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Tag: Project-based learning


Studio-Based Learning (Interview: Pat Donohue)

After learning about Studio-Based Learning (SBL) from Pat Donohue, I interviewed her to learn about the benefits of this approach and why and how SBL personalizes learning. Pat is inspired by a passion to create engaging environments for learning.

“There is a fundamental problem with public school as it has come to be defined. Confining young adults away from the world has created environments loaded with discipline problems and excruciating boredom. The challenge of the classroom teacher to engage young minds in the real subject matters of life while students are stuck in their chairs was clearly a losing task (see Gatto, 1992).


If you watch children or young adults in the natural world, it will not take long to notice two things: they will soon be engaged in some kind of learning borne out of their own curiosity and/or they will be engaged in making fun – usually both. To this day I cannot fathom why education cannot be a replication of this natural tendency of human beings to learn about the life they lead.”

What is Studio-Based Learning?
Studio-based learning in America can be traced back to John Dewey’s Laboratory School in Chicago in the late 1800’s (Lackney, 1999). It was later adopted by North American architectural education and showed up in the University of Oregon Architectural School in 1914. Lackney describes the design studio as, “A type of professional education, traditional in schools of architecture, in which students undertake a design project under the supervision of a master designer. Its setting is the loft-like studio space in which anywhere from twelve to as many as twenty students arrange their own drawing tables, papers, books, pictures, drawings and models. In this space, students spend much of their working lives, at times talking together, but mostly engaged in private, parallel pursuits of the common design task (quoting Schon, 1983).”

Primary concepts that drive studio-based learning include:

  • Students work like apprentices in a common space under the tutelage of a “master.”
  • Students interact when needed with each other on their designs.
  • Students undergo periodic critiques, known as “crits,” of their designs, projects, or products. Crits are for gaining knowledge about your work. They occur student-to-master first and then evolve self-learning crits between peers.
  • It is driven by the pragmatic. The idea is to get your hands in your work, get it done, revise it to perfect it, and self-evaluate the results.
  • Final work or products are presented publicly.


Studio-based learning methods were picked up in various iterations in K-12 programs and in universities throughout the 20th Century. The use of SBL educational laboratories died down in 1970s and 1980s but never died-out. Today, SBL is experiencing a revival. The originators of the SBL model we pursue run the Intelligent and Interactive Systems Lab at Auburn University and partners at Washington State University have launched the Online Studio-Based Learning Environment (OSBLE) where instructors from around the country can share their experiences and growing knowledge about the model’s effectiveness.

In 2006, John Seely Brown published a short but hard-hitting article, “Exploring the edge: New Learning Environments for the 21st Century” on the architectural studio model as a foundation for current trends in learning. He explains:

In the architecture studio, for example, all work in progress is made public. As a consequence, every student can see what every other student is doing; every student witnesses the strategies that others use to develop their designs. And there is public critique, typically by the master and perhaps several outside practitioners.

The students not only hear each other’s critiques, but because they were in some sense peripheral participants in the evolution of each other’s work, they also have a moderately nuanced understanding of the design choices and constraints that led to the final result … If you look at the learning outcomes for the architecture studio and Professor Belcher’s physics classes, it is evident that in both environments, students move from ‘learning about’ something to ‘learning to be’ something—a crucial distinction.

I believe studio learning is a preferred environment for our educational system, ideas about: situated learning, collaborative learning, personal learning networks and personal learning environments, mobile computing and its ability to deliver an SBL environment into a learner’s hands, and authentic instruction.

How did you build this passion for experiential learning approaches?
Fifteen years ago, I set out with a Master’s degree in Instructional Technologies to a new professional life, inspired by a passion to create engaging environments for learning. I had been a high school science and English teacher in a central urban school district (Oakland, CA) and a highly rural school district (Lake County, CA).  I set out in 1997 on a path that led me to one year of science and mathematics software production for an educational technology publisher, followed by eight years in STEM education grants – six years as Principle Investigator for a U.S. Department of Education grant serving schools in rural North Dakota and two years as Project Director on a similar National Science Foundation (NSF) grant for rural schools in the six Hawaiian Islands. The North Dakota grant was housed in a Science Center and that experience cemented my love of informal education approaches to learning.

In Hawaii, I left the grant position on the advice of my university colleagues to enter into their Ph.D. program in Communication and Information Sciences. That program introduced me to new research colleagues whom I work with today. Our research focused on instructional models that integrated technology to raise the learning bar in science, mathematics, and computer science. I eventually came to see the most important part of STEM learning is the “E.” Engineering is, more often than not, where the other three fields come together in hands-on applications. We began to look at instructional models that would situate student learning in practice. My colleagues joined with two other universities in a grant to develop and test a model of Studio-Based Learning (SBL). They are now in their second implementation grant of the SBL program through NSF. Multiple universities and instructors around the country have been involved in one or both of the SBL grant work and the results are showing that, in college undergraduate computer science courses,

SBL shows improvement gains for students compared to those in non-SBL courses. I extended the SBL protocol to a pilot program for high school and am now investigating a revision of the model into a “Design Studio” approach that integrates SBL methods into a more robust laboratory of learning experiences.


