What Is Up With Carmen Sandiego?

Turns out Interpol had Carmen pegged wrong this whole time.

Netflix recently debuted Carmen Sandiego, a re-make of the celebrated kids’ geography series Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego? In the first two episodes, viewers find out that she has actually been working to foil all those criminals that international law enforcement had assumed were her henchmen.

So now that Carmen is known to us as one of the good guys, should intermediate elementary teachers like myself be promoting the show? It depends.

Initially when I heard the show was coming back, my excitement was based on my assumption that the show would provide entertaining geography factoids. After all, previous iterations of Carmen Sandiego were designed to support learners’ general knowledge development while simultaneously boosting their critical thinking abilities and love of learning.

After checking out the first five of the nine-part series, I conclude that in the earliest episodes, the new show is overly heavy on the entertainment factor. But throughout, the illustrations and music are fabulous. The dialog reflects the sarcastic, figurative language of the original works. The action is driven by lots of impossible one-to-one combat, clever devices, the dark doings of VILE, and the clever triumph of good over evil. Here is an episode run-down of those I have viewed so far to help you decide how the new offerings might fit into your curriculum.

Episodes 1 and 2 – Becoming Carmen Sandiego: Part 1 and Becoming Carmen Sandiego: Part 2

In a detailed backstory, we find out that Carmen, called Black Sheep, was orphaned and raised on an island run by a school for thieves, VILE. From a young age, she was cunning and curious about the world outside her island fortress. By chance she gains an on-line friend, a White-Hat hacker, Player, who gets her thinking about options outside of a life of crime. After some instruction in criminality, she finds herself off the island with a VILE heist team. Instead of working with her thief classmates on the mission, however, she decides that what they are doing is wrong. Here begins her life fighting crime. There is very little overt geography content in these episodes.

Episode 3 – The Sticky Rice Caper

Here the Netflix series begins to redeem itself. Carmen teams up with newly introduced good-guy and good-girl characters to shake misguided Interpol agents and thwart VILE trouble-makers. In this case, they travel to Indonesia to stop the use of a bio-weapon that destroys rice. Aided by engaging graphics and maps, watchers learn that Indonesia is composed of over 17,000 islands and holds the world’s fourth-largest population. Other geographical and cultural details showcase the concept of rice as a staple food, komodo dragons, Wayang shadow puppetry, and durian fruit.

Episode 4 – The Fishy Doubloon Caper

In this episode, Carmen and friends are on the search for a famous Ecuadorean coin, touching on the theme that important historical items can have cultural value without having monetary value. As in the previous episode, graphics and maps support geographical information including the concept of the equator, Northern and Southern Hemispheres, the major agricultural exports of Ecuador, and the elevation of Quito with its thin air. Fans of classic Carmen Sandiego will be thrilled with the re-emergence of Chief, leader of ACME, a mysterious crime-fighting operation that trumps Interpol.

Episode 5 – The Duke of Vermeer Caper

The Interpol agents of earlier episodes are now full-fledged employees of ACME, investigating thefts of Vermeer paintings throughout the world. Meanwhile, Player and Carmen recognize that VILE is replacing Vermeer originals with fakes, so they head to The Netherlands to prevent the theft of the last remaining original Vermeer. Episode factoids include the 17th century Dutch Golden Age painters, capital city Amsterdam, and its Rijksmuseum.

So will Carmen Sandiego become part of my classroom instruction? Yes and no.

There is no inherent value in the whole of the series to my social studies curriculum which focuses on the Western Hemisphere. However, I think I’ll use Episode 4 as a reward video since it touches on related geography. And knowing how difficult it can be for parents to make wise decision about their children’s media consumption, I will recommend it to parents in my next monthly newsletter. Beyond that, whether I use the remaining episodes of the series in my classroom will depend on how well they link to my social studies lessons. Regardless, I can’t wait to wear my new Carmen Sandiego t-shirt to school on jeans days.

What do you think about this latest generation of Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego? Does it have value in your classroom?



Blast from the Past: Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego?

In case you haven’t heard, Netflix is bringing back Carmen Sandiego on January 18. As a fifth grade social studies teacher, I am excited to see how the series could support my students’ geography learning. As someone who grew up in the 70s and 80s, I am nostalgic for Carmen Sandiego, one of the first leading female characters in gaming.

