Maker Movement Comes to ASFM with the Open Mind Zone

The Maker Movement has come to ASFM. The “Open Mind Zone” is the name given to the makerspace on the elementary campus, and its name is part of what makes this particular space unique to other spaces within the maker community.


What is the maker movement? The maker movement is a trend where individuals or groups of people come together to create some type of product. Often the creations are made from combining multiple resources, several of which may be seemingly unrelated. From items that have been discarded or recycled, to dissembled pieces of technology, a “maker” looks for different ways to repurpose nearly any item put before them. For younger builders and creators, various maker kits provide safe tools to assemble pieces of cardboard, plastic, Legos, paper, etc. Makers naturally filter through steps of the design thinking cycle, where they ideate, prototype, and test their creations. Due to this exploration of ideas and prototyping, makers know the meaning of failure and do not view it with a negative connotation. Failure means learning from what went wrong and making adjustments to a product in order to make it that much better.

How is the Open Mind Zone unique? Along with being stocked with multiple resources, the ASFM makerspace has an additional resource- a focus on social and emotional development. While students are coached with creating, rebuilding, and repurposing by tech integration specialists, they are also being guided by a school counselor who prompts them with questions to encourage the development of collaboration and problem solving skills in a positive and inclusive manner. With upwards of twenty students creating in the Open Mind Zone at one time, accidents happen. Lego towers topple, roller coasters made of blocks crumble, artwork gets destroyed and at times tempers rise and feelings get hurt. Having guidance from a counselor helps to get through those frustrating times. The reinforcement of these skills and mindsets are directly transferable to both the classroom and life outside the school walls. With lives full of structure, in the Open Mind Zone, students have the opportunity to experience relationship building through play and exploration.

What’s next? The Open Mind Zone has been in action for about five weeks. Ahead, there are plans to: hold team building sessions, add tech materials such as a 3D printer and production equipment, and to begin encouraging students to document and share their creations with a global audience.

To stay up to date with what is going on in the Open Mind Zone, follow us on Twitter: @OpenMindZone

Weeks 1-5

With Change Comes Frustration… and Learning

With the desire to encourage students to develop creativity and collaborative skills, a 4th grade team of teachers was willing to scrap a traditional project that had been implemented for years, relinquish control, and provide students with some autonomy over the demonstration of their knowledge.

For about 10 years, culminating a unit on electricity, approximately 160 students showcased their knowledge through the creation of an electrical quiz board. With this particular project, there were limited opportunities for creativity and problem solving to be explored. Because technically, the quiz board was limited to 2 formats of completion.

The approach to the final project needed to be shifted. Students were given the prompt to work with group members to address, “a problem in their lives that could be solved applying their knowledge of electricity.” The final products would be presented at an “Electrical Engineering Fair.” With a more open ended task at hand, students had the opportunity for multiple problems and solutions to be addressed- which increased student agency as it provided autonomy over their task, technique, and team- 3 of the 4 “Ts” Daniel Pink refers to in his book, Drive, which examines motivation.

To encourage creativity, students explored different Maker Kits and alternative forms of electricity that allowed them to address their problems from an unconventional perspective.

A FaceTime call with David Patrick, an engineer and green home designer in New York, also allowed students to witness adults as life long learners who address their problems with solutions- as well as the process of developing prototypes and having to learn and adapt to unforeseen obstacles along the way.

The project was a roller coaster of emotions and learning for students. Initially, there was quite a bit of hype over the amount of ownership they had for demonstrating their learning. However, as the building phase began and students ran into hitches and stumbling blocks with their plans, emotions changed. Frustration levels escalated for both students and teachers- as failure was a territory that was rarely experienced and did not play a role in their culture of learning. Students were challenged with the need for adapting their blueprints or starting over completely from scratch. Teachers were confronted with the hurdle of not simply providing answers for students, but responding to students with questions to push and stretch their thinking, while boosting tenacity. On top of experiencing these frustrations, it was an additional challenge for students and teachers to move forward through the process, and reflect on the amount of skill development and learning that was ongoing simultaneously. However, as both stakeholders proceeded, perseverance and creativity around problem solving were exhibited and cultivated. By the time the Electrical Engineering Fair arrived, emotions and excitement returned to where they were at the introduction of the project. What was most exciting to witness was the authentic enthusiasm students had over their own learning, and how devoted they were to completing their product, as they had a personal investment in solving a problem they themselves had identified. Teachers walked away with a wealth of learning as well, upon reflecting on questioning techniques and being a partner in their students learning versus a leader.

