Endless Teachable Moments: How My Genius Hour Project Reignited my Love of Learning

The timeless adage proposes that “time flies when you’re having fun.” The past three and a half weeks have flown by. And I surely doubt I have ever used the word “fun” to describe my experience in a class. Interesting or enjoyable perhaps, but never fun. My genius hour project, however, proved to be fun. Why? Because of the purpose and motivation behind genius hour – or passion – projects. My biggest takeaway wasn’t necessarily that personal learning devices have immense power to facilitate meaningful learning. Rather, my biggest takeaway is that I should nurture my interests and passions – that I should explore them and never stop doing so. I plan to pursue my own genius hour project about a topic of interest to me from this point forward. That’s all thanks to this “fun” experience.

My dad often times refers to teachable moments. He describes these times as when a student asks a question or demonstrates misunderstanding of a topic and he can use the scenario to reinforce a concept to the student and/or class. I feel like I had many teachable moments with myself while completing my genius hour project. There were questions abound! Can personal learning devices be used to facilitate meaningful learning in the K-12 classroom? How can personal learning devices best be used? Should technology even be incorporated into our classrooms? Do the negatives of technology and the use of personal learning devices (i.e.: network security breaches, theft, etc.) outweigh the positives (i.e.: personalized learning)? I used these questions to fuel my research. My teachable moments were those when I didn’t know the answer at first but later did.

Needless to say, there is still a great deal to learn. And there always will be. Perhaps mastery exists in some worlds, but I believe there is still always room for learning and research; that’s one journey that never will cease (or at least not for me). My genius hour project, nonetheless, reignited my love of learning.

Not being an education major, I feel as if I am disconnected from what educational technology actually looks like in the K-12 classroom. In that respect, I want to learn more about how third-parties (i.e.: siblings, tutors, parents, etc.) can encourage students to use personal learning devices outside of the classroom to facilitate meaningful learning. How can these individuals support students? Should teachers be the ones to communicate these methods and techniques? These are valuable questions that future students should consider, especially because I believe technology is here to stay – for the long haul. Technology will continue to play a role in our children’s educations and daily lives.

Although I only spent three weeks researching my question, I still believe my posts offer valuable information that should be shared with fellow educators. The interviews with my dad and sister offer powerful insight into the twenty-first century classroom. Their firsthand accounts of using personalized learning devices demonstrate the successes and shortcomings of educational technology in today’s classroom.

Educational technology has the power to transform the way our students learn, mainly be providing all students the opportunity to do so in a fun and engaging way.

Rappin’ It Up

This week I was tasked with determining an effective way to share my findings on my Genius Hour Project with classmates. My rapping abilities are up there with Nicki and Iggy, so I’m thinking I’ll “rapidly and rhythmically [recite lyrics about personal learning devices] over a prerecorded, electronic instrumental backing.”

This is how I’ll start my rap: “Yo, yo, yo. My name’s Sarah but you can call me Lil Biggz. I’m gonna tell you how to best use technology (emphasis on the g).” That’s all I have so far. On a more serious note, if the rap doesn’t come to fruition by next week, I will present my research via an (1) infographic poster (using a site like Glogster or Piktochart) or (2) a video using a tool like Animoto.

I was also charged to create a rubric for my project. How do I want to be graded? I’ve always lived for rubrics – it’s the best way to know exactly what your teacher wants and expects from you. Needless to say, creating your own rubric is a lofty task that requires deep thought. ‘Sarah’s Genius Hour Project Rubric’ is featured below.

Question Asks a relevant question. YesNo
Knowledge Building (Research) Demonstrates in-depth project research through the use of various sources (i.e.: websites, interviews, etc.) of high quality. PoorAverageExcellent
Idea Development (Critical Thinking) Interprets information and knowledge to create new ideas and questions. Effectively analyzes and evaluates research to create a final product. PoorAverageExcellent
Presentation of Answers (Problem Solving) Creates a useful and engaging presentation that effectively summarizes major points. PoorAverageExcellent
Originality/Value/Style of Presentation (Authentic Learning) Effectively illustrates knowledge through a professional but unique medium. PoorAverageExcellent
Professionalism & Commitment (Blog) Regularly updates blog to demonstrate continued research and development of project. Student also presents research in an entertaining manner (posts are enjoyable to read). PoorAverageExcellent

Rubric adapted from the Buck Institute of Education.

