About Me

After 23 years as a high school social studies teacher, I have taken a leap into library media.
This blog chronicles my experiences making this transition and my learning in that process.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

How might we... engage in Gatsby?

I am preparing to embark on a new collaborations with a colleague in the English department. It will be a unit-long project-based exercise so we will work together for about four weeks. I have tested the methodology on a small scale with a social studies teacher while helping to introduce a project-based assessment. While extended collaboration between a library media specialist and a discipline teacher is not uncommon, in my experience it generally happens around research units, so it is exciting to be co-facilitating in a new capacity!

In English
For the English unit, the class will be reading The Great Gatsby. The teacher's literary priorities are for the students to explore:
  • private vs. public theme
  • unreliability of the narrator
  • the malleable nature of memory
  • conscious and unconscious creation of self
Because this is not an inter- or trans-disciplinary curriculum or course, the English teacher as invited a history teacher to direct a couple of lessons at the beginning of the unit to contextualize Fitzgerald and the novel.

With these teachers serving as the discipline or content experts, my role is to guide the students through the creation of a project in which they explore the intersection of the literary themes and history. In order to maximize student ownership of the project design, I am returning to the lessons of the Innovator Academy and introducing the students to  the "How might me...?" questions. This stem is the gateway to diverse and powerful ways of understanding and beginning to solve a problem. By viewing the communication of their insights as a problem to be solved, "how might we..." will push students to harness their strengths and talents as creators in order to tap into nuances of the text and its resonance across decades.

For example, there are so many possibilities for what a student could do in response to this question: "How might we expose the layers of self that Jay Gatz created?" This question could be asked in other ways such as, "How might we explain Jay Gatz’s compulsion to be someone else?" A student who chooses to turn his/her focus to the narration of the novel could ask: "How might we compensate for Nick’s unreliability as a narrator?" Students will have agency over the question that guides their inquiry and determines what they create.

Also important is that the question can be completed in so many ways for students to access any of the literary elements and rhetorical devices they will be studying. Consider these uses of "how might we..."
  • Amp up the good (Doesn’t Nick grow?)
  • Remove the bad (We are onto Nick, so it is OK)
  • Question assumptions (Who says he is unreliable?)
  • Use unexpected resources (Are there other characters offering their versions of events?)
  • Challenge the status quo (It’s not the narrator’s job to relate to us)
  • Address PoV (Would Jordan tell the story better? Which character barely speaks and how can we give him/her voice?)
  • Go after adjectives (like “unreliable;” maybe he is uninformed or naive?)
  • Play against the challenge (If Fitzgerald wanted us to compensate for Nick, he would have written a different narrator)
  • Explore opposites (How might we remove the need for a narrator?)
  • Employ analogies (Nick, as a narrator, is like, chocolate as a…)

Once each student chooses the How Might We problem s/he wants to pursue, we will provide brainstorming tools to help them explore the possible solutions. (Crazy 8’s is one example of a tool or protocol).

Students will partner with critical friends in the class and discuss the merits of each idea and choose the one they will prototype and ultimately create.

In Social Studies
With the students in 9th grade World History, I introduced "How might we..." in a very different context. This is a class of 55 students divided into two sections. Each section must work as a unit for this project. Here are the questions the teacher has outlined for the students:
  • What is progress?  (craft a definition of what progress means for a society)
  • Examine the 14th-17th century in Western Europe and determine if (and if so how) the Renaissance and Protestant Reformation were a time of progress.
  • Conclusion:  Why does this matter?  What drives progress?  What keeps society from progressing, perfection of institutions or individual challenge of institutions?

The only other criteria is that they may not deliver an oral presentation. Each section must devise a way to convince the other section of their thesis without a formal debate or stand-and-deliver talk. That's where "How might we..." comes in.

I guided the students through an exercise to determine the best means of conveying their argument and evidence beginning with: how might we best convey our findings and conclusion without talking directly to the other group? Exploring this prompt required them to consider the scope of their findings and the various media they contain. It also necessitated understanding their audience and the mode or modes of delivery most likely to sustain their interest and be accessible to all of them.

