CEP 812: Smart Problem Solving

This week for CEP 812 we read specific chapters from The Anti-Education Era: Creating Smarter Students through Digital Learning written by James Paul Gee. During our reading we were asked to focus on a limitation that could prevent humans from solving big, complex problems smartly. As an educator I related the most with chapter 2 which discussed the smart way to approach learning new topics and problem solving.

The conditions Gee (2013) mentions include:

1. Having a mentor
2. Lots of prior experience
3. Making clear goals
4. Something mattering to us emotionally
5. Having opportunity to act in a way that elicits a meaningful response from the world

(Short-circuiting,  para. 15)


It’s important to support a student’s ability to independently problem solve both in and out of the classroom. Using Gee’s conditions allows students to explore their world and become smart, effective problem solvers.

Want to find out more about smart learning and problem solving? You can read my full essay here.


Gee, J. P. (2013). The Anti-Education Era: Creating Smarter Students through Digital Learning. [Kindle]. Retrieved from http://amazon.com.

Schools, G. (2011, October 20). Retrieved July 30, 2015, from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Gulliver_academy.jpg

CEP 812: Technology that Assists Autistic Children in the Classroom

My first week’s assignment for CEP 812 was to research technology that would assist a particular disability in the classroom. I have already been informed that I will have an autistic child next year in my first grade classroom, as well as a shadow for that child. According to this student’s individual education plan, he needs his shadow to assist him with communication. Since I haven’t had a child with this disability in the classroom before, I wanted to research an appropriate way to accommodate for the needs of that child during the following school year using technology.

Autism can be defined as “a group of complex disorders of brain development. These disorders are characterized, in varying degrees, by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors” (What is Autism, 2015). While researching, I found a study implemented by Tin Fan and the purpose of the study was to find a way to use an iPad in order to assist an autistic student with language arts and communication in the classroom. According to Tin, “Deficits and problems of communication are a core component of the diagnosis and treatment of children with autism. Since a third of all children with autism fail to develop speech, non-verbal communications systems such as hand signs, pictures or word card serves as alternatives” (p. 18).  Tim continues to write that “When children have developmental challenges, technology can provide them with opportunities to more fully participate in group activities, increase communication, and be more independent in their daily lives” (p. 20). The study concluded that iPads are worth the investment for schools in order to aid all students that have difficulty communicating or expressing themselves in a classroom setting.

Although there are several applications for students with special needs that are designed to speak for them or help develop their language abilities, I decided to find an application that was easy to navigate for a first grader and would allow the student to express himself in his own way. I found an application called ShowMe that has the following features:

  • Drawing with multiple colors
  • Inserting pictures taken on the iPad
  • Inserting pictures researched on the internet
  • Typing text
  • Recording explanations
  • Ability to make a slideshow presentation
  • Exporting a slideshow presentation

With all of these features the application allows a student to express in a multiple ways. ShowMe would aid non-verbal students with autism by allowing them to draw their ideas or research pictures about topics during group discussions. This application also allows a student to create a presentation that can be played automatically without the student having to make verbal comments. This will help autistic students who may feel anxiety when presenting in front of the class. The features are on one page and to navigate between pages there is a simple arrow key. Similar programs include Explain Everything and EduCreations. I found ShowMe to be simpler and kid friendly while still containing enough features to assist with communication.

For more information, check out my review of ShowMe below.

Can’t see the video? View my screencast of the application here.


Fan, T. (2012). Enhancing learning with the use of assistive technology for children on the autism spectrum. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.msu.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/1023530288?accountid=12598

What Is Autism? (2015). Retrieved July 10, 2015, from https://www.autismspeaks.org/what-autism

CEP 811: Final Reflection – Bringing it all together

This is yet another class that went by quickly and yet I learned so much! What stuck with me the most was the idea of taking a step back and letting students explore and draw conclusions on their own. I will be the first person to admit that I like to be in control and have things done a certain way. This carries into my teaching because I hate to see my students fail so I help them…a little too much sometimes. However, while taking CEP 811 I learned that it’s okay to fail as a student.  After exploring, reevaluating and succeeding while I used my Makey Makey kit, I wouldn’t even use the word fail anymore. It’s more of reevaluating, redesigning, redefining, and repurposing than failing. This is the attitude that I can instill in my students.

Another thing that I learned is that there is so much more we can do as teachers to help our students become makers. By allowing them access to technology and other tools, they are able to explore, learn and create things that weren’t possible before. Teachers need to create a classroom environment that has evolved into a maker space that students can call their own.