In 1985, Broderbund came out with a computer game titled Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego? Although it in no way compares technologically to today’s games, at the time it was a leap in using gaming in education. It became a TV game show in 1991, winning awards over its five seasons.

In the game narrative, Carmen is an international criminal leading a variety of henchman in unbelievable capers: stealing landmarks like national parks and moving landforms around the world. Players use geography clues to figure out where Carmen and her accomplices are hiding.

So how will I use WITWICS to support my young geographers? At this point, I’m not completely sure. I believe that I need to watch the premiere on Netflix before I promote watching it to my learners. Assuming that it’s appropriate for them, I will show it in class and introduce a WITWICS early finishers’ station using these free materials from EducationWorld.com. Because I do not have access to very many Chromebooks, I will position the station near our classroom library atlases and geography resource books.

Sometimes we just need to switch things up to keep learning exciting, and I am hoping that Carmen Sandiego intrigues my fifth graders as much as she did me back in the day.

Bringing in the New Year with Engaged Fifth Graders

I don’t know about you, but by the end of winter break, I am always ready to go back to my classroom. This year is no different, and I am full of great ideas to implement when the kids come back. I have had plenty of time during these days off to catch up with my favorite bloggers (including Jen Gonzalez, Paul Shanahan, and Peter Green) and publications (and yes, various Facebook teacher groups), soaking up all kinds of exciting, new-to-me, research-based ways to improve learning. Experience cautions me, however, to take it easy with the new ideas. So I am going to share with you my most important focus to keep myself accountable!

Engagement. Anything new that I bring to the table in the next few weeks must improve engagement. So how exactly do I plan to accomplish this?

We will begin with goal-setting. Flocabulary has a great video to get my fifth graders’ attention on this matter. Admittedly, it is aimed at grades 6-12, but with some guidance my kids will definitely connect with it. Then we will look at our AIMSweb scores from fall and winter benchmarking and get down to business writing personal reading goals. My hope is that aiming to improve those scores will give the kids motivation to read more on their own time.

And that brings me to March Book Madness (MBM)! If you haven’t come across this concept, check out the Weebly page of Keefer and Jones, two teachers from central Ohio who have applied the excitement of the NCAA brackets to literature. It doesn’t get any more engaging for some of my reluctant readers than to know they are reading the same books as other fifth graders across the country. And that they get to vote on their faves and watch the winners move up the bracket.

This is the fifth year of MBM, but only my second year implementing it with my students. Just like last year, I will borrow as many copies as I can of the books (including the cool Playaways available from my hometown library) from the Middle Grade MBM list. (Plus I’ve already ordered a bunch from Scholastic, but don’t tell my husband.) I will give short book talks on them during whole-group instruction. Then I will require students to sign them out from me if they want to read them, which imbues a specialness to the books. I do not require students to read MBM books, but last year MBM fever caught on and eventually everyone chose to check out at least one of them. (As of now, I am still debating if we will do a whole-class read of last year’s MBM winner, Restart by Gordon Korman. I bought 60 copies of it when Scholastic had it for $1.00. Yes, I have a Scholastic problem. LOL)

I also am going to ramp up the differentiation in my small ELA groups. Even though I am well-versed in differentiation, it still does take a lot of time to plan, and I got away from it toward the middle of December with everything going on. This led directly to some disengagement and the resulting classroom management issues that come from it. Data from ReadWorks and SpellingCity really does help save time, though, so I will plan to use that to create meaningful lessons targeted at individual need.

In social studies last semester, we focused on taking organized notes using text features and text structures to help evaluate the importance of details. (My kiddos so struggle with understanding what ideas are crucial and which are just fluff!) The plan for this semester is to add the option of sketch-noting, which will definitely engage my young artists. I have always encouraged them to draw their ideas, but now I will use some of Thomas Michaud’s quick Brain Doodles videos to steer their drawing toward meaningful learning.

Of course there are more ways I will continue to engage my learners this new year – mentor sentences using Jeff Anderson’s ideas, alternate assessments in social studies, coloring maps for geography, starting the day with student-created handshakes, choice during ELA stations, Epic on old cell phones, read alouds (We will finally finish Percy Jackson!), blogging, and timely graded assignments. But most importantly, I will continue to build relationships with my little people, the sure-fire way to keep them engaged through the rest of this school year.



