Monthly Archives: November 2014

Rationale for Engineering for Educators Unit

Some of the learning activities for this unit have already been field-tested in an online environment, some have been attempted in a face-to-face classroom with a different audience, and some are completely new.   But all of the activities have been developed or refined with  very  specific audience, delivery medium, and  learning objectives in mind.    I’ll touch on  each of the activities by learning objective below.

Learning Objective 1. Identify and understand the components of the engineering design cycle (EDC)

This learning objective is likely the most straight-forward and content-based of the three objectives, and also the one that could be the most dry.   The focus is on lower-level cognitive activities (as categorized by Bloom’s taxonomy).   My intention is to have students experience the engineering design cycle through an active-learning exercise, taking the activity to the level of creation, the highest level in Bloom’s taxonomy.   The challenge will be to do this through a hands-on activity in an online setting.

I’ve chosen to facilitate this design activity in a synchronous setting so that content delivery is real-time, and the experience most closely resembles what they would likely do in their classroom.   After presenting some basic content through 15 minutes or so of lecture with PowerPoint visuals, I’ll present the tower-building challenge and the scoring equation.   Then, students will have 30 minutes of time to build their towers using the kit I mailed to them previously (including 25 plastic drinking straws, 1 roll of scotch tape, and 20 marbles).   The session is quiet during this time as students work independently at their individual locations, but I am there in case there are questions.   The timing of the activity is important: real engineering projects have deadlines.   It would be nice to have all year to complete the project, but that is not how things work.   The tower designs would be very different depending on whether they had 10 minutes, 30 minutes, or 2 days to complete the project. The actual time constraint is not as important as the fact that there is a time constraint.

After the 30 minutes, we’ll discuss the process of loading the towers to failure, and then allow some time for them to load and document the failures.   Next, we calculate scores and discuss the scoring equation which might look something like this:

SCORE = (S)*(H-7)^L

where S = # unused straws, H = height of tower (inches), and L = load supported (# marbles)

The equation has “hidden” criteria built in (if you use all of the straws, your score will be zero!) Discussion of the mathematical content, the components of the EDC, and how this might be adjusted for different ages and used with groups of 2-4 students in a classroom will follow.

The assignment for this section, a reflective blog post documenting their tower, allows them to not only to reflect on the experience, but also to practice technical writing and presentation skills using the engineering vocabulary and concepts  presented in class.

Learning Objective 2: Apply the engineering design cycle to create active learning opportunities in their classrooms that are age-appropriate, engaging, linked to content knowledge, and that address state and national standards

For this learning objective, teachers will apply their new knowledge and experience using   readily available,  field-tested engineering  curriculum.   By exploring the websites provided, teachers can search a wide variety of projects to find material appropriate to the age group and content area of their classroom.   The initial blog post assignment allows teachers time to explore the options and plan for implementation, collaborating with their cohort.

Actual implementation of an engineering lesson in the classroom will  require some flexibility on the part of the instructor.   Logistically, it may be difficult for teachers to complete this during a scheduled one-week time period, since set lesson plans  or testing may pose challenges to that timing.   Therefore, the  assignment should be  described early on, and then given with 2-3  weeks allowed for actual implementation.    Afterschool  activities could provide an alternate venue  for teachers to implement the activities.   But it is important for  the  teachers to actually teach the lesson(s) to gain that first hand experience.   Collaboration with the cohort through a synchronous session will  allow teachers to share  their experiences – what worked, what didn’t, and theories about why and what to do differently next time.    Peers and the instructor  will likely provide distinctly  different types of feedback, ideally  resulting in a robust,  educative assessment of the activity.  A reflective essay posted to the blog after the group discussion will provide an opportunity for  individual metacognition.

Learning Objective 3: Understand the engineer’s role in society, and inspire a desire in students to use engineering to solve problems that matter to people.

This last objective is perhaps the most idealistic and difficult to assess.   However, successful mastery of this objective has the potential to provide the most benefit.   This assignment will come near the end of the semester, after teachers have  gained familiarity with the process and implementation of engineering  design.    Additional content is provided via websites and selected videos and readings that present very compelling, specific problems that  face society such as providing clean water throughout the world, making solar energy more efficient,  and dealing with  the growing garbage accumulation in India.  Some of the selected content will describe engineering solutions to these problems.   Reflecting on these  readings, the teachers will find and research a problem  that is meaningful to them.    Teachers will create a  Thinglink to describe the problem, discuss the engineer and society’s roles in the solution, and pose a specific engineering challenge.   The Thinglinks will be shared on the blog with collaboration from peers encouraged (as part of their grade), and a final synchronous session will provide a forum for discussion of the problems and how those might be incorporated into a classroom. While this activity may fall short of actually requiring teachers to “inspire” students in a way that is readily assessable, it is designed to inspire the teachers themselves, who will then hopefully carry this into their classrooms.   A survey of  the teachers, performed 1-2 years after the completion of this course, could provide a longitudinal assessment of this objective.