Why We Shouldn’t Worry about Theft and Digital Equity

The successful implementation of educational technology initiatives not only requires adaptive and supportive teachers, but also administrators and parents who recognize the potential benefits of this tool in the classroom.

Successful implementation of educational technology initiatives requires the school administration’s support. Administrators raise valuable concerns about the use of personal learning devices in the classroom. In fact, 50% of K-12 principals are hesitant to implement a “Bring Your Own Device” program because of potential theft. However, this has never been a concern of my my younger sister Rebekah, a rising high school sophomore, who has participated in BYOD since elementary school. While she has “heard about people’s devices being stolen,” she does not know “of any devices in [her] school being stolen.” Rebekah said, “I never worry about my device being stolen.”

Aside from theft, digital equity considerations are another major concern, with 43% of principals admitting that personalized learning devices could present an unfair advantage for some students. How do we overcome this valid challenge in the classroom? How can our classrooms accommodate students who do not have access to learning devices? Blackboard, an education technology company devoted to personalized digital learning opportunities for all students, proposes student age and community demographics do not “appear to play a significant role” in parent’s decision to purchase devices for their children. Rebekah noted that while some students at her school do not have personal learning devices, teachers and administrators are accommodating and provide laptops to students who need them.

Of course, this is one source and one example from one person in one school in one city. More research and case studies are necessary to determine the validity of these statements.

Furthermore, parental support of personal learning devices is on the rise, specifically because of the diverse benefits parents associate with technology use in the classroom. Specifically, parents are supporters of educational technology resources because students have greater access to online textbooks and students are more engaged. Additionally, parents also see the potential for devices to facilitate a more personalized learning experience for their child.

Screenshot 2015-05-29 12.33.31

Although the support of personalized learning devices varies among groups, there are solutions to concerns administrators raise. With a well-developed educational technology implementation plan, schools can overcome potential challenges relating to theft and digital equity. Parents also play an important role because they can lobby administrators and school boards to allow or enhance educational technology programs.

My Dad + his Ionic Bond with Technology

After fifteen years in corporate America, my father returned to school – this time as a teacher. He was in search of a more fulfilling career, which he found in the classroom. Therefore, when it came time to interview someone about the relationship between educational technology and meaningful learning, I knew exactly who to interview. I would be remiss not to thank my dear ol’ dad for taking a few minutes to help me with my school work (flashback to Ms. Lumpkin’s first grade class).

To provide a little background information: my dad is an AP and honors chemistry teacher at a high school in Georgia. He typically uses “technology more to supplement [his] teaching in the classroom rather than to deliver content.” Most of his students’ homework assignments are submitted with technology through an online homework service or teaching platform, such as Moodle. He also regularly uses computers and sensors for laboratory experiments. Sensors can be especially helpful for students when collecting and analyzing data.

Now, the meat of our talk: Much of the discussion with my dad focused on the positives and negatives (insert chemistry joke about the charge of an ion) of educational technology in the classroom. According to my dad, technology saves him a tremendous amount of time. “The homework service grades the assignments automatically in most cases,” he said. While most of the questions on Moodle require him to grade manually, responses are presented online in a manner that allows for very efficient grading of written assignments. My dad is also a big supporter of technology in the classroom because of the unique problems that can be given to students. “Of course, students can always “google” the answer, but this is a problem with any type of assignment” – online or paper.

Although technology can complement instructors, the primary purpose of my interview was to assess whether or not educational technology does or can facilitate meaningful learning in the classroom. What is the teacher’s perspective? My dad responded like I expected him to: “I do not think that technology can replace an effective teacher; however, it can be a powerful tool to enhance the teaching and learning in the classroom.” While my dad primarily employs technology in experiments and homework assignments, I also asked for him to share his opinion about “Bring Your Own Learning Device” initiatives, which he does not view as the “most effective method of using technology.” He explained, “Students use it as an excuse to have their devices out doing non-educational activities. I know it saves the school district resources that do not have to be spent on hardware, but it provides for a lot of distraction.”

