Maker Experiment #3

On Making, McGyver and McLuhan (sort of)

After deeply engaging with Maker Education for the past few weeks, I am sure that the Maker ethos will continue to inform and influence my work with others. How could it not? I have been a Maker for as long as I can remember.

As a very young boy of four or five, I recall gathering shoeboxes and used light bulbs, knobs and dials and other parts off broken toys and electronics, and combining them into “inventions” which were powered only by my imagination. The urge to create something new from something old was a powerful one even at such an early age. Flash forward 50 years, and I am a charter subscriber to Make Magazine and still creating things, often out of recycled materials. So, clearly, I have been a Maker since long before I started this class. But I have no doubt my past continues to influence and inform my work with other educators. Likewise, as I mentioned in an earlier post, the motto of Renew-Reuse-Recycle is one my family and I have taken personally for quite some time. How could it not bleed over into my professional life?

Still and all, just as the week three lessons brought learning theories studied in undergrad back to the forefront of my consciousness, so too did the rest of the course cause me to take a fresh look at Making and its influence on my practice.

Just one question...

Just one question…

For me, CEP811 was a reminder that creative solutions to problems are not always as McGyver-like as defusing a bomb using duct tape and a swiss army knife. More likely they take the form of a database report or a well laid out newsletter or a chart in a spreadsheet. But just sometimes they might include an empty tuna can or a plastic gelato container. While not as exciting as the fictional McGyver’s solutions, they are certainly more functional and useful in the real world.

As I continue to assist others in the integration of technology into their own work, be it with students, teachers, administrators or even parents, my measure of success will remain as it always has: does the tech make things easier? Does it clarify or enlighten? Does it allow the user to do or be something more than before? If, in a particular situation, recommending a Maker philosophy satisfies one or more of these measures, I will definitely suggest it. Considering, more specifically, the littleBits kit I both studied and played with, I’m fairly certain it will be part of some future recommendation, most likely at the elementary level. Both the ease of use of the littleBits as well as their ability to draw users in, their inherent playfulness and coolness, are great tools to get kids interested in creating technology solutions quickly and becoming inventors in their own right. At root, technology is really nothing more than a tool, much like a pencil, albeit a rather sophisticated one. As a quote often mis-attributed to Marshall McLuhan states, “We shape our tools, and thereafter they shape us” (Culkin, 1967, p.70). Bringing littleBits into the lives of elementary students seems like a wonderful way to shape some of those young minds.

Regarding my own growth and work in CEP811, I am relatively satisfied. I certainly appreciated the focus in weeks four, five and six on instructional design, experience design and universal design for learning. Those three weeks in particular gave me a welcome new lens (or three) through which I could view my work as a technology coach. I guess if I had a regret, it would be that we did not complete more hands-on Maker projects like week two. I believe a course designed around such work, while definitely less academic than what I accomplished in CEP811, would add a wealth of great ideas and tools to my practice. In fact, “more hands-on, in general” would have to be my best recommendation for improving a course titled “Adapting Innovative Technology to Education.”


Bajec, R. (Photographer). (2008). Graffiti text [Photo], Retrieved October 30, 2013, from:

Culkin, J. M. (1967). A schoolman’s guide to Marshall McLuhan. The Saturday Review, 50 (11). Retrieved from


On Choosing My Own Adventure

This week in CEP811 I explored the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) and was asked to go on a sort of “choose your own adventure in SoTL” by creating an annotated bibliography of five scholarly resources that relate directly to my teaching practice and interests. Further, I was requested to engage MSU’s Library Support resources in my search for scholarly readings, and that’s where the real adventure began for me.

Beginning with the question, “How do I find research on ‘tools that enable or enhance cross cultural collaboration in Project Based Learning’?” I set out on my journey. One of my favorite features of MSU’s library online is the Ask a Librarian link under the Contact menu. Specifically, I chose the 24/7 research help via web chat. This allowed me to chat with a librarian from MSU (or a partnering institution) to get immediate 1:1 assistance with my research. Unfortunately, the first librarian I connected with suggested things I had already tried and after only 15 minutes had to leave the chat session to cover the reference desk. However, connecting up a short time later, I found another librarian who suggested that the research I was seeking might be either too new or too specific to yield the research I was seeking. Together we went through several variations on search terms and verified results with one another. Ultimately, she suggested I contact Jill Morningstar, the education subject specialist at MSU’s library.