In learning more about the maker movement, I am now understanding the importance to allow students exploration and creativity. Our world is no longer looking for people who have smarts, but for those that can access information and use it to come up with new ideas. As a teacher it is my job to foster this way of thinking in my students.

As I continue my studies at Michigan State University, I am more and more surprised at how much teaching and learning has evolved since I attended grade school. I love the idea that teachers ARE life-long learners because they need to adapt to our every changing world and the technology that comes with that change. Teachers are learning by doing and then teach their students to learn by doing.

I ended this last school year reading and writing poems with my first graders. Keeping with that spirit, please read my diamante poem titled CEP 811 Reflection. If you aren’t familiar with this type of poem, it’s a poem about 2 subjects, and the middle line shows how they are connected.

Screen Shot 2015-07-01 at 4.18.42 PM

And to show my students’ excitement for the Makey Makey stop motion project, please view the cute video below.

CEP 811: Effective Assessment – Rubrics and Self-Assessment

As an educator charged with the assessment of student learning, I would assess creative problem solving during maker-inspired lessons in multiple ways, including both formative and summative assessments. I currently use formative assessments such as exit slips, a “What stuck with you today” wall and verbal discussion with students or groups. Summative assessments include written tests, published writing pieces, cross-curricular projects, presentations and performance based assessments. All summative assessments utilize rubrics, except for written tests (i.e. end of unit tests). My team has already done a good job using project based learning in first grade. We create many opportunities for students to work individually and in groups to solve real-world problems using a variety of resources. However, since I want all my students to succeed (and to make things move quicker), I often guide their thinking in the direction of one solution to the problem. Obviously, this diminishes their creativity. Realizing this, I need to make a change with how my students can be assessed on both understanding standards and using their creativity.

Since my elementary school uses a 1-4 standards-based grading system (4 being exceeded expectations and 1 being below expectations), rubrics are consistently utilized to guide assessment and instruction.  As a first grade teacher I need to be very concise with expectations for projects. Along with the rubric, I create checklists for my students with “I can” statements (and visuals for ELL/SEN students) that align with the expectations and standards for each rubric. When introducing a project, I share the rubric with my students and then read through their checklist as well. I feel that most, if not all, students are aware of what is required of them. I use these checklists as informal assessments when conferencing with individuals and groups during their project.

In a perfect world, students would be able to understand the project expectations without any preparation. However, we all know that skills needs to be taught in a meaningful way in order for students to use them on their own. Rubrics provide the opportunity for students to understand certain skills (i.e. collaboration) by explaining the expectations and modeling them from the beginning. As Wiggins mentioned in On assessing for creativity: yes you can, and yes you should, “The more we focus on impact – did you achieve the goal of such a performance? –…the more students can practice, get feedback, and self-assess and self-adjust on their own” (2012). Another aspect of assessment I would like to include is self-assessment because it’s important for students to reflect on their work. Using the rubric to rate themselves and choosing an area to improve before they turn in their project would give students the opportunity to learn even more.

One aspect that is rarely assessed by our first grade team is creativity. We assess creativity in all of our writing units, but haven’t applied it to many other subjects consistantly. Including creativity in our rubrics and providing exemplary examples could fuel students creativity to produce a high-quiality project because expectations are raised. In addition, including creativity in rubrics would keep me accountable for allowing student exploration in solutions.

I recently accepted the position as grade level leader for the 2015-2016 school year and with all of the above in mind, I could really relate to a post called Creating Schoolwide PBL Aligned to Common Core about project-based learning (PBL). I especially was interested in the challenges they needed to overcome, which included:

  • Throughout any given project, we must be able to informally touch base at any time.
  • Backup resources should be available (when computers fail, for example).
  • We need to plan together in a very detailed, day-to-day way.
  • We have to be able to easily communicate “on the fly.”
  • How we introduce the project to students is much more important than we thought (and we thought it was very important).
  • As a teaching group, we must maintain a flexible, problem-solving attitude to productively work through the inevitable implementation challenges (Isselhardt, 2013).

After reading these articles, I have some things to keep in mind while refining the PBL units with my team this year.


Isslehardt, E. (2013, February 11). Creating Schoolwide PBL Aligned to Common Core [Web log comment]. Retrieved from http://www.edutopia.org/blog/PBL-aligned-to-common-core-eric-isslehardt

Gee, James Paul. “James Paul Gee on Grading with Games”. https://youtu.be/JU3pwCD-ey0

Wiggins, G. (2012, February 3). On assessing for creativity: yes you can, and yes you should. [Web log comment]. Retrieved from http://grantwiggins.wordpress.com/2012/02/03/on-assessing-for-creativity-yes-you-can-and-yes-you-should/