Creating Vine videos for the classroom: Less is more

Vine is a video sharing service where users can upload, edit and share a 6 second clip of looping video.  Even with such a short length of video playback to work with, Vine hosts some pretty compelling and engaging loops of video.  The concept of the short video is not limited to Vine, as Instagram also provides creative videographers the opportunity to post and share up to 15 seconds of video.  In November 2014, Ocho was launched as another social networking platform allowing users to share video clips of 8 seconds.  15sectech is a web-based technology show (hosted by Amber MacArthur, Jeff MacArthur and Lara Killian) offering technology tips, reviews and news within an episode running time of (you guessed it) 15 seconds.

The question for me, does the short video format have any value for education and student learning?  What can you say, describe or explain in 15 seconds?  8 seconds?  6 seconds?  After spending some time on Vine, Instagram and 15sectech, it would seem that you can convey quite a bit of information. These short video platforms host a variety of engaging and innovative scenes and demonstrations lasting mere seconds. Will the creation and sharing of these condensed forms of video work in the classroom?

My first Vine video!  Animation took a bit of work but basically it was created using a series of PowerPoint slides that I exported out as pictures and then assembled in iMovie.
My first Vine video! Animation took a bit of work but basically it was created using a series of PowerPoint slides that I exported out as pictures and then assembled in iMovie.

Well here is my first attempt.

I picked a concept from our Grade 9 science curriculum within the biology unit that specifically deals with ecosystems.  The term I picked out was biomagnification and my task was to create a Vine video that explained this concept.  I anticipated that the task itself was pretty straightforward.  After all, how long could it take to create a 6 second video?

I quickly found out that creating a short, compressed and comprehensive video takes a lot longer than I thought.

It wasn’t enough to find and recite a definition of biomagnification from a text book or website because I had to create an explanation that accurately described and defined the term within my 6 second timeframe.  I realized that I also had to figure out what I was going to show during this 6 second video.  Simply posting a screen shot of a chart or diagram was not going to work because the viewer did not have enough viewing time to explore the visual themselves.  Much like my script, the visual component of my video needed to be concise and explicit.  Ultimately, I had to cram in as much information as possible into this video and it would require a careful combination of what I was saying and showing during my 6 second clip.

My finished product is not going to rock the educational world by any means but what was remarkable for me was the amount of research and thought that went into this single video.  The short running time forced me to identify the critical components and information that needed to be conveyed around the term, biomagnification. Wording of the definition had to be carefully selected and the decision to create an animation provided me the best way to illustrate this concept.  Add to the mix that there was this heightened incentive to get it right because this video would be posted for the world to see.



Reflecting on my finished product, this experience raises new questions for me if I were to try this again. What did I learn about biomagnification? Was my explanation complete? What could I have done differently? Does it move too quickly? Does the looping format of Vine help the viewer understand the content by giving them a second, third or fourth chance to see the video? What would be an appropriate follow up video?

Adding to the conversation around the use of Vine to support classroom learning, I can appreciate that the educational value is in the process of creating a short video.  I would definitely recommend educators to try this for themselves and see if the creation of short-length videos has potential in your respective classroom.  Give it a try!

– Kenji Takahashi





Google Trends: A springboard for Inquiry-Based Learning

When it comes to inquiry-based learning, we want to avoid engaging students with questions that can be easily “Googled”. However with that said, our searches on Google can tell us a lot about what is on our minds as a region, a country or as a global community. Looking at the trends around these Google queries can be a source for fantastic, student-generated questions of inquiry.

Using statistics on search queries, uses this information to gauge flu activity for region.
Using statistics on search queries, uses this information to gauge flu activity for region. gauges flu activity country-by-country by looking at the Google searches from within each region. Looking at their global map, we can quickly see that the flu is much more prevalent in certain countries and continents. As a science teacher looking for opportunities for student inquiry, this graphic alone provides a compelling prompt for more student questions. What are the factors that cause a country or continent to become more susceptible to a flu outbreak? Why do we not see the flu across all regions and countries? How does a flu change? What impact do seasons have on the flu? What makes a flu particularly contagious?

Consequently from this one graphic alone, different subject areas may be able to draw upon different streams of student questions. Topics around geography, history, business, etc. may connect to different concepts and content pulled from the information on the map. Ultimately, it will fall upon the teacher to artfully connect and draw the potential flood of questions towards specific learning objectives and curriculum. But the formation of questions, the discovery of new information and the formulation of answers will be driven by student inquiry and curiosity.

Once in Google Trends, select the menu icon and browse through the different types of compiled information.
Once in Google Trends, select the menu icon and browse through the different types of compiled information.

Discover this for yourself by visiting Google’s Trends. Select the menu icon and browse through the different trends and charts around Google’s search statistics. Selecting the Explore menu item will allow you filter information by region, category and/or time. The results you get back in return may be surprising and provocative, and it is then where new questions begin.

What do you use to inspire student inquiry?