While change can be a difficult experience to manage and frustrations have the potential of running high, great learning is there to uncover when willing to reflect and find it.

Multiple Tech Tools Don’t Get in the way of Good Teaching

Be sure to read Laura’s reflection on the experience at the bottom of this post and video.

Last week I had the chance to head into a 5th grade homeroom teacher’s class for an hour of learning. Teacher and Digital Teacher at ASFM, Laura Blanco, had informed me that she was going to be using a few new tools she had not tried out with students before. While she was not asking for help by any means, and was simply sharing this information… I invited myself into her room anyway out of sheer intrigue with what she had described. Luckily, she accepted.

One day prior to this experience Laura first heard about the creation tool ThingLink (upload an image and add links to text, images, and video, then share) in a DT meeting. Just over 24 hours later she decided to try implementing the tool into a lesson with 20 fifth graders. That was the first thing that excited me. Laura had no fear about trying out something completely new to her. She recognized that if the tool proved unsuccessful, she would learn from the experience and either adapt, try again, or accept that this was not the appropriate tool for the lesson.


After creating the ThingLink, Laura then embedded the image into her class Edmodo site for easy sharing and access for her students. Within just a few weeks of school starting, Laura’s students know their Edmodo page is a place to consume, create, and share content.

The ThingLink contained screen cast tutorials (using Screencast-O-Matic), made by Laura, which linked to directions for her students to follow. These directions could be paused, repeated, or fast forwarded so the students were able to learn at a pace that was suitable to their needs.

With the teacher creation and student consumption complete, it was now time for students to begin creating.

Students used the tutorials to create slides in the Explain Everything iPad app- for the creation of their own math tutorials. Based on the results from students’ math assessments, they were assigned a math problem they had mastered, and were asked to solve/record a problem and describe their thought process or steps for completing the problem along the way.

The next step in this project is to go even further. The tutorials the students created will be shared and uploaded into ALEKS (a web based, individualized, and adaptive math program). The videos will be available as a resource for other students to use when they reach a problem of the same skill level they do not know how to answer. These tutorials will act as support for other students with their learning.

Two final pieces about Laura’s implementation of technology caught my eye- beyond being a risk taker, flexible and a problem solver. First, throughout the hour, the focus was never on the technology tool. Sure, there were some nuts and bolts in the beginning of the lesson, but the primary focus was on the learning and development of 21st century skills in her students. Technology did not get in the way or become the star of the hour, student learning was clearly the focus, and technology just provided a means to that outcome. The second, and final, piece, was that students were provided with an authentic situation for the development of these tutorials. Students will witness the direct implementation of the videos, and watch how their own planning, collaborating, creative thinking, and creating are able to help others with their learning.

 Laura’s reflection on the experience:

Creating the videos had two main benefits. First, as the students created the tutorials and tried to figure out how to best explain a concept, they deepened their understanding of it. The second benefit was having these tutorials available for other students to learn from. I knew that the students in my class were in different places with their knowledge and their comfort in using the app and I also knew that some of the math concepts they would be explaining were more difficult than others and some students would need to review first.

I decided that the best way to do this was to design a way for each student to be able to get the tools they need and work at their own pace. As I was planning this, I became more and more interested in seeing how much the students could figure out and problem solve on their own when given a few resources as a starting point. I wanted students to be able to realize their own ability to figure things out, teach themselves through trial and error, and search for answers and tutorials online. Our students have so much technology available, both at school and at home, but sometimes they still fail to recognize that they have a powerful tool right in front of them that can give them all the information they want!

Thinglink provided a great platform to give the students a starting point for this work. I created an image with the instructions and added the resources as links on top of the image. Each student had a laptop to access the Thinglink image and to research and an iPad to execute their video.

