Designing an Online Course | A Progress Post

I’ve spent the last 3 weeks carefully designing an exciting 5 week online course for my 8th grade photography students.  Last week, I mentioned that I was in the process of carefully selecting which resources I wanted to add into the course for my middle schoolers.  Things like videos, article readings and case studies.  Since then, I’ve uploaded just about everything into Schoology, the LMS platform I decided to go with.  I have all resources, discussion topics and weekly assignments and activities already in the course.  What I’ve focused on this week, is creating a screencast video for my students that will help them login to Schoology, access the course, and maneuver that course.  Schoology is a system that our school has not worked with before, and so I felt the need to help guide my students with a video on how to login in and access all course information.

In addition to the screencast video, I’ve also completed a very detailed outline of what will be covered and what will be expected of students each week.  You may access the full outline here.

It’s been a great experience designing this course so far, and while nearly all of the content has been uploaded, I’m still making some tweaks and minor adjustments here and there.  I know this will such a great collaborative project, one that our school hasn’t quite done before, so I’m excited the see that work and relationships that come out of my students.

Compiling Resources for an Online Course

Last week, I gave some insight on what I’d be up to for the 5 weeks as a part of my grad school course.  As I mentioned before, I am in the process of designing an all online course for my 8th grade photography class on Schoology, in which they will be collaborating with our youngest students, the Betas (3-4 year olds) on a storytelling project.

I’ve spent quite some time designing the framework for this course,week by week, including carefully choosing a variety of resources, including videos, TedTalks, articles, case studies, discussion posts, and assignments.  All of the selected resources and materials have been added in their designated spots within the Schoology LMS.  As this is a collaborative storytelling project using photography, I’ve added one of the videos that will be apart of my course below.  Is Photography Storytelling?

In addition to gathering resources, I’ve carefully planned out a detailed outline that covers about 50% of the course.  I will expand on this outline in the coming weeks and will update it here, but for now, this is what is being planned for this 5 week course.

Designing an Online Course

I’ve just completed the first week of my TENTH course in my graduate school journey.  I’m 12 months into this program and I’m beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel!

In this class, we are spending 5 weeks designing an online course.  Within the first two days of this new class, I was a bit nervous of the challenge of designing an online course, as I have never worked with any LMS platform, and didn’t quite know where to start.  After a few suggestions, I decided to design my course through Schoology.  I’ve had a great time navigating the capabilities within Schoology and am quite happy with the progress of my online course so far.

For my course, I’ve decided to build off of my 3-column table that I designed back in June with my Beta students (3-4 yr. olds).  As I mentioned in the above linked blog post, our school is already pretty involved in the Rice Literacy and Culture Project, specifically, the Classroom Storytelling Project, and I wanted to design a course where my 8th grade photography students could lend their photographic skills to bring the dictated stories of my Beta students to life.  I loved the thought of having the middle schoolers collaborate with our youngest students on a project that is so important to our school.  We really recognize and value the importance of storytelling in our younger grade levels, and wanted to create something that would bring the two grade levels together, despite the age differences.  For some great information on how storytelling in the classroom can help build literacy, please see the video below.

Briefly, in this 5 week course, the middle school photography students will have opportunities to talk and interact with Betas.  Each of them will be assigned to 3-4 Beta students.  They will sit one on one with them and let them tell them a story.  Any story.  The photography students will write down their story as the Beta is telling it to them, and they will also be recording them as they share their story.  They will learn that, at times, they might need to assist the Betas in continuing their stories and encourage descriptive language by using open-ended questions to help prompt them to the next part of their story.

This is were it gets fun.

The middle school photography students will then create photographic images to go with the stories.  They will need to be creative in how they create visuals.  Once they have completed the images, they will then use the app Shadow Puppet on their iPads to bring it all together.  They will use the original recording and edit it to create a voice over to accompany the photographs in the stories.  We will then install the written stories, printed photographs and a QR code that will take viewers to the Shadow Puppet video with voiceover.

Talk about collaboration!  This is a fun project for both the middle schoolers and Betas that will encourage more storytelling among our younger students and also push our photographers to think outside the box while they put to use what they have learned about photography.

