Category Archives: learning

BART Curates Berkshire Museum

We wanted to see what students would do if they were given the chance to curate a local museum and share their experiences with peers back at school. Karin Stack, local charter school art and digital teacher at Berkshire Arts and Technology School (BART), agreed to bring several teams of middle school students to the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield, MA.

Museum staff—Craig and Maria—were amazing, and led a “sprint introduction” to a number of content areas students could use as jumping off points for their own tours—aquariums, Alexander Calder toys, Egyptian mummies, weapons, Hudson School artists, and much, much more.

Students chose areas they liked, and that they thought their peers would like, and then spent an hour doing a deeper dive into their content area, researching, discussing, joking around, outlining, and prepping.

Students had behind-the-scenes access….

Less than an hour later the first team started their live video stream, sharing their findings with their friends and peers, interacting with them, and fielding questions.

Creating the tours was fascinating. While there were of course some bumps along the way, as a first pilot, the session worked quite well. Students harnessed diverse resources to produce something they could share with a meaningful audience. They interviewed museum professionals, researched on the web, and photo-documented museum archives. And they went behind the scenes into the archives.

We’ll have more extensive data and feedback to report in the near future!

We used to do our livestream.

From Oldivai to Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko

Posting from the Mount Greylock DML Lab:

Instead of downloading and printing another Tardis from Thingiverse, we’re shaking it up a bit and exploring some of the affordances unique to the 3D printer. While making our own creations is a top priority for the DML Lab, we’ve also discovered some amazingly cool items that have been captured/rendered for educational use.

On the left is a skull of Homo habilis, discovered by Kamoya Kimeu (1973), and excavated by Richard and Meave Leakey. Estimated age: 1.9 million years.

We also printed some tools (1:1) made by homo erectus from the Lake Turkana region in East Africa. Thanks to for offering all this valuable data and 3D files to us.

Also pictured on the far right is the Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, on which the European Space Agency landed a probe several months ago. Rosetta spacecraft launched in 2004 and arrived at Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on 6 August 2014.

These items are fascinating. In less than two hours, we printed a tool that was had been discovered and unearthed from the historic grounds of Olduvai. And thanks to the European Spaces Agency (ESA), we discovered the data for and printed a representation of the comet scientists set out to explore over ten years ago, and some 6.4 billion kilometers travel distance from earth.  Now, in our humble DML Lab, we sit, holding a hand ax, musing and asking questions. Why is this a tool and not just a chipped piece of rock? Who was this being who made this ax? What did they do with it? And How did the ESA compute the spacecraft’s  trajectory to land a probe on a moving comet?

We’ve teleported objects from history and from outer space. What next?

This work was helped by funding through the National Writing Project / MacArthur’s Educator Innovator initiative.

DML Lab Updates 2014

We’ve been doing some totally fun work recently at the school DML Lab.

Digital Media and Learning Lab
Digital Media and Learning Lab

One of the senior bio classes beta tested the Gates funded STEM game Radix, MIT’s new immersive environment for genetics and biology. (Students land on an island and encounter a group called the “Curiosi, who ask them to help find solutions to some of the island’s worst problems, both environmental and societal.”)

Our machines were perhaps too slow to run the game efficiently, and it took a while to learn the game mechanics/terms before delving into the genetics content, but the overall response from the students was quite positive. They were inspired to continue the quest and learn more about the Radix world/ecosystem, plants, animals. MIT Education Arcade formal beta starts in Feb., I believe.

NWP Educator Innovator

The DML Lab received some funding from the National Writing Project for an Educator Innovator Grant. Earlier in the year, I used some of those funds to offer faculty PD sessions in Mozilla’s PopcornMaker with roughly 15+ faculty from the local high school and two elementary schools. The idea here was to use Popcorn to loosen up, relax, and play with digital media in fun ways by making presentations that draw content from the live web. This resource is ideal in that it encourages a high level of participatory engagement with the web as teachers create perpetually morphing experiences with video, location, Wikipedia, Soundcloud, Flickr, etc.

And, inspired by a student I work with, I used some of the Educator Innovator funds to purchase a PrintrBot Simple for roughly $300. The printer arrived—-unassembled—-and soon there was a bunch of students hanging out during Directed Study, building the printer and hacking various other projects. Very exciting. AutoDesk123D Catch, for example, offers a cell phone capture app we’re looking forward to using.

Hopefully we’ll soon print our first test cube. We’ve run into problems though because the PrintrBot shipped with no firmware on the card.

We’re also headed to Williams College to see the 3D printer they constructed this winter term.