Students could use the resources I gave them if they felt like they needed them, or find others on their own. Some students felt comfortable with Explain Everything, so they jumped straight to the Math, while other students watched the entire tutorial, and followed along on their iPads to familiarize themselves with the tool before starting.

This activity was asking a lot from the students. They had to learn about the app, review the math concept, think of the best way to explain it and then plan and execute their video tutorials – and I challenged them to be as independent as possible. I was interested in seeing how much they could take on and how they could problem solve and figure things out on their own.

It was very exciting to watch them work as they figured out what their needs were and how they could find resources online to answer their questions (both for Math and technology). If they didn’t know how to add images on Explain Everything – they found a tutorial for that! If they needed to review partial products before doing their video, they looked it up! Part of the ‘challenge’ was for them to be very independent with this, both the math part and the technology, and the kids were able to go with it, recognize their needs, find answers to their questions and then create their own videos.

DTs SCAMPER with Tech Tools

This SCAMPER activity was adapted from the MSU, MAET Overseas Cohort Year 2, lead by Sean Sweeney and Emily Bouck.

SCAMPER is a mnemonic device representing: Substitute, Combine, Adapt, Modify, Put to another use, Eliminate, and Reverse. Generally, questions are asked around each of the different focus areas to provide a protocol when brainstorming ways to improve, repurpose, or create new products, from existing products.

Prior to getting started with the actual SCAMPER-ing during our DT meeting this morning, a few DTs voiced how they had heard of teachers using this tool for creativity lessons in the classroom before. Therefore, some prior knowledge existed and was shared. In addition, DTs were also asked to pre-read a brief article prior to our session together, so everyone who entered the meeting had at least a minimal amount of exposure to the topic. We then provided pairs of DTs with a random technology tool that is widely used at ASFM; a laptop, headphones, a remote, a USB, a wireless keyboard, an iPad, and a landline phone. Next, pairs of DTs worked through the SCAMPER model, inserting their ideas collaboratively on a Google Spreadsheet.

After approximately 10 minutes of working through the SCAMPER process, DTs were asked to use an additional lens while looking at their assigned tech tool: How would you put this tool to use without a power source- no electricity, battery, or alternative source of energy? Pairs were provided 5 minutes to develop their lists, they then shared their top 2 ideas with the rest of the group. Below is a screenshot of how our DTs altered the use of technology without the use of power.


Of course, after the process we reflected on how teachers might use this SCAMPER process with their students to promote learning, or within their own daily teaching practice. Some discussion points were:

  • It is a great problem solving tool, it provides a process for considering multiple ways to complete a task.
  • It provides an opportunity for the exploration of alternate uses for a tool, and questions what you consider to be the original purpose for that device.
  • It opens the door for developing 21st century skills naturally.
  • It creates dialogue when tools are viewed as obsolete, if people were in need of a tool or device, how could we reuse it without throwing it away?
  • It allows for the repurposing of tools.
  • It promotes creativity and thinking outside the box.
  • It allows students to combine ideas and tools to improve what they are already doing.
  • These tools were not initially designed for educational purposes, yet we see them being used in education frequently, which means SCAMPER-ing has already been done in both education and at ASFM.

In our next meeting, the ELEM DTs will be preparing for a full staff tech training. Following that, we will be having guest DTs sign up, plan, prepare, lead, and reflect on their own activities during our team meetings. I’m looking forward to further collaboration, creativity, and learning from within the DT team at ASFM.

Here is a video that might be used for introducing the concept of SCAMPER to students:

Quick Fire Challenge with Digital Teachers @ ASFM

This morning the Digital Teachers (DTs) at the American School Foundation of Monterrey, met for our bi-monthly morning meeting. The DT role at ASFM is an applied position for teachers interested in taking on leadership responsibilities with technology. DTs are their grade level’s “go to” person for technology needs, they provide staff with professional development, and are often the school’s guinea pigs for sandboxing tools in the early adoption phase.

