Switching Your Objective Lens

Tug O WarThinking about a beloved book you have read aloud to your class for years brings many memories of joy and accomplishment. These are memories that are rekindled every time you take out the book a year later or when a former students stops in to say hello and reminds you how much you meant to them. But there comes a time when you say, I have read this book for 27 years and I think I want to try something new. This year, I have accepted a position as an Instructional Technology Integrator. I have the pleasure of supporting teachers in designing learning experiences for primary learners. The third grade team approached me about redesigning their Mr. Popper’s Penguins read.

We began with the end in mind, talking about the learning objectives. The love of a good story was one that came up fairly quickly. As we continued the conversation, I began asking questions trying to uncover the complexities of the text, such as “what makes this a book you continue to read year after year?” and “are there any conflicts in the book that draw the reader in?” These questions helped guide the conversation in new directions. We were landed on the struggle of Mr. Popper keeping his penguins and the financial burdens involved in keeping exotic animals as pets. The more we talked about it, the more the conversation zoomed in to the key plot points of the text. For me, when designing learning experiences for readers, I try to find a way for them to think about a cultural dilemma through which they read the text.  I then suggested using the Tug O War thinking routine to frame their class read. This routine helps readers think about the “tugs” they experience when reading a text that pulls them one way or another of a fairness dilemma. In this case, the question was how was Mr. Popper going to be able to afford his penguins? The lens through which we were looking at the text was zoomed in too close. We needed to zoom out and think about the bigger dilemma.

Through further discussion, we realized that the fairness dilemma was bigger than the words in the text. The dilemma is, are animals better kept in captivity or living in their natural habitats? This moment defined the lens through which we would look through this year’s reading of Mr. Popper’s Penguins. The 3rd grade team set up a Tug O War board in the hallway between their classrooms where the reader’s thinking can become visible throughout their reading. Through a conversation before beginning the book, the readers chose their stance and clipped their name to the rope one either side of the dilemma. Today, they are into the first couple of chapters in the book and some readers have already changed their minds about their stance. They move their names along the continuum between captivity and natural habitat depending on the “tugs” in the text. They are pulling specific examples of what made them change their thinking directly from the book. I borrowed this Evidence Based Terms from a fifth grade teachers room to help support the third grade readers support their thinking moves.


This will help not only help the ways in which they support their thinking, but will also inform their writing in their blogs. Today will be their first entry in their Third Grade Exploring Ideas blog. If you have a moment, I’m sure they will enjoy reading and responding to your comments.

My science colleague got new LCD microscopes for her classroom this week which made me think about the ways our thinking changes when we zoom in and out of ideas. Switching our objective lens enables us to designing learning experiences that support thinking strategies. I continue to think about how to best create a learning culture where thinking is valued, visible, and actively promoted as part of the regular, day-to-day experience of all students.

Seeds of Culture – Overview Part 1

CultureCultureI have pushed myself this year to truly integrate the International Baccalaureate (IB) Units of Inquiry while focusing on individual musicians. In this set of posts, I plan to reflect upon the journey of the fifth grade musicians as well as my own. I would also like to challenge you to think more about the nature of the experience and less on the content area. I am framing this in the context of music, but how might this project look in social studies, science, language arts, or art?

The idea of this project came about after a long conversation with my friend and choir colleague Eve Pierre. Eve is an amazing musician, educator, facilitator, consultant, and friend. She has been my mentor and springboard regarding all things IB and Standards Based Grading.

The unit we are currently exploring is Where we are in place and time: An inquiry into orientation in place and time; personal histories; homes and journeys; the discoveries, explorations and migrations of humankind; the relationships between and the interconnectedness of individuals and civilizations, from local and global perspectives.


We began inquiring about the migration of music and what impact that may have on people in the past, present, and future. This kindled a conversation about aural traditions,  how music has been past down from generation to generation, and cultural contexts of music in different cultures. Through talking to the musicians about music, culture, migration, and bouncing ideas off of Eve, Seeds of Culture began.

Project Overview (Part 1):

  • Musicians choose a song that connects them to their culture (Part 2)
  • Create a short digital presentation of the music’s affects from the past, present, and future
  • Teach the class a portion of your song
  • Create a Seed Rhythm on a looper e.g. Looseque or DM1 (Part 3)
  • Find other musicians that share the same or similar Seed Rhythm
  • Compose and perform the original pieces at an Exhibition style concert (Part 4)

I will write posts as the musicians share each part of their projects. So far, this has been an incredible way to get to know individual learner’s personal histories, cultures and journeys. I am learning so much about their music, but most of all, strengthening relationships.

Minecraft and the Design Cycle

I had the pleasure of hanging out with our middle school’s Minecraft club after school today. It was awesome the way the kids were entering each other’s worlds and building things together. One 6th grade student asked if I was going to hang out and asked to use one of my MaKey MaKey boards to build a custom controller for Minecraft. And so the design cycle began.

This maker already had a conceptual understanding of the control chair he was about to invent. He also knew the Minecraft interface well and how to hack the keyboard controls. He just needed the right materials. Tinfoil and MaKey MaKey.
He rolled a chair over and began taping foil to either side of the seat. The idea was to control the direction that his character turns by leaning either left or right in his chair.

He understood that their needed to be a closed circuit so he also taped tinfoil to his pants to trigger the left and right controls when he leaned either way.

The other control that the maker wanted was to walk forward. Thinking about how his controller worked, he decided to use his shoes as the trigger to move forward.

His favorite part.


The reflection process is as important as the Imagine and Create processes. In this case, this maker needed to redesign the forward interface. He decided to use a paper clip and tie into the MaKey MaKey’s “w” key.

It is in this process where the maker mindset moves to make the design better. It is in the problems that arise that creates experiences for learners and thinkers to practice this mindset.

It was so cool to watch and be a part of the thinking process. This maker has incredible ideas and a creative mind. Keep you eyes out for a custom chair controller in Kickstarter.