Teacher as Advocate

My school district needs new buildings, and I am proud to advocate for my students. I recently was asked to be a guest columnist in our city newspaper, and I wrote about the impact of the environment on learning. Shown below, it is a revised version of a previous post here on The Green Pen:

From The News-Messenger

Fremont teacher shares need for new schools


On May 2, Fremont voters will be asked to support the construction of new schools. Citizens who do not have the opportunity to spend time in the buildings during the school day rightfully wonder what is wrong with the current buildings. They are clean, sturdy, and have provided many years of service. As a classroom teacher at Croghan Elementary, and a parent of children in the district, I would like to share with you my perspective on this important issue.

Despite ongoing maintenance and repair efforts to Croghan, it was designed in a different era and no longer provides the learning environment our children need. In 1929, when it was built, students attended school about 120 days each year, children with special needs did not attend regular public school, and little was known about how people learn. Today, all children are welcome to receive a public education with their peers for 180 days each year, and we know that the classroom environment greatly impacts learning.

One case in point is the acoustics of my classroom. My room was constructed with the hard surfaces and 90 degree angles of its day, creating a distracting echo out of the fan and the low murmur of voices. Science tells us that this constant sensory input to children’s brains causes poor performance on learning tasks. New schools, built with proper acoustics, have walls crafted to absorb sound, and air systems are virtually noiseless.

Poor lighting also takes a toll on learning. The fluorescent lights illuminate well, but also cause headaches and eye strain, serious issues when we know that students who read more, achieve more. New schools are designed to use natural light which is much easier on the eyes and is even shown to improve mood.
Another issue in our classrooms is space. My classroom is too small to implement proven best practices such as project-based learning. New schools, on the other hand, are built with these space issues in mind and include features such as movable walls and inside windows that allow teachers to expand spaces while still monitoring student activity.
Computers are no longer a luxury in schools. However, precious learning time in my classroom is wasted when my students must wait for simple websites to load on their Chromebooks. Therefore, I avoid some rich, wonderful online resources which could push my students’ critical thinking and engagement to higher levels; the data simply take too long to load through the building’s limited bandwidth. New buildings deliver state-of-the-art connectivity and allow students to experience the full possibilities of the web.
However, my biggest concern with our aged buildings is safety and accessibility. We have had instances of students temporarily using wheelchairs necessarily being carried upstairs by their parents in the morning before school and carried back down by them at the end of the day. Moreover, in the quiet of lockdown drills while waiting for the all-clear, it becomes apparent that students are unprotected in classrooms if someone wants to do them harm. Classroom doors open out into the hallways, so we cannot stack furniture against doors to prevent entry. There is no phone in my classroom to call for assistance. New schools are built with student safety and accessibility in mind. Doors open into classrooms, cameras monitor the space, facilities are barrier-free for students with mobility issues, and every room has a phone.
As a professional educator, I am charged with advocating for the children I teach. I ask you to please consider children and their learning when you vote on May 2.

Using VoiceThread to Promote Reading Poetry with Fluency and Expression

I love reading poetry to my students, and they love to listen. But when they read poetry, many of them read without phrasing, intonation, expression, and fluency. So I have created a VoiceThread for students to evaluate how I read a poem, Our Teacher Likes Minecraft, by Kenn Nesbitt, in the hopes that they will think more critically about how poems should sound. I chose this particular piece because I have many Minecraft aficionados in my classroom this year.


Causing Disequilibrium the Constructionist Way

Constructionist learning theory explains that the learning process begins when a person experiences disequilibration, or an incident that does not match the person’s existing knowledge, or schema (Laureate Education, 2015). The learner then either assimilates the new information into their current schema or accommodates the new information by creating a wholly unique place for it within their knowledge base (Laureate Education, 2015).

In order for a teacher to promote constructionism in the classroom, she must first provide a learning situation complex enough that students will experience disequilibration (Laureate Education, 2015). Such lessons are learner-centered and revolve around real-world questions or problems that don’t have a definitive answer (Orey, 2001). The open-ended nature of these lessons creates the intricacy necessary to cause disequilibration. Additionally, successful constructionist lessons require students to create a product during which assimilation and accommodation occur (Laureate Education, 2015). Because learners understand that their product is meant to be shared with others, they remain engaged and motivated as they keep in mind the genuine audience that will view their work (Lever-Duffy & McDonald, 2015).