Let's say that one group decided what is most important is for the other group hear the music, public debates, and other sounds happening during these centuries. They could produce a podcast or radio show. They could create a music video by quoting and re-contextualizing music and words of the era. Lots of possibilities if they start to think aurally.

Maybe the other group decided what is important is touch. You have to hold the artifacts in your hand to understand how they worked and why they matter. They will be very busy in The Garage (our makerspace) then!

Sight can be the students' default mode. In this instance maybe they will decide to curate a museum exhibit using Google Arts and Culture. Or create a virtual reality simulation using a our 360 degree camera to take a photo or video of a scene or scenes they create. Or a living scavenger hunt where they find class members dressed in period costumes. Given how image rich these centuries were, yet another possibility is that they might build a mosaic using many images to combine and form a dominant image which they can then annotate.

What's really exciting to me, is that these students are owning the means by which they explore the content and by which they convey their learning. When their creative thinking and varied skill sets and experiences combine for this exercise I am confident the results will be amazing.

More, soon...

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Hacking Assessments with AR: a podcast interview

One of my students (Ben) and I recently chatted with David Hotler (@dhotler) about the extraordinary work Ben is doing in his independent study as a member of our student help desk team. Our conversation was a follow up to a blog post I wrote about Ben's exploration of virtual reality and his application of his learning to his classroom assessment.

You can listen to the edtechteam podcast via David's blog. Updates on Ben's work will be on-going. He has completed his math project in Metaverse and below is a video in which he reflects on what he learned:

Ben is now in the planning stages for an English project. After that he plans to tackle to periodic table. Stay tuned... more soon! 

Monday, April 2, 2018

The Social Media Infused Classroom: Mediated Messages 2.0

I have written a few times about my experiences as a member of the Certified Google Innovator #SWE17 cohort and the ongoing learning as part of #GoogleEI . The focus of my application to the Innovator Academy (and the ongoing thread of my work with students and my colleagues) is the development of media literacy. The importance of media literacy can not be understated. Nor can the value of social media as a teaching, learning, and publishing tool.

In the latest iteration of my Innovator project, Mediated Messages, I have added a section on lesson ideas and launched a Facebook group for building a collaborative community dedicated to expanding our capacities for media literacy instruction. Social media is a multi-faceted education tool; it can be used for personalizing instruction, as a research resource, to foster global engagement, and to provide authentic digital citizenship practice. Here are examples of it being used or practiced in each of these contexts.

For Personalizing
In this previous blog post I wrote about my collaboration with an English teacher creating The Selfie Project. Ultimately, as a corollary to their study of Transcendentalism, the students used the makerspace to create 3D representations of self (we called it, "Yourself, in tangible relief"). The project started with an examination of all of the ways a student's identity can be explored, including through playlists, social media, school pictures, the contents of their bedrooms, and their school data. The lesson steps are here and this is a gallery of pictures of the students and their work

For Research
Understanding "Journalistic Truth" and the impact of digital media on our sources of information is essential to student development of savvy research skills. The journalistic truth slides outline a two-period lesson I co-delivered with an English teacher to the students in the non-fiction writing class.

Finding experts and research or non-profit foundations on social media is another excellent way for students to collect valuable insight and potential interview subjects to inform their inquiry.

For Global Engagement
An educator with a global PLN has the resources to connect students with adults and other students around the world for a sharing of culture and point-of-view. Exposure and interaction builds empathy and collaboration. My favorite experience using social media as a teaching tool happened when I was a social studies teacher working with a group of American Studies students. We were studying the cold war and I happened to have a Tweep who is an educator living in eastern Germany. She joined my class for a twitter chat about life in eastern Germany behind the wall and after the wall came down. We were scheduled to chat for 30 minutes and ended up chatting for the entirety of a 70 minute block period. During that time a few of her teacher colleagues joined the conversation as did her daughter who was a student at university. Now my students had both adults and a peer with whom to share perspectives. Several of my students and Ines' daughter began following each other on Instagram, too. The conversation began as a discussion of cold war life and evolved into a discussion of how do we each learn about the other. It was a rich exchange that far exceeded my expectations when Ines and I were planning it!

