Tag Archives: CEP811

Designing a 1st Grade Unit with Making in Mind

Students Sketch Plans for their Lunchrooms

Students Sketch Plans for their Lunchrooms

Now that we have the I.D.E.A. Studio  (Imagination Destination at Episcopal Academy), a new space at my school for interdisciplinary work, I have been excited to collaborate with teachers to imagine new student projects. Our first grade social studies work is centered around an exploration of places, starting with students’ bedrooms and expanding out all the way to the Earth. This exploration begins by reading students the book Me on the Map. From there, students begin following a similar examination of places and maps that the girl in the book explores. Over the past few years, I have developed a variety of projects that integrate technology into this work in meaningful ways, such as the intersections between mapping, coding, and the distance between home and school. This year, I wanted to see if we could bring more hands-on making into the curriculum.

I began to design a new unit (check out this Google Doc to see it) that would bring together students’ expertise and knowledge of current spaces they frequent (e.g., their bedrooms, the classroom, or the lunchroom) and allow them to consider the design elements involved in creating one of those spaces together as a class. This type of project would integrate ISTE standards, Next Generation Science Standards, reading and writing standards, and connect directly to students’ expanding exploration of places from Me on the Map.

It was important that the technology aspects of the unit be integrated with the curriculum because that is the model for all technology work at the school. We strive to have technology learning happen authentically, providing lessons on new skills as they are needed and often directly in the classroom. For this unit, I thought students could also learn some new maker skills: building 3D models with recycled materials and creating working circuits to light up LEDs. Plus, students would continue to use technology as a tool to document learning and communicate ideas with external audiences by creating an ebook.

After brushing up on my knowledge of Understanding by Design (Wiggins and McTighe, 2005), I decided to specifically use that framework when designing the unit, starting with the standards and then examining what assessments would best help show evidence of learning, before planning the actual project work. I also wanted students to have voice and choice in the project, so I found ways to incorporate their wants through voting and integrating their personal ideas and designs, as well as their contributions to a how-to ebook (Culatta, 2013). Part of this process also involves students giving one another feedback, striving to empathize with the needs and desires voiced by their peers. Later in the unit, students have a chance to work as a team to remix each other’s work to create a shared product, a skillset that is growing more and more valuable (Lessig, 2008). Since the unit follows the entire engineering design process (with some design thinking empathy work added in), I knew I would need a lot of scaffolding to support students (O’Donnell, 2012) so the unit was designed with resources like checklists and a chance to revisit ideas multiple times throughout the project.

We are just starting to try out this unit with the students now and so far, they seem to be very excited to engage with their designs. Last week, we had a discussion that brought some of their learning and empathy work to the forefront, as a class that was designing a “lunchroom where everyone would feel comfortable and happy” took time to reconsider the addition of TVs. At first, many students suggested adding them as a way to increase enjoyment at lunch but then some students said that this might cause students not to talk to one another any more or fight over the choice of shows. We spent some time problem solving the issue (e.g., we could have a TV and no-TV section, etc) and ultimately decided that to make everyone happy and comfortable, we could find other ways to bring enjoyment (like bubble blowers and music!) instead of TVs.

Although most of the unit is hands-on and active, I cannot wait to get to the circuitry lesson and showing students how they can actually bring lights to their 3D models. I hope to write up a reflection post after the unit is finished to share out things I learned and want to remix myself after doing it with students.


Culatta, R. (2013). Reimagining learning: Richard Culatta at TEDxBeaconStreet [Video file]. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/Z0uAuonMXrg

Lessig, L. (2008). Remix: Making art and commerce thrive in the hybrid economy. New York: Penguin Press.

O’Donnell, A. (2012). Constructivism. In APA Educational Psychology Handbook: Vol. 1. Theories, Constructs, and Critical Issues. K. R. Harris, S. Graham, and T. Urdan (Editors-in-Chief). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. DOI: 10.1037/13273-003. 

Wiggins, G. and McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding by Design, Expanded 2nd Edition. Prentice Hall.

Working Towards Technology-Enabled Personalized Learning

I watched a great TED talk by Richard Culatta (2013) this week. It helped me reflect on what he calls the digital divide (the disparity between educators using technology to replicate old practices versus transforming teaching and learning). One key to transformative learning with technology is personalization so I found two research articles on personalized learning to help me dig deeper into the topic.