– K. Takahashi




Assessing an App: A technical checklist for educators

There are plenty of websites and services that can help you locate some of the best iOS apps for the classroom (Edutecher, Edudemic and Education Apps on Pinterest). However, there comes a point where a teacher, a school or a school district will need to ultimately make the final decision on selecting the best and most appropriate apps for their students. This is easier said than done if you are not sure what to look for when selecting an app.

The TPACK model of integrating technology in education would tell us that along with the need to assess the pedagogical and content demands of a course and classroom there is also a need to assess the technological aspects of a given technology. So before you settle on that iOS application for your classroom or school set of iPads, spend some time putting the app through a technical diagnostic.  Assuming that all is good on the pedagogical and content front, the question remains “what do we look for when we are evaluating the technical merits of an app?”. Below is a list of “look fors” grouped into 4 main areas that I have found to be helpful when testing out a potential app for the classroom.

1. In-app purchases and other hidden costs

One of the first things we look at when sizing up an app is the price. But whether looking at free or paid applications it is important to consider some of the other costs that can come attached with the use of an application.

Scaling Cost for a Classroom or School

Even low-priced apps can present a substantial cost when purchasing them in bulk through Apple’s Volume Purchase Program. A $1.99 application installed across a classroom set of 30 iPads can add up quickly. Even with educational volume pricing (where the price of the app drops by 50% when purchasing 20 or more copies) a $1.99 app balloons to a $30 purchase for 30 iPads. With that said, not all apps offer this special volume pricing.

Tellagami is initially a free app that later prompts the user with in-app purchases in order to unlock more features.
Tellagami is initially a free app that later prompts the user with in-app purchases in order to unlock more features.

In-App Purchases

Some apps subtly ratchet up their price point with in-app purchases that go on to unlock new features, content or tools within the app. Apps that start out as a free download may later prompt users to pay a small fee in order to unlock a key feature within the app. In this case it really does pay to test the app and run it through its paces. I have run across several free apps that look as though they offer certain features and tools only to be presented with a prompt for an in-app purchase that would allow me access that feature.

Advertisements: The price of “free”

Although not a direct cost, the display of ads within an app is another way that developers can generate revenue from an app that is offered for free to consumers. As an educator, my concern around the use of ads within applications is their potential to distract from the learning task at hand. Students may quickly quickly find themselves removed from the context of the intended application with the simple touch (whether deliberate or accidental) of a posted ad within an app. With some apps, it is also difficult to determine and regulate the types of ads that appear within the app itself.

2.  User interface and navigation

Explain Everything is a fantastic app but it does require a quick tour to acquaint yourself with the different tools and menus available to you.
Explain Everything is a fantastic app but it does require a quick tour to acquaint yourself with the different tools and menus available to you.

Intuitive interface and navigation

Since apps do not come with instruction manuals, the user must rely on the tutorials and hints embedded within the app itself. However if an app is designed with gestures and navigation that are intuitive and easy to discover, users may quickly orient themselves within an app with simple tips and interactive instructions. This is something to look for when assessing apps for use with students. Ultimately, is the app inherently designed to quickly orient students and get them using the tools and features quickly? If so, what ages or grade levels would be able to us this app? Are the tutorials helpful and easy to read or view for younger students?

(Snapseed is an example of an application that maximizes the touch gestures of the iOS device. Edits to a photo are done by simply touch gestures (ex.pinch to zoom, tap and drag, etc.) on the screen and specifically manipulating areas of the photo that you wish to edit.).

Big onscreen buttons and easy-to-read icons help new and younger iOS users.
Big onscreen buttons and easy-to-read icons help new and younger iOS users.

Buttons and menus

If we specifically look at the layout of buttons and menus that we find when navigating an application, we can begin to assess if the application is at a level that is appropriate for our learners. Applications that present a lot of onscreen menus or provide a navigation bar covered with many buttons and icons may ultimately be too confusing or overwhelming for inexperienced users. Even onscreen buttons that are relatively small in size may be challenging for younger, less dexterous hands.

An application’s onscreen layout and navigation may also determine if the app can be used while simultaneously carrying the tablet or if the device needs to be placed on a surface in order to properly operate the application. If the intent is to have this app support a learning activity where students are constantly moving with the iPad or iPod (ex. physical education class) will the interface allow them to navigate the application easily without the need to prop or rest the device on a surface?

3.  Exporting content from the app

Another great feature of the Notability app is its ability to export out to a number of other applications.
Another great feature of the Notability app is its ability to export out to a number of other applications.

Depending on the nature of an app and how it is supporting learning in the classroom, it may be necessary to investigate how students can share and move their work beyond the app itself. In certain situations, a teacher may wish to have their students submit their work or creations from the iPad to another application or into some sort of cloud storage.

If there is an export feature it is typically indicated by a fairly common icon. This icon is drawn out as a box with an arrow or pointer coming out of it. Selecting it will usually reveal your options for exporting content and projects from the app. Apps may offer the ability to export out to Photos, email, Airdrop, iCloud Drive as well as any number of 3rd party applications such as Google Drive, DropBox, Evernote, Twitter and Tumblr to name just a few. Regardless of the export pathway that best suits your classroom needs, be sure to thoroughly test the export feature to ensure that it works and provides the results that you are looking for.