Teachers at my school haven't yet warmed to Twitter but they are enjoying Flipgrid in closed, classroom-based exercises. Expanding their grids to include participation outside of our school will be a first step building PLNs.

As anyone in the Google Innovator program knows, my cohort, my coach, and my mentor are unparalleled in their support of my work and the counsel they provide. And it's all happening via social media and Google Hangouts.

For Digital Citizenship Practice
I have an on-going collaboration with the teacher of our school's Digital Literacy course. Together we have launched a class Twitter account that the students use to post reflections on lessons and units and provide insights and guidance about good habits of online conduct. To launch this account we had students use Canva to design channel art. We loaded each of their submissions into a Google Form which we pushed to them in Classroom. Students then voted for their favorite design and that was uploaded to Twitter. Then I taught a brief lesson on Hashtags & the Anatomy of a Tweet. The conclusion of the lesson was each student drafting what the first class tweet should be. Again, we shared the submissions with the class and they chose which would be used as our introduction to the Twitterverse.

Social Media Think Tank for your students is another way to engage them with social media in the context of your course material; here is an elevator pitch you can use with your students.

And that's not all!
My interest in educational use of social media preceded my acceptance into the Innovator Program and new opportunities to continue my learning in this realm have emerged because of the connections I made there. Here are some of the other irons I have in the fire at the moment:

At ISTE18 I will be co-presenting on using social media in the college search and application processes. From building a brand to researching schools to writing the college essay, there are so many ways students can powerfully use social media.

Public libraries in my area are interested in hosting seminars about media savvy and I have a couple happening this month.

My book is about to be released! I co-authored News Literacy: the keys to combating fake news with my friend and fellow librarian, Michelle Luhtala. It will hit the stands in May 2018! I am very excited about the companion video workshops that are being released in conjunction with the book. Those lessons include outreach into social media communities so that the learning is ongoing.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

If it isn't personalized, can it really be inquiry?

When given the opportunity to write a research paper about any topic that interests them, many students become overwhelmed by the task of deciding what to research. Many librarians recommendation is to survey topic collections in the databases and pick something interesting. I say this because a member of our state's librarian listserv asked for suggestions about getting started with topic selection and I was the only participant who didn't recommend the databases. Maybe this is because I am new to librarianship. But I just don't start there. Ever.

When out to dinner with a group of people from librarian world while attending the AASL conference back in November, an interesting question arose that none of us could answer. Several people grabbed their phones to start searching for the information and I offhandedly commented that I was fairly certain none of them were searching their databases. And they weren't.

Databases are fabulous resources. Access to them is not universal or forever. And, until a student knows how to manipulate a search, databases are horribly impersonal and sterile. Students should learn how useful databases are and how to use them well, but unless they are a future librarian, starting there is a big turnoff. If we want students to enthusiastically -- or at least willingly -- engage in the hard work that is research then we need to meet them where they are, embrace it, and use it to hook them. This isn't pandering; it's personalizing.

Start with their playlists, their favorite books, their video streams, their social media feeds. Look for the threads that show possible lines of inquiry. Whom do they follow who isn't an actual acquaintance? Why do they follow? What about that person, group, or organization intrigues them? Choose a topic or idea. It will be broad. Too big for a typical research project, and now we start to narrow it.

To give them practice I choose a current event with long roots for them to work as a class to narrow. Recently, I used "protest movements" and I explain how recent protests have captured my attention and in some I have been a participant so I am using my experiences as an opportunity to select a topic. The class divides into four groups. I then do a Google image search for protest movements and ask them to just look at the images and, by themselves, consider what looks familiar and what is new. While they are looking and thinking, I give each group a large piece of chart paper or a white board. Across the top I have written one of these categories: events and issues, time periods and dates, people and organizations, places and landmarks. I give them 90 seconds to work as a group and list as much as they can about protest movements that fits the category they have been assigned. At the end of 90 minutes, they put their markers down and rotate. Same group, new topic, 90 seconds on the clock, GO! We do this until each group works on brainstorming for each category.

When they finish -- which means they return to their original table -- they compile all of the ideas on the chart paper into a Google Doc that looks like this:
Then I highlight looking for threads. In this example the thread I was using was "students" and this large topic allows for many different threads. In fact, in one class they realized that even if every student in the class started with protest movements as their original topic, once they narrowed their focus, they would still be researching 25 discrete topics. I wouldn't suggest dictating to a class that they all research about protest movements because it removes student agency from the process and therefore undermines personalization. That being said, I do work with teachers who do assign the umbrella topic.

The thread provides the first narrowing of the topic. From "protest movements" we derived a more focused topic: How schools and colleges responded to student activism in the 1960s. Then we examined that topic for points that were still general and the students were able to ask questions such as: Activism about what? And, which schools? So our final topic became:

This exercise was just the model. We completed the exercise as a class in about 25 minutes. That meant they had another 25 minutes to try this protocol with their proposed topics so I provided them an organizer in a Google Doc pushed to them through Classroom.

As they worked, the classroom teacher and I circulated helping them expand their thinking and answering questions about the images that emerged from their Google search. Ten minutes into working, I stopped the class to share my observations. I told them that I noticed some students were plowing through lists and generating lots of ideas to consider. Other students were stuck, their organizers mostly blank. I hypothesized for them that the reason some were blank was because they weren't really interested in the topic, and that if that was the case, this research paper was going to be a painful experience. Some of them snickered and nodded in ascent. I told them now was the time to choose something that really mattered and that if they really didn't have any ideas they should take out their phones, get on Instagram, and raise their hand so one of us could chat with them. And they got back to work.

By the end of class, each student had chosen a topic -- each student had agency over that topic and how it was focused. Real inquiry can now happen because they will be exploring something that matters to them, not something a teacher told them matters. This week, among other things, we will work on generating a research question, another element of personalizing the research process, so that each student is seeking the insight s/he craves about his/her unique topic. They do this by listing everything they think they know about their topic and then turn each of those statements into a question. For example:

What I already think I know:
Phrased as a question:
Upheaval on college campuses during Vietnam War
How did universities respond to student activism?
Do universities tolerate student activism?
Did students organize across universities?
Did employers hold students’ activism against them?

It is key that they be coached to ask authentic questions, not questions that lead to a predetermined answer. In other words, stay open to ideas and avoid seeking bias confirmation. As they turn what they think they know into questions, they begin to realize two things: 1) they may not be sure about everything they think (or not know as much as they think they do), and 2) some of their questions will be easily answered (closed) and others are open to interpretation (open). They can then group closed questions with the open questions they help to answer. They are starting to organize their thinking and plot a line of inquiry. Of course they will revise and update this plan as they go, but with a starting point and a plan they can be more purposeful in their searching.

Finally, we get to the databases! We will also learn how to search Google like a database by using advanced search and how to search social media for field experts.

Thanks for reading. If you have other strategies and tips for personalizing inquiry I would love to hear them!

Friday, March 16, 2018

An off-Broadway lesson on personalization: the selfie project

Back in December I saw “In and Of Itself,” the one-man show by Derek Delgaudio off-Broadway in New York City. I was utterly awed by this show, both the concept and the performance. Perhaps you have seen, on social media, images of Neil Patrick Harris, the show’s producer, holding a small card that proclaims “I AM an individual.” The whole show, all of the stories and the magic, evolve from and respond to the individuals in the audience. All audience members, as they enter the theater, select a card that they decide defines them. My chosen card said “I AM an innovator” because I had recently returned from the Google Innovator Academy in Stockholm, Sweden. At the end of the show, Delgaudio jokes that some people may have snarkily chosen their card seeking to be something funny, like a ninja, while others may have chosen a card that is something they aspire to be, and still others a card that proclaims who or what they are. Regardless, he reminds us, each member of the audience selected a card for personal reasons that the rest of us would never know.

You might be wondering what does this has to do with libraries or school or teaching. My answer is: Everything. If Delgaudio can personalize a 75-minute long show in response to an audience of 200 or so strangers (give or take for the smattering of celebrities who attend the shows), then we can personalize our instruction for the 25 or so students in our classes whom we see daily and know by name. Whose data we review and analyze. Who spend more waking hours of their day in shared space with us than with anyone else close to them in their lives. At the end of the day, we want them to have conversations like this:

LEE: Hi!!! It’s been awhile! How are you? I just wanted to text you to see your thoughts on Derek Delgaudio’s show! As you may remember I’m a magician, and Derek is actually a friend of mine, he was my counselor for years at camp. I’m seeing his show again next week.

ME: Get out of town! I thought the show was amazing. We talked about it all night and for days
afterwards. It still comes up periodically in conversation and certainly resonates with me with things I read as you can see from my posts on Facebook. What a privilege for you to study with him! And of course I remember you are a magician, I could never forget!

LEE: Haha I’m so happy to hear you love it, I think it was a phenomenal show magic wise and theater wise. The ending was beyond beautiful, and I think the last moment of the show is jaw dropping. It’s so cool how the show extends out of itself too, with the brick leaving the theater, and having someone come to the next show, that’s just genius

ME: Yes, on all counts! I just love that I am constantly reminded in my daily interactions from having seen that show that everybody I encounter is more and different than what I think they are upon first glance or even if I have known them for a very long time.

LEE: I love that you got that out of the show, magicians just can’t normally give an audience a good message besides “haha I fooled you”....

LEE: What “I am” card did you choose?

ME: I chose innovator. I don't know if you know, but I was accepted into the Google innovator Academy and went to Stockholm to study this past October. And then when he asked people to stand if what they chose is how they see themselves, I stayed in my seat because I decided that being a Google innovator is a label someone else has given me and I am still aspiring to deserve it…. When you see him can you tell him that an aspiring innovator who is also a high school librarian in Connecticut is still thinking about the messages of his show and will for quite some time into the future.

LEE: Of course I heard! Congratulations! And I’m rly interested in that way of thinking. Of course I’ll tell him for you! ...

This is the transcript of a Facebook messenger chat I had with a former student who saw my social media post about seeing the show. Parts of the chat have been removed to prevent show spoilers, but the spirit of the chat is in tact. I have included this chat, with Lee’s permission, because it shows a teacher-student relationship outside of the classroom and because the interaction was made possible by a social media connection. Lee and I first shared a classroom, classmates, and a curriculum. Now we safely and respectfully share a digital space.

This dialogue with Lee helped me articulate for myself the ironically simple lessons I have taken from Delgaudio’s performance and translate those lessons into teaching and librarianship. What follows is an exploration of a way I am collaborating with a teacher of AP English to apply these lessons to the students’ examination of Transcendentalism. First, the lessons (in no particular order):

Lesson 1: Be authentic. Share stories from your life so that your collaborators (students and teachers) understand your backstory. It is impossible to develop empathy otherwise.

Lesson 2: Acknowledge, then disregard, your preconceptions. We all have them and they limit how well we can understand each other.

Lesson 3: Magic inspires awe. Embrace wonderment. It leads to questioning, theorizing, teamwork, and problem solving. It may not lead to “right” answers, and it doesn’t have to.

Lesson 4: Timing is everything! Capitalize on the moment. Know where the students are and meet them there. Don’t wait for them to come to you.

My co-teacher in this exercise is a highly-regarded veteran educator. Her background in the pop culture publishing world helps her bring an edge to her curriculum application that students appreciate. We have only known each other for six months. While she has invited me to teach lessons in one of her classes, we have just begun to transition from me as guest teacher to us as co-teachers. And this is the first time she has opened her high stakes, AP class to working with me. Transcendentalism is perfect content fodder for applying the four lessons.

The students will read and unpack Emerson and Thoreau’s consideration of self. The students are discussing the musings of two men who, more than 150 years ago, dedicated themselves to understanding the nature of intellect, the connections between humans, and what it means to be self-actualized. Needless to say, this is a stretch for 17 year olds. Thoreau, at least, disconnected himself from organized society to get in touch with himself and the natural world. Disconnect is not something digital teens do often or willingly. But portrayals of self are something they do constantly. So selfies and snapchats are our authentic route by which to bring transcendental thinking to the digital teen.

With fidelity to the TPACK model of educator collaboration, the English teacher will guide the students through a viewing of Into the Wild and an application of Emerson and Thoreau to Chris McCandless. They will also be reading the article from the May 21, 2009 New York Times called “The Case for Working with Your Hands”. As colleague says, working with your hands is “a very Thoreauvian thing to do.” This means the students are coming to work in the makerspace!

We are starting with a consideration of the art of portraiture and these guiding questions:
How do artists and photographers capture the essence of a person?
Has the artist captured not the person but whom we want the person to be?
Or, do we not matter and the artist portrays the subject as the artist wants the subject to be seen?
Students will apply these questions to various portraits and self-portraits including Arnold Newman’s iconic photograph of Alfried Krupp, Annie Liebowitz photographs of Patti Smith and both a Frida Kahlo self-portrait and a still from the movie starring Selma Hayek in which the painting of that self-portrait is portrayed. Artists have been making selfies for centuries; these are the ones we selected because the content of each will likely resonate with our students (Lessons 1 and 4).

Now we will turn the students to examine different conscious and unconscious ways they are portrayed and in the interest of time, the introspection and artifact collection that must occur in preparation for the final project will be facilitated through a series of shortscreen casts, thus flipping the classroom and allowing for private reflection on the nature of self. For each type of portrayal we will both share a piece of our own story (Lesson 1). We will start with student data. Between Naviance, PowerSchool, and College Board, there is lots of data that is compiled to tell a story of each of these students -- both as individuals and as part of an aggregate. They will collate their data and decide, “If all we know about you is your data… who are you?” (Lesson 2)

Next we will turn to their playlists and ask them to consider what do their video and music preferences say about them? “If all we know about you is your playlists… who are you?” Related to their playlists is the constructed reality of their social media self-portraits. After they review what they think are their important posts on a variety of platforms, they will decide: “When you post on social media, what narrative of your life or yourself are you creating?” (Lesson 4)

Next, we will turn to the tangible. Students will inventory their bedrooms making a list of what they find there and respond to this question: “If all we know about you is the contents of this space… who lives there?” Finally, we want them to collect their school pictures, arrange them from youngest to oldest, and when they see them in sequence consider what story they tell (Lesson 1).

Have you noticed an absence of Lesson 3? Here it comes!

Now the students are ready to get Thoreauvian. It is time for them to unpack themselves. Using all the information about themselves that they have curated: their data, their playlists, their social media, the artifacts in their rooms, and their school pictures, they are going to answer these questions:

What do you:
Hope? Fear? Believe? Desire? Wonder? Deny? Aspire? Want? Plan? Anticipate? Avoid? Regret?

Each response must include evidence from their curated information and artifacts.

And now it is time to create! The class will visit the makerspace to create a selfie, a tangible representation of all that it means to be them. They can use light and sound, texture, mixed media, positive and negative space, and all the possibilities of their imagination (Lesson 3). They might compose and shoot their own photographic portrait, or create a mixed media representation of themselves, or build a sculpture, or something else we can’t anticipate. In other words, your self, in tangible relief. It will be magical and they will appreciate that there is so much more to them and each other than can possibly fit on one card.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Hacking Assessments with Augmented Reality

In my new role I am overseeing the students enrolled in our help desk course. I am in the process of invigorating a program that has been languishing. To do this, the I returned to the core of what the program is supposed to be or supposed to accomplish: independent learning by students and service to the community. Each student has identified a problem, of sorts, that they want to solve, they are working through design thinking protocols to develop and prototype solutions as well as identifying areas of new learning for themselves in order to implement the solution.

Two students have partnered to help revamp our freshmen orientation and new student transition programs by creating a 3D virtual tour of our school.

One student is investigating high levels of stress in shelter animals and plans to use our makerspace to create toys and other tools for donating to local shelters.

Another student is responding to teacher frustrations with our current program for reporting grades by building a grade book as a Google add-on.

Yet another student is hacking assessment.

