TTL Hiatus

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“It was Amazing!” From High Tech to Low/No Tech and Back Again: Reflections from a Week of Teaching in the DR

The smile says it all!

The smile says it all!

Within the classroom environment, 1:1 iPad programs engage students and help inspire new models of instruction and project-based learning, sharpening our collective focus on the cultivation of the 21st Century skills of creation, collaboration, communication, and critical thinking.

Getting outside of the classroom environment to immerse ourselves in other cultures and ecosystems as we do during our experiential learning “Trips” week is also how we are transforming teaching and learning at my school, Sugar Bowl Academy.

This spring, SBA Spanish teacher Aly Kendall and I organized a weeklong experiential learning/service trip to the Dominican Republic, where we worked alongside eight SBA students teaching English in a small town public school through non-profit Outreach360.

We had none of the high tech tools to which Sugar Bowl Academy teachers and students have grown happily accustomed; no iPads, no LCD projectors, no wireless routers, no Apple TV for mirroring, certainly no air conditioning, and not even a photocopier.

“I had to teach for the first time, which was a shock in itself. But I also taught children who spoke a different language, in one of the hottest climates in the world, and in overcrowded classrooms without windows,” said SBA’s Sinead Danagher (’16).

Lesson planning was a time-consuming but creative and collaborative process of figuring out kinesthetic ways (TPR) to teach new vocabulary and of developing illustrations to teach new English vocabulary which we would tape to the chalkboard during class sessions.


We ate Dominican food, danced Dominican dances, and taught with the same limited tools that a Dominican teacher has at his/her disposal. We were fully immersed.


One of our objectives during our week of English teaching at the Escuela Básica John F. Kennedy in Monte Cristi was to teach the concepts of the words “this, that, these, and those.” A considerable amount of critical thinking, creation, collaboration, and communication went into developing that particular lesson plan within and between our two teaching teams.

For the most part, the lesson involved illustrations – singular and plural – taped to front and back walls of classrooms, along with some TPR.

We also developed what we initially thought was a brilliant kinesthetic way to teach the expression “stop to talk,” but ultimately – and after discussing during our evening reflection session – left the lesson feeling that the students probably thought that we were telling them all to “stop talking!”


Students certainly recognize the value of Sugar Bowl Academy’s experiential learning trips, both in terms of their own development and of the benefits that service-focused experiential learning trips in particular offer to others living in less fortunate societies.

“I grew by having my eyes opened to the culture and struggles of the Dominican people, and by leaving a positive impact on the community,” said Sinead.

Said Julia Puchkov: “I saw what opportunities I have, as opposed to the Dominican kids. I really realized how lucky I am. Also my view of the world grew and expanded.”

Being away from their tech-infused environs also helped our students grow in ways that they most likely had not foreseen. Without the powerful pull of their mobile devices, students found themselves engaging one another on a very personal level.

“Being without Internet in a mostly contained environment for 8 days made everyone spend more time together. We played cards for hours and everyone became much closer,” said Sinead.

“I don’t think I understand the meaning of life but I think I understand happiness and generosity a bit more. Once you are removed from materialism, you can truly appreciate the wonders all around you.”


Having co-led trips abroad to the Caribbean, Latin American, and Europe, I have seen firsthand how – thoughtfully planned and executed – experiential learning can be a powerful and transformative experience.

At the secondary level, it is perhaps best exemplified by THINK Global School, which has students “immerse themselves in twelve countries over four years.”

At the postsecondary level, the University of Virginia’s Semester at Sea leaps to mind as a leader in experiential learning.

Also at the postsecondary level, I have written previously here how Minerva Schools at Keck Graduate Institute is attempting to build a for-profit earned undergraduate degree model on a foundation of experiential learning abroad.

Experiential learning has been in vogue for some time, but appears to be gathering greater momentum across the learning continuum.

Provided we can accept its inherent hazards – particularly when it involves travel to the developing world – the experiential learning movement truly has the power to transform teaching and learning and to give our students the skills they will need to succeed in a global economy.


If adjusting to a teaching and learning environment mostly bereft of technology proved challenging to all of us on the Outreach360 experience in Monte Cristi, it was also a readjustment to return to a classroom where each student carries an iPad and where the classroom is equipped with write-on walls, LCD projector, Apple TV, air conditioning, and glass windows.

In the hands of teachers who embrace technology knowledge along with content knowledge and pedagogy knowledge as essential and equally important elements of their toolkits, these technologies mean that more learning, and higher quality learning, happens at a much faster pace.

In the Dominican Republic, for reasons both related and unrelated to technology access, learning at a poco-a-poco pace was, for the student-teachers from Sugar Bowl Academy, and remains, I suspect, for most all teachers in the developing world, the most realistic expectation. The many rewards, however, of this experiential learning/service trip – though intangible – were rich and deeply satisfying.