The audience for this online course will be the 8th grade photography students, and as mentioned before, will be divided into 5 weeks:

  • Week 1 (02/6-02/10): What is Storytelling?
  • Week 2 (02/13-02/17): Collaboration
  • Week 3 (02/20-02/24): Think Outside The Box!
  • Week 4 (02/27-03/03): Think-Make-Talk
  • Week 5 (03/06-03/10): Installation

During the course, learners will have 2 critiques.  The first where they will share images that they have created by the conclusion of the third week, and the second when all work has been completed and installed at the conclusion of the fifth week.

I’m really excited to be designing this course around two big passions of mine. Thanks for joining me on this journey!

Developing a Growth Mindset Plan

Carol Dweck, a researcher in the field of motivation has devoted years of research into seeing how/why people succeed and how they cope with failure.  I found Dweck’s book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success strikingly similar to another book I read years ago that our school administrators recommended that we read, called Nurture Shock by Ashley Merryman and Po Bronson.  Just as Dweck’s book, Nurture Shock is full of research and studies on parenting and child development, specifically how constant praise from parents “backfires and actually undermines their confidence” instead of building it (Sundberg, 2016). Over the years, Dweck took note that a person’s mindset greatly affects whether they are successful in reaching their goals or not and how one’s mindset continues to influence the outcome of their life.

In short, Dweck’s work outlines two different thought processes- one being that intelligence and ability are traits that you are either born with or without.  It’s either one or the other.  I was born with artistic ability, but singing is not one of my God given talents.  These are traits that are “carved in stone” and not worth practicing towards improvement, because I either have it or I don’t.  There is another line of thinking that says despite whatever talents a person is born with, those talents need to be continuously honed through practice.  So maybe I have a natural artistic talent, but in order for me to use that talent to its fullest potential, I need to continue to practice my technical skills, because just like any other hobby, sport or ability, if not put to use… it may get a little rusty.  Now, that’s not to say that I cannot improve my singing, if that is what I choose to focus on.  I may not have been born with natural singing ability, but if I put my mind to it, and invest in voice lessons and practice for hours a week there could be great improvement in my singing.

Dweck has coined the terms “fixed mindset” and “growth mindset” when referring to the two thought processes.  Those with the fixed mindset believe that a person is either born with intelligence or ability or not, and there’s no improving the hand you are dealt.  In addition, those with the fixed mindset constantly need validation that they are smart, or worthy.  The below graphic sums it up well.  Which mindset do you prefer to model?



I can relate a lot to the idea of having a growth mindset from an athletic point of view.  I come from a competitive soccer family and played soccer and volleyball throughout my schooling.  Growing up, I embraced the challenges that the coaches and the sport presented me.  My injuries were setbacks, for sure, but they didn’t stop me.  I could have quit countless of times, but frankly, that’s not how I was raised.  Now that we are parents to two children, we have tried to make it a point to give the kids the opportunity to play whatever they’d like, and to give them the time to find something that they really love to do…. and to always encourage and praise their effort.

A point that Dweck continuously makes in her book, is that a person CAN change their mindset.  On her website, she has laid out 4 steps for us to take to steer away from a fixed mindset and instead, develop the thinking processes of that of a growth mindset.

slide_29As an Early Childhood teacher, part of my job is instilling a growth mindset into our little ones.  We are learning so many gross motor, fine motor and academic things that I feel like many of my most used phrases are “It’s ok, let’s try it again” or “Keep trying, you can do it!”.  I once had a student tell me that their older sibling had just recently learned how to tie their shoes and why didn’t they know how to tie their shoes?  I explained to them that they soon would learn how to tie their shoes just like their big brother, and that it might take some time.  They may not know how to tie their shoes yet, but they will learn soon with some time and practice.

In my opinion, it isn’t hard instilling a growth mindset in 3-4 year olds, because they are so curious and open to learning already.  In fact, we aren’t instilling a growth mindset in them… we are maintaining it.  They don’t view asking questions as a weakness, but a way of finding things out.  It’s the only way they know how to learn.  The challenge for me comes in my middle school photography class.  For some reason, the older we get, our desire for learning slightly diminishes.  Why is that?  I think many things can contribute to this for many students, whether it be family finances, self consciousness, peer pressure, grades, etc, but it is important for us to continue to model and encourage a growth mindset in our students so that they can push themselves to be the best version of themselves as possible.