Addendum: we checked out artist Lorna Barnshaw‘s work. She attempted to 3D print herself.  Seeing her work got us thinking about some of the possibilities beyond merely printing representations of geometric shapes or human forms. What, for instance, would it look like to print a spoken word?

(ex)Citing Remixes


The DML Lab collaborates with teachers and students to integrate digital media with curriculum. Ideally the units we create are curiosity-driven, digitally connected, and reinforcing the work of the class/teacher. In Science 8 recently we wanted to demonstrate knowledge of biomes and ecosystems—flora/fauna, climate, abiotic factors, and environmental concerns such as deforestation, drilling, global warming, invasive species, etc.  In the past, students had made posters (which are still fun and cool!). This time, though, we introduced Mozilla’s PopcornMaker. We had also used Zeega in another class. Both are resources to remix the web and create media experiences that tap the Internet’s shifting data flow. The (80+) students did a good job, learning the PopcornMaker within a class period or two, researching, and creating some beautiful and at times informative pieces. See several examples in  here (works best in Chrome) or here.

Because tools like Popcorn and Zeega can tap the web (a Flickr or Twitter hashtag, a Wikipedia entry), and because those content sources change, it’s difficult to cite consistently and precisely what you’re pulling into the Popcorn project. Our students found much of their information from their Holt Science & Technology Environmental Science textbook, but I am sure other content found its way into the presentations. So the question arises: How do you cite a remix? Do you cite a remix of a remix? Creative Commons begins to address the attribution problem. And we could always use a Works Cited page at the end of the Popcorn project. But I’m not sure that adequately addresses our scholarly responsibility. Mitch Resnick and the Scratch team encourage remixing—borrowing others’ Scratch creations, using them as starting points, then modding them. Additionally, bringing outside (knowledgeable) voices into a presentation strengthens the argument. But when is appropriation alright, and how do we reconcile this act with academic research process?

Creative Commons

Thoughts on remixing the web and introducing (new) digital media into the classroom.

Rights. As I understand, users have relinquished some degree of their rights when they signed a user agreement with, say, Flickr, so if the company (Yahoo) wants to share their photos, the user may or may not have recourse. Flickr thankfully uses Creative Commons, but what’s at stake here if attribution is not required the corporate content owner?

Content. When I introduced new tools—Scratch, Zeega, Popcorn, and others—the project content was sometimes not as deep as I had hoped. Yet in one unit the Prezis students made on periodic table elements delved deep into the atomic structures and properties of various elements. Did one tool lend itself more readily to the granular tasks at hand? No doubt, there is a delicate balance to be struck among several factors: the time and brain power needed to ramp up and learn tech and the creative process and research and academic rigor.

Shininess coefficient. Sometimes with limited effort students can produce a slick presentation, but it lacks depth. We need to see through this illusion and coax students toward substance.

Zeega and Popcorn

Remarkable and powerful is the HTML5ness of PopcornMaker’s capabilities— it embraces the web and folds live portions of it directly and dynamically into the project. Students, though, habituated to a PPT or Keynote mindset, think in the linearity of slides. More experience with these tools will hopefully open up greater willingness to experiment with the live web and its branching, looping, constantly changing elements.

Grade. How do you grade a project that shifts and changes with the Internet?


Shininess coefficient (PDF)

An unusual opportunity: Implement Connected Learning

Connected Learning at Mount Greylock High School

Mount Greylock Tech Ex - Connected Learning

For the past eight months we’ve been implementing a Digital Media and Learning program at Mount Greylock High School. This new role is ideal in that it allows me to listen to teachers and students, then build ways for Connected Learning to amplify and augment their work. The nascent DML Lab has been implementing ideas both through a Tech Exploratory and with individual teachers, starting the organic needs that arise from the classes. The DML Lab is great in that it combines Jim Gee and Michael Levine’s Digital Teacher Corps with MacArthur/UC Irvine-backed Connected Learning. Best of all, it starts with questions and inquiry.

Thus far, we’ve completed projects in Physics, Science 8, English, Digital Citizenship, and other fields. We’ve also played with varying and various degrees of technology: MaKey MaKey, Fold.It, Scratch,,, and Mozilla projects such as Popcorn, Thimble, and Hackasraus.

OpenPathDemo_MountGreylockTEchExAnd, we’ve done some great live demos. Our OpenPath team (Jared Lamenzo, Ilona Parkansky, Shawn Van Every, and I) recently won our second round of funding from the Mozilla Foundation  and NSF to write some code. The first iteration of OpenPath uses WebRTC for real-time communication and co-learning around location. We demoed the first product with Pat Blackman’s and my Tech Exploratory, and shared insights and vision on how location-based learning, curation, and co-creation can take place in non-institutional settings, out in the world, where questions arise naturally, fluidly, spontaneously.

