Experience Design and Re-Imagined Classrooms

This week in CEP 811 we explored Experience Design and how it impacts learning in educational settings. The course readings and resources deepened my understanding of how values and learning theories are reflected in the design of learning spaces. It became clear, especially through one particular study, that well-designed classrooms positively impact student learning. Our task for this week was to transform the physical environment of a classroom using our understanding of relevant teaching and learning practices and applying it through a unique 3D modeling software called SketchUp.

The Classroom in Question

The first step of this process was to re-imagine a familiar learning space through “21st century eyes”. What came to mind was a school project I had been collaborating with in Tripura, India. After my visit to the school, I realized that improvements were needed in the design of classrooms. The Grade 1 classroom, for example, traditional in its layout, consisted of student desks in rows and the teacher’s desk at the front of the room. Sir Ken Robinson’s statements about conformity and transmission of knowledge was evident in several aspects of the classroom design (OWP/P Architects, 2010, p. 56).

The Redesigned Classroom

My initial thoughts in redesigning the learning space were brought to light by design professional, Michael Waldin, and his intriguing question: “Does this learning environment support a child’s natural instinct to learn through creation and discovery?” (OWP/P Architects, 2010, p. 56).

My goal was to give careful attention to promoting choices, inquiry, authentic learning experiences and the building of relationships. Given that the classroom holds 30 students, I wanted to provide different types of seating arrangements to facilitate the myriad learning styles and multiple intelligences of the students (The Third Teacher, 2010, p. 14.). The spaces I designed offer a large communal meeting area, small group collaboration centers, and quiet spaces for individual learning and reflection.

I felt it was important to create a sense of comfort and belonging in the classroom. The use of cushions, carpets, and bean bags contribute to the home-like atmosphere and help to foster relationships amongst students and teachers. To complement the abundance of natural light in the classroom, I painted the walls a soft, earth-tone color. The re-imagined classroom also contains two large bulletin boards to display learning, including artwork, photographs and documentation of students’ work (The Third Teacher, 2010, p. 15). As the teachers develop their understanding and become more comfortable with the new learning spaces, it is hoped they will begin to “shuffle the deck” and take advantage of the loose furniture by periodically rearranging the environment to suit the learning needs of the students (The Third Teacher, 2010, p. 10).

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Implementing my vision requires not only a number of new physical resources, but also the support of the school stakeholders, including teachers, administrators, students, parents, donors and community members.

The costs of implementation are undoubtedly high and may exceed the current school budget. Therefore, efforts will have to be made to raise funds and to call for donations. Experienced designers, carpenters and volunteers in the community will be recruited to contribute time and expertise to building the furniture. Local businesses will be asked to donate wood supplies, carpets, cushions and shelves that are still in good condition. The community will prove vital in alleviating much of the costs.

I am proposing to implement the changes in two separate phases. The first phase will allow the physical restructuring of the classroom to take place without having to utilize all the furniture items. The current student desks and chairs can be positioned together to form group tables. The second phase will include the addition of the remaining furniture. The approximate cost of each phase is outlined below ($1 USD ≈ 61 Indian Rupees).

Phase 1
Shelves (5 sets) = 15,000 rupees
Carpets (3 sets) = 9,000 rupees
Painting = 5,000 rupees
Bulletin boards (2 sets) = 4,000 rupees
Sofa = 3,000 rupees
Low table = 3,000 rupees
Flipchart = 1,000 rupees
Bean bag = 1,000 rupees
Cushions = provided through donations
Plants = available on school grounds
TOTAL = 41,000 rupees (~ $670 USD)

Phase 2
Student tables/chairs (8 sets) = 40,000 rupees
Cubbies (2 sets) = 6,000 rupees
TOTAL = 46,000 rupees (~ $750 USD)


Barrett, P., Zhang, Y., Moffat, J., & Kobbacy, K. (2013). A holistic, multi-level analysis identifying the impact of classroom design on on pupils’ learning. Building and Environment, 59, 678-689. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.buildenv.2012.09.016