As I look back at my learning philosophy I posted a few weeks ago, I realize that I am already embracing the growth mindset.  I know my purpose is to lead by example, to exhibit respect, to spark curiosity, to foster imagination, to encourage play, to promote risk taking, and to be a constant reminder that if we fall down, we get back up.  If we don’t do something right the first time, we try again.  

As an fine art teacher, I get many students that walk through my door who have never picked up a camera in their life… and I’m talking about a real camera, not an iPhone!  But that’s ok, my job is to work with them and to let it be known that everyone has a voice and that voice can be heard through art and through photographs.  There are no right and wrong answers in my classroom.  They may not be photographers yet, but by the end of the course, they will have experienced and learned through practice alongside myself and their peers.  At the beginning of the course, I always like to expose my students to photographers before and during our time that have made an impact on the art world.  Many of these artists have had countless struggles and setbacks throughout their life and I can promise you that none of them were just handed a God given photographic talent.  They worked to get where they were/are.  I love the graphic I posted above that breaks down the fixed and growth mindset and I plan to have it displayed in my classroom.  It is a visual to show them that you have a choice in reaching your goals.  It may not be easy, but you have a choice.

I have set goals for myself as both an Early Childhood teacher and a middle school Fine Art teacher, including my plan to implement student ePortfolios in middle school and my Beta Storytelling project.  With both of these endeavors, I realize that I may not get it right the first time, but I welcome the challenge.  My goal isn’t to just come up with ideas and receive a “check mark”, instead, I want my organization to climb up the ladder in educating our students with the purposeful use of technology.  The only way to do that is to model my own learning philosophy and to take “growth mindset action”.


Dweck, C. (2008). Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. New York: Ballantine Books.

Dweck, C. (2006). Mindset. Retrieved June 29, 2016, from

Sundberg, K. (2016). The Welby Way Beeline.  Retrieved June 30, 2016, from

Utilizing the Backward Design Model

In my last post, I discussed L. Dee Fink’s A Self-Directed Guide to Designing Courses for Significant Learning, and the impact is has had on my teaching and learning strategies and beliefs.  What Fink’s research provides is an outline of desired course outcomes, keeping his six-part taxonomy in mind (Fink, 2003).  This week, I’ve had the opportunity to research another beneficial tool in the planning and designing phase of classroom units and modules, taken from Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe’s work in Understanding by Design.  What I’ve essentially been doing is designing course units, modules and projects with the Backward Design Model at work.

If you remember from my last entry, I created a 3 column table of a storytelling project with my Betas, putting to work Fink’s beliefs of tying together foundational knowledge, application, integration, human dimension, caring and learning how to learn to create a significant learning environment.  I have used the same storytelling project and applied it to my UbD template discussed by Wiggins and McTighe.  Both of these tools are very similar in that the teacher, or designer, has first addressed what the desired outcomes for the learner are for the specified project or unit.  As opposed to thinking about what new tools might be used in the classroom, what projects might take place, the teacher must first rethink the purpose of the unit.

What do we want our students to understand in this unit?  What will they have learned and what will they be able to do?

three-stagesOften times, we get sidetracked from our initial lesson because of new gadgets, programs, crafts or activities, but it is important to keep our goals at the forefront of our lesson.  Wiggins and McTighe go into detail of “the twin sins of traditional design”, the activity-oriented approach and coverage-oriented approach.  As an Early Childhood teacher, I found myself fall into the error of activity-oriented design.  In any particular unit, I found myself multiple times engaging my class in these great hands on activities that I initially thought worked wonderfully with what was being taught, but I now find myself rethinking alot of our crafts and activities in our units, asking myself “how is this going to enhance learning for my Betas?” Once we have laid out our desired outcomes, only then, can we move on to acceptable forms of evidence of learning and class activities and instruction.  This approach to planning is referred to as “backward design” (Wiggins, McTighe 2005).