Leaving little to chance, I both called Jill (left a message) and sent her a follow-up email. She responded within a couple hours, and we started a rather in depth conversation by email about what I was trying to accomplish. One telling aspect that Jill pointed out was that a common problem among ed tech students is that what we want to study is current and popular and may not have been published or researched yet. She specifically stated, “The scholarly communications cycle is unfortunately about a year behind.”

Relieved that I was not doing it completely wrong, I thanked Jill for her assistance and started exploring the more general theme of technology coaching, my career path following the completion of my MAET. With that (and some great info on PBL), in only a few short hours I was able to select five interesting scholarly resources for inclusion in my Annotated Bibliography.

Two of the entries in my bibliography will be useful for a project I am working on in CEP812 on Project Based Learning. The other three provide some excellent research on the utility and importance of technology coaches. I intend to use them in discussions about why the work I do is critical to a successful school.

Rethinking Teaching in the 21st Century

Our think tank in CEP812 has been reexamining just what it means to be a teacher in the 21st century. More specifically, we have been exploring options for helping students gain the skills necessary to succeed in this new, globally-networked millennium. It is a wicked problem to be sure with multiple stakeholders potentially pulling in opposite directions. But we believe we have found, as they might describe it in the movie, “Argo,” the “best-worst solution” to this most wicked problem. You can learn more about our proposal here.

As ever, comments are both welcome and encouraged.

Can You Tell Me How to Get…?

I remember watching Sesame Street with my children many years ago and hearing Gordon say that “Asking questions is a good way of finding things out.” To this day, I still echo his words on a regular basis with my kids, friends, family and sometimes even with people I may have just met. Knowing the right questions to ask (and, I suppose, actually asking them), I believe, is a sign of wisdom. This week in CEP812 I learned a little more about asking the right questions and finding some things out when I surveyed teachers at the Cayman International School on the topic of Educational Technology. To find out more about what I learned, please read my Summary Report. I gathered the results of the survey in an info-graphic you may also be interested in viewing.

If you are an educator, I would love to have your input on the survey. It will be open through October 31, 2013. It is only ten questions long and can be completed rather quickly. And, if you have any questions of your own, please feel free to ask them in the comments.

Maker Experiment #2 (ME#1 Revisited UDL style)

This week in CEP811, we were asked to revisit Maker Experiment #1 looking at aspects of Universal Design for Learning that were either present in the plan or could be added to enhance the plan. I have included UDL Guideline references in green for aspects I felt already employed UDL. Likewise, I used red for additions to enhance the universality of the plan’s learning design. (Note: All UDL Guideline reference numbers are clickable links to specific guideline explanations.)

My guiding question for this activity is: how can students use technology to explore randomness vs. pattern in abstract art production? (4.2)

Activity (Grade level: 4-5)

1.) In an art class where students have been exploring the creation of abstract art and how various artists achieved their results, focus a discussion on the topic of randomness vs. pattern starting with what students think the words mean and progressing through dictionary and practical definitions of each. (2.1)

2.) Display several images of abstract art via a large format (TV, overhead, doc cam, etc.) as well as in books and on posters (1.1) Some suggestions include paintings by Jackson Pollock, Wassily Kandinsky, Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko, Helen Frankenthaler, Paul Klee, Piet Mondrian and Robert Delaunay as well as Native American and Tibetan Sand Painting. Have the students identify randomness and pattern in them. Elicit from students suggestions of art they may know with either pattern or randomness, have them search for images on the internet and display same. (3.1)

3.) Lead a discussion about techniques that were (or could have been) used to achieve the randomness or the pattern. (3.2)

4.) Play the first 3:55 from the YouTube video “Robot Art: Harvey Moon’s Drawing Machines.” Activate closed captioning while playing. Offer SAP for ESL students. (1.2, 2.4)

5.) Have students identify and discuss Harvey Moon’s techniques for creating randomness and pattern as seen in the video.

6.) Introduce the littleBits to the class. Allow approximately 15 minutes for pure introductory experimentation.

