Complex Problems

Complex Problem in a Virtual Geometry Classroom

A new school year has just begun and I’m on both sides of it as a teacher and as a student. My graduate class this semester started with a discussion of different types of problems that exist; well-structured, complex, and unsolvable problems. To simplfy describe them well-structured problems have one best solution, complex problems have many things to use in order to solve it in many possible ways, and unsolvable problems are self-explanatory – they can’t be solved. These unsolvable problems are also mentioned as wicked problems and often the “solution” is just the best that you can come up with at the time with the information possible. These wicked problems can exist for may years, with new “solutions” replacing the past “solutions” when more time and knowledge is available.

Complex Problems

This week I thought of well-structured and complex problems present in the area/perimeter unit of Geometry. I will work with a couple Geometry students in my virtual Title 1 classroom and I want to use a mix of well-structured and complex problems to help them learn the material. The complex problem that I adapted came from an activity I did my first year of teaching in West Virginia. I was in a more traditional brick-and-mortar school teaching mainly Geometry to 10th grad students. I handed students a piece of graph paper, instructions, and told them to design a dream house using all polygons that we had learned. They then “bought” material from me in the form of scrapbook paper and determined how much it would cost to cover the floor in their dream house. Students enjoyed this project and I heard a lot of good conversation around the room about how to solve for the area of each room and then the cost of each room. However, I am a virtual teacher now and I can’t complete this activity in the same way.
Floorplanner Dream Park

My park created using

I am happy to say that I found a free program that will help me complete this complex project online! Floorplanner is a free tool where you can search for items and then create a layout on a grid from a top facing view. Using this tool students start with a blank grid on the screen. They can then search for items to place on their grid to show their park layout. I searched and found a circle pool, a hexagonal gazebo, a rectangular park bench, and more! I would also allow students to design something other than a park if they desire as long as they place different polygons into the area. With Floorpanner I am able to complete this project in a virtual environment and students can share their work online with each other. With the program being a free download all students in my class can have access. Students can get immediate feedback from me and their peers on their project rather than having to mail in a physical model and wait for me to receive it and critique it. Floorplanner also will allow students to quickly change their design plans by just clicking and moving their object instead of having to literally cut and paste or redraw their object.
Complex Problem: Use Floorplanner to design a park with 10 structures located in it. You must have a structure with a following shapes: regular polygon with 5 or more sides, rectangle, circle, and square. Use your floorplan to design your dream park and then determine how much sod you will require to cover all open space with new grass.

(That video was created using Screencast-O-Matic – which is a wonderful free site that I love! I have my students create these and send them to me throughout the school year because they are so easy to create and share.)

I’m excited to see how their project will work out this year! Students always find many ways to solve this complex problem and they learn a lot from discussing their ideas with their peers. I’ve had students determine the area of the whole park and then subtract each object’s area. I’ve had students “cut” up the grass area into easier shapes and figure out the area of each before adding them together. I’ve had students approximate with the boxes on the grid paper and then defend why approximation will work well for purchasing sod. The fact that there is not one correct, or even best, way to complete this project is another reason why this classifies as a complex problem.

I could see this work in brick-and-mortar classrooms as well with 1:1 technology, partners, small groups, computer labs, or done as my original paper idea. If you try this out with Floorplanner or have done something similar before in your classroom I’d love to hear about it below!
1. Celestine Chua. (2013). Problems. Retrieved August 31, 2014 from Flickr:
It all starts here

Reflection on CEP 811

I can’t believe it – but summer is over. This is my first week back and since my school is amazing they sent about 30 teachers (myself included!) to the PLC conference in Grand Rapids this year. I’m so excited to learn about how we can create a better school culture and ultimately increase student learning by working collaboratively in a PLC!

PLC Thin Enactment

Professional Learning Communities are the key for student success

The end of summer also means the end of the graduate course I’ve been taking through MSU, CEP 811, about adapting innovative technology in education. It seems like I just started this course and it’s already over – and boy have I learned a lot!


One major focus of this course has been the maker movement. I’ve posted ideas and lesson plans and tutorials about how to use a MakeyMakey in a classroom, as well as read/watched how my classmates thought to use them in their classrooms. During our first field trip meeting, I’m going to show my idea for how to use a MakeyMakey (or two or three!) to have students creatively design an interactive musical room for guests to explore. I think that my co-workers will love this idea and see the potential for getting students to work together in an innovative way while working on general skills of problem-solving and perseverance.