In both examples, I’ve started with my desired end goal to help keep me on track with the rest of the planning.  I found both tools to be highly useful and beneficial in the planning of course units, however, I found the UbD template to be incredibly detailed and a bit overwhelming.  Keep in mind, I come from a school that does not require lesson plans to be turned in for review.  There is, however, a lot of grade level planning that takes place, we are just not required to turn them in for review.  I really embraced the concept of the 3 column table because I felt it addressed all the aspects of significant learning, while giving me the opportunity to further the lesson beyond classroom application.  I really like how Fink’s work allows us to think beyond foundational skills, application and integration.  An important focus of the education we provide at our school is how our teachings help build the character of our students and not only their minds, and I believe the 3 column table allows me to tie in our core values with instruction through the human dimension, caring and learning how to learn categories.

I think both of these tools have given me a deeper understanding of the importance of effective planning.  Too many times, we fall victim of the “twin sins”.  Either we have these grand crafts and activities with no real learning taking place, or we are trying to cover all the required material, leaving out valuable learning goals.  I have already been applying both of these models to my innovation plan in middle school.  Now that I will be piloting the student ePortfolios in my class next year, I plan on sharing my UbD template for student portfolios with the rest of my middle school colleagues and administration.  Although I just commented on the super detailed and overwhelming aspect of the UbD template, I feel like this would be especially beneficial in getting the rest of my colleagues on board.  I already have my Director of Fine Arts excited about this implementation in my class, but since my goal is to have all middle school students utilizing the ePortfolio, I know some of the other middle school teachers might find this to be one extra thing they need to incorporate.

Backward design planning has proved to be very successful in the classroom and in life.  As with anything- sports, a job, a project or unit… we need to keep our eye on the prize and not get sidetracked by all the “extras” that are around us.



Fink, L. D. (2003). A Self-Directed Guide to Designing Courses for Significant Learning. Retrieved June 23, 2016, from A Self-Directed Guide to Designing Courses for Significant Learning

Hamilton, M. & Weiss, M. (2005). The Power of Storytelling in the Classroom. Children Tell Stories: Teaching and Using Storytelling in the Classroom.  Retrieved June 24, 2016 from 

Wiggins, G. P., & McTighe, J. (2006). Understanding by design [2nd Edition].  Upper Saddle River, New Jersy: Pearson Education, Inc.


Creating and Implementing Significant Digital Learning Environments

You might remember, if you frequent this blog or have read my “About Me” section lately, that in addition to being an 8th Grade Photography Teacher, I am also a Beta Teacher (Prek 3) at a private school in Houston, TX.  In reality, I am a Beta teacher 90% of the time and go up to middle school every other day for only 45 minutes while my little ones are napping.  You may have forgotten that tidbit since a lot of my focus for my innovation plan has revolved around my middle school class, but for the purposes of this assignment, I’d like to go back and focus on a project that I’d like to expand in my Beta classroom.  At our school, we are already pretty involved in the Rice Literacy and Culture Project, specifically, the Classroom Storytelling Project, but a goal that we had this past year was to incorporate more student stories throughout the year.  My co-teacher and I met our goal for the year, but now I’d like to expand it even further with a Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal (BHAG).

My BHAG, or Overarching Goal, is to develop and create the Beta Storytelling Museum where learners will identify problems and present solutions in each of their dictated stories, while incorporating descriptive language with the assistance of teacher prompts.  In addition, learners will create digital stories through the use of educational technology and electronic devices to demonstrate effective implementation of their digital learning environments.

taxonomySince the start of my graduate studies, I’ve invested a lot of time in reading and researching educational literature, some of which that have already made a significant impact on my teaching and learning strategies and beliefs.  One of the pieces of literature that I have found to be especially significant is L. Dee Fink’s, A Self-Directed Guide to Designing Courses for Significant Learning.  In his guide, Fink explains, in detail, the importance of designing courses (or learning units, models, etc.) with his six part taxonomy in mind.  He stresses that each of the six kinds of learning, pictured left, are all interactive ways of learning, and must be considered when designing course outcomes (Fink, 2003).  In addition, I’ve been able to build an outline of my course goals by addressing specific situational factors that Fink addresses in his guide.