Social media platforms have become one way for students to share their creations (Greenhow & Lewin, 2015). Like other technology tools, Facebook, Twitter, and their ilk provide learners with an audience beyond the classroom and more feedback than one class alone. Within the classroom, students can use slide-generating software like Power Point or Google Slides to easily construct the artifacts necessitated by the constructionist approach (Laureate Education, 2015). Teachers can utilize web-based tools such as web quests or design their own problem-based lessons in order to provide the disequilibrium and subsequent resources required to facilitate these constructionist lessons (Orey, 2001).

In my fifth grade classroom each year, students create Power Point presentations on an ancient civilization of the Americas. To prepare them for the Internet searches that they must do, they first learn how to evaluate reliable sources, an International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) (2007) standard for students. As a teacher, I apply an ISTE (2016) teacher standard when I design such lessons and use the products as summative assessments of students’ learning. In the future, I can make the lesson more constructionist by having students use Google Slides instead, allowing them to make their work public and open it up to comments. This would empower students to use feedback to make their work even better, another ISTE (2007) student standard.

As I plan my upcoming Module 7 Genius Hour lesson, I see that allowing students to use a social media platform to share or gather ideas may help them engage and even promote wanted disequilibrium but can also lead them to off-task behavior (Greenhow & Lewin, 2015). To avoid the possible negatives, I plan to have students post their reflections within our Google Classroom platform. Although this limits commenters to their peer group, it will provide an age-appropriate public space for them to share their thoughts. One resource that I tweeted out this week, Lego Education, has lead me to consider bringing Lego bricks into my classroom so that students who prefer more kinesthetic or concrete ways of learning can possibly construct models of their Genius Hour ideas (The Lego Group, 2017). These resources not only are applicable in constructionist scenarios, but also allow for differentiation within the lesson.


Greenhow, C., & Lewin, C. (2016). Social media and education: Reconceptualizing the       boundaries of formal and informal learning. Learning, Media and Technology, 41(1), 6-  30.  doi: 10.1080/17439884.2015.1064954

International Society for Technology in Education. (2007). ISTE standards for students.    Retrieved from http://www.iste.org/standards/iste-standards/standards-for-students

International Society for Technology in Education. (2016). ISTE standards for teachers.    Retrieved from http://www.iste.org/standards/iste-standards/standards-for-teachers

Laureate Education (Producer). (2015e). Constructionist and constructivist learning theories   [Video file]. Baltimore, MD: Author.

Lever-Duffy, J., & McDonald, J. (2015). Teaching and learning with technology, Enhanced Pearson eText (5th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson Education.

Orey, M. (Ed.). (2001). Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology. Retrieved    from http://epltt.coe.uga.edu/index.php?title=Main_Page

The Lego Group. (2017). Engaging learning experiences in elementary. Retrieved from       https://education.lego.com/en-us/elementary/explore

An Advanced Organizer & Virtual Field Trip Aid Understanding of the Effects of European Colonization on the Americas

Today my fifth graders and I took a virtual field trip to Louisiana, Montreal, and Mexico City. We saw how the European colonization that began in these places 600 years ago had a lasting effect on language, architecture, food, and traditions.

Our trip began using Google Earth. We started at our school and zoomed out to see our state, country, continent and hemisphere.

Discussion Google Earth Screenshot.PNG

Then we stopped at each city of our journey and watched a video tour at each.

Discussion YouTube Screenshot

After the tours, we worked in small groups to read details about the effects of European colonization and answer questions about what we read.

Discussion Handout Screenshot

As students found new information, they added it to the graphic organizer on the SmartBoard.

Effects-Euro-Explore-5B (1)

We ran out of time to finish today, so we are looking forward to completing our exploration and graphic organizer tomorrow!

UPDATE March 31, 2017 12:33a.m.

When we had our next class, we re-designed the mind map to match the subheadings of a section of the text. Unfortunately, we had very little time to devote to it today.


Rewards of Student Effort Made Visible by Technology

Skinner said, “The things we call pleasant have an energizing or strengthening effect on behavior” (Orey, 2001). Learners are pleased to see the consequences of their effort expressed as academic achievement, and they are then energized and strengthened to repeat the effort.  Technology makes instructional strategies that utilize immediate feedback, data-gathering, and data analysis possible, allowing students to visualize their academic growth (Pitler, Hubbell, & Kuhn, 2012). Therefore, technology plays an important role in the application of behaviorist learning theory, positively reinforcing the relationship between the operant, effort, and the reward, academic achievement.

