How can a technology MAKER support great teaching and learning?

Space Shuttle Launch

As a maker and technologist, I believe that my creations should have a strong purpose.   Since Sarah(my wife) is a college professor, we started this blog with the purpose of exploring practices, leadership methods, and tools that support great teaching.    Through blogging, I have enjoyed learning, listening, and discovering incredible teachers.   This experience has also caused me to reflect upon how important my teachers have been for me.   Many of them have transformed my life for the better.   For this… I am forever thankful.    So… As a citizen of the world, I say THANK YOU teachers for helping to transform the culture of the world for the better.    You rock!

As a writer for this blog, I have a desire to support great teaching and leadership.   I have been reflecting upon how I can use my own strengths and gifts to support this mission.   I currently work as a project leader for a local research center.   I LOVE the craft of software engineering and technology.   Technology, when implemented well, can greatly serve our students in life.   I also believe the craft of “making” offers many life lessons to our students on planning, creativity, working well in teams, and systems thinking.

With some of these thoughts in mind, I plan to focus on a smaller set of topics through my writing and reading.    Ultimately, I would like to start producing apps, tools, and resources that serve great learning and great teaching.    I hope these topics will help support our mission as teachers:

1)  Project based learning.

2) Tools to support the productivity of teachers.

4) Game based learning.

5) Tools that support teaching programming.

What is your top problem in teaching and engaging your students?     Is there a way that technology can help solve that problem?   How can we help you to be successful as a teacher?  We love to hear from our readers.




Adjustments (Flipping Update #2)

So my microbiology had their first exam last Thursday. It wasn’t pretty. The class average was a 67. Ugh. There was one person who did awesome, and a few that did ok, but the majority of the class scored right around the average. I was really hoping for spectacular results after flipping the classroom. Instead this average is about 5pts below that of last semester’s average for the same exam. I’ve spent the last several days asking myself a lot of questions and reading through student comments posted on an informal class evaluation survey. It seems for the most part that my students felt like they studied hard. Clearly, they were not studying what I thought they should be. Here are a few adjustments that I will be making:

1) Restructuring my study guide. Right now my study guides consist of a series of bullet points framed as learning objectives. I am going to make the next one less open ended with more specific questions. I don’t want my students to sit down and memorize the study guide, but I feel it is important to give them clear guidelines as to what I expect. I will have to counter this with designing more questions on the exam that require critical thought instead of rote memorization.

2) More quizzes. I only gave one online quiz during my first unit. This was primarily because I could barely keep up with posting videos and prepping in-class activities. I think my students need the quizzes so they know where to focus their studies. In the past I have relied on MasteringMicrobiology to accomplish this task, but I abandoned it this term due to major errors in the material.

3) Provide clearly defined learning objectives for each in-class activity. One comment that I saw several times from my students was that they had a hard time connecting the in-class activities with the online lecture material. I am going to try to counter that by providing my students with learning objectives and worksheets for each in class activity that help to draw those connections.

As you can see, this whole flipping thing has created a lot more work for me. I think it will pay off in the end and the next semester that I do it will be much easier. For now I am going to trudge ahead and hope that these changes will make a difference on the next exam. I truly just want to be sure that my students are actually learning. I am trying to draw them out of the robot student mentality of information in, information out. I know my intentions are good. I just need to work on the execution.

12 Popular Posts On Teaching, Productivity, and #EdTech Tools


I am very thankful to my personal learning network on Twitter.    As I research ways that I can serve my community of teachers and students using technology,  my Twitter personal learning network has become an indispensable  learning and development tool.   In an effort to focus my personal learning on the needs and interests of my community of teachers,  I did a quick analysis of some of the post popular links I have shared on Twitter based on data from Buffer in the past three months.   I thought our readers would be interested in the results.



Free & Productivity



Photo source:

Reflections on STEM education in US: Have we lost our focus as a nation?

Moon Landing

“We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.”

President John F. Kennedy, September 12, 1962, at Rice University, Houston, Texas


President Kennedy’s challenge to the United States helped launch our nation into one of the most exciting seasons of growth in science, engineering, and technology.   This was a season of bold national leadership.    As a young American citizen, I am proud to live in one of the greatest nations on earth.   Why?   It’s a nation where people can dream big and make it happen.

In 1969, the United States landed on the moon.    In 2013, how is the United States leading the world in science, technology, engineering and math(STEM)?    What is our bold national mission that captures our imagination and challenges us to become better people?

