Color My World (and My Students’, Please?)

Another Impact on the Environment of the Classroom Article

Before I painted my classroom, it had off-white walls.  The computer desks were a mottled black with white.  The carpeting was gray.  My


students complained about the lack of interest amongst their classrooms in that building, and I felt a little down myself upon arrival.

Although I  have a degree in mathematics, I took so many art classes that I could probably have double-majored.  I also studied color on my own as regards psychological impact.  Therefore, it was only a matter of time before I felt desperate enough to make a major change.   Prior to the new school year, I bought paint, floor cushions, plants, and artwork.  I rearranged the room to accommodate tables that could be placed where needed (for small projects or for larger collaborative efforts).  When my students returned, they were so happy,DSC_0121 and I know felt better about being there, too.  They were comfortable in this new environment.

Take a look at my persuasive video on revamping a learning environment:


Now, what type of academic impact did this have on them?  Because they were so at ease in my room, did that mean that they were too relaxed to be productive?  How could I convince my administration that this change was positive?

This sounds like so many of the hot topics in education today;  I have listed a few of them here:  Bring Your Own Device (BYOD),  the Maker Movement, Flipped Classrooms, and Bricolage.  Pick any topic and there is embedded controversy as to whether these are

  • short-lived and  not worth the investment
  • do not contribute to learning
  • are too time -consuming to implement
  • are too much of a change for people to think about

My own thinking is that if I can get my environment down, then I can think about these other ideas.   As I looked to resources to justify my actions, I realized that most of the studies I found were relatively old  (from the 1950’s to the 1990’s).   I was pleased to discover that the University of Salford’s School of the Built Environment  did a study I was pleased to discover that the University of Salford’s School of the Built Environment  did a study (2015) on the following: lightbox[1]

In a pilot study by the University of Salford and architects, Nightingale Associates, it was found that the classroom environment can affect a child’s academic progress over a year by as much as 25%.

In addition,

The study took two lines of enquiry. The first was to collect data from 751 pupils, such as their age, gender and performance level in maths, reading and writing at the start and end of an academic year.

The second evaluated the holistic classroom environment, taking into account different design parameters such as classroom orientation, natural light and noise, temperature and air quality. Other issues such as flexibility of space, storage facilities and organisation, as well as use of colour were evaluated.

Notably, 73% of the variation in pupil performance driven at the class level can be explained by the building environment factors measured in this study (2012).

This is great news for those of us trying to convince our administrators that this pursuit is definitely worthwhile.  To help motivate educators and administrators of the excitement that a new environment can foster, take a look at this TEDtalk by Cesar Harada (August 2015), on his warehouse classroom:

Check out the link for DesignShare , which has many examples of schools who have reformed their learning environments

Design Share snip pic

Here is a classroom undergoing a transformation (Part 1 of 2)″>

Edutopia videos showing the classroom design company, The Third Teacher+, making over a learning environment at Roosevelt Middle School in San Francisco in 2012:

In order to have an effective environment, is it necessary to hire a professional to make it perfect?  I would say, absolutely not!  Paint the walls, toss down some floor pillows (dog beds work well for this), repurpose used furniture, and mostly, call onn your students and their parents for assistance.   This article is about finding inspiration, enlisting your students as investors in a project in which I believe may have long-term benefits, and creating a room to which (most) people will be happy to make a return visit.

Some resources for classroom design:

  1. Classroom Architecture
  2. Art project plans – for your students…let them decorate for you!
  3. Personalize your classroom
  4. A Place for Learning: The Physical Environment of Classrooms — also has other resources at the end of the article – From Edutopia

Academic Resources:

Study proves classroom design really does matter. (2013). Retrieved December 8, 2015, from

Slide Resources:

  1. Yellow Flower by Milza
  2. Yellow – smiley faces. Prawney
  3. Yellow stars prawny
  4. Yellow lanterns chrystaline24  
  5. Green grass blade pippalou
  6. Green trees hotblack
  7. Green grapes jasongillman
  8. Blue water drops prawney
  9. Orange kconnors
  10. Orange peppers joncutrer
  11. Orange day lillies huggie
  12. Orange Carrots scarletina
  13. HS Science Forest Park High School in Woodbridge VA by Mike Dyer
  14. Couch
  15. Classroom furniture Deb Day
  16. Hand shadow eduardoruiz
  17. Chains 5demayo
  18. Hook DodgertonSkillhause
  19. Houseplants
  20. Collaboration cloud image
  21. PTSA
  22. String of Christmas Lights BSGStudio
  23. Sherwin Williams paint
  24. Discovery Education logo screenshot
  25. iMovie screenshot
  26. Instructables screenshot
  27. screenshot
  28. Project template
  29. fabric
  30. pillows
  31. PTA


To Err is Human: the Game’s On!



brain-games[1]Another Impact on the Environment of the Classroom Article

Advocacy for game-playing or gamification of at least some of the tools used in teaching mathematics can be tricky.  With the amount of content needing to be covered, how can one justify adding another component into the learning environment?