The first article, Fostering Personalized Learning in Science Inquiry Supported by Mobile Technologies (Song, Wong, & Looi, 2012), raised the idea that technology can be a mediator in developing student agency in personalized learning.

The study examined the effects of giving fourth-graders cell phones connected to an experiential learning study (Song et al., 2012). Students used their devices to participate in a mobile learning environment (MLE), scaffolding their entry into personalized, inquiry-based learning of the life cycles of animals and plants. The researchers investigated whether technology could be used not as the learning goal but simply a tool to access the MLE across contexts (i.e., school, farm, and home) and engage in documentation, reflection, research, and the creation of learning artifacts. They found that students who used the MLE and participated in continued learning after the field trip (e.g., raising a butterfly or growing spinach at home) experienced deeper learning. I appreciated their insight into creating a systematic process to help students become lifelong learners by providing tools (devices and a MLE) that guide them to consciously personalize their learning by actively making choices to reach their learning goals.

The second article, An Asynchronous, Personalized Learning Platform – Guided Learning Pathways (GLP) (Shaw, Larson, & Sibdari., 2014), proposed personalizing learning with a platform to transform how students learn.

The researchers shared a design for a new platform that students could access in formal and informal learning environments (Shaw et al., 2014). It combines students’ unique data to construct a personalized “guided learning pathway” that would constantly update in response to how students’ learn. The platform would be structured around expert-created content maps, guiding students to learn specific content. These maps are layered onto personalized visualizations, such as a map of baseball stadiums if the student reports being interested in baseball. As the student enters a stadium, she can choose from different “nuggets” of content which offer varied ways of learning (e.g., text, games, video) and at any point, students can take an assessment to measure mastery of the content. The available nuggets change in response to the assessment using a recommendation algorithm. This helps scaffold students’ mastery and provides the types of content that help them learn best before moving to the next place in their content map.

Like Culatta (2013), these articles suggest that technology can overcome the challenge of teaching all learners the same by developing customizable environments for every student. Tools like the GLP could allow students to set their own schedules. Students progress to the next piece of content when they are ready and their performance data helps them see when they have reached mastery. The MLE study also supports the idea of technology promoting student agency. The students in the study exhibited agency in deciding what artifacts to create and what to study, thanks to the resources on their devices and in the MLE. They became creators of content, designing animations and presentations that demonstrated their knowledge and added to the class database about life cycles.

I am hopeful that these tools will allow students to engage in constructivist learning in new ways (O’Donnell, 2012). What if the GLP platform also included experiential learning, whether through field trips or authentic, meaningful maker tasks? A nugget could consist of students learning by doing (trial and error) with scaffolding through tutorial videos or experts available by Skype. Then, students could upload artifacts they create to the GLP to be assessed and added to their learner/maker portfolio. Maybe some of their work could require them to solve problems in their community and engage in teamwork (O’Donnell, 2012). Technology would be the tool that helps them engage in and capture that work. How well their solution solves the problem could be part of the measurement of whether students reach mastery. As a learner, I would much prefer to engage in learning that is personalized to my current levels of mastery, relevant to my life, authentic, and supports me in constructing deeper understandings through hands-on creation and fieldwork.


Culatta, R. (2013). Reimagining learning: Richard Culatta at TEDxBeaconStreet [Video file]. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/Z0uAuonMXrg 

O’Donnell, A. (2012). Constructivism. In APA Educational Psychology Handbook: Vol. 1. Theories, Constructs, and Critical Issues. K. R. Harris, S. Graham, and T. Urdan (Editors-in-Chief). Washgington, DC: American Psychological Association. DOI: 10.1037/13273-003.

Shaw, C., Larson, R., & Sibdari, S. (2014). An asynchronous, personalized learning platform-guided learning pathways (GLP). Creative Education, 5(13), 1189-1204. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.msu.edu.proxy1.cl.msu.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com.proxy1.cl.msu.edu/docview/1553761060?accountid=12598

Song, Y., Wong, L., & Looi, C. (2012). Fostering personalized learning in science inquiry supported by mobile technologies. Educational Technology, Research and Development, 60(4), 679-701. doi: http://dx.doi.org.proxy1.cl.msu.edu/10.1007/s11423-012-9245-6