Last night, I had the great pleasure of attending a panel discussion hosted by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) of Atlanta.    The panel explored our national challenge of inspiring young people to become great US  scientists, engineers, and technologists.    Yes, We still have US based innovators like Google, Microsoft, and Apple.        The US, however, can expect to lag behind other nations in innovation and technology because we have failed to inspire the next generation to care about our craft of science and engineering.   This issue has a direct local impact on stimulating job growth and our economy.

The STEM education panel included thoughtful community leaders from Middle GA.

  • Dr. Wade Shaw – Dean of College of Engineering, Mercer University / Academic Perspective
  • Joe Marks – Director Material Systems, TIMCO / Local Industry Perspective
  • Maj. Gen. (Ret) Bob McMahon – CEO, 21st Century Partnership / Military Perspective
  • Melissa Spalding – Director of Education, Museum of Aviation, Warner Robins / Non Profit STEM Proponent Perspective
  • Dr. Gilda Lyon – GA Dept. of Education, STEM Coordinator / Academic Perspective

So, how do we inspire young people to care about STEM education?   Why should they care?   I wanted to share some of the key insights I took from the panel.

  • Where are our heroes?  General McMahon challenged our nation to find people who can be heroes in science and technology.    In 1969, astronauts were seen as mentors and role models for generations of US innovators, scientists, and technologists.   Who are the great role models for students today?
  • How can industry support STEM education? On average, students do not feel that science/engineering is “trendy” or cool.  In some cases, students fear the responsibilities associated with STEM skills.  The panel encouraged industry to partner with local schools or youth mentoring organizations.   Ideas discussed included shadow programs or speaking in local schools.   Young people need scientists, engineers, and technologists from their community to be mentors.
  • Attack the STEM education issue from an emotional point of view: Dr. Shaw made a great comment about engineering marketing.   As we market our craft of engineering to others, we often focus on the “widgets” that we build.    Look at the cool “X” we built!  Don’t you want to do this too?    Dr. Shaw suggested that we need to help young people see the profound social impact engineers and scientists have on ALL aspects of our lives.   We need to communicate to our nation that STEM education can have profound positive impacts on our communities.
  • Inspire young people early and often:  Melissa Spalding suggested that a key time to inspire young people is not college or high school.    We need to inspire students to consider STEM education as early as 4th grade to middle school.   These are critical times when students start to decide what they will enjoy in their life time.
  • Project based learning and simulation:   Melissa challenged teachers to inspire students using simulation and project based learning.    What if students could pretend to be engineers and scientists?   The panel acknowledged that the average teacher would be challenged by this goal since teachers are experts at teaching and not a technical craft.   I believe this is why great collaboration between industry and institutions of education is critical.   How can scientists and engineers support our teachers/students with fun and engaging learning experiences or simulations?
I love General McMahon’s central question during this discussion:  “Have we lost our focus as a nation?”  How do we encourage the type of leadership that encourages our students, teachers, and nation to thrive?
Related posts

Source: via BIS on Pinterest

Learning On The Go: Convert Your Favorite Blogs To Podcasts

As an audio learner, I enjoy technologies that help me to learn by listening.   My wife and I subscribe to Audible, enabling us to consume audio books despite our busy schedules as parents.    On Free Tech for Teachers, I recently found a wonderful little tool that helps one convert the posts from your favorite blog into audio format.    Audio blog posts are often known as “podcasts.”    The tool that makes this happen is .    The following video shows you how I use this simple tool to convert one of my favorite blogs into a podcast that’s available in my Google reader.

Link to screen cast

It’s pretty awesome having the ability to listen to some of my favorite blogs “on the go!”






Photo from


Flipping Out

This semester I got the crazy idea to try flipping my microbiology classroom. I have read several articles espousing the benefits of flipping (see this post) and it seems like the solution to my student engagement problems. Perhaps I should have waited until the Fall term so that I had more time to prepare, but I truly felt like I needed to make major changes now. I am structuring my class so that my students view two or three short (10-15min) video lectures before coming to each class period. We meet on Tuesdays and Thursdays for an hour and fifteen minutes. I spend that time having my students working in groups on a variety of activities or I facilitate large group discussions on a particular aspect of the subject covered in the online lectures. This is the second week of classes so we are really only getting started but I have learned a lot about the process already.