Pitler, Hubbell, and Kuhn (2012) explain that of all the factors impacting achievement, reinforcing effort is paramount. They recommend strategies using technology tools to explicitly teach students the cause and effect relationship between effort and achievement. For example, educators can help students input effort data and the resulting academic achievement data into a spreadsheet to produce graphs that concretely show students the connection between them. The graph itself acts as either a positive reinforcement of students’ efforts or as a positive punishment of students’ lack of effort (Orey, 2001). Behaviorist learning theory predicts that in these cases the positive reinforcement will increase student effort in the future, whereas the positive punishment will decrease student lack of effort.

In my classroom, I currently do not use technology very often to reinforce effort, but I do incorporate behaviorist-based instructional strategies. To help students see that their efforts in decoding and frequent oral reading are paying off, I provide them with a data sheet on which they track by hand results of fluency tests, specifically administrations of AIMSWeb Reading Curriculum-Based Measurement (Pearson, Inc., n.d.). To promote reading stamina, I post a bar graph chart that shows students how many minutes per day the whole class was on-task reading to themselves. To help students become better writers, I provide feedback in the form of printed rubrics that include hand-written comments.

One technology application that students use for immediate feedback in my classroom is SpellingCity.com (VocabularySpellingCity, n.d.). Here students practice their spelling and vocabulary words and receive immediate feedback. However, their studying effort is not accounted for in the data, and the feedback they do receive is not graphed in a way that shows progress over time.

Another technology that I use for reinforcement of writing skills is adding comments to students’ work in Google Docs. According to the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) (2016), this use of technology to evaluate learning fulfills ISTE Teacher Standard 2, “Design and Develop Digital Age Learning Experiences and Assessments.”

I have recently begun to use Socrative, a classroom response system, to give students instant feedback on their factual knowledge of literary genre terms (Mastery Connect, 2017). Socrative not only provides instant feedback to individual students, but also uses graphs to show students what percentage of the class has achieved mastery of each term. However, like the other technology I currently use, there is not mechanism for students to see how their effort is paying off over time.

In the future, I would like to incorporate an online survey platform where students could anonymously provide feedback to each other on their writing. This would fulfill ISTE (2007) Student Standard 1, “Empowered Learner.” As a writing teacher, I find the turn-around time from when students complete their written work to when I can return it to them with comments to be too slow. Allowing peers to provide feedback to writing would be worth the initial time it would take to train the students how to provide valuable feedback, in that eventually students would be able to provide feedback to each other in a much more timely fashion than when I evaluate all of their written pieces myself.

In recent research, I have discovered applied concepts of behaviorist learning theory among Responsive Classroom (2017), a video blog summary of Dylan Wiliam’s Embedded Formative Assessment (Blue Sofa Media, 2014), and an article by Johnson (2015) detailing approaches to improve student learning during classroom activities. In my classroom management, I integrate behaviorist learning theory aspects of Responsive Classroom (2017) when I use positive language  to help students reflect on their behaviors that lead to academic achievement. Next week, when I begin to roll out Genius Hour, use of positive language will be important in helping my students stay on task as they research a topic of their choice. Blue Sofa Media’s (2014) video blog points out that research shows my evaluative comments on students’ Genius Hour work will result in more academic improvement than just giving grades. Moreover, Johnson (2015) describes research showing that completing research like that incorporated in Genius Hour in class, an activity that in the past was commonly assigned as homework, allows for more peer feedback, resulting in more learning.

The positive reinforcement provided by positive language, evaluative comments, and peer feedback should result in student behavior conducive to learning during our Genius Hour activities. Technology can support these strategies. For example, I can prepare short audio clips using positive language and email these to students instead of interrupting student learning with direct verbal praise. Students who choose to create electronic products as part of their Genius Hour projects can receive evaluative comments from me electronically, either embedded in their Google Docs or in the comments section of their blog. To expedite peer feedback, I can create a web showcase of Genius Hours projects on our class web site, model to students how to give valuable feedback, and then allow them to comment on their peers’ work. All of these technologies transform what previously may have been brief oral communications into permanent written feedback that students can refer back to as needed.

In conclusion, technology supports learning strategies that align with behaviorist learning theories. Using such strategies results in changes in student behavior, particularly in students’ application of effort, and ultimately in their increased learning.