Through all of the activities outlined above, students will have the opportunity  to experience what I want them to learn through a variety of both passive and active learning activities. Collaboration with their cohort as well as the instructor will provide multi-faceted feedback.   At the conclusion of the course, I hope that teachers will have the resources and motivation to discuss and implement engineering activities in their classrooms.

Engineering for Educators – Final Curriculum Plan

Unit 4: The Engineering Design Cycle

The goal of this unit will be to provide an overview of the engineering design cycle that will allow teachers to use authentic engineering problems in their classrooms, and to be able to adapt the methods to their particular age group and setting.

Context: This unit will follow introductory units focused on perceptions and misconceptions of engineers, academic motivation for inclusion of engineering in the K12 classroom, real world problem solving skills, and model-eliciting activities. The audience will be in-service K-12 teachers pursuing a Master’s Degree in STEM Education, but may also include pre-service teachers.  The course will be delivered online through BlackBoard Collaborate, and supported by a course blog.   Students will have some level of math and science proficiency, but it will be highly varied.

Learning Objective 1. Identify and understand the components of the engineering design cycle (EDC)

Learning Activities and Assessments:

    1. Students will learn about the EDC components by watching a narrated PowerPoint lecture on the EDC (content similar to
    2. Students will post reflections to the blog about the components of the EDC, comparing them to other processes (such as composing an essay, solving ethical problems, developing a hypothesis). Feedback will be provided by peers and instructors.
    3. Synchronous Collaborate session (2 hours): Tower of Straws. Background content on basic tower design will be provided by the instructor, followed by a hands-on tower building challenge. Students will use their tower building kits (previously mailed to each student) to construct a tower with an equation given (with “hidden’, mathematical criteria) to calculate their scores. Students will have 30 minutes to build their towers, and will document the towers by photographs. At the end of the time, students will post pictures on their towers during the Collaborate session. Then, students will be instructed to load the towers with marbles, and document this by video. Towers should be loaded until failure, with students documenting the type of failure. Group discussion about implications of the scoring equation (which variables were most important in getting the highest score? How would their process change if they were trying to achieve the lowest score?). This demonstrates one technique for embedding arithmetic and algebra content (order of operations, fractions, exponents, formulas) into the activity.
    4. Students will post photos and videos of their towers to the blog, and will document their score, failure mode of the tower, and what they would do differently next time. Feedback provided by peers and instructor.

Learning Objective 2: Apply the engineering design cycle to create active learning opportunities in their classrooms that are age-appropriate, engaging, linked to content knowledge, and that address state and national standards

  1. Students will review available resources for K12 engineering curriculum (,, etc.) , along with recent literature on a framework for evaluating engineering projects in the classroom (Guzey, S., Tank, K., Hui-Hui, W., Roehrig, G., & Moore, T. (2014). A High-Quality Professional Development for Teachers of Grades 3-6 for Implementing Engineering into Classrooms. School Science & Mathematics, 114(3), 139-149.)
  2. Students will identify two EDC activities that would be age and content-appropriate for their classrooms, describe each on the course blog, and reflect on: (a) how they would adapt the activities for their classrooms, (b) what challenges they would anticipate (are materials easy to come by? would the activities work in the timeframe they have available?), (c) what benefits they anticipate, and (d) what standards the activity would address.  Students will receive feedback from peers and instructor.
  3. Students will choose one of the activities to implement in their classroom. Students will document the successes and challenges of their experience in a 10 minute presentation to be shared during a synchronous session.
  4. On the course blog, the teachers will reflect on their collective experience — outlining best practices for implementing future engineering projects in their classrooms.

Learning Objective 3: Understand the engineer’s role in society, and inspire a desire in students to use engineering to solve problems that matter to people.

    1. Students will review the Grand Challenges for Engineering website ( and selected link and videos related to engineering and society such as and
    2. Students will create a Thinglink using an image that depicts a problem or challenge facing society. Ideally, the problem will have a local connection and will be appealing to students in K12. The Thinglink image should have embedded video, text, website, and/or audio content that describes the problem, defines both the engineer’s and society’s role in developing and implementing a solution to the problem, and very clearly poses a specific engineering challenge.
    3. A synchronous Collaborate session (1 hour) will be held to facilitate discussion of this unit.


