Posted in MAET: CEP 800

Personal Learning Theory: The Benefits of Student-Centered Learning

As an educator, I am constantly seeking ways to be innovative, more authentic, and more engaging in my teaching. Through exploring various learning theories and examining the way that students and adults learn both in and beyond the classroom, it became clear to me that I was focused entirely too much on what I was doing as an educator, rather than what I should be encouraging my students to do. Enter student-centered learning. This concept, which empowers students to take ownership of their learning and shifts the teacher to a facilitator or coach aligns with multiple learning theories which suggest that individuals learn best when they are personally engaged in the content, motivated to learn, find the learning authentic or personalized, and have the opportunity to transfer skills and information across subject-matters. Student-centered learning achieves all of these goals, allowing learners to grow in meaningful ways.

In my personal theory of learning, available here, I explore the various theories of learning that support a student-centered model. My goal is not to focus on the classroom or teaching, but rather, I aim to explore why learners learn best in student-centered environments and how the structure of learning impacts the success of a learner. As a companion to my theory of learning, I have also created an infographic, designed to support teachers in establishing a more student-centered mindset. The infographic contains basic information about the benefits of student-centered learning as well as ideas for implementing these ideas in the classroom. Finally, I wanted to provide handy references for teachers who would like to know more or continue exploring learning theories or student-centered learning; I included a link to a Youtube playlist and Google folder containing such resources.

My hope is that this collection of resources will inspire educators and learners alike to embrace a student-centered mindset, increasing both engagement and achievement.

An offline version of the infographic (without active links) can be found below. For a live version, please click here. 


Posted in CEP 820

Reflecting on Haiku Learning: CEP 820

One of the aspects of creating an online course with which I struggled the most was determining the right platform to use for me and my students. As more teachers move to blended, flipped, or tech-heavy teaching and learning styles, students are getting confused about which system to use in each class and where their materials can be found. For example, as a Google school, many teachers use Google Classroom to manage assignments and post information, while others post everything on Moodle. Still others have created Google Drive folders for their students to work from and collaborate. With all of the options, it is natural that students get confused and lost in the shuffle. With that in mind, I wanted to create something that could be linked from multiple places. While Google Classroom and Moodle did not quite offer me what I wanted, Haiku Learning was a visually appealing, user-friendly platform with a variety of benefits for my students. While I struggled with adding one more thing for them to learn, I also realized that I am helping to prepare them for life in a digital world by exposing them to as many platforms as possible. Ultimately, although it adds to the multitude of course management systems students are using on a daily basis, Haiku Learning was chosen.

Once I started designing my classroom, I had to get the notion out of my head that if students didn’t understand something I could always explain it in class. Just as I would never allow them to turn in a vague essay with the thought that they could explain their points in person, I too should be clear and direct with my expectations on the site. This resulted in adding significantly more content and trying to provide as many opportunities to ask questions of me or one another as possible. I also quickly learned that the content I hand out in class and can expand upon verbally does not necessarily translate well to an online course module. Adding screencasts of my project overview aided in this as it will allow all learning styles to get a sense of the project. I am also currently working on an infographic that will outline the project visually and break it down into steps. I created one for another project that I am including here as an example. (next page)

Finally, I wanted the course to be easy to follow and for ideas to flow logically into the next. For this I used a backward design process and tried to begin with the end in mind. Knowing what my expected outcome was, I considered what they would need to read, listen to, practice, research, and create in order to reach that goal. From there, I created formative assessments (annotated bibliography, peer workshop) to support their learning and gain feedback ahead of the summative assessment due date. Finally, by asking students to create the rubric for the task, I engaged them in all areas of the process and ensured that the expectations were not only clear, but agreed upon by all stakeholders. This has become a cornerstone in my teaching and is something I hope to implement more often.

Ultimately, the creation of the CMS was a learning experiences that was invaluable as I move to include increasing digital experiences, lessons, and tasks for my students. Using this design method in the future will help me ensure that all aspects of my course are clear, achievable, and engaging for my students.