When I was in 5th grade, my math teacher gave us a pop quiz on the multiplication table.  It was given orally and each problem was rapidly fired at us. I lost track of which number I was on, and therefore, my answers were out of order.  I failed the test, and being a perfectionist, I started to cry and was inconsolable, even after my teacher told me that it was an April Fool’s joke and that the quiz wouldn’t count (who does that?).

My point with this story is that I was so devastated about others knowing that I had failed and had all of those incorrect answers on MY paper, that it left a lifelong, and obviously negative impression (no pun intended) on me.  Even thinking about it now makes me feel saddened.

In my class, I make mistakes all the time.  I once heard a student whisper that I had erred.  I asked him to repeat what he said out loud.  He thought I would become angry; instead, I walked up to him, shook his hand and congratulated him on catching my slip-up.

Mistakes should be looked upon as another step in a problem, and not a devastating end.  However, mistakes, or counting too much on what is right, in general (for instance, in high-stakes tests) creates fear-driven students.  How can one learn if one is fearful?  Jo Boaler, in her post entitled, Mistakes Grow Your Brain (Boaler, 2015), states that

They (students) think (making errors) mean they are not a math person, because they have been brought up in a performance culture in which mistakes are not valued—or worse, they are punished. Mistakes-Quotes1[1]

In addition,

…Gabriele Steuer and her colleagues looked at the climate of math classrooms to consider the impact of “mistakes friendly” or “mistakes unfriendly” environments on students’ reactions to errors and the amount of effort they would put into classes. They found that when students perceived their classroom as mistakes friendly – above and beyond other aspects of their classrooms environment – they increased their effort in their work (Boaler, 2015).

Sir Ken Robinson on this TED talk

Sir Ken Robinson gives a well-known TEDtalk where he speaks of the support, or lack thereof, when students make mistakes.  Do they shut down because they are ridiculed, or do they learn because they are encouraged and go forward?

To create a mistakes-friendly learning environment sounds like a strategy for problem solving in any classroom.  Let’s consider gaming; it allows for many mistakes; when they occur, the player tries a different strategy to get to the next challenge.  If students are accustomed to moving on after a setback, why wouldn’t they apply that ability to their assignments at school?

For mathematics, game offerings become less obvious for the older the student, unless one considers the applied mathematics arena.  I decided to share some intriguing apps that might help in making a more appealing environment.  Following are two reviews of educational gaming software:

  1.  Kerbal Space Program  (KSP)

Here is a sample of the trial version of the program:

As you can see from this demo video, there is a learning curve associated to yield successful trips.  There is a paid-for version, which is much richer in content.  YouTube has numerous accounts of adventures of unique space ships built with this program.  Although KSP  does not have any built-in assessment content, I found a very detailed high school physics lesson by  here which is absolutely amazing.  I can only imagine the end products. The assessment portion is a “cash” reward based on the success of the groups’ missions.  This really is a learning feat and I hope that I can collaborate with our physics educator to put this into place.   It does require the full paid version and is supported by both Mac and Windows platforms.

The second game I reviewed is The Radix Endeavor, (which runs on both Windows and Mac) a program funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation  This software is free, and describes itself as a MMOG (massively multiplayer online game) with Science,  Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) topics for Middle and High School Curriculum:


Observe and Discover

Enter a world with biomes full of unique plants and creatures. Uncover new species, formulate questions and test hypotheses using scientific instruments.

Learn and Progress

Easily assign quests to students and track their progress to help develop and refine scientific and mathematical skills.

The program has received many accolades and seems to be self-contained as far as being a tool for use in the learning environment.  I started playing the game and am still awaiting the “OK” on the teacher version from the company before I’ll be able to check out the assessments content myself.  However, Graphite’s review of Radix is extremely favorable and explains more of the content than I was able to see.  There is also quite a bit of support on YouTube through both player and company-made  videos.

