Too much technology?

Can students have too much tech? asked Susan Pinker in an opinion column in the New York Times last January. She criticized what she called “drive-by education”, wherein an adult hands a device to a student and then walks away – a practice that studies showed to have a detrimental effect particularly on at-risk populations, such as African American boys. Technology is only useful, she concluded, if it is specifically designed for the task at hand, and we should instead focus our reform efforts in improving teacher and training rather than wiring up classrooms.

Exactly!” exclaim the imaginary guardian spirits of the MAET program at Michigan State University. Wiring up a classroom  but then leaving the teachers with little or no training – handing every child a tablet and assuming that they will teach themselves – sitting everyone down in a computer lab for a period of silence so the teacher can grade tests – is exactly how we should not approach integrating technology into the classroom. But while they would share her criticisms, they would even more enthusiastically refute her cynicism and her conclusion.

Technology should not replace human connectivity, but enhance and expand it, as J.P. Gee demonstrates in his discussion of online affinity groups in Digital Media and Learning: A Prospective Retrospective And both teachers and students should develop in the new media literacies, as H. Jenkins shows. These literacies – which include skills such as developing good judgment, collaborating, and networking – are in fact skills which do not even require the use of technology, but which make technology a powerful tool in the hands of one who has developed those skills. And as for waiting around for someone to develop a tool specifically for educational purposes, Dr. Punya Mishra has one word to answer that: TPACK. TPACK suggests, why don’t we empower students and their teachers to be the adapters and creators of content? That sounds like a whole lot more fun rather than waiting around for someone else to make it for us.


As a world language teacher, I have already found technology indispensable in expanding the reach of my classroom. Language, after all, shares a common purpose with many technologies: increased connectivity across the globe. And so instead of relying solely on the edited audio recordings produced by a textbook company, I can introduce my students to the wide diversity of Spanish speakers, accents, and cultures via YouTube, Spanish-language periodicals, music and websites. I can then encourage my students to explore and express their own ideas in Spanish and then share their work online – perhaps even to be read and responded to by Spanish speakers across the globe, thus making their experience of language authentic, rather than contrived.


Of course, in the midst of integrating technology into my classroom, I still face unanswered questions: How can I teach my students well when when they are tempted with infinite opportunities for distraction (or worse, cheating)? How can I work with my colleagues who have spent their entire careers working from textbooks, and have little interest in change? How can I adapt lessons when, inevitably, the Internet crashes or the video stops working? Am I doing my Creative Commons attributions correctly? And, most importantly of all, is there a robot that will grade my writing tests for me?


(…something something about the importance of human connectivity and personalized feedback…alas.)


Kitchen Improv and TPACK

Effective educators are expert improvisers, says Dr. Punya Mishra, the co-director of MSU’s Masters in Educational Technology program and originator of the concept of TPACK – that is, designing curricula that blend technology, pedagogy and content knowledge. Adaptability is especially important when it comes to using technology in the classroom, he explains. Technology is rarely designed for educational purposes, he points out. Even if it is designed with an educational intent, it is likely to quickly become out of date or to be adapted in some way to suit the needs of a specific lesson or classroom anyhow.

In the spirit of TPACK and adaptability, I tested out my adaptation skills in the kitchen. My roommate helped me by randomly choosing a plate, a bowl and a utensil, and then choosing a number 1-5, each of which represented a kitchen task. You can see how I did in the video below!

Reflecting on this task, I think that the problem that required the most creativity and was finding out where to put my smart phone so that you could see what I was doing. Perhaps there is an application there for the classroom – something about considering the presentation of your lesson as much as the lesson itself?

Secondly, I think that adaptability ties in well with the concept of having a “growth mindset”. Instead of allowing a limitation to capsize our experience, we need to be open to new ways of thinking, failing, and trying again. Instead of letting failure and limitations define us, we take the initiative to redefine them until they suit our needs, growing in creativity and resilience, and even having more fun through the process. The end result? Not only are my lessons more creative and engaging, but my students learn to be creative and adaptable as well. Win-win.

Adventures in Online Learning Part 3: I learned some things

Hello and welcome back to Adventures in Online Learning! In Part 1, I declared my intent to learn calligraphy. In Part 2, I admitted that what I really meant was “hand lettering”, and I tried out my first project. In Part 3, you will appreciate with me the mysteries of neat lines and even spacing, and cheer me on as I make another attempt, this time in purple!