So what did I gather from this interview? Meaningful learning is possible with technology. Perhaps I should expand my study to more teachers, but it seems like in-depth research and my dad’s perspective align quite well. Before our conversation ended, my dad added, “Technology can be a distraction if the teacher and school administration allow it to be. However, I think the benefits of technology in the classroom far outweigh the negative effects.” And I agree with him. Do you?

On another completely different note, I connected with several teachers and classrooms via Twitter this week. I was excited to offer a suggestion of a graphic novel (March 1) to one educator. It’s exciting to see educators are passionate about creating a meaningful learning environment for their students!

It’s Raining Cats & Dawgs

I’m friends with my search engine. Thanks to Google I am typically 0.40 seconds away from one million plus articles related to my inquiry. Needless to say, when beginning to delve into how personal learning devices can facilitate meaningful learning, my first step in the research process was to consult my trusted friend Google. I stumbled across a November 2014 article from EdTech Magazine, “5 Reasons Technology Should be Allowed in the Classroom.” The number one reason? “Students are technology natives.” The article focuses on the university classroom setting, which I found compelling considering I have spent the last few years (and will spend at least two more) in the university setting.

However, the question still lingers. How can personal learning devices stimulate meaningful learning in the classroom? But for all of the personal learning device skeptics, I will answer this question first: Do personal learning devices actually facilitate meaningful learning?

A 2014 eLearning Industry article highlights the number of benefits associated with students using their personal technology tools in the classroom. Personal learning devices enable students to be more interactive and engaged. Personal learning devices – perhaps more accurately, technology in general – allows for learning to be more student-driven versus teacher-driven. The twenty first century classroom is being transformed – teachers should not just instruct students; they should learn with and from students. Personal learning devices facilitate this type of instructor-pupil interaction.

Furthermore, collaboration among students also increases when personal learning devices are integrated into the classroom. Collaboration stimulates (and increases) brainstorming and creativity in the classroom. Personal learning devices also directly align with the principles of meaningful learning because students are individually catered to and all given the opportunity to learn. In other words, through the use of personal learning devices, “students can learn and excel at their own pace.” Personal learning devices often times also empower the student to engage in more inquiry-based assignments, meaning students must take charge of their own education. This framework – when used successfully – can cause students to dig deeper into topics of interest, further demonstrating that personal learning devices (for a variety of reasons) stimulate meaningful learning in the classroom.

Another question popped into my head during the research process: How is my former school district responding to the personal learning device movement? I am happy to report the Cherokee County School District (CCSD) is effectively working toward infusing technology into instruction. In fact, the CCSD suggests that the “key to an effective education is to merge information into a balanced, outcome-based, student-oriented curriculum.”

They hit the nail on the head: “Technology plays a pivotal role in bringing this results-driven learning to the broad range of populations represented in our community.” Although the term “meaningful learning” isn’t used verbatim, CCSD is proclaiming that technology, specifically personal learning devices, are linked to giving all students the opportunity to learn in the classroom through various online media (i.e.: digital textbooks, applications, etc.).

While I have answered several questions, I haven’t touched much on how to integrate technology and the use of personal learning devices into the classroom. There are endless suggestions from “the experts” on how to best do this. Be sure to check out “How to Integrate Technology” from eduTopia. Another great take away is that technology is one of the most efficient ways to personalize the learning experience for students. In other words, it’s one of the most efficient ways to guarantee meaningful learning. A great resource supporting this argument is featured on the International Society for Technology in Education’s (ISTE) website.

Throughout this focused research process, I have found myself asking more and more questions. My primary question serves as a mere umbrella, and it’s raining cats and dawgs thanks to a plethora of insightful resources. Translation: there are a vast assortment of avenues educators can take to integrate personal learning devices into the classroom to facilitate meaningful learning.

Two Heads + Twitter are More Powerful than Me Alone

There are a variety of topics my classmates and I are exploring within the realm of educational technology for our Genius Hour Projects. Each student (myself included) is pursuing a unique avenue. Some folks are researching the technological instructional tools and techniques that are best for students with dyslexia, attention deficit disorder (ADD), or Down Syndrome. Although we are completing our projects individually, the saying really does ring true – two heads are better than one. Most importantly, we can all learn something from each other.