Blue Sofa Media. (2014, January 21). Grades vs. feedback [Video podcast]. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/xjZ87Pai_5M

International Society for Technology in Education. (2007). ISTE standards for students. Retrieved from http://www.iste.org/standards/iste-standards/standards-for-students

International Society for Technology in Education. (2016). ISTE standards for teachers. Retrieved from http://www.iste.org/standards/iste-standards/standards-for-teachers

Johnson, K. (2015). Behavioral education in the 21st century. Journal of Organizational Behavior Management, 35(1/2), 135-150. doi:10.1080/01608061.2015.1036152

Mastery Connect. (2017). Socrative. Retrieved from https://socrative.com/

Orey, M. (Ed.). (2001). Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology. Retrieved from http://epltt.coe.uga.edu/index.php?title=Main_Page

Pearson, Inc. (n.d.). Aimsweb Overview. Retrieved from http://www.aimsweb.com/overview

Pitler, H., Hubbell, E. R., & Kuhn, M. (2012). Using technology with classroom instruction that works (2nd ed.). Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Responsive Classroom. (2017). Naming What Children Can Do. Retrieved from https://www.responsiveclassroom.org/naming-what-children-can-do/?utm_content=buffer9dc11&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer

VocabularySpellingCity. (n.d.). About Us. Retrieved from http://www.spellingcity.com/about-us.html


The Impact of an Old Building on Learning

When Croghan Elementary was built in the early 1900s, students attended school about 120 days a year, 12 weeks less than students do now (U.S. Department of Education, 1993). Children with exceptional needs, those sometimes termed disabled, did not go to regular public school. At the time, very little was known about how people learn, and misconceptions about intelligence were accepted as fact.

Today, all children are welcome to receive a public education with their peers. In our part of the country, children attend school for 180 days from late August through May. We now know that the classroom environment greatly impacts learning, and that there are many kinds of intelligence.

I advocate for new school buildings in our city because teachers advocate for the children they are entrusted to teach. In my classroom at Croghan, there is a fan that runs from the time the boilers are turned on in October until the boiler is turned off in May, 24 hours a day. This fan is loud. The walls of my classroom are square and hard, causing sound to echo throughout the room. This noise makes it difficult for me to hear my students, and they me. Science tells me that the constant sensory input of sound to their brains causes poor performance on learning tasks, especially for students who are English language learners and those with attention difficulties (Klatte, Bergstrom, & Lachmann, 2013). Students in a noisy environment are not able to discern the sounds that make up words, and mishear pronunciations and directions. Time is then wasted in the classroom to make up for these deficiencies.

New schools are built with acoustics in mind: surfaces angled to deflect echoes, walls crafted to absorb sound. Heating and cooling systems are noiseless, and windows block the sounds of traffic and lawn mowers.

Another issue in my classroom is space, both for learning and for storage. Teachers do not teach lessons to the entire class like they once might have. We know that children learn more when they work in carefully designed small groups spread throughout the room at tables. Science tells us, too, that problem-based learning maximizes the use of school time and keeps kids engaged, reducing off-task behavior. My current classroom is too small for these kinds of best practices. I also do not have the room to store the amount of materials necessary to facilitate problem-based learning throughout the school year. My closets have no shelves, so boxes are stacked one on another, while the students’ belongings hang on hooks in the hallway.

New schools are built with these space issues in mind. Movable walls and inside windows allow teachers to expand spaces as needed and to monitor student activity at all times. Storage closets are plentiful, and students have safe places to store their belongings.

Poor lighting also takes a toll on young learners (National Council on School Facilities, 2016). The bright fluorescent lights on my classroom ceiling may illuminate things well, but they also cause headaches and eye strain. Eye strain is a serious issue when we know that students who read more, achieve more. However, when you enter the hallways, the light is sparse, focusing, for safety reasons, mostly on the stairwells.

New schools are designed to use natural light to great effect. Large windows and skylights allow the sun to shine in but are also treated to keep out harmful UV rays and excessive heat. Such natural light is known to be easier on the eyes and to improve mood. Plus there is an economic benefit in the reduced use of electricity.

But my biggest concern with our aged buildings is the safety issue. The State of Ohio requires schools to have frequent drills, including tornado drills and lockdown drills. During the tornado drills it is plain to see that there is no way to safely shield the entire student body from the potential of flying debris during a tornado. The students are not evacuated to the basement because it is full of asbestos and it is wet, so they curl up in the hallways of the first floor, vulnerable to heavy doors flying open and glass windows shattering.