OWP/P Architects, VS Furniture, & Bruce Mau Design. (2010). The third teacher: 79 ways you can use design to transform teaching & learning. Retrieved from http://thethirdteacherplus.com/s/Ch2-TTT-for-Web-0y6k.pdf

The Third Teacher. (2010). TTT Ideas Flash Cards. Retrieved from http://goo.gl/v25rRA


My Ultra Micro Mooc

This week in CEP 811, we explored how instructional design principles can help us create effective Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). Although a somewhat controversial form of pedagogy, MOOCs allow opportunities for increased access to knowledge to learners from around the world. Combining my new understandings of instructional design and a strong interest in creating learning spaces for young children, I’ve created my very own mini online learning experience!


In my “Learning Spaces 101” course my peers will master planning, designing and assessing learning spaces for young children by creating a blog, setting up their own learning space based on key principles of design and engaging in thoughtful discussions with peers.

Course Topic

Designing engaging learning spaces for young children

Course Title

Learning Spaces 101



Teachers, student-teachers, school administrators, curriculum coordinators and parents may all benefit from joining my course. A wealth of resources will provide a solid background for those interested in enriching their classroom environments or spaces in their homes. The collaborative nature of the course and the opportunity to connect with like-minded educators from around the world will also attract participants to the course. Finally, participants will acquire a set of skills in planning, designing and assessing learning spaces, which can be applied immediately to their own educational settings.


Over the course of five weeks, learners will be able to achieve the following:

  • To develop a basic understanding of theory including how environments impact and shape learning.
  • To understand how environments reflect values and beliefs.
  • To recognize how the environment acts as the “third teacher” in an early years setting.
  • To become familiar with the principles of design for learning spaces.
  • To apply knowledge and understanding from the course to thoughtfully plan and create a learning space.
  • To use the power of reflection and observation to assess the effectiveness of learning spaces.

Course Projects

Learners in this course will be expected to create the following:

  • Personal blog to write summaries and reflections on key course concepts.
  • Twitter account to share their assignments with colleagues and the world!
  • Infographic to describe how environments impact learning.
  • Voicethread video to highlight principles of design in a learning space.
  • Prezi to share documentation of their journey in creating their own learning space.

Instructional Design

The course design employs the Understanding by Design (Ubd) model by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe. The authors of this model stress that the best curriculum designs imply being “more thoughtful and specific about our purposes” (Wiggins, 2005, p. 14). In structuring the course, I have paid careful attention to the essential understandings, which I explicitly identify as the main objective of each lesson. I have also followed Wiggins’ “3 stages of backwards design” to ensure that the weekly lessons stay true to overall goals and objectives of the course (Wiggins, 2005, p. 18). In addition, I have included Dr. Stephen Yelon’s research on instruction design, particularly “a set of essential content”, which Dr. Yelon describes as the “the basic ideas and skills that will allow the learner to complete the task or understand the content” (Yelon, 2001). Finally, as part of my effort to create a collaborative experience for the participants in the course, I have relied on Leo Vygotsky’s “social development theory”, which highlights the importance of social interaction and collaboration as a tool for learning (Kearsley, 2013).


Collaboration and peer interactions are an important part of this course. Learners will use the comments and feedback from their peers to gain a deeper understanding of key concepts in the course. Learners will be expected to comment on the blog posts of peers, participate in exchanges through Twitter, and provide audio commentaries on their colleagues’ assignments through Voicethread.

Course Outline

The design architecture for the weekly course lessons consists of the following:

  • Objective
  • Content
  • Readings/Resources
  • Create
  • Share

The course format focuses on continuously drawing the learner’s attention to the overarching objective of each week. The readings/resources consist of articles for in-depth reading (and others for simply browsing), videos and websites. The tasks for each week allow learners to explore a range of online multimedia applications while also providing them the opportunity to easily share their work with colleagues from around the world.



