Integrating technology by using the TPAC model

Many teachers new to integrating technology into their classroom come to me with the question, “I am really excited to use technology in the classroom, how can I do it?” Well, this in itself, is pretty general question so I usually respond, “tell me about what you are doing in your classroom”

There is no point in using technology for the sake of using technology. That would be equivalent to getting out a hammer and simply banging away at nails without a clear goal.   It must be used purposely and through an authentic context. In other words, start with the end in mind. What are the specific learning goals you would like students to reach? With this in mind, we can then think about selecting the appropriate tool.

The TPAC model is a nice way to combine content, pedagogy and technology. Here’s a great video that summarizes it:

So the main point is, you need to balance technology carefully with pedagogy and content to find the “sweet spot” in learning.

More Connected but Disconnected than Ever?

I recently came across this video. A powerful message sits in it and for me, it resonated with some of the issues I have been noticing with technology.

As an advocate on the benefits of technology, I also feel that I need to balance this out with some of the disadvantages of technology. One that I certainly have noticed in the last 5 years or so is how many people opt to engage in virtual worlds rather than real-world experiences (I am guilty of this too). Let’s face it, with the lures of Facebook, games, emails, texts all at the tip of your fingers, it is all too easy to disengage in those few fleeting seconds of boredom. This comes at a price however. We are robbing ourselves and our loved ones of connecting with each other in real-life. All those special moments in your life with your friends or family that allow you to look back and smile.

As an educator, I am a big believe in developing social skills within the classroom. Yes technology has a place and can be a valuable tool but it certainly shouldn’t be used all the time. I recently was working with a teacher who used laptops constantly in class to the point that she didn’t know what to do with a new student who wouldn’t have a laptop for a week. Are we becoming too dependent on technology? I just never thought that part of my job as an IT Coach would be to convince teachers to use technology less in the classroom.

My message is simple, yes we need to use technology effectively in our lives but it certainly doesn’t mean use technology constantly.  Build time in the day for your students or family to unplug and connect with each other and build meaningful relationships and enjoy real-world interactions.

Minecraft-A new virtual tool for learning

I just read a great post from this blog on Minecraft and thought I would add my thoughts on the subject.

Whenever you mention the word “video game” to a parent, it often brings quite a few negative connotations. Usually the negative words associated with this are: blood, shooting, waste of time, and mindless.  As an adolescent, I remember trying to justify to my mother that hours of playing Nintendo’s Zelda were actually beneficial to me. I would say, “but it improves my hand eye coordination Mom!”  She would often let out a sigh, roll her eyes and give me another 15 minutes to try and complete another level.  At the time, improving hand eye coordination was really the only apparent benefit of playing video games at the apparent cost of so many.

As part of my graduate research,  I have recently been doing quite a bit of academic research on game-based learning. Typically, with any new type of technology, there is a bit of resistance and usually group of critics who often propagate myths without having done the research themselves. I have encountered similar resistance when we first started doing blogging in the classroom (how can blogging possibly improve academic skills?), ipads and mobile devices (they are a distraction and waste of time) and now games.

Fast forward 20 years and gaming is still a huge market.  Video games have evolved into highly sophisticated multiplayer games and strategy-based games that require much more than trying to rapidly tap A, A, B, B, select, start, up, down as fast as you can. Sure, those games certainly exist but new genres have hit the market that require higher-order thinking skills, complex communication, collaboration and problem-solving.  One of those genres, simulation games, is beginning to overlap with other fields such as medicine, military and education.

Watch this fantastic video that paints a nice picture of the role of simulation games in education:







So what are simulation-based games?

Simulation games are virtual games that simulate a real-world experience that are often difficult or dangerous to take part in real life. Some of them are life-based simulation games such as the Sims and others are more construction and strategy based games such as Civilization, SimCity World of Warcraft, and Minecraft.

Games (not just video games) have actually taken quite awhile to be taken seriously by educators.  Games, by themselves, are obviously highly engaging, fun and motivating. However, these reasons alone are not enough to use them educationally. For example, Uno is a fun and engaging game but this alone doesn’t mean that it should be used in the classroom. There needs to be careful planning, goals, integration into the curriculum and reflection built into any type of technology or innovative practice.

I have recently been using Minecraft in the classroom to help develop some important mathematical concepts as well as those higher-order thinkings skills. As a teacher and a bit of a gamer myself, I can clearly see the advantages of leveraging games for learning.

So what is Minecraft?


Minecraft is a virtual 3D simulation game in which players need to look for resources to use to craft and build just about anything. There is a one player survival mode where it is just you alone in the world and there are monsters out there so you need to survive. There is also a creative mode feature where you have access to all resources in the game.  There is also a multiplayer mode (my favorite) where you interact and collaborate with people in real-time. Creativity is absolutely endless and I have seen people build ancient pyramids, castles, and even whole cities!

So how can you use Minecraft for learning?

