Monday, September 29, 2014

Learning to Game with Kingdom Rush

Image by RebeccaPollard,

This week's homework was a little different than normal.

Our class was instructed to play a game called Kingdom Rush for three hours this week, then think about how the gaming process fit with the learning process, how we could merge the two, etc. I've learned a decent amount about gaming in education in other classes, and I love games myself, so I was very excited about this assignment!

I decided to document my Kingdom Rush experience with a video and reflection (5 mins), which you can view below! (Navigate to if the embedded video isn't working)

As you could probably tell from the video, I got really into this assignment. Although I've never played Kingdom Rush, I caught on quickly and found myself losing track of time and anything outside of the game. This, according tDr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, is the concept of Flow: a state where people are the most concentrated and engaged in what they're doing. You might be familiar with this state of mind associated with artists, musicians, or athletes, but it happens all the time. Whenever you do something that you're completely immersed in and enjoy, you're experiencing Flow. 

I know whenever I do jigsaw puzzles or play my favorite Nancy Drew computer games (shameless plug, call me a nerd if you want ;) ), I lose myself in them. I'm completely focused on what I'm doing in that moment, I'm challenged, and want to keep trying to complete the task or get better. This is Flow. I know I achieved Flow while playing Kingdom Rush, too, and it was interesting to finally finish a level or two and realize how into it I had actually gotten. 

Games have flow naturally built into them. They're challenging, they're engaging, they're satisfying, and they're reinforcing. If we can harness games in education, wouldn't our students be so much more engaged? I can't think of a single kid who doesn't like games. Adults, too, for that matter. Playing is human nature, and it doesn't make much sense to me to have an entire educational system where our love for games isn't built upon. Why can't we have fun teaching and learning the topics we need to learn? If kids stay engaged and learn things from games, we can harness that and apply it to education.

That's easier said than done, obviously, but I think that the perfect execution doesn't matter as much as the attempt at execution. If we try to use games and gaming in the best ways possible, we'll figure out what works and what doesn't. I know that for my future students, they'll be playing a lot of games. Will they be pointless and 'just for fun?' No, of course not. I wouldn't bring games into my classroom that weren't tied with instruction, but I think that games can be created or tweaked to fit the needs of our students and schools. 

I want my students to have a love for gaming, just like I do. But more than that, I want them to have a love for learning. Why not tie those two together?

What do you think? What are your ideas about how gaming could be used in the classroom? Are there any situations where gaming isn't appropriate? Have you seen any classrooms that were exceptional about including games and gaming in the curriculum?

Monday, September 22, 2014

The YouTube Generation

Photo by jonsson,
It's no doubt that YouTube is a great tool for watching, sharing, and creating videos. It's been around as long as I can remember, and I'm not sure if I've ever not gone to YouTube when I've wanted to learn about something. My most recent example of this was a few days ago when I started thinking about ebonics. If you don't know, ebonics (or African American English) is a dialect of English most commonly spoken by African Americans. While I had heard of ebonics before, I hadn't really learned anything about it, nor heard it being spoken fluently. I, of course, turned to YouTube and found this video:

Within this video, a school demonstrates how they've been teaching their students (who primarily speak African American English at home) how to speak American English. They treat each of these dialects as two distinct languages, and they've been having huge success in helping students speak academic English, whereas normally, ebonics-speakers might get in trouble or ignored because they don't speak correctly. Definite win for YouTube. I was able to search for my topic and watch a short, informative video (with an example in education, no less!) in less than 5 minutes.

This is what YouTube is all about. Yes, we may like to watch cat videos and have a laugh at someone's expense because the video of them falling off of a trampoline went viral, but really, we use YouTube to learn things. We do research every day through YouTube. We look up news stories, we get updates from our favorite bands or celebrities, we wonder about random things and learn about them through YouTube. There's an entire category on YouTube for education, (YouTube EDU) where YouTube "brings learners and educators together in a global video classroom." This isn't for people who are currently in college somewhere, this is for anyone with a desire to learn. Your 13 year old cousin is a genius and wants to learn about biochemistry but doesn't have the means in school? She can find entire courses on YouTube that she can take, completely for free. Your grandma decides that she wants to finally take that trip to Russia she's always wanted to go on? She can watch hundreds of videos about the culture and brush up on her Russian (or learn from scratch). What about the guy who dropped out of high school and now works a minimum wage, dead-end job? As long as he has access to internet, either at home, a library, coffee shop, etc., he can start learning about topics he's never even dreamed about.