  • To develop a basic understanding of how environments impact learning.


  • The variety of learning spaces in a classroom for young students.
  • Connections between learning spaces and learning outcomes.
  • Learning spaces that meet the needs of 21st century learning



  • Create a WordPress.com account or use an existing one.
  • Write a 300-word blog post to describe one of your favorite places as a young child. This place could be a room or corner of the house, a learning space in your old classroom, an outdoor space, etc. What made this place a lasting childhood memory? How did this place make you feel? Using your memory of this place to the best of your ability, how would you describe the physical aspects of the environment, such as colors, materials, sensory aspects, and textures in this space? (Curtis, 2003, p. 19).



  • Create a Twitter account or use an existing one.
  • Tweet this blog post using the hashtag #learningspaces101. Comment on the post of one of your colleagues.



  • To understand how the environment acts as the “third teacher” in an early years setting.


  • Environments shape learning and affect student achievement.
  • Learning spaces reflect values and beliefs of a program.
  • Learning spaces promote choices, risk-taking, collaboration and discovery.



  • Design a one-page infographic (using one of these tools) sharing your understanding of how environments shape learning.


  • Post the link to your infographic on the blog and write a short, one-paragraph introduction.
  • Tweet your blog post to your followers using the hashtag #learningspaces101.



  • To gain an understanding of the principles of design required for creating effective learning spaces for young children.


  • Fundamental elements for the organization of space.
  • The seven principles of design for inspiring learning spaces.
  • The importance of beauty and aesthetics in an early years classroom.



  • Using Voicethread, create a 1-2 minute video commentary describing 3-5 images of learning spaces from within your classroom or home (you may use learning spaces belonging to others as long as you have permission). Express how these learning spaces reflect (or do not reflect) the principles of design alluded to in this lesson.


  • Post the link to the Voicethread on your blog and write a short, one-paragraph introduction.
  • Using Voicethread, provide an audio commentary on the videos of two of your colleagues either reaffirming, elaborating or challenging the use of design principles in the images.




  • To apply knowledge of environments and the understanding of the principles of design to thoughtfully plan and create a learning space for young children.


  • Getting started on setting up a learning space.
  • The physical aspects of a learning space.
  • Elements in planning environments.



  • Design a new learning space in your classroom or home based on your learning from the course thus far.
  • Create a Prezi presentation to document the process of planing and designing the learning space. Include multimodal features (e.g. photos, videos, etc.) in your presentation.



  • Post the link to the Prezi on your blog and write a brief, one-paragraph introduction about the presentation.
  • Tweet your blog post to your followers using the hashtag #learningspaces101.



  • To use the power of reflection and observation to assess the effectiveness of learning spaces and to make adjustments geared towards increasing student learning.


  • Using observation scales to assess environments in early childhood settings.
  • Addressing values, goals and barriers for learning spaces.



  • Complete the exercises in Making Your Environment the “Third Teacher” (p. 24-26)
  • Write a 500-word blog post to summarize the exercises in this lesson and to outline your main takeaways from this course. If possible, observe students engaging in the learning space you created in the previous week. What adjustments could be made to extend the students’ learning in this space? Include three statements in this blog post using the format: “I used to think…but now I think.”


  • Tweet your blog post to your followers using the hashtag #learningspaces101.
  • Comment on the blog post of one of your colleagues. Describe how peer interactions have helped with your progress as a learner in the course. Give specific examples.



Barefoot, Darren. (2010, May 12). Prezi Editor Screenshot. [photograph]. Retrieved September 21, 2014, from https://www.flickr.com/photos/dbarefoot/with/4601583711

Curtis, D., & Carter, M. (2003). Designs for living and learning: Transforming early childhood environments. St. Paul, MN: Redleaf Press.

