Toymaker Challenge: Course 4 Final Project


I am excited to FINALLY present my idea for my Course 5 project. I narrowed it down from the following three project ideas:

  • Small Moment Stories (using technology to redefine a narrative writing unit)
  • Digital Portfolios for Elementary Students
  • Genius Hour Unit: Teaching Design Thinking to Elementary Students

After talking with my friend and  colleague Alexis (@AlexisSnider15) and my amazing principal, it became clear that I should choose the third option. My principal really wanted  me to focus on developing a shared language for design thinking at the elementary level. We are in the planning stages for our future makerspace and she thought it would be good to pilot a design thinking unit that could be shared with our elementary staff. So, the Toymaker Design Challenge it is!

Why do you think this unit is a good possibility for your Course 5 project?

This unit brings so many things I have learned about in COETAIL together. It teaches students about design thinking and the design thinking process. There are many design process frameworks but the one that fits my situation  best is found in a book called LAUNCH by John Spencer and AJ Juliani. Their blogs have inspired me in my quest to figure out how to implement Genius Hour in my class. This will set the tone and framework for the our second Genuis Hour unit in Semester 2,  in which students will identify real problems in our community and create solutions. It is a form of project based/challenge based learning. This unit is a great way to introduce young students to digital tools and digital citizenship. There is potential for global collaboration.

Using the LAUNCH framework,  students will be challenged to design something eco friendly, inexpensive, educational and fun for children.

Whereas many genius hour type projects are more open-ended, this one is a bit more structured because I think that it will help my young students narrow down their ideas. Plus, what kid doesn’t love trying to make toys and games?

What are some of your concerns about redesigning this unit?

  • Next year will be our first year to have two Grade 3 classes. Will the other Grade 3 teacher be interested in partnering on this or will I be doing it on my own? I will be meeting her soon and look forward to discussing this unit with her.
  • This project needs to be done early in the year and I am worried that my future students will not have had much exposure to using technology.
  • Getting parents onboard and involved
  • We don’t have any tech coaches/integrationists at our school so I’m on my own to teach my students the tech elements.
  • We have no makerspace or digital lab so it’s up to me to provide the space and materials my students will need.
  • Time constraints
  • Global collaboration piece. I still need to figure out how I want my student to collaborate with others outside of our classroom. 

What shifts in pedagogy will this new unit require from you?

  • Releasing some control to the students and embracing some chaos
  • Student-centered/driven vs. teacher driven
  • I need to go through the design cycle myself this summer to create something brand new. 
  • Collaborating outside of my classroom/school
  • Working closer with parents
  • Using social media to crowdsource and share
  • Embracing transparency with my colleagues and allowing them inside to see the failures as well as the successes.

What skills and/or attitudes will this new unit require from your students?

  • Digital citizenship skills
  • Knowledge of certain digital tools
  •  Teamwork skills
  • Presentation skills
  • Inquiry skills
  • Growth mindset and the freedom to fail and learn from their mistakes.

Here’s the unit. There are still a few holes that I need to fill in before next Fall, but I am pleased with what I have so far and look forward to building on it.  Please let me know if you have any suggestions or want to collaborate in any way.  Also, please share this with anyone you think might want to collaborate. Cheers and have a great summer!

Learning Hubs and Placemaking

Learning in Local and Global Communities

What would it look like if our schools were learning hubs situated in healthy communities?

What would it be like if these hubs had open doors to the local community with opportunities to serve the community and be served by the community?

What if while these hubs were strongly tied to their local community, they had all the technology to seamlessly access the global community as well?

What if the students in these hubs were equipped to recognize problems and design solutions?

What if there were strong relational ties among diverse peers, between teachers and students, and across generational gaps within the community?

A few trends I see now that make me think this is possible.

1. Building Healthy Communities through Placemaking

PPSLogo_Blue_2014The Project for Public Spaces defines Placemaking as the collective process of reimagining public places in urban areas for the purpose of strengthening the connections between people and the places they share.

With community-based participation at its center, an effective Placemaking process capitalizes on a local community’s assets, inspiration, and potential. It results in quality public spaces that contribute to everyone’s health, happiness, and well being.

Sociologists and activists in the previous three decades have shaped this idea of “placemaking” (see Placemakers Profiles). They believe that healthy local neighborhoods make healthy individuals. As a teacher interested in community development, I am familiar with the work of Ray Oldenburg who wrote The Great Good Place (1991). He developed the idea of third places. Oldenburg suggests that healthy communities and individuals are involved in their home, work place, and some kind of third place. This third place, like a pub or cafe is local, cheap and offers a neutral place for anyone to belong. Think of the TV show Cheers, “Where everybody knows your name.” This third place is where we socialize, have a sense of place, disagree and solve problems. He suggests that the decline of these third places has led to the decline of our tight sense of community. 

What if our schools had that “third place” vibe? What if they were a place that students would want to be at to socialize and have fun, as well as a place to discuss issues in their community and find solutions. And what if the community invited their input? How cool would that be!

This is already happening in some places. Public Workshop  (a non-profit organization) is dedicated to creating opportunities for youth to shape and design their community. You can check out their link to see inspiring community projects.