1)      It takes WAY more time to prepare for the video lectures than it did for live, in class lectures. I carefully write a script for each online lecture because I am trying to be as precise and succinct as possible in delivering the information. Recording the lectures also takes much longer than the 10-15 minute product. This is followed by more time spent editing and uploading the videos. I am not doing anything fancy, just using PowerPoint. I can’t imagine how much time it would take to incorporate more multimedia.

2)      Planning the in-class activities also takes a substantial amount of time. I select activities based on the topic of the week. I have to carefully plan out the resources needed, copies to be made, videos we might watch, etc. Yesterday, I found myself running to Walmart an hour before class to pick up the materials needed for our project of the day.

3)      It can be expensive. I have not asked for institutional support in this endeavor. I used my own money to purchase the software that I am using for the video production. I also use my own money to purchase supplies for some of our activities. I have the means to do it, but other teachers may not.

Yesterday was our first major group project. I had the students build models of cell structures using arts and crafts materials. We had so much fun. There was laughter. Students were moving around and making messes with glue and construction paper. The classroom was noisy, but the students stayed on task. They had a chance to take the material out of the textbook and really touch it. Overall, I think this is going to be a great experience. Only time will tell. Our first exam is next Thursday. I will report back then!



How to use Minecraft in teaching

Minecraft Village

In a previous post, we reviewed why Vicki Davis(@coolcatteacher) and other teachers use virtual worlds to teach digital citizenship and online collaboration.   It’s amazing to see how teachers use technologies like OpenSim to transform their students into teachers.


As a Dad, I always enjoy finding games that my son and I can enjoy together.   We decided to check out Minecraft this week for father/son gaming time.    Minecraft is a social virtual experience where players explore worlds composed of blocks.   The game framework enables players to collaborate and communicate with each other by text chat.   The game experience feels like you’re walking into a land completely composed of Lego’s.    If you had an infinite bucket of Lego blocks, what would you build?   In a few hours game play, I have been blown away by the creativity and effort that Minecraft players invest in their virtual worlds.


As we have been exploring tools in educational technology, I have been impressed with how teachers use Minecraft in their classroom.   In contrast to traditional games that have well defined stories and objectives, Minecraft was designed to be open ended.   This enables teachers or students to design their own challenges, stories, project based learning experiences and quests.   I wanted to review a few ways that educators use Minecraft in the classroom:


Minecraft can be used as a tool to engage student creativity: Erik Shaver, a social studies teacher, challenged his class to draw or describe a self sustainable town. One of his students asked if he could “draw” his answer in Minecraft… The following video shows the amazing world the student created.

To learn more, visit


Minecraft in foreign language learning: In a “Teachers teaching teachers” episode, a story was shared about a foreign language teacher challenging the class to collaborate to create a complex structure(i.e. a city or castle) in Minecraft.   This task, of course, would require a great deal of communication between students. The teacher required all students to communicate with each other while practicing their language skills.


The Minecraft teacher: Of course, I have to introduce you to Joel.   Joel Levin is an innovative computer teacher from New York City who uses Minecraft to engage his students.   He is also creator of MinecraftEdu, the official version of Minecraft designed for teachers and students. The following video describes how he uses Minecraft in his classroom.


More ideas from the Minecraft education Wiki:



Could you imagine yourself using a virtual environment to engage your students?

Have you used a technology like Second Life or Minecraft to help create a creative teaching environment?

Please leave a comment here.    We would love to share your stories.





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Help Needed! Bad Attitudes

Yesterday we started our Spring term. I am teaching the same courses that I taught last semester, Microbiology for Health Sciences and Introductory Biology (non-majors). I am doing a major course overhaul for Microbiology (the subject of future posts I’m sure) but I am leaving the Intro Bio course alone for the most part. I am happy with the course schedule, labs, etc and I can’t afford to make major changes to two courses at once. Despite being feeling pretty confident about my organization, I wasn’t completely satisfied with my Intro Bio class last semester. Often times I felt like I was speaking to zombies and student performance on exams was absolutely abysmal. It didn’t seem to matter what I did. I did demonstrations. I had active lecture activities. We played games. I used the clicker. I feel like I put together a well organized, engaging course, but I still did not get the results I desired. In previous semesters I had some students that excelled, and others that bombed and lots of students in the middle. I really had not students last semester that did really well. My fellow faculty tell me that some semesters are just like that. I don’t know, I guess we’ll have to see what happens this semester. Unfortunately, I don’t feel like we’re off to a very good start. I had several students yesterday with bad attitudes. They were combative and put me on the defensive right from the start. They complained about the cost of the materials. One student repeatedly stopped me in the middle of my lecture to complain that I was moving too fast (yes I talk fast, but all my notes are online and it was just an introductory lecture, not major subject matter) and then complained that she was going to have to go home and read the material in the book. That can’t be good. How can I turn the attitudes around? What tools can I use to foster a spirit of learning? I don’t want an “Me vs. Them” rapport. It might be this one student, but I don’t know. I could use any suggestions that you might have. Help!!!!