6.1 tool survey — Bob

So, I didn’t read the assignment closely enough to understand the difference between the two tool assignments — my bad.  Hence, this is some makeup work.

I found, JoyTunes, and more specifically their apps, PianoMeastro and Piano Dust Buster.  Since I have slightly more musical aptitude than a sack of potatoes but, a great fondness for music these apps intrigued me.  I watched a couple of their promotional videos and particularly resonated with the “gamification” of music practice.  The adults mentioned the shortened attention span of young people these days.  Yet the kids recounted practicing for perfections as a result of using the apps.  Apparently,  PianoMeastro can be used rather like an LMS where the teacher can add assignments for particular students and push these out between classes.  I suspect that additional research might show me a number of companies and a number of instruments in this market niche — none-the-less thought this was really cool.  Easy to see applications in home or enrichment schooling on a families tablet or, in school, or the traditional instrument instruction — many of the adults in these promotional videos were introduced as “piano teacher” for example.  I’ll have to look around for an app that teaches blues guitar — maybe Jack White has been recruited for the voice acting .

On far other end of the spectrum is zSpace.  Here we are talking high powered software, and big school districts, big money.  This is an immersive 3D simulation using “pens” and glasses.  All the teachers and students are smiling and fascinated by what they are interacting with.   One video describes “heart dissection”.  I suspect it doesn’t come with senso-rama so no stink of formalin, nor any real body fluids, ohh, like blood.  There was no cutting of the sternum and spreading of the rib cage….  Maybe they save that for the version for medical schools.  The expense, and the hyper-real sanitary and unreality of it are really off putting for me.  The heart I saw in the video looked like a drawing — I didn’t see any real plaque in the veins or fatty buildups.  It is cool and sexy technology and probably a very interesting use and application.  But it troubled me too.

After a lot of poking around I was able to find  Tynker.

The website offers modules for home, for school and for partners (enrichment programs). The point is that coding is a literacy that we all, but particularly our children need to learn.  The coding here is embedded in interfaces that are a lot more pleasing and interactive then the lines of basic we had to write in the bad old days.  The product seems to be aimed at kids elementary and middle school age.   Each module builds on the previous, and there are several different  modules, each costing $50.  It appears that they are moving into coding for mobile devices too.   I suspect that the company is building a community as well though exactly how that works is a little unclear to me.  The have a page called the “hour of code” which they are participating in and supporting it seems to be an intentional effort — kinda cool.

Updated: Thinglink, Quizlet, and Adobe Presenter

Tool Reviews – Lori Sowa


Thinglink describes itself as the “leading platform for creating interactive images and videos for web, social, advertising, and educational channels.”   Basically, you can take an image (either your own or from the web) and add icons that link to text, websites, other images, audio, and/or video when you click on them.   Despite the awkwardness of its name, I really like this tool.   With due dates and obligations stacked a mile high, this was the project I most wanted to tackle.

The first step (as always) is to create a login.   The site is free to use unless you want to remove the thinglink logo and replace it with your own.   Once you’ve established a profile, you can follow, track views, comment, etc.   There’s a large library of thinglinks to browse. I found an interesting thinglink that describes bacteria and included links to short videos, websites, etc. You could have easily spent an hour exploring all of the content associated with the figure.   As a tool to deliver content – I wonder how likely the student would be to take notes.

One concern about thinglink is the lack of order… students can put things together without a logical progression in mind, and perhaps that could lead to less cohesive project.   Teachers could specify what needs to be included to scaffold this if need be, and the icons can be numbered to indicate order. Crafting a thoughtful, well organized report is an important skill.   This forum, while allowing for visual appeal and inclusion of additional media types, may not address that particular learning objective.   But the tool is easy-to-use, fun and engaging, allows for creativity, and has many educational possibilities, so I would consider it a tool in my pedagogical toolbox.

Here’s my quick prototype:

First Ice 2014


Perhaps the most interesting part of this webtool is the story of its origin.   The tool was created by a then 16-year old student faced with the daunting task of memorizing 111 names of animals (in French).   A little over a year later, he refined his code and published the site.   While I’m not a big fan of memorization and don’t have much use for flashcards in my courses (although algebra vocabulary might be useful for some students), I can’t help but be proud of the kid who created this simple yet robust, easy-to-use tool.   And there are certainly times in life when we just have to memorize something – be it organic synthesis reactions, times tables, or French animal names.