Photo by aisletwentytwo,

Of course YouTube isn't completely educational. You do have to be careful when you use YouTube in class because not every video is appropriate. Inappropriate content can also pop up in the video suggestions sidebar, and the comments people leave on videos are often not suitable for children to read. If these things make you less excited about using YouTube in the classroom, an alternative is TeacherTube, an online community for sharing educational videos. While I haven't personally used TeacherTube yet, I've heard extremely positive things about it and I think it offers a great solution for teachers who don't want their students on YouTube or if they want a more educationally-themed video resource for themselves.

Regardless, YouTube is changing education. Whether it's by letting everyone become a learner and viewing instructional videos or by letting everyone become content creators by uploading their original videos, YouTube can be a great resource. Check out this article to read more about how YouTube is revolutionizing education, or watch some of 2013's ten most popular education YouTube videos.

How do you plan to use YouTube in education? Have you ever run into things that you can't find on YouTube? Have you uploaded your own content?

Lastly, I'll leave you with this graphic, which I think explains social media in general pretty well. ;)

Photo by ChrisL_AK,

Friday, September 19, 2014

Innovation and Education - What I learned

Image by CERDEC,

This week I did something I've never done before. I viewed a recording from the Global STEMx Education Conference that took place in September of 2013. The session that I viewed was "Innovation and Education: Why and how they belong together" by William J. Ashby. He spoke about how innovation and education are cyclical; education feeds into innovation, and innovation (and innovators!) feed back into education. He also explained how education is still working in the pre-information age, where schools, libraries, etc., had to get information to people. Now, however, people have more information than ever at their fingertips. Why do schools need to teach them things they can look up on Google? Instead, this is the information age, and our problem now isn't to help people get to information, it's to teach them how to problem solve and take risks. People need to learn how to use the information they have access to in order to solve the real world problems that we don't have answers to, like curing cancer, creating better fuel alternatives, or restructuring our education system.

Although the webinar format was frustrating at times (I could only see the powerpoint slides, so whenever participants commented, watched a video, used a poll, etc., I couldn't participate), I really enjoyed being able to listen and take part in this session, even after it had originally taken place. It's pretty neat that a conference that happened one time is available for me to use as a resource any time I want!

The biggest thing I got from this webinar was that in order to solve problems, you have to define the problems. This may seem like a no brainer, but the participants in the session thought that this was the biggest issue in STEM education. You can't solve a problem when you don't know what it is! Ashby explained the design he uses for understanding and developing a problem. First, empathize with the students (or whoever the problem affects) to help you understand the problem. Then, dig deeper so you fully understand by rephrasing the answers you received. Write your findings down, then define the problem.

I feel like this is a good model for problem solving both in the classroom and out. Ashby believes that this model for problem definition is efficient, and I can see it working too. He was presenting it in the context of defining a problem that requires innovation to solve, but I could see it in a much smaller scale as well. If classroom conflicts or problems arise, such as a student who is struggling, I think that this could be a good way to get to the root of the problem instead of jumping to conclusions about what the problem is. By empathizing with my students, digging deep and rephrasing the information, and defining the problem in a concise way, it could help to get a more accurate idea of what's actually going on. Obviously this could be applied to a much larger scale, but for my professional practice, I could see myself using it within my own classroom.

I used to think that innovation was for 'big thinkers', or people who were far more educated and creative than I am. Now I think that innovation can happen on a smaller scale and can be accessible for me and my students. We just have to ask the right questions, get to the problems, and find solutions to those problems! What do you think fuels innovation? Do you think that defining problems can help lead to more innovation in education?

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Next Big Thing is Here...Until the Next Big Thing Gets Here?

Photo by Street matt,
Ever since the hubbub last week with the Apple event, I've been thinking a lot lately about the progression of technology. In case you're unfamiliar with Apple's huge unveiling of the iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, Apple Watch, etc., it's been quite a big deal for Apple. Longer battery life, larger screen size (a LOT larger, in the case of the 6 Plus), an Apple smartwatch? It seems that Apple has finally caught up to what companies like Samsung have been doing all along.