Designed by Consuelo

What are the findings from neuroscience?
Findings from neuroscience has expanded the picture of what is happening in the studio when learning is occurring. Something I now tell my students that makes them sit up with new attention is,

“every moment we talk here; every day you leave this classroom, you have a new brain.”

The point is, from neuroscience research (c.f., John Medina’s Brain Rules at, we know that the neurons in our brain form networks of connections that are in some mysterious way we still don’t understand how we store our learning. That learning is individual and based on the numerous factors that shape our individual connections. We learn constantly. In fact, tell yourself to “stop learning.” It can’t be done. This means that every moment of our lives we are re-forming our connections with every new or evolving thought. New thought; new connections; new brain. I find that brain boggling! And, of course, I want to know more.

Currently, we are designing an evolution of our Instructional Technology department to embrace a studio environment using SBL principles. I am working with colleagues in the Education departments to reformulate our SBL model into a more rigorous approach for all grade levels and all disciplines to personalize learning in educational contexts. That will involve development of mobile learning approaches to the studio experience and it will involve creating physical laboratory spaces on campus where we implement and research this evolving method of instruction.


Pat donohuePatricia (Pat) Donohue, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, Department of Instructional Technologies
Graduate College of Education, San Francisco State University
President and CEO, Community Learning Research LLC

Pat Donohue teaches instructional design and technologies in the Department of Instructional Technologies at San Francisco State University’s Graduate College of Education. She is also President and CEO of Community Learning Research, LLC, a private educational research company located in the Napa Valley, California. She holds a doctorate degree in Communication and Information Sciences from the University of Hawai`i at Manoa and her Master’s in Education: Instructional Technologies degree from San Francisco State University where she currently teaches courses in Foundations of Instructional Design Theory, Learning with Emerging Technologies, and Usability Testing and Formative Evaluation.

Pat worked as a professional development specialist in new technologies and learning for 20 years prior to her current position, eight of which were on federal teacher development grants in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education. Pat was Principal Investigator for NatureShift, a U.S. Department of Education Technology Innovation Challenge Grant (6.5 yrs.) and interim Project Director for Hawai`i Networked Learning Communities, a National Science Foundation Rural Systemic Initiative grant for the Hawai`i Department of Education (1.5 yrs.). Both grants involved technology integration in cultural contexts into curriculum and instruction and teacher professional development in STEM, history, and language literacy for rurally isolated schools in the Northern plains states and the six Hawaiian Islands. Pat taught high school science and English for six years and has taught several university education courses prior to her current position. She held administrative positions at the University of Hawai`i and at San Francisco State and Sonoma State Universities. For a brief period, she published the Middletown Times Star, a small newspaper in Northern California.

With a lifelong interest in the learning sciences, Pat’s research has covered technology innovations for learning, cultural implications and impacts on learning, and advanced technology environments for collaborative learning. She is currently researching a new pedagogical model based on traditions of Studio-Based Learning and investigating the implementation of that model into mobile learning environments.

Community Learning Research LLC
Patricia Donohue, PhD, CEO
011.925.451.7820 (M/SMS)


  • Gatto, J. T. (1992) Dumbing Us Down.
  • Lackney, J. A. (1999) A History of the Studio-Based Learning Model.
  • Report of a Workshop on The Scope and Nature of Computational Thinking, Committee for the Workshops on Computational Thinking; National Research Council (2010).
  • Mitchell Resnick (2002) Rethinking Learning in the Digital Age. Chapter 3: pp32-37.
  • Mitchell Resnick (2007) Sowing seeds for a more creative society. ISTE
  • Stephen Cooper, Lance C. Pérez, and Daphne Rainey (2010) K–12 Computational Learning: Enhancing student learning and understanding by combining theories of learning with the computer’s unique attributes. Education, v.53(11) pp 27-29.
  • Hundhausen, C., Narayanan, N., and Crosby, M. (2008) Exploring Studio-Based Instructional Models for Computing Education

There You Go -- Being Ridiculous

If you look back ten years (2001), can you ever imagine people walking around talking into their earpiece? or having a smartphone that does everything? At that time, that would be ridiculous or you would think that the person talking to them self was crazy. You probably would have walked a really wide circle around that person. Now lots of people walk and talk into an earpiece or headset. It’s not ridiculous anymore. Right?