QuickFire 8/19/14

Today, the Tech Integration Specialists provided the 14 member DT team, with a Quick Fire Challenge. A Quick Fire Challenge (adapted from the TV show “Top Chef”) is a task presented to a group with a limited amount of time and particular parameters for completion. Prior to the meeting, digital teachers were split into 4 groups and pre-assigned an article to read, taken from one of our favorite resources, Edudemic – Connecting Education and Technology. After a few nuts and bolts were discussed, groups were given 20 minutes to create a visual of the key points from their article. They were then given 2 minutes to present their creation to the rest of the team. We provided DTs with the choice between 3 different creation tools/apps for an iPad to present their findings: Penultimate, Haiku Deck, and iMovie.

Creation Tools

Following the presentations, we reflected on the Quick Fire. Some of the ideas were:

  • It is okay to be outside of your comfort zone. When testing new tools and being rushed with time, learning still takes place and we let go of the need for perfection. Learn from the mistakes.
  • It is important to test tools prior to using them in the classroom. Some DTs found it difficult to use a particular presentation tool they had committed to, and reflected on the importance of choosing the best tool to match the content that is to be presented.
  • There was a common theme among each group beginning the activity. They started out by discussing the content they would present, then selected a tool to host the content. This is especially important to consider when selecting tools for learning. Think content and pedagogy, then find the appropriate technology.
  • Taking risks is important, especially as leaders of technology use at ASFM. We need to be a model for testing tools out, learning, unlearning, and relearning.

The Quick Fire was a new activity to the DT meeting this week, and based on the reflections from teachers, it was an activity that proved valuable and one we may return to later down the road.

Below are links to the articles and results the DTs produced and shared.
Article: 10 Things Every Teacher Should Know How To Do With Google Docs

Article: 7 Characteristics of A Digitally Competent Teacher

Article: 3 Must-Know Tips For Anyone Nervous About EdTech

Article: 5 Time-Saving Ways Teachers Can Use Google FormsPenultimate

Youth Media Team

The Youth Media Team is a group of teenagers who attend and report on a wide range of educational conferences all around Ireland. They came together in May 2013, and have been nicknamed the “red shirts” bringing a technology based mix of interviewing, blogging, and Tweeting to a various number of educational events. Recently, they attended the #GREAT14 Conference in Galway, Ireland, that was hosted at the National University of Ireland and presented by the Year Two cohort of Michigan State University Masters of Arts in Educational Technology students.

The Youth Media Team were the keynote speakers for the conference, actually demonstrating two interviews in front of all of the attending participants. They then went on to discuss how they became involved with the group, and also filled attendees in on their goals in life.

After a session I led on Developing 21st Century Skills using Mystery Skype, I was lucky enough to have the chance to be interviewed by Jack, one of the Youth Media Team members. What surprised me most when being interviewed, was how quickly Jack had taken information from the session and created well composed questions to gain more knowledge around the content area. You can access the interview through this link.


To can check out more of the Youth Media Team’s interviews from the #GREAT14 conference as well as past conferences, access their website:


Developing 21st Century Skills Through Mystery Skype Calls

As part of my Individual Professional Growth Plan, this year I decided to pair my own goal with an ASFM School-Wide Goal to: “Establish and expand students’ 21st Century Skills through the use of technology by continuing to develop the skills of communicating, critical thinking, collaboration, creativity, and civic awareness.” Right now 21st Century Skills and technology are being said simultaneously in the same sentence nearly 100% of the time. And while 21st Century Skills really only include a small portion dedicated to technology, technology does lend itself as a valuable tool for purposefully practicing and developing these attributes. Therefore I sought out to accomplish this goal in a manner that would easily blend the two components together, using Mystery Skype as the major tool for the job.

Mystery Skype Calls occur when two classes connect from different locations in the world. The students from each classroom do not know where the other is located, however the goal of the call is to find out exactly which school they attend. Different teachers have different rules and guidelines. We stuck with 2 rules: only “yes” and “no” questions and each class takes a turn at asking questions. The rest is really up to the students. Some jobs we created in my classroom were: Question Askers, Question Answerers, Researchers, Runners who take information to/from Researchers and Question Askers, Recorders that type and post questions and answers through TodaysMeet, and Documenters who took photographs and videos of the experience.