However I don’t know if I’m going to be able to use the specific technology of my MakeyMakey in many other situations. I work at a virtual school as an online Title 1 teacher, so most days I cannot have students physically in front of me to play with the MakeyMakey. As a public school I can’t require that families purchase their own MakeyMakey. My school also has a national curriculum that is created and given to us, so I can’t add it into most of my daily lessons.

MakeyMakey Collage

Child making a strawberry and play-dough drum-set using a Makeymakey

Luckily this whole course wasn’t a waste of time just because I can’t use the MakeyMakey frequently! I learned about so many other resources and tools that I’m planning to use with my students. I loved the mind map tool that I tried out last week. Students will be able to create bubble charts and spider web charts electronically using this free and easy to use site.

I have already emailed all my colleagues the UDL guideline checklist that I filled out on my revised musical lesson last week. This year we are really trying to work on our RTI (response to intervention) and inclusion of Title/SPED students in general education courses. I think that this will help teachers to have a comprehensive list to look through and be a good place to start PLC conversations on the same footing.

Interestingly enough I will probably use the creative commons search site more often than any other resource I played with this semester. I can’t believe I haven’t been using this for years! It’s a great site where you can search for pictures, videos, songs, etc. that you can use without plagiarizing or stealing. I used to just go to Google images and copy/paste what I liked (I know – bad, bad, bad) but now I can model to my students responsible internet usage on a daily basis.

Social Media

Did I use this image already? I just love it!

I also want to continue updating this blog on a weekly basis. Starting this has been a wonderful way for me to reflect on my continued education as a teacher as well as network with others around the world. I’ve even been updating my Twitter when I haven’t been asked to by a professor! I think it’s important to work with others that are doing what I’m doing or are interested in what I’m doing. The PLC conference that I’m at right now says that the number one thing that schools can do to improve student learning is collaboration. We are taking that to heart this school as a school by forming PLC teams that meet frequently, but I also want to carry collaboration over to my online presence through Twitter and this blog.

My MSU professors this semester have been amazing. They have followed through with what they preach about pushing me to develop my technology and educational skills further each and every week. Last week you saw a lesson plan that I can guarantee you I would not have been able to write 3 months ago. I wouldn’t have been able to tell you what a MakeyMakey is, what the maker movement is all about, what UDL stands for, how to use UDL principals to improve learning for all students, how to imbed links and videos in blog posts, how to tweet effectively, … the list could go on!

This week I’m writing this blog post and adding pictures from creative commons, linking to other sites and my own blog, using Twitter to blog about this exciting PLC conference I’m at, and thinking differently about how I’m going to use the 1:1 computer ratio more effectively this school year in my classroom. I’m changed and I’m hoping to bring some of this change to my co-workers this year. Not because I have to, not because there’s an awkward silence in a staff meeting, but because I’m excited about the how relevant what I’ve learned this year really is. I’m passionate and I want to inspire that in everyone I touch this year. I’m thrilled to start a new school year!


1. Dave Jenson. (2011). We’re working on it!. Retrieved August 14, 2014 from Flickr:

2. Jabiz Raisdana. (2013). Strawberry Drumset: First go at Makey Makey. Retrieved August 14, 2014 from Flickr: 

3. Ken Whytock. (2013). Educational resource: “School Boards need to do better with their learning communities”. Retrieved August 14, 2014 from Flickr:

4. Lance Catedral. (2011). week 21-2 (start). Retrieved August 14, 2014 from Flickr:

5. mkhmarketing. (2011). The Art of Social Media. Retrieved August 14, 2014 from Flickr: 

EdCamp T-shirts


Has anyone reading this heard of an EdCamp before? Don’t worry if you haven’t – I hadn’t until a few weeks ago. Even after I heard about it, looked it up, researched a bit, I still didn’t fully understand. Sometimes I just need to do to understand. Recently I got to do and I participated in an EdCamp un-conference. I’ll try to explain what an EdCamp is enough for you to try one yourself. You can organize one with your co-workers, your department, your school, or you can join a more formal one in your area.

Teacher Meeting

EdCamp is more like a discussion than anything else. It’s a free meeting of educators to discuss current issues/content/resources in a collaborative way. The “speaker” is usually a fellow EdCamp unconference goer that facilitates more than lectures.

Last week I was able to participate in one through my CEP 811 graduate course using Google Hangout. We were each asked to bring a topic to talk about that we were interested in and researched about. I even made a PowerPoint presentation to help me. Unfortunately I can’t share that with you because on Monday this week my computer completely died; something with a black screen of death and “hard drive issues”. I backup my work frequently, but just not quite weekly so it’s forever gone (or at least until I recreate it).