We also had the good fortune to demo the metaLAB at Harvard’s Zeega, which uses HTML5 as a  web publishing and interactive storytelling tool, using social media and real-time platforms. Ahmed did a great demo for us, and driven by the student interest, we created a mash-up: Gangnam Nayan Cat.

Digital Citizens. Digital Footprints.

I am two months into my work with Mount Greylock Regional High School, where I am responsible for a nascent program in Digital Media and Learning. While the role is relatively uncharted at the school, I knew that I wanted to establish common ground regarding how we understood digital media and learning, and in specific, digital citizenship.

Liza Barrett teaches English at Mount Greylock and was cautiously eager to integrate technology with curriculum. Her 7th-grade classes typically do a multi-week exploration of autobiography in the fall, and we decided to fold digital citizenship into their work. Here is a sketch of our goals, process, and outcomes.

“Real” selves
Rather than simply tell students what to think, we asked them to generate ideas about themselves in a variety of contexts. First, we asked them to do a series of exercises, writings, and discussions concerning the different literal/physical/”real” contexts where they might find themselves—the classroom, the home, the playing field, hanging out with friends. The work was designed to raise their awareness of different contexts, their “self,” and how they act in those contexts. Of nearly 100 students, almost no one listed a digital context for themselves. Our work, however, suggests that they spend on average 20-25% of their waking time in some sort of digital context. (For recent data on teens and digital media, see Kristen Purcell’s presentation for Pew Research. Of note, “Some 76% of ALL teens are “social media users.“)

Digital Selves
Our next step was to investigate the digital contexts where students spend time. Across the board, these discussions were especially robust. Students shared places where they hang out with friends, where they spend time and money, and where they leave a digital footprint. Their comments were varied, from sharing ideas about applications and sites to expressing concerns about privacy, misrepresentation, and needing to unplug. We also defined citizenship and asked them to make linkages to the key concepts inherent in the definition—citizens belong to communities and groups, and they have rights and responsibilities. What then are your rights and responsibilities in a digitally connected world?

The culmination of the project presented students with a choice between two autobiographical essay assignments, both offering opportunities to include their digital “self” as a topic.  We also devised a project for collaborative group work where the kids synthesized their findings and opinions on digital citizenship to make a tri-fold mock-up/prototype pamphlet for elementary school students, presenting their Top Five Tips for being a good Digital Citizen. This project allowed students to distill their ideas, and to become teachers that share what they believe and know in an intelligent fashion.

Of note, our in-class work asked students to map out the hours of the day—asleep, awake—and then come up with an estimate of hours spent on some form of digital media (usually connected digital media: websites, games, mobiles, apps, etc.). The averages across classes suggest that 20-25% of their waking time spent with/in the digital. This specific exercise was especially powerful in that it implicitly underscored why we should investigate selfhood in a digitally connected world. It also highlighted our broader need to think about how kids are learning in these spheres and what Mount Greylock is doing to lead that process. Creating a Digital Citizenship unit that asks the entire incoming 7th grade to rigorously investigate their roles in these contexts is an amazing step toward this goal.

Super Awesome Sylvia, DML2012, destroying, making

I met Super Awesome Sylvia at DML2012 in San Francisco a few weeks back.

Super Awesome Sylvia at DML2012

Her dad @techninja42 took this photo of us.

Super Awesome Sylvia spoke on a panel with Gever Tully (tinkering school), Jess Klein (Hackasaurus, Mozilla) and Dr. Preeti Gupta. She showed some clips from her maker show, episodes where she gets to destroy things, make things, experiment with stuff—sewable circuitry, Arduino, Coke Mentos Rockets, and MakerBot, among other things. Totally fun.

I had just spent the last few days at The California Academy of Sciences, working on our Universal Badges project for the Mozilla Foundation, etc. Seeing all the kids at the Academy (they supposedly have close to 2 million visitors a year), and talking a bit with Super Awesome Sylvia at DML2012, made me think of our projects at home. I was inspired to push forward with Hazel to complete our Etsy DIY amp (hesslerk).

After viewing some of Super Awesome Sylvia’s shows, we set to work soldering (lead-free!).

We need to troubleshoot, as the amp is distorting, but it still sounds pretty dirty and fun.