I read this article “IDEO: Big Innovation Lives Right on the Edge of Ridiculous Ideas” and it got me thinking. When you visit Google or Apple or other innovative companies, there’s a lot of chaos, playfulness, laughing, and experimenting. They encourage brainstorming lots of ideas even if they seem crazy. You never know when someone will come up with a new idea or tool or app.

The important thing for schools is what results you get from an environment like this. You give permission to play right from the beginning – early childhood. Play is purposeful. Pre-schoolers play real world games like pretending to drive, being a doctor, and imitating what they see D.Bootcamp at Stanfordfrom the adults in their lives. Look at the d.School at Stanford where they are redesigning spaces, bureaucracy, and executive experiences. If you look at IDEO and why they encourage playing at work, you see a hands-off culture where everyone can create and experiment and try lots of different ideas that push boundaries. Many of these ideas may seem ridiculous to others but someone may come up with something amazing. So can this kind of environment work in schools? I say “Why not?”

Think about your classroom where students are part of your team like a start-up company. Look at some of the IDEO examples and think about you and your kids redesigning the space. Tell them to make it playful. Move things around. I like to have an area for kids to sit on bean bag chairs and another space for pacing or for people to stand up. Who knows what kids will come up with if they get to move when they feel like it. Stop forcing kids to be what they’re not.

Have students look at the curriculum with you and take one topic and have them reinvent it so they own it. Tell them to be creative. Come up with a problem they can solve. Let them be ridiculous. They may design a new app or game. If you just let go, you can personalize learning for each child by letting them explore, discover, play.

I remember one of my teachers would come to school dressed up as a famous historical person. That was ridiculous. I loved it and remember it. Now it’s time for kids to have permission to be creative, playful, and ridiculous.


Student-Centered Learning: Meaningful Work

Project-based learning that is student-centered works if it is meaningful work. According to the article “Seven Essentials for Project-Based learning” on Education Leadership:

A project is meaningful if it fulfills two criteria. First, students must perceive the work as personally meaningful, as a task that matters and that they want to do well. Second, a meaningful project fulfills an educational purpose. Well-designed and well-implemented project-based learning is meaningful in both ways.

It doesn’t matter the age of the learner, every learner gets more involved in the process if the task at hand means something to them and there is a purpose for their work. Let’s look at purpose.

  • Teacher one gives an assignment for their students to write a paper. Usually, the student hands the finished paper in to the teacher who then spends the evening reading and grading the papers.

  • Teacher two shares a topic or asks students to find a topic that is meaningful to them and write why it is meaningful. Students generate questions about their topic, come up with an opinion piece, and then share their writing with their peers who provided feedback. They use a rubric to grade each other and themselves.

Which do you find more meaningful and engaging?

Wanting to know more
Students come to school curious about the world. They want to know more. If the teacher can let students pursue their interests and what they are curious about, then the classroom changes. How about the teacher bringing in a photo or local topic like a polluted nearby creek and letting students discuss it? Then they could go to the creek, take pictures, do research about the creek, interview water experts, etc. What they could find out is that they can make a difference somehow. They can research the problem, find out how a polluted creek like this one could impact the environment and life in the creek, get the right people involved to clean up the creek, and even pick up trash around the creek themselves.

What about the standards?
When I work with teachers they are told to meet the standards, follow the pacing guide, and use the textbook. When you are moving to a student-centered classroom, you are slowly changing the way you teach. You can still meet the standards and cover most of the curriculum. Instead of trying to “cover” everything, there may be another way to involve your students as co-designers of their learning.

  • Show your students the standards — right from the beginning. Explain that they will need to meet these standards with the project. Projects also cover multiple disciplines. If you focus on creeks for 4th grade (CA Science – Earth Science – Water), then you are also meeting Investigation and Experimentation, Language Arts > Writing Strategies > Research and Technology) and probably more.

  • Tell them that you need their input as co-designers so their learning is more meaningful to them. Mention that you normally teach the lesson like this but would like to have more of a student voice. Have them review the topic, the standards, and come up with questions based on this information.

    Good driving questions help focus the project
    We are all born curious. Most children want to learn something by first asking a question. “Where does rain come from?” “Why does a hummingbird flap its wings so fast?” The questions lead to more questions. If you think about the creek and pollution, maybe some of the questions might be “how did the creek get polluted?” or “why do people throw their trash in the creek?” or “how does the pollution affect the fish and other life in the creek?”

    A good driving question gets to the heart of the topic or problem. The creek is polluted. Life in the creek is impacted. The environment is affected by the pollution. Sometimes a good driving question is a call to action. “What can we do to stop the pollution in the creek?” The other questions asked before supported this question.

    Students working in groups
    This is the piece that teachers find difficult to manage or coordinate. Do you let students choose their groups or group by topic or do you choose the groups for them?

    The first time you ever do a project-based learning activity, be kind to yourself. First time, you choose the groups. Each group will have roles for each person but you decide on the roles. Let them choose who will do what. Some students will take on multiple roles and help each other. Some may not.