Google Hangout

To summarize what I experienced participating in EdCamp I’ll first talk about the prep work that I did. I wanted to facilitate a conversation about 1-to-1 technology in schools. I first thought about my own experiences (what’s a better place to start?) with working in a brick-and-mortar school of over 1,000 with one computer lab, to working at a virtual school where we provide every student with a computer and headset. I then hit Google to look for reliable research, useful tools/resources, and news articles. I’m sad to say that I lost my specific references with my dead computer. L

I then took all the resources and compiled them into a PowerPoint. When you prepare for one, you could just reference the ideas, print articles, bring up things on your phone or laptop, or any other method that you are comfortable with. EdCamp is about coming together to discuss ideas – there aren’t rules about how you convey what you know. Built into my PowerPoint were questions to ask; open-ended questions to allow for conversation to flow between members of EdCamp. Remember that you aren’t a lecturer when you lead a part of an EdCamp experience, you are a facilitator. You share what you know, but then open it up to others. I got a lot of new references, resources, and ideas from my co-workers that I had never even heard of, and more clarification and personal stories about some that I had heard of. It was amazing!

 1 to 1 Laptops in School

Below are just a few of the resources that we discussed:

Khan Academy – Free site with many instructional videos; mainly math and science related at the moment

GoSoapBox – Mobile app that acts as a clicker to conduct live polls or question

Edu Creations – Make your own instructional videos

Web Assign – Instant grading tool and assessment tool with a built in email in the system

Lon-CAPA – Site where you assign problems for students to complete with instant feedback

Study Island Site with problems you can assign to students that adapt to their learning, enrich or supplement your lessons, aligned to state standard / Common Core

Download Destination – Expensive, but amazing, program with over 33,000 electronic and audio books; the real narration reads the book so there’s not a robotic voice

Of course, I was not the only one sharing during EdCamp. We had people speak about many different topics in education. The one that I really inspired me was about augmented reality. I had heard the phrase before, but honestly couldn’t tell you one thing about what it meant. Augmented reality is when physical things are scanned by a phone/iPad/computer and then additional resources/videos/sounds are attached. If you’ve heard of QR codes – AR (augmented reality) is a similar idea taken even further and made more visually appealing.  The person leading the discussion works at the Detroit Institute of Arts and help set up where you can go to their app on a phone, scan a piece of art work in the museum while you are there, and learn more about the artist and how the art piece was made. I thought about how I could set up an AR app like this to help my online students explore spaces near them. I can have pictures in books that link to extra material, posters or symbols around a room that lead to additional material, or symbols around a field trip location with supplemental resources. You can add layers and layers to a physical item, which is exciting!

 Augmented Reality

I enjoyed the EdCamp experience greatly. While I was speaking people listening were talking and sharing in a chat pod to build on my material. This collaboration was great to see while I was sharing specific resources. This allowed for a multiple layer presentation. If you are presenting in a physical space you can use Todays Meet to allow people to type response and chat while you are speaking without interrupting you. Next time I would have verbally encouraged this more to ensure everyone realized that this was an option and one I would not be offended by.

I think that I could introduce this idea to my school and host short EdCamps periodically during staff/team/content meeting times. Each person could be asked to bring a topic to talk about and facilitate a conversation. This would help relieve the sometimes blank stares that happen when open-ended sharing time occurs. It would also be a great way for staff to work collaboratively to share strategies and ideas that work well in their environment.

If I were to bring EdCamp to my school I would first have a short meeting, recording, or detailed email to explain the idea of an EdCamp (maybe I could reference this blog post!). Once people felt comfortable with the general idea and had time to ask questions I would then determine a time and place to hold the EdCamp. Since it’s an interactive meeting about topics that educators are passionate about, I wouldn’t assign topics and would rather let teachers brainstorm topic ideas together and then choose one that they are excited about. I think it would also be acceptable to not “present” at EdCamp and just be a participant. Together with the participants I would come up with expectations of the experience and discuss having a time limit on each topic. I believe that everyone could value from an unconference like this! I encourage anyone reading this to go out and participate in one – even if you have to start a new one yourself!