Okay now, this isn't going to be an Apple/Android/PC/Windows/Anything debate in the slightest. But really, why are we so excited about these new devices? So there's a larger screen. There's a new smartwatch on the market. Our technology-centered society gets so excited to embrace these new innovations, even though last-year's model is perfectly fine. Technology progresses so incredibly fast, and it's not likely to slow down.

This got me to thinking; why is education so far behind? The iPhone 6 will officially be available tomorrow, and I know that people are just itching to turn in their iPhone 5s or 5c to get the next thing, which they will undoubtedly trade in when next year's model is released. Meanwhile, our schools are still struggling to integrate the use of laptops or tablets in the classroom. I can't think of any classrooms that utilize smartphones, at least in this area, and a good number of schools that 'have' technology don't use it effectively. What is education doing wrong? Why aren't we staying up to date with technology?

Well, I didn't have the answers to these questions, so naturally, I Googled it. I came up with this blog post on Edutopia that discusses this very topic. I really liked this post because it talks about the TPACK and SAMR models for technology integration, both of which have been presented to me in my classes here at UNI. These models help us to utilize technology to its full potential, but education often appears to be content with hanging out and doing things like they've always done until technology slows down. While things are definitely headed in the right direction, this article says that "the only way to make sense of change is to plunge into it".

So how can we plunge into technology integration if it's constantly changing? The blog post suggests admitting that you're not an expert and that there will be things you don't know! You can set aside some time to learn a new tech tool that you've never used and to be a curious learner. It's also important to be familiar with the standards that you're following, whether they're the Common Core, Iowa Core, or other state or local standards. If you know what standards you need to be meeting, it can be easier to decide what technology to use to help you meet those standards. It's also a great idea to read and interact with those people who are considered experts in the field and ask for their suggestions.

Technology is constantly changing, evolving, and influencing the world we live in. It holds incredible potential to be used in education, if we can take a leap of faith and get away from what we're comfortable with. Although it may be painless to simply do what we've always done, it's going to take a little transitioning, experimenting, and adjusting to finally go with the flow of technology. We've been thinking about technology as "Oh no! Something new came out! But I'm still trying to figure out how to use this old technology!", when we should be thinking "Awesome! Something new came out! How can I use what I've learned from prior technologies, both good and bad, to use this as best as I can?"

What do you think? Can education ever 'catch up' to technology? Have you seen evidence of or used effective technology integration in your classrooms? Please comment and let me know what you think!

Photo by mkhmarketing,

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Growing Social Media

Growing Social Media by mkhmarketing,
Social media is completely changing the way we think about education. 

It started from a seed; something we did for fun in our spare time. Now, social media has allowed us to create connections that were never possible before. It has grown into something we use for professional development, resources, and relationships. 

Social media has allowed us to build networks with people all over the world. In her book, Social Media for Educators, author Tanya Joosten explains how educators can easily make connections with people in their field, and this gives them greater access to connections, information, and colleagues (Joosten, p.16). One great example of this that is often used in education is Twitter. Searchable hashtags allow you to track information that is important or valuable to you. You can find people who are talking about the things you're interested in, and join in conversations about those topics. 

Also according to Joosten, social media is organic. In order to experience this organic nature and grow your social network, it's especially important to learn to be authentic and human through social media. If you're open to new ideas, criticism, and unpredictability, it can lead to "unintended, beneficial results," like new connections and valuable input from others that may not have been possible without social media (Joosten, p. 28). Being open with social media helps us gain trust with the people who interact with us, and this can lead to relationships and interactions that help us grow as educators. 

One of the things I get most excited for about social media in education is the growth that is sure to come from future teachers. Joosten also talks about how by participating in social media, teachers are more apt to understand technology and feel comfortable using it in their classrooms. This has been shown to help increase effectiveness with student learning, but many teachers struggle with implementing social media when they haven't had much experience with it. This is something that I feel will start to change as the younger teachers (myself included) start to emerge in the field of education. I consider myself to be a digital native; I can't remember a time when I didn't know how to use a computer. I've been using social media for more than half of my life. My generation has grown up with social media, which, in my opinion, makes us the most well-equipped to implement it into our future classrooms. We know how social media works, we've used it extensively, and now it's our time to use it effectively in the classroom. Social media can also be an amazing resource for us young teachers; check out this short article on how social media is helping young teachers stay in the field.