    I’m going to go into more detail in later posts about how to set up groups, designing questions, etc. The main thing I wanted to get across in this post was to focus on meaningful work and purposeful projects. If your students, no matter what age, feel they can make a difference, they are more motivated to learn, to share, to write, and to present.


Student-Centered Learning: Changing Teaching

Teachers come to the classroom with life experiences, their experience as a student, and what they learned about being a teacher. Teachers go into teaching to make a difference. Most of their instruction was teacher-centric. They only know what they know and what their mentor or master teacher presents to them.

Teachers have similar Characteristics of Adult Learners. Teachers come with their own beliefs and opinions, are intrinsically motivated, and just like their students have individual differences. Teachers have so much on their plate. If you add another professional development that is not relevant for them, they tune out, grade papers, and may even leave.

TeachersThe most effective approach is to connect with the teachers and what they teach in their classroom. Teachers learn best in the same ways that most students learn best: actively, drawing from prior knowledge, and in a comfortable environment. [source] This is where I see the power of coaching and working with each teacher or a small group of teachers that teach the same units. Let’s say you were asked to coach grade level teams of teachers to create project-based learning activities and integrate technology.

First Meeting

  • Set up collaborative planning time for the teachers. Work with administration to get subs for the first 1/2 day meeting.

  • Do an assessment to determine how teachers teach and learn currently, topics they would like to expand into a project, and the resources available for projects.
  • Set up a website with links to examples, projects, and resources about PBL and send them the link.
  • Ask a teacher leader or administrator to do an assessment of the teachers determining the stage of concern or how each teacher handles change. <Changing Teaching and Learning: CBAM>
  • When you meet during the first meeting, ask teachers to share “how they teach now” and an example of a lesson.
  • Review the pacing guide/curriculum/standards to choose a topic/lesson to design a project.
  • Share some examples of projects around that topic.
  • Ask them how or what they would like to do to change the lesson. Give them time to work together and share ideas.

If this is the first time they have designed project-based learning activities, they need time to learn. This may even be too much to ask of the teachers, but finding time is always a challenge.

[Photo from Playshop at Mid-Pacific Institute - teacher teams collaborating]


Innovation Centers for Real-World Learning

I’ve been thinking about the promise of Innovation Centers. These are Community Learning Centers that incorporate K-12 schools, the public library, and a local university and/or community college where learning happens 24/7 with learners of all ages. These centers could be a combination of all of these places and include businesses and non-profits in the area. In some cases, community colleges and senior centers might be involved. In other cases, a preschool might be included in a project. These can also be blended versions where the place is one or all of these sites plus a virtual place to collaborate and learn. I’m going to expand on the virtual place more later.

The idea of an Innovation Center in different parts of the country means that each community can investigate local issues on a global scale. Each Center will include the latest technology and enough bandwidth to handle multiple devices per person. Each Center will be designed by the community to reflect their community. The center is open to all learners but not like a regular school.

One community might address urban gardening and how to feed more people in less space. Another community might address strategies for recycling and reducing trash. All findings will be shared among all Innovation Centers and collaboration will be encouraged.

The goal could be to push the envelope: where learning focuses on real-world projects, problems, and challenges on a global scale. Just imagine identifying a local problem in your area in the US and connect with a school in Africa or Nepal with the same problem. Common problems could be:

  • Lack of clean water

  • Pollution in your area
  • Money managing skills
  • Culture and Community
  • Jobs or Entrpreneurship

Everything will be student-centered and inquiry-based. Teacher roles change. They are co-learners and co-designers with their students and are advisors for a team of learners. As advisors they are with the same learners for several years. Actually the learners are driving the design of the projects and the community. The community is a viable entity that happens anywhere and everywhere. The culture of that community transcends the design of the projects.

Learning will be personalized by personal learner profiles with support from advisors. Each learner and advisor will be encouraged to take risks, question, and use critical-thinking skills to address local problems as collaborative projects. Personal learning goals will meet Common Core Standards and address curriculum requirements of their learning plan. Individuals and teams will meet learning goals as part of each project or re-evaluate the goals as they monitor their progress towards the goal. Each learner will collect evidence of learning in an ePortfolio and share via social media, websites, mobile devices, etc. Or the evidence will be a product, a showcase, an event. This all depends on the designers of the projects — the learners. We may even want to call them something different than learners.

I started thinking about this many years ago and then again recently when I added my idea to the Grand Challenge. If you like this idea, vote here. If you have more ideas for this challenge, please add your comment there and/or here.

I know there are great ideas and innovations out there. It’s all about finding out about them so we can share and learn together.