Gwyneth Anne Bronwynne Jones. (2013). G+Hangouts – 07. Retrieved August 14, 2014 from Flickr:

Jeff Peterson. (2007). DSC00004. Retrieved August 14, 2014 from Flickr:

Kevin Jarett. (2012). Edcamp stickers. Retrieved August 14, 2014 from Flickr:

Laura Gilchrist. (2014). 5/365 Creativity. My Edcamp Tshirts to date! (January 5, 2014) Edcamps stoke my creativity and the people I meet there enrich my life and inspire me. Retrieved August 14, 2014 from Flickr:

Texas A&M University-Commerce Marketing Communications Photography. (2014). 14284-educational technology 1494-Edit. Retrieved August 14, 2014 from Flickr: 

 Tom. (2010). Augmented Reality. Retrieved August 14, 2014 from

Musical Room Lesson Plan Word Map

Musical Room Open to All Students

This week I learned a lot more about the principals of UDL (Universal Design for Learning). UDL is all about adapting your classroom for all learners to ensure every student gets a fair opportunity to learn. Fortunately, all the changes that you make to your classroom to help some students ends up helping all students. Schools that have easy access to text-to-speech applications helps dyslexic students, ADD students, auditory student, hard-of-hearing students, and more!

To really immerse myself in these ideas I was asked by my CEP 811 course to look back over a lesson plan I created a few weeks ago and make changes that help all students. If you’ve been following my blog you may remember the lesson that I created where students worked together using a MakeyMakey to create an interactive room for guests to walk through and interact with. If you want to remind yourself of that post please click here.


I’m a list person, I make lists upon lists upon lists to stay organized. I make them on my computer, phone, sticky notes, … anything I can find. Therefore I was so thankful that my professors gave me an editable list to go through and take notes on to see how my current lesson addressed all the key UDL principals. If you want to look at my notes just click here. The writing in black is the notes I took on my original lesson plan, while the purple font reflects some of the changes I made this week. I think this could be a helpful tool to use during every unit I teach and to keep in the front of my mind for daily lessons.

Throughout the last six weeks this is actually the third official draft of my lesson plan for a musical room. In the same vein as the list, the black is from the previous draft and the purple font is what I altered with the UDL ideas in mind. I’m really pleased with how much more inclusive and in-depth the lesson became after these changes. Originally I thought that an open-ended exploratory framework for each day would be great. While I didn’t add many specific tasks to any day I did help chunk my lessons into more manageable pieces that students could follow along with on their summary sheets. I created a worksheet of sorts for each day where students were asked to answer a few questions that would review the previous day, have them think about their plan for the current day, and self-reflect on how they spent their day. Those are all skills that are addressed in the UDL ideals and helpful for all students. Below is a word cloud that I created using Wordle by copy and pasting my five days of planning to see what words I used the most. I was overjoyed to see that my most used word was “student” – UDL helps make the students the focus of the lesson more than anything else. I also used the words MakeyMakey, summary, explain, sheet, room frequently. Wordle is such a fun way to visually see the focus of a set of words! I had heard of Wordle before, but I never tried created one myself. I wish I understood how easy and helpful these can be! I can see myself working these into my lessons more frequently after finally trying one myself.

Wordle: Interactive Musical Room Lesson Plan

In my updated lesson plan I also took more advantage of the 1:1 technology of my school. Since I teach online at a public charter school all students are provided with a computer and headset. In my original lesson plan I had the students look up MakeyMakey examples online if they wanted to, but that was about it. During this revision of my lesson plan I provided the summary sheets in their email so that students could use their computer. This can help with students who need text-to-speech, speech-to-text, are better with typing than writing, prefer computers, need spell check, etc. I also adapted an earlier instructional blog post to create a how-to sheet for making a piano using water in drinking glasses. I even used to create a brainstoring map to show the flow of my 4 day lesson. This tool is going to be great to use with my students in a virtual classroom to create an online mind map that they can share. I’ve tried using Microsoft Word in a similar way before, but it’s more difficult and time-consuming than this site.

Created using

Created using


I also added a portion of a summary sheet with a graphic organizer to fill in at the beginning of the lesson unit. I had originally planned to discuss conductivity related to using a MakeyMakey, but now there is a physical representation that students can fill out. This list will help reinforce the information that we verbally discuss as well as provide a spot for students to look back at later in the unit.

Overall I am much happier with my revised lesson plan. I honestly thought that it was a good lesson before this week, but after taking each UDL principal into account while revamping it it’s gotten so much better!