Math-Since Minecraft is in a 3D virtual world, it is very easy to link in geometry and measurement concepts. I had 5th grade students complete a series of challenges involving fractions and percents. I built some structure and students had to figure out what percentage of each material I used. Then, I had them build a house involving some specific percentages of blocks. It is very easy to explore concepts such as volume, area, perimeter, coordinates and measurement. I had 3rd grade students build a real construction of a garden project they did in which they had to use specific perimeter and areas of their garden (planned ahead of time). Then students actually got to grow their own crops in the garden! Video of my idea will be posted below:


Geography-Geography is an easy way to explore using Minecraft. Difficult concepts such as topography, mapping skills, types of maps are a natural part of Minecraft. I found a great video by a fellow teacher in which he explored contour maps show below. I am planning out a series of lessons shortly

Economics/Math-Minecraft has plenty of multiplayer servers. Recently, I joined one and I am absolutely amazed at the kind of learning that happens on this. One server has an economy built into it so players receive money from selling their items. People also begin opening up shops selling and trading items. This opens up a real life (sort of) context where students could learn the idea of supply, demand, market prices and how economies are built.

Science-I have been following a high school teacher in Australia who uses Minecraft to teach concepts in biology. For example, he has students construct 3D models of eukaryotic cells. He uses a multiplayer mod to explore how neurotransmitters work.






Digital Storytelling-Animation using Scratch

Sorry I haven’t been making many posts lately. I have dedicated most of my time to getting the iPod Touch Educator blog off the ground.

My new favorite tool as a teacher has been Scratch. For those you that haven’t seen it, it is an amazing tool for students of all ages. It is free digital animation site where much like YouTube, students can create and upload their own stories, animation and even video games using a very simple free software program developed by MIT students. For creativity, there really is no other program for Macs + elementary level that compares. One of the reasons I love it is that there is so much flexibility in terms of what students can create. They can make a simple slide show or for complex video games. The possibilities are really endless…

We have been using it with Grade 5s as a way to show their learning in a science unit on Energy. The students get to be highly creative in establishing simple story lines to frame their learning. Here is an example: Screen shot 2010-11-24 at 10.55.27 AMYou can see the full collection here

I had the students start with very simple things to begin with. I of course had to play with it first to figure out the basics and had the students do the same. Have the students play for a period on it and give them a few challenges to work on like: try and make your sprite move back and forth, try and design your own background, try and insert music. When confronted with challenges, it makes it seem more like a mystery and students get a sense of accomplishment by figuring things out on their own. It also forces them to be a risk-taker which is really essential with these types of projects.

Screen shot 2010-11-24 at 11.07.41 AM

There is an educators site here which is great to bounce ideas off and pick up some pointers. There are some great introductory videos here that I showed students initially. It’s great to have kids teaching kids.

So get out there and try it out. It’s free to download and once you do, create an educator account so you can start uploading projects there.

Mapping: From 2D technology to 3D models

Recently, I have been using a program called Neighborhood Map Machine to support the Grade 2 Social Studies unit on Communities and the Grade 3 unit on Mapping and Landforms.

Picture 1

Above: A map mystery of an island community created by a student.

Overall, I’ve been very impressed with the program. Not only does it have many map mysteries and activities that reinforce mapping skills such as measurement, compass work, coordinates and direction but one of my favorite features is the ability for students to create their own maps and mysteries.



Above: Students creating 3D models from their maps designed using Map Machine

Creating in general allows students to access higher-order thinking skills according to Bloom’s Revised Digital Taxonomy31637583

Neighborhood Map Machine allow students to not only create their own map and add roads, houses, people, buildings and landforms but also record audio, video or text clues for a mystery. They choose a mystery location and have students follow their own clues to find the secret location. All of this involves some considerable higher-order thinking since they need to plan their clues in advance and ensure that they communicate their clues clearly.

A colleague of mine had a great idea to take this a step further. We found out that you can print 3D nets of the buildings so we decided to have the students create a 3D model of their 2 D map that they had done during technology time.

I would love to hear how others have used this program in the classroom!


3D model done by some Grade 2s

Technology tools-Process vs Product

With an increasing number of tools being developed for educators, the endless question seems to come down to process vs product argument.

Some ICT tools available are great for processing and synthesizing information for students. A tool such as Kidspiration or Inspiration help students to mind map concepts. For example, when we were doing a unit on Healthy Choices in Grade 2, students helped to categorize different types of foods according to which needs were met in a Food Pyramid. In this case, students are learning by categorizing information. This ICT tool helps students to learn concepts about nutrition.On the flip side, you could also use the same tool to present their knowledge and understanding about nutrition. This could be at the end of a unit where students could present their learning to a wider audience. Both are valuable assessments (formative vs summative) and both are equally valuable learning tools.

There are an enormous amount of digital tools that could be used for presenting information. Keynote from iLife 08 allows students to present their learning from a unit and share it with other students. iWeb is a fantastic tool that allows students the chance to create a digital portfolio. Students can then reflect on their learning through a unit and summarize it.

As an educator, one needs to carefully look at technology tools to ensure that there is a balance of integrating technology as a tool for process and products.