He decided that the problem he experiences impacts his classmates as well, and that is, lack of choice in assessments. From his perspective, students are assigned to do the same thing in all of their classes. No variety and little choice. So he is learning augmented reality tools to systematically hack assessments that are assigned to him. His goal is to apply an AR hack to one assessment in each discipline over the course of the semester.

He has started by using Metaverse to create a guide to solving a complex math problem. He is anticipating all of the errors a student could make while solving the problem and using his AR tour to provide hints and redirection. This is the student explain his progress so far, obstacles he has encountered, and how he is getting around them.

He is still doing all of the work that is assigned to him. He is using the one period each day during which he is assigned to help desk, to show the same learning his teachers expect in a different (and personalized) way. When he is done, he will share both products with his teacher: the assigned one, and the hack. Once he has completed two or three of them, we plan to offer an "Appy Hour" seminar for faculty to learn from him about his projects and what he is learning along the way.

To that end, he is regularly sharing with me his metacognitive moments along the way. Here he is sharing his reflection about learning while working on his math problem:

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Why Merge Cubes are only $1 at Walmart

Back in October educators in different communities to which I belong were posting about Merge Cubes and how cool they are. And they were cheap - only $15. If you bought the headset then they pushing the $85 range, but you could have a cool augmented reality (AR) experience without it. And I kept thinking about getting one, even thought about giving them as gifts at the holidays, but for some reason I didn't.

Then, Tuesday morning my Facebook feed was full of people saying "Merge Cubes at Walmart for $1!" And by lunch time I had ten of them. Today I brought two of them to the library and played with one for a bit only to find that my Samsung phone is not entirely compatible with it. So I handed the Cube to a student who is in my help desk course and asked him to play with it for a bit.

First, a bit about the student. His semester-long project is focused on practicing and modeling project-based assessment techniques, particularly ones that involve technological applications, that could be used across the disciplines. He is hoping to model for both his teachers and his peers ways in which students can demonstrate learning and growth in ways that aren't commonly used at the school. In short, and closer to his words, he wants to make doing projects fun and interesting while convincing people he has learned something. And, he is starting with AR.

Back to the Cube. He played with it for about 30 minutes, said "Thanks! That was fun." and went to his next class. A couple of hours later he came back and brought a friend. He said, "I was hoping I could show him that Cube." I handed them two cubes and got out of the way.

In the span of 45 minutes here is what happened:

1) The two students were joined by four more. And this was a group of average students, a little bit techy, into games, fairly studious, athletic, well-liked and respected.

2) They installed a dozen games on their phones (mostly iPhones).

3) They played and laughed a lot and loudly.

4) They figured out how to share a game code and play together.

5) They didn't care when I brought teachers over to watch them play. And they didn't care when the teachers were a bit disinterested and walked away.

6) One of them took a picture of one of the triggers and turned his phone to another student. That student scanned the image of the trigger and launched a game. And they all stopped playing.

7) They gathered around the table and took pictures of all the sides of the cube. They loaded the pictures into a Google doc, printed it, and folded the sides into a paper cube.

8) They scanned it and it worked.

9) They rejoiced.

10) They hypothesized.

11) They went back to the Google doc, enlarged one of the triggers, printed it, scanned it and launched a game. Their hypothesis was proven true: the larger trigger rendered a larger AR experience.

12) They planned: "If we take one trigger, cut it into smaller pieces, enlarge all the pieces on the copier, and reassemble it, then we can lay it on the floor and take a tablet to the second floor and scan it from there for a massive display!"

Who knows if that will work. But, the last comment one of them made was:

13) Let's make our own game.

I sent them home to learn Metaverse.

A side note: I hesitated writing this blog post because these students entirely hacked a commercial product. They exploited it for its full potential and then owned it. And there may be some copyright violations in there somewhere. But I decided to write this anyway, because OMG: they exploited it for its full potential and then owned it, in forty-five minutes. And it was so cool to watch. And if you notice in the numbered steps above: they played, collaborated, planned, inquired, theorized, tested, reassessed, prototyped, and had fun while doing it. It was a great way to end the day!