7.16 Deconstructing the design


I had the pleasure of visiting the new Pixar exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. The exhibit is a teacher’s dream! It showcases the science, technology, engineering and math concepts that go into creating a Pixar movie, in a hands-on, information rich environment. Visitors can explore each one of the steps in the Production Pipeline with computer generated simulations, design software,  3D characters, cameras and so much more. It truly blows the mind to think of all the time and expertise that it takes the Pixar engineers to create every scene of every film. It also blows the mind to  imagine the expertise of the education staff and exhibit designers, who had to digest this complicated process and present it to people of all ages with varying levels of experience. Teacher magic I tell you!

Something that I thought was a great touch, was the exhibit also had computer stations where guests could hear about specific jobs within each one of the departments at Pixar. The videos allowed guests to connect to the people actually doing these jobs and better understand the skills and expertise needed to be successful. I heard numerous middle school kids talking about “how cool it would be to be an engineer for Pixar” and then watched them turn around and play with a program used by those very engineers. Visitors saw the whole process from start to finish through the Production Pipeline, grappled with the STEM concepts and also saw the real world application of having a job that required those specific skills.

In my mind, this exhibit offered the trifecta of learning experiences, the project, creating the film,  was super interesting and relatable to the kids, they all love Pixar films. The Production Pipeline clearly highlights every step of the design process, and the exhibit walked you through each one, so that the STEM content could be explored. Finally the connection to the real world application through the voices of the Pixar team and the final product of the films. How worthwhile to be able to harness that structure and transfer it to the classroom. For example, introduce the content with a project or challenge that students are interested in, use a Makerspace, PBL, or Three Act Task .  As part of the lesson, make design thinking visible to your students and create a process for learning.  Ensure that students understand that learning is not linear and requires them to revisit steps along the way. Show them all of the steps in the process, and give them markers to understand when it’s appropriate to go forward and when they need to go back.  Support the content with multiple opportunities for exploration, rich information and plenty of collaboration. Finally make a connection to the real world, showcase why the content is worth learning by dialing in an expert to share their experience, or finding authentic audiences to comment on student work.

Thanks Pixar for being so inspirational! Pixarlogo-750x469.jpg



7.12 What is it about kids and computers?

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Along with being an experienced educator, I am also an experienced mom, and these two functions in my life often weave themselves together to give me either an insightful “aha” moment or just lead me to ask more questions.  So here are my questions, What is it about kids and computers? Why are they so attracted?

In cleaning up blocks after a visiting three-year old departed, I noticed that one of the wooden blocks had a computer drawn on it from a childhood long ago. In complete transparency, there was also a block with a refrigerator drawn on it. My own children, now 23 through 28 years old, haven’t touched these blocks in a long time, but it was definitely their handy work. My kids falsely believe that we had computer games and the internet when they were young, we did not. We had some floppy discs with a few early education games like Reading Rabbit and maybe some  speech recognition software that made for some funny moments, but the computer was not a part  of their everyday life back then. Since they didn’t have much interaction with technology, I find it funny that they were drawing computers on their blocks, as opposed to the refrigerator which they interacted with daily.

As a professional who works in the ed tech field, I understand some of the thinking behind why young children are drawn to computers. Pushing a button on  an interactive toy or technology enabled device can give little ones that rush of independence that they receive when they manipulate something on their own. It can be a satisfying sense of control and engagement with cause and effect. Similar to pop-up books  and levers and switches, little ones are interested in exploring the sights and sounds around them, especially if they have a button to push or a flashing light. This explains the eternal attraction to the TV remote, but what sense of satisfaction was drawn from playing with a computer drawn on a block? It offered no sights, no sounds, no flashing lights, no cause and effect.  What was the attraction?

Like I said, sometimes I just have more questions.


The best use of technology in the classroom is not to mechanize teaching- students are organisms not mechanisms. Technology should be a force multiplier, enabling teachers and students to explore more, create more, connect more, go deeper and capture more learning.

7.8 That Teacher Magic


Thoughts on That Teacher Magic

It’s one part science and one part art.

It’s that sixth sense that helps you hand a student just the right book, that makes them a reader for life.

It’s that one time you interrupt your own lesson, because everyone needs a dance break.

It’s every time you slow down to listen to a student’s story, that makes them feel important.

Yes, students need curriculum and tools and technology and assessments and grades and and and, it doesn’t have the power to transform without that teacher magic.

7.5 Partnering with Students


There were over 1300 sessions offered at ISTE this year and you know I tried to attend them all. I was however forced to focus my efforts, so I concentrated on Personalized Learning, Math Pedagogy, Design Thinking and Professional Development.  I also had the privilege of attending some of  the student presentations and of course hanging out in the interactive Playgrounds. There were a few showcases that highlighted newer technologies like AR and VR,  if you have a minute check out the videos of zSpace in the classroom, so cool! I was happy to see that Makerspace and Maker Faires continue to be a big conversation with the intention of having students create solutions to real world problems, then taking their solutions and working backward to explore the math, science, and other content areas that were applied.

Something else that struck me this year, was a shift in framing the relationship between educator and student as more of a Partnership. A partnership that requires a constant balancing act of support and learner self management. We know that students perform better when they have voice and choice in their learning, so we need to partner with them to develop that student agency.  We see it in our own model of Teacher-Led Instruction vs Student Driven Learning with Mathletics and understand that it is a cooperative effort based on what the student is ready for. There isn’t a time frame on when learning can be completely student driven because new content and new processes are constantly being introduced and they require a learning curve for both the teacher and student. But the idea of a partnership that moves the student to a place where they are able to assess their own progress, make decisions about next steps and have ownership of their own learning is definitely an ideal worth working towards and a partnership worth working on!


7.2 Amplify your Advocacy

Here is an opportunity to partner with educators and policy makers across the U.S. to advocate for equitable access to technology in our schools and the continued funding of programs in ed tech.  The ISTE Action Center shares information on current campaigns and offers suggestions on how to get involved. You can also find an Advocacy Toolkit here for helpful information and great resources for both state and federal programs and policies, including what you need to know about the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Please take a moment and check it out!


6.28 No Tech and Low Tech Tools


Two indispensable tools for math instruction can be easily partnered with Mathletics to make learning more visible and empower every learner. One is the age old math journal, used by teachers across the span of grade levels where students can record their learning and reflections and teachers can monitor student growth. No technology needed, just a crisp sheet of paper and a Ticonderoga pencil for maximum benefits.

The other option is a screen capture program like Jing. Jing is a free tool that teachers can install on classroom laptops that allows students to easily record up to five minutes of video with voice over, while capturing the images on the screen. For example, a teacher can have students work through a set of problems and record their thinking about one of the problems. (sample video here) When the student saves the video a link is auto created, so it can be easily shared. Low technology experience required for maximum benefits.