4.  Importing content and media into the app

Media stored in your local iOS Photos folder or captured directly from the camera as well as content stored in other applications can help extend the use of an application, providing the app can access them. This is what what we ultimately need to find out when reviewing an application.

The ability to import media from the Photos folder as well as the ability to take pictures from within the app are important features to look for within any application.
The ability to import media from the Photos folder as well as the ability to take pictures from within the app are important features to look for within any application.

Can the app import photos and videos locally stored in your Photos folder?

This feature will most likely appear as a simple button or icon on your screen. This is an important feature to look for as this will allow the user to bring in media created in other applications.

Does the app allow for the recording of photos, audio and video directly into the app?

These features usually appear as camera and microphone icons. This feature allows the user to capture and bring in new media without having to leave the app.

Can you bring in other files from other applications?

When creating a new file or project can you also bring in media and content stored in other applications? Cloud storage services is a common example here. Exploring this feature may also require us to look at other critical applications that we currently use. For example, if your class uses Google Drive, you will want to see if this Google app will allow you to open one its files in the app you are reviewing.

Some other things to check out

The SETTINGS menu in iOS may also reveal additional settings that may be interest to the classroom.
The SETTINGS menu in iOS may also reveal additional settings that may be interest to the classroom.

Explore the app settings

While you are within the prospective app, be sure to check out its’ settings menu.  This is often accessed by selecting a gear or menu icon.

Explore additional app settings within the SETTINGS menu of iOS

You may also discover additional settings listed within your iOS SETTINGS menu.  Select the SETTINGS icon and scroll down the list of menu items until you come across the settings for individual apps that are currently installed on your device.  Select the app in question and see if there are other additional settings that may be of importance to you and your classroom.

How much space does the app take up on your device?

If storage space is limited on your iOS device, it may be worth seeing how much storage space is eaten up with the app and the files that it creates.  The app store does list the initial download size of the app under its description.  However as you begin to use the app you can see how much space is dedicated to the app and its associated project files by going to the SETTINGS menu, selecting USAGE and then looking under MANAGE STORAGE.


Exploring these 4 areas during your technical assessment of an application is a great starting point as the features you find (or unable to find) may lead to more questions and areas of exploration. You may find that a promising app lacks a critical feature or perhaps requires the installation of other supporting apps. You may find better alternatives to apps that you are currently using in the classroom. Exploring these apps may also make you aware of some features that you may wish to limit or lock down through restriction settings. Ultimately taking the time to carefully assess and evaluate applications helps us to realize their potential in the classroom.

What else do you look for when sizing up an application?

– K. Takahashi










Teachers Reluctant With Technology? Encourage Failure

It is remarkable how our students can pick up a new technology and quickly uncover and master the wide variety of features within a new piece of hardware or software. I have watched many students display this fearless attitude towards trial-and-error as they literally tap, press, hold and drag every button, icon, switch and setting. I have been caught informing my class that a certain feature or function is not “do-able” only to be proven wrong when a student takes a moment to explore the technology on their own.

Why is this? Why do many of our students have an easier time acquainting themselves with new technology than their parents or teachers? Without any sort of instruction manual in sight, what possesses them to start opening up drop-down menus, tapping on buttons and clicking on icons?

They are not afraid to fail.

Ultimately when it comes to exploring technology I find that our students are not afraid to make mistakes. Many students are quite comfortable in making several attempts at finding a feature or accomplishing a task within a new piece of hardware or within a new application. Failure after the first (or third, or sixth) attempt is not a big deal, they just get to try it again.

Perhaps this disposition is not entirely surprising when we consider how our students are first introduced to technology. Most likely, our students were first exposed to the wonderful world of computing technology though video games whether it be on a personal computer (PC), mobile device or gaming console. It is here where the concept of failure is presented as a valuable source of feedback and the game quickly whisks the young player back into the mix in order to try it again. Certainly when it comes to the concept of failure, video game developers have gone to great lengths to capitalize on its power to motivate persistence and perseverance.

Corporations similarly understand the value of failure in their own attempts to build, grow and innovate. Ed Catmull recalls the importance of failure in the creative process at Pixar. In their book, Creativity Inc. both Ed Catmull and Amy Wallace credit failure as being a critical outcome that inspires a culture of learning, experimentation and innovation. Embracing failure as a necessary step towards success is an attitude found within organizations that are fearless in the face of change.

So what does this mean for the teacher who is reluctant or struggling in learning about a new technology? Do we simply turn professional development on instructional technology into some sort of game? How do we shift this attitude towards failure from a traditionally negative educational outcome to a motivational outcome?

A simple Google form provides a list of features and tools for participants to find within the application.
A simple Google form provides a list of features and tools for participants to find within the application.

Encourage Exploration

Let’s do away with the step-by-step instructions that tend to dominate professional development sessions. There will certainly be times where step-by-step tutorials are needed for quick reference but those resources can be posted online somewhere or distributed for use later. If we want our teachers to be more comfortable with the trial-and-error around technology then we need to encourage play and exploration.