These are just a few of my observations about how social media is growing and changing the way we view education. Read this blog post about some other ways social media has changed traditional education, and comment below if there are any others you can think of! How do you see social media reshaping the way we do education? Do you think that social media is changing the way we learn?

Friday, September 12, 2014

The Power of Instagram (and Commenting!)

By Jason A Howie,
Instagram has really taken off as one of the top photo/video sharing applications out there. Maybe you don't use Instagram, but I'd bet money that you've at least heard of it. If not, it's an app that lets you share photos and short videos with the world. It's best known for its filters that you can apply to pictures, which give your images a distinct feel and look. While you can follow individual users and users can follow you back, your account is public to the world (unless you make your account private, in which case only approved users can see your pictures), letting anyone see, like, or comment on the photos and videos you share.

While I have an Instagram account that I use semi-frequently, I've always been a little concerned by the number of teens and tweens that are getting into Instagram. The kids I babysit or have had field experiences with, some as young as 10 or so, are putting most of their waking lives on Instagram. I feel like there's a difference between me, a 21-year-old college student, choosing to put moments of my life where others can see, and a 12-year-old who hasn't fully grasped the gravity of what could happen when they put images out where anyone can get a hold of them.

It was this concern that sparked me to read this blog post by TeachMama. She talks about Instagram from a parent's perspective, but gives some amazing insights into Instagram, including a walk-through of what it is, how it works, why kids are using it, and what concerns you should have before letting kids use it. She warns about the public aspect of Instagram; that other people can see the child's account, the child can look at anyone else's account, and that the child could search for (and accidentally find) inappropriate content.

Instagram is starting to sound a little scary, at least where kids are concerned. But let's not write it off just yet. TeachMama goes on to explain how to have a conversation with your kids if they are already (or want to) use Instagram. Some of these ideas include monitoring your child's activity, making their account private, following your child's account (and their friends, and their friends' parents, etc), approve your child's followers, and creating a Family Media Agreement. She even lists some safe alternatives for kids to use if you decide that Instagram really isn't what you want them to be involved in just yet.

This blog post really made me start thinking about if Instagram could be used in an educational setting safely with students. Obviously I'm not a parent yet, so my concern is with how my students will use these types of social media in my classroom and in their lives.

Now here's where it gets really cool :)

TeachMama nor her commentors had addressed the educational aspect of Instagram, so I took it upon myself to break out my commenting skills. I hadn't really commented on many blogs before, so it felt like a big deal for me. You can read my comment (and TeachMama's response!!) below:

May I just say, I am beyond excited that she commented back to me. It makes me want to comment on everyone's blogs! (or you can comment on mine...I'll respond :)

Anyway, after my initial excitement wore off, I decided to start investigating if anyone had used Instagram in education. Turns out, they have! I found this blog post on Edudemic that talks about the top 10 ways you can use Instagram in the classroom. There are some awesome ideas, and they're all illustrated with a nice infographic that gives some great ideas!

Do you use Instagram in your classroom? Have you made an AUP or other media agreement with your students to help monitor social media use? I'd love to hear your thoughts!

The Art of Blogging

The Art of Blogging by mkhmarketing,
This week, I've been exploring the art of blogging. You may think "Psh, Erin, don't you know that blogging isn't an art? Anyone can do it!" Well, that may be. Anyone can start an account and become a blogger with the click of a button. Everything that a person writes is personal and valuable and an expression of themselves for the world to see. That's art, right?

Now, while I'll admit that I enjoy blogging quite a bit, I don't consider myself a master by any means. I'm like one of those 'amateur' artists who would love to make it big but really just makes art because they love it. But then you have those artists who were making art they loved and other people liked it, too. Those are the people we've heard of and look up to and consider the best of the best. Blogging is no different!