Personalize Learning with 20% Time

Personalized learning means that learning is centered around the students. The students drive their learning around their passion, something they are interested in. Teachers guide the process. Sounds easy but it is a big shift in thinking for educators. Maybe the process can slowly evolve by transforming your classroom by using 20% of the time for passion-driven learning.

Sir Ken Robinson

Sir Ken Robinson said in an interview for the Vancouver Sun last week, “It isn’t that everyone has to learn different things, although eventually our interests will take us in different directions,” he continued. “But in terms of the things we want all people to learn … personalized learning is finding the best ways to engage with people with different interests, passions and ways of thinking. It’s what good teachers have always known, he added. “That their job is not to teach subjects, but to teach students.”

20% Time at Google
Google LogoOne concept Google is where employees work 80% of their time on Google projects and the other 20% of their time they can devote to any project they want. Google found this to be very successful both in employee satisfaction, but also their workers have come up with projects that have made a difference in peoples lives! They can use the time to develop something new, or if they see something that’s broken, they can use the time to fix it. During the 20 percent time, engineers developed features in the labs and other very popular tools. Google teachers realized the idea of using 20% of your time on something your passionate about seemed like a good idea for schools.

Projects of Interest
Buchser Middle SchoolBrian Van Dyck (vandyck.brian@gmail) from Buchser Middle School in Santa Clara, California implemented 20% time in both his 6th grade Math class and 7th Grade Technology classes. Brian fashioned the 20% guidelines much in the same manner they are implemented at Google. Students choose their own projects of interest based on the scope of the course outline. For instance, in Math 6, students can pursue any project directly related to the content standards of the course. One Math 6 student chose the construction of 3 dimensional models of geometrical shapes to explore the connection with ratio and scale. This student went one step further and explored computer based interactive models that allowed for the manipulation of size, volume, surface area etc…. As a result there is a fabulous collection of wooden 3D geometrical shapes for use in Brian’s own instruction. In his technology courses, students explored self paced independent learning of some introductory computer programming languages. These “Self Taught” projects included ALICE, SCRATCH, BYOB, Processing (to control robotics), Android App Inventor, and JES (Python). As it is related to the course standards, these students took it upon themselves to learn these tools and create some fantastic projects.

To help manage the 20% time project work, students follow a course syllabus outlining the required learning activities/projects and course standards. This syllabus acts as a checklist of sorts. Students check in with Brian during guided practice and independent student work time to show him artifacts and evidence that they are on track for the completion of their required tasks. Any student that has successfully demonstrated that they are on track to complete these requirements may use guided practice and independent student work time to pursue their 20% projects.

At most Google sites they have something called “Beer and Demos” where Googlers share their completed and often uncompleted work over beers during their presentations. Brian has a “Rootbeer and Demos” day scheduled every 2 weeks for students to showcase their 20% project progress.

Break Through Time
Gemma Rennie ( and Georgie Hamilton ( from Learning Hub 2 at Stonefields School, Auckland, New Zealand ( have their 20% time as Breakthrough time. This is where all the children from Yr 1-8 choose what interests them and organise their learning time for one day a week.  is a learning organization that designs learning to cause learning for each learner. Stonefield develops each learner holistically to create curious individuals who relate well to others. The four rocks in the Stonefield’s logo represent the four elements of the learner.
Stone Field Four Rocks
Breakthrough time encourages students to pursue their passion. Here’s an example of Savannah performing a concert for the other students. She learned how to play the guitar, organize a concert, and promoted the concert herself.

Savannah’s Concert from Stonefields School on Vimeo.

This is just the beginning of my posts on 20% time. I used to do iSearches with students in the early 1990s. I talked to teachers in Orinda USD who did Magic Boxes where students chose a topic to study once a week. I believe we are going to see more focus on student-centered learning and personalizing learning. This is one aspect that is very interesting and could be adopted by teachers even if they are concerned about keeping test scores up. Motivation and engagement really matter.


12 Tips for Inquiry-Based Learning

Inquiry-based learning is a style of teaching that is based on asking questions that kids honestly care about and guiding them to find the answers as well as coming up with new questions along the way. Dewey’s description of the four primary interests of the child are still appropriate starting points:

  • the child’s instinctive desire to find things out

  • in conversation, the propensity children have to communicate
  • in construction, their delight in making things
  • in their gifts of artistic expression.

It makes sense to teach this way. However, it takes more than just letting go and letting students choose questions. The first year you implement inquiry-based learning is a big paradigm shift. I put together 12 tips that could help you as you jump into the inquiry-based learning approach.

  1. Plan enough time to pre-plan, plan, and plan again during implementation. Even though inquiry-based learning is student-centered, planning involves much more prep time.