Another unsafe scenario that we drill for each month is that of an intruder in the building. In the quiet of these drills, as we wait for the all-clear, it becomes apparent that my students are basically trapped in their second story classrooms if someone wants to cause them harm. Our classroom doors open out, away from the classroom, so we cannot stack furniture against the door to prevent someone from entering. Jumping out a window is not an option. There are only a few cameras pointing at the main door and office, so no one can monitor where an intruder would be. And I have no phone in my classroom, only my personal cell, which doesn’t work well from my room.

New schools are built with these safety measures in mind. Doors open into classrooms, cameras are placed throughout the space, and every room has a phone.

Croghan has other issues: window frames and ceilings leak in driving rain, ruining books; the space between some windows’ panes is full of brown, peeling coating that came loose when the vacuum seal broke; my room is so cold at times that students wear their coats in the classroom; when it is very hot, a 10 x 10 foot space in the center of the room is the only place students can feel the ceiling fan; students need to carry food trays from the kitchen down a set of stairs to the gym to eat, resulting in spilled food; the stage is used as storage, so most assemblies are held on the gym floor; tutors and volunteers lack space, so they work with children in noisy hallways , trying to help them improve their reading; the boys’ and girls’ bathrooms are on opposite sides of the building, so teachers of primary grades waste time taking first the boys to the bathroom, then the girls; and there is no elevator in our building so there have been times when students must be carried up and down the stairs to their classrooms. I also suspect the number of students who experience bloody noses and irritated eyes is related to the content of the fine dust that swirls through the air when the windows are open. This old building impedes learning in so many ways.

New schools would bring new life and learning into our district. I dream of teaching in a space where all students can hear me clearly, where they can all read for long periods free of harsh lighting, where they can all learn in ways that work best for each and every one, and where their safety has been designed into the very building. Please, consider the children of Fremont and their learning when you vote on May 2.

Patricia Diaz
Fifth Grade Teacher
Croghan Elementary



Klatte, M., Bergstrom, K., & Lachmann, T. (1993). Does noise affect learning? A short review on noise effects on cognitive performance in children. Frontiers in Psychology 4(578). Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3757288/

National Council on School Facilities. (2016). State of Our Schools. Retrieved from http://www.21csf.org/best-home/docuploads/pub/331_StateofOurSchools2016.pdf

U.S. Department of Education. (1993). 120 Years of American Education: A Statistical Portrait. Retrieved from https://nces.ed.gov/pubs93/93442.pdf

The Ecology of the 21st-Century Classroom: A Reflection on Understanding the Impact of Technology on Education, Work, and Society


In this class, I have learned that it is not technology alone that determines 21st-century learning, but rather that technology allows the collaboration, production, and higher-order thinking of 21st-century learning to occur (Tucker, 2014). Therefore, my further use of technology will hinge on how such modern tools can help me design a learning environment promoting knowledge construction, or Web 2.0 (Vance, 2016). Additionally, technology lets me connect with teachers and field experts to learn and, more importantly, to share as educators are more and more being expected to contribute to the growing gathering that is social media (Veletsianos, 2013). In essence, I am seeing, as Thornburg describes, that I must not just do things differently in my classroom, but do different things there (Laureate, 2015c).

This course required me to use a Twitter account, create a blog, implement an RSS feed, experiment with digital book-marking, and use a wiki to guide student learning. Looking back, I see that learning to use each technology put me through a series of predictable affective stages: excitement, frustration, and mastery. At the same time, I was building unique skills as I mastered the specific tools of each platform and collaborated with peers to create products.

Tucker (2014) uses the term ecosystem to describe this environment where participants learn through these types of organized interactions. Going into more detail, Darling-Hammond, Zielezinski and Goldman (2014) posit that technology in such a digital learning ecosystem allows learners to gain cognitive and behavioral abilities that they would otherwise be unable to without technology in a well-designed learning context. As a scholar-educator, I need to continue to evolve my teaching so that I am planning rich, collaborative lessons within such an ecosystem, replacing, as Richardson (2010) recommends, tests with mastery as displayed in student productions.

One way to apply these changes in my English language arts classroom is through the use of student blogs. Not only would students’ blog writing allow for constant formative assessment, but allowing students to choose topics would result in a level of engagement and skill improvement that could transfer to more scholarly productions (Lampinen, 2013). Additionally, students who write in such a public forum as a blog pay more attention to the fact that they are writing to an audience and develop more of a voice (McGrail & Davis, 2011). Blogging can be more than plain text, incorporating links, embedded audio and video, and graphics, helping students become what the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE)(2016) calls innovative designers. Increasingly, career writing includes video, audio, and graphic elements, so such creative blogs are preparing young writers for the future (Moore & Grisham, 2015).

