Foundation of Learning – the importance of choice

Upon viewing Richard Cullata’s TedX talk on Reimagining Learning, I was inspired by his statements concerning the ability of technology to change learning.  Instead of treating all students the same, despite their unique needs, challenges, and interests, teachers today, via technology tools, have the ability to personalize learning.  This means that learning can involve real-time feedback, adjustable pace, meaningful experiences, and agency.

Impressed by the significance of personalized learning, I decided to research this topic further.  After searching the MSU library databases, I found two articles, one summarizing the effects of agency in early grade education, and one describing the findings of case studies of makerspaces, which support Cullata’s statements concerning the importance of personalization in the learning process, and hold application for the maker movement in education.


The power of choice

In Agency and Expanding Capabilities in Early Grade Classrooms, Jennifer Keys Adair used specific classroom examples to support her findings that student agency in early grade classrooms promotes learning for all students. According to Adair (2014), agency is the ability to “influence and make decisions about what and how something is learned in order to expand capabilities” (p. 219).  Adair noted the learning that occurred when first grade students were able to choose topics of interest, plan the learning timeline, and present findings in meaningful ways.  In contrast to many early grade classrooms, which focus on preparing students for high stakes testing, classrooms commended by Adair (2014) “make a strong case of young children having access to agency in early schooling contexts” (p. 223).  The benefits of such learning environments, in addition to developmental appropriateness, creates students who, according to Adair (2014) know “how to demonstrate knowledge, organize their thoughts, reflect on their learning, and reanalyze previously held beliefs or hypotheses” (p. 229).  Such students have expanded capabilities.

So many options...

So many options…

The second article read for this assignment, Learning in the Making: A Comparative Case Study of Three Makerspaces addressed the similarities and differences in how these makerspaces operated as learning environments.  While this article did not specifically reference agency or personalization of learning, each of the makerspaces and the activities within them supported Cullata’s statements concerning the importance of choice, background and personal interest in learning environments.  In this article, makerspaces were first defined by Sheridan, et al. (2014) as “informal sites for creative production in art, science, and engineering where people of all ages blend digital and physical technologies to explore ideas, learn technical skills, and create new products” (p. 505). The three spaces studied included a member-based space called Sector67, a community space predominantly for youth called Mt. Elliott Makerspace, and a museum makerspace in the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh.  All three had collaborative projects, ability of participants to choose activities and materials, and multiple ways for makers to learn skills.  They differed in their constituency.

For example, personalization of learning was a hallmark of Studio67’s flexible format in which equipment purchases and spatial arrangement was customized to project and participant needs (Sheridan et al., 2014).  Moreover, Sheridan, et al. (2014) noted that “There is a flexible structure to how work, learning and teaching happen on individual and shared projects, with roles shifting” (p. 513).

The findings of Sheridan, et al. (2014) reminded me of O’Donnell’s chapter on Constructivism (O’Donnell, 2012).  In each of the three makerspaces, participants were constructing projects within community using knowledge in meaningful ways.  These makerspaces allowed participants to learn as a novice, or share knowledge gained as an expert. In many cases, as described by Sheridan, et al. (2014) members of the makerspace entered as novices and quickly learned to share their knowledge with others.

Both of these articles support Cullata’s perspectives on the importance of personalized learning.  Adair demonstrated how more than content learning was acquired when students had the ability to choose their topic, timeline and project.  The research of Sheridan, et al. revealed how the concept of choice was intrinsic to the makerspaces studied and contributed to the success of the learning and movement.

As I consider how making can fit into elementary library curriculum, I am learning that personalization, agency, and student choice are essential elements to learning.  Building on O’Donnell’s description of dialectical constructivism, library makerspaces can allow for modeling, coaching, scaffolding, reflecting, articulating and exploring (O’Donnell, 2012), in addition to supporting student choice.