7.) Challenge the students to combine the littleBits with available artists’ supplies (pencils, pens, markers, crayons, pastels, charcoal, paints, ink, styrofoam, sponges, toothbrushes, paintbrushes and various other objects that might be used as brushes) to create an “artbot” capable of creating either randomness or pattern on their canvases. An extra challenge is to build an “artbot” that can do both. (8.2)

8.) Bring the class back together to share their creations with one another and discuss the challenges (and their solutions) of working with the littleBits as well as working with the artists’ tools to create both randomness and pattern. (6.2, 6.4, 8.1, 8.2, 8.3, 8.4) Contrast the difficulty of creating randomness vs difficulty of creating pattern; compare with the time and effort Harvey Moon puts in. (6.1)

9.) Offer an opportunity for students to display their work in a public space. (7.1, 7.2)

By viewing my lesson plan through UDL glasses as it were, I was able to recognize several places where my plan already anticipated a universal design. For example, Step 8 allows students to show and explain their work (6.2), provides formative feedback via peer discussion (6.4), and provides several options for sustaining effort (8.1-8.4). Similarly, the discussion in Step 3 is important for highlighting critical features (3.2) of pattern and randomness in the identification of how each comes about. But the UDL feature I like most about this lesson is the entire lesson itself. By creating artbots, students who might otherwise perceive themselves as “bad at art” because they may not have the dexterity to draw or paint like some others, may come to recognize that they are artists, that they are creators. It is as though the entire lesson is a kind of assistive technology for these students. (4.2) And I would hope it might inspire them to continue to create.

I did add quite a few features to enhance the UDL of this lesson as well, though space constraints prevent me from detailing them all. But I would have to say my favorite is Step 9. By adding an option for public display of their creations, student choice and autonomy are enhanced (7.1) and the lesson takes on an added relevance in the real world. (7.2) By making the product of this lesson authentic, the lesson becomes better for everyone. And I believe that is the goal of Universal Design for Learning.


Burgam, K. J. (2013). Maker experiment #1. Retrieved October 18, 2013, from

UDL guidelines examples. (n.d.). Retrieved October 17, 2013, from

Wakefield, M. A. (2011) Universal Design for Learning Guidelines version 2.0. Retrieved October 15, 2013, from

Design Experiment #1 (Experience Design)

The space I have chosen to explore “with 21st-century eyes” is the computer lab at the Cayman International School. The lab is adjacent to the school’s Library, and it is located on the second floor above the Administration wing in the northwest corner of the school.

The Technology Lab is actually 2 labs: the primary 42‘ x 23’ area where 20 desktop computers are located and another 25’ x 18’ area with 18 laptop computers. The main lab itself was just restructured last year. The previous arrangement in the larger lab had tables lined up in several short rows all facing the “front” (short end) of the room where a large SmartBoard was placed. The current arrangement resets the old configuration into two long rows of desktops all facing away from the SmartBoard (now centered on the long side wall), thereby forcing students to turn away from their screens when observing interaction on the SmartBoard and allowing an instructor a clear view of student screens even while at the new “front” of the room. While the new arrangement excels as a practical improvement for classroom management in a traditional lecture style environment, it still has some way to go before it could be considered a truly 21st-century learning space.

One key aspect missing from the lab are smaller spaces to invite and Southencourage collaborative work. By swapping several of the desktop computers with laptops from the second lab area one could free up some of the space in the larger area. Then by regrouping some of the tables and chairs into smaller group configurations, students could work together on projects while still using Teacher View Leftseparate devices. Likewise, by adding some comfortable seating and placing the SmartTables in prominent positions, more collaborative creative spaces could be established. Finally, moving the large plasma screen to the far end of the room and adding a few comfortable chairs would create an excellent second small group Northviewing location while still maintaining the large group view available via the central SmartBoard.

EastThis move away from a didactic lecture model and toward a collaborative workspace model is based in part on experience design. It is important to plan lessons around not just what will be learned but how that learning will occur. As Sir Kenneth Robinson notes in his speech on changing education paradigms, “Most great learning happens in groups. Collaboration is the stuff of growth.” (RSA, 2010, 10:45-10:48) By recognizing that understanding and meaning are developed in a social context, that the experience of making Teacher View Straightmeaning is shared with others in society, we acknowledge the importance of collaborative learning. Likewise, Howard Gardner’s ideas on Multiple Intelligences suggest that students benefit from a variety of ways to approach an idea. (O’Donnell, 2010, ch.2 #14) Shifting the lab from a lecture based design to a small group collaborative design Westfacilitates just such variety.

The primary resources for restructuring the lab are already present: desktops, laptops, tables, chairs, SmartBoards, SmartTables, and large format TV. Some additional “comfortable seating” would need to be purchased, and some additional network drops would be required to allow for the new configuration. However, the overall physical cost of making the change should be under $3000.