Quizlet is a memorization tool.   It is basically a way to create online flashcards (called “sets”) with some nifty “games” that you can play with the content, such as fill in the blank, matching, a drag-and-drop game where you match the term to the definition.   There is an option to add images, but you have to pay $25 for that (we already figured out the kid who developed it wasn’t stupid).   You can use automatically-generated definitions or create your own.   To create a set, data can be entered by hand, imported from a file, or copied and pasted from another application.

If you are creative, you could expand from the term/definition standard of flashcards and use this site in additional ways.   I added some algebra equations with the associated solutions.   Had images been an option, I could have had an equation as the term, and the graph of that equation as the solution – creating a set of equations to correctly match with the graphs. Scientific names of animals associated with their images would be another potential application.   But in the end – there’s always one right answer with this tool, since each “term” is associated with only one “definition”.

Teachers can create a class, add sets, and then track student progress as well as collect data (who studied, when, and how often).   This option was not available with a free account.   If you plan to use this as an instructor, it will require the $25 fee to be a usable tool. For my current teaching purposes, I am not likely to use this tool (although I may use it as an example in a computer programming class).   But it would useful in the right setting.

I created a class, and attempted to add my algebra set to it, but was unable to do so.   I’m going to blame this one my extremely slow, temporary computer that I’ve been using since my regular laptop has been on the fritz for the past few weeks.   (Update: I was able to add the set!) My class is located here:

Camtasia: ( I had to abort efforts to review Camtasia due to my inability to download the software.   Instead, I chose to review Adobe Presenter

Adobe Presenter:

Adobe Presenter comes as an add-in to PowerPoint. I was able to add audio narration and interactive quiz questions to a slideshow I had already created.   There is also a feature to create video from your computer’s webcam. I had planned on sharing the presentation here, but another application (Adobe Connect) is required to share the presentation outside of your own computer.

Here are a couple of screenshots of the presentation playing from my computer. I was able to narrate slides in a user-friendly format, clicking through animations and advancing slides while talking, pausing and restarting at will.   The audio files are editable, and are segmented by slide which makes it easy to go back and change something if you stumble on your words (as I did).

presenter screen shot 1

presenter screen shot 2

The second screenshot shows a quiz I was able to make and include in my presentation.   This is a really nice feature of Presenter, allowing (and if you click the right buttons, requiring) students to test their knowledge along the way and breaking up the monotony of a pre-recorded lecture.   You can create multiple choice, matching, short answer, true-false questions, and even have the ability to add surveys with Likert-scale questions.   There is a way for teachers to see students’ time in the lecture and quiz responses – so you could actually hold students accountable for watching/engaging in the material – and see where the misunderstandings are.   You can build in hints and even link to websites with more information about a topic depending on the student answers provided (although I was not able to make this feature work). It would take a bit of time to explore all of the possibilities and craft your quizzes, but would be well worth it for the end-product you can achieve.

The product of this software is a very professional presentation that is searchable and does not require specific applications (not even PowerPoint) for the end-user.   Although, it is a Flash file, so I’m not sure it would work on an iPad.   It is a good tool for e-Learning, but is limited to PowerPoint as the platform.   Despite the groans about “death by PowerPoint”, I still find PowerPoint to be a flexible, robust tool, and as with anything – it’s all in how you use it.   Based upon this trial, I’d like to investigate Adobe Connect for sharing capabilities (and Adobe Captivate, which I think is similar) to create online lecture content.   Revisiting Camtasia – for applications where you want to record your screen for things other than PowerPoint (for say, recording MATLAB programming examples in real time) – Camtasia sounds like the way to go.

Tools of the Trade, An Initial Look

Weekly Writing 10 – Lori Sowa

For an online pedagogy course, I thought we’d jump into tools fairly early on.   However, it is refreshing to wait until this stage, after exploring course design, objectives, and assignments, to look at tools with this perspective in mind.   I prefer to encounter a need, and then find the right tool for the job rather than finding a cool tool and trying to figure out how to use it.   Although, it is certainly possible that a new tool can provide inspiration for a unique way to achieve a learning objective.

In an online course, the method of delivery and interaction becomes more scripted.   I truly enjoy walking into a classroom with a general idea in mind, and having the course of the class period take a sharp turn based upon student needs and interests.   I’ve been teaching long enough now that I can pull this off (in certain situations), and chalk and a chalkboard are the only tools I need.   I have not mastered this in the online classroom.   Perhaps with time, experience, and the right tools I could achieve that level of flexibility in an online classroom as well.   I suppose a better, interactive white board than what I’ve found in Blackboard would go a long way to achieve this goal, at least for synchronous sessions.   Perhaps the answer is as simple as an external writing pad such as this.