I've been following some of those master bloggers this week; CoolCatTeacher and Kleinspiration ended up being my favorites. Both of these amazing blogs are committed to sharing resources with other teachers in an effort to make them better teachers. They have amazing resources about so many topics, and I was very impressed with both of them!

I checked out CoolCatTeacher because of a recommendation from my professor, Dr. Z (check out his blog, too!), but ended up finding so much more than I expected to. Not only does Vicki Davis, the author, write her own books on education, she also creates extremely well-written blog posts, and they are so helpful and informative!  There are hundreds (thousands?) of posts on general teaching ideas, professional development for teachers, technology tips and resources, ideas to use social media, and countless other topics. I'm so excited to keep reading!

I actually found Kleinspiration through her Twitter and then followed her blog (after following her on Twitter, of course!). She originally caught my interest because we have the same first name, but I quickly realized that Erin Klein is one of those master bloggers. Aside from having a very aesthetic blog, the content she blogs about is so helpful and relevant. Kleinspiration definitely has an ed tech emphasis, so there is a multitude of resources that someone could use to incorporate technology into their classroom. She has special resources about Project Based Learning (PBL), which I especially enjoy, since I'm learning so much about PBL and am getting really excited about trying it in my own classroom someday. 

In previous classes that had us blog, I got into the writing aspects more than the reading aspects. I enjoyed writing on my own blog and sharing my thoughts, but I'm starting to see that checking out others' blogs can be a huge asset to me as a teacher. These blogs have an insane amount of resources that are available for teachers to use and revamp in their own classrooms. I'm so glad that they both have such a strong technology emphasis; I feel like I can get even more out of them!

These bloggers are the masters because they're doing quite a few things right:
  • They're blogging relevant, intelligent, and interesting topics that people can use and enjoy.
  • Their blogs are easy to navigate and view, which makes the overall experience of reading their blog enjoyable. 
  • They link to a gazillion other resources, websites, blogs, etc. They don't have dead-end blogs; they're a window to thousands of other ideas and people.
  • They're visible. They network. People talk about them, they get their name out there, and they make it simple to share their stuff. 
  • They share their personal teaching experiences like a real person. When I read their blogs, I feel like I'm having a face-to-face conversation over coffee with the teacher across the hall who's having a lot of really cool things happen in her classroom. I'm not talking to a professor who had experience back in the day but now only speaks in educational techno-jargon.
Overall, I am incredibly impressed with what I've found this week while following these two blogging masters. I look forward to reading their blogs more and discovering more blogs! (And maybe become a master blogger myself, someday!)

By the way, thank YOU for reading my blog! :) You are making my blogging worth it! If you like my blog, I'd love if you would comment or share it! (I learned a good lesson on commenting this week too...if you comment, authors comment back!!! I even wrote a blog post about it!) You can also check out my class's KidBlog site; we're trying a new platform for blogging this semester, so I'm blogging in two places for awhile. ;) My classmates are blogging some great stuff also! Check them out, and don't forget:

Keep Calm & Blog On by mkhmarketing,

Monday, September 1, 2014

Erin's Media-ography Timeline

I love playing with new technologies, and for a class assignment, that's just what I got to do! In Digital and Social Media, we were challenged to create a media-ography about ourselves; a digital story, image, video, etc, that introduced us professionally. In my summer class, Designing and Developing Online Learning, I found a program called TimeToast, an interactive timeline program. It seemed like a cool tool that you could especially use in a social studies classroom, but I didn't have a reason to create a timeline...until now!

I decided to use TimeToast to create my media-ography because I tend to think of my life chronologically; certain events led up to who I am now and everything in my life has culminated to produce the version of Erin that you know today. My passion for teaching and my love for kids, music, photography, etc, has all developed slowly (or quickly, in certain cases!) over time. I pinpointed events that triggered these aspects of my life now, and I hope that my timeline shows some insight into who I am today.

 Check out my timeline here! :) or navigate to

It's easiest to navigate the timeline if you make it full screen, then scale down the timeline so you're looking at a smaller portion, instead of the whole thing at once. If the timeline part is hard to figure out, you can change the view from 'timeline' to 'list', and see all my events in order (but the pictures won't be as large). Enjoy! :)