This year my group of 4th graders had their first chance to engage in a Mystery Skype call with Marcie Lewis and her 4th grade students at Ridley College in St. Catherine’s Ontario, Canada. I met Marcie in the MSU, MAET overseas cohort. She actually introduced me to the idea of the event, and provided me with some helpful guidance. Our second call was with Sarah Hayward and her 5th grade students at South River Elementary School in Grottoes, Virginia, USA. I used to teach 3rd grade with Sarah at Elkton Elementary, and knew she would be game for connecting our classrooms. Prior to each live call, my students and I did some “practicing” and developing of our 21st Century Skills to further prepare ourselves for the real thing. Primarily working on, Learning and Innovation Skills– critical thinking and problem solving, communication and collaboration, and creativity and innovation.

Critical thinking and problem solving skills were developed through the “yes” and “no” questions students asked the other classroom about their location. In doing so, students practiced deductive reasoning skills by asking about hemispheres and continents, then narrowing it down to countries, regions of countries, states or provinces, cities or towns and then individual schools. Problem solving came into play when asking questions regarding; Private or public school? International school? Population of students? All of the answers to these questions would lead students in a more direct path to locating the other class. Critical thinking skills were also important in deciding which tool to use: iPad, iTouch, laptop, atlas, globe, or social studies book? Which tool would be the most efficient and effective in locating the class quickly? Even which search engine to use was decided upon by students. They made the decision about the appropriate time to switch between Google Maps vs Google throughout the 45-60 minute call. Students who were in charge of speaking to the participating class also developed their critical thinking skills, as they reviewed the knowledge they had already gained and would field questions based on this information.

Communication and collaboration are skills that were relied on and strengthened during the Mystery Skype calls as well. Communication was important as students researching needed to remind each other of questions that had already been asked, as well as the answers that had been provided. Students shared their knowledge of geography and researching skills with one another as they worked toward finding the other group of students. “Runners” moved between research stations and students in charge of speaking directly to the participating class, to communicate the questions that had been formulated by the collaborative teams. Speakers discussed with one another whether the question was suitable based on the criteria they had already attained. In addition, pairs of students collaborated and communicated on documenting and keeping record of what had been asked and answered, in order to assist with future inquiries. On a final note, my classroom is full of ESL students, as a majority of them are native Spanish speakers. This experience also provided an authentic format for practicing their communication skills with native English speakers.

Creativity and innovation played a role when students were conducting their research and formulating questions to be asked. If students were having a difficult time with search results, they often altered their search. Wording the search differently or posing a question into the web browser were creative ways students tried to receive the information they were looking for. Searches for blogs about schools in specific areas, looking at “Top Ten” lists of popular cities in a state or province, or using Google Images were all innovative ways students had been able to use the web to draw their search nearer. When providing yes or no questions, students had also become innovative. Rather than asking, “Do you speak English at your school?” students asked, “Is English the first language in the country where you go to school?”- trying to determine if it is an international school or a country where English is the native language.

21st Century Life and Career Skills were also developed as it is easy to see how flexibility and adaptability are required throughout the Skype call. Based on responses, students needed to adapt searches and inquiries, especially at the beginning of the call. As there is very little teacher involvement in the experience, students took initiative and self-directed their plan of action. Student voice is definitely heard throughout the call, as students are the center of the learning that is taking place. Social and cross-cultural skills were strengthened not only with the individual class, but with the class they were participating with- by taking turns, listening purposefully, and speaking clearly. Leadership and responsibility came through naturally from the beginning of the call to the end, as students reminded each other not to repeat a question and to stay on task. And finally, productivity and accountability were reflected on after the call was complete, asking, “What went well?” and “How might we improve for the next time?”

What I have found most valuable about this experience is how it aligns with our School Wide Goal of enhancing these skills through the use of technology- and it is not a stretch to do so. From making the actual Skype call, to researching, to aggregating questions and answers, to documenting the whole experience- none of this would have been made possible without the use of technology.

If you are interested in participating in a Mystery Skype call with us, feel free to contact me directly or register at #MysterySkype.

See a transcript of our class’s most recent Skype call.

Tools used by our class: