Next Steps


During the last six weeks, I have learned a lot about instructional technology and digital media. As I reflect back on where I started and all that I have read, planned, questioned, discovered and commented on, I feel as though I have started to gain the expertise necessary to support my students as they navigate, and become contributors in, the digital world.  Now, armed  with new knowledge such as the evolved definition of literacy, frameworks like TPACK and  Online Research & Media Skills (ORMS), practical applications like my own blog, Network Learning Project, multimodal tutorial, personal video and membership to platforms like Google+, Wikispaces and Twitter, I feel as though I am ready to change the way I ask students to learn.  I have come to a deeper understanding about how we learn and I have decided that there is a sense of urgency that every educator should feel about equipping their students.

Next Steps:

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Although the idea of including digital literacy skills into learning experiences is, in no way a new idea, I feel as though one of the next steps is for every teacher to be trained and equipped to lead students. Oftentimes, teachers are “encouraged” to have a digital presence, but what does that really mean? What does it look like in their personal lives?  In their  classrooms? To someone who has never used a personal blog or published their work online, the idea of having a “digital presence” can be very daunting. What I have learned is that becoming an authentic part of this world takes work; it takes support and persistence and most of all–it takes TIME. Teachers need to be able to collaborate with other educators to shared successful tools and strategies. Most importantly, however, teachers must be reflective about their practice and know that if they are not receiving adequate professional development, then they must be proactive in extending their own personal learning networks to include resources that will help them to grow and develop.

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In addition to professional development, I have thought a lot about infrastructure.  Greenhow et al (2009) discussed the need for accessibility and Leu et al, in “Expanding the New Literacies Conversation,” examined equity.  I believe that we also have to take a step back and look at infrastructure.  Are our buildings equipped for digital learning?  Are networks reliable and secure?  Are students able to connect and access information when they need it?  Can teachers plan lessons where the Internet is the main text and have confidence that they will be able to access their plans when in their classrooms?  Although one might assume that within our world of instant connectivity, the answer to those question must be yes, but in many cases, we are still struggling with having solid infrastructure to support our important work.
As I continue on in this program, I hope to vastly extend my possibilities of technology within my classroom.  As Greenhow et al (2009) articulated, “digital literacy includes knowing how and when to use which technology and knowing which forms and functions are most appropriate for one’s purposes.”  In the same way that I feel intuitive with using pedagogical strategies in my classroom, I would like to get to the point where I can say the same for integrating technology.


Network Learning Project: Final Results

Goal:  Engage in research to gain skills and knowledge of cake decorating; engage in an authentic learning experience to explore/discuss the facets of internet inquiry.

Attempt # 1


New Learning about:

Internet Inquiry Cake Decorating
When dealing with a popular topic, the sheer amount of information available can be overwhelming, so it’s important to read around a bit.  Hear who the dominant voices are on the subject and what they are saying. I found that Craftsy kept surfacing, so I read quite a bit and bookmarked pages that I thought I might want to consult in the future.  I also realized that Wilton came up quite a bit.
Work on articulating exactly what the initial focus should be and then build from there by identifying “next steps.” Continue research according to identified “steps.” I decided that I needed to first learn about tools necessary for decorating.  I consulted many websites and learned about the basic essentials. Then, I turned my attention to learning about types of frosting.  See NLP 1 for more details.
Since inquiry is about gaining knowledge and skills, this is the time to begin consulting the experts in the field to learn from their techniques and advice.  Sources might include YouTube videos, blogs, comments on blogs and conversations with others who are knowledgeable on the subject.  Essentially, this begins an extension of one’s Personal Learning Network to support new learning. I spent a considerable amount of time viewing videos and learning the terminology of the field.  As outlined in NLP 2, I learned about different types of tips and designs.  It was also great to watch how experts achieved perfection in their work and I paid close attention to any advice offered.
After watching the experts and taking note of their advice, examples, encouragement, successes and even failures, it’s time to try. At this point, it’s important to create a plan, so that the learner has a sense of the overall process. I made my first attempt at decorating.  While I was pleased with the results, I realized that I had much more to learn.  NLP 3 outlines my entire trial process.

Attempt  # 2


After the first practice, it’s important to take a moment, step back and reflect on what happened.  Some questions to consider include:  What did I learn about my process?  What did learn about myself?  What went well?  What challenges did I face? How will I navigate those challenges in future attempts?  At this point, what additional information is needed? I spent time reflecting on the questions outlined in column 1 and took notes about what I would like to do in the future.  My main goal was to begin to refine my skills and extend my repertoire.  As outlined in NLP 4, I asked the following questions:

1. How do I avoid having my cake stick to the turntable while adding layers of buttercream?

2. When layering buttercream, how much should I apply?  Is there such a thing as too much buttercream?

3. Should I allow time in between the first layer of buttercream and subsequent layers? I then went and found answers to my questions.

With new and extended information gained, it’s time to try again. This time, the plan should be more detailed and reflective of the learner–not as a novice–but as someone who is knowledgeable and on their way to becoming a contributor. I created a plan for my final decorating project and challenged myself with: creating multiple layers, make a homemade peaches and cream filling and include rosettes.

Attempt # 3IMG_0025

Cake collage

As I went through my final attempt for this project, I was reminded that I am still learning.  I found that I took some liberties with suggested recipes and then added comments to blogs about what I tried.  It felt empowering. I am also becoming partial to certain ingredients and learning new techniques.

What I can say for sure is that learning is a continual process and I am leaving this project thinking about time limits that are often set for classroom inquiry.  Realistically, we do  have time limits, but the key is to inspire learning to extend beyond the classroom so that students consciously use what they learn in our classes as lenses to see themselves and their world.  It begins with choice and passion and it continues with rich resources, experts, time to try and fail and try again, and it never ends.  I am already planning my next cake.

NLP: Final Update

For this update, I have outlined a plan for my final decorating project and shared some ideas of what my final piece will hopefully look like.  Although I know that I still have quite a bit to learn, I feel as though my research has helped me to learn the basics.  Therefore, from here on out, I will continue to practice, refine and extend my skills.  As an example of my attempt to extend, I will be including rosettes on this cake, a decorative element that I have not used before.

Since my husband and I will be celebrating our 13th wedding anniversary on August 10, 2015, I think that it will be the perfect opportunity to culminate all of my learning into a beautiful cake. Our original wedding cake was a 4 tier, peaches and cream cake.  For this project, I will not attempt  to replicate that cake, but I will maintain the same flavors and filling.

wed cake

Plan for Anniversary Cake:

Layers: 2

Flavor: Vanilla

Frosting:  Buttercream (See recipe below)

Layers:  Peaches and cream

Design:  The overall design of my cake will be in buttercream rosettes.  In addition to the videos listed in my other posts, I have also consulted the tutorial video below to help me achieve this design element.

Now that I have a plan for my big project, I am ready to begin.  Wish me luck!

NLP Update 4 (Tools, Types, Tutorials, Technique, Trial and Take 2)

At this point in my learning experience, I am working on refining my technique and extending my cake decorating repertoire to include more detail and variety.  During my initial trial, I realized just how difficult it was to achieve perfection quickly. Therefore, my strategy for continuing to learn is to create specific questions  and then engage in research to find answers.

In this case, my most pervasive challenge was with spreading buttercream easily and consistently.  Luckily, I had purchased what turned out the be the two most important tools: a turntable and spreading spatula. Although it was challenging, I felt as though these tools made it possible.  5

After my trial, I embarked on further research–but this time, with very specific questions.  Below are three questions and answers/suggestions that I found:

1. How do I avoid having my cake stick to the turntable while adding layers of buttercream?

Here’s what I found: The best way to avoid having the cake stick to the turntable is to place a large piece of parchment paper on the turntable itself.  This parchment paper will prevent sticking.  There is some caution against using wax paper. This site provides further information.

2. When layering buttercream, how much should I apply?  Is there such a thing as too much buttercream?

8Here’s what I found:  For a 12 inch round pan that is 2 inches deep, I need to prepare approximately 6 cups of buttercream.  During my trial, I only prepared 2 cups, which is why I had to spread the cream a little less generously that I would have liked to.  A really comprehensive resource for amounts of batter, icing, bake time, etc. can be found in this Baking and Serving Guide.

3. Should I allow time in between the first layer of buttercream and subsequent layers?

Here’s what I found: After applying the initial layer of buttercream, I should allow the cake to cool in the refrigerator for approximately 30 minutes.  This will allow the icing to set and the cake will be ready for a second layer.

Aside:  the most exciting bit of information that I learned while pursuing the answer to my question is a bit of terminology that I had not heard before and it is “crumb coat.”  This is the first layer of frosting that is not necessarily smooth and perfect, but its function is to seal in all of the crumbs.  Once all the crumbs are in place, the real decorating task begins. After reading about this crumb coat application, I realize that it is what I missed during my initial trial.


So, while I feel as though my first attempt was successful, I know that I have a long way to go before I can call myself an expert in cake decorating.  As with any new learning, the more I articulate my questions  and pursue answers, the deeper and more layered my understanding becomes.  

What’s next?  Preparing for my next baking and decorating experience.

Online Content Construction: A Necessary Inclusion

One of the most important realizations that I have had recently has been that the definition of what it means to be illiterate person has been redefined. As an educator of adolescent learners, it is imperative that I take into consideration what this means for my classroom, particularly within the area of online content construction.  At the start of each school year, I am briefed on students who have been labeled as “struggling” and throughout the year, I work to find ways to help all students, but those students in particular, gain skills and strategies that would allow them to be deemed competent and literate. With a new understanding of what it means to be a literate individual, I feel as though I might be able to expand my units to allow for multimodal content creation.   This inclusion would provide opportunities for students who might not be proficient in traditional literacy skills (O’Brien, 2001), but talented in digital literacies, to accurately represent their knowledge.

Below is my Application of The Instructional Model  as outlined  in O’Byrne’s Online Content Construction: Empowering Students as Readers and Writers of Online Information (2012)

Phase 1:

While reading Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keys, students spend time in collaborative groups research the history of experimentation in the United States.  Their shared texts are Flowers of Algernon and Awakenings. While engaging in their online inquiry, they may choose additional texts like,  “Unequal Treatment” by Harriet Washington, “Ugly Past of U.S. Human Experiments Uncovered” by Mike Stobbe, “A Justification of Human Experimentation” Sheldon F. Gottlieb (JSTOR), as well as various images.

As they gather relevant information about experimentation, students examine the information and their sources. They ask questions about publication, date, publisher, credibility, audience, motivation for providing information and relevancy to their own inquiry purpose.

After critically examining their sources, students spend time deciding what they would like to convey and how best they might represent their knowledge of experimentation.  As suggested by O’Byrne (2012), students create a “mock-up” of their product on paper to allow for discussion, organization and revision.

For the purposes of my classroom, this is the time when I have conversations about contribution.  I introduce students to possible forms that they might be able to use to create and communicate their content.  Discussions might include advantages and limitations of various forms.  I also suggest that if students know how to use a certain tool, they may choose to work with that one.

Phase 2:

After each group or individual has decided how to represent their learning about the history of human experimentation in the United States, they embark on the creation journey where they use tools available to create their content. These are dedicated workdays with computers, conversations, adjustments, re-directions, questions and answers.

Possible Forms: Blogs, Interactive timelines, websites, songs, recorded conversations between “characters” and/or prominent figures who fought for/against human experimentation, Remix of images, letters to current authors and much more.

Note: Prior to, and during, Phase 2, I facilitate discussions and exploration about using content responsibly.  As I am learning during my own work, there are ways to locate images and other content that are not restricted by copyright laws.

Throughout this phase, I circulate from one group/individual to another and provide support and advice.  As the facilitator, I make suggestions about specific programs that students can use to create their content.  For example, since I have used MindMaps for my own purposes, I feel comfortable suggesting it as a possible form.

As an aside here, I acknowledge that it is very important for me to continue to learn about new programs that are available and take the time to use them on my own so that I am able to introduce them to students.  For example, I do not believe that I would be able to teach students how to create and publish blogs if I were not blogging myself.

Phase 3

In this final phase of the instructional model, students spend time polishing their work and then, with my help, explore how their work compares to other experts on the subject. We ask questions about how their work extends the view of human experimentation in the United States.  Then, they publish. Since reflection plays a large role in this phase, students spend time considering what they learned about the history of human experimentation in the United States, make assumptions about the role that history played in Key’s Flowers for Algernon and how the new information extends their view of the text/film.  They also reflect on how they represented their understanding and on their thoughts about being contributors.

Multimodal Tutorial for


At the start of each school year, I spend time introducing my students to, a program that I use to allow students to upload and submit their work. In addition to being a plagiarism checker, the program itself has some interesting features, including commenting, checking for grammar/usage and peer revision. There is also a way to link common core rubrics to an assignment for assessment purposes. Although I have dabbled in using most of its features, I would have to say that within the context of my classroom, serves two primary purposes: it is a plagiarism checker and a database for storing student papers.

I am pretty excited about this multimodal tutorial because it is definitely something that I will use during the first week of school.  In it,  I teach students how to create a new account and upload an assignment. My primary audience is ninth graders who are new to

Multimodal Tutorial for