This infographic describes our upcoming Social Action in Action project for 11th and 12th graders. I include it here as an example of what I plan to do for all projects moving forward. Having a visual explanation of the task helps varying learners be more successful.
Posted in Uncategorized

Letting go of the reins: Final thoughts on CEP 810

As my third course in the MAET program, CEP 810 has been the most immediately applicable to my practice. Perhaps it is the timing of the course–I began my coursework just before returning to school this year, so the content was fresh in my mind and I had 150 test-subjects at my immediate disposal. Timing aside, however, it is clear to me the extent to which this course will affect my teaching far beyond the beginning of the school year.

As a BYOD school (bring your own device), I have been struggling to meaningfully integrate technology in my classroom. In years past I have had access to computer carts or labs and could assign technology-driven tasks in any unit. With BYOD, however, I am now trying to manage 30 different technologies, from phones to laptops, in a single classroom. At first, I was discouraged. Through my work in this class, however, I have discovered that it is not the technology that should be driving the task, but rather, the technology should lend itself toward the task’s completion. In other words, rather than asking my students to ‘make a video,’ I should be designing a task asking students to create a product for a real-world audience, and then let them drive the manifestation of the project with technology available to them.

One of the other realizations that I had as a result of this course was the vast array of information available at a moment’s notice online. While I always knew this to be true, I had not previously considered it in an educational sense (beyond research assignments). When my students don’t know how to do something in their personal lives (pass a level on a video game, blow up marshmallows in the microwave), they watch YouTube videos to figure it out. Why, then, do they not consult the online community for help in utilizing Google Drive or adding video clips to presentations? By forcing myself back to novice-learner status, I began to re-imagine the way that I present information to students and the tools that I ask them to use on a daily basis.

While I am clear and confident in my role as a learning-outcome designer and facilitator, one aspect of educational technology still eludes me. When it comes to assessing students’ work in which multiple pathways have been offered, I struggle with consistency in grading. It will take some time to develop appropriate rubrics (perhaps asking my students to weigh-in would be helpful here), but assessing the use of technology is still one of my struggles.

Overall it has been a productive semester in which the course content has been immediately applicable in my practice. I can only hope that future semesters are as meaningful and thought-provoking.

Untitled Infographic

Posted in Uncategorized

“Cooking” with TPACK–not quite “Top Chef” quality

As part of our work with rethinking and re-purposing this week, we were challenged in CEP 810 to complete a random culinary task using kitchen tools selected at random by a friend or family member. My challenge: make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich using a saucer, cereal bowl, and a ladle.

In the following video, you can see my true culinary skills shine. I discovered very quickly that I would have to rethink some of my kitchen tools, such as the ladle, to fit the challenge (and the jar). My understanding of the purpose of this challenge was immediately realized upon completing the sandwich: in order for my students to succeed as learners, I must give them the right tools for the task at hand and help them improvise when those tools are unavailable.

This understanding directly relates to the TPACK theory of educational technology. I must understand the task at hand (content knowledge), know which tools will suit it best (technological knowledge), and how best to communicate the ideas to my students (pedagogical knowledge) in order for an task to be completed well.

While completing this challenge, I also thought about the order in which directions are given and tasks are assigned. If technology, rather than content or pedagogy, is driving the task, then students will likely feel like I did when I had my utensils selected but not my culinary challenge. In order to most effectively challenge my students, they must be able to fully understand the task at hand before selecting the best tools for completion.

This challenge encouraged me to reconsider the way I think about educational tools and technology, the way that I assign tasks, and the encouragement I must give to students to work through a challenge regardless of a lack of resources.

Without further ado… “Cooking” with TPACK.

Posted in Uncategorized

Working on my Workflow, part 2: The Solution

As I work to revise my workflow and limit my open loops, I have discovered that new technologies may be more beneficial to me than existing structures.Instead of relying on my sticky notes (both digital and the ones lining my desk), as mentioned in part 1, Evernote is a far better use of my collecting and productivity time.

Although Evernote takes some time to master, the time spent exploring the site and its accompanying apps is well worth it. With Evernote, I am able to create notebooks for each topic that I need to organize. I can stack those notebooks to create a binder (i.e., all of my school-related notebooks can be stacked separately from my personal notes), share notes or entire notebooks with colleagues (my favorite feature), and access notes across all of my devices. Another useful feature that I have discovered is the Google extension for Evernote. I can save a pdf version of an article/website to one of my Evernote notebooks. This is not only helpful for me as an educator, as I come across countless articles or instructional ideas and my bookmarks bar is filling up fast, but it will also be a useful tool for my students to collect and organize their research and information.