Reducing stress by keeping commitments and ideas organized in MindMeister


I am a big fan of keeping my commitments and “todo” ideas out of my head.   By placing these ideas in an organized system, I feel less stress.   At home and work, I organize my commitments and ideas using a tool called MindMeister, a web based mind mapping tool.    I love this tool since it helps me creatively brain storm, but I can keep my thinking organized.    If I need to improve the organization of my ideas, it’s very simple to move those ideas around.

Benefits of MindMeister:

  • The tool can be used for creative brain storming, project tracking, prioritizing features of products, and outlining papers.
  • Since the tool is web based, I can use it from Linux, Mac, and PC.
  • The tool can import ideas from FreeMind, another open source MindMapping tool.
  • MindMaps can be shared.   Suppose you have three of your friends looking at a MindMeister mindmap for planning a party.  As you add ideas to the mindmap, all of your friends see your changes instantly. (This is a fun feature!)
  • Idea nodes in the MindMap can be decorated with notes, icons, files, etc.
  • You can enjoy this product for free if you limit yourself to three MindMaps.
  • The tool is available through Google Docs as well.

Check out

Click the icon below to get your FREE MindMeister account.

Mind Maps



7 Great Lessons On Leadership and Business

John Maxwell on Leaders

My wife and I are raving fans of Dave Ramsey, Chris LoCurto, and their team.   As a teaching organization, they communicate their lessons about financial peace, leadership, and business development with clarity, passion and energy.   After listening to one of their Entreleadership lessons, I always feel I have a few ideas that I can use in my family and team today.

So, why should you care about Entreleadership?  I believe that leadership and education are highly correlated crafts.   John Maxwell in his book “Developing the Leader in You” has a great quote:  “The growth and development of people is the highest calling of a leader.”   A great deal of the book talks about creating great teams.  It would appear that educators and business leaders must both have the “heart of a teacher.”

Here are my seven favorite Entreleadership podcasts.    They have been life changing for me.  I hope they kickstart your leadership and teaching for 2016.

  • Start With Why with Simon Sinek: Dave defines EntreLeadership, and Simon Sinek joins Jon and Chris to talk about his book: Start With Why.
  • Servant Leadership with Dan Cathy: Dave describes “servant leadership” and why it is the only kind of leadership that works. Jon interviews Dan Cathy, President and COO of Chick-fil-A.
  • Start with a Dream & End With a Goal with Jon Acuff: Setting a true goal stretches you. It makes you reach for something that’s just beyond your reach. You have to be deliberate! Dave teaches today about how to set a goal as well as achieve it. As a special guest today we will also be talking with Wall Street Journal Best Selling Author Jon Acuff about his new book Quitter: Closing the Gap Between Your Day Job & Your Dream Job.
  • Fear and Opposition with Jon Acuff: On today’s episode, Dave Ramsey shares on taking risks. Jon Acuff joins Chris LoCurto in the studio to discuss succeeding in the face of fear and opposition.
  • Personal Selling with Michael Hyatt: Michael Hyatt joins Chris LoCurto live in the studio to talk about his new book “Platform.” Dave Ramsey shares a lesson on personal selling.
  • Recognition with Leadership Freak Dan Rockwell: In this week’s episode, Dave will talk about the power of recognizing your team and catching them in the act of being awesome. This always leads to amplifying the success of your business. Blogger Dan Rockwell (Leadership Freak) will also be in the studio as a special guest.
  • What Makes a Great Leader? with Dave Ramsey: If you want to develop your leadership abilities or if you’re a business leader who wants to develop your team, this episode provides the answers and foundation to get you moving in the right direction. This week Dave Ramsey will be our guest discussing everything from his personal leadership style to what separates great leaders from good leaders.


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