Perhaps this is where we can employ some elements of gaming. One of the best changes I made to my teacher workshop on iMovie for iOS (video editing) was eliminating the series of step-by-step demonstrations that I would do at the front of the room. These tutorials are now replaced by a type of scavenger hunt where I simply list the different tools and features of iMovie and then let the participants try to uncover the features for themselves. Questions and collaboration between participants are always welcome but the task itself relies upon trial-and-error.

Move beyond the one session workshop

The problem with the one session workshop is that both the facilitator and participant feel the pressure of having to cram as much information as possible into the single session. This is hardly conducive to a learning approach that encourages exploration and instead risks bringing us back to the sit-and-get tutorials and demonstrations. As mentioned above, there is still value to having these step-by-step instructions documented somewhere whether online or as a printed resource. Making these resources and tutorials available outside of the workshop can help preserve the exploration time that teachers have when they are together as a learning group. Both my YouTube channel and my teacher website have become repositories for resources that I have created for teachers and their continued learning long after the workshop has passed.

Personalize the objectives

If we are going to help motivate teachers to persevere and overcome failed attempts and trials, then they need to have something worthwhile to work towards. Learning about Google Apps for Education (GAFE) for the sake of simply learning about it may not provide the intrinsic motivation to see them through the trial and error around learning this platform. Designing professional learning sessions where teachers come in with a specific learning goal or classroom task in mind helps to focus where they would like to invest their time and energy in exploring and playing within a certain piece of technology.

If a teacher is interested in using Google Forms to support a learning task within their own classroom, why not allow them to spend time exploring Forms instead of requiring them to investigate Google Presentations with the rest of the group? Encouraging teachers to continually think about how they might use a technology to support learning in their respective classrooms and curriculum will allow them to carve out their own learning pathway both within the formalized workshop and beyond. If their journey of learning is to be shaped and driven by failed attempts and trials, let it be for a learning goal that is of value to them and to their students.

Provide support to help learners work through failed attempts

I find many teachers who are reluctant learners of technology are concerned about damaging or breaking the technology. Understandably, they are worried that their lack of knowledge around a piece of hardware or software may result in irreparable damage to the technology. If we are to make these reluctant learners more comfortable with the idea of moving forward from their failures with technology then we need to establish supports that can help them get back up quickly and ready for another try.

As an example, teachers learning about the iPad will quickly discover that it is difficult to break an iPad by simply pressing a few “wrong” buttons or accidentally adjusting a few settings. Short of dropping or physically damaging the device, the iPad can always be reset if the user has been locked out; applications can always be reinstalled if deleted.  When presenting new technologies to teachers, it will be important to provide supports and platforms that allow for the learner to explore and play without the fear of damaging or breaking the technology.

In the end, this is about rethinking the traditional attitudes towards failure in the educational space.  I grew up in an educational system that looked upon failure as an undesirable outcome in the learning process.  However, I acknowledge that my most compelling learning experiences have been lined with numerous failed attempts as well as trial and error.  Ultimately, if we want teachers to feel more comfortable in navigating new technologies in the classroom, we need to make them feel more comfortable with the aspect of failure.  Failure is not an outcome to be avoided but rather it is a critical, informative and motivating step in their learning process.

K. Takahashi


Storify: A teaching tool to differentiate instruction

Storify offers both students and teachers an easy way to gather, arrange and display content and media from around the web.
Storify offers both students and teachers an easy way to gather, arrange and display content and media from around the web.

Storify is an online application where users can create a story (although you can think of it as a list, collection or lesson) by bringing together material and content from other social media platforms.  This Web 2.0 platform presents the opportunity for teachers to further differentiate content, process and product within their own classrooms.  Content can be pulled from a number of sources such as Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, Tumblr and Google – to name just a few. Searching for content takes place within the Storify interface and adding content to your “story” is as simple as dragging and dropping elements from your search results into your storyline. You can also add your own text (headers, captions, etc.) and links to your “story”.

Publishing your work allows you to share via a link that you can send out yourself or publicize your work via Twitter or Facebook.  Readers can further share your publications via email or through their own preferred social media platform. Storify also provides an embed code for those looking to embed a published “story” on their own website or blog.

Storify for the Classroom – The Possibilities

Differentiating Content

Create an online lesson or resource that can be posted to on your website or use the HTML embed code to embed your publication within your own learning management system (LMS) or website. You can create a mini lesson or generate a list of media and links to support a lesson very quickly. All of those relevant and supporting articles, images and YouTube videos that you want supplement your lesson can now be corralled into one place complete with your own guiding text and titles. Media content that you add is viewable and playable from within your “story” so students can stay within the context of your lesson rather than navigating away to other sites.


You now have another way to produce, present and distribute content that can be differentiated according to student interest, readiness or learning preference. It is the ability to drag and drop content that enables a teacher to piece together a piece of content or several pieces of content that are customized to the needs and strengths of their students. Not a lot of time fussing with backgrounds and digital decorations but rather the ability to bring together a variety of content into a presentable “story” or publication.