I am still exploring all of the available features, but it is clear that Evernote is a beneficial way to collect information from my open loops, organize that information, share it with colleagues or students, and manage my time. The fact that I can access my lists from any device means that I am no longer tethered to my laptop in order to be productive. I am looking forward to seeing what else Evernote has to offer.


Allen, D. (2001). Getting things done: The art of stress-free productivity. New York: Penguin.

Cover Photo: “Sticky Notes in Different Colors” by Rameshng licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

Posted in Uncategorized

See One. Do One. Teach One. NLP Final Blog Post.

When I set out to learn how to arm knit using YouTube tutorials, I expected an easy road. I learn well from online tutorials, and genuinely enjoy this style of learning. What I didn’t realize, however, is that this is an area in which I have no background knowledge at all. Not knowing even the fundamentals of knitting truly impacted my ability to learn this new skill. As did the various source I consulted. As I mentioned last week, I started with a video tutorial that seemed promising, but I soon discovered that as a visual learner, it was vital that the video demonstrate the action in first person perspective using an over-the-shoulder camera. Luckily, Amanda from the Simply Maggie blog agreed, and provided the tutorial that I needed.

I realized quickly the intent of pushing me back to the state of a novice learner. I was equal parts frustrated and discouraged when I couldn’t seem to make even a simple slip-knot using the bulky yarn. While I had the ability to pause the video and try again, my students are rarely granted this luxury. Nor are most tenth graders going to have the confidence to raise their hand and ask me to repeat myself or break the information down into smaller steps. This must therefore become part of my teaching and be woven seamlessly into my teaching style.
This also helped place my in the mind of my students as they learn a great deal from video tutorials when it comes to their personal interests. They learn how to pass a level on a video game by watching another gamer complete the challenge, but they rarely seek video tutorials for academic purposes. I can imagine countless applications for this style of learning in the classroom–trying new pieces of educational technology, finding creative commons licenced videos to use in their creations, or something as simple as adding page numbers to a word document can all be learned from online tutorials. As an educator, I can also use tutorials to better support my students. I recently created an MLA screencast to walk my students through the process of creating MLA works cited pages. With this tutorial, students can remind themselves of the process at home when completing essays, and can always return to it as a resource even when outside of class. This is a strategy that I could significantly expand for my students and could greatly help to enhance their learning process.

Mostly, as discussed in my final video, learning must be an ongoing process. If I expect to be an expert from one viewing of an arm tutorial video, then I need a bit of a reality check. With time and repetition, however, I can work toward becoming an expert. Remembering the difference between learning as a novice and learning as an expert, the expert never stops the learning process. I must continue to practice, look for new ways to problem solve, and work toward being able to not only complete an arm scarf, but also to teach someone else how to complete one. Then I will be able to call myself an expert (maybe). As my grandfather always says, “see one, do one, teach one.” This is the way toward true understanding.

Without further ado… My final NLP Video. Please click here if the video does not load below.


Posted in Uncategorized

What in the World? A 21st Century Lesson Plan

Over the past several weeks, I have been working with both my students and colleagues to combat the lack of global awareness many teens (and adults!) display through both formal and informal discussions. One of the reasons that students have offered for their lack of knowledge in current events is a lack of teen-friendly resources at their disposal. Students, who live their lives online, are craving an accessible website or social media platform to help them become more well-informed, without having to search through pages of headlines. While Twitter does a great job offering news in small, bite-sized pieces, tweets also pass by in an instant–so, if students are not online at a given moment (during class, for example), they likely miss whatever Twitter has to offer them.

In order to help my students become better informed, as well as in an effort to help them see the true benefit of educational technology (beyond Google Docs and PowerPoint), I have designed a lesson in which students create an activity or online resource to help their peers become and remain well-informed. Students are able to use a variety of technologies to support their work, but ultimate they must aggregate their information in one place, making it easily accessible for teenagers. Students also must plan for a way to disseminate information about their new news tool to their peers.

As global awareness is one of P21’s core subjects/themes, this lesson nicely aligns with the 21st century learning outcomes (Partnership for 21st Century Skills 2011). This lesson is also reflective of Renee Hobbs’s core competencies (2011) and asks students to achieve all five competencies in a meaningful and sustained manner.