Actually, I did look at a third game.  Although I would not include World of Goo (Mac, Nintendo, Wii, Windows) as an option to supplement my curriculum, what I might consider doing is to use this app to reward students playing time for accomplishments in class.  The game is very endearing; I watched several videos on YouTube (as I didn’t want to pay the $20 for the download unless I thought it worthwhile) and had a really good time just being an observer.   Players need to be cognizant of all of the physical laws of our planet; otherwise, goo balls won’t get to where they need to be.  World of Goo focuses on one’s intuitive and developing intrinsic knowledge about science and is full of humor.  I can see this being a big hit during dismissal:

Considering the use of gaming in the classroom or gamification for part of the curriculum seems to be a way to approach my students in a way that makes sense to them and sneakily embeds at least part of my long check-list of things to cover for the year.  It also may assist them in building social and strategic skills necessary to be successful adults.  Finally, it will give them a safe environment to explore alternative paths when they make the wrong move.
 Nowadays most people die of a sort of creeping common sense, and discover when it is too late that the only things one never regrets are one’s mistakes.    -Oscar Wilde

Boaler, J. (2015). Mistakes Grow Your Brain. Retrieved December 1, 2015, from

Does Flipping Lead to Future Steps Forward…


or can flippedAnother Impact on the Environment of the Classroom Article

I fill the position of “math teacher” for high school-level students.  From my perspective, it feels as if the required amount of material increases every year.  The question becomes whether I can cram it all in to the allotted time (that seems to be getting shorter too, or maybe it’s my age) and whether all of my students are able to grasp the majority of the material thrown at them.

Those darn standardized tests!  I would rather have the chance to do some project-based learning any day, and I am sure that my students feel the same way.  How do I fulfill state requirements and, at the same time, the wish for me and my students to learn something while at school?  One of the ways in which my quandary can be answered is by considering a flipped classroom environment.  However, as with all options, there are pros and cons through which to wade.   In Dr. Jackie Gerstein’s post entitled, Flipped Classroom: The Full Picture for Higher Education (May 2012), she does an outstanding job of describing both positive and negative aspects of the flipped environment.  In addition, she provides quite a few resources to pour over.

Not having created a flipped lesson before, I gave it a try.  Since I  did not have a clue as to what the process was, I  downloaded a Lesson Plan from Shippensburg University..  If you click on the link provided above, you will find the following Word Documents.flipped classroom lesson plan

I thought they were quite helpful in keeping me to task.



The following is a plan for studying fractals, a topic that all of my students seem to enjoy, but which can be difficult to tie into the common core standards.  However, it seems an ideal topic to present just before a holiday break.

In this lesson,  I have used an original, narrated  PowerPoint, along with other resources from the web.   I decided to create it in a Blendspace digital format here:

An Introduction to Fractals

The process was interesting;  the result was OK.  What I noticed was that I would more than likely pull the same resources for my class when I post an assignment onto  our online gradebook.  However, it’s true that if the students chose not to hear my voice, they could mute it in the flipped version.

So, how would this process affect the climate of my students’ learning environment?.  I thought I should look at evidence from a student’s perspective:

After viewing this video, I realized some details which makes me hold firm to my resolve of balking at flipping.  The students shown in this video have nice homes and digital gadgets.  What happens if a student cannot afford these items (the same issue was addressed in my last post on BYOD) or a fast internet connection at home (many of the assignments include streaming videos, for example)?  I noticed that the video showed a student reaching for a laptop while at school, but unless the school provides take-home devices, these less fortunate individuals are left out.

The most positive point I saw in the video was that the lesson was always available, so those students who miss a class still get the information.  Again, this issue has not been a problem for my students.

I already view myself as more of a assistant, rather than an instructor.  When I present a topic to my students,  we toss it around to see if anyone has an idea of what is going on with it.  If no one has an idea, I review some information and ask if anyone sees an application to the new idea.  This can go one for quite some time.  The students may decide to use internet tools (videos, websites, etc.) in order to move forward.   Often, the students are able to teach themselves through this process.

In 2013, Shelley Wright, in an article in Ed Tech Magazine, wrote about her decision to “unflip” her flipped classroom.  In it, she spoke of her enthusiasm for the process, but realized that she and her students were moving away from the online lessons as they, as a team, moved more into a student-driven education mindset.  She has reiterated what I was trying to convey in this post, that perhaps the act of flipping a classroom can be seen as a step towards implementing project-based and, more importantly, student-based learning with the educator in the position of facilitator.


To B(YOD) or Not to B(YOD)

An Impact on the Environment of the Classroom Article

byod imageThat is the question….

My scenario starts like this:  My classroom has had close to a one-to-one ratio of tech to students.  Some of the equipment will need to be replaced.  The question is, do I maintain the status quo with desktops and a few floating laptops and iPads, or do I take the plunge and push for Bring Your Own Device (BYOD)?

After searching my resources for an answer to this question, it seems that this topic causes conflict among educators, administrators, tech support, and parents.  For example, in the post, 5 Reasons why BYOD is a bad idea for Schools,  appearing in the blog, Emerging Ed Tech, Kelly Walsh (2012) cites major reasons for rejecting BYOD

  Equipment Inequity, Tech Support, Bring Your Own Distraction, Internet content filtering, and“MBTY” (Mine is Better Than Yours) Syndrome.   