Perhaps the greatest hurdle to overcome would be bringing all of the stakeholders on board with the change. Certainly school board and administration would be obvious stakeholders. Likewise, parent and student buy-in would create substantial momentum for a successful transition. However, teacher attitudes toward the shift might end up being the single most significant factor. Without teacher willingness to buy into a collaborative, project-based curriculum, the change would end up being little more than window dressing. And critical to developing that willingness is effective professional development for the teaching staff. Here the cost is much more difficult to predict as it would be based on both the current skill level of the staff and the quality of the expert brought in for training. This could range anywhere from $2500 to more than $10,000.

Finally, regarding timing, the staff development training would need to happen first so teachers are ready once new network drops are in place and the furniture and technology can be moved.


Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce. (2010, October 14). RSA animate – Changing paradigms [Video file]. Retrieved from

O’Donnell Wicklund Pigozzi and Peterson, Architects Inc., VS Furniture., & Bruce Mau Design. (2010). The third teacher: 79 ways you can use design to transform teaching & learning. New York: Abrams.

If you can’t say something nice…

This week in Applying Educational Technology To Practice (CEP 812), we were asked to examine and expand our “information diets.” Specifically, the instructions were to write about how three new additions to my information diet have pushed my thinking in a new way. After a great deal of exploring, I eventually settled on websites for the Conservative Teachers of America, the Heartland Institute, and the Heritage Foundation.

image by kjburgam (CC licensed non-commercial, share-alike)

image by kjburgam (CC licensed non-commercial, share-alike)

From the start, I found a great deal of reinforcement for why I tend to avoid traveling in conservative circles on the web. From a story about parents upset at their children’s middle school for having them watch a video of celebrities pledging to support the President and asking students to do the same to a story highlighting the injustice of a man arrested for disruption of a school board meeting addressing questions about the Common Core in Maryland, I encountered what I can best describe as a general sense of outrage in full bloom. Moreover, the tone taken in many of the articles I read was one of snide sarcasm. I often found myself unwilling to even consider the writers’ viewpoints strictly based on the snarky attitude. But, for the sake of the assignment, I had to soldier on.

At this point, I asked myself if conservatives reading from my “information staples” might experience similar feelings. So I went to some of my standard sources for news such as the New York Times, New Republic magazine and National Public Radio. I understand some people might think that as a lifelong liberal* I would have difficulty recognizing bias in the media I frequent. But, even if that were the case, I felt as though I should at least be able to identify snark, be it from the left or from the right.

Selecting education stories from each outlet (NYT, TNR, NPR), I looked for sarcastic writing or even writing expressing feelings of indignation toward those holding differing opinions. But I did not find any. Now, I certainly do not claim this to be a scientific examination of the evidence. I recognize it as nothing more than my experience during this particular assignment. And, to be fair, I was able to locate some liberal websites that included snarky comments in their reporting on education topics (e.g., Jezebel). They just were not websites that I would consider as staples in my information diet (which, upon reflection, is likely due to the level of snark present in them.) But, to address the ultimate question of the assignment, I would have to say that varying my info diet has, at the very least, brought to the forefront of my consciousness a heightened awareness of snarky attitudes in the media. I am certain that my snark detection system will stay on high-alert for the foreseeable future.  And that’s not a bad thing.

* Actually, to be completely honest, I did vote for Nixon in 1968. But, in my defense, I was only 10 at the time, and it was in a schoolroom version of the national election that was taking place that year. Plus, I did so because in fifth grade I thought elections were about being on the winning side as opposed to standing up for what one truly believed in.


Baker, K. J. M. (2013, September 26). Right-wingers rail against Wisconsin’s ‘masturbation ed policy’. Retrieved from

Caplan-Bricker, N. (2013, September 5). New evidence: There is no science education crisis. The New Republic. Retrieved from

Demby, G. (2013, October 10). Recent findings question state support of black colleges.  National Public Radio. Retrieved from

Howerton, J. (2013, September 20). ‘Is this America?’: Parent ‘manhandled’, arrested while speaking out against common core at public forum [Blog post]. Retrieved from

Seelye, K. & Bidgood, J. (2013, October 9). Boston school-bus drivers return to work amid uncertainty. The New York Times. Retrieved from

snark. 2013. Retrieved October 8, 2013, from

Urbanski, D. (2013, September 29). ‘A little 1940s Germany’: Parents livid after middle schoolers watch video of celebrities who ‘pledge’ support for Obama — and ask viewers to do likewise [Blog post]. Retrieved from