teaching with the tools of a digital world

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“Beam Me Up Scotty!”

First off I want to apologize for the lack of posts for most of this school year. Last year my blog was such a successful part of my reflection and my own learning as a practitioner that I am dissapointed that I haven’t managed to make it a part of my regular routine. I can say this has still been a great year! Despite not utilizing my reflection tool I have learned, thought and changed a lot about my teaching and more importantly the learning that happens in my classroom.


A major focus of this year has been on designing successful group work. (I purposely refer to it as “team work” in my classroom rather than group work to highlight the differences between groups – any number Β of people considered to be related in some way – and teams – a number of persons associated in a joint action or task who are dependent upon each other). Students have worked in teams in th PBL (Project Based Learning) activities in each of my courses. My Earth Science and Physics classess have been entirely project based, whereas my Chemistry and Atronomy courses have utilized PBL at times but not entirely, this has mostly been due to time constraints.


Another related aspect of my class that I have focused on has been Game Based Learning. Before discussing what I have done in my classroom and plan to do I would like to relate an experience that I have had very recently that exemplifies the reasons I am studying and implementing GBL in my classroom.


A colleague of mine recently purchased a multi-player computer simulation game, Artemis.Β “Artemis simulates a spaceship bridge by networking several computers together.

One computer runs the simulation and the “main screen”, while the others serve as workstations for the normal jobs a bridge officer might do, like Helm, Communication, Engineering, and Weapon Control” (Robertson, Thom. “What Is Artemis?”Β ARTEMIS. Artemis, n.d. Web. 05 July 2012. <>).


I have played my fair share of video games, but I have to say that Artemis represents the most fun I have ever had playing a video game. It was highly-challenging, exciting, engaging and collaborative. It embodied all of the things that I wish my classes always had. Even though I have been thinking about a game-based classroom for some time this experience with Artemis has encouraged me to press forward and accomplish the goals that I have. To transform my classroom into a game-based learning environment.


My classroom has always been a place where I am constantly experimenting, but I think this will be the largest scale that I have ever experimented at in one single instance and it will also be the most complete transition I have ever made (in my two short years of teaching…).


I have poured all of my available resources into this endeavor. I have used my Summer Professional Development time and my Materials Grant funds from the Knowles Science Teaching Foundation ( to support this transition and I have been thinking about this change all year and will continue to work all summer on it, as well. It will be a year long (or longer) endeavor and effort. Please join me!

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No Cellphones in School!

My school currently has a policy of “no cellphones in class unless your teacher says you can use it for a learning activity.” I think that has basically meant no cellphones in class, period. I’ve been looking for a way for student to use their cellphones in my class in a meaningful way and I stumbled upon QR codes.
QR codes are two dimensional bar codes, similar to those on cans at the grocery store, yet they can hold more information. The biggest difference is they are starting to show up all over the place from business cards, to store fronts, to advertisements and even billboards. You can have a QR code made which says whatever you want it to and have it printed on just about anything you want. If you aren’t sure what one looks like do a quick Google search and I’ll give you a chance to decode your first a little later on in this post.
I decided to try and use QR codes as an instructional tool, but I was hung on not all of my students having smartphones that could allow them to download a free QR code reading app. That was when I miraculously stumbled upon stapmyinfo. This service was design to provide business men and women with a way to obtain QR codes for business cards and other materials and as a way for “non-smartphone” customers and colleagues to obtain their contact and business information. In short if you can send picture text messages you can decode the QR codes.

We have started using them pretty regularly in class. We’ve used them to check answer for our minerals and igneous rock lessons and at different stations for different minerals and rock characteristics where students describe and identify in their own words and then evaluate them based on what is in the decoded QR. The last two days students were asked to create their own QR codes based on a researched definition and observed characteristics of different igneous rocks.
One of the biggest challenges has been that students are automatically skipping to the part of the lesson of activity that has a QR code and skipping the instructions or other activities. I’ve had to do some careful monitoring and some creative QR codes and lesson planning. But I think it has been worth it to get the students more engaged and interested in the learning.
The students have really enjoyed the experience of using their phones in the classroom. The first day, however, was pretty comical. I had asked the students to all bring their cellphones to class. When I asked them to take them out of their pockets and use them they were quite cautious! I think they thought it was a big trick and I was secretly planning to single-handedly confiscate the phones of the entire freshmen class in one day! No one wanted to be the first to pull the phone out of their pocket out of fear that I would take it away! They have gotten used to the idea and a number of them have expressed an excitement for using their phones in class.Here is your chance to scan your first QR code if you haven’t before. Just take a picture of the QR code above and send it in a text message or email to (or you can download one of the many free QR code readers for your smartphone – this is a much more streamlined process).