To determine if BYOD could even become a consideration, one has to inquire as to how personal devices could be utilized in a classroom.   Check out this YouTube video created by Jaymee Bohmer two months ago:

In Peter DeWitt’s (2012) post in Education Week, he asks the question, Are Schools Prepared to Let Students BYOT?  The article outlines a number of important questions that districts and individual schools must ask themselves before deciding to tackle such an undertaking.  They include safety issues, staff development, defining what is meant by BYOT (BYOD), and new policies which must be put into place.

The push for BYOD in the classroom started with vigor in 2012 (at least, that appears to be when most of the articles, either for or against, were written).  I contacted several bloggers regarding their updated opinion of the matter.  The following questions were posed:

  1. What type of technology do you feel best suits the middle- and high school students presently?  What types hardware are currently used?  This would pertain to laptops, desk tops, or BYODs.
  2. Is BYOD a consideration?  If yes, then how is the school dealing with different platforms involved?  If no, what are the issues at hand preventing this to be a consideration?
  3. How would you say that technology is supported by a) the educators  b) the students c) the administration d) the parents?

I received one response.  This was from Doug Johnson, Director of Technology for the Burnsville-Eagan-Savage (MN) Public Schools  whose post, BYOD and the School Supply List,  attracted my attention.  He wrote

 Since 2014, we found BYOD did not give us the results we wanted so have now moved to a true 1:1 initiative. Equity was a primary driver. 

As I was still looking for more first-hand experience, I sent these questions to two other professionals.  These individuals are not bloggers, but they have definitely explored this question.  The first, Gary Finkel, Director of Technology at Island Village Montessori (k-12) in Venice, Florida, sent back the following responses:

  1. Laptops, desktops and tablets
  2. No I would not consider BYOD as this may cause a security issue with the network.
  3. All systems are supported by an administrator. This ensures the network is secure and a safe environment for students and educators to work.

The third response I received was from Major Becky Morris, Assistant Head of School, Sarasota Military Preparatory School, Sarasota, Florida:

  1.  I think it is important to use technology that is accessible to students both at school and home.  This means using an online platform that is available on mobile devices as well as computers with hardware that supports Internet access.  It is important to have technology that is current and responsive.  Using old computers that are slow or unable to use updated software is pointless.For students, we use mostly hardwired desktop computers: 5 in each classroom, 50 in a media center, and 24 in each of 2 design labs.  Teachers also have their own desktop computer, iPad, and a large screen TV with Apple TV to display from computer or Apple device.  
  2. Right now at the middle school level, BYOD is not a current consideration.  We do not have the resources to allow for monitoring safe use of personal devices at this age level. 
  3. Technology is supported by teachers when they use it to provide an engaging learning experience where students can collaborate, create, and develop critical thinking skills; also when they use it to support their own professional development and learning. Students support the use of technology when they use it for communicating, collaborating, creating, researching, analyzing, and presenting what they’ve learned. (They also support its use when they remember their usernames and passwords! lol!)  Administrators support technology when they use it to analyze data, collaborate, evaluate, and communicate with parents, teachers, students, and the community.  They also show their support when they budget for adequate upgrades, model its use, and provide for professional development opportunities, training, and resources.  Parents support it’s use by staying up to date on what their children are doing online, communicating with teachers, and modeling appropriate use at homeI would say that the support of technology must start at the top.  If the administration does not set the example and provide for an adequate budget, time, and resources for teachers, students, and parents to best implement the technology, then it will be a struggle to create a positive culture that embraces its full potential and use.

I find it interesting that for Doug’s school district, at least some of the schools had considered BYOD, but changed to school-owned equipment district-wide so that equity would be reached.   As far as the other two individuals (one being an IT specialist at a charter school and another, an administrator at a military school), I personally know that they have had extensive experience in grappling with  technology issues.  All three came to the same conclusion:  that the schools at which they were involved would not support student-owned technology.

In spite of the difficulties involved, it would seem that BYOD may be here to stay,  however painful the startup.   According to Nick Morrison, contributor for Forbes, BYOD is the Next Revolution in School Tech  (2014).  There are still quite a lot of issues that need to be resolved before most school districts become comfortable (financially, legally, and employee-wise) with its implementation.

Due to the expense and risk involved at this time, I believe that for my suggested scenario, I would continue to encourage the use of school-owned tablets and iPads at this time and discontinue anything more cumbersome as the current equipment becomes antiquated.   Perhaps a re-evaluation at a later date will reveal that many of the problems previously associated with BYOD have been resolved.

(This post originally appeared in on November 18, 2015.)