Many of the tools that I initially think of as student project tools – such as Thinglink – can actually be used by instructors to present content.   Video lectures, especially those with interactive features, are useful, but expanding our horizons as instructors to think about creating content through various means that students will engage with in an active way may produce better learning outcomes.

In the near future I’ll be reviewing Thinglink, Camtasia, and Quizlet.   Thinglink is a tool for adding content to an image – text, website links, or video.   Camtasia is a screen capture tool.   Quizlet is a simple quiz-making application.   Perhaps it says something about these particular applications and the type of learning they support (active, passive, and lower-level Bloom’s taxonomy, respectively) that I’m most looking forward to exploring Thinglink.

New(ish), cool, tool review — Bob

Review of   Quia is pronounced “kee’ah’ if it matters… it is a mnemonic for “Quintessential Instructional Archive’.     I sensibly read the “About Quia’ page first after landing on the site.   Quia is more than a site to make quizzes, or learning activities it is an archive of such objects.   The site has been active for 10 years (so not new)  this and its international popularity results in a huge set of resources.   While the site claims to serve students of all ages, I would be hesitant to use the kinds of activities and games beyond elementary or middle school age learners.

I created a 30-day trial profile and immediately linked to activities and created a deer hunting word jumble activity.   I listed 20 words related to the topic and clicked the next button a script generated the activity.   I made it:   this quiz however, I simply linked too:   The tools are simple to use and the outcomes are significantly better then what I remember for elementary school — think drum mimeograph duplicated work sheets.   That said, are they snazzy enough to capture the attention of more privileged students?   On the other hand, perhaps this is appropriate technology?   I think the answers to those questions depends on where one is teaching and what age group.

My original intention was to beat this resource up, however, the more I think about it the more generous I am with it.   If I had internet access but no real IT support, was teaching children, and had $50 dollars to spend, this resource could really have some potential.   I can see this being a treasure trove for home schooling.   I am perplexed that they offer a corporate subscription rate of $200 dollars…   I can see how some of the tools would be useful for HR departments, how supervisors training skills might use it, but the site is clearly for children, or elementary teachers, that impression just does not fit for corporate setting.   A teacher can create and manage a class, in many ways identical to using any other learning management system.   They can link activities and quizzes to that page.   The teacher can enroll students or the teacher can opt for self-enrollment.   I spent a bit of time clicking through to see if the material was fresh and current or older, perhaps outdated.   I found a lot of current material a lot being created and used by elementary schools in the US.   Interestingly, many teachers have made their profiles public and have provided work contact information, hence, creating a learning network for educators.

Along with the core, service described here comes an e-bookstore sub-site that lists materials available online from Quia.   The IXL sub-site appears to be a huge library of learning activities in math or language arts — again, my mind went to home schoolers, but any learner needing additional problem sets or review could benefit from the resource.   Both the e-bookstore and the IXL sites have materials appropriate for high school age learners.   If I were working with K-12 age learners, I would take  the resources the site offers seriously.

Review of   Immediately on landing on the page, I concluded that it was for elementary age learners.   I then clicked on the link “For Teachers’ and watched the promotional video; I will wait here while you view it, hmm, hmmm, hmmm.   Therefore, again we see how wrong first impressions can be.   This site is aimed at high school and college students.   The simulations are created by a team of designers at University of Colorado Boulder I figured out that I would not be making a simulation but rather using one, for example, this one:


Each simulation has a page from which you can download the particular simulation.   Accompanying the download is a chart of teaching ideas, which appear to be teaching resources submitted by folks using the simulation with their students.   There are also translated versions of the simulations to support international learners.
I played around with the simulation on the introductory level.   I was intrigued with the slider adjustments balancing snowfall and air temperature trying to find where the glacier broke into advance or retreat with each variable.   I could see my classmate using these in her unit on ecosystems.   Alas, I found the toolbox perplexing although I eventually sorted most of them out.   The advanced mode offers graphing tools that far exceeded my interest and attention span — perhaps, an assignment that required me to answer questions that the graphs explained would tease me into understanding.  Since, I am not making a simulation.   I guess I am left to make an assignment….       Maximize one slider variable or the other, snowfall or air temperature use the other variable to stabilize the glacier’s advance or retreat.   Repeat with the other variable.   Explain how these experiments help you understand climate change.   Measure the ice thickness at its extremes measure, the temperatures at these points offer an explanation for the temperature variations.

I do not know, I am making this up, I am no earth scientist.   However, I will wait here will you play with the simulation… hmmm, hmmm, hmmm.  Simply this web site and these resources are the bomb.   I am sure that if I had more of a clue about the topics I would think they were even better than that.   You gotta get some of this.

