarters and used tape to secure the wire/quarter to the player. Again, keep the underside of the quarter (the side that will be in contact with the foil) as free of tape as possible for conductivity. It took a few tries for me to get it secure enough that the quarter stayed attached. In the future, I may try using foil since its lighter.

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Now he’s ready to go!

5) Attach alligator clips to the Makey Makey. You should hook one clip to each of the 4 (four) arrows, SPACE, CLICK and EARTH. At this point, it doesn’t matter which color wire you attach to which place. I chose to attach the white clip to “EARTH” since that one attaches to the player and my player was hooked up to a white connector wire. But it really doesn’t matter as long as you have 7 (seven) wires total, one hooked to each of the places named above on the Makey Makey.

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6) Set up game board.

a) Due to the number of wires going all different directions, I chose to raise my board up a little by placing on a cooling rack (more re-purposing!). The Makey Makey went underneath the rack and the wires ran right up to the board. It worked great! Since the rack was metal (conductive), I put a dish towel between the board and the rack.

b) Set up Mega Bloks on the game board as shown.

c) Store Makey Makey under the rack (or off to the the side if you chose not to use a rack).

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7) Attach alligator clips to game board/player.

a) Now is where you choose which wires connect to which places on the game board. I chose to to keep the arrows consistent with what they represented on the game board and piano screen (left arrow clipped to the “to the left” box (top left), up arrow clipped to “in front of” (center left), right arrow clipped to “to the right” (lower left) and down arrow clipped to “behind” (lower center)); SPACE clipped to “on top of” (top right) and CLICK clipped to “underneath” (lower right). You could clip them however you choose, it will just change which notes they play on the piano. Either way, the alligator clips should be well clipped to the foil in their corresponding squares.

b) Clip the alligator clip that is attached to “EARTH” to the open end of the connector wire that is taped to the player.

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8) You’re almost ready to play! If you haven’t already, write a note card with each Spanish location phrase on it.

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To explain how to play and demonstrate the activity, I made this short video. I think it explains the concept much better than I could typing it out!

I hope the video was helpful in explaining the concept of my activity and how to play it!

Using this and Similar Activities in the Classroom

This activity would fit well into my curriculum in Spanish I and II, as a way to practice, review or even introduce location words in Spanish. As I mentioned, this is my first prototype. Ideally, I would like to find a program that will allow me to record Spanish directives for students to follow. For example, the program would say “a la derecha” and the student would place the player on the foil to the right of the block. It would also tell them if they were correct or not (in Spanish). I think that would make the connection and purpose of the computer program a little clearer. If it is possible to do this, then the opportunities for using the Makey Makey to teach and/or review concepts in Spanish and many other content areas are endless. I could use this template to give students practice with lots of different concepts – colors, directions, counting, following instructions in Spanish. My mental list is long and I am sure it will be further refined as I become more comfortable using the Makey Makey. I already have some ideas for how I can improve/expand upon this template, even if I don’t have the option of recording audio.

Overall, I am very pleased with my first Makey Makey prototype and I am excited to continue exploring how  I can use this tool to engage students in my Spanish classes.


As with any new program/technology, there is a learning curve for using the Makey Makey. I still have much to learn, but building this prototype definitely forced me to troubleshoot! I think my poor husband taped 12 different videos for me before we got one where the player stayed attached to his wire (it needed to be taped more securely) and all of the tones worked quickly (on the first try) for the video (there was a bit of tape on the bottom of the player that interfered some with his conductivity). In retrospect, foil probably would have worked better for his base since it’s lighter.

Value of Multimodal Elements

I don’t know about you, but I think the photos and video were tremendously helpful in explaining how to set up and use my prototype. Some things are difficult to explain, but if you can see them, they make sense. I actually went back and took more pictures of my set-up because I thought they added so much to my instructions. I looked at a lot of examples and videos, and after many of them I was left thinking, “that’s great, and it looked really cool, but I have NO CLUE how to create something like that myself.” Some instructions would have been really helpful! So I tried to be as detailed as possible in my explanations and use the pictures and videos to demonstrate. In many cases, I was glad I didn’t have to think of an easy-to-follow way to explain something complicated; I could just say “see picture below.”

Thank you for reading, and good luck with your “Maker” endeavors!


Kehoe, Eric. (2014, January 6). Makey Makey prepositions [Video File]. Retrieved from

Koehler, Matthew J. & Mishra, Punya. (2012, March 31). Teaching creatively: Teachers as designers of technology, content and pedagogy [Video File]. Retrieved from

JoyLabz LLC. (2015). Makey Makey quick start guide.