Here are some resources, in case you’d like to check out Super Awesome Sylvia:

Sylvia Show

corrupting “games”

“If you fall into the trap of using games just as any other medium and you aren’t understanding the broader social changes and values that the technology is promoting, then you are going to be using new tools to reach old ends.” —Kurt Squire.

This fall has been researching mobile use at the K-12 level, trying to understand if students and teachers are actually using mobile phones for learning. We have been interviewing superintendents, principals, IT Directors, teachers, and students, representing over 15 schools (and nearly 10k students) in Western Mass.—charter / public, elementary and high schools. Though this work is still in progress, we presented some preliminary findings at Mozilla/HASTAC/MacArthur’s several weeks ago at Parsons The New School.

Among other things, we have found that while many administrators, teachers, and students had some sort of mobile device, phones were not really being used for learning—either formally in class work or informally outside of class. At, we presented some of the reasons why mobile phones were not being leveraged, then made recommendations for how we might address the situation. We argued for creation of Open Mobile Learning, an open web-based resource for mobile learning lessons. And building on James Gee and Michael Levine’s idea for a Digital Teacher Corps, we recommended creation of a Mobile (Digital) Teacher Corps.

Why the quote from Kurt Squire, then? Squire’s caution about “using new tools to reach old ends” resonates with a sub-theme emerging from the research. When asked about games, some students remarked that there are two types of games: ones designed by Educators and ones designed by gamers (people who love and actually play games).  “The ones designed by educators suck,” said one student candidly. Of course, the binary is not absolute—there are educators who design good games, etc.—but the point is a well taken, and that’s what Squire begins to address in his DMLcentral interview when he discusses how we can design good, comprehensive games for education. What I am also hearing in conversation with students is that the meaning of “game” has already shifted. Kids are suspicious of  computer “games” when they’re rolled out in school settings. And when I watch third graders perform rote memory exercises in the guise of a game, I fear that we’ve corrupted the “game,” moving it away from what Jane McGonigal describes as  “gamefulness.” Clearly, a game does not necessarily ensure meaningful learning, but a proliferation of bad games might just ruin the very passion-led learning opportunities that games make possible.

Delivering, Accessing; Creating, Designing

Last Thursday, The New York Times hosted SchoolsForTomorrow, an all-day event featuring a variety of speakers sharing their vision for “bringing technology into the classroom.” The conference leaned toward corporate (Skype, Pearson, Scholastic, Intel, Cisco, etc.), or at least it felt that way. Conference symbiosis is always a delicate balance, though. And Yes, some teachers and administrators were there, but a student panel or two would have offered a useful contrast with the corporate discourse. Youth sometimes provides a healthy reality check (crucible?) for the ideas adults espouse.

The panels were too crowded—eight people (plus moderator)—but they generally uncovered some worthwhile ideas on the current state of affairs in education and technology. Keynote (Harvard University president emeritus) Larry Summers stated emphatically (paraphrased): 1. technology is dramatically transforming education, and 2. the mobile phone is central to that transformation.  And on a broader level, one of the more important ideas of the day was that the event happened, that The New York Times gathered these groups to share ideas with a broader audience. A good sign, I hope.

Mitch Resnick (Scratch), in the K-12 panel covering The Student, noted something revealing. Most of today’s discussions, he remarked, were about delivering and consuming, not making and creating. While delivering/accessing information is important, new technology can also broaden they way we create and design things…to be full citizens in society, said Resnick. Resnick’s Lifelong Kindergarten at MIT Media Lab states:  “We develop new technologies that, in the spirit of the blocks and fingerpaint of kindergarten, expand the range of what people can design, create, and learn.” I could see Nichole Pinkard (Digital Youth Network, Remix World) and Esther Wojcicki (Palo Alto High School, Creative Commons) nodding in agreement as Resnick spoke. I did, too.

Herein also lies a problem, I fear. Are most of the efforts to transform learning with technology merely duplicating old (ineffectual) models? Delivering and consuming, instead of designing and creating?

At the end of the day, I stopped by one of the new edtech showcases. As I  watched the black box theater and chatted with the rep, a hologram of Nicholas Negroponte (OLPC) emerged from the darkness to present a lecture.

Open Mobile Learning: MobileEd’s 3-minute proposal

As finalist for the MacArthur / HASTAC Digital Media and Learning Competition, we were asked to submit a 3-minute video describing our plans and partners for Open Mobile Learning, an initiative to help teachers leverage and integrate mobiles for learning. This was shot mostly on mobile phones. Thanks to all the people who helped out, especially Merli V. Guerra.

Check out also MacArthur’s Spotlight, a blog covering digital media and learning, and DML Central, for theory and praxis writings in this space.