Review of Google apps or, more specifically Google Classroom.   Google Classroom is an LMS integrated with the Google apps/drive.   On one hand, it is weak tea now.   There is currently no compelling reason to leave Moodle or WordPress, however, given how powerful and pervasive the suite of Google tools is it is just a matter of time for it to become a serious contender too.   Combine it with Chromebooks and with Google Hangouts and it just keeps getting more interesting.

There are quite a few video presentation on using Classroom:

I can see early adoption by K-12 programs, particularly those committed to putting iPads, Chromebooks or laptops in the hands of their students.

Colby is a Google shop and a ton of work is done in this way.   Here I am thinking about administrative as well as academic.   Having a single login and accessing communications, collaboration, storage/archiving, scheduling, word processing, spreadsheet and a classroom is seductive.   It is seductive in terms of ease and relative transparency in getting work done.   It is seductive as well from an IT and management perspective, licensing and installing software is expensive and iterative, whereas having Googles tools in the cloud for all employees/students to access is easy and less expensive particularly for education customers.   As Google builds functionality into Classroom, it will take some time to gain momentum but for sites saturated with Google this will be an easy and logical transition even as  the tool becomes robust.   In addition, increasing pressure will be felt to adopt it in higher education as students matriculate.   In truth, I did not make anything with Classroom because I do not have access to it yet.  However, we make stuff with Google apps everyday, all day, so nothing sexy here at all, and yet I am really hopeful that my employer turns Classroom on.  I will seriously consider migrating my employee instruction developed in this class, to it.  According to some of the reviewers, folks with personal domains could set it up and experiment with it.   Personally, I work with Google apps all day long and I do not really see the big deal… what learning curve?  For folks that have a lot of experience with LMS systems I likewise think that once the functionality is more developed it will be as easy as falling down.

Rationale for Ecology Unit

Final  Unit  Plan

The purpose of this unit plan was to create a hypothetical online unit on the topic of Ecology for a 10th grade Biology class. As a classroom science teacher, I strongly believe in an inquiry based approach to understanding scientific concepts. The online environment presents a special challenge to these types of activities, but is not insurmountable as Reuter (2009) suggests.  My goal for this unit was to have students design, observe and analyze an ecosystem model. I felt that this type of project would meet Fink’s (2013) criteria of “active learning.’ This project requires several weeks to complete and an in-depth background of the interrelationships between living and non-living components in the ecosystem. This summative assessment dictated the necessary length of this unit and the activities required for the unit and was designed with the Backward Design principles in mind (Wiggins and McTighe 2005) . The final lab report and presentation of findings from this activity constituted the unit summative assessment and meets the criteria for Standard I of the Utah State Core “Students will understand that living organisms interact with one another and their environment’ and the accompanying benchmark:

Ecosystems are shaped by interactions among living organisms and their physical environment.    Ecosystems change constantly, either staying in a state of dynamic balance or shifting to a new state of balance.  Matter cycles in ecosystems, and energy flows from outside sources through the system.  Humans are part of ecosystems and can deliberately or inadvertently alter an ecosystem.

I designed this course for at-risk students, in an alternative high school population. These students are transitioning between early adolescence to late adolescence and their levels of maturity and capacity for abstract thought are varied, but growing. Most of the students I have taught in this specific population, have been identified as visual or kinesthetic learners. I have experienced that students with these characteristics often benefit from clear expectations, meaningful hands on activities, scaffolding of material and interaction with peers. Each day in the unit is designed to meet some component of these needs. I tried to begin each day with the objectives and key words clearly defined. These are followed by activities that utilize several modalities. For scaffolding of the ecosystem model project, I have students engage in peer review of design and require daily posting of their observations. My hope with the daily blog posts of observations, was to encourage students to be self aware of their own learning and create feedback for each other.  I felt that it was also necessary to build in a lesson on the scientific method and how to offer constructive peer review.To build up the content knowledge required to produce a quality summative assessment it was necessary to address the following three learning objectives:

  • Objective 1: Students will be able to summarize how energy flows through an ecosystem.
  • Objective 2:  Students will be able to explain relationships between matter cycles and organisms and infer human impact on cycles.
  • Objective 3:  Students will be able to interpret interactions among biotic and abiotic factors within an ecosystem.

I designed activities and formative assessments to monitor the mastery of each of these objectives. For Objectives 1 and 3: activities included: watching videos and presentations, reading the text, listening to a podcast, taking a photo and identifying abiotic and biotic factors, and creating a food web using local organisms. The energetics lab, where students calculate their own energetic budget is meant to serve as an assessment to this objective.  There is also an Ecology unit test that is used to assess mastery of these two objectives. For Objective 2: activities included, watching videos, reading the text, creating a model of the water cycle using a bottle, and calculating their carbon and water footprints. There were two assessment projects for this objective:creating a diagram of one of the Biogeochemical cycles using and a role play activity on global climate change. The footprint calculators and role play were used to add the “human dimension’ and encourage students to “care’ as outlined by Fink (2013) in his description of “Significant Learning.’ The final activity in the unit is an end of unit post that requires students to reflect on their learning during the course. I hoped this metacognitive activity would add an opportunity for students practice self awareness of their own learning and provide feedback to me as the teacher on which activities were effective.

Works Cited

Fink, L. D. (2013). Creating Significant Learning Experiences: An Integrated Approach to Designing College Courses. SanUSOE. (2013).

Reuter, R. (2009). Online Versus in the Classroom: Student Success in a Hands-On Lab Class. American Journal of Distance Education, 23(3), 151—162. doi:10.1080/08923640903080620

Utah State Office of Education: Concurrent Enrollment. Retrieved from Fancisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Wiggins, G. P., & McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding by design (Expanded 2nd ed.). Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.


Survey of Emerging Tools: Nearpod, ClassDojo and Biteslide.


I spent quite a bit of time exploring Nearpod this week as I think it has the potential to focus and engage the students in my traditional face-to-face class. Nearpod is a program that allows teachers to create interactive mobile presentations. It allows teachers to embed a variety of media and activities in their presentations, such as polls, quizzes, videos, web content and slideshows. There are also presentations that are already prepared and available for download. The biggest advantage of this program that I can see is its ability to build in formative assessments that allow for instant feedback. I found it relatively easy to use, there is an excellent function that allows you to take pre existing google presentations and “nearpodize’ them with a tool in Chrome. This automatically imports your presentation slide by slide. I also found the option to import videos directly from Youtube, to be very handy. Though the number of pre existing presentations and types of activities are limited, it appears that the program is still expanding. Having spoken with a sales representative, I learned that there are many additional activities that will be available after January. The program is multiplatform and “students can interact through iOS devices, Chromebooks, Windows 8.1 devices, Android devices, Nooks and any PC or MAC.’ Some of the drawing activities are designed specifically for iPads, so they are not as useful for my students with notebooks. Pricing depends on features, but for the standard “Gold’ level it is $10/month per teacher.  Creation of a product does not take very much time and this product would be useful for both face-to-face classrooms that have one-to-one capabilities and also for online or distance education. Being able to control student activity and get feedback in real time, can be a very powerful tool for guiding instruction. Below is a link to the Nearpod presentation I created for a lesson on the cell membrane, that I am going to try this week.

Sample Nearpod on Cell Membranes  open this link.



ClassDojo is a free “realtime behavior tracking and skills management’ application. I learned about this program at  a conference and was intrigued by the overwhelmingly positive feedback I was hearing. This program is geared towards K-12 students and is extremely easy to set up and use. I gave this program a test run with two of my classes this week and it took, at most, 10 minutes to set up the program. Initially, each student is assigned an avatar, that they can then redesign to their liking. The teacher can use any mobile device to award or take away points for specific behaviors.  The program comes with a set of behaviors, but the teacher can customize extra behaviors that they are interested in monitoring. I chose to add the negative behaviors of texting and web surfing and the positive behavior of asking thoughtful questions. Students then log on to the website and they can see their progress and reflect on their performance in class. One of the best features of this app, is that it logs points for the individuals and class over time, allowing you to see trends in behaviors and award points for behavioral improvement. Below is a screenshot of my classes data so far.

Parents can also log on or sign up for email notification of the students progress. I used this program only twice in class and saw a significant improvement in some of my most challenging students. I was initially skeptical that high school students would be interested in little cartoon avatars and a program that is essentially a behavior chart. However, I think the gaming aspect of it, is what caused the excited response I received when I started ClassDojo. Several of my colleagues reported that students were asking them to start the program in their classes. I simply walk around the class with my iPad and award or take away points. I think that the program makes students more self aware of their behavior in class and they are already beginning to self regulate.  Other useful features, are the autogenerated parent letters, a student introductory video and educational handouts to send home with students. There are also professional development materials you can download for use with colleagues.