Storify allows teachers to easily create customized lists of content the attend to student needs, strengths and interests
Storify allows teachers to easily create customized lists of content the attend to student needs, strengths and interests

Differentiating Process

Similarly, Storify provides a simple platform for students to gather and curate their own links, videos and media that they feel are relevant to a piece of research or help illustrate a particular opinion or concept. Again, it is the simple drag and drop functionality within Storify that provides a simple way for students to arrange, organize and/or rank elements and content within their publication.  Students can generate notes or extensions from the “stories” that they and their classmates have created.
As a formative assessment tool, teachers can gauge student understanding and provide feedback on the student-curated content as well as their comments and captions that accompany their Storify projects. Students can easily share their “stories”  with others in their classroom and engage in both self and peer assessment.

Differentiating Product

Storify provides another compelling choice for students to demonstrate their learning through the creation of a Storify publication.  For me this is a great alternative to creating a website or blog. If you have students that have created videos or photos, those elements can be quickly added to their “story” if they have been uploaded to a social platform like YouTube, Flickr, Instagram, etc.

As always if you are looking at any Web 2.0 or social media platform to support student learning in your classroom, you are going to want to be sure to do your homework and understand the conditions and agreements that you and your students are acknowledging when you hit the  “accept” button.  Schools and school boards will also have policies, procedures and guidelines for social media. Be sure to understand and adhere to these important guidelines before engaging in the vast selection of online tools and platforms.

K. Takahashi

Toontastic Review: Worth a closer look


There is no shortage of iPad apps and games to help young learners practice their skills in literacy and numeracy.  However, the iPad presents the opportunity for young learners to create and apply new learning using the tablet’s cameras, microphone and touch screen.

Toontastic allows students to manipulate characters as they provide voice and narration for the story.  Toontastic makes use of standard story templates that help guide students through the basic elements of plot (story arc) as they create their animated story.  The free version offers access to a small selection of backdrops and characters as well as the option for students to create their own background using the in-app painting program.  The finished product can be viewed within the app but if you are looking to export the finished product to the camera roll, you will have to opt for the paid version of Toontasic (Toontastic: School Edition).


  • the app walks students through the creative process with a plot/story arc template
  • instructions are accompanied with voice-over instructions
  • large buttons and symbols for easy touch navigation
  • allows students to go back and edit the project after they have viewed it


  • unable to export finished product to the camera roll with the free version
  • access to the camera roll and camera to create custom backgrounds is available in the paid version (Toontastic: School Edition)
  • users who opt to use the free version will have to endure the persistent reminders to purchase additional content
  • the premium upgrade is pricey at $9.99

The free version of Toontastic offers enough content and functionality to get a good sense of what this app can offer.  In the end it serves as a great opportunity to test drive the app and have students try to create a story using the iPad’s touch screen and microphone.  Teachers can then evaluate how the app can best support learning in their respective classrooms and decide for themselves if the School Edition is indeed worth the additional cost.

– Kenji Takahashi

Gamification in the classroom: The importance of feedback

Gamification at Science World Vancouver

In our household, the end of summer is capped off with a visit to Science World in Vancouver, B.C.  For the kids it’s a chance to spend the day playing amongst exhibits, simulators and demonstrations.  For me it’s a chance to see how my own instructional practice stacks up against the highly engaging learning environment of this science and discovery centre.  With this most recent visit, it provided an opportunity to see how gamification is employed throughout the exhibit floor and how the concept of feedback is a critical gaming mechanism.  With that said the concept of feedback is certainly not new to educators.  However in a gamified setting feedback helps to drive engagement and ultimately encourages the participant to “try it again”.

[box] “The feedback system tells the player how close they are to achieving the goal. It can take the form of points, levels, a score, or a progress bar. Or, in its most basic form, the feedback system can be as simple as the players’ knowledge of an objective outcome: “The game is over when…” Real-time feedback serves as a promise to the players that goal is definitely achievable, and it provides motivation to keep playing.” – Jane McGonigal (Reality is Broken)[/box]

So what did I learn about the power of feedback in the gamified setting of Science World?  And in our exploration of gamification in the classroom, how can we use feedback and assessment to drive learning and engagement?

Feedback was…

Using competition as a way to illustrate proper rowing drive
In order to illustrate how to maximize the power of a rowing stroke, participants engage in a rowing race with the a screen providing instant feedback as to who was winning the race. Ultimately, participants figured out that it was critical to use the legs as the initial driving force for the stroke.

Quick and instant

What helps to make the hands-on exhibits so engaging is the fact that the participant does not have to wait long to see the result or outcome of their attempt and effort. In many instances the feedback was instantaneous, allowing the participant to try again almost immediately.

Brief and easy to understand

Similarly, feedback was brief and easy to understand. Many times the feedback was presented in different ways through graphics, video and even sound. Ultimately if the feedback was to be of any use to the participant it was important that the information was brief yet easy to interpret.