Said Kathleen Smith (’17): “One day there was a boy in second grade named Luis, and he wasn’t understanding the concept I was teaching him,” wrote one student/teacher on our Outreach360 trip. “There was clearly a language barrier, and I could have gotten really frustrated… He finally got it, and it was the best feeling in the world to see him smile and feel proud.

“It was amazing!”

“Even though the kids didn’t have a lot they came to school with a smile on their face and were excited to learn. It really taught me to appreciate what I have and that life isn’t all about the things we own,” said Pilar Alvarez.

Our wonderful student-teachers at the clock tower in Monte Cristi

Our wonderful student-teachers at the clock tower in Monte Cristi


(Concluding on an aside, the staff and programming at Outreach360-Monte Cristi was phenomenal across the board.  Jump right in!)

Change Agent of the Day: Gary Stager on Seymour Papert

Happy hump day, change agents!

Wednesday is the hump in the work week, the day when we start looking toward the weekend ahead and to consider what we can reasonably accomplish with the rest of our work week given where we stand at midweek and what we expect of ourselves – and others expect of us – on both the work and family fronts.

Assessing where we currently stand on the hypothetical “change scale” is the subject of today’s brief post.

In highlighting “What’s Transforming Teaching and Learning Today,” as I strive to do in this virtual space as regularly as possible, I have neglected to mention the efforts of one particularly important and often overlooked change agent who has a lot to say about where we currently stand: Dr. Seymour Papert.

Much earlier than most, Papert embraced epistemological pluralism and the empathetic notion that computers can empower each individual learner to find ways best suited to him/herself to learn new skills and material.

As Papert predicted, though, the traditional unidirectional teaching paradigm – lecture based, paper-wasting, and privileging primarily those with the courage to raise their hands for their all-knowing teacher – is alive and well in our schools. What exists in schools today is primarily sporadic and idiosyncratic technology integration more geared toward Substitution and Augmentation rather than actual Modification or Redefinition on Ruben Puentadura’s SAMR model.

In his TEDx talk entitled “Seymour Papert: Inventor of Everything,” Gary Stager offers a wonderful overview of Papert’s thoughts and body of work, and contemplates “the backlash against modernity and the things that are in the best interests of kids.” Stager defines constructionism, addresses the connections between the thoughts of Papert and John Dewey, and offers case studies of this “backlash against modernity.”

On hump day, I celebrate Gary Stager for highlighting Papert’s important contributions to the change movement. It leaves me with the feeling that I have much to accomplish before taking a weekend rest. Seymour Papert: Inventor of Everything

Educreations and Explain Everything: Teaching and Learning on the Small Screen

 I hit the “Play” button on the video post and the voice of a virtual calculus student comes over my computer speakers as I stare at the snow-white screen in front of me. 

 “Hi Calculus class! This is Daisy, and here is my problem.”

“So you have a hill” – a down-sloping black line appears on my screen – “you’re going to have two gates, a blue gate and a red gate” – the blue gate appears uphill and the red gate downhill.  

“You have a skier at the first gate right now, and his coach is standing perpendicular to the second gate…” – two stick figures appear at their respective gates on the hill, then Daisy walks me through some mathematical formulas before letting me know the following: “We are looking for ‘dx’ over ‘dt,’ which is going to tell us how fast the skier is going.”

As Daisy walks me through the problem, explaining the steps along the way, I hear her mental wheels turning as I see the solution unfold on my computer screen. 

Educreations – the iPad application that this particular Calculus student is using to record her solution to the problem she was tasked with solving for homework – is a prime example of how one-to-one iPad programs deliver on their promise to move us in the direction of more active teaching and learning environments. Using Educreations or Explain Everything (a more fully featured version of Educreations), teachers can screencast and post instructional videos to virtual spaces such as YouTube for the benefit of their students, and students can show their mastery of the material presented through their own iPad screen castings. 

Said Daisy: “The interactive aspect of the project is really helpful to my understanding of the material. I think it helped everyone in the class to have to actually think through the process of the problem, instead of just doing the math mindlessly.”

Daisy’s recorded explanation also affords the teacher invaluable insights:

The recorded narration of the problem-solving process helps me to truly see and understand the students’ thought process as they are working through the problems, and to identify where, if anywhere, the break-down in reasoning occurs. On the students’ end, using the iPad seems to really enhance their engagement in the assignment and their investment in the learning process.” – Steve Ascher

You can watch and listen to Daisy’s solution to her related-rates 
calculus problem at

Moths to Flames, or Artfully Augmented Reality?

ImageListening to Katherine Isbister of the NYU Game Innovation Lab on NPR’s Science Friday called to mind the divide that exists among educators today over technology integration.

One caller complained of the “atomization of human interactions” that he sees from “people running around looking at screens.” He said he didn’t see the point in GIL research that could further encourage our addiction to our (mobile) devices.