 Screen Shot 2014-11-19 at 3.07.05 PM


Biteslide is an application that allows you to create and present projects. It allows both students and teachers to create, manage and share online interactive portfolios and posters. I found this application to be very similar to, though not nearly as user friendly.  The initial creation of the project is relatively user friendly. Users can browse for content using Google or Youtube and upload directly into their portfolio.  I felt that the number of graphics, fonts, backgrounds and other aesthetic tools were limited, but perhaps this was because I was using the trial version. I was unimpressed with the help section. I spent a good deal of time looking for ways to embed the portfolio I created and finally found that the option to embed is turned off by default. I was also unhappy with the placement of the “delete’ presentation directly on top of the project. To select and edit a project, it is easy to accidentally delete an entire project, which I unfortunately found out first hand. I think that engagement would improve with a tool like this, but I also think students would experience some level of frustration. I can see the use of this program as an alternative to a traditional paper portfolio or flipbook. Having tried both Biteslide and Glogster I would recommend Glogster over Biteslide. Glogster is much easier to navigate and has a greater range of tools. It also has the added bonus of animation, which I did not see in Biteslide. I created a basic “scapbook’ on mitosis, as a model for a projects that students might be able to create. I found this tutorial to be helpful:

Biteslide - Mitosis_N02TUFEllgv_934118

Works Cited

How to Use Biteslide by R. Hampton. (2013). Retrieved from



Preliminary impressions of Skitch, Moodle and Mango

First tool: I tried Skitch once before, on my Android phone. I had heard about it at TechFest on campus, and the demo was impressive. Of course, navigating it on a smartphone screen was a little less exciting than what I had seen up on a projector screen. So, I gave up after tinkering with it once or twice. This time, I downloaded it to my Mac instead, assuming some upgrades have been made in the two years since I last tried it. There are a few cool features, like a pixillation layover that makes it easy to obscure names if one wanted to share a Facebook or Twitter post for critique. I’ve included an example where I’ve used that and added an arrow, alert icon and text. The program also integrates with Evernote, which could be huge if you use that to organize your stuff (I don’t). Saving the photo wasn’t smooth for me  (I had to screenshot my result to my desktop because the version it allowed me to share to iPhoto wasn’t uploading). I will think of a more teaching-focused example for next week.

Screen Shot 2014-11-19 at 12.27.11 PM

Second tool: Several land grants within the Cooperative Extension system, as well as the e-learning arm of eXtension, use Moodle to deliver content to clients. One example is at So, I decided to finally check it out myself and download Moodle 2.8 for Mac. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get it to work. The instructions might as well be written in Sanksrit. Seriously, it contains lines like “You can start the new cron service in the Terminal.” WHAT? My ability to “install” something on a Mac is limited to knowing I need to drag an icon into my “Applications” folder and hit “Open.” Except it tries to open Moodle in a web browser and I get messages about a server error. I get that “open source” usually involves more effort (like the difference between R and SPSS), but this is like asking a restaurant reviewer to taste a meal that’s been placed inside a firesafe– with a broken off key. I will have to enlist some help from IT to be able to review this more fully for next week’s post.

Third tool: The home page of Mango Languages features some very cute mango fruits dressed up in various scenarios. The sign-up process includes tests for Java and Flash, which are pretty standard. I had no problem accessing the lessons on my Mac. I have taken Spanish before, so I figured I’d be in better position to judge the utility of Spanish lessons than I would any language completely new to me. I was disappointed when the only available lesson on the free version appears to be “A Language Love Affair” which trots out the tired old youth and hetero centered boy-meets-girl dating scenario where you practice how to invite someone to a party. I wish Mango had stuck to its cute and neutral mango fruit to represent the two sides of the conversation.

Guiding question 1: How many of the proposed tools are contextualized primarily for teacher presentation (passive learning)? I think one could post a lot of passive (sit and read) content on Moodle. It’s really up to the teacher to put in the time it takes to make hyperlinks, videos, quizzes, and other interactive content. Just like Blackboard, it is as static or dynamic as you make it.

Guiding question 2: Which have potential for active learning or afford students opportunity to display a product of their learning? Mango does ask the learner to practice the phrases out loud and offers a chance to record your own voice and play it back, so you can compare your pronunciation to the instructor. It shows you a voice pattern comparison and you can even play both recordings simultaneously. It doesn’t score them though; you must interpret.

Guiding questions 3 & 4: Which of the tools have potential for developing or enhancing the community of learners? Which features most actively support learner engagement in a community? I like the sharability of content made with Skitch. I think it could be integrated into collaborative projects. Just have a chat with students about “fair use” first. Moodle has the most potential simply because it can be used for any content, not just for language learning or photo editing. Since I couldn’t try creating my own, I went to to see what others have done. One example was a literature class that noted “peer evaluation and review is done by an add on software that passes the essays from person to person” so students can interact over their readings of Pride & Prejudice.