Making feedback social
By keeping feedback brief, relevant and easy to understand, simply allowing others to see and share in the feedback created a very social atmosphere where other participants could learn from each other. In many exhibits, feedback was merely diplayed on a larger screen so others could view it as well.

Relevant and detailed

If feedback is to be brief in length then it needs to be concise and relevant to the task or activity at hand. The exhibits were extremely effective in staying on point and only providing feedback that was specific to the participant, their particular task and their current point of progress.

Relevant feedback also helps to inform the next attempt. Along with feedback that outlined what was done correctly or incorrectly, many of the exhibit activities also provided feedback on what participants could try differently on their next attempt. This type of feedback ultimately makes it difficult for one to simply leave an activity after just one try.


Similar to the classic leaderboard posted on the screen of our favourite arcade video game, there were many interactive exhibits that made the point of sharing the results of previous participants.  In some cases it was meant as a way to generate some friendly competition and further drive the need to improve one’s previous performance.  In other cases, it presented a fascinating perspective in recognizing the diversity in the perceptions and attitudes of other people.  It generated a type of community around the exhibit and encouraged participants to watch and learn from what others were doing.

Ideas for Technology Integration

It wouldn’t be a technology blog if there was no mention of some tech!  Whether in Science World or in a classroom, designing different mechanisms of feedback provides a compelling opportunity for the integration of technology.  In looking at the exhibits at Science World, technology was instrumental in providing instantaneous feedback that was brief, easy to understand and social.  Enhancing feedback through technology is a powerful place to start for those of us who are continually looking to find ways to effectively integrate technology in the classroom.


– K. Takahashi








Starting gamification in the classroom? Keep it simple

Science World Vancouver

Science and discovery centres are great places to see some examples of gamification in action. They present poignant reminders that gamification does not need to be extremely complicated nor lengthy.  In an exhibit from RBC on the Science of Sports, Vancouver’s Science World sets in with some gamification before one even sets foot inside the exhibit. It also serves as a great example of gamification made simple.

In keeping with the topic of sports, the floor and walls just outside of the Science of Sports exhibit display a series of lines and labels indicating various lengths and heights associated with different records around a variety of sports performances.  Some lines show the actual length of a world record standing long jump or show the height of the high jump world record (2.45m).  Lines with some labels… and that’s it.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Let the games begin…

With no other instructions provided to exhibit-goers, people naturally started trying to size up their own ability and performances with the displayed records. People were jumping alongside the standing long jump record to see how they fared against Arne Tvervaag’s 3.71m world record.  Other guests tried to jump to touch the height of the high jump record or match the distance covered in a second by a record holding sprinter at full speed.  With this information presented in such a simple yet compelling way, participants were now experiencing and playing with content and concepts rather than just reading about them.

Gamification in the classroom…

The sports examples listed above would lend themselves to a physical education classroom or gym class but this approach can perhaps find a way into other courses and subject areas.  Within the unique concepts, skills and competencies that are inherent within each course and subject of study, there is an opportunity to reinvent the way we present this content.  Looking for a way to present information in a manner that brings scale, accessibility and a perspective that is both authentic and measurable supports an interactive element to learning.  And maybe, just maybe… serve as an enticing invitation to play.

K. Takahashi




Designing an Online Learning Experience: Using Windows Movie Maker 2012

In completing my CSU course on Web Pedagogies, my second assignment will revolve around designing and creating a lesson or group of lessons that make use of a web tool (ex. Blogs, Wikis, Social Media etc.) and an online learning resource (ex. Websites, YouTube, Google Maps, etc.). When it comes to content and focus, the assignment asks us to support a learning goal or objective that supports a curriculum area in our current line of work. With my current position as a Learning Technologies Coordinator, my focus is not directly linked to a classroom or course or subject area but rather the support and development of educators and their integration of technology in their respective classrooms. As a result, my topic will focus on teaching educators about a particular piece of technology.

Identifying a Need

Over the next few months, our school district will be moving on to the Windows 8 operating system. Up to this point, part of my work has been to help facilitate the switch to this new operating system. Identifying software and hardware that will be carried forward as well as marking technology that will need to be dropped in favour of this version of Windows has been a slow and challenging process. Consequently, there is also a need to support teachers and students with new software applications and programs. One such program is Windows Movie Maker 2012 which presents a drastic departure from its XP version.

The use of video in the classroom provides a wide range of opportunities to support learning and instruction across many subject areas and grade levels. Podcasting, presentations, story-telling and self-reflection can all be documented with video and provide choices for students to engage and demonstrate learning. Developing a lesson or series of lessons supported through online tools and resources will help acquaint teachers with this new video editing software and hopefully encourage educators who are not currently using video production in their classrooms to now jump in with Movie Maker 2012.

Things to Consider

Course notes and resources identify some important features to consider when developing an online learning resource or tool (Nelson, 2007). Some features that I found particularly compelling were:

1. Linked to curriculum standards – an obvious point but it can easily be pushed to the back burner when the tech fun begins. I also felt compelled to have this placed first on the list (although the list does not really present these in features in any particular order of importance) because it is inline with the critical question, “What do we want our students (kids or adults) to know and do?”.