Rogers, Carissa. (2008). kid to do list, list, Be happy and go home. Retrieved August 10, 2014 from Flickr

Classroom Redesign 1

Designing a Classroom Experience

As you may know already if you’ve read this blog before – I teach online. I’m working at a virtual K-12 school in Michigan as the High School Math/Science Title 1 teacher. This week in my graduate class at MSU, CEP 811, I was asked to evaluate my current classroom design and re-imagine a new environment to help my students function better. I decided to think back a couple years when I worked at a brick-and-mortar school in West Virginia to complete this assignment so that I would have a physical space to “work with” virtually.

As I prepared for this week I watched many videos about concentrating on the experience of education. That means focusing on the content as well as the physical space, emotional connections, ways students can participate in the space, the flow of the classroom, and more! The one that really inspired me the most was a short video with a cliff hanger that I’ve experienced many times while watching HGTV (anyone else relate in a similar way?)

I got caught up in the excitement from the teacher, students, and designers. I was immediately drawn back into my room in West Virginia where my classroom set up wasn’t great. The desks were those that only had one way to get into them. There was one left-handed desk and the rest were built for right handed people. When I tried to set up groups there were always students “trapped” in their desk while in the group. The walls were painted in a material that seemed to resist all adhesives and therefore were pretty blank of posters or student work. I had student desks and my large desk, but no other table surfaces. While watching the video I was reminded of statements students said spontaneously about my classroom without conducting a workshop. “Why is all the paper in the back?” “Why have a desk if you never use it?” “Why do we still have an actual chalkboard? Do we even have chalk?” “This carpet is disgusting!”

I used SketchUp to model my ideal classroom experience. I imagine tile or vinyl flooring for easy cleanup. I try to do as many projects as possible in my classroom and they can get messy and this flooring would help that process. This would ease the stress of students as well. I imagine this would cost around $2000.00.

Classroom Redesign 1

I would remove my desk and in the back of the classroom set up an interactive notebook station (Wist). This station would have all the materials in easy to grab locations; pens, pencils, markers, glue, scissors, colored paper, hole punch, glue, staplers, prepared foldables, and any other materials I might need. The cubes would hold books, manipulatives, and be a resting space for students’ group work. Using wood from a home improvement store I imagine this costing around $500.00.

Classroom Redesign 2

A couple standing stations along the back of the classroom would allow for additional collaboration locations as well as provide a space for students with ADD, ADHD, or just need to stand while they learn (Richards, 2008). These stations would allow students to stand while still having a workspace at their new level to work with. I imagine these costing around $300.00.

Classroom Redesign 3

Tables would replace the single desks to allow for easy group work and collaboration (Ward, 1987). These would be set up in groups of four, but might move depending on the lesson. They would be spread out in the room and all for there to be multiple “fronts” of the room (Mastrine, 2012). My workstation with a projector and Elmo being on wheels would help with this ease of motion. As well as there being white boards on three of the walls so that I can set up a viewing area with the projector on multiple walls for whole class or just individual group lessons. I imagine this costing around $2,000.00.

Classroom Redesign 5

Two tables would frame the door. These would have areas for turning in assignments, picking up graded work, and the “group of the week” award.

Classroom Redesign 4

In order to pay for this renovation I would contact students and parents to ask for support. This could be donated in money, connections to vendors, manual labor, additional ideas, etc. I would also apply for grants and ask local businesses for help. Having my idea mapped out in SketchUp would probably help with my plea for assistance since a detailed visual would be provided complete with reasoning. This would not all need to happen at once and could (and most likely would be) a multiple year process.

Now if you, like me, were wondering about how Steve Mattice’s classroom ended up looking after the “big reveal” that was shown in the video above, don’t worry. I tracked it down for me you. It’s a three part series, but you can click here for the first part. or here to really skip to the end. 🙂



1. Deardorff, Julie. (2012). Standing desks: The classroom of the future? Chicago Tribune. Retrieved August 2, 2014 from

2. Mastrine, Jule. (2012). Does where you sit in the classroom say a lot about you?. USA Today. Retrieved August 2, 2014 from

3. Richards, Eric. (2008). Stand-Up desks provide a firm footing for fidgety students. Milwaukee Wisconsin Journal Sentinel. Retrieved August 2, 2014 from

4. Ward, Beatrice. (1987). Instructional Grouping in the Classroom. School Improvement Research Series, Close-Up #2. Retrieved August 2, 2014 from

5. Wist, Caroline. Putting it all Together; Understanding the Research Behind Interactive Notebooks. The College of William and Mary. Retrieved August 2, 2014 from