This lesson and activity are also deeply woven into our curriculum. As tenth graders, students are focusing on analyzing non-fiction sources and evaluating digital content. Students are learning how to discern a credible source from a non-credible source, and are also being asked to extend their learning beyond the classroom and school whenever possible. Authentic learning and creating for an authentic audience is one of the four cornerstones of our school, and this lesson/project will be a clear demonstration of that cornerstone.

I look forward to sharing this lesson and activity with my students, and am also excited to share the results of their work and creating in this space.

To read the lesson plan and lesson rationale, please click here. Also, please check back for updates on the lesson and additional student exemplars.


Hobbs, R. (2011). Digital and media literacy: Connecting culture and classroom. Thousand, Oaks, CA: Corwin/Sage.

Partnership for 21st Century Skills. (2011). Framework for 21st Century Learning. doi:10.4135/9781473935457

Posted in MAET: CEP 810

NLP Update 1: Yarn Explosion

Starting with the end in mind, here are a few things I discovered through this process so far:

I have always loved to learn. As nerdy as it sounds, nothing makes me happier than the satisfaction of teaching myself something new. For the past few years, this has been my approach to many facets of technology. I have taught myself how to use Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator using online tutorials and help forums, and so the learning process of this project was very easy for me to accept. What I did find challenging, however, was navigating between watching and absorbing the information on the screen, and implementing the steps as they were happening. I had to abandon one of my sources and fight through the discouragement, but I’m pleased with the result.

Source 1: Audra Kurtz

The first video I consulted grabbed me with the title, “DIY Arm Knitting–30 minute infinity scarf.” 30 minutes? Sounded great. What I didn’t know that the 30 minutes applied to the actual creation of the scarf, and did not count the hours of pausing, rewinding, starting over, and eventually abandoning Audra’s method. The problem I had with this video is that it was not entirely done from 1st person perspective, so I never knew if she was mirroring me or if I needed to do everything on the opposite hand. Although her scarf looked great, she did not work for me as an instructor.

Source 2: Amanda from the “Simply Maggie” blog (my savior!)

Amanda was everything that Audra was not. She reviewed steps several times, broke things down, and placed the camera over her shoulder so I would always know which hand to be on.

In the video, Amanda recommended using a bulky yarn, and I happened to find a yarn specifically labeled for arm knitting. I will need 2 skeins to complete each scarf.

The purple may or may not work for this, but it was so pretty!
The purple may or may not work for this, but it was so pretty!

If I expected to make anything resembling a scarf in 30 minutes, I had another thing coming! I did, however, discover several things about me as a learner that I previously was unaware of.

My most important moment of learning came from a challenge. I always considered myself to be a visual learner. I like to see the way a process works and then I can mimic it pretty well. What I did not know until attempting this project is that along with a visual I need a clear explanation using straightforward language. For example, one of the steps of the arm knitting was to turn a loop “towards yourself”–it took me 5 replays to finally figure out if that meant left/right or clockwise/counterclockwise. What I discovered is that my students likely feel similar frustrations. I may explain something in a way that is meaningful for me, but unless I can tap into the language that they would use to explain it, I will likely miss a large number of students.

For more on my process and eventual success, please see the photo gallery below. Also, tune in next week as I continue to practice and perfect the art of arm knitting! My goal is to create a full scarf independently, without having the tutorial on in the background. Wish me luck!

Posted in Uncategorized

Working on my Workflow: Saying Goodbye to Sticky Notes, part 1.

I have a self-imposed ban on purchasing Post-it Notes. Whenever I go into an office supply store, I am immediately drawn to the brightly colored, multi-shaped pieces of paper on which I write anything and everything. At work, sticky notes line my desk with reminders, tasks, names of students to e-mail, shopping lists, or notes to my colleagues. The only problem (other than the dent in my wallet) is that I can rarely find the sticky note I need when I need it. While sticky notes are great for text annotation and class chalk-talks, I have come to understand that they are simply not a viable organizational tool for me.