2. The task or activity presents a worthy challenge that is not too easy nor impossible to solve or overcome. What makes this more difficult is that different students will most likely be capable of handling different levels of challenge that will be linked to their own relative ability and prior knowledge. Tiering and choice is a strategy or feature that one can use to accommodate different levels of ability but how will I execute that support structure within my own lesson or series of lessons?

3. Opportunities for collaboration – this feature is particularly challenging for me as my particular line of work is in supporting and teaching teachers. Traditionally my time in supporting educators is limited to one, perhaps two workshops with very little opportunity to reconnect together as a learning group.  This is a challenge that I particularly look forward to addressing as their are a number of different online platforms that may provide the opportunity for collaboration to continue.

4. A clear and final product presents another opportunity to infuse some choice for the participating learners/educators. Whatever the product, it again brings me back to the first point of linking it to a curriculum or learning objective.

OK, Now What?

Moving forward, I need to think more on isolating two or three learning goals or objectives for this lesson or series of lessons. Linked to these objectives will be the final product(s) that I intend to have my learners create as a way to document learning.

I hope to have the opportunity to better document my progress throughout this assignment and perhaps post my thoughts on this blog. Again, perhaps this serves as yet another opportunity to investigate another interest of mine, podcasting.


Nelson, K. J. (2007). Designing internet-based activities. Teaching in the digital age: Using the internet to increase student engagement and understanding (2nd ed.) (pp. 1-17). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Gamifying the SOLE for Teachers: Reflecting on my Learning

The early stages of envisioning, planning and designing a gamified learning experience for teachers was exciting and invigorating for me. Trying to articulate the medium and scope of this PD resource made me rethink my approach in supporting teacher learning. In one way, gamification gave me permission to throw out what had been previously done to develop teacher learning and start from a fresh new perspective. Rather than developing a teacher workshop session on the topic of self-organized learning environments (SOLE), I instead wanted to create an online learning environment that would allow teachers to access the learning environment in a way that best fit their own schedules as well as support their own unique learning needs and strengths. In my attempt to incorporate elements of gamification, I wanted to create a learning environment that would allow teachers to access content at different levels of readiness and experience. I also wanted to provide a social element in this gamified learning experience to promote sharing of experiences, resources and products. Ideally, accessing this network would also serve as a meaningful reward for teachers completing their work around the development of a SOLE learning experience. Furthermore, it was also hoped that observing the work of others would encourage teachers to try this process again and hence “level up” on their learning.

Although the original plan was to have this resource released by the beginning of October, the release of the All-in-One PCs that were to serve as an example of a self-organized learning environment was delayed due to imaging issues around the new Windows 8 operating system. Furthermore, rethinking the support of teachers new to the concept of inquiry-based learning and SOLEs, it was decided to have a system-wide release of this resource on November 22, 2013. Howeverm since this online, gamified resource was near completion, I opted to share the resource with a small group of teachers in order to gather their feedback. As a result, I have had the luxury to spend more time revising this resource as it has since gone through of a number of changes and tweaks. Even with the delay of officially releasing this resource to the system, in meeting and collaborating with others I have had a chance to reflect upon my work and appreciate my own growth throughout the entire process.


The use of info graphics seemed to fit the spirit of th gamified learning environment.
The use of info graphics seemed to fit the spirit of th gamified learning environment.

In Theory VS In Practice

Throughout the entire process, research served to both inspire and challenge my action plan to gamify teacher learning. In their respective research, the parallels between gamification and the intent behind the use of SOLEs were an encouraging parallel that initially strengthened my resolve that creating this learning experience would be a natural and symbiotic process. Moving away from learning that is solitary and moving instead towards a collaborative and intrinsically motivated path of discovery are inherent in the use of both Self-Organized Learning Environments (SOLEs) and gaming.

The challenge inevitably began to arise when attempting to facilitate this path of discovery in an online forum. Moving teachers towards formulating and developing their own goals and objectives is difficult when trying to articulate and design an interface that is supportive but not prescriptive. It is also one thing to understand and even envision the interactivity you would like foster in a learning environment but for me, actually infusing that interactivity within the fabric and context of my online resource was also very challenging. Even with the wealth of well-established social media platforms and Web 2.0 applications, leveraging these resources into a gamified, online learning environment presented the risk of merely becoming items of novelty rather than critical tools of creation, exploration and communication. Simply embedding a Twitter feed or button on a webpage or blog post, does not ensure nor motivate collaboration. In attempting to find appropriate web applications and social media platforms for this online resource for teachers, the services needed to carefully fit this purpose and intent of the gamified environment. For this project, I was looking for a platform that I could use to provide a virtual space to share the work of teachers in classrooms across the system. I also wanted to have a fairly quick and automated way for teachers to submit their work and then grant participants access to submissions from other participants as a rich and meaningful reward.