  2. Start with a topic that encourages inquiry. Review your curriculum and choose a topic that you believe will motivate and engage your students.
  3. Choose 20% of your time for inquiry. Some teachers are not ready to convert their entire curriculum to inquiry-based learning. You might want to look at transforming your classroom 20% of the time.
  4. Flip your classroom for this unit. Create a blog or website to host videos and information about the concepts you want students to understand. You can even video and post your lectures. Ask students to review the concepts you posted on their own. Then use classroom time for sharing, collaborating, lab work, research, writing, and production.
  5. Pose real questions. Model open-ended questions where there are no right answers. Consider the following questions about the questions you ask:
    – What do I want to know about this topic?
    – What do I know about my questions?
    – How do I know it?
    – What do I need to know?
    – What could an answer be?

  6. Encourage co-designing the curriculum. Share the standards or performance skills with your students that are to be met during this inquiry-based lesson or unit. Since the unit is student-driven, students can develop what assist in what they plan to learn and own it.
  7. Develop rubric for assessing learning. Invite students to contribute to the development of the rubric. You can start with a few criteria using Rubistar and then ask students to refine and add to the criteria.
  8. Group students for collaborative learning. Divide students into small groups. Encourage each group to develop a driving question that they will work on together, and then let them develop a project based on the question.
  9. Have students collect resources. Students can use Google Docs or a Wiki to collaborate as they collect websites, images, videos, podcasts, documents, etc. that supports the topic. asks more questions, and helps answer their questions.
    – What kinds of resources might help me find the answers?
    – Where do I find the resources?
    – How do I know if the resources are valid?
    – How can you ensure responsibility and authority?
    – What other information is available?

  10. Monitor progress. Share a checklist with the groups and then ask them to refine the checklist to meet each group’s needs. Then refer to the checklist while developing project.
  11. Interpret information. Encourage students to ask these questions about the information they collected:
    – How is this information relevant to my topic?
    – What parts of the information supports my answers and does not support my answers?
    – Does it raise new questions?

  12. Present findings. Have students present to each other and ask for feedback and any other questions that their presentation raises.

Learning begins with the learner. What children know and what they want to learn are the very foundations of learning.


Explore Photo Safaris with Larry Anderson

When I heard that Larry Anderson wrote an eBook Lead your Own Photo Safari, I had to download it right away. Larry is offering this eBook free for you. I was blown away with the amount of work and collaboration that was put into this endeavor. I’ve known Larry for years and am so impressed with the research and information that he shares with the world. I asked Larry if I could interview him to find out a little more of the whys and hows that went into the development of this eBook. He graciously shared with me his answers to my questions (in bold text) below so I could share them with you:

Photo Safari

1. What is a Photo Safari?
From page 25 of the book:
The dictionary definition of “safari” includes these phrases:

a journey or expedition, for hunting, exploration, or investigation
any long or adventurous journey or expedition

So, we can say that a Photo Safari is an adventurous journey or expedition during which people hunt for, explore, or investigate opportunities to write with light. To this, we can add the notion of creativity. That is, as people engage in this expeditionary activity, they apply their unique, individual creative traits so that the images they capture express accurately how they see the world to which they are exposed during the Photo Safari.

In short, my idea of a Photo Safari is an excursion, during which a collection of friends make photographs of locations, objects, or subjects that appeal to the photographer’s eye.

2. Why did you write this eBook?
I have had such success and enjoyment during the Photo Safaris of which I have been a part, so it seemed important to share my stories with others, in hopes that they, too, could participate in the joy I have experienced. Also, I figured that, if I told my story, someone with more experience might read the book and share some secrets with me and my future Photo Safari outings would be even more enjoyable.

3. How did you get hooked on the Photo Safari bug?
I have loved photography for many years. I enjoy being with other people who enjoy photography. So, when I organized and led my first Photo Safari in Washington, DC, I found out, first-hand, just how fulfilling this could be. So, I have continued to expand my planning efforts with each safari. I was “hooked” upon completion of the first actual photo safari in which I participated (Monterey, CA with Pulitzer Prize winning photographer, Vincent Laforet, and a team of Apple Distinguished Educators).

4. When and how did you start your first Photo Safari?
The National Educational Computing Conference (NECC–now known as ISTE) was held in Washington, DC in June 2009. Since I have traveled to DC many times and know the National Mall area quite well, I thought this would be a natural time to conduct my first Photo Safari. Another Apple Distinguished Educator (ADE), Craig Nansen, and I collaborated on leading this safari. We had help from John Maschak (Apple Canada) and Gordon Worley (ADE from Florida).

So, we just announced the Photo Safari within the ADE Community and the registration limit was reached quickly. Then, we had a few other people beg to join us, so we accommodated them. When this safari was completed, we knew we had a winning idea. Of course, being in DC on the National Mall all day didn’t hurt!