For this second attempt, I once again followed MadeByMarzipan‘s step-by-step process, but with a different focus. Her tutorials were more about embellishments, but this time, I spent more energy on the font and the lettering. To help me, I looked up a few different resources. The first was Hand Lettering for Beginners, from which I borrowed the idea of using computer fonts as inspiration and guides. I also used Typography II: 4 Things You Need To Know To Pair Fonts Well, and The Ultimate Guide to Font Pairing. The latter two resources taught me some font basics (so that’s a serif!) and some inspiration on how to pair different fonts so that they complemented one another.

Ready to see Attempt #2? Take a look!


Here is a video explaining my step-by-step process.

Throughout this project, I have learned not only about hand-lettering, but also about how to find information online in pursuit of a new skill. For one thing, I learned that identifying the best key words is an important initial step for finding good sources. I also found that while Pinterest was a good starting point, YouTube tutorials and step-by-step blog posts with lots of pictures and description were the most useful resources overall. Finally, I have a new appreciation for the creators of educational content online. While information on how to do almost anything is available to anyone who looks for it, it still takes practice and skill to do something well.

As I take these principles into the classroom, I hope that I can convey to my students not only the incredible accessibility of information, but also how to navigate and use it to its greatest effect. Finally, I hope to help them to appreciate what makes certain resources valuable and to incorporate those elements into our own creations.


Explorers of the Caribbean: a 21st Century Lesson Plan

One thing that I like about my CEP 810 class is that rather than focusing on any one technology that “every teacher must use” (that will as likely as not be obsolete in another five years), we are identifying the overarching principles that make students effective technology users. In her book Digital and Media Literacy: Connecting Culture and Classroom (2011), Renee Hobbs identifies five of these “core competencies” as the skills to access, analyze, create, reflect, and act. 

With these competencies in mind, I designed a project for my Spanish 3 students that would stretch their (and my!) limits of knowledge, language and technology use: my students would research, write, design and share an infographic (using Piktochart) about the Spanish-speaking Caribbean – in Spanish, of course.


Here are the materials that I used:

And here is an example of the final product!

Infographic Example - La esclavitud hatiana
This one is actually my example, since I don’t want to share my students’ work without permission, but they did a great job!


This project required four class days, but the time was well spent in giving my students the opportunity to develop as explorers and producers. Besides, as Bransford, Brown and Cocking suggest in How people learn: Brain, mind, experience and school…learning cannot be rushed; the complex cognitive activity of information integration requires time.” (Bransford, Brown and Cocking, 2000, p. 58). 

More importantly, how well did this project address Hobbs’ core competencies?

  1. Access. Students researched their topic online, guided by the open-ended questions who?, what?, where?, when? and why? 
  2. Analyze. Students analyzed and synthesized the most reliable and relevant information for their audience.
  3. Create. Students created infographics using, complete with text and pictures.
  4. Reflect. Students reflected on what made some web tools better for our purpose than others ( vs. Google Translate, Wikipedia vs. academic sources, etc) and how to use them most effectively.
  5. Act. Students shared and responded to one another’s infographics in writing and in conversation.

As a 21st century teacher, I was pleased that this project pushed my students to develop as digital learners and producers. As a language teacher, I was pleased that this project pushed my students to express original ideas in Spanish, and to better use language technology tools to do so. And as a history nerd, I loved seeing my students engage with new perspectives and learn about cool things! While there are still a few bumps that could be smoothed out (How can I have them comment on others’ work online and hold them accountable for it? How can I have them reliably access and turn in documents digitally rather than on paper?), both my students and I really enjoyed this opportunity to explore the Spanish-speaking Caribbean.



Bransford, J.D., Brown , A.L., & Cocking, R.R. (Eds.). (2000). How people learn: Brain, mind, experience, and school. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.

Hobbs, R. (2011). Digital and media literacy: Connecting culture and classroom. Thousand, Oaks, CA: Corwin/Sage.