Know Your Stuff

At some point between identifying gaming elements that I wished to employ and actually implementing these elements into my teacher resource, I had to revisit my content and ensure that I had a deep understanding of what it was that I wanted to cover within this gamified learning experience. In this particular case, I had to revisit the concept of the self-organized learning environment (SOLE) and dig deeper into the purpose behind this concept. At its heart, the SOLE is a tool and resource to support inquiry-based learning and as a result the focus of this resource now had to account for this critical concept. Failing to address and explore the concept of inquiry-based learning would deprive the SOLE of its intent to support student-initiated questioning and exploration.

I met with our science learning coordinators to discuss their work in supporting inquiry-based learning in science classrooms. Their work in supporting teachers with student-driven learning meant developing teacher skills around generating questions of curiosity that ultimately arise from the student. This observation required me to update the content of my resource and as a result, alter the gamification of this learning experience. Rather than focussing on the topic of self-organized learning environments, I now had to address and link the concepts of SOLEs and inquiry-based learning. Gaming elements now had to account for both concepts to be explored in my learning resource.

Feedback from the science learning coordinators also profoundly changed how this online resource was going to be delivered. Ultimately, I had to concede that this resource alone would not adequately address the critical groundwork of changing how we as educators engage students through inquiry. This type of shift requires time, discussion and ongoing trial and error on the part of teachers. In the end, it was beyond the scope of this particular online resource and I had to rethink the system-wide delivery of this gamified learning experience. It was decided that this resource would instead be released in conjunction with a system-wide technology workshop where teachers would be supported in exploring inquiry-based learning first before referring to this online resource that they could then build upon within their own schools and classrooms.


Keep it Simple and Managing Expectations

Reflecting back towards the beginning of this project I had a number of gaming concepts and mechanisms that I wanted to explore and implement. Looking over my completed teacher resource on self-organized learning environments and inquiry-based learning, I admit that I was expecting the resource to be more dynamic and completely different than any resource that I had created before. I appreciate now that my work and exploration of gamification will take time and perhaps it was ambitious of me to expect a complete transformation in the way that I teach and support teachers. But perhaps more importantly, this was a reality check for me and my own misconceptions around gamification.

With the appeal and prevalence of video games, I still struggle with the idea that gamification is the use of gaming elements to support learning in classroom rather than simply incorporating a game into the fabric of a lesson. As a result, gamification may result in changes to instruction that are more subtle where the focus remains on deeply engaging content and learning rather than playing a game about the content. Another misconception that I struggle with is that gamification is accomplished through the use of technology. As I was reminded in an online discussion with Allen Goode (Lead Game Designer, Digital Extremes) technology is not a prerequisite for gamification. In fact the concept of gamification is not new as teachers have long been using gaming elements to try to connect and engage students in learning. The use of “bump it up” walls and even points or rewards systems are but a few of the many well established gaming mechanisms employed by teachers. Although it is tempting for me to want to see major changes in the complexion of my instruction through gamification, I concede that it is more appropriate to regard gamification as a more integrated element that supports rather than take over classroom instruction and learning.

In the end I did bring in many features and elements that I had never really attempted in my previous work supporting teachers. Creating a learning experience that was to be experienced completely online rather than a blended model of face-to-face instruction with online supplementary materials was a bit of a departure for me. Likewise, the design and creation of infographics to better match this gamified learning environment forced me to rethink my approach in presenting content and to be concise with my delivery through the use of both words and graphics. Finally, the integration of social media and Web 2.0 platforms to create an online and automated collaborative space was something that I have never attempted before in a learning environment. Utilizing an online dropbox with the  services of Google, If This Then That and Tumblr, I was able to create an automated way to collect input and contributions from teachers and then have them posted online for other participants to see.


Gamification is not easy

I must admit, I am still coming to grips with my end product. Although I understand that gamification is not the wholesale change of teacher instruction whether online or in person, I believe this also illustrates the idea that gamification is not easy. Deeply integrating gaming mechanisms within the ebb and flow of instruction and exploration will require time, patience and a lot of trial and error. I would also posit that gamification requires the careful evaluation and assessment of various online tools and platforms. Similar to the planning practice outlined in the TIP process (Robyler & Doering, 2010), one would have to thoroughly screen and consider how each gaming element would work and support the learning environment. There would also be the ongoing need to reflect and evaluate how the gaming elements are supporting student learning and to be always on the look out for better and more appropriate alternatives. For example, the tools and features inherent in a learning management system may serve as a more stable and customizable platform for gamification compared to bringing together and coordinating a collection of individual Web 2.0 applications and services.

However, acknowledging the challenges and difficulties inherent with trying to improve teacher instruction whether it be through the integration of gamification or the move towards inquiry-based learning, one can consider the goal of reaching and inspiring every student as the ultimate gaming objective for teachers. This is not to suggest that building the future of our students is a game, but rather the objective to be a better teacher is this goal that drives educators to “level-up” on their knowledge and skills surrounding pedagogy. The engagement and performance of our students provide us the instant feedback that let us know if we are on the right track or if we need to start over. In the end, it is their success and engagement that serve as powerful motivation to move forward and ultimately keeps us coming back to the game of improving teacher practice.