DeViney, J., Duncan, S., Harris, S., Rody, M.A., & Rosenberry, L. (2010). Inspiring Spaces for Young Children. Silver Spring, MD: Gryphon House.

DeViney, J., Duncan, S., & Rosenberry, L. (2010). Rating Observation Scale for Inspiring Environments. Silver Spring, MD: Gryphon House.

Fryer, Wesley. (2010, February 7). VoiceThread – Who Was Helen Keller? [photograph]. Retrieved September 21, 2014, from https://www.flickr.com/photos/wfryer/4340121784/

Gugler, Dean. (1945, December 7). Challenge = Childhood Memory. [photograph]. Retrieved September 21, 2014, from https://www.flickr.com/photos/ontario_wanderer/with/6472268381

Kearsley, G. (April, 1, 2013). The Theory Into Practice Database. Retrieved from http://InstructionalDesign.org

MTSOfan. (2008, December 8). More Fancy Tickling. [photograph]. Retrieved September 21, 2014, from https://www.flickr.com/photos/mtsofan/3094438276

Wiggins, G. and McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding by Design, Expanded 2nd Edition.  Prentice Hall.  pg 13-33.

Yelon, S. L. (2001). Goal-Directed Instructional Design: A Practical Guide to Instructional Planning for Teachers and Trainers. Michigan State University: Self-published, Not in electronic format.

Foundations of Learning for Maker-Thrifting Activity

Image credit: http://team2developmental.wordpress.com/
Image credit: http://team2developmental.wordpress.com/

Last week in CEP 811, I used my Makey Makey kit to create an engagement that would support classroom instruction. I combined sound and dramatic play to create an interactive version of the popular children’s story, “We’re Going on a Bear Hunt” by Michael Rosen. The lesson was designed to give students the opportunity to collaborate together and to use their creativity to re-tell the story in a novel way.

Image credit: http://www.pinterest.com/pin/220746819208216409/
Sample recreation of the children’s story “We’re Going on a Bear Hunt” (image credit: http://www.pinterest.com/pin/220746819208216409/)

This week our assignment was to relate our Maker-Thrifting activity to learning theories and professional knowledge. As teachers we understand that learning theories form the foundation of our work. Furthermore, spending time reflecting on how learning takes place is useful in improving our instructional practice. In this particular case, I was going to explore how I could use specific learning concepts to inform my Makey Makey lesson design from the previous week.

We began by exploring big ideas about learning presented in a Tedx Talk by Richard Culatta. One point that caught my attention was Culatta’s (2013) description of a school in North Carolina that had been focusing on reimagined learning. The classroom environment and instruction was designed in such a way that one could not tell where the front of the room was. Why was this the case? Culatta explains that students were constantly engaged in collaborative projects (and perhaps it is fair to assume that traditional instruction methods in the school were limited). It became apparent to me that collaborative learning was a vital aspect of reimagined learning.

Leo Vygotsky’s “social development theory” similarly highlights the importance of social interaction and collaboration as a tool for learning. In fact, a key component of Vygotsky’s theory is the “zone of proximal development”, which explains that our learning can be extended only with the help of “adult guidance or peer collaboration” (Kearsely, 2013). Peer collaboration is able to enhance student learning, because it “promotes higher order thinking skills including: creating, evaluating, analyzing, and applying” (Cicconi, 2013, p. 60). The social development theory had reaffirmed one of my original pedagogical choices in the Maker-Thrifting lesson plan, which was to encourage students to engage in group work and to learn from one another.

Image credit: http://www.innovativelearning.com/educational_psychology/development/zone-of-proximal-development.html
The Zone of Proximal Development (image credit: http://www.innovativelearning.com/)

However, there was one element of Vygotsky’s theoretical framework which was missing from my lesson design. This involved adult guidance and the role of the teacher in scaffolding student learning. In an article entitled “Talking It Up: Play, Language Development, and the Role of Adult Support”, the authors explain that when children are engaged in guided play (or dramatic play in the case of my lesson design), adults have important roles in facilitating the learning process. In order to scaffold learning, it is suggested that the teacher “prepares the environment”, “joins subtly in the play to help children focus on specific elements” (Weisberg et. al, 2013, p. 42), and “capitalizes on teachable moments” (p. 47).