 Adair, J. K. (2014). Agency and expanding capabilities in early grade classrooms:  What it could mean for young children. Harvard Educational Review, 84(2), 217-242,278. Retrieved from

O’Donnell, A. (2012). Constructivism. In APA Educational Psychology Handbook: Vol. 1. Theories, Constructs, and Critical Issues. K. R. Harris, S. Graham, and T. Urdan (Editors-in-Chief). Washgington, DC: American Psychological Association. DOI: 10.1037/13273-003.

Sheridan, K. M., Halverson, E. R., Litts, B. K., Brahms, L. Jacobs-Priebe, L., Owens, T. (2014). Learning in the making: A comparative case study of three makerspaces. Harvard Educational Review, 84(4), 505-531,563-565. Retrieved from

MaKey MaKey in the Library

For this week in CEP 811, I explored making with the MaKey MaKey kit.  MaKey MaKey is a small device that connects to a computer via a USB port, and lets the user create an alternative keyboard for a computer.  Keystrokes could be mapped to letters or other functions, such as sound files.


After visiting a variety of websites, viewing YouTube videos, and experimenting with Scratch programs, I was ready to create my own keyboard using MaKey MaKey. I tried to repurpose a variety of object in my house to create keys, with varying degrees of success.

Earrings were not successful.

Earrings were not successful.


Testing out metal tree with foil and spoons.

A crochet hook didn't conduct unless wrapped with foil.

A crochet hook didn’t conduct unless wrapped with foil.

I finally settled on using spoons from the utensil drawer in the kitchen to work as the MaKey MaKey keys.  But what to have the keys do?  Since I am an elementary school librarian, I wondered how to make this tool fit my curriculum.  I liked the idea of having keys map to sounds. My first thought, after experimenting with the MaKey MaKey keyboard and various derivatives created by the Scratch community was to have students choose an instrument or varying tones and musically represent a book character or theme.

However, I had recently read The Squeaky Door with my primary classes.  This is a folktale retold by Margaret Read MacDonald, and has a variety of repeated sounds throughout the story.  What if the keys were mapped to those sounds?

Since the sounds I wanted were particular to the book, I had to create them.  This is something that students could do in the future.  I used a Voice Record app on my phone to record the sound effects.  My app lets the user upload sounds to a variety of places including Google Drive.  I uploaded the sounds from my phone and then downloaded them from Drive onto my computer.

Sound file uploading to Drive.

Sound file uploading to Drive.

Next, I needed to find a program that would associate the sounds with keystrokes.  The program that I discovered was Soundplant. I downloaded Soundplant to my computer, and mapped the sounds to the keys used on the MaKey MaKey.  I programmed the sounds to be associated with the arrows, the space bar and the letter a.  Soundplant lets you easily save the keyboards you create.

SoundPlant screen

Soundplant keyboard

Finally, I was ready to test my creation.  I plugged the MaKey MaKey into the USB port on my computer, had the Soundplant keyboard open on the screen, attached the alligator clips to the MaKey MaKey inputs and spoons, and clipped the grounding wire to my ring.  When I touched one of the spoons, the sound effect was made.  Success!

Final Project

Final Project


I enjoyed experimenting and playing with the MaKey MaKey.  I can see how this device could be used in a variety of ways in the elementary library.  For example, what if 1st grade students chose books, or wrote stories with sound effects?  Then, their 4th grade buddies could help them record the sounds and map those sounds to keys.  Using the MaKey MaKey, the 1st and 4th grade students would be able to retell stories in a new way.

*Note: Multimodal elements in blogposts communicate, inspire and educate.  Images communicate feeling and purpose beyond words.  They also can link the reader emotionally to the content and author. Moreover, especially in a “how-to” post, images and video provide learning support to visual and auditory learners.

Making remixed

This week I’ve begun a new class called Adapting Innovative Technology to Education, and encountered articles, video and media clips about the maker movement. I had the opportunity to put my learning into practice by creating a maker video remix using Mozilla Popcorn. This task was challenging, since I had to first make meaning out of all I had learned, and then figure out a new technology and find clips to support my thinking.