As a part of our school’s partnership with the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, I’d like to start start a grade level project in which we put on a Beta Storytelling Museum to showcase our Betas dictated and digital story creations.  We will continue to take student dictated stories throughout the year following Rice’s storytelling strategies, however in addition, I’d love to incorporate student created digital stories as well.  This is a creative way to allow students to create a visual for their dictated stories, while encouraging them to utilize our digital learning environment.  Once the learner has a collection of dictated stories and at least one digital story, we will publish them and showcase them in our Beta Storytelling Museum.

Taken from the ShadowPuppet Blog, I’ve included an example of a digital story below.  In this example, a Kindergartner tells us a story while also sharing her art.



Fink, L. D. (2003). A Self-Directed Guide to Designing Courses for Significant Learning. Retrieved June 16, 2016, from A Self-Directed Guide to Designing Courses for Significant Learning

Use in the Classroom. Retrieved June 18, 2016 from







I am a Teacher, But What Is My Learning Philosophy?

I am a teacher.  So, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary app, I am “a person… that teaches something”.  I am “a person whose job is to teach students about certain subjects”.  I am a person “whose occupation is to instruct”.

I am a teacher.  What does that mean to me?  It means that I am to lead by example, to exhibit respect, to spark curiosity, to foster imagination, to encourage play, to promote risk taking, and to be a constant reminder that if we fall down, we get back up.  If we don’t do something right the first time, we try again.

I am a teacher.

I’ve spent a great deal of time researching the many learning theories that are out there, trying to see where I fit in as an educator to early childhood children and where I fit in as a continuous learner, myself.  Do my practices fall under the Behaviorist, Cognitive, Humanistic, or Constructivist theories?  I’ve realized after researching these theories, that before I can “categorize” my learning philosophy, I first need to reflect on my personal learning experiences in life.  Notice, that I say I need to reflect on my personal learning experiences in life, not just in school.  For me, this is an important point to make, because a lot of my life’s learning experiences didn’t just happen in the traditional classroom, and I think this stands true to today’s generation as well.

When I reflect on significant learning experiences in my life, there are a few instances (and people) that immediately come to mind.  I’ll talk about one experience that I like to call Coach Hawley.  Yes, Coach Hawley is a teacher.  In fact, he was my Bible teacher in High School, although the valuable lessons I learned from him weren’t from his ability to simply relay information about the Bible in front of the classroom- although he was great at that, too- but it was from the example he set for everyone through his actions.  From Coach Hawley, I’ve learned the importance of giving back.  He didn’t just tell us to give back, he did it. I’ve seen the difference that he, and the group he works with, have made in Honduras and in Haiti through their Mission Lazarus and Hope For Haiti’s Children projects.  Because of him, my children are now picking up pennies, nickels and dimes from the floor to put in their “Honduras Bottles”.  I also remember how Coach Hawley would have all the boys in the class stand up the moment a young girl or lady would enter the classroom.  These are simple acts of kindness and respect that, to some extent, have dissipated over time, but ones that Coach Hawley strives to keep alive.

“In a world where I have plenty, many have almost nothing.”  – Steve Hawley

The learning experiences that I’ve taken away from Coach Hawley might fall under the Social-Cognitive Theory, in which people learn by observing others.  There are a few assumptions that accompany this learning theory, one being that learning is an internal process.  Through the observation of actions, the desired behaviors may or may not happen at all  (  There is also this assumption of goal-directed behavior.  We might set goals for ourselves in hopes of meeting those goals by exhibiting the desired behaviors (  Although thousands of students that have seen and heard the difference that can come from picking up loose change from the floor, this may or may not  push them all to do the same.

When I look at myself as a learner, I know that learning is more meaningful to me when it is engaging, when it is purposeful and when I am actively involved in it.  I cannot just sit down and listen to a lecture for hours on end, I must be actively involved because if not, I’ve lost interest.  I do, however, feel it is important to relay factual information to students, but we need to do so in a way where we’ve engaged our students.  In their report, How People Learn, The National Research Council noted that students come into the classroom already disengaged with their own preconceptions of how the world works (Donovan, Bransford, Pellegrino, 1999).  Because students are already coming into the classroom tuned out, we have the task of drawing out those pre-existing understandings and allowing them to discover new information so that they can see where their new findings take them in relation to their preconceptions (Donovan, Bransford, Pellegrino, 1999).