Adventures in Online Learning Part 2: Actually, I meant “Hand Lettering”

Hello and welcome back to Adventures in Online Learning Part 2! In Part 1, I put forth my intention to become a calligrapher and to create beautiful works of art with my pen. In Part 2, you will observe me becoming ever more grateful for a day job that doesn’t require rulers or precision. Let us begin.

Step 1: Figure out what it is actually called.

After running few different searches on Pinterest, I realized that the skill I wanted to acquire is not, in fact, calligraphy, but “hand-lettering.” Calligraphy is used to write blocks of text, hand-lettering is making words into art. I did read a few calligraphy tutorials and watched a few YouTube videos on handwriting starring an adorable woman who reminds me of my 3rd grade teacher, but neither of these was quite what I wanted.

Step 2: Find a good source.

A search for “hand-lettering” led me to some video tutorials by YouTuber MadeByMarzipan, starting with Intro to Hand Lettering. I also enjoyed the sequel, Hand Lettering Step by Step and a special feature, Accents. Honestly, I didn’t search very much after finding this one series that I liked – there was plenty in these three videos for me to start working on.

Step 3: Find a quote.

This turned out to be harder than anticipated. I knew, above all, that I wanted something short, and not too sweet or serious. After an embarrassingly extended period of time skimming the “Quotes” category on Pinterest, I decided upon the winner:


Lighthearted, sassy, and best of all, short. Perfect.

Step 4: Get Things Done

Following the steps demonstrated by my new friend MadeByMarzipan, I began my project. First I sketched out the quote and started planning the layout. Then, I played around with fonts. When I had an idea of what I wanted, I started sketching the final product with pencil. When I was satisfied with the final look, I traced over the writing with a fine point Sharpie pen.



And here is a video! I couldn’t figure out how to take a video of myself using my iPhone while also drawing, so this is what you get.

So, not perfect, but not terrible. I can see why MadeByMarzipan suggested using certain types of pens and paper. I think she must be sponsored by the company that made hers, because she kept mentioning them, but I admit it was a challenge to keep my lines neat and smooth while using a Sharpie pen on plain old cardstock. Unless that is just evidence of poor fine motor control on my part? But maybe with some practice that will improve. Growth mindset, right?

Step 5: Concluding Thoughts and Next Steps

I found Pinterest and YouTube videos to be the most useful resources. The video tutorials were perfect because I could see the process as it developed, and all of the micro-steps in between. Hearing MadeByMarzipan explain what she was doing as she did it was also very helpful.

Next time, I am planning to explore some other resources. There are hundreds more YouTube tutorials I could look through, and maybe I can find a forum with advice about how to choose different pen and paper types, and experimenting with computer editing and color. Also, I would be interested in finding an artist with a less “cutesy” style than MadeByMarzipan. Her art was lovely, of course, but not quite the style that I would want to hang on my own wall. But overall, I think this was a pretty good start to my new skill!


The Best To-Do List of My Life

I like to keep my physical environment organized. I have this idea that if my physical environment is tidy, I will feel calm.

Unfortunately, I don’t always achieve the peace that I crave because I am too stressed about other things to enjoy even the most tranquil space.

David Allen’s TED Talk “The Art of Stress-Free Productivity” was the medicine that I needed. I realized that I need to organize myself mentally, too. Allen’s principles for organizing mental space are simple:

  1. Write everything down.
  2. Put it on a project list if you can’t do it immediately.
  3. Plan and schedule projects step-by-step.

This was the advice I needed to hear. I started immediately with a blank note in Evernote and I typed up every single thing I had on my mind. I already use Evernote to make packing and grocery lists, but this was the first time I used it to make a comprehensive to-do list for my life.

Just that first step, writing everything down, everything!, was immediate relief – I know how to do those things! I can do some of them right now! I finished a half-dozen chores around my apartment within ten minutes.

After that, I organized the remaining tasks with simple headers: Today, Tomorrow, Weekend, Next Week and so on. I already use Google Calendar to keep track of planned events, but Evernote is simpler and more flexible than Google Calendar for making lists. See?


I have also downloaded the Evernote app on my mobile devices, so I can review and update my list anywhere.

It has been two days and I am hooked. I am more organized and less stressed. I have been able to immediately put my free time to good use because I have a plan. I am free from remembering everything because it is all written down. And now I can fully enjoy my organized apartment because I am organized inside, too. Ahh.