5. Why is it important to have a leadership team?
While it’s true that a person can conduct a Photo Safari alone, it is just so much more fun when you can share the excitement with others who have amazing talents to bring to the experience. As the organizer of a Photo Safari, it makes the job much easier when I can engage in “division of labor” and ensure that the safari will be much more effective. A good leadership team is made up of smart people with significant talents and time that they give willingly to the event. So, why would I not use them? The end result is that the participants in the safari gain a much more meaningful experience when a strong leadership team is in place.

6. I know planning is essential but you emphasized pre-planning. Why does most of the work occur before the Photo Safari begins?
Any worthwhile activity necessitates good pre-planning. Examples abound of how we plan for significant events before they happen. Therefore, it’s essential that we, the organizer and the leadership team, spend a great deal of time in delineating the details and working to make sure everything comes to fruition by the time the Photo Safari kicks off.

7. How do you choose the best site for a Photo Safari?
Reasons for selecting an ideal venue vary remarkably. The “best” site can be a local venue, as a group of townspeople embark on a Photo Safari to learn more about their hometown. Thus, the “best” site could be a variety of historical, cultural, or neighborhood locations around your town. Or, you may be conducting a Photo Safari in a major metropolitan area. The choices are many….will you choose a site that focuses upon architecture, history, gardening, civic locations, military settings, or any one of a host of other considerations?

Thus, the actual site is selected depending upon the type of safari with which I’m involved. Most of the ones in which I’ve engaged so far have been dictated by a particular location (Washington, DC; Monterey, CA; Denver, CO; Philadelphia, PA; Phoenix, AZ). So, my leadership team and I selected particular locations because we felt that participants would be fascinated with a venue. And, we’ve had 100% success. We intend to continue this at ISTE 2012 in San Diego. We are already engaged in selecting from a “laundry list” of possible sites for an enjoyable, informative Photo Safari.

8. What are some of the technology tools that you include in a Photo Safari?
My response to this depends upon how one defines “technology tools.” But, as I’ve engaged in Photo Safaris so far, I have used:

  • Email
  • Skype and iChat (for audio and video conferencing)
  • Group texting (to inform participants before and during the actual safari, as necessary)
  • Flickr and other photo hosting sites (as a “holding pen” for the select photos made by participants)
  • Google Apps (for planning tools by the leadership team, for registration by participants, for organizing transportation)
  • Google Earth (to plot safari tour paths)
  • Wikis (as sites to host safari information and resources)

It’s possible that there are more, but these are the ones that come to my mind right now.

9. I have a Nikon D40. Is it important to have separate filters and lenses for the Photo Safari?
As mentioned in the book, “Leading Your Own Photo Safari,” it is not necessary to have “fancy” equipment. Yes, there are situations in which your having special filters and lenses will be of great value. In those cases, we will attempt to notify participants that they can bring these accessories along with them.

For example, in the Rocky Mountain National Park Photo Safari, we encountered several mountain streams. The waterfalls and river flow were natural spots for using neutral density filters in order to help slow down shutter speed so the water would take on that “silky” look during long exposures. Also, at Bear Lake, it was helpful to have that neutral density filter to keep the details of the water on the lake while keeping the bright blue sky from getting blown out due to excessive exposure. In each situation, we used these situations as teaching moments. Even people who did not own these filters were able to use the filters on their lenses, provided that their lenses were of the proper size to accept the filters that screw on.

In some cases, it is helpful to have UV filters to help block out glare. We try to educate safari participants. Even if they come to the safari without such a filter, we will have the opportunity to talk about the filters and show them to all interested participants. Again, we leverage this into an educational opportunity. That makes the participant become a smarter consumer, should the time come when s/he wants to purchase a filter for this purpose.

In the case of lenses, we try to use our pre-safari communications to discuss the use of various lenses. Again, if participants arrive with a DSLR (either Canon or Nikon, since these are the most common), it’s possible to share lenses and let participants try a variety of lenses. So, if the people come with two or three lenses, that simply makes the whole experience more valuable to everybody.

But, the basic answer is that it’s not necessary to have a variety of lenses and/or filters. If you do, that’s fine. If not, that’s fine, too. Your D40 will be a valuable tool on our Photo Safari. We’ll make sure of it! (Even if all you have is a point-and-shoot camera…or even just an iPhone or iPad, we’ll still ensure you a successful venture.)

10. Why is communication so important during a Photo Safari? What are some of the tools you recommend?
It is absolutely crucial to plan for a mechanism that allows the safari leader to communicate instantly with everyone. You never know what kind(s) of situations may arise.

In Philadelphia, our large group of photographers divided into four teams. Each team went to one of four specified quadrants of Olde Town Philadelphia. After approximately one hour, each team would rotate to a new quadrant. So, as the safari leader, I sent out a group text to everyone, letting them know that it is time to rotate. Also, I needed to inform everybody when the time arrived for us to gather at the end of the Photo Safari for our debriefing session and to award the “giveaway” prizes. Again, Group Text (an iPhone app) came to the rescue.