Relying on what I discovered in my networked learning class, I went to the online community and discovered how to manipulate video clips and other events in Mozilla Popcorn. I had to go back to the forums repeatedly as elements didn’t flow properly, or I forgot how to use layers. I initially played with some YouTube videos that I had uploaded, but then ventured into the creative commons licensed area of YouTube and also explored the rich Prelinger Archive of historical short film. What a treasure!

Having learned how to use a new technology, I was then ready to create a remix. But where to begin? I considered my learning from this week’s content. I was most inspired by Kirby Ferguson’s Everything is a Remix video series, and thought deeply about how remixing connects to my work as an educator. Creation involved copying content, and remixing and transforming it. These same steps are part of the learning process. A student takes in content and concepts and makes it their own. As learners play with content, new meaning and new products result.

So in my remix video, which you can view here, I explored how ideas build on what has existed before. I found a clip from the Seattle Worlds Fair of 1962 in which a Bell Telephone company representative was talking about the possibilities of phone technology. I immediately thought about how I use my smartphone for so many tasks, and even have friends who use their phone to control their home environments. By layering old and new clips, I wanted to illustrate the concept of creating being a remix of existing products and ideas.

Sources used:

Fairbanks (Jerry) Productions. (1964). Century 21 Calling [Video file]. Retrieved from

Photo by Nemo / CC0 Public Domain

Rothberg (Lee) Productions, Inc. (1967). Zipcode with the Swingin’ 6 [Video file].  Retrieved from

Илья Сименко. (2013, July 21). WigWag Kickstarter Promo Video [Video file]. Retrieved from

So what have I learned about learning?

Being an educator, I continually think about teaching and instruction, whether it be how to design a more effective learning experience, how to assess a particular skill, or how to better engage my students.  However, taking CEP 810 reacquainted me with the nature of a learner.  Being put in the position of a learner, I found myself more closely identifying with my students, and seeing my role as an educator with new eyes.

cc licensed (CC0) pixabay photo by jeshoots

cc licensed (CC0) pixabay photo by jeshoots

Just as passengers in an airplane have an aerial view of the landscape, so I felt that CEP 810 gave me an overview of the intersection of teaching, learning, content and technology.  Beginning with the opening readings on the nature of and research on learning, to my explorations of TPACK, encounters with social media and workflow assistance, and completion of a networked learning project, I feel as though I had a birds-eye view of the concept of teaching for understanding with technology.  I was introduced to authorities and experts in the field of education and technology, and exposed to many different ideas and programs.

Like that passenger looking out of her window from 35K, I saw landmarks flash below.  James Gee and Will Richardson encouraged me to think differently about the goals of education.  Participating in networked learning allowed me to experience the freedom and frustration of learning outside of a classroom.  Blogging weekly and participating in twitter reminded me of the importance of sharing my voice and communicating with those within and outside of my field. Exploring workflow tools reminded me to care for myself as an educator, and revealed the amazingness of Evernote.

cc licensed ( CC0 ) pixabay photo by cocoparisienne

cc licensed ( CC0 ) pixabay photo by cocoparisienne

After having viewed these concepts from above, and at a fast pace, I look forward to getting out my map and exploring the landmarks and paths that I saw.  I kept track of books, articles, experts and blogs (thank you Evernote), and want to more deeply explore the ideas that were introduced in this course.  I want to continue to examine the changing nature of educational environments.  What does this mean for me, a school librarian?  Beyond changing the physical layout of the learning center, are there methods and practices I can adopt to better meet the needs of my school?  Additionally, I want to explore further what it means to learn, and how to better help today’s students understand my content of transliteracy using technology as a tool. How can I better foster student literacy in a variety of media, using technology as a tool and not an outcome?

As the plane and map image connote, learning (and teaching) is a journey.  I’m so thrilled to be on this adventure, and grateful for the questions and answers that CEP 810 has provided.