Scaffolding Play
In guided play, teachers should scaffold student learning (image credit: http://thekglawyerblog.com/).

Another interesting research article focused on how technology can be used in the early years to support collaboration. The author, Megan Cicconi, summarizes several ways in which technology “acts as a conduit for collaborative learning” (Cicconi, 2013, p. 58). In particular, “student-initiated publishing and sharing” (p. 59) and the “use of Vokis, VoiceThreads, and Vodcasts” (p. 61) are ideal solutions to promote socialization and collaboration (including virtual collaboration). I felt my Makey Makey lesson design could be improved with some of the suggestions from this research, including providing opportunities for reflective discussion and students collaboratively sharing thoughts through technology.

To achieve this purpose, I have redesigned and improved the quality of my lesson plan. I have attempted to incorporate the research findings above and to identify ways of supporting authentic learning. My revised lesson plan includes changes highlighted in BLUE.

Image credit: http://www.teachersfirst.com/schoolwidelit/gk.cfm
Technology in the early years provides opportunities for collaboration (image credit: http://www.teachersfirst.com/)


Cicconi, M. (2013). Vygotsky Meets Technology: A Reinvention of Collaboration in the Early Childhood Mathematics Classroom. Early Childhood Education Journal, 2014 (42), 57-65.

Culatta, R. (2013, January 13). Reimagining Learning: Richard Culatta at TEDxBeaconStreet [Video file]. Retrieved from http://tedxtalks.ted.com/video/Reimagining-Learning-Richard-Cu

Kearsley, G. (April, 1, 2013). The Theory Into Practice Database. Retrieved from http://InstructionalDesign.org

Weisberg, D.S., Zosh, J.M., Hirsh-Paske, K. & Golinkoff, R.M. (2013). Talking It Up: Play, Language Development, and the Role of Adult Support. American Journal of Play, 6 (1), 39-54.

Thrifting and Storytelling with the Makey Makey Kit

photo 15

This week in CEP 811 we explored the relationship between technology and creativity. In “Rethinking Technology & Creativity in the 21st Century: Crayons are the Future”, Punya Mishra and the Deep Play Research Group (2012) describe technology as a “tool for living, working, teaching and learning” (p. 13). So what is our role as teachers? Simple, to creatively repurpose these technology tools to “make them fit pedagogical and disciplinary-learning goals” (p. 14). What does creativity entail? Well, in a keynote entitled “Teaching Creatively: Teachers as Designers of Technology, Content and Pedagogy”, Matthew J. Koehler and Punya Mishra (2008) describe creativity as a “variation of a theme” or the “tweaking of knobs”. But what if we are not very creative? The truth is that as teachers we repurpose technology all time and as the authors kindly remind us, we are “designers of the Total PACKage!”

With this new understanding (and confidence) in mind, our task for this week was to experiment with our Maker kits and discover how we could use them to support classroom instruction. To begin this assignment, I spent a few hours engaging in “playtime” with my Makey Makey kit – going through the instructions in the box, reading how-to guides on the official website, and watching YouTube examples. I felt the most learning occurred when I created the sample mini-projects suggested in the instructions – a true hands-on learning experience!

photo 1 photo 2

While I wasn’t able to visit a thrift store in my area, I did visit the neglected store room in my house! And this is where I found lots of interesting “junk”. One of the items was a bag full of old halogen lights – made of metal and ideal for conducting electricity. So I decided to give these objects a go!

photo 3 photo 9

My next step was to think of how to repurpose the halogen lights together with the maker kit to design an innovate learning experience for students in the classroom. I wanted to explore the concept of combining sound and dramatic play in an environment for young children (lower elementary). I figured I could experiment with this idea by creating sound effects for a popular children’s story, such as “We’re Going on a Bear Hunt” by Michael Rosen (the author also has his own video performance of the story available online). I envisioned that the sound effects would provide an interactive feature for the story, especially for the exciting action scenes. For example, I could create sounds that would accompany the journey through the swishy grass, splashy river, squelchy mud, howling snowstorm, and tiptoeing in the cave.