This week, I have been reflecting on my workflow and exploring the various technologies that can support me in my organizational and productivity efforts. My current system (born from my love of physical sticky notes) has been to use the Sticky Notes app on my laptop. The program remains open in my dock, and I can add color-coded notes for anything I need. This works well for me as I can take information from my e-mail, casual conversations with colleagues, notes from administration, and even assignments for my MAET program and organize them on one screen. A lover of the to-do list, I can also delete items as they are completed, offering me the sense of accomplishment created by an empty screen. My digital sticky note method has served me well so far, but I have come to recognize that it has its limits. Although this piece of technology was an initial solution, it may have turned into a hindrance.

This is my current Sticky Note screen. Green represents school-related information, yellow are drafts of e-mails, blue is information for the MAET program, and purple is personal.
This is my current Sticky Note screen. Green represents school-related information, yellow are drafts of e-mails, blue is information for the MAET program, and purple is personal.

I love that my sticky notes can remain in the background of my computer until I need them, but this system limits me to being productive or consulting my workflow list only when on my laptop. It would be far more beneficial, therefore, for me to use a system that is web-based or can be accessed from multiple devices. Similarly, if I need to share a note with a colleague in my current system, I have to send an e-mail, which adds to that colleague’s “open loops” and does not allow for seamless collaboration (Allen 2001).


Allen, D. (2001). Getting things done: The art of stress-free productivity. New York: Penguin.

Cover Photo: “Sticky Notes in Different Colors” by Rameshng licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

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To Tweet or not to Tweet: A PLN Question

Years ago I chastised my students for their obsessive use of Twitter. I didn’t understand the concept of “following” and “re-tweeting,” and I couldn’t possibly imagine why anybody would care about what my students had for breakfast, or the other inane things my students seemed to tweet. I stood on my soapbox and declared Twitter to be useless and a complete waste of both their time and intelligence. “Read a book!” I exclaimed. “Have a real conversation!” I implored. Although I had been ensconced in the social media bubble since college (the wondrous years when Facebook was limited to registered college students and my thirteen year-old cousin didn’t have one), I could not see the light at the end of the Twitter tunnel and could never imagine using it for myself.


Two years later, I have become a fully engaged member of the Twitter community. While I am still entirely sure that nobody cares what I had for breakfast (overnight oats with almond milk and berries, btw), I have grown to see that Twitter exists for three kinds of users, and I have finally figured out where I fit in the Twittersphere.

  • User 1: The producer of content: Primarily entertainers and other media sources, the producers of content are in constant competition with one another to post with increasing frequency and relevance. Entertainers promote their latest work, online news sources spit out content, and other celebrities or politicians post their beliefs or platforms for the world to consume.
  • User 2: The consumer of content: These Twitter users rarely tweet their own content, but often engage with Twitter as a source of information and ideas. They are likely to re-tweet others’ content even if not producing their own.
  • User 3: People who want you to know what they had for breakfast: Self-explanatory–these are the users who tweet anything and everything to build a following and be constantly engaged in social media.

Once I could organize Twitter into these three users, and identify myself as user 2 (consumer of content), I became more comfortable in my Twitter skin. I followed countless educators, blogs, colleagues, and resource sites in hopes of expanding my pedagogical toolbox and reinvigorating my teaching. Unsurprisingly, it worked! Through Twitter I have found or been inspired to create some of my best content and assessments, including the adoption of the Genius Hour project into my AP English Language and Composition class. After reading about the project on Twitter, I quoted the tweet with the comment that I “[couldn’t] wait to try this in my class!” My assistant principal tweeted back at me (a first for me) that she would support me in whatever I needed to get started, and the rest is history. Would I have had the courage to bring this new, slightly radical idea forward without the supposed anonymity of the internet? Maybe not. In this case, my personal learning network, once limited to colleagues in the lunch room and friends that I attended School of Education with, had been immediately expanded.

This was two years ago, and my engagement on Twitter has only grown from there. I am not yet a producer of content, although my MAET program is certainly getting me closer, but I do feel that my connections in the Twitter community have truly enhanced my teaching and instructional design abilities. Twitter has become a source of constant professional development, and I cannot imagine where I would be as an educator had I not abandoned my stubborn belief that Twitter was the end of intelligence.

Snapchat on the other hand… That’s a rant for another day.

PS–follow me on Twitter: @RachelLMatz and check out my “following” list for incredible educators doing incredible things!