I used a free app, Group Text, that worked like magic. It works beautifully with my Macintosh app, Address Book. I merely established a group in Address Book that included all members of the Photo Safari. During registration, I had asked them to indicate the cell phone number they would be using during the safari…and asked them to indicate if they can get text messages at that number. Then, the Group Text app just takes that Address Book group and allows me to send a text blast. Worked like a charm!

11. Is there anything you would like to add about Photo Safaris and your eBook for our readers?
Oh, there are a million things I would like to add. First, I want everybody to know that this activity is more fun than words can express! The advantages of conducting a Photo Safari are innumerable. Teachers can use this in amazing ways with classes of students, but also with parents and other community members. I hope many readers will strive to join us in San Diego at ISTE 2012 for our Photo Safari. Our plan is to conduct it on Sunday prior to the opening keynote….probably an all-day safari, as is our routine. Of course, since this whole idea came from the Apple Distinguished Educator (ADE) family, we will offer first registration rights to ADEs. But, we will take as many others as possible. I suspect our registration limit will again be held to approximately 50 people, due simply to logistical reasons.

I really want to encourage any readers of the book to please let me know of your successes as you conduct your own Photo Safari.

  • How did you get the idea?
  • How was your planning process different than what I have used?
  • What tips could you use to share with others?
  • What successes did you have?
  • How did you share your photos?
  • Who was involved?
  • What did you learn?
  • Would you want to hold another Photo Safari as a result of your experience on your first one?
  • How can you imagine that a Photo Safari could be used in schools?
  • Did you have any “Aha!” moments? If so, what were they? What problems did you encounter? How did you handle them?
  • Did you experience any discouragements? If so, how did you handle those?
  • What aids, resources, tutorials would you like to see developed to help you in the future?

  • Should I build a web site, wiki, or anything else that would give you and your colleagues a place to share ideas, experiences, resources, etc.?

And, one more note….there will definitely be an update to the book. Version 2.0 will have many more features. So, stay tuned.

Also, the book will be a central core to a “collection” that will appear in the new, soon-to-be-announced Apple Distinguished Educator channel of iTunes U, so we’ll have more resources to go along with the book…and will give you a broader view of what it takes to plan and conduct a successful Photo Safari.

You can download the free eBook, “Leading Your Own Photo Safari” by going to


Thank you Larry for being so generous and sharing your passion with the world! Here is Larry’s contact information if you have any questions. Please share any comments for Larry below:

Larry Anderson

Dr. Larry S. Anderson, Founder/CEO
National Center for Technology Planning
P. O. Box 2393 — Tupelo, MS 38803
662.844.9630 (Voice & FAX) — 662.321.0677 (Cell)
Assoc. Prof. (Ret.), Mississippi State University
Web Site —
Blog — http://nctpcast(dot)blogspot(dot)com
Podcasts — Think Like A Leader


Changing Teaching and Learning

Sections from column in OnCUE Summer 2011

Change means something different to different people. It depends on each person’s prior knowledge, experience, values, and attitude about what it is they are changing. Teachers may only know what they have been taught. They don’t know what they don’t know. Some people resist change because what they learned at their home, school, or university is what they believe is the right and only way to teach and learn. The world is changing and many of our K-20 institutions are not ready or understand how they fit in the picture to change. Some parents and school boards resist change. At board meetings you may here “If it was good for me than it is good for my child.” Teaching and learning is changing even if educators, parents, and students resist it.

In facilitating change for yourself or as the professional developer for your staff, it would be beneficial to know what concerns individuals have about the change you may be initiating. Here is one chart designed to help schools identify what a student-centered environment looks like.

These are the stages of concern that each of us go through when we are learning a new skill. Consider the people at your school. When it comes to project-based learning, I was surprised to find some younger teachers resistant to taking the time to plan and implement projects. It appears they were not exposed to projects in their teacher education programs. Projects take time and energy that many teachers don’t think they have. Every project is different and not all of them work. However, a project that engages students and has them “think” is good. All of this is a process.

Working through the stages helps me. I hope they help you.


Who dunnit?

I cannot even tell you how exciting it is to work with teachers who are so passionate about teaching and coming up with ways to motivate and engage their students. This last week was like that. I am working at two middle schools in Oakland who just finished testing.  Madison Middle School is preparing for a Math/Science Expo on June 7th. I love this!

It’s all about teamwork, collaboration, inquiry, roles and responsibility.

Think CSI. The eighth grade kids came up with the title “CSI Oakland” and we’re putting together five crime scenes. Shhhhhh! We cannot let all the crimes out of the bag yet. Think money stolen — window broken — locker vandalized and more. We have fourteen suspects. Cannot tell you who they are, but they have mugshots with prison numbers, sour faces, and aliases. Read more