Image credit: http://www.walker.co.uk/We-re-Going-on-a-Bear-Hunt-9780744511352.aspx
Image credit: http://www.walker.co.uk/We-re-Going-on-a-Bear-Hunt-9780744511352.aspx

I needed to clarify my objectives for this engagement and consider how it would support the students’ learning. So I created a lesson plan, which outlines the activity and provides details on the learning outcomes and assessment.

Screen shot 2014-09-07 at 8.02.10 PM

In order to create a prototype with the Makey Makey kit, I used Ableton Live (a music production software) and Freesound.org (a database of Creative Commons Licensed sounds) to produce the sound effects. Below is an outline of the steps and materials required to reproduce the project:

photo 13

Materials: Laptop, Ableton Live software, Makey Makey kit, sound effects from Freesound.org, old halogen light bulbs (or similar metal objects to conduct electricity).

Step 1: Create a free account on Freesound.org. Search for and download required sound effects.

Screen shot 2014-09-06 at 7.48.56 PM

Step 2: Open a new live set in Ableton Live. Import all sound effects under a single “audio clip”.

Screen shot 2014-09-06 at 8.05.42 PM

Step 3: Use manual key mapping in Ableton Live to assign each sound effect in the audio clip a different keyboard input. For the purpose of Makey Makey, use “a,s,d,f,g” keys.

Screen shot 2014-09-07 at 8.03.19 PM

Step 4: Connect Makey Makey to the laptop using USB cable.

photo 7

Step 5: Insert connector wires into “a,s,d,f,g” inputs on the Makey Makey board.

photo 8

Step 6: Attach alligator clips to connector wires on one side and halogen light bulbs on the other side.

photo 11

Step 7: Use keyboard keys to test the sounds!

Below is a short video demonstration of my Makey Makey creation. You will notice a slight delay in the transition from one audio track to the next. This is because in Ableton Live tracks must complete a full bar of music/sound before switching to the next one.

This learning engagement would provide students a unique opportunity to inquire further into dramatic play, language and visuals arts through a story book. Students would have the opportunity not only to become familiar with a new piece of technology, but also to listen to the story with increasing detail and to respond and express their understanding through discussion and role-play. By extending the activity and asking the students to re-tell the story in their own novel way incorporating sound effects, they will develop problem-solving skills and learn how to think creatively and imaginatively. The photos below provide examples of possible role-play environments that could be created with this story and learning experience.

Image credit: http://northgate-beetles.blogspot.com/2013/09/were-going-on-bear-hunt.html
Image credit: http://northgate-beetles.blogspot.com/2013/09/were-going-on-bear-hunt.html
Image credit: http://www.pinterest.com/pin/381257924676297934/
Image credit: http://www.pinterest.com/pin/381257924676297934/



Deborah. (2013). “We’re Going on a Bear Hunt” Activities and a Giveaway. Learn with Play at Home Blog [web log]. Retrieved September 7, 2014, from http://www.learnwithplayathome.com/2013/08/were-going-on-bear-hunt-activities-and.html

Mishra, P., & The Deep-Play Research Group (2012). Rethinking Technology & Creativity in the 21st Century: Crayons are the Future. TechTrends, 56(5), 13-16.

(2008). Teaching Creatively: Teachers as Designers of Technology, Content and Pedagogy. [Online video]. Punya Mishra. Retrieved September 7, 2014, from http://vimeo.com/39539571