I would say that there is a mixture of a couple different learning theories that play a part in my learning philosophy.  I do consider myself to be a Constructivist in that I encourage my students to explore the world and to learn through discovery (Culatta, 2015).  When working with very young children, there are many things we do in the classroom that they may have never done before at home.  This can sometimes lead to timidness and/or fear, and so we encourage them to discover things on their own and to form their own opinions, questions, and hypotheses.  I do also believe it is important to tie in technology, when applicable.  Technology has made a vital impact on learning and education in the past two decades.  Notice, that in my opening statement on the definition of what a teacher is, I went straight to my smart phone instead of a dictionary in book form.  The advances in technology have created great opportunities for learners  in that it has become highly accessible to everyone, it has the ability to updated almost instantaneously, and no longer are we confined to a room of four walls for learning to take place.  We are now connected to a network of individuals, not just one person (Siemens 2005).  For these reasons, I see myself also identifying with the Connectivism Theory.  Also, as a mother of two young children and a teacher to children in their most prime years, I strongly believe that children learn valuable life lessons in Respect, Gratitude, Perseverance, Courage, Compassion, and Integrity from their immediate role models, which is why I also identify with the Social-Cognitive Theory.


I have found it interesting when thinking about how these theories apply to me in putting my innovation plan to work.  I will be very much embracing a Constructivist and Connectivist Theory when piloting student ePortfolios in my middle school class.  Since I will be the first to do this at our school, it will definitely be a discovery process for me and my students.  We will be figuring out, together, what platforms work best, and I will be giving my students freedom in creating their websites, within a set of boundaries to keep them engaged.  They now will be apart of a network of students, of all backgrounds, and of all passions, and their learning will have extended out of the classroom.


Annotated Bibliography

Donovan, M. S., Bransford, J. D., & Pellegrino, J. W. (1999). How People Learn: Bridging Research and Practice. Retrieved June 8, 2016, from

This was the first piece of research I came in contact with and one of the most important ones in shaping my learning philosophy.  I identified, greatly, with the three Key Findings that their research uncovered and find it more true with my middle school students than with my 3-4 year olds.  The main takeaway, for me, is to continue to foster engagement across all ages of my students and to draw out any preconceptions they may have upon entering the classroom.  

Hawley, S. (2015). By Bread Alone. Retrieved June 11, 2016 from

This is the personal blog of Coach Hawley, whom I referenced above as an important role model in my life.  Based on my learning experiences from him, I have tied in a Social-Cognitive Learning Theory in my learning philosophy.

Hurst, M. Social-Cognitive Learning Theory: Definition and Examples. Retrieved June 10, 2016, from

I stumbled upon Melissa Hurst’s work while researching “Learning by Observation”.  In my own personal life, I have found that many of my learning experiences have been from a Social-Cognitive standpoint from specific role models in my life.  I believe this to continue to be especially important when teaching children at very young ages, and have included this in my learning philosophy.

Siemens, G. (2005). Connectivism: A Learning Theory For the Digital Age. Retrieved June 8, 2016, from

Siemens’ work has put into writing the undeniable impression technology has had on learning and on education.  Just as I did at the beginning of my post, students now have answers right at their fingertips.  Smartphones and other devices have given us 24/7 access to information that was once bound to the classroom.  It is my hope to be able to tie in technology with learning in a meaningful way- one that engages my students and continues to challenge them.  

Teacher. (2016). Merriam-Webster, Inc. (Version 3.4.3) [Mobile Application Software]. Retrieved from

I used the Merriam-Webster Dictionary app to quickly look up the “official” definition of what a teacher is at the start of this blog post, for two reasons.  One- to reiterate how quick and easy it is for people to go straight to their smart phones to find answers and two- because it really was quick and easy to go straight to my smart phone to find this answer.  Technology.