Another caller wondered about how the GIL’s research could apply to help rural schools that have taken advantage of federal funding initiatives to put more of those same screens in our students’ hands in an effort to keep them from being further atomized by virtue of the isolated physical space they inhabited.

This is a healthy debate to have, but, for the most part, the debate is over and we have moved collectively and decidedly in the direction of greater technology integration in schools, rural and urban. The reality of that move is much more complex than either atomization and isolation versus vastly greater and healthier interconnectedness.

I used to drive a particularly introverted student to and from school, and he would tell me about the massive multiplayer on-line games that he spent a great deal of time playing when he got home. I sometimes found myself wishing that this student were required to participate in athletics, and, yet, I knew that athletics would likely not be an area that would leave him feeling good about himself.

Talk to students today who play massive multiplayer on-line games and they will tell you stories of interactions they have regularly in virtual spaces with people in faraway countries. Through these interactions, they have learned simple words and expressions in other languages, made new friends, and learned valuable (perhaps painful) lessons about cultural stereotypes. Without access to those games, would students like these go outdoors and have consistently healthy interactions with peers in their own communities? Would they have gone out and gotten in trouble, and learned from those experiences? Would they have spent that gaming time in front of the television watching SpongeBob Squarepants? Who is to say, really?

Talk to people who first met in virtual spaces and are now moving in together and planning futures together, as is the case with one of my close friends.

The reality of what Ms. Isbister called our “moths to flame” tendency is that we’re really interacting much more often with many more people through increasing access to virtual spaces made possible by new technologies.

It is no longer really about whether to further integrate technology in education, it is how – as Ms. Isbister so eloquently put it – to artfully use new technology to improve learning outcomes and quality of life.

I celebrate the Game Innovation Lab for thinking of artful ways to enhance our virtual and physical lives as well as our education. I find it fascinating that new research about “power poses” is informing research at GIL on ways to help students deal with math anxiety to improve learning outcomes.

The Game Innovation Lab has the minds to make a difference in education, to keep us away from the flames and steer us in the direction of artful integration of technology. Thank you, GIL!

The Roman Goddess of Wisdom Will be Watching

For a few social media entrepreneurs, fortunes have been made off of our love for sharing our thoughts and photos in virtual spaces. 

It is refreshing to see that some of that money is being put toward transforming higher education models. 

Snapfish CEO Ben Nelson has put his financial resources behind for-profit Minerva University, and the school will open its doors in San Francisco in the fall of this year with the promise of offering an Ivy League-caliber education for a fraction of the cost: $10,000 per year, not including travel costs associated with a global immersion graduation requirement that will have students changing world locations (as yet unspecified) every semester. 

While for-profit education models have not yet yielded the desired results, even those within the ranks of higher education are starting to see the end of the current higher education paradigm. Just last week, Clay Shirky of New York University published a blog post forecasting “The End of Higher Education’s Golden Age.” 

Shirky says that tenured professors have been complacent at best or complicit at worst as state funding cuts have led to skyrocketing tuitions and caste systems on college campuses that exploited graduate students or non-tenured colleagues. You can essentially hear Shirky argue in favor of something along the lines of what Minerva Institute is pledging to offer at various points in his post, including the following: 

If we can’t keep raising costs for students (we can’t) and if no one is coming to save us (they aren’t), then the only remaining way to help these students is to make a cheaper version of higher education for the new student majority.

While Minerva’s Web site qualifies its existence as “*Pending WASC (Western Association of Schools and Colleges) Approval,” there is plenty to lend it credibility in scholarly circles and in competing for the best and brightest in the college admissions arena.

ImageMinerva Dean Stephen Kosslyn is a former Harvard University Dean of Behavioral Sciences. The school will essentially be run through the Keck Graduate Institute, part of the highly respected undergraduate liberal arts group known as the Claremont University Consortium.

After their first year in San Francisco, students will study in a different location in the world each semester. Presumably, much of the content would be delivered online through both LMS and other virtual spaces, with a small number of teaching faculty facilitating the learning process on site. 

Shirky’s blog post is a shot across the bow, to say the least, of higher ed as it exists today. Nelson’s resources make it possible for him to do much more than blog about the need for change in higher education. And, even if he hopes to capitalize off the venture, Nelson has made a decision to put his financial resources into something that offers the promise of transforming higher education to better suit the means and needs of the overwhelming majority of today’s students.

They will be competing in a global economy when they graduate. Having had a variety of cross-cultural, immersive experiences will certainly work to their advantage. Having accumulated a lot of debt along the way will not. 

On Super Bowl Sunday, I celebrate Nelson, Kosslyn, and all the others working to make Minerva succeed. I feel certain that the Roman goddess of wisdom will be watching to see how this unfolds.