Sadly, my students do not have enough access to computers to blog frequently since our school building lacks the broadband necessary for one-to-one computing (Citizens for Fremont City Schools, Inc., n.d.). Like other poor school districts, I share computers with other classrooms because the district cannot justify purchasing a computer for each student when lack of broadband causes them to lag badly when turned on all at once (Darling-Hammond, Zielezinski and Goldman, 2014). When this class first began, I was very active in lobbying for passage of a local bond levy to support the building of new elementary schools which would be able to support the technology our students need. The voters turned it down. As a leader in my community, I plan to continue to share my vision of how technology impacts learning in an effort to support students through my continued involvement in future levy campaigns, a reflection of the ISTE’s fifth standard for teachers (ISTE, 2008).

Two goals that I have for transforming my classroom are: a) By August 2017, begin using one technology tool on at least a weekly basis to effectively and efficiently monitor formative assessment of student writing and use the data to communicate learning with students, and b) by August 2017, incorporate into the fifth grade English language arts curriculum, as evidenced by unit plans, lessons that help students learn how to evaluate Internet sources for accuracy and bias. With the plethora of information on the Internet, students and workers alike needs to be able to judge whether or not a source is credible (Laureate, 2015b). Furthermore, when we allow students to pursue research topics that engage them, they need to be able to synthesize in writing the information that they find, just like adults in the workplace putting together a proposal (Laureate, 2015a).

Richardson (2015) explains how I and teachers like me will be able to attain such goals: We need to rethink education. Instead of being a teacher planning an expansive lesson on the writing process, I need to allow my students to write and to evaluate others’ writing. Instead of giving my students a list of proven Internet sources, I need to let them discover what is out there and weigh sources against each other. Instead of expecting students to look to me for what is right or best, I need to provide a digital ecosystem where they can fail and succeed in collaboration, connect with experts, and create products valuable to themselves and those they meet along the way.




Citizens for Fremont City Schools, Inc. (n.d.). Facts about Fremont City Schools 2016 levycampaign. Retrieved from http://fremontbondlevy.weebly.com/uploads/4/4/4/8/44486789/9-23-2016_levy_fact_sheet.pdf

Darling-Hammond, L., Zielezinski, M., & Goldman, S. (2014, September). Using technology to support at-risk students’ learning. Retrieved from https://edpolicy.stanford.edu/sites/default/files/scope-pub-using-technology-report.pdf

Lampinen, M. (2013, April 8). Blogging in the 21st-century classroom. Retrieved December 19, 2016, from Technology Integration, https://www.edutopia.org/blog/blogging-in-21st-century-classroom-michelle-lampinen

Laureate Education (Producer). (2015a). The changing role of the classroom teacher: Part 1 [Video file]. Baltimore, MD: Author.

Laureate Education (Producer). (2015b). The changing role of the classroom teacher: Part 2 [Video file]. Baltimore, MD: Author.

Laureate Education (Producer). (2015c). The emergence of educational technology [Video file]. Baltimore, MD: Author.

McGrail, E., & Davis, A. (2011). The influence of classroom Blogging on elementary studentwriting. Journal of Research in Childhood Education, 25(4), 415–437. doi:10.1080/02568543.2011.605205

Moore, M., & Grisham, D. (2015). The effect of digital technologies on the culture ofliteracy. The California Reader, 48(2).

Richardson, W. (2010). Blogs, wikis, podcasts, and other powerful web tools for classrooms (3rded.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Richardson, W. (2015). From master teacher to master learner. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.

Tucker, S. Y. (2015). Transforming pedagogies: Integrating 21st century skills and web 2.0technology. Turkish Online Journal of Distance Education, 15(1). doi:10.17718/tojde.32300

Vance, N. (2016). Web 2.0 in the schools. Retrieved December 19, 2016, fromhttp://connection.ebscohost.com/c/articles/45827561/web-2-0-schools

Veletsianos, G. (2013). Open practices and identity: Evidence from researchers and educators’ social media participation. British Journal of Educational Technology, 44(4), 639–651. doi:10.1111/bjet.12052