There are also several students like me who are collecting information about how educators can incorporate personal learning devices to facilitate meaningful learning in the classroom. FlipGrid responses and Twitter have allowed me to connect with classmates (i.e.: Artianna Singleton, Hannah Rainey, and L. Oatman) who are exploring topics similar to mine. Through direct messages and tweets, I have been able to share helpful articles with classmates and vice versa. Artianna Singleton, for example, shared this link with me, which focuses on the role of educators in creating a personal learning environment for students. Another article she shared highlights the “7 Habits of Highly Effective Teachers Who Use Technology.” Be sure to check this one out because it includes a great graphic that summarizes the article – visual notes are a thing, y’all.

Needless to say, over the past week I have learned more about how to navigate “the Twitter realm.” While I had previously steered away from the social media site, Twitter has allowed me to easily access articles and opinions aggregated by subject matter. Surprisingly, Twitter has grown to be a helpful research tool, too. The site has allowed me to repost articles relevant to my Genius Hour Project. In doing so, I’ve been able to access the articles at my convenience while easily directing classmates to them as well.

“Social networking websites like Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr provide an unparalleled ability for people to stay connected in new and unique ways.” – Michael Bennett

By searching a simple hashtag (the hashtags #edtech and #eLearning have been especially helpful in pinpointing articles specific to personal learning devices), I found several relevant articles, specifically how best to use educational technology to drive success in and outside of the classroom. Folks who have posted articles I have found helpful include: Eric Sheninger (@E_Sheninger), Jana Jan (@janajan00), and RJ Jacquez (@rjacuqez).

I also participated in my first Twitter chat this past week, which was more fun than I ever expected; in fact, this has been a highlight of my educational technology course so far. Through my experience I connected with educators all across the U.S. interested in educational technology, maker spaces, and even superheroes and unicorns. Since I am not well-versed in the educational arena, I was nervous to participate at first. The good-humored nature of all the participants and the genuine interest in helping and supporting others, however, made me excited to participate! The chat enabled me to take note of topics I should research, namely links I should check out. I also began following several folks ( and and @nathan_stevens) – cool thing is that they also started following me (and they have thousands of followers – wowzers!). If you’re ever around from 8pm – 9pm on Mondays, be sure to check out the educational technology chat, which is easily accessible via #edtechchat (Note: the chat I participated in was #edtechhack since it was Memorial Day).

All in all, two heads and the power of Twitter are much more powerful than me alone.

How can personal learning devices facilitate meaningful learning in the K-12 classroom?

My family’s first computer was the size of a microwave and connecting to the internet was like watching paint dry – literally. (I encourage you to relive the thrill of the dial-up internet era of the nineties here.) Fast forward 20 years and my personal computer is the size of a spiral bound notebook and internet connections are instantaneous.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, as of 2009 97% of U.S. public school classrooms had at least one computer. Because of the increasing presence and accessibility of technological devices – from sleek cell phones and tablets to portable computers, it is important to assess how personal learning devices can best be used in the K-12 classroom to facilitate meaningful learning.

The successful integration of technology into the K-12 classroom (students should learn with technology rather than from technology) can enrich students’ educational experience. This blog will detail essential and relevant tools, techniques, and strategies educators (regardless of grade level or years of experience) can use to ensure personal learning devices positively supplement student performance.

Furthermore, the world of technology is ever-evolving as is the classroom. As a student of the technology age, I am interested in assessing the best methods for technology integration in the K-12 classroom by teachers (like my dad, aunt, and friends) and for students (like my younger sister, cousins, and my own children – one day far in the future).

“I believe the children are our future. Teach them well and let them lead the way.”Whitney Houston

Twitter savvy? Be sure to check out these technology in education enthusiasts! Nancy Caramanico @ncara, Andrew Miller @betamiller, Molly Schroeder @followmolly, Will Richardson @willrich45, Alec Couros @courosa, eSchool News @eschoolnews, & David Warlick @dwarlick. Feel free to follow me as well @sarcar317.

Thanks to #hashtags, it’s easier now than ever before to access an aggregated list of relevant topics, such as technology in education and personal learning devices. Relevant hashtags include: #edtech, #elearning, #mlearning, #edapp, #gbl, #slide2learn, #vitalcpd, #1to1echat, & #BYOD4L.