Another trend I see is the wake-up call by educators to reimagine education. 

2. Reimagine Education or Become Irrelevant

We know that the factory model classroom where students are conditioned to spit out information spoon-fed to them by their teacher is no longer relevant in this day and age. 

Great educators are calling for a new way of doing school. 

George Couros, author of The Innovator’s Mindset, in his blog post “8 Things to Look for in Today’s Classroom,” talks about making classrooms learner focused. I would also add that learners need to be relationship and community focused. He says that classrooms should be characterized by:

  • Student voice
  • Student choice
  • Time for reflection
  • Opportunities for innovation
  • Critical thinkers
  • Problem Solvers/Finders (see this amazing TedTalk by Ewan McIntosh about students becoming problem finders)
  • Self assessment
  • Connected learning

It is also worth reading  “10 Principles for Schools of Modern Learning,” and Change School  formed by Will Richardson and Bruce Dixon  to equip educators with the tools to reimagine education. 

Learning hubs with strong ties to healthy local communities will have the opportunities: for innovation; to be problem finders; and to practice connected learning as they network and apprentice within their local community. 

The third trend is the use of technology as a tool that will allow our local learning communities to be connected globally.

3. Technology and Global Connectivity

New technologies will allow students to stay informed and connected with the global community. They will be able to Think Globally and Act Locally. Technology allows students to access information and collaborate beyond the walls of the classroom.  As they learn about global issues, they will be able to apply their knowledge in their local context. 

Sahir Agawal shares about mobilizing college students to connect and empower students infected with HIV in Swaziland though the use of technology and the mantra “Think Globally, Act Locally”

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That is how I imagine education in 10-20 years.

I imagine learning hubs within local communities that actively serve their community. I imagine these learning hubs and the local community working synergistically together for the flourishing of local and global communities.

Let me know what you think.  Do you have examples of these types of schools?









Flipped and Fun Learning in the Elementary Classroom


The Flipped Classroom

Telling doesn’t work very well. Doing is the secret. (Case studies and the Flipped Classroom)

With the advent of new technologies making it easier for educators to produce quality educational videos, came the idea that teachers no longer needed to use class time to deliver content, but could give students access to their lectures via videos or podcasts, freeing up time in class for students to work on work on collaborative projects, research and collaborate with peers, tackle solutions to real world problems, and perform lab experiments. In 2007, Woodland Park High chemistry teachers Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams, were some of the first teachers to experiment with flipped learning. They recorded their lectures on video so their students could watch the content for homework and used class time to work on labs and projects. Here are some advantages and limitations to the flipped model.


  • Student-centered learning
  • Allows for more class time to explore topics in greater depth
  • Content delivery can take place in multiple forms (video, podcast, online discussion, etc)
  • More personal teacher-student interaction
  • More peer-to-peer interactions and collaboration


  • Not all students may have access to necessary technologies at home
  • Students who struggle with taking responsibility in a self-directed learning environment might fall behind
  • Parents might not want their child using the computer for prolonged periods of time
  • A lecture is still a lecture
  • The teacher might not have the time and skills to create high quality videos

Regardless, of these challenges many educators are finding success using the flipped model in their classroom.

This week I wondered how flipped learning looks in the elementary classroom. I, again, ran across Jon Bergmann writing about  Five Reasons Why Elementary Teachers Should Flip Math First. He suggests that in the elementary classroom, the easiest and most practical way for teachers to experiment with the flipped model is to start by flipping just one lesson. It can be a lesson that many struggle to get the first time. Once this lesson is recorded, it can be shared with students so that they can access it any time.

Another educator, 4th grade teacher Sally Osborne from Teaching Redefined (see her YouTube channel for many great examples) gives some great tips that will help me as I think through if, how and when I should try this in third grade:

  • Decide where you will get your videos. You can make your own video with a screencasting app like Doceri or Explain Everything or use videos that are already online (You tube, Khan Academy)
  • Decide how students will watch the videos. Will they watch at home or in class?
  • Post videos as a resource on a class site for easy access.
  • Hold kids accountable by using something like PlayPosit to have students pause and answer questions.
  • Supplement with guided instruction.

Jennifer Gonzalez in this Edutopia article suggests trying the “in-class” flip with younger students. Instead of expecting younger students to watch videos at home, the teacher can produce screencasts of difficult lessons and have them available at stations or for parents to access on the class website.

Here is one lesson I quickly made about number bonds using Explain Everything on my iPad and PlayPosit. PlayPosit allows for the teacher to embed questions throughout the video to check for understanding.

Another great idea comes from this podcast. Some teachers are even flipping their Back-to-School Night Presentations and sending them to parents ahead of the evening so that they can spend most of the evening connecting with the parents in a less formal setting. I really want to try that. 


Games have always been a part of the elementary classroom, however “gamification” was a new idea for me and my mind was spinning after all the readings. I look forward to thinking more about how student learning can be improved or enhanced in my classroom through gamifying my lessons, but for now I’ll leave you with this very inspiring video by Jane McGonigal. I love so much of what she is trying to do.

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